A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: MalcolmB

Itinerary

sunny 14 °C

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My trip starts in Mumbai on January 20th and I'll be in India for about 4 months travelling south down the Malabar Coast before heading north to Sikkim. From there it's on to one of my favourite cities, Varanasi, and if time allows I'll try and fit in a few places I haven't been, such as Lucknow.

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I then fly out of Kolkata to Bangkok for a few days R and R and a chance to get visas sorted out. Then its on to Myanmar from where I'll cross back into northern Thailand and explore that area. From there it's on to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia before once more entering Thailand. This time I'll be seeing the area just north of Bankok and then heading south to laze about on island beaches.

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Then its Malaysia,including Penang where I was born, Singapore, Indonesia, Sulawesi and Borneo.

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On the last leg I hope to visit the Philippines, China and finally Japan, though I haven't given much thought to this stage as yet.
Well, that's the plan, but plans are there to be changed and who knows what will happen along the way! Wish me luck.

Posted by MalcolmB 10:19 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Mumbai


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Outside Heathrow Terminal 4 - Tuesday 20 January
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The Gateway to India, Mumbai - Wednesday 21 January

So here I am in Bombay. In many respects it's not like the India I've become used to in the last few years. It's more modern and prosperous. Although there are people living on the streets the poverty is far less noticeable than somewhere like Delhi or Jaipur. The traffic is far less chaotic, red lights are obeyed and the highway code is respected in as much as everyone drives on the correct side of the road. Of course the use of the horn is almost mandatory and together with the cawing of the ubiquitous crows they form the soundtrack to Bombay life. Another major difference is that there are no cows freely wandering the streets, causing chaos and filth. The few I have seen have been tethered, well fed and looked after. There are also no scooters, motorbikes or autorickshaws in south Bombay as these have banned. Well done, say I. Of course you don't have to go to far to come across the "real india" and the functioning chaos that that entails. A visit to Crawford Market or Victoria Terminus railway station is enough to induce feelings of wonder that anything can work in such crowded conditions.
The weather is pleasant, about 30 degrees at midday and not tooo humid with a cooling breeze off the sea. Despite this it's very tiring getting around as the ciy is huge and distances between the major sights are large. Guess I'll have to start using taxis rather than walking everywhere. Prices are not as high as I'd expected given Bombay's reputation as India's most expensive city. For example, a bed in a 4 bed dorm is 700 rupees (£1 = 93 rupees) and my deluxe thali and soft drink tonight came to 200 rs including a tip.
It's been good to renew my acquaintance with Bombay and see how it has changed in the 35 years since my last visit. Interesting to make a quick beer stop at Leopolds cafe and see the bullet holes still in the ceiling after the 2008 terrorist attack and to note the high security at all the tourist sites and major hotels. Apart from that, whoever said Bombay is like Manchester in the sun wasn't far wrong.

Posted by MalcolmB 18:41 Archived in India Comments (3)

Goa

sunny 32 °C
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Arrived in Margao after a 9 hour train journey from Victoria Terminus. Travelled 3AC which means 3rd class air conditioned. This might sound quite rough but it's actually fairly comfortable (sheets and a blanket are provided to keep out the chill of the air con) and way better than sleeper class or unreserved which packs people in like sardines. I shared my compartment of 8 berths with a bunch of very excited 11 year-olds who were off on a school holiday. Fortunately they quietened down by 11.30 and I managed to get a good night's sleep. Amazingly, the train left Bombay on time and, even more amazingly, it arrived in Margao a few minutes early. First time I've known that to happen!

35 years ago Margao was just a sleepy small town where nothing much happened and it was difficult to find anywhere to eat. Now it's a small, bustling and vibrant city where the traffic - including thousands of motorbikes and scooters - makes crossing the road a risky adventure. Shopping malls have sprung up and outlets for all the world's major brands such as Samsung and Nike mean that the city Is obviously prospering. It's an example of how Manmohan Singh's decicision to open up the Indian economy has brough wealth to a large section of the Indian population. Sadly, not everyone has been included in the economic miracle and poverty and deprivation are still commonplace.
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Margao Town Hall
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The Reliance Trade Centre. Hotel Tanish is on the top floor.
After a couple of days I've moved out of the big city and now have a room by the beach at Colva. The pace of life here is slow and peaceful. I spend my days lying in the sun, swimming in the warm welcoming waters of the Arabian Sea, taking long walks along the endless, palm tree fringed white sands, a little bit of yoga, some meditation, the occasional beer, long breakfasts and dinners, people watching and gazing out to the distant horizon. Who said retirement was easy?

