Stop 24: Bangkok

My ticket to Bangkok was actually booked before the Myanmar travel since the visa application required you to bring a proof of your outward journey as well. Bangkok is the central hub for AirAsia anyway and you can find cheap flight onward to the next location easily.

After some tough weeks in Myanmar, my sole objective in Bangkok is just to get a suit for my next job. Fabian suggested a tailor shop for which he researched a lot. It is based on the silom road so I booked a hostel close there to check out the shop myself.

It is pretty easy to reach the hostel my metro and it was the last day of the water festival, which is called Songkran in Thailand, so I was also worried that I will get wet from the metro station to the hostel. I always tried to shout that I have a beg with me, and people are kind enough to only wet my legs … The hostel itself is a family run hostel and is quite cozy. In my 8 person room, there are actually only 2 people.

After a quick dinner, I met up with Eoin, whom I met in Yangon. The silom road is actually closed down for the traffic due to the water festival so that people can gather and go crazy. I arrived at Soi Cowboy and met also Eoin’s english teacher friend as well. Both them are dressed in Hawaii shirts and they look like the typical western people to party in Bangkok (Eoin’s friend reminded me of the mid aged guy in hangover, nothing negative). He also recommended me anothe tailor shop since the owner’s daughter goes to the school they are teaching.

Pic of cowboy street:

The next day, I headed out to the several suit shops I noted for myself. First, Fabian’s is the closest but it was also closed due to the holidays. Next one is the Singapore guys recommendation 3 sky train stations away, closed too. Ok, further down the road there is Eoin’s recommendation, open, nice. The manager there was not the owner, but he knew what I was talking about. But the shop is not giving me a lot of advices and I felt unsure. So I headed out and got into the next shop which had a TripAdvisor badge on it. The tailor there was actually explaining me a lot about the differences in materias and so on, which felt way more sincere and sophisticated. After that shop I looked more on the internet and found one with even better reviews 1 station back. So I went for some sightseeing and came back to the shop later. This shop was also quite good in consulting and was also willing to give me some discount to win me as a long term customer. After a night of sleeping, I decided to go with this one.

Back at the hostel, I met my roommate (the other one left already). He went out last night was coming back very late/early. Then he had his friend here as well who asked me straight away whether I am gay or not … So finally I figured out that Silom road is actually a place to go out for the happy people. When I headed back out to the street after, I started to notice all the signs there are in the street, those quite typical outfit: tanktop, short swim shorts, and some even already hand in hand. Well, for the next time, I know.

I passed by Kaosan road, where you can find mostly just white people partying. Some bars have loud music and was trying to win the loudness war against the bar on the opposite side … ridiculous. And some people started to dance in the street with beers bought from the 7-eleven from the side. Oh yah, I was supposed to meet melissa who was my roommate in Dalat, and she forgot to write back … no worries, can happen.

So for the last day, I went for the first fitting and got somethings fixed and went back to the hostel to write some stuff for my blog. It was raining outside anyway so that was actually a nice afternoon with some nice air conditioning :).

And another pic of Silom. I really like the sky train and that the roads can be multi dimensional, like some fictional movies.

Me, staying in Medellin for the last night with the guest family before heading to Cartagena.


Stop 23 Yangon

The night before heading to ThaBarWa, I got acquainted with Warren. From UK, he was revisiting Myanmar after 10 years. He actually got a surprising experience here where he met someone who he met 10 years ago. Apparently she put on more weight and her English got worse. That tells a lot how the society had developed.

I met also Alfie again in Yangon. He got tired somehow and was not up to do much. He went on a tinder date and met someone who wanted to learn English. Instead of agreeing he declined the offer but asked her out since she looked very beautiful. This surprised me as well since this is actually a very good way to convey interest. The formal me maybe would have said yes to be teacher and see whether she is the one later.

When I said hi to warren again I also got to meet Eoin, an irish guy where his name is pronounced ‘Owen’. Lolz. He works as an english teacher in Bangkok and he was discussing intense political topics with Warren. It was easy  conversation with both of them drinking some beers.

I also got to know Brianne from the States. I believe Alfie was talking to her and I got into the conversation as well. The intial impression was that she is not paying much attention to the converstaion sometimes and when you are talking or when others are talking. The next morning, we actually got on the train together around yangon. And at the same time it was water festival and it was really crowded. So I was holding her shoulders to walk her through the crowd. Surprisingly she grabbed my hand. Did not expect that. On the train ride we talked more and apparently she was with an older guy (40, and she is 23) depsite her being friends being against it. She said that she is just more attracted to older guys. Also afterwards, she would sometimes just look out of the window and not continue the topic out of a sudden. We played the cube game as well but I don’t remember her picture anymore. But somewhere in her past I think she had some issues and now, she is rather more self centered with her own thoughts and would not care too much about the others. Back at the hostel, we partet our ways.

