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Nam Tok waterfall and Shan Palace

Ryan was pretty excited for breakfast and feeling better today. The buffet offered a similar spread except they had rice instead of noodles and fried veggies. We though there were no pancakes until another guest commented on it and we found out they were made and available by request.

We rented bicycles, talking to a French girl doing the same. Our first stop was the Shan Palace so Ryan could hear the story as well. I enjoyed hearing Fern's story a second time. In the discussion that followed, once we were joined by people from Singapore and the Netherlands, Aung San's role was discussed. He was as a man in charge before independence. He had to seek help from the Japanese to throw out the British during the Second World War. The Japanese occupation was quite brutal so Aung San went to the British for help and joined up with the allies. He spoke with ethnic groups after the war to try and get them on board with independence. After ten years, he told them they could re-evaluate their choice and be independent.

We also discussed the current political situation which was essentially all for show. Those in charge were the same military personnel but just without uniforms. It was all an act for international investors to get off the blacklists. Politics in place forbid Aung San Suu Kyi from participating in the upcoming (March 2016) election left people having less faith in a freer Burma. Candidates like Aung San Suu Kyi can't participate because of having foreign family members, i.e. her British born sons.

We spoke of the ethnic conflict and how its existence helped justify the military recruitment and expenditure. Currently, their army was the second largest in Southeast Asia after Vietnam and they hoped to expand from 400,000 to 500,000. Opium production and underdevelopment were theories on why foreigners were barred from entering some areas of the country. Once again, it was a wonderful opportunity to sit and chat with the woman who had so much to share.

We biked over to Little Bagan, much easier to find this time. We went inside the Bamboo Buddha Monastery, Maha Nanda Kantha, to see the Bamboo Buddha this time as well.


Since neither of us was hungry after the monster breakfast, we took a short rest then continued our ride to Nam Tok waterfall. To get there, we followed highway number 3 and turned right after a bridge. The guesthouse had given us a map to help find it as well. We biked past an impressive Chinese cemetery with hundreds if not thousands of graves ranging from Burmese cement caskets to fancy Chinese shrine ones. They continued up and down the nearby hills. A few people worked on new sites as we rode by.


Just past the cemetery where the road forked again, we saw a group of foreigners including Sven and the French guy from the last waterfall we visited in Pyin Oo Lwin. The others returning from their walk said the falls were mostly dry but the walk was nice. We locked up the bikes and set down the steep trail. The other two guys decided to turn back partly there as they'd rather just rest. We continued through fields of watermelon covered in plastic, rice and the occasional water buffalo resting. Most of the path followed a stream and we went through a couple small villages with thatched roofs rest houses, animals and transportation like motorbikes.


By the time the uphill portion started again, we were burnt out and feeling the sun's destructive heat. We made it eventually to see water trickling down the tall mossy rock walls. Thank goodness we'd made it to the ones at Pyin Oo Lwin. We rested further down in a shady pond area with our sad water supply. At least the town was close enough. The walk back was harder toward the end as thirst, hunger and exhaustion took over.


After a rest and some water, we tried Pontoon Cafe but I wasn't too big on the vegetarian menu so we went to a teahouse instead, La Wun Aung. I tried samosa salad, Shan noodle soup and Ryan had fried rice. I really enjoyed my salad as it was something different but Ryan was put off by the fried dough stick we'd had as an appetizer. We didn't do much else that night except buy bananas to serve as my vegetarian meal option for our trek as another patron said there'd be mainly rice as a non-meat option.


Posted by Sarah.M 04:24 Archived in Myanmar Tagged la waterfall hot dry myanmar ñam hsipaw tok wun aung Comments (0)

Pha Taem National Park

Waterfalls and rock art

Traffic was pretty light this morning around eight. Filling the bike us with fuel cost us a whopping 60 baht ($2) so we could understand the appeal of driving these vehicles. We followed the main road/highway that we'd come in on until the 2112, and took that until the National Park entrance. Admission was 100 baht each for the day.

Sao Chaliang came up first which were giant rock pillars that had eroded to look like mushrooms. It was almost like being back in the badlands with the desert-like vegetation and impressive coloured rocks.


A bit of a walk up was a rock plateau with a significant crack/gap. It would have been quite the drop if we got caught in there. A viewpoint showed off the plains of the park and the visitor's centre. We went back down to see the mushroom rocks a bit closer once the crowds had dissipated a bit.


