Round Here

After a day in Bangkok and a pretty painless process of acquiring my visa I was ready for Myanmar! Talia and I got up early, got a cab to the airport and took the hour long flight to Yangon. Yangon was a pretty shit city. It was so dirty, the food was gross, and there wasn’t too much visually pleasing about it. The one cool thing there is the Shwedagon Pagoda but I’ve seen so many temples in Asia already so it was just same same. In terms of street food we found some decent spicy noodles that didn’t look too diseased and we got a yummy brown sugar pancake. Immediately Burmese people were so nice. So many smiles and everyone is so helpful. They always want to take our picture and tell us were beautiful- so cute. The Shwedagon pagoda was nice though, sort of different from other temples cuz you had to climb a big staircase and once the sun set the whole pagoda lit up and looked like glowing gold. In some of the buildings though there were Buddhas that were backlit with flashing casino-y type lights and it was so weird!
From Yangon we caught a bus to Mandalay for $17 and it was fancyyyyyy. Huge seats, blasting air conditioning, came with blankets and a toothbrush and it was a nice ride even though it took all day and they insisted on playing really loud Burmese rap music the whole time. Also driving around Myanmar is hilarious because people beep ALL the time. Not the same way we angrily beep but more of a friendly “hello, I’m here!” sort of beep. In Mandalay we checked into our nice hotel (for $20 each a night, accommodation here is about double what it is in Thailand) and got a motorbike cab to dinner where we had a yummy 9 course meal for $9 and wine. I’ve been so deprived of wine everywhere else in Asia so it was amazing! The next morning we hiked up Mandalay hill which must have been up about 3000 steps. It wasn’t too bad though because there were lots of things to see on the way up and a ton of good viewpoints. We kept thinking that we had reached the top then we would see another staircase. From the top we got a cab since neither of us wanted to go back down the stairs (going down stairs is so much worse than going up!) and our cab drivers were so cute and funny. They asked if we wanted to go to amarapura to see U Beins Bridge, and since it was something we wanted to do and we had no other plans we said yes! It’s so fun traveling with no set itinerary so when a good opportunity comes up you can jus take it. I’m so glad we went also, it was about a 45 minute drive each way and the bridge is the longest wooden bridge in the world. It is surrounded by mountains and every morning st sunset, thousands of monks walk across it to get to their prospective jobs (now THAT would have been a sight to see).
From Amarapura we went straight to the bus station to catch a bus to Monywa. According to the locals this bus had “air con” which actually means an open window but it was nice anyway. It was about a 4 hour ride, cost $2 and the bus was filled (literally jam packed, people were in the isles) with locals. We got VIP treatment though, everyone was extremely friendly and people were even offering us food. That’s pretty much how all of our bus rides from that point went. Also whenever we go anywhere with our big backpacks people insist on carrying them for us, literally if we try to take them they get offended. Did I mention I’m weirdly obsessed with monks? They are everywhere here and so so cool! After arriving in Monywa we were immediately approached by 10+ taxi drivers. We found a hotel for sort of cheap and walked around the town exploring and to get dinner. We ate at a yummy restaurant for really cheap and then got some friend bananas off the street for desert. This country is really cool because since it has essentially been closed off to tourism there really is barely any western influence here and I think that’s pretty rare to find anywhere in the world these days. When we woke up the next day we hired a tuk tuk to take us to a place with lots of Buddhas. And when I say lots of Buddhas I mean the worlds tallest Buddha, the worlds largest horizontal Buddha, and a field of 1000 Buddhas. The worlds tallest Buddha, standing at 434 feet is pretty epic. It is completely hollow so you can go inside and climb up the 35 flights of steps starting from hell at the bottom (literally the bottom floors are covered in murals of hell) and reaching divinity/ enlightenment at the top. Definitely worth the trip. The horizontal Buddha was also cool but not as interesting as the first and the field of 1000 Buddhas was amazing! They were all in perfectly straight rows and each one had a tree planted behind it. After the Buddha excursion we went straight to the bus station to get another “air con” bus to Bagan.
Arriving in Bagan in the afternoon we found a cheap shitty hostel and immediately rented bikes. We wanted to make it to Old Bagan for sunset at 530 (we were staying in Nyuang U which is a 20 minute bike ride) and it was 5pm. Old Bagan is a city filled with 4000 ancient temples that took 230 years with the construction ending in 1287. The temples are in pretty remarkable condition seeing as many of them were destroyed when the Mongols invaded Burma. Anyway, we jumped on our bikes and booked it to a pagoda which we were able to scramble up just in time to catch the sunset. And WOW it was so worth it. 360 degree views of lush rolling hills spotted with ancient Buddhist temples and the whole scene surrounded by mountains. That night we treated ourselves to an Italian dinner and much to the waiters shock, 2 bottles of wine. “really?! No… Another?! Really?! No…” it was hilarious. The next day we got up early, jumped on our bikes, and went to explore some more temples. It was cool but once you’ve seen the view from the top of one, you’ve kind of seen them all- same same. But we did go to some famous ones like the Ananda Paya and saw some adorable and beautiful old Burmese women. From there we took an overnight bus to Inle Lake.
Our bus ride was funny to say the least. Once again we were promised a VIP bus but ended up with a dirty uncomfortable window bus that stopped every two hours where women were trying to sell us various items that they had balanced on trays on their heads. “HALLO CHIKIN”. When we got to Inle it was 3am and though we didn’t have a hostel our cab drivers took us to a cute place called blissful inn. We stayed that night and the night after but since we didn’t arrive until 3am they only charged us for one night! The next morning we walked into town to explore, got some delish pancakes for breakfast then hired a boat to take us around the lake. Inle lake is huge and so beautiful. The whole thing is surrounded by mountains and filled with local Intha fisherman who do a crazy leg rowing technique and have conical fishing nets. At first our boat driver kept taking us to floating markets where people expected us to buy things but we were able to tell him that we didn’t want to buy things and wanted to see some of the lake villages and other things. So he took us to a monastery that is famous for their jumping cats (haha!) then to the floating gardens and floating villages. It was amazing. On our way back in the boat the sun was setting but we couldn’t really see because it was setting behind the mountains. The next day we got up and decided to try to get a traditional burmese massage before catching our overnight bus to Ngwe Saung. For anyone planning to go to Burma- I would not recommend a traditional Burmese massage. The motions are very repetitive, there is almost no pressure, and they talk and laugh the whole time. It’s kinda like when you go to a nail salon and you’re sure they are talking about you but you can’t understand… (anyone see that Seinfeld?). It was a funny experience but i wouldn’t do it again.
Overnight bus to Ngwe Saung was super lush like the first bus we took. We decided to go to Ngwe Saung because after 10 days of non stop moving we needed a little beach break. And this beach was amazing! We had a bungalow with no electricity, ate dinner every night on the beach watching the sunset, and finally met some fellow foreigners! Before then I was pretty convinced we were the only ones in Myanmar. Also the drive there was so beautiful, rolling, rolling hills and completely untouched land. At some points we passed rice fields filled with Burmese workers in straw hats and I felt like I was looking at pictures from china circa 1900. The beach was the perfect way to end our vacation and I even got back some of the tan I was losing from the islands! Overall Burma was incredible. Next stop- 2 day slow boat down the Mekong River into Laos.

