A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Asia - The Final Chapter

A sophisticated ending to an amazing journey!

View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

We spent the next day and a half in Kuala Lumpur just tying up a few loose ends, like sending yet another parcel home. Our time in Asia was quickly running out and we only had a few days until our flight to Perth departed from Singapore. So we made our way there by bus, the most luxurious one I have ever been on. It had seats which almost fully reclined and then lifted your legs up, it's a shame we weren't going to be spending a night on it to get the full effects but it was a comfortable way to spend the 5 and a half hour journey.

It was getting late by the time we made it to Singapore. We were dropped off on the side of the road in suburbia which annoyed us slightly as we think it was more for the convenience of the driver than the passengers. Luckily there was a metro stop just round the corner so we made our way and bought our ticket to Little India which is the area that Adam stayed in before. The home stay style hostel had been recommended to him before and in a very expensive city like Singapore it was good value for money. Before we were allowed to board the metro Adam's bag had to be checked by an employee, clearly he looks dodgy! As he was delving in he asked what was in a plastic bag and Adam replied 'underwear' he nervously laughed and the search came to an abrupt end. With the green light to proceed we made our way down into the extensive underground system. Well when I say extensive I'm referring to the fact that there is often a lot of walking involved to get from one line to another, rather than the metro covering a large area. Which it does do, just not very well in my opinion, the gaps between stops are large which means when above ground you never seem to be close to one and it is all a bit slow. This is in comparison to Taipei though, so perhaps we have just been spoilt.

When we made it to Little India Adam did a good job of locating the hostel in the dark, especially considering it was hidden down a little side road. The area is just as it sounds, it is the part of Singapore which is almost solely inhabited by immigrants from India. It had a similar feeling and brought back memories, the difference being that the surroundings were a little nicer. The hostel is run by a Chinese family with the father being the main man, he was incredibly chatty and welcoming so we felt at home straight away. We were given a rather compact room with a bunk bed in it but it was clean and nicely presented. The only problem was the fact that it got incredibly stuffy. There was no a/c and the fan could really only benefit one person or neither to any great extent, but it was bearable. After dumping the bags we went to fill our hungry tummies and visited a place Adam had been to before. Having not had Indian for a while I was looking forward to it, and it was quite a pleasant change although as usual I can never eat as much as I imagine I can. Full and exhausted we went to bed.

The next morning we got up as early as we could manage and wandered down to an electronics mall. We wanted to get a device so we could play our ipod in the campervan, it had come round so quickly that now we needed to get the finer details sorted. It was another impressive display of all the latest technology but the price tags were a little on the steep side. I'm not sure how I'm going to come to terms with English prices when I get back. Still we scouted around for the best deal and decided we would come back the next day in case we saw something better else where.

We then wandered down the road and I was beginning to get more of a feel for Singapore. After everything I'd heard about how regimented it was I was a little surprised when I saw a few things that appeared to be out of place or pavements which were experiencing some surface issues, I didn't see any chewing gum though! In comparison to Taipei I thought people seemed a little more casual here, for example many people j-walked which may just be the influence of many different cultures. Still it was all very modern and sleek, you could almost smell the wealth in the air in some places.

After making an initial error and ending up in the finance district we managed to find our way to Raffles. It had a certain elegance about it and I wouldn't have minded popping in for a Singapore Sling but it would be another occasion when we would been under dressed and over spending.
We wandered through the plentiful shopping malls and you really have to wonder how all of the shops can possibly be making a profit, there are just so many of them. In one there was some kind of computer technology fair going on but it was absolutely heaving with people and my knees were not really up to it. I felt bad for Adam because I'm sure he would have liked to explore some more although even he found the crowds a bit off putting.

After this we went looking for a park and came across the F1 track that was being set up for the upcoming Grand Prix.
It was quite exciting to think that soon there would be cars racing around the streets at high speed. Of course it would have been cool to be there to see it but we weren't sure how it would work, there seemed to be a few grand stands but we didn't know whether you would just be able to stand on the street to watch. Next we made our way down to the Esplanade and looked at the skyline which was really quite beautiful.
Quite compact but being added to at a rate of knots. Singapore seems to be continually expanding as people move in droves for better opportunities and a higher standard of living.

We then made our way back to Little India and were swallowed up by a crowds of people. The man at the hostel had mentioned that on a Sunday the place is overrun with people and they all stand outside on the street or on the few expanses of grass.
There is a thrum of noise as they chatter away, it is certainly quite an atmosphere. Needing some food we found a restaurant which seemed to have done most of its trade for the night and was now quite empty. It was actually a really good meal, the best Indian I'd had in a long while and I think on this occasion I could have eaten a whole lot more.

The main focus of the next day was to meet up with Adam's ex work colleague and friend, Florence. Some years earlier her husband's job required them to move to England for a while and she started working for the council with Adam. She was now living back in Singapore and Adam hadn't seen her for a couple of years so was really looking forward to catching up. Very kindly she'd offered to take us out for lunch and we'd agreed to meet her in the early afternoon.

First of all we went back to the electronics mall to make our purchases and then rushed a little as we thought we were going to be late. Thankfully while I was still trying to figure out where we were going Florence put the time back a bit so we managed not to look like sweaty, scruffy messes when we met. She had brought along her little boy Nathan who was about 8 months and a real cutey.
She then led us through the shopping mall, into a posh hotel and we began to wonder whether we were dressed up enough. As it turned out it was all fairly laid back and we went upstairs to a room where there was a massive buffet. When Florence had asked where we would like to eat we told her we wanted to try some authentic food and there was plenty to sample here.

