goodbye myanmar

yesterday i spent almost the whole day on a bus. 17 hour bus ride. ouch. luckily, the buses here are decent and they dont pack them insanely full. one person to a seat. but, despite decent buses, the roads are utter shite, which makes the trips miserable. we go slow. painfully slow. a 50 mile trip will often take 2 or more hours. the roads are often very twisty as well, and there is often the fear that we will tip over and fall off a cliff. in fact, we twist so much that people get sick. all the time. sometimes the sound of people throwing up continues for the whole bus ride. plus, sometimes random processions of people block the roads and the bus just has to sit there and wait. this happened yesterday. we sat fo a long time. i finally asked the guy next to me if he knew what was going on.

“ceremony for monk. the novice will go to monestary to be monk.”

“ah, i see”

“he is taken by elephant”


i strain forward to see past all the other people on the bus and sure enough, there’s a huge elephant wandering about on the road w/ a monk on top of it. i guess i should always expect the unexpected here.

eventually, 6am the next morning i arrived in yangon. exhausted. sleep for a few hours. i wake up and it’s totally cloudy… yet still incredibly hot. eventually it rains. i eat food from the same streetstall where i ate my first meal in myanmar. mmmmm, still as good as i remember it!

spent the rest of the day not doing much. just wandering about. surprisignly for being a capital city, yangon is really nice. unfortunately, today is my last day here and tomorrow i fly to bangkok.

and for those of you who wanted to see the longyi…


the hills

trekking in 95 degree weather? 1002 stupid things to do.

a couple days ago i arrived in Kalaw, a small town up in the hills of shan state. the town has very few people, long wide streets, and is really chill. people here play their guitars and sing everynight, which definitely adds to the atmosphere when you’re awake but is a bit frustrating when all you want to do is sleep. there’s really not that much to do in town though, and it’s main draw is that you can go trekking in the hills around it and see the various hill tribes that live nearby.

i had a trekking guide recommended to me, so when i got to town i signed up for a 2 day trekk. it kinda sucked that i was gonna do the trekk alone w/ just the guide, but then luckily i met this french girl, sophie, from london who decided to join up w/ me. the following day we left around 8am, bringing just a few necessities and a little water.

our guide ended up being really good. this guy knew *everything*. he told us all sorts of things about the various hill tribes that live in the region, the different types of trees and flowers, the history, how different types of crops are harvested etc etc. the amount of information this guy had was never ending! the walk itself was really interesting. we walked past huge rice terraces w/ farmers harvesting them. we walked through small villages and watched old women sort tea leaves and process them. we wandered by groups of people hauling huge bags of vegetables precariously balanced on their heads.

there was lots of beautiful scenery and great landscapes, but the most interesting thing of course was the people. alot of these tribes live in “long houses” which is exactly what you’d think it would be.. a house that is extremely long. usually around 7 or 8 families (like 50 people) would live in one of these houses. the house doesn’t have any rooms or divisions of any kind, it’s basically just one extra long room, so privacy is nonexistant. it was really interesting to wander around and see how everyone lives there.

the people out in the hills were incredibly friendly. as we walked by, everyone would wave to us and yell “hello”. little kids would always come running out to greet us and look at us with curiousity. we were out far from town, so a lot of these people didnt speak any english at all, but it was still fun to try to interact w/ them.

the main problem of the trekk though was the heat. it was soooo hot. if i was in town during this weather, i would have just hid in my room w/ the fan on, but here we had no choice, we had to keep walking… uphill. we were constantly sweating like crazy and hiking was absolutely exhausting. initially i had wanted to do a 3 day trekk, but due to lack of time, i had to settle for 2 days. now i was glad that i only had signed up for 2… in fact i was almost wishing i had only signed up for 1 day!

eventually, after hours and hours of hiking, we reached where we would be staying the night. we stayed w/ this incredibly nice family. they made us food which was really good, and their young children even put on a little performance for us w/ singing and dancing.

the next day, we continued the rest of the loop to get back to kalaw. it was a little less hot today so hiking was much easier. there was lots of cool stuff to see that day too. we saw little kids riding water buffalo, we hung out w/ some monks in a monastery, we saw some tiny insects that looked like flowers, we saw garlic and tulips being grown, and some other stuff. we finaly arrived back in town at night completely drained and exhausted. it had been a fun two days, but next time, i doubt i’ll be signing up for any trekks in this kind of weather!!

not flowers.. insects!!


inle lake


inle lake is definitely considered to be a must-see while in myanmar. it’s a large lake in Shan state, the easternmost state. the Shan are one of myanmar’s ethnic minority groups and are closely related to the thai people. one of the nice things about this state is that it is up in the mountains so in general it is much less hot than central myanmar. less hot… but still hot!

after recovering from last night’s bus ride, i decided that i wouldnt push myself too hard today. i’d just relax, check out the riverside, and leave exploring the lake for tomorrow. on the way to get some food, i set up a boat tour for the next day. at the restaurant, the food wasn’t good. the flavor was ok, bt the chicken here is usually really sketchy.. bits of bone, fat, skin, you name it. i got a lime juice that tasted awful too. at least i had coffee. coffee here usually comes from a 3-in-1 packet (coffee, cream,sugar). i took a few sips, and then *crunch*. great, looks like some of the packet hadn’t dissolved yet. *crunch* *crunch*. uh-oh. something definitely wasn’t right. the crunch was too spungey to be coffee crystals. i put my fingers in my mouth and pull out a huge disfigured housefly. UGH. i was so disgusted. no matter how hard i tried, i couldnt get that filthy crunch out of my head.

