Location: Darwin, Australia
Well, I'm back home and settling into life in Darwin. It is really humid but we got a good dose of rain last night and everything is lush and green after the drier season in SE Asia.
I start work again next Monday so I am trying to update all the new music and software that I bought before I came back. As usual I am having computer problems after leaving the home PC turned off for three months - it still works but doesn't like my larger hard drives that store all my data, so it's a lot of head scratching at the moment. This may be the big moment for the new laptop to take over and justify the cost.
Anyway for now it is head down and start saving for the next escape - whenever I can manage it.
Location: Hua Hin, Thailand
Well, I've done most of my shopping, except for a final run when I know how much money I have to spend, and am firmly ensconced back in Hua Hin for the duration. I'm on the final countdown to WORK, and the prospect is not really very inspiring after three months break over here. Still, I guess it has to be done if I am to have another one later. I have had a great time, caught up with some mates in Cambodia, and seen a bit of Myanmar, so I can't really complain. Sunday is the big day, fly out of Bangkok at 11am and get home in the early hours of monday morning - what a shock that will be.
Location: Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Still in Sihanoukville taking it easy and not much else. It rained for about three hours yesterday and the weather has generally been cool and overcast, so it isnt really great beach weather, but then, Im not really into swimming.
Im starting to think about heading back into Thailand in the next few days to do the final shopping and spend a few more days at Hua Hin or somewhere before I have to bite the bullet and head home.
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
New Years Day and Im still in Phnom Penh taking it easy. But tomorrow I am heading south to Sihanoukville for a few days as I start moving back towards the end of the break and that dreaded four letter word
New years eve here was chaotic, with what seemed like the whole population out and about on motorbikes and in cars touring up and down the riverside. Traffic was everywhere and with the usual lack of road rules it was just as easy (and nearly as quick) to walk, as try and get a moto. Still everyone had fun and the fireworks started at midnight and were going off all over the place.
Still, better than Bangkok, which looks, from the news reports, to be in a state of shutdown due to last nights bombs. I was talking to an Irishman who flew from there this morning, and he said that everything virtually closed down by midnight with all the parties cancelled after the first bomb went off. I guess it is just lucky more people werent hurt. If they had all gone off during the parties it would have been mayhem. I guess well just have to wait and see who was behind it before we can make any judgements, but it might change my holiday plans a bit. Whatever happens, I'll be spending more time at the beach and the last few days shopping in Bangkok, but for now, it's just more of the same in Cambodia.
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Flew into Phnom Penh early on 24/12 and settled into the Royal Guesthouse for the duration. Christmas was very low key with no big celebrations in most places a few red hats and Merry Christmas signs was about the extent of it. I think it helped that it fell on a Monday everyone partied up on Christmas Eve and then got over it.
Things here dont really change much more building going on for tourists and a few changes but it is very easy to pick up where I was last year and most of the things havent changed much. I still tend to eat and drink down near the river during the day and see the beggars and touts that have been around forever.
No definite plans about when or where I head from here, but probably down to the beaches and follow the coast back to Thailand sometime in the new year.
Have fun and enjoy it
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Well, I'm back in Bangkok and watching the third test in the Down Under Bar. They have free internet access so I can get this done at the same time. I've just been and put in my visa forms for Cambodia and get all that back on Tuesday night, so it is off to Hua Hin for a few days while I wait, and then over to Phnom Penh for Christmas. Not sure yet how I'm goingg to get there, but time will tell - and see how energetic I feel.
Location: Yangon, Myanmar
Im taking the train to Yangon tomorrow a sixteen hour ride leaving at 5.30 am , so it will be another cold early morning and long day. Hopefully that will be the last I see of the cold for a while, as Yangon is 670 kilometres south. Back to a bit more like normal conditions, I hope, although the mind flashes back to my last trip to Vietnam, where I didnt really see any good hot weather till I hit Phnom Penh for Christmas. I must stop going so far north, I think, or else get more organised before I move off on these jaunts. At least I have got a beanie with me this time and it has seen a fair amount of the country now.
