The Yangon miracle 

So even my time in Myanmar has come to an end.  Tomorrow I will be on a plane direction Dhaka,  Bangladesh.  I have to admit that I had a very good time here.  Myanmar is a very nice country,  I expected to like it and I haven’t been disappointed.  My time in Yangon has been a revelation.  I spent my days at Adrian’s,  a Filipino guy that have been living here for the last years.  He lives with a Filipino girl accidentally named Adrienne.  During the time I spent at Adrian’s and Adrienne’s I took part in a surprise birthday party (for Adrienne) a house warming party and to the FAB party,  LGBT community party in Yangon that takes place one a month,  last Saturday. 

So Adrian has taken all the pain to take me around,  show me the city, take me to the cool places in town (GekkoRangoon Tea HousePenthouseSharky’s) and then convinced me to go to FAB (never been a big fan of disco parties).  But I’m SO GLAD I gave in and went to FAB party.  The place was packed with LGBT people and friends.  The crowd is very mixed and people are there just to have fun.  In a way it made me think of my early years when I used to go dancing with my friends on Saturday nights. I haven’t done that for ages, until yesterday.  All the people met during my stay were there and it made me feel happy,  people were having a blast and so was I.  And I didn’t even drink!  There were boys and girls (and all that’s in between)  of all shapes and sizes and I was not even the grandpa of the party! 

Yangon and the people met here managed to give me even if for a while the sense of home, comfort zone limited in space and time that I needed. Now I’m ready to move on.  The time has come for me to move to another place,  time to meet other people, time to live another adventure. 

Advertisements

Smile, you’re in Mandalay! 

I really liked Yangon but it was time for me to move on.  I booked a bus to Mandalay and I arrived at the Four rivers hostel where I had booked a bed.  The place is nice and clean,  rooms are spacious, breakfast is good.  The bathrooms could do with some make up but it was a very good choice.  On the afternoon of the first day there I just walked around a bit to have the feeling of the city. Mandalay is not Yangon. 

 Motorbikes are allowed there and the conversations among horns made me think of Hanoi.  So after the relative peace and quiet of Yangon I felt a little attacked but the feeling soon melted away.  People are very nice in Mandalay.  The smile.  All the time.  They don’t see the white face as a walking wallet. Most of the time they just smile at you and then carry on with their own devices.  The second day after a good and abundant breakfast on the roof terrace of the hostel I rented a bicycle to visit the city.  Before the heat started (and it was already too late)  I decided to visit Mandalay hill and the temple on top of it.  I got at the foot of the hill easily as the city is plain (a part from the hill) and once I got there I wanted to get to the top by the stairway for pedestrians to reach the top.  But there was a little “lost in translation ” situation and by the time I realized I was going up hill with the bike it was already too late to go back.  So I made the best of the situation and just “hiked” dragging the bicycle.  Once at the top I was ready for a heart attack…. But I just bought a bottle of ice cold water and I sat for 10 minutes just to get back my breath.  I walked up some steps and I was in the temple. Su Taung Pyi Pagoda is an immense space all covered in gold and mirrors as Myanmar tradition wants.  There are Buddha statues of different colors and forms,  so many of them so that at some point I got dizzy. 

I thought than in Italy we have far too many churches,  Christs and Virgin Marys but here there are faaaar more pagodas and Buddhas!!! 

They way back down was easy as I just let the brakes lose and in 5 minutes I was down.  I went to the “biggest book in the world” the Kuthodaw Pagoda, and it was just breathtaking.  Thinking of the fact that it was all handmade it’s just mind-blowing! 

After that I toured around the walls and went for lunch at Nepali, a restaurant not far from the wall.  The food was amazing and cheap and the service five star.

The following day I booked a tour to visit Inwa, Amapura and Sagaing. Three small towns a stone throw from Mandalay.  Of course we saw Buddhas and pagodas galore. After Sagaing we stopped for lunch at this vegetarian place near the river.  There was just us from the tour and the place is very cosy and quiet. It’s called Himalaya and the food was amazing! 