Over the next couple of hours we went up several times to fill our plates. Adam indulged in a few helpings of raw salmon, although in hindsight we both felt that we should have taken advantage and eaten more. Our shrunken tummies didn't seem to be up to the task though. It was lovely to meet Florence and for Adam and her to catch up. She asked all about our trip and we asked her questions about Singapore and how it was being back. In the end they had to kick us out because the buffet was closed. We said our goodbyes to Florence and Nathan and then went off to explore more of Singapore.

Our next stop was the main shopping area which has been completely redone since Adam was there last.
The main shopping mall is ultra modern and slightly futuristic, the Bull Ring would look a bit like a poor relation next to it, but I know which one I'd rather shop in!
When we stepped inside we were confronted with high fashion shops and expensive jewellers, needless to say we didn't spend too much time there. We jumped back on the metro and went over to Clarke Quay which was a sweet little area next to the water.
It had a bit of funky Mediterranean vibe with all the shops and bars housed in small, terraced, colourfully painted buildings. One of the things I wanted to do while in Singapore was have a Singapore Sling.
Taking advantage of the happy hour specials we managed to have two drinks without quite breaking the bank, and considering the location it wasn't so bad. We whiled away an hour or so as we sipped and watched the sun go down.

The final item on the agenda was to see the skyline at night, so we walked back over to the Esplanade and watched the lights twinkle and reflect in the water.
It was very pretty and with the temperature dropping a little it was really nice to sit there for a while. However we couldn't linger for too long as we had an early morning flight to catch. Thankfully we could get to the airport on the metro so there wouldn't be a lot of faffing about.

It was certainly a nice view to act as an end to our time in Asia.
When this trip began Australia seemed like it would never happen and I couldn't quite believe that we were now six months in or that we'd really seen all we had. It is hard to put words to it but we truly have seen the full spectrum of what Asia has to offer, from ancient to modern and met some wonderful people along the way. We have lots of memories to treasure.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 13:52 Archived in Singapore Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Made in Taiwan!

All things modern and Panda's!!

View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

Once we left Myanmar we had a whistlestop visit to Bangkok as we arrived at about 9am and had an evening flight to Kuala Lumpur. We left our bags at the airport and caught the bus into the city. Not having that much time we didn't attempt to do a lot, just wandered around the shops a bit as we got reacquainted with all the mod cons and then we went to the cinema to see Inglorious Basterds, which we both really enjoyed. Then we ended the day with bit of drama as for some reason I'd got it in my head that we were departing at our arrival time. Thankfully Adam realised just in the knick of time. A quick dash through a shopping mall, and a taxi driver willing to put his foot down got us there with before check in closed.

We then had two days in Kuala Lumpur where again we didn't do too much. Staying at the same place meant we got in a few visits to the pet shop we found last time, which was good. We also reconsidered buying the souvenirs we hadn't last time at the malls and squeezed in a trip to the cinema. Definitely worth it as well, we saw the Disney film Up, in 3D! It was really, really enjoyable and I would highly recommend it if you get a chance. It was weird how you got used to the difference though, which was good in a way because it didn't give us a headache or anything like we thought it might. Both of us kept lowering our glasses to see what effect it was having.

The other item ticked off the list was going up the Petronas Towers. There was a little 3D video presentation beforehand which visually was really bad and is what made us worry that Up would give us a headache. The rest of the experience though was pleasant. There is a little bridge that connects the two towers and this is as far as you can go up, it sits at roughly half way. The views were good although within a couple of days we were going to have gone to new heights, quite literally. So despite it being good and worth doing, it has been out done.

The following day we flew to Taipei. It is a new destination for Air Asia and one of their longer flights so the plane was bigger and newer. We got a tad excited when we thought we were going to get in flight entertainment but it turned out that you had to pay for it. So that was quick a no no, now that we're both fully fledged cheapskates. Still it was nice to be on a new plane and it was fitting as we were hoping Taiwan was going to be the the height of modernity. A little Japan.

On arrival we weren't blown away by the airport and there were no spaceships flying around but we managed to maintain a positive attitude as we boarded the bus. We were dropped off in the city and then had a short walk to our hostel. It quickly became clear that these hostels, which are really the only cheap accommodation, are mostly inhabited by students who are staying long term. There doesn't seem to be that many tourists in Taipei, not backpackers at any rate. While we were there though Taipei was hosting the 2009 Deaflypmics, so we did see a lot of foreigners milling about, sporting their national colours. It would have been good to go see some but it never really worked out. Having found our hostel we were a bit disappointed, it seemed to be a little on the unfriendly side and a bit scruffy. As we were both tired we didn't attempt to see any more of Taipei, we simply popped out for some food before calling it a night.

The next day we got acquainted with the metro which is really good, it's so fast and regular. I don't think we were waited more than 2 minutes. It's also really clean and spacious, it never feels like you're underground.
Taipei is definitely one of the easiest cities to get around. The first thing we wanted to clap our eyes on was Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world, although not for much longer. Still the main thing is, it was when we went up it! Having caught the metro to City Hall we knew we were now in a modern metropolis. Adam said he thought it was a little like Hong Kong and it definitely had a New York feel with the block layout and they even have an area which they call Little New York. As we rounded a corner the slender form of Taipei 101 shot up into the sky in front of us. It lorded over all the other buildings around it, nothing even comes close and its sleek bamboo style design made it all the more striking.

