A Travellerspoint blog

Myanmar

The road to Mandalay

sunny 30 °C

A land of dry dusty paths, seemlessly endless steps, Paya topped mountains, cool nights, hot days. A world of mystery for all those stepping foot in it. Myanmar.

To all those who have asked me .... Burma, as was.

Stepping foot in Myanmar was like being transported back to my first day travelling. Getting off the plane in an unknown land, looking around feeling a sense of being lost, succuming to the newness of it all and being overwelmed by it. So there I am, standing in a street, not knowing why im here or in which direction I want to go and feeling just a tad homesick, I do the only thing I can and ask the nearest person for help. Turns out to be a great move, the Burmese People I met were friendly, helpful and after a few minutes of speaking English (with varying degress of fluencey) I was set in the right direction and once again knew where I was heading.

I loved Myanmar. It is a beautiful country and I would consider myself extremly fortunate if my future journeys ever took me there again.

My road to Mandalay started in Yangon. I wasn't sure what to expect. Its a bit daunting having to take all your money into a country. (i'm sure this is how travelling used to be but now there are ATMs everywhere ... except Myanmar) working out how many dollars, getting pristine, unblemished notes, finding a suitable place to store them as my wallet is not big enough to keep notes flat. It all add to the sense of going into the unknown. Anyway, with that in mind i flew into Yangon and the extremely nice taxi man transported me to a guesthouse where i booked in. I have to mention here that the guesthouse had an amazing buffett breakfast which they were extremely proud of. I spent a day with fellow travellers, met at the amazing breakfast, exploring Yangon on foot and culminating in a visit to the Shwedagon Paya which was impressive with its grand staircase entranceways.

The next day we took the train to Bago where we caught the bus to the Golden Rock.

The train was great fun. Iit was rickety and bumped its way along the tracks and I loved it. We were in ordinary class with all the locals. We bought drinks and sweetcorn when the train stopped from sellers boarding the train. The journey took us through beautiful countryside. The local women we were sat next to on the train were incredibly kind and helped us know which station to get off at. They also had a lot of patience and were happy for us to practice our Myanmar words and phrases with them.

The Burmese do a Pilgrimage to the Golden rock, more people come at weekends and at the full moon. We started seeing people arriving from 10pm, the ones who were going to walk up and stay the night on the mountain and see sunrise there. We then heard them again from 4am! We got to the truck station at 6.30am and there were trucks being filled with people, we were directed on to one. You had to climb up (moveable) steps. The trucks were open with rows of benches, which had padded seat cushions (thankfully!). There were about 35 people in each truck. We waited until truck full before it set off. It stopped for a head count to make sure that the truck was not over loaded. It became apparent why the further up the mountain we drove. The journey took about 45min, the road was steep and twisted in places, it was like a roller coaster ride most of the time and everyone seemed to be enjoying it :) At the next truck station we walked up the rest of the mountain. At the top we paid the entrance fee and walked the final part to the Golden Rock. Its an amazing experience to watch people as they complete a pilgrimage to a sacred site. Once up there they were milling around and sitting in groups taking it all in, enjoying being in the sacred place. Men are allowed to walk the bridge to the golden rock and touch it, pray at it. So i took pics of the guys in our group doing just this. We got down the mountain at 11am and then onto a bus at 12.30pm to Bago and onward to Kalaw. We arrived in Kalaw at 2am and were glad we had booked ahead as they were waiting for us to walk us to the Guest House were we checked straight in and went to bed.

Kalaw is the gateway for the trekking to Inle lake so we spent a day here taking in the market and local teahouses. I found a great Indian teahouse which served sweet tea with samosas, fried chick peas, sweet dough ball, spring rolls and had extremely friendly locals. We wandered around and then walked up the hill to watch the sun set over kalaw.

