2 day slow boat into Laos

posted in: Blog, Laos | 4

A two-day boat ride down the Mekong river into Laos?  What?  Mekong river? Boat?  Two days? Yes please! My journey started out in the sleepy Thailand village of Chiang Khong which was a precarious 6 hour drive from Chiang Mai.  The precarious part was due to my driver practicing his “too fast too furious” drifting moves around each mountainous turn.  We literally skidded, fishtailed, and screeched the tires around each corner.  Apparently the race car driver,cough cough, I mean the minivan driver gets paid extra if he can fit in another trip during the day.  I would have gladly paid extra for him to relax. We did make it to Chaing Khong safely though and my driver did get his bonus, I am sure!  I have to say I really liked the quant village of Chiang Khong.  It is not too big and seems people have a healthy spirit of a simple life here. Walking down the back streets, people waved and smiled. The owner of my guesthouse knew how many of the same type of dogs were in town.  I think this is one of those towns where everybody there knows everything about about everyone.  My last night in Thailand was spent in a lodge overlooking the Mekong river listening to weird river noises and faint loud Lao music blasting from the Laos side of the river. 

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Place I stayed in my last night in Thailand. $5/night

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I was uber excited for my boat journey and didn’t have anything prebooked.  Most opt for booking tour packages in Chiang Mai or Chiang Khong where your tuk-tuk transportation, boat ticket, lodging, and lunches are included but that would be too easy for me.  As the more I travel, I find I like the not knowing and spontaneous adventure of seeing where it takes me..  I absolutely love being my own tour guide and the serendipitous journey of it.  I think it is fun to roll into a town with no plan or reservations and seeing what happens.  Living in the moment and making decisions based on gut feelings!  So the morning of my two day journey into Laos, I got onto a morning shuttle to the Thai immigration office at border.  On the shuttle, I had the had the pleasure of meeting Ian from Canada who was doing the same thing as me.  It is nice having a partner in crime sometimes.  So at the border, there was another opportunity to buy a package deal again which I again refused.  My plan was to go to the dock, look at boats, and negotiate.  After we crossed the border, there was a bus to carry us across the bridge into Laos.  We then shuffled through the Laos immigration to the other side where tuk-tuk drivers were waiting.  Well, here is where things got interesting.  After I crossed the border, my bag was thrown on top of one tuk-tuk and they wanted to wait until we had a full house of 5 other passengers.  I was in a hurry to get to the boat because I had heard you want to get there early to get a good seat. Sitting on the wooden bench next to a loud screaming diesel engine for a long boat ride didn’t sound appealing to me at all.  While waiting, I saw other tuk-tuks filling up and leaving but they were for the tour package people.  I tried to get on one of those but the drivers refused to let me on. Asking around, it seemed that ever other traveler that I saw had the tour package.  Did I make the right decision? As I was waiting, Ian rolled out so there was someone else in the same situation as me.  After 30 minutes of waiting and watching other tuk-tuks roll on, we finally started our way to the docks.  During the drive, I think Ian and I both had the question if we did the right thing by not pressing the “easy” button but that very quickly dissipated once we were finally on the boat. And yes it was the right decision!

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So after purchasing our ticket and with a sense of accomplishment for “do it yourself travelers”, we loaded up on the slow boat.  We cruised for 6 or 7 hours down the Mekong which was absolutely awesome! We floated down the lush mountainous river at a peaceful pace where bamboo fishing trot lines lined the rocky shores and primitive huts scattered the hills. I couldn’t help to be excited and think “I am floating down the Mekong on a boat!!!”  I have always been infatuated with the Mekong and have watched numerous National Geographic shows on the magnificent river. So seeing the Mekong in person and actually floating down it was definitely a dream come true for me. These are the moments where I get chill bumps and have to pinch myself and say “this is happening!”.  As they say in Dutch “Lekker Gezellig” which pretty much means super awesome.  At the end of the first day, we stopped for the night in the village of Pak Beng, Laos.  Then in the morning we loaded on another boat to continue the journey down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. 

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Pak Beng – Village on the Mekong that we stayed for the night.