as i walked down the street, i waived to the german guy who i had seen on the bus the other night, then realizing that a long lonely boat ride awaited me the next day, i turned around. the german guy, Florin, said he’d come w/ me the following day and also brought along a canadian guy name Gilles. we spent the rest of the afternoon kicking it at a teashop, drinking beer, and chattng about our travels etc. i had a good time… most of my hanging out in myanmar was done w/ locals, which is awesome, but it’s nice to just kick it and talk to other travelers too. both of these guys were traveling for lng periods of time, and as usual it strcuk me just how often i saw people like this. in america, you can hardly find anybody who travels for more than a month, but elsewhere it’s not that uncommon. it’s always nice to be reminded that there are other people out there who hadve a passion for travel and you aren’t the only crazy one to drop your job and take off for so long.

for dinner we went to this place called 4 sisters restaurant. the food actuially was pretty good, and it was all you can eat. plus, it was pay as you like. of course, that makes matters a bit difficuklt. how much should we pay?

i tossed and turned and couldnt sleep all night. it was too hot and my room had no fan since the hotel staff had assured me it wouldnt be hot. i had to get up at 7 am the next morning, yet when i last looked at my watch it was 3:30 and i was still up. *sigh*


i barely made it out of bed. wanted to cancel the boat, but decided i would regret it. even coffee (that i carefully checked for flies) barely made a dent in the haze. eventually, the 3 of us and a canadian girl made our way to the boat. the boat looks like a super long canoe with a motor in the back. as soon as we pulled away from the dock, al my frustartions about sleep dropped away. there’s nothing like whizing along in a boat, feeling the wind and occasional splash rush by you. so nice. we breezed along the canal and eventually made it into the lake.

the lake was huge!! i couldnt believe it. the thing that sets this lake apart from other lakes, is that the local people here live on it. not near it, but on it in houses on stilts. there are several small villages in different parts of the lake where small communities of people live in these above water homes. everything they do is actually on the lake. even their gardening. they have these huge floating gardens where they grow tomatos, onions, flowers, and other crops. it’s amazing to see these gardens, rows and rows of different plants, neatly aligned w/ canals of space between them for boats to pass… and it’s all floating!

the people also have floating markets on the lake. once ever several days, everyone gathers in this one spot in their boats and sell stuff. small canoes full of herbs, pots, and whatever float around, while shoppers float up in their own boats to buy. it’s pretty crazy… except that lately this market has been completely messed up by tourism. as we boated up to the market, all of a sudden women from boats next to us, grapples their arms to the sides of our boat. our boat swam on, but pulled the other boats since the women wouldnt let go of our boat. it was seriously like a pirate attack or something… except they weren’t pirates, these people sold souveniers. we said no a bunch of times, and as we ditched those canoes, more canoes grabbed on. it was like a feeding frenzy!! looking around, the floating market had more tourists boats and souvenier selling boats than actual market baots. it was pretty sad and all of us just wanted to get out of there.

crusing around the lake, we saw many fishermen who were fishing. theunique thing about fisherman here is the way that they row. instead of using their arms, they stand at the front of the boat, and row by wrapping one leg around the oar. it’s a really amazing sight to see. being out on the lake was so nice and peaceful. it was so fun just crusing around, watching the water, watching dragonflies zip around after the boat, and see the bizarre seaweed formations below us.

it’s not only homes that are built on stilts on the lake. there are also some guesthouses, restaurants, and all sorts of shops. we were taken to see how silk is weaved, how paper is made, to a blacksmith shop, a paper umbrella shop, a silversmith shop, a cheroot (burmese cigar) shop, and some other places. everone at these places was pretty chill and there wasn’t much pressure to buy which was nice. eventully we stopped for food. found out that the canadian girl with us had never eaten meat. *never*!! i couldnt believe it. i mean, i’ve known tons of vegetarians, but all of them had only becoe vegetarian at some point in their life. it’s crazy to think this girl has never even tried meat of any kind!

after lunch we cruised about some more. as we would go by houses, little kids and adults both would call out “hello” and wave to us. it still surprises me just how many people here will say hello to you. you dont realy see that elsewhwere, but here almsot everyonme is constantly smiling at you and even waving. the people of myanmar are just so great.. i cant say enough good things about them. in other countries, if someone tries to et you to buy something and you refuse, the person will usually scowl at you or just walk off… but here, they will still smile at you, or make jokes w/ you. you taek your business elsewhere.. no problem.. no one gets mad. unbelievable.

