December 15, 2016

Bangkok - Ko Kret - Back Home

I think it was a good choice to return to Bangkok when I did. I leave tonight and have enjoyed my last few days here. I guess I was just in the mood. I explored a few parts of the city that I hadn’t been to and made the day trip up to the river island of Ko Kret (pronounced croquet) which was definitely interesting and worthwhile.

I took a round about way up to Ko Kret via skytrain then ferry partway up the Chao Phraya river which was kind of scenic. From there it was a taxi to a ferry dock near Pak Kret to make a short crossing to the island. Ko Kret is and artificial river island that was created about 300 years ago when the powers that be decided to take out and ox bow by straightening the river. Today the islands hosts a small population with a few temples and small businesses that cater to Thai tourists that like to visit on the weekends. During the week the island is very quiet.

Most all of the houses are built on stilts as I’m sure the Island is prone to flooding in the rainy season. To get around there’s a network of concrete paths that create narrow roads. The roads are not wide enough for a car but fine for a motorbike and bicycle. For forty bhat, a little over two dollars, you can rent a basic bike for the day so that’s what I did. There’s a nice 6 km loop with some side paths to various piers. In some spots the path is notably elevated and there are no railings. During the week is a great time to bike but I don’t think it would be very enjoyable on the weekends when crowded.

I spent two hours biking the paths and felt that was enough time to have a good look around. Since I wanted to beat the traffic back into Bangkok and wasn’t exactly sure where to find a bus I decided to call it done upon returning the bike. I paid another 3 bhat (about 8 cents) to cross with the ferry back to the mainland.

I had read that bus #166 in Pak Kret would get me back to Bangkok at Victory Monument. I talked with a motorcycle taxi guy who didn’t speak good English but seemed to understand quite well. He drove me directly to Pak Kret and literally pulled in front a bus marked 166 to stop it. I paid the  motorcycle taxi guy 20 bhat and got on the bus. Before I could do anything, an attendant who was dressed in very official looking attire, asked where I was going. I said Victory Monument. She said no and starting going off about something in Thai that made it sound like I was on the wrong bus. I was confused as I know I had the bus number right. Regardless, she wanted me off the bus. I got off and looked up. In clear English there was a tourist map showing the stops that bus #166 makes and Victory monument was on the list. As the bus started to move I could see a woman through the window signaling me like the bus I had just been kicked off of was the bus I wanted. At that moment I was a little peeved. Especially since the motorcycle taxi driver had so efficiently delivered me to the bus I wanted.

So, I began to wait for another #166 bus. I then noticed mini van transportation. Mini vans function like independent buses all over Bangkok. They can be a great way to get around. You just flag them down and get it. Usually the fare is around 25 bhat and they run a circular route. The problem is that normally all the writing on the outside of the van is in Thai as they really cater to the average local just trying to get to work, school, or shopping. Mini vans can be very confusing for tourists so not many use them. Well, I spotted a mini van that had it’s writing in Thai and English. It listed a skytrain station that I’m familiar with. I waved him down and got in. Not a problem. The driver spoke good English and the van proved to be more efficient than the bus. Funny how things work out.

Ko Kret was a great little day trip to top off this trip. Other than Ko Kret I’ve gotten in some good runs at Lumphini park. I also found a surprisingly quiet bike path away from roads that links Lumphini with another park that's also good for running.

By pure chance, or should I say mistake, I wandered right onto Soi 4 in the Nana district of Bangkok. I approached it by accident via the bike path I had just discovered. At first the street looked fine then I noticed a couple of bars and massage parlors with suspicious names. I then started seeing lady boys hawking outside of massage businesses. From there it was downhill big time as I passed bars packed with western men drinking at 4:00 in the afternoon with women who were obviously questionable. I saw one man who appeared to be having a serious conversation with a woman like he was after something meaningful. Good luck. I saw another guy, probably in his forties, who was bald aside of a miniature white mohawk right on the top of the middle of his head. Really? The music got louder and I passed a very out of place looking “Hooters” that I’m sure guys go to for more things than just beer and wings. By time I exited Soi 4 I felt like I needed to rush back to the hostel for a shower. All I did was walk down the street while avoiding eye contact but it felt seedy as hell. I later found out that one of the buildings I passed on Soi 4 is famous for hotel rooms let buy the hour. And to think, people travel from all over the world to go to Soi 4. Sex tourism is the dark side of Southeast Asia in my opinion. God knows the stories of how the women who work the clubs wind up in them.

Fortunately, my stroll down Nana’s Soi 4 was a short one and the rest of my walks have been quite nice as I've discovered funky little shops, bars with themes, and numerous cool restaurants and food stalls. I stopped at one art gallery that is also a bar called WTF. The art in the name is that WTF is the abbreviation for many things and not just what one assumes. Like, "Welcome Thai Friends" and "Wisdom Trounces Fear". In a lot of ways Bangkok is kind of like an Asian version of New York City. I like it.

The hostel I’ve been staying at has a nice rooftop with lots of plants and a view. It’s a pleasant place to hang out and relax. The road noise is far enough away to not be distracting or annoying. I got a late check out a 1 pm and am on the roof now. Around 7 pm I’ll take the skytrain, which now runs all the to the airport, to catch a very long flight home. The past five weeks have gone by really fast. No matter how long I travel the trips I take seem to be going by faster and faster. Two week or a month seems like no time at all anymore. Anyway, for now, it’s back to home for the holidays.

December 12, 2016

Goodbye To The Islands - Back To Bangkok

After six nights on Ko Lipe with 3 days of snorkeling and a couple of afternoons on the beach I was ready to move on. With a little time left I figured I could make a short visit to one more Island or simply head back to Bangkok. I basically had 3 days to play with. Ultimately, I felt like I’d pretty much had my fill for now and for whatever reason going back to Bangkok sounded good. Once in Bangkok I could check into a comfortable place I like, save some money, and kick around a bit.

The should part of me wanted to make another quick Island stop. The what I felt like doing part of me just wanted to go back to Bangkok and hang out without having to hassle with anything else aside of getting to the airport for my flight home.

Thailand is a super easy place to travel. Once I decided to return to Bangkok I just went to one of the many travel agents on Ko Lipe and said I wanted to go to Bangkok by train. I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about it but half a brain is not necessary when traveling touristy areas in Thailand. The woman who helped me said I needed to take the 9 am speedboat ferry to some pier where a van would be waiting for me and some others. The van would drop me at the train station in Trang and all I had to do was walk across the street to some tour operator who would have my train ticket. Total cost for all transportation along with 2nd class air conditioned sleeper was around $47 USD including a small service charge.

So, the two hour speedboat ferry was pretty cool as I rode outside up front. Finding the van at the pier was made very easy by tagging along with a German looking for the same van. My train ticket was initially a little disappointing since I had booked last minute. The berth I was originally assigned was a top bed by the toilet with no window. Luckily, they must have added a car or something because when I met the tour operator who had my ticket she said she had checked before I arrived and I could change if I wanted to. She walked over to the train station with me and I was able to get the exact berth I wanted. I like the middle of the car with a bottom berth. The bottom bed has a window. Being in the middle is quieter and a better ride.