The next day we started our Trek. We were a group of 7; 3 Spaniards, 1 Belgium and 3 Brits. Day 1 saw us treking around villages and beautiful mountains and hills, we stopped to watch the train pass on an 100 year old railway built by the British. We then walked down the train tracks on to the next village. We stayed in a homestay that evening and ate by candle light – 18km. Day 2 we trekked through farm land, watching people at work in the fields and with their cows and ploughs, we stayed in a monastery with 40 other people that night with cold bucket showers outside – 20km. Day 3 we trekked through the morning mist which seems to linger near (and over) the lake, walking down to the Inle Lake, we took a boat across the lake for an hour to Nhaungshwe seeing the fisherman in their canoes along the way– 15km. The surrounding countryside was very beautiful and it was an amazing way to arrive at the lake and I felt like I had earnt my right to see the beauty of the lake. We all slumped into the boat relaxing on the floor as the boat motored its way across the lake. We ate at Mee Mee’s which we found to be a lovely little, quiet, place away from the main road which made its own pasta (and I do mean made its own pasta!), we watched him roll the dough out, flatten it and cut it up. The carbonara was yummy :) we found ourselves sleeping in a monastery again as accommodation was scarce and it was very reasonable.

To see more of Inle Lake we hired bicycles and rode down one side of the lake to a forest monastery that good views over the lake. Inside there was a beautiful Buddah with the tree painted on the walls behind it to depict Buddah sitting underneath the tree. We passed a couple of Orphanages on the way. Often orphans are cared for and brought up in monestarys as monks. On the way home we visited the Red Mountain Estate, a vineyard to sample their wines. I indulged in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc whilst watching the sun setting over the lake and nearby mountains. Heaven. We cycled back in the dark trying to avoid falling off the road into the dirt tracks at either side, as we hadn't thought to bring torches when we set out, pedalling across little bridges with wooden planks.

The next day we hitched a ride with friends back to the forest monastery village and met a woman who lived in the village on the way to drop her son at preschool. She is a canoe person and her husband a motor boat person. She canoed us around her village, showing us the stilted preschool, vegtable gardens growing tomatos. We had a coffee in her family restaurant and then her husband took us out on the lake to the bigger floating gardens and weaving factor (very impressive) where they make fabrics from lotus plants. We saw the famous fisherman who paddle there canoes using there legs whilst their ahnds are busy casting nets.

We took another night bus to Bagan - everyone we met along the way kept saying they had found places to be fully booked when they turned up but had managed to share a room with someone else rather then end up on a park bench (yes, someone did this! Although they did arrive in the middle of night). We arrived at 3am to the bus station. We got a horse and cart to the guesthouse where a man was up by a small bonfire in the front yard. Firstly they said they were full (I think because we were two people), they then said they had a single room. We took it and I camped on the floor for the night. Having slept on monastery floors this compared fairly well. The man was very sweet and brought me a mat and blankets of which i made a comfy bed. They moved us to a twin room the next day. Best of all the shared bathrooms had hot water (if you are up early enough) !

Bagan was great. Such a beautiful place. Sunrise, sunset, temples, hot air balloons rising up to float over Bagan, misty mornings. Abandoning our bikes we explored temples and found hidden gems to climb up on and see Bagan spreading out before us. We easily found secluded spots on temple tops to watch the sun rising and setting and met lots of people to travel with including a visit to Mt Popa. Bagan has over 3000 temples of varying size and we arrived during there festival so lots of Burmese people were there having travelled from different parts of the country. Monk chanting rang out throughout the day and night and the people gave prayers and received blessings.

The final leg of my journey to Mandalay took me on the Ayeyarwaddy, a day spent on the river, watching the shores the fastest thing to happen was the sun rising and setting. Myanmar is a country where every sunrise and sunset is picture worthy so I hope you will endulge me whilst I tell you about it; the sun turns a vibrant orange then reddy colour as it dips below the horizon, there is then a period of stillness before it lights up in the reds, pinks, purples streaking across the sky. Every night. Every morning. Myanmar is a beautiful country, I do not think my pictures do not do it justice:

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phone booth
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sweeping at paya
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train to Bago
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Golden Rock
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market - kalaw
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The trekking path
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Farming boy
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Fisherman on Lake Inle
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Hotair Balloons rise over Bagan at sunrise
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The temples of Bagan
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Sunset over Bagan
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Temple at sunset
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sunset over Ayeyarwaddy

Highlight: The beautiful sights; Inle Lake, Bagans temples, sunrises and sunsets, pilgramage to Golden Rock, the train journey, Burmese people and the other travellers - ok, so most of it was a highlgiht.
Lowlight: the smog, pollution and dust. i developed a slight cough whilst visiting the country and my lungs (which does seem to be the only part of me) are glad to have left.