afterwards we saw some pagodas that were on stilts, and then a monastery. the monasterty was called “jumping cat” monastery, and the abbot there had taught about a dozen cats to jump through hoops. it was funny to see these cats all jumping, but kinda sad too as they didnt really seem to enjoy it. eventually, it was time to turn back. we cruised back alog the lake, watching little kids swim around, women wash clothes, and fisherman continue their endless search for fish. as we neared the end, i saw a ton of water buffalo swimming around! i ahd seen so many water buffalo on this trip, but always on lnad, never in the water. it was so funny to see such a huge bulky animal swimming around. the even dive down below the water!!

water buffalo


myanmar day 10, 11, and 12


as usual, i have to wake up early today to get to a new city. it seems like half my time here is spent waking up early, rushing to catch boats, buses, rickshaws etc. it’s starting to get exhausting and i’d love a decent night’s sleep. but i only have a measily 18 days in this country. gotta make the most of it.

this girl megan had written me *6 pages* of advice on what to see in myanmar, and one of the places she highly reccomended checking out was this small town called Monywa. it wasn’t much hyped in lonely planet, so i most definitely wouldnt have ended up going there if it hadn’t been for the suggestion, so i was lucky to get a chance to see it. by the way, if anybody wants to read an interesting blog w/ *great* photos (not like the crappy blurry stuff i shoot), you should check out Megan’s blog.

the first part of the trip was by boat, and we trudged along the now familiar ayerwady river. after several hours by boat, i had to change to a bus. the guy tried to charge me for 2 seats, saying that i can put my pack on one seat and sit on the other. are you kidding me? we argued back and forth for almost 10 minutes until he finally let me buy just one seat. i think this guy was too much liking ripping off foreigners. i asked to use the toilet. as he showed me the way, he muttered something about me having to pay 200 kyat for it! WHAT? to use an outhouse?? i’ve never heard of such a thing in myanmar, but i had to go so i decided to pay. when i came out, he now said i had to pay 500 kyat instead of the 200. i was gonna argue, but then i just decided to pay up. 500 kyat aint much, just 50 cents, but it’s the principle of the matter.. especially when my bus ticket only cost 600 kyat.

the bus ride wasn’t too eventful, but the bus was completely packed, and my back was hurting like crazy. i ended up being really glad that i had talked the bus guy into only selling me one seat. the bus was completely full, so full that people were sitting on the floor. i woud have felt like a total loser, chilling there taking up two seats while people sat on the floor. i got to town, totally exhausted. it had been a long last several days and i hadnt had a good night’s rest in a while. i decided to not see anything till the following day. all i wanted tonight was to post some stuff online and then go back to my hotel room. i even paid extra to get a room w/ a tv. internet, shower, tv.. that’s all i could think of.

after eating, i set out to find a internet place. an old man said he knew where one was. he walked w/ me down a road for what seemed like forever. oops, that place didnt exist anymore. we walked back through town for a long time in the other direction. just another reminder of how nice people here are. this old man, with absolutely nothing to gain, spent a bunch of his time, and a lot of walking, just to show me where this place was. i was very appreciative. just my luck though, the place was supposed to close at 9, but closed early today, so no net for me. i was really frustrated. i hadnt been able to get online for days, and now i would have to wait more. oh well.. at least i could go back and watch tv, right? wrong. the tv received only 3 channels. 2 of them were blurry. all of them were in burmese and boring as hell. if i had known that, there is no way i would have gotten the room. i went to bed frustrated at how the day had turned out.


the main thing to see in monywa was thanboddhay paya. it’s a huge temple just a little out of town. the design of this temple is totally crazy, way different than anything i’ve seen here. all the colors are really bright and flourescent, and there are tons of random little statues of people etc all over. it almost made me feel like i was in disneyland on the “its a small world” ride. but it gets even more interesting the whole place, inside and out, is filled w/ tiny little buddha sculptures. these things are really small, only like an inch or two high, and they’re *everywhere*. the pillars have the tiny statues all along them, the walls do too, all the way up to the ceiling. it was so trippy walking through the place being surrounded by a miniature army of buddhas.

the bright colored outside of the pagoda… all those little white dots are buddha statues

funny statues

inside.. see all the statues in this room and the next?


after that, i went to this other place nearby where yet another army of buddhas was waiting for me. this army was life-sized, and there were rows and rows and rows of these life-sized sitting buddha figures. the figures came in different styles, some looked like they were frozen in stone while others looked more realistic. in the middle of all this, there stands a huge tower. you go inside and take this winding staircase up to the top. from the top you can look down on the field of buddhas below. it’s quite a sight! also, if you look out in the distance, you see the biggest reclining buddha you could ever imagine. this thing is ginormous. the book says it’s *90 meters* long. 90! basically, this buddha is the length of a football field. amazing.

there were other small pagodas etc around that i walked around to. the sun was scorching, and it was painful to walk on the blazing cement (you cant wear shoes at the pagodas). as i walked, i acquired a small army of children who started following me. first there was one, then two, and the numbers slowly grew. their initial intent was to sell me some postcards, but when i said no, they spent the rest of the time just walking around w/ me and pointing out stuff. little kids are so funny here. i’m not normally a big fan of little kids, but i can deal w/ these ones!

the army of buddha statues

90 meter buddha!

eventually, it was time for me to leave monywa. in the end, i only had like half a day to see stuff there. i took the bus to mandalay. i had decided to cut mandalay out of my trip since i just didnt have enough time for it. but there was no direct way from monywa to where i wanted to go, so i would have to spend the night there.