Not many tourists take the train back up to Bangkok from Trang since you can buy an airline ticket for as low as $50 USD depending. I only saw a couple of western foreigners in Trang and had lunch at a local restaurant. It was nice to be off the tourist track which is full of Germans, French, and Swedes all over the Southern Islands. On the fifteen hour train ride up to Bangkok I didn’t see a single tourist. For a moment, I felt like a traveler again. Back in Bangkok it was easy to find the way to my accommodation via metro and skytrain.

At this point I feel like I’m half way home. I’ve passed through Bangkok a number of times over the years and am quite familiar with the city. I checked into a single room with shared bathroom for around $22 USD a night at a hostel I’ve stayed out several times. It’s more like a budget hotel. Very comfortable, clean, and in a quiet location. Last night an Austrain guy traveling alone joined me for a trip up to the top of the Marriot which is about a seven or eight minute walk from the hostel. The open air bar, forty eight stories up, offers an amazing view. Drink prices are closer to the moon than the streets below but tolerable if you catch a beverage during sunset half price happy hour.

This morning I hopped the skytrain for a short ride and then a fifiteen minute walk to Lumphini park. The park is a good size with trees, pond, and so forth. It’s also the best, if not only place, inside the city which is really good for running and exercising. This morning there were lots of people. With cool temps in the low 70’s and a nice little breeze it was a great morning to be in the park. The roads are all closed for pedestrian traffic in the morning and bicycles in the afternoon. The outer road makes a nice loop of about a mile and a half upon black asphalt. The atmosphere is quite pleasant with lots of runners and various other groups doing Tai Chi and the like.

As I was running along I heard the sound of a voice on an intercom then a few chimes of some kind of bell. Everyone stopped and froze. It took a moment before I realized I was the only person moving so I figured I better stop and did. At that moment, what sounded like the national anthem, began to play. I took my hat off. As soon as it was over everyone got right back into what they were doing.

Right now is kind of an interesting time In Thailand. Obviously the country is doing pretty well but it hasn’t been without a few problems during recent years with attempted coups and such. Just recently the King died and the country is in a period of mourning. You see the King’s image everywhere. The king was in power for 70 years and the heir to thrown has yet to be officially appointed. It’s all being put off until sometime next year but it’s a little uncertain how it’s all going to play out.

Now I basically have 3 days in the city. I’ll likely go to the park every morning to run and plan to visit a few sites I haven’t been to like Ko Kreet, an Island in the middle of a river. It’s an easy day trip from Bangkok. Hey! I do have time to visit one more Island. How about that?

December 7, 2016

Ko Lipe - The Sun Arrives

Finally after a week of crappy weather the sun appeared full on and proper when Tuesday afternoon arrived. The seas were a little roughed up by wind but I tried snorkeling off a couple of beaches. It wasn’t good. Just a bunch of sandy coral and murky water with a few fish here and there. I did get in a good swim though and found a great section of quiet beach with white sand and a shady mix of trees. I sat awhile as my attitude adjusted to an environment that looks so much better under the sun. The water no longer looked drab. Turquoise reached out to abruptly meet a much deeper shade of blue with the horizon backed by another Island in the distance. The beach was sparsely populated with a few Europeans and one obvious American with knee length multi pocketed shorts, beer gut, and #26 Nascar hat.
Later in the day I walked around the rougher pockets of the Island and took some photos of the squalor. It doesn’t look as bad when the skies are clear. I took a photo a guy building a fire in front of his shack to cook dinner. A really great photo would have been of the entire family sitting on the front porch of their corrugated tin home but I was too embarrassed to ask. It reminded me of an early 1900’s photo of a black share cropping family in Mississippi but in a tropical setting. With so few windows and no air conditioning I wondered if they even have a fan. I assume they do. I think the section of tin homes, from what I can tell, is where the original natives live. The ones that were on the Island before it was developed for tourism.
Tuesday night I was sleeping pretty well until about 4:30 am. Around 5 am I felt an earthquake. A small one but definitely without a doubt an earthquake. I got on the internet a little later and sure enough, pretty much due west, off the tip of Indonesia, there was a 6.5 quake around 5 am. A strong quake. My first thought was Tsunami but I couldn’t find any warnings issued. Indonesia gets a lot earthquakes but very few actually trigger a Tsunami. It all has to do with geology, depth, etc.
A little later as locals started moving about I asked if anyone felt the quake. No one knew there was a quake and everyone commented they were sleeping at 5 am anyway. Around 9 am I met up with Mr Same, my snorkeling guide, I asked him if he knew about the earthquake. He didn’t know what I was talking about. I asked if there would be a Tsunami today and he said no so we went out for a great day of snorkeling.
It’s taken me a little while but I’ve kind of figured out how the Thai Island thing works. Basically, there are a bunch of Islands. Certain Islands are well set up for tourism so that’s where everyone goes. Some of the Islands like Koh Phi Phi are way over developed and appeal to young people wanting to party etc. while other Islands are a bit more low key and relatively quiet. A few of the harder to get to Islands are naturally much nicer but have limited accommodation and prices tend to be a bit upscale if not expensive. With a little research and planning you can probably find an idyllic vacation at one of those islands. Now, there are also few lesser known and harder to get Islands that are not very developed at all. Turantaro, is probably the wildest and a national park. Accommodation is offered by the park and can vary from tent camping to basic bungalows. I suspect supplies and amenities are limited as well. Also, you might have to deal with monkeys raiding your camp and so forth.
Now, there are a bunch of smaller Islands that don’t have anything except a nice beach and good places to dive and snorkel. So, the way it works is that you stay at one of the Islands set up for tourism and use it as a base. From there you book a day trip from a tour operator that seems to be on just about every corner. Whatever you want to do can be done and usually the price is very reasonable if not cheap.
Yesterday, Wednesday, I went on a guided snorkel trip with a long tail boat for the entire day. A group of seven with guide and boat driver. It cost me around $17 USD with lunch and equipment included. Ko Lipe is actually a group of Islands with everyone staying on one main Island. The other Islands are completely unspoiled aside of visiting tourists raiding certain beaches every day.
The shining sun has done wonders to turn around my initial impression. I’ve more or less switched into a vacation mode without feeling like I have to be an adventure traveler or rough it too much. In Thailand I can afford to travel at a little higher level. Since I seem to be liking Ko Lipe I’ve decided to stay put a couple of extra days at the boutique hotel.
Yesterday while snorkeling I saw lots of colorful fish, a moray eel, and a sea snake. The sea snake sort of scared me at first because I have never seen one and they are very poisonous. I swam back to the boat fairly quickly to ask about it. The guide said they are dangerous but not from a distance. The boat driver said the same and that they just like like to feed on small reef fish. Not to worry. We also visited monkey beach on an island guarded by monkeys. I don't much like monkeys. They steal your stuff and bite. 
At one spot, when I was snorkeling with the boat driver and guide, we spotted a squid. Squid are really cool to watch under water. I watched it a while then turned away only to look back again and see the boat driver sneak up to it with a knife. When he stabbed the squid it emitted a huge cloud of black ink. I was more than a little surprised. The reefs and Islands are supposed to be part of a national park. At another reef the boat driver hopped in and caught a couple of fish with a spear. Ok well, I’m sure it was all eaten by the evening but I think the locals need to be educated a bit on conservation.
For Ko Lipe the vacation season is just getting started. It looks like dry season has just arrived. The bad weather that I experienced the previous week was caused by a very slow moving low pressure system. Well, the low is on it’s way to India and appears to have developed into a cyclone. Probably the last of the season. In retrospect I kind of wish I’d spent another week in Myanmar but really it’s all good and not every day is going to be perfect. I’ve got one week left before I return home so I’m just going to enjoy it as much as I can. As always, these trips go by way too fast.

