IT’S all so covert it’s like I’m a character in a spy novel. I am instructed to have my bags packed ready to go for Monday morning. There’s no itinerary and my plane tickets arrive in the cab on the way to the airport. I am whisked through customs and immigration and before I know it I am on an empty Thai Airways flight to Bangkok. I have no idea what I’m doing or who I’m meeting apart from this sliver of information: “You are on a fact-finding mission for the Thai government”. My imagination gallops like a wild bush brumby. Am I being summoned to Bangkok to learn something from the Thai government or do they wish to learn something from me? I scan my mind for what I could teach them. I have become somewhat of on expert in Brisbane’s disastrous dating scene and am convinced they wish me to confirm the unbelievable tales about which I have been writing for some time. Yes, Your Honour, he really did say his three favourite things were his gun, sex and bible. No, he can’t spell. Not even his own name.
Nine hours later the plot thickens. There’s a sign at the airport with my name, and a woman checks my passport just in case I am someone else masquerading as me. A private car with a female driver, whose name I later learn is Fa, ferries me through a series of dark back alleys like we are being tailed, before we arrive promptly at the Rembrandt Hotel and I am hurriedly shuffled to the Executive Lounge and checked in.
The next morning a familiar face sidles up to me at breakfast. I realise it’s the Rembrandt’s General Manager Erik Hallin with whom I had dinner at the hotel’s signature Indian restaurant on my last trip to Bangkok just six months ago. We talk politics, the reason I suspect I am really in Thailand. Since last November, protestors disgruntled at what they say is a corrupt government run by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have been taking to the streets of the Thai capital in what have been largely traffic-disrupting, but peaceful protests. Erik informs me that occupancy of his hotel is running at 70 per cent, which isn’t bad but “people are scared off by the protests”.
“You learn to walk everywhere in this city,” he says wryly.
From what I can piece together, the Thai government has called me, and three other colleagues – one from Sydney, one from Melbourne, and the other from Auckland, to write a piece proclaiming it’s “business as usual in Bangkok”. Except there’s a few hiccups with this scenario. Problems which becoming increasingly more apparent as the week wears on. The day I arrive, disgruntled rice farmers from rural Thailand have also joined the democratic protestors, claiming they have not been paid under a rice subsidy scheme instigated by the Thai government. And, less-widely reported, so have rubber plantation farmers. And they are trying to block Yingluck’s physical return to Government House with barricades established in key parts of the capital.
At first it does seem like another day in Bangkok. If anything, it’s a bit more quiet than usual, like the capital is nursing a New Year’s Day hangover. I wander down to the protest site and take some photos. But after lunch things change swiftly. A restaurant owner asks me what I’m planning to do next. “I’m just going back to my room to do some work,” I reply. “Good he says. The traffic is very bad, the fighting has broken out again. But don’t worry, you will be safe.” Given the protests have been peaceful, I take his words “fighting” to mean little more than a war of words and return to my hotel room to work. At 6pm I turn on the BBC and am shocked. At this stage, three people have been killed and dozens others have been injured when a grenade was tossed and riot police moved in on the protestors. I meet my Sydney colleague Rod Eime http://www.traveloscopy.com
and we head down to one of the protest sites and there are crowds of people, but no violence in this particular area.
By the end of this one night in Bangkok, four people are confirmed dead, 64 are injured and there’s speculation by witnesses that the police, not the protestors, tossed the grenade. Our planned visit to the “peaceful protest” site is rapidy cancelled by the Thai government, along with a press conference that evening, with “bad traffic” cited as the reason. Wading into another country’s politics, as a foreign journalist visiting for just a few days, is a risky business. You snatch a glimpse, often polished by the PR machine, and are then diverted. And the truth remains the casualty.
A local journalist, who didn’t want to be named for fear of deportment, tells me over breakfast that it is essentially “business as usual” in Bangkok, but warns me to stay away from the protest sites as things can escalate rapidly.
“I’m not concerned at all. The Thais will sort it out in their way. The best thing for this country is for the Generals to take over. Forget what other countries say. It is Thai culture, it has been happening for hundreds of years. Let them sort out what they’ve got to do,” he says.
“Today is going to be a an interesting day here. (Exiled former Prime Minister) Taksin’s ex wife saw a fortune teller in Burma who said if Yingluck didn’t get back into government today she never will.
