Jerantut, Kuantan, Malaysia

GoingGoingGoing… Gone.

It’s been several weeks since my stay at Dhamma Malaya. You may read about it in the previous three articles I posted. I am going to post some photos here to illustrate briefly how the journey went on.

   

EAST COAST

Two nights at the beach – one in the tent and one on the kitchen floor of Thom’s cabin.

Unfortunately, the pavilion to the left does not prevent our tent to be flooded during the night

Lovely time with Thom, Maymay, Lya, Josy, Joy, and of course Senna, the magic jungle cat. The third day, the sun is shining again, the clouds have passed away.

So happy to be outside again after all those rainy days we are enjoying the Tongkang Bay.

Hi, I’m Senna, the magick jungle kat, your personal chill guru … 😉

   

PAHANG

A friend tells us it’s impossible to go north to visit the islands near Terenganu right now. So we decide to go west and try… but due to unfavorable weather conditions, also the National Park (Taman Negara) is inaccessible. Too much rain also in this area. Roads are flooded.

Since Chinese New Year is approaching also in Jerantut (south of the entrance to Taman Negara) it is not that easy to find a place to stay. Luckily, we are spotted by Yen, a compassionate nun, at a Mahayana temple. Surprisingly, she invites to stay overnight. We help them packing up sweets, meditate, and go to sleep early.

At Dhamma Vihāra, Jerantut, we bid farewell to our friendly host…

   … and leave Jerantut with the intention to go to Malacca. This plan, however, we change because everyone goes there during Chinese New Year and thus, we don’t get a bus ticket. Instead, we decide to go north after one night in Bangk… errm… KL.

On our way back to KL. We were told that if we’d wait with departure, we might be stuck in Jerantut because of inundated roads

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Kuantan, Malaysia, Sharing

East Coast

As mentioned in the post about jetlag we are here to recharge our batteries after the long flight. Another reason is our intention to attend a retreat at Dhamma Malaya which is situated west of Kuantan, reachable by RapidKuantan bus 100. We arrive at Kuantan after a 3.5hrs bus trip from KL station TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan). After we have clarified how to get there we cross the road close to the Central Market which is next to the Hentian Bandar (Town Bus Stop). Well, let’s say we try to cross 😉 It’s a four lane road with a never-ending flow of cars and buses. Over time, we get better at this, even to the point of regarding it as some kind of sport to find the right timing, i.e. the kairos of starting the sprint.

As I had to leave the gas cartridge for my portable gas cooker, i try to find a new one in Kuantan. Alas, no chance. Some things go smoothly. Others are not. Wanting always plays a part. It is the precursor to suffering. That, at least, becomes painstakingly clear. After half a dozen shops and malls I give up on actively looking for a gas cartridge. Would have been a help to cook some water or beans in the jungle, but whatever… does it realy matter? Nope. Once I let go it becomes so obvious how most of the things I think I need are simply things I do not own. Once I own something, the job is done, so to speak. I get, and then I for-get. Isn’t it… an almost too human habit? We all get attached not to things but to the cravings. What follows therefrom is a state of restlessness ever pushing us further into a miserable state of mind dissatisfied with what is actually happening.

So what IS happening?

Today I get up early, at around 6 a.m. and stretch my limbs for about half an hour. I go to the nearby big market (Bazar Besar) to buy some papaya and bananas for breakfast. Joy and I have brekkie in the room and then take the RapidKuantan bus 200 to Teluk Cempedak, the easternmost part of the city.

Teluk Cempedak

Before we reach the beach at Teluk Cempedak we catch sight of McD, KFC, StB, 7/11. We pass all of them and go along the beach and the plastic bridge to arrive at an area called Tongkang Beach. The colourful signs which are fastened to numerous trees carry a clear message: “Private area” and “No Pay No Stay!”, while others are announcing the prices of having a picnic there, using the toilet, littering etc.

