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Day Two Tungsan to Hsipaw trek

The night was warmer than we had anticipated. We'd brought toques, sweaters and scarves just in case, though the sweater was still necessary. Not many people woke up in time for the 7:30 breakfast so it was pushed to eight to Kham Lu's dismay. Breakfast was filling and again had no meat. We ate a thick veggie omelette, fried fern, lentil, beans and a potato daal dish.

We passed a few schools on our walk out of the village as well as some horses carrying wood up the hill.

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As promised, we only went uphill for a little while through some areas which saw less deforestation than yesterday. There wasn't an access road yet so it had some beautiful views. Tea plantations caused a lot of the tree clearing. Kham Lu saw the climate changing a bit as a result, like rain in dry season, and suspected that it would continue to change. One man was cutting logs by hand yesterday and would do so all day. He would only be paid by the builder once he was finished.

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We made it out of the nice forested area and down to the valley which almost felt like a desert. We had some tea, snacks and bought expensive water at a little shop. There were more personal photos at religious sites as well as photos of baby twins. The walk back without shade continued until a large truck passed us. It stopped and Kham Lu asked if we wanted to board. Since it was free, we did, clinging onto the metal bars around the sides of the box. It was fun at first to balance while standing and enjoy the passing scenery, but the constant fight to stay upright and oil fumes that were leaking in got to me. My headaches grew with every bump and shake. Ryan asked for me if we could get off and to my luck we had to stop anyway to let other trucks go by and hopped off.

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We walked the rest of the way back. Earlier we'd been talking about the Netherlands including its beauty and biodiversity. Three hours was a really long journey for them travelling to university North fomr the South. We also compared notes on tipping and taxes in both countries. Taxes were included in their prices and they didn't have the distinction on fresh or processed food taxes, although they may introduce it in the future to promote healthier living. We shared about Canada's size, diversity and how a three hour trip was almost a requirement to get anywhere from our part of the country. We also talked a bit about residential schools and out not so pretty past, also the differences between us and the states. They had noticed that most Americans took shorter trips and tended to volunteer. We attributed our long trips to winter escapism.

For lunch, we had Shan noodle soup. To the others' delight, there was finally a meat option with the veggie option for myself as well. It was quite tasty and the noodles had a slightly sticky characteristic that the ones at the tea shop had as well.

The tuktuk picked us up from there and we rode back to town. Kham Lu talked about these sticky rice and palm sugar treats that the Dutch women had tried a version of in Vietnam and loved. We said our goodbyes and went to relax in the room.

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Ryan and I rested until supper where our aching bodies made the journey to San for more barbequed okra, potato and Ryan's not so appetizing chicken stuffed with vegetable. We went to the corner that Kham Lu pointed out for a purple dessert patties. The woman steamed them with palm sugar and wrapped them in a bamboo leaf. We also got two green ones with nuts that the lady in front of us was buying. 3 pieces for 300 kyat or 30 cents.

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Back at Lily guesthouse, we asked what exactly we'd bought and the young lady laughed. It was a sticky rice dessert well known to the area. They may have been described in our guidebook as well.

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Posted by Sarah.M 06:18 Archived in Myanmar Tagged trek san school hike hot truck dessert hsipaw tungsan deforestation Comments (0)

Green Christmas in Koh Tao

sunny 29 °C

In the morning, we did our little scavenger hunt. My clues were bit less cryptic than Ryan's so he had to help out with a few and grab the one that really got wedged in the light/keycard socket where I had been looking but couldn't find it. His gift was a set of drawing pencils and a sour candy and mine was a pack of coconut banana rolls, mango candy and popcorn.

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Since it was Christmas, we went to our favourite breakfast spot to treat ourselves to the big breakfast sets. The vegetarian one had beans, hash browns, toast, egg and a very oniony grilled veggie along with tea and orange juice. No room for cinnamon rolls. Ryan had a similar set but with meat in place of beans and veggies.

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On our way back, we stopped at the front desk. I was sure they were gearing up to reset the wifi since we were constantly asking about it, but instead we asked them to take our picture by their Christmas tree.

