Camping in the Valley of Fire

You know Nevada for a few things.  You’ve have heard of Las Vegas, but what about the Valley of Fire?

Camping in the Valley of Fire is the best way to experience the ancient aztec sandstone landscape full of pink, red and orange rock formations.  Only a short 80km ride from the gambling capital of the world, the park is far cry from the hustle and bustle of the big city.  The perfect place to spend a couple days wild camping, so check out my experience of camping in the valley of fire.

The sandstone is formed from compressed sand dunes over millions of years.

The sandstone is formed from compressed sand dunes over millions of years.

What is the Valley of Fire?

The Valley of Fire national park covers an area of 40,000 acres.  Amongst the sandstone outcrops, there are petrified wood and camel tracks dating back thousands years ago.   A major highlight are the rock paintings (petroglyphs) found in the park showing how our ancestors once lived in the region.

 

As each layer is compressed on top of each other, it forms a ring type pattern in the rock.

As each layer is compressed on top of each other, it forms a ring type pattern in the rock.

 

The park takes its name from firey appearance of the rock formations on a sunny day.  The Aztec sandstone structures fill the 46,000 acre state park.

With the moon like feel to the place, it’s no wonder that movies such as Star Trek and Total Recall were filmed there.

Depending on how long you want to stay in the park,  you can just spend a couple of hours driving through the park admiring the scenery.  After hearing how beautiful the sunrises are in the park, I choose to stay a night and do more intense hikes through the valley of fire.

First Impressons of the Valley of Fire

The orange, red and pink sandstone rocks greet you from the main road as soon as you enter the park.  The road Meanders through the rocky formations, meaning you’ll get insane views straight from the car on Mouse’s Tank Road.

 

Loads of interesting trails and things to see in the park

Loads of interesting trails and things to see in the park

 

Parking up the car

There are loads of car parks along the main road.  Just make sure if you aren’t following a trail you pick out obvious markers near you car, so you can make your way back.

Finding the perfect spot to make camp

A short walk from the main road, and you’ll be find yourself right in the middle of the Valley of Fire.   The landscape is full of gorges and steep hills of sandstone.   It can get hazardous and don’t forget, it’s not unlikely that you’ll see snakes in the area.

During the night

The huge sandstone structures provide perfect cover.  During the night, there was only a light breeze.  There were a few sandflies but they don’t bite. Staying there during September meant temperatures were mild.  The overnight lows ranged between 4-8°C.

 

Setting up camp for the evening

Setting up camp for the evening in the middle of the valley of fire

 

Waking up for Sunrise

The bright early morning sun glistened bright orange and fiery red.  Here’s a shot from the sunrise.

 

The highest point in the park is over 900 meters.

The highest point in the park is over 900 meters.

 

You won’t get the amenties of the designated camping areas, but for me its worth having the freedom to find the spot you want meaning these views in the morning will be all to yourself.

Camping in the designated areas

There are three camping sites (Poverty Flats, Arch Rock and Atlati Rock) are open all year.  These offer a more comfortable and secure option when thinking about camping in the Valley of Fire.   It costs $20 per night and the amenties are comfortable.  They all have access to water, grills and shaded tables.  They are also ideally located to the main trails.  Arrive early (11a.m.) to ensure you get a spot at the campgrounds.

Atlati Rock (LAT / LONG: 36.41778, -114.55139)
  • 44 campsites set
  • Campsites are $20 per night + $10 per night for campsites with utility hookups
  • amenities include drinking water, flush toilets, showers and an RV dump station. Each campsite also has a table (most with a shade structure)
  • Campsites 23 to 44 have electric/water hookups at Atlatl Rock campground.
  • First come, first serve

 

A typical bay at the Atlati Rock campground

A typical bay at the Atlati Rock campground

Arch Rock Overview ( LAT / LONG: 36.41759, -114.55667)
  • 29 campsites set
  •  first-come first-serve and can accommodate tents, trailers and RVs.
  • There are no hookups at this campground.
  •  amenities include drinking water, flush toilets, showers and an RV dump station
Poverty Flats  (LAT / LONG: 48.996990, -115.059120)
  • 100 Campsites set
  • Free camping
  • Not any amentities at this site
  • Situated a few kilmeters from the Valley of Fire national park

TOP 3 EXPERIENCES IN THE PARK

Here were my three favourite spots in the park.

  • Fire Wave:  This is the spot for amazing photos.  Only a 1.5 mile hike, where on a sunny day the rocks turn a bright red.
  • Pink Canyon (Pastel Canyon):  A shorter walk through a light coloured pink canyon.
  • The Beehives:  Beehive type rock formations, just be carefull when climbing them.
THE FIRE WAVE

The most popular spot in the park.  The effect of the white and red stripes on the rock makes for an awesome photo.  It’s only a short 1.5 mile hike.

 

One of the most gorgeous spots in the valley

One of the most gorgeous spots in the valley. Source Earthtrekkers

THE BEEHIVES

The wind has carved out these strange structures.  Easily scalable and once on top of them, there are some great views of the park.

 

These structures are only a short walk from the road.

These structures are only a short walk from the road.

PINK CANYON

This is not a well known spot, yet it’s one of the prettiest places in the Valley of Fire.   Pink Canyon (or Pastel Canyon) is at coordinates: 36°28’47” N 114°31’36” W.  From the car park, you need to head east into the canyon.

 

A stunning canyon to walk through

A stunning canyon to walk through

 

Animals in the Valley of Fire

THIS IS SNAKE COUNTRY! It’s a must to be to be vigilant at all times.  Also it’s a good idea to bring a snake bite kit.

 

Sidewinders (Rattlesnakes) can get up to speeds of nearly 30 KPH. Source machine design.

Sidewinders (Rattlesnakes) can get up to speeds of nearly 30 KPH. Source Machine Design.

 

Due to the inhospitable nature,  you’ll often run into animal bones.  This is especially true in the canyons as animals seek out a water source.

Ancient Landscape

Hunter gatherers lived in the region from around 300 BC, there are several examples of rock art (petroglyphs) throughout the park.

