Friday, February 28, 2014

A

I had written an especially long missive detailing our recent
adventures but the internet went down here in Yungshwe (the power goes
down pretty often too) so it was lost.

I'm not sure I can recreate the brilliance of that work, but I will
touch on the salient points.

We are now in the "Inle Lake Area". Technically we are in Yungshwe
(the town) on a canal that goes to Inle lake (the lake) which is the
only reason people come here. It features floating gardens, a
floating temple, strangely dressed indigenies (is that still a word?)
and other 3rd world lake culture coolness.

All to be ideally seen from a very long narrow boat with a super
thumpy single cylinder diesel engine (have I mentioned that this is
considered an ecological disaster in the making by the UN).

So tomorrow we're off to burn some diesel and see the lake.

Today we laid low due to me feeling a bit under the weather
(apparently those noodles bought out the window of the train prepared
literally by hand by the old lady weren't such a good idea).

Yesterday the train up and over the mountains from Thazi was super
pretty. En route we met a lovely gentleman who used to be a Major in
the army and was the area commander over this part of Myanmar. For
those of you not used to, um...developing nations in SE asia, I
recommend you do some googling about "mountainous eastern myanmar" and
"military commander". Note...we aren't actually _in_ the "Golden
Triangle". But its right over there. He was super nice and showed us
the book he wrote in the Myanmar Language about his trip to Belgium in
the 90s. His entourage looked a bit worried about his chatting with
us but all sat around glumly smoking.

At a later stop a buddy of his got on who looked like the bad guy in a
Chinese mob movie with expensive italian sunglasses and a nice suit.
He too was super nice and when they got off made sure we knew how many
stops till ours.

Chickens here are skinny compared to our sesame!!

Outside the Japanese restraint we ate at

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Slow train up and over to kalaw

5 am thazi, Myanmar

Buying ticket for slow train through mountsins to inle.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ahhh.... Tourism.

Well, we had our first epic failure of planning and interface with a different culture. Though if this stays our worst day life is pretty good.

The goal for the day was a day trip to mt popa to see the nat shrine on top of a volcanic spire then go for a hike in the forest featuring 30 types of orchids and ending in Thazi to grab a morning train tomorrow.

We talked with the clerk at the hotel and he got us a car for 120,000 kyat for 8.5 hrs including 4 hrs wait time while we hike a bit.
This sounded "okay" (1000 kyat = $1). We figure, it's a long day and the guy has to deadhead back 5 hrs.

Th car shows up as scheduled at. 9 am and I have my first tinge of worry. It's a minivan with tinted rear windows that don't open. I'm sure many fat Americans would love a nice Cush a/c tinted ride, but I like open windows and taking pictures.

We've entered the "tour-ist zone". It's that world where the handlers want to extract cash from us with as little deviation from the tour norm as possible.

"do we want to see how they make palm sugar and buy souvenirs?"

No

We pass giant tour busses disgorging Danes by the bushel into fake markets.

We dodged that one.

But we see trouble ahead.

We ask to get some local tea. Strong and sweet. The driver says its not available as we drive by places that probably serve it.

Thd driver refuses to engage with us. His lady friend (wife?) riding shotgun doesn't really speak to us at all.

We get to mt popa the nat shrine and dutifully climb the 777 steps to put a bit of spendy money in some shrines to pre Buddhist animist spirits. There are wild macaques everywhere. It is amusing and odd. Nice even , but hardly worth not taking the bus so far.

Upon return to the van we ask to go to the park to hike a bit. "not possible" we are told. Only day treks with guides. Please take us anyway. Nope. No dice. Tourists aren't supposed to want to go for a walk in the woods. Only "trekking. ". Of course in Hawaii I've wandered up jungle paths in city parks that make these woods look like Iowa. Actually it mainly looks like a very dry lame river valley wood here.

We give up.

