Day 8: Fun in the sun or the calm before the storm

Day 8: Fun in the sun or the calm before the storm

 Today was, in a word, relaxing.

We did next to nothing, and it was great.

Well, Lauren did make me get a pedicure, due to the unfortunate state of my toe nails from “running”. Not that I run anymore, but I seem to have runner’s toe nails anyway. 

She made me do it.
She made me do it.

One cool thing about today is that we found a pier down a secret path to the other side of the island. Of course we saw a sign that said “Sunset Bar” and we thought that if we went down the weird looking dirt path, that we’d find booze and all sorts of debauchery. Nope, instead we found an abandoned pier, with waves crashing against the rocks, and some amazing views of the sunset, which we previously didn’t think we had access to.

So, tonight is a low key night, because in the morning, we’re going to do some stuff, with some monks, and a couple rings.

In the meantime, here’s some pics of rocks, water, and the sun.

Day 7: Paradise Lost

Day 7: Paradise Lost

Alright, yet another dramatic title, but we’ll get to that.

Today we travelled to Phi Phi Town. To get there you have to take a longboat around the island. The trip is once again amazing. Seeing all the mountains jutting out of the sea, the beautiful colors, and all the lush vegetation is amazing. There is definitely nothing like this in our “normal” life.

Just like the rest of the island, when you land in Phi Phi Town, you have to jump out of the boat, into the shallow water and walk up onto the beach. It is pretty cool to feel like you’re just pulling in where ever and that there are no marinas filling with million dollar yachts. Instead, you just walk on to the beach, and into the thick of it. And boy is it thick.

Phi Phi Town is, in a word, a craphole (okay, that’s two words I jammed together to make the phrase work). It is a tourist trap, filled with thousands of people in a very tiny area, with bad restaurants, bars, tourist junk stores, massage parlors, resorts, and hostels. The only saving grace of the town itself is the number of tour group offices which get you out of the town and around the island doing things like snorkeling, deep sea diving, rock climbing, and other fun things.

Our plan in coming to town was to spend the day there, see the sights and at night hike up to the viewpoint just outside of town and see the sunset. Only problem was, we didn’t really understand in going that there isn’t much to spend a whole day on in this place. So leaving at noon was just a tad too early.

We started in the front area of the the town, and marveled at how small the place was. We wandered around what seemed to be the whole of everything, and finally stopped for something to eat. The food was passable, but far from what I would call good. That’s okay though, it got the job done. Next we decided to get Thai massages. The great thing about massage parlors here is that you can get an hour massage for around 250 baht, which in case your calculator is too far to reach, turns out to be about $8. Not too shabby.

A Thai massage is different from what you would normally get in the US, which is more akin to a Sweedish massage; you know, the kind where they rub you and make you feel good. Instead, in the Thai way, a massage is more like a wrestling match, where the masseuse puts a number of holds on you, in an attempt to get you to tap out and submit, which I definitely did at one point. Overall, for as different (and painful) as they are, they are quite effective in stretching you out in ways that you wouldn’t likely do on your own. So in the end, for as much as I complained–before, during, and after–they are definitely worth your time and money.

Next we decided to walk around a little bit more, seeing as we still had 3.5 hours till sunset. Low and behold, we walked down one small street, that looked like a dead end, but actually led to an entirely different (and larger) part of town. In fact, it was mostly different in that this is where most of the hostels and bars are located, which means one thing, this is where people come to party.

On the plus side, it is also where the swimming beach is located, which was mostly nice. See, Phi Phi Town is located in a small band connecting the upper island, with the lower island. On each side is a bay. The one we came in on is where all of the boats come in, this new side as it turns out is where people come to swim. At first glance the beach, though while highly populated, contained all the beautiful water and scenery of other parts of the island, but when you actually turn around and look at the sand and the buildings surrounding it, you see it for what it is, a trash hole where thousands of tourists come and take a dump. Graphic, I know.

As an aside, we’re very lucky to be staying where we are.

Anyway, we stayed for a little while and then decided to go looking for the viewpoint, so we did what I do best, picked a direction and walked until we find it. While this is probably one of the things I do that annoys Lauren the most, in this case it actually worked and we soon found a sign that said “Viewpoint” with an arrow pointing up an intimidating looking vertical staircase.

So we climbed.

And we climbed some more.