 

People believe the region held great importance to our ancestors. Yet being a year round residence is unlikely due to the lack of water.

People believe the region held great importance to our ancestors. Yet being a year round residence is unlikely due to the lack of water.

 

Over the millions of years, wind erosion has been a constant battering force upon the soft sandstone rock.  Resulting in spectacular wind tunnels which make for a surreal landscape.

 

Lots of evidence of wind erosion in the park

Lots of evidence of wind erosion in the park

 

Best times to visit

Campsites are open all year round.  It’s just during the winter months (Oct to Feb), overnight temperatures can get down to 3-8 °C so come prepared.

How to get there?

Situated 50 miles Northeast of Las Vegas.  From Las Vegas you mostly drive on Interstate 15 for one hour and a half.  As you enter the national park the road turns into a two lane road.

Links to help you

The official site of the park

Top 5 Insane Travel Stories From 2020

Our Top Insanely Mad Adventures from the Year.

Despite the global pandemic,  our insanely mad adventurers have found time to get up to some mischief.

Man Walking the coastline of the UK with his dog

Setting off in 2017 from Swansea, Christian Lewis decided to take on the challenge of walking the entire coastline of the British Isles.  He estimated the trip would take him over four years with a distance of 8,700 miles.

Christian and his dog jet.

Christian and his dog jet.

A Slight Hick Up

As you can tell with him setting off in 2017 and it last 5 years to do, he still hasnt finished.  In March the UK government enacted social distancing measures which has had to put a halt to his adventure.  When this came into force he was in a remote part of Scotland and the locals made sure he had somewhere to stay, which was on a remote part of Scotland.

What Supplies Has He Taken With Him

He prefers to keep his backpack as light as possible.  So he only carries a tent, sleeping bag, a few items of clothing and a phone charger.

Setting up for the night.

Setting up for the night.

 

Further emphasised with him only taking £10 and two days worth of rations with him as he set off.  He looks whereever possible to live off the land.  He has become an expert in detecting limpets and other food sources near the coast.

The Generosity Of People

With his facebook page gathering more followers every day, he has created quite the storm.  So much so in fact that local businesses have done their upmost to help out with donations.

A local fisherman that brings Christain items every week.

A local fisherman that brings Christain items every week.

 

Even during the lockdown, he has been stationed in shetlands staying in a cabin.  Donated to Christian after a couple had been aware he had nowhere to go during lockdown.

Cycling And Camping On The Largest Salt Slat In The World.

Our friend Nano enjoyed a trip cyling around South America earlier in the year.  His highlight was the Utunyi salt flat in Bolivia.  The extroidinary sunsents, mesmerising mirages and star spangled nights were what he enjoyed the most.

It’s pretty easy to do, just make sure you are prepared.  Even in the summer, nightly temperatures fall below zero and with winds blustering across the flats that will shake your tent ceaselessly, makes for the conditions to be really tough.

There won’t be anything for miles around, so whether its clothing or bike equipment make sure you have what you need!

What’s Cool About It?

The clear nights sky and the unique landscape of the salt flats are major reasons why people come to enjoy the salt flats.  During some points of the year, pools of water appear on the salts surface creating a shimmering effect across the flats.

Travel Across The Atlantic On A Cargo Ship

For those of you travelling on the cheap, this is the one for you.  Cargo boats are an ever present on our world’s oceans, but did you know you can travel on them.

 

A ship to himself

A ship to himself

What’s It Like On Board?

There is no wifi, so be sure to bring enough movies, books and music to keep your occupied.  You are free to go anywhere you want on the ship anytime, just be sure to check in with the captain and crew every so often.

Activites include sunbathing (lots), boardgames and theres even a gym to tone up during the long voyage.  The shipping containers are massive and they go so slowly that motion sickness shouldn’t really be an issue.

Up on the bridge

Up on the bridge

How Do You Do It?

You can either pay for your own room (check our the article for more information on that) or you can try your luck.  Head down to the harbour and see if you can make contact with the captain of the ship.  Just remember to offer something in return like sharing them on your social media or something like that.

For a full run down of shipping lanes and people to contact, please have a look at our page.

Spending a night in the Aussie bush

Getting away for the night to make camp in an Australian riverbed was perfect for Erik.  If there is one thing you need to think about when staying in the bush are the abundance of dangerous animals.  Long socks for protection from snake bites are a must and being especially aware of spider webs is insanely important.

Setting up for the night

Setting up for the night

 

Funnel web spiders are common in the bush and one bite from those certainly won’t be welcome as they are the most venomous spiders in Australia.

Setting up the camp

A hammock provides perfect protection from the creepy crawlies, just make sure the trees you attach the hammock to are level.  Otherwise you’ll roll out during the night.

Dinner is served

It has always been Erik’s dream to eat manual rotissiere chicken in the wild. Here’s how he did it.

Collect wood to make a tripod. I completely failed at tying the timber in place using the chords i had brought with me, but I managed to find two v-shaped logs and a long straight piece to go over the fire. This piece would be inserted through the chicken.

Season the chicken with thyme, rosemary and sage, and coat with butter and lemon juice.

Season the chicken with thyme, rosemary and sage, and coat with butter and lemon juice.

 

Next, I attached the chicken to the long piece of wood. This needed to be tight enough to be able to spin with the wood as I turned it.

Then, I got the fire going.

For advice to make the perfect fire please check Erik’s story.

Quarantine Horror In Vietnam

After a resident of the city Ho chi Minh (in Vietnam) went out to a bar for the evening, she recevied an unwelcome knock at her apartments door a few days later.

Being taken away

Being taken away

 

It transpired that during the course of the night, she had drunk at the same bar as a pilot who had tested positive for Coronavirus.  The govt acted with such thoroughness everyone who went to the bar that night was to be tracked down and placed into quarantine.  And when i say quarantine I mean locked up alone in abandoned buildings with no a.c.

Freaking out…..

With next to no communication, the 100 or so foreigners placed there didn’t have a glue what was going on.  Somewhere in between the not knowing how long they would be there for and no one speaking English,   they had to find a way of getting through the ordeal.

