So I thought I was going to have to re-write my Myanmar blog post, I searched and searched my e-mail never finding the most recent update. Turns out I'm just an idiot and had deleted it. Fortunately I managed to hunt it down and found this e-mail which overlapped with my previous one of Thailand and Myanmar.
That was a little longer than I had wanted to go without e-mailing... To make an excuse I haven't been somewhere with either crappy enough wifi to require me to hit up an internet cafe. Or the internet cafe's have been too expensive or non existent. Who would have thought Myanmar would be the solution for me.
I left off a month ago in Sihannoukville Cambodia. I was sitting on a beach, getting a tan, swimming, getting sick. All good times. After 5 days in Sihannoukville (my longest stay to date anywhere I took an all day bus (3 buses actually) to Bangkok with hopes of catching the overnight train to Chaing Mai. Unfortunately when we got to the border and switched buses, the driver wouldn't leave until the minivan was full. Having 10 people we waited around another 2-3 hours for the 11th to show up and take off. We debated offering to pay for the 11th person so we could just leave however we all agreed that the driver wouldn't really understand this gift of money and would wait for someone to arrive pocketing money for 12 people instead of 11. BONUS!
We arrived at Kao San Rd at 10PM instead of the supposed 7 meaning I was now too late to catch the 10PM train. RATS!
It was alright, this would give me the day in Bangkok to try and get my Myanmar visa sorted out. The next morning I discussed to great detail the bus system in Bangkok. Mr iPhone said I should take the #15 west even though the embassy was east... And the hotel staff all suggested other buses going east. I decided the iPhone didn't know what it was talking about (my first mistake) and followed the hotel staff's instructions.
After 3 buses and no bus fare later (no driver charged me because I was only ever on for 3-4 stops while he explained I was going the wrong way) I was blocks from the embassy. Getting there at 11AM figured I was early enough to beat the rush. Turns out I was really early. The embassy was closed. Uncertain as to why I asked if it was a Thai holiday. He said no but that today it was closed. The conversation went like this:
Vince: The embassy is not open today?
Guard: No (Smiling and nodding in a yes motion)
Vince: When is it open?
Guard: Monday to Friday
Vince: Today is tuesday...
Guard: YES! Still nodding and smiling.
At this point I am leaving for Chiang Mai tonight so will have to deal with this when I get back. Unfortunately that falls on another tuesday. After a few more conversations like the one above. I am ensured the embassy will be open next tuesday so I take off.
The train north was uneventful. I got picked up at the other end by a guest house who promised to take me to town just to show me their place, no pressure. I got there, the wifi worked well, the place was clean, they had the tour de france on TV for the last 2 mountain stages and the time trial. I was set. This also turned out to be the friendliest hotel staff I have had to date. They were amazing. Anyone going to Chiang Mai I suggest staying at Junior Guest house in the old city.
The first day I just roamed the city. checked out the temples and went to a neat thing called Monk Chat where you can converse with the monks and they get to learn about your life and practice their english all the while you don't feel like a jerk for asking all the questions you've been ignorantly hiding for the past 3 month seeing monks in Asia.
My second day I took a traditional Thai cooking class and now know how to make Thai meals! Only 5 of them I liked though.
Third day, Motorbike rental toured the area. As a cyclist this was probably some of the most amazing roads I've seen traveling so far. So many turns and hills. Would have been so nice to ride on. And smooth pavement too.
Day four, massage course. I didn't learn much new, however now I have a 90 minute massage routine. I was pleasantly surprised when in Bangkok two weeks later and Corinne and I got massages that the masseuse used the same routine that I now knew. So I'm pretty much a pro now.
Day five. Go to tiger kingdom and then train back to Bangkok overnight. I got some sweet photos of me with Tigers.
Back in Bangkok I returned a day earlier than originally planned which saved me two hassles. Having to rush south to meet up with Erich and Corinne, and the mysterious closed Tuesday embassy. Sure enough on Mondays the embassy was open and I got my visa application in. Just needed to pick it up 3 days later. On to the night train again I made it to Krabi and met up with Corinne and Erich the next morning just before noon. It was pretty lucky. I had no idea what hotel Corinne was at so I made a wild guess (of the hundreds) and got a late breakfast while using the restaurant internet. After eliminating the 39 junk mails I found out Corinne was staying at a hotel literally 10 feet from where I was sitting. Sure enough there she was in the lobby!
