I can’t believe i’ve been awoll for almost 3 weeks! I’m sorry, i was going to update in Myanmar but i think the government really doesn’t like blogs so i was banned, even though i managed to get on facebook!
Basically! My last few days in Vietnam were spent visiting Halong Bay, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and absolutely beautiful, so peaceful and quiet! I did a 3d/2n trip which was good, though didn’t include as much as i’d hoped! We stayed on cat ba island one night, the only island there that’s inhabited, and we did a short hike in the national park, and then we stayed on a bnoat for a night, and the coolest part was probably the kayaking in the morning. It’s really really beautiful, but overall my impression of Vietnam hasn’t been too great, or at least not comparatively and i don’t think i feel the need to go back. This seems to be the common consent amongst travellers, so that might be some food for thought…
Then i flew into Luang Prabang because i didn’t have enough time to wait for a bus service as i’d lsoe 2 days. The flight cost me a lot though.
Luang Prabang is BEAUTIFUL! yet another UNESCO site and very touristy (not booking accomodation beforehand is a mistake you pay for dearly), but it still has a very slow and relaxed pace to it, which is great, and it’s so quiet compared to Hanoi!! It’s one of my favorite cities in Asia so far. There’s a lot to see there as well in terms of religious architecture, and the 2nd day i met this Irish girl, who i ended up going up north with! I went to visit this really cool waterfall outside of Luang Prabang with her and her 2 co-travellers where we could also swim! It was a great day out, though contrary to what the lonely planet says i wouldn’t recommend it by bike as it’s far too hilly!
Then the Irish girl and I (she left her friends behind as they went south) went up to a place called Luang Nam Tha, from where we organised a 2d/1n trek into the protected area, with a night’s stay in a village.
It was nice, but not as i’d hoped. It was pretty hard trekking and there weren’t any nice views to enjoy. The food was rpetty good though, however i;’m glad sticky rice isn’t my staple food! The village again was a bit more open to the road than we’d hoped and we stayed seperate fomr the villagers, but i still feel i got some really good portrait shots of the locals.
My original plan was to enter Myanmar from Tachilek, border town in the north with Thailand, but i spoke to this Israeli guy who said that wasn’t possible. So i had to rush to bangkok to make it across to Yangon by the 6th otherwise my visa expired. All went smoother than hoped, though lots of stress was involved, and when i got to Myanmar i knew it was too good to be true – they’d left my bag in bangkok! Though i’m glad they hadn’t shipped it to some far corner of china.
I was then stuck in Yangon for a day. It’s really not a very nice city, really dirty, but you can tell they don’t get too many tourists because a lot of people look and smile at you! I saw Shwedagon pagoda, which is one of the most famous in Myanmar.
The next day i took a long 16 hour bus to a mountain village called Kalaw, as this was the place i was wanting to do a trek (3d/2n) from Kalaw to Inle lake. There really isn’t any other reason to go to the village but therefore the peoplea re so friendly because they don’t get many locals there at all! I got talking to some monks and they were giving me all these myanmar foods (and asked em to take photos and send it to them) and before whilst walking around i got invited to an alms ceremony the next day as it was some full moon festival! The alms giving was really cool, and very local. All the kids kept posing for pictures and they looked at me like i was some king of freak! It was really cool though, something i don’t think many people get to experience.
I couldn’t stay long as the hike left the same day. There were (to my dismay) quite a few of us – 12 alltogether, but we went in ‘two’ groups, but basically one group. The walking wasn’t particularly strenuous but it was the heat that really got to you! And very limited shade. The views were better than the hike in Lao but the village stay wasn’t as nice. The 2nd night was really interesting as we stayed in a monastry and it was funny to hear the young novices chanting at 7pm and 5am and then seeing them watch rambo in the evening before bed time!
Inle lake is very touristy, and i knew as much. However, the Israeli gu mentioned before said to go to this village on stilts, and when some of the other people fromthe hike and I realised that our boat was taking us to uber-touristy places, we asked him to go there – and it was really nice, a lot more genuine than the other places, and the kid were all happy and waving and everything!
I didn’t stay long in Inle though, and caught an overnight bus to Mandalay.
Mandalay is yet another big city, and i didn’t want to stay very long, also because to see many of the nicer tourist sites you have to pay $10 to the government, and i only wanted to give them money when i absolutely had to, i.e. Inle and Bagan.
It was a question that was on my mind a lot whilst travelling there whether or not people should go to myanmar, and i’ve come to the conclusion that, despite what aung san suu kyi says, yes, people should because many people do really rely on tourism as some main source of meagre income. It’s all about the way you spend it. As far as i’m concerned, despite how nice the views may be, boat, train and air are all off limits, as they are all government run. So all transport should be by bus. And obviously staying at local guesthouses, but keep in mind that 10% of that still goes to the government. And, personally, i would say avoid the entry fees – however, it’s not always possible! There are a few nice sites to see in Mandalay that are free, and some aren’t always checked. As far as inle and bagan are concerned – i think you can’t come to myanmar and not see these places. But if you can, talk to travellers and if they’ve just come from there ask for their ticket – it works. And next time i come here, i will have seen them and won’t go again. And most importantly spread the wealth, and don’t argue about $0.50, it means nothing to you but the world to them.
I was really wanting to go to this place just north of Mandalay called Pyin U Lwin but i got sick and was stuck in the hotel lobby waiting for my stomach to calm down! That night i got a bus to Bagan, but it is by far the worst bus journey i’ve ever been on! That route is all local, air-con-less buses, but the night one is a stock bus, so there were sacks of rice or flower all along the aisle (making the ‘floor’ equal height to the seats) and under the seats, so i sat with my knees folded for 8 hours. Not ideal. Thank god i’m stumpy!
Bagan is beautiful, it’s pretty much a desert with 4400 temples on a short area of land, so you get great scenery shots. However, it’s quite sad because you can tell tourism has hit the place too fast so kids ask you for food or money, and even the monks come begging because people don’t give the rice as alms anymore and prefer to keep it to sell to tourists. But very very hot. You can see it nicely by horse and cart, but sadly that wasn’t in my budget plan.
I was really stressed out because i took an overnight bus before my morning flight and was afraid i was going to miss it – i had a few extra dollars and was contemplating flying but decided not to for political, environmental and financial reasons. Job – i thought of you and travelling close-call style!
However, the bus journey went fine, and we got to Yangon slightly early and i boarded my flight back to Bangkok.
Also – before you go to myanmar, make SURE you have UNFOLDED, UNTORN, UNTOUCHED dollar bills ebcause otherwise they won’t accept them, no joke!
In Bangkok i stressed out because i wasn’t sure whether i would be able to get my Indonesia visa because they might ask for a bank statement. But it all turned out to be a joke when i arrived, as they didn’t even ask to see my return ticket. Still, better to be prepared. Today i went and handed in my passport to get my India visa, and am soon off to Bogor to stay at this girl’s place whom i met on the trek to Inle lake from Kalaw, though she’s not there her mother sounds nice! Plus Jakarta is way too congested, bogor is supposed to have a really nice botanical garden.
Also, one thing i’ve noticed about travelling around Asia is that you can go from country to country and have rainy and dry seasons at completely different times! I’ve hit indonesia in its rainy season, which meant that this morning it was so insanely oppresively hot, and it’s just as i’m writing this, started to pour it down!
Anyway, enough of my rambling, that’s it for now. Smell ya later!