Getting tested

Getting tested

Severe bordom

The best way to make the days shorter was by sleeping.  With the lack of stimulation, it really has tendency to make someone drowsy.  With people allowed to socialise after the second day, foreigners just had each other.  They thought up inventive games with plastic bottles, missed their families, and yearned for normal food.  This was repeated every day.

Passing the time

Passing the time

Finally leaving

After 15 days they were finally allowed, the feeling of emancipation was palpable on the car ride home.  The sense of accomplishment they all shared was something that will stay with them forever.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their insanely mad adventures with us.  We hope everyone can get back adventuring very soon. Stay safe.

 

Nearly Eaten By A Hippo

Ever Wondered What It Was Like To Be In The Jaws Of A Hippo?

Africa is full of dangerous animals, but none more so than the Hippo.  Paul Templer takes us through his survival story of nearly being eaten by a hippo.

After spending most his twenties on the waters of the Zambezi river in Zimbabwe, he got to know some animals even more so than his own friends!  However one afternoon this familiarity didn’t count for much, as he tried to escort of a group of tourists back to their base.

A Tranquil Evening

Dusk is an extremely tranquil time of the day on the Zambezi, as the sunsets over the plains play out to the relaxing sounds of the river’s flow.  Paul along with three colleagues (Ben, Evans and Mack) were in charge of escorting a tour group who were coming to the end of their day’s activities.

Paul who sees pods of hippos frequently along the river, says ”making your way through a pod of hippos is like a chess game, as you need to think strategically in plotting your route through them”

The serenity of the Zambezi river at dusk

The serenity of the Zambezi river at dusk. Photo International Rivers

 

Everything was going just how Paul wanted, he successfully navigated his way through the majority of them.  Just as he made his final move, he heard a sound that all seasoned veterans to the Zambezi dread; a loud bang.  He turned around to see his colleague Evan being catapulted into the air.  Seeing his friend submerged in the water, Paul had no choice but to go and save him.

Just has he was approaching his colleague, he saw what he could only describe as a mini tsunami making his way towards him, in the same way a torpedo was on the verge of striking a ship.

A Giant Crocodile or Hippo?

Seeing it hone in towards him, he know it was either a giant crocodile or a hippo.  From his training he knew that slapping the water was the best course of action, then everything went dark.

Remembering the crippling pain on the base of his spine was intolerable.  Paul feeling the bristles from the hippo’s mouth suddenly realised he found himself head first down the throat of the hippo.

Unexpectedly the hippo quickly proceeded to spit Paul out.  Staring into the pupils of the hippo, Paul shouted at Evan ”we need to get out of here!”  As Paul was shrieking, the hippo this time coming from below chomped on Paul again.

Now in reverse, Paul’s legs were trapped and his upper body was free.  He quickly came to the understanding that fighting was futile.  As he let his body go limp, the hippo spat him out again.

Bruised and bloody Paul could see the riverbank.  He made his escape. Now the Hippo really wasn’t in the mood for playing any games.

Hippos are so powerful, a crocodile certainly would never attack one

300 people are on average eaten by a hippo each year.  Hippos also have canine teeth which can grow up to half a meter. Photo Quora

Thrown Around Like A Rag doll

Upon nearly reaching the river’s edge with the last ounce of his energy,  the hippo was severe ferocity scored the most lethal of direct hit on Paul’s torso.

A tourist who was in the group later said ”it looked like a vicious dog ripping a rag doll apart” as the hippo went berserk.  With the tusks piercing his torso,  the hippo plunged for the bottom of the river.

Paul had no idea of how long he was down there and remarked;

”Time passes very slowly in the jaws of a submerged hippo”

Staring up at the light shimmering on the water’s surface, he started to think to himself, either he was going to drown or bleed to death.  Holding the hippo’s tusks trying to prevent anymore flesh being shredded, he soon wondered if soon he was going to be cut in half by the power of animal’s vice.

Cue Lady Luck

Then miraculously the hippo lurched forward and spat Paul out.  As he reached the surface, his colleague Mack showed incredible bravery used his kayak to toe Paul to the edge of the river.

He has no idea how he or Mack survived to tell the tale, especially considering the anger of the animal shown in the continued thrashing as the pair tried to get onto dry land.

After arriving on the river bank he looked down at his left arm, it was just a bloody pulp of bone and flesh.  It was only the quick thinking of Mack that Paul’s life was saved from being eaten by a hippo.  With Paul coughing blood, his first aid training taught him that meant a punctured lung.  Mack fashioned a make shift tourniquet from some clothing that eventually eased the bleeding.

A Spiritual Experience

Something very strange then began to happen.  Everything went calm as all the pain went away.  After speaking with many doctors, they all have put it down to the physiological response to the body shutting down.  Paul feels differently, for him it was a profoundly spiritual experience.  

The tour guide said ”My body was infused with incredible peace, it was my choice, should I go or should I fight and stick around”

A Partner Dead

His partner Evan, who was the first to fall in the river, was not eaten by a hippo but drowned as not a scratch was found on him .  This filled Paul with a tremendous sense of guilt, yet no matter how people told him it was an accident it still pangs him with great pain.

Getting over the experience

After eventually recovering from the physical scars, the mental scars remained for a long time after.  It was only until his mother gave him the stern words of ”Hippo or no hippo, its time you get on with your life”

He indeed has gotten on with his life, as he now heads up a foundation for children below the poverty line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Day Meditation Retreat

High in the hills of the Burmese mountains is the setting where Burmese and foreigners stay for a week to do a seven day long meditation retreat.

Now in 60th retreat, this seven day meditation retreat has proved to be popular; every year passes more and more people come.  A big draw for people are the different styles of meditation, you’ll have the opportunity to explore.  Just don’t forget to stay awake during the lying down meditation!

Views from the Meditation retreat.

Northern Myanmar is very mountainous.  The view from the retreat is especially stunning at dusk.

Never ever Done Meditation Before?

Over half of our group of 12 people had never done meditation before.  Many people told us before coming, that if you are going to try a meditation course then this is the one for you.