The second day turned out to be better than the first.  As I travel, I really am loving meeting the people.  So I walked up to the front of the boat to get some photos.  As I waded though the locals chilling on the floor and trying not to step on anyone, I gave a really big courtious smile and said “sa-ba-deeee” (hello in Laos) to all the locals.  Most travelers sit in chairs in the back and don’t really intermingle with locals on the boat.  After snapping a few photos and returning to the segregated western section, there was a friendly gesture from a local in front offering some food to come back.  How do I say in Laos?  YES I WOULD LOVE TO JOIN!!  So I eagerly returned and sat in the front.  Not knowing any words but hello in Laos, I smiled and kept repeating hello as I ate fish, pork, chicken, sticky rice, and bak chow.  The one cool thing about hanging out with locals is that you start learning local words and culture.  I pointed at things and they would tell me what the words were in Lao. They then poured a cup a Beer Lao and handed it to me.  Drinking with this group was more communal than any other drinking experience I have ever had before.  So there was one girl in the circle, Sopa who I will call the “master pourer,” she would fill up one glass with Beer Lao, then hand it to one person to chug, after they guzzled down the glass of beer, they would then return it back to Sopa, who would then refill and pass it to the next person.  As you can imagine, in this situation, you are obliged to chug so you are not holding up everyone else for their beer turn.  After that round of beer, I felt that I should return the favor and buy a round of beer for the group.  As I returned with the beer, everyone clapped and applauded which seemed to happen anytime anyone bought a round.  I have to say it was really fun and everyone got equally inebriated. (“mao” in Lao).

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wpid-20150620_114518.jpgI have to Laos has treated me pretty good thus far.  I’m in Luang Prabang now and I will be moving to the next destination in the morning.

Pai – Northern Thailand Paradise.

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What can I say about Pai that doesn’t sound like a broken record player?  Pai is a comfortable laid-back village nestled in the mountains of Northern Thailand.  People come for here for a couple of days and end up staying weeks.  It is green, lush, and filled with spectacular vistas around every corner.  There are beautiful hotsprings, waterfalls, and plenty of national geographic looking caves to explore in the surrounding area.  A motorbike is a must here but please be careful if you ever come here and rent one.  Some motorcycle skills are needed for these precipitous curvy roads and I have seen many motorcycle accidents involving tourist. The mummy-like bandages on tourist are visible everywhere. With a short 5 minute slow motorbike ride through town, you have driven the entire length of the city.  Yes it is a small village yet somehow it feels large enough to have everything you could possible want or need. Each night food cart vendors line the street with a plethora of eating options ranging from pork sticky buns, meat skewers, mango rice, and papaya salads.  There is even one that sells lasagna.  

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Main street in Pai

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Thom Lod Cave.  1 1/2 hour beautiful motorcycle ride from Pai.

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I will reiterate, travel is about people.  In Chiang Mai, I had the fortunate experience of meeting a couple of travelers who were going in the same direction as me to Pai.  We ended up making plans to stay at the same place in Pai where I met more people.  Often times travelers end up meeting and just migrate together to form a perfectly dynamic group as they venture and explore the country.  I am really appreciative of these experiences of new found friendships.  I have to say it has been great to meet so many locals in the countries that I have visited but now I’m learning so much more than just the local culture. I am learning about what the world thinks of Americans and am forming my own new opinions of the world.  Travel is such an education.  I am learning about Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, England, Scotland, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, and Spain. I am learning that age, race, country, and personal upbringing have little to do with who can be friends.  The beauty of travel is that these imaginary lines dissipate when you travel. The fundamentals of humanity spreads to every corner of the globe and my love and understanding of people grows each and everyday I am on the road.  The world has much more in common than I have ever imagined.

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The hardest thing I am finding about travel is that you meet such wonderful inspirational people and then you are forced to say goodbye.  You share an euphoric happy moment that makes you say ,”I just want to relive this moment everyday for the rest of my life.”  You bond, you love, and you become extremely close in short period of time.  There is a sense of candid openness when traveling.   You hear people’s honest life story and they are genuinely interested in yours as well. I really love listening to these stories. They fascinate me, they inspire me, they intrigue me, and they open my mind to new points of view. For whatever reason, you feel you get to know people on a different level than if you had just met back home.  Maybe it is because you see no reason to hold back and you are open to new friendships.  It has the sense of knowing the other person for your entire life. You wish you would never have to separate from these friends but sad goodbyes are inevitable. You can just hope that you will be lucky enough to have the paths cross again someday in the future. I become very sentimental with these goodbyes yet I feel very grateful for the moment and am a better person for having met these people.  These friends make me passionate for people, life, and living in the moment.

