Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Common Life in Nepali Villages

You travel to see things, to broaden your horizon, and to experience different cultures. Even when you explore and engulf yourself in a new country, you still cannot see everything. There is so much tragedy that is overlooked or put behind closed doors. In Nepal, women are still struggling for their rights. The government does not see them as citizens. Therefore, they cannot pass land to their children, they cannot give their children citizenship, and sometimes they cannot even eat dinner at the same table as their husband and elders. People live in villages with no running water, no hospitals, and since the young men have left to find work, no farmers. Still today, people die from common diarrhea or infections that simple antibiotics could cure. The saddest part of all, Suzie and I have been in the country for 5 days now, and we wouldn't know about any of this if it weren't for a local women we met on the rafting trip. The government tries to hide it because it’s not the most optimal advertising for tourists. Very few tourist actually know what is happening in this country.

All of this knowledge makes me want to do something to help, but all this knowledge also makes me wonder if I can even help. I'm only one person and the problems are so big. Programs can be implemented and money can be donated, but nothing will change unless you make the people sustainable. You have to teach villagers skills that they can continue to use. Teach them how to sow instead of giving clothes. Teach them how to farm instead of giving food. For long term change, the government must also change. For that to occur, I don't know if I have any influence. Though, the key is to start small and with enough small things, you create something big. Change the people in order to change the governing. Most of all, a little luck is often needed to get the ball rolling.

River Rafting

The first day was fun, nothing too intense. Though, there was a cliff jump about 17 feet high which got your blood pumping. That night we danced to Nepali music (similar to India) and enjoyed the evening. Day two was going to be a big one! Other rafters joined so now there were two rafts: one with Suzie, me, and guides and one filled with middle aged men. We started higher than normal so I got a little nervous! At least Suzie and I were as safe as possible. I don’t know how much could go wrong with 2 novice rafters placed with 4 guide rafters and the leader. When the man in charged yelled for us to go right, hot damn did we turn right! We completed a few class V rapids that were extremely technical. My favorite rapids were called Frog in the Blinder and the Gerbil. We have now rafted the 7th best river in the world and didn’t even get stuck once (thanks to the guides)!


We have done the flight. We have seen the highest point in the world. It's quite an achievement, and still I want to see more. The flight was beautiful and the Himalayas are breathtaking. The mountains are so rigid and harsh. The flight showed the difficulty of even hiking to the base camp. Everest is not just the tallest mountain, but it is also surrounded by sky high mountains. Talk about a ruff trek! Most of the Himalayas are over 27,000 feet tall!
On our flight, Everest was a faraway mountain blanketed by a light cloud. Though, it didn't completely give me the realization I wanted. It didn't strike me with its power and strength. Everest is not very jagged, and since it’s so deep in the mountain range, it doesn’t look like the tallest peak. It’s difficult to imagine that people have died trying to climb it. Maybe I’ll be taken back by its presents if I see it closer. I guess I'll have to wait until next time I'm in Nepal! At least I got to see it once, even if it was far away! : )

Monday, April 21, 2014

Helllooooooo Kathmandu!

After a 28 hour flight, all Suzie and I wanted to do was sleep. We booked a guesthouse and crashed! Later we met up with our soon-to-be couchsurfing host to take a walk around the town. We explored the night market and drank tea overlooking Durbar Square. The hustle and bustle under us was like a stream of cars and motorbikes with people swimming upstream. The streets are chaotic, and I'm surprised there's not more accidents. It isn’t because they drive fast, but there are no sidewalks, the alleys wind and turn, and you must swerve around the random cows moseying down the street.

Talking to Harri, our host, we learned some insider info on the culture. It doesn't surprise me, but I didn't expect the Indian influence. There are multiple Hindu festivals and celebrations each month. The city closes down around 10 pm, but unlike Myanmar, it doesn't wake up especially early. The food is a mix between Indian and Chinese. Since there was a revolution only 8 years ago, things are changing dramatically. The infrastructure is improving and more roads are being paved than ever before. Though, this does not mean Google maps is accurate. When following Google’s most direct route from Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) to home, the road disappeared into dirt and rock piles. After cutting through an abandon parking lot and a hole in the fence, we were back on route only to find out the road turned into stairs. Now it makes complete sense as to why the taxi took a roundabout way to get to the temple!

