Top Facebook Posts of 2014 – An Amazing Year of Travel

It’s a beautiful frosty morning. The sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sky and I’m reminiscing. Another year is drawing to a close and as I think about what the new year will hold for me and Asad, I’m also thinking about what an amazing year of travel we’ve had. It’s got me thinking of how I can sum it all up in one post without boring the pants off everyone! Then I thought of Facebook.

When I look back at my travel Facebook posts, it’s a virtual timeline. A diary. A reminder of all the places we visited, the sights we saw, the people we met and how we felt. It jogs my memory of events that six months later are fading but that are never truly forgotten.  It’s written in the moment without the heavy thought process involved when writing a full post. Not all the pictures are perfect but that doesn’t matter. It’s a spontaneous insight into all the places we went to that are not yet written about on this blog. All those empty drop down menu’s that I’ve yet still to fill with inspiring posts of our adventures around South East Asia.

It’s a taste of what’s to come.

So here are just a fraction of our top Facebook posts of 2014 that highlight the best of our travels.

In the meantime…

I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. May all your travel dreams come true!

May 25th 2013 – Poon Hill, Nepal – So after 4 days of trekking to Poon Hill, up and down 10,000ft, the best we could get of the Annapurna range was….

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View from the top of Poon Hill

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June 25th 2013 – Fun, fun, fun! Just got in from the Full moon party! Crazy fire ropes, a few fights, plenty of booze buckets, boogying and well some other dodgy stuff going on! – Koh Phangan

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June 27th, 2013 – What a lovely day! Zipped around the island discovering best beaches and hidden coves. Som Tam and watermelon for lunch followed by a mad dash through dirt track and jungle to finally see a perfect sunset — Had Salad, Koh Phangan

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Haad Salad Beach – Koh Phangan

July 1st, 2013 – Exhausted! Woke at 3.00am, took taxi at 4.00, a ferry at 5.00, hopped in a transit van at 8.00, bundled into a bus at 9.00, train at 10.30, 9 hrs later we took another train to finally reach our hotel!! The saga will start again tomorrow at 4.30am when a flight to Blighty is on the cards!! I need sleep and some more mossie spray!! – Bangkok.

October 24th, 2013
So, back at Heathrow airport again! We started our travels in May but had to take a slight detour back to Blighty in July to help the folks at home. 4 months later, a little older, a little wiser, we are back on track! Here’s to an amazing journey and adventure!!! Ready for take off! First stop Bangkok! Woo hoo!
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November 3rd, 2013 – Great to see how Diwali is celebrated around the world! Today Kathmandu is alive with people getting ready for tonight’s celebrations. Happy Diwali to all our friends, may you always be blessed with health and happiness!

Mandalas and candles decorate the streets during Deepawali
Mandalas and candles decorate the streets during Deepawali

November 21st, 2013 – Wow! We completed the Annapurna Circuit, culminating in a very quirky and death-defying last-minute ascent on a mountain pony (Asad got altitude sickness) to the highest point Thorong La pass. At an altitude of 18,000 feet this was a real achievement for us lazy city folk! So proud of ourselves! A massive thanks to Amrit our very creative and entertaining guide and our very strong, singing porter Rajendra. Without your humour and faith we couldn’t have endured the acclimatisation exercises up hundreds of meters a day, the freezing cold temperatures, the endless dal bhat, freezing cold showers (or no shower) and the squat toilets! But it was all worth it to see the jaw dropping scenery of the Himalayas!

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Humde airport in the distance
Humde airport in the distance
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On the way to Muktinath

December 3rd, 2013 – My favourite pic on our travels so far ! – Chitwan, Nepal

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Goofing around on the bus – Chitwan to Kathmandu
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Chitwan National Park
A glimpse of the Annapurna as seen from Lake Phewa
A glimpse of the Annapurna Range as seen from Lake Phewa – Pokhara

December 25th 2013 – Wow! What a journey on the Yangon to Mandalay Express! Ironic it’s called the express, it took 15 hours!! Anyway, it was shall I say, a memorable experience. Why? Because the train thundered through some of the most beautiful rural scenery we’ve seen. It was so bumpy we were often catapulted off our seats, even airborne for a second! The train rolled from side to side, creaked and swayed and groaned all the way! Let’s see what Mandalay has to offer. Today’s travel tip? Maintain sense of humour whilst travelling!

This is fun!
This is fun!