The shopping centre which sits at its base did not open till 11am as was the norm across Taipei which became a little frustrating at times as we are early birds these days. Still we found an entrance round the back and it turned out trips into the sky kicked off a little earlier. Once we'd purchased the slightly pricey tickets, we were shepherded into a lift and it all got a bit futuristic.
The lights were lowered, the ceiling began to twinkle and a little screen showed our 30 second rise up to the 89th floor. Once the doors opened we all hurried over to the floor to ceiling windows to gaze out at a miniaturized Taipei, with little toy sized yellow cabs zooming about the place.
It really was an amazing birdseye view and we were given hand held devices which took you on a little tour around, explaining the different things you could see. It was a very slick operation and we both loved it.

We went up to the next floor where there is outside access, unfortunately the view is not so good as the walls are so high but still the air is nice and fresh. Then we saw a little video documenting the building's construction including the installation of the massive damper ball which sits at the 88th floor.
This counteracts the affects of strong winds or an earthquake on 101 and you can can go down to see it. We spent quite a long time at Taipei 101 because it was all really interesting and impressively done. When we were back down at a normal level we had a quick look round the mall but it was quite pricey. It had a kind of 1920's old Hollywood feel which made us feel even more scruffy, we departed quickly before we were tempted to spend any money. Unfortunately this resistance would begin to wane in the coming days.

Outside we mooched around the malls, getting a feel for the city. Everything is on a grand scale, the roads are wide and straight and there is a distinct order to things.
Out of all the cities I have ever visited Taipei is the most orderly, nobody would dream of jaywalking. This said it never felt stuffy or oppressive in this regard but just how it was meant to be. There are a zillion shopping malls and you can part with your money very, very easily. Which we began to realise as the day progressed.

We caught the metro to the Taipei Main Station as we were looking for the gadget/Anime mecca, we really wanted to immerse ourselves in what we saw as modern Taipei culture, with all of the influences of Japan. In pursuit of this we enjoyed our first stroll down an underground mall.
They span out from the main station's metro stop. There is Taipei New World Mall and Metro Mall to name just two. Down here you can enjoy air conditioning and a slightly less manic atmosphere as there is no traffic to contend with. I think their construction was mainly due to a shortage of space but the heat also plays a factor.

As we walked along we came across our first amusement arcade which was full of grabber machines. These became a big feature of our visit and I dread to think how much we spent on them but we did win quite a bit and it was always good fun.
We also discovered a game called Bricks were you sit in front of a large tv screen and working as a team you have to place oversized, plastic, Lego style bricks to help these little people eat the fruit floating above them. Then in the bonus round your speed is tested as you have to match the shape indicated on the screen as fast as you can. A game or two of Bricks became a daily ritual.

We walked round for hours, going from shop to shop, underground and on top of it. There was so much to take in and a lot of things we wanted to buy because you just wouldn't be able to get it at home. The downside to all of this was my knees, which were really beginning to be painful. Thankfully we managed to find a pharmacy so I could buy some strong anti-inflammatories. I always knew it was likely they would begin to play up at one stage but still it was very disheartening. By now it was early evening so we decided to have dinner and then head back to the hostel. Food thus far had been very disappointing as our expectations of getting some good Chinese food had been high. That night it didn't improve as when we'd ordered we both realised that the restaurant smelt like a farmyard, due to the aptly named Stinky Tofu that people were enjoying.

Once back at the hostel we were informed that there had been a mix up with our reservation and they asked if we could leave the next day. This wasn't exactly ideal as we had nowhere else to stay and finding somewhere was going to be difficult. As I said before hostels are the only cheap accommodation and even they're not that cheap. We struggled throughout the evening with the dodgy internet as we tried to do some research. In the morning we had two names and we set of on the metro to check them out. The first was a non starter as we could not find the place. We were definitely in the right location but it was no where to be seen and non of the locals had heard of it. Thankfully we had more luck at the Happy Family Hostel. The room was bright and Tom, the man in charge was helpful. Having secured new digs we walked back to pick up our bags.

Having settled in to our new digs we made the decision that we would stay for the entirety of our visit to Taiwan. Although we had intentions to visit somewhere else in the country we came to the conclusion that it would be too expensive and we still had a lot that we wanted to experience in the capital. The rest of the day we mooched about, looking at more shops, soaking up the atmosphere, riding the metro and popping coins into the arcade machines. We still had not found the centre of all things gadgety but we continued to persevere as we knew it was out there somewhere.

The following day we took the metro out to the Miramax Mall which has a massive ferris wheel attached to the side of it.
I had been badgering Adam about seeing The Time Travellers Wife as I've listened to the audio book a couple of times since coming away. He was not so keen but gave into me in the end. I came out sorely disappointed as they'd left half of it out and it felt incredibly disjointed, the establishment of the relationship didn't seem plausible at all. Adam having not read/listened to the book had been pleasantly surprised, it hadn't been as torturous as he'd been expecting. We then consumed vanilla icecream which they mixed up with hot fudge sauce and pieces of brownie on an ice cold slab in front of us, it was definitely naughty but oh so nice!

In the afternoon we explored more of the underground malls which really do go on for miles and miles. They have a whole sections just devoted to books, clothes and food. There are also areas which have been set up with large mirrors so that dance groups, of which they are many, can practice their routines. We guessed there must be regular competitions and we would have liked to have gone to one, but we never saw anything advertised.

The next day we stumbled across an exhibition of students work at an art and design university. It was really very interesting and there were lots of imaginative and inspirational displays. The use of light in many was very beautiful and we sauntered round for quite sometime.
It made me wish that I was more creatively minded. After this we finally found a large shop which was dedicated to gadgets. There were about five floors which were comprised of little shops selling all sorts of things. It was reminiscent of malls that we had been to in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur but it was still interesting. Adam pointed out that technology is so universal these days that it is unlikely you're going to see something truly ground breaking, well not if it is for sale anyway. Still we explored all corners and bought a couple of necessary items, there was no splurging.