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We figured out a beach to visit up near Saiwee beach on the east coast this time. I brought sport sandals just in case we ran into island hills, which we did. The signage was poor for the roads. We passed a Thai boxing arena and Saiwee beach until we did find a sign indicating that we were at the farther beach we hadn't intended to visit, again. This was getting familiar, but we thought ah well, we'd check out Laem Thian beach anyway, known to be quiet.

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The hike soon turned challenging as we passed construction on a new resort and more signs to tell us that this road was also dangerous for inexperienced motorcyclists. The uphill trek began and we checked our not so full water bottle. If the resort area was anything like the last one, we could get some overpriced water there. Along the way we passed a man's home, a jogger, flowered trees, and old homes. But most of the trail down followed a waterline, reassuring us that there'd be some kind of development at the end, be it a shop or a hotel.

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The crashing of the ocean's waves grew stronger and the blue water would peek through the trees, leading us onto another hilly path. We came across a tall concrete building with loiterer's debris and smashed windows. Ryan joked we should climb it for a view but I was cautious of squatters.
The other stairs led down to the other section of the shabby resort that we later found out had been abandoned in 2011. Mainly English graffiti and the liquor bottles confirmed this was a party site, not somebody's temporary home. We avoided broken glass from windows and bottles as we walked.

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We sat on the tiny tip of beach and the cement ledge. The waves crashed in, too strong to swim or stand leisurely up to our knees. We welcomed the break, though we had trouble seeing why this would be ideal resort territory.

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Next, we went exploring a bit, up the two flights of stairs to the roof with a nice view. We were at the tip of the island with ocean to our left and right. The wind tunneled through and we couldn't help but think what a nightmare the place would be during a storm. Perhaps an accident or big storm closed down their business. It was always eerie to see things frozen in time, the signs still up and a few beds still around in the busted rooms.

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We walked back using our limited energy and water. There were some birds and small animals, lots of butterflies too. Parched at the bottom of the hill, we sought out shakes at a nearby restaurant. The ladyboy working took our order: a coconut shake for Ryan and mango for me. They weren't the greatest ones we'd had, but boy did we need them and the fan they turned on for us, operating at top speed. We topped up our water supply nearby and explored Saiwee beach area a bit. Most of the same shops were here like in our area, including Zest, but here was bigger and had far more tourists.

For lunch, we stopped at The Hippo as Ryan had been quoting Along Came Polly since we'd started diving. He had even wanted to get the French instructor so he could get him to say 'Rueben, are you for scuba?', but sadly it never happened. He could be 'happy as the hippo' with his generous portion of pad thai. I had a veggie burger that had my mouth watering since I read about it and enjoyed every bite. We rolled ourselves out of there and back to the familiar Mae Haad area. Our plans to visit a real beach got scrapped by our desire to rest out of the sun.

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Come supper hour, we still had minimal appetites. We wandered the streets indecisively for a bit before going to see a Thai acoustic band Fah Mai. We could only see half the musicians from our position at the back couch. At the same venue we'd ate at yesterday, they'd expanded the temporary steel walls and were cutting up vinyl table clothes during the show. The group's sound was good, like folk fest meets folklorama vibe. All the lyrics were in Thai. Overall, it had been a Christmas that would be hard to forget.

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Posted by Sarah.M 22:21 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach waves music christmas band resort hike thai koh_tao abandoned Comments (0)

Christmas Eve, Koh Tao

During a relaxing morning, we treated ourselves to a full breakfast at our quick favourite cafe Zest. We had cinnamon buns, a spinach omelette and Ryan had another pepper ham sandwich. We've become regulars around there. They even gave us a Christmas gift from the friendly Thai owner, a cute bag of cookies.

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Our next mission was to find a beach on the South side of the island with calmer waters. The roads weren't the greatest for walking with steady traffic and no sidewalk. There were hills too, not too bad until we reached closer. A map would have been handy as the signage was pretty minimal. Finally we saw a sign that said Haad Sai Daeng beach. It was further than we intended but there was no use backtracking. We climbed past the palm trees in our poor footwear. Not a good day for flip flops. At the summit, there was a tower with a view of Shark Island. The slope down was quite steep and not recommended for vehicles.