December 27th, 2013 – What a fun day! After yesterday’s escapade trying to get back to the hotel, we bravely decided to rent a motorbike and explore Mandalay the easy way. Well not that easy! We had no mirrors, no clutch, helmets that didn’t fit and the bike kept on stalling much to the amusement of everyone around us! On the agenda was the heavily guarded Mandalay Palace and U Bein Bridge – the longest and oldest bridge in the world. Somehow we got back alive after dicing with death a few times, weaving in and out of crazy traffic and nearly coming off! A totally hair-raising experience! Today’s travel tip: When in Myanmar DONT get a bike!!

U Bein bridge - sublime at sunset
U Bein bridge – sublime at sunset

December 30th, 2013 – Today we experienced the sun rising over the Bagan temples! Walking up the steep steps of the Shwe San Daw Pagoda barefoot at 5.00am, we were excited and full of anticipation! When dawn broke revealing hundreds of mist covered temples we were tickled. When the sun came up in all it’s glory we were wowed by the beauty and tranquility of it all. Finally, when the hot air balloons went up one by one and covered the sky, it was the icing on an already delicious cake!

On the flip side, we spent 9 hrs zipping from one pagoda to another, when suddenly the bike finally gave up and came to a grinding halt. Asad decided to try some chivalry out and pushed me on the bike back to the hotel. (I opted to walk of course) but he wasn’t having any of it)! Guess what? Yes, the locals once again found it hilarious! Mmm I think there seems be a recurring theme here!!

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Bagan

February 3rd, 2014 – Well it’s goodbye Thailand! We’ve had an awesome time. Bangkok was exciting with its bustling streets, great food and fabulous shopping. Chiang Mai was a perfect meeting point for friends we’d picked up along way with the odd ladyboy thrown in for a bit of fun. From cookery classes to Ethical Elephant tours and a bit of Muay Thai and markets galore – Chiang Mai was to our relief cheap and definitely cheerful. Fast forward and we hit the very touristy beaches of Ao Nang only to shout oh no!! So we ran away and found our little piece of heaven in Klong Muang. Here we met some great people and had an amazing time! So Selamat Datang Langkawi! Malaysia here we come!!!

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Siam Rice Cookery School – Chiang Mai
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Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai
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Catching up with friends at a Muay Thai Boxing Match
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Klong Muang Beach -Krabi
Koh Pha Nang
Koh Pha Nang

March 4th, 2014 – Kota Kinabalu

So it’s almost the end of our time in Malaysia! It’s been real fusion of culture, people and food. Langkawi was a beautiful island, very laid back. Kuala Lumpur was fantastic – uber modern. The Cameron Highlands were a nostalgic throw back to British colonial times where walking amongst tea plantations and lychen forests lifted our spirits. We then moved on to Borneo; From Kuching – Kota Kinabulu – Sandakan, we travelled. Jungles, Orangutans, floating down the Kinabatangan river, watching Probiscus monkeys, flying bats, snake birds and the beautiful Kingfisher – all in their natural environment. Amazing! Tomorrow we fly to Singapore!

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Kuala Lumpur at Night
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Jalan Alor – Food Street, Kuala Lumpur
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Checking out the tea – Cameron Highlands
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LaZat Cookery School – KL

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Langkawi Sunset

March 6th, 2014 – Just a fleeting visit to Singapore!

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Singapore Skyline

March 19th 2014 – So it’s that’s time again, we are leaving Sydney. Tomorrow we go to New Zealand for a 3 week fly drive tour of the beautiful South Islands. Australia was unfortunately just a pit stop and not really in our plans to visit. But a stupidly cheap flight from KL came up and we thought let’s go!!  We had visions of travelling around but the cost has been enormous and hey we still have other countries to budget for! Shame, we would have loved to have experienced the outback, aboriginal culture and of course Ayers Rock! Alas it was not meant to be this time. So apart from seeing the usual sites of Sydney and a trip to the fabulous Blue Mountains, we have to say that the highlights were meeting our friends. Firstly, staying with Craig and Lorena in Canberra, then meeting Matt who used to work with us in London and Samma and co who we met in Nepal and who treated us to some home-made Momos! Thanks guys, you made Sydney memorable!

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At Craig and Lorena’s House – Canberra
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Bondi Beach – Australia
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Matt and Asad during a night out in Sydney
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We meet again – Friends from Nepal
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The Blue Mountains

March 22nd 2014 – So today we started our 3 week drive around the south islands. Checked out of our prison lodging – no seriously it was a converted prison, very novel! (Bit concerned at the picture of Asad as he took to being an inmate too easily)!