There is one sign on Teluk Tangkong that makes perfect sense. ♪♪Forget all worries♪For the rest of the day♪It’s all trouble free, in harmony♪♪

Who puts up these signs?, I think. Curiously, yet somewhat cautiously we venture forth into the dragon’s lair. The first guy we see is a bearded man washing his wild red mane. He looks up and asks: ‘Oh, you must be the couch surfers, right?!’ Without thinking, I respond that yes, we are couch surfers, too. We introduce ourselves and find out that this place is a café. It’s called Sempai Café. The owner comes out and welcomes us to his abode. His name is Thom, and he lives here with MayMay and his two-month old daughter Lya. They are happy to have us here after the retreat. Easy!

We go through the jungle to the other side of Teluk Cempedak and arrive at a beach. No signs here. All empty. Only three boys playing over there. The rest of the beach is one long stretch of white sand. The ocean waves are inviting us to take a dip. After about five or ten minutes, we are visited by a helicopter. He circles above us and then leaves again. Five minutes later he comes back and we have one strange encounter with it. The pilot draws near and hovers just 5 metres above the beach, confronting us, as if inquiring: ‘ Identify yourselves. What are you doing here? How did you get here?’ An awkward situation. The helicopter seems to prepare a landing on that empty beach because of us? Have we done something forbidden? Overlooked a sign?: “No access! Military training ground!” Maybe it was just the coast guard that haveseen me wave to Joy from the sea and thought I need help? Whatever it is, we have no intention of finding out. Instead, we pick up our stuff and vanish back into the jungle, partly enjoying the adrenaline rush while the deafening rotorblades of the helicopter makes verbal communication an almost impossible undertaking.

The helicopter drawing a circle above us before a rapid descent to confront us

We return to Sempai café and tell Thom that we are going to visit again in a fortnight, i.e. after the Goenka retreat. So after two weeks we revisit that place and stay as couch surfers in a tent. And in the course of our stay, it becomes increasingly clear for us how Thom tries to establish a business here while for the Malay people it must feel weird to be asked to pay a Frenchman in order to be allowed to stay at a Malay beach and enjoy a family picnic. Imagine you go to the Danube island in Vienna and some Chinese businessman has recently opened a bar and you come there just like every weekend, and now you’re asked to pay for sitting down and having a picnic with your family. In life and in death, I find it is of utmost importance always to see both sides of the equation.

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kay El

​My first jetlag experience. Hitherto I’ve heard only stories about it, second-hand experience. Today I know what it means to be in a state of confusion regarding time. The wake/sleep rhythm is totally out of whack. We check in at a place called Dengba Hotel. It is located on a bustling street full food stalls and massage salons. After dinner we go to sleep… at least that was the intention. Waking up at night totally awake – it’s 2 a.m. Falling asleep again. Waking up after what seems like an entire night – checking the clock – it’s 4 a.m. Sleeping…. … … and waking up at noon! Getting up the question arises: What to do? I feel resistance and slight aversion to this big Babylon. We decide to walk to Botanic Garden. The free bus GoKL makes it very easy to get around the city.

One of numerous water fountains in front of Masjid Negara (National Mosque)


Botanic Garden in the west of KL – a perfect place to relax amidst lush nature and huge butterflies!

This first day is over soon. In the late afternoon Joy meets Melody, a yogīni friend she met in Bali. I go to Wynn’s Place to stuff my belly with roti canai and nasi goreng with veggies, carrot juice. Back to Dengba Hotel. Feeling tired. Hot feet. Learned some Malay words today, mostly to do with food hehe…
Kuantan

Next day, we get up and get going quite early. Destination Kuantan, on the east coast. We are going to participate in a 10-day Vipassana retreat (as taught by S.N. Goenka who deceased in November 2013).

We arrive at 24/7 Hotel, check in and explore the town. Mostly, we are here to charge our batteries after the long flight. This can be done best in lush green areas with many trees and fresh water.

