Burma weaving

Friday Photo Diary – 19th February

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

 

This week I finally made it into Burma! Burma (or Myanmar, as it is officially known) has long been at the top of my Asia travel list, and I’m incredibly excited to be at the beginning of a four week journey here.

 

After leaving Jeni in Luang Prabang, Laos, last week, I made my way to the bus station to board my 20+ hour bus over to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Unfortunately I realised upon checking in that the agency I’d used to purchase my bus ticket had not booked my seat and so, after a frustrated phone call and some persuasion on my part, I ended up on a wooden stool next to the driver. This was obviously not ideal for an overnight journey. Thankfully not long after departure a local gentleman offered to exchange seats with me so that I could get some rest; I’m not sure I’ve ever been so grateful as I settled in for the night without too many further interruptions.

 

Arriving in Chiang Mai some 23 hours later, I’d set aside a day or two to catch up with a friend from home, and as he works with one of the minority tribes in Burma I also gained valuable information for my upcoming trip.

 

On Tuesday morning I made the final part of my journey into Burma by taking a six hour bus south to Mae Sot, where luck would have it, I met up with our Swedish trekking companions, Martin and Oliver, who were crossing the border that afternoon also. The crossing itself was far quicker and easier than I’d anticipated; after getting stamped out of Thailand it was a five or so minute walk over the friendship bridge to the Burmese border control in Myawaddy. Here we were ushered past a queue of locals into the ‘foreigners office’ where forms were completed and photos taken and we were back outside ten minutes later.

 

It was during the entry process that we met a chatty and near-fluent (in English) Burmese man who afterwards took us to a money changing counter and then helped locate our guesthouse. The cheapest rooms available in town were $18 each – a huge increase from the prices I’d paid in other countries, and definitely not a step up in quality – this provided a tile-covered room of 3m x 3m, with no window, a small bed and fan, and shared squat toilet and cold water shower facilities. This didn’t deter me much; I’d set my accommodation expectations fairly low and after all, it was only one night.

 

Early the following morning I was awoken by my self-appointed guide from the previous day. I’d mentioned to him that I’d be taking a bus to Mawlaymine that day – and at 8am he was waiting for me with a car to take me there along with two other travellers who’d crossed the border that morning. After a rushed pack and no time to shower or breakfast, we were on our way!

 

We travelled ‘family’ style; the car seats taken out and four of us led out in the back for the bumpy five hour drive, stopping regularly (every ten or so minutes) for bribe money to be given to various characters – some military, some villagers. Breakfast was, to my delight, dhal curry and roti.

 

In Mawlaymine I checked into Breeze Guesthouse, a busy and friendly-run place with cell-like rooms, free breakfast and hot showers. To my amazement I found a cafe across the street which not only had great wifi (something I wasn’t sure I’d find until Yangon), but also served coke floats and potato smileys; triggering wonderful memories of childhood treats.

 

Yesterday I booked onto a group trip to Ogre Island (Bilu Kyun), just across the river from Mawlaymine. Ogre Island got its name from a local legend that the villagers there ate young men and consequently became ugly! The trip was a perfect introduction to Burmese village life, starting with an invite to a rare celebration, visits to a variety of family craftsmen and ending with a swim in a local bathing pool.

 

Burma so far has been incredible; the food is delicious, the scenery beautiful and the people are the warmest and friendliest I’ve come across. Just now as I’m writing this a truck of school children has pulled up and they’re all waving and vying for my attention – teacher included.

 

Here are my favourite five:

 

Mon household, Ogre Island

Mon household, Ogre Island

Sleeping cat on Ogre Island

Sleeping cat on Ogre Island

Bilu Kyun countryside

Bilu Kyun countryside

Weaving, Ogre Island

Weaving, Ogre Island

Rubber Factory, Ogre Island

Rubber Factory, Ogre Island

Luang Prabang Trekking

Friday Photo Diary – 12th February

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

 

After a day of recovering from one of Vang Vieng’s infamous Friday jungle parties, Jen and I took to the Nam Song in kayaks on Sunday with our friend Toby who is visiting for a two week holiday. The scenery was outstanding; towering mountains to one side and villages and fields to the other with local children bathing and playing as we paddled by. Half-way down we came across several party bars set up for the numerous tubers who drink their way down the river each day. After a gin or few, the kayaking got slightly out of control and mine ended up sinking, twice.

