Monthly Archives: April 2014

Seeing What Time Will Allow in Laos, Part II: Living the Good Life in Luang Prabang

We took the slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang – two days cruising down the Mekong with an overnight stop in the small town of Pak Beng.  We opted for the mid-range boat option, which was actually quite nice.  We were fed, had a few tourist stops and got plenty of time to catch up on reading, journaling, and planning.  We were told the boat could fit up to 100 people (although we weren’t sure how that would be possible looking at it), and there were only 15 of us making the trip.  It was mostly Aussies and everyone was very friendly.  I even got some good travel tips for Cambodia and Vietnam – I spent some time putting together a rough itinerary for Vietnam, so I don’t have to concern myself with it for a while. 

Our boat for the two-day trip.
Our boat for the two-day trip.
Catching up on journaling.  I read a whole book and put together a rough itinerary for Vietnam...productive trip!
Catching up on journaling. I read a whole book and put together a rough itinerary for Vietnam…productive trip!
The speedboat route.  They warn you not to take these since they're dangerous.  It looks pretty miserable regardless.
The speedboat route. They warn you not to take these since they’re dangerous. It looks pretty miserable regardless.

On the first day we stopped at a small village on the tourist circuit.  The kids were expert sales girl and we both ended up with a bracelet from them.  But since I had lost the bracelet I bought in Chiang Mai for $0.30 in the jungle (it was colorful, woven bamboo, made by a very old woman), I was happy to get one of the brightly-colored embroidered cloth bracelet these little girls made (and they were only about $0.50).  I probably should have bought more of them, since these kids are hard workers.  But as you have to learn in Asia, you simply can’t buy from everyone.      

The village girls making sure Ilene has seen every one of the bracelet options.
The village girls making sure Ilene has seen every one of the bracelet options.
Getting the stare down from Mr. Brown Cow.
Getting the stare down from Mr. Brown Cow.

We passed lots of farm land along the Mekong.  This is the dry season, and it’s field-burning time, so our last few hours the first day were spent in a thick cloud of smoke.  The smoke was so bad I covered my mouth with a bandana (like an old fashioned bandit!) and wore my sunglasses to try to protect my eyes from the ash blowing about.  I have not seen blue sky too much in the last few weeks, and these farming practices are a lot of the reason why. 

Super smoky.  Not fun to be passing through.
Super smoky. Not fun to be passing through.
Slash and burn.
Slash and burn.
Hazy Sunrise.  The morning at Pak Beng (where we stayed for the night).
Hazy Sunrise. The morning at Pak Beng (where we stayed for the night).
Mango makes any day better!
Mango makes any day better!
Kids swimming in the Mekong.
Kids swimming in the Mekong.

The second day we stopped at Pak Ou Caves – two caves where many Buddha statutes have seemingly been discarded for lack of anywhere else to put them.  It has the feel of a hoarder’s hiding place, although some of the statutes are hidden in nooks and crannies that gives the place a bit of whimsy. 

 

Peak-a-Buddha!
Peak-a-Buddha!

 

The view from the lower cave.
The view from the lower cave.

 

So many Buddhas! The lower cave at the Pak Ou Caves.
So many Buddhas! The lower cave at the Pak Ou Caves.

We opted to hike up the stairs to the upper cave as well.  Although it was a hot hike, it made us feel slightly better about having lazed about for two days.  And after that stop, it was just a short ride to our final destination.

Entry to the upper cave.
Entry to the upper cave.
The upper cave is pretty dark in parts - glad I brought my flashlight.
The upper cave is pretty dark in parts – glad I brought my flashlight.
Worth the climb!
Worth the climb!

Laos

It struck me that Luang Prabang is a city best shared in pictures, and I took my fair share.  But I had a hard time capturing the quaintness of it all – French colonial architecture with a decidedly Asian influence.  The town is on a peninsula, flanked by the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers, and both waterfronts are lined with lush tropical trees (including every kind of fruit tree imaginable and tons of epiphytes like orchids) and laid back restaurants that make you want to linger.  The old town has so many small side streets (that only pedestrians and two-wheeled vehicles can use) it makes you want to spend all day wandering and exploring. 

When in Asia, do the Asians do (throw up the peace sign in every photo).
When in Asia, do the Asians do (throw up the peace sign in every photo).
Strolling around the old town.
Strolling around the old town.

Laos

Scenes around town. So many epiphytes on the trees here.
Scenes around town. So many epiphytes on the trees here.
Taking a sabbatical during the hottest month...smart, very smart!
Taking a sabbatical during the hottest month…smart, very smart!
One of the many side streets around town.
One of the many side streets around town.
A fun mix of colonial and modern architecture.
A fun mix of colonial and modern architecture.
Those are some big necklaces!
Those are some big necklaces!
Tuk Tuks all in a row.
Tuk Tuks all in a row.

In addition to wandering about, we saw many of the main attractions – the Royal Palace museum, the TEAC (Traditional Art & Ethnology Center), the handicraft night market, many wats (of course), the UXO (Unexploaded Ordnance) Information Center (which will make you feel bad to be an American since we dropped all those bombs during the Vietnam war – Laos is the most bombed country per capita thanks to our attempts to cut off the Ho Chi Mihn Trail), Kuang Si falls (where we swam with monks!) – and made sure to take plenty of breaks for cold drinks and good food. 

What seems to be a restoration workshop at one of the many wats.
What seems to be a restoration workshop at one of the many wats.
They had equal numbers of crosswalk signs depicting women as men.  Apparently it takes Communism to start thinking about gender equality on this level!
They had equal numbers of crosswalk signs depicting women as men. Apparently it takes Communism to start thinking about gender equality on this level!
Getting to the good stuff (heat break for iced coffee and coconuts).
Getting to the good stuff (heat break for iced coffee and coconuts).
Those are some big necklaces!
Those are some big necklaces!
The wat at the Royal Palace.
The wat at the Royal Palace.
Don't you stick your tongue out at me!
Don’t you stick your tongue out at me!
Fun chandeliers.
Fun chandeliers.
Along the Nam Khan River.
Along the Nam Khan River.
Asians know how to be efficient with their transport (I have yet to capture one of the many heavily-loaded motorbikes).
Asians know how to be efficient with their transport (I have yet to capture one of the many heavily-loaded motorbikes).
A noodle soup vendor looking for customers -- soup at your doorstep, now that's convenience!
A noodle soup vendor looking for customers — soup at your doorstep, now that’s convenience!
Lots of boombies in one bomb (this is how carpet bombing is done).
Lots of boombies in one bomb (this is how carpet bombing is done).

