This afternoon I did my first dive! It was a beach dive directly off from the Lagoona Redang Resort beach. While only to a depth of 6m, it was fully guided. My group was meant to be 3 plus a guide but Frankie and Ron both aborted after a depth of about 30cm.
After all the fiddling around and briefing I forgot the GoPros
so can’t actually show you what I saw but the dive was over a reef with trigger fish, clown fish and whole host of others all just doing their fishy thing.
Day 18 (15 Oct)
After another boat ride back to the jetty where we were dropped off originally we set off to Kalaw via the caves at Pintaya.
The trip from the jetty at Inle lake to the limestone caves go through some of the most dense farmland in Myanmar. We passed small family farms growing cauliflower, pumpkin, potatoes, beans, cabbage etc all grown organically to be sold at local markets or if lucky, regional wholesalers.
Pintaya limestone caves, just like every other caves I have encountered in Myanmar – they have been converted to a Temple with every surface and grotto adorned with Buddhist imagery.
The kicker for this place is the legend that surrounds the cave. Allegedly a number of princesses sheltered in the cave to escape a storm. Little did they know a Nat spirt in the form of a giant spider was in the cave and proceeded to hold them hostage. A hunts man (a hunter not a spider) was nearby and heard the princesses screams. He used his bow and arrow and killed the spider. Why princesses were roaming the country unprotected the myth does not say. But to remind all and sundry of the story there is a reenactment in Disney style large stone characters at the entrance to the cave.
From Pintsya we stopped and had lunch at the lake where Kainnari & Kainnara ( the flying lover gods as previously mentioned ) were rumoured to live. Not a bad place to spend a day. Onward, ever onward we moved to Kalaw – if the English gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin was freakish the English cottages and large homes of Kalaw are other worldly, topped off with Pine trees make this place look like an English village deposited in the Myanmar hills.
Day 19 (16 Oct)
Today was Kalaw market day! All the farmers were out selling their wares – from veggies to batteries, dried fish to clothes it was all there. Spent most of the morning wandering around the stalls and looking at odd parts of animals and odds and ends.
This afternoon was topped off with another cave that contained…. You guessed it. Another Temple.
Day 20 (17 Oct)
Up before the sun again to head off on a day trek. Our guide assured us the night before that the terrain would be ‘gentle’ and ‘down hill’. I think today must have been Opposite Day since 7 of the 12km was up hill rising to 1404m above sea level at the high point. By not means was the walk hard, just unexpected.
The villages and their inhabitants live a truly rural existence. But the landscape was beautiful. Every second house had some water buffaloes in the front yard. Or a small child heading off to school.
The children were heading off to school on the last day before a 10 day break. Which means after cleaning the school grounds they were free to go home which they were doing when we dropped into the local school at around 0930.
As the area is totally devoid of mains power every house had a solar panel for night lighting during the dryer months and a hydro electric setup in the local stream for during the monsoon season. I was in nerd heaven.
Our guide even showed us the roadside local herbs that the farmers use for first aid – one to stop nose bleeds, which when burnt keeps the squadrons of local mosquitoes at bay, another that you put the sap on cuts and scratches to seal against dirt. Happy to report that we didn’t need to use any.
** over the past few says the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has emailed me a few travel advisory updates informing us that a number of explosive devices have been found across the country. Detonations have been confirmed in Yangon and Shan state ( the state we are in now). While the information is most welcome, it will not be effecting our plans, but I will be keeping a ‘weather eye’ on the situation **
Leaving Mandalay Airport for a domestic flight to Inle Lake we were forced to go through customs checks twice – passport handed over the whole works – IT IS A DOMESTIC FLIGHT – before you say it was to check ID, we have picked up all our tickets at airline check in at every airport WITHOUT ID.
This region produced a lot of tomatoes – all in floating beds. It was unbelievable seeing farmers tend their crops… in boats.
Today was meant to start with a hot air balloon ride over this ancient city and it’s seemingly endless pagodas at sunset. So up at 0400, morning ablutions sorted, bag packed, then at 0445 the call came through cancelling due to early stronger winds above ground level. Meant to go hot air ballooning over temples. Cancelled due to weather – re booked for tomorrow. So back to out huge bed watching the river traders start their day out our river front window. at 6 we wandered to the hotels buffet breakfast – the first and only decent buffet breakfast I had in Myanmar. Today was the perfect day to catch on sleep and chill by the pool.. At dusk we rented 2 electric pushbikes and cruised around the pagodas in the twilight – highly recommend it. After sunset it seemed that tourist police were set up every 500m – not hassling any one just making sure everything was ok with so many tourist out at night. The only downside to being out cruising at night is that bugs fly straight into your eyes and mouth.. not a good look. I was rather shocked to see a tiny little light approaching it turned out that it was a truck with a torch taped to the roof.