After lunch we crossed the river to visit Amarapura and we got caught in the middle of a rainstorm and we travelled in a chariot dragged by a poor horse and got completely soaked!!!  It was fun. 

The day after I just packed my bag and waited in the hostel for my night bus back to Yangon to begin my week of volunteering at Tha Bar Wa meditation center.   

The road to Mandalay 

The arrival in Myanmar was a piece of cake.  I literally spent 5 minutes at the customs.  Nobody asked me for a flight out of the country, thankgod because I didn’t have one. 

After getting my luggage I got on a taxi to my hostel and once I got there I got a surprise!  Horrible surprise. My hostel the “Everest Hotel ” has a so called dorm on the fifth floor.  No elevator.  It was sizzling hot and by the time I was up in my room I was already exhausted.  The room was big enough just to accommodate only three beds.  And I mean only three beds. NOTHING else.  No AC,  only a fan and a window on the corridor.  Practically an oven.  On top of that the other two beds were occupied by two guys eating fried chicken in bed…  I don’t need to explain any further. I knew I couldn’t stay there even if I already paid so I checked for another hostel and I moved out. 

I needed to change money – dollars into kyat and so I went to the bank.  That was another adventure.  People screaming as if they were at the market,  no discretion,  no order… apparently.  So I got directed to the exchange “window” (no window of course,  just a counter like in a bar)  and have been explained from the teller that every note has a different exchange rate… OK… 

Got my money after a good half hour waiting and paid the new hostel.  This one is near Sule pagoda very near the center.  It’s called Dengba hostel and there is no sign outside.  I still managed to find it and it was just right what I needed.  Clean,  spacious,  with windows and AC. For lunch I went to this Indian place called Vedge but I was disappointed.  The portions are small and it is a bit pricey.  Not even the service was good.  

In the afternoon I went to take a walk and met this couple of siblings Vietnamese American and with there I went for dinner in 19th st where Aung a local guy met us.  It was fun, the food was good and the beer cheap.   The place is called  Kaung Myat restaurant and it’s famous for the BBQ and for the beer of course. 

The following day I went to visit the city.  As usual I walked around even if the heat was unbearable. I went to Shwedagon pagoda the biggest pagoda in Yangon.  The place is simply amazing!  All cover in real gold and pearls.  Locals enter for free,  tourists of course have to pay 8000 kyat (around 5€) but it was worth it. 

After that I visited Ngar Htat Gyi Pagoda and the reclining Buddha. It’s funny because in Myanmar there are millions of Buddha but they are all different.  The reclining one is gigantic,  majestic and a bit funny. I then went for lunch to this restaurant called Taj Indian Nepali where the food is excellent and copious and the service very friendly.  I also got a refill of sauce for free!!!  I arrived at the hostel in a bath of sweat so I showered and rest for a little while.  For dinner I went out with Woon Si another local and we went back to 19th st but to KoSan bar this time. Again food delicious and cheap beer. 

The day after I was ready to leave and move north to Mandalay.  My bus was at 9.30am so I left the hostel at 7.30. Traffic can be pretty bad and the bus station is on the north, one / one and half hour away from the city.  The ride was horrible. The bus was full to explode and everybody was pushing me and my backpack around.  Beside the driver wasn’t very gentle on the brakes.  I arrived at the bus station in an hour and I was finally able to get on an AC bus with every comfort including USB plug to charge your mobile or tablet.  I was about to take the famous road to Mandalay.  

Angkor Wat 

So.  My little bucolic adventure was… interesting. It RAINED  like crazy for the whole week I was there so I was not able to do as much as I could.  Roy is a very nice man from Britain who’s lived in Asia for many years and married this young Thai lady that spends here whole day cooking.  I mean literally – the WHOLE day.  And so their freezer are stuffed with food waiting to be served to customers that don’t show. 

The place has a lot of potential but it really need plenty of TLC.  The amount of spiderwebs present in there could cover the entire planet earth.  If you stand still for more than five minutes you end up completely covered in spiderweb. 