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Well it’s time to say goodbye to New Zealand! In 3 weeks we’ve had a taste of what makes this country awesome – it’s landscape! We’ve travelled over 3300 km from Christchurch to Kaikoura and experienced so much in between. We’ve been so spoilt – stared at the Milky Way on most nights, seen whales, seals, penguins and some amazing bird life! Every corner you turn, you simply can’t believe how stunningly beautiful this land is especially at this time of year. So tomorrow we head off to Bali to relax for a while before we explore Indonesia. Farewell New Zealand it’s been a blast!

A day’s hike in the Hooker Valley is a perfect way to appreciate the beauty of Mount Cook
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Beautiful Sunrise, Mount Cook
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Mount Cook
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Asad Sky Diving – Queens town
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Meeting Tim and Jenny, friends from London

April 17th 2014 – Great night catching up with Federica and Sal again! – Ubud, Bali

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April 22nd 2014 – Third day of funeral ceremony and we well and truly got what we expected! A mass slaughter of 8 buffalo! It was terrifying, shocking and insane! The will to live pervades through everything that lives and breathes and to see such a large beast still trying to get up after an almost decapitation is beyond words!! Still – we managed to get through it surprisingly well! It was still worth going and a privilege to be part of a tribal tradition that spans hundreds of years. Tomorrow the family of the deceased will bury the person in a cave high in the hills with an effigy that bears a resemblance. We’ve learned so much about these mysterious people – it’s an anthropologists dream! Plan for tomorrow? No more funerals – just mountain hikes and serene village walks here we come! – Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi.

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Cliff Burials, Tana Toraja
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Enrekang, South Sulawesi

May 13th 2014 – What a hectic day! Last day in lovely Ubud which called for some last-minute sightseeing and a bike ride to see Mount Batur. Got fleeced on the way up by the local police who fined us IDR 250,000 for not having an international driving licence! We’ve driven everywhere in South East Asia and get fleeced here! Left Ubud, drove an hour and now in Seminyak. Asad had another craving for something bland – aka BURGER so ended up in Wacko Burger. Nice! Ended up having a drink in some random place called Frankensteins. Random photo included!

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Thriller Night at Frankensteins Bar!
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Rice Terraces – Ubud, Bali
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Ornate doorways to Temples in Ubud

May 18th 2014 – 12 years ago was the last time we saw Ranjan in the UK. Now he’s living in Hong Kong with his lovely wife and family. Had a great evening catching up! – Discovery Bay, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

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May 26th 2014 – Tomorrow we start another adventure – we are off to China! We’re excited and slightly apprehensive as we have the challenges of language, culture and of course politics to contend with. But it will be totally worth it as we have an awesome bucket list!

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May 31st, 2014 – Supposed to leave the delightful Hutongs of Lijiang and saw-toothed mountains of Tiger Leaping Gorge a few hours ago to discover Beijing. But what do you know – the flight’s delayed! After zero communication from anyone we have found ourselves still here 3.5 hours later! I wouldn’t mind but the info board still says boarding! Anyway, they gave noodles away! Here’s some pictures of what we left behind!

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Tiger Leaping Gorge – Yunnan

June 2nd 2014 – We had a great day today visiting the lovely Forbidden Palace and the Soviet inspired, centre of Communist China – Tiananmen Square. Asad seems to have turned out to be a bit of celebrity. Wherever we go the Chinese want their picture taken with him! No luck for me I’m afraid Don’t you just love the outfits!

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The Forbidden Palace – Beijing

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June 6th 2014 – Been in Datong two days now! A coal mining town with a socialist feel that has had the history kicked out of it and rebuilt again. Why do the Chinese do that?! No English spoken here and the menus are well dodgy! (Erm can’t even read them)! Pictures of Bullfrog, lamb spine, brain and here’s a new one – Donkey! Our dietary restrictions of no pork and no beef are stopping us eating well and I think it’s beginning to show. We’re existing on one meal a day now! Anyway took a couple of buses to the Yungang caves today – Buddhist statues dating back 1500 years. Laughed with the locals, had a few more pictures taken of us and went back to the hotel for our one meal of the day. Yeah you guessed it – noodles! – At Datong County, Shanxi

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Yungang Caves

June 12th 2014 – Had a fabulous time in Pingyao walking through the historical streets of the old town. Met Sebastion, a fellow traveller who entertained us with his adventures through Mongolia and China. Arrived in Xian after a very long train journey of 10 hrs and what do you know we met up with another friend from London! Had a fabulous two days catching up with him and his friends over drinks and seeing the amazing Terracotta Army!

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Terracotta Museum
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Random meeting with our friend Toni from London!