We also talked a bit with the hostel owner. He mentioned that this year, there are way less tourists coming because of the negative news in the media. He thought that even many people are against a government not respecting human rights, others should still visit the country because the money otherwise is received by no one. I can understand his point of view but of courrse his primary interest is to get some business going. For the people it is not easy to do anything against the government. And if you rely on tourism, then you should do that. For me, travelling does not depend very much on the political situation (of course, if your own safety in endangered then rather not). In different environments, people behave differently and it is also interesting to see how people think and behave in different situations. That tells a bit about the culture and attitude as well. Myanmar people are very patriotistic and do want to become better and the political constraints are cornering them.

The water festival itself is quite crazy and people are dancing as they do not care. That surprised me as well. In a buddhist country I would not have expected people being able to let go that easily.

There were also some Swiss guys in the hostel and I made some initial notes about them, but now, it does not seem important anymore …

At the breakfast table, there was also another German girl travelling on her own. She did not engage in the conversations i guess because of the english. But after she seemed very calm and essy to talk to. Unfortunately I did not have more time to talk to her.

And finally some pictures on the circle train

And the water festival

Oh and i got asked by a japanese woman whether i am japanese in japanese. The worst part of the story, i understood it xD

Me, in Medellín, learned spanish for a week


Stop 22 ThaBarWa meditation center

I would say that these 2 days in the ThaBarWa center have led me to the most intense experience so far on my travels. Marloes and Alli have both been to the center and told me that the activities are great. Alli was not able to spend more than 5 days since there was an apparent “bed bug infestation” going on.

With a little bit concern remaining in my head, I packed my stuff including a light sleeping bag that my friends back in Switzerland gave me and headed to the center with a grab taxi.

At the registration center, a girl from HongKong helped me settle in. I even quickly had a quick glance at the founder monk who came out for a walk (even journalists were there to shoot a video). A bit background information on the center (taken from their website):

Thabarwa Center was established with unlimited access for general benefit and is fulfilling the most crucial needs continually and persistently step by step. […] It is the sanctuary for persons from all regions of Myanmar who seek refuge for care and attention and desire to practice meditation

The community is like a small village with different houses for people to stay in. I stayed at the dorm of the international volunteers. Tom, a mid aged bald man, who is the manager of the dorm introduced me to the setup, which was very basic.

Later, there was a welcome tour to introduce the village to us. Loic, who wrote me a couple of emails already, gave the tour. He is French, stayed here for more than 11 months already, appeared with the container of a mixer and bare footed. Based on what other people mentioned, he seemed to be the leader of the international volunteers. Beside the different functions of the houses, he explained us how the volunteers are organized. Every day at 7 pm, there is a meeting to see what everyone wants to do the next day. Everybody can pick the task/activity that he or she desires. Of course, there might be sometimes too many people for the same task so some comprises have to be made. One day is basically made of one activity in the morning, one activity in the afternoon, the volunteer meeting and then the last meditation session / lesson is from 8 to 9. Together with me, there is a German hippie guy, one Polish girl called Kasia, 2 Danish girls and a French girl.

First meeting … Israel guy, more french guys (turned out to be swiss romand),

First meditation session guided by an Indian monk with a very strong accent. I have no prior experiences and the guided session is more or less like the audio guide that I possess. It was quite hard since my ass is starting to hurt after a while and I really needed to move myself to feel comfortable.

The first thing I chose to do the next morning was the alms walk, which Loic strongly recommended. An Alms walk is how monks collect the donations to them by walking bare feet. Every monk is holding a container, which is mainly thought for rice. The first monk is the most senior and would say a prayer before receiving any donations. The donation itself is regarded as a good deed and hence, the people are willing to donate (sometimes a lot) to show that they are doing good deeds. After the early breakfast in the morning at 6:45, we got into a truck together with the monks to go to Yangon for the walk. There are other helping people as well who prepared other materials like some big tin containers which will hold all the rices that the monks receive (yes they receive a looot, but since the size of the ThaBarWa center is huge, they need quite some food to support everyone). We were the last ones getting into the truck and with the little space we had, we were squeezed together back to back.

