The minivan to Inle Lake was super late, but packed full of super fun people! We met Hugo, Jose, and Andrea from Columbia who packed their own beers and hilarious conversation. Hugo even gave us our very own Spanish/Asian fusion names :) And then Freddy from Ecuador. The Columbians got off at Kalaw to begin a 3 days trek, and we traveled on to Nyaungshwe, a small town near the lake. We scoped out some potential treks to do from the lake up to Kalaw in the mountains, but decided against it once we realized the number of assembly line tourists they shuttle on the treks, and opted to rent bicycles instead and cruise around the countryside around the lake.
The lake itself is pretty large, but very shallow so you could never quite get to it or definitely not swim in it (all the chemical run off from farming has been killing the fish so we opted not to swim or eat fish). While on our ride, we happened upon a really weird random subdivision of streets, equipped with large street lights, but no houses. Very eerie. Food was great at some of the local eateries and we took a couple trips out to one of the only 2 wineries in all of Myanmar, where we met a cool couple from Seattle, Kristen and Jeff. (See you guys soon on the bike trip!) Wine was as good as the ice hockey in Kenya, but a fun experience all the same. We spent a couple fun dinners with Freddy hearing all his exciting stories about guiding trips all over South America and even his harrowing experience hiking Mt. Mckinley in Alaska.
After a few days in Nyaungshwe, we headed up to Kalaw by bus to get a couple days in the mountains. It was much cooler in Kalaw and it made for some fun hikes up to surrounding hills and hilltop temples. We had a tasty local rum in a tiny local bar and met some really fun locals. While wandering in the hills, we stumbled upon a great family run restaurant in the hills where we chatted with a sweet old lady who grew up in those hills and told us of what it was like before anyone else was there. Also of when the military moved in and began taking the houses they wanted and even the wells. Her knowledge of the local elections was very impressive and the last day we were there Aung San Suu Kyi (or her partner was swarn into office) and began work in the actual capitol of Naypyidaw. If you don't know the history around this, it's worth a read. Also the old government decided that the capitol would be moved from Yangon in the south, up to the middle of the country to be more centrally located. They dumped tons of money into building a giant capitol, chalked full of large hotels and freeways, and once finished, most dug in their heels and refused to move to Yangon so the capitol has sat mostly vacant and resembling much of a ghost town for years. Only now, the new government is moving there and the guess is that slowly the rest will follow.
With only a couple days left in Myanmar, we got a posh nigh bus back to Yangon where low and behold, who do we see on it but Andrea and Freddy! Always fun to see people you know again on the travelers trail. Once in Yangon, Ville got bulldozed by his 3rd and worst bought of food poisoning and hardly left the hotel room. We had met a great couple in Inle Lake who were from Germany and we spent a couple days sightseeing together while Ville hugged the toilet.
Reflections on Myanmar. Even though the country is large, restrictions of travel for tourists (and ever changing as I'm writing this) has made the country feel much like a tourist attraction. You really have to spend quite a bit of money and a lot of work to get off the tourist path. But even the Lonely Planet can't keep up with how quickly even restaurants and hotels are constantly changing, so it's worth a visit before it's all commercialized like everywhere else. The people are incredibly kind, the food is amazing (but plan on getting sick at least once, it really is just part of the fun), set aside a decent budget, it's not very cheap, and go!
If it was hot in Yangon, Bagan was worse. Wide open, no shade, and we rented bicycles to ride all over and check out temples all day. The amazing part about it, was that it hasn't gotten quite the attention and tourist attraction as Angkor Wat in Cambodia so you can still wander anywhere and still lose yourself in temples without seeing anyone.
Of course, since travel in Myanmar is limited for tourists, this is probably the largest tourist attraction in the country and endless streams of A/C bused tourists with their matching Balloons Over Bagan hats were everywhere. We ate at a great local food joint and by evening I was sick as a dog. Where I spent the next couple days in an overpriced crappy dark hotel room lacking windows where I didn't leave bed, and sipped on coconuts (the cure all for making it through travel bugs). After seeing most of the temples in a day, we had originally planned to leave, but Ville rented more bikes and puttered around spending more time in the temples where he actually met some Finnish tourists, while waiting for me to rebound.
