Cambodia & Myanmar…Two Special, Special Places.

Cambodia and Myanmar were my first real experiences with South East Asia. I had travelled to Thailand when I was younger, and while my memory is not complete, I remember enough to know that I really disliked it. I thought it was touristy and insincere; but I was not going to allow my dislike for Thailand to temper my opinions about either Cambodia or Myanmar. JH and I were originally going to go to Malaysia to visit my Aunt (who apparently lives on a golf course in Kuala Lumpur); but after a conversation with our friend Simon, who had lived in Asia for a while, we decided that Cambodia would be the better option. We also had read that Myanmar had only opened up its borders in recent years, so we decided to add Myanmar onto the trip as well. Given the convenience of direct flights from Toronto and cheap internal flights, we also went to Hong Kong to visit relatives and eat at some Michelin 3-Star restaurants (Amber and Bo Innovation). Also exciting to note was that this was JH’s first time in the Orient. He often said he had visited Asia already because he went to Russia, so I corrected his first-timer status to the Orient.

We were in Asia for about 17 days – late November / early December of 2014.

  • 5 days in Hong Kong
  • 5 days in Cambodia
  • 7 days in Myanmar

Hong Kong was not much of a story. We saw my relatives, ran up Victoria Peak, and ate at a bunch of restaurants – from cheap & cheery to expensive. We were just generally really bloated. So, for the purposes of this story, the focus will be on Cambodia and Myanmar alone. After all the travelling we have done so far, Myanmar is still my favourite place in the world. I truly hope that in the last few years, that even with changes in politics and the economy, and the influx of tourists (who are seeing all the beautiful pictures of Bagan and Inle Lake), that the people and culture has still remained intact. When we went, a number of people said that Myanmar was what Thailand used to be 20 – 25 years ago –real, authentic, and unsaturated.

Cambodia was a great place for food. Pending Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, I have pretty much travelled all of Southeast Asia. After eating in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, I feel Cambodia had the best food. Their uses of spices were very subtle, and I really liked the appropriate counter mixture of bold and subtle. Everything we ate (restaurants, street food) was delicious (though, we (happily) did not eat tarantula).

We started in Cambodia in Phnom Penh. We flew an Air Asia flight from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh. The Air Asia flights were truthfully pretty awful (but much better than Air India), but we tolerated them since they were so cheap. We were just a bit dehydrated after the 5 to 6 hour flight without water. My memory may be fuzzy, but I think we took a Tuk Tuk from the airport to the hotel. Tuk Tuks were always the cheaper option.

We stayed at the One Up Banana Hotel, which was in a great location. While we were greeted with a welcome drink and really friendly staff, the hotel looked a bit seedy at night. It was fairly darkly lit with neon overtones; some of the staff were watching a small TV at the back. There was signage / paraphernalia everywhere outlining that prostitution was not allowed in the hotel, which made sense since Cambodia has a prevalent sex trade. That aside, there was no issue with the hotel at all. It was walkable to many of the tourist sites / monuments, as well as a bunch of restaurants. Hotels were so cheap in Cambodia, which made JH really happy. This was not our cheapest hotel, but at $39 a night, there was nothing to complain about. We were given a really big room on the rooftop, with a large bathroom. The room was hot (Cambodia was super-hot), but once you turn on the portable air-con, the ventilation in the room was not a problem. Hot water and water pressure were sparing, but we survived. I do not remember, but I do not think that we experienced any WiFi problems in Cambodia (Myanmar was much worse – there was no reception at all).