December 5, 2016

Ko Lipe - Where's The Sunny Blue?

I left Ko Lanta in a downpour. The bad weather continues but it wasn’t so bad during the afternoon of the boat ride to Ko Lipe. It took all day as we stopped at small islands along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. I think maybe I should have gotten off at one of those islands as they appeared to be very quiet but I had also been told that they are expensive.
The boat to Ko Lipe was old and tired. It had, “Welcome, Aloha”, stenciled on the thick painted steel near the wheelhouse so I think it lived in Hawaii at some point. The large seating area for passengers had a very strong odor like marine paint or something of the sort. I asked what it was. The crew looked at me perplexed like they didn’t smell anything but others aside of myself also commented. I was told I could sit up top by the wheel house. I did and the odor wasn’t near as bad. Later I figured out it was probably a freon leak in the air conditioning that caused the smell. The air conditioning froze up later in the day and the odor went away as it started blowing warm air. I think the crew charged it right before leaving and figured it might hold for the ride. It didn’t.
During the afternoon, clouds cleared a bit for a little sun. Oh, what a difference the sun makes. We passed several lovely islands that I didn’t know about and thought maybe I should have gotten off at one as they looked really quiet. I spent a good portion of the trip talking with a guy from New Zealand.
Upon arriving in Ko Lipe the boat pulled up to an old car ferry where we got off. I thought the car ferry might shuttle us ashore but I quickly noticed it was permanently moored. Everyone was funneled into a line where we were told we had to pay a 200 Bhat fee to visit Ko Lipe since some of the Island(s) are supposed to be National Park and what not. Also, we would have to pay another 50 bhat to have a boat take us a very short distance to shore. Again, what a racket. It’s not a lot of money but the principle. I kind of understand the so called park fee but the extra shuttle boat charge when I already paid for a relatively expensive ferry to Ko Lipe was B.S.
As I often do I arrived without booking accommodation. I was warned that Ko Lipe is kind of expensive for Thailand so to be prepared to spend a little extra. It was almost 5 pm so I started looking right away.
My first impression of Ko Lipe wasn’t too good starting with having to pay just to set foot on land. It’s a small island but more developed for tourism than expected. There’s a walking street from one side of the island to the other and that’s where I started my search. The street is kind of narrow and was crowded. I had to dodge motor bikes and motor bike tuk tuks along with people. I stopped and inquired at a couple of places and quickly figured out the price range. I cut across to Sunrise beach via a roundabout way. I soon discovered tucked behind the fa├žade of candy coated walking street lots of garbage and poverty with locals living in corrugated tin shacks along muddy dirt alleys.
At sunset beach I walked along the shore. The budget bungalows looked kind of dark and depressing. Low hanging thatch, only a couple of windows, a fan with mosquito netting, and cold water shower. At around 800 bhat, if not more, they didn’t appeal to me at all. Especially in the gloomy warm still muggy air. A dorm room in a hostel is 650 Bhat. The bottom end for a hotel started around 1300 bhat then went up from there. I checked a few places that were ok but none were great.
As dark approached I noticed a sandwich board sign advertising room available in front of a health clinic right off walking street, in the middle of everything. A very nice woman from the clinic ran out and greeted me enthusiastically. The front of the building houses a clinic but the back is a boutique hotel. She said she had a room and could give me a discount. One of the advantages to showing up late when things are a little slow. She showed me a very nice room with lots of extras. Safe box, kettle for boiling water, fridge, wifi, a/c, etc. 1400 bhat for one night ($39 USD) or 1300 bhat if I stay more than one night. Still, I wanted to look a little more and wandered off for five minutes. Knowing myself, I knew I was headed towards the road of indecision and was kind of tired from the long boat ride. I went back and took the room for one night. I figured I just decide the next morning if I’d want to stay there or elsewhere for my time remaining on the Island.
After checking in I went for a walk on Pattaya beach to get more acquainted with the Island. The beach is lined with small resorts, restaurants, and bars. I stopped at scuba place and met a really nice young French women working there who is from one the French Islands in the South Pacific. She gave me the low down on the Island as we talked awhile. I asked her about accommodation and she thought I got a great deal. Unless I wanted a bungalow as I described or a dorm I wouldn’t find anything cheaper without pitching a tent.
The night was not cooling down and staying warm, still and muggy. I found a place to eat that had some good fans stirring air around. I wasn’t feeling Ko Lipe. The odd 7/11 on walking street with it’s not so well behaved Chinese tourist customers made the Island even less appealing as I bought a bottle of water. I then called it an early night and went to my boutique hotel room to enjoy the a/c. Yes, I know I am getting a little soft on this trip.
The next day I awoke to more clouds and such and decided to go for a run. At 7 am things were very quiet so I started off down candy coated walking street and off up a road to the left. It quickly led to a raggedy area. Corrugated tin houses, garbage, and small dengue fever mosquito ponds displayed a vast contrast. It made me wonder where the 200 baht collected from all the tourist goes. How about hiring a couple of garbage men? I don’t get it.
I’ll have to amend a previous blog post comment. Thailand for the most part is no longer a third world country but parts of Thailand are still third world. A portion of Koh Lipe is anything but paradise for some of the locals. I’ve seen this kind of contrast before. Considering all of the wealth brought in by tourists some local people see very little if any benefit and it’s not because they don’t work hard. Just a little public assistance or a modest bit of integrity in the powers that be can make a tremendous difference. However, in most impoverished areas abroad there is usually a great deal of corruption. Again, Ko Lipe, despite natural beauty, is not making the best impression for me.
After an ok run, where I had to walk a couple of times to get around packs of stray dogs, I thought I might get lucky with clearing weather later in the day so I hopped on a cheap snorkel tour with a long tail boat. It turned out to be a group of 9 plus a boat driver and guide. Lunch included.
The first place we stopped was crap because the weather was too cloudy and the water was rough and murky. The next two places were pretty good and would have been great had it been sunny. Lots of coral, fish, sea urchins, and weird stuff. Not bad at all. From there we headed over to another island to join some other groups for lunch.
At the lunch island I got my 200 bhat ticket to enter Ko Lipe checked for the third time and was told it’s only good for five days. The island was kind of nice with fine white sand but a little noisy with Chinese tourists who like to make noise because they seem to think that’s the thing to do when traveling and having fun. As we ate our curry lunch the clouds grew darker and thunder started booming in the distance. The thunder drew nearer and nearer. Clouds darkened.
Some of the long tail boats tried to leave ahead of the storm but were turned back when white caps appeared and a heavy squall blew in. Most everyone gathered under a thatch roofed makeshift park station snack shack to wait out the storm. We could see other boats rushing back. Thunder rumbled and and the sea got rough for about 30 minutes. As soon as things calmed down a bit we got in the boat to make a run back to the main Island of Ko Lipe.
The white caps had calmed down but the swells were still kind of deep for a long tail boat. We crested one swell and came down hard. The bench in front of me cracked and broke in the middle like a karate chop with three people sitting on it. Nonetheless, the boat was doing ok and the driver was doing everything right as we found calm water in the lee of another small Island. At that spot our guide landed the boat and told us we could get out to look around for 10 minutes and take a photo but that would be the last stop. With another squall approaching I was kind of surprised he stopped and I could tell no one else really cared about getting out for 10 minutes so I said something. I asked if anyone wanted to get out and simply stated that another squall was headed our way and we should probably just run ahead of it back to Koh Lipe. Everyone thought that was a great idea and the guide seemed happy as well. I think he was just trying to squeeze in a little something extra as we had to pass on seeing some other stuff due to the weather.
Since the seas were too rough to return on the Pattaya beach side, where we left, we landed on the Sunrise side without a problem. By the end everyone was happy to be back on Ko Lipe proper. I said, “Cest la vie”, such is life, to a French couple in the group. They smiled and replied the same. At that moment, by chance, we both noticed a sign of a tree that said, “Sea La Vie”, and got a laugh out of that. By the end, the boat broke a bench seat, a Swedish man in the group lost his Go Pro camera, and I lost my UV protective snorkel shirt which I really liked. Oh well, “Cest La Vie”.
So far Southern Thailand isn’t really doing it for me. Maybe it’s just timing. I think a great deal of it has to do with the weather. I have yet to experience a proper sunny day. I’ve just experienced a few limited short sunny spells.  Also, I am a little put off by how overly touristic everything is. I know there are some heavenly fine places to find in the Islands of Thailand but I think it takes time. However, I don’t think anything in Thailand is undiscovered.

