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Late arrival in Kuala Lumpur

After nearly a month in Myanmar, we'd reached our final hours. Our flight and shuttle were late enough that we could have a nice breakfast at the hostel and relax for a bit. On the menu this morning were eggs, toast, pancakes and an interesting mix of sticky rice, chickpea and sesame. Some people ran off to get souvenirs that morning but we didn't want to risk missing the shuttle. That and we had our funds had dwindled down to roughly $3 or 3000 kyat after the airport shuttle and didn't want to pull out more. We said goodbye to the manager of the hostel who made an effort to chat with lots of the guests.

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The Mandalay airport is a fair distance outside the city but our drive was quite comfortable in the van. Today was also the full moon festival at the temples, which was too bad considering we'd be spending it on an airplane, but the trip had to move onto fresh ground sometime. While our final destination was the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, most of the others in the van were heading off to Chiang Mai in Thailand.

The Mandalay airport wasn't huge, a couple stories with a few food shops and restaurants around. We went straight to check in but to our surprise we couldn't even go through the gates to the check-in counter since our flight wasn't ready to check us in. We found it a bit bizarre. When we were finally let through, the pile of tickets for each passenger was sitting in a basket for them to look through and find each one. No staff computers or terminals to print them as we arrived like a typical airport. It was a bit funny, like half of the airport was only for show. Why have all the desks with no equipment to do the jobs?

Past security, we went looking for a shot glass souvenir for a friend but had no luck finding one, just some tea lacquer ware. We spent our final bit of money on a veggie sandwich. It would have been nice to spend it elsewhere and support more of the everyday local economy, but you never wanted to be caught empty-handed in the airport in case of unexpected fees.

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The airport security was much like the absent computers and it really irked Ryan. We'd assumed there'd be a point where we were searched for liquids but by the time we crossed into the final boarding area we realized it never came. Aside from that, our connecting flight to Bangkok went by smoothly. We had a chance to browse the in flight magazines and add a few more destinations to future hypothetical trips. There was also a Hindu festival today at the Batu Caves not far from Kuala Lumpur that we'd be missing.

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Bangkok airport was full of familiar chains like Subway, McDonalds and Dairy Queen, all of which we stopped at. Ryan had been looking forward to the latter since our flight into Myanmar. It didn't disappoint, except for when the containers were done and Ryan contemplated a take-out bucket. The flight into Malaysia was fairly uneventful and immigration was a smooth and easy process. I used to dread flying to KL because their old airport was disorganized, hot and not very modern. Their new airport was quite well done and much more functional.

The only hiccup came when we went to claim our bags. Our flight and one from Singapore both had bags come and go around the carousel but ours were nowhere to be found. We went over to the baggage claim help area where another man from the Mandalay flight was waiting for his bag. He was connecting to a flight to Langkawi, an island further north, and had more time constraints than us given that this was our final destination for the next couple of days. Still it would be nice to have clothes. Ryan was convinced that if any airport would lose our bags it would be one from Myanmar. The other man was sure he saw his bag get on the flight to Bangkok.

A few people helped us out and as soon as I left to exchange some money, the bags were back. The luggage tags had been printed in a way that confused the staff, go figure.

We discovered upon exiting that the airport was connected to a huge fancy mall with tons of Western food chains, along with eastern food and tons of outlet stores. We tracked down a money changer to get rid of some yen, then I found a working ATM.

One thing really practical and handy thing about Kuala Lumpur is their transportation network. They have buses that run from the main light rail station straight to both airports that leave frequently. The buses also make the return trip so you're not stuck out in the middle of nowhere bartering with cab drivers. We arrived at the shuttle bus to Central and they loaded our bags. Soon we saw that most people around us had tickets. We hadn't realized that we needed them as we'd read that we'd pay on the bus. We didn't want to lose our spot as it was getting late and there was a line, so I just had my wallet ready to hopefully be able pay when he asked for the tickets. But somehow he managed to count us in a group of 6 Chinese people who had pre-booked with their flight. It's possible he saw we didn't have tickets and just overlooked us, but all the same it was nice we'd be getting a ride into the city after all. We'd make sure to buy a ticket next time.

The ride took about an hour. Upon arriving, a taxi driver informed us the monorail was closed early as it was a holiday. While that was entirely possible, I wanted to confirm for myself, so we walked over to the station. We mistakenly ended up following the overhead fast train track to Petaling Market. Luckily some of the buildings were lit up to make the walk a little less boring.