We spent our full day in Phnom Penh at Phnom Tamao, a wildlife sanctuary. Now that I think back to this experience, I have mixed feelings about it. It’s a full day tour (8:30-5PM) with a donation of $150 per person (the donation apparently goes back to the animals – for their care, enclosures, etc). You see a lot of animals – elephants, monkeys, birds, tigers, bears. Based on our conversations with the guides, a lot of these animals are rescued from poaching, illegal trafficking and other worse fates (i.e. we were told a story of how some of the bears were poached and their bones used for medicine). Injured animals are eventually released back to the wild in protected areas. There are also some animals who cannot survive back in the wild on their own (i.e. there was an elephant with a hobbled foot in a cast), so the sanctuary ‘adopts’ them. I guess I can liken the experience somewhat to visiting a zoo. I just didn’t like the moments where the animals were ‘taught’ to do magic tricks like ‘painting’ on your shirt. I wonder in the back of my head whether the animals are truly treated properly or if they are abused a bit to become puppets of the “tour” (i.e. like Marine Land). I don’t know if any animal sanctuaries are actually real. But I cannot honestly go to the Toronto Zoo (and I do) and wonder the same things. We tried this out, and at least it did give off a proper NGO vibe. It wasn’t some horrible tour like in Thailand where you ‘ride’ and ‘bathe’ elephants for photos, but if you read about it afterwards, you find out that they are starved and beaten. Or, the very classic photo taken with a tiger (I saw it pretty much on everyone’s Facebook Profile when I still used Facebook) and the only reason you can get that close to the tiger is probably because it was heavily sedated, drugged and beaten. I obviously do not have fond memories of Thailand.

 

The next day we were headed for Siam Reap on a bus trip (as advised by my friend Simon). Before that, we woke up relatively early to catch sunrise. We walked around the city as much as we could before leaving (and even a bit the night before) – the Palace area, Independence Monument, a random market and where the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers intersected. It was much cooler in the morning, and with less harrowing traffic to cross streets, so the walk was really nice. I wrote about this in my Vietnam post, but this was my (and JH’s) first exposure to South East Asian morning aerobics. Old-school dance music was blaring from speakers and hundreds of groups of Cambodian ladies were doing aerobics by the river. It was really a scene to experience for the first time. I did end up loving Siam Reap more, but Phnom Penh had its own charm that we enjoyed for the little time we spent there. I can’t for the life of me really remember the food that well (except that it was really tasty), but we ate at the following two restaurants – Malis (required a reservation), and Khmer Surin (we just walked in). We did not try any street food in Phnom Penh (and I think back then, I was a bit more cautious; after my Vietnam trip, I have become game for any street food going forward).

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Around mid-day we left for Siam Reap on a Giant Ibis bus (I think it was $15-20 per person). The ride was supposed to be 6 hours, but the traffic ended up being horrible, so I think we arrived really late at 7:30-8PM versus 6:30. JH and I watched some TV on his laptop but we both ended up falling asleep. When we reached the station, we had to take a Tuk Tuk to the hotel, and ended up in more traffic. By the time we reached the hotel it was 9. I remember it was really late, and all the restaurants were closed, so we ended up eating at our hotel for dinner. Fish Amok (very, very subtle Cambodian coconut curry) ended up being my favourite dish ever in Cambodia. We ordered it numerous times and I never got sick of it.

In Siam Reap, we stayed at Golden Butterfly Villa for an insane $25 per night. This included free use of their bicycles, a massage (which JH used), a fruit plate, and welcome drinks. I think there actually may have been more – it was just that crazy. The staff was really attentive and friendly, and the room (while a bit small) was clean and comfortable. The shower was a bit cramped, and there was no warm water, but we let that go for $25 per night. Our hotel was a 2 minute walk to a restaurant strip (Sok San Road). It was also not that far from the Night Market and the riverside.

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We ended up booking a last-minute bicycle sunrise tour to Angkor Wat. I had done some research back in Canada, but figured we would just find a last-minute tour based on how we felt and what we wanted to do. We woke up in the dark, and then biked in the dark for about 7 to 8 km to Angkor Wat from our hotel. We used the hotel bikes and they kind of sucked, but we made do. By the time we got there, it was still dark. However, everyone in the world was there before us still, so we had to settle for a spot a little further back. If I remember correctly, we somehow inched our way closer to the front at some point. We finally ended up behind an Asian man with a tripod and serious SLR luggage. We waited a long time for him to take his photos and then finally he left. We finally got some good photos but more so in day light as the sunrise just came and went. I would have loved Angkor Wat a bit more had it not been overrun with tourists, but I can say that about anywhere. Bagan may be my favourite place in the world because all the temples we went to were empty (I mean there were thousands after all). Our guide ended up taking us in a reverse direction (to avoid crowds) to the rest of the sites – Angkor Thom, Bayon, Prasat Kravan, Ta Phom, Tommanom, and Preah Khan. There may have been more, but I forget now. JH and I had a lot of fun taking photos. It was also fun biking from each ruin to the next. We had a cloudy day and I was grateful for that as it was incredibly hot outside. Biking back was a harrowing journey as we were biking with traffic. Our guide rode on ahead, and many times did not actually look back at us. I weaved against cars and Tuk Tuks nervously, but finally, we made it back to our hotel.