He asks if we want to eat in minkitla a few hours away. We say yes and happily eat peanut butter sandwiches we made at breakfast. We aren't complete idiots.

At minkitla we ask to get some tea again and he says eat at "myanmar food restaurant" that looks like more tour-ist food. We make him drop us in a street of tea joints and walk till we see a soup joint and grab an awesome bowl of mohinga for $0.40. Then some nice chai for $0.60. Screw fancy restaurants.

Then back to the van for another hour to Thazi. We check out the two hotels and go with guesthouse wonderful as moonlight guesthouse looks like the place where they invented bedbugs.

So now I have to have the discussion with the driver that we contracted for $120,000 for 8 plus hours and he didn't let us hike so we want a discount?

(it's now 3, 6 hours have passed)

Those of you who have experienced se Asia know how much this sucks. The guy will never back down, but also won't argue really. Just pretends to get ready to cdll the hotel guy and says no no no, 120,000 kyat is the price.

In the end I cave. Screw it, it's maybe $30 I could possibly recoup (tho that's a whole day of food and hotel in cambodia).

I give up and comfort myself that I can smack the hotel in Bagan through tripadvisor and loneyplanet in the Internet and make sure I can vent my digital spleen. The modern travelers vengeance!!!

And really, it's only a bit if money. It's just the annoyance of being treated as an idiot that annoys.

But I was an idiot to try and use a hotel desk to book anything close to what I wanted. They work at sheltering tourists from the locals, so it makes sense. Exactly what we want the least.

Live and learn a bit by bit.



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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lovey day in a horse cart

The best mellow way to wander the temples is a small horse cart. Think buggy with a fringe on top without a fringe.

We got up and walked to a nearish temple to hike up its stupa to watch the sunrise and the balloons fly by (those cost $350 each. Too much!).

Then breakfast and hire a horse cart for half the day. (till its too hot! Then nap).

Wandered around. Climbed way up another temple on internal stairs. Totally alone! So lovely.

Then to a really early and odd stupa with octagonal bases and pyramidal top.

Then home for a dip in the pool and naps.

Then a nice sunset walk and dinner!

Now bed. Tomorrow mt poppa home of the Burmese worshipped spirits called "Nats".

Really.

Then to Thazi for a sleep and early slow train up over the mountains to inle.

The adventure in Burma nears it's end.

After inle it's off to Angkor Wat!!!

More old rocks!!!



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Hp lovecraft would fear this beer

We liked it

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Rambutan! Kiwi/cuke/strawberry fruit?

View from our corner

Long tail boat follows us!

video

Slow boat to bagan.

4:30 am the cab picks us up in the darkness of a Mandalay morning. Mandalay is sprawl. Hideous wonderful 3rd world sprawl of wood fueled tea shops and nothing over 3 stories.

At the jetty, in the dark we get in the slow boat.

The inland water transport. (itw) founded by the British at the height of the raj.

And this boat was from British rule. The commands to the engine room go on hhe classic bell ringing "full ahead, half ahead etc dial. This one made in Scotland. Sweet!

We found a prime place in the front if the open top deck ( under shade of course, even the Burmese fear the sun here) against a bulkhead.

The engine kicks over and we shove off by 5:30.

The sun rising over the ayerwady from the deck of a 75 year old British built river boat was supremely wonderful

10 minutes later we were aground on a sand bar.

Full reverse!

Nope. Too late. 45 minutes later we backed off. I think they moved around the cargo in the hold to adjust our balance.


Then we wandered down the great river of Burma. The sun rose and in classic pukka sahib style we drank ice cold beer and watched the world be foreign and terrifyingly lovely.

Over the course of the day we foreigners chatted and bought stuff off the natives (swallows and amazons forever!).

When we put in at various times over the trip, the boat nosing into the sandy bank and unloading bags of rice. Boxes of cookies. An entire tractor (small and quite exciting).

