Myanmar! Or as they still call it…Burma!

I didn’t know what to expect the day we landed in Myanmar. My only initial impression was whoa the men wear skirts and there is lace on the car seats. Soon I will learn that all the men wear what’s called a longyi not a skirt and there was no explanation on the lace. Yangon felt very much so like any other city in the world: lots of traffic, buildings, pollution. I figured there had to be more to it than that and there was for sure. We were picked up at the airport by our guide named Sol. We aren’t normally tour type people but Myanmar is a bit confusing in regards to what you can do and can’t do so we figured having a guide and a driver would be best. Sol was our guide in Yangon. He looked to be about 18 but was actually 36. I doubt Sol gets to hang out that much with two 30 somethings because all day he was being teased by his friends and was blushing. He took us so many awesome places. The first was to see the second largest reclining Buddha. This was the first time we started to experience people taking our picture instead of us wanting to take theirs. I felt like a celebrity, it was pretty awesome. Sol explained that there are many people in Myanmar who have never seen a white person before or someone with blonde hair. So, just know your picture will be taken if you go to Burma. A lot.This Buddha is over 70 meters long to give you an idea of size. For those of you who have no idea what a meter is, it’s about 230 feet. Sol taught us about birthday corners and how it is important for Burmese Buddhists to know on which day of the week they were born, as this determines their planetary post. There are eight planetary posts, as Wednesday is split in two (for morning and afternoon). They are marked by animals that represent the day — garuda for Sunday (large bird), tiger for Monday, lion for Tuesday, tusked elephant for Wednesday morning, tuskless elephant for Wednesday afternoon, mouse for Thursday, guinea pig for Friday and nāga (part human, part cobra) for Saturday. Each planetary post has a Buddha image and devotees offer flowers and prayer flags and pour water on the image with a prayer and a wish. Emily and I were both born on a Monday so we blessed Monday once we had this all figured out.   Sol said that many people come to the temple before a big test or exam or something going on at work. They have these rocks – that I am lifting in the right. They say if the rock feels heavy when you lift it, it is not going to be good, but if the rock is light, then things will turn out ok. I don’t know about you, but rocks are heavy. Especially big rocks like these. I would want there to be a stone option if I needed luck.Walking around the market we saw all kinds of things: century eggs, chewing tobacco being rolled up in leaves, women with yellow on their cheeks. The yellow stuff comes from a tree bark and has been used for over 2000 years. It was originally a mark of beauty but now it is used daily for sunscreen and skin health in general. Also, every single person in this country wears flip flops, Old Navy needs to get over there quick. Yangon was really awesome. I summed it up in my journal that all it needs is a fresh coat of paint to be absolutely beautiful.To end the day we went to the Shwedagon Pagoda. This was awesome. Also a giant complex like the Grand Palace in Bangkok but not quite as large. The photographer in me was very sad to see this gorgeous gleaming gold building I had seen so much before coming, covered in scaffolding, but the new gold had to be covered still. Literally no less than 2 weeks later I was seeing photos on instagram of this completely uncovered and beautiful. Jerks. It was still gorgeous, nonetheless. It just means I have to go back. We went at the most perfect time of day. The sun was setting and just sitting there watching everyone meditating with kids gleefully running around them, it gave me goosebumps despite 90 degree temps, thinking how incredible it was to be in such a beautiful place.The next day we woke up super early and went to the airport. Here marks the first time I have never showed anything to get on an airplane and I am not even sure there was any real security, it was pretty nuts. Or it is pretty nuts what we have come to expect at an airport as an American. They operated on the sticker system. They literally gave me a blue cartoon airplane sticker and said to make sure to wear it. That’s how they find you if you don’t get up to get on your flight. No joke. There aren’t really signs, just a guy who walks around saying your flight is leaving. Incredibly enough, we never missed a flight. And even more incredible, we never lost our bags! Seriously, there was no real tags on them or anything so when I saw it the morning we left Yangon to go to Bagan, I thought for sure that would be the last time I ever see it. Magically, we made it Bagan, and had a new guide, whose name I didn’t write down for whatever reason. I remember before going to bed in Yangon I had said I just want to go somewhere that feels different than anything I have ever experienced. Yangon was great and all and so was all of Thailand, but it wasn’t unlike anything I had seen before and sometimes I travel specifically to get that feeling. Enter Bagan. We arrived at sunrise and the day before the King’s 100th birthday. We went to a market. Lots of markets in Asia. We should get on board with that. I loved it.We then happened upon this really big festival for the King. Our guide thought it would be a good idea to make a stop even though it wasn’t planned. It was so cool! There everyone again wanted to take pictures of us and wanted us to participate in the festival itself. It is neat that these awesome peeps just want to immerse you right into whatever they are doing. So cool. We got a lot of hugs. I know that this lady is not smiling next to me but seconds before she was hugging me and wanting me to join the parade.We went to a mini Shwedgon Pagoda. It was way less crowded and still gleaming gold.Then the magic started happening. We left New Bagan and went to Old Bagan. I had never seen anything like it. All of the pagodas everywhere. Absolute quiet minus the low hum of a couple cars driving by or a couple people walking around the pagodas. It was so awesome. So magical that I don’t even know what to say about it. I thought the hot air balloons in Albuquerque were enchanting, well these took enchantment to a whole new level. I couldn’t think of anything but what this must have been like before it became Old.

