Monday, October 13, 2014

Hiking Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka

Adam's Peak on a clear day -- not the day we went (Photo from Wiki)

My main reason for coming to Sri Lanka had nothing to do with elephants (they were an unexpected perk). My main reason was Adam’s Peak.

Me at the start of the 5,200 stairs wearing my $4 rain jacket (bonus!)
What? You’ve never heard of it? Well, me neither…until I did a Google search on “what to do in Sri Lanka.” And there is was. Adam’s Peak. This majestic mountain is full of history and was there waiting for me to climb.

 I mentioned it to my friend Christine in Houston and she was instantly up for the challenge. What’s amazing about Christine is that even though she nearly died from exhaustion on the crazy Grand Canyon hike I took her on, but she was totally into pushing her body to the limits again.

Usually these stairs would be packed with pilgrims - but not during rainy season.
But this time her sore muscles would be for a good cause. It would be for the myth…or myths that go along with the mountain.

Reclining Buddha -- what we wanted to do after climbing to the peak.
You see, Adam’s Peak has all these stories attached to it. The Buddhists believe the rock formation near the top of the mountain is the footprint of Buddha, in Hindu tradition it’s the footprint of Shiva and in Islamic and Christian tradition, it’s Adam’s footprint that’s way up there.

Well, we were going to leave our footprints up there too and do the pilgrimage to the top.

Entrance to Adam's Peak
The pilgrimage season is December until May with an average of 20,000 people climbing the 5,200 steps to the top each weekend. They usually start their climb at 2:30 am and end at the top just as the sun is rising at 6:30 am. The view is supposedly spectacular.

Only during the rainy season will you see these waterfalls. 
We were going in October, which is not pilgrimage season. The reason there are no pilgrims is that October is in the rainy season. In fact, we almost didn’t get to climb it as the rain had caused a landslide a few days earlier and part of the trail was closed.

 Thankfully, they were able to clear the area and reopen the trail the day of our planned hike.

Getting closer.

Climbing Adam’s Peak during the rainy season is interesting. First of all, it’s rainy (duh) – which also means it’s misty and cold. The stairs are also a little slippery.

Secondly, you will be the only crazy people hiking it in the rain. Instead of the thousands of pilgrims that hike it in the dry season, we saw maybe six other people in the four hours it took us to get to the top. Yes, that's right. We had the mountain to ourselves!

The only vendor that was open. 
One other thing you won’t find is vendors. Normally, there are little shopkeepers selling lights, food and beverages to keep you going along the way. There was only one open when we went – and we were so happy to see him. Really, really happy!

The Buddha near the top of the mountain

Finally, you may not see anything when you get to the top. Rain means clouds – and when you climb over 5000 steps up a mountain, you are pretty much in the clouds.

The temple at the top. As you can tell, I was way up in the clouds and could see nothing.
But it’s totally worth it. The scenery is beautiful on the way up and it is a challenging climb. And if you go with a good friend like I did, it makes for lasting memories and laughs about how hard it was and how sore you felt the day after.

On a clear day, you would see for miles, but I was in thick mist and drizzle…so this is what I saw at the top. Then it was time to climb the 5,200 steps back down.

It’s an adventure that's good for the body and the soul.


1) How much does it cost?  
Climbing the mountain is free.  You can do it on your own, but we went with a guide, who was a friend of the person who owned the resort we stayed at (  We were thankful as it was hard to find the entrance as we weren't familiar with area.  He also was the one who scouted the trail the day before to make sure the landslide had been cleared away.

2) Do you need to be in shape?
No, but it does help as it is 5,200 steps up and then 5,200 steps down.  However, it's a pilgrimage site so people of all ages do the climb.  Our guide says he's seen sons carrying their mother up the stairs so that she could complete it before she died.  It will take longer if you are out of shape and you may be sore the next day.

I trained for it as I like to be prepared and so did my girlfriend.  Our driver decided to join us last minute for the fun of it, but he looked really sore the next day.  Our guide was like a little mountain goat and bounded up the stairs -- wearing flip flops!!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Visit to the Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was a spontaneous trip. Basically, our plane was stopping there so my friend Christine and I  thought we should check it out. So glad we did as it’s an incredible country that was different from all the others I had been to so far.

Tourism is still relatively new in Sri Lanka so you have this unique mix of graciousness and wanting you to have a good time coupled with some uncomfortable hospitality as things aren’t quite what you are used to. Plus, some of the “attractions” are more makeshift than commercialized.

I sort of like it this way. You feel like it’s good people wanting to show you their country in a good way. You just have to be open to some of the randomness that will undoubtedly happen along the way, and if you are lucky, you will get to try some of the best curry ever  (It's not like Indian curry as they use different spices.  It's hot and sweet and just delicious).

The elephants aren't caged. The leaves make a natural fence. The elephants stay where there is food.

While there, you should probably check out the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It's well organized and an interesting experience as the elephants aren’t caged. They naturally stop where they run out of vegetation – and the visitors aren’t foolish enough to chase after them. It’s great when respect for the animals is there as you don’t need fences to keep people safe – just common sense.