June 15th 2014 – Wonderful day at the rainbow mountains! The next three weeks are going to be tough but awesome. Bring on Tibet! A dream about to become reality!

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Danxia Landform Geological Park, Zhangye

June 17th 2014 – Finally arrived after an epic 38 hour journey on board the Qinghai to Tibet Railway in a non-smoking pressurised train with everyone smoking!

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Making friends on the Qinghai – Tibet Train
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The Tibetan Plateau – View from the Qinghai to Tibet Train

June 24th 2014 – Back where we started our journey, after an epic trek across Tibet via Everest! Off to Pokhara and Kathmandu for a few days to meet up with friends.

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Mount Everest – Tibet

July 1st 2014 – So the day has come when we have to post our final travel Facebook status. We are going home tomorrow. We’ve travelled across 10 countries by foot, plane, train, taxi, songthaew, rickshaw and boat. From the majestic Himalayas in Nepal to the mysterious death practices of Sulawesi. From the awesome landscapes of China to the Tibetan plateau and finally Everest Base camp! We’ve lived, breathed it all. It’s been an amazing experience. We’d like to thank you all for your support and for taking the time to read our posts – it means a lot to us. To the new and old friends we met along the way especially Federica and Sal, Ariela, Pemba, Amrit, Rajendra, Tim and Jenny, Toni and friends, Alan, Ranjan, Craig, Matt, Samma, Shally and Musi. We will never forget you. You will all remain in our hearts forever for the laughter and experiences we all shared! For those of you who wish to travel the world – do it! Do it as soon as you can. Don’t wait for the promise of tomorrow – it may never come. It will give you a sense of freedom never experienced before – that of your heart and your mind!

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The Famous Hong Kong Skyline
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The Great Wall Of China – Mutianyu
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Chinese Tourists love taking photo’s with foreigners!
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Potala Palace – Lhasa
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Grabbing a sneaky photo with a Buddhist Monk
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Travelling across Tibet, in a bus, taking silly photo’s!
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Mount Everest

So there you have it. Tell us about your travel highlights of 2014…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bagan, Burma – A Sublime Step Back in Time

Bagan was like being transported to a time where ancient kingdoms and civilisations once reigned.  It was an age of innocence – a simple rural life. It was a feeling. We felt it when a horse and cart would kick up a cloud of dust as it passed by us. We felt it when we saw the stooped figures of farmers working in the rice fields – the golden glow of their crops and shimmering haze of sun around them like a halo. When white buffalo with pretty eyes would cross our paths on the dusty gravel roads. There was a romance to it. A slow unhurried pace of life – a million miles away from everything.

Rivalling Angkor Wat – Bagan’s temples are truly spectacular. Nothing can prepare you for that first glimpse of hundreds upon hundreds of temples that rise up through the canopy of tamarind and neem trees. Set in a twenty-six square mile plain – over 2200 temples still stand today amongst hundreds of others that lie in ruins. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, there were over ten thousand temples, pagodas and monasteries in this region. Bagan was the cultural, political and economic nerve centre drawing scholars, students and monks from India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka now) and the Khmer empire.

Bagan is an endless dream for those who like to take photos. So I’ve shared the highlights below, which hopefully will do some justice to such a magnificent place!

The epic sunrise from the Shwe San Daw Pagoda

Walking barefoot up the steep steps of the Shwe San Daw Pagoda, we were so excited to be witnessing one of the most photographed and awe-inspiring places on Earth. When dawn broke revealing hundreds of mist covered temples we were tickled. When the sun came up in all its glory, we were wowed by the beauty and tranquility of it all. Finally when the hot air balloons went up one by one in the distance – it was the icing on an already delicious cake! It was a beautiful experience from beginning to end.

Temple spires peak through the mist
Temple spires peek through the mist

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Balloons rising over the temples
Hot air balloons rising over the temples
These steps can give you vertigo!
These steps can give you vertigo!

Three days of temple – hopping!

You would seriously get templed – out if you visited all of the temples in Bagan. it’s just not possible! Not only is this area vast but the physical effort of walking around in the unforgiving heat of the sun would end any attempt quickly! So we hired a scooter and spent three sun drenched days zipping through the beautiful countryside, meeting the locals, stumbling upon ruins and exploring the many corridors, niches and vaults of the temples.

We met this lovely man who lived by one of the temples. He eagerly showed us his art-work - the Buddha!
We met this lovely man who lived next to the temple. He was the artist who actually painted the inside!