December 2, 2016

The Amaxing Tiger Cave - Koh Lanta

I picked around the black coated banana and didn’t worry about it as the porridge was hot. I figured the bananas were probably still ok but in no way appetizing based on appearance. It was the kind of black that makes you think the banana had been peeled a while ago and sat upon counter in an open container. Not just a bruised black. At 70 Bhat, about two bucks, I just paid for the breakfast but let them know that tourists don’t like black tinged bananas.

Today is Saturday and I’ve been three nights at Khlong Hin beach on Koh Lanta. I’ll stay a fourth because it doesn’t make sense moving today. The weather has turned into crap. The waves of the first couple of days have calmed but a slow moving front bringing steady rain has set in. It’s been cloudy and overcast ever since I arrived. I had hoped the rainy season would be done by now but it seems to be hanging on.

Fortunately, I decided on a snorkeling day trip yesterday when the weather wasn’t so bad. I booked a trip on a speed boat to the island of Koh Rok the night before. Despite cloudy skies the rain was sparse and very light. Snorkeling in cloudy weather usually isn’t that great but the reefs we visited had plenty of colorful fish and the clouds seemed to thin a bit for better lighting. I saw a good number of parrot fish and so forth amidst lots of coral. The tour I went with was a small group and we snorkeled at three different spots around the Island. For lunch we stopped at a beach where we were served a really good lunch curry and drinks. The all day outing with everything included was around $32 USD which included transfer to and from hotel.

My first day on Koh Lanta, after posting my last post, turned out to be kind of adventurous. I went for a walk along the road above the beach past Diamond beach and saw a sign for Tiger Cave. I took a left on a dirt road and started walking up. I asked someone how far to Tiger Cave. They said one km. I kept on walking past run down houses, garbage, and a small rubber tree plantation. I took another left up a narrower road and things started looking nicer and more tropical. I arrived at a small shack of a place with a large banner saying, “The Amaxing Tiger Cave”.

I was greeted by a man in traditional Muslim garb that asked me in good English if I would like to visit the cave and told me I needed to hire a guide. He said it was a 30 minute jungle hike to the cave or 20 minute if I was a good walker. I negotiated the Guide price down from 300 Bhat to 250 Bhat.

I thought the person I was talking to was going to guide me but as it turned out he was just the manager. Two other very disinterested fellows were laying in hammocks messing with their smart phones. The manager appeared to instruct one to be my guide but he fired back with a reluctant voice as he was busy watching a video on his phone. The manager, who I had just given my money to, sat down to have lunch.

I asked if everything was ok. He said everything was ok but I needed to wait a minute. He said something else to the two guys and I waited. It wasn’t a long wait but the guy who was supposed to be my guide didn’t appear to have any intention of getting up and away from his stupid phone. So, the manager coaxed the other guide who very reluctantly got up and put on his flip flops. He was given two headlamps. Without saying a word or even looking at me he started walking towards the trail. I just followed.

Into the jungle we walked briskly along a muddy trail that cris-crossed a creek. With the wet and all I figured it was prime leech country so I was careful not to step in the water and took my time in places if needed. The guide did turn around a few times to make sure I wasn’t far behind. About 20 minutes or so we reached the cave entrance.

We put on headlamps and entered via a makeshift ladder and crossed another ladder laid horizontal as a bridge. I was being very careful not to hit my head as I watched my footing. I thought it was just be a short little venture when we rounded out towards another entrance but that wasn’t the case. At that point we headed back into the cave through a small opening into a small room. I figured from there we would back track. Not the case. Instead my guide squeezed through a small hole into a small tunnel. I figured that was the crux and asked if we were going much further. He said, “No”, which was the only word he spoke. Through a smaller hole we crawled. It got kind of muddy. It was very tight. We paused at a couple of small rooms. I tried to take a couple of photos. I wondered what would happen if there was an earthquake. Someone larger than myself would have a very difficult time passing through time and I’m not a big guy.

The cave by cave standards was not particularly nice or amazing but there was an adventure factor considering how I just stumbled upon it and didn’t know what I was getting into. Also, the jungle setting wasn’t bad. At one point I think the guide may have cracked a smile as he could see I was struggling a bit with the tight spots and in an odd way I was kind of enjoying myself. It didn’t really take long navigating through the cave but when I saw light at the end I was happy to get out. No tigers.

We headed back down to the trail along the creek. Again, I carefully navigated my steps along the creek but by the end I picked up one leech. I got it early before it inflated. Fortunately, they are not dangerous and don’t carry disease but if you don’t catch them early they can leave a pretty bad bite bruise that can get infected.

