Wow, what a month it has been!
I definitely had my share of bad luck this past month but I also had some incredibly positive experiences too so it wasn’t all bad.
Month six started on the chilled out island of Koh Lanta which I ended up slowly falling for during my week there. It doesn’t have the best beaches I have ever seen and not really many attractions per se at all. But there is definitely something special about that island.
After I managed to drag myself away from Koh Lanta I headed to Tonsoi and Railay to try my hand at rock climbing. Turns out it is my new favourite thing and something I am definitely going to get more into once I get home.
A long day of travel took me to Ko Tao where I met up with my friend Amelie whom I met and travelled with in Hawaii back in month four. Unfortunately this is also when my body decided to shut down with a really bad cold which left me coughing to the point of not being able to breathe, and feeling sick and weak for the four days we spent on Ko Tao and the two days on Ko Phangan.
I still managed to swim a couple of times, read a lot, attempt an ill-fated hike, visit the stunning small island of Koh Nang Yuan and scooter around Ko Phangan for a couple of hours despite being sick. But I definitely didn’t see as much of Ko Tao or Ko Phangan as I would have liked so perhaps I will head back to both in the future. Or perhaps not.
I farewelled Amelie (for now) and made my way to Bangkok where I met up with my Dad before flying to my 52nd country the next morning: Myanmar!
After a chaotic and hectic introduction to the country in Yangon, a bustling metropolis full of shining gold pagodas and hardly any other westerners, we visited the ethereally beautiful Bagan by electric bike, and then I trekked for three days through the Myanmar countryside from the hill town of Kalaw to peaceful Inle Lake.
Along the way I formed a bond with my awesome trekking companions, learnt more about the small ethnic groups that live in Shan State as we passed through their villages, slept in a monastery and even attended a local wedding. It was the best trek I have ever done.
A couple of days cruising around Inle Lake by boat and bicycle was followed by an epic 18 hours of travel to reach Mawlamyine, the tropical capital of Mon State in southern Myanmar.
We came to Mawlamyine, which is firmly off the tourist trail, because my Great Uncle is buried at the military cemetery 60km south of the city. We also fit in a few of the sights around town including the world’s largest reclining buddha and a few pagodas.
Then suddenly our 15 nights in Myanmar were up. I was sad to leave this incredibly friendly and interesting country but I was excited to fly back to Thailand, if only for a couple of days, so I could eat mango sticky rice and explore some of the sights.
And that was month six!
Now onto the Stats:
Countries visited: Thailand, Myanmar
- Thailand: Koh Lanta, Ko Phi Phi, Tonsoi and Railay, Ko Tao, Koh Nang Yuan, Ko Phangan, Bangkok
- Myanmar: Yangon, Bagan, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Mawlamyine
Islands visited: Koh Lanta, Ko Phi Phi (day trip), Ko Mook (day trip), Ko Ngai (day trip), Ko Tao, Koh Nang Yuan (day trip), Ko Phangan
Best meal: Gorgonzola and pesto pasta at Fizz Restaurant on Ko Tao. One of the best pasta dishes I have ever had, every mouthful was pure bliss. And I hadn’t had pasta for over a month. Just so good. A shout out also goes to the set menu I had at one of the more unusually named restaurants I have ever been to, Be Kind to Animals the Moon in Old Bagan. I had a lentil soup with a traditional tomato salad which was in a delicious peanut sauce, and a tomato tofu curry with rice. So tasty as well as being healthy.
Worst meal: I have mostly eaten very well in Myanmar but there has been a couple of times when I was being adventurous and I came to regret it. Unripe mango (yum) in a spicy fish sauce (not so much), and gluggy Shan noodle salad were probably my worst meals.
Best craft beer: No craft beer this month – boo! Best beer I have had is Myanmar Beer but it is still pretty tasteless, like most mass produced lager. I’m such a beer snob.
- Koh Lanta National Park 3.5km return
- Khlong Chak Waterfall on Koh Lanta 3km return
- Ko Tao viewpoint 3km return
- Kalaw to Inle Lake trek 56km one way over three days
Interesting person of the month: I met so many interesting people this month, particularly on my trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Juan, my Colombian friend who has lived all over the world and was a Financial Lawyer in New York before he gave it all up. Manu, a German who has been living in San Francisco for the past twenty years and has recently sold up there to travel the world and work (occasionally) remotely along the way. Matan and Naama, the young Israeli couple who are two of the kindest people I have ever met with the biggest hearts for all of humanity, including the Palestinians. And Sebastian, who has slowly been overcoming shyness by living in the vibrant melting pot that is Berlin and travelling whenever he can. What a bunch of awesome people that I feel very lucky to have met.