“The Thais are very superstitious. I don’t know whether there will be more violence. But no one is particularly perturbed.”
It is a surprisingly peaceful day but despite the obvious casualties, there is another victim in this scenario: tourism. Thailand relies heavily on the tourist dollar, particularly from Australians who have long held a love affair with the Land of Smiles. Mark Armsden, a mate and former colleague from our Gold Coast Bulletin news reporting days some 20 years ago, now lives in Bangkok and handles the PR for Tune Hotels. He’s passionate about how the situation is impacting on Thailand’s key income earner: “If you think the protests are having little effect on tourism, speak to hoteliers, tailors, restaurants and bars and other local businesses between Sukhumvit 33 and MBK. Then speak to the thousands of young working Thais who rely on the service charge they earn to supplement their income – this nonsense has been devastating on the “spine” of Bangkok tourism….and that’s before you get down to the river and all the businesses that rely on tourism there as well. You should also check on how devastating it has been on the flag carrier (Thai Airways) as well.”
Mark’s opinion is one echoed all over Thailand. Perhaps it’s our isolation as a nation, but Australians adopt an interesting approach when it comes to violence overseas. We hear there has been conflict in a city and we avoid a country altogether. We’re strangely conservative like that. But the reality is somewhat different. Even in Bangkok, while the protests were exploding in some parts of the city, it is business as usual in others. We dine at the exquisite Naj restaurant on high-end Thai food while the protestors are outside. Attend a Muay Thai boxing class. And there’s plenty of parts of Thailand that remain unaffected. Along the ravishingly beautiful River Kwai, a tour guide tells me the situation is having a massive impact on tourism, far away from Bangkok.
“It’s high season here and we should be full but we’re not. This is how we make our money, from tourism,” he says.
On Saturday afternoon and back in Bangkok in a beauty salon, I ask the girls whether there has been any more strife since I’ve been down in the remote River Kwai. They laugh and talk to each other rapidly in Thai, the only word I can understand is “farang” which means foreigner and I ask them what they are saying. “Farang knows more about Thai politics than Thai people,” they giggle. I fly out midnight Saturday night and on Sunday afternoon the situation has changed again, when a woman and child are killed, and 22 more people injured, in a grenade attack near a popular shopping area. In recent months, a total of 19 people have died and hundreds more have been injured. As far as I know, none of these have been foreign tourists.
But as we know, perception is everything. After the 2012 Bali bombings in which 88 Australians were killed, we all boycotted Bali. But we were also the first nationality to return. We may be a conservative nation but we are also resilient. So spare a thought for Thailand and those who are dying in the name of democracy, whose livelihoods rely on the tourist dollar and do what Aussies do best. Bounce back. Your neighbours need you. I’ll certainly be back, apart from the fact I love this city, I’ve got a Brisbane dating report to deliver to the Thai government.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thai Airways, Rembrandt Hotel, Bangkok and the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. For more information go to http://www.tourismthailand.org
Month: February 2014
The Best of Bali
IF you allow it, Bali will become firmly entrenched in your heart. It’s a place of characters and colour. Of life and love. Please enjoy this short photo essay I took on my recent Eat Pray Live adventure of Bali. And remember, you can join me there at Easter for my Writing Retreat: Eat Pray Live – What’s Your Story with The Global Goddess. Details below. Please enjoy.
You’ll MEET incredible characters…
EAT some amazing food…
PRAY with the locals…
LIVE among the rice paddies in a beautiful villa…
And WRITE your story…
COME join me this Easter!
Capturing my Kavorka
I’VE packed my passport, swimsuit and sarong but somehow I’ve lost my kavorka by the time I arrive in Bali. But if ever there was a destination in which to rediscover my animal magnetism, or kavorka as it is explained to me, Indonesia’s Islands of the Gods is the place to come. For this is a land of rice paddies and romance. Of medicine men and mysterious healers. Of traditions, secrets and sensory overload where poverty and generosity co-exist. Of surprises and sunrises. And I’m on an escape which captures it all. I’m experiencing Bali with Eat Pray Live.
Eat Pray Live operator Nicole Long specialises in helping women rediscover their kavorka, that sensual part which exists in every woman, on her bespoke holiday experience in her villa which offers a home away from home. This is not a spiritual retreat, rather, an authentic Balinese escape where like-minded people are introduced to Bali’s best dining, shopping, spas, and local healing experiences.