After arriving in a local area in Yangon, I got a tin bowl in my hand which is thought for the money donations. In the beginning I was not sure what I am supposed to do. Usually, the local people hand the donations to the head monk and the head monk would say a prayer and then let the donates put the stuff either in the bowl he holds or the money directly into my bowl. Sometimes, some people sticked the money into the rice and another non beside the head monk (teenage girl actually who has a very cute face despite being bald) would take the note and put it directly into my bowl. I was not sure whether I am supposed to touch the money or not, hence, I was not doing much in the beginning.

The first impression I had was that almost every household was donating. Some people live in very shabby houses which would almost fall together. Some other people lived in a bigger concrete house with multiple SUVs even. Proportionally speaking, poor people donate more than the rich people. The rich might give a sack of rice which cost him almost nothing, but the poor might have donated their food of tomorrow which is only a small bowl of rice. After an hour, the sun started to rise and the street is getting hot. In addition, the last streets are not very walkable on bare feet. The street is spiky with a lot of stones and as a city child my sensitive feet almost couldn’t take it anymore. One of the helpers even offered me to sit back in the car but I refused and want to push my boundaries. If the monks can do it, I can do it too. Some monks were also laughing at me when I made some painful faces. In the end, my bowl was full of Kyats and I think that we at least collected a million. That somehow explains why certain monk have a DSLR camera … (I saw one in Cambodia)

On the road back, one thing that I realized was that, one of the helpers did not even have the half of his one leg left and was using a prothese. It is indeed true that within the community, people help each other in any way they can.

In the afternoon, I chose to do some gardening which involves only cleaning the trash from a designated garden area somewhere in the village. This area is supposed to be used to plant and grow some stuff but a few years ago, people started to throw garbage into that area. There was a digged hole in the ground and we don’t even know how much more waste is there in the hole. Together, there were Pierre, Martin who are actually from Martigny, a portuguese guy and someone from Israel. In the hot and burning afternoon sun, we started digging and putting the trashes into big plastic bags so that the trash car can pick them all up at once. I am not being very productive since I am not used to the dirt and was very careful in picking up trashes. My sweat started to flow my face very quickly after a few minutes and it got onto my glasses, condensed and left a mark of salt. I knew I had to keep going to push myself more. Also, when looking at others, they don’t really seem to care how dirty it is and would grad a lot of the garbage by hand put them directly in to the bigger plastic bags.

After 1 or 2 hours, other girls came by who were helping at a local school with the kids. The kids came along as well and wanted to help us as well. But it is getting increasingly difficult to dig and we also found a lot of sharp objects such as broken glasses and even some needles so we didn’t let them help. But what surprised me most was the Swiss girl when she would jump into the hole without even worrying about whatever would get dirty with her cloths or shoes. … At 5, we concluded our digging and went back.

After a quick shower, it is time again for the meeting. this time another non was there and there was a discussion about helping the local family and the dynamics was quite weird … she seemed to insist that she can should be able to tell the whole story and let other(especially new) people decide whether they want to help or not, but loic would cut her off and i think because she told the story a lot of times already and he assumes nobody wants to help so that she is not wasting everyone’s time here.

The next meditation lesson consisted also a bit of talking. With the monk’s indian accent, it was difficult to understand him even though I had training for 2 years… Main points were Buddhist economy, Buddhist psychology, something called engagement for me to research on later. What helped me was the question I asked, what is the purpose of meditation? It is mainly thought as an exercise for concentration. For me, this makes sense now. I always thought meditation is something that will help you to reach some sort of enlightenment but during the process, I reckon it is difficult to reach anything if you are not supposed to think.

The next day, since I wanted to try out all the activities here, I chose patient caring in the morning and patient washing in the afternoon. Patient caring means simply that you will clean some wounds of the patients. It includes taking off the old dirty bandage, washing the wound with salt water, apply some antibiotics, and put on some fresh bandages. There are different patients with different problems. One almost cut a toe off, one had operation of breast cancer, and the worst one has a cancer growing out of his face and we are supposed to clean that bulk. Pierre said that for the patients in ICU, it is really tough. Sometimes you do somethings that contributes nothing to their healing, but they think you are doing something useful and it is rather meant as a soothing on their minds. And after maybe a few days of treatment, you come in one day and you suddenly find the patient dead in his/her bed.

That Friday was actually the first day of the water festival (Buddhist new year where you wash off the past and fresh yourself for the new). Below is our dorm dog Jessi watching all the craziness outside.