Taman Gelora – a great place to spend a sunny afternoon in the cool shade of palm trees, only 20mins busride from the city centre

We particularly like Taman Gelora, a wonderful park with palm trees and lotus pond – easy to reach by RapidKuantan local bus 201. So many animals live there! We see monkeys copulating after territorial disputes, we see munching squirrels and cats chilling in the shade. We share half a water melon and spot birds chirping their way thru life and mini-crabs crawling into sandy holes on the beach nearby. I have a short walk in the river.

At Botanic Garden KL a huge butterfly poses for a photo session

In the evening we dine again in the deli restoran: daal, naan, mee goreng, teh tarik, a most fabulous combination 😛
In general, I feel a bit weary and irritable today. Jetlag symptoms, we agree. Joy hurts her toe cuz of flip-flops. Only to have some alternative she buys some red plastic footwear which she decides to leave behind two weeks later. All in all, it seems to be a pretty little town, Kuantan. Of course, we are curious to explore more of it.

At the esplanade

How could we know what awaits us in the days to come?! An adventurous plot ahead, with two beginner’s minds like us, not-knowing proves to be a blessing, no doubt.

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Burma, Hpa-An

Touring Hpa-An

Another week in Myanmar. After two weeks at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery it is one without a fixed daily schedule. I go to Hpa-An in the north of Mawlamyine (Moulmein) and stay with Soe Bros, a guesthouse with friendly staff offering tours to the nearby caves and lakes. There is a balcony on every floor which serves as a meeting place for travelers.

I participate in a tour with 6 others. It is truly amazing. Great group vibe. Smiling faces. Pretty cool driver named Eloy.

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Impressive caves embedded in nature. We visit many caves. I lose count. And it really doesn’t matter. I tend to be precise but not too much into statistics.

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Ya-The-Byan-Cave

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Good one!

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Famous rock with stupa in background, some nobodies in foreground

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Homage to the three jewels

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I was told there are at least 1,000 (one thousand!) Buddhas in Lumpbhini Park

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View from cave before the descent to the lake

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Work in progress (courtesy of Camilla Howe. thankyous 😉

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Some dude having coffee and cheerut at the lake

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A Cave dweller’s view over Burma Land

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Taking a plunge in at the water lake with other children. It’s fœnn!

The next day I rent a scooter and drive to Mt. Zwekabin. I hike up that steep mountain. Sweating hard. after one hour I give myself a short rest. (Thinking:) I was not feeling too good this morning. Tummy was upset. Still, I went for it. But I probably picked the wrong day for that trek. Stretched out on the wooden platform at the middle station I feel weak. Then I drink and continue walking. It is very steep. Shortly before the end there is a pagoda. I feel exhausted. Have to sit down. Almost throw up right there. Just wait it out, this waterfall-sweaty dizzy heart pounding nauseous feeling subsides soon.

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May ALL beings be without thirst…

Fifteen or so minutes afterwards I am ready for the last few steps up the mountain to Zwekabin Pagoda on the top. I cannot eat. It is noon. I take a nap in the shade. Photo session: Some Burmese girls take pictures with me. I have lunch and lie down again for another two hours of siesta. I listen to the last Dhammavidu talk indoors. (thx marko!) Outside it is burning hot. In the afternoon I go back down. I feel much better.

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Mount Zwe Ka Bin

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Small is beautiful

About the temperature, I can’t put it any better than Mr. Orwell in ‘Burmese Days’:
The heat throbbed down on one’s head with a steady, rhythmic thumping like blows from an enormous bolster. … and … The heat rolled from the earth like the breath of an oven.