A More Relaxed Meditation Retreat

The monk in charge of the retreat especially emphasised ‘‘the natural way”.  Techniques which can easily be transferred into your daily life are heavily encouraged.  An example of this was being allowed to speak (Silence is mandatory in many retreats).   Having the possibility to speak about your feelings allowed people to process the experience in a meaningful fashion.

During meditation people are guided in a way which does not place undue stress on your mind.  A natural way of meditating means you don’t block any thoughts or focusing too intently on one particular aspect (often your breathe).

The day was split up into different activities.  Attending all of them was advised, however they were not compulsory.  For the older people, walking for one hour during the walking meditation can become quite challenging!

Free from Detachment and Craving

As a thought enters your mind, we were encouraged to not label it in a negative or positive way.  Desire comes from the clinging onto things or experiences your life.  Having the ability to condition your mind to the fact that happy and sad times come and go is especially important.  

How Much Does It Cost?

The course does not cost anything.  It is recommended to give a donation at the end of your stay.

The Cold Nights

The large amount of blankets that the retreat has in reserve, are there for a reason!  Due to the attitude of the retreat, night time temperatures often fall to around 5 degrees.  Come prepared!

Separate Rooms for Men and Women

The rooms are basic with just mats on the floor and the men’s room doesn’t have hot water.  The cold water showers are certainly refreshing in the early mornings.  It does get very cold during the nights, there are blankets but bringing a sleeping bag is advisable.

The Food

The food is simple and sometimes it does contain lots of oil.  During my interview with the monk, he speaks about monks not needing to be vegetarian.  Therefore there is meat during the meals and what is on offer are from the donations from the local communities.

Everyone says prayers before both Western and Burmese eat together.

Everyone says prayers before both Western and Burmese eat together.

There is no evening meal which is intended to teach you that we can still be satisfied with less food.   You don’t have to strictly obey the rules, so if you want you can venture out and go to local shop who serve the best shan noodles.

Good Deeds and Meditation

Throughout the course, the monk reiterates long term contentment can only be attained by doing good deeds combined with meditating.  Activities are therefore organised whereby attendees work together on tasks that need doing in the retreat such as weeding, cleaning or cutting trees.

People are asked to do what ever is needed around the meditation retreat.

People are asked to do what ever is needed around the meditation retreat.

Is the Meditation difficult?

The variety of meditation helps (walking, standing, lying and sitting) to keep people motivated.  The first few mornings, the monk led the sessions.  For me this helped a lot, as i wasn’t used to be sitting for such long periods.

Towards of the end of retreat, the monk did not provide any guidance.  After 4 or 5 days of meditating it was amazing how peaceful the mind became, that sitting for one hour meditating really wasn’t a big deal.

The longest session is only an hour (which is shorter compared to other retreats), there are plenty of mats and cushions to help with posture.  Noble speech was really helpful in letting you talk to the other people to understand what people are going through, to help with processing all the emotions.

The Daily Routine

They busy schedule (however there’s more free time compared with other retreats) certainly leads to action packed days!  The couple of hours free in the afternoon allows for people to often enjoy a nap.

Early Morning

The bell rings at 4 a.m,  this sounds early but you soon get used to the routine.  For 4.30 a.m. you arrive at the meditation hall.  With 90% of the people being from Myanmar, there is a strong emphasis on Burmese chanting.  The session lasts for an hour and fifteen minutes, with guiding done by the head monks in both the Burmese and English languages.

Breakfast

As the last time you would have eaten was lunchtime the previous day, you’ll certainly be hungry.  The Burmese prayers before food are a big highlight!  At breakfast it’s time to tuck into more than likely rice/soup/meat/crackers.

Walking Meditation

The retreat is perched majestically in the Burmese mountains, and this makes the walking meditations extremely enjoyable.  For one hour, you gently stroll around the complex, focusing on being mindful of everything around you.

Dhamma Talks

For one hour, discussions take place about the main principles of Buddhism. Debates serve an important purpose in dissecting what you can do to lead a contented life (in the eyes of the Buddha).

Dhamma talks were split up between Westerners and Burmese people

Dhamma talks were split up between Westerners and Burmese people

Lying Down Meditation

Even though this was during the afternoon, there is a still big chance that you’ll fall asleep during this!  There were also a few flies buzzing around, which were mightily annoying.  10 minutes into it, you’ll start to hear a cacophony of snoring.  It was very amusing.

Lying down for an hour sounds easy, I have to say it’s not!  You will feel aches and pains everywhere!

People are advised to walk normally, and to be mindful of everything around them.

People are advised to walk normally, and to be mindful of everything around them.

Evening Meditation

The evenings are cold in the mountains, so people often bring extra blankets.  The sessions last for an hour and is the same as that of the morning, as it’s sitting meditations and takes place in the main meditation hall.

Going To Sleep

The first night is challenging to fall asleep, but after that it’s easy.  The accommodation is basic with just a mat on the floor to sleep on.  The point of this is to observe a luxury free life for duration of the time you spend at the retreat.

Returning One Day?

This retreat was certainly a more pleasurable experience than the more serious 10 day retreats.  The more relaxed environment allowed for more enjoyment.  We had so much fun with the Burmese people who were so incredibly friendly.  We all hope to take what we have learnt from the experience and try to let it influence how we live our lives.

For more information please visit Thabarwa’s website here.

 

What’s it like Volunteering in a Monastery?

Ever thought about volunteering in a monastery?  Then this experience could be the one for you.

The Thabarwa monastery just outside Yangon is a refuge, where volunteers from all over the world help poor, handicapped and sick people.

Thabarwa is run exclusively on donations and takes care of over 4000 people.  The monastery put special emphasis on empowerment, illustrated perfectly in the rainbow hospital which is located within the complex where patients are given responsibility to help even though they may be able to use their body fully.

One of the patients remarked

Having one arm at least gives me the chance to mop the floor of the ward once a day

What is Tharbarwa?

The monastery is primarily a place where sick or poor people, who do not have the means to look after themselves come for support and to live.