There seem to be three types at Colva, in addition to the locals. Firstly, the Indian holiday makers who cluster within a 200 metre strech where the road meets the beach. Secondly, there are the twenty-something couples on gap years and finally a large population of retired people escaping the cold European winters. It seems like a 60 to 80 club rather than the younger version. Where I fit into this I'm not sure. I seem to be a bit of an anomaly.

In 1980 the Indian tourists and the retirees where just a thing of the future. Back then there were just a few backpackers and I remember Barbara and I having huge stretches of beach to ourselves. There are more people now but there is still plenty of room and a feeling of spaciousness. A few more beach shacks which offer surprisingly large and varied menus of well cooked Indian, Chinese and European dishes have sprung up. One of them even has a menu in which Russian is the main language. Other changes are the lifeguards stationed every 400 metres along the beach. They sit all day under beach umbrellas, their faces wrapped in white cloths to ward off the sun. How they cope with the boredom is beyond me. The occasional jetski whizzes past and a paraglider hovers above the glistening blue sea. That reminds me - time for another swim.
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Colva beach

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The "C Roque" where I'm staying

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My room is in the far right corner

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Sunset at Colva

Wednesday 4th February
Two things of note happened this morning as I was eating breakfast. Firstly, a couple of small whales appeared about 100 metres off shore, surfaced a few times and then disappeared back to the deep. I'm pretty sure from the shape of the dorsal fins that they were whales but I'm keeping a sharp eye out when I go for a swim ... just in case. Secondly, a coconut fell from a tree landing on the roof above my head and making a satisfying clatter as it rolled down the tiles and thudded into the sand a few feet away. Perhaps a timely reminder that coconuts kill more people than sharks and I should avoid walking directly beneath palm trees.
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Only in India!

I finally managed to prise myself away from the beach after 10 days of indolence and caught a couple of local buses to Panaji, the capital of Goa. Most of the town is fairly nondescript but there are some beautiful buildings in the old Portugese quarter which is quiet and clean and not at all Indian. I also visited Old Goa which was once the capital of the colony back in the 16th century but was abandoned due to malaria and cholera. All that now remains are 6 or 7 churches, used either for their original function as museums.

I've set myself a budget of about £25 a day and have so far managed to keep well within it despite the areas I've visited being reputedly more expensive than the average. A room for the night costs 1000 rupees and I spend about 700 a day on breakfast, dinner and water (no lunch). Public transport is ridiculously cheap. Local buses cost about one rupee per kilometre and the ticket for the sleeper bus to Hampi was a mere 560 rupees for a journey of nine and a half hours.

Posted by MalcolmB 08:59 Archived in India Comments (6)

Hampi, Karnataka

31 °C
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Tuesday 10th February
Arrrived in Hampi at 5.30 am after nine and half hours on sleeper bus being jolted remorselessly by the poor state of the roads. Did manage to get some sleep though but woke on arrival feeling groggy and tired. Jumped into an auto rickshaw and was taken to my guest house for the princely sum of 10 rupees. On arrival the driver phoned the hotel watchman who staggered from his bed and let me in. Even at that time though he asked if I wanted to make any travel bookings. Went straight to bed and slept till ten.

What a surreal place this is. Set in a landscape that is unlike anything I've seen before, Hampi Bazaar is a collection of guest houses, restaurants, shops selling tourist tat, travel booking offices and anything else the numerous tourists might need. However, the area is still a sacred site to Hindus and many pilgrims come to bathe in the river and worship at the Virupaksha Temple with its soaring gopurams and pillared halls and sanctums. Originally, the area was believed to be the birthplace of Hanuman, the monkey god, and it's not difficult to see why this belief took credence. From the 9th century Hampi became the capital of a Hindu kingdom of which reached a population of some 500,000 people before being raised to the ground by a rival kingdom in 1565. The temples, being sacred, were spared total destruction and the ruins that remain are remarkable. And all this is set in a landscape of huge boulders that are often balanced precariously on each other and a river that runs through rice paddies, palm trees and banana plantations.
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Wednesday 11th February
If there are times when I wonder why I enjoy travelling so much, and especially in India, today answered all the questions. After breakfast I set out on a walk along the river bank, not really sure where I was going. The scenery was spectacular and there was plenty of wildlife - birds, monkeys, lizards etc. Ruined temples appeared every now and then and I was filled with a sense of awe and wonder of the miracle of evolution, at the richness and beauty of the natural world and the achievements of human beings over the centuries.
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Eventually I came upon the ruins of a large temple, enclosed by high walls. There was a ticket office where they were asking for 250 ruppees for addmission. This was for foreigners - for Indians it was ten rupees. I thought this a bit steep for what was on initial impression not that interesting a site and so I approached the gate trying to see as much as I could without entering. The ticket collector asked me why I wasn't going in and I told him I thought it too expensive and moved away to read some information on the temple a few metres away.
"How much do you want to pay?" he asked.
"A hundred," I replied, immediately regretting that I had entered the bidding too high.
"OK, this way," he said, ushering me through the gate and around a corner out of sight of the ticket office where he trouserd my 100 rupee note.