The next morning we wanted to visit a Chinese market that was renowned for specialising in traditional medicine. It was a little quieter than we were expecting and we didn't get any great urge to go in and ask for them to diagnose us but we did buy some lovely tea. It was a twist on standard green tea as it was mixed with dried fruits and it smelt lovely. We had a little sample as well and both agreed it was a worthwhile investment.

Continuing the theme we visited a night market. There are lots throughout Taipei and a definite must if you visit. It was absolutely heaving with people despite being a Sunday night.
We weaved our way down the narrow streets with stalls which were overflowing on either side. At one end we came across an area which was devoted to pets and there were dozens of cats and dogs for sale.
Most of them in cages which made me a bit sad but they all looked like they were well cared for. Still part of me wished I could emancipate the lot or at least go round and convince all the locals that they wanted a new pet.
Unfortunately it was never go to be that simple. We spent quite a while looking at each of the cages and there were less expected animals present as well, like a pig and a goat. There were also some exotic frogs which Adam liked and a number of cool looking fish.

After our stint as Dr Doolittle wannabies we were both hungry and found a place to eat. A little unsure of exactly what we had ordered we weren't salivating when presented with some slightly conspicuous looking noodle soup. One of which had a kind of froth on the top of it. As I said before the food was the biggest let down and we never really had a meal that we completely enjoyed. Everything seemed a little on the sloppy side and not exactly full of flavour as you might expect.

The next day was probably the best day thus far as we went to the zoo! My biggest desire to go was based on the fact that they had a couple of Giant Pandas which are pretty much my favourite animal. We both presumed it was going to be expensive but quite to the contrary it was unbelievably cheap, only about £3 each! We got there a bit early, mainly due to my excitement and I prowled around outside waiting for the gates to be opened.
In the end though I was glad we did because you usually only get an allotted amount of time in the Panda House but as there were not many people we got to spend a lot of time in there. One of them sat there facing us, with his legs splayed munching on Bamboo for the whole time and he didn't show any signs of slowing up.
His brother wandered about from one end to the other, sometimes trying to coax his sibling into a bit of play fight however the allure of the Bamboo tended to prove too strong.
They were amazing to see up close, the density of the fur and their roundedness literally overwhelmed me with a need to hug one, which unfortunately was not an option.

After the Pandas you may have thought the rest of the zoo would be a let down, but it wasn't there was a lot to see as they literally had every animal imaginable. Well apart from a Polar Bear, that would have been cool. We walked for hours examining everything and making sure we got the most out of our £3.
We saw Koala's as well which was good because we didn't end up seeing a single one in Australia.
Adam developed a fondness for a Sun Bear which he called Sam, he was very content having a good chew on some wood and he really reminded me of Baloo from the Jungle Book.
We then visited the Insectarium where I once again confronted my fear of fluttery butterflies in the name of good wildlife photography. We both got really into it and ended up with some very good photos.

After the zoo we wanted to take the Gondola/Cable Car up into the hills surrounding Taipei as there are meant to be beautiful views and some tea plantations. However routine maintenance work was being carried out so we caught the metro back in to the city. The rest of that day and the next we indulged our need to shop. Ignoring the feelings of guilt and trying to keep a lid on things a little bit we only purchased things we knew we wouldn't find anywhere else. There was this great shop, it was the Japanese version of the pound shop but everything was cooler and only cost 39p! I could have bought a lot more but we remained selective. Well apart from the bendy chopping board that Adam bought, that said it will be very useful.

My knees were pretty painful by our last afternoon so I left Adam to continue to searching for any other must haves and went back to the room to rest up. He returned with a few more items, and despite being sad that we were leaving as we had both fallen in love with Taipei, for the sake of our budget it was time to go.

Having had a rest I just had enough energy left to make an evening visit to Snake Alley. This is more for tourists than locals, who by all accounts find the whole idea a little disgusting. In this most depraved of places, I'm exaggerating slightly although it did have a very seedy vibe to it, you can eat snake and even enjoy snake blood mixed with your liquor.
We arrived quite late and if the night had been going strong it seemed to be reaching its conclusion. Seeing the snakes coiled up in their cages I lost any desire, not that I'd really had it in the first place, to choose one for my dinner. Adam being more of an adventurous eater was quite keen to try some but with me not on board he decided against it. I think the slightly sad atmosphere didn't help. We ended up eating another tasteless meal, which was then rounded off with some shaved ice, mango and icecream which quickly looked like a bowl of sick.
Our food woes continued. Still it was the only real downside to Taipei, everything else had been great and I will definitely be visiting Taiwan again one day.

The following morning we got up, had breakfast, bought a souvenir metro tea towel and caught the bus to the airport. Where again we were slightly disappointed. A little heads up for those who make it to Taipei, there are no good places to eat beyond customs, so don't um and ah over the Burger King, just have it!

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 13:11 Archived in Taiwan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

And finally the beach...

a perfect end to an amazing experience

View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

In the morning one breakfast had magicked itself in to two, so we gobbled down as much as we could stomach at the early hour. It was another long day on a very bumpy bus before we reached Pyay where we were hoping to find a bus waiting to take us to the coast. However things just were not going to be simple in Myanmar and there were no buses going where we wanted. It took a lot of too-ing and fro-ing, um-ing and ah-ing for us to decide it would make most sense to get an early morning bus to Yangon and then catch another bus to the coast. Which did then raise the point that we could have caught a night time bus to Yangon from Naypyidaw and saved ourselves a lot of hassle but we worked out it wouldn't have saved us too much time and we'd be minus a couple of good stories.