Whole villages would line the sandy bluffs and wave as things unloaded. Girls would giggle as I waved back . A proof of how lovely and non modern this place is seen watching Michelle wave at every passing boat or village and whole groups would wave back.

We settled into a quiet day of reading and watching the world slip by

I took the chance to read orwell's Burmese days which I got in a Burmese bootleg edition in Yangon. A lovely place to read it to say the least.


Eventually the fun set and the stars came out like burning coals in the sky. The milky way huge overhead. This place has little light pollution out on the giant brown river.

Whole towns with only a few fires.

Once the sun went down they navigated by searchlight and s bamboo depth pole reader on the bow calling out a strange Burmese mark twain every 30 seconds as we cruised through the blackness.


Eventually we made it here to bagan. But instead of kurtz we had young Burmese teens leaping aboard from the second deck of the ship we docked to in an effort to sell us rooms and taxis

Crass reality of a society learning to tout.

Tomorrow the temples!!



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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ferry to inwa (still Mandalay)

Snacks! (still Mandalay)

Chapaties. Or: curry pancake. Yum

Ava, or inwa, outside Mandalay Burma

Today we rode the scooter out to inwa, an old capital. Now stupas among the palms, banana fields and rice paddys.

The ride was a bit hectic as the way you cross a street here is wait until you have a critical mass of scooters then just go.


Super pretty day among the ruins. Even took the scoot on a boat accrross a river.

Tomorrow 5 am slow boat to bagan . More ruins!!! Michelle is so lucky to have married me!!



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Friday, February 21, 2014

Mandalay, Myanmar.

So...

A night train from Yangon to Mandalay.

Not exactly completely insane. But assuredly silly.

Starts off at the train station getting out of the cab. Three guys in
uniforms grab our stuff, ask which train and deposit us by a gate at a
waiting area. I go buy some more water, and soon enough our train
pulls in and the same guys come get us and escort us through security
and onto the train and into our two bed berth. Ah...now comes the
bite. 5000 kyat! each they say. Now...while yes, that is only $5
American. That is also about what a 45 minute cab ride costs. Or a
whole dinner with a few beers. So no....but they are rather emphatic,
and I'm tired, so we settle at 10,000 for the three of them to share.
This is helped greatly by Michelle laughing at their audacity. Good
cop bad cop works in all languages.

They leave...now its time for the street urchins to arrive. Small
children offering to sell us water at insane prices. And the
youngest's water isn't even sealed. Nice try kid. Eventually they
get the repeated no no nos and just hang out bothering us for fun.

Myanmar is still one of those places where some kids don't deal much
with tall blondes and find us infinitely amusing.

Train finally leaves..and the roller coaster begins.

I have never been on a train that felt so close to derailment at all
times. Constant rolling with periodic slamming up and down in a kind
of driven oscillation way that felt like the car was lifting off its
springs and grounding out on the frame over and over again. Bam Bam
Bam.

Needless to say sleeping was a bit rough.

But it was worth it. The scenery was straight out of...well...anytime
since mankind started farming around here until the 50s. Water
buffalo. Horse carts. Periodic fires. Almost no lights once the sun
went down.

And a rather amusing dining car which was blah food. But large
myanmar beers make train travel better. Again the classic railroad
overpricing (common world wide) but whatever. I needed beer to take
the edge off the roller coaster.

We then watched a Poirot set on a train (The blue Train) on the
laptop and went to "bed". Sleep came eventually in fits and starts.

Arrival at Mandalay was a bit early and we got a cab to our hotel who
didn't bat an I at a 9 am check in and by 9:30 we were showered and
napping.

Then we asked at the desk about renting a scooter as Mandalay is a big
sprawling low density mess. 14,000 kyat a day for 2 days ($14) and by
noon we were wandering the back streets of Mandalay in search of
snacks!

Snacks were found but most impressively we stumbled upon Tingaza
Kyaung. A lovely wat/stupa but all in Teak, all 150 years old-ish and
lived in by a super nice old monk who showed us around, let us look at
old texts on thin wood and generally was super friendly!