Due to the nearness of the river and the amount of rain that falls everything is covered in mould.  My backpack that rested on a bamboo shelf for the week was all spotted in white and had to was it straight away lest I would have to throw it away.  Your laundry never gets dry and all is wet.  But the atmosphere there is nice,  very quiet and relaxed and I could enjoy the countryside for a while and have fun with the animals around. 

After I left Ream yacht club I spent a couple of days in Kampot on my way to Siem Reap.  Kampot is a nice little town three hours south of Phnom Penh.  Nothing much to do here but relax and chill.  I had the time to go to a couple of places for food.  Once again I was craving for pizza so I tried my luck at “Ecstatic pizza ” (after reading the reviews in TripAdvisor) and the truth is that the pizza was not bad (for an Asian pizza that is).  Then the following day I tried “Simple things ” a vegetarian place high ranked in Happy Cow and although a little bit more expensive that the usual place or was worth it.  I had a veggie burger with fries and I had a hard time to finish it.  Delicious and the service was really friendly.  

The following day I had lunch at this Indian place run by an American guy.  It is called “Adwa I-tal kitchen “. The food is 90% vegan and it is delicious. 

It was time to hit the road again to finally get to Siem Reap and finally visit the famous temples. The trip from Kampot was supposed to last 10 hours.  But in a good Asian traditional way that was just a dream.  I arrived in SR almost thirteen hours after my departure all sweaty and exhausted.  At a certain point the driver decided that we didn’t need the AC anymore and he just cut it. The bus was full and the day was finally (!!!!) sunny and hot. 

We arrived in SR around 10pm and instead of dropping us by the night market as he was supposed to do,  the driver dropped us in the middle of nowhere where by chance there was a number of guys waiting for us to take us to town by tuk tuk.  (another tradition here…) 

I was furious and really tired so I refused to get left there and told the driver to take me to the night market. Thankgod I had my phone with me so I could check the way. Obviously he didn’t take me to the market but close enough to the place where I was supposed to meet my host. 

Chantha was working until 11pm and afterwards we went to his place and took a shower.  I was tired but needed some relax time so we went out and met some friends of his and had a beer.  For the following day I had contracted a tuk tuk to drive me around the temples.  The weather was really hot and sunny and I drank more than 2 litres of water. I actually sweat my heart out.  By the end of the day I was exhausted. 

But the temples are magnificent.  For the most part they have crumbled down and all the stones are laying around.  Men are working to rebuild them but it’s a long and meticulous job and it won’t be quick.  There was obviously a lot of people around but I still enjoyed the visit.  It was just amazing how theses temples were built thousand of centuries ago and they’re still there.  For the most part at least. Nature has made her way through the ruins and now gigantic trees are growing into the midst of the stones. I was speechless in front of such beauty. 

The visit ended at 3 and the rest of the day I was pretty much useless.  The driver came back at 5 to take me to see the sunset at the top of one hill where yet another temple is. After that I had some time to kill before dinner so I invited him to a beer. And he invited his friend.  And we went to a local place where his girlfriend works.  I they ordered a tower of beer (3 litres).  And I paid…of course.  And they asked me if I wanted a girl also…. The Cambodia way. 

The following day I moved to a hostel (the Pension lodge) as my host had another guest coming.  Two dollars a night can give you a pretty clean and decent place to sleep for the night.  During the day o organized my transfer to Bangkok to catch my flight to Yangon and then I booked the flight.  Now I’m waiting for the bus to Bangkok.  It should (should)  get me there in nine hours.  Fingers crossed. 

The red shadow 

So I finally arrived in Cambodia.  I had been advised to get the visa online to save time but it takes 3 days to get it processed and by the time I was ready to leave it was too late.  So I got at the airport of Phnom Penh without a visa and was already prepared to have to go through long lines and boring procedures when in the end it all took me about 15 minutes (and I also saved some 10$ comparing to online visa). 