We had a quiet night in Pyay as we both needed sleep. So we just had a lovely bbq dinner at the market before hitting the hay. All too soon it was time to get up and make our way to the bus. The six hour journey went by quite quickly, it is quite surprising how you get used to it. Once we reached Yangon we discovered the bus we wanted to catch towards the coast left from another bus station and so we had to get a taxi to take us there.

We then had a bit of a run in with the ticket seller. We thought we were rushed for time based on some misinformation so made an error in judgement and went with the first person who told us they want to Pathein, a port town we had to go to before finally reaching the beach. It turned out however that we were not rushed for time and there were lots of buses, some of which were cheaper. We had an argument with him when we told him he'd over charged us and he explained the taxi driver had taken some commission for bringing us there. This angered us more because we'd told the taxi driber to take us to the bus station, he hadn't done it off his own back. In the end they caved in and gave us some money back. A little bit sated by this we went to get some lunch as we still had half an hour or so till the bus left. Just as our food was put in front of us someone came along telling us our bus was ready to go. We told them our bus didn't go for another half hour but they kept badgering us and in the end I couldn't enjoy my lunch with them hovering so I left mine half eaten. All of this seriously annoyed Adam with the final icing on the cake being he was certain they moved us on to a cheaper bus. It did seem that way as the one we got on was not the one pointed out to us. As it turned out we were moved on to a nicer bus that was just a little way behind us when we reached Patien, for some unexplained reason. So we got to be on it for all of five minutes. Roll on the quiet beach, that's what we kept thinking.

Pathein has a bit of a colonial past and we were hoping to wander round in the morning before catching our final bus to Changhwa Beach. Arriving late and in a rainy Pathein we hurried to find somewhere to stay. The first place wanted silly money and at any rate was a government hotel, when we heard this we quickly scurried off. We ended up at the Paradise Hotel, which like it's namesake in Bangalore shared very little characteristics with my idea of paradise. Ignoring this though as it was simply a bed for the night we went to sleep after yet another long day on buses.

In the morning we made our way to the bus station to book a ticket for an afternoon bus to Changhwa Beach. For once the process was completely painless and over in a matter of minutes. After this we had a wander around the town. As I said it is a port town so we got our first look at the sea for quite some time. It was a bustling little place, with a market and narrow streets. We hunted down the few colonial buildings that are left, which despite being pretty run down were still pretty much intact and they gave the place a kind of Havana feel.
As we were walking up and down the streets a lady on a bike stopped next to us and asked if we needed any help. We explained we were just having a look round and she then told us that her grandfather was English and had come to Burma during the war and never left. She said she would have liked to show us round but unfortunately she couldn't as she was a teacher and had a class to get to. We thanked her for her kindness and walked on.

In the end it didn't take so long to look around Pathein and conscious that we had a bus to catch we decided to head back to the hotel to relax for a little bit before making our way to the bus station. When we got there we saw three men filling every single nook and kraney the small vehicle had. It had seats that were high off the floor so boxes could be slid underneath, the aisles were filled with produce and then there were the passengers. We'd been allocated prime seats at the front and although we had to sit crossed legged with our knees around our ears we were better of than most. Changhwa Beach is a very small place and at the end of the line as it were so everything has to be brought in Patien and then transported along the bumpy, windy road which we were now on. It took about three hours and I fidgeted the whole way because I could get comfortable but it was all worth it.

Our time at the seaside was the perfect end to our hectic Myanmar visit. When we'd boarded the bus a man had been loaded on some boxes and he struck up conversation. He explained he worked at a hotel at the beach and was in town shopping, he would return in a couple of days. We took a business card and it turned out to be the hotel we were planning on checking out first so we told him we would take a look. Thankfully it was one of those times where the first was always going to be the best so we didn't need to look anywhere else.

The rooms were all in little bungalows dotted around a grassed area with the best ones practically on the beach.
Lucky for us things were quiet and we were shown to our beach side home for the next few days. I don't think we could have got a better spot, as we sat on our little veranda looking out at the sea.
It may not have been everyone's idea of a perfect beach as the sand wasn't pristine white and the weather wasn't blazing hot but it was peaceful and had lots of rustic appeal.
The best part for us was the room service as we were served every single meal on our little terrace. Our waiter was a very sweet guy who always showed up smiling with a tray full of good grub. It became a routine that he would show up about an hour before lunch to tell/show us what fresh seafood they had and then the same an hour before dinner. We had a chat with him one evening and asked him if he was born at the beach and he explained that he came from a little village further South. When the cyclone hit a couple of years ago the majority of his family lost their lives but he had been ok because he'd moved away to work at the hotel. It was very sad and difficult to convey in the right way that we were sorry with the language barrier but he seemed to understand.

So our days fell into a pattern which mainly revolved around doing very little. We walked to the other end of the beach and then back through the tiny village once but in the end found the appeal of staying close to home a bit too alluring. We spent some time rock pooling and looking at all the little hermit crabs.
Really we just enjoyed the simple pleasures as we recharged our batteries. The only thing which interrupted the tranquillity was the nephew of the man we'd met at the bus who came round a couple of times a day to see what we were up to and enquire about how much we paid for every meal. Apparently we could go to his aunts house and it would be cheaper, something which he told us he shouldn't be saying because the manager would be angry. We didn't really take to him though as he came across as a bit nosey and not very genuine so we politely declined.