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The place I ended up staying as the beautiful place with an illustrious view.  Travel is serendipitous and what started out as “yeah that sounds good, I will stay at the same place as you guys” turns into making new lifelong friends.

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The hut that I stayed in for $8 night.

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Pong Nom ron tha pai – Hotsprings

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Papaya Salad.  – If you haven’t tried one of these, drop what you are doing right now, find the nearest Thai restaurant, and go get one!  These spicy salads are awesomeness in the mouth!!!

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The White Buddha

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Waterfalls. People climb up these walls and jump into the cool water.

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The nightly food market

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As hard as it is to say goodbye to this northern Thailand paradise but I must continue my journey.  I’m off back to Chiang Mai and then I’ll make my way to Laos. 

So Auf Wiedersehen – Goodbye in German.

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Chiang Mai – Thailand is for eating.

posted in: Blog | 0

I have to admit I was a little concerned with coming to Chiang Mai.  I was afraid it might be a little too touristy for my liking but I was wrong!  Thailand has evolved so much since the last time I visited which I noticed in Bangkok last month.  It is no longer a backpacker only destination and gets a wide variety of vacationers.  Nothing wrong with that but it is typically not my thing.  I think a majority of people head south to the beaches from Bangkok though. So on my way back from Myanmar, I got a connecting flight through Bangkok and directly to the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai.  Chiang Mai is known as an expat location with reliable internet so I felt that it would be a good resting spot to get caught up on a few things.  I have to say I am really liking it.  It is comfortable, people are friendly, and the food is excellent! The markets are absolutely wonderful and the vendors are very laid back.  Another thing nice about the markets is that all the vendors have different items for purchase and aren’t all selling the same gimmicky items.  They have some really nice decorative pieces and art but unfortunately they frown upon taking pics so you have to come here to see them. If you need to decorate a house, it might be worth a trip here. 🙂 There are lots of westerners here but many times while exploring I have been the only westerner around.  Each night I get my dinner at one of the many local markets.  I am such a fan of street food!! Walking through the gauntlet of street venders can make one feel like they are in an episode of Anthony Bourdain or Bizarre Foods.  I just walk past some funky thing, point, and say, “I’ll take one of those and one of those and that too.”  And then try figure out what the heck I just ordered.  “Is that a pig’s ear?  Okay, I guess I will try it.” Thailand is a food lovers paradise and there are plenty of exotic foods and flavors to taste.  

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One of the markets where I would go for dinner.

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fKolache? Pigs in the blanket?  It tasted like a very sweet pancake wrapped around a hotdog.  Very interesting.

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It is incredible trying all these wacky and interesting fruit.  This is a rambutan.  Tastes like a fatty and hearty grape.

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Dragon Fruit.

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II was very tempted to get one of these.  No need to wait for halloween. It is perfectly acceptable to wear for any situation.

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Sunday Market

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In case you were wondering where to find a kitty purse, it is in Chiang Mai.  Guess you’ll need to book a ticket here ASAP. 

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I like the one with a beanie.  Very Colorado. 🙂

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Thai cooking class.

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Making green curry from scratch.  It was sooo good!

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Making of coconut milk.  I love see how things are made right in front of you.  No mystery ingredients here.

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I have really enjoyed this city. I can see why so many expats migrate to this wonderful city.  For me it has been a culinary feast and I have eaten more than I thought my stomach could possibly stretch to.  Traveling has been full of experiences and this one has been about food.  I think I’m going to make a plan today for my next destination before I need to go shopping for some stretchy pants.  I am thinking that I will make my way to Pai next which is a laid back village about 2 hours away.  I heard that there is a company somewhere in Chiang Mai that you can rent a motorcycle and then drop off it off in Pai.  That sounds awesome so my mission for today is to see if I can find it.  If not, I will take a bus.

Goodbye Myanmar!

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I really enjoyed Myanmar.  I am a bit sad that my Myanmar 28 day visa came to an end.  I wasn’t ready to leave.  For me, the country captured the quintessential essence of why I love to travel.  It inspired me, changed me, and I really felt what it is like to be in love again.  I think I am learning that the most important thing about travel is people. Maybe that is the most important thing about life too.

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I have never seen such a friendly and happy population.  I never felt uncomfortable even when I was the only westerner around.  People in Myanmar are good people with good hearts.  I’m sure there are a few bad apples but that is in any society. On numerous occasions people went out of their way to help me even if language was a barrier. The kids here were so cute and always came up smiling, waving, and saying hello.  They were just so jolly, always laughing, and goofing off.  You couldn’t help but to return the contagious smile with laughter. Even for a single guy, I couldn’t help but to say I want one.  I’m not sure if they do adoption in Myanmar but I would be too afraid to walk into any orphanage. I would want to take every kid home and would probably come out with a whole new Brady Bunch family.