Thatbyinnyu Phaya

At a height of  over 200 feet, this beautiful temple towers over many others in Bagan. Built by Kind Alaungsithu, Thatbyinnyu means omniscience.

Thatbyinnyu Temple - Built in the mid-12th Century
Thatbyinnyu Temple – Built in the mid-12th Century

Ananda Temple

Constructed in 1091AD by King Kyansittha, it is regarded as one of the most elegant and beautiful of temples in Bagan.

The Ananda Temple -Built 1105AD
The Ananda Temple -Built 1105AD
One of the four Buddhas - Gotama
One of the four Buddhas – Gotama inside the temple

The Sulamani Temple

Built in 1183 by King Narapati sithu,

The Sulamani Temple
The Sulamani Temple
Inside the Sulamani Temple - ancient painting of the Buddha
Inside the Sulamani Temple – ancient painting of the Buddha
We discovered this almost deserted temple to watch the sunset.
We discovered this almost deserted temple to watch the sunset.
So friendly and inquisitive -These guys just ran to us when we said hello!
These guys loved having their photo taken!
Farmers working the fields
Farmers working the fields
I love taking photos of children!
I love the expression on this child’s face!
A typical rural scene
A typical rural scene
The best and cheapest way to explore the temples!
The best and cheapest way to explore the temples!
Thatbyinnu temple rising majestically above the other temples
A great view of the temples – Thatbyinnyu Phaya towering in the background

Bagan was so inspiring. What places have inspired you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myanmar (Burma) – A Walk Through Yangon and Mandalay

Burma has many treasures and undoubtedly for us they were its enchanting temples, curious, gentle people and a colonial history that still remains to this day. The rural scenery is breathtaking and a world away from the new face of Burma that is rapidly taking shape everywhere.

Yangon

We had read many things about travel in Burma through the media, travel forums and websites. We had heard that there would be limited internet access, phone reception would be zero and you had to carry only pristine notes – otherwise they may be a chance your money would be rejected. Of course you wouldn’t be able to withdraw those shiny notes as there was apparently no ATM’s!  With all this to think of, we landed in Yangon slightly apprehensive though open-minded about what to expect. We were lucky enough to have arrive at the tail end of the 27th South East Asian Games. This was Burma’s moment and they had to raise their game. The result? Our UK phones worked, we were easily able to buy a sim card by some very helpful people at the airport and at the hotel we had wifi!  Though temperamental, we were just grateful it actually existed!  We had no issues with the money and of course there were ATM’S. What was all the fuss about?

We arrived to find Yangon gloriously bathing in the feel good factor of the games! Five star hotels competed with colonial buildings whilst golden pagodas stood side by side with churches and mosques – reflecting a rich culture and a melting pot of people. Huge advertising billboards towered over swarming streets filled with hawkers, business people and tourists.

The new face of Yangon
The new face of Yangon

Sunset at the Shwedagon Temple

The Shwedagon Temple attracts people from all over the world to enjoy its enchanting beauty. We discovered the best time to visit was at sunset when the crowds thinned out and the temple revealed itself in all its golden glory. Standing close to 110 meters and covered with hundreds of gold plates, the top of the stupa is encrusted with thousands of diamonds – the largest being a whopping 72 carat diamond! Somehow this fact had escaped us and it was only when a random guy asked us to stand in a certain spot and look up, that we saw the diamond wink at us in the setting sun!

The Shwedagon Pagoda today stands close to 110 meters and is covered with hundreds of gold plates. The top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds, the largest of which is a 72 carat diamond.
The Shwedagon Pagoda reveals many variations of its gold colour as the sun goes down.
Gleaming at night
Gleaming at night
The night bring an air of quiet contemplation
The evening brings an air of quiet contemplation
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Monk praying

The Streets of Yangon

Yangon is home to many cultures and religions. From the mosques of Yangons’ townships, where you can wade through the bustling urban sprawl of flea markets, gleaming pagodas of Buddhists. Wherever you go, you’ll always be greeted with smiles, curious looks and an eagerness in the people to get to know you.

Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon
Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon
We decided to pass on the meat!
We decided to pass on the meat!
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Fresh fish from the market
Thanaka painted woman
Thanaka painted woman
Smiles all round!
Smiles all round!

The Architecture  of Yangon – A Glimpse into the Past

Meandering through the streets of downtown Yangon was like reliving Burma’s colonial history. It was evident everywhere. Apparently Yangon has the greatest number of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia. We could see why! Everywhere, there were impressive examples of magnificent architecture. Some still had life in them and were used to this day, whilst others sadly lay in the shadows of shiny new five-star hotels – forgotten and neglected.

