Category Archives: Travel Stories

Experiencing ‘Real Nepal’ – Waku Village, Nepal

It was only after reading about Nepal being one of Asia’s most affordable places to travel and to volunteer, that I even bothered considering a visit. I must admit, the only thing i knew about Nepal was that it was somewhere near India – or is it in India?… Basically I didn’t have a clue. However, it didn’t take long before I found myself buying the one way flight on Skyscanner. Being the last stop in Asia before South America, I would like to say that I wanted to save the best for last.

I realised that Nepal had always been a hot spot for travelers, and rightly so. The adventure seekers that challenge climbing mount Everest, the soul searchers that look to awaken their spirits next to the birthplace of the Buddha, and the volunteers that sign up for experiences that are meaningful and affordable.


Initially, I was one of them too, hoping to land a job at a Buddhist monastery teaching English to the monks in exchange for food, bed, and some Buddha blessings. Admittingly, I did have some false sense of hope to maybe come close to attaining that so-called ‘enlightenment’, by standing next to monks all day and copying their practices in the few weeks that I had.

Perhaps I may have, or at least may have been able to step onto the right path if I had chosen to volunteer, or taken one of them spiritual retreats that many come to the country for. Lots of hippies, believers, open-minded and lost/curious travellers are here in Nepal, as well as the mountaineers and vocational adventurers that want to conquer the mountain and stand on top of the world. I too was curious to know more about the Buddhist way of life, as well as to challenge myself in hiking up to basecamp in -15°C.

However, little did I know that so many flocked to Nepal with the same idea, so many, that I soon realised that this was already a multimillion dollar industry. Almost every corner of the street had advertisements for volunteering, Buddhist retreats, trekking expeditions, like full on brochures and pamphlets almost like a shopping catalogue. Sure the people here need to make money, and they would naturally choose to run businesses that involve selling to rich tourists, volunteers and trekkers. But to have this many tour agencies and outdoor gear shops at every corner of Kathmandu, I couldn’t help but notice how desperate they are, or how hard life must be for them if they did not join this tourism business bandwagon.

a street in Kathmandu

I soon realised after talking with my trekking guide, that even for these entrepreneurs, their margins are relatively small, cos at least half of what I pay will go straight to the government, for permits, fees, taxes, and insurance. I was turned off to know how much government money are being spent on industrialising these activities, when they don’t even bother with adding streetlights, paved roads, and electricity for the people in the country.

Kathmandu airport was by far the most chaotic underdeveloped airport terminal that I’ve ever been in where I’ve spent an hour looking for my backpack that never came through the carousel. The taxi ride to the city was like being on one of those terminator rides from universal studios. The roads were barely paved, no streetlights, all you could see are dusty silhouettes of concrete buildings and shades of people and cars murking from the yellow mist of the headlight. I felt like I was in some kind of war-torn city, or at least as close to what I’d imagine Baghdad may look like based on CNN.

Our hotel looked great though, for $3 a night it was high above expectation. However that evening, there were no hot water. Oh yeah that’s right, the city’s electricity is rationed out with blackout schedules a few hours each day. Why? No idea. I guess the nation is so poor that their resources are scarce, or the government is up to no good… (probably the latter, cos who sells electricity to neighbouring countries when you don’t have enough for your own?).

Anyway, that was my first impression of Kathmandu, dusty, dead, and things weren’t as beautiful and zenful as I had initially thought. But as the sun came up, I began seeing some colours, and the city came to life. I can see people walking through the narrow streets dodging motorcycles and rickshaws between the endless rows of shops, bars and cafes. After a couple of hours exploring, I can see that the Nepalese people are beautiful, looks-wise and heart-wise, and it was also kinda cool to see the contrast of monks, stupas and temples standing next to outdoor gear shops and tour agencies.

By the time we sat down with Raj, the trekking guide/agency who was referred to us from a friend, we found ourselves hesitant to take up any of these advertised ‘tours’. We knew that we wanted to do the trek, and do some activities that would allow us to gain meaningful insights into the culture of Nepal, but something just wasn’t right. Raj must have felt that as we couldn’t make up our mind to which tours to do, which was probably why he later asked us if we were keen to do something different, and experience what he called ‘The Real Nepal’.

Raj-Kumar-RaiRaj Kumar Rai, aged 32, was born from a small village town called Waku, in the eastern remote side of Nepal, Solukhumbu district below Mount Everest. He had ran away, or fled his village when he was 15 years old to seek a brighter future in Kathmandu. With only the basic education his options were limited, but worked hard as a porter for several years until he was ready to start his own trekking business.

Long story short – Raj and his few friends whom all left the village, have now come together as adults to form what’s called the Waku Foundation that aims to provide medication, education, and financial aid for the village(s) that they fled from more than 10 years ago. This foundation is still in the planning stages, and nothing is concrete, but they have already scheduled a visit back to the village to spread the news and gather support from Waku’s surrounding schools and communities in the coming days. It was the first time in years for many of them to go back, let alone visit their families, and they asked us if we were keen to join this trip.

It wasn’t an easy decision, because this would mean that we would surely have to forego any sort of Buddha retreats, as well as volunteering because the journey would take approximately 2 weeks – which was half the time we had in Nepal, and the other half had to be reserved for climbing Mount Annapurna (there was no way that we would come to Nepal and not climb the Himalaya). Despite the tradeoff, we made the executive decision to go with them. We felt that this was a unique opportunity to experience an authentic Nepal, and what better way to see the country and do good deeds (or volunteering) than tagging along with real locals who have a real and meaningful story behind.

At 6am, the day of departure, we were picked up by Raj to meet the other board members of the Waku Foundation – Bhuwan Khaling Rai, Shankar Khaling Rai, and Bal Bahadur Khaling. All of them belong to the Rai caste group of the social stratification system in Nepal, an indigenous ethnolinguistic group that once ruled the valley as Kings for the longest period in history until they were defeated by a ruler called Sombanshi, and forced to move into the East. The Rai now only represent 3% of the population in Nepal but they’ve retained their own language to this day, own traditions and culture that seemed to be very important to them as I figured while listening to the story over the 14 hour jeep ride with bollywood music being played in the background.

We got off at a town called Salleri, Solukhumbu district where you can already see Mount Everest popping up in the background. Getting here was already a pain in the butt, literally, as the roads were unbearably bumpy throughout the entire ride. We spent a night at a family run hotel here and prepared ourselves for the next day which was apparently where the real journey was about to begin – a 3½ day 20km hike through the mountains at altitudes averaging 2500m.

Each of us had at least a 10kg backpack and the hike was tough. I thought my legs would fall off at some point along the way, but the views were absolutely breathtaking and they somehow always succeeded to convince me to keep going. Raj and friends were all experienced trekkers but even for them it wasn’t easy, and I can see that they were enjoying the views as much as we were.

Walk, sweat, take off jacket, walk, rest, wear jacket, walk, sweat, take off jacket, walk, rest, wear jacket… That was the way to go here. It’s freezing, but hot.

Each night, after 8-10 hours of hiking, we would bunk in at one of the village homes that are scattered along the way. They all have their own farms, or at least some chickens that roam around the back yard, and the boys of the family (or girls) would usually prepare dinner for us. That’s right, organic chicken curry, with rice and steamed veg, millet wine, and sometimes millet cake.

Chicken on Fire

The dinner preparation starts off with burning off the feathers of a chicken that was running around just moments earlier – destined to be eaten today.

I remember just sitting there watching this kid, probably around the age of 18, who would casually break off the neck of a live chicken, pluck out the feathers, and burn the remains on the bonfire with his bare hands. He then proceeded to chop them up on the floor over a green plastic sheet, after preparing the rice that is cooking over the bonfire which he lit up in seconds with nothing more than a stone chisel.

