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(updated: april 2018)


a night on mt zwegabin

may 13, 2014
     Hpa-An is only a one hour bus ride from Malawmyine (1000mmk), and well worth the trip. The surrounding countryside is absolutely breathtaking, dotted with mountains supporting golden stupas on their peaks. The bus dropped me off a short distance from Soe Brothers Guesthouse, a clean, 3 story hostel with incredibly helpful staff. Single rooms with a fan cost $6, while a double is twice as much (although the beds are a lot more comfortable).
Mt Zwegabin
     As a group of 4, some friends from the hostel and I headed out to the bat cave near the bridge, paying a tuktuk 8000mmk total to take the four of us there and back - and wait for us for the 2 hours that we admired the sunset and, after sundown, the millions of bats that flew out as a massive swarm from the cave, right over our heads. The phenomenon seems unending: we watched the bats for a good 20 minutes and the bat fog didn't even appear to thin, and we left after a healthy dose of batshit accumulated on our bodies.
     The next day, we checked out of the hostel in preparation to sleep at the monastery on Mt Zwegabin that night, leaving our backpacks at the guesthouse. In the morning, we rented the semi automatic motorbikes for a half day through Mr Soe (5000mmk plus one refueling which cost 1000mmk) and visited what locals call Choccolat, which is a pagoda in the middle of water, on an oddly balanced rock, and a local swimming hole. The scenery was absolutely beautiful riding through the countryside.  

     Agreeing to meet our tuktuk at the hostel at 3pm to take us to the base of Mt Zwegabin (in time for us to make the 2h hike to the top for sunset), we set out, getting some fried rice to go in case dinner options were limited at the peak (monks shouldn't eat after noon). We were dropped off at the Buddha Garden and asked the driver to pick us up the next morning (we paid 3000mmk each, for both ways, as a group of four).

not so sleepy in mawlawmyine

may 10, 2014
     Before I begin to write about my travels in Myanmar, I have to admit that there's a selfish part of me that wants to keep it all to myself. A part of me that fears rapid development of tourism, the part that wants to keep this magical land all to myself. There are many times that I've said that I love a place, but after being here, I don't think I can say that truly about any other place. In the 3 days that I have been here so far, I have not had a single "bad" experience, or even anything below spectacular. The people truly make this fascinating country what it is.
     I rolled into Mawlawmyine in the early morning after 9 hours on the night train. I paid around 4$ for a seat in the ordinary class, and spread out on the wooden bench to sleep. All through the night, people were waking me either to let me know that I should tie my bag/pillow to keep things from falling out, to give me back my books when they had fallen off the seat, and the officers even offered that I go sleep in the upper class, though I refused. Arriving in Mawlawmyine after an extremely slow and bumpy ride, a woman in the seat over even offered that I use her comb and makeup!
     From the train station I took a moto taxi for 1000mmk into town, to Breeze Hotel, at which I got a small jail cell of a room, with a fan, for 7000mmk. It was still early, around 7am, but I was starved and headed to the market to find breakfast. Nobody was willing to fix anything veg*an, and kept joining me to the next stall over, and the next, until finally one woman led me to a place at which I settled for noodles with cucumber slices.     
     Walking back to the Guesthouse to take a nap, I passed by an English language course that was coincidentally just beginning their two hour weekend class from 8-10am and asked the teachers if he needed some help. I ended up staying the entire time of the class, talking to the shy students in English and making friends. A few of the girls then motorbiked me to the market to help me find a pair of flip flops (4500mmk - my sneakers are now stinky, holey, and duct taped all around) and we all agreed to meet at 4pm after I got some sleep. So, we spent the evening motorbiking to a church, the hilltop pagoda with its infamous viewpoint, their university and the barren airport (that does flights to Yangon and Bangkok twice a week only), finishing off the sight seeing with some cakes and coffee at a hip little cafe on the waterfront. As some of the girls had to head home afterwards, my two remaining friends took me out for dinner (again, ardently refusing to let me pay).
     Although I didn't do any organized boat tour to see the Mon villages on Blue Island, I spent an amazing day with some very hospitable Myanmar friends, learning some of their language and in turn helping them to practice their English. I hope to return to see them again in the near future!


may 9, 2014
     I arrived in Yangon yesterday morning at around 9am and took out some kyat at the airport ATMs, just in case, catching a taxi to Sule Paya for 7000kyat. Mahabandoola Guesthouse is located right by it, on the corner of 32nd street, and has the cheapest rooms in the city for $6 a night (and a "special" dorm for $4). The room has one plug, so you have to choose between having the fan on or charging your electronics, and it's really basic but does the trick if you just need a night's sleep. The common area has wifi, albeit patchy, and there is a common washroom with showers.
     As soon as I checked in I headed out for some Indian food on Mahabandoola street - a filling masala dosa for 800mmk - and walked around the neighbourhood. There are many street food stalls everywhere selling handmixed noodle salads, boiled corn, fresh fruit and a variety of deep fried goods. In the evening, I walked about a half hour to the Shwedagon Pagoda, paying a hefty 8000mmk (or $9) to enter. I left my shoes at the entrance (or you can get them bagged to hold onto) and proceeded up the staircases from the South entrance (you can pay the fee at the top). As it was already 7pm it was a lot cooler out and the climb was bearable in the heat. The last rays onf sun illuminated the pagoda, and artificial lighting flickered on when it set. There are stations around the stupa marking each day of the week, so if you know which day you were born on, this is where you pray. It is useful to remember to keep your feet to yourself when you sit, ideally cross legged. When I sat down with my legs to one side I had someone come up and gesture for me to retract my feet. Upon leaving, I noted that the going rate for taxis to Sule Paya was 2500mmk, or 2000mmk if you walk a little further away. Walking another few minutes southbound, I caught a bus into town for 200mmk instead. By 8pm, most food stalls were already closed so I got some boiled corn for 300mmk on Merchant Road before going back to the Guesthouse to sleep.
     In the morning, I left the guesthouse at around 7am and the city was still sleeping. The morning market on 42nd, however, was bustling. I ended up buying a knife for 1000mmk and two large mangoes for 800mmk, and as I was eating one on a street corner a man came up to give me a tissue to wipe off my hands and face. The kindness of the Myanmar people continues to surprise me, and I am quickly forgetting the world in which smiling is not as genuine as here in Myanmar.