It's now the ninth and I am recovering from the train trip. It wasn't bad - at least the track is in good nick (compared the Bagan - Mandalay), but it is just so long. The upper class only has ten rows of seats to a carraige so there is plenty of room and you can get up and move around, but it is still a mind numbing sixteen hours. The whole trip is in the main river valley with the mountains way off in the distance so it is a never ending parade of rice paddies in various stages of harvesting at present, sugar cane and a few other odd crops being grown to give the fresh harvested paddies a break.
That done, I have just booked a ticket back to Bangkok for the thirteenth, so I will probably head off to Hua Hin after I catch up with things in Bangkok. It will be good to get back to a good transport system again, instead of having to really plan everything and get up super early for nearly every trip.
Apart from that, Myanmar has been really enjoyable. The people are really friendly and funny, and the general feeling is very laid back with very little pressure to spend or take tours etc. - a big change after Thailand and Vietnam. I will definitely be back this way again, but next time I think it will be a slower trip focussing on one area instead of trying to get right around and see a bit of everything - that has just been too much for me. It's a bit like Vietnam in that respect, the travel is a big part and if you can cut that down and prop in one place for a while it becomes a much better holiday.
Location: Mandalay, Myanmar
Full of stupas and temples is right, I spent all day today wandering round the area in a horse cart checking them out and still only saw a fraction of them. Its amazing, everywhere you look there are spires sticking up on the sky line and if you climb up a temple and look out you can literally see hundreds in the distance. I will try to load some pictures on my Myanmar page as soon as I get somewhere with decent internet I logged in here yesterday to check my mail and had a speed of 21.6Kps. Talk about the old days it brought back some memories, so I didnt try to do much but bailed back out quickly.
Spent most of yesterday playing tourist again and that was enough stupas for a while. Caught the train back to Mandalay this morning. Eight hours for the 169 kilometres, so it wasnt a quick trip, but thats better than ten hours on the boat. Ill probably spend a dayor two here and then head south to the warmer climes. Bagan was fairly cold at night and in the mornings, a bit like Alice, but only about 25 during the day. As soon as the sun went down the temperatures dropped right away, so you needed to be prepared for it.
Location: Bagan, Myanmar
I caught the express ferry to Bagan for $25. It leaves Mandalay at 7am and arrived in Bagan at about 5pm and is a slow and peaceful way to get there. You don't really get a good look at the scenery as the river is fairly wide and you are on the middle of the flood plain so that it is all low and flat country. The boat has to duck and weave a fair bit to stay in the main channel, and it did pull in to take on and let of passengers at a couple of points, just driving into the bank and putting out a plank for them to get on or off. As soon as this happens the locals are out, up to their waists in water, trying to sell bananas, and all sorts of other snacks to the tourists - quite a funny sight, as the boat starts backing out and everyone has to scamper for shore while trying to get the last bit of money they can at the same time.
Bagan is the stupa capital of the world by the look of it - they are everywhere - right through the centre of town and all through the countryside.
Location: Mandalay, Myanmar
Got enthused this morning and headed out on the side of a trishaw for a look around town must be the warmer weather, Im back to shorts and singlet, with a longyi and kroma to wrap on if they want it for any of the temples etc. Anyway the weather is beautiful again and I spent about four hours looking at a few temples, climbing Mandalay Hill, and wandering around the old palace. Not real riveting to some people, but I had a great time, not least on the trishaw as he tried to push us from one place to the next.
The traffic is pretty good here and if you stay off the main roads, which the trishaws have to do, the cars are fairly forgiving and will slow down to let you keep moving, or dodge around you much less frenetic than Saigon was. I did feel sorry for the poor old driver though, as he struggled to push the bike and me on uphill slopes he might have been sixty kilos but nothing over that.
