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Mount Zwegabin

The twenty four hour loud speaker voices from the temples had us up far before our 7 a.m. tuktuk to Mount Zwegabin. We had some taro cookies for breakfast and a few oranges. On our tour, there was a woman from Calgary and another man from the US. He was a bit hungover, but still wanted to climb the mountain.

We drove through Lumbini garden again then up to the corridor that led to the path to the summit. We started climbing right away while the others stopped at the washroom. We knew we didn't have much time to summit and return and wanted to make the most of it. Our other tour mates had set an 11:00 deadline and it was already 7:30.


The first section was a challenge with a steep climb up many stairs. We kept stopping for water breaks even though it was early and not overbearingly hot yet. From that height, we could still see some of the Buddha statues below though they grew smaller and smaller with each step.


By the time we reached the first yellow and blue two story temple, twenty five minutes had elapsed and we'd climbed a fair bit. There was a bit of construction being done but overall it was a pretty relaxed atmosphere.


The climb continued, but grew more horizontal for some sections as we crossed a ridge. Then we climbed even higher. The countryside was beautiful with green karst mountains in hazy shadows and cliff faces lit up in the sun perfectly. Agricultural land spread far in the other direction and the roads wound around. There were dogs up this high as well.


The last leg of the journey was hot and sunny with plenty of uphill sections. On the way we encountered a monkey or two but kept our distance. The other two members of our climbing party met us near the top, making better time. We managed the summit in an hour and 45 minutes instead of the estimated two. Not bad for two people from the prairies that rarely climb anything.


At the summit, there were a few pagodas and small community with a coffee shop/restaurant. One of the gold pagodas sat near the edge of the mountain, overlooking the land below. There was a gong and Buddha statues as well. We took off our shoes as it was a temple and the tiles cooled our feet. Around the back, we found shade and a great view of a few other pagodas on the mountain range. Monkeys stirred below us, playing, eating, and watching until a man with a slingshot came by to scare them off.


Many people asked to be in photos with the woman from Calgary. We and the American guy posed with a friendly monk from Yangon who spoke great English.

Monkeys did attack in the end when we started eating our corn puff snacks. We gave one to the woman from Calgary but soon a monkey came at her. She threw it away but then it grabbed at her bag. She went to scare it but it hissed at her before it took interest in the coffee glass she had yet to return to the shop. It left in the end and Ryan snatched up her things before it could go after them again. They're scary creatures.



We had another look at the pagoda and rested more before tackling the trail down. The sun was quite hot now, but many people were making the trek up at this time. A few groups of Burmese guys wanted a photo with Ryan and I before they ran off hooting and hollering. Everyone seemed quite happy.


At the first rest stop, we found some adorable dogs who were a little scared of us. One of the black ones came to play with and chew on my camera bag strap. Ryan and I were slower on the way down too since we kept stopping to take pictures, but we made it down in an hour for 11:15. Chatting on the way back, we got some restaurant recommendations for lunch like the chicken salad or tomato for me. The woman from Calgary had also been trekking in Nepal and spoke very highly of her six weeks there. Everyone we talked with seemed to love it, so we were itching to go even more.


Back in Hpa An, Ryan and I headed out to Khit Thit restaurant to try the chicken and tomato salads. They were alright, pretty basic, not really living up to the hype. We wandered the market for fruit to find oranges and bananas. The rest of the afternoon was meant for relaxing, reading and lying down. We had climbed a mountain after all.

For supper we had sweet and sour dishes at Lucky and fireworks followed. Music played from the nearby temple. It was a celebration, of what we weren't sure, and we forgot to ask about it the next day as well.

Posted by Sarah.M 07:33 Archived in Myanmar Tagged monkey climb mount_zwegabin hpa_an Comments (0)

Golden Rock

sunny 30 °C

We woke up bright and early for our 5:30 European breakfast. I put back a juice that I really shouldn't have considering we'd be on the bus so soon. Eggs and toast were good though. Our cab driver upped the price of our cab to 10, 000 kyat ($10) because there was a marathon that never even affected us traffic-wise. Considering the hotel had arranged the whole thing, we were less than impressed and out of other options. Thanks for that Motherland... We arrived more than an hour early and could have easily shared a cab with the others leaving in 15 minute intervals. They'd certainly perfected the art of fleecing tourists now.