We got to go back to our hotel for a bit and relax after an afternoon of taking everything in. We sat by the pool and read and wrote. After awhile our guide came back to take us to the pagodas again to watch the sunset.There are no hair dryers in Myanmar. That’s what this photo should be called.

  The next day we woke up at the crack of dawn literally to get to the airport to be given a sticker for our next flight to a place even more different than Bagan: Lake Inle. Which, I’m not going to lie, it rivals the elephants for so many reasons as my favorite. I’m totally smitten with this place. We took a 45 minute car ride from the airport to our boat to take us around on a tour and lunch and then to our hotel. By boat what I really mean is a long canoe with mini adirondack chairs in single file in them and a motor. We went to this monastery with buddhist monks and wooden floors that creaked when you walked around, making you feel like it will collapse into the water with all this gold at any second.

Our boat took us to our hotel to drop off our stuff – Shwe Inn Tha Floating Hotel – I don’t care how much this costs, just stay there. It was perfect. Literally perfect.  Then we headed out to lunch where Emily ate fish and she never eats fish!We got taken on a smaller boat ride around one of the communities on the lake. This lake is huge, guys. We watched people wash their hair in the lake, brush their teeth with lake water, 6 year olds on canoes by themselves (I didn’t even get a car until I was 16 but here 6 year olds get canoes, insanity). We discovered that while the people of Lake Inle are essentially pretty poor in some respects, they are rich in others. They have an amazing sense of community, their way of life while so different than ours, is perfect for them because it is all they know. I love that there are places that are like this still in the world. I’m positive that there are people we saw that have never heard of Apple or the internet and I love that. I love that they can live this way and be so truly authentic in these days.

We hired a taxi to take us out for sunset. Which rivals Africa as the best.The next morning was sad because it was time to head back to Yangon and soon onto the last part of our adventure: Vietnam. Which will be up on Monday!