Shankar, one of the board members of Waku Foundation who you see on the video below with a green jacket, makes a living as a full time trekking guide just like Raj, but he specialises as a trekking ‘cook’, who is someone that collects vegetables, herbs, and nuts along the trek and cooks lunch and dinner for his customers. Here you can see him helping the boy out with parts to leave out, so that he can make toasted chicken heart and liver as a side dish, He also started grinding away his secret stash of masala spices that he had collected along the way to enrich the flavour of the curry. He makes Bear Grylls seem normal.

Having a fireplace in the center of the house, is common in ALL households in this region of the valley. It is a typically Rai, the custom that hasn’t changed for centuries apparently. There is a roof on the fireplace that holds corn and other vegetables and seeds to dry roast, and the smoke emitted from the fire stays in the house, no chimneys or windows (which explains why everybody here coughs like a chain smoker). This commonplace is also the area where we sleep, coiled up together like human tetris surrounding the fireplace as heater, hay mats as mattresses. Surprisingly comfortable, and quite nice to sleep being munched up altogether, except for the loud snores that came out of everybody in the room. I felt happy that there were people in this world that snored louder than I do.

Breakfast is usually porridge, from leftover rice that we had for dinner, or a full on Dal Bhat if they were generous – consisting of rice, lentil soup, vegetable and occasionally chicken curry. This dish is renowned in Nepal as giving 24hrs of power, and it is pretty much what we eat everyday, everywhere, no matter where you are in Nepal. Oh, and you eat with your hands.

Toilets are usually non existent in this part of the valley, and if it did, it will be a simple hole that leads to god knows where, and it would be hard to hold your breath in there if you had to go for number two. I must say it felt quite liberating to utilise the natural toilet – out in the open where you can freely choose – that tree, or that tree. Sure it may sound disgusting, but what’s more disgusting is our flush-and-forget attitude, born out of ignorance by the convenience of modern living. If you think about it, we are the only specie on earth that don’t follow the natural cycle of compost, or the Natural Nitrogen Cycle that Earth so heavily depend on for it’s own survival. Most of our Nitrogen (aka SHIT) goes into the ocean instead of nutrifying crops, which depletes oxygen levels in the sea, slowly suffocating all marine life, causing ocean dead zones that are increasing ever so rapidly. I’m not saying that I will forever pee and shit in the forest from now on, but I believe if every country in the world were to co-invest in developing a global sewage system that works like the compost toilet that you see at Panya, the world may be able to turn itself around. Calling out to all Google science fair students, please do something about it. We need to turn this shit around.

Anyway, to get back to topic, this was the kind of setting that we were in for 3½ days. Absolutely raw and challenging, but rewarding and beautiful at the same time. I remember sitting on one of the peaks with my travel buddy Marcus, overlooking the snow capped mountains of Everest in the distant horizon with not a soul to be spotted, absolutely breathtaking. How I wished my family and friends were here to see this too, cos this view seriously deserves a larger audience.

The first leg of the journey was finally over as we ascended the hill to Sagarmartha Secondary School – Waku’s biggest school that hosted around 200 students. Here we were greeted like superstars, especially from the kids whom all probably never seen a foreigner before. The school principal called off the first hour of class to invite all teachers to join the meeting at his office. The seating arrangement was like that of a tribunal, where we sat facing the school staff directly across, and the principal on the judge’s seat in the middle. The atmosphere suddenly turned serious as the principal commenced the meeting. I had no idea what they all talked about, but it seemed like Raj and friends were successfully able to convince the school to stand in favour of the the Waku Foundation for support, symbolised by the scarf offerings that they started handing out to each member of the faculty. This scarf that they tie on their necks, is a form of blessing, apparently symbolising the act of ‘giving and receiving’, a universal karmic principle that the more you give, the more you receive. Then vice versa, they started giving us a scarf as well, returning the blessing back to us, as you see on the video below:

After I received the scarf on my neck, I felt like I am now obliged by the karmic principle to give something, otherwise bad things may happen… Even before this whole blessing ceremony began, the people looked at me as if I was some kind of important Japanese United Nations man who came to give something. This misunderstanding was exemplified when I handed over a soccer ball that I purchased on the way to give to the school as a gift – something that I casually thought of during the hike to get here, as it ended up becoming like a scene from a United Nations peace treaty agreement as I stood in the middle of the room with one hand on the ball, and the other shaking the principal’s hand as we posed for a photo..

I wished I had a copy of this photo… but you can imagine what it was like…

Sagarmatha Secondary School – biggest school in Waku
Curious kids checking me out
I liked how ‘Tree’ and ‘Flower’ are classified as Living Things
What makes your life 100% I don’t remember learning this in school
Himalayan Lower Secondary School
can’t-remember-the-name school

One by one, day after day, we visited all the 7 schools in the region, as well as the village chiefs and village store-owners and the likes, anyone that had some level of power and influence to support the Waku Foundation in the region. The idea was to have a shared communal bank pool that people in the region could all rely on at times in need, like when shit hit the fan for medical emergencies and accidents, or repairs and restorations of homes and farms etc. Raj hopes that this pool could eventually become something like a central banking system to provide families with loans, to send their kids to Kathmandu for education etc, as well as ongoing development of infrastructure in the region.

To give you an idea of the infrastructure at Waku, there are absolutely no electricity, thus obviously no street lights, let alone proper roads to facilitate vehicle access to and from the region. The only way to get in and out is by foot (which takes 3½ days to Salleri – the closest town where they can make any kind of goods exchange whatsoever). This route is not only far, but dangerous and hard. Coming here with just 10kgs was tough, imagine if you had to transport goods for the whole village. There are no hospitals, no doctors, no equipments and amenities to perform any kind of medical treatment. Water comes from mountain streams, unfiltered and often contaminated. Schools are understaffed and lack quality. Even if a kid was fortunate enough to leave the village for employment in the city, these children don’t stand a chance competing with city graduates. You can understand why Raj, Bhuwan, Bal and Shankar all fled the village when they were only teenagers. They all knew that their future was bleak, if remained in Waku.

The project of Waku Foundation is still not concrete, and things are still up in the air. Raj and friends are still thinking of new ideas and strategies to best help the people in the region, all by themselves because the government don’t do shit. At the moment, Raj sponsors 12 children in Waku, providing support for basic needs like food, education, and clothes, all while having a family of his own back in Kathmandu. His trekking business is not profitable enough to sustain further sponsorship, but hopes that one day every kid in the region could have the same opportunity like he did, or as the city kids, equipped with at least the bare essentials to shape his/her own future.

Shankar even donated his large plot of land to the government, with hopes that they will agree to construct a hospital on it, or a medical centre that could provide some form of healthcare to the village. They all know how important this is, especially since Bhuwan had lost his sister due to a kidney failure a few years ago, something that could have been treated if there was proper medical attention nearby.

As we continued on our journey from village to village, we visited each of the board member’s families, and it was heartwarming to witness them reunite. I don’t know exactly how long it had been for some of them, but it was clear that their parents missed them very much, you could almost see tears in their eyes, and how proud they are to see their sons come back, all grown up and taking responsibility to give back to their community.