when i got there i was starving. i thought about giving burmese food a shot, but just couldnt bring myself to do it. i knew i would have to get western food. my trishaw driver reommended a place but warned it might be quite expensive. i couldnt care less. i just wanted something tasty and not too weird. the “expensive” prices were like 3 or 4 bucks an entree.. heh, wouldnt break the bank. they had “steak n’ mushrooms” on the menu, which to my surprise had steak, mushrooms, and even a little letter “N” cut out of toast. it was so gooooood. i had been dying for some nice food, and this tasted like the best steak i’ve ever eaten (i’m sure it wasn’t). even though the restaurant wasn’t too pricey, it had a pricey vibe. the waiters pulled out your chair. they put a napking in your lap. etc etc. i looked around the room and noticed that a lot of people there were well dressed. a couple even had cellphones. this must be where the elite hang out. as i walked out of the place, i noticed lexus and mercedes parked out front. so bizarre. what an alternate reality to everythng i had seen in this country. people are living in bamboo $200 dollar houses and can barely afford gas for their tiny scooters, while some fat cats here drive a lexus and chat on their cellphones (i later found out a cellphone here costs 1,200$!). it just seems so grossly unfair that some people have it so good while others barely have enough to live. i guess that’s the way it is everywhere, but the differences between the haves and have-nots here seem much more pronounced.


i had barely half a day to spend in mandalay. i was feelling lazy though, so i didnt bother to see any of the sights. instead, i grabbed a rickshaw and headed for the Moustache brothers. they are a performance troup that is highly reccomended by LP and i was hoping to see them perform. of course, they only perform at night, so going there in the middle of the day was a waste of time. but, i met the youngest brother, who oddly enough has no moustache. he was so nice!! just seemed like the freindliest guy. after talking for a bit, i ended up buying a cd of theirs, so looks like i’ll eventually see their performance after all. he urged me to come back to mandalay later to see them perform, but i doubted it would happen.

riding around mandalay, i finally came to terms w/ this whole trishaw thing. a trishaw is basically a bike rickshaw, but instead of in india where you sit behind the driver, here there is a side car. ever since i’ve know about these rickshaws, i’ve loathed taking them. i just feel horrible. how could i let some dude haul me along on his bike? it just seemed so shitty for him to be straining and biking in the million degree weather while i sat there. for that reason, i’ve always tried to avoid these things, but as of today, i dont care. driving a trishaw is his job. that’s how he earns a living. if he sees no problem w/ it, why should i?? who am i to decide that his job is undesirable, and how would i really be helping him by not giving him business? rickshaws are an accepted form of transport here, and there’s nothng demeaning about driving one, so why should i impose my own perceptions on it?

that night i took a bus to inle lake. it was a long exhausting 13 hour bus ride. the bus had AC, but for reasons unknow, they had it turned off the whole way. so it was painfully hot. i was in the back row, w/ no window. my seat didnt recline. the guy next to me slept the whole way w/ his head on my shoulder. the deepness of his sleep was astounding. i would elbow him, shove him, push *really* hard.. but he just wouldnt wake up!! eventually i gave up. ugh.


sightseeing in bagan once again

i woke up early the next morning, still sleepy, but feeling a bit better. the two brothers greeted me at the door of my hotel. naing naing had evenutally made it back home late the previous night. we rented some bikes and went out to go look at temples. even though i had thought i had seen enough of temples, i ended up really enjoying the tour. instead of just staring at the temples and not knowing what i was looking at, i had everything explained to me by lwin. he took me to a bunch of really cool temples, showed me which temples you could hike up to the top of, and showed me a bunch of stuff that i would never have found on my own. he showed me all of these old drawings and murals inside the temples that were so dark you could barely see them. he showed me secret passages. i saw a lot of really cool stuff.

but the best parts of the day i think were spent just chilling in teashops chatting about life. we kept surprising each other w/ facts about our countries. for instance, he asked me if i had a phone. of course, i assumed he meant cellphone and said yes, but he actually just meant an ordinary plug into the wall phone. most people in myanmar dont have one! and as for cell phones, he hardly even knew what one was. he said he thinks he saw one japanese person one day talking on one, but that’s about all the experience he’s had w/ them. it’s weird cause i dont know of any other country w/ no cell phones. even india, in the most rural areas where people had practically nothing, i still saw cell phones. but not here. he told me other stuff like how here school is only *2* days a week! no wonder education isn’t all that good! he told me that the thatch and bamboo houses that people live in cost about 200$. it was really interesting to talk about just how different life was in the two countries.

lwin and his girlfriend

eventually, we headed back to his house and had lunch that his mother had made. the food was really good. maybe the home cooking here is better than the restaurant fare? as usual, his family was ridiculously nice to me. offering snacks while i waited for lunch. buying me bottled water since i couldnt drink their water. everyone was just too nice!!