Again up at 0400, all washed, dressed and headed to reception for the pick up at 0500. When there was no car waiting at 0515… we guessed it was cancelled again – sure enough reception confirmed – cancelled. While Frankie was devastated but it is the way it goes. So in the afternoon we headed off towards Mount Poppa. Stopping first to see peanut oil extraction “the old school way” – one cow walking in a circle and using a grinding stone to crust the nut and the oil flows out. Also the same plantation extracts the sweet palm water then boils it down to create palm sugar balls and palm whiskey.
Oh I just remembered, when we were walking home from dinner there was movement in the bushes – Frankie tells me it was a Ghost – no he isn’t even joking.
A temple that is built on top of a small yet tall mountain with winding spiral stairs… who are patrolled by naughty monkeys.
After a night on the town with Frankie’s former school mates it meant another early start with minimal sleep. This time a domestic flight on Myanmar’s newest airline AirKBZ, owned by KBZ bank. The new airline also has new aircraft – the new ATR 72 600. Perfect for short haul flights in comfort. With a clever stroke of marketing genius the logo for AirKBZ is the Burmese mythical couple Kainnayi and Kainnyar. Who according to legend area flying couple who were so I love, when they were separated while flying though a thunder storm for 1 hour to the lovers it felt like years.
Arriving in Bagan starts the preplanned part of our trip that Frankie arranged with a local tour agency here. He provided the locations and the dates. They did the rest. We were booked into the Bagan Thande river side hotel, constructed for the British royal visit in 1922 by the Prince of Wales.
Our room had full river frontage to the Irrawaddy river. We often sat watching the river ‘push’ boats moving up and down the river with their loads of teak and other cargo.
First thing I must point out that Bagan has more pagodas than I have numbers. They are every few metres in some cases. The first we visited was built in the 11th century. Hosting four large images of standing Buddha. Two, the north and south are original 11th century magnolia wood. These two are built in the Indian style of Buddha’s image – meaning, they are smiling and their earlobes do not touch their shoulder. The east and west images were either damaged and or stolen along with their many jewels by the Mongol hordes that invaded Bagan at this time.
Up early again ( what is it with early mornings !!!).
Today we leave the mountain and head back to Yangon. But first to get down the mountain. We packed back into the converted dump truck with 30 or so of our closes unknown friends and all their belongings before rumbling to life setting off down the mountain. While the trip up was 45 mins of roller coaster action, the trip down was faster ( hey who needs breaks anyway). I managed to set the gopro up on top of the truck, and using the wifi remote mode was able to capture the trip down to show you.
After arriving at the bottom of the mountain – formerly referred to as base camp. Our driver was waiting to take us back to Yangon. The trip back was via the town of Bago with its colonial era town clock tower and coming together of the rural traders on the main road to Yangon to trade their wares with wholesalers who sell in turn in Yangon.
The scenes of rural life, without reliable electricity, without permanent housing structures ( currently built of palm fronds and bamboo with the odd tarp thrown in) by the mighty Irrawaddy river as it makes it’s way down from the hills to the Myanmar delta to flow in to the Bay of bangl are the images of the REAL Myanmar for me. The untouched. The uncorrupted every day life really resonates with me.
Dinner in Yangon tonight with some of Frankies school friends, then another quick turn around out to the Temple city of Bagan again at stupid o’clock
Mt Kyaiktiyo – Golden Rock Day 2
During the time we are in Myanmar is the period between the end of the monsoon season and the start of ‘festival season’. Most of the religious sites appear to be forgotten, unrepaired and abandoned. This is a good thing – no other people around.
During ‘festival season’ all the sacred sites are polished, painted, swept and thus crowed with not only foreign tourists but also Burmese pilgrims coming to pay homage. Mt Kyaiktiyo, with its famed Golden Rock is one of Myanmar’s 3 most holy sites. :
• Swedagon in Yangon
• Mt Kyaiktiyo’s Golden Rock; and
• The Maha Muni Buddha image in Mandalay.