We were pleased to find out that we could get a direct bus to Yangon rather than having to change in Pathein. It was going to be the last long bus trip we would be doing for some time and we were both pleased about that. We'd had enough for a while. The night before we left the beach we enjoyed a lovely sunset, yet another mouth watering meal and we gave our waiter a big tip for being so helpful and kind.
We were then up to catch the six am bus which was not the coach we'd been hoping for but it was the last one so we could take it.

Back in Yangon we just had one full day to do a bit of shopping and pick up Adam's suit. Unfortunately it was not to be a repeat of the success in Bangalore but more of a laughable failure. I think someone who had about a minute to just get a mental image of Adam's measurements could have done a better job. The jacket was about three sizes too big as was the shirt, the trousers though were more successful and so in the end we just agreed to take them. I think they could all see that it looked ridiculous and was not what Adam had asked for in the slightest. Perhaps we will have better luck somewhere in South America.

Adam spent a little more time wandering around Yangon but I had to call it a day a little earlier on as my knees were really beginning to be painful. Walking around on the uneven pavements and potholed roads was taking its toll and I decided it was better to rest. He brought back a takeaway dinner and we called it an early night.

As we flew out of Myanmar the next day we were waving goodbye to old Asia as from now on we were just going to frequenting modern cities. Myanmar is as traditional as it gets, it's the way Asia used to be and it was an eye opening experience. I hope one day that I can go back like Adam has and visit some of the wonderful people that we met.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 04:20 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Access Denied

but atleast there were kittens!

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The bus picked us up from outside the hotel which was one good thing although it was about an hour late, an hour which we could have spent in bed! Which was a little frustrating and it began the theme for the day. When the bus finally did come it was small and packed, so we sat uncomfortably squished until we reached Meiktila. From the roadside drop off we trekked through the town until we reached the bus station. We were pleased to see that the next bus was more modern, which we should have expected as it was going to the new capital. It seemed to be an old Japanese city bus so it seemed a little odd considering for long distance but we weren't complaining.

Our presence on the bus did seem to have people a little confused, I don't think they could get their head round why we were going to Naypyidaw. When we were dropped off at the bus station which looked more like a slightly shabbily built but new housing estate we weren't sure what to make of things. However first things first we wanted to book our onward bus ticket so that we had proof that we would abiding by the curfew and leaving before dark. This is where the fun and games began. Our intention was to go to the beach or if it was not possible to do this directly then to go as far south as possible.

We were directed by a few people and finally found someone who got on the phone and then asked us to sit down. He didn't speak much English and as we sat and waited we began to wonder what was going on. In the end small framed, smiley man appeared and asked us what we were doing here. We explained we had been told we could look round the new capital as long as we left by dark and so that is what we were hoping to do. The man said that an army officer had been called to come and see us and he would make a decision about whether we could have a look round or not.

That may sound a bit scary but it wasn't really presented in that way and I was a bit excited about the drama of it. That excitement however wore thin as the time ticked by. We ended up following the smiley man next door to where he ran his bus ticket selling business and also where he lived with his wife, daughter and four cats, two of which were kittens. That was one of the upsides along with the free food and drink that he happily dolled out.
He was really friendly and we spent the afternoon eating noodle salad, coconut, sweeties and playing with the kittens. I forgot how much entertainment a couple of lively cats could be, much better than a television. The man seemed to be the pied piper where they were concerned and as soon as he made a specific noise they all came dashing over, it was really quite sweet. He spoke good English which was due to him having worked in Singapore for a while.

Other people came and went, buying tickets or perhaps just stopping by to see the unexpected arrivals. We were getting a little impatient by now as there was still no sign of the officer. Our options for leaving were also a little limited as there was a night bus to Yangon, that we did not want to take or an early morning bus to Pyay which was in the right direction however we were also aware that we may not be allowed to stay the night.

In the end the officer showed up and we dutifully explained why we were here and what our intentions were. He then informed us that we were not allowed into the city to look around but he would let us stay the night so we could get the bus to Pyay in the morning. We were to go to the hotel he mentioned and stay there until it was time to catch our bus. It wasn't like we could argue, we just tried to explain our rather restricted budget which they seemed to understand and take in to consideration. We were then directed to a bus and told we would be directed when to get off. It hadn't exactly gone to plan but it had been an interesting and pleasant day, all of which was thanks to the friendly man who we thanked before being driven away.

When the bus stopped at the gates of a resort we knew the drama was not finished for the day. Still we decided to continue to play along as we were shepherded into a golf buggy and taken up the sweeping drive way to the main entrance. Before we unloaded our bags we asked the killer question, 'how much does a room cost?' We were informed between $75 and $125. This of course was a tad out of our price range and we had to assume there had been a bit of miscommunication earlier on and perhaps they thought we said we could afford $60 dollars when in fact we said $16. The hotelier obviously could not lower his prices that much and we could not stretch our budget even if we wanted to as we only had a certain amount of money on us.

We were now a little stuck, there was a specified 'tourist zone' that we were meant to stay in and apparently all the hotels here were a little pricey. Our only option appeared to be camping out at the bus station until it was time to go and so we hoped on the golf buggy which took us back down to the main road. A tricycle driver then took us to a little area by a market where we hoped to catch a bus to the the right bus station. Feeling pretty miserable, mainly due to being absolutely exhausted having gotten up at 3am we stood and waited for a bus. Thankfully our fortunes then changed slightly as we saw a familiar face. A man we had met in Mandalay, an English teacher appeared to come to our rescue, well sort of. He was here visiting his brother who he introduced us to and then we explained all that had happened and how we were now looking at a night outside. He spoke to the local motorbikes drivers who said they new of a hotel which was cheaper and so we agreed a price for them to take us there.