The orphanage is a combination of a nursery, breeding ground and sanctuary of wild Asian elephants living the area. It’s famous for having the largest herd of captive elephants in the world (they have over 100). It’s located northwest of Kegalle about halfway between Colombo and Kandy. You'll be able to feed the elephants, watch them take a bath and get some really good closeups.  

There are over 3,000 elephants living in the wild in Sri Lanka and what’s interesting is that the country is trying to figure out a way for elephants and humans to live together. As you can imagine, as civilization expands and takes over the jungle areas, the elephants are forced to be closer to the cities – and while I think they are adorable, they are destructive and eat a lot.

 So far no sustainable solution has been found, but I like that the government is trying to come up with something.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hanging out with Reclining Buddha

The Reclining Buddha is one of my favorite Buddha images. He looks so chill just laying there with a big smile on his face, waiting to defeat evil. It’s like he’s saying “Honey, I’m home! And you’ll never guess which demon I defeated today.”

Me in my flowery skirt entering Wat Pho

While in Bangkok, we had the chance to visit Wat Pho, which is also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

Before visiting the temple, I had heard mixed reviews. Some people weren’t that impressed with it, but I found it amazing.  The buildings around it are so ornate, and worth checking out as you don't see this type of architecture in the western world.

Look at how amazing these temple are!
Yes, it can be a little crowded, but it's such a nice mix of peace and happy color that it's worth it. Thankfully, we went on a day when it was raining – although the rain had finished when we arrived there. Yay!

"Honey, I'm home."
The Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho is the fourth largest one in Thailand at 160 feet long. Its official name is Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan- so you can see why they just call it Wat Pho for short. He’s covered in gold leaf, and is the only one with designs on his feet.

Decorated Buddha feet!!
Legend has it that the Buddha wanted to convince one of the more important (and larger) demons to listen to his message of peace. To do this, he meditated to become 10 times his size to be bigger than the demon. Then he laid down to wait for the demon to arrive. 

When the demon saw how big the Buddha was (and not just the size of a normal man), he agreed to listen to his message and change his demon ways.

Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
While visiting Wat Pho, if you would like a little good luck, you can buy some pennies to drop into the 108 bronze bowls that line the walls. The number 108 is apparently a lucky number – and even if it doesn’t bring you luck, dropping the pennies is fun and they sound nice clinking against the bowls.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

One Day in Bangkok

When someone mentions Bangkok, the first thing that pops in my head is that song from the 1980s, “One Night in Bangkok.” As a kid, I didn’t really understand the lyrics, but I knew that Bangkok would be an amazing place to visit.

China Town in Bangkok

My friend Christine agreed, which is why she decided to fly in from Houston to meet me for one day (and one night) in Bangkok before we headed over to Sri Lanka. 

The little alleyways. People live in the apartments to the left.

Because our time was tight, I hired a guide named Joke (Wallop Kittiwititkun) for the day who was fantastic. He took us to see stuff via Tuk Tuk, commuter boat, subway and taxi. He was also really flexible with what we could see as it was pouring rain for the first half of the day.  I found Joke on Viator and highly recommend him.  He was always smiling and was easy going with any changes we made to our plans.

My friend Christine and I looking stylish in our plastic bag rainwear
He quickly led us through China town and down all the narrow streets where people almost lived in these tiny apartments. We then strolled through the old market and saw tea, spices, shark fins (shark fin soup is their most popular fast food), and lots of vegetables. 

One of the many stalls in the old market
It was interesting to see the difference in the markets. In North Thailand, insects, still breathing fish and really fresh and colorful fruits were in abundance. In Bangkok, the Chinese influence was more pronounced in the types of spices, dried foods and fish, and in the types of vegetables. We didn’t see any insects or worms for sale.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Detoxing at the Kamalaya Koh Samui

I’m one of those strange people that love going to the gym, running miles at a time and eating healthy food. There are days that I eat salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner just because I love it so much.

So when I learned about Health and Fitness Travel, I had to try it out – in Thailand of course.

Kamalaya Resort

Health and Fitness Travel have customized fitness vacations for people at all levels. There are weight loss holidays, detox vacations, muscle building and workout adventures and specialized programs for those training for marathons and triathlons. I was meeting my friend Christine on the trip so we choose the Kamalaya holistic spa that overlooked the coast of Koh Samui.

They told us that Buddhist monks once used the cave temple located on the grounds for mediations and the place had a calming energy.  It certainly did seem to be peaceful and relaxing.

TRX Suspension Training was harder than it looked.
 I picked the Fusion Fitness Holiday which is a combination of cardio, muscle toning --- and weight loss if you needed to lose weight. After the fitness and body mass tests, my weight was fine for my height, my fitness level higher than women in my age group (yay!) and I apparently have the cells of someone in their late 20s (bonus!).  I normally don't like taking tests, but when I pass with flying colors, then I love them.

For 5 days I did Muay Thai Boxing, TRX suspension training, yoga and other workouts. I also had two massages, four personal training sessions, a wellness consultation, a fitness evaluation and bio-impedance analysis.