Bogyoke Aung San Market - buy anything from rubies and pearls to silk and art
Bogyoke Aung San Market – buy anything from rubies and pearls to silk and art
Yangon City Hall
Yangon City Hall
Immanuel Baptist Church - built in 1885
Immanuel Baptist Church – built in 1885

Mandalay

Thanks to Rudyard Kipling, Mandalay has a hard time living up to the romanticised and nostalgic images captured in the poem “Mandalay”. It was nothing like that. Instead we arrived to find congested streets at the centre of which stood the old royal palace, surrounded by the walls and moat of a military base.

The day after arriving we decided we would walk to Mandalay Hill to see the sights and view the sunset. Bad move! Though we could see the hill from where we were staying, we seriously underestimated how far it was and how hot it was! Hours later, we had only got half way, the sun was crazy hot and we were tired! I think we looked tired as an elderly man on a taxi-bike rode up and offered a lift for a price. Well we took it! We jumped on the bike (yes there were three of us on a tiny bike) and chatted to the very well spoken man on the way. The taxi guy said he would wait for us at the top of the hill and take us home. Did he wait? Hell no! Of course he wouldn’t! So after watching the sunset on the hill and realising the elderly Indian had made a sharp exit we walked it back to the hotel. Night drew in and after walking through some dark streets for what seemed like hours and wishing a taxi would drive by, yet another guy appeared out of no-where! “Do you need a lift”? he said. I looked at Asad.  We both looked at the guy, decided he wasn’t a mass murderer and jumped on his bike and yes there were three of us on a tiny bike!

After the escapades of the night before, we bravely decided to rent a motorbike and explore the sprawl the easy way. Well not that easy! We had no mirrors, the clutch was none existent, the helmets didn’t fit properly and much to the amusement of the locals who laughed at us –  the bike kept on stalling! On the list of things to see were Mandalay Palace, Kuthadaw Paya, Mahamuni Paya and further afield the stunning U Bein Bridge. Somehow we got back alive from riding the scooter. Asad did a man scream every time he turned right on a junction! It was like dicing with death, weaving in and out of crazy traffic – a totally hair-raising experience! But such fun!

The streets of Mandalay from our hotel room
The streets of Mandalay from our hotel room

Kuthodaw Paya

Described as the worlds largest book, Kuthodaw Paya is home to 729 marble slabs inscribed with ancient Theravada Buddhist scriptures.

Shrines where each slab of inscribed marble lies
Shrines where each slab of inscribed marble lies
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Inside the shrines
A close upon the text
A closer look at the inscriptions

Mahamuni Paya

Mahamuni Paya is a large complex where at the heart of the pagoda is a 3.8 metre-tall Buddha figure. Male devotees visit to apply gold leaf to the figure. Women are not allowed within the inner area and instead ask the men to apply it for them.  The figure itself is said to weigh six tonnes and at 4am each day, crowds gather to watch the face being washed.

Gold leaf being applied to the Buddha by men only
Gold leaf being applied to the Buddha by men only
Woman praying the temple
Woman praying the temple
Gold leaf being applied to the Buddha
Inside the temple

Mandalay Palace

Constructed between 1857 – 1859, this is the last royal residence of King Mindon and King Thibaw – the last two kings of the country. It was part of King Mindon’s founding of the new royal city of Mandalay. Not only was it taken over by the British but also the Japanese. Adding insult to injury, it was pretty much destroyed in World War II by allied bombing. Only the royal mint and watchtower survived. A sad ending. It is protected by walls and a moat more than 2km long on each side.

Security was tight when we entered and they made sure we didn’t digress from the straight road leading up to the palace. Though I must admit the urge to rebel and sneak off did rear itself, but thoughts of being locked up kept us in line! It didn’t take long to walk around the palace. To be honest, the outside was more impressive. So apart from a museum which offered some insight into the royals, we were in and out in less than a couple of hours.

The exterior of Mandalay palace
The exterior of Mandalay palace
At the entrance
At the entrance
Inside of the palace - reconstructed in the 1990's
Inside of the palace – reconstructed in the 1990’s
Nuns inside the museum
Nuns inside the museum
Pictures of the last monarchy to reign
Pictures of the last monarchy to reign
Royal artefacts
Royal artefacts

U Bein Bridge – A magical sunset on the longest and oldest bridge in the world

Stretching for 1.2 kilometres across Taungthaman Lake, U Bein Bridge is believed to be the oldest and longest teak wood bridge. Built around 1850, it’s made from reclaimed wood from the former royal palace in Inwa. Lined with hawkers selling souvenirs it still acts as an important passage way for locals and monks who visit the temples nearby. Though the banks of the lake were terribly littered – it was a great place to get some amazing photo’s of local life.

