We arrived in Rio de Janeiro excited but slightly apprehensive as it was our last stop before flying home. We didn’t get too much time to dwell on it though as when we walked into our hostel we bumped into some friends from Bolivia, Chris and Zoe. It was their last night travelling before their return to England, so we had a few caipirinhas with them before they left. Our hostel (Bossa in Rio) was really nice and had a great happy hour, so we quickly made some new friends while acclimatising to the sweltering hot weather.
We were in Rio for five days but had a lot to squeeze in during that time, so the next morning we were up early and headed to see one of the big attractions, Christ the Redeemer. We went with an Aussie couple called Nathan and Kate. Christ reminded us of Big Buddha in Hong Kong and although it’s a very impressive and symbolic sight, it was the views that won us over. As with all these sights, it was full of tourists but we managed to elbow some of them out of our way for some great shots of Rio.
The afternoon was spent wondering around Leblon and Ipanema, some of Rio’s more affluent neighbourhoods. We had planned to watch the sunset from Ipanema beach as apparently it is amazing but unfortunately after about half an hour of watching the beautiful people on the beach, the weather suddenly turned and huge rain clouds came over ahead. We ran for a bus in the pouring rain and made the most of our hostels happy hour instead.
The bad weather continued the next day so we took a walk to the Santa Teresa steps, beautifully tiled stairway by a Chilean artist. It was raining so we took a few pictures and had a quick lunch before heading out for the afternoon.
We had booked ourselves onto a favela tour with a tour group called ‘Don’t be a Gringo, be a Local’…quite apt. I was really looking forward to having a walk around a favela within the relative safety of a tour. We were taken to the biggest and most famous favela in South America called Rochina which houses over 69,000 people. We started at the top which provided amazing views over the whole favela and Rio and then slowly made our way down through the narrow lanes.
On our way down we were treated to some live Samba by some of the local kids. They were part of a Sunday school and had been encouraged to do something for money rather than just beg so they had put together a small band…if you can call it that…some old plastic tubs and saucepans. Some of the younger kids joined in and started dancing for us. It was all very sweet and obviously planned for our visit so we rewarded their efforts with a small donation.
The favela is like a city of its own, it has its own hospitals, schools, shops and even internet cafes. This particular favela has not been pacified yet but is starting to go through the process. Most of the favelas in Rio have now been pacified, which basically means that the drug lords have been kicked out and they are now run and supported by the police. Most favelas have seen massive improvements in terms of sanitation and some have cable cars or lifts being built (not for tourists but for the locals).
When we came out of a particular bad lane, having walked through sewage and god knows what else, we were greeted by four massive police men carrying machine guns…not a sight I expected but apparently all part of the pacification. Our guide told us that the majority of local people have welcomed the change and are working with the police to improve their living conditions. It was a truly interesting experience.
The Aussie couple we met, Kate and Nathan were great fun and one night Nathan let us into a big secret. He had arranged for Kate’s sister to fly into Rio and travel with them for three weeks and Kate had no idea. Alice was arriving during happy hour so we settled down for a few drinks and when she walked through the door, Kate’s face was a picture…what a brilliant surprise!
We celebrated Alice’s arrival by heading out to the infamous Lapa street party. The whole neighbourhood came alive with live music on the streets, cheap caipirinhas and an amazing atmosphere. We watched some of the locals strut their stuff and show off their samba skills and I decided to have a go. Well, I can tell you that samba is one of the hardest dances I have ever tried. It obviously has a rhythm but I couldn’t find it so I sort of jumped around on my feet trying to wiggle my bum at the same time…not a pretty sight according to Sam!
It was a great night and we managed to come home with our camera and wallet still intact. One of the couples we were with had their iPhone stolen from their pocket unfortunately, and it’s notorious for theft and muggings.
Feeling slightly worse for wear the next day we headed to Copacabana for a walk along the famous beach and possibly a dip in the sea. Unfortunately the weather didn’t co-operate so we settled some lunch followed by some Havaiana shopping much to Sam’s delight. We returned to Lapa later that night for some more samba and the strongest caipirinhas I have ever had. They were served in pint glasses and were very cheap.