Laos

Pedestrians get a special lane on this bridge
Pedestrians get a special lane on this bridge
Another questionable bridge.
I’ve now walked over many a questionable bridge.
Well, hello!
Well, hello!
Monk-watching at lunch.
Monk-watching at lunch.
Crossing the bamboo bridge - yes, it's rickety...it is temporary (rebuilt every year), after all.
Crossing the bamboo bridge – yes, it’s rickety…it is temporary (rebuilt every year), after all.
Time to climb!  Heading up Phousi Hill.
Time to climb! Heading up Phousi Hill.
Hilltop selfie.
Hilltop selfie.
And this is why we do it -- the view is worth the climb!
And this is why we do it — the view is worth the climb!
This rock is hot, but it's a great view!
This rock is hot, but it’s a great view!
Saw some cute bears - bonus!  At Kuang Si Waterfall.
Saw some cute bears – bonus! At Kuang Si Waterfall.
Ready for a swim! At Kuang Si Waterfall.
Ready for a swim! At Kuang Si Waterfall.
Some of the many layers of pools at the falls
Some of the many layers of pools at the falls
The upper falls
The upper falls
Monks, jumping off rocks!
Monks, jumping off rocks!
It's not everyday you get to swim with monks!
It’s not everyday you get to swim with monks!
Sitting on the edge of the upper falls
Sitting on the edge of the upper falls
Our scooters are calling out for another adventure!
Our scooters are calling out for another adventure!
Winding our way through backstreets to find the famed Utopia
Winding our way through backstreets to find the famed Utopia
Trying dark Beerlao at Utopia.  Honestly I couldn't taste much difference from the regular version.
Trying dark Beerlao at Utopia. Honestly I couldn’t taste much difference from the regular version.
We were able to ride right up to this hilltop wat! @ Wat Taohai
We were able to ride right up to this hilltop wat! @ Wat Taohai
Seeking counsel @ Wat Taohai
Seeking counsel @ Wat Taohai
The view from Wat Taohai
The view from Wat Taohai
Climbing to the top @ Wat Taohai
Climbing to the top @ Wat Taohai
One of the many creepy frescos at Wat Taohai
One of the many creepy frescos at Wat Taohai

I have to say that Laos food is awesome!  I’m trying to note the distinctions between the cuisines here, so I’ve been making an effort to take a cooking class (at least one) in each country I visit.  We went to a cooking class at Tamarind.  Like in our Thai cooking class, we again used a mortar and pestle to make almost everything.  But we cooked everything in or on a small ceramic hibachi-type charcoal grill – unlike the gas flame used elsewhere.  It was all so deceptively simple.  While some of the spices used are the same as in Thai cooking, in Laos the chilies are a bit different and we used spices like coriander, dill, and mint in amounts and combinations I hadn’t seen before.  While in Laos there is Laap, which is similar to the Thai dish (spiced ground meat, basically), the Laos version has more mint, no basil, and is spicier. The Laos also love their sticky rice (they eat it with every meal and use their hands) and make some great sausage (buffalo is common). Laos food feels a bit lighter, since they don’t really use a lot of coconut milk (I can’t believe I didn’t feed my curry addiction but still loved the food) and even their “stews” are more like soups (with clear broth).  I wasn’t sure what to expect in Laos, honestly, and the food we got in the jungle was so bland I was a bit worried.  But after eating my way through Luang Prabang, I must say that Laos food is right up there with Thai as my favorite.  I just hope I can do it justice when I make it at home! 

Time to cook!  At Tamarind cooking school.
Time to cook! At Tamarind cooking school.
Banana leaf wrapping success!
Banana leaf wrapping success!
And this is how you can stuff lemongrass.
And this is how you can stuff lemongrass.
And now we feast!
And now we feast!
Breakfast on the Nam Khan river (the little river) at our hotel
Breakfast on the Nam Khan river (the little river) at our hotel
No rice goes to waste - making rice cakes out of left-over sticky rice
No rice goes to waste – making rice cakes out of left-over sticky rice

 

Seeing What Time Will Allow in Laos, Part I: Welcome to the Jungle!

I’m now fitting in the highlights of Laos and Cambodia to give myself about a month in Vietnam before I have to head back home.  It feels a bit rushed but it’s been great so far! 

We crossed into Laos on the Freedom Bridge between Chiang Khang in Thailand and Huay Xai in Laos.  We took a local bus from Chiang Rai which was a fun experience since it was only a few hours and I got a seat right behind the driver.  It was still Songkran so most of the windows and doors were closed against the revelers throwing buckets of water at the passing cars.  So it was warm.  The window by me didn’t close all the way, so the local sitting next to it rested her arm over the open sliver of window to keep up mostly dry.  I honestly didn’t mind the water that did get to me, since it was hot and the mother and child who were basically sitting in my lap for half the ride didn’t help.

The local bus from Chiang Rai - not too crowded yet.
The local bus from Chiang Rai – not too crowded yet. (Me and Ilene are reflected in the mirror and the driver has an awesome Hawaiian shirt).
So dorkily excited for my first real local bus experience.
So dorkily excited for my first real local bus experience.

After getting through the border the only option to get to Huay Xai was by open-backed truck (the Laos version of a tuk tuk).  Apparently they also celebrate Songkran with water in Laos, as both we and our bags were drenched by the time we got close to our hotel.  Of course with our luck, our hotel was again in the middle of the party zone.  The street was actually closed, so we had to walk the last couple of blocks.  Already wet from the ride across town, we were again doused with buckets of water and slapped with talc paste (orange this time) as we walked the final stretch.  Thankfully we had a balcony and our things dried by morning before we set off for the jungle. 

After getting drenched and smacked with talc, we needed a beer!
After getting drenched and smacked with talc, we needed a beer!
You can tell what country you're in by the beer -- our first Beerlao, on the Mekong (terrace behind the hotel).
You can tell what country you’re in by the beer — our first Beerlao, on the Mekong (terrace behind the hotel).
Drying all my stuff - thank goodness for the balcony!
Drying all my stuff – thank goodness for the balcony!

Bright and early the next morning we headed off for The Gibbon Experience.  While we didn’t see many gibbons (I only happened to catch one swinging between trees one morning near the tree house) we ourselves experienced the gibbon lifestyle of zipping between trees and sleeping in the jungle canopy.  For the two-hour drive in the open back of the truck I was prepared to get soaked, but it was too early in the day to get much more than a few sprays with a water gun (where was this treatment the day before?).  One hour was on winding, paved roads, but the second hour was on a very bumpy dirt road – what a fun surprise!  That part made me realize that the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland does a very realistic job imitating a ride through jungle conditions. 