lwin’s mother, father, niece, and sister

eventually we headed out to go see more temples. we had been biking around all day, and my legs were getting tired, but we had been incredibly lucky cause this happened to be the one and only day when it wasn’t hot. there was cloud cover and for just one day i actually was comfortable. at one of the temples we went to, i was bombarded by a bunch of little girls all asking me where i was from and what my name was. after i told them and walked towards the temple, they said in unison “after.. you come to my shop!!!” uh-oh. as soon as i left the temple, the girls were on me, dragging me to their parent’s booths. although it’s sad to see little kids this age having to work, it was still hillarious watching these kids try to mimic their parents. everything the parents said, the kids would squeek too. “what you buy? i give you special price! good discount!” followed by a chipmunk voice w/ garbled english “you buy! give special price!! discount!!”. too funny. in the end, i couldnt say no to the little kids and bought some lacquerware.

special price!!

eventually, sightseeing was over and we went back to the brothers’ house for dinner. everyone sat down on the floor and ate at the tiny table. once again, the food was good. and once again, everyone was ridiculously nice… too nice in fact. fish curry was the main course and when they noticed i was having issues w/ the bones in the fish, lwin’s sister took it upon herself to remove all the bones from my fish. she took hunks of fish, one at a time, and after meticulously removing any bones, she would put tiny deboned pieces of fish on my plate for me to eat. sheez.. i really felt pathetic having someone manage my food for me, but despite me saying over and over that i didnt need help, she wouldnt listen. dinner was a lot of fun though. the mom kept encouraging me to eat more and more and would laugh heartily when i kept trying to say i was full. the little kids in the family would peek around corners or peek in from outside and giggle at me. heh.

in the end, i was pretty much time for me to go, and upcoming was a moment i had been dreading. the thing is, everyone had been so nice to me, helped me so much, taken me on the boat trip, given me food, and spent all day showing me temples, that i really wanted to give something back to show my appreciation. but what to give?? i’d feel awkward just offering them cash. would that be rude? would that be an insult, if they had been calling me their dear freind, and i instead paid them like a guide? maybe i should offer to buy them something? would that be better? i didnt know how to bring it up. part of me was hoping they would just ask for some money. but then, the other part worried that if they asked for a bunch of cash, that i’d feel like everything they had done for me was just for money. what to do. what to do!

luckily, i had the decision made for me. naing naing pulled me to the side and opened up his set of paintings. he said that in a few days, there was this big donation ceremony, and that if i bought a painting from them, they could give the money to their mother. they seemed very distressed about the whole thing and kept repeating that i was totally not obligated to buy anything, and that i shouldnt buy if i dont want to and kept appologizing for even asking, but i kept saying it was no problem, and that i really wanted to help them out. eventually i chose a painting. he seemed very appologetic, but eventually said he wanted 20$ for it… much less than the actuall selling price he had told me days earlier. when i gave him the money, he even gave me a second painting as a gift. i couldnt believe that after everything they had done for me, they had only asked for 20 bucks. not to mention, that over the weekend, they hadn’t let me pay for *anything*. they bought me all my beer, water, food, ribbons, everything. i’m sure they must have spent at least 10 bucks on all of that stuff.

like i said, they were just too nice. but it didnt end there. when it was time for me to leave, one of their friends had come over. why? to drive my bike home. naing naing and his friend took *both* of the bicycles back to the hotel for me, while his brother gave me a lift on his scooter. i kept begging for them not to bother. why shoud they have to take the bikes back while i rode a cush scooter? but they just kept repeating that i was a dear friend and that i had been biking all day and must be tired, so they wouldnt let me bike back. i just couldnt believe these people!!

eventually, we got back to the hotel and i said goodbye to everyone. they said i definitely need to come back some day. i would really like to.. really really. i feel so lucky to have met and become friends w/ such nice people…


on the way back

me on the roof of the boat

front of the boat

offerings to the nat

i woke up the next morning and my back was killing me from sleeping on a tiny wooden bench that i didnt really fit on. i had a crapload of bizarre insect bites. plus, i was tired as hell since everyone on the boat decided to get up around 6 am. i groggily walked across the plank, and then we headed back into the village.

after a breakfast of these fried egg pastry things, it was time to visit the nat again. yes, the nat is all about drinking and card playing, but he also has a softer side… he happens to like colorful tissues and ribbons.. go figure. so we go buy some ribbons and then walk to the spirit shrine again. there is some kind of weird procession going on where people walk around a column while keeping one hand on the column at all times. we walk up to the nat and hand over our ribbons to a guy who touches them to the nat and hands them back. our ribbons are now blessed and i’m told that i should tie the ribbon to my pack or somewhere else so that i will always have it w/ me. i guess lots of people attach these ribbons to their motorbikes to keep themselves safe.