Once back on my feet, three days later, we headed over to the other tourist allowed vacation spot of Inle Lake.
There was quite a bit of excitement and anticipation for our travels in Myanmar. I, Kristen, lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2007-2008 and during that time was able to follow some of what was going on in Myanmar (of course no one knew the extent of it unless you lived there, but a visit to the refugee camps at the boarder and Burmese friends tried to keep us informed). In the last couple years, Myanmar has opened it's boarders and some areas inside to tourists and Ville and I really wanted to see the country before the tourism changes it like so many other countries.
Friendliest people we have met so far, incredibly tasty food, and landscape similar to Thailand make this country a great place to travel. All it took was a moment looking at a map and we inevitably had a person stop to ask if we needed any help. Then they went as far as walking us in the opposite direction than they were heading, to walk us to where we needed to go. Or even make some personal phone calls to find out the answer or book a ticket for us. For no other reason than to be kind. It was beautiful. And tea leaf salad, avocado salad, fried rice, noodles, fermented everything, the food was delicious everywhere we went.
Yangon has seen some very challenging times, but is starting to attract some investors and travelers alike allowing for some much needed polish and shine to begin to see it's sparkle. Sadly, Ville and I hit Myanmar end of March where things were heating up and it was unbelievably hot! We spent our days wandering around the city, walked to the river, to and around Kandawgyi Lake, to Inya Lake and Aung San Suu Kyi's home (where she spent nearly 20 years under house arrest).
Myanmar is also the most expensive place we have traveled. The hotels are not geared at all for backpackers and we never found a room under $25 a night. Food however was around the $2 mark, so it was a challenge to justify spending so much on accommodation. But we managed thanks to India and Nepal having less expensive accommodation, so it leveled out. Food seemed to have the same price no matter if we ate in a restaurant in the city or headed out to the villages. Also very different than most places we have been. But a beautiful country with very kind people and off to Bagan!
Oh Kuala Lumpur, what a great stop! This has been a much needed little break from the last two months of travel chaos in India and Nepal. We arrived at 4 am off the plane from Kathmandu, into literally a wall of heat and humidity as Kuala Lumpur is going through a terrible heat wave the couple days we are here. Temps reached over 35 C and 95 F with over 80% humidity yesterday. It's hot! But of course, we had booked this great hotel, Hotel WP, with a rooftop pool and AC and it's been a dream!
Our friends Sebastian and Aurelie booked last minute tickets to Kuala Lumpur from Kathmandu as well and we enjoyed a cold drink at there posh hotel overlooking the Petronas Towers. We only had 2 days here and are catching a plane in a couple hours to Yangon, Myanmar. But we have walked a lot (there are real sidewalks here!!), clean garbage free streets, lots of giant malls with everything you could possibly imagine and more, bazaars, towers, and we even had a date night at one of the cinemas in a mall nearby to see Zoolander 2 topped off with bowls of Baskin Robins Ice Cream! And the food!! A mix between Thai, Indian, Indonesian, and more has been just fireworks for the palate. Malaysia has been a bit more expensive than the countries we have been traveling in, but still my favorite meal cost us about $8 for the both of us to be stuffed. We feel like a bunch of spoiled princesses. (See below for Ville's aka Fabio's princess modeling shoot)
One reason why we hauled butt on the trekking trip was the fact that we had a limited amount of days left in Nepal before our flight and we really wanted to see the other side of the Nepalese nature, the jungle in the Chitwan National Park.