The winding road to The Gibbon Experience (it was too bumpy on the dirt portion to snap a photo).
The winding road to The Gibbon Experience (it was too bumpy on the dirt portion to snap a photo).
Go ahead and try to soak me!
Go ahead and try to soak me!

Hands a bit numb from bracing ourselves during the ride, we arrived in a small village where the twelve of us on this adventure were broken into two groups and sent hiking to our respective tree houses. Me and Ilene were in the larger group of seven.  A good group that was a mix of nationalities and good fun.  About half way into our three-hour hike, we were given harnesses for the zip lines on our route.  We had watched a short instructional video before leaving Huay Xai, which was a good thing since neither of our two guides spoke much English.  And once they figured out that one member of our group (Andrew) spoke Lao (since he’s taught in Vientiane for two years) he became our designated translator and they didn’t really even try to speak to anyone else.  After a very sweaty hike and some fun zipping high above the jungle canopy, we made it to our tree house (only accessible by zip line). 

This is just the beginning of the trek, before we were drenched with sweat.
This is just the beginning of the trek, before we were drenched with sweat.
Hiking through the jungle - that's some big bamboo!
Hiking through the jungle – that’s some big bamboo!
Some of the zip lines.
Some of the zip lines.

The tree house was a good size, round and open to the jungle under a thatched roof. It included a small bathroom and a penthouse level big enough for one tent/bed combo.  Tired from our long hike and the heat, we decided to relax before dinner (which was delivered to us on zip line of course).  We quickly discovered that although the tap with drinking water ran, there was not enough water pressure to shower or do much else.  There was also apparently a bee hive in the same tree, as there were bees everywhere.  I was sure not to make any quick movements for fear of pissing off a bee and getting stung.  The worst part was that the bees always hung out in groups of ten or more in the bathroom, especially in and around the toilet.  So you basically had to squat over bees to do your business and also make sure not to step on any getting there (of course the tree house was a no-shoe zone).  At first I didn’t think I could handle it, but I channeled my best zen-like calm and worked it out. Thankfully Andrew donated a bottle of Jack Daniels so we were all happy enough to forget about the bees for the night. 

The next day we hiked to a (rather small) waterfall and had a good swim in the cool pool before making our way to a different tree house for the night (the two groups switch for the second night).  This one is all one level, with the bathroom downstairs – and although I saw a few bees in there the bathroom and the tree house was relatively bee-free…phew!!  And – huge bonus – the water pressure allowed for showering.  And this shower was even better than in the other tree house – set in the corner of the bathroom it gave a 260 degree view of the jungle.  And since the bathroom floor was just two-inch-wide wood planks with about an inch gap in between them, I could see the shower water falling down to the jungle floor under my feet.  It was an amazing feeling to be showering literally surrounded by the jungle.  That goes in my book as the best shower ever! 

After a swim I'm refreshed and ready for more zip lining!
After a swim I’m refreshed and ready for more zip lining!
This jungle is dense.
This jungle is dense.
Jungle stupa
Jungle stupa
Crazy vine!
Crazy vine!

That day we did some more hiking without our packs after getting to the tree house – doing the zip line circuit a few times, including the one line that is 500 meter long.  We even made time for another swim at the waterfall.  Of course it was after this rigorous day that we were only given a small vegetarian dinner.  By this point in our trip we were all tired of the same bland food we’d been eating for days – mostly rice and cabbage, with literally no seasoning (apparently they think white folks can’t handle it) and no more alcohol around to distract us from this sorry fare – so we had a long conversation about our favorite foods which made us all miss civilization just a little bit.  But sleeping about 40 meters above the jungle floor made up for it.  And we were even treated to a very impressive thunder storm during the night.  Overall the experience was amazing and I’d do it again.  But next time I’m packing in more whiskey! 

Time to zip!  The last line of our time there...at least it was the 500 meter one!
Time to zip! The last line of our time there…at least it was the 500 meter one!
And away I go!
And away I go!
Hiking through the fields, almost back to the village.
Hiking through the fields, almost back to the village.

Seeing a Bit of the North: Chiang Mai (and a stop through Chiang Rai)

Being back in Thailand at this point feels like coming home.  After being in Myanmar, it’s very clear just how Western Thailand is – the Thais know the value of cold (cold drinks, good A/C, icy fruit shakes sold on the street everywhere), and with a 7-Eleven on every block you can very easily find the necessities.  It almost felt like I was back in the U.S. compared with Myanmar, except with the easy Thai vibe that makes this place so relaxing. 

We spent a good week in Chiang Mai and I still don’t feel like I saw all of it.  We stayed right in the old city, just a block from the Sunday walking street.  A great location and ground zero for Songkran (Thais New Year).  We spent a good amount of time outside the city proper.  We drove out to Mae Ngat dam, and spent the day on a houseboat – eating whole grilled fish and swimming in the cool water of the lake.  We also went to cooking school (Thai Farm Cooking School), where we spent the day on their organic farm, trying new fruits and vegetables and eating way too much (we made 5 dishes!).  And, what I was most excited about — we did a day with elephants! 

We spent a whole day riding, bathing, feeding, and hanging out with some very sweet Asian elephants.  At first I was a little intimidated by them, but they were totally docile.  It was actually a decent amount of work to ride them bareback (holding on with your legs and giving them the commands in Thai that we learned on the spot) and hacking down sugar cane to feed them was a bit rough.  In the U.S. we’d never be set loose in a field of sugar cane with machetes and told to have at it.  But in Thailand, they do exactly that.  With minimal instruction and a warning about the thorns in the outer husk, we were put to work.  (Unfortunately the elephant place hasn’t posted the photos for us yet, so I have no good elephant photos to share yet). 

That sure is a dam fine lake
That sure is a dam fine lake
Pulling up to the houseboat
Pulling up to the houseboat
Chillin' on the houseboat after a swim
Chillin’ on the houseboat after a swim
Dog!
Dog!
One of the many wats we found wandering around town
One of the many wats we found wandering around town
Don't mess with Buddha, he's got a mean body guard
Don’t mess with Buddha, he’s got a mean body guard

Chiang Mai

Who knew you could get a visa for hand-to-hand combat...bad ass!
Who knew you could get a visa for hand-to-hand combat…bad ass!
Word!
Word!
The three kings statute - those are some tight skirts, boys!
The three kings statute – those are some tight skirts, boys!
Happy Happy!
Happy Happy!