The hostel I had reserved promised to send someone at the airport to pick me up but when I got there you guess it, nobody was waiting for me.  I bought a SIM card and started to talk with Whitney,  a girl from the US that was on the same plane as me.  We were going in the same direction so we decided to split the cost of a tuk tuk.  

We jumped in and the first thing we were told was to watch our bags.  Snatching bags and mobiles phones is pretty common here in Cambodia and so we were on the know. The traffic was pretty bad,  Thailand style and it took us about an hour to get to our destination.  

At the moment to check in at Billabong hotel and hostel I was preceded by a group of French Chinese and so I had to wait and be patient.  About ten minutes later I finally managed to do my check-in and I was then showed to my room. 

EditDorms here are pretty big and spacious.  I got a lower bunk bed as requested and the locker is so big that my entire backpack fits in.  Fantastic! That night I went for dinner with a couple of very nice Japanese guys that were staying in my dorm.  Walking around the city we managed to find this place where only locals go.  The food was good,  big and cheap.  The day after together with Hiro and So we decided to go to the killing fields

I remember when I was a kid that in the news they talked about the Khmer Rouge but I didn’t know much about the history of Cambodia and what really happened here. So when I decided to go to the killing fields I was not really aware of what I would have found.  We got there in about 30 minutes with rented motorbikes and paid the 5 dollars entry fee.  The audio guide was explaining what every stop was and what happened there.  Shivers were running down my spine and the memory went automatically to my visit to Auschwitz.  The atrocities that human kind can commit are really inexplicable.  I cannot understand or accept that someone in their right mind can do something so terrible to some other human being (or animal for that matter). Violence has no justification or motive in my mind and I really struggle to understand what happened in Cambodia or in Germany/Poland under the Nazis. 

To finish with the horror tour the following day I went to visit the genocide museum aka S21 a former school turned into torture zone during the Khmer Rouge occupation.

Phnom Penh is not a nice city.  It’s chaotic and there are areas where you don’t want to go at night (I almost got my phone stolen one night).  The only positive thing in my opinion is that there are plenty of vegetarian restaurants around the city.  I only had time to visit a few but the food there was very good.  

I went to EVERGREEN for breakfast.  I had a plate of noodles pretty big and then shared a yummy soup with my friend.  For dinner I went to VEGETARIAN 1000 a buffet like place where you can choose from different trays of food and they cost 1000 or 2000 riels (25/50c). The last day I went for breakfast to Surn Yi vegetarian restaurant and had noodles and mock pork.  Although the “pork” was pretty good,  the noodles were very poor, they didn’t taste of anything but maybe it was just my plate.  The choice in this place is pretty big and it is very popular according to Trip Advisor. 

I made it out of Phnom Penh direction Kep because I needed a rest from the chaos and noise of the big city. 

Kep is a small village four hour drive from Phnom Penh,  towards the coast.  I checked in at Kepmandou Lounge a nice and small hostel by the beach built from wood in a cabin style.  Clean and nice,  very quiet at night.  It rained almost all the time during the 2 days I was there but I just needed to rest so I didn’t mind.  I caught up on some movies that I wanted to see and just chilled. 

After Kep it was time to move to Sihanoukville where I was to start my next volunteering period on Sunday.  Sihanoukville is a city known for its tourism.  It’s not interesting in an artistic or historical way but my hostel was a little outside town,  once again by the beach and I was looking forward to enjoy my peaceful time…. Never have I been so wrong. At Footprints the dorm is just upstairs from the bar area.  The place is made of wood and there are no walls.  I went to bed around 11 pm and the music was still full blast (in any other hostel I have been the music stops at 10/10.30pm the latest). I actually had to go downstairs and ask to tone the music down a little.  At 3 am I woke up and there were still people at the bar chatting and laughing as of it was during the day.  The music came from the outside.  Somewhere not far away somebody was playing full blast techno  music.  And they didn’t stop until 8 am. The manager of the hostel apologized to me a thousand time but the damage was done.  I also thought to move to another hostel but I was too lazy and I only had one night left.  The second night was better,  no music from the outside but the bar closed at midnight.  Bu.t that night I was in kinda good mood as I had a very good pizza at Jin’s with Carlos a guy from Barcelona met on the bus from Kep. 