Shankar reuniting with his Mother

The meetings were all successfully concluded, Raj and friends were able to achieve what they set out to achieve, or at least the first phase – to gain the trust and financial support from schools and key influencers to kick off this project. The real hard work starts now, and they have only opened the first door of many to make this project a reality, but I am happy to be involved and see that their visions are slowly taking shape. I made a promise to start a crowdfunding website to raise funds for Waku Foundation when the project is more concrete, but if any of you would like to get involved, or want more information please shoot me an email at

After spending over 300hrs with these amazing people in this journey, I feel like I have learnt yet another important life lesson, apart from the obvious not to take things for granted. That is – to have the desire and courage to take the first step in making a difference for yourself or others no matter how big or small. Just like them, we can all make a choice, and take action to improve whatever situation we’re in. Whether that’s to leave your village at 15 years old, or choosing to take a piano lessons at 30 years old, or to quit your job at 40 to pursue a different career. It’s not about taking risks and hoping for the best, it’s about moulding your own future to the way YOU want, and the only way you can do that is to take action yourself. We all have the ability to do that no matter how small the first step is. The scenery will change as long as you keep walking, and time will tick regardless of you lazing around, and we all know that the worst regret in life is to not have done something in the past. This learning isn’t anything new, and it’s fairly common sense, but how many of us are already plateauing in our mundane daily lives, making up excuses for not taking that first step to change something, when you know you should.

Even now as I travel, I still make up excuses. This is my 3rd night in the same hostel in Cuenca, where I’ve been doing absolutely nothing. The room is good, internet is good, food is good, and it’s been raining everyday and I don’t want to get wet as I cross the border into Peru. Things are comfortable and peaceful here so “I’ll leave later”. This may be a bad example but the concept is still the same. What if the rain never stops?

Before I waste any more days and start regretting later, I will leave first thing tomorrow morning, rain or shine.

Oh by the way, the trek to Annapurna Basecamp was amazing. This probably deserves a write up of its own, but I think

‘…I’ll do that later…’

Remembering how to live on this planet – Panya Project, Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’m swinging on a hammock in a hostel in Barichara, Colombia. I’m the only guest in this hostel tonight and it’s dark and gloomy outside with a heavy thunderstorm. The sky is roaring and thunderbolts are striking every minute. Wait.. was that gunshots I hear outside…? FML.

That’s the kind of setting I’m in right now, but this post is not about Pablo Escobar, or the guerrillas, nor about gunshots in Colombia. It is about the story I had way back in November 2014 in Chaing Mai Thailand. It was one of the stories that I was meaning to share earlier but just couldn’t find the time to write, because the rollercoaster ride of my journey is not stopping and I barely have the luxury of swinging on a hammock to write, until now (though I’m not in the most comfortable situation..)

Panya Project, was one of the organisation that I volunteered in right after the New Life Foundation, north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I discovered this place online during my preparation phase, which was also the time when the word ‘permaculture’ tickled my mojos, it still does. For those of you that do not know what permaculture is, please read on, you will probably be as inspired as I was on this brilliant concept of LIFE.

There are plenty of definitions online, but here are the words from the founder:

Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.
– Bill Mollison
(the founder of permaculture, or the guy that made it mainstream as far as I know)

The way I put it is – a system, to create a healthy ecosystem for plants, animals, and humans to co-exist in harmony, by ‘remembering’ the wisdoms of ancient / traditional agriculture techniques that have proven to work for centuries but forgotten due to the industrial revolution, blend that with the knowledge and technology of today to create the most efficient, ecological, economical, and self-sustainable environment to foster a Cultivated Ecosystem of LIFE, that encompasses not only food, water and agriculture, but also animals, buildings, structures, electricity, energy, etc, that is good for maintaining a healthy Earth, as well as a healthy lifestyle for humans, and the healthy relationship of each other and everything else around.

So this is the kind of place that I was volunteering at, a place that I went to study and learn the basics of permaculture by doing hands-on work, deep in the jungle of North Thailand.

Getting there was an adventure itself, hopping on to the back of a delivery truck (an oversized sontow) for 2 hours, and getting dropped off at the outskirts of this remote village in god knows where in Thailand. The walk to Panya Project was beautiful with amazing views of the village and the hills that surround it. It was made even better when I saw a ‘Double Rainbow’ for the first time in my life.

Double Rainbow!

I knew I was in the right place when I saw a big earth-building structure beyond the woods. Then a person came out from the bush, a person that looked almost identical to Bob Marley. He even sounded like him with his Rastafarian accent, He, together with his pregnant wife (British?) greeted me with a smile and showed me around the area. They are the founders of Panya, whom I’m guessing have been living here in naturale for many years, just like their amazing dreadlocks. 

Panya main house
Bob Marley..?
The community was built up by volunteers and students of permaculture, mostly South Americans and Europeans and one Chinese, whom all looked like hippies. Many even had tribal face paints, which I later found out that it was because that day was apparently a day of the ‘festival’ which I attended soon after arriving.
campfire party

This festival took place on top of a hill 5 minutes up from home. There were pieces of logs and wooden sticks, and some metal objects surrounding the bonfire. Then suddenly, as if it had been rehearsed, the people started making noises, howling like the red indians and started banging on things like Stomp. We drank beer and ‘cocktails’ throughout the night, banging away as loud as we can into the deep abyss of the jungle.

The after party back in the house was more incredible, where everybody just danced, or played hula hoops, or kept banging stuff.

It felt like one of those jungle rave parties. It was super fun, and I was drunk, very happy drunk, and the next day I woke up, not with a hangover, but a couple of hundred facebook posts on my wall from friends that wished me happy birthday…. Oh…shit..

For the first time in my life I forgot my own birthday, and it wasn’t just a birthday, it was my big 30th. After travelling for several weeks without internet notifications, you start losing the sense of time, especially dates, and for some reason, I felt really good about it. I didn’t believe it was even possible to forget your own birthday, but I did.

Anyway, that was the first day at Panya Project, it’s got nothing to do with permaculture except the fact that it was very naturale and down to earth.

Just like at the new life foundation, we were all assigned work for a few hours each day. There were many projects that were still in progress at the time, but the main project was to complete the earth house that was being constructed for Bob Marley and his wife, and their new baby who was expected to pop any time now. A house that was being made with our bare hands, just with mud bricks, straws and some stones.

What was fascinating to learn was that a fully functional house can be made with just the things lying around, depending on where you live, you’d have different resources and different landscapes and elements to consider in the design. Most often than not, if built correctly and maintained properly, these houses could last centuries, if not forever. They’re much warmer and insulated than cement, and significantly cheaper and readily available on earth. The best thing is, it’s natural, therefore harmless to the environment and soul.

Sculpting window
Laying mud bricks


A couple of days later I received the official tour of Panya, and it was mind blowing. The amount of thought that got into the design, the science and functions that every element played was almost overwhelming. It’s not just the lazy farm life that I once imagined, it’s way more sophisticated than that.
Map of Panya


For example, here is the toilet, which is a ‘compost’ toilet. DSC02755

DSC02787It’s elevated high above the ground because the poo must go through what’s called an aerobic process, turned over and layered with Carbon (brown stuff, straws, rice husks etc to absorb moisture and mitigate odor) and Nitrogen (green stuff like grass, leaf, vegetable scraps for protein). With the right mix of C:N ratio, the compost attracts microbial activity and the decomposition process occurs, breaking down the pile to create rich ‘organic’ nutrient filled fertilizers which are then used for gardens and farms. All this science is happening behind the stage of what looked like a mere poo hole at first glance.

instructions for the toilet

Right now, most of us are living in a broken loop of:
Chemical Fertilizers – Grow food – Eat – Discard – Pollute.

With the compost toilet, we can make it a closed loop of:
Humanure Compost – Grow Food – Eat – Excrete – Compost (Repeat)

And best of all, it’s free. But what’s more amazing about this design, and how the true essence of permaculture comes into play is when I discovered that at Panya, they take advantage of the wet climate of Thailand, and utilise the science of compost to produce a hot water shower system.

They capture rainwater in a huge bucket, the water flows through a filtration of Gravel, Sand, and Charcoal, then stored. This filtration system provides the community access to drinking water without chemicals (it really tastes good and it’s free).