On our travels from bus station to hotel and so on we had seen a little of the city which seemed quite sparse. All of the roads, unlike anywhere else in the country were newly tarmac-ed with multi lanes and pretty much deserted. Things seemed new but at the same time instantaneously old, there was no character or it would much planning. There was a small park with ponds, fountains and an electricity pylon, all in all a bit odd.

The journey on the motorbike was a quite long and it was dark by now. We passed by a massive golden pagoda which was all lit up and it did take my breath away. I wish we could have got a good photo of it but all of Adam's attempts were a little blurry when taken at speed. The road up to it was all lit up and against the twilight sky it shone like a beacon. I wonder how much it cost.

It was a no no at the next hotel, apparently we were now outside the tourist area and therefore we were not permitted to stay. By now we were beginning to wonder if the day would ever actually end. The manageress seemed to sense our slight desperation and she suggested a hotel inside the tourist zone which had cheaper rooms, so we asked her to call. A few minutes later it was confirmed that they had $20 rooms but they didn't have mini bars, it didn't take us too long to decide this wasn't a deal breaker and we were on the bikes again.

One more drama before bed as Adam's motorbike driver sped off into the distance the bike I was on came to a spluttering halt. The man wheeled it in to the side of the rode and tried his best to get it going. It seems silly now but standing there in the dark, beyond tired, knowing I couldn't actually reach Adam (mobiles out of commission) and having no idea where he was, I burst in to tears. At this point another motorbike stopped and a guy came over, he spoke to my driver who obviously explained the situation. I was then ushered on to this new bike who drove off and I just hoped we would find Adam.

We pulled in to the market that we'd been standing at earlier and I was still blubbering but trying to hide it. The man it would seem needed petrol and I tried to hide my tears from the onlookers who were peering at me through the dark. Still no sign of Adam and I wasn't sure how we were going to spot each other, especially if he was now looking for me. Once the bike was filled up we hit the road again and I kept looking left and right until finally I saw a tall guy with a backpack on and everything was ok. We were reunited and Adam explained his guy had gone of to find me and had left him with a tricycle driver who he was talking to.

In the end Adam's guy turned up, saw that I had now appeared and the two bikes took us the rest of the way to the hotel. It looked as posh as the first one we'd been too and our hopes sunk a little. Thankfully our luck was finally in as we were met by a very helpful woman who told us they had very basic rooms for $20 and a man presented a couple of orange juices to us on a silver tray. We also got one breakfast for our $20 which we asked if they could split in two and the lady smiled and said she would give us extra. Finally we could relax.

The room was small and pretty much unfinished but it had a massive tv and beds! We had to be up at 5am but at least we had somewhere to sleep. So now we could look back on all that had happened and laugh, well when we had the energy to.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 04:15 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Exploring the Ancient World

On ancient bikes!

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Our bus to Bagan was quite nice in comparison to the last few trips we'd had. The only probably was the a/c which often leaves people's teeth chattering. Regulating the temperature seems to be a fine art which in most instances has not been mastered. We did meet a very smiley and chatty man though, he approached us at one of the rest stops when we were shovelling some tea and cake into our hungry mouths. He asked where we were going but the conversation got cut short as it was time to reboard the bus. We'd meet him again though.

A little later than expected we arrived in Bagan and once again Adam had the unenviable task of figuring out where we were in the dark. With me as his over tired and slightly grumpy sidekick it wasn't easy and in the end we decided to see whether the guest house a rickshaw driver kept going on about was up to scratch. We made our way through the deserted, middle of the night streets and had to wake somebody up to open the gate. Thankfully the room was nice and fairly priced so we could happily call it a night.

In the morning we got up as early as we could manage. Our time in Myanmar seemed to be running out and we still had places we wanted to go so we could only afford one day in Bagan. Now is probably a good time to explain a little about Bagan, or rather Old Bagan. It is the ruins of an ancient city which is spread out over about 42 square kms of sandy wasteland covered in scratchy plants and grass. Almost all of the ruins are pagodas, some made of red brick, some stone and the most extravagant are embellished with gold. They range in size from 10 feet to massive structures which stand as proud testaments to a prosperous past.

Adam had been before and had told me what a magical place it was, better in his opinion than Angkor Wat and so I was really excited to get on with our explorations. First we ate our complimentary breakfast and then we went out to rent bikes from the hotel. It seems we were left with the scraps, i.e. the ones which were slowly beginning to fall apart. My handlebars were in the habit of rotating forward if I applied too much pressure on them which would prove pretty frustrating as the day continued. Both of them were incredibly hard to peddle and it felt like we were having to exert an enormous amount of energy just to ride along a flat surface, but it would definitely be quicker than walking. So off we set.

We made a quick stop at the bus station to try and book tickets to Naypyidaw, which is the new capital of Myanmar. A couple of people had told us that tourists were allowed to visit during the day as long as they didn't take any pictures and were gone by six o'clock. Intrigued about what this new city would be like in comparison to the rest of the country we decided we wanted to go take a look. No one really seemed to know why it had been built apart from suggestions that it was considered better if it was inland and away from the sea. The bus ticket sellers seemed a little bemused by our desire to go to Napyitaw and told us it was quite difficult. We would need to transfer in Meiktila and it would take about eight hours, so we knew we had to start really early in the morning if we wanted to have any chance of seeing anything before we were kicked at out 6pm. We decided to think on it throughout the day.