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This little girl was so cute.  She was blowing us kisses as we walked past her house.

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Blurry picture taken from a bouncing moving train.  Kids coming out to wave at the train.

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Kids coming out to wave at us.  You can in the background more kids running.

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Sorry for all the blurry pictures but I still love the pics.  Moving pics.

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3L3A2798I was walking into a reclining buddha temple and these kids came up and wanted pictures with me.  I had them pose for a picture for me.

I would like to say that Myanmar is a hard to place to travel to keep it low key but it really wasn’t hard.  I thought travel was easy compared to Nepal and India.  If I showed up at the wrong train station, a local would walk me to the correct one purely out of kindness.  Locals help tourist and really are happy that you are visiting their country. The lively buses felt like sitting in first class on an airplane while they thumped the latest Myanmar pop karaoke tunes on a flat screen tv. I have to say all the entertaining karaoke videos seemed like the same love story that involved some sort of dramatic breakup or even death.  I enjoyed hours of this and even felt sorry when the predictable breakup happened.

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The food was extremely tasty, I thought.  I have met other people who didn’t like it but I really enjoyed it.  Despite getting sick once, which I will chalk up as my own careless mistake, I would say it was fairly safe to eat.  I never had any issues with any street food either. I did stay away from the pungent smelling fermented fish though.  Just the smell was enough to make me suddenly become too full to eat.   I did eat a lot of incredible seafood while I was here and really enjoyed the spicy noodle dishes. 

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Safety was never an issue.  I always felt safe.  I could probably leave my bag on the street and nobody would take it. I never thought twice about putting valuables in my non-lockable outdoor bag while being stored under the bus. I was never worried about any fingers reaching in and grabbing anything or someone walking off with my luggage.  That’s not Myanmar.  I saw a prison while I was here but I couldn’t help to wonder, who is in there, if nobody steals here.

I am really going to miss Myanmar.  It has been incredible and fun!

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I really liked this statue! He cracked me up!

Next stop Chang Mia, Thailand which is in the north.  My tentative plan is cross the boarder and continue my journey into Laos.

Mawlamyine, Myanmar

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Mawlamyine is a riverside village where the author George Orwell once resided.  I would say it is not on most peoples trek in Myanmar but it has certainly been one of my favorites. It feels old and colonial.  There are plenty of riverside places to eat and have a beer with the locals.  Sitting one night watching the sunset on the boardwalk, one of the locals came over to me and offered me some of his food.  It’s kind of hard not to love this place.  I even found a place that serves real coffee.  

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One day I was lucky enough to get a tour by a grandfather-like gentleman by the name of Anthony (Not his real name. His American name so us foreigners can pronounce it). He is 73 years old with the energy of a 20 year old.  He is the kind of guy that will go out his way to make you feel comfortable much like my own grandmother.  I went with him for the day to the an island village pronounced “Ogrrr Island” in the middle of the river.  He knew everyone and their whole life story. We went into locals homes where they cooked all types of local cuisines and we saw how things were manufactured in manual laborious ways.  I got to see woodcrafting, the making of rubber bands, slate making, and “longya” weaving.  The thing about Tony is that he wants to make sure that you get enough to eat.  Each place we stopped he wouldn’t stop piling food on your plate.  He even would scrape food off his own plate onto yours as to make sure you got uncomfortably full.  You were left politely saying, “No more!  Please!  My belly is about to literally explode.  Thank you very much.  Seriously, no more.  Thank you! Thank you!”  Then 20 minutes later we were eating again. On our route to the next destination, we saw a lotus patch on a beautiful lake where he had someone wade in the water to get us lotus flowers. Those weren’t the only gifts we received that day. He gave us handcrafted wooden pens, school board slates for writing, fruit, and even roofing tiles.  He kept trying to give us more and more gifts which he called “thank you” gifts.  I kept saying I don’t have anymore room in pack to carry these thank you gifts but thank you.  His niceness is very hard to refuse though.  Now, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do will all my thank you gifts.

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Tony pointed to this picture and was really excited about it.  He said I should take a picture of it so I asked him to stand in front of it. It says “don’t stay like this, stay like this.” In other words, don’t be upset, be happy and smile. That is the Myanmar way. 