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The rest of our time in Cambodia was a bit of a blur (and I do not remember prices), but I remember us doing the following (out of order / out of context):

  • Phnom Penh
    • We went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. We asked for a relatively inexpensive guide at the front who could speak English. Some of the pictures were pretty graphic, and the entire place just gave off an aura of sadness. But visiting here was incredibly important to understand what had happened to the people of Cambodia, and why the country / the race has spent the subsequent years trying so hard to build itself back up.

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  • Siam Reap
    • A cooking class – we made fish amok, mango salad, sticky rice and glutinous rice balls.
      • This was a mix demo & cooking station cooking class. They allow you to do things like grind spices and cut vegetables.
      • It was located outside of town in an area just outside a really resort-like hotel.
      • There were four couples. We ate with each other after the class.

We went to a shooting range where JH also fired a rocket launcher.

  • This was spontaneous. I am not even sure how this came up.
  • We did last-minute research the night before, and JH maybe contacted two sketchy looking companies we found randomly on the internet. Only one company came back to us.
  • A sketchy guy in a jeep picked us up and drove us for a while deep into the jungle. We were not sure if we were going to be murdered.
  • We went to the shooting range first. Shooting any gun made me a bit dizzy (the smell, the recoil, the feeling). It was not a feeling I really liked. I think we both missed the mark on several shots.
  • We took some stupid pictures with the guns.
  • Sketchy guy then drove us a bit further into a field. He gave JH instructions on how to fire the rocket launcher. JH fired the rocket launcher. It exploded way into the field. I hope there were no animals around.
  • It was expensive (a couple hundred dollars), but really, when would JH ever fire a rocket launcher again?

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  • We walked to the Night Market and bought a bunch of souvenirs. It was pretty touristy but not overwhelming.
  • I don’t think I ever told JH this but I ran one morning by the riverside and got chased down an alleyway by an angry dog.
  • We ate at a couple of delicious (probably too touristy) restaurants. I wish we ate more street food.

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  • We got a four-handed massage from Lemongrass.
    • I was not sure what to expect from this.
    • One lady works on your back and neck. The other lady works on your legs and feet.
    • JH got a really big lady and I think she got on top of him at one point. That was a bit funny.

I am glad we did Cambodia first. I loved the people and the food, and all in all, our friend gave us a great recommendation by telling us to go. Cambodia is a special place – and really, JH and I just went to the two touristy areas, and for a really very short period. We would have to go back to see more of the off-the-beaten-track. I am sure there would be many more adventures for us if we went back – i.e. eat tarantulas. I am not sure if I would have loved Cambodia as much if we went to Myanmar first. Myanmar is just a really special, SPECIAL place. I still think about it all the time and I really hope that I can go back one day.

I really actually do not remember why we decided to go to Myanmar. It is not a border country to Cambodia, so we had to fly through Thailand to get there. It was never specifically on my bucket list. I don’t actually remember anyone recommending us to go. I guess I had read on many travel blogs that it was still fairly untouched since its borders only opened a few years ago. With the exception of Bagan and Yangon, researching Myanmar came up with little results. I read on forums here and there that a really good trekking region was in an area up north near Mandalay called Kyaukme. From there, I pretty much decided I wanted to go, and which areas we had to visit.

The visa process (coordinated through the embassy in Ottawa) was perhaps not the easiest one. The most painful part was that we had to include a letter from our employer stating that we had a job. My boss at that time was great. She barely looked at the letter I wrote and signed it, but if I had to do that with my current boss now, there would need to be stories and questions and long conversations that would make me shrivel up.

