Tag Archives: community

Wat A Cave!

While there are several fabulous things to do while in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand, perhaps one of my favorites was visiting the Ao Noi Wat.  ‘Wat’ simply means Temple, but what sets this one apart from every other Wat I’ve been to so far is that it is located inside a cave!  In college I took a biospeleology class in college where we went all over the state of Texas and even into Mexico to different caves and the idea of finally getting back into one was thrilling!  Mind you, this particular cave wasn’t one that required to wiggle on your belly to get from one point to the next as it is quite large and easy to simply walk through.

I headed out about mid-day on my own to track down the Ao Noi Wat with a bottle of water, my camera and favorite all around walking shoes, my Keens.  The walk there really wasn’t all that interesting per se, since it literally was just walking along the side of the road.  The views however became more and more breathtaking as I got closer to the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park.  The beauty of the hills jutting out from the ocean was so beautiful and picturesque, I had a hard time continuing without stopping to take a gazillion pictures!

I walked past the over 150 year old fishing community of Ban Ta Monglai toward the Ao Noi community as the sun beat down on my skin making me wish for shade!  I knew I was going in the right direction, but I also knew the Wat was located in a cave, so some form of hill had to be ahead.  But as I walked past the fishing community and the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park, the hills disappeared.  The only ones visible were about 11 kilometers away in Myanmar (Burma)!  I continued to trek on however stopping every now and again to ask locals which direction the Wat was, and armed with the confidence that even they were still pointing for me to continue on, I figured some hill structure would have to show up soon.

As I didn’t have a watch with me, I honestly don’t even know how much further on I walked until some hills became visible again and until I finally hit Wat Ao Noi.  I was drenched in sweat from the sun and had been guzzling water as if my life depended on it (which let’s face it, it does!).  Finally I arrived at the base of the Wat and started an over 300 step climb to the entrance of the Wat.  The views of the town and beaches as I climbed were spectacular!  I will say that while most of the stairs up were in good condition, there were a few bits that had me worried as they were split in half and sliding toward the edge of the cliff.  Up and up I went until finally coming to the entrance where a box with 2 rechargeable flashlights sat.  A little sign said they were for the borrowing, and just to plug them back in when done.

Of course, the one thing I SHOULD have thought and known to bring (a flashlight) I didn’t, so it was really quite nice that they provided them there :).  I headed into the cave armed with my flashlight out of the sun and into the darkness.  I was literally the only person in the Wat and I won’t lie, at some points little bits and flashes of the movie “The Descent” went through my mind that at times freaked me out.  An especially heart-pounding moment was after I left the only naturally lit area of the cave and headed to the first reclining Buddha.  As I grappled with my camera while attempting also hold onto the rather large flashlight, the light flickered on something alive on the cave floor.  I immediately scanned the light back to what I had seen to discover 2 little black dogs!!  They lived in the cave!!

I sighed a sigh of relief upon seeing them as I called them over for a pat, but then had another second of slight panic as I wondered whether they could be rabid!  I mean, bats can carry rabies, bats live in caves and who knew whether the dogs had been vaccinated or if anyone actually took care of these dogs…  Luckily however they were very friendly and showed no signs of being rabid and quite frankly their presence made it easier to be the only one in the cave.  Because surely if some crazy creature crawled out of some crevice to attack me, they would bark first to alert me, right?? 😉

I carried along the length of the cave past the first reclining Buddha and to my surprise found a second next to a series of about a dozen large Buddha’s in seated position.  Along to the right of the seated Buddha’s was another walkway that led to another large area where tons of visitors had stacked rocks in a variety of patterns, making their mark to show they were there.  And in the very back of this last large room sat yet another Buddha watching over the whole show.

I spent probably twenty minutes (it’s not THAT large a cave) walking around and searching for various other avenues to explore while listening to the nothing sound of caves, linked in with little chitters from bats above every now and again.  I will say my favorite thing about caves is the nothingness.  There is no sound most of the time and when the lights are turned off, you could hold your hand an inch in front of your face and still not see it.  There is such a peace about caves that is so very hard to find anywhere else and being back in the environment again was so very delightful.

As I headed out of the cave, my two little protectors followed.  At the entrance I noticed that indeed there was dog food scattered about the entrance around two blue dog bowls (I hadn’t noticed this detail before) but I also noticed there didn’t seem to be any water source for them.  As one of the dishes was empty, I poured it full with water.  One seemed to be quite thirsty, the other not so much so again it was a good sign that they were being taken care of somehow.

I headed back to the ground floor as the dogs chose to remain behind and wait for the next cave guests.  Back on solid ground I visited the actual Wat of Ao Noi.  The Cave is simply where there are several Buddha statues, but the actual Wat isn’t in the cave, yet decoratively set along the base of the cave hill near a pond, the ocean and a monk community.  After visiting the Wat, I headed back toward my guesthouse back in Prachuap, stopping along the way at a very delicious (I should have gotten the name!!) restaurant with some of the best khao pad gai (chicken fried rice) I’d tasted anywhere.