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Local craftsman making tobacco pipes out of wood.

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Rubber Band Factory.  The rubber is drying in the sun before being pulled off and cut.  Myanmar has many rubber tree farms.

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Our tuk tuk for exploring the island.

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Local going into the water to get us some lotus flowers.

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The women always sit sideways on the scooters.  You would be surprised how many people can fit on one of these.

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Perfect umbrella hat.  It can block the sun and rain for you and a friend.

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Very happy couple.  Even the animals are happy in Myanmar 🙂

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My $8/night room with Breakfast Included.

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Beautiful Pagoda on top of the hill where we watched the sunset

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Largest Laying Buddha in Myanmar – 40 minute scooter ride.  I don’t think they get too many foreigners there. Note the size of the people on the sidewalk.  Locals were snapping photos of us.  There was even a giant waterslide that went into a murky green pool. 

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Ngwe Saung and the surrounding villages

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Paradise.  Perhaps. Paradise is different for each person. Give me a beautiful bamboo beach bungalow, fresh seafood, a motorized scooter, a cool seaside breeze, a few coconuts, and a little sun and I’m sold! This place was fun! Seriously fun! I stayed here for a week and wished it was a month.  Was this a vacation from my vacation?  Certainly felt like it.  It almost felt too good to be true.  My days were spent eating, basking in ocean air, and exploring the neighboring rural fishing villages on motorbike.

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In Ngwe Saung, many people don’t speak English which I thought was kind of nice.  It gave a more authentic feel that has yet been so influenced by tourism.  It will come but it hasn’t blossomed yet.  Trying to find something as simple as bug spray turned out to be a daunting task by running to shop to shop.  How do you do sign language for that?  My thought was to do a “ZZZZZZ” sound along with a few finger stabs on my body and then a “stshhhhhh” to imitate a bug repellent spraying sound.  I got showed jackets, makeup, lotion, and scented spray.  Finally after searching there was one person who understood what I was asking for but he didn’t have it.  He showed me that he only had insecticide, so I got him to write in burmese on a piece of a paper on what I needed.  That way I could show each shop owner the burmese note instead of doing my version of a poor sharades game.  This seemed to work and my mental images of mosquito born diseases such as japanese encephalitis quickly dissipated.  If you have free time and want to be thoroughly grossed out, you can google that one.  Trust me, you don’t want it!

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Exploring on the motorbike was so much fun and adventurous!  It involved riding on the beach during low tide then curving into the jungle to a river crossing, then waiting for a local fisherman to come and carry you and the bike.  One day we had three ferry crossing to get to one village and by the time we got there and had lunch we had to turn around.

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Chang Thar Village

DSC00848One of the villages surrounding Ngwe Saung.

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A place where we were waiting for a boat crossing.  wpid-20150524_153906.jpgBridge – At least I think so.

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A visit to the elephant farm.

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Rural fishing village.

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Ngwe Saung Village

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BBQ Grouper – Myanmar style

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Goodbye Ngwe Saung, you will always have a piece of my heart and I am better person for having visit you.

Inle Lake – Nyangshwe

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Inle Lake is a lilly pad lake in the middle of the mountains on the eastern side of Myanmar.  It is loaded with fishermen using the same fishing methods as their ancestors that involves chunking nets down the water and spearing the fish.  This place has been an absolutely exotic and an exciting place to visit.  Mountains, fisherman, houses on stilts, bamboo bridges, plenty of neighboring villages to explore, hot springs, a winery, and everything you hope to see in a village in South East Asia.  I have to say I really fell in love with Myanmar here. Boat rides, bike rides, relaxing vibe, friendly people, and tasty food, what more can you ask for?  Just like everywhere else in Myanmar, you can tell this place will be really different soon with construction happening everywhere.  The cooler temperatures have been a wonderful and welcoming respite from the heat after Bagan.  I can’t describe in words how great and euphoric it has been.  A boat for the day costs $18 and takes you around to all the surrounding villages and feels like you are going back into time.  Sure, people want to sell you their goods in these villages but it is still in a laid back manor.  While in the villages, I took the time to walk around and curiously stare in people’s home.  I really wanted to see how the people in the lake villages of Myanmar lived but I didn’t want to be peeping tom either.  I was really surprised how many waves and smiles I got.  The welcoming nature of the people has been truly a wonderful and comfortable experience. I can see how so many people are falling in love with Myanmar.