But also, one of the water pipes extends all the way INTO the compost pile in a shape of a coil, and because the microbial activity of the compost heats up the pile to close to 60°C, the waterpipe is also heated, thereby allowing us all to enjoy hot showers everyday!  INGENIUS!

Warm shower in the jungle
Rainwater filtration





Biogas is another example of how smart and scientifically resourceful Panya is. All the left over food and greens that we chuck, and the juices and oils that are drained into the sink, are COLLECTED, filtered into this tank, which are then added with fungal sheets (or something like that) to induce what’s called an anaerobic digestion, that produces Methane gas which is highly flammable, which are then used for cooking. It works, and it’s unbelievable!

There were many more mind blowing designs implemented at Panya that I will not even attempt to explain, because I simply don’t understand, but also it will take too much time. But almost everything that you see at Panya is designed in detail, hidden away from the naked eyes but meticulously planned out. The water irrigation system allows water to flow throughout the premise in such efficiency it maximises usage while minimising wastage, the specific plants are grown at specific spots at specific times to kill away bad things and promote only the good things, the timing of seeding and planting and harvesting is so thought out that there’s food all year round etc. It was by far the most educational and interesting ‘tour’ that I’ve ever witnessed, and I’m so impressed and sold on the idea that we can all benefit from implementing the principles of permaculture into our daily lives.

example of their water irrigation system
Panya Project Organic Produce

However this does not mean you have to throw away your jobs and wander off into the jungles and try to build a community that is self sustainable. Besides, it’s not easy, it’ll take months to learn and you’ll have to take courses in places like Panya. However, the learning that I got from this experience, is that we can all start somewhere.

For example, let’s say you were chopping up some spring onions to add onto your soba. You’d chop it to the root, and then discard it into the bin, right? How many of you knew that by placing the root into a cup with a bit of water, will be enough to grow the spring onion again within days?

A baby step like this, is so easy, and was such common sense back in the days, but who does it now? It’s so much easier to go to the supermarkets and get everything you need. But that’s not the point. What’s important is not the act of producing your own vegetables and being self sufficient for food, instead it is the application of permaculture into our everyday thinking. How can we minimize wastage, so not to pollute the environment that we depend on so heavily for our own existence? How can we best make use of this person’s ability to produce the best outcome, without affecting his egos? How can we be more diverse and broaden our perspectives to see multiple facets of an issue, in order to achieve the best possible outcome?

Permaculture is, again, a design concept, it is something that involves you to really look closely and observe the surrounding, and make full use of the functions that nature brings to us instead of looking at things like ‘a single product system’. I’m convinced that this mindset can be applied to our daily modern lives, into our behaviours, relationships with people and the surrounding, and attitude towards life in general. Just like technology, it’s what you make of it, and it’s how you adapt to the functions of it to make it either beneficial to you, or simply a burden.

Overall the experience at Panya had made me feel a lot more connected to Earth. It really is our home and the source of our existence. We have to respect it with care, just like our own bodies, because it’s what gives us Life.

Yet, I know I can’t live off the grid in the jungle forever (and I wouldn’t want to either), however, I am now a lot more appreciative of our planet and have more respect towards the intelligence of mother nature that holds us all together. I will never litter anymore, nor throw away the roots of onions for example. I will try to give back as much as I can, back to earth, back to people, and play my part to incorporate the core tenets of permaculture as I continue on in my journey – 1) Care for the Earth, 2) Care for the People, and 3) Return of Surplus to reinvest our energy into this permanent cycle of life.

Deep within the vibration of my soul – New Life Foundation, Chiang Rai Thailand.

This is a story of my experience back in October 2014 in Chiang Rai Thailand, one of the very first destinations of my so called worldly travels. It took me a while to write this up, because I was rarely connected, and had little time to sit down and reflect while travelling from border to border on a motorbike, as well as trekking the Himalayas over the past few weeks. However, the real reason is because I really wanted to take my time to share this story with as much detail as possible because it was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far on the journey, perhaps ever in my life, and I didn’t want no electricity load shedding in Nepal to disturb my flow. So here it goes.

We traveled from Singapore by bus to get to Hatyai, the first city of Thailand after crossing the border of Malaysia. This was where we met that happy old lady if you remember, but not much else was happening so we quickly hopped on the train for Bangkok. The train ride was 14 hrs, plenty of time to just ponder at the beauty of the scenery and let time drift by, absorbing the serenity of the moment and travel essence into our bloodstream. A quick nap on the bunk bed, and before you know it, you’re woken up by the bustling street noises of Thailand’s capital city.

Bangkok city, walking through the MRT (Metro) with a backpack amongst a crowd of city people felt awkward. I’m now that guy, a backpacker that you sometimes see walking around the city center with a map looking lost. Luckily for us though, a couple of local friends came down to meet us, took us around town, drove us through the painstaking traffic to some cool spots to unwind, get drunk, and enjoy what Bangkok had to offer.DSC02026

We spent a couple of days being a very standard tourist in the streets of Kaosang, the floating market, catching the fireflies, and eating ice creams etc. Everything was great, the friends took good care of us, gave us a place to stay and we had an awesome time, but Bangkok was a little too much for the mood that I was in. I felt like I needed to be alone, do my own things instead of following the crowd. I wanted to leave as soon as possible, and that’s exactly what we did the morning after, wishing farewell to my friends and travel companions who all went our separate ways.

Chiang Rai, a city less traveled by visitors, was home to an organisation that I had stumbled across on the internet during the preparation phase. It’s an organisation called the New Life Foundation, a community based non-profit organisation that aims to ‘cultivate a lifestyle that fosters inner growth‘. In short, it is a mindful recovery centre, that integrates various religious, spiritual, and scientific healing techniques such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, reiki, art therapy, enneagram, bio-dancing, life coaching, retreats, as well as activities that I’ve grown to like such as sustainable agriculture, earth buildings, natural living and permaculture. This foundation welcomes residents to live on site, offering a rich learning space for them to work on issues such as stress, burnouts, anxiety or addiction problems, and welcomes visitors and volunteers to help out in the community, for they too can work on self improvement and personal development while volunteering.

Initially, I was a little turned off by the word ‘recovery centre’, because I automatically assumed it will be filled with druggies, criminals, psychos and hippies. Also, it sounded a little too commercialized to my liking. However, after watching this short video of what it’s like at New Life, I was immediately moved, and sold.

I reserved my spot to volunteer for 2 weeks, thinking that it would be a good place to unwind and chill before I hit the unbeaten roads of S.E.A. Little did I know, that this 2 weeks would become one of the best 2 weeks of my life.

The Road To Get There

Getting to the New Life Foundation was one of the most challenging and fun experiences I’ve had on this trip. I didn’t have 3G on my phone, Google maps failed to load, and all I had was an address written in Thai. Luckily I remembered the one instruction, which was to either 1) take a direct tuk tuk/Taxi for 600฿ ($20), OR 2) hop on a bus in the city for 20฿ ($0.50), and ‘head towards the border of Laos and alight when you see a wooden signage on the right after 20~25 minutes, and walk 2km‘.

I chose the bus, of course. I showed the address to a random guy at the bus terminal and sign languaged my way to the right platform. There it stood a small red bus, shabby and scrappy with broken doors and curtains hanging out the window. The bus was packed with locals, and I can feel a hundred eyeballs staring at me as I stepped in with my backpack. I felt like an idiot and I clearly didn’t blend in well. It’s the same feeling you have when you enter a wrong meeting room by accident, the only difference is that you don’t leave, instead you pretend like you actually belong.

I didn’t know if I’m on the right bus let alone know where to get off, but I felt safe, only because it was 12pm, still bright and sunny, plenty of time to figure something out if things didn’t go as planned. A guy next to me was constantly picking his nose and the bus kept stalling every two minutes. Sometimes you just have to laugh to keep the spirits up, instead of burying yourself with worries.