Eventually there will be many pictures showed of this. But not via
this bandwidth. That is for sure.

Tomorrow we wander about a bit. Then Sunday 5am the Inland Waterway
Transport ferry to Bagan. The IWT was set up by the british and
hasn't changed since. So we have a long day of wending our way down
the Arawady. Heading towards the plain of Bagan, covered in stupas.

Then from there to Thazi via Mt. Popa (home of the local spirits...the
Nats, No really...They worship Nats.). Then from Thazi via slow train
(8 hours) through the hills etc to Inle lake. Then wander around in
small boats for a few days.

Then back to mandalay to fly off to Angkor Wat!

(We know....a bit silly to jet from here to Angkor, but we're meeting
up with Michelle's brother Scott and his gf Beth there so we have an
actualy schedule to keep).

After that its vaguely "go to the beach" or "go to the North".

We shall see what the future has in hold for our intrepid adventurers!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Again, not my led Buddha.

video

Pagoda.

video

Eat it!

Snacks!

Another LED buddha. Not mine.

video

Rangoon Burma day....um...something?

Today we woke and decided to voyage a tiny bit father afield.

We went out onto the street and walked a few blocks before finding a really good tea source (chao bawk?  That's what we say and they give us not too sweet chai, we really don't know if we're saying it right, but they seem to get it).  We had a quick cup at a tiny table in the gutter (most road food here is eaten on tiny plastic chairs made for children and little tiny tables sitting in the gutter, or on the "sidewalk").  It was okay but there were few snacks in the offering so we decided to take a cab to a known "good tea house".  It was worth it (and only cost $2 so....)  We went to "Lucky 7" on the east side of town (47th? something like that).  A very upscale chinese tea house (but still serving Burmese chai like tea).  Had some Mohinga, a noodle dish said to be the national dish.  It was okay.  I liked Mohinda better from a few days ago.  Better sauce, more chicken, good crunchies on top (It has been determined that the words I, nat, really need to learn in foreign languages are things like "And the crunchy stuff too!".  Otherwise locals tend to think us Ferang don't want all the strange dried fish things).

The tea was strong and sweet and the food was good.

We then wandered down the block a bit, and found a bunch of shops on the train tracks of the circle line that goes around the city that we took yesterday.  Saw a guy chiseling out a ganeesh sculpture.  Very cool.  Even a bit out of downtown and everyone is soooo friendly.  "Where you from?"  "America!???" "We love Barack Obama!!" etc.  It really feels like we've traveled back to 1964...or some time back when all SE asian countries still loved Uncle Sam.  

Eventually caught a cab out to a suburb kinda area (30 min thru traffic, $3) to the Myanmar Drug Elimination Museum.

Whoa...epic.  Giant super big museum built 10 years ago to show how Myanmar wants to eradicate opium and other drugs.  But left to slowly age and decay.  We were the only ones in the entire multi-thousand sq foot 3 story Museum.  Except for staff who were just sorta hanging out chatting.  A bit of mopping maybe.  

Pictures will eventually come, but they will take a good download once I'm home as I took hundreds to properly document it!

It doesn't show up almost anywhere well documented on the web so I have taken it upon myself!

After a few hours in a giant echoing empty museum looking at Generals getting out of helicopters and giant epic paintings of burning heroin bales we decided to head to a late lunch at a local join mentioned in the guide books.  It cemented our belief that the guide books of Burma so far just listed the few places they went and liked.  But not necessarily even close to the best of anything.  It was perfectly fine.  But not half as good as the random street food downtown.