Sunday was a bit of a wash-out unfortunately…two nights out on the trot were taking their toll so we had a lazy day in the hostel. By the evening we were feeling much better so a group of us headed out to a local restaurant which was recommended by our hostel; Bar Do Maneiro. It was a great little place which offered traditional Brazilian food at a reasonable price. We each shared some bean and meat stew, which we later found out was made with pigs ears, tails and other meat delights. It was delicious though and I am glad I didn’t really know what I was eating. We also ordered the fish stew which was delicious and we couldn’t resist ordering a plate of crackling…Mmm. It was a great last night for us.
We packed our bag for the very last time, careful to protect the three litres of cacacha we’re bringing back and headed out to our final tourist spot, Sugar Loaf Mountain. We had wanted to go up for sunset as the views over Rio looked incredible. Because of the changeable weather this wasn’t possible so we headed out around lunchtime and had a couple of hours soaking in the amazing views, even finding a couple of loungers to relax on. We also enjoyed watching the planes come in as they have to bank quite sharply over the water in order to land on the short runway of the local airport.
Although we had a lovely day, trying to get Sam to smile in any of the photos was hard work. He is definitely not looking forward to coming home so he was a bit miserable all day. I had fun though and even though I wish we could continue our travels together, I am excited to be coming home to see all my family and friends.
What a city and country to end our 15 months of travel…a definite must see for you all and one that we’ll be coming back to. We’re now at Frankfurt airport waiting for our flight to London and the only thing that is keeping us going (apart from a Starbucks coffee) is the thought of eating bratwurst and ordering some champagne!
Coming soon…the round-up of our trip
After two flights, a quick bus ride through Rio and a further five hours on a bus we were finally in Paraty; just another ordinary travel day. We’d been told that Paraty was a must see and we were not disappointed. It is a picturesque seaside town with cobble stones, colonial buildings and has hundreds of surrounding islands.
We booked a boat tour of the islands for one of our three days and had a great day taking in the various islands and beaches. Being typical travellers, we opted out of the lunch option on the boat (v expensive) so instead enjoyed our packet of peanuts and beer whilst everyone else on the boat tucked into fresh shrimp and salad…it wasn’t our best decision.
The rest of our time in Paraty was either spent on the beach, walking around taking pictures of the beautiful cobble stoned streets or drinking Caipirinhas…when in Rome! Paraty is one of two places in Brazil that produces cacacha, the spirit used to make the famous Caipirinha. We found a Cacacharia and immediately started sampling the local stuff which is so much nicer than the cheap cacacha you see everywhere else.
We could have stayed longer in Paraty but we’d booked our transfer out and our next stop was Ilha Grande, a beautiful island that has been in our plans since the beginning. As this is our last few weeks, we decided that we were done with buses so booked a transfer which would take us door to door for the remainder of our trip, including Rio. The boat dropped us right in front of our hostel on the island and we were excited to dump our bags and start exploring.
The hostel (Aquario Hostel) was a bit of a let-down unfortunately. We had a nice room, overlooking the sea front but the staff were a bit moody and the whole place just felt a bit shabby and dirty. Oh well, Ilha Grande is a big island so we spent our days out on the various beaches and our evenings in town doing you know what…drinking caipirinhas.
On our first night we met another English couple, Laura and Philip and we decided to book a boat trip together. We chose a smaller boat (max 15 people) which took us to a couple of beaches, a couple of snorkelling sites and included a BBQ lunch.
The only disappointment that day was that there was nowhere to buy drinks so all we had was warm water. That was until a local man in is kayak arrived with iced cold beers just as we were about to sit down for lunch. Talk about timing.
One of the main things to do on this island is a beach called Lopes Mendes. Everyone we had met told us that we must make the effort to go to this beach. There are two options; the first is to walk there and what they describe as a relatively easy 2-3 hour trek, the second option is to get a boat there.