And then we stopped. Paid some lady 40 baht. And we climbed some more.

Until we reached viewpoint 1, where we sat for a while and rested a bit. Our goal was to go for the secret, somewhat unmarked viewpoint 3. So after a half hour or so of enjoying the view, we moved on again. This time, the staircase turned in a nearly vertical cement walkway, that for a few minutes I thought would cause me to slide backward out of my sandals, tumbling down the mountain. though I dug in with my toes and trudged on.

Then we found viewpoint 2, which we immediately skipped, veering off to the right down a small path, passed another woman demanding baht in Thai–whom we placated with out tickets from before–and continued on.

The path to viewpoint 3 was much less defined and had us following paths through the woods, with forks in the road that were unmarked. So we followed people that appears to be in front of us and moved on. Walking, climbing, trying to survive the heat, until we made it, up the side passed an old house and onto a half built platform of the side of a very high hill. We made it.

The view from here was quite amazing. We stayed for about an hour, watching not only the sun crawl further and further toward the horizon, but also tourists climbing onto precarious structure, voraciously taking selfies (seriously, one woman must have take 500 selfies at different angles).

The sunset was an amazing sight to see, but it was over too quickly and we had to finally wind our way back toward town. Darkness came quickly, but luckily we didn’t get lost. Nor did we fall down the vertical stairs (though I thought I would once or twice with my gargantuan feet). Instead we made it back to town, wound our way through town, back to the boats, where our last challenge awaited us, as it seems no one wants to travel back by longboat at night. I mean, who could blame them, dark waters, low tides, and no lights sounds like a bad combination.

Luckily we found a man willing to take us and after pushing his boat across the now too shallow water, he navigated his way around the danger, up the island and back to our resort for us. We ended the night saying thank you (kop kun cup), giving him a little more baht than he had asked for and having a nice dinner; back in paradise.

Day 6: Welcome to Paradise

Day 6: Welcome to Paradise

We made it to Ko Phi Phi Don, finally.

This place is absolute paradise. Honestly, I’ve never experienced a place that was “breath taking” before, but honestly, that was how I felt when we jumped out of the boat into the shallow water and walked onto the beach. I’m not sure that I have the language to really describe how I felt, but in its simplest form, it is simply unbelievable.

Our room is a small standalone structure in village of other similar spaces. We have our own private outdoor space. It is amazing.

The beach is great, and the water is warm and so clear. It is really unbelievable that we’re actually here.

The resort itself is on the north eastern edge of the island. As there are no cars allowed here, the only way into town proper is by long boat. We’ll be going there today to see what the rest of the island is like and we have an all day tour of this and the surrounding islands coming on Tuesday.

So far, this is an absolute highlight of an already amazing trip. Can’t wait to see more.

Day 5: The night is always darkest before the dawn

Day 5: The night is always darkest before the dawn

Dramatic title, I know, but we’ll get to that.

Today was our last day in Myanmar. As has become par for the course, it rained pretty hard all morning. Luckily for us, getting a taxi wasn’t too difficult, so we made it away from our breakfast spot back to the hotel easily enough. Where we stayed basically until checkout, hoping to wait out the rain.

By noon, we were forced out of the dry confines of our hotel and had to check out. We left our bags with the front desk and headed to a nearby market, where we wandered around and marveled in the “real jade” and “good deals”. Overall, it was a mix of tourist goods, with some local flair hidden in the back corners.

The most interesting part was when we found the food area and were immediately attacked on all sides by people wanting us to drink their coffee, eat their noodles, and partake in their other foods. It was a little scary how they all jumped out of no where with already prepared dishes just ready to go.

Afterward, we made our way to the airport and said goodbye to Myanmar.

Our flight via AirAsia took consisted of 2 short jumps. An 1 1/2 to Bangkok, and 1 hour to Phuket. By the time we arrived it was late, we were tired, and everything seemed just a tad harder than it should be. First we ran back and forth trying to find a place to exchange money. Most of them were already closed and too few people spoke english to really get us where we needed to go. Eventually we found an exchange out by the taxi stands and got that out of the way.

Next we tried to join a group bus, in order to save some money, out to Patang Beach, where we were staying. Our first hint of what was to come should have been when no one recognized our hotel name. After waiting a while, and wondering why nothing was happening, we asked around and found out that they needed 10 people to send the shuttle. This unfortunately meant we needed 8 more people… So we opted for the more expensive private car option.