Today is the second last day on the mountain; Frankie suggested a ‘small’ hike to a neighboring village where some pre Buddhist ‘Nat’ spirit idols are situated in the hillsides. The small village is tucked away from visiting foreign tourists, approx. 1-hour hike straight down the mountain –called Kyait Htet Gyi.
The monsoon season has not been kind to the Kyait Htet Gyi area. Situated along a ridgeline on one side of Mt Kyaiktiyo in the region that borders the area within the Myanmar border is home to Karen (Burmese Ethnic group), and to the east is Thailand. In fact we approached one fork in the path that our ‘accidental’ guide told us lead to Thailand. Coincidently at the fork was also a bamboo constructed regional army camp.
Our ‘accidental’ guide happen to a young guy we met along the path and he asked where we were going. We told him and he said he was going that way too, so he said we can walk with him. While we were just going for a stroll he was a paid ‘carrier’. Paid to haul goods to villages from the regional centres.- usually on their head or in woven bamboo backpack type carriers. The carriers are the wiriest and thin yet muscular people I have seen. Often carrying weights equal to half their body weight in a single trip – up hill and down dale, on their head or on their back. Today he was taking the trip to deliver goods to the small pathside stalls in preparation for ‘festival season’ and the newly constructed stalls. The trip normally took him 35-45 mins. With us novices it took over an hour. He also kindly took us to his main source of income – his stall. We met his little daughter and son both aged less than 5yo along with the business manager – his wife. When not carrying goods they all live in a small space behind their stall measuring no more than 5m x 5m constructed of bamboo, thatch and tarps.
Frankie purchased all the children little packets of chips.. the cautious smile that appeared on all faces was priceless.
Almost at the end of the trail our guide took us down a small washed out landslip to a small ‘Nat’ temple for the ‘Mother of Dragons’ who guard the mountain. The Game of Thrones reference was not lost on me and brought a little smile to my face when Frankie translated our guide’s explanation.
Further at the end of the trail was another rock that is similar to ‘the golden rock’ only.. not golden. The rock is balanced precariously on the side of a cliff just like is more famous cousin.
The elders of the village that also look after the temple space told us that each year they travel to another village to collect a long thick vine that is climbed by a designated village member to place donations of gold leaf and adornments on the top.
If the walk down to the village was not harrowing enough… the walk back – all uphill was certainly a challenge.
Don’t forget to check out our maps.
Please leave us a comment below.
Day 3, Yangon, Sept 30 (my birthday)
Lucky Frankie’s father reminded me, because I forgot my own birthday.
The day started at the morning markets in Frankie’s suburb of Kyimyintine wandering around saying hi to all Frankie’s former neighbors. Most importantly was the purchasing for flowers to offer at Swedagon (the largest pagoda in Burma, by a whole 33 cms) the glittering golden pagoda can be seen from almost all areas of Yangon.
After finding my birth day idol (Monday – Tiger) I offered 28 cups of water plus a bouquet of flowers to the Tiger Idol.
Frankie’s college friend gave me a Longyi (Burmese sarong that males wear) for my birthday. As you must be modestly dressed in all pagodas – no singlets and rarely shorts – the Longyi is a perfect addition to my wardrobe.
Day 4, Yangon up to Mt Kyaiktiyo “Golden Rock”
Leaving Yangon before the sun, heading north past the WWII Cemetery at Taukkyan in the military district on the northern outskirts of the City (A reminded of how prevalent the military were prior to the monk lead protests that paved the way for a handover to the current civilian government, is the sheer variety of military buildings such as a Military Obstetrics Hospital for serving women to have babies in away from the Yangon Women’s Hospital.)
Heading along the newly constructed Yangon to Bagan road, passing the multitude of toll stations (tolls for what, considering the roads are ‘passable’ by say rural NSW standards.)
The newly expanding and more accessible inland / tourist destinations have spawned a new type of construction, what we in the west would recognise as the “Road house” or eatery on the side of the major free ways – so too they have in Myanmar, but of course with their own local spin.