As soon as we got back to the trailhead shack my guide disappeared. The manager gave me a bottle of water and in friendly manner asked me how I liked it. A few other locals were there and seemed to be a little friendlier. It was as if I passed their little initiation or something and was a good tourist who supports local people by paying for a guide. Some tourist say they just want to hike the trail without going to the cave and try to get around paying. One thing I’ve found in many countries is that you are treated much better by the locals when you have a guide. In a lot of countries it’s not expensive or downright cheap to hire one. Some guides are very good and make for a very special experience you would never have on your own. Others just show the way and keep you from getting lost which was the case with my Tiger Cave guide. I was happy to have him. There is no way I would have toured the cave on my own, as I did with the guide, despite his reluctance and not saying but one word the entire time.

Yesterday evening I visited the beach bar, next to the hotel I’m staying at, in search of conversation. I ordered a happy hour Mojito and it was probably the best I’ve ever had. I struck up conversation with a Brit who has been traveling for almost a year. Small waves fell gently on shore and the horizon was lit up with green lights from numerous fishing boats looking for squid. A couple of drinks and occasional cup of coffee don’t seem to be affecting my Meniere’s as it did last winter when I traveled New Zealand which is very nice. I enjoy the social aspect of a drink or two in the evening. Knock on wood.

So far I’ve made the most of Koh Lanta considering the weather. I’ve checked the radar and weather forecasts. It doesn’t look good for the next several days. Further north near Bangkok looks ok and northern Thailand looks fine. Today is particularly bad with the possibility of flooding in areas so I feel fine just staying put. It’s not a good day for doing anything and the open air restaurant at the hotel is busy with other travelers just hanging out. I suppose I could head back north to get out the rain but that would be leaving the Islands behind when I haven’t really seen or done much. I’ll most likely just stick with my plan and head to Ko Lipe tomorrow. After all, my whole intention of this two weeks is to see Islands and beaches.

November 30, 2016

Koh Lanta via Railay - Thailand

The overnight train from Bangkok to Surat Thani was what I expected. Nice, comfortable, and I got some decent sleep. At Surant Thani it was a 2+ hour bus ride to Krabi Town where I’d figure out what to do next.

Upon arriving in Surant Thani everyone with a ticket for an onward bus was hustled into a couple of small restaurants. Oh, I get it, the tour company operating the bus wants everyone to eat at their restaurant before departing. If you didn’t order something you were asked to go to the bus and wait.

The bus departed about an hour after arriving. It was a nice bus but the driver was surly. About an hour and a half into the ride I asked the driver if there would be a restroom stop as several people needed one. A couple of minutes later he pulled to the side of the open road. It was too public for me to urinate but one guy from Europe really appreciated me saying something and had no problem going as cars whizzed by. Everyone else just held it except for the driver who decided he needed to go as well. He pissed behind the bus..

Near Krabi town the bus took a back way down a narrow road and dropped everyone at a business that arranges tours. The intention was to get people to book an onward ticket or reservation with them. What a racket. The drop was disorienting. I was told town center was 5 km away and that it would cost another 50 Bhat to get a ride there. One backpacker demanded to be taken to town for free and was kind of making a scene. I just went ahead and paid the extra $1.60 or so because I didn’t really know where I was.

Krabi town center was less than a mile away and that is where I was dropped. The town did not appeal to me at all but I needed to eat. I walked into a cheap eats place and ordered fish and chips which were not very good. I renamed Krabi town, Krappy town, and started to look for a way out. I had already intended to go to Railay beach and saw in my guide book that it was really close. It’s located on a peninsula that is only reachable by boat.

The boat dock was easy to find. While waiting for the boat I met a couple of young women from Germany who complained how they kept running into Germans. The Germans are everywhere. They had also just traveled from Myanmar and talked about how everyone gets sick there.

The boat ride was what I expected but a little wet. Mixed overcast skies with gusty winds detracted from the beauty. The boat dropped us at floating pier that was rolling with the waves of high tide. I proceeded towards land.

The setting for Railay’s beaches is undoubtedly beautiful if not spectacular. Exposed limestone karst cliffs with colors of gray, rust, and white rise up to form steep hills covered with thick tropical forest. The Peninsula forms two main beaches. One on the east and one on the west. The east side is windward and a little rocky. The west side is calm and sandy. Along both beaches are resorts. The short five minute walk through the woods between both beaches in lined with restaurants, bars, and patrolled by a bandit monkeys that might grab your leg until you let go of your fruit shake.

Yes, it’s beautiful but aside of natural beauty Railay lacks real character. It entirely caters to the western tourists like gringos at a Mexican resort. By time I arrived at Railay I was a bit wired from the travel and figured it would be best to just get a place for the night. The west side was far too expensive. The East side is expensive but considerably less so. Fine for a night or two. The cheap backpacker places were located at some other hippy beach that I’d have to wait for low tide to access or hire a boat. Hippy funky can be both good and/or not so good. I didn’t want to mess with that so I checked out three places. I chose a worn bungalow in a very nice setting but wound up paying twice what I would have expected. Good for a night.

I had a beer but didn’t find it appealing. I ordered a Pad Thai for an early dinner but it wasn’t very good. Probably because I asked for no MSG. I walked around. I went for a swim in the lovely hotel pool set below a cliff but the water was cold. The sunset on the west beach was nice and the fruit shake I had while watching was very good. I found a bar for conversation but the happy hour Mojito I ordered was absolutely terrible and I don’t think it had hardly any alcohol which ironically was probably a good thing.

Earlier that day, upon arriving in Railay, I met an African American backpacker from the States. I mention African American because I rarely see someone black from the USA backpacking around Asia, especially alone. He was a really cool guy and had been hopping Islands for the past few weeks. He seemed to be very good at finding the gems on each Island and was great for getting advice. He said no matter the place you can always find some cool spots because most tourist just want to drink and lay on the beach. I told him I really wasn’t feeling Railay. He advised I head south to Koh Lanta and Caliope. Although he hadn’t been to either Island he had heard good things. I had originally intended to do some rock climbing on Railay as it’s world known but also a bit of a scene. I decided to pass since I haven’t climbed in years and I’d probably just pull a muscle in my back or something.

Krabi and Raily thus far feel a little like reverse culture shock. I think by time I left Myanmar I was just getting the feel a more foreign and more adventurous experience. There is nothing secret or adventurous in my opinion when it comes to Thailand. It’s all been discovered and western tourists, mostly Europeans, come in crowds of crowds. I must admit it’s for a good reason but tourism can dilute authenticity. I need to find my place in the sun. It might take a few days but when I do I’ll plant myself for a bit. Railay wasn’t feeling like the place. At least at the moment.

Without much hesitation, after one night, I purchased a boat ticket to Koh Lanta first thing in the morning. Because of the sheer beauty of Railey I sensed my departure was premature but I really felt like moving on. I waited on the West side beach while others showed up. From there it was a wet landing for a long tail boat to be shuttled to a larger boat for Koh Lanta. The Koh Lanta ferry was packed and stacked with travelers and backpacks. The view of Railay was more impressive from the boat and I could see several other beaches aside of East and West. Again, I felt my departure was a bit too soon but I was still happy to be going. I entertained the thought of possibly returning later.