Reading: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Wiener. I have read this book before about a year ago but loved it so much I wanted to read it again. The author visits a few of the happiest countries in the world as determined by the Institute of Happiness Studies in the Netherlands (yes this place really exists!). He tries to ascertain why each country is happy and comes to the conclusion that they all seem to derive their collective happiness from different sources. A very interesting read that delves into the subject of happiness in an intelligent but light hearted way. This book is one that I recommend fellow travellers to read above all others. It is that good.
Listening to: It’s never over (Oh Orpheus) by Arcade Fire. I am obsessed with this song!
Hilarious moment of the month: Amelie and I trying to get a freaken ginormous spider out of our room around midnight on our last night together. There was a lot of shrieking and dramatic jumping around followed by uncontrollable laughter at how ridiculous we must look and how scared we were of a bug. Ah, good times.
Falling for Koh Lanta
Even now, a few weeks after leaving, I still can’t put my finger on why I ended up loving Koh Lanta so much. I certainly didn’t love it on my first three days there when it mostly rained and I hadn’t made it further than the backpacker hub of Long beach. But then the rain stopped and the island really started getting under my skin, in a good way. The beaches are lovely but certainly not the most beautiful I have ever seen, the food was perfectly satisfactory, but again, not the best I have had in Thailand, and the small town centres are charming but nothing special really. But somehow, this imperfect package comes together perfectly to create an island paradise that you somehow can’t bring yourself to leave. I think the friendly locals, the chilled out atmosphere, my lovely little bungalow, new friends I made, being there for the Loy Krathong Festival and the perfect roads for scootering definitely helped. Oh, and Long beach also has some of the best sunsets I have ever seen.
Seeing Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi in the flesh
I know it’s cheesy and touristy but I have wanted to see ‘the beach’ from the movie (and book) of the same name for years, and as I had no interest in staying on the crazy overdeveloped party that is the reality of Ko Phi Phi Don, I decided to do a day trip from Koh Lanta, I opted to spend a bit more and go with the speed boat tour which arrived at Maya Bay at 9.40am rather than midday as I was hoping there would be less people there the earlier I went. And I think I may have been right on that one as although there were still quite a few people, it wasn’t as bad as some of the photos I have seen. And damn, it was beautiful. We also visited the beautiful Bamboo Island and Ko Phi Phi Don where I realised straight away that I would not have enjoyed staying in this crazy place. It was a great day all in all.
Rock climbing in Railay
I had a feeling that I would like rock climbing. I have been a fan of abseiling since I had my first taste when I was nine years old at Brownie Camp, and rock climbing is just going up the rock face rather than abseiling down. I wasn’t sure if I would feel scared of falling but turns out I wasn’t scared at all. I was a natural. I don’t mean to sound full of myself but it is so rare for me to be a natural at something sports related. Trav is a natural at any sporty endeavour that he tries. I hate him (just kidding sweet P!). I got a bit banged up and the usually unused muscles in my arms were impossibly sore afterwards but man, I really loved it! I think I have found a new passion and I will definitely be pursuing it when I am back in Australia, if not sooner.
Beach time at Koh Nang Yuan
In the middle of eight days of sickness (see lowlights below) I had a day when I was actually feeling OK. The one thing I really wanted to do on Ko Tao was to take a boat out to the small nearby island of Koh Nang Yuan, only a fifteen minute ride away, so Amelie, me and a couple of new friends Evie and Jamie, hired a boat to visit the island for the afternoon. I had been a bit disappointed by Sairee beach on Koh Tao as the water isn’t very clear and there is a only a tiny strip of yellow sand, so when I saw the sandy isthmus on Koh Nang Yuan I was really happy we made it out there. The sand was bleached white and the water was so beautifully clear and the lightest blue I had seen since the paradise beaches of Ko Lipe. I sat in the water for about an hour as well as doing the short but steep hike up to the viewpoint over the island. I’m so glad that my sickness haze cleared long enough to allow me to enjoy it.