 

Cute tattoos!  (I have the owl, Ilene has the elephant)
Cute tattoos! (I have the owl, Ilene has the elephant)
Eating a Thai eggplant right off the bush -- a little bitter, but good
Eating a Thai eggplant right off the bush — a little bitter, but good

Chiang Mai

Rose apples  - pretty tasty!
Rose apples – pretty tasty!
Making the curry paste - it's hard work!
Making the curry paste – it’s hard work!
Time to enjoy our labor
Time to enjoy our labor
Now we know how to make mango and sticky rice!! Good thing, since we've become addicted to it.
Now we know how to make mango and sticky rice!! Good thing, since we’ve become addicted to it.

The New Year celebration – Songkran – seems largely about getting into epic water fights in the street.  Although I understand it is also a time to set intentions for the coming year.  We did a bit of both.  We visited Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, high above the city on a hill, and received a good luck blessing from a monk, which he commemorated with simple string bracelets and a sprinkling of water.  

The original stair master - at the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The original stair master – at the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The emerald Buddha
The emerald Buddha
Lots of murals
Lots of murals
Our New Year good luck bracelets from our friendly local monk.
Our New Year good luck bracelets from our friendly local monk.

Chiang Mai Chiang Mai Chiang Mai

The ubiquitous pile of shoes outside temples
The ubiquitous pile of shoes outside temples
All these temples and this is the first fat Buddha I've seen!
All these temples and this is the first fat Buddha I’ve seen!
Phew, lots of stairs for a hot day!
Phew, lots of stairs for a hot day!

Chiang Mai

She makes a mean ice coffee!  I love the convenience culture on the streets here -- this was half clothing store, half coffee shop.
She makes a mean ice coffee! I love the convenience culture on the streets here — this was half clothing store, half coffee shop and right across from the temple

We also ended up engaged in a four-hour long water fight outside a bar we stopped in for a drink.  They graciously let us use their extra water cannons and buckets, and I reciprocated by buying the blocks of ice to add to the water supply.  Once you’re completely drenched, it’s pretty fun to take turns dumping water on strangers.  I preferred the water cannon, and I mostly only attacked those who were armed with water guns or hit me first.  Well, maybe not always 🙂

Already soaked, a block from our hotel
Already soaked, a block from our hotel
Watching the action from our bar stools
Watching the action from our bar stools
We've been ordained with talc for Songkran (it was quickly washed off)
We’ve been ordained with talc for Songkran (it was quickly washed off)
A direct hit!
A direct hit!
Just a bucket of ice water over my head, nbd.
Just a bucket of ice water over my head, nbd.
Ilene getting in on the action
Ilene getting in on the action

But at Songkran no one is safe.  We travelled to Chiang Rai and were still doused with buckets full of water while riding defenseless in a tuk to and from the Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple).  Ice water is pretty shocking, especially as it gets toward evening and it’s not quite as hot out.  I guess it was all pay back for what we doled out in Chiang Mai. 

At the White Temple (totally soaked from our tuk tuk ride during Songkran)
At the White Temple (totally soaked from our tuk tuk ride during Songkran)

Chiang Rai Chiang Rai

Passing through suffering on the path to enlightenment
Passing through suffering on the path to enlightenment
Nice nails!
Nice nails!

Chiang Rai Chiang Rai

So many tributes
So many tributes
The Buddha mobile over the wishing well
The Buddha mobile over the wishing well

Chiang Rai Chiang Rai

Even the traffic cones are special
Even the traffic cones are special

 

Myanmar, Part II: Mandalay, Inle Lake

Mandalay

From Bagan we took a slow boat to Mandalay.  It was supposed to take 8 hours, and ended up being closer to 14 (in fairness they did tell us it would take 11 hours when we got on, which almost made us reconsider, but we decided to go for it).  Turns out in the dry season the boat takes longer because it has to navigate around sandbars in the shallow river.  We ended up getting stuck on several sandbars, and in some spots had to wait for another boat to pass before being able to squeeze through the navigable path in the river.  Once we got caught up next to a cargo ship that seemed to be anchored in the navigable path of the river for the night.  But after wiggling back and forth and getting into a very slow motion collision with the cargo ship, we were free!  We saw both sunrise and sunset from the boat.  At first I wasn’t sure how I’d make it through the ride without going crazy — I quickly figured out that the A/C on the boat was so weak as to be basically non-existent, while the temps were in the (thankfully, low) 100’s at this point.  But it’s amazing how beer and books can pass the day!

 

Sunrise
Sunrise

Mandalay

Hunting for shade
Hunting for shade
Sunset - still on the boat
Sunset – still on the boat

Once we found our hotel in Mandalay we ventured out to find dinner.  We ended up at a street food stall serving noodle soup.  We were the only white folks around.  As seems typical in Myanmar, the kids run the show — our 12-year-old waitress smartly showed us a bowl with the four noodle options, had us point to what we wanted and asked us if we wanted “water” (broth) with it.  We all opted for water.  Although we saw others eating hot pots and stir-fry noodles, they just brought us what seemed to be their main attraction – a really good spicy noodle soup with pork.  Of course this was fine with us, it was good and there is no need to complicate things.  When the army of child waitresses sat down at the table next to us and stared at us while we ate, we realized we were a spectacle, which was both funny and new.  In fact, we were stared at more in Mandalay than anywhere else.  Apparently not as many tourists include Mandalay in their circuit and venture out for street food. 

Mandalay is much rougher than Yangon.  We must have missed the shiny new part built with Chinese money that we had heard about, because the Mandalay we saw was grungy.  The roads were closer to dirt than anything, and the tepid refrigeration made the heat feel almost unbearable.  But the city has its charms.  When we hiked up Mandalay hill we were like celebrities – everyone wanted us to take photos with them and their kids, even the monks!  We toured around to some of the artisans in Mandalay and to the old cities surrounding Mandalay (each of which was the capital of Myanmar at some point).  We saw how gold leaf was made, which the Buddhists use to guild certain Buddhas as a form of tribute.  Of course after Ilene purchased some gold leaf, the only guild-able Buddha we visited didn’t allow ladies to get near it.  So the gold leaf went unused.  Myanmar is the only place (so far) I’ve seen this gender discrimination in the temples. 