I guess that to take part in corruption, no matter how petty, is to condone it and so I'm not proud of my actions. But when in Rome...

While this had been going on I couldn't help but notice the large number of Indians who where filing though the gate, most of them very colourfully dressed. On entering the temple courtyard I realised that they were making a film and these were the extras. The entertainment that followed was worth far, far more than 100 rupees. The scene was a riot of noise, colour and confusion as gofors tried to stamp order on the chaos, rushing from here to there trying to get the extras where they wanted them and keep the ever encroaching tourists, both Indian and foreign out of camera shot. Tempers frayed, voices were raised, but eventually everyone was where they were suposed to be and to screams of delight the star of the film - Ravi Teja, I later discovered, - appeared on the set. The actual filming was rather dull but the background scenery, the temle grounds and the colourful crowd made the whole thing a captivating spectacle.
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Posted by MalcolmB 08:24 Archived in India Comments (2)

Slight Hiccup!

overcast 7 °C
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Well that didn't last long, did it? I'm now back in Bath having had to return home after the bag containing my passport, money, bank cards, phone, camera, tablet and other belongings was stolen while I was in a restaurant in Hospet, Karnataka, waiting to get the night bus to Bangalore. Yes, I know, all my eggs in one basket. Really stupid of me, but lesson learnt, I hope.
That happened on Thursday 12 March. The next few days were an absolute nightmare and only thanks to the generosity of a few people I met did I manage to get through it with my sanity intact - I think. As it was I went three days without a morsel of food as all the money I had needed to be spent on hotels. Eventually, my brother, bless him, managed to get some cash wired to me in Bangalore and the long process of returning to Mumbai, arranging an emergency travel passport, an exit permit and a flight home began. I arrived home on the morning of Wednesday 4th March and have since been trying to put my life back together again. Now, in the middle of March, I am getting there. I am able to laugh about what happened and am planning to get back on the road as soon as I can. This time I'll skip the Indian leg of my journey and fly to Bangkok and then Burma. Other than a few minor changes I hope to pick up my itinerary and carry on, this time taking more care and just a hint of paranoia. Possibly, I'll pick up the Indian leg after Japan or maybe leave it for another day. Whatever happens, I definitely want to go back.

Posted by MalcolmB 07:13 Comments (1)

Bangkok

Back on the road again!

sunny 35 °C

I now have a shiny new passport , a new credit card, a renewed sense of adventure and an undiminished longing to see what lies around the next corner. So here we go again!

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Mal's Asia trip - take 2. Note the shoulder bag - exactly the same as the one I lost, but this one is going nowhere without me!

I arrived in Bangkok early this morning (April 9th) and caught the airport express into the centre of Bangkok. First impressions - this is a modern city with an infrastructure that works really well, it's clean and the people are friendly and helpful. Even the taxis run on meters so no haggling over the fare, at least, not yet. Within two hours of landing I'd checked in to my room, which was exactly what I'd expected for £5 a night - a small, cramped sweat-box with a fan and an "en-suite" bathroom: very basic, but adequate.
Spent the day just wandering around the local Khao San Road area which is where tourists of all types, though mainly very young hang out. The following day I needed to get my visa for Burma so set off early to take a boat down the river, followed by a mile walk to the embassy. I hadn't been looking forward to going through the process as most information I'd read described a long, laborious hassle. But despite a large crowd everything went smoothly and 20 minutes later I'd submitted my application and been told to return later that afternoon. So with a few hours to kill it was back down the river to gawp at the stunningly beautiful Wat Pho temple and it's enormous reclining Buddha. Later, after a 20 minute wait in a sweltering room, I was reunited with my passport complete with Burmese visa. Mission accomplished!