We flew into Yangon first, but it was for a short stay, because we ended up leaving for Bagan the next day. We would end up returning to Yangon for a longer stay in the end. We ended up staying a boutique hostel right in the downtown – 30th Corner. The hostel was clean enough and we got a private room and shower for about $30 a night. On the way to finding dinner, JH had the great idea of swinging by the Shwedagon Pagoda – the main attraction of the city – to see it at night. We ended up seeing bits of it again during the day, but to see it at night was spectacular – there was an element of peacefulness. People were quietly praying in certain sections, and the moonlight fell onto the golden structures beautifully against sparkling lights. We walked around as much as we could. We didn’t end up paying any entrance fee, I suppose, because we were so late.

After this, I wanted to try to find a restaurant that I had read about. The taxi ended up taking us to this outdoor cafeteria, which I am thinking is the same thing I read about. JH and I were relatively confused but really hungry. I was actually borderline hangry, which did not help so we decided to stick around. We stared at the food but did not know what anything was. Luckily for us, there was this nice man and his family who spoke a bit of English and helped us out. He ended up ordering us Mohinga – this rice noodle and fish soup, and some fried meat pastries. Everything was really delicious and we were really grateful to have received the help. So that was a bit of a neat local experience. On our way back to the hotel, I saw this vendor selling what looked like warm, sugary cake. JH and I ended up buying two pieces. This was probably the best cake I ever had in my life. No joke – no western cake can even touch this cake, it was that good. I found out later through research that it was semolina cake. It was warm, gooey, and rich, and it was just about one of the best things I ever had in my life. We found it later again in restaurants, but it just wasn’t the same. The best dessert I have ever had in my life was a 30 cent semolina cake served on a street corner of Yangon in a plastic bag. Sorry to myself for not being a better baker or to JH for taking me to all these three-star Michelin restaurants or number one restaurants in the world with talented pastry chefs. It turns out that all along I just needed 30 cent plastic bag cake.

Early the next morning, we flew from Yangon to Bagan. The airlines are a bit crazy because there are no assigned seats, so people kind of just crowd around the door leading to the gate. We really liked the Myanmar internal flights though. We got lucky – there were no cancellations. They fed us breakfast boxes and drinks, and of course, the flights were all really short. Arriving in Bagan, you could smell the fresh air immediately. We were extremely lucky with weather. The days were mild, breezy, and sunny with blue skies. We stayed at Shwe Yee Pint in New Bagan. This was a relatively newer hotel. It was very clean, the service was great, and we enjoyed the hotel when we were there. The WiFi signal from our room was non-existent, but once you got to the lobby, the connection became stronger. There was even a swimming pool, but it was a bit cold outside to swim (we did it anyways).

On our first day, we asked the hotel to arrange a biking tour around the temples. The tour was a bit lacklustre; our guide was a teenager who could not speak that much English, and did not have that much knowledge on history. I think what I enjoyed most was the actual biking. The bikes were slightly better than the bikes in Cambodia. It was neat biking in and around temples, and honestly this was a place you could get lost in for days. For us, this was our first glance at the hundreds and hundreds of temples spread across the vast valley. We entered and climbed some, and for the moments we were there, they felt like our own. Even in day time, Bagan felt magical. Normally, I get a little temple-saturated, but there was just something about the whole place that made your heart thump. I don’t think I have ever seen a place so beautiful (Antarctica comes close).

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The next day, JH and I went on our very first hot-air balloon ride with Balloons Over Bagan. I think we had signed up for the regular ride (with 10-15 people), but we somehow ended up in a premium balloon with only 4 other people. We had our own basket to ourselves, which was really nice. The company picked us up from our hotel while it was still dark, and then took us to the take-off field where we were briefed on safety and instructions, and we watched the entire-set up of the balloons. Before we knew it, we were in the basket, it was being lit up and we were taking off. The whole experience is a bit surreal, but you almost feel nothing except that you are floating really lightly. Of course, the views were amazing, and it is the best way to see the hundreds and thousands of temples – large and small. Everything looked like a painting – temples against a bit of cloud cover, mountains in the distance, and the sun peeping up gradually and gradually casting rays over the balloons. It was a fairly emotional experience. I think JH and I took hundreds of pictures. I was really glad to do my first hot air balloon ride here in Myanmar. Our pilot noted that in places like Cappadocia (Turkey), it doesn’t feel as safe and maybe even a bit obstructed because there are thousands of balloons in the air at the same time. The wind conditions were in our favor, so I think we had a fairly long ride, and we also landed in a safe place. Afterwards, there was champagne and some snacks. It was a perfect morning.