Chiang Mai & the Elephant Nature Park & a brief mention of Phuket

Chiang Mai was one of my favorite places Emily and I went when we did our Birthday Vacasian. It had even more delicious food than Bangkok, awesome people, and foot massages, which unexpectedly I will now need daily for the rest of my life. When we got there the first order of business was food. There is no scarcity of that in Thailand. There were all these mom and pop type kitchens all along the street. There is the kitchen literally in the front on the sidewalk and then usually three to five tables inside out of the heat in what looked like a glorified storage unit. Your food was hot and out in less than 5 minutes. You have to sorta not think about food handling or storage or you will just get sick thinking about it. But (knock on wood) we didn’t get sick once on our trip.That first night we were there, Emily convinced me that we were going to a Muay Thai fight. Still exhausted and feeling like that jet lag fog might still be a real thing, I wasn’t exactly excited about this. But nonetheless, when in Thailand…I had to go. And it didn’t seem like there was another option. So we went and sat at a folding table covered in a table cloth that had to have been as old as me in this “Aword” (award) Winning “Stadium.” Listen kids, I am not sure who gave these peeps an award or an aword but this place was in need of no more awards ever. I wanted to buy them a new song to play instead of the same one on repeat and I really would love to send them some new table clothes and cleaning solution. The only good thing that came of this muay thai fight is that we got to eat banana and nutella rotee which basically kept me happy until the giant beers came at the fight.The next day was possibly my most favorite day of the whole trip. We went to the Elephant Nature Park! I loved every second. It was so incredible. Nestled into a natural valley of Northern Thailand, really close to the border of Laos, bordered by a river and forest, it was the most tranquil place I had been since being on safari. This awesome woman named Lek, or tiny in thai, started this sanctuary for elephants in the 90s. Since then she has rescued 44 elephants from trekking camps (where people ride the elephants for fun), from logging, street circuses and more. I am so glad that these majestic creatures have a home where they get to walk up the mountain with us daily and eat all the food they want instead of having giant tourists sit on them for hours a day. Think about it kids: there is nothing cool about riding an elephant. Walk with them instead, feed them one million bananas. They will like you better. Public service announcement of the day.  The elephants were so funny though. We were given a bag of bananas and were told to just feed them the whole day. So we walked to this small hut where the elephants and us broke for lunch. It was so pretty, all the food on the floor, bamboo leaves for placemats, elephants snacking on more food nearby. The 11 of us all talked about our trips so far and then all sorta dispersed to our own part of the huts to take it all in. There were birds chirping and a slight breeze and elephants playing in the valley below. It was pretty magical.After lunch we got to give the ellie’s baths in the river. They like to cool off and then immediately cover themselves with dirt again to protect them from the sun. It’s basically the opposite of what I would want to do but that’s cool, do your thing elephants. They literally handed us buckets and we just proceeded to fill them and throw water all over them while they continued to eat! Hysterical, these ellies. We then got to tour the sanctuary itself – they also have 500 dogs and 400 cats or something to that effect that have been rescued so there were eco tourists there helping with that as well.For those of you who don’t know, right before I went to Europe with my little brother, Daren, I got a fortune cookie fortune that said “You’re feet will touch the soil of many countries” and since then, I have taken a photo of my feet in all the countries I have been too. Hence, feet pictures. The day after the most magical day ever, we went to Funky Dog Cafe (OH! We went to Dash for dinner after all of the elephant stuff. Make sure to go there, so good!) for breakfast where noodle soup is customary so that is exactly what I ordered and a thai iced tea because by this point I am beyond addicted and then we headed to see Wat Chedi Luang and any other wat we wanted to stop in along the way.The coolest part of the day, aside from the cooking class, was getting to attend a monk chat! Whaaaaa?! You literally can go to this Wat (temple for those of you who haven’t caught on yet) and chat with a monk! Just for funsies. So we chatted with an awesome monk who answered all of our questions. He shaves his eyebrows. It was so weird. We asked likely what he would consider super childish questions as well as some not so childish ones. It was pretty awesome though to be able to just sit in this nice picnic area and wait for the monk to be done talking to everyone so they can come talk to you next. Their schedule is pretty crazy, they get up around 5am, do their morning meditation and then walk the streets for food which people give them for free because they are monks. He joked that he has to like the “lay people” because that is his means of getting things. Despite the fact that he has no money whatsoever, he has a cell phone, a laptop, and internet. So he isn’t missing that latest youtube video and seems to have a pretty normal connected life.  He wanted to become a monk when he was 14, at 17 he moved to Thailand from India and now he is 24 and doesn’t eat after noon.The owner at funky dog cafe taught me that you should always face your shoes out. He is Japanese and says that is how they do it so they can leave a building quicker if there is an earthquake. He was a funny guy.After our monk chat, we walked way too far in search of the best elephant shirt that ever existed. But never found it so I was just cranky instead. We went back to our hotel to shower before Cooking Class! I am so happy we had the group we did because they were the best. There was a couple from Chicago on their honeymoon, a lesbian couple from Singapore and a husband and wife from Australia who was legit the funniest couple in the whole world I am convinced. It zapped me right out of my cranky mood and in the mood to make some food. We chose the Baan Thai Cooking School, and I recommend that to you all too, only because I loved their story. The woman who originally owned it was a young woman in her 20s who died of breast cancer and her sister decided to carry it on in honor of her. It made me super happy to see so many people there and hear the instructors tell the same worn out jokes they have probably said thousands of times but they do it anyway and act like it is funnier than the last time they said it. We got to go to the market and found out that people in Thailand really don’t have refrigerators and go to the market every day for food for dinner. That sounds like crazy talk. We made all kinds of delicious things: pad thai, coconut curry, spring rolls, it was all perfect and the best way to end our time in Chiang Mai.The next day we went off to Phuket to just literally sit and do nothing. I didn’t take many photos. We were using it as our catch up days to check emails and make sure we still were in business back in the states. We ate more food. So much food. I had the best pad thai I have ever had in my entire life there. And other than that it was pretty uneventful so it doesn’t get it’s own blog post. Come back tomorrow for BURMA!!!!! I am so excited for you all to see those photos!!!  Best pad thai ever right there. EVER!

Bangkok!

After a 21 hour travel day which included crossing the international date line, Emily and I finally landed in Bangkok on February 3rd, 2015. Which means it’s about time I blogged about it right? The flight was not for the faint of heart – although I will say that the adrenaline must have been pumping for the 12 hour one because the one that seemed more brutal was the 7 hour flight from Toyko to Bangkok. We arrived after 11:00 pm. Arriving at night anywhere is disorienting. Arriving there at night when you haven’t slept is even stranger. Even with not being at 100% mental capacity, Emily and I still dodged a crazy taxi driver situation and found a safe option to our rental.