As we were in holiday mode, we had discussed getting the boat there and back but then I woke up one morning and it was fairly cloudy and I had one of my moments of madness and suggested that we should walk there. I have never sweated so much in my life. Sam kept telling me was a good thing but I just kept wishing we had paid the £10 and got the boat.
The walk started badly as we took a wrong turn and ended up walking an hour in the wrong direction. Once we were back on track it took us a further 2 ½ hours of fairly tough climbs in incredible heat…not what I would call relatively easy. Sensible as ever, we walked it in our flip flops!
The walk took us through some quite thick jungle but then opened up onto smaller beaches along the way. When we finally reached Lopes Mendes it was really busy but we could see why it was a must see. A beautiful white sandy beach as far as the eye could see stretched out in front of us and this was one of the best beaches we have seen in South America.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great so the pictures do not do it justice at all. We found spot to collapse onto, grabbed a couple of beers and just relaxed for a few hours watching the surfers. Of course we got the boat back and we ended the day slowly sailing back to the main town.
Our last day on Ilha Grande was spent on the beach, fearing this would be our last beach day for some time we sweated our way through it. It was so hot that we were constantly in and out of the sea, playing frisbee and I think Sam walked up and down the beach about 20 times as it was too hot to lie still. Sounds terrible I know. Last stop Rio.
As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:
Until the next time…
Our time in Bolivia started with a visit to Copacabana and Lake Titicaca. We had heard really good things about the place from people we had met in Cusco, especially one of the islands on the lake called Isla Del Sol. The lake itself is the largest in South America, and it separates Peru from Bolivia. The border crossing was simple enough, although there were a few Americans on the bus that had a harder time getting across than us, with one girl even getting refused.
We had an afternoon recovering from our overnight journey and relaxing in the sun before meeting some friends from Peru (Jo and Tommy) for dinner. We went to a great restaurant that I would highly recommend called La Orilla. A good fillet steak or amazing fresh water trout with a glass of wine for under £5 can’t be bad, and a great way to welcome in a new country.
The next morning we got up early to get a boat to the north of Isla Del Sol, which took about three hours. Thankfully it was a nice day, so we took in the sights before arriving at the tiny port. Most people on the boat were booked on as part of a tour, but we had decided that we would explore the island on our own. We knew a rough route to take us down to the port in the south of the island, and we knew we had a maximum of about four hours to walk it. We saw loads of animals along the way as most of the land is used for farming, and we even had a dog for company for the first couple of miles of the walk.
The walk itself had some stunning views over the lake with the snow-capped Andes in the background. It was a hot day, and at over 3800m above sea level some of the hills seemed more like mountains. We had a quick break in the middle of a farm where in our best broken Spanish we asked for directions. When we were pointed up one of the bigger hills of the island, Katy didn’t seem too happy, and we soon found ourselves having another break. Forty minutes later we stumbled across another farmer who told us we had been going in the completely wrong direction, but for a small fee he could get us back on track. By this point Katy wasn’t in the mood for bartering and just told me to pay the man. We got back to the south port in plenty of time though, and thoroughly enjoyed our day on the lake.
We only had two nights in Copacabana before heading to La Paz. It’s a very busy city, and a stark contrast to our last few weeks. It’s a bit of a strange city as it’s a big, but with very little to do. We struggled to find restaurants at one stage, and it wasn’t really what we expected. We did get to meet up with an old friend that we met in our first week of travelling in Beijing, Slaven. Since Beijing we also bumped into him on a desert island in Cambodia, and it was nice to catch up again after so long. We enjoyed a few drinks and a full English breakfast whilst watching some of the Sunday morning football.
La Paz is famous for its markets, and specifically anything related to alpaca. I thought we had actually bought enough alpaca clothing to last us a lifetime, but Katy was adamant that we needed more…constantly reminding me that parts of Bolivia get as cold as -15° at night.
The markets also sell alpaca foetuses that local witches use to cook up potions and spells. Funnily enough though, Katy wasn’t interested in buying any of those as souvenirs.