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The Chinese lanterns were pretty and the streets were quite dead. When we made it to the train, sure enough it closed at 11p.m. We walked to the end of the market before catching a cab to Sunshine Bedz, our hostel. Luckily, Kuala Lumpur hardly slept so there was usually someone around to pick you up and check you in up arrival. Most of the people working at this hostel were backpackers or immigrants. I hadn't thought of a working holiday visa here, but it could be a nice place to live.

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They showed us our room which was alright minus the neon signs shining through the curtains. We'd certainly landed in a commercial area.

Posted by Sarah.M 13:22 Archived in Malaysia Tagged flight malaysia bangkok mandalay transport shuttle monorail petaling klia2 Comments (0)

Arriving in Yangon

In the morning, we took full advantage of the noon check out. I even got to Skype with my mom before we packed up really quick. We went out for a street breakfast: rice cakes, eggs and a banana cake.

The walk to the BTS was quite hot. On the second train a woman gave her seat to Ryan, seeing our giant bags. From the BTS, we got right on a bus to the airport for only 30 baht. Quite the unexpected deal after taxi fares around the city yesterday.

The lines to check in were pretty good and fast so we could ditch our now 16 (Ryan's) and 18 (mine) kilogram bags. The clay pot was really weighing me down, but it did fit in the bag. We checked out the food options and settled on a place with a menu page for vegetarians. Ryan enjoyed a crispy fried pork dish before mine was even out of the kitchen. Later, I had fried vermicelli noodles and veggies. On the other side of security, there turned out the be plenty of other options. Go figure. We gave into Dairy Queen and got brownie and Oreo blizzards. Not enough dairy in them to make me sick thankfully.

Our plane boarded half an hour late but the flight was pretty smooth. Myanmar had far less urban development from above than Thailand and China. Our e-visas got through without issue and the stamp even took up less room than it had two years ago. Ryan grabbed our bags and we found the guy with the Motherland 2 sign. He had a few more pick-ups to wait for before our van would be leaving.

I went to the ATMs and each one would go through the prompts with me but then tell me transaction failed. All three machines did this. I was beginning to get worried. At least, I found a city map during the attempts. Ryan went to try his card while I chatted with a couple from Spain and France who'd also been travelling since November. They'd seen India and Nepal. They'd loved Nepal which made me even more excited to go there in a few months. Ryan managed to withdraw from his account just fine, meaning it was my card and not the machines or TD Bank that had issues. At least we'd have some cash now and would figure out the rest later.

After a drive through the congested city on the unchanged bumpy roads, we arrived at Motherland 2, a guesthouse a bit removed from city centre. Yangon was a dusty city with a mix of new and old architecture. It was slowly under repair. Traffic ranged from bicycle rickshaws to trolleys, buses and cars.

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At the guesthouse, we received free lime juice with sugar before handing over large amounts of kyat to pay for our room. Their bills came in pretty small denominations and they typically accepted US cash, though we weren't parting with ours yet. I fought with the wifi all night to try and look into my bank issues. No answers, but a lead to use skype to place collect calls. The internet cafe was closed till morning. I ate my vegetable sandwich and sulked while Ryan enjoyed his sweet and sour pork. I did get to do laundry through.

Posted by Sarah.M 18:56 Archived in Myanmar Tagged flight bangkok yangon atm_issues Comments (0)

One more night in Bangkok

Temples, museum and traffic

Our schedule was packed for the day. We walked from the guesthouse to the river area to catch the ferry - Chao Phraya Express to Wat Arun. We got a bit turned around but the staff were helpful enough to direct us to the regular ferry, not the private hire boats. The ride was busy with commuters in suits, students and tourists. We rode it until we could see the temple then took another ferry to get across to Wat Arun.

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We arrived just after nine so it wasn't packed but busy enough with a few tours. The temple (wat) was under renovations and only part of it could be seen. We could still climb to the third level up the ultra steep stairs to enjoy the view. A lot of the ceramic pieces were being re-glued or changed on the surrounding chedis.

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We wandered the surrounding temple too, our quick pace inspired by hunger. Some temples were long rectangular halls with demon and monkey statues standing guard. That area was pretty quiet.

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After the ferry ride, we split a mango and had a bag of deep fried banana each for our late breakfast. We'd need the energy for crazy Grand Palace.
Group tours overtook most of the space in the entrance area. We were yelled at over the loud speaker to put on 'more appropriate' clothing before we could even get into our bags to reach the sarongs. We took a minute to breathe before tackling the lines for the entrance and the inflated admission price.