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Kayan Lahwi women weaving colorful fabrics.

On a day that I was cruising the countryside on my rented bike whose nickname is “flat tire,” I found out there was a hot spring along the road.  Anybody that knows me, knows that I’m a big fan of hot springs.  So I stopped in for a soak in the steamy waters while looking at a beautiful lake and mountain vista.  Another hour down road was water crossing where a local fisherman carried me and flat tire across the lake on his small boat back to the other side. 

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My bike –  Look closely.  A local villager was eager to help my fix it.  Again people of Myanmar are so friendly.

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A villager making silver pieces.

DSC00793Red Mountain – Myanmar Winery  – Best sunset viewing spot on Inle Lake.

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Bagan, Myanmar – Land of the Temples

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Arrived in Bagan on the overnight train.  Bagan has a serious plethora of temples, pagodas, and monasteries.  If you like temples then this is your mecca.   I have never seen so many in my life.  It feels a bit like a desert oasis with sandy trails and roads leading to numerous hidden temples. You could spend days exploring here and probably still not see all the temples and pagodas.  According to my Lonely Planet guide book, Marco Polo once said this “is one of the finest places in the world.”  Warning though, it is hot in May.  Like Houston, Texas in August hot, then add another few degrees of heat to that, throw a little dust in the air, and you have the climate in Bagan.  It is insanely beautiful but the heat will make you chug water like a college kid drinking beer at a fraternity party.

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The best and most interesting way to explore these numerous temples is on E-bike (Electronic bike) which is essentially a golf cart on two wheels.  It is like a scooter but lighter and more easy to man-handle on the sandy trails.

So I rented one of these e-bikes which I named “dead battery” but that story is for another day.  I cruised around trying to see every single temple but I admit I failed at that goal.  There were crazy number of trails and roads that would just lead to some treasure find.  Along the trails in random places, there were farmers plowing the sand with their oxen just as people have done for 100s if not 1000s of years.  Myanmar has felt like going back in time which I have absolutely loved!

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In the late afternoon, people hike up these temples to watch the sunset but beware they are steep.  Trying to climb up these brick mountains in my man skirt (longya) turned out to be pretty precarious.  Pants or Longyas (aka sarong) are required on these religious edifices.  I kept stepping on it and thought if I tripped over my skirt and fell to my death off a temple, that would be a terrible way to die.  The sunset was amazingly beautiful, glistening off the red stone buildings.

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On my way back to the hotel, I stopped for more drinking water.  Not wanting to put the water bottles with wet condensation in my backpack next to my camera, I opted for plastic bags.  The locals have a neat way of carrying things on their bike that I thought I would try.  They hang these bags on hooks which are located on the front fork of the bike.  So I hung the bags on the fork of my bike, looking totally like a local in my man skirt and continued back towards.  Each bump I was thinking there is no way that is going to hold.  Then POP! My bag broke and it sent water bottles rolling into traffic.  OH NO!  I quickly pulled over and jumped off my bike.  During my rush I stepped on my man skirt and it fell down to my ankles exposing my skeebies to the country of Myanmar. Thankfully I had underwear on.  I couldn’t just reach down to pull up my skirt immediately because I had to hold up bike and get the kickstand down first.  The kickstand on my bike was one of those that went on both sides of the bike, had a locking lever, and took a certain skill and jimmying to work.  Then it involved picking up the scooter and backing it over the kickstand which is not easily done especially in my situation.  As cars rushed by, I couldn’t get the thing to work.  In America, I am sure I would have heard a few whistles by now.  What felt like minutes of humiliation and excellent entertainment for every onlooker, I finally got the kickstand to work.  I then pulled up my dress, retied it, gather my water bottles, and made my way out of there as fast as I could.

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Next stop: Inle Lake, a fishing village surrounded by mountains and much cooler temperatures.

Made it to Myanmar.

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3L3A2106Made it to Yangon, Myanmar which is in the southern part of the country.  My first impression of Myanmar is everything that I hoped for and more. Beautiful golden temples peaking through the lush city canopy, monks strolling around in maroon gowns, and that raw untouched feeling that I was searching for. Honestly I am afraid to write about this wonderful country for my own selfish reasons.  I don’t want tourism to change this place.  It is changing though but they are wanting to keep their culture.  The traditional clothes are worn still.  They actually have a word for people who wear both tradional and western garb. Sorry I don’t remember the name. Both men and women wear the dress-like wrap called a longya but to the western world it is similar as sorrang.  I have to say it is very comfortable in the hot temperatures.