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Jez bin i om 🙂

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After 2 hours of steep stairs I reach the peak

Scooter takes me to the bat cave where I meet some friends from yesterday’s tour. After a beautiful sunset we watch innumerable bats coming out of the cave. It goes on for more than half an hour! Indescribable…

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The Salween river from top of the bat cave

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Travel compays for a couple o days. What I lean on is a stupa. The skirt is called longyi (pronounced almost like lynchee)

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Millions billions trillions…

On the way up Mt. Zwekabin I meet a lady. She gives me a green fan. Salty waterfalls down my arms… the next day I meet a couple on the foot of Mt. Hpa Pu. It is opposite the town of Hpa-An where I stay. Across the Salween river. The man says that maybe I have sweated out all the evil spirits. I don’t know. I don’t believe in spirits. They’re just an invention to distract from what is really scary: Reality – as it is. I believe in shit. So I guess I sweated out all the shit in the system. Shit I had put into it the day before. Burping and farting and sweating out filth and surplus air and rotting hylae on the way down Mt Zwekabin. Almost on ground level I meet Noel again, a Philippine I’d met when I was with Karina (Graz) to have a great traditional dinner at Galaxy Hotel for free. She was so sad to leave Myanmar. Anicca dukkha.

I take the boat across the river and climb the stairs up Mt. Hpa Pu. Nice view. Truly amazing. No tablet with me so no landscape pictures this time. Just imagine! A short way before the peak the stairs end. From there, I have to climb. I give up when it gets too steep. Flipflops are no gear for that. Way too slippery. No grip on the gravel part. And with bare feet the rugged stones feel like sauna-stones. So both with and without footwear… all options I have to let go of. Not worth risking an injury of any kind. Humbling experience for a Capricorn. A parallel to the day before when I almost pass out and go down in a burping-farting-fashion. (Thinking:) Why am I attached to this body, or other bodies? Why give it so much importance? Just to think of the stuff which gets out of ANY orifice seems enough to be repulsed. Why identify with this loathsome bag of flesh at all? Why o why?

Maybe that is also what I meant before when I mentioned what is really scary.

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Burma, Mae Sot, Mawlamyine

A very wet road trip

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Border-X-ing @ Mae Sot

In general, Myanmar is calm. People are super friendly and extremely helpful.

And yet…I am writing this at a guesthouse in Hpa-An. Suddenly I hear a thud in the distance, sounds like a detonation. My seat shudders for a second. What was that?! A young girl comes and turns on the TV.

… …

Two weeks ago I entered the country overland. It was a piece of cake, really. Took a bus from Sihanoukville to Bangkok. Stayed there for Songkran festival and left as soon as I could. Songkran being Songkran, we got completely soaked as we went through the villages. Here are some impressions.

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Old friends having a chat

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Many buckets were not thrown on us but right onto our luggage. Funny, yes, in a limited sense. Once you dont give a shit anymore you dance along…

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Tire asti gate gate paragate parasamgate hehe

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Problem. Solution. Ten minutes.

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Bangkok, Thailand

Astrological passage สงกรานต์

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Let’s get it oooon 😛

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Three smiling girls near Chao Phraya river

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Khaosan Road transforms into Khaosan River

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Wash of all the dirt of the past. Cleanse the body. Clear your ♥. Be refreshed by the elixir of life. Buckets, pistols and bazookas filled up with icy water. Right inna your face. Wake up wake up. Get soaked. Have no worries. Wake up! Love is all around. Let it in. Let it flow. Let all conventions go. Feel free. Touch for peace. Just be! Yeah! Happy New Year!!! สวัสดีปีใหม่!!

Sometimes people ask me when I will go home again. Then the first thing that comes to mind is always: Well I am home. I feel at home here in South East Asia. And like I said be4 I am so confident everything turns out lovely. Nothing can happen. I am safe.

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Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok revisited

Three days in Bangkok. Exhaust fumes and engine noise. Restless traffic and trafficking. Travel agencies, temples, flower markets. Smells of waste, of poo and of goo, too. Street food stalls, simple frying stations with a bicycle/motorcycle attached to it. Pad thai, instant coffee, the notorious chang-leo-singha connection. Countless offers of massage, manicure, pedicure. And of course, the ubiquitous gold framed flower ornamented images of King Bhumipol and Queen Sirikit to round up the picture of this megacity, providing it with a sense of dignity.
  
… Being here after three months of travelling comes as a surprise. It was not planned at all. Given that this is Thailand, the no-plan mind-set probably counts as a valid reason for me to be here… exactly three months after I left Bangkok due south.
  