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Once inside, we moved to see golden stupas, mirrored temple buildings, and then the demon monkeys supporting another stupa. There were gold demon statues separate with thin or big bushy tails. The crowds to see the Emerald Buddha were fierce. We did another lap before trying to beat the crowds by going through the back. Again actions were quite controlled. Guards told us to sit, and took away cameras from those who chose to ignore the signs. Somehow the whole atmosphere stood out more than the experience of actually seeing the small Emerald Buddha. It was too busy and crowded to have some profound moving moment.

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We visited the other temples from the outside and then the different groups of palaces. Some had museums for weapons, international and local alike. I didn't recall them being open on my visit a few years prior. We saw two more temple groups, some with religious relics. People would also stand by the guards and take pictures with the poor men under orders not to move. We visited one more museum with information on the restoration before we took off.

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The walk to food was a bit long and distracted. We found an art museum on the way with sculptures and models by a famous European sculptures, many of which were featured around the country. Then we found the National Museum but chose hunger instead. We headed for nearby Khao San road to get Pad Thai at a Spanish-owned restaurant since there were surprisingly few food stalls around the area.

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We were also able to find the knock-off Lonely Planet vendors there as well. A Nepali woman from Myanmar was very friendly and told us lots of Canadians bought the Myanmar guide. I'd found a PDF version for the tablet already, but we got one for the Philippines since we were a little more hesitant to whip out a tablet in the streets there to find our way around.

National Museum was pretty large with many exhibits closed. The first section was an ambitious and well forged account of Thai history. Different groups and religions moved through the country, Buddhism being the one that stayed. There was so much to absorb, battles for territories with the Burmese kingdom, British, French in Indo-China, Khmer empire many centuries ago. We had to respect that the Thais had a longstanding kingdom and culture that managed to overcome a lot of adversaries and hold its own.

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There was a temple, red house and other religious sculptures from various cultures around Thailand too like India, Laos and Myanmar during earlier periods. There were some Thai carvings from the Dharavati period too.

We took off, worried about meeting two of my friends and former co-workers on time. After plenty of cabs turned us down because of the distance and bad traffic around Lad Prao, we tried asking for a trip to the BTS instead which was successful, but we were stuck in traffic for quite awhile before reaching the sky train. Luckily, that flew over the traffic jams. At Mo Chit BTS, we grabbed another cab and we were grid locked again. The drivers hadn't been lying about the traffic.

Once we made it to Imperial Mall, a phone call helped us find the rock climbing wall where they were. It was an artificial wall run by a European man and his Thai wife. They also had a really cute little girl who'd been born prematurely. It was only 50 baht per climb with equipment rental.

My friends came here often and knew the owner quite well. They'd learned to belay as well and were challenging themselves by taking different routes marked by coloured tape. They'd climbed a few spots in and out of Thailand and their goal was to get to Chiang Mai later. My fear of heights kicked in on the first wall and they tried to bribe me up it with some chocolate on Ryan's advice. We both did a couple walls before we got too tired.

From the sounds of it, they really enjoyed worked out at the other campus. One was really improving her Thai to the point that she could use tones. It sounded like they were settling in quite nicely to their area of the city.

We had supper at the nearby cafeteria. I found a veggie fried rice. Other veg-friendly options were the omelette and a tasty Som Tam salad. In the supermarket, we wandered and found some pomelo on sale. Ryan and I had become fans since we left China so we picked on up.

We said our goodbyes and took a cab back via the MRT route (though the cabbies had a hard time understanding what the MRT was so we used the name of the station and some gestures for 'underground' to convey our message). Our walk back from the MRT passed through sidewalks turned into night markets where moving was a luxury. We got a little lost, but luckily the gates were still open when we got back to the guesthouse for our final sleep in Thailand.

Posted by Sarah.M 16:49 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok rock climb grand_palace national_museum Comments (0)

Parks, boats and Lebanese food

Just another day in Bangkok

We relaxed in the room, did some research and used the decent wifi. It seemed the dodgier the accommodation, the better the wifi. We took the BTS to Sala Dang stop then had a tasty lunch at Beirut, my favourite Lebanese restaurant. We had hummus, fattoush salad and a chicken shwarma. The service could have been better considering the waiters were standing around and our food came before the appetizer platter (with veggies, pickles, the tastiest garlic dip, hummus and tahini sauces) and cutlery.

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Next we went to Lumphini park, another favourite Bangkok urban park of mine. There was a big statue at the entrance, lake/ponds, walking paths and exercise machines. We relaxed in the shade since Ryan wasn't feeling a hundred percent. When he was up to it, we rented one of the swan paddleboats for only 40 baht ($1.30) for the half hour.