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On our way back to the hotel, JH and I stopped into a bookstore. I actually found a book that I wanted, but the shop owner did not speak English. She grabbed a man from behind to assist. He spoke perfect English and we ended up randomly talking to him for a while. My memory is spotty (I forgot his name), but we somehow randomly got his life story by the time we finished talking to him. I think at various points in his life he had been a historian, a guide, a writer, and I think, maybe a political activist (this is me trying to remember conversations from 3 years ago). His perfect English came from the fact that he had lived in the US for a while. Anyhow, we ended up asking him to take us on a half day tour of Bagan which he happily agreed to. Unlike our first bicycle tour, it was a refreshing change to actually learn the history behind the places we were visiting. He was well versed in Buddhism, in the many lives of Buddha, and he showed us intricate areas of some temples that we would not have ever picked up ourselves. JH cautiously talked to him about politics (as we always are) and he was outright truthful – about government and military corruption. He was a strong supporter (and I think they had worked together in the past) of Aung San Suu Kyi. I was thinking a bit this year when I saw the news with the election results that he must have been really happy for that bit of change for Myanmar.

He took us to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant (Mya Yadana) for lunch and it was really delicious. And then to seal a perfect day, he took us to this one beautiful temple which caught sunset perfectly. We perched at the top (JH climbed more than he needed to), and the sun fell slowly between the mountains. It was one of the prettiest sunsets I had ever seen in my life. It sealed in my mind that Bagan was just perfect.

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Later that evening, we went to Old Bagan for dinner. Our hotel is in New Bagan. We actually ended up having a really hard time trying to find transportation back to our area. It was completely dark and we did not have head lamps, so we did not want to walk the 5km back. Most of the horse and carriages were off-duty and we saw absolutely no taxis. We tried to walk into a hotel to help us book a taxi, but they said everyone was probably off-duty. This was ridiculous. Finally, we convinced a man with a horse and carriage to take us back (I think at a ridiculously inflated price).  So, there’s a trade-off when booking where you stay (unless it has changed by now). Most of the restaurants are in Old Bagan, but the newer hotels are in New Bagan.

We ate at the following restaurants:

  • Star Beam (New Bagan)– I remember this place having a really nice patio. We ate some curries.
  • Yar Pyi (Old Bagan)– This was vegetarian only. I am not sure we really liked it, not because it was all vegetables, but because the portions were really small for the price. I think at that point it was the #1 restaurant on Tripadvisor, and it had this big sign at the front of the restaurant parading that.

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So, as much as we loved Bagan and wanted to stay longer, we were limited on time. The next morning, we took a flight from Bagan to Mandalay. There were a couple of places I wanted to visit in Myanmar – Inle Lake, Mandalay itself, but we did not have time. I wanted to do a bit of trekking on this trip, and I had read (through what little I could find) that Myanmar’s trekking and homestay network – in an area called Kyaukme in the Shan State- was a must-do experience. When we landed in Mandalay, we took a cab to the bus station. Nobody at the bus station could speak English. JH and I stared at each other, but kept on trying to pronounce Kyaukme in as many ways as we possible could. It turns out that “chow-may” was the closest pronunciation. People at the airport had told us that it was “chow-ka-me”. Without any doubt, we bought tickets hoping it would take us to the right place as there was no one in sight who could speak English. We boarded a bus and were on our way.