The visitor's centre, with an extremely rocky parking lot, was at the end of the road. We jumped off the bike to figure out which way to go to reach the walks to the historic rock art. The route to the cave paintings was not really clearly marked, but after following the crowds we got on the right track.


The path led us to impressive cliffs even without the cave paintings. They were quite tall and stood by the nearby Mekong river. Opposite the water was Laos, so we'd come pretty far East. After a bit of walking, we discovered our first cave paintings which depicted people and animals. The people had triangular heads and almost reminded us of aliens. The animals ranged from a whale to turtles and fish. The paintings were red in colour and according to the signs were 3,000 to 4,000 years old. There were some paintings of hands as well.


The next cliff had criss-crossed line paintings under one of the ledges which was a bamboo fish trap called 'blister'. The paintings were done at a significant height when the water levels must have been higher. They were part of the death rituals although there wasn't much further information to indicate why or how.


Our walk back took us along the riverside where they'd filmed part of the movie Alexander from the cliff tops. We stopped off at the restaurant across from the visitor's centre for lunch and had some fried rice that was alright.


Ryan navigated the tricky parking lot exit on the bike. The drive to Soi Sawan waterfall was thankfully smoother, 20 kilometres or so which took longer on a slower scooter. It was nice to have the wind against us to cool off.


There was a small walk to the falls. The trek down was not so bad but heading back up would be a challenge. There was a small thin stream running from the top of a rocky peak. Holes had been eroded in the rock floor at the bottom and were filled with water. Kids had fun splashing in the puddles. It was dry season but some water trickled down the falls.


To the side of one of the falls was a giant rock valley. From the smoothness of the rocks it, was pretty clear these would be another falls during wet season. We climbed around on the rocks to get some fun photos. The valley was so large we felt like ants.


There was a mini falls closer to the higher one where a river drained out the water. People were rock jumping and swimming. It would have been fun to have a bathing suit.

After the walk to the top, we decided to check out the wildflower fields. A hot, sunny walk revealed that they were sparse at best. We turned around a few kilometres in only to find that the cliffs we sought were in that direction too. We didn't have the energy to retrace those steps so we hopped back on the bike.


Next was Saeng Chan waterfall, another half hour or so away. It was easy enough to walk there from the parking lot, just a short flight of stairs. A decent amount of water ran from the stream up top. There was a small calm pool surrounded by vegetation at the bottom of the falls. Aside from the occasional shout or scream, it was quite serene. As we got closer, we could see the crescent or heart shaped hole formed by the erosion of the falls.


We went up to the falls, then behind them to climb up the cave area steps to the stream which fed the top of the falls. It was neat to see the hole and the drop but signs warned us not to get too close. Ryan joked one of us should jump to the bottom and meet the other there.


We drove back after one more visit to the bottom of the falls. Since we were fighting the clock and still needed gas, our pace was quicker than before. There was a gas station just before the main road and it only cost us 65 baht ($2.15) to fill up the tank. The hour plus drive began after that. Except for us trying to return the bike for 5:20, Ryan was really enjoyed the drive. I was just trying to sit without my legs going numb or tipping the thing over.


The bike made it back with fifteen minutes to spare. We rented it for another day then rode off to Two Colour River just down the street. This was where the Mekong and Moon rivers colours were meant to converge. The light from the setting sun obscured the colour a bit, but the sunset was beautiful too. Some visiting Thai travellers showed us Laos on the other side and asked us how our trip was going.


We had supper at a restaurant on the river and ordered a big fried rice, mixed veggie dish and Ryan had some fried chicken. It hit the spot and we enjoyed the bright gazebo decorations.


Posted by Sarah.M 19:41 Archived in Thailand Tagged art park colour thailand river waterfall national rock chan sao two pha taem chaliang saeng 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

Jiuzhaigou National Park: Beauty and Madness

semi-overcast 8 °C


The next morning, we were up early enough and since it was so cold, for China, we waited until the sun went up. As we walked down to the park, we passed several Chinese tour groups. We managed to use our students cards at the admissions office to get a great discount. It was nice considering it was mandatory to pay for the bus in addition to admission.


The bus took us all the way up to the top of the trail and played a movie in Mandarin about the park with English subtitles. Our attention was torn between that and the beautiful lakes, rivers and waterfalls on either side of us. Leaves had all fallen, hence the drastically low off-season prices, but the waters still retained vibrant colours and were abundant in nature.