My stopwatch was already on the 25th minute but I saw no signage on the right, then suddenly the bus stopped and the driver walked over to me and pointed out the door. I assumed he knew where I was going, and I just trusted him, whatever, off I went.

DSC02614I was literally in the middle of nowhere. I see no signs of people, no cars, no life, no sound except a couple of chirping birds. I walked along what seemed like an endless road in Thailand’s blistering heat, and just when I was imagining the possibility of dying of dehydration, an SUV approached from behind. My instincts told me to stick out my thumb and desperately waved my hands.  That was my first experience at hitchhiking, and it worked, smooth just like in the movies

The woman driver spoke minimum English but her smile was contagious, she immediately knew where the foundation was after I showed her the address that was written in Thai. She seemed so happy to see a foreigner and kept asking me questions which I understood none. Yet I tagged along with a big smile and nodded to everything she said.

hitchhike 2DSC02163

It was only after we got off the car and greeted a couple of villagers when I figured out that she wanted to show me around. She even offered me to try this organic chicken satay with sticky rice and watch a local MuayThai boxing match. She paid for everything and refused to take my share, she was just really nice, and happy to see a foreigner I guess. After a couple of rounds around the village, we got back on the car and within minutes we were at the entrance of New Life Foundation.


Peaceful, is the right word to describe how I felt as I entered the foundation, Colourful flowers decorated the front gate, warm sunshine reflected off the lotus pond, birds singing in the background, and I can see a few foreigners in the garden sweeping the floor, plucking flowers etc. The receptionist greeted me with a smile ‘welcome to new life’, and I was immediately shown my room. “dinner is at 6pm, breakfast is at 7am, followed by a meeting at 8am. See you there :)”

After taking a nice hot shower in my en suite bathroom (everyone has a private room here), I headed to the dining hall for dinner. There were about 20 people there, young and old, various races and various sexes, queuing up at the buffet table. What was weird was that it was dead silent, no one spoke a word, not even eye contact. I didn’t know what was going on, but whatever, I just followed what others were doing and scooped some vegetarian dishes onto my plate, picked a table, sat and ate. Then I noticed a piece of paper on the table that said ‘Prayers before every meal’.

mindful eating - Edited

I guess that’s what everyone was doing here, being mindful and aware of yourself and others, showing appreciation and gratitude to the food that were being served. After you’re done eating, you wash your own dishes quietly, and head back to your room quietly. My initial reaction was, ‘shit, it’s freaking weird, is it gonna be this quiet for the next 2 weeks? Should I even be here? what have I gotten myself into.’ My excitement and anticipation diminishing as I slowly tucked myself into bed.

5:30AM I was woken up by a soft gentle gong coming from the distance, slowly but surely it was getting louder, and faster, but not intrusive and quite soothing to the ears. It was coming from the ‘Awakening Hall’. Each morning, as the sun gradually lit up the sky, you can either take part in meditation, yoga, taichi, or take a walk around the bush path. It was all up to you what you wanted to do. You can even sleep in, which many people did.

Sunrise-at-New-Life2   DSC02601

But who would sleep in with a view like this. I decided to participate in Yoga that was happening because the awakening hall looked absolutely beautiful. You could see the morning sun rising gently over the distant horizon, lighting up the hall in beams of golden rays and streaks of soft shadows. It was my first ever Yoga session, let alone this early in the morning and it felt fucking amazing, my body was like butter on toast, melting away under the heavenly warmth of the universe.

Breakfast was served right after yoga, again, in silence. It was quite nice this time though, maybe it was because of yoga, but I felt really content, connected within as I ate.  The silence forced me to be myself without distraction or interference by the things around, and it felt good to be able to take my own sweet time to slowly awaken my senses.

8:00AM, people gathered to the Awakening Hall for the daily morning community meeting, quietly forming a circle one by one, some started meditating, some lied down, some on their knees. We just sat there, in silence waiting for something to happen. Then a skinny white man, what seemed like the leader of the community enters the hall and sits in the center, gently getting into a lotus position, and starts meditating. After a minute or two of silence the man slowly opens his eyes, and gently hits the meditation bowl as he makes eye contact with everybody around. Then softly he spoke  ‘Good morning everyone’, and breaks the silence marking the start of the day.

Julien Gryp – Founder

His name is Julien, one of the founders of New Life Foundation who once fell into drug rehab and depression. He spent 8 years in a Thai monastery and recovered through it’s detox program, mindful / spiritual healing (or something along those lines), and since established this foundation to help others achieve the same through the techniques that he know works.

I was asked to introduce myself, where I’m from, why I’m here etc. It was a very ordinary speech, but they all applauded and held their hands together and greeted me with a namaste. I felt acknowledged and instantly felt welcomed by the circle. Then a lady stands up and started reading out the schedule for the day.

schedulesEveryone is assigned a work, or what they call ‘working meditation’, which runs 9-11am & 2-4pm in randomly selected work fields like Agriculture, Maintenance, Housekeeping, Cows, Ducks, Green/Compost, Lunch, Dinner, Earth building, etc. Plus there are various optional activities and workshops that runs outside of these hours, which are lead by anyone in the community, life coaches, volunteers as well as residents that have something to share. Workshops such as Reiki, Inner Dance, Enneagram Bio-Dance, Singing meditation, TRE, Tai Chi, Family constellation, Yoga etc.  Most of them that I have never heard before. Then I realised that half the people in the community were currently taking part in the ‘Silent Retreat’ where they cannot talk for 10 days. No wonder it was dead quiet in the dining hall.

After the schedule of the day is sorted, the meeting is wrapped up with a 20 minute meditation. Then we go off to our respective work duties, or work meditation depending on how you see it, and that’s how the day begins each morning.

making earth buildings with the locals

After a couple of hours into my first duty, I began understanding why it’s called work meditation. We do things like making earth buildings, making mud bricks, repairing broken furnitures, painting walls, plucking flowers, making compost, planting trees, sweeping floors, arranging stones and landscaping etc. They’re not as easy as you think though, requiring a lot of energy and hard work, but I found them all to be ‘Good Work‘ where you perspire ‘Good Sweat‘, and really makes you look forward to lunch even if it was vegetarian. I often landed the maintenance or earth-house building work and I found them to be especially meditative. Best of all, it’s educational, where you could be learning the composition of mud houses, to the techniques of laying tiles, to the basics of creating compost piles, to cutting wood and building things. If you stay long enough they can even put you onto the Cows and Ducks team to look after the animals that live on site that are kept for our daily supply of DSC02224milk and eggs. All in all I found every job very fun and meditative, putting you into a state where you focus on the task at hand, in your own world with no distractions, which I was not  really used to.

By the time we were having lunch, the retreat was already over, and the atmosphere lit up with people talking and laughing. the vibe was good, and immediately I knew that I’ve come to the right place. The morning yoga and meditation was refreshing, the work meditation was fun and satisfying, the people were noisy and funny after all, yet genuine and humble. The place is also absolutely beautiful, with lush green trees and gardens everywhere, with stone foot paths and flowers on every corner, a massive lake overlooking the rice fields, cows and the ducks chilling out by the waters. They even have a swimming pool, a steam bath, a lounge with books, guitars, also a ping pong table. It felt more like a resort really, but without the commercialised feel. The people were so friendly and funny that the place was nothing like the recovery centre that I had once imagined.

Best of all the sunrise and sunset is one of the nicest I’ve seen, and there’s plenty of shops and things to do in the village just outside the premise for you to roam around freely, to get your weekly chicken fix and mango smoothies even. I found that this place really made me let loose, yet stay focused, and I think it’s an ideal place to experience a good balance of work and play, the balance of healthy living for the body, mind and spirit. 2 weeks was definitely too short, and I realised why there are people who stay for months, even years, and most people here have returned for the second time. I’ll probably be one of them too.