By the time we got there, it was my birthday! But only in Asia because they are so far ahead. I was slightly out of it, I think to the near tears point for whatever reason, so we went literally right to bed. The next morning we were awoken by the worst bird. I have a video for you to listen to of this damn thing. It was legit so annoying.

It was about 6 or 7 am when we gave up on sleep and decided to just shower and get our day started. We found the BTS Skytrain and took it to the central pier where we then took the appropriately named “Tourist Boat” (lame) to the Grand Palace and Wat Arun.The Grand Palace could easily be a whole day trip if you wanted to really see everything there. It is a whole campus of gorgeous buildings and temples. Everything was so ornate – I had never seen so much gold gleaming everywhere. I felt that most of it wouldn’t even translate with my camera and admittedly I didn’t take many photos. I guess that is why I love traveling so much, a picture is pretty, but it doesn’t do it justice to what it looks like in person. This is apparently all I really wrote about the Grand Palace which is funny because we spent hours there. I think I was overwhelmed. There was a lot to look at, it was my birthday, and I was still jet lagged.

We hopped back on the boat and went to Wat Arun where people were working to restore some of the outside of it. I actually thought that was more fascinating than the temple itself. In my journal I call these peeps restorers but then I mention that they are basically artists because of how they are reshaping plaster and breaking glass to get the perfect piece to go in the tiniest of spots to make this temple beautiful again. I can only imagine what this is going to look like when it is gleaming white again. It will definitely be incredible to see.The steps were so steep!!! This also is a trend at all the temples. Don’t worry. You’ll make it.That night we met up with one of Emily’s brides, Mary! She was so cool! She recommended we meet for drinks at this place called Above 11 before heading to dinner. It was a rooftop bar that overlooked all the city lights. It was beautiful!! If you go, I did note the hotel it is on top of so no one gets turned around: it’s on the roof of Fraser Suites. It’s worth. Go. This is also the place where jet lag set in majorly. I remember sitting there listening to Mary and Emily talk and was amazed they were able to even make sentences and I was starting to feel super warbly, like I wasn’t even there. The only thing that kept me awake, literally, is every once and awhile needing to actually respond to a question. It was like an out of body experience for a bit. (Also, I am fully aware that I wear this dress way too much, especially for things that end up on my blog, but I can’t help it, it is my favorite).After drinks and once Mary’s friend Jill got there, we headed to this awesome restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms. I have no idea about the name. Don’t ask. It was a gorgeous restaurant though – if you can call it that. The lamps were pretty, but then you realize they are made of condoms… there was a condom bride and a condom santa and you don’t get a mint or a toothpick at the end of the night, you get a condom. Which is still in my purse and makes me laugh every time I see it. It was delicious food and the restaurant is a favorite among expats.

Then  we walked down Soi Cowboy to say we walked down Soi Cowboy before Mary and Jill put us in a cab and sent us on our way. I loved those two – they kept telling us we were doing so good – in terms of staying awake – I loved the encouragement. Somehow we made it!

Also, I should mention that in honor of my 30th birthday, Emily challenged me to take 30 birthday selfies. So…I did. Taking 30 selfies is hard. I don’t know how people do that. I’m missing a few…but…here they are.

A few things to note about Bangkok and just my initial impressions of Asia in general.

1. I’m sorry guys, I really am. But there is no such thing as a good driver in Bangkok which doesn’t help the stereotype much. We witnessed a pretty bad accident and then about 20,000 near misses. Be super careful crossing the street in Asia.

2. Pollution is pretty bad. I am actually thankful we have things like emissions tests and such in the states. This is more obvious when you are on airplanes and you fly above the clouds but then you realize the cloud is just gray pollution and not a real cloud at all.

3. The work mentality is so awesome here. They don’t live to work like I feel like we do in the US. We watched this group of over 100 construction workers from our balcony for two mornings do morning exercises and rubbing the shoulders of the person in front and behind them. I feel like they care. And they get off work and go home. Unlike us, who just continue working until we go to bed.

4. Street Food! This becomes the theme of the rest of the trip!

5. THAI ICED TEA. I must learn to make there.

6. There are no trash cans anywhere and yet there is no trash anywhere either. So strange.

7. There are orderly lines everywhere. They would be appalled at how we get on the metro. There is no mad dashing or cutting people off, there is just an orderly line where the people walk on the train as soon as every leaves the car. There are even orderly lines to get a cab.

8. It’s a busy city BUT WHY IS IT SO QUIET! There are people literally everywhere and I can still hear myself over a low mumble and traffic noises.

9. The best souvenirs are not things you can buy. Take as many real and mental pictures as you can. It will be life changing.

Last note: All photos, aside from the ones Em took of me, are taken with my phone or my Lumix point and shoot. Nothing fancy to make pretty pictures.