Before we left La Paz, we went to check out the local attraction that is held every Sunday. Cholitas is local wrestling, where women in traditional clothes take on the men. Not really being a fan of wrestling I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was a surprising evening. We took Slaven along with us, and not long after taking our seats in the front row were we covered in drinks being thrown out of the ring. At one point one of our fellow gringos was dragged into the ring, and I was just relived that it wasn’t me. It was all very cheesy, but a great night out none the less.
Next on the agenda was the Amazon jungle. We had been thinking about doing a jungle trip in Bolivia for some time, as it is supposed to be the cheapest place to do it. It wasn’t until we got to La Paz though that it was all booked and confirmed. We decided to go with a cheap return flight with a company that is run by the Bolivian military, called TAM.
Katy isn’t the best flyer in the world and flying usually involves her squeezing all the blood out of my hand during take-off. This flight however was very different, with almost a full panic attack taking place. It didn’t help that the plane was about fifty years old, only held about forty people and was held together with duct tape (no joke). The main problem however was that after take-off we were flying perilously close to the surrounding mountains. Eventually though things calmed down and the panic attack was over, and forty minutes later we landed in Rurrenabaque.
The first night was much colder than we expected, and we went out for drinks and dinner with another couple from England we met on the flight, Zoe and JK. There are several tours you can do from here, but we decided to go with the Pampas tour which involved more animals and less trekking…much to Katy’s delight.
Our tour left early the next morning and we were joined for the very bumpy ride by four Aussies, Jess and Leigh and Kate and Andy. It was a three hour jeep ride to Santa Rosa, and we were all relieved to get out and stretch our legs before having lunch. Soon after we were on the road again, and we then made our way to the Beni River for the next leg of our trip; a three hour trip on a motorised canoe. Our guide, Juan, pointed out some of the many different types of wildlife on the way while we got to know each better and all wishing we had bought along a cerveza or two.
The lodge we stayed in was rickety to say the least, and we were staying in a dorm that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a few weeks. After dinner and a cold shower, we then headed up river to spot alligators and caimans. Our torches lit up their eyes in the dark, and it was a bit unnerving seeing so many of them so close to the boat. When we headed back to camp, we made a quick pit stop in a river bar (if you can call it that) to pick up some wine. The camp only had power until 10:00pm, so we had a couple of hour playing cards and learning how much Aussies cheat.
The next day we headed out into the marsh lands looking for anacondas. The weather had got much hotter since the previous day, and it finally began to feel like we were in the jungle. Our guide, Juan told us that two weeks before he had found a seven metre anaconda not far from where we were. As we were up to our knees in swamp it was making a few of the girls a bit nervous, so after a couple of hours of searching they gave up and started playing cards under a tree, leaving the boys to do the searching. Ten minutes later we found one. It wasn’t quite seven metres long, but it was good to finally see one after searching for so long.
On our way back to the boat Katy suddenly screamed and began jumping up and down and flapping her arms. I looked around to see dozens of wasps surrounding her and decided the best thing to do was run (obviously telling Katy to do the same thing). It turns out she had walked straight through a wasp’s nest and ended up being stung about six times. Not a very happy Katy afterwards, until we smothered her wounds with tomato sauce to ease the pain.
That afternoon we went piranha fishing in a quiet area upstream. First of all we caught some sardines as bait, and then we went for the piranhas. Katy did well and had one of the bigger catches of the day, perfect for our dinner later on that evening. On the way back to camp we headed back to the river bar where a game of football had been organised by some Irish lads on one of the other tours. We spent an hour or so running around beer in hand, trying to avoid all of the mosquitoes. It ended with the guides, English and Aussies beating the rest of the world 6-5.
The next morning we were supposed to be up at 05:00am to go and see the sunrise, but the previous night after quite a few bottles of red wine we all decided that we would rather have a lie in. Instead after breakfast we went to swim with dolphins (among other things) in the river. After seeing people fishing for piranhas just metres away, and a host of alligators and caimans sat on the river banks, we were all a bit nervous. Juan ensured us though that the dolphins would protect us. I’m not too sure how true this is, but either way it got us into the water.