There are also 500 monks that live at Thabarwa.  Their daily lives consist of learning and meditation.  The resident Buddhist university that is situated within the confines of the complex host regular study sessions.  Buddhism teaches that without a peaceful mind you can’t be useful for anyone, so meditation plays an important role in the monastery and is encouraged for volunteers to participate as well.

A Normal Day in the Life of a Volunteer?

This is completely up to you, no activity is compulsory but volunteers normally do two activities daily.  One in the morning and one in the afternoon.

There is a strong emphasis on meditation at the centre, but the sessions are not mandatory.  Most volunteers wake up at 8.00 am, with most activities starting at 9.00 am.  Lunch is served from donations from the local community at 11.30 a.m.  After the afternoon activities, 4 or 5 volunteers will cook dinner for everyone.  This is paid for by the volunteers who all donate money into a kitty the night before.

Volunteers in the middle of one of their activities

Volunteers in the middle of one of their activities

Alcohol or drugs are strictly prohibited, so if you do want a beer, people  venture out to the local restaurant. (the junction)  A no thrills establishment, that is a welcome change from the intensity of Thabarwa.  Most volunteers will be asleep by 11 pm.

What are the activities?

Activities aren’t compulsory, but volunteers normally do two each day.

The schedule for the volunteers.

The schedule for the volunteers.

Patient Washing

Volunteering in a monastery can be a joyous experience and certainly this activity is!  Jam packed full of music, laughter and bubbles, as you lather up the patients.  After taking the patient from their beds to the washing area, you undress them and lather them up.  Put the music on full blast and let the water fight commence!

Here is a clip from the activity.

Alms

An incredible insight into a monk’s life, specifically on what they do to make sure they have enough food for the day.  Before the sun has risen, monks make their way out into the local communities and with their buckets they beg for food from the people.  The reverence local people place on monks is astounding.  They don’t have much, but they give what they can give.  For more info on the alms, we spoke to a monk at the monastery in an this interview

Monks getting donations of the local community (Alms)

Monks getting donations of the local community (Alms)

Physiotherapy

There are more experienced volunteers onsite who train the less experienced volunteers on the best physiotherapist practice.  This activity is hugely important for patients as they benefit from increased flexibility and strength.  After three months of physio often patients are able to walk, having previously been completely bedridden.

Doing his daily exercises

Doing his daily exercises

Meditation

When volunteering in a monastery it was suggested to do your upmost to foster a calm mind, free from attachment and craving is the main focus on the meditation.  Having  the ability to relax your mind puts you in a far better position to be help people.  For more information on this, check out our article on a seven day meditation course (also organised of the Thabarwa organisation)

The Past, Present and Future

Established 10 years ago in the setting of a swamp like waste land, where there were only just a few shacks.  Slowly as more desperate people started to come, the place was at breaking point.

One man remembered ”fights would often break out over a bowl of  rice which were impossible to control”

Authorities would often demand that the centre get shut down, as they claimed it was a breeding ground for undesirable people.  The head monk would say ”what do you want me to do with a 1000 thousand people”, the phone calls would stop, then after another phone call 6 months, the head monk would say ”what do you want me to do with 2000 thousand people.  Eventually the phone calls stopped and the authorities gave up in their efforts to close the centre down.

The founder Sayadaw U Ottamasara says you should look after yourself first through meditation before helping other people

The founder Sayadaw U Ottamasara says you should look after yourself first through meditation before helping other people

As donations started to come in more houses were built.  Today there is enough room for thousands of people staying there.  The organisation continues to grow as more centres open.  The head monk also made a point of more funds will be directed into the western more developed world. In his eyes westerners are sicker compared with Burmese people, even though they have more material wealth yet suffer more through increased attachment and craving.

What are the other Volunteers like?

As you can imagine when you’re volunteering at a monastery it’s not your typical 9 to 5 office worker who comes.  Combining this with it being in Myanmar, then you really are going to find some out there people!

The most striking characteristic was how unbelievably caring the people were.  Whether or not they had special skills or training, people were willing to get stuck in and help where ever possible.

Volunteers come from all over the world with common countries being Israel, Poland and France.  The atmosphere is very relaxed and people don’t put pressure on you to do activities.  They just say ”it’s you who needs to look at yourself in the mirror in the evening”, I guess referring to the fact of no one can judge you but yourself.

Volunteers from all over the world getting ready to handout watermelon on Christmas day

Volunteers from all over the world getting ready to handout watermelon on Christmas day

How does the Centre Function

With so many people staying in the centre, it is a complex operation to make sure everything runs smoothly.  The functions exclusively from the good deeds of others.  There are very few, if any people who get paid.  Making sure everyone is fed is extremely important, so monks go out to beg for donations in the morning.  Outside funding makes up a huge proportion of the resources,  this help is especially important considering that the local government don’t help at all.

An example of people doing good deeds.

Volunteering at a Monastery? Is it worth it?

You learn not only about the world around you, but also a crazy amount about yourself.  You will constantly be putting yourself in situations outside of your comfort zone, and perhaps you will learn skills that you didn’t realise you had.  For this reason volunteers often return to the monastery that has impacted them so profoundly.

Here are some picture from the experience.

There are lots of children that live within the complex

There are lots of children that live within the complex

The centre is also home to an animal shelter

The centre is also home to an animal shelter

Volunteers having fun

Volunteers having fun

For more information please have a look at their website.

 

Exclusive Interview with A Monk

A friend of the site has recently travelled to Myanmar to have an interview with a monk. Read Ozin’s transformation from normal life to Monk life and he has managed to adapt to different way of living.

What led you to become a monk here in Myanmar?

For a long time, I had been fed up of working and really wanted to retire early.  My time working in Singapore had become boring and soul destroying, I was desperate for a change.  During my 10 year stay in Singapore, I had returned to Myanmar yearly to do a meditation retreat.  I started to become frustrated with the approach at the Vipassana Retreat, so I wanted to find another Monastery.

I found a monastery called Thabarwa, which was the perfect combination of meditation using a more natural way with volunteering to help poor people within the community.  I then decided to ”retire early” and ordain as a monk at the monastery.

So you have been here since the very start of the monastery, what was it like when it started?