As the boat left Railey I took a seat inside by the window. The waters were calm and the ride smooth. I bought a beer from a guy walking around with a bucket full. This time the beer tasted right, I felt like my old self, the old self that’s traveled Asia in the past. With no real plan, no place to stay, and not a worry in the world I felt completely relaxed and in my element. I really enjoyed the two hour ride.

The boat dock at Koh Lanta is a racket. They expect everyone, mainly foreigners, to pay a 10 Bhat cleaning fee which certainly does not go towards cleaning. I guess the boat dock cleaning fee is a common government scam in Thailand. Everyone is funneled through a narrow exit lined with aggressive hawkers and touts. “Where you going? You need Taxi ?” I ignored the touts and cleverly got around not paying the 10 Bhat fee because the guys taking money were so overwhelmed. I figured I’d cleanse my Karma by leaving the 10 Bhat fee as part of a tip when I had lunch. Tips are not normally expected in Thailand aside of more upscale restaurants etc.

I took a sharp right out of the dock and shook the remaining touts in a couple of blocks. I found a nice peaceful restaurant built over the water and enjoyed a good curry and drink for less than $4. Over lunch I consulted my Lonely Planet guide to Thailand’s beaches and Islands and figured Klong Nin would be a good beach to start. I consulted with a couple of travel agents as to what I’d expect to pay for transportation to get there and was told 150 to 200 Bhat for a motor bike tuk tuk. It’s basically a motor bike with a covered side car.

It pays to do a little inquiring before hiring a tuk tuk as all rates are negotiable. A young Muslim woman with pink tuk tuk asked me where I was going. I told her. She said 300 Bhat. I said 150. She made a funny face and I said 175. She said it was far to go with a tuk tuk but 200. I said Ok.

Heading out of the main town of Ban Sala Dan was not very nice but at least I felt like I was in a foreign environment again. A few more miles and things looked better. A turn to the right and things looked much better. She asked where I was staying and I told her I didn’t know. She said there were many places and dropped me at the perfect spot to start my search.

To my right the beach was blocked by restaurants and hotels. Simple mid-range and budget type places with character. Pretty much what I was looking for. To the left were more hotels, shops, etc… So, I started inquiring. Just about every place had availability because the real tourist season doesn’t start until mid December. There was a better value to be had on the left side of the road but I wanted to be by the beach on the right side.

After about an hour or so I arrived at what I wanted. For 800 bhat, about $23 USD, I have a top level room on a two story building with a view, fan, a/c, shower and toilet. It’s simple, nice, clean, and just steps from a sandy beach. This is the Thailand I was expecting. Accommodation by the beach for $20 to $30. Meals for $4 to $5. An hour Massage (legitimate) on the beach for $10 to $15. Drinks for $1 to $5. Motor Bike rental, all day, $5 to $6. And, if you need anything, transportation, etc. it can be arranged by a travel agent at the hotel for as cheap you can find anywhere.

Koh Lanta is a real island with real people. The economy is tourist based but much more real and authentic than Railey. It’s also noticeably Muslim. Thailand is a Buddhist country but the Southern portion near Malaysia is largely Muslim. Many women are covered and wear a head covering with only the face exposed. The first thing I think of is how uncomfortable it must be in the tropical heat and humidity. It’s quite a contrast seeing a bikini clad European next to a local traditional Muslim woman working at a beach resort.

As for Khlong Nin beach? It’s a nice beach, not bad. I wouldn’t call it spectacular compared to some of the other places I’ve been but it’s a great place to chill. Swimming is good and the water is clean however there is a bit of a shore break at high tide so low tide is better for a dip. However, you still need to be a little mindful as the waves come in sets and break a little hard. Better to swim out beyond the breaks between sets and watch the swells. Yesterday I got pretty relaxed in the water and got hammered by a rouge wave when I wasn’t paying attention. The upside I suppose is that it totally cleaned out my sinuses. Whatever remnant of the cold I got in Burma is totally gone.

I’ve been on the move ever since leaving Inle Lake in Myanmar so today I’ll just hang out at the beach. It’s very quiet. Not many tourists. The waves are coming in pretty strong with high tide and crashing with a rhythmic cadence. The skies are overcast. They say the sun may come out later but today its doesn’t really matter as far as I'm concerned…

November 28, 2016

Bangkok Stopover

I’ve more or less given up coffee and alcohol due to various reasons. Since I’ve been feeling more like myself these days I decided to order a coffee at a coffee shop in Bangkok overlooking a busy street by the BTS Skytrain. All I saw on the menu was espresso this and that. I just wanted a small weak cup with a lot of milk. Communication was not very good as I tried to convey that I didn’t want anything strong, etc. So, what did I get? I’m not sure. A glass with a small bit of hot milk on the bottom and a bunch of ice cubes made of coffee with a small carafe of milk on the side. The question is this. Are the ice cubes espresso or drip coffee? Partway thru the glass I am beginning to think espresso. I think I better stop.
Bangkok is modern and fast paced. A world away from Yangon, Myanmar. Myanmar, minus bad internet and cell phones, is more like Asia was in the 1980’s. Right now I’m in the Sukhumvit area which hosts plenty of variety. The old and new combine nicely for traditional street eats, chic shopping centers, fancy hotels or backpacker hostels. A lot of expats live in the area so if you need any of your western cravings satisfied they can be easily found in the way of foods and such.
Last night I stayed at a hostel I’ve stayed at in the past. I took a single room for the night which was wonderfully quiet. It was the best night’s sleep I’ve had so far on this trip. I easily found my way from the old airport to the hostel via bus and skytrain. The subway and skytrain system are great in Bangkok. That combined with a little walking or short taxi ride makes just about anything in the city very accessible. I’ve gotten re-acquainted with Bangkok and really like the feel of the city. Yesterday evening I visited a rooftop bar on the 48th floor of the Marriot which is about a five minute walk from the hostel. The view is spectacular.
My flight from Yangon was on time and easy. I almost got in a little trouble re-entering Thailand. The immigration officer was on his game and didn’t like my full passport. I have two blank pages in the back but he was keen to know that they are not to be used for visa’s. Most immigration officers would not catch it as a third page, not to be used for visa’s, had been filled. The officer was stern. I explained that this would be the last trip with the passport and that I’d be flying home to the States in a couple of weeks. He accepted my explanation but was firm in telling me that I would not be allowed back into Thailand without a new passport. There was just enough space on one proper page for an entry and exit stamp. I was issued a variation of the normal thirty day visa with a restriction code.
I had been warned by another diligent immigration officer in New Zealand last winter but forgot until it was about time for me to leave on this trip. I gambled that I would be ok and ultimately I am but if I had any intention of visiting another country before going home I’d be hung up with the U.S. consulate for a while in Bangkok. Instead, I’ll apply for a renewal as soon as I get home.
Today I’ve just been taking it easy. Tonight I’ll take the train down south which I’m really looking forward to. The first stop will be Krabi where I’ll likely stay a couple of nights before hoping boats to various Islands for a couple of weeks.