The next day, Suzie and I explored Boudhha. This is the biggest stupa for…. The prayer flags strung from the peak in every direction was gorgeous! Shops and restaurants surrounded the square. As we were told, this was the most expensive area in all of Kathmandu! A short 30 minute walk away was Pashupatinath Temple. This is where the holy river flows into the city and has become the location for cremations. How far upstream the body is cremated depends on the class of the family. It once was segregated by occupation, but now is based on price. Bodies are being burned all the time. We witness two during the two hours we were there.

The best part of Kathmandu, other than shopping for scarves, was our sleeping arrangement. Suzie and I laid our heads down under a sleeping bag and numerous blankets on the roof of an apartment building! Yes, we slept outside every night and woke up by the sun every morning if the dogs and roosters didn't wake us up first. It's crazy how you can be in the middle of the tourist center and still feel like your camping. This is a once and a lifetime opportunity and we have to thank Harri for making it possible!

Wow, does time fly! We have already traveled through Myanmar and are about to go to Nepal. My friends I'm meeting in Zambia are leaving in a few day so I can join them in two weeks. As I reflect, I am defiantly reminded to live in the moment. Take in each breath, live each sunset, and be present no matter what you're doing. Often times we get distracted by technology. Nowadays you look around and all you see is people texting, talking on the phone, or checking Facebook. It's kind of nice having a useless phone aside from when I have WiFi. Another distraction I find so often is a camera. If you're obsessed with finding the perfect shot, you won't even remember the moment. Yes, it is good to have photos to show others and to remind yourself of the moments, but you have to find the balance between being behind the lens and seeing it with your own eye. If you don't stop and look around, you're going to wake up one day and wonder where you're life went. Do what you enjoy and surround yourself with people you love. Sometimes it's as easy as that to make your life better.

I'm excited for our next adventures and I've thoroughly enjoyed our trip so far. Nepal, here we come!!

Inle Lake

We have made two more people addicted to Zilch: Anaïs and Benjamin, the French couple. They joined us for drinks the night we got back from our trek. We ended up drinking the first draft beer we’ve had since we started traveling and played Zilch until about 10:30. Well, I guess that’s late for Myanmar. We were the only people in the streets and when we got to our hotel, the doors were locked and the gate was shut! Thankfully, we saw a little bell which summoned a boy to rescue us. That night was the best night of sleep I’ve had!

Sadly a bit of Cindy became installed in me and by 6 am I was up! Rise and shine, it’s bacon time! We spent the whole day with Anaïs and Benjamin. It started with biking an hour to the hot springs which turned out to be a hot tub with a $10 entrance fee. Scratch that! Then we took a boat (with our bikes and all) to see the jumping cat monastery which no longer has jumping cats! By this time we only had a few hours before our bus left, so no time for the winery. We had our last drinks with our new friends before heading for the bus. As per usual, the pickup van was late. We picked up numerous more people and headed out of town. Are we going to drive the whole way there in this minivan?!? After half an hour of worrying, we rolled into the bus station and boarded the bus. We laid our plastic bags down on the seat (to prevent bug bites), and here comes another long night!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Trekking to Richland!

Hellooooo from the rooftop patio at the Richland Hotel in Inle Lake! We made it!!! We’ve trekked from Kalaw to Inle (with a little help from a truck). Normally the root takes three days and two nights. Our schedule didn’t allow that much time so we signed up for the two day trek and drove the first part. Thinking back on it, thank god we didn’t do the three day because I’m sore just from the two day!

We trekked through rolling hills filled with chili, ginger, and potatoes plantations with a few rice patties thrown in there. At one point we were on a single track following a farmer and his cows! We passed through many villages with little kids coming out of houses, barns, and behind trees just to wave “Ming-la-ba” (Hello).

Since our cook’s tire popped in route to the first day’s lunch, and therefore lunch took 3 hours instead of 1, the last part of our trek was in the dark. We arrived at the farmer’s house around 7pm. Once again, the guests, us Westerners, ate in one room while the family and guide ate in another. I’m curious about the dinner guest customs because twice now the family has eaten separately from the guests. By 9 pm Suzie, the French couple, and myself were playing dice while everyone else was asleep. Clearly we had no idea we’d be up before dawn to finish the hike. Sure enough breakfast was on the table by 6 am and we started the hike groggy and far before my sleepy eyes woke up.
The temperature varies tremendously here. At night you’re in jeans with a light jacket and by mid-day all you want to do is swim in a cool lake. So it was probably a good idea to hike before it starts getting hot around 9am. As per usual, we were a little late and got to Richland sound 5 pm. A nice, clean bed in our own room has never felt so good!

Today we’re exploring Inle Lake and tonight we’re heading back to Yangon!