U Bein bridge – sublime at sunset
The rice fields around U Bein Bridge
The rice fields around U Bein Bridge
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A local fisherman

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Share your experience of Burma and tell us what you liked or disliked! 

Burma – Train Journeys into the Past, Present and Future

Train journeys have always been romanticised through novels and films – evoking images of colonial nostalgia, indulgence and adventure. Though railways in Burma may not bring comfort, what they lack in luxury they make up with a truly unforgettable experience.

For us it was an experience that started the moment we set foot onto the platform as we weaved our way through the crowds of people and hawkers clambering onto the train. It was a childlike excitement – an anticipation of adventure in the journey to come. Just to be able to stick your head through the window and take funny photographs of each other was potentially fun. When pulling into a new station would bring the wonder and excitement of a new destination. We could all wave to each other as the train would roll out of the station! All this excitement summed up through the sound of a train whistle against the familiar and comforting soundtrack of clickerty clack, clickerty clack. We couldn’t wait!

Our train adventure took us from Yangon to Mandalay to Bagan and back to Yangon. Three journeys – all memorable, evocative and unique in their own way. Even buying the tickets for the trip to Mandalay directly from the ticket office in Yangon was like stepping back in time. Housed in a crumbling building, it had a faded and aged look about it. A place of peeling paint, no sign of a computer and tickets that were still handwritten.

Yangon to Mandalay Day Train – 15 hours 

Quick photo stop before boarding the Yangon to Mandalay Express
Quick photo stop before boarding the Yangon to Mandalay Express

We arrived at Yangon station at five thirty in the morning, bleary-eyed and half asleep. It was Christmas Day! No roast turkey with all the trimmings for us I guess! Any romantic notion we had of these trains was quickly dispelled as we entered the carriage. Upper class had a different meaning here. What greeted us were industrial strength seats that reclined whether you wanted them to or not!

The train started with a jolt as we eased slowly out of the station. The carriage creaked and swayed as it gradually increased speed causing the curtains to flap around us as the breeze picked up through the open windows. We passed through the outskirts of Yangon as we lurched from side to side, up and down and at times – momentarily airborne. All this rolling around was amusing to everyone and we all laughed at each other with that knowing look of “hey isn’t this fun”!

The landscape of factories, new builds and billboards were a taste of Burma’s future. After years of military rule and isolation from the rest of the world, it was clear that Burma had opened up its doors to foreign investment and of course tourism. However visible cracks and teething problems were evident as the infrastructure struggled to cope and prices for hotels were sky high and unrealistic.

As dawn broke, the sun came up in all its glory, bathing the scene in front of us in its golden radiance. The gritty landscape gave way to what we had been looking forward to – the real Myanmar. A glimpse of the rural past that still existed in the present.  The early morning mist clung to the trees that were silhouetted against the horizon. Farmers worked the land – hues of yellow, brown and green colouring the earth. Stooped figures harvested crops whilst buffalo grazed with birds perched on their backs. The train heaved itself through the countryside and over fragile bridges , hardly touched since the British left.

Sunrise as the train passed through rural countryside
Sunrise as the train passed through rural countryside
Ploughing the land
A typical rural scene in Burma
This is fun!
This is fun!

Meanwhile, we attempted to photograph all this whilst trying to balance on a floor that constantly shifted underneath us. We were trying to capture history – a moment in the past before tourism would someday take away the innocence of it all. A couple of hours into the journey and on a particularly bumpy part, the noise became relentless. Metal doors crashed and collided against the door frames – sliding open, slamming shut over and over. Metal on metal. The only respite from the noise was when the train pulled into a station and ground to a halt.  Every stop bought with it hawkers that rushed through the carriage selling hot steaming corn, coffee and savouries.  Women with thanaka painted faces and teeth stained red from chewing betel nut, carried baskets of food on their heads. We would stick our heads out of the window and grab pastries from the track side vendors and wave as our train would slowly move away. Leaving behind another town and imprinting another memory.