The three of us took the boat to Railay and begun out epic adventure of rock climbing and living the beach life.
Railay is the rock climbing capital of SE Asia. It was amazing (except for the shoes). After a long day and night, we went to bed at 10pm ready for our next morning. Having had a long day with a lot on my mind I wasn't able to sleep so decided to go for a walk down the beach. I sat there for a while admiring the area and met a few other foreigners who were headed swimming. Since I figured I wasn't sleeping anytime soon, I might as well go with them. They neglected to mention that there was bio luminescence in the water! I have never seen this before but when you wave your fingers little lightnight bolts of blue shoot from them. It was quite the experience. So much so that I went back three nights in a row.
After 3 days Erich had to leave us so it was just Corinne and I left. We loved Railay so decided to stay there instead of venturing to the other islands nearby (Railay isn't actually an island but since there are no roads to it and only accessible by boat it acts that way).
Corinne and I lounged and rock climbed until it was time to head back to Bangkok for her departing flight and my trip to Myanmar. The trip was fairly easy and uneventful except someone felt my bag was too heavy and stole 400$ from me in my sleep. That was awesome. Budgets from the previous 3 month kept flashing through my mind as I calculated how many fruit drinks that would equate to in Laos. How many sugar cane juice that was in Vietnam and how many more massages I could have had in Thailand or how many km I could have motobiked instead of walked in Cambodia. As a fellow traveler stated. I can't think of that and just be glad the money was stolen peacefully and not at knife or gunpoint. That would have sucked.
We celebrated Corinne's birthday in style. Although she begged me to go to a ping pong show I told her that now that she was 25 she needed to act like a grown up. Instead we went for 2 dinners and a massage where I am sure the Thai masseurs were making fun of us the whole time.
The next morning came too soon. Corinne flew back to Canada and I flew to Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar. At the airport I do like all other foreigners do in a new place. I looked for the only other white person and started chatting with him. His name was Paul but went by Paddy. He is in the special forces in the UK and we split a cab to the city center and since we got along decided to stick together for the next few days and make life cheaper. He was a really interesting guy. He had recently (February) gotten divorced and I got the impression wasn't able to share feelings too much with his alpha male special forces friends because although he kept saying he barely talks or thinks about his ex, she was the topic of most of our conversations. That sounds really negative and boring, but really it was kinda nice and allowed us to get to know each other much more than the other travelers I've gone with. I think a big part of that is the laid back nature of Myanmar.
The first two days I didn't see another white person. Very few people harass you for anything and everyone is really friendly and grateful for your service. There is a large temple in Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda, it was probably one of the most impressive single structures I have seen. It was beautiful and gold. Making the temple on the top of the mountain in Chiang Mai look like garbage. This building was 92 meters tall, and covered in gold. And I mean LOTS OF GOLD. 60 tons of it. I must admit, often I am a little tired of temples but this one really impressed me. We capped off that night by going to a restaurant. I'm not too sure what it was exactly. It may have doubled as a brothel. We were never approached by anyone, but there were these weird dances followed by the girls sitting at the tables with old men. But this restaurant was right off the street and open concept. Not some shady back room. We were a little on edge to say the least so left fairly quickly following our meal.
We took an overnight bus to Bagan which got a flat so in the pitch black they pulled over and a team of 5 guys started fixing and changing it while I watched. Someone announced that because of this delay there would be no rest break in an hour so if we had to pee, women to the left of the field, men in the right. Made me laugh, but it worked and no one wanted to stop again in an hour anyways.
Bagan was just what I had hoped. Peaceful, quite and incredibly impressive with its temples. A little background. There are roughly 4000 temples over a 20km area most of which can be seen from a few viewpoints. It was spectacular. We visited them by horse carriage. We debated bikes however they would have been too hard to keep oriented since no roads are straight and a lot of the temples look similar. Getting lost was for sure a great possibility. Also, you can't feel bad hiring a horse carriage. This simple luxury was a huge help to the locals. Our guide, who waited for tourist every morning at the bus stop at 4AM was thrilled because we were his first customers in 10 days and that having us hire him meant his family could have chicken with dinner. I have really enjoyed Myanmar because it's really off the beaten path. Even at the most tourist site, Sunset in Bagan, there were only 40 ish people in comparison to the thousands at Ankor Wat.