Pounding the gold leaf - the process takes about 6 hours (yikes!)
Pounding the gold leaf – the process takes about 6 hours (yikes!)
Piecing together the gold leaf squares
Piecing together the gold leaf squares
Woman are not allowed to touch the gold leaf Buddha, but you can't stop them from praying to him!
Woman are not allowed to touch the gold leaf Buddha, but you can’t stop them from praying to him!
Fun barricades
Fun barricades
So many frescos
So many frescos

Mandalay

The long necks weaving a scarf
The long necks weaving a scarf
Weaving with a hand-operated loom
Weaving with a hand-operated loom
Working the pattern on the hand-woven fabric
Working the pattern on the hand-woven fabric
So many Buddhas, overlooking the city
So many Buddhas, overlooking the city
Mirrored tile is everywhere
Mirrored tile is everywhere
It's the ice cream man!
It’s the ice cream man!
Our horse cart awaits...we had the sweetest old driver in Inwa (he even turned over the seat cushions when we were out looking around, to keep them from getting too hot in the sun)
Our horse cart awaits…we had the sweetest old driver in Inwa (he even turned over the seat cushions when we were out looking around, to keep them from getting too hot in the sun)
The old monastery in Inwa
The old monastery in Inwa
The clever sales man who followed our horse cart on his bike, acted as our tour guide, and then sold us postcards (in the ancient town of Inwa)
The clever sales man who followed our horse cart on his bike, acted as our tour guide, and then sold us postcards (in the ancient town of Inwa)
Another wat
Another wat
And another bell
And another bell

 

The teak bridge (didn't feel super sturdy)
The teak bridge (didn’t feel super sturdy)
Venturing out onto the teak bridge
Venturing out onto the teak bridge
It's an ogre fight!  The puppet show on our hotel rooftop.
It’s an ogre fight! The puppet show on our hotel rooftop.
At least the steps up Mandalay Hill are covered!
At least the steps up Mandalay Hill are covered!

Mandalay Mandalay

The many steps up Mandalay Hill
The many steps up Mandalay Hill
A photo with the monks, at their request.
A photo with the monks, at their request.
And the they found Steve at the top of the hill for another photo op.
And the they found Steve at the top of the hill for another photo op
One of the many kitty friends Steve made
One of the many kitty friends Steve made
The view from Mandalay Hill
The view from Mandalay Hill
Walking to the palace...it makes a decent hat.
Walking to the palace…it makes a decent hat.
The palace
The palace

We also visited a monastery to see the monks do their morning procession for breakfast.  Apparently it’s the tourist-approved monastery, as there were many tourists there to see this.  We actually felt a bit bad about making the monks into a spectacle.  But the young monk Steve be-friended didn’t seem to mind the tourists.    

The girls
The girls
The baby monks lining up for breakfast
The baby monks lining up for breakfast
The tourists making a spectacle of the monks, and themselves
The tourists making a spectacle of the monks, and themselves
brooms!
brooms!
Pretty tree at the Monastery
Pretty tree at the Monastery

Inle Lake

We took the train from Mandalay to Inle Lake, which required an overnight stop in a little town called Thazi.  The train from Mandalay to Thazi was just shy of 3 hours, and since we got the tickets day-of, we ended up in “Ordinary Class.”  It was a lively ride with lots of vendors coming through.  And not having A/C wasn’t a huge deal for such a short ride.  The ride was dusty though, and we all emerged covered in a layer of dirt from riding with the windows down. 

The train to Thazi
The train to Thazi
Thank goodness for these fans!
Thank goodness for these fans!
There are more horse carts than cars in this town...guess we'll take one to our guesthouse!
There are more horse carts than cars in this town…guess we’ll take one to our guesthouse!
The Thazi train station
The Thazi train station

Thazi is super small and that was the only time we had a bit of trouble getting food.  We wandered into a random place (Ilene and I being the only women in there) and tried to point to what we wanted.  We ended up eating – some fried rice with egg and some flat bread – but it was the simplest meal we had in Myanmar.  We stayed overnight in a cute guesthouse, very simple, with only fans against the heat.  It was all fine until I locked myself out of my room at 11:00 p.m. — and with the heat I was basically in my undies, which isn’t a great thing to wander around in in this super conservative country — and I couldn’t find the owners anywhere.  Apparently I can’t be trusted to go down the hall for the toilet!  Thankfully the box of keys to the unoccupied rooms was unlocked, so I crashed in another room until morning.  I didn’t sleep well though, as I was worried about missing the early train if the owner wasn’t up at 6:00.  But in Myanmar the locals get up early (I often heard locals playing their morning music before sunrise) and it all worked out. 

Unfortunately I woke up feeling a bit off.  I had some coke and crackers in the time we spent waiting for our train (it was an hour late), but this didn’t accomplish anything apart from earning me a new doggie friend on the platform.  When the train arrived, we were shuttled on, only to be told we had to move at the last minute because the porter mistakenly put us on the wrong car — interestingly, while the seat/car numbers are written in the Roam alphabet on the train tickets, the train is labeled in the Myanmar alphabet, making it impossible for us to match up where we’re supposed to go.  For this ride we were able to get “Upper Class” seats, but they were not much different than the “Ordinary Class” ones on the (apparently) nicer train from Mandalay – no more than bench seats with a bit of thin cushion on them, still no A/C, and the train was super old and dirty.  

So I was feeling really nauseous by this point, and as we were hurrying between cars I lost my coke and crackers – giving everyone on the train a good show as I puked three times while making my way down the length of the train.  Seeing no alternative to the 8-hour ride ahead of us (which ended up taking almost 11 hours) I declined Steve’s offer to abort.  Instead I spent the ride trying to sleep.  Ilene and Steve were nice enough to give me a whole bench so I could just about lay down with my legs crunched up — assuming the fetal position.  Sitting up was more than I could handle!  I tried to hold down water, but had two more rounds of losing my cookies.  The most exciting was when I got up to use the toilet, but barely made it to the open side door of the train in time to puke out the side of the moving train.  Some locals sitting in the seats by the door saw this and sweetly asked if I was okay (using a questioning thumbs up sign) and offered me a piece of fruit.  I said thanks, but hand-signed back that if I ate the fruit it would also come back up, so no thanks.  Somehow I made it through the hot, rocky ride on the train (the narrow gauge railroad cars rock so much that at points I was sure we’d derail).  It took two rounds of antibiotics to clear this thing, so much of my time in Inle was spent eating rice and resting. 

What I did see of Inle was beautiful.  What is sad is that the air quality is not great – likely because they burn all their trash right out in the open, often right on the side of the road – otherwise the mountains surrounding the lake would be more visible.  On the days I felt well enough to go out, I joined Ilene and Steve in exploring the town on bike, got a Myanmar massage (mostly similar to Thai massage, but not a rough), saw a traditional puppet show, and did a full-day boat trip.  From the boat we saw the floating villages and the fisherman (including the ones who just seem to pose for tourist photos right at the entrance to the lake), and of course were escorted to many local artisans – weaving, woodworking, silversmiths, blacksmiths, cigar making, etc. – who all wanted to sell us souvenirs.  It’s amazing how quickly Myanmar has got the tourist circuit mastered, considering the country only recently opened officially to tourism.