Oh well, at least we’d get there.

Then came the next problem. Where’s our hotel? The driver didn’t know. People on the street didn’t know. Oh wait. It’s in the back of Subway. Yes, the sandwich shop.

When in Phuket I suppose. So we went inside.

Of course the story doesn’t end here, because of course the reception person didn’t speak english, and apparently our reservation was for the next day. Except, we had confirmation paperwork to support that we had the correct date. That didn’t matter though, after being schooled on the fact that we cannot check in at 2am, but that it is 2pm that you check in. We left, refusing to pay for yet another night at this crappy, crappy hotel.

So there we are, wandering down the beach with all our gear, fighting off the throngs of taxi drivers, who want to take us to “cheap hotels” and clubs. Wondering what we’ll do for the night, when we stumble upon the Horizon Beach Resort Hotel. Tired and frustrated we decide to just go in and see if they have a room. We really didn’t care at this point, we just needed a place to sleep. As we’re walking through the beach entrance, we’re pretty sure we’re going to have to pay way more than we can afford, but we’re desperate, so we talk to the man at the front desk.

It seems rooms are 2500 baht a night, and they have a room, with 2 doubles. Sensing our frustration with the night and the late hour, I think the man took pity on us and discounted the rate to 1950 baht. In case your currency conversion skills need a refresher, that is a hefty $61.57 … Getting better. So we took it.

As Lauren puts it, this was meant to be, as we woke up this morning to a free buffet / continental style breakfast with an omelet station, fruit, and BACON! So, we’ve spent the morning wandering down the beaches, fighting off tour guides, and just enjoying the accidental awesomeness that was our Phuket room for the night.

Next up: Ko Phi Phi Don.

Day 4: Riding Around in Circles (On a Train)

Day 4: Riding Around in Circles (On a Train)

The threat of rain has been ongoing during our time in Yangon. We spent much of the day just waiting for the forcasted rain to come, but luckily it waited until later in the day to actually appear.

Today we spent more time walking around than any other. Partially because we wanted to see more of the city and partially because we had some trouble finding some of the places we were looking for. It has become clear that Google Maps is a tad spotty for this area, which is understandable, as I highly doubt that map accuracy in Myanmar is their highest priority. Regardless, it has been good enough most of the time.

Amidst the confusion we actually ran into an amazing area called People’s Square and Park.

This was actually one of the nicest, well maintained parts of the city we could find. You could tell that a lot of pride is taken in maintaining this outdoor area, which appears to be one of the few parts of the city where anti-litering laws are not only present but strictly enforced. The park was filled with all sorts of locals relaxing, walking, and even using some of the stationary exercise equipment. One man in general was pulling off some headstands that woud make the people at my crossfit box jealous.

Afterward we headed out to locate a local handmade craft space called Pomelo. It was a nice little slice of local artists selling their very unique goods. Lots of hand woven dolls, carved woodwork, and recycled jewelry. It was on par with what I would expect to find in NYC at a small popup shop. Pretty cool to see people practicing craft here as well.

We finally made our way to the Circular Train later on in the afternoon. It was quite the journey. For background’s sake, the circular train is a 50km train that acts as the main commuter way for people to get into and out of the city proper. It has 3 classes of cars, from ordinary up to first class and is filled with people of all sorts. The train takes about 3 hours to complete its full journey around the city and travels quite slow. It stops at a wide array of places, from small train stations, to slabs of cement seeminly in the middle of no where.

On the train, you pass by probably the closest approximation of every day life here and it is in a word, humbling. I’m not sure it really hit me for the first two hours that we were on the train, but by the last hour the gravity of how people live here really hit me. These people truly have nothing. We saw people working in rice patties, small “villages” where the structure seemed to be made from old found tarps and wood. Burned out structures, with cloth over the windows to help keep the elements out. Then 500 feet away we’d see large houses with satalite dishes, that while weather worn like much of what is here, looked immaculate. While we also saw markets along the way, full of people that were happy and selling their goods (mostly fruit and bread), it is hard to grasp the disparity in how people live here. While I wouldn’t describe very many people here as rich, in the way that I’d see in New York, there is a vast difference in how some people here live.