Kalaw, Myanmar

Kalaw is a little town and that’s about it. The main attraction is the trekking. You can hike around Kalaw or to Inle Lake which is our plan! We’re doing a two day, one night trek to Inlet Lake tomorrow. I’m very excited!

While we were in Kalaw, we figured we’d check out the town and explore the cave. The guesthouse receptionist told us the cave was just a cave so we didn’t have to worry about showing our shoulders or knees. Suzie and I roll up with knees out and shoulders for all to see when, in fact, the cave is a pagoda. So, we asked the nearby store if she had anything to cover us, but she had nothing. We started our sad walk back to the hotel until we saw a fabric store a few minutes later. Here goes nothing, we’ll give it a shot! With some hand gestures, a few English words, and many laughs we finally got our story across and walked out with skirts made of large pieces of fabric and a shawl. Boy did they laugh hard at us! We got to see the cave shrines for Buddha which was cool solely because it was defiantly unique, but still nothing to write home about.

See you in Inle Lake!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dinner for Two

Suzie and I were invited to a Burmese family dinner. We had no idea what to expect or what to bring or what not to bring. Thankfully our tour guide told us no one brings flowers unless it’s for a girlfriend and even that is not very common. Scratch that idea! So, we brought drinks instead and a little desert. We sat at the table to find there were only two placesettings! Hmmmmm are we eating with the family?? I guess the family had already eaten, or so they said, and it was only the son that was going to join us. At least we had one family member joining us! The plates came out full of rice. Holy cow! How are Suzie and I going to eat all this rice?!? The food was delicious. We had red curry, sweet and sour soup with quail eggs, duck egg salad, and cauliflower. I noticed the boy only really used the broth from the soup and the red curry with rice. I don’t know if that was personal preference or he wanted to save the meat and veggies for the rest of his family. Throughout dinner, the family members came and went as if eating in the kitchen. I don’t know if this was a cultural difference or what, but I just let it happen. Half a plate of rice down and I couldn’t go any further. I wanted to, but I was stuffed to the rim! Desert was mini bananas which looked so good, but soooo bad because I was so full!

After dinner we played go fish with cards. I never realized how hard it is to explain a game to people who aren’t fluent in English. Though, the kids caught on quick so afterwards we played a dice game. Before we headed out, we got a family portrait which I hope to send them later. There address was very different from ours. It described where the house was in relation to a restaurant and included a phone number. We gave them our information and I would love to stay in contact with the family. They are such amazing people. I hugged the mother which I quickly found out was not a part of the culture but she embrace it, and shook the fathers hand. They seemed so appreciative for our presents which was exactly how we felt as well.

I hope we all get to have dinner again sometime soon!

Exploration of the Ancient City

Today we explored Bagan! We started at 8:30am with a guide recommended by our new Burmese family friends. Our guide was very bright, spoke good English, and was extremely nice. You can tell being a tour guide is a fairly profitable business because our guide had a bigger motorbike and a nice purse. Normally a day guide cost about $35. I don’t know what percentage she receives after her company takes their portion and I’m sure the government does as well. Today hopefully was under the table so she could keep it all.

We started the tour at Shwezigon Pagoda, then Ananda Temple, Thatbyinnyu Temple, Shwesandaw Pagoda, and ended on Dhammayangyi Pahto. Each of these are very famous. Shwezigon Pagoda is a good one to start at because it’s on the far north side of town. Ananda Temple is known for its beauty. Thatbyinnyu Temple is the tallest while Dhammayangyi Pahto is the largest. Lastly, Shwesandaw Pagoda is one of two pagodas left which you can actually climb to the top. The view was nothing I’ve ever seen before. Began is defiantly a world beauty. There are 3,122 temples, pagodas, stupas, and monasteries. Some are made of brick, some sandstone, some are painted, and others are left raw. There was period of time when Burma was wealthy and had a good economy. During this time, every king had a temple or pagoda made for him, even if he was a bad king (Dhammayangyi Pahto for example). In addition to these structures, most common people built little structures before they passed away. Before the earthquake in mid to late 20th century, there were over 4,000 structures! Throughout the tour we learned facts, history, and religion behind these structures. There are three main kinds of religious structures. You can walk inside temples, you cannot go inside pagodas, but there are exterior stairs which you can climb, and stupas you cannot go inside or climb on the outside.