The bus played a lot of obnoxious old-school dance music, but we tried to sleep and watch TV on JH’s laptop. Some time when it went dark, the bus came to a halt. We thought it was traffic, but a few hours passed, and we barely moved. It turns out that on a switchback, a large truck had flipped over on its side. People were trying their best to fix the situation but it was too dark outside. Anyways, people on our bus started camping outside, creating bonfires, eating watermelon that people were running up from the opposite direction. JH and I felt stuck and a bit claustrophobic. Our bus was too big to make its way around the accident, but smaller cars and vans were able to. We kept on talking to people until we found people who could speak English, and we essentially hitched a ride into the town. The guy who offered us a ride slung our luggage onto the roof of the car, and we piled into a really cramped mini-van full of probably 20 people. I ended up sitting on top of JH, with my foot crushing what felt like some plants. The ride felt like forever. But in some sort of alleluia moment, I opened my eyes and saw the sign for our hostel. I screamed to the driver – stop and we got off. A few meters away was our hostel – Northern Rock Lodge.

I had read that the neighbouring A Yone OO Guest House (across the street) was not that great, so we were glad that this newer guest house had opened up. It is one of the only two accommodations in Kyaukme open to foreigners. It is family owned – the father and son are absolutely hospitable and can speak English adequately. They had the most adorable nephew staying with them at the time (from Singapore) who helped us with our luggage. They were really polite and we enjoyed interacting with them.

The room they put us in was large, bright and perfectly functional. While a little cold, they provided us with a lot of blankets, and the shower had lots of hot water. We paid $30 for a room with four beds and a large bathroom. The sink is located outside just by the front door, but it has a mirror and toiletries like toothpaste/toothbrushes. You can find slippers and towels in the room as well. The rooms are located in little house-like structures outside of the general ‘concierge’ area. For $4, you can get a breakfast in the morning of bread, fruit, tea and coffee. You have to purchase Wi-Fi across the street from the Wi-Fi cafe, but JH had a data plan, so we survived. We believe the guesthouse is located centrally in the middle of the town, based on our morning walk to the village and exit towards the mountains. For reference point, it is next to a really great Burmese restaurant called Thiri Pyitsayar.

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So the real reason we came to Kyaukme was to hike in the Shan State mountains. Research on doing this on the Internet was limited at the time, but I managed to find a guide who garnered enough positive reviews for me to feel safe. I communicated originally with a guy named Joy, but we ended up going with his partner Johnny. We later learned that they both have Burmese names, but they adopted English names so that it would be easier on tourists. We met up with the both of them the same night we arrived. They showed us a map of the entire hiking area, outlining what we could cover over a couple of days, and areas we needed to avoid because they had recently discovered there was rebel conflict. Obviously if someone tells you that they had firearms aimed in their direction, you are going to say – no we do not want to go there even if it sounds like an experience. Joy had just returned from a week-long trek and wanted the rest, so we went with Johnny. Johnny seemed quieter, but as we continued the trip with him, he became very talkative and friendly. I think they were both essentially teenagers or maybe in their early twenties. They went to school and helped on their family farms, and when farming went off-season, they conducted treks to bring extra cash home. Sorry for the memory loss, but I don’t remember how much we paid. We paid at the end in USD, but if I remember correctly, it was really cheap – maybe $20 to 30 a day (back in 2014). This included food, gas and homestays.

To get to the start of the hike, we had to ride motorbikes a bit of the way into the mountains from town. Johnny let me ride behind him, but JH had to learn to ride one on his own. I think JH managed for the most part, but just as we got into the village and were about to park at the chief’s house, I heard a shout. I turned around, and saw JH and the bike come tumbling down the hill. Thank goodness JH did not hurt himself too badly. I think his foot was a bit sore after, which did not help with the trekking. He got some minor bruises and scrapes. The bike also appeared to be okay according to Johnny.  This did not really deter me from trying to ride one myself in Vietnam, but terrain definitely makes a difference. JH fell on a gravel hill, versus I only ever rode one on a straight, flat road. After this Johnny let us rest with lunch. Lunch was amazing. We had this tofu made out of chickpeas. It was the most delicious thing ever.