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Hey, Hey, What Can I Do

I jumped on a train to Hua Hin to go visit Brian. Hua Hin is supposed to be only 3 hours from Bangkok but on the train it took 6. Luckily I didn’t care so much because I was reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which is an awesome book! Also the scenery was pretty cool and the sunset was beautiful. Brian came and met me downtown and we met some of his friends at the night market and had a few beers than went back to their hotel and swam in the pool. The next day Brian had to go to school so I hung out by the pool and tanned and read and when he got home we went out for really yummy noodles. We just relaxed that night and the next day we rented a motorbike and went to monkey mountain and the beach. Monkey mountain is a big hill with temples and stuff and lots of monkeys, and the beach was pretty average. In terms of beaches though I have been pretty spoiled. Overall Hua Hin were not so great, the town is kinda ugly and dirty, and the beach is meh, but I’m glad I got to hang out with Brian!

Tangled Up In Blue

I got a bus from Chiang Mai to Pai and it was rough. Three hours of really windy, hilly roads and even I (who doesn’t easily get car sick) was feeling pretty nauseous. I got to my hostel called Spicy Pai, it was recommended to me by a friend who had stayed there and it was so cool! The Spicy hostels are a chain in Thailand and there are 3; one in Koh Tao, one in Chiang Mai and one in Pai. It reminded me of Granny’s (my hostel in Bali), with a big open hanging out area and lots of solo, friendly travelers. Pai is a tiny little mountain town with a verry hippie-ish vibe. Sort of like the boulder of Thailand if you will! I went out on the town with my new friends from the hostel and slept soundly until 1230 the next day. When I woke up I went to the common room and me and some friends went into town and got motorbikes to go exploring. There are two loops that can be done on motorbikes around Pai. The north and south loops (really original names, I know). That day we did the Southern loop. It took around 4 hours and was so fun! We rode out of town surrounded by majestic mountains and made our first stop at a waterfall. There was a little hike to reach it and we jumped into the cold water which was quite refreshing after our walk. From the waterfall we continued south and found some hot springs but didn’t go in because they were expensive, so we kept venturing and found the Pai Canyon. Which wasn’t so much of a canyon as it was a rock ledge with an incredible view. From the canyon we spent a little time just driving around the mountains and eventually headed back to the hostel. We all showered and went out for food at the night market. The night market was awesome, the whole street just becomes lined with vendors and they have delicious Thai dishes for less than a dollar. My favorites are dumplings, spring rolls and mango sticky rice. We went to a reggae bar for the night and listened to the band play covers of Bob Dylan and The Band then we called it an early night. The next day we did the northern loop but it was rainy and pretty cold. Still so beautiful though. We stopped at a Chinese village and did a funny ferris wheel type swing then checked out some more waterfalls and headed back to town. We hung out at the hostel in the afternoon and met some really cool people- a ton of Americans, actually the most I’ve met my whole time abroad! A bunch of people from the hostel went out that night and we had a really great time. The next day an English girl and I did a Thai cooking class. I learned how to make pad Thai, red curry, Tom kha gai soup, spring rolls and mango sticky rice. I also went to the market with the woman in charge of the class and we learned so many useful skills. Like how to tell if pineapples are ripe! And how much things should cost at Thai markets. By the end of the day I was incredibly full and exhausted so I went back to the hostel and went to bed pretty early. I did get to take home the recipe book though so a few of you lucky people may be getting a home cooked Thai meal when I get home. As it had been about a week, the next day I was due for a massage so I went to get one with a girl from new York. It was delightful as usual and we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the town. That night spicy Pai had a barbecue for everyone at the hostel. It was so yummy and so fun! Afterwards we all went out on the town, I ended up meeting a guy from boulder who knew my two best friends in college, the more I travel the smaller the world gets, it’s crazy. I headed back to Bangkok the next day on an equally gruesome bus ride back to chiang Mai then overnight bus to the city. I then went straight to the train and went to visit my friend from home who was doing an English teaching course in Hua Hin.