I’m honestly not sure I was full prepared to see this. I’m grateful for the experience, and I think it will definitely shape my understanding of what people actually go through in other places. Not only that, but that they actually still maintain happy lives regardless.

Truly humbling.

Day 3: Exploring Yangon on a Rainy Day

Day 3: Exploring Yangon on a Rainy Day

Our first full day in Yangon started off with the search for breakfast. Instead of taking a taxi to the restaurant, we decided to walk there. Being New Yorkers, this didn’t seem like a bad choice, as it seemed to be less than a mile away. Along the way, we definitely got a feel for the city in a different way than we would have otherwise. One thing we both noticed right away was that there were almost no other tourists doing the same thing. I’m not sure if this was because it was fairly early in the morning, or if it was because most people stick to taxis when traveling around, but I definitely felt a tad out of place in certain areas.

We had planned to take the circular train around the country side, to see more of the city, after going to see some of the local markets, but instead found ourselves unprepared when a hard rain came. Though we managed to find our way by taxi to the second market, it was hard to navigate around, due to the downpour and we decided to retreat back to our hotel to regroup. While the we missed out on the train, we did use the rain as an excuse to catch up on some missing sleep, getting us a tad closer to being on a more correct schedule.

In the evening we made our way back out for dinner at a slightly upscale restaurant just a few minutes away by taxi. The restaurant itself seemed to be in an old British estate house. The food itself was quite good. Lauren opted for a mix of Thai dishes, whereas I decided to stick to traditional Myanmar fare. One thing I’m trying to do is make sure that I branch out at least a little bit with my food choices, by actually eating more local fare. Lauren is already a more adventurous eater, so she gets a pass on this front.

One of the more interesting lessons I’ve come to find in this place is what it is like to be “the foreigner.” Never before in my life have I had to really consider what it takes to communicate with other people when you’re in a strange place. When I’ve encountered people from other countries, who have had poor english skills, I don’t think I ever appreciated how hard it is to be in that position. Nor did I really come to respect the fact that they took the time to learn some of the language of the place they were going. There are definitely some language staples I’m going to make sure I learn before I travel like this again.

As promised some pictures from today’s travels.

Day 2. Onto Myanmar

Day 2. Onto Myanmar

We arrived in the early evening after a quick flight in from Bangkok. The terminal was small, bare, and felt as if it was just beginning to gain some of the modern features seen in other international airports. I wouldn’t say that it felt like the 3rd world, as there were definite modern touches. It just felt as if it were a couple decades behind what we’re typically used to.

Before leaving New York, we made a point (by we I really mean Lauren) of making sure we had gotten our visas for Myanmar, having heard stories of how difficult they were to obtain. After several missteps, most notably with the fact that my own passport had never been signed, she managed to secure us our right to travel into Yangon. So it was with a tad bit of disbelief that we arrived and found several booths stating “Visa on Arrival” with no apparent lines. Good to know for the future that this process is being streamlined.

Immigration itself was a breeze. We managed to get through with no trouble, secure our bags and get through customs easily. Then came the onslaught of taxi drivers.

It seems that Taxis are possibly the number one source of employment here (totally unverified fact), as there are hundreds of available taxis, not only at the airport, but all over the city. We initially were approached by a driver who creeped us out a little by his following us around, trying to get us into his car, so at our first opportunity we ditched him and grabbed a different driver. While I feel a bit bad about the situation, it turned out okay, as our new driver was a very friendly man, who has been to the US a couple times in his life and had tons of tips for us on places to eat.

Just a quick note on taxis in Yangon. There do not appear to be any meters in taxis here, however we haven’t found any of them to be gouging us in pricing so far. The beauty is, there are so many available drivers, that if you’re not sure, just flag down someone else and ask how much. Getting an english speaking driver is a tad hit or miss, but most of them seem to know just enough.

The streets are busy and full of both pedestrians and cars. I get the feeling that the rules of the road are much less defined here, as pedestrians will walk into the middle of the street and stand there, forcing cars to drive around them. The drivers don’t really seem to take much notice, as if this is just the way society works here.

In the evening, we decided to trek out and see the Schwedagon Pagoda. Though we decided to save some money and not go inside, the outside of it is absolutely stunning at night, with the spotlights reflecting against the gold exterior, across the night sky. 

I’ll upload more pictures later, once we hit more stable wifi.