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The hike itself was never hard. We had great weather – blue skies, sun and bit of breeze. The trails were well-marked, and the terrain was completely manageable. Every so often, Johnny would show us different flora and fauna, or try to point out birds. He took us to a couple of clearings where we got especially nice views of the vast forest. These were some of the prettiest mountainous areas with endless panoramic views, and picturesque hillside farming (soybean, tea, rice, sesame) villages. Johnny loved to sing a lot. He told us he played the guitar, and he was trying to win the affections of this girl from his village who worked at the local restaurant. He ate there as much as possible so that he could see her. I died a bit from all the talk of teenage love. Johnny also thought I was maybe 21 or 22. I told him my real age, and we all laughed at his shocked surprise.

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Every night, we passed through a village, and Johnny would see which family would be available to house us for the night. These were the kindest Shan families. They would cook us homey delicious meals (with vegetables we brought), and encourage us to warm ourselves by the fire. Homemade Shan noodles and picked vegetables were so good. The flavours were a bit sour and tart but still really subtle. Johnny told us that turmeric was their base and common spice. Both JH and I clearly fudged up the Shan language whenever we said hello (my seung kha), thank you (seung mao kha) or goodbye, but we received appreciative looks because we tried. One of the Shan fathers was so adorable we ended up giving him a baseball cap and taking multiple pictures with him.

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I was grateful for everyday to wake up to villages above the clouds and yet more beautiful Myanmar sunrises. These days were some of the most peaceful days I have ever had in my life. Sometimes, I wish that I had a life this simple – hard (as farmer’s lives are hard) but simple. As I think about it more and more, maybe that would be the key to happiness – but I guess who knows.

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Along the way, we were met with nothing but the utmost kindness, and to this day, I do not actually think there has been any country where we have been met with more authentic kindness (except for maybe Leh). Every time we were in a village, someone would invite us into their home for tea, or grab us to practice their conversational English. JH and I also visited some schools to drop off some coloring books, and it was amazing seeing all the adorable enthusiasm and energy. “Bye bye” was the most commonly known English phrase. Johnny told us that some kids walked two hours to school because they did not have a school close to their own village. I for some reason remember a similar story from when we were in Africa.

After a few days with Johnny we returned back to the main town. JH was getting a bit drained with his sore leg, but I was proud that he survived it (and I am glad that didn’t happen in Leh where everything was a shit show already). I honestly hope that Johnny and Joy are still trekking and showing people the different side of Myanmar. They really know the area inside and out (especially the off-the-beaten-track), and we had a fabulous time with them exploring villages and enjoying the countryside.

I honestly can say that we did not have enough time in this country. Myanmar is such a beautiful and humble place, and we were so blessed to have visited there. The story does not end quite yet though. I think this is where this happened in the context of time, but we rode in the back of a pick-up truck to get from Kyaukme back to the Mandalay airport. I had never ridden in the back of a truck so this was a first-time experience for me. Is it right if I say ‘I felt really country?’

We ended up spending one more night in Yangon before flying back to Hong Kong. We spoiled ourselves and stayed at the Sule Shangri-La. We had a non-monumental Indian dinner at this place called New Delhi, because the Shan Noodle place I wanted to go to – 999 Shan Noodle House, closed 5 minutes after we tried to run there. We woke up really early, killed the Shangri-la breakfast buffet (and my waist), and then ended up exploring the Bogyoke Aung San Market for a bit before we left for the airport to head back to Hong Kong.

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Not the really good semolina cake. That was in a plastic bag out on the street.

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So, every time someone asks me where my favourite place is in the world that I have travelled to, it is and always will be (for now- who knows) Myanmar. JH and I did not do crazy out-of-this-world activities there, but there was just something about the people, culture, surroundings, food – the whole package – that was just so honest, authentic and beautiful. Maybe I cannot really explain it, and it is just something everyone will have to experience for themselves. Even though I am not a serial traveler (I wish I could be), I have travelled a fair bit, and I swear, sitting on top of a little temple watching the sunset, just me and JH with no one around for miles but just hundreds/thousands of other temples, is just something that can never really be beat. It was romantic, it was magical, and it was moving. One day I hope to go back, and I hope that it hasn’t changed too much.

Author: Roro

Home baker. Sugar obsessed. Casual traveller. Fighting a fight. All photography and content are copyrighted by Roro @thechewishkitchen unless otherwise stated and referenced, and cannot be used without permission.

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