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The beach was a decent trek down and fairly small, overtaken by two resorts. Given the crazy road, the beaches weren't too hopping. Our stomachs begged to be taken care of first so we went to the resort and got pricey Cokes, a fried rice dish and a burger that actually filled Ryan up for once as it came with fries. Looking back it seemed cheap, but when your head is working in local currency it's two to three times the price of a regular meal.

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Next, we set our sights on finding a place on the beach where the brazen waters wouldn't soak our stuff. I had some fun photographing the waves before the sunscreen set it. We stood in the warm waters as the waves crashed in, watching the small cove, the island, the few brave swimmers and our bags until my legs started to get funny jolts in my nerves, not bites mind you, but we left all the same. Maybe muscle exhaustion from scuba and the hike, hopefully not jellyfish. We had no problem lazing on the beach after that. It clouded over a bit to offer us some relief.

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Before we left, we wandered to the opposite side of the small beach to find the other resort. The hike up wasn't as bad as we thought it would be and we got to enjoy the coconut trees.

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For supper, after our hour plus walk, we tried to go to the kebab place which was closed and instead went to Bro and Sis to watch some live music by a foreign man named Simon. He covered Johnny Cash, Passenger, Kings of Leon and had a pretty good voice. The atmosphere was neat too with a balcony and pillow seats overlooking the dark ocean and an open warehouse concept complete with cement floors and metal walls inside, though that could have been because they were doing renovations nearby to expand. From nearby Sairee beach, we could see all the party lights.

To celebrate Christmas, Ryan and I did a 50 baht ($1.60) gift exchange based on items we could find in 7-11. We'd turn it into a scavenger hunt by writing up clues and hiding the gifts around the hotel room.

Posted by Sarah.M 17:14 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach waves christmas hike koh_tao Comments (0)

Tour through Khao Sok

semi-overcast 29 °C

Even with our tricky mosquito net that didn't like night time bathroom runs, we didn't get eaten by the bugs. Our wake up calls came from gibbons, birds, and Ryan's favourite, the cicada squeal. He probably still cringes thinking about it. Breakfast was pretty relaxed with only a few people ordering and we managed to chat with Mr. Bao, the owner, and book the overnight lake tour. His absence yesterday was explained by the fact that he owned three business and they kept him on his toes.

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We ventured to Jungle Huts guesthouse where our solo tour departed a touch late. They were nice enough to drive us to the gate. Our guide, Beer, welcomed us and made sure we bought our admission tickets. Then we went through the check-points to enter the park. We felt very tracked and it was odd.

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The first part of the trail was a wide road with red dirt. Beer pointed out monkeys, flying squirrels and even a chameleon. We ventured into a more trail-like path soon after. We stopped quite frequently at viewpoints or to take a break even though we weren't tired. These seemed to be smoke breaks for the guides.

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The waterfalls we saw were more like rapids in each spot that we visited. At least the water was clear and turquoise so it offered some natural beauty. I still didn't want to swim until we made more progress on the trial walk.

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On one of our many breaks, other guides called out to the monkeys and offered them bananas to their hiker's delight. Many gray primates came over, even a mother with a small black baby clutched to her abdomen. They followed those guides afterward for awhile. We, Beer included, kept our distance. Beer shared in the opinion that feeding them only led to dependence and trouble. Afterwards we stopped for an early lunch.

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At the fifth viewpoint, Beer had us cross a river in a sketchy way only to have another guide tell him not to go that way because of the water levels. As I struggled to make it back across the river, our guide decided it was a good time for a cigarette, probably to make up for all of those times we'd declined a break. The Thai rational for the mandatory guide was to make the experience safer. I wouldn't have tried to cross the river on my own, and Ryan was the only reason I made it back across. I was get more disillusioned by the guided experience.

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The path to view the sixth area was covered in leeches that sat on the ground like inchworms with teeth, ready to pounce. My choice to wear sandals wasn't the brightest. I had to keep stopped to pluck them off my feet and would lose the group. When we finally arrived, I had two spots bleeding quite a lot. I washed them up while swimming near some neat caves. Ryan helped me patch up my foot. His shoes had been a much better barrier. By the time we made our way back to the entrance, I had picked up five more leeches. We also saw a centipede on the slippery ground.