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From what I have seen so far, people are extremely polite.  In traffic, people let each other in and give a curtious wave.  This is nothing like I have encountered traveling so far.  India and Nepal were more like aggressive games of chicken that every driver played.  Experiencing the last minute dodge of death and the driver willing to kill us both was something I just got use to. I think I even started getting into it.  “Wait! Wait! Wait! You got this! Don’t pull over for this guy! He’s going to chicken out!” When I was in my first taxi in Myanmar,  I actually noticed “the fact” that drivers in Myanmar don’t play that game.  I then came back to my senses and remembered yes that is a much better way to drive.  I then applauded my driver for his generous move and thanked him for not risking our lives.

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All my taxi drivers have been really good to me.  I am guilty of not being able to pronounce the street names correctly and have been taken to the wrong destinations multiple of times.  I say Pazundaung road and they think Pansondan road.  The driver doesn’t try to up any charges or get frustrated. I just pull out my map and figure out where we are. We then work as a team to get me to correct destination.

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The golden temples in Yangon are some of the most impressive that I have ever seen. The evening sun reflects beautiful rays of light off these golden towers and makes for spectacular sunset watching. Walking around downtown Yangon, I haven’t seen too many tourist which is what I heard it was going to be like. Few locals have approached me offering directions or suggested places to go. The thing that is different about Myanmar is that these individuals aren’t trying to sell me anything and don’t end the conversation with “give me money.” They are just friendly individuals wanting to do good deeds.  I’m not saying that there is none of that but I haven’t experienced it yet.  There is a sign in the train station that says be friendly and welcome tourists.

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I even found a coffee roaster (Genius Coffee) in Yangon that does a proper pour over coffee with freshly roasted coffee beans! It was so good!

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I heard about a 3 hour commuter train loop where locals take the train to commute to and from work which I decided to take. I wanted to see what the areas around town and see more of the town. It was an aged train that made me feel like I was traveling a 100 years ago. The exciting ride bounced up and down and clunked as it moved down the track. I wasn’t sure if was going to pop off the track or fall to pieces but I was loving the real life carnival ride.

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After 3 days in Yangon which I absolutely loved, I ended up taking another overnight train to Bagan which was equally as fun or if not more.  I was warned about about getting sea sick as the train really sways back and forth the whole time.  It was definitely a bouncy ride! People suggested the shorter overnight bus but I would rather take the train. And I would do that train again!  The train carts actually disconnected at one point and we had to wait for them to reconnect.  haha That was great!

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Train being reconnected.

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Thai massages and Heading to Myanmar

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Well, I’m off to Myanmar which I am really excited about. I am a little sore from yesterday’s Thai massages.  After my 30 minute foot massage, I went back for round two.

For those of you not on the UncommonGlobe facebook, here is my post on my foot massage from yesterday.

 

Did you know that being a massage therapist in Thailand is a hazardous occupation? Neither did my foot massage therapist before today. I got a 30 minute foot massage for $4 and realized my feet are really ticklish. Each tickle spot caused my foot to do a reactive bruce lee kick narrowly missing the lady’s face. Thankfully none of my kicks landed.

On round 2, I got an 1 hour full body thai massage that the girl did a number on me.  Thai massages aren’t like your typical swedish oil massage. Thai massages involve feet, tugging, stretching, pulling, and painfully pushing on your limbs and muscles until you feel like a rubber Gumby. There is no oil in a Thai massage.  The masseuse uses every body part to get maximum force. Your limbs seem to stretch farther than you ever imagined they could possibly go.  And don’t worry about the strength of the little thai girl giving the massage, she is stronger than a UFC fighter.  They of course can go easy on you if you ask.

Me, I had a face of determination when I went in and the lady knew I meant business.  She did not hold back and I couldn’t tell if she was playing a game of “mercy” with me.  With every tug and stretch that caused a moan, she would ask if I was okay.  I wasn’t going to say mercy yet.  I had to let her do her business because I felt I needed a good stretch after the hike in the Himalayas.  And it has been India since I have done yoga, so I had some back work that needed to be done. I have to say it was great and it cost around $7.

I can say now that the mission was accomplished and I’m glad I’m leaving for Myanmar.  I’m afraid I might masochistically have gone back for round three if I wasn’t leaving.

 

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