What I have in mind now is to fly to Myanmar. But as I am soon to find out, kamma kismet has something else in store for me.

1st day I go to the Myanmar embassy. It is in the south of the city (Pan Road) for a visa. Next day I go there again to get the passport back. I try to book a flight to Yangon but it’s not possible to go there without paying a lot of money and accepting an overstay in Thailand. So when I go to the Myanmar embassy I go there early in order to collect my passport. Once I get the passport, I reckon, I need to extend my Thai visa for 30 more days. This means going distances.

You already smell it’s not gonna be a piece of cake, right? When I go to pick up my passport they don’t want to give it to me because i am too early. They tell me to come back at 3.30p.m. cuz that’s the set ‘collection hour’. I insist and tell them I have to go to the Thai immigration office until 4 p.m. at the latest. Now you gotta know the Thai immigration office is located far north near the airport. It takes about 2 hours to go there from the centre. And I find myself south of the centre. Therefore, I insist. The clerk talks about embassy regulations. Still, I need my passport now. (You have to ask 3 times, right?!) Finally, he says OK and asks me to wait until he is finished with all the others. At 12.30 p.m. he gives me the stamped passport. Having left the Myanmar embassy, I take skytrain&bus&scooter taxi to get to the immigration office in the north. Three hours after I got my passport back I get that other stamp.

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An afternoon at Thai Immigration Office to extend my stay

I take a local bus back to Chatuchak Park to relax, work out, and run.

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Chatuchak Park right after that

Then I take the sky train and bus back to the guesthouse ‘Flapping duck’ near Phra Sumen Fort. Same place I stayed three months ago. I also meet a Viennese couple living in my neighbourhood. I meet Mark there, the Irish friend I had met in Khao Sok. A couple of new faces. Everyone with his/her own story.

We check Khao San Road, grab some food, dodge shady characters who want to play pingpong. Eventually we head back to the guesthouse. Playing pool and having phun on the roof top til staff member Eskimo kindly asks us to be quiet. His room is located right under the roof. It’s 3 or 4 a.m. when I finally find my way to bed.

The next day, a day of repose. Thai massage. Sightseeing. A lot of walking around. Cruising with the tourist boat. Indian food in the late evening.

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Cruising on Chao Phraya River

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Temple and spaceship (I am told it is a school but i don’t believe everything people say)

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This could be any place…but it’s bangkok.

Next day, get up early. Pack the bags. Checkout. Catch a bus to Chatuchak park. A spicy breakfast bowl. And a short walk to Buddhadāsa Indapañño Archives. Later I have lunch with some of the people working there. The simple food – rice with onions, guava and tamarind -, the metal bowl and metal spoon I am using remind me of Suan Mokh.

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… round and around and around and around we go…

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You get the picture…

I walk to the nearby northern bus terminal (Mo Chit 2) and catch a bus north to Phitsanulok -a city southwest of Sukhothai. Diamond, a chef de cuisine staying in Bangkok recommended a guesthouse to me. She wrote down the name in Thai script and said she is going to announce my arrival. When I arrive at the bus station at 10 p.m. the taxi drivers are baffled by this guy holding a piece of paper with some Thai script in his hand. They don’t know that place. No reason not to overcharge me and bring me someplace else. Thai tourist service. I understand. In the end, I check in at Lithai guesthouse. But not before having searched the streets for that place that was recommended to me. Here I am, in the middle of a city I don’t know. It’s midnight. And I am sitting at a bar with a Chang in my hand and some pak kao on my plate near the dirty Nan River. Fat backpack next to the table. Could be worse. I could be in that river. I am offered to sleep in the river hut for 300 baht. I agree. But no, there’s no key. I have to wait for the ‘other guy’. He is drinking his way out of this world on the other shore. I smile, wait til 1 a.m. and then all too willingly accept the scooter ride back to the guesthouse I was brought to in the first place, three hours ago.

A long day.

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