This puppet plays football!
This puppet plays football!
So many puppets!
So many puppets!
The pervasive betelnut leaves, pre-rolling
The pervasive betelnut leaves, pre-rolling
Time for a boat ride!
Time for a boat ride!
This guy was camped out at the entrance to the lake, just waiting to pose for tourist photos (for a price, of course)
This guy was camped out at the entrance to the lake, just waiting to pose for tourist photos (for a price, of course)
I guess he caught at least one fish before posing for photos
I guess he caught at least one fish before posing for photos
One of the floating villages
One of the floating villages
Fishing
Fishing
Fisherman on the lake (one is using their foot to paddle, as is their custom)
Fisherman on the lake (one is using their foot to paddle, as is their custom)
On the lake
On the lake
Boats in the water, with the water plants
Boats in the water, with the water plants
The plants lurking under the water
The plants lurking under the water

 

Farming on the lake
Farming on the lake

 

In the floating villages the streets are made of water.  The locals had both bigger commuter boats and small boats for getting around town parked in front of their houses.
In the floating villages the streets are made of water. The locals had both bigger commuter boats and small boats for getting around town parked in front of their houses.

 

So many colors - at the weaving mill (of course they weave by hand too)
So many colors – at the weaving mill (of course they weave by hand too)

 

Stopped at the silversmiths -- again they do everything by hand here
Stopped at the silversmiths — again they do everything by hand here

 

At the blacksmith (we all bought knives from these guys)
At the blacksmith (we all bought knives from these guys)

 

Steve enjoying his giant coconut
Steve enjoying his giant coconut

 

These coconuts are huge!
These coconuts are huge!

 

Cruising up the river
Cruising up the river

 

We opted not to take this route up the hill in our flip flops
We opted not to take this route up the hill in our flip flops

 

The old monastery - we were hunting for how to get up to a temple on the hill at our stop up the river, but never did figure it out (none of the tourists we saw did)
The old monastery – we were hunting for how to get up to a temple on the hill at our stop up the river, but never did figure it out (none of the tourists we saw did)

 

Keeping the flowers fresh
Keeping the flowers fresh

 

One of the many little bridges over the river (that's just bamboo laid across in the middle there)
One of the many little bridges over the river (that’s just bamboo laid across in the middle there)

 

A farmer letting his hard working water buffalo cool off in the river
A farmer letting his hard working water buffalo cool off in the river

Around Inle, the locals do all their bathing and washing in the lake — it was really common to see whole families in the water splashing around with soap in their hair, having their afternoon wash.  They also grow lots of produce on the lake, which is interesting.  The lake is really shallow and water plants are visible on the surface or right under it in most areas.  But the farmers have also set up fields on top of the water to grow all sorts of produce.   Pretty ingenious.  Another impressive thing was the bamboo lock system on the small river we went up.  The first one looked like a dam made out of bamboo, and I thought maybe we couldn’t go any further.  But there was a small slot cut out of the middle just wide enough for the long, narrow boats to slip through.  The boats fit through that slot one at a time, passing through the locks to make their way up or down river.  Pretty cool! 

Going through the locks
Going through the locks

It’s Myanmar (not Burma, thanks), Part I: Yangon & Bagon

Most everything I read about travelling to Myanmar said it’s a country that time forgot.  I won’t echo that well-worn sentiment here, but I will say it is the most un-tourist-tainted country I’ve been to.  Yes, there are English menus in all the major cities, you can find your way around between cities without much problem, be quoted prices in English, and even find Western food in most areas (although we mostly steered clear of it).  But, the locals still dress conservatively in their traditional longhi, paint their faces with a thanaka root-water mixture to protect against the sun, chew betelnut and smoke hand-rolled cheroots all day, burn trash on the side of the road, don’t seem to mind tepid refrigeration, do most everything by hand (including road work), and are happy to see tourists in their midst.  I’ve never been stared at, prodded (mostly by women, thankfully), and photographed by locals the way we were there (of course some of that may have been helped by Steve’s impressively thick beard – we saw only a handful of locals with some scraggly facial hair).  It was also funny to see very traditionally dressed Myanmar locals tucking cell phones into the waist of their longhiis and kids in remote areas playing handheld video games.  So I don’t really agree that time has been forgotten in Myanmar.  But it is a special place nonetheless. 

Yangon

Yangon was Rangoon to the British and it almost seems like not too many changes have been made to the city center since the imperialists left their capital in 1948.  The infrastructure is in need of some repair and I can easily imagine how my friend Ryan fell through the sidewalk here.  However, after seeing Mandalay and some other spots in Myanmar, Yangon appears to be the most well-developed of the cities – after all, it does have paved roads, stop lights, sidewalks, high-rises, and well-placed parks.  Although much of the infrastructure is crumbling and blackouts are the norm (there was one most nights, and many places were prepared with generators), Yangon’s crumbling beauty makes it feel like a very special place. 

Our first beers (and the ubiquitous peanuts) in Myanmar.  We finalized our plans for the trip over these beers!
Our first beers (and the ubiquitous peanuts) in Myanmar. We finalized our plans for the trip over these beers!

Although some tourist have complained to us about the food, we were excited to have it given our love for Burma Superstar in SF.  We had a lot of curries in our first couple of days, but Myanmar curries are pretty heavy and oily (not at all like the Thai curries I have become addicted to).  So we decided to venture to the street venders in Chinatown (passing through a very colorful street produce market) for some whole grilled fish and skewers of squid and veggies.  This simple meal was one of the best we had in Myanmar (the other being another whole grilled fish in Inle Lake).  The fish comes with some amazingly tasty dipping sauces, and we learned that chopsticks are the best way to pick apart a whole fish (you can get all the meat).  This feast along with enough beer to make us happy was also only $5 a person.     

Night market on the street (literally)
Night market on the street (literally)
Maybe some crickets for a snack?
Maybe some crickets for a snack?
Overlooking the madness of the night street market
Overlooking the madness of the night street market
We drank many of these!
We drank many of these!
Grilled whole fish and so much more!
Grilled whole fish and so much more!
Steve is sooo happy about that whole grilled fish we just had!
Steve is sooo happy about that whole grilled fish we just had!

