The end of our trip through Myanmar happened to coincide with their lunar new year which meant we would be around to see the beginning of Thingyan, or the Water Festival. By far, this has been my favorite local celebration that we’ve come across, and it might be one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip!
What’s a water festival? As best I can tell, it’s a giant water fight that the whole country participates in. This is the hottest part of the year, and the 4-day festival is a way for everyone to celebrate the new year and cool down before the monsoon season starts in May. Traditionally, splashing water is seen as a blessing for the new year or a washing away of sins from the previous year, but it didn’t exactly seem like people had that in mind as they rowdily soaked each other!
Sure, I invented this food eating contest, but that’s pretty much the only way I’m going to become the winner of one.
Mg peeks out of the train as we cross the Gokteik Viaduct. She has no idea that in less than a week she will be co-champion of the Mr. Shake Challenge.
Lisa and I arrived in Hsipaw, Myanmar on a train from Pyin Oo Lwin. The signature moment of the ride was crossing the Gokteik Viaduct, a railway bridge built in 1901 that was, at the time, the second tallest (318 ft) in the world. Almost the entire ride, however, was scenic and we would link up with Zoe and Mg who, together with Laura
, Jazzer and Alesha
, would accompany us on our two-day overnight trek to Pankam Village. After the six of us signed up for the trek (Laura would add on later), we grabbed dinner at Mr. Food and headed our separate ways. I had seen some positive online reviews about a place called Mr. Shake
, and if you read the post about my favorite drinks of Southeast Asia
, you can imagine how anxious I was to try it.
After the awesomeness that was the Boracay Open, we hung around on the island for a few days of relaxing (from our super-stressful life of ultimate, adventure, and travel) with some of our favorite ultimate players and backpackers. One day, we headed to Puka Beach which claims to be one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Asia. That’s like me claiming to be one of the 10 funniest, most awesomest Lisa’s in existence, but maybe there’s some truth to their claim. It is really pretty:
- Puka Beach, Boracay, Philippines
Unfortunately, after a few hours of relaxation on the beach, we had two of our most negative tourist experiences of our trip.
When we set out on this adventure back in November, visiting Myanmar had never crossed my mind. I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know how close we would be to it — it borders both Thailand and Laos — and I barely knew that it used to be called Burma. But as we began meeting other travelers, the most common advice we got was that we absolutely had to go visit Myanmar because it was just opening to tourism, it is one of the last places you could go to “get off the beaten track,” and that the people are incredible and not yet tainted or jaded by mass tourism.
Well, we’ve made it! We arrived in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) on March 22nd, and we will be here for 25 days before heading to Nepal. So far, we’ve visited Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and are currently in Pyin Oo Lwin. We’re only a week into the country, but these are some quick thoughts on what we’ve found so far.
I caught a tin boat with Shea and Sylvia (friends I’d met who work on Koh Rong) from Koh Rong Samloem to Koh Rong so that I could catch the ferry to Sihanoukville at 9am and then a bus that would get me to Phnom Penh in time for the PP hat tournament party that evening. This being Cambodia, time estimates are always wildly off and never rooted in fact, and our ride that was supposed to pick us up at 8am radioed us at 8:20 to say they were on their way.
Shea grimaced and asked, “How set are you on making that 9am boat…?”
Twenty minutes later, the little tub arrives, and we throw our things in. Catching my ferry is gonna be close.
I needed a ride to the Wat Tam Wua Forest Monastery for my meditation retreat. Just the day before, the woman who ran the guest house I was staying at, Boot*, had given me a motorbike tour of Mae Hong Son province. While I enjoyed the day, I knew I had been ripped off, but I had been too tired and unwilling to attempt to negotiate a better price when I arranged the trip.
So when she offered me a ride to the monastery, I was determined not to let her get the best of me again. I bargained harder than I ever have before, and I finally got her down to 450 baht ($14) from 900 baht ($28). I absolutely hate haggling, but I was still proud of my “achievement” (I was still probably paying too much).
There are so many little things that happen each day that I don’t want to forget. Anecdotes are a collection of these mini-stories or adventures. Also known as “filler material” for when I don’t have anything else to blog about.
sometimes, language is unnecessary
Matt and I were in yet another minivan, this time from Vientiane to Luang Prabang in Laos. I ended up sitting next to a pair of Korean guys, one older in maybe his 50s or 60s, and the other younger, in his late 30s or 40s. The older guy was against one window, the younger guy sitting in the middle, and me against the other window / panel door.
Depending on my mood, I will either engage my seatmates too much (wait, you’re telling me there are people who don’t want to talk to me for 9 hours straight…?) or not at all. If I perceive there to be a language barrier, I usually won’t try to talk to people. These two seemed a bit severe, or maybe my preconceived notions told me that they were, so I assumed the van-riding position: I put in my head phones and unfocused my eyes.
Being away from home is always challenging because of the things you miss: your friends, your favorite foods, the familiarity and comfort of home, etc. And I miss all those things. But no one wants to hear about that.
A couple people have asked what things I miss that I didn’t expect to or that are unusual. Well, I don’t know what other people consider unusual. I’m coming to realize that my perceptions aren’t always in line with others’. But before we get into a debate of what the definition of ‘weird’ is and whether or not I fit in it (that would be a short discussion), here’s a list of the things I miss that may or may not be weird.
As I’ve run out of deep thoughts (come on, two months was more than any of us could have expected from me), I’ve started asking around for ideas for blog posts from other people. This idea is courtesy of my brother, Henry.
Henry asks, “Do you have any tips on bargaining? Or how not to get ripped off?”
No. I am exceptionally bad at bargaining and haggling. And I’m pretty sure I am getting ripped off constantly. If being awful at negotiating was a sport, I’d be in the Olympics for it. So, I probably shouldn’t give out any advice on how to bargain. I have, however, learned a lot of lessons from all my mistakes thus far. Maybe you’ll find value in these.
My favorite part of this trip so far is all the awesome people we have met. The locals who have shown us around have been incredibly hospitable and helpful, and the other travelers have been fascinating and adventurous people who quickly become friends.
Sometimes, though, we run into people we aren’t so excited about. Enter: snarky Lisa.