After arriving at the base of Mt Kyaiktiyo on top of which the “Golden Rock” sits, we are all piled into a converted tip truck with wooden bench seats for the approx. 4km, 45 min uphill battle. Imagine this if you will; 43 people, strangers, all piled together 6 across, plus their goods – in some cases their entire worldly goods – in a truck – send it up a concrete road 1.5 cars wide. Then throw another truck going the opposite direction (remember 1.5 cars wide) – 50kms/h at a minimum 30degrees up and twisty like I can not describe.. = A free 45 min roller coaster ride.
- Ah, but the rock, that is what we are all here to see. It is on the cusp of ‘festival season’ following the monsoon season – all the pilgrims are but mere weeks from arriving.
Day 5, Mt Kyaiktiyo “Golden Rock”
Yesterday and today have pretty much been standard mountain weather – fog in the morning and rain in the afternoon. The surprise is that we are approx. 1000m above sea level, but I can get around comfortable in a singlet and shorts – sorry ladies, this is a temple you must be covered up pretty well – strangely men do not.
The Golden Rock is bathed in an ‘other worldly’ glow with all the mist and lights – which is apt for a strange spherical rock balanced precariously on the edge of a rock covered in gold..oh and the pagoda atop said rock has a hair from Buddha in it…nothing special at all..
- here is a pic showing just how golden it is.
Don’t forget to check out our maps.
Please leave us a comment below.
Last night we were invited to a ‘gay’ night that is held once a month on Rangoon at a local club. Let’s just say fun was had by all. Less than 2 dollars a shot of vodka with unregulated Thai style redbull. Home in bed by 3.
Sunday is donation day for the local Buddhist monasteries. After being woken by the ‘donation truck’ – a van with speakers calling out for donations of money, food etc. We were treated to the colorful and surreal procession of the local monks in their crimson robes, walking house to house barefoot accepting donations of food in their earthenware pots held in a sling over their shoulders. Frankie’s family, his father in particular are devout Buddhists, along with running a ‘monk supply’ business so they always offer rice and drinks of cool water to the full robed monks in the rapidly heating Rangoon morning.
Some of the monks could not be older than 5 years old.
Frankie was telling me that the reason you do not see people begging for food and money in the streets in Burma is that if you truly are in need, the monks will share their food and lodging with you.
What a novel idea – religious people helping others. Perhaps if western religions were less focused on retaining the rapidly shrinking hold on the devout population and returned to their roots of humility and serving the poor we would find am end to homelessness.
RELIGION RANT OVER.
Today’s breakfast was at a huge Chinese dumpling house – we polished off 50 plates of dumplings between 5 of us – coming to a total of less than $50 aud.
Frankie’s parents took us on a short driving tour of Rangoon including a drive past Aung San Suu Kyi’s now famous residence that also served as her prison following her home detention.
The rest of the day was spent with Frankie’s college friends eating, being massaged to a pulp and eating some more – massage cost less than 4 dollars for 2 hours.
Arrived after transiting KL with a layover of 5 hours. Any one who has been to Malaysia’s KLIA knows that’s it’s a pleasant airport to spend time in, as airports go. Free wifi, air conditioned and these cool chairs that you can sleep in.
We flew both legs, SYD – KUL then KUL-RGN with Malaysian Airlines. I’m glad to see that most of their fleet now offer in seat USB to charge devices now. Their A330 and B737 that we have both had them with the standard inflight fit out entertainment wise.
Since our longest leg of 8hours was overnight. Departing Sydney at 9pm arriving KL 0400 we were able to sleep most of the legs.
Arriving in Rangoon (or Yangon if you call it Myanmar instead of Burma) reminded me of a cross between Bali’s Denpasar airport and Bangkok’s newly renovated DMK. Our B737 was the only plane that had an aerobridge attached. Air Bagan and Air KBZ (formerly Air Mandalay) both had ATR’s sitting on the aprons ( sorry that’s plane nerd stuff – basically they are flying aircraft that are similar to the ones that virgin now have – the ones with the propellers).
Customs and entry requirements were easy, as we had a pre approved visa prior to arriving. The usual stack of forms – customs declarations, quarantine, arrivals cards etc were all in English and easy to follow.
Frankie’s parents who met us at the airport so the process was pretty stress free. No taxi arguments. Bags were collected and off we went.
Visually Burma, in the 30 mins I’ve seen so far looks like most developing countries (I say developing, actually it’s exploding with development at the moment) is wrestling with its self – maintaining its cultural heritage and expanding to maintain need. Frankie pointed out a large plot of land that used to be a large cemetery that now happily had buildings on it. Like any city the past needs to be balanced with the future.