We also briefly spoke with our guide about the government. Myanmar had gone through many governmental changes. Before WW II, the British ruled the country. After they were granted freedom, the government turned into a monarchy and King’s rule was law. Then the military took control. In 2011 A president was elected. This president still has many militaristic views but is much better than when the military controlled. School have now become public, people have more rights, and tourism has greatly increased. Even with all of the reform, you must realize there are still many parts of the country that tourists are not allowed. Crossing the border by land is possible, but difficult. There are numerous military check points, the roads are bad, and at some crossings, you cannot legally go any further than the border town. There is still internal fighting between villages. We spoke with some traveler who were motobiking around the country. They were still in a “tourist safe zone” and were mistakenly shot at by a nearby village. Thankfully they were not hit, but defiantly hightailed their way out of there! Problems between Muslims and Buddhists also exists. Over the last decade many Muslims have been killed or run out of the country. Even with all the problems, the people are still some of the nicest people I’ve met.  The next election will be in 2015, and hopefully it will help the country continue to move forward.


Today we hopped off the night bus bright and early in Bagan. At the crack of dawn we were searching for a guesthouse in a horse-pulled buggy… am I still dreaming??? During the search we met a couple heading to Mount Popa for the morning so we tagged along. First stop was a sugarplum whiskey distillery (hut) on the side of the road. It was surprisingly tasty! Next, we were off to the Nat (spirit) temple on top of Mount Popa. Shoes were forbidden for the 777 stair trek to the top. The temple was covered with monkeys! Some big, some small, and some mothers with a child attached to their stomach. At the top, there was a beautiful view of the plains and surrounding temples. So, to sum it up, the view was greenish brown speckled with gold temples.

The craziest and most memorable part of this journey was the Burmese people. Of course I was constantly catching people staring, but I also caught a few people secretly taking photos. The brave ones would ask to take photos with us. This turned from one photo with the whole family to individual shots with every family member. As I approached the last stair to the top of the temple, I saw a family picnicking. When their eyes met mine, they lit up. Then, when they saw Suzie walking behind me, their faces got even brighter. With no time to spare, they dropped everything and were asking for a photo. It was funny how the first photo was of Suzie and I standing close, but not touching the Burmese women, but ny the last photo the women were holding on to our arm with both hands.

Around noon, we headed back for lunch and nap time. Later, Suzie and I caught sunset at Htilominlo Temple. We were let by a little girl, her brother, and sister to a small monetary just outside the main temple. We were the only ones present for the sunset. The locals were quite talkative and very curious about us. By the end of the sunset we were all good friends. They showed us a good place to eat, but we had to follow at a distance because of the police. If you don’t have a tourist guide license, then you’re not allowed to show people around. I think it’s because tourist guides pay a percentage to the government, and so they don’t want people making money under the table. You must remember it wasn’t long ago when the military ruled the country. At the restaurant, our new friends ordered for us in Burmese. We tried to convince them to sit with us, but they continued to make excuses. I think it was because of the police. After dinner, the girl found us and asked us to come back to their place. At their house there was two plates set. Suzie and I sat down and shortly after they brought us ginger salad and fried broad beans with a Coke and a Fanta. They whole family was so nice, friendly and welcoming. They loved asking us questions about our life. Tomorrow we have dinner plans at their house. I’ll post on how it goes : )

Ta Ta for now!

Note to Readers

I apologize about no photos, but with very limited internet access in Myanmar and the power cuts in Nepal, photos have become impossible to upload.

A Spectacle of Stares

Our Myanmar experience started with the taxi ride from the airport to our hostel. Half way through, we made a turn and I could see the Shwedagon Pagoda. Omg it was beautiful! It was only 9:30 at night, but everyone was in their homes so the only thing lit was the pagoda. Never will I forget that sight!

If the average person in Myanmar had a camera, there would be thousands of photos of me. Constantly Suzie and I get stared at and the occasionally wave. The first day in Myanmar we took a three hour train ride around Yangon. It was very interesting to see the difference between the city and the outskirts. People pointed, waved, and stared at the sight of two westerners, one blonde and one tall. Even with the curious stares, the people are lovely. They continue to awe me with their niceness, friendliness, and desire to talk to you. At one point a stranger on the train saw an unintentional worried look on my face and asked if everything was ok. That would never happen on the subway in New York. Despite what everyone has said about this costly country, the food is ridiculously cheap. For dinner Suzie and I ordered chicken. We got a small plate of curry chicken followed by two plates of rice, soup, a potatoes dish, spicy salsa, and greens. I was a little worried about the cost since we unintentionally got so many dishes. When the bill came it, it consisted of one beer and one rice (all side dishes included). Traditional Burmese food is a small portion of meat with numerous side dishes. The beer cost just as much as all the food, a whopping $1.50! Now we’re on a night bus to Bagon, see you in the morning!

