Shwedagon Paya

I had a rather slow start to the day today on account of two factors: 1) I had forgotten to deactivate my alarm which was set for 3.45am for me to catch my flight from Bangkok to Yangon, and 2) because I was then woken for a second time at dawn by the (very protracted) call to prayers. One was definitely not amused. On reflection, I do wish I had footage of the first sleep interuption – in hindsight it was hilarious. I woke up with a sudden start (must have been in VERY deep sleep) and for many seconds had literally no idea what was going on or where the sound was coming from. Much scrambling around to find my (otherwise defunct due to absence of international roaming) blackberry ensued.

I missed breakfast entirely and didn’t get my head into gear or tired self showered, dressed and out until almost midday so went straight for lunch/next steps travel planning. I’ve decided to miss out on Mt Kyaiktiyo (big gold rock on hill) in favour of having more time in northern Burma. Plus also more certainty of being able to spend a few days snorkelling on the Bay of Bengal. The golden rock would have eaten at least a couple of days geting there, seeing it at sunrise/set and then getting back to Yangon to transfer to the next place. Decision made.

I have also decided to really throw myself into the whole traveller thing by taking the bus (12-15 houra) to Kalaw rather than the plane (1 hour). So I will hopefully leave tomorrow late afternoon. In Kalaw I hope to do some trekking (that’s walking in a straight line in the countryside, btw), either a day trip or two or the 2-4 day trek to Inle Lake if I can find someone to take me and a group to join (don’t fancy it on my own with a guide – bit full on that).

I have also received the tremendous news that I have secured a place on a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the temples at Bagan for 21 January. Another item on the bucket list ticked off.

The main activity today was visiting Shwedaon Paya – wow. I urge you to google it to find some photos (can’t get mine to upload and they wont do it justice anyway). It was a momentous day for me today on a personal level – my divorce came through. So it was the perfect place to sit, reflect, remember good times, and think ahead to what the future holds. I’m not a religious person, but it even felt right to meditate alongside the chanting monks for part of the afternoon – helpful in clearing my busy little mind.

The sunset over the temple took my breath away. The temple is coated entirely in gold leaf, andas the sun set it changed from gold to red, and then as the sun neared the ground it glowed. I only wish I could upload my photos or have better creative writing skills to conjure back up what I saw. But put it this way, it’s not often I still for an hour or two but today I did. Just watching. And thinking.

Burmese Days

So day 1 of Burma is in the bag. So far, I love it. I landed first thing and jumped in a cab to the hostel I had booked – hilariously called The White House (nothing like it, in case you were wondering). I had been worried I might not have a room when I got here – because Burma is a cash-only economy, hostels can’t take your credit card details to secure the booking and so are reluctant to make firm plans. I had heard stories from other people about this before I arrived. Anyway, a room I do have. It’s basic and it ain’t pretty, but it meets all my needs. Actually, as I was settling in for an heat-induced afternoon nap earlier, I had a feeling of sheer happiness – there I was in a room in the centre of Yangon and my little fan was keeping me cool. At that moment, nothing else in the world mattered to me. Simple pleasures.

This morning I did what they call in Lonely Planet land a ‘walking tour’ of the city. I normally call that wandering with a half baked plan and a map, but I am learning fast. Those of you that guffaw at my poor geographical skills can take those smug looks of your faces – I managed to orient myself, find everything I was looking for, and even (drum roll) get back to my hotel again. That Cambridge education wasn’t wasted on me.

Rangon feels like stepping back in time – it is jam packed with beautiful old colonial buildings, many still sporting their vivid colours. Unfortunately, most have not been maintained, so large parts of the city are quite literally crumbling in front of your eyes. A classic example is the former High Court – a presidential type building that was no doubt designed to send a clear message about colonial law and order. Empty, crumbling, and with forna and flora sprouting from every available nook and cranny.