Then we took a cab over to the Shwedegon Pagoda.  I can't begin to do justice to its magical beauty.  We arrive in the heat of the day, and over the next 4 hours the sun set and lit up the giant gold pagoda as it did.  A monk talked to us for an hour or more about learning English and his life as a teacher of Novices.  I meditated for a while to my personal perfect Buddha.  Covered in gold, in a ornate niche, with a psychedelic LED halo under a florescent bulb while bells rang and monks chanted in the distance.  Periodically a bell rings out.

I think I may have edged a bit closer to nirvana.

Then walking and talking and watching the Burmese people play and flirt and chant and burn incense.

It was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives.  Let alone the trip.  Cheesy to say, I know, but so wonderfully beautiful.

Then a cab home.

Shower, then off quickly to 19th street, the street of grilled stuff on sticks.  You sit down, get a beer, go look over a giant cart of meats and veggies on sticks and fill a small basket.  A teenage boy takes it off and grills it and brings it for you to eat.

If there was one take-away from Rangoon so far its "hard working, super-nice teenagers".  Everything is done by teens who are playful and fun and try really hard to speak whatever English they have.

One was selling small baggies of snacky things from a basket around his waist (the whole street is full of tables of people, mainly Burmese, drinking beer and eating).  I picked out a green one, he cuts it open and hands it to me, and our waiter, who is helping point says "eat it!" and laughs.  Gesturing to his mouth.  

I did.  Pickled Tealeaves and hot stuff.  Amazing!

now home.

epic epic day.



--
"Science is a Differential Equation.  Religion is a Boundary Condition."   - A. Turing

Pagoda. Swhedegon. Rangoon Burma

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ice

Ice plus coke plus rum = nightcap!!

Coke in a bottle. 300 kyat

Rum. 800 kyat (75 cents)

Curry table

Guesthouse balcony

rangoon



--
"Science is a Differential Equation.  Religion is a Boundary Condition."   - A. Turing

Yangon Myanmar (or Rangoon Burma if you're British)

So today was our first full day in Myanmar!

But lets call it Burma shall we?

And we love Burma!

The first part of the day we wandered around the city center looking for snacks.  Found a tea-shop (the standard breakfast joint here apparently) and got some noodles and things.  Fried shrimp roll things too!  Black tea super strong with lots of sugar and milk (chai anyone?).  Overall a perfect thing.

Then more wandering.  To the train station ticket purchasing hall (notably not at the train station) to get tickets for a sleeper up to Mandalay in a few days.  Then over to the actual train station to take "The Circle Line".  Yangon's equivelent of the L train.  3 hours of gentle 20 miles an hour max commuter rail that goes in a circle around greater yangon.  Very pretty.  Lots of pictures.  Eventually I'll load some here but our bandwidth is pretty slow.  So for now a shot form our morning wander.

And now we're off to get some righteous Burmese Indian food.  Chaat!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Re: Hope not too many

Hi Mom!   (this was started as an email to my mom, but I realized, you all should get it!)

We've arrived in Yangon!  Its beautiful!... Well... honestly its kind of a beat up soviet feeling 3rd world city but the street life is amazing!  

Last night we had dinner at a stall, followed by wandering the streets watching the kids play in the gutters.  Strange stands selling what we came to realize was prepared betel nut for chewing.  And eventually sat at a lovely tiny tiny table and chairs (of pink plastic) and got a strawberry yogurt drink.  

I love snacks!!!!

off to see stuff!

love to all




On Sun, Feb 16, 2014 at 10:29 AM, Nina Ward <nina.ward@cox.net> wrote:
Hi Nat, Also sent to Carol Macomber and Santi and Joel. That's not everyone, I hope. People who know you got married and would enjoy knowing you were off on your honeymoon trip. Dad and I had a one night honeymoon in Ventura (married in Carpinteria at a friend's house) and then in Cambodia at a French hotel with doors like a stable, white doors that had top and bottom openings,  we had a somewhat more romantic week alone, except that we got tired from tromping all around beautiful ruins. So you are following a little in family tradition. XX Mom



--
"Science is a Differential Equation.  Religion is a Boundary Condition."   - A. Turing

Saturday, February 15, 2014

a day spent at one of the world's biggest markets

whoa...

chatujack..or jatujack....whatever..JJ market.

saw some awesome bags.

but no buying stuff till after burma!

so we should have internet later at our next hotel,
but should we not...

we are off to burma tomorrow!

perhaps more later
perhaps not

now we get a cab.

nat


--
"Science is a Differential Equation.  Religion is a Boundary Condition."   - A. Turing

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cafe

Sent from my iPhone

Civilized country

It is nice here.