The last thing I did was patient washing. It was in the Josephine hall where most of the lady patients were staying. We brought some wheelchairs to wash those who were not able to move by themselves. Me and another German were carrying the patients onto the wheelchairs and out to the special chairs where they either can wash by themselves or other helping girls can wash them. Some really do stink a lot and you can smell from miles away that they desperately need washing. Many of them have adult diapers as well and this makes some particularly smelly. Since they are not able to move by themselves, some literally sit in their own piss and shit for 2 or 3 days until someone washes them.

This was particularly tough to watch when for some, the only thing they could do was hopelessly sitting there and sort of desperately looking at you to carry them out of the beds. And sometimes, the smell was so strong that you were not able to breathe normally and will get dizzy afterwards. Some have such a strong infection in their private parts that make you think that such hygiene standards are really not acceptable. And once I sat down again, I started to even appreciate the fact that I am able to manage myself and do everything without others help. And for me personally, ever since I was young, I never wanted to let anyone help me and wanted to do everything myself.

Expanding this further, with society (especially the Chinese one because of the one child policy) growing older, the physical health care is where a lot of demand is going to be created. When we take care of the patients, we get emotionally involved as well. The care taker in Josephine hall helped a bit as well, but you can see that she is so sick and tired of it that she does not really care about where they bump the patients into some corners or not.

It was a short 2 days but I truly was overwhelmed with what was going on and made me thinking more about all other things that we have …

Me, in Medellín, learning Spanish for a week before continuing on further in South America for the last 2 months that I have …

Edit: actually I just remembered about the cab driver that drove me to ThaBarWa. He has been driving for 20 years and knows all the streets. He spoke well English and told me about different meditation centers as well. He mentioned that during the water festivals he would need to work otherwise he wouldnt have money for the next day … and when we arrived he was very kind to help me to get to the reception of the meditation center.

Stop 21: Nay Pyi Taw

On the last day in Inle Lake, I met Katie and Olli who took the same bus with me to Nay Pyi Taw. Beth met Katie somewhere else hence introduced her to me.

This is the only time I took a VIP bus with 3 separate columns and enough space inbetween the seats to push down the seats, very comfortable. But different than exptected, we arrived almost 2 hours earlier than scheduled. At 2:30 am, we were standing in the market square of Nai Pi Taw trying to look for a taxi. When we were trying to get off, Katie was forcing her way a little bit being very convinced that this is where she wanted to get off and would not listen to anything else.

At the square, we found a taxi driver for 5000 Kyats who brought us to the hotel (to my surprise, who did not want to rip us off, especially considering the time and place and the surroundings), which was more than 5 kms away if I remember correctly. The entrance hall of the 3-star grand ACE is more like a 5-star one. After waiting for 15 minutes, Olli went to negotiate for an “early checkin”. I would never have done this myself, but rather tried to sleep in the lobby until 7am as they said that was the earliest they could do. The front desk guy called the manager again at this time of the night and surprisingly, they gave us the keys to the room. The facilities are all made by chinese manufacturers. The look good on the outside, but when you use it, sometimes not really fulfilling your expectation.

We got up the next day and got a cab which took us to the 20 lane “highway”. It is only a road passing in front of the goverment main building. Usually, you would think that such wide streets are required only when different ones merge into eachother and then diverge again. But this highway made no sense at all. There were almost no cars, and the roads are also blocked by the military. When we wanted to step out to take a photo, a guy from a small house appeared suddenly to shoo us away. Hence, I only got a short video when we were in the cab.

After the bus lane, we went to the market where we got off in the early morning. You can notice very quickly that the composition of shops are very weird. In vietnam, you can find mostly restaurants, mechanic shops. But here in Nai Pi Taw, no food shops, and mostly just general goods, electronics. People brougth their own food to eat and we were not successful in finding any restaurants. Only after 15mins wandering around we found one. It really feels like that nobody really lives in this city since there are no real needs for anything.

In the morning, we talked to the restaurant manager and another front desk guy as well. The restaurant manager is very helpful and he actually comes from Yangon. Mostly, when he has days off, he would go back to Yangon. The front desk clerk actually comes from Mandalay and got sent here for the new job/assignment.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool with many flies and went to a restaurant on the hill. After that, we visited a park close by. That was quite interesting to see with a lot of local people hanging around the park. they had a fountain and some electronic music blasting out of the speakers. The music is even out of sync from different speakers. Young people were dancing (or rather just jumping up and down) to the music.

Entrance to the park.