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From the water we saw dozens of reptiles on the pond banks, turtles and monitor lizards ranging from small to the size of a small/medium alligator. The way the lizards walked was interesting to watch. Their legs made big circular steps almost as if their limbs were doing front crawl.

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We managed to squeeze the boat under two pedestrian bridges and made the circuit in about 25 minutes, giving us enough time to get our deposit back. It was a fun little excursion and Ryan was excited to be in control of another vehicle, even though this one was quite slow.

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We lazed around on a dry patch of grass, harder than you'd think since the sprinklers were going full force. With his new sketchbook he drew a nice palm tree. Lizards came by to visit us often too, not at all scared of people.

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We explore the park to find the Chinese friendship pavilion and to try out the sweet exercise machines that were far more functional that those in Ubon Ratchatani. The park clientele shifted from foreign tourists and families to locals and expats out for a run or work out. We were envious that they could do this outdoors for much of the year, different than Canada. My favourite machine was the surf one where core muscles worked as I swung from side to side on a small stand attached to a higher point.

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The red light district, Pad Pong, was nearby. Ryan was a bit hesitant to visit, but in the late afternoon they were just beginning to set up a market with generally knock-off brand name goods like watches and perfume. Some of the signs they have for the strip clubs had interesting names that got us laughing, though the whole district leaves a bad and shady feeling afterward.

We had to walk a bit to find food that was affordable. We found a bustling restaurant area with oodles of foreigners and very busy and hardworking staff. Our 'large' pad thai that we thought would be enough to share was on the smaller side. Ryan picked up a pancake and I was still full from the lion's share of the Lebanese lunch.

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Second update today. Trying to catch up with all the photos we uploaded here.

Posted by Sarah.M 22:23 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok swan lumphini_park paddle_boats beirut_lebanese Comments (0)

Buses and Lost Cash in Bangkok

At 7:30, we checked out and headed for the bus stop to find out that buses left every hour on the half hour so we'd just missed one. I ran to get us some 7-11 breakfast pastries and a ham and cheese that I later found out Ryan was slowly growing sick of. It was good we were there early as the van was quite full. We sat in the front row to make sure our bags didn't take up seats this time. Another French backpacker joined our row soon after.

The journey was standard with one bus station stop between us and the destination. In Ubon, we headed to the only bus there en route to Bangkok and snagged spacious front row tickets. They played Hollywood movies in Thai during the drive: Transformers 1 and 3, Escape Plan then a Thai comedy game show where the contestants would be attacked by water, whipped cream or projectiles while trying to complete tasks like describing an object for the other to guess it or Pictionary where the other team got to modify the original drawing. They also wore ridiculous and colourful costumes during the skits.

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We didn't get a lunch break, but I bought some BBQ eggs with seasoning at one of the bus stops. Supper was at a stop where I got shuffled around the food line due to communication issues. All I wanted was plain rice and a fried egg, both at different stalls apparently. We also bought some pretty awful mango. When we went outside, our bus was missing, but some people confirmed they were also on the Ubon to Bangkok bus. The buses seemed to be driving off to get a bus-wash nearby and sure enough ours came back.

Around Khao Yai area, it was nine thirty at night so I called the guesthouse we'd booked just to confirm we could check in at such a late hour. The guy had no issues with it and gave us directions. Traffic continued to be quite slow.

We arrived in Bangkok around 11 pm, and lined up with the Thais for a meter taxi (not one of the ones where the English speaking drivers approach you) to Sarawak road until we got near the address number. We got a little lost on foot after but a security guard walked us to the guesthouse and we were able to check in.

Once we arrived in our room, we counted our money and realized that we were short 1000 baht. As we recalled, Ryan had went to pay with 2000 baht. The receptionist asked for change and kept one of the thousands, then when we gave him the change amount we also included the other thousand. Ryan went down to talk to him about it and he double checked the books and denied that it had happened.

We did tallied up our expenses again, thinking we'd made the mistake, but down to every last piece of fruit we bought and a few hundred baht flex room in case we forgot something, we couldn't account for the missing thousand since our last bank withdrawal. It was too bad really, for an extra 1000 baht ($33), we could have gotten a much nicer room that didn't have filthy shared bathrooms. I was starting to see how people could not enjoy their time in the city I had enjoyed calling home two years ago.

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Happy Easter, little by little we'll catch up with this blog. If you want to get updates by e-mail when we post a new part (since we're pretty inconsistent) just subscribe.

Posted by Sarah.M 21:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged taxi bus bangkok hostel transfer Comments (0)

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