Mandalay hill is the highest point around and took about twenty minutes to climb, all stairs from one temple to the next with each temple having flower sellers, postcard sellers, food and water stalls plus the various touts and hangers on that just want you to give them your money, so it gets a bit wearing after the fifth or sixth temple. On the way down they leave you alone, but, you still get accosted by all the people who have an uncle or cousin that owns a taxi, and would dearly love to take you to where-ever tomorrow or even the next day if you have the time or inclination. For a country that is only just opening up to tourists they are learning fast. The worst part of climbing the hill is getting to the top and the haze spoils the view so the photos arent very flash at all still it was worth the climb to see it for myself.
Anyway, that was enough tourism for one day, so I went and tried Dagon Lager at a little café Id noticed. It is in the same vein as Beer Myanmar and on a par, and is also on tap. Mind you it was 50Kyat more a handle. (US$1 = Kyat 1250 1400 depending on who you find to change it) I love this country more and more each day.
Something I found out tonight the trishaws only stay off the main roads during the day. I grabbed one at about half past six tonight and off we went straight down the middle of the main drag for about four miles before we had to turn off to get where I wanted to go. It was pitch black by then so its a good thing the cars have lights, pedestrians, pushbikes and trishaws sure dont so I couldnt see them coming unless there was a car following us.
At one stage we hit a pothole and the whole trishaw headed straight for the gutter this is still on the main road - the driver had to jump off and grab the bike and drag it to a halt, or it would have been ass over for me for sure. As it was he just smiled apologetically, grinned and jumped back on, and off we headed back on our merry way. Even worse when we got off the main drag and onto the side street pitch black with not street lights and potholes everywhere, so we were dodging all over the road even when there was oncoming traffic. I think the main problem may have been that if my side got into a pothole, the driver wouldnt have been able to drive it back out and I would have had to get off and give him a hand.
Eventually we got there and it was all worthwhile I had a big feed of sates (BBQ over here) and he got 1500 Kyat for his work. The best feed I have had for days with a really nice dipping sauce with lots of pepper (but no chilli still) that added a really good zing to the meal. They take it all off the sticks, chop it up, and then add it to whatever vegetables you choose for the meal. With four handles of beer the whole meal only came out to 4000 Kyat.
Took a blue taxi (Mazda B600 ute with a lid over the back to shelter the seats) out into the country around Mandalay today to check out some of the old ruins and other sights.
Started at Paleik where the wat has two big pythons that sleep in the alcove with the main Buddha statue. Three of them just arrived and took up residence in 1974 and the spot has become famous for them. They wake the remaining two up at eleven every morning and wash and feed them, and will let you have your photo taken holding them for a donation to the wat not this little black duck even if they are pythons. Just around the corner is a whole forest of old stupas in varying states of repair. Some of them look ancient but I dont know the dates when they restore them they put the restoration date on the plinth, so some of them should only be twenty or thirty years old by that. Anyway, many of them are similar in style to the later Angkor stuff, althouth there is no Hindu imagery anywhere here.
From there went on to Inwa, where you cross the river on a ferry and then get a horse drawn cart to take you around the area, stopping at various wats, monasteries and other items of interest where the locals try to flog off all their trinkets to you. This whole area was once a walled city similar to Chiang Mai and in places parts of the old walls and some of the gate sections can be seen, still in good nick.
After that it was on to Amanapura, and the U Bein bridge which is a long two hundred year old teak footbridge across the local lake. It is about 1.3 kilometres long and, strangely perhaps, leads to a few more wats on the other side. Once you have wandered through tem you are free to wander back across the bridge to the taxi, to try and find your driver among all the food stalls. Mine was asleep on a bench and had to be woken up. We took of and got about five miles down the road before he had to pull over for a toilet break.
That was enough for me, so it was back to town and a few cleansing ales to slake the thirst and wash away the dust.
Having a lazy day today, and trying to do a bit on the web page etc, as well as some shopping and a bit of touring around the city. Tomorrow it is a boat cruise up to Mingun, and then Saturday I head to Bagan, which is the old city full of stupas and monks.