Overall the heat in Myanmar can be a bit oppressive.  When we ventured to the Shwedagon Pagoda (the symbol of Myanmar), we were therefore grateful to have a very good English-speaking guide who did a heroic job keeping us in the shade during our visit.  He told us about our birthday animals, which are determined by the day of the week you were born.  I was born on a Friday, so my animal is a guinea pig.  Given that there are dragons and tigers to choose from, I felt a bit gypped.  But we nonetheless each took turns paying tribute to our animals and Buddha — pouring water over their statutes in our birthday corners around the pagoda.  As honorary Buddhists for the day, our guide encouraged us to ring the big bell, three times, which notifies everyone that we had done a good deed for the day.  Reportedly paying tribute to our birthday animals counted as a good deed! 

Yangon

Buddha under the banyan tree
Buddha under the banyan tree
I just love the look of the language
I just love the look of the language
Sweating it out at Shwedagon Pagoda!
Sweating it out at Shwedagon Pagoda!
One of the many marble "rugs"
One of the many marble “rugs”
Paying tribute at my Friday corner
Paying tribute at my Friday corner
Mustn't forget to douse the guinea pig!
Mustn’t forget to douse the guinea pig!
Ringing the bell - 3 times!
Ringing the bell – 3 times!

Yangon Yangon

The mythical animal that is 6 animals in one (fish, dragon, bird, horse, elephant, antelope)
The mythical animal that is 6 animals in one (fish, dragon, bird, horse, elephant, antelope)

One of the any things that is really interesting in Myanmar is the driving.  Now although we saw plenty of kids a the wheel in Myanmar, foreigners are not allowed to drive or even rent motorbikes (although we could rent e-bikes, a weird loophole).  But after seeing the driving there, I was totally fine with this restriction.  Apparently after the Brits left, the government changed the rules so everyone is required to drive on the right side of the road – you know, to further distance the country from its colonial period.  But the funny thing is most of the cars still have the wheel on the right side, even new cars (actually there is no standard, as it seems perfectly okay to have a car with the wheel on either side).  To account for this difficulty (I mean the passenger can more easily see if it’s safe to pass on the left side when the driver is on the right side of the vehicle), Myanmar drivers use their horn.  A LOT.  From what I gathered, honking is required at least whenever (1) you approach an intersection without a traffic light (which is most intersections), (2) you are passing someone on the road (this applies even if the other vehicle is in the other lane of a multi-lane road, because you just never know when land lines won’t be followed), (3) you just want others to know you’re there, just because you do (we saw several drivers just honking intermittently), (4) you’re merging, or (5) you see any vehicle trying to enter the road and you don’t plan to yield (I never saw anyone yield).  In the few times we had e-bikes or push bikes, I learned that a driver honking to pass was more the sign for “hold your line” versus “move to the right.”  Once you get used to all the honking, it starts to make sense. 

These funny little trucks are so common (and loud)
These funny little trucks are so common (and loud)

Bagan

From Yangon we flew to Bagan (after hunting down the Air Mandalay office in Yangon to pay for the reserved tickets in U.S. cash – yes, they still only take brand new U.S. cash money for many payments in Myanmar).  The town around Bagan is cute and very manageable.  We got bikes from our hotel the first day and rode around a bit.  We went to check out the big “new” (active) pagoda in town.  Now most of the locals are super nice and helpful.  So when one directed us where we could park our bikes, we didn’t think much of it.  But then that nicety came with being led by the hand to their souvenir stalls inside, where we were basically forced to buy something. 

I was totally cleaned out (of like the $20 worth of cash I had on me).  After having some jade rings forced on me, I made the mistake of asking about a puppet (puppetry is big in Myanmar, who knew?).  After she wouldn’t be bargained down any lower, I indicated that I couldn’t go lower because I actually did not have any more money on me – making the point by pulling out my last $11 in bills.  Now we were haggling over a 1,000 kyat ($1) price difference but she wouldn’t budge.  When I tried to walk away she grabbed the money in an iron grip and wouldn’t let go.  She simply would not let me end the transaction and walk away with my money.  She asked me for something else to make up for the perceived $1 shortfall – my perfume, lipstick, something!  When I said no way and offered her my Kleenex, she finally gave up and let me have the thing for $1 less.  We had all been basically forced to buy something we didn’t really want or need.  After that experience were all a bit wiser about the hard sell tactics (although we honestly never again met women that were that bad – they were the exception). 

Visiting our first temple in Bagan - Shwezigon Paya
Visiting our first temple in Bagan – Shwezigon Paya
Steve never met a bell he didn't want to ring
Steve never met a bell he didn’t want to ring
So much gold!
So much gold!
Our bikes (mine has some suspicious looking leaves on the seat)
Our bikes (mine has some suspicious looking leaves on the seat)
Peppers - yum!
Peppers – yum!
The colors of the marketplace
The colors of the marketplace
I spy Ilene in the market
I spy Ilene in the market

We otherwise did the requisite touring of only some of the many thousands of ancient pagodas in Bagan.  Seeing both a sunrise and sunset, as required.  We rented a horse cart to take us to see the sunset.  We thought it was a genius idea – drive out to watch the sunset, grab some beers on the way, no problem!  Well, when we bought beers, our driver bought whiskey.  After he tried to take us to a closer pagoda to watch the sunset we did get him to take us to the recommended one, which was further out and of course which we had bargained for ahead of time.  This required some more bargaining with the head of what we dubbed the horse cart mafia — all the horse carts seemed to want to take the tourists to the closest pagoda on the grounds that the big popular one was too crowded.  We made it to the larger one, and it was honestly pretty crowded.  Squeezing up the dark, narrow internal stone staircase was a bit scary, but it was worth the extra effort and crowd fighting.  We were probably up on the pagoda for about 45 minutes, and when we returned our driver was clearly drunk.  He ran the cart up the curb a few times and we were sure we’d go over.  But our decision to end the ride was really made when he…let’s say…got a bit too chummy with me.  Thankfully although this was our first horse cart ride while in Myanmar (we had three other horse cart rides after that one, it is a very common way to get around, actually), it was the only one with a drunk and inappropriate driver.

 

The horse almost bit me as I tried to pet him
The horse almost bit me as I tried to pet him

 

Ready to go!
Ready to go!

 

This temple is not big enough for sunset...onward!  (the horse cart mafia seems to take all their foreigners here)
This temple is not big enough for sunset…onward! (the horse cart mafia seems to take all their foreigners here)

 

A blurry picture of one of the may temples we passed in the horse cart
A blurry picture of one of the may temples we passed in the horse cart

 

Such a popular spot to watch the sunset, it was impossible not to get others in our photo
Such a popular spot to watch the sunset, it was impossible not to get others in our photo

 

Now this is more like it...
Now this is more like it…

 

Sunset
Sunset

As I mentioned, we were allowed to rent e-bikes, which are basically just slower motor scooters, and that really helped with getting around in the heat of the day.  After the horse cart incident, we decided to make our own way around for sunrise the next day.  This also gave us the freedom to see old town Bagan at our own pace.  We generally hid out at the hotel pool during the hottest parts of the day, grateful for a pool even though it seemed to come in lieu of good A/C in the room.  The hotel also had a beer garden, where you could get $0.65 draft Myanmar beer.  A cold lager is just perfect on a hot day!        