So,  comes Sunday and Roy,  my host comes and pick me up.  We drive for about 30 minutes and we arrive in Ream. He’s a Brit that lived for many years in Thailand and them moved to Cambodia with his Thai wife.  They are getting ready a resort by the river with bungalows and animals, the Ream Yacht club.  They need help with fixing and painting and here I am.  The place is in the middle of nowhere but that’s the charm of it.  The silence here is deafening and nature rules.  I just love it here. 

Island hopping part three: Perenthian island 

So.  I took a bus from Penang to go to Perenthian island on the east coast.  It’s a long and boring trip but it’s worth the effort. The bus arrived in Kuala Besut and from there is the ferry.  

The bus arrived at KB at around  5am.  The first ferry is at 7. To kill time I started to talk to people that arrived with me and we had a very bad tea at the local restaurant.  We paid our ferry fee to this guy that “attacked” us (standard here) and waited.  Time comes to go to the ferry and we discover that to get to the island we have to pay an extra 30RM (around 6€) for the environment.  Happy to pay if the island is spotless (guess what … It was not) 

I get a little mad at this rule especially because once again for the local is 5 times cheaper and truth to be said its the locals who throw all the garbage around… But anyways… 

1/2 an hour ride and we finally arrive to the island (Kecil).  I didn’t book any hostel but in Travelfish website (https://www.travelfish.org/accommodation/malaysia/peninsular_malaysia/terengganu/perhentian_islands/all) I read about this place called “Butterfly chalet” a self check-in place directly on the sea.  The ferry arrived at Long Beach where the parties are but thankgod Butterfly is on Coral Beach on the other side of the island,  just 10 minutes walk across the jungle. 

Arrived at the chalets luckily I can check in immediately as 3 people had just checked out.  I choose the chalet number 2 as it is the closer to the beach.  The view is beautiful,  directly on the sea and behind me, the jungle. 

The rooms are very basic but I gladly paid 14€ a night (room only)  to sleep peacefully in this corner of paradise. 

The following day I was exhausted and slept the whole day.  I don’t know what happened but I just couldn’t do anything else.  I just slept.  I guess that 2 months moving around like a pinball had taken their toll on me.  In the evening I managed to wake up and went for dinner at this super posh (for the beach standards)  place called “Shari La Island Resort” (http://sharilaresort.com/) where they serve buffet all you can eat for the equivalent of 3€. Thus I was able to stuff my face with a lot of yummy food without having to worry if it was vegetarian or not. 

The following day I just beach combed as I wanted to finish a book that I was dragging around since the beginning of my trip and so I just did nothing and enjoyed every word of my book. 

Once again I didn’t do any scooba diving,  or snorkelling (except in front of my chalet and during my morning swim)  or visited any beach close by.  But I really enjoyed my time there.  The food is good. In general expensive but on Long Beach there is this local place called “Kak Yah Local Food” where you can eat cheap and the portions are important.

I needed a break from my wanderings and I got it.  I managed to recharge my batteries before starting my volunteering time in KL. 

Melaka and Penang 

After KL it was time to move to a smaller place and this was Melaka (aka Malacca). 

Melaka is a city two hours drive south of KL.  I checked in at “Victor’s guest house ” (30, Jalan Munshi Abdullah, Kampung Jawa, 75100 Melaka).

 The place is very nice,  clean and very quiet and the staff very helpful. At first you have the impression that it is located far from the center but don’t be fooled by appearance.  Behind the hostel there is the river.  The entire area is under massive restructure and there are plenty of nice places to get a coffee or beer.  Walking along the river and crossing the bridge you’re in the cultural center of the city in 10 minutes. Melaka has a long story of invasion from different people (Portuguese,  Dutch, English)  and it is all reflected in the architecture and the language.  People are very nice and friendly and you never feel uneasy anywhere in the city.  Apparently the night market is very nice but it’s only on weekends so I didn’t get the chance to see it.  