I was quite shocked to learn that the whole trip only took me about 5 hours or so, including a leisure lunch!  I am generally quite a fast walker by nature, but even this surprised me!  One not so good outcome from having walked as far and as fast as I had, however was my feet.  It had been a long time since I’d actually worn my Keens and by the time all was said and done with the walking for the day, I’d developed quite a large blister on the bottom of my foot.  Luckily it hadn’t popped, but I wasn’t so sure the same could be said after the walk we had planned for the next day at Khao Lommuak…

On to Hiking Khao Lommuak

Back to Thailand

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Amsterdam!!!!!

Ok, now I know I’ve said this before about places I’ve been to… But I ABSOLUTELY LOVED AMSTERDAM!!!!!  Honestly if I can find a place with such charm, spirit, acceptance and SANITY as exists in the people and politics of Amsterdam, yet somewhere warm all year round, well let’s just say I will have found home:)  Alas, it does get cold there in the winter so sadly I won’t be able to call it my new home… The search continues, grrr!!!

Moving on… Why do I LOVE Amsterdam so much, you may ask??  The reasons are so numerous I’m getting excited just thinking about the prospect of writing about them!  Their views on sex and drugs, their tolerance for people of different religious backgrounds, races, sexes and lifestyles.  Then tack on the natural and pure beauty of the city itself with the crazy architecture and lovely Venice-like canals running throughout.  So many extremes live peacefully together within a stone’s throw of each other.  Everyone is accepting of one another and though they may not always agree, they don’t bother or use any sort of violence toward another.  They just coexist and go along with their lives and leave what they don’t agree with in peace.  Ah, just wonderful!!  So many places and people could learn a lot from this kind of mentality.

The only warning I will give people about Amsterdam is BEWARE THE BICYCLISTS!!!!  Seriously, they will run your rear over and not even look back if you dare to get in their way!!  Not kidding either… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stepped into the bike lane or even in the street and had a near heart attack because I was almost run over by a passing  cyclist.  As one of guides during a tour I took said (and I’m paraphrasing here): the people of Amsterdam are wonderful and friendly people.  However something happens to them when they get on a bicycle.  They suddenly morph into crazy homicidal maniacs who will take you out if you get in their way.  LOL!!!

I stayed at the StayOkay Stadsdoelen Hostel a short distance from the train station and just a few blocks from the Red Light District.  The hostel itself was nice and located directly on one of the canals, and even though I was sharing the room with 19 other people, being on the canal gave it a nice view and some charm.

When I first arrived via train into town I have to be honest that I wasn’t impressed at all.  The area around the train station isn’t anything to write home about as it’s kinda dumpy and industrial.  However just a few minutes of walking took me into one of the hearts of the city (the Red Light District) and the cute homes, canals and vibe started to thrill me.  Funnily enough, I had no idea that I had been walking through the Red Light district while trying to find my hostel and only learned later while looking at a map where I’d been.  That just goes to show you how classy the area is.  It’s not “in your face” or intrusive in any way, though it’s there.

Oh wait… I did say I had only one warning about Amsterdam for tourists.  Well… I just thought of one more… Do NOT take pictures of the women in the windows of the Red Light district!!!  This was a warning given to us during the “free” walking tour and the “Red Light District” tour I took later that night.  As it was told to us by our tour guides the women of the district are entrepreneurs.  They are not things to be gawked at or disrespected.  And if they catch you taking pictures and you don’t pay them anything for them, they may come out from their window, chase you down, take your camera from you, stomp it to a mechanical pulp with their 6-inch heels and walk away.  Yes, apparently this does happen quite often… In fact it happened during my tour of the District to an unfortunate gentlemen.  Personally I was so freaked by the prospect of my camera getting stomped to death that I didn’t even take my camera out while walking through the district, lol!

The walking tour I went on started in front of the National Monument just across from the Royal Palace.  It covered the Red Light District, Rembrandt’s house, the Nieuwmarkt, coffeeshops, a little known community of charitable women, the homomonument and we were left just about a block away from the house of Anne Frank.  At this point I had been on several of the “free” walking tours in various cities and what I really appreciate about them is that each is so unique.  Not just because they are obviously about different cities, but because each guide tells the stories that they find most interesting.  So each tour guide will give a different experience to each participant.  Love it!  I paid for a tour of the Red Light District which included stories on the history of the district, a peek on a live sex show, how Amsterdam has come to embrace the district and ended with drinks at a club.