Thanaka is used as a sign of beautifying the face and protecting from the sun
Thanaka is used as a sign of beautifying the face and protecting from the sun
Track side vendors
Track side vendors

Mandalay to Bagan – 8 hrs overnight

Mandalay - Bagan
Mandalay – Bagan

Leaving at 9.00pm, we knew most of this journey was shrouded in darkness. Momentarily, glimpses of life appeared when lit fires illuminated faces of people living in stilt houses close to the tracks. We sat on the trademark “reclined seats” joking with the attendant who loved having his picture taken. He would smile broadly and salute when we took a picture!  He looked after us so well. Even hopping over the tracks onto the opposite platform to bring us drinks and snacks whenever the train stopped.

Our carriage attendant who kept our spirits up throughout the cold and very noisy night!
Our carriage attendant who kept our spirits up throughout the cold and very noisy night!

 We came unprepared for the cold. There was a constant draught that came in from the carriage door which of course never shut properly. Eight hours of sitting was too much for our bodies. The locals of course came prepared with blankets to keep out the cold and assumed a cross-legged position in the seat and slept all the way through this particularly cold and torturous journey.

Meanwhile we struggled, our bones creaked as we shifted in our seats every so often, trying to find a comfortable position. We wrapped our thin clothes around us in a feeble attempt to keep the draught from making us ill. In the end, I remember Asad literally covering his whole face with a scarf and curling up in a foetal position just to get some sleep!

Bagan – Yangon

Bagan Railway Station
Bagan Railway Station

The mere thought of this journey brings a smile to our faces. It was almost emotional – as if a dream had come true and unexpectedly touched our hearts. There were so many moments of childlike joy and the experience started at Bagan station.

We arrived at Bagan with plenty of time to kill. Built in a pagoda style, Bagan is one of those stations that exudes nostalgia. From the faded peeling paint to the unused colonial trains, it was wonderful to just be there. The tracks were literally a step down from the platform which for some reason made us run around like kids! This seemed to amuse the locals who seemed intrigued by us and before we knew it, we had made some friends.

An elderly man with red stained teeth chatted to us. He seemed glad that Burma was opening up to the world. Happy that we tourists could see how beautiful his country was. He wanted us to know them as people, not how the media portrayed them. “We are people of the heart” he said to me before I was dragged away by the hand by a small boy.

“How do you do?”, said the little boy in perfect English. “I’m fine I said. “How do you do”?

“I am fine, my name is Mr M – what is your name”? He said this rather seriously which was beyond adorable and on replying, he looked at me for a second with a thoughtful expression, then suddenly jumped off the platform and teared down the tracks. I guess being grown up wasn’t that much fun for him!

The very polite but serious Mr M - deciding its better to be a kid after all
The very polite but serious Mr M – deciding its better to be a kid after all
Baby Monk with mother
Baby Monk with mother
Super cute!
Super cute!

The rest of the time was spent snapping away at some really lovely children and their mothers. There were some Chinese tourists who snapped away at some old unused trains with their expensive long lenses and chatted to us about their travels.  Then the train pulled in –  screeching to a halt – stopping with a hiss! A flurry of excited passengers clambered on, us included. We surveyed our sleeper carriage, we had it all to ourselves! Great – this was going to be a fun ride!

Sitting by the window, our heads popping out, I looked around. The chinese tourists had decided we should become part of their photo album and started taking pictures of us! People were excited for us. They were excited that we were happy to be in their country. They all kept waving and we both waved back – furiously! Smiles all around, it was a heart warming experience. There was a simple innocence to it. Like something out of an Enid Blyton children’s book. People smiling broadly, waving, wishing us well on our journey. “Come back soon”, someone yelled as the train slowly moved off. We will I thought. We most certainly will.

All smiles as we set off!
All smiles as we set off!

As the train thundered through the countryside and the sun set over the horizon casting a glorious orange and red hue over the landscape, I thought of how wonderful Burma was. I could see farmers on their bullock carts sending a haze of dust into the air as they made their way home. It was a dreamlike sight – the dust making it soft focus. Later I saw a little girl emerge from a forest of coconut trees, running with fast abandonment, brothers and sisters in tow, waving frantically at the train in the hope someone would wave back. We did and with the same excitement and enthusiasm and with the same look of anticipation and happiness. That memory is carved in my mind. At one point I wasn’t sure whether I had taken a picture of it – it was that heavily imprinted in my memory. It touched me for some reason – I don’t know why.

The train journeys in Burma were some of the most memorable times. They were a catalyst that brought us together with the local people. We shared stories, food and laughed together. All united whilst we were catapulted from our seats simultaneously. Where magnificent scenery evoked such emotion that memories of our own childhood and how we once felt before adulthood complicated everything. Thank you Burma railways for reminding me about the simple pleasures of life. Your past has reminded me of mine and your people touched our hearts.

What are your favourite train journeys around the world?