Posted by TravellingGirl 21:59 Archived in Myanmar Comments (1)

Cambodia

From the Killing fields to Angkor

sunny 30 °C

I arrived in Cambodia by boat along the Mekong Delta from Vietnam. The daily pace of life along the Mekong seemed quiet compared to the hussle and bussle in Vietnam. Small huts peppered the shores and fishing boats had strewn their nets over board.

Phnom Penh - We took one day to visit S-21 the former school which the Khmer Rouge used as a prison during their rule. The former school had been left as it was found, the make-shift brick and wooden cells still erected. The pictures of the victims dislayed for people to see. The people came to find out about their loved ones and what happened to them, where they went when they disappeared. We travelled the dusty road to Cheouk Ek, one of the killing fields, where 20 000 people where killed and buried in mass graves. The audio guide here was simple and factual and it had a powerful effect on all there. Tens of people walked around in silence listening to their audio guides, subdued by the enormity of what we were seeing. It was an emotive and heart-renching day. However, 1 day for me was 1335 days less than the Cambodian people in the 1970s. Knowing the recent history allowed me to travel with my eyes open and see past the beauty of the country and look deeper into the people, allowing me a glimpse at what they see.

Its hard to know how to move on from this and tell you about the rest of my journey through Cambodia, which was not as deep or as dark. So i am simply going to move on.

Cambodia is a beautiful country and my 2 weeks were not enough to do it justice. I feel like I only scraped the surface.

From Phnom Pehn I headed down to Sihanoukville for New Years Eve. I arrived a few days before which allowed me time to rest and relax on the, beaches of Sihanoukville and catch up with other travel buddies. We stayed at Chez Claude a quaint french run guest house with a cable car (operated by tractor!) to take us up the hill to the resturant. We jumped on the back of our trackor operators bike to get us into the main town for nights out. $2 bargain! New Years Eve was a fun occassion as we celebrated on the beach with hundreds of other people, fireworks lighting up the sky and waters.

On New Years Day we sought refuge and recuperated on the small island of Koh Ru, a 1 hour boat ride from Sihanoukville, with only 30 other people. There was only one long beach and we easily found a lonely spot among the crabs for our towels whilst we dove into the crystal clear waters for a refreshing dip. We clambered through the trees to find the best snorkling spot, we watched fire dislpays, chilled in the only bar, and relaxed in hammocks. ( am i making you jealous yet ... :) )

I travelled to Kampot next - a small gentile town, where the river sparkles blue and the streets see only a few motorised vehicles. Its a place to come and rest, taking in the atmosphere. I did a day trip to Bokor Hill Station which is now changing and being developed into a huge resort and town however orginally it was just two buildings; a hill staiton and a church. The views over the Kampot province are amazing so it was well worth the trip up the mountain.

I spent 14 hours travelling from Kampot to Siem Reap and arrived, a tired version of myself, in Siem Reap excited about what the next few days would hold. From Siem Reap we took a tuk-tuk to the temples of Angkor. With a three day pass i could explore the larger, more well known temples as well as some of the smaller ones and one amazing one further afield. On the first day i visited Ta Prohm well known for the trees that are growing over it trying to reclaim it for the jungle it was. We took in Sunset from a hill temple looking over the plains Angkor and Sunrise at Angkor Wat. A truely amazing experience.

Cambodian food isn't to everyones liking. No really. On my first night in Cambodia the Hostel owner said it wasnt worth trying and pointed us in the direction of a western food hole. So of course the first thing I have is Lok Lak. A Cambodian special. I really liked the Cambodian dishes Amok (coconut curry) and Lok Lak.