After the trek I treated myself for a straight edge shave in Pokhara, it was a very pleasant experience. The barber did a great job making my cheeks smooth like a baby’s bottom plus finishing the treatment with a head massage. All this for 2 dollars! The same day we treated ourselves also for a full body massage done by blind masseuses, I would love to tell you guys it was great but it wasn't. K.G and I were put in the same room which we thought was nice in the beginning but then the masseuses chatted with each other the whole time sometimes even forgetting to massage us! I received a massage by a blind person in Cambodia 8 years ago and it was great so my expectations were high, but this time it was a miss. At the massage we met Suzanna who was working behind the counter helping the blind staff to run the business. We were chatting about Nepalese food and all of a sudden we were invited that night to her place to tasted her cooking. Man it was good, she made us Dal Bhat, which is a very common dish in Nepal except this one was done the traditional way not the tourist or the "tex mex" way. Suzanna got married 2 months ago and her and her husband knew each other for 2 days before they were married. The match making was done by their parents, they had the chance to say no but they said yes. No need for match.com or Tinder when Mom and Pops are professional pimps!
The next day we took a bus to Chitwan, 6 hours southeast from Pokhara, Chitwan National Park is the place in Nepal to go see some wild life like Rhinos, Tigers and Alligators. On the bus we met Dino, Katrin and Sonja from Germany, we ended up hanging out with this great trio the whole time in Chitwan and even in Kathmandu. Dino's family is originally from Sri Lanka and that is where they are right now. He had some fun stories about emigrating to Germany as a child. The 5 of us booked a jungle walk the day after we arrived and headed into the jungle with 2 guides, it's mandatory to have a guide due to the fact that Rhinos and Tigers can be cranky when poked with a stick to get a better selfie. By the way, how long is this selfie craze going to last before people realize how badly framed pictures they make? Why don't people just ask someone to take their picture so the rest of us could actually see the Eiffel Tower behind the person making the "duck face".
Sorry about that rant, back to Nepal. The trek was fun and it went through some thick jungle where we spotted some monkeys, lizards, deer and Rhinos. The first hour of the trek was done by boat on the river and we spotted a lot of alligators, crocodiles and king fishers. The guides finished the trek a little too early and we felt we didn't get enough bang for our buck so we complained and they had to organize us another trek for the afternoon. The second trek we saw less but learned more about the plants and trees in the jungle. The closest to a tiger we came was the tiger's paw print, judging by the size of that paw you probably don't want to meet the owner. All and all a fun way to spend a day after 10 days of trekking in the high Himalayas in a completely different scenery.
Chitwan to Kathmandu bus ride was supposed to be 4 hours and as per usual ended up being 6 hours, luckily the scenery was beautiful and there wasn't a goat on the roof peeing on our back pack like on our earlier bus. Kathmandu was busy and the scars from the earth quake were still very visible. It is also an extremely polluted city surrounded by mountains that keep the pollution in the bowl that Kathmandu is located in. After 2 days our throats were hurting and we were coughing like Marlboro Man. We enjoyed sightseeing the sights and hanging out with our German friends in the many bakeries of Kathmandu. In the pictures above you can see some of the damage done to the buildings by the earth quake a year prior, some of them were protected by Unesco but Mother Nature don't care about those things. Sad seeing large poles holding up what remains of falling and crumbling brick buildings everywhere.
From Kathmandu Airport, small as most of the bus stations we have been in, we flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And that my friends is where we currently are while writing this. Finally, done with banging our heads on the wall with Nepalese internet connections and constant power breaks. Goodbye cool Nepal, hello giant heat-wave and humid Kuala Lumpur!
Hello friends, Kristen here. Sorry for the long delay in an update, but we were busy trekking around the Himalayas for a while. And by golly, it was amazing!!
Getting to Nepal was a bit rough, as expected. When Ville last wrote, we left Darjeeling in a jeep and planned to stay at the border town in India a night and leave in the morning to catch a bus, but once we got down out of the mountains, it was the same super crowded chaos we headed into and we just jumped on a 2 hour bus to the border, got stamped out of India, walked across a big bridge (which is the boarder between India and Nepal), got stamped into Nepal after paying our visa, and jumped on a bus an hour later leaving for Pokhara. The bus situation was not as bad as expected, but unfortunately, there are no sleeper buses or trains here in Nepal so we took a 16 hour very uncomfortable bus all the way through the night, to get to Pokhara.