New life foundation
sunset over the lake
the forest swing

So that’s the basic of what this foundation is about, and how awesome the day in the life of a volunteer is like, but the real reason why I loved this place so much was because of the special workshops and activities that happened outside of normal ‘working hours‘.

One of the workshops that I attended was called TRE which stands for Trauma/Tension Release Exercise. The other volunteers who had done this before were telling me how it makes your body shake and go into a state of trance, some say they start laughing or crying, some say it makes them jump up and down. Apparently the TRE helps to activate a release of bodily tension due to stress, past traumas, which can be physical, emotional and psychological. Apparently it’s something that we all carry to some degree, which lies deep in our body hidden deep within our consciousness.

What the hell, right? I was a little skeptic at first, thinking that nothing of my body is uncontrollable, similar to the reaction that I have towards hypnosis and stuff although I’ve never tried it before. It was a perfect opportunity to explore and give it a shot. I threw away my skepticism and invited pure curiosity to take over as I followed the exercises.

A few stretches here and there, followed by a few minutes of what looked like inverted planks, and a few other things which I just can’t remember. Then, the final instructions were to lie flat on our backs with the knees bent, slightly open, “listen to the music and let your body do its thing…”

“Don’t try to fight it, let go and just observe what’s happening in your body. If you feel like it’s getting too much and you’re drifting away, just straighten your legs and you will come back in”

What the hell.. Okay..

I probably didn’t follow the instructions perfectly but the result was evident. After a few minutes of lying on the floor, my legs, thighs, pelvis, stomach, arms and shoulders, started going crazy. The word spasm would be an understatement to describe what was going on in my body. It felt as if my muscles had a mind of it’s own as it started shaking and thumping uncontrollably. I looked to my left and I see a guy banging his hands to the floor, I look to my right and a girl is in tears. Apparently everybody reacts differently and for me, it was as if my body, especially the bottom half of my body was being electrocuted, or possessed like you see in exorcism. It was actually pretty scary, but at the same time it felt really good. Like really fucking good that I started wondering whether this sensation was similar to a female orgasm. I dunno, but what I do know is that I was still conscious, you still have control, but the more I tried to control, the less the body would shake, or the less tension/trauma was being released, as they say.

For a good 15 minutes or so, my body shook, yet my mind was still. It was a bizarre, new form of meditation and sensation that I’ve never felt before. It felt so good that I didn’t want it to go away. The facilitator told us to straighten our legs, and like magic, the shaking all stopped.

When the session was over, I felt really drained despite the fact that I was simply lying down, my head was fuzzy and heavy and felt as though I had just ran a half marathon, or just finished watching the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ – if you know what I mean. The facilitator told me that this is normal, and many people feel the way I do after TRE. She says that it’s the result of tension being released out of my body, which again, could be physical, emotional, or psychological.  She also noted that TRE must be practised in a controlled environment, and supervised by a proper facilitator, as it can get dangerous at times if the person can’t ‘bring themselves back‘…

Inner Dance, was another session that I was lucky to participate in during my time there. It was held in what was called the ‘Forest Hall’, 5 mins walk away from the main premise. It’s an earth building in a shape of a circle hut in a forest, with clean wooden pillars holding up the bamboo roof in the inside, with softly lit candles lighting up the golden buddha statue that sits in the middle.


Here, the facilitator of told us to lie down on a yoga mat, rest our head on a pillow and get “really comfortable“. She played this music, which was quite weird, or interesting I should say. It did not have a consistent melody or beat to it, and instead it had lots of sudden off-beat distortions that was progressively getting weirder and weirder, however it wasn’t abnormal or intolerable to the ears, just not something that you would expect to hear on the weekly top charts. She then tells us to just listen, and let our thoughts go.

“Listen to how your body is reacting to the music, don’t fight it, surrender, and let it wander off and take it’s own course”

Again, I was skeptic, but knowing how much I was blown away from the TRE session, I remained curious and threw away my busy thoughts and just observed how my body ‘listened‘ to the music.

Around 30 minutes in, I didn’t notice any effect, apart from feeling a little sleepy. I knew I was dozing off, but maybe this is what I’m supposed to be doing? to let go of my thoughts, relax, isn’t it the same as falling asleep? Then, the magic happened.

My left arm started twitching, then my right, then my left shoulder, then my legs. Before I knew it my whole body started to twitch, similar to the TRE session. What was different here, and what made it so bizarre, was that I was twitching TO BEAT. Twitching to the music that had inconsistent beat… What the hell… How is this possible? I began thinking, and immediately the twitching stopped. “Oh shit! I’m probably thinking too much!”. I reminded myself to stay calm and let the body do its thing and slowly drifted back in, journeying on into the vortex of my conscious but unconscious dream. I could almost visualize the music popping up in the back of my eyelids. It was as if I could see what was coming next, and my body knew it too, and pop, shake, twitch, jerk, exactly to the beat that didn’t exist. My body was a drum kit being possessed by the wands of a conductor that I could see but not touch. Then I realised why this was called Inner Dance. It’s a dance that comes from within, not from any outside influences, not of your very own mind, not of your very own consciousness.

What a crazy fucking experience.

What’s next? Reiki.

Reiki is defined as a Japanese technique that utilises the energy force of the universe in the form of Qi (気) channeled through the palms of your hands and into one’s body, helping to promote healing, stress reduction and relaxation.

It was my first time hearing about Reiki despite being a Japanese myself, but there was a Reiki Master from Belgium working as a Life Coach at the New Life Foundation offering private Reiki sessions for anyone in the community twice a week. I had to try this, especially since I’ve always had problems on my knees from playing too much soccer. I signed up for one of the free slots, and waited anxiously for that day to come. Unfortunately it never did. The bed was broken, or missing on the day or something  and the session had to be cancelled. We couldn’t move the date because I was already leaving the next day…

However, despite this anticlimactic end to my stay, I was glad to have experienced so much in this 2 weeks. It had opened up a whole new level of curiosity into the cosmos of my spirituality, energy force, fifth element, or whatever you may want to call it. Besides, I merely came here to unwind and relax, do some meditation and volunteer, but I got a hella lot more out from it than just that.

I still haven’t mentioned about half the stories because it will take another 3000 words to explain so I’ll stop right here. But if you are reading this and feel even just a little curious, Go, check out the new life foundation for yourself and the bring out the new life in you. This place will help you look inside, deep within the vibrations of your soul and heal the addiction that lies within us all – the addiction of avoidance and ignorance towards your very own being.

“Just let your body do its thing” 🙂

Witnessing the loss of the Hmong Tribe – Sapa Vietnam

With hopes to find a place to bunk for the night at one of the remote villages in Vietnam, away from the tourist infested city of Sapa, we biked down the mountain aimlessly until a lady wearing a pink turban, approached us from behind and shouted “HEY! you want come my village stay my home?” – That was the start of our encounter with the Black Hmong tribe of Sapa..

It’s safe to say that ‘homestays’ are a popular tourist attraction here in Vietnam,  where you get the opportunity to stay at a home of a local Vietnamese family, eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep, and get a glimpse of their lifestyle and culture. What was different here, is that it wasn’t just a homestay at a local family, it was a homestay at one of the tribal ethnic groups of the mountains – the Black Hmong Tribe.

They live on a beautiful region east of Sapa, away from the tourist infested city on a hilltop overlooking the Fansipan mountain. The view is truly spectacular. But what’s more beautiful was their culture, which I was fortunate enough to learn over a dinner chat during that one night of stay.