Sunrise time!
Sunrise time!

Bagan

Eating our boxed breakfasts on top of the temple
Eating our boxed breakfasts on top of the temple
This sweet dog really wanted some of our breakfast
This sweet dog really wanted some of our breakfast
One of the balloons at sunrise
One of the balloons at sunrise
Temples as far as the eye can see!
Temples as far as the eye can see!
Another temple
Another temple
Old frescos of Buddha
Old frescos of Buddha
One of the many gold Buddhas
One of the many gold Buddhas
Pulled off the side of the road for a short visit to some temples
Pulled off the side of the road for a short visit to some temples
It's cool in here - I can see how worship can be a reprieve in this heat!
It’s cool in here – I can see how worship can be a reprieve in this heat!
Graffiti in one of the small old temples we stopped in
Graffiti in one of the small old temples we stopped in
All of our modes of transport - bikes and e-bikes
All of our modes of transport – bikes and e-bikes
Sunset drinks overlooking the river
Sunset drinks overlooking the river

 

 

Banging out the To-Do List in Bangkok

After so much time lazing about on the beautiful beaches of Thailand, I was really ready for the excitement of a city.  I flew from Phuket to Bangkok to meet up with my friend Ilene (who is taking a year off and is 8 months into her adventure) before we head to Myanmar.  Our big to-do was to get our same-day visas for Myanmar.  But we thankfully also had some time to explore the city.

I loved the vibrant energy of Bangkok!  I’ve gathered from speaking to other foreigners that people either love or hate this city, so I wasn’t sure what kind of experience I’d have.  Bangkok is obviously a big, crowded Asian city, and so I think the experience you have there depends a lot on when you go and where you stay.  Going before it’s too hot is good.  It was hot and damp (we got a few sprinkles), but honestly not as steamy as the islands or as bad as I had mentally prepared myself for.  And being able to get around easily really helps.  We stayed in a nice place on the river (thanks to Ilene using hotel points at the Hilton) so we were able to rely heavily on the river ferries and the skytrain to get around.  Of course the sunset swims in the rooftop pool overlooking the river helped too. 

 

Happy to find myself with this girl in Bangkok!
Happy to find myself with this girl in Bangkok!
The obligatory tuk tuk ride (and yes, the driver has a US Navy hat on...but still stiffed us)
The obligatory tuk tuk ride (and yes, the driver has a US Navy hat on…but still stiffed us)
Time to ride the Skytrain!
Time to ride the Skytrain!
Monks get priority seating on the Skytrain
Monks get priority seating on the Skytrain

 

 

The view from the pool
The view from the pool

 

 

Now the river is dirty – we saw plenty of dead fish and even a dead alligator-like creature floating about – but traveling by waterway adds a sense of adventure that no train, bus, or even tuk tuk can beat.  And the Mae Nam Chao Phraya river cuts through a good portion of the city sites (including the old city) that we wanted to see.  After so many warnings about the danger of traveling in the city right now, we avoided the areas where there were said to be political protests going on.  The closest we got was seeing a large encampment out the skytrain window.  But we were both glad we didn’t let the warnings stop us from seeing the city.

In the two-plus days we had in Bangkok, I felt like I got a decent sense of the city.  We spent some time wandering around Chinatown, found a lively Sunday market, had a history lesson at the National Museum, climbed Wat Arun, had some great cocktails in a couple of trendy areas (thanks to some great suggestions from Ryan in Singapore), and had some good food.  Of course we also spent a decent amount of time securing our visas and fresh U.S. dollars for Myanmar, but it really wasn’t much of a pain to get a same-day visa.  

Lots of engines - one of the many auto parts shops in Chinatown
Lots of engines – one of the many auto parts shops in Chinatown
Dinner with a view
Dinner with a view
Party boats on the river
Party boats on the river

 

A blue and gold pagoda @ The National Museum
A blue and gold pagoda @ The National Museum
Puppets!  @ The National Museum
Puppets! @ The National Museum
Lots of ivory @ The National Museum
Lots of ivory @ The National Museum
One of the courtyards (the museum is an old palace) @ The National Museum
One of the courtyards (the museum is an old palace) @ The National Museum
Pretty lady! Ilene @ The National Museum
Pretty lady! Ilene @ The National Museum
Weird hats @ The National Museum
Weird hats @ The National Museum
Royal carriages @ The National Museum
Royal carriages @ The National Museum
Close-up of a royal carriage
Close-up of a royal carriage
A gun cannon! @ The National Museum
A gun cannon! @ The National Museum
Typical stop light - scooters galore!
Typical stop light – scooters galore!
Walking the back streets to find the Museum of Royal Barges
Walking the back streets to find the Museum of Royal Barges
Ready for a night on the town
Ready for a night on the town
One of the fun scenes around Thong Lor
One of the fun scenes around Thong Lor
First fancy cocktail of the night (at an Irish Pub of all places -- we were pulled in by the Beatles cover band)
First fancy cocktail of the night (at an Irish Pub of all places — we were pulled in by the Beatles cover band)
Beatles cover band (a bit blurry) -- they were pretty damn good!
Beatles cover band (a bit blurry) — they were pretty damn good!
Fancy cocktail number two (smoke in a bottle) @ Iron Fairies
Fancy cocktail number two (smoke in a bottle) @ Iron Fairies
Fancy cocktail number three @ Above 11
Fancy cocktail number three @ Above 11
The view from the top!
The view from the top!
Welcome to Wat Arun!
Welcome to Wat Arun!
Wat Arun
Wat Arun
Time to climb!
Time to climb!
Ogres!
Ogres!
Leaving our mark on Wat Arun (they had a banner wrapped around the top level for this)
Leaving our mark on Wat Arun (they had a banner wrapped around the top level for this)

I really loved the street markets we wandered through – busy and a bit chaotic, navigating them takes a balance of patience and pushiness that takes a bit of practice.  But before you know it, you’re bargaining with the best and slipping through the crowd with ease.  And to me this experience is what makes Asia so much fun.        

The night market is a happening spot
The night market is a happening spot
I'm with you!
I’m with you!