Monthly Archives - January 2017

Burmese women sleeping on the train tracks - waiting for their ride

Sleeping on the Tracks – life in Myanmar/Burma

This is my favorite photo!  I was in Rangoon Burma waiting for the fast train to Mandalay.  I had time to kill so I left the magnificent late nineteenth century British railroad station and walked out to the yard. I was surprised to see cows walking through the tracks. There were also many people camped in the yard. I saw a small walk over bridge which took you from one side of the yard to the opposite side. As I was walking over the bridge and looked down to see these two ladies waiting for some train. It was an amazing sight.

Another wonderful dispatch on life in Myanmar/Burma from the intrepid Bill Stanhope – [Kevin เควิน Khaosan]

Riding up Mandalay Hill in Burma

A few years ago I was backpacking through Burma. I arrived in Mandalay by the fast train (which took 18 hours, and stopped at every station that I could see) from Rangoon. One of the places I wanted to see was Mandalay Hill. There was a great temple at the top where the Buddha had stood and pointed down to the plains, and said “Someday their will be a great city here. So Mandalay was born.

mandalay hill lovely ladies

Giggling up Mandalay Hill

When I got to the bottom of The Hill there were two ways to get up. The first was to walk by the two giant guardian protectors and up 400 steps. The second way was by taxi. It was really hot, so I decided to go up by taxi. I know what you are thinking, Bright yellow cab with a meter. That’s not it. It was a 25 year old Nisson pick up truck with a fabric surry on top of the bed. Fine with me. Waiting with me were five young Burmese ladies. We stood there in the sun waiting for the signal, from the driver, to get in the back of the truck. It came, and we all piled in. I smiled at them and they all giggled.
The ride up was slow and bumpy. I had my camera on my lap, and picked it up and motioned to them that I would like to take their picture. They giggled and chattered back and forth to each other. I took that as yes and started taking a few pictures. They laughed and giggled and several covered their faces with their hands.
We reached the top and I thanked them and bowed. They all giggled. The Temple is huge on top. There were many rooms. It was breath taking. I just walked around taking pictures. And every so often we would run into each other and they would dissolve into giggles every time they saw me. And, I would take their picture.

Down the Irrawaddy River on a Chinese Steamer

Down the Irrawaddy River on an old Chinese Steamer

I was traveling on a 50 year old Chinese steamer down the Irrawaddy River in Burma. It was a three day trip on this local steamer because it stopped at every village along the way. I was the only westerner on the boat. And I was the only westerner that some of the passengers had ever seen. Young children burst into tears at the mere sight of me. Which caused the parents to smile and laugh at their children’s discomfort and to assure me that they were fine with my being there. No one has a beard in Burma and I must have looked pretty scary.

I had no idea what to expect when I climbed up the one wooden plank to board the ship. I had paid for a cabin and it turned out that I was the only person staying in one. Everyone else quickly marked off their place on one of the three decks. As I walked past this colorful mass of people, many people called to me to join them, and started to make room for me to put down my blanket. I smiled and thanked them, but, I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. At least not right away. So I went past a bunch of unoccupied cabins to find mine. It was a metal box with two metal beds attached to the wall with space between them, a sink, a window and one bare light bulb in the ceiling. Well it was quiet. The bathroom, I found out, was a big common room with a trough on one side and several holes in the floor. Right out in the open. And it was at the stern of the ship.

The first day we slid down the river like a dream. Dotted along the banks were beautiful gold and white temples. Every village had it’s own pagoda. Sometimes just the top of a golden spire was visible poking up through the palm trees. The new passengers were huddled in a colorful mass at the edge of the beach, with there bundles, and bags of vegetables, and chickens. The steamer would just plow into the sand beach and put down a single plank and they would scurry aboard in a big hurry to get their spaces marked out.

I spent the first day standing by the rail and watched the countryside slip by. I was anxious to take pictures, but, I was afraid of insulting the passengers. So, I just had the camera with me. Pretty soon some family would smile at me and indicate that they would like me to take a picture of them. Gradually they excepted me and my camera and when I pointed my camera at the them, everyone would smile.

I discovered there was no dining room. Everyone brought their own food. I had brought three packages of Ramon Noodles which is almost all I ate. Their were faucets of boiling water which is how I made my soup. I was often offered food by the passengers, but, I always politely refused. I was afraid of getting sick. But, I did except one egg and a banana. I thought they would be safe.

As the day wained the steamer prepared for the coming night. I found out that because of all the sand bars the ship didn’t run at night. What they did was ram the steamer into the beach and a crew member would scramble off the bow with a rope and drag it up into the jungle and tie us to a tree. Then as the evening darkened other ships, attracted by our bright lights would maneuver next to us and tie the boats together. In about an hour we had five other ships hooked on. The bright lights attracted a plethora of moths. They were every where. But, all of a sudden the lights went out. My cabin was black.

I walked back to the deck and was amazed to see little cooking fires, like fireflies, all across the deck.

There was an excitement in the air. A din of conversation chirped through the night. After dinner and clean up. Everyone began singing the most haunting melody. These were Buddhist prayers that everyone knew. It was beautiful beyond description.