Since the very start when the land donor invited me to the site to lead the first discussions and meditation sessions I’ve been here.  In the early days there was nothing here.  I had to sleep to on wood outside under the stars.  Times were very difficult as we didn’t have any running water or much food so people couldn’t stay very long.   As we got more funding, we have been able to build more facilities for people to feel comfortable when they attend retreats.

What strange rules are there in Buddhism?

There are 227 rules in total for monks but the 10 precepts are the most important ones we must obey.  Out of all of the 227 rules the worst one for me was not being able to drive!  Once I put on a disguise and drove as I needed to drive the monastery’s bus to the certain location.  Luckily nobody saw me!

Another difficult rule is that monks aren’t able to touch money.  We have assistants who are always with us, who deal with the money.

Why can’t you drive or touch money?

It comes down to attachment.  Avoiding the potential to being drawn to ”Sensual Pleasures”’  In the four noble truths, the guidelines we live our lives by, the first noble truth is attachment is suffering.  Where ever there is attachment, there is desire and where there is desire there is suffering.

Especially in the monastic community, this rule has divided monks.  Those who strictly don’t touch money will not mix with other monks who do or allow other monks in their monastery.   However the larger community can play a role when they collect donations from the community by not putting money into their hand and only into the hands of their assistant (Kipia).

If you can’t touch money, how do monks survive?

Monks and Nuns survive solely on donations.  Every morning at 4 a.m. we make our way out to the local communities (each morning it will be a different place) and beg for what ever people can give.  This could be meat, vegetables, rice or money.

Monks getting donations of the local community (Alms)

Monks getting donations of the local community (Alms)

So monks aren’t vegetarians?

Not necessarily, we eat what ever people donate.  In Myanmar we think that we cannot help all animals, then what is the point in torturing yourself in trying to.

The popular 10 day silent meditation retreats that people do are they a good idea?

I know these retreats very well.  These 10 day Vipassana retreats are all over the world, I must have attended at least 10 all across South East Asia.  For me they really didn’t work as I focused so much on sensations in my body, even if they just didn’t exist.  This was also responsible for creating tension in other areas of my body.  This attachment to the sensations was huge and meant I was blocking out any other sensations.

Another problem for me was the noble silence.  Attendees are forced to be in complete silence for the duration of the course.  In our meditation retreat we prefer to have noble speech.  Here speaking is allowed (speaking only when necessary), this is more natural and meditators are in a better place to transfer the skills they learn into their daily lives.

How is your retreat different?

Compared with the 10 day retreats where there is complete silence, we only run for seven days and we observe noble speech.  This makes it less strict.   We also vary meditation methods, for example walking, sitting and standing meditation.

People often think highly of themselves, as they are grasping to an image of themselves. The retreat is designed to detach ourselves from this.  Opening all our senses and not shutting out any thoughts alleviates tension, whilst working into not judging/labelling those thoughts no matter if they are good or bad.   The important action is to be mindful of them and let them pass naturally.

How do you know when you reach Nirvana?

Once you reach the Dhyāna state of being, your mind is transferred into the universe.   The Nibbana mind is free from cravings and delusions in your day to day life (Nirvana can be reached mortals) You would enjoy peace and a calm mind all the time.  Once you die, you are free from the cycle of Samsara (cycle of rebirth) and your energy (karma) stays in the universe.

Why is there no sense of I in Buddhism?

You need to be mindful of the impermanence of everything.  You are a result of past actions that arise and disappear constantly.  These actions are either physical or mental.

Examples of mental nature are conception (opinions and understanding) and consciousness (feelings, taste, hearing).  Your opinions are always changing from results of past actions.  Sounds you hear are always coming up and passing away and no one sound is the same.

Physical nature is made up of four elements (earth, water, fire and air).  Your body is also made up of these 4 elements. We are all the same and at the right time you body will pass away, just like everything else.

If you do lots of Meditation, will you be enlightened?

Not necessarily, you need to meditate in a mindful way.   Focusing too much on certain parts/aspects of your body such as the breathe in itself creates too much tension to manifest a peaceful mind.

Are any of your friends in Nirvana (enlightened)?

I don’t think any of my friends are in Nirvana, although they would never tell anyone.  An enlightened person would never have the craving to tell anyone.

What are the references to Love and compassion in Buddhism?

In the 10 perfections of Buddhism, two are focused on Love and compassion.  Metta says that you should love and be kind to everyone, even if you hate them.  In Buddhism there is no hate, just misunderstanding.

Secondly Dana focuses on giving.  This intimates that the other person’s needs are more important than yours.  So you must always give what you have.

What are the differences between Nuns and Monks?

The first obvious difference is the colour in the robes.  In Myanmar Nuns wear pink robes and Monks wear orange robes.    There are also rules which differ, for example Nuns are not allowed to sleep under a tree (dates back along time ago where it was dangerous for nuns to sleep alone out in the wilderness).

Monks are more privileged as they are considered to be the true sons of the Buddha and nuns are considered to not be from any formal lineage.

I heard you have to be careful of ghosts in Buddhism, is that true?

Ghosts are all around us, however normally they can’t harm us.  If you have bad karma or not a morally correct person they can potentially harm you.  They’ll enter your body and take your soul.

Alternatively if you are mindful and do good deeds for people, they can appear to you.  When you are with them, share your merits (A well known chant in Buddhism) and you can release them from the ghost realm.

 

Well thank you monk for your time, and good luck for the future and for the retreat.

 

Cycling and Camping in Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand is absolutely spectacular.  It maybe tough cycling due to the mountainous landscape, but my god the views are well worth the effort!

After leaving Siem Reap, from my cycling across Cambodia trip, I made my way through the mountains of Northern Thailand.

What To Bring When Cycling And Camping In Thailand

In every national park that I visited there were opportunities for camping.  It’s extremely popular for Thai families to come and enjoy in a very welcoming environment.  Consequently provisions have been made across the country for it to be easy for people to come and camp.  Tents are available for rent, along with well-stocked and clean shower and toilet facilities.