Moving hotel today.

Tomorrow eve off to Burma


Burma!!!

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Coco !!!!

Test one two thee!

Testing the new phone.

Sent from my iPhone

A quick update from Bangkok.

So...we are in lovely and warm Bangkok.

Humid, high 90s during the day, but morning is lovely.

Yesterday we had a rather epic first day.  Woke up to amazing cappucinos at our hotel in the courtyard
restraunt.  This whole place feels a bit like a museum..Its laid out so that it seems like tiny shops around a courtyard that pretend to sell kitsch from 50s and 60s thailand.  but don't.  They're just little rooms.

I'll take lots of pictures later.

But back to the adventure.

We got in at around 1 am.  Tired, jet-lagged.  Basically dead to the world.  The flight had been great actually, we got the two very backmost seats in the plane which are by themselves by a window, feet from the galley and snacks and water and oj and all in all lovely.  They even relclined (which all the websites say they don't, thus how I got 'em I guess.  15 hrs to Hong Kong made my ass hurt and my back hurt but it was as good as it could be expected.

So back to the story.  Our task for the day yesterday was get Visas for Myanmar.  Where we head to Sunday for 2 weeks.  And we thought we could get them yesterday or today, but Wednesday and Today are holidays and they aren't open on Saturdays so....we had to get them yesterday.

So up at 7, amazing breakfast (eggs and bits of steamed veggies and caps and toast....yum!) and walk to the river express boats to take it south along the chao prya to Sathorn to walk 20minutes to get passport photos to go stand in line in a hot dmv-like box for 2 hours to get the visa (Michelle is a lizard-queen!  She can handle the heat soooo much better than I so she stood in line for an hour while I sat in the slightly cooler bit zoning out).  Then wander around that part of Bangkok for a few hours, got really good pigs feet on rice with egg and green stuff for 60 baht (we were ripped off by 70 cents, the locals paid 45 baht!, the pain! the pain!)

Then back to the Myanmar embassy to see a scrum forming to get in at 3:30 when the doors opened for pickup.  I have slowly learned that lines aren't very respected in much of the world.  So I played like a local and got in the line forming on the right (the long proper line on the left) with the guys that looked like thais.  Turned out they were all the runners for thai tour operators with lots of passports to pick up.  Nat can spot a wedge when necessary.

The door opened and Michelle stayed outside with my bag while I and the thai gentlemen used my size to advantage and we are in and only 15 people back in line.

Lesson for y'all.  When it really matters in SE asia.... lines are for suckers.

Then...empowered with visas we headed back here slowly, rambling, to boat (wrong boat at first, then wrong stop....sheesh)  eventually wandering home and showering as the sun went down.

Then walked over to local food in street stalls and got awesome udon thai style (thick rice noodle) and pork fried rice.  $2 ish.

Then home, and blessed sleep.

Today the goal is check out some Wats, its a religious festival day Makha Bucha, so lots of meditation we suppose.

Oh, and we visited an over the top indian temple where I got a ganesha bracelet tied on by a mumbling praying monk dude.

I owe it all to that door opening elephant!

(100 baht!)

now I gotta go drink my coconut.

nat

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Michelle in our seats!!

Thanks e and f and Janet and Eliot!!

Under plane camera?

Sweet!!

This is a test.

At the gate

15 hrs to hong kong!

The adventure begins!!!