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Pics of Wat Pho and the river

Day 3 was the beginning of a five day Thai holiday, which I fully realised upon arriving at the entrance to the Grand Palace, the home of the Thai royal family and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. There were hundreds of tourists, mainly Thais, intent on a good day out. I bought my 500 baht ticket and joined the queue only to be hauled aside and told I couldn't go in wearing shorts, I'd failed to spot the notice at the entrance demanding respect for the Buddha. Strange, as there were no such restrictions at Wat Pho. So, back to the entrance to join another queue and attire myself in a beautiful pair of light, pullover trousers. The hassle was well worth it and once inside the temple complex the crowds thinned out. I'll let my photos do the talking as words are totally inadequate.

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Pics of the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha Temple complex, Bangkok

Posted by MalcolmB 23:38 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

Ko Samet and Ko Chang

sunny 35 °C

'

On Sunday I took an 8.00am minibus from Khao San to Ko Samet in search of a nice quite beach. Half way there the heavens opened and torrential ran fell for an hour or so which meant that by the time we reached Ban Pho many of the roads were under several inches of water. Nevertheless, I managed to get to the ferry in a relative state of dryness and set off for Ko Samet, half an hour away. On arrival at the small port I saw an information office and on enquiring where I could find a room was told that there was very little available and the cheapest price was 1500 baht. As this exceeded my daily budget by more than 300 baht I was horrified and just a little disillusioned. I was supposed to be living like a king on a shoestring budget after all. However, I eventually managed to bargain a room for 800 baht which was still very expensive for what it was. Having dumped my stuff I set out to explore the village and the local beach but this was not the sort of place I had travelled thousands of miles for. Totally dominated by the tourist trade the only nothing missing was candyfloss and kiss-me-quick hats and as for the beach - packed with hundreds of holiday makers enjoying the festival week.
The following morning I jumped aboard one of the open backed pick up trucks which serve for taxis and found myself at Ao Wai beach, a rather nice resort where I was quoted 1400 baht for a room. This was non-negotiable so I resolved to bite the bullet and checked in for a couple of nights which turned into 5 as I quickly realised what a paradise this was. Plenty of space on the beach, great food at the restaurant and a very comfortable room a mere 20 metres from the sea. BLISS! The days passed slowly punctuated by dips in the warmly welcoming sea and the occasional stroll from one end of the beach to the other.
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Ao Wai Beach, Ko Samet
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My room with the yellow roof

Sadly my budget could not sustain the damage for too long and with reluctance I packed my bag and headed for Koh Chang a further three hours along the coast. The thickly forested island proved to be beautiful but Lonely Beach
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- a haven for backpackers and party goers where the music played till three or four in the morning- wasn't quite my cup of tea and so after two nights lying awake listening to the thud, thud, thud of drum and bass I headed south to Bai Lan. Here I found a beautiful hut to stay in and a beach about 400 metres long and almost completely deserted.
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This is too good to be true, I thought, and it was. The sea was shallow and almost still but rather than warm it was bath water hot and rather than being an escape from the scorching sun was unpleasant and unrefreshing. Another move was in order and I ended up at White Sand Beach where a mile long strip of white sand offered the peace and quiet I'd been longing for at a just about affordable price.
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One thing that was very noticeable here, though was the large number of fat, ugly men with beautiful Thai girls that were young enough to be their granddaughters. Sadly depressing!

My few days on the beach have been deeply relaxing but it's time to move on again. Many thanks to those of you who have commented on my blog. It's great to get your comments and news. If you haven't subscribed, please do, it's free and I'd love to hear from you.

Posted by MalcolmB 04:41 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Bangkok (again) and Kanchanaburi

sunny 38 °C

I spent a couple more days in Bangkok, enjoying the city a little more this time, mainly due to finding some great places to eat and drink.
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Did a little sight seeing including the National Museum and the Siriraj Hospital Museum which was somewhat strange to say the least. I normally wouldn't go to a place like this but as I was passing right by it I thought it would fill some time. I believe the term "Siamese twins" originated in Thailand as it had the first recorded caseof conjoined twins. It's certainly had a few more since then if the exhibits on display in glass bottles are anything to go by. Together with two - headed babies and other examples of how badly wrong reproduction can go it made rather a macabre spectacle. But perhaps even more disconcerting were the dozen or so examples of human skeletons, each with a named photograph of their former owners beside them. It certainly was a stark reminder of the transitory nature of life.