It’s important to remember that often the climate in the national parks is certainly chillier to that of the major cities in the country.  This is due to the attitude of where they are located.  Make sure to bring warm clothing and blankets to ensure your stay is as comfortable as possible.

There are sometimes restaurants located within the grounds but to be on the safe side, bring enough food and drink for an overnight stay.  I noticed multiple times that alcohol wasn’t allowed, however people brought it anyway.

Campsites normally offer their own tents as well as cabins (costing 1100 baht)

Campsites normally offer their own tents as well as cabins (costing 1100 baht)

As soon as I crossed the border into Thailand, I made sure to get a sim card.  This meant getting from campsite to campsite was easy, otherwise I’d have to have found Wifi which wasn’t always readily available.

Other than these, make sure to stock up on the essentials of plenty of water and sun cream (check my preparations article for extra info)

Camping in Khao Yai

Camping is certainly the cheapest option.  I had my own tent and prices ranged from 100 to 300 baht to be allowed to put up my tent on their camping site.

The best spot I stayed in was Timber Khoayai, situated near the north entrance of the park, the atmosphere is very welcoming.  It cost only 100 baht and without doubt this was the most comfortable I felt.  Their hospitality was excellent and anything i asked for like extra blankets and pillows was taken care of.

Haew Su Wat Waterfall is located in the park and was the setting for the film ''The Beach''

Haew Su Wat Waterfall is located in the Khao Yai National Park and was the setting for the film ”The Beach”

Elephants are coming under increasing threat at Khao Yai, as developers continue to build within the national park without permission

Elephants are coming under increasing threat at Khao Yai, as developers continue to build within the national park without permission

Camping in Chang Mai

The Doi Suthep Camping site is a popular spot high above the city below.  Looking out of the glittering city below, the atmosphere is serene and completely detached from the madness that is Chang Mai.

Much like camping in Khao Yai the tents are already set up and all your need to thing about is lighting the candle (make sure its away from the tent) to create a very romantic setting indeed!

To rent a tent for 2-3 people it costs 150 baht and is a short drive up the Doi Suthep mountain.

To rent a tent for 2-3 people it costs 150 baht and is a short drive up the Doi Suthep mountain.

If you camp in Chang Mai, you’ll also be close to the Doi Inthanon National Park.  Visitors to the park often scale the ”roof of Thailand’‘ which is another name for the summit of Doi Inthanon.  There are the most insane walks and there is plenty to see.

Camping in Taksin National Park

The price of the ticket was 230 Baht and this included camping.  This was the largest campsite I visited, with over 200 hundred staying in the park,  it felt like a mini city!  The park included a food court and supermarket.  At this location you really must bring warm clothing as during the night temperatures went down to 15 degrees.  The environment was really special though and people were more than hospitable as they invited me over to spent the evening singing and eating with them.

The Steep Climbs

If you plan on cycling and camping in Northern Thailand, you need to be in good shape.  It’s not uncommon for you to have an elevation of 500 meters in one day.  Granted the roads are good and you’ll have plenty of room, but that beating sun and carrying your kit behind certainly takes it tole.

Steep climb up to Taksin National Park

Steep climb up to Taksin National Park

When the climbs get too much! Thai people are extremely kind.

When the climbs get too much! Thai people are extremely kind.

The Route

Cycling and camping in Northern Thailand took me on a journey of 743 km which started in Siem Reap and finished in Tak (near the border with Myanmar) The most difficult sectors of the ride were the initial 200 km as I entered Thailand and the last part of leaving Tak and crossing the  Taksin Maharat National Park.  The area in the middle of the country was fairly flat with nice roads.

The route of the journey

The route of the journey

Friendly People

Being in the middle of nowhere in an off the beaten track city, people often stare at you and try to strike up conversation in a country like Thailand.  However I even found this included the tourist areas, where people were super friendly and just wanted to know everything about me, without wanting anything in return.

Especially during those steep climbs, I was at times in despair as I felt like I couldn’t go any further.  Drivers would often stop to make sure I was alright and would ask if they could give me a lift up to the top.  I often obliged.

Amazing Food

Where ever I turned the food was incredible.  When I was living in Saigon, I didn’t eat too much street food as it often made me feel sick.  This for sure isn’t the case in Thailand.  It’s insanely cheap as well, but be prepared for it to be on the spicy side!

Thai street food is certainly on the spicy side!

Thai street food is certainly on the spicy side!

Getting Fitter And Emotional Learning

After cycling from Ho Chi Minh to get to Thailand, my body was feeling stronger every day.  However it hadn’t really been tested as the terrain in Cambodia and Vietnam was extremely flat.  After the first couple of days of tough ascents, my body felt like it took an extra step in endurance and after a days solid cycling, it became easier.

Cycling on your own for such a long time gives you plenty of time to think.  To have time to analyse what are the toxic aspects of your life was really important.  Getting more of an insight in how best to allocate my energy is something I really hope to take forward after this trip eventually comes to an end.

Advise When Cycling The Roads

Cycling and camping in Northern Thailand is not without its dangers.  Granted the roads are a lot nicer than in Cambodia, however this does not mean you can get complacent.  Often huge lorries will whizz right past you, creating a large gust of wind that could easily suck you into the road.  Make sure to take precautions against this.  I always made sure I gripped the handlebars tightly whilst keeping at tight as I could to the side of the road.   A couple of times, some fairly mean looking dogs came steaming towards me from the drives of their houses.  Apart from scaring the hell out of me, I tried to stir away from them but this meant going into a busy road.  If this ever happens to you, make sure to keep in a straight line. The dogs aren’t likely to bite, they will more often than not just bark.

Going Again?

Cycling and camping in Northern Thailand has been the highlight of my round the world trip.  Honestly I can say that the scenery was the most spectacular of the my whole trip.  There are so many amazing things to experience as you make you way through the country, that it really does leave you wanting more.

Cliff Diving In Hawaii

The Hawaiian islands offer some of the best cliff jumping in the world.

PLEASE NOTE – CLIFF DIVING IS VERY DANGEROUS, SO PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

Here is a run down for the five best places for cliff diving in Hawaii.