??, lwin, and naing naing

we sit down for a few drinks, even though it’s still like 9am. once again, beer w/ shots of rum in it. despite everyone’s urging that i should be sure to drink “slowly slowly”, everyone else proceeds to get quite wasted. it turns out, that most of these guys aren’t really allowed to drink when there isn’t a festival. they only drink a couple of times a year, so when it’s time to drink, they dont go light! after wandering around more, we head back to the boat.

on the way, Lwin asks me if i was interested in trying some toddy. toddy is this weird alcoholic beverage made from the sap of a palm tree. the sap is left to ferment and then becomes mildly alcoholic, like a weak beer. i say, why not, and we head off to go find a toddy salesman who fills up 2 liter bottles and a huge plastic bag. we walk back, with the toddy sloshing this way and that out of the sack. i dont know who decided it would be a good idea to sell beverages in plastic bags… it was just begging for trouble, and only 5 minutes after returning to the boat, the sack fell and all the toddy inside spilled all over the deck. oops! in the end, it turns out that it was for the better. when i tried the toddy that we still had left in the bottles, i was not pleased. it kinda had a nice sour taste, a little like cider, but at the same time had this funky smell and aftertaste that, although described as “nutty”, kind of smelled like a gross fart. after a few gulps, i couldnt drink anymore. in fact, for the next several hours, i couldnt shake remembering that nasty smell. ugh.

after a bit, we play cards. blackjack. it’s pretty fun, and we play for negligible amounts, like 10 cents a hand. after playing for a bit, everyone stops, and then naing naing gets up to walk away, thinks better of it, turns around and grabs the whole pile of cards. he throws the whole pile overboard into the river. huh? before the last of the 52 cards flutters into the water, one of the players jumps up and starts screaming at naing naing, and seconds later punches are being thrown. madness ensues. people start trying to hold the two guys back, but then other people are screaming at each other and then they start fighting too. everyone is falling into the mix. the people next to me, herd me to the back of the boat. people are still getting crazy, one guy is bawling like mad w/ tears streaming down his face, while being held back by two other dudees. as the fight slows down, some of them get down off the roof, and by this point the older people on deck have had enough. the older women are screaming at the top of their lungs at the fighters, and then start pounding them as hard as they can as the boys just cower, obviously not going to hit back.

i was utterly confused. what the hell had happened? what had caused all the chaos. i asked one of the guys who responded “it is your friend who is the bullshit man!”. other people seemed to agree. it was naing naing’s temper tantrum of throwing the cards that had started the fight. everyone was still pretty pissed, and he spent the rest of the morning sulking by himself on the front of the boat. at this time, i remember, only hours earlier before the fight, seeing a full deck of cards fly off the roof of the boat. i had assumed they just accidentally blew away, but now i wonder if naing naing had thrown that one too, and maybe the fight started because he had now thrown 2 decks of cards overboard.

the plan initially was to stop at one more village before we went back to bagan. a bit later, we pulled ashore, but then, it didnt seem people were really getting off and in a bit we started moving again, really slowly. someone from the boat got on the mgaphone and was broadcasting something very loudly to the shore. i asked someone what was going on, and it turned out that naing naing had stormed off the boat. he was gone. the megaphone guy was broadcasting that he better get back on the boat quick cause we werent waiting for long, and would leave w/out him. as we cruised downstream a bit, all of a sudden, a large light fixture from the roof of the boat came crashing down on deck. someone from up there had torn it off and thrown it. looks like there was trouble up above again. i couldnt believe the direction everything was taking.

by this point, the boat owner had had enough. he screamed at everyone for a long time. eventually, we pulled ashore, and lwin told me to come w/ him, but the boat owner got up and told me to stay put. he told me not to go anywhere off the boat and to ignore lwin cause “he has no brain. he’s stupid”. i felt really bad having him talk shit about my friend, but i really didnt know what to do. i couldnt go against the boat owners will, so i sat down and then lwin sat down too. minutes later the boat took off. naing naing was just left behind… hours from home. i hadn’t realized it, since i had no clue what was going on, but when lwin was telling me to come w/ him off the boat, it was to end up being left behind too, and the reason the owner didnt let me off was that he wanted me to come back to bagan by boat. phew.. good thing i didnt get off! i kind of started feeling like i was in an awkward position. my two friends on the boat had been a big part in the cause of the problems, and i kind of felt like i was in a weird jam between them and the owner. he was of course, really nice to me, but it was still weird.

soon it was time to eat lunch, and everyone made sure i was well fed. the people on board (and everyone else in myanmar) eat *so* much rice! it’s insane. they’ll fill up a their plate w/ what in america would be about 3 people’s worth of rice, eat it all, and then get about the same amount again, all in one sitting! everyone kept being shocked that i ate so little. eventually, people settle down and started playing cards again, and the tension on board seemed to have dissipated except that the owner was still pissed at lwin. when lwin asked me if i wanted to have one of the two beers i bought, i said ok, and he went to get it for me. when the owner saw him w/ a beer in his hand, he gave lwin this look that could easily have killed someone, until he realized the beer was for me. he told me that under no circumstances can i give my beer to anyone else; they’re too drunk already and too stupid to have anymore. i just nodded sheepishly.

soon, we came in sight of bagan. they put on this tape that had a song about the nat, and then everyone started dancing like crazy on the boat. all of a sudden everyone was very happy again. we then caught a bus to lwin’s house to pick up my pack. for a while i hung out there and met his family. while lwin was out back, naing naing’s wife asked me where he was. errrr. umm. i muttered that i didnt know. i certainly wasn’t going to be the one to tell her that her husband had been left behind hours away after getting into a fight. at this point, all i wanted to do was go back to the hotel. i was exhausted. i was dirty. i was sweaty. i was hungry. i just wanted to go back and sleep. all of a sudden, they bring out this small plate of dried fish.. w/ heads still on. ugh. the last thing i needed at that moment. but i couldnt say no, so ate some, and they actually turned out to be pretty good. my bag had gotten ripped earlier (lwin was holding it when the fight broke out). lwin’s dad pulled out some thread and fixed it up in no time flat, and handed it back to me w/ a huge smile. his dad is the epitome of the proud silent fisherman type. doesnt say much, but when you catch his eye, he always gives a very warm and sincere smile. his mom is rail thin, and seems to always be in the back cooking something. both of them, although they spoke no english, seemed incredibly friendly.