November 26, 2016

Inle Lake - Last Stop - Two Weeks In Myanmar

Two weeks in Myanmar is barely enough time. You really need at least three or four, however, after two weeks I am ready to return to Thailand. By developing/third world standards Myanmar is easy to travel. The people are nice and for the most part very honest. Theft and scams are at a minimum. Touts are not overbearing as the people are quite polite about it and not too pushy. However, Myanmar remains a very poor country. The poorest in Southeast Asia

While traveling through places like Bagan and Inle Lake it’s easy to travel in a bubble as tourism is well established. Food and lodging can be found at a higher standard. Outside of few select tourist spots you can’t help but notice the poverty and all that goes with it. In that regard traveling becomes a little tiring unless you are totally up for it. The noise, pollution, garbage, language difficulties, and person sitting behind you on a packed bus with a bad cough become wearing. Throw in a likely bout of travelers diarrhea and/or a cold and it becomes a bit exhausting.
For the most part Myanmar is what I expected and well worth the trip. It’s been interesting for me to return to such an environment to see how I’d like it. I’d say during the years of 2009 to 2011 I probably would have been inclined to stay longer because I had more of an interest in the kind of experience that a country like Myanmar offers but now my interest seem to be swaying the other direction. The train trip from Yangon to Bagan, the temples of Bagan and the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake were all great experiences but enough for now.

My last day in Myanmar was spent on a long tail boat upon Inle Lake with four other backpacker travelers. It was easy to find a group. I just went down to the boat dock which was located across from a budget hotel/hostel where I met a guy from France with a guy from New Zealand and two girls from Indonesia. A boat for the entire day cost around $14 USD and we split the cost which made it very cheap.

The ride around the lake and it’s channels was quite beautiful as we passed traditional fishermen and floating gardens but the stops at different shops and so forth was a bit canned with premium priced souvenirs for unsuspecting tourists. Of course they claim just about everything is made locally or by themselves but you never really know for sure. One shop did host a couple of long neck women, the only ones I saw as there aren’t many left, who were weaving scarves. In retrospect I kind of wish I’d bought a scarf as they were kind of unique and I believe the ones being sold were actually made by them. You have to be careful that the souvenirs are authentic to Myanmar and not Chinese knockoffs. A local business man can send an authentic curio to a factory in China and have them bang out a thousand or more for the next tourist season.

The two nights of luxury in a $30 hotel room was followed by a ride in a back of a truck for 30 minutes to a road intersection with a makeshift bus station where I stood in the dark for another half hour waiting for a VIP bus.

I needed to get back to Yangon to catch my flight back to Bangkok. The VIP bus was nice and modern. The seats were wide and lean far back but the arctic air conditioning made it a bit uncomfortable. Throw in bad winding mountain roads, a hint of motion sickness, the obligatory coughing person in the seat behind and the 11 hour ride doesn’t feel so VIP. The ticket cost around $23 USD and included a snack, throw away toothbrush and disposable wet towel.

The bus station in Yangon is a nightmare. It’s not bad when you arrive in the city and simply hop into a taxi but good luck if trying to find your bus out of the city. I was really glad I had taken the train out of Yangon which is very easy. The Bus arrived at 6 am and I decided to hop a taxi with three French backpackers directly to the airport. My flight to Bangkok was not scheduled to leave until nearly 1 pm but I knew there was an earlier flight at 8:30 am on the same airline. I also knew there were seats available.

I arrived at the airport with the French at 6:30 am and cued up in line. I was persistent and polite as I went to 1, 2, and 3 lines. No success. Not possible. I would have to wait until my scheduled flight at 12:55. In some countries I might have been able to bribe my way onto an earlier flight but that doesn’t appear to be the way it works in Myanmar.

Anyway, I’ll still arrive in Bangkok at a reasonable time where I’m already booked into a single room at a quiet peaceful hostel I’ve stayed at before. I’ll have all day to rest before catching a sleeper berth on a night train Monday to Krabi in the south of Thailand. The air conditioned overnight sleeper trains in Thailand are very nice and clean. An attendant makes your bed for you in the evening.

Although Thailand has it’s share of poor, especially in the rural areas, I don’t really consider it to be a third world country anymore. It’s a very easy and very comfortable place to travel. A great place for a vacation which is exactly what I intend it to be. Beaches, islands, snorkeling and a little rock climbing is what I plan to do.

As for the moment, I am sitting at a KFC at Yangon International Airport feeling a little shaky after all day on a boat followed by a bumpy eleven hour bus ride with little sleep. The minor cold I picked up is well on its way out but it’s leaving me with a hint of a cough. Nothing that an ocean breeze can’t cure.

November 25, 2016

Kalaw to Inle Lake - A Walk In The Hills

It was nice to walk right out of the hotel with pack upon back and join a group of 4 others and local guide without having to think about a bus, taxi, etc. The next three days would take us on a walk over hills and through villages upon mixed paths of narrow trail and rural road. At the end of the walk we would hop a long tail boat up a river and across Inle lake to the town of Nyuangshwe.

I originally expected our guide to be the Sikh who owned the guest house that I had arranged the trek with. By the morning of the walk the group had grown to eleven. So, true to his word, the Sikh by the name of Robin, had said he did not like to walk with groups of more than five or six. He thus broke the group in two and hired another guide whose group I walked with. This arrangement proved to work out very well. In the evening we met up with Robins group for dinner and lodging.

Lodging was very basic. A pad with blanket. The first night was on the floor of the second story in a two story building. The second night was on a elevated platform made of Bamboo on the ground floor of a two story building. Each night we had a cook who cooked over open fire as they have done forever.

Our route did well to keep us up on higher ridges after crossing or skirting valleys. Our guide spoke good English and regularly showed us local plants and such. Since he knew many of the people in the villages there was a lot of interaction with locals. We would stop to talk with people harvesting crops and took a couple of breaks at a village monastery to have tea with a monk.

The hill people are agricultural and very poor but they seem to have what they basically need. For the most part they appear to be happy. Although life is hard I can’t say it’s complicated like it is in more developed countries. It’s quite simple. Food, shelter, and the help of family and friends is all you really need but physically it’s hard.

Just about all of the farming is done by hand or cow drawn plow. I only saw one farmer using a gas operated machine to till soil. All of the harvesting of rice, ginger, red pepper, etc. was being done hunched over and by hand. The monetary end result is a pittance considering all of the labor. One thing that has really made an impression on me during this trip is hard work and how it’s defined.

I work hard at what I do in the States but it’s by no means the same as what you see in developing countries. My work is not literal back breaking work. I do ok with what I make as a single person but by American standards it’s not a lot. However, I can still afford to hop on a plane and travel to places like Myanmar where I can live like a rich man staying in nice hotels for $25 or $30, if I so choose, without a problem. Or, I can join a guide with a small group for an all inclusive three day trek through the hills for around $40 USD. In Myanmar I just happen to be wealthy by relative terms because of the country I come from. They say that ten percent of the world’s population holds ninety percent of the world’s wealth. Well, as modest as my life and income may be in the states I think it’s obvious that I’m am very lucky to be a part of the 10%.  No matter how hard someone works in a developing country it’s extremely difficult to get ahead and nearly impossible if they don’t have an education and/or cannot speak English.