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Highlight - Exploring the temples at Angkor
Lowlight - slight panic at missing the bus/tuk-tuk due to getting up early (ie before 7am) and having to 'find' the guest house owner as Cambodians do not get up and start anything before 7am ! this happened to me more than once!!!

HAPPY NEW YEAR ! - Thank you for all the messages, it's great to know you are enjoying my blog and its lovely to hear from you. ENJOY 2013 xx

Posted by TravellingGirl 06:57 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Vietnam - To the South

Hoi An to the Mekong Delta

...and so my journey continues. Vietnam is a place to meet travellers and then 'bump' into them again in the next place. It is a country where everyone travels to the same places. The only question is North to South? Or South to North? I met people going in both directions however the ones going in my direction, well, in the end it was like meeting up with old friends.

I had heard different things about Vietnam before I came here; people either enjoyed it or didnt. love / hate. From the stories I heard this mainly centred around the vietnamese people. Yes they are pushy when they want you to buy from them however this forward trait is very endearing when you meet and spend time with the ones who dont want your money....

The Sunflower Spa, Hoi An:- I decided to treat my toes and scoped out good spas, i found a nice looking one down the street from my room and waved to the girl saying i would be back in the evening. When I went back for a pedicure the girl ran out with a towel as i was soaking wet due to the torrential rain which had come from no where. Next came a bowl of steamy hot water for my feet to soak in, she left me soaking my tootsies i am sure, far longer than normal. It was great to be dry and warm. Her husband came out and poured a cup of Vietnamese Tea and gave me chom chom's to eat (delious small fruits). After a lovely pedicure i made to leave, only it was still raining so the girl ran back into the spa and came out with a traditional vitnamese hat for me, to keep the rain off. The next night i decided to indulge further and I wanted to return the hat. At this point it was not raining. The husband came out brandishing a small tea pot with Spring tea. The night before we had got into a conversation about the different teas so i was looking forward to trying it. It tasted of spring! It really did. I was given a mangosteen (another delious fruit) to try. I opted for a Vietnamese massage, which was fantastic. (I am sampling the traditional massages in each country i visit however that is for another entry). When I left it had started to rain...again. this time the not only produced a hat (much to my protestations, as the rain wasnt going to harm me) but a poncho as well. They then gave me with a tub of spring tea and a tub of vietnamese tea. I was touched by their kindness and generosity. This is a young couple, not long married who are expecting a baby in 5 months time. A mere thank you didnt seem to convey how touched i was so i gave them each a hug, i think they were a little taken a back but they smiled broadly and waved as i left.

Hoi An is an charming place, full of old houses and meeting halls with lanterns lighting up the river at night. Everyone who has been has a good story to tell and a wish to return. From here I caught the night bus to Nha Trang, a popular beach resort where I took in the local mud baths, beaches, islands, took a dip in the China Sea and caught up with friends. I travelled onto Da Lat, in the mountains. The French influence is in evidence here. I took an easy rider tour foraging into the countryside surrounding Da Lat and came across a Buddah made entirely of flowers (and it was taller than your house!). After spending a day I continued on to Saigon. Saigon is fun, i sat in alley ways chowing down on noddle soup and drinking fresh ice cold juices. I took a trip out to the Cu Chi tunnels which was were the Viet Cong dug down and made a stand against the Americans. It was pretty sobering to see the conditions that people lived in and died in (on both sides).

I enjoyed Christmas Eve in Saigon, it is something to see the roads so full of motobikes with 3 or 4 people a piece (I kid you not), practically staionary that you do not realise for a moment that it is a road and not a car park. Saigon celebrated with lights, and lots of Vietnamese out in force. I left Saigon on Christmas Day and started a 3 day tour of the Mekong Delta. I went first to My Tho and saw the islands and stayed in a homestay on Christmas Night enjoying a homecooked Vietnamese dinner. I visited the floating market at Can Tho, which is where the local traders get tehir wholesale they want to sell on the markets later on. Each boat sells one thing, like pineapples, and hosits the item up on a pole above their boat so everyone can see what they are selling. I ended my Mekong Tour at Chau Doc where my time in Vietnam finished. From here i go by boat up the Mekong and arrive in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I have enjoyed my travels in Vietnam and the firends i have met.