On Monday morning (27 April) I was up early to catch the 7.50 train to Kanchanaburi. Much of the route is on the infamous Burma - Thailand railway built by the Japanese in 1942-43 using the labour of British, Australian and Dutch prisoners of war together with thousands of conscripted labourers from neighbouring countries. The train itself is third class with wooden seats and no comforts. It rattles and bounces along at a fairly sedate pace taking three hours to cover the 80 odd miles to Kanchanaburi. Vendors of cold drinks, fruit and various snacks continuously pass up and down the train hawking their wares.
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Kanchanaburi is the site of the real Bridge on the River Kwai upon which the book and the David Lean film are based. However, there are few similarities between a largely fictionalised book and film and the actual events of the time. Firstly, there were two bridges built during the war; a wooden one which is no longer there and a steel one which still stands despite two sections of it having been replaced after they were destroyed by American bombing. Secondly, the bridge does not cross the River Kwai but the River Mae Khlung which is nearby. After the film's release thousands of tourists started to arrive expecting to see the Bridge on the River Kwai, only there wasn't one. The solution - rename the river the bridge is actually on! This seems to have made everyone happy.
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The Bridge on the River Kwai
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The train passing over the wooden trestle viaduct near Wang Pho

Kanchanaburi also contains a small but impressive museum which tells the story of the Death Railway as it became known and a cemetery which holds the graves of almost 7,000 British, Australian and Dutch victims of the railway. It has been estimated that at least 100,000 men died during it's construction, the large majority of whom were conscripted Asians. Interestingly, although all the allied prisoners who died lie in beautifully tended cemeteries there is not a single named grave of any of the 90,000 Asians who suffered and died beside them.

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My accommodation in Kanchanaburi was aboard a raft moored to the river bank upon which was a bamboo hut. It contained no more than a mattress on the floor, but it was home! I was awoken at six in the morning by music and chanting from a Buddhist temple downstream being blasted out over a loudspeaker while the peace and quiet of the evenings was occasionally shattered as large rafts full of party goers, sometimes performing karaoke, floated past my door. Painfully awful singing, but very funny. It seems that the Thais love to party and don't much care who hears them.
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My raft house on the River Kwai
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Sunset over the Bridge on the RIver Kwai from my raft

Posted by MalcolmB 07:06 Archived in Thailand Comments (5)

Ayutthaya and Lopburi

sunny 40 °C

It's difficult to know what to say about these former capitals of Siam. Other than the ruins they are famous for they are peasant but fairly unremarkable. Both though we're exceptionally hot with the temperature reaching 100 degs F and the humidity meaning the slightest effort makes you pour with sweat. However, I did meet a couple of unusual characters, one British and the other South African, now living in Lopburi. The latter told a story of how he'd shot and killed a burglar in his house in Johannesburg, then while waiting for the police to arrive had poured a scotch and sat down to watch a film. His biggest regret was that they arrived before the film ended and he never did get to see what happened. The British guy who was in his late thirties turned out to be an ex drug runner who in his youth had regularly brought cocaine to the UK fom South America before employing other people to do it for him. He was absolutely charming and great company, and, he told me, totally reformed with a Thai wife, a child on the way and a developing business selling pies to the tourists. Despite his background I couldn't help liking him.

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A bodhi tree growing around a Buddha head in Ayutthaya . Nobody quite knows how this happened.

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Stupa ruins in Ayutthaya

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My riverside guest house in Ayutthaya

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Ruins and monkeys, LopburI.
That's the end of my month in Thailand, though I hope to cross back to the north of the country after visiting Burma. Although I have enjoyed my time here I can't deny that I feel a little disappointed. I was probably expecting something more exotic but with a few exceptions the country, including the landscape has proved to be rather ordinary if not dull. In many ways that can only be a good thing as it shows that Thailand is developing and it's people have a standard of living well above those of other Asian countries I've visited.