Pokhara is a smallish city on a lake with a pretty laid back feel. As soon as we made it over the boarder, you could feel the difference in space and therefore far less people in Nepal. We could finally breathe in some clean, and cooler air thanks to the many trees, rivers, streams, and open spaces (of course we did spend most of our tiime in India in large cities and tourist spots). The Nepalese look quite different than Indians and are more friendly, less pushy, smile, and just for ease of getting around we have found that Nepalese people speak a bit more English than what we ran into in India.
Once in Pokhara, we stayed a couple days in the town walking around, catching up on sleep, and planning a big trek of the Annapurna Circuit. On the PCT we made it up Whitney (14,500 ft. and 4,421 meters) and the top of South Sister (10,358 ft. and 3,157 meters) but we would try and make it over the Thorung La Pass at 17,769 ft and 5,416 meters! And both of us were a bit nervous to see how our bodies would take it (not to mention we have been sitting our beautiful butts on trains and buses for the last month and doing very little trekking. But we hired a guide (looking back we could have completely done it without but didn't know well enough and so hired one), rented some sleeping bags, and gathered our cheap gear and set off!
We took a bus early the next morning with Kamal, our very sweet and very experienced (he is nearly 70 and a whopping 100 lbs. tops) trekking guide. We realized very early on that our trekking styles are quite drastically different, but did pretty well trying to embrace it and remember we were not on the same ass-kicking mission of the Pacific Crest Trail and should slow down and enjoy the flowers and tons of village stops to drink tea. Day one, a local panty thief ran off with a pair of my and another ladies panties (gross!), but left Ville's leopard print thongs dangling outside our room. As we climbed the views were more and more stunning. Living in the mountains in Bend, we love seeing the snow-capped peaks, but these peaks tower at over 20-26,000 ft and surround you from around every bend. Some of the "tea houses" or very simple guest houses we stayed at had the most stunning views of huge mountains which I can only compare to Switzerland with a far different price tag (our room was about a dollar a night and meals were $2-$3.50 each). Cheap!
We met some amazing folks during the hike: group of premed students from Spain, a group of Swedish guys, group of kids from all over, and a great fellow thru-hiker (he hiked the Appalachian Trail) and professor from Georgia Tech, Tin Man. Thanks Tin Man, for all the fun conversation and the great movie night in Manang of Into Thin Air. We had nightmares of that heading over the pass in cold windy weather :)
I admit there was a decent fear on this trek, of having signs of altitude sickness as we climbed, that we watched many others have and have to turn around and head back down. These ranged from headaches, vomiting, bloody noses, and even to a detached retina of someone's eye, that if not treated quickly would be permanent! Needless to say we took it very slowly, took extra altitude hikes from camps, and tried to acclimatize as best as possible and crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. It was nerve wracking. But our last night we slept at 16,000 ft. and as the storm outside blew, we shivered in every piece of clothes we had and were pumped to get up at 4 am and start our last push up to 17,769 ft. and 5,460 meters to the top of the pass (and Happy Birthday JLo!! I didn't forget you!). Sadly it was so windy and cold we snapped a quick pic and began our very fast decent all the way down to 8,500 ft to sleep. We were suppose to stay closer to the bottom of the pass, but Ville and I were dreaming of hot showers and a real bed back in Pokhara and pushed our poor guide to hike through the day in massive wind and then rain to get to Jonsom. The next morning we caught 2 buses lasting over 12 hours to get back to Pokhara and celebrated with Chinese food and a hot shower! Whoo what a trek!
We plan to spend the next couple days here relaxing and then on to Chitwan to do some jungle trekking in the south of Nepal. Ta ta for now!
K.G. & Ville
In Cuenca, Ecuador. Next stop, Loja.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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