One of the things that strikes you immediately about this wonderful city is its colour. Around every corner, you are confronted by golds, aqua blues, and bright persil-like whites. Exhibit A is the Sule Paya, a giant golden monument that is the geographical and commercial heart of the city, and around which the British-designed grid street system was designed. Inside there were a proliferation of buddhas, some distinctly disco with their colourful flashing lights.

For lunch, I found a tiny hole in the wall in a dusty back street, and for dinner tonight enjoyed the tastiest chicken biryani of my life. All the more delicious after a busy day of exploration, a long nap, many chapters read, and a full gig set on the roof terrace of the hostel. There was high drama indeed when the man at the table next to me did a runner without paying – this commotion kept the restaurant’s staff amused for the whole of my stay. Everything in Rangon shuts early so it’s 8.30pm and I am tucked up blogging in the communal area of the hostel surrounded by a United Nations of fellow backpackers, some who have brough their whole family with them. Nice to see people coming to places like Burma with small children – what an adventure and education for those kids.

Right, photos to follow separately as the wordpress app on my tablet is playing up – sometimes it includes them, sometimes it digs its heels in and refuses. I’ve heard about smart technology, but the fact my app is editing out my poor photography skills on my own blog makes me angry. 

Burma bound…

It’s 05.30 and i’m waiting to board my flight to Yangon.  Excited? Yes. Anxious? A little. But strong coffee seems to be helping.

I have treated myself to lounge access – perhaps the last little luxury I will enjoy for a while. Actually, I am quite enjoying this back to basics lark – you strip away all the clutter and quickly realise what you need and what is non-essential. And having to carry everything on your back certainly focuses the mind. I have also established a packing/unpacking routine. It’s quite a luxury that I have nothing more important to occupy my thoughts. Or maybe this is how OCD starts….

The flight leaves in exactly an hour.  Time plenty for me to feed my caffeine addiction.

Final day in Bangkok

So it was a rather slow start to the day after dancing until dawn last night/this morning with new friends I will never see again… Anyway, it was all good fun and my knowledge of the Top 40 (do we still call it that) is growing fast. And talk about not being able to leave your work at home – in one bar I got chatting to what I thought was a nice guy – turned out to be a member of a Swedish white power movement. He showed me his tattoes and talked me through his views. I said I needed the toilet and made a polite escape… Maybe a case study when I’m home?… The gettaway led me into the arms of a group of gay guys from Australia who took me with them on their quest for a club with a pumping dance floor. Oh happy days.

A late breakfast followed (actually, it was more like a late lunch). And as I sat on the Khao Sarn Road, it struck me it’s sort of the Asian equivalent of Magaluf. Lots of tattoes (when I say lots….) and heaps of excessive daytime drinking. Maybe it’s just because I am here over the xmas period.

I took a stroll around Bangkok this afternoon and found myself a little park right by the river where I sat, thought a lot about anything and everything, and started reading George Orwell’s Burmese Days to get myself in the mood for the next 3 weeks. It’s had a promising start so far, but then I am already a huge Orwell fan. This was my view – nice.
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Bangkok is truly a city of extremes. In just a short stroll this afternoon I saw everything from the backpacker excesses of the Khao Sarn road…
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…to the gated house of one of the Thai princes…
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…and a row of houses next to the river that might be a bit of de-cluttering…

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I haven’t ventured into the central business district and smart areas of Bangkok yet, but will do that next time I’m here on my way home (deep breaths, supress those tears…).

And so to Burma! My flight is at silly-o-clock so it will be an early one for me tonight. The hostel is confirmed for Yangon (keep your fingers crossed readers), and I’m trying to line up a guide for some trekking between Kalaw and Inlake Lake. Very very muchly excited…

Bangkok adventures

So, I arrived in a hot and balmy Bangkok on 4 January and caught a taxi (outsmarting a driver intent on subjecting me to all the scams the Lonely Planet warned me about – I win) over to the Khao San Road where my simple but clean hostel is located. Cars can’t drive down the road, so he dropped me at one end and I had to weave my way through the throngs of people to the other end. Not easy when you have a backpack and guitar strapped to you. My sheer bulk seemed to part the masses and I got to the Rikka Inn safe and sound.