 It was pretty intense but fun. My body was sore from the different workouts, but I looked forward to them each day.  If you didn't want to do anything but the spa or walking all day, you could do that as well.  The resort catered to people wanting whatever type of fitness holiday they decided would make them happy - because who really wants to do things they don't like when on vacation?

Banana flower salad

Then there was the food.

The food was fantastic. I had no idea healthy food could taste so good. Of course, I love all vegetables and fruit so was in heaven. The all-inclusive menu was separated into normal healthy food, gluten free, dairy free and detox foods. If you weren’t on a special diet, you could choose from all three – and I did. Some of my favorites included the buckwheat pancakes at breakfast, the banana flower salad for lunch and the duck at dinner. 

A broom selling in one of the villages.  They may not have much, but the people here take pride in being tidy. 

Their website offers complete packages, but if you are short on time or have special requests, they are more than willing to accommodate you. I had only 5 days, so I couldn’t do a 7-day package. I also don’t like saunas. They looked at what they could do and created a package just for me.

You could buy bottles of gas everywhere on Koh Samui - because scooters are the transportation of choice.

When you weren’t working out or getting a spa treatment, then you could go off and explore the villages of Koh Samui.

I would go try another vacation with this company. I noticed on their website that they have resorts that specialized in hiking and trekking in the Utah, Mexico and Portugal. They look amazing!!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Wishing on a Lantern

While in Koh Samui, I had the chance to send off lanterns from the beach. This is an amazing experience – very serene and cleansing.

How it works is you tie a wish to the lantern or a forgiveness message (anything you want to release). Then you hold it while focusing on the moment.

When ready, you let go and watch your lantern float off into the sky.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Zen Time in Koh Samui and Recipes!

Private Beach at Koh Samui

Yes, it does seem like I’m always running around doing something adventurous, but there are moments of zen in my life. One of these moments was at Koh Samui.

The mediation mats

Koh Samui is an island about a hour away by plane from Bangkok. It doesn’t have much in terms of adventure, but it does offer a lot if you want to relax and enjoy the beach. 

Look at how great my Bua Loy turned out!

I was lucky enough to get two nights free at the Four Seasons Koh Samui Resort on their Summer Vacation deal. After all the traveling I had done and the move to Saudi Arabia just a few months earlier, I was ready to take advantage of all the zen they had to offer.

Learning how to make kluay thod

While there I did a morning mediation session out by the beach, read a book by the beach and did a Thai cooking class where I learned how to make Kluay Thod. Kluay Thod are little bananas that are covered in coconut and sesame seed batter. Then are deep fried.  

I also learned how to make Bua Loy.  These are little rice flour dumplings in a sweet coconut milk sauce. They were pretty yummy, but filling for such tiny little balls. Recipes for these are below.

The infinity pool off the room (photo courtesy Four Seasons).
It was a relaxing time and I admit the private infinity pool that came with my room was incredible.  I did try to sit in it but I came during the rainy season (thus the free night deal) so could only stare at it from my window.  But even looking at it was nice.

Yummy appetizers all wrapped up

Sometimes you just have to stop and smell the flowers – or eat things that come in little packages like the appetizers in the photo above. I'm not actually sure what these were, but I liked them. Chicken maybe?



300 g Sticky rice flour
100 g Pumpkin puree
300 g Sticky rice flour
100 g Pandan water
300 g Sticky rice flour
100 g Water

Coconut soup:
500 g Coconut milk
100-150 g white sugar
1 g gram

Place the sticky rice flour in three bowls and then add the pumpkin puree to one bowl, the pandan water to the second bowl and plain water to the third.  Mix and knead to a soft dough.  Roll into little balls and set aside.

Dissolve the sugar and salt in the coconut milk over low heat, stirring constantly.  Bring to a boil and add the balls.  When they are cooked through, remove from heat and serve.


250 g Rice flour
10 g Sugar
50 g Palm sugar
6 g Salt
250g Coconut flakes
150 g Black and white sesame seeds
200 g Cold water
20 pieces of Whole Thai bananas (little bananas)

In a bowl, mix together rice flour, sugar, palm sugar, coconut flakes, cold water and the sesame seeds until smooth.

Heat up oil in a sauce pan.

Cut the banana into bite sized chunks and place into batter. Cover them well. Then deep fry until brown on both sides.  Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Visiting a Local Market in Thailand

While in North Thailand, I had the chance to visit a local market. Forget Whole Foods. This place had so many colorful fruits and vegetables. I had no idea Thailand grew all these things – and they all looked so tasty. Except for the bugs. They did not look tasty, but my guide said they are good.

As we walked through, he explained how they cooked them. For example, my guide says crickets can be deep fried, but he liked them stir fried in oil with garlic. I admit, they did sound kind of good. Still…the crunch? I don’t know. The bugs there were fresh, which is how they like to buy them, so I didn’t get to try any, but maybe next time.

I also saw these fighting bugs. At first I thought they were toys as they were so big and shiny. Then it moved. Okay…creepy. They rope these insects on pieces of bamboo and then sell them for entertainment. 


The fish were still breathing on the platters, and my guide says things are caught that day and brought in right away. Things that are still breathing mean it’s fresh. If it’s not breathing, then it’s old.