As you can tell by the title of this post – I have been away for quite a while (hence the lack of updates). I did try and upload photos with descriptions as I went along, however I was unable to do so ‘due to technical difficulties’.
I started my trip in Myanmar (Burma), a country so beautiful and so untouched. Mawlamyine was the first stop, located not far from the Thai boarder. The charming riverside town had a slightly tired feel to it with its crumbling, yellow staircases leading up to the temple and its decrepit cinema. From Mawlamyine we went on a day trip to Bilu Kyun (Ogre Island) where we went to a couple of handicraft workshops and we were also invited to join in the celebration of a monk who had been in the monastery for 20 years!
From Mawlamyine, we got a bus up to Yangon, which I didn’t find that appealing. Naturally, the first sight I wanted to see was the Shwedagon Pagoda at dusk which was stunning, although it was shrouded with tourists – the most I had seen for some time! I spent most of my time wandering around, admiring the mouldering colonial architecture and visiting the markets.
After a slightly disastrous ‘night-bus’ (which arrived at 4am) we were in Kalaw. Although most people in Kalaw are about to embark on the two or three day trek to Inle Lake, we had decided that we would do a less touristic trek around Kalaw and get the train to Inle Lake instead. The trek was magnificent, walking through valleys of vegetable patches up the top of hills with breathtaking views.
I was struck by the vastness of Inle Lake. I don’t know how big I was expecting it to be, but I really was taken aback. We did all of the typical tourist activities: taking a boat out on the lake; cycling to the hot springs; and just taking it easy in the laid back Nyaungshwe.
Cycling along the sand tracks in Bagan, with temples and pagodas emerging through the palms was so unlike anything I had ever done before. What was so unique about it was how few tourists, just even people, there were. The days started early, cycling, in the dark, to watch the sun rise over the Central Plain, lighting up the golden pagodas. Unfortunately, as I visited out of season, I didn’t see any hot air balloons rising through the mist – I can only imagine how enchanting that would be.
I then spent a few days in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I went on a two-day trek and took a cooking class – although I’m not the biggest fan of Thai food (I find it a bit sweet and sickly).
Cambodia was the next country, with Siem Reap (Angkor) being the first port of call. We spent three wonderful days exploring as many temple we could by tuk-tuk. Annoyingly, I forgot to pack my sketchbook – although had I had it, I would have spent hours sketching away! After all the sightseeing – we thought that perhaps it would be a good idea to spend some time on a beach, doing nothing but reading and swimming. First we went to Otres Beach, Shianoukville, which I have to say, was not my idea of an blissful beach – at least we were only there for a couple of nights. We took a ferry to M’Pai Bay on Koh Rong Sanloem. Without being too cliché, this was what I call an idyllic island paradise. There was no internet on the island (which I absolutely loved) and I just read and read and read, only interrupted to cool off in the water.
Kampot. The sleepy riverside town, known for its pepper. It was therefore almost obligatory that we visit a pepper farm. We also took another cooking class. I have not mentioned the Khmer food yet, but it was my favourite of all the cuisines I experienced. It wasn’t as sweet, nor as spicy as Thai food – rather more herby and, in my opinion, more flavoursome. In our lesson, we cooked vegetable Massaman Curry, vegetables with a Kampot pepper sauce, smoked aubergine stir-fry and banana flower salad. It was all absolutely divine – and I have written out the recipes so that I can try them at home!
In Phnom Penh we visited the harrowing Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and the killing fields of Choeung Ek. There was a brilliantly done audio guide at both of the sights, although they did make it very, very difficult to walk around and there were certain accounts and memories that I had to switch off. It really was a somber reminder of the atrocities that man can inflict on man.
The last town we visited in Cambodia was Kraite – another, even more sleepy riverside town on the Mekong. It was charming, but other than kayaking and seeing the Irrawaddy dolphins, there was little else to do.
From Kraite, we took a bus into Vietnam, to Ho Chi Minh City. We spent a lot of time just wandering around, browsing shops, drinking Vietnamese iced coffee. We also visited the Fine Arts Museum – it was interesting to see Vietnamese art, but I was more besotted with the Art Deco edifice. Unfortunately, in HCMC we began to feel a bit unwell and for the next few days we were bed-bound.
I only had ten days to make my way from HCMC to Hanoi. The next stop on the list was Hoi An – and thank goodness we began to feel better. Hoi An was, yet another sleepy(ish) riverside town. Although it was definitely a lot more tourist-oriented than most other places I had visited, it still retained an element of charm and the Old Houses were elegant if simple. We had to make a stop at Hue before heading up to Hanoi (bus scheduling…). Although the Citadel did evoke a sense of the luxury and glory of Vietnamese emperors, the town itself was very unassuming. Our one day in Hanoi was spent at the Fine Arts Museum, shopping for silk pyjamas and sipping our last Vietnamese iced coffee.
I spent the last week of my trip on Ko Lanta, Krabi, Thailand. We rented mopeds and would bike from the Old Town (where we were staying) over to the beaches. As it was the start of the rainy season, there was the odd storm (torrential rain, lashes of lightening and deafening thunder). It was a delightful way to end my trip; spending time reading and thinking. Thinking about what I had seen and experienced, and thinking about all of the exciting things to do when I got back home.