We took an early night because we got up at 4 to catch sunrise from a temple. Unfortunately the sun rose a little earlier than our driver anticipated, but we managed to get some good views and photos nonetheless. Unfortunately photos really don't do these temples justice. Its the panoramic views that really made Bagan special. Hopefully Paddy got some better pictures than I did. He was an amateur photographer with a 2500$ camera and some of his were spectacular.
Leaving Bagan, I took a quazi overnight bus. For some reason it left at 4AM... its an 10 hour bus ride. Why it didn't leave at 11pm or even 8pm and get us in early morning I will never know. That being said it was the least comfortable bus I have been on yet. People were sitting 5 deep on the roof. I managed to get a broken bench chair in the middle of the bus.
Arriving in Kalaw I now have one good nights sleep ahead of me before taking off on a 3 day trek which passes through countless villages and we spend a night at a monastery which I've heard is amazing!
So thats it. That summarizes my last month of travel. I hope I didn't leave too much out and I'm sorry for the lack of photos. I will make sure to put them all up when I get home and send out a special edition email with just that.
Despite having a great time traveling, I must admit that I am feeling burnt out. I find I am going to temples and thinking they are just another temple. The activity based traveling I am getting more out of now as the culture shock is wearing off. So hopefully the trek does me some good.
Editors Note, That was all written August 10th. I will now finish the rest of the trip.
The hike was amazing. This was the 4th long hike I have done. And the first three were fairly challenging, Ascending and descending quite a bit. Hard on the legs. Sure this one was long (55k in 3 days) but it wasn't difficult. This allowed you to really enjoy the scenery and the day. I traveled with a couple who were really friendly and we got along great. I inquired before leaving and was told that the villages along the way in addition to needing school supplies also needed hygiene products. I was advised to bring toothpaste, soap and toothbrushes if I could, because families would buy food but not waste money on these products. With my bag loaded up with gifts I started the hike. Stopping at a village for lunch we got a fantastic home cooked meal. The meals on this tour were amazing. Lots of food and lots of variety as well. We stayed that night in a one bedroom house. I decided to be adventuresome and hang out with the locals rather than the other tourist. This proved highly entertaining. I smoked a cigar with them and drank some terrible whiskey like drink. Every time I put it down the host tried to refill it. I must have drank 4-5 ounces of the stuff before straight up refusing anymore. Needless to say I slept very well that night.
The next day was another long day of crossing rice fields and awesome mountain scenery. Nothing overly eventful other than some rain. Fortunately being Asia it was 30*C so that didn't really slow us down much. We stayed that night in a monastery. It was cool, but a little overdone. You could tell this was somewhat like a hotel. But the kids were cute. The last day involved hiking out of the mountains and down to the lake. It was advertised that we would have an hour long boat ride. I wasn't overly thrilled with this idea, I get bored on boats, however, this turned out to be a great experience. Seeing Inle Lake from the water, the fisherman, the huts, was really amazing. We were dropped off in town and I walked to the hotel where our bags were stored, and I ran into Paddy again! He had gone to Mandalay but then skipped the trek and went straight to Inle Lake. We got to hang out for another day, share stories before I took off the next morning for Yangon. While in Inle Lake though, I continued my theme of giving. After having dropped off all the books and supplies to schools and host houses along the way, I arrived in Inle Lake and learned that there was a large school there as well in need. Myanmar is super poor, significantly more so than the other Asian countries. So that 10$ spent on books for kids goes a long way. I managed to buy a book, pen, pencil eraser for every kid at a school (66) as well as some general supplies like a dictionary and calculator. It was a little awkward giving these to the teachers but they seemed very appreciative and the kids all said thank you as I left.
The trip to Yangon was fairly uneventful. I am now a pro at sleeping on buses. Getting to Yangon I travelled through the market and just killed my last day taking photos and walking around and found a good internet cafe. I flew out the next day to Bangkok after mailing some letters (3 cents per letter). The letters all arrived in Canada, however some took as long as late november to arrive.
From Bangkok I went straight south to Koh Tao, however my last week and trip home is going to be saved for another day.