Opening My Eyes

When we arrived in Myanmar, it was like taking a step back in time. This country is not use to tourists and is not as developed as the rest of Southeast Asia. It is a very funny country. I have a feeling that the way things are done have changed many times. For example, they drive on the right side of the road, but the steering wheel is on the right as well. It’s very odd to see the driver on the outer side of the car. None of the taxis have meters so you have to know how far your destination is or the going rate. Food is extremely cheap, but lodging is fairly expensive. We had to pay $25 for a room which was very basic and a little dirty. In Thailand or Vietnam, you’d be living like a king for that price! Let’s just reminded you that in Change Mai, Suzie and I paid $2.60 for a bed in a four person room. We would never pay more than $10 for a private room and bathroom. Also, it’s very difficult to book anything online. Wait to book until you get there. There are a few guesthouses and hostels on, and the three or so that are on there are either booked or very expensive.

Another funny thing is the time zone. They are half an hour off Bangkok time, but in the wrong direction. The clothing is very different. The shape of the clothes are very square. Both men and women wear skirts that look like a colorful (green or blue plaid for men), ankle length rectangles. I guess they are cool, comfortable, easy, and most importantly, cheap.

I think the people are the most amazing part of the country. They are so nice and friendly. Without even asking, they will offer their help. They people are so nice to tourist, but when I asked a taxi driver and he said they don’t want the tourist and the tourists don’t help the economy very much. I wonder if that opinion is true for most locals.

Give me a Slice of Pai

Pai is AMAZING!!! I love this little town. It reminds me a lot of steamboat. Pai is a little hippie town three hours northwest of Chiang Mai. Suzie and I finally found a place to relax and hang out. We spent four nights here and would have spent more if we didn’t already book a flight to Myanmar.

On the first day, we spent the morning catching up with our blogs, uploading photos, and so on. In the afternoon, we decided to explore elephant riding. An hour later, we were both on the back of an elephant heading towards the river to play in the water. If you think mechanical bull riding is hard, try riding an elephant! The guides were tricksters and would give the elephants commands in Thai and three seconds later we would be in the water. The guides loved putting us on the elephant’s neck, and telling the elephant to try to shake us off. Wow, what a work out trying to stay on! At one point, Suzie and I were sitting on the elephant’s head only be shot backwards, over the elephant’s body, into the water. Sadly, play time came to an end and we had to ride our elephant back to camp so he could go into the mountains for the night. Suzie and I spent a little extra money, but went to the happiest elephants in Pai. The owner wants to start an elephant sanctuary because wild elephants are so rare. So, it’s nice to know our money went to a good cause : )

The next day was another lazy day. We hung around town and rented bicycles. I had been wanting to go fishing so we started the trek to the fishing resort. Right from the start, I regretted our decision. The whole ride was a gradual uphill. We continued for about 5 km before we decided to throw in the rag. Tomorrow we will rent a motorbike and explore it that way! On our way back to town, we didn’t have to peddle once (thankfully!) Almost back, we stumbled upon a gym and decided to try it out. So, we’re waking up bright and early the next day for… MUAY THAI!

Muay Thai is a greeeeat work out! We started at 8 learning technique, and then had some contact practice with the owner. After some stretching and abs, Suzie and I were ready to fall over by 11. The rest of the afternoon we went fishing and to a waterfall (this time with a motorbike). Out of the five of us fishing, I was one of the lucky two who caught something! I also discovered a great technique. I cast my line, napped for about half an hour and when I woke up… taDA there was a fish on my line! How long the fish had been on there, I have no idea, but he was defiantly hooked when I pulled him out. Before heading back, we went to the waterfall. It had a natural slide that we slid down into a murky pool. Weeeeee!

When we biked into town, there was something ere about it. No traffic lights were working and all the 7-11’s were closed. We asked around and heard that there was an accident near Chiang Mai that took out a power line pole. All the electricity in the town was out for the night! This means no internet, no lights, no water, and only gas cooked food. We quickly bought some bottles of water and got a candle from our guesthouse reception. I think tonight is going to be a quiet one! The night consisted of a candlelit yoga session and hanging out in our hut. Tomorrow we’re starting the trek back to Bangkok. We don’t know exactly how we’ll get there, but we have to be in Bangkok the night of the 20th to catch a flight to Myanmar!