A Travellerspoint blog

January 2010

Rangoon, Queen of the East

sunny 30 °C

What to expect of a place like Burma?

Ramrod-straight lines of military police everywhere? Shuffling citizens, with broken hearts and averted eyes? Bodies still floating in the delta?

None of the above, as it turns out. The international terminal of Yangon airport is clean, modern and slightly empty-feeling. Almost startlingly so, in fact. Most of our fellow travellers on this head-spinningly early flight from Bangkok are not grizzled NGO workers or carefree globe-trotters (like us), but Chinese, Thai and some European package tourists. Blonde-haired couples tote blonde-haired children in strolleys.

Not what we expected, frankly. But then we leave the terminal and everything is a bit more reconcilable – the humid air hits us like a swampy wall, the buildings look like they have been gently fermenting in the heat since, well, 1962, and the cars on the road would be an interesting study in vintage Toyotas and Datsuns if it wasn't such a thrill ride being in these rust buckets.

Our taxi driver, Win, speaks excellent English (as do many of the people we meet over the next week – despite English no longer being taught in schools) and is well informed on the world – relentlessly grilling us over our travels. The conversation remains apolitical – as do most conversations we have had with most taxi drivers all over the world – but our minds are fizzing away, looking for a political undertone in every statement. We do later on manage to talk a little politics with a couple of people, but not just yet.

Yangon is an intriguing place – a mix of old colonial buildings, beautiful Burmese-style teak houses and general dilapidation. And so many interesting faces on the street! Burma is the major land link between China and India, as well as having borders with Bangladesh, Thailand and Laos, and it shows in the faces of passers-by – we quickly lose track of the number of different-looking peoples. We don't see much of this capital in all but name on this visit – just one temple and a bit of organising.

Ah, well, did I say just one temple? Actually we went to the Shwedagon Paya. Not heard of it? No, we hadn't either, until we bought the LP Burma on a whim. But, having been there, the fact that the entire world hasn't heard of it perplexes me whenever I think about it.

Imagine a huge, conical spaceship, about the size of a football field. Imagine it were made entirely of gold, and shone with a radiance that outshone anything your tired eyes had ever seen. Imagine it were placed in the middle of something like a square kilometre of other temples, altars, Buddha images, bells, statues, ornate umbrellas, halls and prayer rooms. And imagine that everything was covered in gold. Everything. And then outlined with flashing LEDs. And topped with a fistful of the biggest diamonds, rubies and sapphires in the world. That pretty much sums up the Shwedagon Paya. Especially at night.

I still can't really believe it's real. Just to labour the point, I haven't retouched these photos in the slightest, not even the levels.



Posted by pendleton 22:53 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Go On, Be a Tiger!

....no, not like that

sunny 29 °C

It's a bit naughty posting this as it's out of sequence with our travels. I'll try and put something up regarding Bangkok and the rest of our time in Thailand, but for now, know this: we played with baby tigers. And big tigers. And medium lions.

Nothing more I can say, just pictures:


Posted by pendleton 07:53 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)


sunny 30 °C

We've had a funny old time in India. Most of it has been spent visiting relatives (and hence living very locally, not like backpackers at all) which has been fantastic, with warm hospitality and amazing, wonderful, fresh-as-you-can-imagine food. That's been the highlight.

We've also ending up spending quite a lot of time stuck in crappy Indian hotels and booked on atrociously organised tours which we didn't really want to be on in the first place, but ended up doing for long and complicated reasons. These have been some of the worst of times of our trip – we have on occasion truly reached the end of our tethers, and I have honestly never been angrier than at times here. But even at the worst of times, every so often a moment of such perfect niceness, or an entirely unexpected spark of such warmth from someone forces you to vacillate between the absolute extremes of opinion, even when you would be entirely happy just fermenting in anger.

We spent an amusing Christmas on the beach at Goa, with Sharad (Angi's father) keeping us company and being our little bit of home away from home. Goa is an interesting place (Portugal has all the best former colonies...) - a tiny Portuguese enclave embedded in vast Maharashtra, full of beaches, huge churches and cute little brightly coloured colonial-style bungalows. It seems like some other place which has been inexplicably filled with a lot of Indian folk, a few Portuguese and a sizeable minority of beautiful mulattoes, all clear of eye and dusky of skin. Plus they have amazing spicy Goan chorizo – almost worth the trip out alone!


From Goa we had a torrid train journey to Kerala and a lot of mixed experiences when we were there. Without doubt the most pleasant part was the trip on the backwaters in the houseboat (which we could have stayed on for days, frankly) but we also enjoyed a walk in the tea estates in the hills at Munnar, and we managed to meet my old schoolfriend Leon for lunch.


As of writing we are (finally) kicking back in one of the most un-Indian places in India: Havelock Island, part of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands group, a long 1200km flight east from India and much closer to Thailand. We are staying in a beautiful eco-resort, sympathetically nestled in the tall trees of the primary forest which tumble down almost straight into one of the most stunning beaches in Asia, a few hundred yards from our porch. Although we've had the most astonishing amount of rain in the last few days (I think more than we've seen for the entire rest of our trip put together!) we've been enjoying the peace and quiet, and have managed to get some diving in as well. We did a boat trip out to Barren Island which was pretty dramatic: diving around a still-smoking oceanic volcano, complete with occasional muffled booms and soot plumes!


We'll be in Thailand by the time you read this. We're excited – the South-East Asia part of the trip is the Big One, the bit we've been dreaming of for, well, forever really. Street food, here we come!

Posted by pendleton 07:51 Archived in India Comments (0)

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