eventually, it was time to go and we got on a scooter to leave. lwin asked me what my plans were for the next day and i said i’d be leaving. he said that i should stay one more day. he’d spend the day giving me a tour of the temples, showing me around town, and then i’d come over to his house for dinner. to be honest, my first reaction was that i really didnt want to. first of all, i didnt want him to have to go throug any trouble. second i didnt want his family to have to cook for me etc. plus, i had already spent two days seeing temples in bagan and didnt need to see more. but no matter how many times i said no, he was insistant. he said i was a dear friend, and he really wanted to show me around town etc. so i said ok. after a terrifying motorbike ride across sandy roads where the bike fishtailed at least 3 times, we arrived back at the hotel, and i finally got some sleep.

in, the end, i still have no idea why anyone thought that the village we went to was in chin state. some people on the boat thought it was chin state, others did not. looking on a map later, i dont think we were even anywhere near chin state. i never got to the place i really wanted to go… but still, i had a crazy adventure nonetheless. i met a bunch of great people (despite some fights!), made some friends, experienced a real family holiday trip, spent some time on the river, went to a crazy festival.. and really had a once in a lifetime experience. looks like i would never get to see chin state, but you know what, that’s fine by me.


some photos

here are some photos of myanmar i’ve finally managed to upload:

buddha at sulye paya in yangon

sulye paya

buddhas w/ LEDs sulye paya

sulye paya

temple guardian

flying horse for donations


shwedagon paya

golden buddha

sweeping the pagoda

mopping the pagoda

shwedagon paya

pagoda in pyay

10 story buddha

10 story buddha


temple in bagan


the boat trip begins…

two hours after falling asleep, i get woken up to leave. i’m totally groggy, and even though it’s the middle of the night, it’s still hot. as we walk to the boat owner’s house, i find out that the rest of naing naing’s family isn’t going on the trip, it’s just the two brothers but about 30 other people will be on our boat. all 30 or so of us are piled in a huge truck that can barely accelerate under the weight, and we make our way to the docks. we board the boat, and in a very short time i fall back asleep for a few hours.

by the time i wake up, the party is well under way. they are blasting this insane myanmar music at about a billion decibels. the music is completely nuts. sound like a bunch of people banging away on xylophones and yelling, and everybody is out of synch. people on deck are laughing and dancing and having a blast. i can tell this is going to be a fun trip. after a bit, i climb up onto the roof of the boat where the rest of the people are. everyone up there is *completely* obliterated. so absolutely drunk. people are stumbling all over the place, yelling, everyone is spilling drinks everywhich way, various containers of liquids are being dropped and knocked over…. total chaos! i feel like a really late arrival to the party and start doing some drinking myself. people keep stumbling up to me and repeating the same things over and over, but i cant tell if it’s because they’re really drunk or if, due to the language barrier, they dont know what else to say. everything is so crazy and so totally fun!

i find out that the festival we are going to is a nat festival. the burmese people, although buddhist, also believe in and worship nats which are spirits. this festival is to honor the nat named Ko Gyi Kyaw who is a spirit that loves: drinking, playing cards, and fried chicken. so, in honor of the spirit, everyone drinks like crazy. also, there are offerings to the nat on board the ship… in the front there are several large plates of fried chicken, complete w/ chicken head (which i was relieved that we wouldnt be eating), beers, and coconut offerings.

out of the people on board, i’d say about half were young men (from 18 to late twenties) and the other half was split betwen older people and little kids. everyone on board was related to each other in some way. everyone was someone’s brother, uncle, in law, parent, teacher, best friend, neighbor, etc. i felt really priveledged to be able to be a part of the group. everyone there was just so friendly.. it was incredible feeling to be able to take part in the festivities. everyone there went so far out of there way to make sure that i was well taken care of and to be sure that i was having a good time. one of the most common things i would hear from people was “are you happy? good! if you happy, i am happy!” and people were *constantly* making sure that i was well fed and bringing me food.

the food on board was kept in huge pots and used communally by everyone. people here eat w/ their hands instead of utensils, so everytime someone would go get food to put on their plate, they would just shove their hand right into the communal pot… so all the food you ate was most proabbly touched by every other person on board. plus, there were some infants on board. these kids would just walk up to the communal pots, and dig in, shoveling food w/ their increasingly slobery hands. i thought back to the time that caryn had complained about an indian waiter bringing out our forks while holding the tines instead of the handles…. ahh, if only she could be here now and see this! the food though, was actually really tasty. lots of rice, this weird fried fish mash that looked scary but was really delicious, the tea leaf salad, and some other random things. for drinking, i was the only one wussy enough to actually drink bottled water, everyone else just dipped their cups into the murky brown river. surprisingly, after the cups settled a bit, the water actually cleared a bit to only a lightish cloudy grey.