Posted by MalcolmB 07:38 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Yangon, Pyay and Bagan

sunny 42 °C

They say that India is an assault on the senses and I'm glad to say that from this traveller's point of view Burma (or Myanmar), while not having the craziness of India, is not too far behind. I'm not entirely sure what to call this country but I read somewhere that the beautiful and courageous Aung San Suu Kyi still calls it Burma and so for the time being so shall I.
I arrived early on Wednesday morning and was through immigration, customs and baggage collect in less than 20 minutes and on my way in a taxi to Downtown Yangon. The first thing I noticed was they drive on the right yet nearly every car is right-hand drive - very strange. Like most major cities Yangon is choked with traffic, although all forms of two-wheeled transport, including bicycles are banned. The pavements and side streets in Downtown Yangon are packed with enterprises of every kind, from pavements food stalls to clothes vendors, from electric tools to vegetable sellers. If there is anything you need the chance are you will find it among the mass of humanity and material goods.
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Young Buddhist nuns collecting alms in Yangon

On my first evening in Yangon I walked the 2 miles from my hotel to the Scwedagon Pagoda, the focal point of the city and one of the world's great religious sites. Foolishly I'd forgotten that these places have a dress code and I'd turned up in shorts. The gatekeepers, however, let me in but i had to pull my shorts down until they totally covered my knees. They were in danger of falling off altogether and I couldnt help wondering which the Buddha would find more offensive - my knees or my backside? The golden stupa at the centre of the site soars almost 100 metres into the sky and is surrounded by dozens of spires and temples containing hundred of images of the Buddha. At various points around the Stupa are stations dedicated to the days of the week where devotees pour water over a Buddha statue according to the day of their birth.
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Washing the Buddha at the Friday corner

