A Travellerspoint blog

myanmar's hazy days

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upon arrival in myanmar i was greeted by a friendly group from a hostel. they offered a free ride downtown if i took a peek at their rooms. usually i take the free ride and move on since the rooms are a bit more expensive. this time, however, i chose the room not based solely on appearance and price, but on how friendly the staff was. this was a wonderful introduction to myanmar, a country stricken with poverty but with excesses of happiness.

without a doubt the ultimate highlight of myanmar is the colorful group of ethnicities that make up the burmese population. roaming the streets of yangon gave me a sense of the bengali and indian influence in the former british colony. after travelling to the shan state bordering thailand i realized this vastly undeveloped land was full of diversity.

my travel itinerary in myanmar was fairly standard, as i only spent two weeks there. my first experience with myanmar transit was an overnight bus up to mandalay, an unfortunately hideous town. the 600km trip took roughly 16 hours, including stops in the middle of the road so the bus driver could chat with other buses coming down to yangon. i came to realize that these journeys included some of the best stories during my stay.

after a few days gazing at gold temples and walking across the longest teak bridge in the world (or so the bible says) i made my way to bagan via boat. the local boat cruised down the ayeyarwady river with only 4 foreigners on board. i was able to sample some of the local treats with generous burmese who opened their plentiful lunch sacks. the peanuts with mystery veggies and rice kept me full for the day-long cruise.

the temples of bagan were a stunning sight, and hopefully the pictures do them justice. situated on a flat field, the temples seem neverending and wonderfully unique. the nightlife there was also abundant for myanmar-two bars open after 10pm!!!!a few days at inle lake rounded out the trip for me. the sights were fairly modest there, but the dip in the center of the lake cleansed me of some of the dirt i picked up riding on top of a pick-up for a few hours.

back in bangkok, i have a few hours to contemplate my next move to delhi.

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Posted by ggithens 23:49 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

WANTED: PEACE AND SERENITY IN VIET NAM

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after extending my vietnamese visa for a trip to see the hill tribes of the northwest, i was positive i would escape the never-ending annoyances of hanoi. to my dismay, my premonitions were proven incorrect within a few minutes of trekking between rice-terraced fields and water buffalo. the scenery was absolutely sublime, perhaps the most stunning natural setting these eyes have ever seen, but the annoyances were abundant.

upon departing my hotel for the overnight in a tribal village, i knew we would encounter many hmong (tribe name) women selling goods. i did not, however, expect a band of them to follow us the entire day and ask us if we "buy from me" or "maybe later" (a deadly, deadly commitment to make). the group i walked with had reserves of patience, but after our lunch break we were just plain tired of the hassle. we were at the base of soaring mountains that nearly touched the clouds. the intricate network of streams that ran through the rice paddies were a natural marvel, but, alas, the aggressive hanoi disposition was unfortunately exported up to the mountains.

if there were a defining last trip to make to vietnam, the northwest was it. offering stunning beauty, unbelievable motorbiking and great food, it surpassed every place i had previously visited. i couldn't have asked for a better setting to enjoy my last few nights in vietnam. the constant assault of moto-drivers, hill tribe women and food vendors dampened my spirits a bit, but more than anything, that was the vietnam i remember most from saigon, dalat, nha trang etc. everywhere i went the people were trying to take as much money from your wallet as they possibly could. disguised under the mask of communism, these self-made capitalists weren't thinking of tomorrow- no no no-they were thinking of today. after lengthy discussions with several foreigners it seems this attitude, which is all to prevalent, keeps many backpackers out of vietnam, or prevents them from a return visit. i haven't made up my mind yet, but if i return, it will be with a good set of earplugs and a shirt that just reads "NO, THANKS!!"

on a pictural note here are some pictures of the beautiful scenery near SAPA, Vietnam.
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Posted by ggithens 00:26 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

rainy days in hanoi

saigon->dalat->nha trang->hoi an->hue->hanoi->halong bay

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what a tour it has been! im currently entering my last week of travel in vietnam and the sights, sounds and smells still arouse the senses.

the old quarter in hanoi is a labyrinth of narrow streets that are filled with colorful characters selling everything from gravestones to silk suits. i arrived here at 5:30am on my birthday and found the nicest "budget" hotel, which included a bathtub and hot water, two amenities i haven't had thus far on the trip. the last few days i've been roaming the quarter and indulging in some tasty treats, especially the french pastries that cost a whopping $.40!!!

about 4 hrs from hanoi on the gulf of tonkin is halong bay, home to a natural wonder out at sea. literally thousands of limestone islands rise up from the waters to create a surreal setting. i cruised on a boat through the fog and spent a night onboard with some new friends. the light wasn't ideal for photography, but the clouds and fog made for an eerie night in the middle of the bay. the 2nd day i went for a "trek", which was a 4km walk up a mountain. our tour "guide" was chain-smoking and walking in flip-flops (thongs). as you can imagine it wasn't quite the warm-up for nepal that i was hoping for. the kayak trip through the islands was a wonderful way to end the trip, and also to earn a few beer hanoi's in the evening.

as for the trip between the major cities, hoi an and the DMZ have been the highlights. i was fortunate enough to stay in hoi an for tet, the vietnamese new year. for one week, the people of this beautiful country spend time with their family and celebrate the nation getting one year older. hoi an, an old trading post that was utilized by portuguese, japanese and chinese (to name a few), is supposedly the cultural heart of vietnam. the fading yellow facades of old houses and brick streets certainly add an aesthetic feel that is unique in vietnam, but the sheer number of tourists make modern vietnamese culture invisible.

before i embarked on the hellish overnight to hanoi, i enjoyed a day touring the DMZ. the 17th parallel was the Demilitarized Zone from 1954 until Saigon fell on April 30th, 1975. throughout vietnam, underground tunnels were built by the viet cong to avoid intense bombing campaigns undertaken by the US. i went 15m beneath the earth's surface and saw firsthand where hundreds of people lived and 17 children were born!!!! tiny areas of rock were beds and muddy hallways led the vietnamese from the shores of the pacific into the jungle. it was truly an elaborate and well-thought out plan. afterwards the bus pulled up to khe san, and several former US helicopters were in the foreground. a few vietnamese men were selling US and Vietnamese dog tags, and the thoughts of the war surfaced in a gut-wrenchging way.

i have met countless vietnamese men, women and children on this journey. nearly everyone who can speak english asks where i come from. the answer america has rarely had a negative response, and more often than not they smile and say they want to visit my home country. the past has not been forgotten, but the people i have met here are looking to the future, to improve their country and become a desirable place to live. my experience in vietnam has been as much about the beautiful sights as it has been about meeting the people and sharing some great memories. the bia hoi always makes for a great night out!

all my vietnam pics are under the link to the right, but here are a few that i have time to include. (gotta catch a night train to the mountains....)

MEKONG DELTA
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SAIGON (HO CHI MINH)
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DALAT
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NHA TRANG
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HOI AN
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DMZ
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HANOI
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Posted by ggithens 02:50 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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