Our bus left a little late, but not too bad. I thought they'd stop for a washroom break after three hours but when I checked Google Maps, we were quite closed to our final destination, the town of Kinpun. The bus even took us directly into the town, past the building that resembled the bus station, to Emerald Hotel. At least they had washrooms, albeit busy squatters. The trip only took us around three hours which was quite speedy when we expected five.

We walked down a road, through a field, then back alley to find many children's smiling faces and 'Mingalaba' welcomes. It was a nice change from Yangon's indifference. People seemed to be happy enough to see our sweaty foreign faces.

It was easy enough to find Pann Myo Thu Guesthouse and they offered us the cheapest rooms without even asking if we had a reservation (which we did). We gladly swapped for the cheapie which turned out to be like thin walled little shacks with a shared squatter toilet. But for $12 we couldn't really complain.

We walked out to a restaurant with the same name as the guesthouse (though apparently no association) and had some fried rice with egg, and chicken for Ryan. It was actually really tasty and exactly what I had been craving for weeks after all those less than satisfying meals in Northern Thailand.

Next, we walked to the truck station where seats had been installed in seven rows along the back of industrial-sized trucks. There was even a staircase to climb just to get inside. We squished into the truck holding 50-60 people (yes, I counted), picking up more when I didn't think it was possible, but that seemed to be the theme in Asia. They're much better at utilizing space than we are in the West. From there, we began the long seven mile motorized climb of Mount Kyaiktiyo. A Japanese guy was having a blast photo documenting the whole bumpy voyage up the mountain. Not a bad place for a GoPro.


We stopped twice, once for food and the other time to give our 2500 kyat ($2.50) payment, a price paid by all, regardless of nationality for once. Our truck stopped every once in awhile to let other vehicles pass, but most of the ride was a bumpy roller coaster, gripping the back of the seat in front of us. No seat belts of course.


From the drop-off, we walked past tons of vendors until we had to take off our shoes. The golden rock was still a blip atop a gray boulder from here. We stopped at various points to photograph it at a distance. People were also camped out in various sections with floral blankets and bamboo mats forming tent shelters from the sun. We figured it was all part of the pilgrimage to the top.


From close up, we could see Golden Rock with a zedi built on top of it. Men, and only men as women were prohibited from entering this section, would stick gold leafs (thinly crushed gold to about the width of a tissue) to the rock as was often done to Buddha statues as well. We walked below that small walkway to glimpse the rock from a lower vantage point. It was incredible that it was standing based on how it had been balanced. People lined up small clay dishes up the stairs and chucked the broken pieces away.


Toward the back there didn't seem to be much but shops and a hotel. We did catch part of a conversation from tourists who had climbed the ride we took in the truck. We had thought no one was crazy enough to attempt it in the midday heat. This planted an idea in my head.
Near one of the lookouts, a Burmese man was playing the guitar and singing very well. We let the breeze cool us as we looked out the surrounding mountains.


On the way down, out a samosa vendor spoke my language 'no meat' and 'gift for you' also known as a free sample. After tasting one, how could I say no? So, we bought four tasty treats to share.


We searched for the walking path, starting down the truck's road until Ryan really didn't think it was the right path. There had to be a better, less dangerous way. Sure enough, we found it when we back-tracked. It passed through little vendor shops where the people seemed to live as well. There were friendly children, especially as we passed. The views were gorgeous too, now that we weren't bouncing around too much to enjoy it. We ran into a British man from our guesthouse who had climbed all the way up. The ascent was supposed to bring good fortune with you in the next life. We'd certainly done it wrong and hopefully it wouldn't do the opposite for us. We got to give him the good news that he was nearly there.


We stopped for sugar cane juice at a nice viewpoint. It seemed a shame not to drink in the view, and the juice. I'd been craving it since Yangon. Afterward, Ryan wondered if we should have been more leery. The sugar cane stalks were soaking in local water, the cloudy stuff that some people would bottle and try to resell to tourists even with the plastic seal on the bottle top. We'd find out if it was a good idea.


Toward the end of our three hour descent, we passed a swimming hole. The water looked refreshing, but maybe not so clean. Another European man on the path was looking for the smaller Kinpun golden rock, but we unfortunately couldn't help him locate it. The sun set and we carefully did the rest of the trail in the dark, following the town and market lights once we left the bush and trying not to trip too many times.