A small water park iin the park

We boarded the bus to yangon the next day with Olli taking a different bus than us because he booked later. On the bus, I sat next to a geologist who was working in the Gem museum. He is originally from Yangon (mengalagon) and is going back for the water festival. Even though he spoke OK english, it was becoming increasingly difficult to discuss other topics. We only got that far that he has a girl friend, visited Bagan with some friends and is a Arsenal football fan.

In Yangon, I parted ways with Katie and Olli since I booked another hostel than they did. I chose a quieter one than what they did.

Me, spending the last day in Shanghai to visit families… And finishing it up with pics in Los Angeles, transfer here is a pain in the ass …


Stop 20: Inle Lake / Nyuangshwe

From the boat trip with Nixon, we actually saw a lot of Inle Lake already. The only things we did more were some pagodas, sunrise and the vineyard. At Ostello Bello, I met Marloes again together with Luis, who I caught up to during the hike as well and Alfie, who arrived one day later.

In my 5 bed dorm (A very odd number and hence, only someone else when I arrived and met nobody ever after), I met this London dude who is doing some dev work in the financial sector. I overheard Emma describing him as a comic figure since he is always wearing sunglasses even inside.

On the rooftop, I got to know the girls with Marloes as well. Orla is managing the graduate trainee program in a IT consulting company. At the time of writing, I actually met her again in Vang Vieng  for a very short night. I don’t remember much about the other 2 girls, except the other Irish one who is a high school teacher. She seemed very nice during the conversation with a nice smile and attentive eye contact.

At Ostello Bello, there are also walking tours. I had nothing better to do and I ended up being the only one on the tour. Actually, the front desk Canadian guy did the tour. He used to be an architect and wanted to travel before 40. So he quited his job and went on his journey by working in different hostels. His general principle is to stay at least 6 months in a country. I think this is a very dedicated way to get to know a country and its customs. Personally, I would decrease this to 3 months after my experience in London. Before Myanmar, he has been to Estonia and Spain, now he has been in Myanmar for more a  year already and is currently helping a local guy building his house. This is also interesting to hear that he can actually put what he learned to work. Other details like how the guys wanted to start to work already even before the plan was finished and the now the house is somehow built but the details for the second floor has not been finalized yet.

I also spent more time with Emma and Beth by going to the Indaine Pagodas and the vineyard. I can’t remember what important topics we talked about and the remaining memory of that events were merely talking about how the wine was and some foto shooting sessions.

There was also Jenna, who would sit with us for very short time and already suggest to play card games where after some certain conditions, people can ask questions in the round. And her sample question would dive deeper than small talk to find out for example what your biggest fear would be. This is a good conversation booster to get know everyone better. The next night when we visited the Eminem restaurant, we also talked about your favorite profession if money would not be an issue, how would you spend money if  you have plenty (the question actually the dutch girl in Hoi An asked me) and what is your biggest regret.

I also met an 34 year old Taiwan guy from Tainan. He is working for the government admin office and is in Myanmar for 2 weeks. He is very energetic and is always keen in doing something. The one sunrise he went to was unfortunately raining and during the day there was not much to do either so we ended up chatting randomly. I introduced to him the girl I met in Tainan and he would make statements about how getting muscles is not a problem if  you go to the gym often enough, even for my statue.

On the rooftop, there were also 2 Swedish girls travelling with their violins. They actually bought the violins in Thailand and somewhere else and met up afterwards. They played some pieces on the rooftop which sounded very nice.

gif pending

The Zambian US couple arrived a day later and the next morning I met them, they got themselves one traditional tattoo each. They wanted to go to the traditional cooking class but discovered this place on the way, so they went in. There was no one who spoke english but the owner was kind enough to get one. They were running the shop since generations, but when I went to find it, I only saw a shop being built. So it is not meant to be for me then haha. So the girl got herself a pattern which is supposed to protect her in different ways and the guy got a dragon protecting against black magic. To be honest, the dragon is only solala. And coming back to the story, I think their mentality is reflected very well in this spontaneous tattoo session and also explains their past 4 years.

We met some Dutch girl who was here with her mom, that was quite special. I really can’t imagine that for myself. Cultures…

Also I saw Selina again with David, a twin couple from Lucerne and an retired bicycle shop guy from Fällanden. If you meet Swiss guys, you always meet more than one in that place.

The last day was really not much to do and me and Alfie also talked to an Australian couple for  an hour during breakfast. That conversation was also very easy going, ranging from scotland to books to cultural differences. It always needs all parties to carry on a good conversation.

And here a pic from the sunrise

me, drafted this somewhere in a internet cafe in Singapore, and now waiting for the ferry to palau bintan for 2 days.