That afternoon we had the long journey back to Rurrenabaque. It had been an amazing few days in the jungle where we saw parrots, howler monkeys, black caimans, alligators, anacondas, piranhas, pink river dolphins, macaws, eagles, vultures, hoatzins, parrots, cassowarys, rhinoceros beetles, spider monkeys, capybaras and vampire bats. Unfortunately we didn’t see any sloths or tapirs, but we were both very happy with the trip.
That night we all met in the Mosquito Bar along with Zoe and JK for a few drinks. It turned onto a bit of a rowdy affair before we all left (or got kicked out) for some much needed sleep. The next day we had our return flight to La Paz, or so we thought. The airport is tiny, and doesn’t really have a departure building. Instead we were all congregated on the edge of the runway waiting for our plane to arrive. As it came in to land it suddenly veered off the runway almost hitting a group on people on the grass verge. Everyone watching was pretty shocked as it looked like it was very close to being a serious accident.
The plane slowly came to a stop next to us, and there was some sort of fluid leaking from one of the engines. The locals didn’t seemed too concerned about this, and just left us to play cards under the wings so we could shield ourselves from the sun. Eventually after a couple of hours of trying to either fix the problem or organise another flight, we were told that the flight was cancelled. I think we were all quite relieved by this, as the thought of getting back on that plane was a bit worrying. So instead we decided to stay another two nights and enjoy the sunshine. Before we could even get off of the tarmac though, the bus back to town actually broke down as well, and we all had to get out and push. It was ridiculous, but kind of summed up Bolivia.
We found a bar that had a nice swimming pool, and spent our extra day catching up on some sun. We knew the next day was going to be busy because as soon as we got to La Paz, we had an overnight bus booked to take us to Sucre. This actually turned into a very stressful day. First of all our flight was over an hour late leaving, then it took an age to get our bags off the plane. Then as we got a cab back to our hotel to pick up our bags it was diverted as roads were closed. I also had to run to the ticket office to pick up our bus tickets. When we got into another cab to take us to the bus station, as he went to leave the battery died, and we both had to get out and push the cab, again.
Eventually we got to the station with about 15 minutes to spare, but the attendant wouldn’t let us put our bags on the bus. Instead he told us to wait outside the bus and he would come back. Well we waited there until the bus driver closed the door and started driving away. I was shouting at him to stop but he just ignored me, so instead I stood in front of the bus to stop it from leaving. Eventually the attendant came back and took our bags, and we got aboard. We had to laugh about it, but it was not the easiest day of travelling…another one to add to the list.
As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link (more will be added in due course):
Until the next time.
Our trip to Myanmar was only for ten days, so you would have thought that we would have planned exactly what we were doing to do before arriving. Instead we arrived at Yangon airport with a Lonely Planet book we had bought the day before and not yet looked at, no hostel or guesthouse booked, no local money and no idea where we should be headed. We just arrived with our visa and some crisp dollar bills, and hoped for the best.
After the ride into town in possibly one of the oldest taxis I have ever seen, I left Katy in a street bar with a fellow traveller while I went to find somewhere to stay. After quite a while of searching around town and finding everything was fully booked, I finally found us a room about 10 meters away from where I left Katy. The room was basic (at best) with a shared bathroom that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since it was fitted, but we were relieved to find somewhere.
When Katy went to pay for her drink, we were told that they didn’t accept dollars, so we had to find somewhere to change money. I was directed to a guy drinking whiskey a few tables back from us. He told me to follow him, and ten minutes later down some dark alley, he welcomed me into his house. Up three flights of stairs and I was suddenly sat in his living room with his whole family watching me. Not long after I was back in the alley with a huge wad of kyat in my pocket.