The walking/hiking was nice with rolling and varied terrain. Plenty of views filled with the day to day life of rural Myanmar culture. Although the villages remain quite primitive and basic by today’s standards the level of sanitation has improved thanks to non-government organizations. Our guide said that in the past people just used the toilet in the forest or pretty much anywhere. Now, they have properly designated squat toilet pits that everyone seems to be good about using. Also, each town has what is supposed to be a good well for water but I wouldn’t recommend drinking any untreated water in Myanmar. Myanmar has proven to be a country where you need to be careful about the food and water. It seems like just about everyone new to the country gets something. Usually travelers diarrhea.

By the end of the third day I was ready to be done. Although the level of sanitation has improved in the hill villages it did not prevent a cold bug from going around our group. During the evening it was a group of eleven. At the start of the trek the Swiss man who I had booked the trek with showed up with a cold. By the end of the walk five or six had the cold including myself. I think it was exacerbated by wood smoke from cooking. All of the cooking is done over a wood fire indoors with the only venting being open doors or windows.

Fortunately, the cold is not the kind that knocks you out. It’s the kind that just makes you a little tired and unmotivated. Luckily, I didn’t come down with it until the second day and it didn’t detract from the overall experience too much.

At the end of the trek we had lunch and boarded long tail boats for about an hour ride up river to Inle Lake and Nyaungshwe. Upon arrival Robin led us to a hotel where our extra gear, that wasn’t needed for the trek, had been shuttled. I took a look at aroom that was available for $15. It was ok but not particularly clean. With a wide arrange of hotels I figured I’d look elsewhere, however, I wasn’t feeling great with a runny nose.

As I walked on I saw a large nice looking five story hotel rising above the dust, noise, and speeding motor scooters. I rounded a corner past a fat dead rat laying in an ally. A little further I wandered in to take a look. They had a single on the top floor with a view for $35. I offered $30 and they readily accepted. Probably should have offered $25. Anyway, $30 gets me a very nice and clean room with an included east meets west breakfast buffet. The view is of town, the lake in the distance, and a pagoda with lights that flash like a disco at night. Just a few extra dollars and the standard can really go up, however, for Southeast Asia I still think Myanmar is kind of expensive. Most of all my room is super quiet which isn’t always easy to find Asia. 

I don’t know if it’s just because I'm getting older but I don’t mind paying a little extra for something nicer as long as it’s a good value. I figure I’m going to rough it plenty enough without trying and no feel compelled to pinch my pennies and suffer like a twenty year old college student. I don’t have to. It’s just not necessary if it’s not necessary. At fifty one I think it’s safe to say I’ve graduated.

The town of Nyaungshwe is quite pleasant and well set up for tourism. The main attraction is Inle lake which is really quite beautiful and set up in a broad mountain valley. The mornings are quite cold and can get down to freezing at night with the daytime temps being just about perfect. What’s also nice about the lake and area I hiked through is that it’s above the Malaria and Dengue which is more of a problem during the rainy season. Not so much during the dry season which it is now. Since it’s a flat valley it’s good for biking. You can rent a bike for a dollar a day.
As for me it’s two nights in Nyaungshwe then a night bus back to Yangon to catch a flight to Bangkok. Two week is too little time for Myanmar. I could easily go another week but the beaches and islands of Southern Thailand are calling.

November 20, 2016

On To Kalaw, Burma

After viewing the sunset on my final night in Began I turned in the scooter and got to formulating a plan for the rest of my time in Burma. I was over thinking when I ran into an Australian brother and sister who I had met the previous day and who had also happened to be on the Mt Popa day trip. We decided to get dinner together.

The sister seemed to be a pretty seasoned traveler and I expressed my indecision as to what to do next. She was brilliant in helping me sort it out and could relate to my predicament. I really wanted to take the boat up the Ayeyarwady but I didn’t really want to spend time in Mandalay. From there I wanted to see Inle Lake but I needed to consider how transport can be lengthy and un predictable in a third world country. I need not forget a real passion and interest for me is hiking. It was really more obvious than I was realizing. Why not go straight to Kalaw? From there hikes or treks as they call it can be arranged through hill tribe villages to Inle Lake. From Inle Lake I could arrange for a bus to Yangon where I’ll catch a flight back to Bangkok. Perfect. However, for whatever reason, I still had a strong desire to boat up the Ayeryarwady. Sometime after 9 pm I made a final decision and bought a minivan ticket to Kalaw.

The minivan picked me up at 7:30 am then stopped by the hostel to pick up a Swiss man and a couple from Holland. After that we drove all over the place picking up some local people and stuff to be put on the roof. We made a stop at what seemed like someone’s home then then finally left Bagan where we drove to another village and picked up some more people and stuff. The van was full with the driver’s helper riding on the roof. Finally, we got going for real.

The gentleman sitting next to me was forty five and from Switzerland. A well seasoned traveler with the intentions of doing the same kind of hike I wanted to do. We talked along the way and decided we would look into making arrangements together. The van rolled on.
We crossed wide long valley with the occasional dirty poor town for quite awhile before we could see hills in the distance. The hills got bigger and closer. Finally, we began to climb, and climb, and climb, slowly.
It was a long van ride that took most of the day. I was happy to see that Kalaw was a much nicer place than some of the villages passed on the way up. It’s set in a lovely high valley. The air is crisp and cool. Aside of dusty streets it’s a pretty clean place. As they say the crap flows downhill. Kalaw is at the top of the hill so to speak. With a number of hotels and plenty of daylight left I decided check out options for accommodation. Most all of the accommodation I looked at was ok but the hotel on top a of hill overlooking the village was by far the best in opinion. They only had one night available but I decided to take it. Thirty dollars for a very nice and quiet European standard hotel with breakfast and view. Luxury.
In the process of looking for a place I met up with the Swiss Guy whose last name is “Boss” but whose first name is not easy to remember. I just call him Boss. I also met up with the owner of a guest house who happens to be a guide who grew up in the in the village and has been leading treks for 20 years. Within a couple of hours I had a place for the night and a guide for a 3 day hike to Inle Lake that will leave at 9 am on Tuesday.
That evening Boss and I went for dinner at a Nepalese restaurant. Kalaw kind of reminds me of a Himalayan hill village. A lot of the people living in Kalaw have descended from migrants who came over from India and Nepal to work for the British in the 1940’s. Mostly for the railroad. Our trekking guide is a Sikh who was born in the Kalaw but his father moved here from northern India.
So, I arrived in Kawlaw on Sunday. Today is Monday. I’ve decided to just hang out and enjoy the village for the day. Tomorrow I’ll start the Trek to Inle Lake. So far there with be four of us and the guide. Our guide says he limits his groups to 5 or 6.
On another note. The internet has been pretty bad in Burma and the last post took me a few hours due to technical issues otherwise I probably would have posted more with photos by now. When I get back to Thailand, internet access should be fine.