Now I will admit that while I was perfectly fine during the walking tour, I was a teeny bit (fairly plastered) drunk during the Red Light District tour… I do regret that I was so intoxicated during the tour because I don’t recall as many of the stories as I would like to have.  But I guess you could say it’s just another reason to go back:)

In my “defense” the reason I was so intoxicated is because I was thinking about getting a tattoo or new piercing so I would always be reminded of the good times in Amsterdam.  I even went so far as to check out various options.  Turned out to be too expensive and I wasn’t terribly inspired on what to get so I ended up settling on a pair of flip-flops to remember my time by, lol!!!  But after deciding against a tattoo or piercing I had several hours of time to kill before my night tour, so I wandered into a bar…

Turned out it was a gay bar, which didn’t bother me because it had fabulous music, was low key and not terribly crowded at the time.  However as the hours went on, the crowds grew and I had befriended several of the other bar patrons hanging out and the next thing you knew shots were being bought for me, I was buying shots for others, and well, I’m just happy I made it out of there and to the tour at all!!  The shots were a typical (and yummy I may add) shot of Amsterdam called “Heuge Meug” made of cognac, Tia Maria’s and a splash of Bailey’s… YUMMMY!!!  But lethal too, lol!!

As for the walking tour, here are my favorite bits.  The next post on ‘Sex & Drugs in Amsterdam’ are also highlights from the tour, but I just had so much to say on them that I thought it best to put them in a new post:)

Stock exchange: The World’s first stock exchange started in Amsterdam with the establishment of the Dutch East India Trading Company, the most powerful and successful trading company to trade goods out of Asia.  How did they become so good at their trade (pun intended)??  Traders in the Netherlands devised a deal with one another.  Instead of sending separate ships to Asia, one for tea, one for spices, one for pepper, etc. they would send out 20 ships and load 5% of each product on every ship.  That way, if one ship sank during adverse weather only 5% of each supply was lost instead of losing 100% of a supply.  So everyone was able to get their particular product back for trading.  Clever, clever!!  The trading company reigned for more than 100 years but eventually did decline.

World's First Stock Exchange
World’s First Stock Exchange

Coffeeshops & the Red Light District: I write about these bits in great detail in the next post but for the picture below, this coffeeshop is actually where they filmed a scene from Ocean’s 12.  The scene didn’t make any sense and in the next post you will learn why:) Notice the unexpected critter in the shop too… LOL!

Community of Charitable Women:  This community started back in the 1600’s and is alive and well today.  The way it originally began was with a group of women who wanted to take on the charitable responsibilities of nuns without actually having to take all the vows or chastities of nuns.  Hence began the community of charitable women:)  Now this title I’ve assigned is my own title- it’s not what the group is actually called (since I can’t recall specifically) and I’m not even sure where the community is in Amsterdam since I neglected to take a picture of what street we were on when coming to it.  But I guess it’s meant to be that way since it was sort of a secret of the city.  Behind the door in the picture below lay the community of women who simply want to live life giving to others.  That is how the community began and today it is a peaceful and very sought out area of town to live.  This community only allows people who meet the following criteria to live there: 1) they must be female; 2) they must be over 30; and 3) they must be single.  To live in this community is so sought after that women are put on a waiting list.  One story told to us was of a woman whose name was finally called after 10 years of waiting.   When the call came she had been dating a steady boyfriend for several years but she promptly broke up with him so she could move into the community, LOL!!  The picture of the grave below is of one of the original members of the community who died in 1654.  She wanted to be buried in the street so she could feel the rain wash over her.  When she did die however she was buried in a regular cemetary, even though it was against her wishes (If memory serves it was her family who buried her in the cemetary).  One night the women of the community knowing her final wish for her resting place went to the cemetary, dug her up and took her back to the community where they burried her in the street.  Now those are true friends!

XXX: No, this doesn’t refer at all to the Red Light District or anything at all to do with anything X-rated, it is merely at the core of the 500 year old coat of arms of Amsterdam.  It can be seen just about everywhere throughout the city however from the flags to street signs and of course on the coat of arms itself.

XXX
XXX

The Nieuwmarkt: this building is was the old gate to medieval Amsterdam and was built in 1488.  It stood in the canal until 1614 and in 1617 it became a weighing station.  Interesting story told by our guide about this place is that it was also the location of several “human experiements” shall we say…  Doctors and surgeons way back when used this location to perform a variety of disections on human bodies to figure out how they work.  If memory serves it was also the site of many executions that then led to their bodies being taken apart piece by piece to see how they ticked… Today it is a restaurant:)  Steak anyone?? 😉

Homomonument:  This monumnet is made up of 3 triangles, that if viewed above form a larger single triangle where each of the three smaller forms a point of the larger one.  The Homomonument serves as a memorial to all gay men and lesbians who have had to face persecution at any point in their lives because of their sexuality.  To me it once again shows how wonderfully accepting and celebratory Amsterdam is of the people who make their lives there.

 

More Miscellaneous Pictures:

On to Sex and Drugs in Amsterdam

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