We started cycling off down the dusty roads and more and more little pagodas began to sprout up around us. There are over 6000 of them that have been recorded in the whole site, some of them are clustered together, and others stand alone.
As we were travelling along a man and a woman went by on a motorbike. They waved and we realised it was the man we had briefly spoken to on the bus the night before. We all stopped and he explained that he had a restaurant in a town a little further on and said we should stop in for lunch. We told him we would try and off they sped, his wife's arms full of fresh produce which definitely made us more interested.

There weren't very many tourists, just a few other couples on bikes and we spotted some small groups on buses. This meant that most of the time it felt as though we had the place to ourselves, that we alone were discovering and exploring these crumbling monuments to a great past. The tourists may have been few in number but round the larger pagodas the local people were there, eager to sell their wares. This was really the only downside to the day, as it is a double edged sword. On the one hand you find it annoying that you are being harassed and just want them to leave you be. On the other hand I always begin to feel really guilty because the items really cost nothing and there are so few people to sell things to. I think they sense my weakness and start telling me about their families, I caved a few times.

We climbed up one the largest pagodas and there was a great view out across the baron land.
There are people farming here but it seems like it would be very hard, even though this is the wet season the land seemed too arid for anything to thrive. We sat for a little while our legs dangling over the edge and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Everything felt so rushed in Myanmar, we were both hoping that we would make it to the beach for a little relaxation before we had to head back to Yangon. Once we had descended and avoided anyone looking to make us buy something we cycled off through the shrubby land, often having to dismount because the paths became too sandy and all friction disappeared as our wheels began to sink. These were the times when my handlebars would slip forwards and I would have to fight to keep from plummeting head first over them.

We rode through some narrow village streets until we came out on to a larger road. There was another pagoda here and we decided to have a look round and have a bit of a rest. As we wandered around the back we went through a little doorway and there was a massive gold Buddha lying down, it must have been more than 30 feet long. As we were gazing at it this woman entered and told us that if you looked at the face from different angles it looked as though it was smiling and not smiling. This softened us a little bit and then she asked if she could show us some paintings. We decided to take a look and ended up buying one, although I don't think she ripped us off, which is always nice.

Afterwards we got back on the bikes and cycled down the road a little until we came to what we presumed was the man's restaurant. It was near enough lunchtime so we decided to head in, it was definitely a good decision. They were really pleased to see us and we served by their son who was on his school lunch break and spoke very good English. The food was really nice and they brought out extras for us, including some fruit for desert. The man sat with us and recommended a few pagodas he thought were really impressive and where he thought would be a good, quiet spot to see the sunset. The whole atmosphere was lovely and we really appreciated the special attention they were giving us. For that reason we gave them a larger tip than we normally would and they ended up bringing out another bottle of water and the lady gave me a lovely wooden bangle. Full of warm fuzziness from their kindness we waved goodbye.

We then stopped at a couple of lacquer ware workshops. At one we saw how the items were made from start to finish, which can take months for the real top quality items. They have to be painted and then left to dry a number of times to build up the layers before the intricate designs are painted on them. We bought a nice little pot at one of them but had to reign ourselves in a bit as we were on a restricted budget with only a certain number of dollars at our disposal.

Having spent enough money, at least for a little while we headed back out in amongst the ruins. We left the bikes and walked out to some which weren't so accessible. Even walking over the soft ground was hard work and we were both beginning to feel quite tired. Still we pushed on and visited two of the largest and most impressive pagodas.
They are both made of stone and are great feats of ancient architecture, with the intricate designs carved into them. The tops are then finished with gold which gleams in the sun. One of them has four separate entrances and at each one you are presented with a large, golden Buddha whose hands are in placed in different positions, each having an individual meaning.
All doorways are linked by a dark inner passageway which is interspersed with little peep hole windows that offer glimpses of the gold statues until finally you are presented with the whole image.

The day was now getting on and sunset was not too far off so we went in search of the perfect spot. There is a popular large pagoda that you can easily climb but we were hoping for somewhere a little quieter. We cycled around trying to decipher the map we had but everything is very similar, including the pagodas themselves which although vary in size all retain a fairly standard shape.
The restaurant owner had told us of a place and we did manage to find it but we couldn't climb the pagodas and we really wanted a raised view.

A man on a motorbike had passed by a little while before and told us there was a good one which we could climb, at the time we thanked him and moved on but now we decided maybe it was a good bet. As we were searching he found us again and we let him take us to it. It was a bit of a precarious route up to the top as in a few places the bricks had fallen away but in the end we found a good place to perch. Unfortunately our quiet sunset never really happened as as soon as we were settled the sales pitch began and it was relentless. Another man then climbed up to join in with the badgering. We ended up buying a couple of items after first repeatedly saying no and then bargaining as hard as we could. There were of course the usual pleadings of 'for my family' and the looks of desperation, how can you say no?

The sunset didn't rival some of the others we had seen so in some ways that was a small conciliation being as we couldn't really enjoy it. We climbed back down, jumped on our bikes and rode back to the town. All in all it had been a good day and the magic of Bagan was obvious; a quiet place with modest glory and a wonderful example of ancient history that has stood the test of time.

As we were both absolutely exhausted the thought of getting up at 3am to catch the first bus towards the capital didn't really fill either of us with much joy but we knew we were going to do it anyway. To that end it was a quick stop at the bus station, a bite to eat and then bed to catch as many zzz's as possible.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 04:00 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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