After paying for the drink and dumping the bags in the room, we had a bit of time to walk around the city and take in the sights. It’s a very different place to anywhere we’ve been so far. It’s got a huge Indian and Bangladeshi influence and men in longyi (sarong like skirt) and women and kids wearing thanaka (traditional white make-up) can be seen everywhere. Betel is nuts wrapped in a leaf eaten in a similar way to chewing tobacco, and is also very common. People chewing betel smile at you with their blood-red teeth, before spitting a mouthful of red liquid on the floor in front of you.
After some lovely Indian food from a little shack, we headed back to our damp smelly room. We thought it was about time we did some planning.
The next morning we got our bus ticket sorted for later that day, and changed some more money. We only had a few hours before we had to leave Yangon, so we went straight to the main attraction, the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s a pretty impressive place where all locals are supposed to visit at least once in their life. After plenty of photos and Katy getting chatted up by a monk (no really), we headed back into town for some of the famous Nilar biryani.
Kalaw and Inle Lake
Our next stop was Kalaw, and the bus we had to get had the convenient arrival time of 3am. Its high altitude meant it was freezing cold, but thankfully a guesthouse had sent someone to the bus stop in case somebody hadn’t booked anywhere, which of course we hadn’t.
Normally people trek from here to Inle Lake, but we didn’t have time. So we had a relaxing day walking around the old British Civil Servant holiday resort. We spent the evening in a tiny local bar. It looked like we were the first foreigners ever to have walked in there, but they were very welcoming. They gave us some of their bar snacks, which was basically a very tasty ginger salad, and toasted us with some local rum, which of course we were obliged to drink.
The next day we got an early two-hour bus to Inle Lake. We only had a day at the lake, so we headed straight out onto a boat trip. The lake itself is huge and surrounded by stilt-house villages and floating gardens. Various tribes live on the lake and we got to see their communities and how they live off the lake.
We were taken around various shops where they basically sell tat to tourists. Anything from silk scarves to bamboo umbrellas could be found, and of course Katy couldn’t resist and paid over the odds for a longyi which she will probably never wear.
Katy also got to see a long-neck tribe which she was quite excited about, as we didn’t get to see any on our travels so far. We also saw the local cigars being made. I had previously sampled one that Alex brought me back from Myanmar last year, and they are made with tobacco leaves, star anise, tamarind and banana.
We finished the day sunburnt and tired, and had an early night before our 3:30am alarm call the next morning.
Nyuang U and Bagan
We had to get a local bus to Nyuang U, and this was probably our worst bus journey of our travels so far. We were the only foreigners on the bus, so we were getting looks from every angle. The seats weren’t big enough for both of us to fit on, so we had to take it in turns to perch on the edge of the seat. There was no air-conditioning and the roads were bumpy and windy.
All of this (or at least some of it) was made up for by the stunning scenery out of the window. We started on roads winding their way through mountain villages. This soon changed to palm tree forests and then to almost desert like plains. It made the eight hour uncomfortable journey slightly easier.
Bagan has over 4000 temples squeezed into a 25 square-mile area, which dates back to the 12th Century. People in the area still get around using a horse and cart, or an ox and cart, but we decided to hire bikes and cycle our way around.
It was quite easy to get lost down some of the dirt roads as the map we had was pretty poor; even with Katy’s amazing navigational instincts.
We did get to see a lot of temples, although it didn’t feel quite as special as Angkor Wat. It is quite an amazing sight to see all of the temples from a high vantage point. We went to one of the bigger temples for sunset, which had a big terrace viewing platform. It took us a long time to find as this was advertised as the more adventurous option, but it was worth the trip.
After all of the effort to get there, Katy wanted to leave before the actual sun had set so we could avoid the crowds and get back to our guesthouse before dark. Ten minutes after leaving and taking a wrong turn down a dirt track, Katy got a flat tyre. This does seem to be a running theme with Katy and bikes. So there we were in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch black with no idea of where to go.
After Katy stopped crying, out of nowhere (literally) a local man appeared. He spoke no English, but was pointing us in the right direction. Katy showed him that she had a puncture, and the next thing you know he’s run off into the dark. A minute later he returns with a full puncture repair kit and a bowl of water. I gave him our torch, and he was away. It did take him a while, but he did manage to fix it for us. What we would have done had he not turned up is anyone’s guess, so we were very grateful.
