Along the Away

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Archive for the ‘ South East Asia ’ Category

In general, work/life balance for me is not an evenly dispersed kind of thing but more like all-consuming-projects punctuated with an annual travel adventure when I disappear overseas for four weeks. I used to want to balance it all out, but now I accept that I actually like life being ‘all on’ when I’m hooked on a project and then changing track and escaping somewhere else when it’s done. Something I could do better is managing my wellbeing across these times. I tend to burn out, thinking I’ll sleep/breathe/recharge later. Well… I really don’t really want to sleep/breathe/recharge once or twice a year. I’d rather that be an all of the year thing.

So I started looking after myself better. I cut down on chocolate (I haven’t eaten any since the 28th June 2015 actually). I didn’t let my morning bush walk slide off my schedule when I was busy, it has become a non-negotiable. I started a regular weekly yoga practice after years of patchy attendance, and I sat down to daily meditation. I’ve kept to it all pretty faithfully and the result was that at the end of a pretty big work project last year I needed some time out for sure, but I wasn’t an exhausted shell left barely standing. I had energy, so after my work trip to Singapore I hopped on a plane to Koh Samui and straight to Vikasa Yoga Retreat. I stayed for 15 days.

I found Vikasa through a Google search, it sounded promising with great Trip Advisor reviews and plenty of travel blog trip reports.

Yoga paradise at Vikasa Yoga Retreat

It is set into the cliffside on the west coast of Koh Samui, with the cafe/reception area sitting up the top and everything else – accommodation, yoga shalas and swimming pools – cascading down the cliff. That means steps – and lots of them! I didn’t find this a problem at all, though I’ve seen some complaints on tripadvisor about them. I think if you’re there to do yoga then a five minute walk up the stairs should be within your ability to manage. And where there’s a climb there’s a view – and this one is worth the effort!

They have multiple accommodation options which is a great way to make the retreat possible for yogis of all budgets. I contemplated the options but after my hard work I decided to treat myself to a balcony facing the ocean with the Ocean Room. My first impression of the room was that it’s a lot smaller than it seems on their website, and also nestled quite close to the other rooms/bungalows either side; the balconies line up next to each other with no privacy from your neighbors, you feel like you need to keep your window curtains closed for that purpose as well. It would just be perfect if they were more private, but having said, they were clean, had aircon, an outdoor shower, and as time went on and I became friendlier with my neighbors privacy was not such a concern.

One curtain I always kept open was on the window facing the ocean so I had a front row seat in the morning when the sun rose over it right in front of my bed! I’m an early riser anyway so when my eyes flicked open in the mornings and caught sight of the horizon changing color I always jumped out, made a cup of peppermint tea and sat out on my balcony for an hour as it rose.

Vikasa Sun Rise

Vikasa calls itself a yoga retreat, I would describe it as a yoga resort, a subtle difference, but resort more accurately infers the freedom you have regarding how much yoga you do. There are three outdoor yoga shalas; the weekly timetable of scheduled yoga and meditation classes for guests are all held in the White Shala which is large and breezy. It’s entirely up to you what classes you attend – if any, no one keeps track of you, there are no expectations.

White Yoga Shala Vikasa Yoga Retreat

I tried to do at least one meditation and one yoga class a day, though sometimes I managed all classes (which was up to 6 some days). I found this freedom great as the first couple of days I took it easier as I adjusted to the heat, but by the end I craved going to as many as possible, though sometimes skipped some due to exploring the island or just physically needing a break.

Practising during the afternoon and evening tropical storms was a real treat. The rain thundered down and skittered under the roll-down shutters on the wind to land on my skin as I sweated away. The thunder boomed and the lightening sparked, it was magic. It rained probably half of the days I was there (September) but getting to practice yoga during the storms made up for the lack of beach time on those days. That and being curled up on a beanbag with a smoothie and a book in the cafe.

My favorite teachers were Simon, a South African born but now Koh Samui local who has a brilliant sense of humor and a very relaxed approach to practice, and Christian, a visiting London based yoga teacher who was more dynamic. The other teachers were all good as well, but as in life you click with some people more than others, which was the case here too.

Yoga Class at Vikasa Yoga Retreat

I came to Vikasa alone with no worries as I travel solo a lot, however I will admit that on the second day I had a moment of doubt. I hadn’t yet clicked specifically with any one, most of those I met were there on the teacher training group and were already in close groups. On the second night I started chatting to an Aussie girl after class though and we had dinner together. Then I met a Danish guy, then a Singaporean girl and an Aussie guy, an American girl and a Dutchman… I was set! The group of friends I made and hung out with each day at mealtimes and inbetween classes really made my holiday. I had such a fun time then, yoga was rewarding in itself but bonding with like minded yogis was the best.

Together we took taxis to beaches on the other side of the island- to Chaweng Beach for drinks and junk food, to Bophut for delicious Thai food at the Happy Elephant. We walked to Crystal Bay to get massages, and went on a jeep jungle safari in the rain and mud (so much fun clinging onto the side of the jeep and being flung about) which also stopped at some jungle water slides plus a few other key Koh Samui attractions. We did the Just Jungle tour which avoided all animal attractions, something I feel pretty strongly about not supporting.

I spent some time exploring on my own too. I got a taxi to the far side of Chaweng and walked the length of the beach, which was a feat in the heat but I was really missing walking by then. The roads in Thailand do not make for a pleasant stroll as the motorcycles travel along the kerb as well. It’s tempting to walk with an eye constantly over your shoulder to make sure they see you. Chaweng is a long flat beach so I was able to get into my walking headspace and chill out, stopping to swim or lay down and read along the way.