Laie Point

This 30 ft nerve shredding jump, located on the north coast of the island of Oahu, will leave you wanting more.  A famous spot due to the fact that it was a scene in the move ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, it is certainly a well-known spot on the island.

Just make sure if you take the plunge, do it during the summer as during the winter months the waves get seriously large.  Getting stuck under these cliffs with big waves pounding is a place you certainly don’t want to be.

It’s pretty accessible with a ready made creak which makes makes it easy to ascend back up to the top for more action.  It’s a popular spot, so don’t expect to be the only ones there.  Once at the bottom there’s a few rocks for you to chill on (especially for those summer months when the waves aren’t too crazy)

There's a spot along Laie Point without any shrubbery where you can jump freely

There’s a spot along Laie Point without any shrubbery where you can jump freely

Climbing up the cliff at Laie Point

Climbing up the cliff at Laie Point

Lulumahu Water Tank Cliff Jump (Illegal)

PLEASE NOTE YOU’LL BE TRESPASSING IF YOU COME TO THIS SPOT.

This isn’t really a cliff jump but more of a Tank jump!

The jump is on the way to the Lulumaha Falls, situated about half way along the route from Pali Hwy, you’ll get to a reservoir.  Once you arrive there, you’ll need to traverse a fence and you’ll enter an ILLEGAL AREA.  The second fence you need to get over, you have to be ultra careful as one slip and you’ll end up falling in uncontrolled and possibly hit the water jump.

Getting back up is simple, as there is a grassy verge that runs along the shoreline.

Getting back up is simple, as there is a grassy verge that runs along the shoreline.

This one isn’t for the fainthearted, and certainly shouldn’t be tried by beginners.  Experts make their to the water tank near the middle of the reservoir and proceed to throw themselves of the 35 ft platform.

Mauna Wili Falls

If you live in downtown Honolulu, then this one is for you.  The best thing about Oahu is you can easily find jungle wilderness right on your doorstep.  Mauna Wili Falls is no exception.  Following a 2 mile treacherous trail of slippery rocks and protruding tree roots, you’ll reach a really special place.  The waterfall gently flows down the rocks from 20 feet into an ominous murky basin.  The jump itself is 30 feet high into the dark water.  As you can imagine with it being difficult to see, it’s important to check for any hazards, like rocks hidden just below the surface.

The foliage is really think around the top

The foliage is really think around the top

It’s a popular spot being so close to Honolulu, so expect some company.  Other cool stuff is that there is a rope swing to play around with!

Waimea Bay Rock Jump

This one is recommended for all you beginners out there.   A huge rock that juts out into the ocean offers loads of possibilities for launching yourself from.   Standing from the top, looking down into the murky water, you maybe forgiven for thinking that its dangerous.  However there aren’t many rocks underneath the surface so this with the easily accessible climbing (stairs) up the rocks makes it for a pretty safe day out.  The max height you can do on this location is about 5 meters, which is more than enough for me!

The rock at Waimea Bay sets on white sand

The rock at Waimea Bay sets on white sand

It gets crowded on top as people catapult

It gets crowded on top as people catapult

Other cool stuff to check out is that sometimes you can see turtles cruising past just underneath the surface, or maybe you can join them as they head down the underwater tunnel which runs directly through the rock.

It’s best to do this during the summer months as there are some monsters waves that crash this coastline during the winter months.

Spitting Cave

This one is the most dangerous for cliff diving in Hawaii on our list so please guys be extra careful here and make sure to ask locals for some insider knowledge on the perfect spot to dive in.

The cliff jump at Spitting Cave. Once at the bottom the currents are pretty strong.

The cliff jump at Spitting Cave. Once at the bottom the currents are pretty strong.  This jump is 40 feet.

At the highest point you can jump is at 70 feet, whilst there are lower platforms, they are all of a considerable height.  Looking out over the cave, you’ll be taken back by the ferocity of the waves.  Huge surges of water blast out from the cave system as pressure builds with each ebb and flow of the water.

You should be able to get some really nice footage from this location, but you need to be confident when taking on this beast.

For other cliff diving articles on this site, check out our review of the best cliff diving places in Vancouver.

Want To Go?

There are so many spots for cliff diving in Hawaii, the best thing to do is to ask locals for any hidden spots and just make sure to be safe.  Taking precautions like cliff diving into the ocean only during the summer months, will avoid these sticky situations, especially if you are a weak swimmer.

All five of these spots are awesome just for hanging out for the day even without the cliff diving.  The jumping is just the added bonus!

 

 

 

Cycling around Anghor Wat

Cycling around Angkor Wat is completely mesmerising, the 8th Century temple holds so many secrets that you unlock as round every corner.

As part of my Ho Chi MInh to Siem Reap cycle trip, I took a day to see the biggest religious monument in the world.  Discovered by Henri Mouhot in the middle of the last century, the capital of the ancient Khmer people temple was built in honour of the god Vishnu.

Henri recorded in his travel notes:

It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome

Getting there for Sunrise

Cycling through the dark to get there for 4.30 a.m, there were people already queuing waiting in anticipation.  Once inside people huddled around a lake, just in front of the temple.  The most astonishing thing was seeing the reflection in the lake as the sun rose, that was a mirror image of the extraordinary spectacle.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Cycling Around The Huge Temple Complex

Having already arrived in Siem Reap with my bike, I didn’t need to rent one for the day which can be easily done from any hostel.  Cycling around Angkor Wat  is one of the best things, I’ve ever done.   The surrounding grounds of the three temples; Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the Ta Prohm Temples are full of really interesting alcoves and routes to take which the usual tourist would not see.  So even though it’s not possible to enter the main complexes with the bike, you’ll for sure not be disappointed.

Just remember to bring plenty of water and sun cream as the sun gets really strong, especially during the middle of the day.  The best place to check out are the ruins near the Bayon temple.  Please check out my pictures from the day.

Taking a break near the Bayon temple

Taking a break near the Bayon temple

A bike is certainly needed to see everything in just the one day

A bike is certainly needed to see everything in just the one day

A view from the tracks, and about to go through two temples

A view from the tracks, and about to go through two temples