Daytime vs Nightlife on Khao San Road

The other day I decided to make a daytime (which turned into a daytime vs nightlife) trip down to good old Khaosan Road (Khao San, Khao Sarn, etc).  It remains a go-to place for visitors to Thailand.  Not at all a part of traditional Thailand, but very much an interesting place to visit with its dynamic mix of backpackers and other travelers getting together to eat, drink, share stories, and get harassed by touts of all sorts.  You don’t come to Khao San Road to see a part of Thailand so much as you come to spend some time with a unique group of people that have come to the area as a stopping point during their travels in and around Thailand.

Yaek Daytime

Odd giant tending bar (daytime)

During the day (daytime) Khao San is a very different place than at night (nightlife).  Early in the day there is mostly a slow sleepy clean-up from the chaos and festivities of the previous night, along with preparations for the coming evening.  Trash is swept up and carried away.  And there is a steady stream of delivery vehicles (trucks, cars, hand trolleys, rickshaws) replenishing supplies of merchandise, food, and beer to the restaurants, hotels, and street-side entertainment spots.

Throughout the afternoon more and more people start to come and walk around the place.  The restaurants start to fill up for early dinner as families and older travelers come and check out Khao San Road for themselves.  Unfortunately for those folks, they are missing out on the late evening and nighttime hours when Khao San gets even odder and more fun.

Daytime Rambuttri

Sleepy daytime Rambuttri

What started out as a daytime visit to Khao San is quickly turned into a late night visit as time went on.  Day and night on Khao San is two very different experiences.  Sleepy and slow during the day…

Nighttime

Nightlife on Rambuttri

Chaotic, fun, and crazy at night.  The place fills up quickly, the music gets louder, the characters that you see walking along the streets get odder and wilder (and usually drunker), and all this without taking a single step into any of the various indoor clubs that have cropped up in the area alongside the traditional outdoor bars and restaurants.

Stalking the Elusive Beauty of Phu Chi Fa

Phu Chi Fa is a mountain peak, near Chiang Rai, Thailand, in the far north of the country, on the border with Laos. Definitely not a very well traveled place by foreigners, although it is becoming a rather popular “selfie spot” for Thai’s on holiday. We decided to check it out on New Years Day 2017. Most people travel to one of several local villages (where there are loads of hostels and campsites, etc) the day before, and then wake up early and head up the mountain for sunrise. As we had no reservations for a place to stay, we opted to wake up at 2am and drive from our hotel in Chiang Rai directly to the mountain. Had we actually looked closely at a map and realized we would be driving directly across a mountain range in pitch dark, we might have made another choice. But it was an adventure! 16% grade switchbacks in a little tiny 1.2l engine car where you can’t see anything beyond the barely adequate headlight swaths…at least there was no risk of falling asleep which is usually my problem with long drives.

phu chi fa

Phu Chi Fa archway in the local town

At last, we arrive in one of several local towns where they have a big archway welcoming people to Phu Chi Fa (or Phu Chee Pha). These local towns are perched on the steep side of the mountain with terraced bungalows and campsites dotting the landscape everywhere. We arrived at 4:30am and the parking lot was already half full. A line of pick-up trucks were waiting to shuttle people up the 2km more to the “basecamp” staging area. Standing in the back of the pickup, it really felt like it might tip over as it cut back and forth on the steep steep switchback road winding up the mountain. Passing the empty trucks coming back down was harrowing. Basecamp had a horde of local kids running around selling flashlights, hot coffee, and ramen noodle cups. I tend to like “proper” coffee, but that little paper cup of Nescafe instant coffee really hit the spot that morning!

Next we start the trek up to the top of the mountain. There are stairs cut into the dirt with bamboo runners edging them out. It is a steep but not too long 1/2km to the top. Lots of people start off at a fast pace and then have to stop and rest…huffing and puffing like racehorses. Slow and steady wins the race in this case.

Its cold, foggy, misty, and starting to rain…

We arrived on top to an absolutely huge crowd of people with already staked out spots to sit and wait for the sunrise. It was rather cold up top, with foggy mist rolling through, and even a bit of light rain. The only reason you could see the fog was because there were hundreds of people flashing flashlights around, peering into the mist.

Eventually, after perhaps an hour or so of waiting in the dark, it began to lighten and we saw the grand view. Fog filled valleys and green GREEN mountaintops of Laos. The sunrise is what people come to see…unfortunately, it was a cloudy day and we never saw the sun at all.

Quick side selfie with the sign (too lazy to wait in line for a proper photo)

Have to capture the moment somehow…we were just too impatient to wait in line like everyone else for our turn at the sign.

Did I mention that it is rather popular?

Oh, and if you didn’t believe me about all the people…(I have never seen so many selfie sticks!)

beautious

Playing around with the new “bokah” (blurred background) mode…

Killing time, playing with the iPhone 7’s new Portrait/Bokah (background blur) mode…

Beautiful Phu Chi Fa, view of fog filled valleys in Laos from Thailand

At last, our best shot of the view. Fog, green, misty, and beautiful. However, no sunshine and definitely not quite as beautiful as some Phu Chi Fa pictures that I have seen. So just to show what it can look like, here are two pictures taken by other people on “good” days…

Someone else’s wonderful picture on a clear day

Another someone else’s wonderful picture on a clear day