The hostel is actually ok – clean, well run and with a rooftop pool. Sorry, did I mention the rooftop pool? Again, I say… Nice touch, especially after a busy day’s sightseeing.

It was about 10pm by the time I had found the place, checked in, sorted my stuff and showered off a whole day’s travelling (unbelievably I am now half way home – in distance, maybe, but certainly not in terms of adventures). There was no way I could call it a day and get an early night so I headed out to explore.

The Khao San Road is completely bonkers – packed with people, commerce, sounds, smells, and good times 24/7. At 10.30pm I was enjoying a foot massage (complete rip off at $2 – outraged, Bangkok), then headed to a bar that had caught my eye/ear on the way to my hotel earlier; nothing like the sound of live music to get me interested. Like a moth to a flame. I headed in, ordered a beer and enjoyed a fantastic Thai guitarist/vocalist making his way through the musicians songbook of crowdpleasers. Noted several for my own future career. After a couple of hours the bar was packed to the rafters full of revellers – it was so full of life and carefreeness. It was intoxicating.

The next day (yesterday), I set myself a schedule of temple-gazing, starting with the Grand Palace, which is a complex of golden and colourful temples and palaces that are so utterly beautiful words don’t do them justice. Neither do my poor photography skills, but here goes…

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Hilariously, there was also a miniature version of Ankor Wat there – dammit, I have already bought my plane ticket to Siem Reap…

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I then walked on to Wat Pho, grabbing fresh pineapple and cool water along the way. This temple houses a gigantic golden buddha, laying along the length of the temple.

There were also beautiful mother of pearl engravings at the foot of the buddha and also pretty carvings along the side.

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By this time, I was all templed-out (yikes, I have another month of temples ahead…). I walked to the river and took a boat across to Wat Arun, but thought better of it so caught the next boat back, found a riverside street cafe and had a bowl of rice and bottle of beer. This was my view of Wat Arun.

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Later I headed back to the hostel for a cool off swim, a good read of my book (A Casual Vacancy – finished today – ok, a good read, and decent characterisation, but no Booker Prize winner). Last night there was yet more live acoustic music. Was sorely tempted to ask if I could play but chickened out… Their loss…

Today I had great plans for sight seeing, but they were abandoned over breakfast when I became engrossed in my book and the whole day has been one of slovenliness and people watching. I seem to remember that being in the job description for the role of quartergapyear manager.

Departures

Just touched down in the Qantas business lounge at Sydney airport. I have a panoramic view of the city and ringside seat to see the planes take off. Is there anywhere more exciting to be than an airport?

I have a huge sense of anticipation about what lies ahead – good times, probably some bad ones, too. Hopefully a lot of fun and adventure and lots to learn about myself and the world.

The sights, sounds and smells of Bangkok await me. I land there 730pm local time, so will be thrown straight into the cultural lions den. Watch this space…

Bye bye, Australia…

So last night was my final supper with the boys. We started with drinks at the Opera Bar, right by the water by Sydney Opera House. Possibly one of my favourite places in the whole world to be. And extra special to be there with my best boys – Dr Dan and Scott. And the lovely Matthew and Will completed my male quartet.

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It was then on to a cheap eats nearby, where Julia made a cameo appearance. There was eating, drinking and even some dancing. Scott and I murdered the dancefloor (according to reviews)…

I have many happy memories to take with me as I head to Asia: open mic nights in Cairns, managing to stay alive on my first instructor-free scuba dive, painting the town red after qualifying with all my new scuba friends, playing guitar on the roof-top on Bribie Island, xmas with the lovely Roberts family, sing-a-long Grease, new year/birthday invasion by Lou Lou, tears at midnight watching the new year fireworks on Dan’s balcony, and far too many giggles and good times with Dan and Scott.

But now the adventure really begins…