Using our map, we tried to walk up to Swan Lake but a woman started yelling at us and another Chinese man who we had initially followed. They hadn't posted anything in English or in pictures and there was nothing clearly marking it off. How were we to know?


Instead, we joined the hoards of Chinese tourists walking down the narrow wooden walkways across Arrow Bamboo Lake. The walkways were scarcely wide enough to accommodate those who wanted to marvel at nature along with those who needed a picture to prove they had been there every five to ten feet. We didn't know what they'd ever do with so many pictures of themselves.


We could understand why they wanted to be in at least one photo. To the North sat beautiful snow-capped mountains. The lake was quite calm and almost glass-like in appearance. The water stayed so cold that logs that fell in couldn't decompose due to lack of bacteria. We could see them sitting beneath the surface through the clear water.

The walkway reached the opposite site of the lake and to our good fortune, the masses of people thinned out. The ones who were still there had a similar walk the park goal to us so we all could move, occasionally stopping for stunning photos.


The lake grew more greeny-blue as we walked toward Panda Falls: a moderately slippery area due to the moisture and droplets partially freezing on the boardwalks. The falls spanned quite far and we walked a few different boardwalks with care to see them. We posed for a few pictures with Chinese tourists as well which was fun. The walk did get slowed a fair bit by people constantly stopping to take their selfies with or without the strange selfie sticks.


At that point, our walk came to an end as the park staff had barricaded the next path and we were forced to line up and hop on one of the buses. It was because of fire prevention. Apparently people couldn't control their smoking habits. On a weekend with thousands in the park, boarding buses wasn't the easiest task. We made it on the second cramped bus to my surprise and jumped off as soon as they'd let us.


We visited Five Flower Lake, which featured different tones of blue and green in its water. Most of the lakes in the park were quite shallow, maybe five meters deep, fluctuating with the seasons. We found a nice quiet spot to sit and enjoy the rest of our Guilin pomelo instead of all the instant snacks and meals for sale. The hot water poured in the instant noodle soups and coffees did make our cold hands and feet envious though.

Our walk continued past Golden Bell Lake and to the remarkable Pearl Waterfalls. Initially, we crossed to the opposite side and went down a pretty relaxed staircase positively excited at the lack of tourists. Then we saw the sign for waterfalls on the opposite side of the river and soon found out that people had sought out the better view. There was still no complaining on either side though as every angle was remarkable.


We followed the signs and were blown away by the tall and wide waterfalls along the whole walkway. Green moss gleamed in the sun. The park had a platform and tourist area at the most impressive section so we took another snack break there.

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The path got cut off again just before Mirror Lake. People were far less civilized at this stop, pushing like mad in the lines. Our backpacks got pulled and stuck as everyone tried to vie for a spot. Other people thought they could push everyone aside. Elbows were required just to stand your ground. I feared for the poor small children who could easily be hurt in the madness. Some parents had sat them on their shoulders. Ryan commented that cattle were better behaved than this group. We tried to understand that in a society where there were so many people, you did have to fight for resources and to get what you wanted, but this was too far. Our spirits weren't so high after that ride.

We got off the bus at a transfer point and after some closed off paths, souvenir shops and nearly giving up, we found Nuorilang Falls, smaller than the last but still impressive. They were a bit more chill in relation to tourist numbers. We kept going to Rhinoceros and Tiger Lakes, and past Shuzheng Falls to find more blocked off paths.


We finished off with Shuzheng Stockade, an empty Tibetan village converted into tourist gift shops. They sold a lot of yak meat and products along with the standard tourist fare. They had a temple with cylinders that people spun for good luck and many stupas. There were also colourful flags hanging near the mountain backdrop.


We caught the bus back with familiar pandemonium. At least there was a staff member or two there to manage it this time. As it drove the path back to the entrance, we saw a nice long uninterrupted walking path out the window, but we were to tired and frustrated with the whole bus ordeal to want to get off and risk fighting the crowds again. We'd also seen a lot of lakes and waterfalls that day. It was time for a rest.


For supper, we found a local restaurant with a menu quite similar to yesterday's. I came armed with my Mandarin book to avoid having to pick meat out of my food again. We had potatoes and cold fungus, which was actually much tastier than it sounded. The mushrooms out there were rich in flavour although the texture reminded me of a jellyfish.

Posted by Sarah.M 16:42 Archived in China Tagged bridges lake china crowds waterfall sichuan jiuzhaigou Comments (0)

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