If I heard it right, there are apparently 7 Hmong tribes that live in Vietnam, what’s amazing is that they all speak completely different languages to one another, and have very different traditions and cultures. The Black Hmong people wore colourful  patterned dresses, head scarfs instead of hats which the other Hmong tribes wore (some wore combs, etc). Basically they are different not just in tradition and culture, but also outfit and style, which I thought was really cool.

The other thing I liked, is the fact that all women learnt how to weave clothes since childhood, taught at home by their mothers, and all men learnt how to make jewelry, taught by their fathers. So the women made clothes to warm up the men, and all the men made jewelries in return, to beautify their women and make them look pretty. Apparently this is a big part of their culture, like every family does this, and that’s fucking awesome. The rest is simple life. Farming rice and vegetables, some pigs and chickens to feed the family, and any leftovers are sold on the market for extra money. They are even legally allowed to grow unlimited amount of marijuana, since they’re used as hemp fabrics for their clothes (I’ll talk more about this later). It’s a beautifully simple life, but within the midst of all this, I see some modern tech in the household, like TVs, scooters, light bulbs and speakers, which got me thinking, and the more I thought about it, the more I got disturbed. I had the urge to write down my thoughts as I fell asleep that night. This is an exert from those notes.

Mai, our homestay host said she bought the TV for the children

“they like it so we buy it. If we don’t get one the children will go to the neighbours and won’t come back”.

She also says its good for learning English, Vietnamese, and to ‘see the world‘. I kept quiet and listened as she talked about how TVs are good for education. I agreed to what she was saying, and I respect her for showing so much care for her children, but in my mind I couldn’t stop thinking the fact that this might wipe away their tribe one day. These kids will grow up knowing that there’s a world out there full of colours and interesting things, materials, and i can feel their curiosity growing by the minute on screen. These kids may grow up wanting to become like us, to leave the village and become an accountant, an office manager, a jet fighter pilot, a mortgage broker, a movie star, or whatever we all work as in the ‘real‘ world. If that’s what they want, that’s fine, evolve, commercialise and modernise, but I have a very strong feeling that they are perfectly happy where they are, and I think they know it themselves. What they probably don’t know is the brainwashing power of TV and other media and the effect it has on children while growing up. Or at least I think so. What I’m basically trying to say is that I wouldn’t want to unplug their TV, but I wouldn’t be happy plugging it in either.

mei and hash
Mai, our host, and the hemp plant that she gave to us as welcome gift..

Mai’s dream is apparently to visit Halong bay, as written in English so cleverly on this little donation box hanging on her living room (aimed at visitors like us). To be honest, from our perspective that’s a pretty small dream to have. Its like saying your dream is to visit Osaka if you lived in Tokyo.. Humbling and nice and all, but at the same time, I didn’t feel good about this dream, because she wouldn’t have had this dream if she was never exposed to it in the first place.  Okay, a little harsh, but think about it. If she was made aware of Halong bay from a story from her mother, father, chief village master or something like that, then that’s a wonderful dream with a story behind, but If it’s from seeing it on a magazine cover or a TV show, then that dream is the bi-product of fake signals telling her to buy things that she doesn’t need. To buy that camera, that watch, that car, that trip to Halong bay or Hawaii. If money is what we need to get there, then I’ll work hard and do anything to earn that money – kinda thinking.

The thinking part is not to blame, you can’t blame someone from being sold, its not within our control to be brainwashed. In fact i think TVs can be a good thing if they showed the right things, like national geographics and discovery channel, those real educational shows, but obviously most aren’t, since 80% of media are apparently owned by one family, those that can afford to wipe their asses with thousand dollar bills. Anyway, as I chatted along with the family as they kept pouring me shots of ‘happy water’, I couldn’t stop noticing the children’s eyes glued to the TV and that wasn’t making me happy at all.

Kids are our future, yes, this phrase is scarily true. The future is inevitable, slowly but surely these tribes will one day become like us, following our footsteps just like how we all began. The only difference is that we just got there faster, forced into modernisation and the industrial revolution, capitalism, thereby the future that we all currently live in. But then again, The paradox is that I want them to stay the way they are because of my own personal desire, my wishful thinking, my greed. Who knows what they want.

My mind was going in circles as I spiraled into deep thinking. Maybe I was too high when I was writing this, but it seemed like an endless cycle at that time. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Why can’t they just co-exist in harmony like oyakodon – if you know what I mean.

I managed to get to sleep that night after convincing myself that it was okay to be greedy this time, because my wish that they remain the way they are is not for me after all, it’s for them.

    “Who is more important, you or others? The conclusion is clear; even if minor suffering happens to all others; its range is infinite, whereas when something happens to me, it is limited to just one person. When we look at others in this way, oneself is not so important.” – Dalai Lama

Anyway, it was a good segway to the next chapter of my journey into Nepal,  one of the most poorest countries in the world, but also one of the most sacred places in Asia for many religions, namely Hinduism and Buddhism, the ultimate pilgrimage of Zen worshipers, the birthplace of Lord Buddha 🙂

The simple truth – You don’t need anything to be happy.

On one of the stops in Hatyai, a small city of Thailand, I decided to kill time at a coffee shop and wait for the rain to pass. It was pouring down endlessly, and I was feeling tired and grumpy from the long sleepless bus rides. I was feeling a even more annoyed with the fact that my feet was all wet, legs were itchy, sweaty and tired all over my body. Then I hear a loud thunderous laughter from the back of the shop.

It was one of the kitchen aunties playing with her friend, probably in her 60s, wearing a bright blue apron with a blue ribbon on her hair, with the biggest smile I’ve seen all afternoon. Just watching them made me feel happy, and at that instant my wet feet and tired body didn’t bother me anymore. We ended up having a chat, joked around and had a great time. Then I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get her take on some word of wisdom. I asked her the question:

“what makes you so happy everyday?”

She paused for a moment, and replies “I’m happy because I’m happy”.


“I’m happy because I’m happy, there’s no why”…

The answer lacked depth, too simple and generic, but I figured her English wasn’t good enough to continue and I gave up asking after a few attempts. Then just as I left the store, after feeling a little disappointed that I couldn’t get her to answer my question properly, it suddenly all started making sense..

“I’m happy because I’m happy, there’s no reason why”

That’s it. We don’t need an explanation to be happy. Happiness doesn’t need a reason. It’s either you are or you’re not, and it’s YOUR CHOICE. We just have to choose to be happy and switch on cruise control. It’s as simple as that 🙂

Add some rhythm to your travel

It’s been about 2 weeks since my solo journey began, and I’m noticing that it could get a little lonely at times. Luckily though, I have my own travel companion called the Asalato, a West African music instrument (apparently from Ghana) that I recently stumbled across after watching this Youtube video.

It’s essentially two balls attached to a string with seeds inside, which you swing around the hands to make them hit each other, creating a percussive click, as well as a shaking sound.

I really love the simplistic nature of this toy, made out of sun drying a type of fruit called the Oncoba Spinosa.  They create a hollow but solid sound when struck, and the shake of the seeds add a very soothing flow to the rhythm.

According to Wikipedia they can also act as a skill-development tool to help improve dexterity, ambidexterity, brain hemispheric synchronization, and develop the ability to multitask. Best of all, it fits conveniently in my pocket, and I can whip it out whenever I feel rhythmic, or whenever I need some inspiration as I journey on.  When  I got lost in a forest, for example…


The Asalato has become my beloved travel companion which I always carry wherever I go. Try it out yourself and add some rhythm to your travel!

Feel free to grow, Singapore, just don’t leave behind your Soul.