in some ways, after a while, the doting of everyone became a little bit too much. people were constantly telling to watch my step on the boat, or be careful while doing things. in fact, i cant even tell how many times i would hear the words “slowly, slowly!”. every time i would climb on the boat, or off the boat, or on the roof of the boat, or up the hill, or pretty much anything, people told me “slowly slowly!” and reached out to give me a hand. i felt like a little kid in some ways! yeah, i was definitely less agile around the boat then some others, but that doesnt mean i can’t handle myself… err, well, except for the first time i tried to fling myself up to the roof of the boat and ended up getting tangled in my bag then slipping down and crashing on the ground bruising the shit out of my leg. all of this was responded to w/ hearty laughter from everyone around. smooth.

i spent the rest of the next 12 hours on the boat getting to know everybody. everyone there was from this small neighborhood in new bagan. for many generations, everyone in that village was a fishernman, catching fish from the ayerwaddy river, but now times are changing. these days, about 70% of the people in town are either a “painter man” or a “businees man”. the former paint small prints (mostly copies of artwork they’ve seen in temples) and sell them to tourists, and the latter have small souvenier stalls set up near pagodas where they sell lacquerware and other crafts. obviously, tourism has affected bagan in a very big way. one particularly odd way that tourism has affected people here is their clothing. a lot of the people here try to sell stuff to tourists, and if the toursist wont buy stuff, the local will often volunteer to trade their souveniers for stuff.. usually t-shirts and whatnot. so, a lot of the people on the boat have this random assortment of clothing that they’ve gotten from westerners.. t-shirts w/ logos for Legoland, sean john collection, and even KGO radio. quite odd.

eventually, after 12 hours, we arrived at the village where the nat festival would take place. we got off the boat and went into town. true to everyone’s word, there wasn’t a single foreigner in sight. we wandered around a bit and checked out what goods people were selling. then, it was time to make offerings to the nat. the main offering that people give to the nat is flowers. you buy flowers and then bring it up to this little shrine where there is a statue of Ko Gyi Kyaw. people everywhere are on their knees muttering prayers etc. you bring the flowers up to the front, and a guy up there takes them and touches them to the nat statue, then hands them back. your flowers are now blessed. you’re supposed to take them home and they will bring good luck to your house.

after making an offering to the nat, and checking stuff out a bit more, we grabbed some dinner and then sat down to have drinks. everyone all over was in a very festive mood. the drink of choice for the evening was “rum and coke”, except that instead of coke, it was beer.. not that bad of a concoction! people at the stall next to us were singing karaoke. we spent a bunch of time chatting about differences between myanmar and america.. when all of a sudden, this crazy fight broke out in front of us. all of a sudden, these people were hella yelling, throwing punches.. others were trying to hold people back. crazy. no sooner had the fight started when everyone at my table jumped up and hurried me to the back of the restauyrant. once again, god forbid i get hurt. the people fighting broke apart for a bit then some people ran off, then i saw a bunch of people come running by w/ huge sticks. uh-oh!! i was worried that all hell was gonna break loose, when the restaurant i was at virtually shut down. they put up all these posterboard walls up in front, and within minutes we were closed off inside, and then were snuck outside the back.

as we scurried away, one of the people from the boat came up to me appologizing profusely. “sorry. so sorry we have to leave!! but police come! they will ask, ‘who fighting!’ it is us who is fighting!” and then i understood. part of the people from our group were involved in the fight. they needed to make a getaway from the scene. it turned out later that they are friends w/ the restaurant owners, who closed up shop in order to let them escape quietly out the back. we quickly darted through the village and back to the boat. apparently, it was really important for us not to be spotted. the people could get into some trouble for fighting… but if they got in trouble for fighting and somehow a foreigner was involved, they would be in serious deep shit. jail time probably. luckily, it was dark and we made it back to the boat without incident.

we spent the next few hours siting on the riverbank. Lwin and Naing Naing seemed really bummed that the fighting had taken place and that now we couldnt go back to the festival until morning. another of their friends spent forever telling me how much he despised fighting and that even though the fighters were his friends, he thinks they’re stupid for fighting. everyone kept appologizing to me, but i didnt really care too much. despite the fight, i had a really good time. anyways, i was much more interested in just kicking it w/ everyone than the festival itself. after a few hours, it was time to board the boat and go to sleep. they had set up this tiny little plank that you had to walk across to get back on the boat. it was a really skinny plank that was difficult to walk across, and the fact that everyone had been drinking all night, wouldnt make it any easier. earlier, i had heard someone fall of the plank into the water. i hoped that wouldnt be my fate, and inched across the plank “slowly, slowly”.. but i made it ok.

sleeping on a hardwood bench on the boat was definitely not the most comfortable thing. waking up in the middle of night having to piss, and therefore walk across the plank of death twice while sleepy, wasn’t the greatest. waking up the next morning w/ about a hundred bites from some kind of insect wasn’t nice either. ahhh, the perils of boatliving!

-more tomorrow..