This particular journey begins at Kadangu where I meet the family of Nicole’s assistant Putu who has asked us to join them in a sacred Hindu temple ceremony at Tabanan. Dressed in traditional Balinese sarongs and sashes borrowed from Putu’s mother we walk down a sliver of stairs. First we join several other Balinese in a ceremony which involves a series of prayers combining smoke from incense and flowers in a small basket we each possess. An elderly priest blesses us in holy water and we select a pinch of rice which we stick to our foreheads, hearts and sprinkle over our heads. We head over to a second section where we cleanse ourselves in water before the third and final prayers at another part of the temple. Days later we learn that Putu’s seven-year-old daughter Gita has asked her mother how we western girls sleep. Gita is concerned that we sleep with our eyes open.
Two days later we undergo a cleansing at a waterfall near Ubud, trekking down some 300 stairs in our tight sarongs, sashes and white shirts. A similar process to the temple ceremony is repeated before we walk, fully clothed into a gushing cold spring. Here we must focus on letting go of our bad experiences of the past, and embracing the new as the water pounds our bodies. I focus on forgiveness and moving forward. I ask the Gods to help me find true love. Just as I turn my back towards the water and lift my face to the sky, the sun comes out. I smile.
On the way home we visit Cekorda, a respected medicine man, a high priest from the highest caste. Cekorda is 85. “How old are you?” he asks as I sit with my back against his knees, his wiry fingers probing my skull.
“43,” I respond.
“Not so young,” he mutters to himself.
He then asks me my problems.
“I have a broken heart,” I reply.
I lay down on a mat and he presses between my toes with a stick. My third toe on my left foot hurts and I yelp.
“Your broken heart is healed. It is your mind. You have self doubt.”
Cekorda then stands above me and traces his magical stick over my body to clear my aura, before announcing that I no longer have a problem.
He turns to an Western bystander who speaks Indonesian.
“Women are very complex,” the bystander translates for Cekorda.
On my final day, I undertake a session with Intuitive Healer Paula Shaw, a Gold Coast woman who went to Ubud, fell in love, and hasn’t left Bali since. The fan overhead clucks like a gecko as Paula interprets my birth chart in her heavenly husky voice. Paula specialises in sharmanic astrology. She knows nothing about my career as a travel writer or The Global Goddess.
“You are looking for more spiritual journeys and asking yourself ‘how can I be more sacred?’. You are going to share more of your personal experiences. You can be quite funny and you really don’t take yourself seriously,” she says.
“You can put a spin on things that is really palatable to the Australian market in general. Your biggest learning in this world is from where you share your wounds. There are no rules for you and that’s really liberating.”
I have a mozzie bite itch to ask Paula about what she sees for my love life just as she asks me to shuffle, split and select a series of tarot cards.
“You can be attracted to the bad boy, but you need a man that is really sacred, very intelligent and a little aloof. You need a very sensual man, that’s very important,” she says.
“To find a man to be with you will be difficult as you are going against the patriarchy with your career. You are taking one for the team by being this woman but being The Goddess will pull them in.
“You will have a busy 12 months with travel, a new business partnership and healing around love. The universe is setting you up so when a man comes along you won’t give yourself over completely. But love is coming.”
While I wait for my sacred, sensual, intelligent and aloof man, I’m going to take Cekorda’s advice. And I may even sleep with my eyes open.
Want to capture your kavorka? The Global Goddess is delighted to announce she will be working with Eat Pray Live and holding regular writing retreats up in Bali. Eat Pray Live – What’s Your Story with The Global Goddess will teach guests everything from how to write a book or blog, engaging in an entertaining manner on facebook and twitter, and even becoming a travel writer. Join The Global Goddess for her morning practical Heavenly Hour session, partake in Eat Pray Live activities, and come back for a Happy Hour session to discuss and pen your experiences. The Global Goddess and Eat Pray Live are on hand to guide you and introduce you to the best of Bali and most of all, to help you rediscover yourself.