 

After delaying our departure from Vang Vieng by an extra day, we finally made our way north to Luang Prabang on Monday, with Toby still in tow. On the terrifying bus ride through and over the mountains, we were all rewarded with what I believe are the most beautiful views in Laos. Sadly I wasn’t able to take any photos to back this up.

 

Upon reaching Luang Prabang we had a decision to make – would we travel a further nine hours north to the trekking mecca of Luang Namtha, or stay put and trek in the area I’d previously visited? In the end we chose the latter, as it made sense time-wise and meant we could join a trekking group with some Swedish friends we’d made. I’d recommended using the same company that I’d trekked with last summer, so we actually ended up hiking the very same trail I’d already travelled.

 

Being a completely different season, and therefore very different weather conditions (hot and dry this time, instead of wet and humid), the hike was an entirely different experience for me. Instead of hills of green rice fitrekking, flowing, muddy rivers to cross I found acres of deserted farm land overgrown with colourful mountain flowers and grazing buffalo. Stopping in each of the Khmu and Hmong villages it was fascinating to see the same houses and families, only eight months later.

 

Arriving at the Khmu village for our overnight stay, exhausted after seven hours of trekking, I showed Jeni around the village of 85 families and took photos of things I’d missed the first time. After dark, a huge dinner was served and we spent the evening playing cards and drinking the local rice whisky (this was needed for a good nights sleep in the fairly comfortable, but very basic communal huts).

 

The second day started similar to last time – with a wake-up call I can only presume was the slaughtering of a pig outside our hut. After coffee and breakfast we said goodbye to our Khmu hosts and took a different route out of the village. Last year I kayaked back to Luang Prabang, so day two this time was a new trail for me also. A much flatter three hour strolls took us through two further village to the river where we boarded a local boat to the nearby Tad Sae waterfalls. These multi-tiered falls are best seen during wet season, but were still pretty spectacular for our visit. After an hour or two of relaxing and swimming, our boat took us back to the city before dark.

 

Today Jen and I are parting ways for a month – Jen is about to take a 24 hour bus across the border to Hanoi in Vietnam, and I am travelling west through Thailand and into Myanmar where I should arrive in the south on Monday evening.

 

Here are my favourite five for the week (okay I lied – this week there are six):

 

Trekking Luang Prabang

Trekking Luang Prabang

Mountain views

Mountain views

Khmu village

Khmu village

Khmu children

Khmu children

River view

River view

Tad Sae Waterfall

Tad Sae Waterfall

Vang Vieng

Friday Photo Diary – 5th February

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

 

On this sunny Friday you find me in one of favourite places in Southeast Asia – Vang Vieng. With a stunning mountain backdrop and the Nam Song river running next to this small town, it is easy to see why I have been raving to Jeni about visiting, and also why I have spent more combined time here than anywhere else in Laos.

 

After our dramatic journey of last week, I wish I could say things improved for us both this week. They didn’t. On Saturday our six hour ride from Savan to Vientiane took well over 10 hours, but we were extremely grateful that it was a human only kind of bus.

 

Having visited Vientiane on my trip to Laos last summer, I was looking forward to seeing more of a city I feel I didn’t devote much time to previously. Jeni and I hired a tandem bike for a cycle around the Laos capital one day, taking in the Patuxai Arch (which resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris), the waterfront and also Talat Sao – Laos’ only shopping mall. The rest of our five days in the capital were spent arranging visas, and walking between various cafes and bars dotted around the centre. On one such day we were sat outside a wine bar when from behind us there was a deafening crash and the air filled with dust. Part of a deserted building on the opposite side of the road had fallen two storeys onto the pavement, taking power cables with it and sending debris across the road. The wreckage reminded me of earthquake damage I’d seen only on the news (on a much smaller scale, of course), and Jen and I were both shocked at how something that destructive can occur so suddenly.

 

After a day of relaxing and catching up on old Friends and Sex and the City episodes yesterday, we decided to get out and explore Vang Vieng today. Taking a share-van around 15km from town, we set out on foot to see four different caves in the area – Elephant, Loup, Hoi and Water Cave. The scenery around the caves was beautiful, with views of the Nam Song, rice paddies, bamboo trees and of course, the mountains. We hired a guide to see more of Hoi Cave, which stretches out for around 1km underground.
Here are my favourite five for the week:

 

Patuxai Arch at sunset

Patuxai Arch at sunset

Patuxai Arch

Patuxai Arch

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng view from our balcony

Vang Vieng view from our balcony

Village in Vang Vieng

Village in Vang Vieng