When we did eventually get back and had showered, it was just in time to watch the Arsenal vs. Blackburn game. I’d found a local tea-house that was showing the game, but instead Katy decided that we should go for dinner. Luckily I didn’t miss a high scoring game (Arsenal 7 – 1 Blackburn), or one of Arsenal’s best performances of the season. To be fair we did catch the last 15 minutes and Henry’s goal.
The next day we could barely sit on our bikes as our bums were so sore. So we decided to give the temples a miss and just stay in Nyuang U. We went to visit a factory that makes Pon-Yay-Gyi, which is supposedly Myanmar’s version of Marmite. It was a bit of a random thing to do, and nobody at the place spoke any English. They showed us around, and we think we saw how it was made (out of bean-curd). Most of the people looked at us as if we were mad, but it was quite a funny thing to do. We came out with a little sample, although after tasting it I don’t think I’d want it on my toast.
The bus to Mandalay wasn’t the best, and we were relieved to arrive and be shoved in the back of a pick-up truck for our 45 minute ride into town. After booking our bus back down to Yangon and a quick bite to eat, we had an early night.
The next day to Katy’s delight we went for a walk around the Mandalay Palace and Fort, which is about 10km of very dull walkways overlooking a moat. We refused to pay the $10 to get into the fort, and hoped that there would be some interesting stuff outside the fort, but there really wasn’t.
I was quite shocked when Katy suggested that we climb Mandalay Hill for some views over the city. She wasn’t so happy when she was asked to take her shoes off before we started the climb. After quite a few days of walking around temples and pagodas with no shoes on, our feet are in a bit of a state. Katy says that she is in need of a pedicure, but she says that most weeks to be honest.
Anyway after about 40 minutes of walking up stairs we got to the peak for some nice views over the city. The locals seemed pleased to see us doing the climb, and most of them said hello and asked where we were from. We found out that last year only 250,000 tourists came here, which is tiny in comparison to it neighbour Thailand who had 14 Million tourists.
We decided to end the day with a few beers before dinner, but ended up getting a free dinner thrown in. They gave us peanuts, and every time we finished them they brought some more. Anyway after about ten bowls of nuts, we decided that we didn’t need a big dinner. Instead Katy sent me on the back of a moto to get some samosas. The ride to get there cost four times the price of the samosas, but they were the best in Mandalay apparently.
On our last day in Mandalay, Katy decided that we should go shopping. She had seen a shopping centre as we drove into the city, and thought she may be able to pick up some bargains. I wouldn’t really call it a shopping centre. It was more like a bunch of market stalls that smelt of urine under a part built office block. Thankfully we didn’t stay in there too long.
We ended the day at the U Bein Bridge for sunset. It is the world’s largest teak bridge, and one of the main tourist attractions in Myanmar. It was quite busy, but there were some great views. We walked across one way, and then got a boat back. It was a nice way to end our stay in Myanmar; just a shame that this was followed by an overnight bus journey to Yangon before getting a flight at 08:30 in the morning. We’re currently sat in the airport waiting to board, with only about an hours sleep.
Overall Myanmar has been a great place to visit. We have rushed around the country a bit, so we’ve not had much time to relax here. Katy hasn’t enjoyed it as much as I have, but we’re both really glad we came. The people are so friendly here, with most people keen to say hello and practice their English. We’re looking forward to getting back to Thailand now though. We’ve got a busy weekend in Bangkok with Katy’s brother Dave, before heading south for some beach time.
As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:
Until the next time…
The slow boat to the border was surprisingly good, although it was absolutely freezing, I even had to get my towel out to use as a blanket and I fashioned that great look of socks with flip flops. It took about 9 hours each day which seemed to go quite quickly, probably helped by the stunning scenery and our Kindles which have been a life saver on all these long trips.