Eat Pray Live – What’s Your Story retreat with The Global Goddess will be held from April 20 to 27. This 7 day/6 night retreat in private villa accommodation costs $1715 for a shared room or $1900 for a private room and includes:
• Return Airport transfers
• Breakfast daily
• Welcome drink on arrival
• Eat Pray Live Personal Concierge
• Eat Pray Live “welcome gift pack” (bag, sarong, products and other goodies)
• 1 x 1 hour “in villa” massage
• Manicure and Pedicure, Hair conditioning “cream bath” treatment with head, neck and shoulder massage (per person)
• Transport fees for scheduled trips
• Cleansing ceremony in the holy waters of a Balinese temple, to heal your past and energize your future
• Visit a medicine man / healer, (a small personal donation at the time of visit is required)
• 5 luncheons & 1 in-villa dinner
• Free Wifi
• 24 hour security
• Complete housekeeping services
• 10 minutes walk from the beach
• Situated in a typical Balinese street away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas
For more info go to: http://www.eatpraylive.com.au. For bookings please contact Christine Retschlag: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: 0437 655 525
Eat Pray Live
THE seductive scent of clove cigarettes hangs in the air like an unfinished sentence on this heady evening, which is already punctuated with sweat and music. It’s all Japanese and jazz at Bali’s Ryoshi bar on this mellifluous Monday and Rio Sidik is one cool cat with his trumpet and a voice which is part Dean Martin, part Louis Armstrong. Randomly, Rio’s sister Marina joins The Rio Sidik Quartet up on stage and unleashes Indonesia’s own Tina Turner with a pinch of Pink tossed in for good measure. I’m in Bali on an Eat Pray Live tour and this part is definitely what I’d call living.
Sydney’s Nicole Long, who runs Eat Pray Live, advises her guests to “be careful what you wish for” because in Bali, it might just come true. That is certainly the case for this 41-year-old former Brit who moved to Australia after a neglectful upbringing and has had quite the ride since. In the past six years she divorced her husband, started her Bali business, and in an incredible twist, celebrated the resurrection of her marriage with which she credits Eat Pray Live.
As part of this bespoke Balinese experience, Eat Pray Live guests partake in a cleansing ceremony and visit with a respected healer, which proved to be the pivotal moment for Nicole, who escaped to Bali for a holiday in 2011 when she thought she had run out of options back in Australia.
“I had this moment in the water and I thought ‘I can do this business’. If only I had somewhere to go after I got divorced. Where do you go when you just want to be blah?” she says.
“I went for a session with a reputed medicine man and at the end of my session he took my hand and said ‘you are going to use your experience to help many women.’
“There is no way he could have known what I was planning to do with Eat Pray Live. I went back to Australia and said to myself ‘Ok, it’s now or never’. I didn’t have any money to do this but I just had this fire.”
While it would be tempting to describe Eat Pray Live as a Balinese retreat and focus on the spirituality the Indonesian Island of the Gods exudes, this experience is so much more than that. Nicole has designed a bespoke holiday which focuses on all aspects of eating, praying and living in her villa she describes as a “home away from home” for guests. The concept eschews the typical tourist traps and takes guests to local and new restaurants such as Warung Talun for a delicious Indonesian feast overlooking the rice paddies, or to the hip and happening Potato Head to lounge and drink cocktails at this cool beach club. There’s plenty of pampering and even in-villa spa treatments, shopping in local markets and high-end stores and lots of secrets and surprises all designed to connected like-minded women who are drawn to this escape.
Despite numerous obstacles since her day of revelation, Nicole persevered and welcomed her first client in October 2012, initially operating Eat Pray Live from a hotel in Seminyak. Mid last year she stumbled across Villa Griya Asih in charming Canggu while taking her first horse ride since her Australian horse and soul mate Surge died. Eat Pray Live now operates from this beautiful Balinese villa which comes complete with six bedrooms and copious living spaces around which to lounge including a gorgeous day bed around the private pool. There’s a lovely third floor meditation deck overlooking typical Balinese fields and even a resident dog Blackie – a stray who wandered into Nicole’s life not long after Surge died. Curiously, Blackie even has a print of a white horse on his coat, which might seem pure coincidence in Australia, but in Bali, Nicole believes anything can happen.
Incredibly, Nicole reunited with her husband David after they reconnected for the first time in six years, following the suicide of his best friend.
“He came over for dinner and as I opened the door I thought ‘this is my man’ and everything, all the past evaporated and he was standing in front of me and I didn’t know what to think or feel,” Nicole says.
“He said, ‘I love you Nic’ and I realised I was home.
“Throughout this whole journey I’ve found my truth and Eat Pray Live has led me back to my love.”
For more information on Eat Pray Live or to book an escape, go to http://www.eatpraylive.com.au