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For supper, we found a restaurant with good vegetarian and lacto-ovo options. We shared a massaman curry and sweet and sour tofu, which were both pretty good. When we got back and talked to Mr. Bao, he confirmed there would be enough participants to run the lake tour we wanted to postpone a night. Tomorrow would be a nice relaxing day for our bodies and wallets. Never hurt to rest in a beautiful place.

The following morning, just as we finished our tasty French toast and were about to sort out our arrangements for diving and research for the rest of our Thailand trip, the power went out. There went most of our plans for the day and the reason to postpone the lake trip. Shortly after, a man on a motorbike came by and confirmed that power was out around the whole town and probably wouldn't be up and running until later tonight.

The day passed by leisurely, reading, writing, relaxing in our little cabin. It was nice to have a balcony and the breeze since the fan wasn't working. We wandered a bit into town and found that the vegetarian restaurant was one of the few still open. With power out, many couldn't keep the fridges going. Exploring took up a bit more time, although Ryan was dismayed to learn fruit shakes couldn't be made and blended without power.

In the evening, the power came back, we got our dive booking sorted and went next door to eat since they had a Thailand Lonely Planet, something we'd be needing to figure out what sections I hadn't yet seen as Ryan wanted sights to be new for me too. That would be the biggest challenge. By the end of the night, we found a few sights in the Northeast that would be interesting to visit and might fill up the next couple of weeks: volcano temples linked to those in Cambodia, but on the Thai side since the Khmer empire stretched that far.

Posted by Sarah.M 23:17 Archived in Thailand Tagged monkey thailand waterfall hike national_park khao_sok Comments (0)

Day two at the Longji rice terraces

semi-overcast 18 °C

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Our second day at Longji we woke up early to take on a 4 hour hike to the JinKeng rice terraces. After light breakfast at the hostel, we took a look at our not so detailed map and headed out. We had to climb back up to the Nine Dragons and Five Tigers view point to get to the hiking trail, but the views were so amazing we really didn’t mind. While climbing, we saw some more village dogs exploring the terraces, and one decided to be our guide up the hiking trail. Whenever we were taking too long to catch up or stopping for some oranges, he would run back to investigate what was taking us so long.

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After about an hour of hiking uphill we came across a sign assuring that our little tour guide “Buddy” was leading us in the right direction. We passed a cemetery shortly after with large brightly colored flower wreaths lying atop large stone tombstones. Buddy decided to go jump around some tall grass, chasing birds and what not. We stayed along the path occasionally passing some local farmers who use the paths to get to one field to the other. After about 10 minutes of walking we could hear Buddy barking, looking for us. We kept going hoping he would catch up but he never did.

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Following the narrow winding path, we made it to a clearing where a local woman lured us up a hill for a good view by her pig barn. She was member of the Yao cultural group, where the women are known for having very long hair. She wanted us to pay for her to let hair down so we could take a photo. We declined and quickly kept walking.

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The closer we got to the Village DaZhai, the more pushy hawkers we would come across. Many signs to the terraces seemed to be missing and locals were of little help except trying to get us to eat at their restaurants. Fed up, and hungry we turned around and stated making our way back to Ping’an. The menu we checked had been all in Chinese, little help when Sarah needed vegetarian food.
As we were leaving, we got another tag along dog, “Buddy 2”. We were quite creative when it came to naming rice terrace dogs. The way back was quite a bit easier as it was mostly downhill, letting us enjoy the scenery. Buddy 2 followed us all the way back to Ping’An, quite a feat, considering it took the better part of 2 hours to hike.

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It seemed every time we tried to make our way back to our hostel we would get lost in the village’s complicated streets. Once we finally found our way we ran into a fellow Canadian who was also getting lost in the complex village. We pointed him in the direction of the hostel and would have a early supper with him. He was from B.C. and skipping a Canadian winter for ninth straight year. He was also eager to tell us, and all the other hostel patrons about his blog.

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After supper, we headed back up to the top of the hill to enjoy a sunset over the rice terraces. It was quite the sight.

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-Ryan

Posted by Sarah.M 16:19 Archived in China Tagged rice dogs hike terrace Comments (0)

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