pangkor getaway

may 5, 2014
Nazri Nipah Camp
     I'm probably crazy. I'd just arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday and already the next day I decided to head off on a 7h journey to Pulau Pangkor. Pangkor island is a small island located a little over half the way from KL to Georgetown. Weekends see swarms of local tourists, while the week days give way to relatively empty beaches. Fresh out of final exams and off the plane into a foreign culture, I decided that it would do me good to acclimatize to Malay culture and weather in a kampung atmosphere and get to know the metropolis of KL afterwards. So, while my Burmese visa was being arranged in the capital, I headed off for 2 nights of island time.
In the pink bus
      Busses to Lumut leave from Puduraya Bus Station (the hub for most connections in KL) frequently, I got to the station around 9am and caught one almost immediately. Tickets are sold on the third floor, and I paid 28MYR to Lumut, where we arrived five hours later after changing busses once. The ferry terminal is a two minute walk from the bus station, and ferries run every 45 minutes between Lumut and the island, but make sure to get off at the second stop. From there, you can take the vastly overpriced (probably because it's the only transport available) pink taxi for 15 MYR to Nazri Nipah Camp, a chilled out reggae hostel in Teluk Nipah. The dormitory was up for 20 MYR, and the hostel's got a great hang out area with hammocks. There's a kitchen and wifi is available. I spent the following day exploring the island with a friend who had a motorbike. Although there isn't all that much to see, Pangkor is a nice, quiet island for a few days getaway - but bring enough cash in case you get stuck.

guangzhou, take two

     Will I ever get lucky with Guangzhou? I've flown through the city three times already and I'll admit that at this point I'm actually curious about what it's like. China Southern Airlines puts you in a five star hotel, free of charge, if you've got a layover longer than 8h. Last May, I was shipped off to Vienna Hotel in the suburbs and couldn't figure out how to get into the city centre, so this time I prepared myself by searching up how to get downtown from Vienna Hotel and even printed out a map of the metro. I was ready.
     After my 13h flight from Vancouver, I got to in Guangzhou Baiyun at around 5pm. I told the man at the "transfer accommodation" desk that my connection wasn't until the next morning, and he ushered me off to fill out an arrival card and find my way to Departure Gate 9 with two other women in the same boat as I. Although the people handling the transfer accommodations barely spoke a word of English, we figured out that we'd been assigned to different hotels (who knows why? Maybe those women went to Vienna Hotel) and waited for our respective shuttles.
     Hao Yin Gloria Plaza Hotel, where I was taken, is an approx. 45min ride away from the airport, through the smoggy suburbs of Guangzhou. The man at the reception (who, unlike t Vienna Hotel, spoke English) told me that the nearest metro was a 30min cab ride away and the nearest supermarket a 10min ride. Regardless, I was pooped and all I wanted to do was pass out. There were no restaurants or food stalls nearby, the only meal options being a 24h KFC and buffet at the hotel restaurant for 88yuan (which, I later overheard, was pretty good). Instead, I enjoyed powdered soup, free tea and a CLIF bar in the privacy of my luxury bathtub in the luxury ensuite of my luxury room, after which I passed out on my luxury bed.
     I woke up in the morning to catch a 5:30 shuttle to the airport for my flight to KL. The hotel offered complimentary breakfast - served in a tv dinner-like box - of 2 eggs, 2 cherry tomatoes, a very fuzzy looking sweet loaf, white bread and a carton of vitasoy milk. Let's just say it was too early for milk and tomatoes, so I passed.
     It seems like suburban Guangzhou is filled with either empty slabs of concrete apartments or luxury hotels (which are almost as empty as the building skeletons nearby). Maybe CSA offers free accomodation for the sake of filling/using all these massive hotels? Massive is an understatement. The emptiness combined with the overly luxurious decoration and amount of space taken up by both Vienna and Hao Yin Gloria Hotels (and others, I assume) lend to an overall eerie feel to the place. I walked around the Gloria Hotel and found that the top floor was nothing but rooms facing a stretch of gym equipment, pool tables, couches and hammocks. It felt as though it was built to prepare for thousands of resort-loving guests and not the occasional few layover tourists. It felt incredibly weird. But one day, ONE DAY I will see Guangzhou!