As the count down begins to the big trip (roughly 30 days) through Burma (Myanmar) and Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur and Redang Island, I am putting together my packing list.
As you will see most of my packing is actually mostly gadgets & electronics. I LOVE THEM.
Kathmandu 70L convertible ( roller with hidden backpack straps)
Kathmandu 15L Backpack ( day pack) – came with the 70L
I am still tossing up whether to get the Kathmandu 30L ‘Transit’ Day pack and use it as carry on. Additionally it has a secret compartment for my MacBook Air. The lady at Kathmandu kindly talked me out of buying it on the weekend, instead to wait until September when the 40% member discount starts.
2 x neutral coloured ‘zip off’ travel pants for comfort.
3 x T-shirts
3 x singlets
3 x shorts
1 x Swimming Shorts
7 x Underwear
2 x socks
1 x boat shoes ( these are my every day, go anywhere, comfortable traveling shoes)
1 x pair decent going out shoes (never know when a club night calls)
Go Pro Hero 3 Black
Go Pro Hero 3 Silver
MacBook Air 11in Mid 2011 128gb
Phone / Communications
iPhone 5 64gig in Lifeproof Fre Waterproof Case
Delorme InReach enabled GPS tracker and 2 way communicator
This is really just gear nerd porn, I want to be able to update my family and friends (and you through this blog) on our adventures. Also it would allow me to fire off a SMS style message to my parents who are meeting us for part of the trip, if any plans change. I am still working through some bugs on the posting map locations here. At this stage posting by email is my only option – this does not produce a ‘sexy’ post – more a quick and dirty text only post with links to an external map.
Where possibly I will endeavour to get a local sim – hopefully with prepaid data – in Malaysia this is no problem, Burma I think will be a different story.
iPad Mini 64gig in folio case
Goal Zero Guide 7 Solar panel
Goal Zero Guide 10+ AA Battery Pack with 4 x AA batteries x 2
In addition to the the Goal Zero Guide10+ I have a PLOX 6000mAh battery pack
PIXO USB Camera Battery Charger from Goal Zero – can charge the NX1000 battery from Solar, USB port or via a wall socket.
I know it sounds like a lot of power, but the guiding premise of my whole kit is that it can all be charged from the wall or from the Goal Zero Panels on the road. I am never quite sure of power availability, reliability or how safe it is (spikes). The only item I can not charge by solar from the above kit is the MacBook Air. Goal Zero does have products that could do it easily, but my budget and weight allowance doe not stretch that far this time. Their Sherpa 50 would be great with some folding panels, I just can’t convince the other half to allow me to get that one.
Have I forgotten anything? Comments ??
Since our last holiday a few new electronic toys have been added to my pack.
- We sold our 2 x go pro 2s
- Replaced them with 1 x Go Pro 3 black and 1 x Go Pro Silver.
- Sold our Spot Tracker
- Replaced with a Delorme InReach 2 way GPS tracker / communicator
- My underwater point and shoot was lost during our trip to Penguin Island, off the Western Australian Coast.
- Point and shoot replaced with a combination of my iPhone 5 (now in waterproof LifeProof Fre case) and my new Samsung NX1000 Mirrorless 2/3rd DLSR
- iPad 2 given to my partner as I updated
- Updated to iPad Mini
Shot on my go pro 2 in Redang island, Malaysia 2012
As we are in the testing stage for our upcoming trip to Burma and Malaysia, I was testing our new GoPro3 Black on the weekend. It is planned that after we use our cameras (GoPro included) we would use our iPads as quick offload of photos and videos and then using FTP upload to our wireless HDD.
I managed to procure a SanDisk 64GB Micro SDXC, knowing the battery on the GoPro would die long before the card was full.
All fine and well UNTIL I plugged the card into my iPad mini. You get the following errors “Contents Unavailable. The connected storage media may be damaged” or “Contents not Available. Cannot read the connected storage media.” which as you can imagine a pain in the bum. But glad to have found it out now.
I do have Micro SDHC and they don’t suffer from the same issues thankfully but they are only 16GB.
Here is some further info:
Battery Test: @GoPro 3 Black V2.39 No wifi 960/48 1hr 31. With wifi 1 hr 16min
looks like I am buying more batteries.