Our overnight stop was in a very small town called Pak Beng, but as we arrived so late we didn’t really get to explore anything. Instead we settled for a local restaurant where we had some very tasty food and then an early night.
At the end of the second day, we arrived in Houy Xai which borders Thailand, the only thing separating them is the Mekong River. After another early night, we woke early to start our adventure in the jungle. After a very brief safety video, we were on our way. We were in a group of eight and headed to a small village just outside the National Park where they kitted us out with harnesses; we were then told we had to trek for 2-3 hours (with harnesses on) up to the zip wires. You can imagine my joy when this 2-3 hour trek was all uphill, a real wake up call to how unfit I actually am!
We finally made it up to the first zip wire which looked very scary and suddenly the nerves kicked in. We were shown how to break if necessary as some of the zips are faster than others. I managed a 180 spin on my first attempt which was not fun and I came off feeling very shaky. After a few more zips the nerves wore off and I actually started to enjoy myself.
The key to a good zip is staying straight and making sure you reach the landing deck. If you stop short you have to pull yourself monkey style along the wire which is really hard work. After lunch we were taken to our tree house which was quite amazing and floating 50m in the air.
We had to zip in and out of the tree house which was a lot of fun. We each had beds, linen, mosquito nets and even a shower. The toilet wasn’t the best unfortunately, mainly due to the fact we were very close to the ‘Bee Tree’ so the toilet bowl was full of bees. I ended up going to the loo in the jungle as I couldn’t face the bees.
After a short break in our tree house, we were off again to explore some more zip lines. This time we were shown a small loop of zips where we were then basically left to our own devices and told to zip the loop as many times as we wanted.
The longest zip we did that day was 700m long and 300m high….quite incredible. Sam got some amazing video footage, some of which we’ve embedded below and well worth a quick look so you can appreciate how high we were.
You can see all of the videos that we took via the following link:
We made it back to the tree house for the most amazing sunset over the mountains. Dinner was then served which was delicious and consisted of a huge mound of sticky rice, some vegetable dishes and two bottles of Laos wine. As the night grew dark, the noises of the jungle were pretty amazing and there was also a lot of rustling above us…rats. We had been told to expect them so we made sure all the food was locked away before bed and escaped to the safety of our mosquito nets. Sam and I had ear plugs which meant we were able to get a few hours of sleep but some of the others in our group said all they could hear all night were the rats moving around.
We were woken early and told that we were going on a 2 hour trek to find the Gibbons. I had what Sam might describe as a small strop and just couldn’t face it as I was feeling really sore and very tired, so I opted out and stayed behind in the tree house, Sam kept me company. The others returned having not seen any Gibbons and breakfast was then served which included tomato omelette, chips, sticky rice, tomato salsa and fresh green mango which I have to say is delicious.
So it was time to head back which included a very steep hike down where I fell over and cut my elbow and some more zip lines. This time we managed a zip which was 400m high and 600m long and it was just amazing. On the last zip of the day I think Sam got a bit excited and ended up doing a 360 degree spin and at one point found himself zipping backwards. In his efforts to regain control, he brushed his arm against the wire and now has a nasty burn but he is being very brave about it.
We had an amazing two days. The zip wiring was brilliant and so much fun. We had a great local guide too which made all the difference and he told us stories of his childhood, where his family were opium growers and lived off the jungle. When the government banned the growth of opium, the family had to move to another village and he got involved with the Gibbon experience which has been going for about 10 years now.
We returned to Houy Xai at 14.50 and we were in Thailand by 15.30…pretty amazing but quite stressful. We then got a bus to Chiang Rai where where we spent three nights, mainly recuperating and relaxing. We did go and see a White Temple, which was pretty strange and very different to any other temples we have seen.
Since then we have moved on to Chiangmai where we have met up with Seb and Sophie again. So far we haven’t done too much as I’ve got a throat infection and am having to take anti-biotics. Sam is looking after me and has just made me go out to have some soup, so I am hoping it will clear up soon so we can actually see some of Chiangmai.
As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:
Until the next time…