People wander around with their friends and family, sometimes stopping to kneel before a Buddha image, offer flowers or light candles and incense sticks. As the day draws to an end and the light fades the golden stupa and spires take on a deep glow which radiates into the night sky. Mercifully, the temperature begins to fall and the marble paving slabs become bearable to walk on.
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One of Yangon's tourist attractions is a train which circles the city in three hours and ,says the Lonely Planet, gives the tourist a chance to get close to Burmese life. I decided to take the opportunity but there wasn't really a great deal to see from the train and not a great deal happened. Until, that is, we pulled into a small station that was next to a large market. There followed two minutes of frenetic activity as large sacks containing all kinds of vegetables and greenery came flying through the doors and windows where they were quickly shoved under seats and into every available space. It would seem that this was the weekly shopping trip for most of these women (only a few men were involved) and they had bought enough to keep their families going for a few days. At various stops along the route they were met by husbands or other family members and their sacks and bags were off-loaded. At one point a man climbed aboard carrying a large miror-fronted display cabinet which took up a large amount of floor space and inconvenienced those near him to a considerable extent. No-one complained, though, and he busied himself with a newspaper with not a care in the world.
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The journey from Yangon to Pyay could certainly be a strong contender for the world's most uncomfortable train ride. The train left Yangon at 1 pm in hot and sticky conditions (100 F or more) and covered the 160 miles in eight and a half hours, therefore averaging less than 20 miles an hour. It actually arrived on time which was a huge blessing as the journey was agony. We clattered and clanked along but as soon as the train picked up any speed the carriage would sway violently from side to side and every few minutes would begin to bounce alarmingly to such an extent that I occasionally lost all contact with my seat, which being in upper class was upholstered and reclinable. Heaven only knows what it was like for those on the wooden bench seats in ordinary class. One of the few pleasure was watching my fellow passengers bouncing up and down as though on some kind of manic and out of control fairground ride. As the hours drifted by so did a monotonous landscape of mile after mile of dry, brown, dusty paddy fields punctuated now and then by small villages and the occasional bullock cart.
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Much to my relief we eventually arrived in Pyay, Uncontrollably shaking I climbed onto the back of a motorbike for the mercifully short trip to my guest house. I hate riding pillion as I never have any faith in the driver and can't help imagining the worst, but these tremors were the result of having been bumped and jostled remorselessly for nearly nine hours.
Pyay itself didn't have great deal to offer other than the Pagoda, a similar but smaller version of the one in Yangon, but what made it memorable was the roosting of hundreds of mynah birds as the sun began to set. They flew in in pairs and small groups and perched on the stupa and the surrounding spires, squabbling and fighting for the best perches and making a fantastic noise with their excited and quarrellsome chattering. Gradually, as it grew darker the noise diminished to be replaced with the more muted chatter of human voices. An unexpected but wonderful experience.
For dinner that night I found a Burmese/Chinese restaurant that seemed well frequented by locals and saw that at the bottom of the menu was a dish called Crap Fish Curry. Whether this was a description of just the fish or the whole dish I wasn't sure, but I just had to find out. I don't know what kind if fish it was - possibly scallops - but it didn't deserve the insult and slipped down rather well with a bottle of Myanmar lager, the local brew.
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The Journey to Bagan
I left Pyay at 4.30 pm by bus after another pillion ride to the bus station (I hate riding on the back of motorbikes!) but the bus hadn't gone more than 100 yards before we were involved in a minor accident as a car collided with the bus or vice versa (perhaps motor bikes aren't so bad). It was only a scrape but we spent the next three and a half hours sitting at the side of the road while a policeman took photos on his mobile phone while and not much else happened. Eventually we got under way and I managed to doze fitfully until I was awakened at four in the morning and told we had had arrived. However, I was still three or four miles from Nyaung U where the guesthouses were. Why they put bus stations on the outskirts of town I don't know, but I suspect it's so that taxi drivers can make a killing. In a half awake state I was surrounded by a group of them very politely outlining my options; either a regular taxi for 10,000 Kyat (£6, a price that is not far below what you'd pay in the UK for a similar distance, but I had no choice and the taxi drivers knew it) or a bicycle trishaw for 7,000 Kyat. I chose the latter and once my backpack had been tied in place I climbed into the little seat beside the rider and off we set into the night. The journey was almost surreal as he pedalled along dark, deserted roads passing the ghostly shapes of roadside trees before eventually finding a guesthouse where I tumbled gratefully onto the bed and slept under the waves of warm air being blown over me by a whirring fan. There is something about these journeys in a strange place in the middle of the night, something I have experienced on quite a few occasions, that is at once slightly frightening but also stimulating. You have no idea where you are or who you are with and to enter dark, deserted streets with a total stranger has an element of danger that gives a bit of a buzz.
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A bicycle trishaw
Each day is becoming hotter, with the temperature climbing to 108 degrees according to a weather web site, and everyone is longing for the rains to arrive. Sometime in the next two weeks I am told. The Burmese people I have met so far are absolutely charming. They always have a ready smile and seem genuinely glad to meet and talk to foreigners. They often try to practise their English, which is sometimes limited but usually results in smiles and laughter. The women dress simply, but elegantly, in a blouse and sarong and are gorgeous. They seem to have a freedom and a confidence in themselves that is not often found in Asian societies. Perhaps this is due to having Aung San Suu Kyi as such a powerful role model.
Bagan is just extraordinary. From an arid and scrubby landscape hundreds of stupas, pagodas and temples point to the clear blue sky. Some still contain Buddha images and are still in use as places of worship though others are ruins that have been restored, some say with little regard for archaeological accuracy. Nevertheless, the site, which covers a few square miles and was built between the 11th and 13th centuries is extremely impressive. I explored it on an e-bike (rented for 5000 kyat) which served me well until late in the afternoon just as I had decided to turn for home, I picked up a puncture in the front wheel . A couple of locals tried to help out but were unable to get a reply from the phone number I had been given in case of emergency so there was nothing for it but to load the bike aboard a horse and trap and ignominiously return to base.
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My e-bike...
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...and my rescuers
The following day, undaunted, I hired another e-bike and rode the few hundred yards to Weatherspoons, my favourite watering hole, for a breakfast of papaya salad, mango juice and strong black coffee. The guy who owns this outdoor restaurant is also a balloon pilot who, oddly enough, did much of his training in Bath and Bristol. It really is a small world! Having breakfasted I decided to set off and explore some more of the temples but try as I might I couldn't get the key to go into the ignition. I was on the point of giving up and phoning for help when an English guy who was watching this performance from his table a few feet away suggested I might be using the wrong key. Sure enough I had been trying to insert my hotel room key. I felt such a fool but can only blame the heat. It really is difficult to think straight in such extreme temperatures. It's been reaching 109 F during the afternoons and even the evenings give little respite as the temperature only falls to a minimum of 84 F. You would think that cruising along on a bike at up to 25mph would stir up a cooling breeze, but sadly this is not the case. The breeze is at best very warm and occasionally you hit a pocket of really hot air and feel that your skin is burning. Nevertheless, I have loved my few days in Bagan and it is with great sadness that tomorrow I must take my leave and head on to Mandalay.
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The temples and Buddhas of Bagan

Posted by MalcolmB 23:59 Archived in Myanmar Comments (1)

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