We had supper nearby and were soon joined by the British guy. He had taken the truck down. He told us that we had misinformed him on the time expectation, but we think the message got lost in passing. He'd spent a fair bit of time in Myanmar, loving Hpa An and Hsipaw, two towns on our list. We had fried noodle and veggie dishes along with sweet and sour pork.

Posted by Sarah.M 15:27 Archived in Myanmar Tagged golden_rock climb truck pilgrimage kinpun 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

We're Railey Rock Climbing

rain 26 °C

Dark clouds obscured the sky and soon droplets fell down as well. None of this was reassuring to two people who had booked a rock climbing session in Railay today. The staff at the guesthouse assured us that it would go, rain or shine. The company picked us up in a songtao and drove to a very desolate pier. Compared to yesterday, we seemed to be on the opposite side of Railay. The rain gained momentum as it attacked our skin and clothes, damping our optimistic thoughts that the rocks could stay dry. The operators weren't bothered, a good sign surely.


The tide was quite low this morning so 'docking' required quite a bit of walking through murky water to reach the beach. They brought us to King
Climbers straight away to get fitted with gear and sign our waivers. We were impressed with our climbing shoes and chalk bags too.


Next, we walked back to Railay East where our target rocks lay. At the far end were karst towers just before a small stretch of beach. To our good fortune, the rocks were hardly even wet at all since they were so sheltered. Another group had already started climbing. I was a bit envious of their small group size. They managed the first wall with only a few difficulties.


We learned our first skill, tying the figure eight knot that would keep our harnesses attached to the rope. It required two twists then slide the rope through. Next the rope came close to the harness, through the two loops and the rope end followed the original eight's path. If the rope was still too long it got tied in a simple knot.


A few people raced up the first wall the guides set up and once the second was up and running, they invited me to start climbing it. It was pretty easy to get a good grip on the rocks. The footholds were great as well. I scaled it pretty quickly until I looked down and realized how high I was. I began to panic a bit so my grips got worse and shaky. Reaching the next point was tricky, but I pushed myself to do it with sweaty palms. I touched the silver ring at the top and gestured I was ready to come down. Even after I was on the ground and untying my figure eight knot, my hands were still shaking.


Ryan tried the first wall, which was a bit higher. He raced up pretty easily and only slowed at one section where he had to wedge himself a bit to get the leverage to go further.


When I tried the same wall, it took much longer since I couldn't reach all of the holds. I forged my own path in the beginning and had plenty of rest spots where I could chalk up my sweaty palms. I made it in the end but my forearms felt like lead for half an hour afterward.


Ryan tried out the third wall. The bottom had a tricky section where you had to stick in your feet, pull with your arms and stretch to make it past the protruding rock. Ryan made it to the top easy enough after that.


When I'd rested enough to give it a go, I got stuck further up since my feet wouldn't plant well enough for me to reach the next rock. Short people problems. When I finally did make it after many tries and needed a rest, the belayer dropped me back to that initial tricky position. A few more failed attempts and I called it a day.


After the climb, we had the option to boat back right away or stay until 5:30. We decided not to let the rain clouds decide for us and stayed. Need be, we'd wait it out in a cafe. Ryan and I walked over to Princess Cave to go exploring. It was one of my favourite parts of the area. People stuck near the beach and few waded over to the cave so we had it all to ourselves. We climbed up the sandy rocks and sneaked through crevices until we made it to the other side where the waves rushed and back out. There was a small cove with limestone rock formations sheltering it from oncoming boats.


When more people found the spot, we ventured up to a higher cave with a nice viewpoint of the limestone walls blue waters. The climb back left us a bit muddy and bruised, but it was worth it for the nice views of the beach. We swam a bit afterward until hunger called.


Wandering around the island, we found a little restaurant with reasonable prices and vegetarian food. Ryan had some of his favourite Pad Thai in all of Thailand and I had some green curry.


It was too muddy to climb to the viewpoint/lagoon so we just relaxed on the beach until it was time to take the ferry. Opposite the cave we actually found a neat swimming area and a pretty cool island.


The Chinese family we had climbed with this morning was still there too and the man asked us if we'd attempted even more climbing. Not so much. Our bodies were content with just the morning. Back at Ao Nang, I had an relaxing massage with lots of much needed stretching. Then Ryan and I went for supper nearby.


Posted by Sarah.M 04:08 Archived in Thailand Tagged rain cave rock climb limestone railay princess beginner Comments (0)

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