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Most religious moment - sitting in a bell while a monk chanted a prayer for me and chimed it three times. My hearing is still intact. For picture see my 'Merry Christmas' entry

Most thankful moment - hands down this goes to the lady who took one look a my mosquito bites and pulled out a small bottle of tiger balm. it really does help, taking the itch away and letting them 'go' at a quicker rate. i have used it a lot since then and still this small bottle barely looks used. Tiger Balm is a micrale cure ;)

Posted by TravellingGirl 03:27 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Merry Christmas

With love, from Asia xxx


View Travels to far East on TravellingGirl's travel map.

Trekking in Umphang
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A Prayer in Chiang Mai
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Rice Whisky with a bite!
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Life on the Nam Ou
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Mekong Delta, Vientiane
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Child Monks in Luang Prabang
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Nha Trang
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A Blessing - The bell was struck 3 times, the monk chanted, my hearing stayed intact :)
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Sunset over Dalat
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Merry Christmas!
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Posted by TravellingGirl 00:02 Comments (4)

Vietnam - North to Central

Ha Noi to Hue

semi-overcast

I arrived in Ha Noi and set out from my Hostel to realise that my Lao clothes, which kept me cool in the heat, do not work well in the rain. I quickly bought a poncho however I was conned out of money, my naivety at the Vietnamese Dong playing a large part in this. Too many 0s! Oh well, £3's is the price I pay for not having my wits about me.

Ha Noi is full of motorbikes, all going in the right direction ... the one they want to go in! They don't always stop for red lights, they go on the wrong side of the road, its interesting. I took the advice i had been given and started walking, at a steady slowish pace, across the road. I made it in one piece, the key is to not hestiate at the curb, every time i hestiated that was it, i was stuck for 10 minutes gripped with indecision about when was the 'best' moment to cross. There is no best moment.

I spent a day exploring the sights, sounds, smells of Ha Noi. The water puppet theatre show was good to see, it uses tradition music, instruments and puppet theatry and tells a nice story of the Vietnamese people. The temple of literature was a must see for me and i happened there on a day when there were lots graduates celebrating. I ate at a cafe staffed by young people, the Artisan, Buin Duale Cafe, on Hang Hanh Street. By the second time there they greeted me as an old friend, inquisitive about where i had been (Sapa) and wanting to know where i was going. It was the kind of atmosphere you wanted to come back to. I was not along in revisitng this Cafe.

I spent a few days in the mountains of North West Vietnam on the boarder of China: Sapa. We trekked through rice paddy terraces, that meandered along the river with the H'mong women (a hill tribe) guiding us. Our guide was 19 years old with 8 month old baby boy, who was riding on the back off his grandma as she also helped pull us along and steady our feet. I didnt mention? its winter, misty, raining and cold (13oC - brrr). we could not see the rice terraces the first day or the mountains, it was so wet we were trudging along in rented wellies and glad of the 5ft women holding our hands (carrying babies on their backs) not letting us slip off into the mist. That night we stayed in a home stay in a Dzay (another hill tribe) home. All the hill tribes have different dialects. The furthest our guide had ever been was Sapa and spoke vietnamese and good English. The Hmong women get married at 15 - 17yr old.

I arrived back in Ha Noi at 5am having taken the night train from Sapa. I whiled away the time by the Lake in the old quater, watching as Ha Noi got up for its early morning exercises. Putting us all back home to shame! My next trip took me to Ha Long Bay where I stayed overnight in the bay, kayaked, swam, saw the impressives caves, and took in the beautiful surroundings of these small islands jutting out of the sea, thousands of them. After that I was hankering to watch a re-run of the top gear Vietnam special.

I took the overnight train to Hue - once a captial with a Citadel, imperial palace and tombs of the kings are. I took a lazy dragon boat up the Perfume river to the tombs of the Kings which were impressive. There were two different styles i visited, one had a French feel to it and the other was utterly peaceful.

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Posted by TravellingGirl 04:22 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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