Chaweng Beach

I remembered when reading about Vikasa, that there was a gym across the road – Sky Gym – where Vikasa guests can go for free with tokens given out at reception. So I checked that out as a walking option. An energetic music playlist was always pumping when I went, and there’s pretty much everything you need there, for me that was just the treadmill so I could walk! The cardio equipment is all lined up next to windows that give the gym its name – there is a fabulous view on the blue sky days, but even on the cloudy days like when I took this photo it’s pretty nice to workout in front of!

Sky Gym

On my last night, a group of us who were all on the verge of leaving Vikasa went to Bophut for drinks on the beach at the gorgeous CoCo Tams, which has swing seats at the bar and big beautiful cushions around low wooden tables on the sand by the water. After a few drinks we wandered around the markets buying random finger foods (I ate a deep fried cricket…!!!) and taking in the atmosphere with new friends who felt like old ones.

I returned back to Sydney feeling happy, healthy, stretched out and sun-kissed.

Selfie in Chaweng

It was a feeling that stayed with me a long time, in fact I have maintained a yoga practice much more intense than I ever have before, averaging 3-5 classes a week even 5 months later. If I ever get the chance to return I will. I just hope that when I do, I meet just as lovely people as I was lucky to meet this time.

Heart Buddha Vikasa Yoga Retreat

If you are wondering why my post is a lot lighter on photos than usual, it would be because about 24 hours after getting home to Sydney, I was walking along the beach and drowned my phone in a failed but spectacular leap of enthusiasm over the lagoon channel… I sadly lost all my holiday photos, all except for the four I had allowed myself to post on Instagram while I was there and the few I sent on Messenger to my Mum. It just goes to show, it doesn’t pay to have a complete social media break while away… Hope you enjoyed this reflection on my blissful yoga holiday.

Chaweng Elephant

I am now breaking the post-New Zealand holiday catch-up transmission to share something much more recent.

Last month I had the opportunity to go on my first overseas work trip! The company I work for is an Australian owned and operated company so opportunities to do business outside Australia have been limited in the past (that’s eleven years – I’m a stayer!). However, we are currently tendering for contracts in Singapore… so I got to go there for three days!

Business of course was the first priority and it consumed most of the time I was there. We stayed at the Furama Riverfront hotel which was just wonderful for our purposes. I wrote a review on TripAdvisor about it, but in summary the rooms were modern and functional, and the staff were so friendly – particularly in the business lounge. They greeted us cheerfully every morning and were so accommodating to our group of ten taking over the conference room. They kept the cappuccinos coming to fuel our long working days.

Fast forward through that bit, which was heaps of fun for me but no doubt fairly boring to you. On the Friday, after we had delivered the presentation we went there to do, we all headed to Sky on 57 for a special lunch on level 57 of the amazing Marina Bay Sands building.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

We enjoyed the three course ‘executive lunch’ there – it was delicious and is beautifully presented!

Sky on 57 Restaurant meal

That’s all I’ll say about the food, the pictures say it all. The next day I headed out with my colleagues to the Gardens by the Bay. We had spotted the gardens from the top of the Marina Bay Sands the day before and for obvious reasons they had drawn our attention. I read a review in the Sydney Morning Herald calling the gardens something out of Avatar…. and yes, they really do seem like something out of Avatar with somewhat other-worldly, playfully-vibrant infrastructure (not to mention the thriving plant life!)

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The outer gardens are free to wander around, that in itself makes for a lovely visit: a walkway along the water, various groves, ponds and nature walks and an awesome kids water playground.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

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Included in the paid ticket is entry into the two big glass domes and the tall purple flower structures.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The domes were so impressive, a very unique experience.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The first we went into was a mountain environment. Total eery Avatar moment. The air is really cool and floating metal walkways wind around and up the ‘mountain’. All the plants – and there is an abundance of them – are what would grow in a cool mountain climate – ie, not Singapore.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

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Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The second dome was warm and the air was sweet. It was full of…

Flower Dome, Singapore

Flowers!

Flower Dome, Singapore

Galore!

Flower Dome, Singapore

Plants!

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

And art.

Ants in the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

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My favourite was this one; a gift from Changi Airport to the gardens, a sculptured family made out of bronze showing how visitors to Singapore leave a piece of themselves behind when they leave.

Flower Dome art, Singapore

I was most fascinated by the purple things so it was great to discover that it’s possible to get the lift halfway up one and stroll along the elevated walkway between the others.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Such a great way to see the city and experience the innovation and creative thinking of the people – it blew me away!

Unfortunately my time in Singapore then came to an end. My workmates and I had time for a quick wander through Marina Bay Sands and a shopping stop at Vivo mall before we headed to the airport for the overnight flight back to Sydney.

Changi airport is supposed to be pretty amazing – I’m not sure to be honest; maybe it depends on the terminal. There was this pretty awesome ‘media-tree’ when you can snap a picture and it is added to the mix.

Changi Airport, Singapore

I was able to enjoy the QANTAS flight home as the work deadline was behind me so I cozied up in my window seat and watched some movies (how good is the Skeleton Twins?!?)

As always, the window view helps pass the time as well :-) And that was the end of the whirlwind four day work trip!

Flying home to Sydney