At the hostel I met some people and together we went to have food in a Himalayan restaurant not far.  The food was good and cheap but the communication with the staff was not easy. Melaka is a place that I really enjoyed. Life is easy and quiet there although the tourist and you can take a rest from the fast pace of KL. On my second day I had lunch at “Mori vegetarian tea house ” (3, Jalan Kampung Kuli, 75200 Melaka), a bit pricey but the food was delicious!!! 

After two days in Melaka it was time to move on and since Singapore was not an option (that’s where people usually go after Melaka)  I decided to move north to Penang an island on the west coast. The bus trip was long (around 9 hours)  but not too bad.  I arrived at Butterworth harbor and from there I took the ferry to George Town.  The trip is about 10 minutes and once in George Town you land at the bus station. 

My host David told me to fetch the 302 to get to his place as he was not at home yet but after almost half an hour I was not even half way as the traffic is pretty bad so David – that in the meantime had freed himself – told me to get off at the first stop and wait for him there. And I did. And I waited another half hour.  

David lives in Gelugor 15 mins drive from the city.  We arrived at his place and after a shower we drive back to the city for dinner in an Indian place called “Thali-NR sweets cafe ” (Lebuh Penang, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang) in Little India. The food is very good and very cheap like in most places in George town well known for this.  I was supposed to spend only a couple of days in Padang but in the end I stayed 4. The city is very nice,  good choices for food and I felt at home there. In the morning David worked so I had a lot of time to visit and in the evening we met for dinner.  

  

On my second day there I met Tom and Jep,  from CS and with them I went to the temple on the hill and the evening we had dinner with David. After dinner David explained the he does charity work three nights a week and asked me if I wanted to tag along.  With his volunteer friends he goes around the city and distribute food and water to the homeless.  It was nice and sad at the same time.  People know them and wait for them.  They’re very nice and humble and when they take the food they say thanks 20 times. It’s been a very nice and enriching experience. 

The following day David was working only half day so in the afternoon we went hiking on a beach half an hour out of the city. The hike is fine but not for everyone.  Along the way we met with people from a CS group that David attend to and they invited us to a BBQ at the beach later on. After an hour we arrived at the beach but couldn’t swim as the water was very shallow and muddy.  To go back we took a boat as it was getting dark and it’s not advisable to do the hike at night.  We then drove to the beach for the BBQ. The others were already there and setting up the fire. It was very nice to spend time with them and talk.  They’re all members of CS from different origins and religions.  Indians,  Chinese,  Malay,  Buddhist,  Muslim and they all get along very well.  That’s why I really like Malaysia!!!

After the BBQ someone suggested to get into the water and since no one had a bathing suit we skinny dip although it’s forbidden in Malaysia.  It was funny,  we laughed a lot and a Muslim girl that until 2 minutes before was wearing a veil bathed with 5 naked men (she was wearing T-shirt and underwear) and wasn’t worried or offended by that.  Well on the contrary actually!!!  We saw the fluorescent plankton (amazing!!!)  and the water was so good that we couldn’t get out. 

On my third day I met Leo,  a local guy in CS also and with him we went to the protestant cemetery and the haunted school.  I have a thing for cemeteries and abandoned building although I don’t believe in ghosts or burial as for that.  Afterwards we had lunch at a place called “Yin’s sourdough bakery and cafe” (11, Pesara Claimant, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang) because I was craving for pizza and I heard that in this place was very good.  And indeed it was,  pesto and mushrooms pizza.  Delicious!!! 

Leo is a local artist that lived in Armenian street very close to the bicycle painting and his place is full of cool stuff as he works as interior designer.  For dinner I bought some Indian food and got home where David had already arrived. 

The following day I decided to stay at home and organize my next move. So after fetching information from blogs and websites I prepared my bags and went buy the bus ticket to Perenthian island for that same night.