This is my 6th day since arriving in Singapore to catch up with my family, or 2 hours left to mark the start of my journey as I wait anxiously for the Bus to Thailand. Initially, Singapore wasn’t a destination that was part of my so called worldly discovery, having lived here for over 10 years as a kid, and where my family still resides for close to 30 years – it’s my home away from home and I didn’t expect to learn anything from this country that I didn’t already know. Well, I was wrong. Times have changed, and Singapore continues to amaze me.

I happened to be invited to a beach party at Siloso Beach in Sentosa (_20141016_134354an artificial island, think of it like the palm island of Dubai stuffed with theme parks + Vegas), and it was one of those rave parties on the beach where girls wore bikinis without actual access to the beach. Instead, the venue sprayed luminescent paint all over the crowd and lit them up with UV lights making them illuminate like the Na’vis from Avatar. It was a spectacular event, with lights, music, alcohol, girls, and even better as I was given free VIP tickets by a friend who knew one of the organisers.

So a friend and I sat outside with a 6 pack as we waited for the organiser to take us in. We see rows and rows of young, hip, sexy girls and boys, many schoolies drunk off their faces marching into the gate aggressively like they’re about to enter war with alcohol, all while looking like they were having the best time of their lives.

Then as soon as I got in, I suddenly felt overwhelmed, a little turned off by the sheer scale of the event and the fact that these kind of parties happen on a weekly basis apparently. It’s so common yet so epic. I was a little culture shocked to be honest. The atmosphere was filled with modernillumination technology, with fluorescent lightslights beaming into the sky with EDM pumping energy endlessly into a sea of sweaty shiny dancing avatars, creampied from top to bottom with paint spraying out of gigantic fire hoses. At one point they looked like they were being possessed by some sort of demonic light god… Next minute, I turn my head and I see my friend making out with a random girl covered in paint. What on earth is this place? It sure doesn’t seem like the Singapore that I used to know.

Don’t get me wrong though, I was having a blast at the sheltered VIP sector, drinking heaps of alcohol, dancing and shaking my asalatos all night surrounded by sexy slim girls in their bikinis. But I just couldn’t get over the fact that everything looked so artificial, where people marched in like robots soullessly onto an artificial beach with artificial colours and artificial music. This party was one of those nights that made me feel amazed at how far Singapore had come in just over a decade. The pace of Singapore’s growth is not just fast, it’s exponential.

I feel nervously excited for what the future holds for Singapore, excited because I can’t wait to see how much more crazier it becomes, but nervous because I feel Singapore is starting to lose it’s soul. Did you know that Singapore’s GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world, and the nation has one the highest percentage of Millionaires in the world, and at the same time Singaporeans are also one of the unhappiest people in the world?

slide82Similar studies all point to the same conclusion, and I was shocked, because I know I wasn’t unhappy living here as a kid, it was quite the opposite. But then I realised – I’m not a Singaporean. I only just lived here.

While growing up I remember hearing lots of complaints from my local Singaporean friends about the government and the PAP, blah blah blah, Things that I chose to ignore as it never applied to me, and I hated politics (I still do), but now I realise that their suffering is partly due to people like me – the expats who are quickly taking over their role, their workforce, their economy, their culture, and perhaps their happiness too.

How can you feel happy when you are only just getting by but at the same time you see others in your country earning millions and living the high life? There are many people in Singapore who are struggling to get by, but at the same time the country has a nick name – “the playground for the rich”.

A glass of beer costed me $18 last night, when I can get a bigger, better, fresher beer in Australia for $7, while still being paid twice as much. A fresh grad from Britain double’s the salary of my local Singaporean friend even though he’s been working for years, regardless of work ethics or performance. You’d probably have to be ten times more effective just to be ‘treated’ on par with an expat, who by the way accounts for 30-40% of the population.

Personally I felt like this beach party was a good representation of the current state of Singapore. Dazzling and amazing with shiny lights and VIP treatment, but in the expense of liberty, consciousness, and nationhood. I think the people here knows it, just that they can’t do much about it. I don’t know what Singapore will become by the time I return, but as the saying goes – “the best way to predict the future, is to create it” 

My bus to Thailand leaves in an hour, take care Singapore! 🙂

Goodbye Australia

It was only after running desperately through the airport terminal as my name was being called for final boarding and after just making it onto the plane that I could finally relax and settle at my allocated seat, when the thoughts of leaving Australia began to finally sink in.

Random flashbacks of my 10 years in Australia started popping up one after another, speeding up in sync with the jet engine of the plane as it shot down the runway at 300km/h. The G-force pressing my body against the seat, my blood, my thoughts rushing to the back of my head as if they couldn’t keep up with the speed of the plane. Then I remember feeling nervous, with anxiety peaking in my stomach as the plane continued to speed up.

I was scared, not because of flying, but because I realised that there’s no turning back anymore – I’m actually leaving this country now, leaving all these great friends and memories behind.

The plane lifted off the ground, my stomach sank, my thoughts literally felt like it was sucked out of my body. This is it. The memories are now the past. Goodbye Australia.

Moments after I reminded myself of a quote: “Goodbyes are not forever. Goodbyes are not the end. They simply mean I’ll miss you until we meet again”

Fuck I’m gonna miss you all

The lead up to what may be the biggest decision of my life

This has been by far the most difficult thing that I’ve ever attempted.

The master plan of where I was going for the next 12+ months, how I was going to explain to my parents that I’m leaving the best company to work for in the world, how I was going to survive without a steady income, without knowing 10 different languages, with only 4 months to save up, and pack 10 years worth of possession into a 40L backpack and venture out into the unknown.

It’s a very frightening thought I must admit. There were countless times when I thought of turning back and give in to the comfort of Google to be on track to lead a successful career (See Why I Left Google).

But just as I was mentally preparing and tossing up the options, I had an opportunity to go on a 10 day liveaboard scuba diving trip at one of the most remotest oceans of Indonesia called KOMODO. This trip played a pivotal part in finalising my decision, giving me ample time to reflect on how I wanted to feel
like waking up each morning, and how it became clear to me that life existed outside of Google.


By the time I stepped foot back onto land, after spending more time being surrounded by fishes than humans, the kueno bug had grown so large inside of me that it finally found a voice of it’s own. On the first day back on the job, I told my manager that I’m quitting.

[see Why I Left Google]

Some fun facts of Singapore

This post is completely unrelated to my journey, but that’s only because Singapore is like my 2nd home where I’ve spent over 10 years living during my high school days. So instead, I’ll tell you some interesting fun facts of Singapore to warm things up before I take off on my journey.

To tell the truth, I just wanna post something to experiment the use of tags and categories... (can someone tell me how to make fonts smaller?)

Majulah Singapura. That’s the title of the national anthem of Singapore, a song of national pride which every Singaporeans knows by heart.  But I bet most of them don’t even know the meaning of each of the words in the lyric, because they’re all in Bahasa! a.k.a Malaysian, which accounts for less than 15% of the ethnic race that makes up Singapore’s demographics.

What’s even more interesting is that Singapore’s population is around 5.5 million and Australia is 22 million.

SINGAPORE 5.5 million
AUSTRALIA 22 million


Now compare the two on the map:

                          ….. (- _ – ; ) ….


Singapore is so small you can’t even see it!

I think you get the idea. Singapore is mega tiny! Too small that the red dot you see above is bigger than the actual country it self. However they have a population of 5.5 million, compared to Australia’s 22 million, which makes them 4x smaller than Australia if you put it that way.

Let’s carry on the maths. Let’s use land mass this time.

Singapore: 716km²        Australia: 7,692,024 km²

                          ….. (- _ – ; ) ….


Singapore is 10,743 times smaller in land mass than Australia!

Visualise ¼ of Australia being shoved into the tiny dot you see above.

Yeah, not a pleasant sight. No wonder Singapore is the 2nd most densely populated country in the world…