Meeting up with Amelie on Koh Tao
I met loads of cool people during my summer in North America but Amelie stands out. I am pretty sure I will still be hanging out with this girl a few years down the track, largely due to the fact that we travel so well together. When we both realised we would be in Thailand at the same time we endeavoured to meet up, and managed to do so for a week on Ko Tao and Ko Phangan. Unfortunately I was sick the whole time but despite that, it was still so nice to be hanging out with my Hawaii travel buddy again. I’m hoping we will meet up again in Vietnam if our schedules align.
Travelling with my Dad
I don’t get to spend a lot of time with my family due to the fact I have been living abroad for almost 12 years now. I have been lucky to be able to do a couple of trips with my Dad this year, including ten days road tripping in New Zealand, as well as 17 days in Bangkok and Myanmar. When I told Dad that I was planning to go to Myanmar as part of my time in South East Asia he casually mentioned that he might be keen to join me as his Uncle is buried there. It can be challenging to travel with family at times but it is also such a rewarding experience to share priceless travel memories with the people you love and Dad and I shared a lot of incredible experiences during this trip.
Wandering the chaotic streets of Yangon
Wow Yangon was an assault on the senses. The smells, the colours, the noise, the chaos. It was slightly unnerving at first but I very quickly came to love it for how exotic it all was. We spent two and a half days wandering streets full of hawkers, stray dogs, street vendors, crumbling buildings and strewn rubbish, dodging giant holes in the pavement. And then there were the pagodas. Golden monuments to Buddhism, they represented peace among the madness of a city that has been untouched by tourism and where westerners are still stared at by local children in wonder and greeted by waves and ear-splitting smiles by their parents. I don’t know if I would have wanted to spend more than a couple of days in the craziness that is Yangon but I don’t regret a second of the time we did have there.
Exploring Bagan by e-bike
Sure, I was looking forward to exploring the ruined temples that stretch over a vast plain in the centre of Myanmar. Bagan is one of the country’s biggest tourist draws after all. But I never expected it to be quite as spectacular as it was. I thought that I might get bored of temples after one day. Not even close. I wish I spent a week there as two full days were not enough. Biking along dusty sand roads connecting hundreds of brick temples, each one different than the last, charged me with energy. There is something very magical about this place, it is palpable, and it is currently my favourite place in Asia.
Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake
I didn’t really know what to expect from my three day trek from the hill town of Kalaw to the peaceful waters of Inle Lake. I certainly didn’t expect for it to become my favourite trekking experience so far. From the people I trekked with, to our informative guide, the bluebird skies, the delicious food, the local wedding we crashed, the lack of other tourists, the monastery we slept in, all the puppies and kitties, and the captivating scenery: it was all more than I could have ever hoped for.
Time spent with new friends
I’m a reasonably outgoing person and it’s generally not too hard for me to meet people when I’m travelling but I do find it hard to really connect with a big group, I’m more of a one on one kinda gal. So it surprised me how close I felt to my new trekking buddies after only four days. We were a bit of rag-tag bunch from different countries and of different ages but it just worked. I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to these guys and I may have cried a little bit on the walk back to my hotel, thinking that I might not ever see any of them again, and certainly not together.
Inle Lake and its stilt villages by boat
Cruising through canals lined with rushes that link quiet villages on stilts was my favourite thing about Inle Lake. The stops along the way to watch cheroot making, lotus weaving and lazy cats not jumping through hoops at the Jumping Cat Monastery gave purpose to our lake exploration but I didn’t need any of that. Just looking out over the lake and villages as we quietly pushed through the still waters was enough.
Finding a family grave and feeling like a celebrity on our day trip from Mawlamyine
As I mentioned above, the reason Dad was interested in travelling to Myanmar with me was mainly to visit the grave of his Uncle. His name was Joseph Scott and he was a Japanese Prisoner of War during World War Two who died of exhaustion while building the Burmese Railway, also known as the Death Railway. As the military cemetery is located 60km south of where we were staying in Mawlamyine, we decided to hire a private car and driver to take us down there as well as visiting a couple of other sights along the way. It was a fantastic day and it felt right to be visiting Joseph’s grave, the third family war grave I have visited overseas. They obviously don’t get a lot of visitors in this part of the country because the reception I got from the locals made me feel like a celebrity. People were constantly waving and greeting us, and a big group of teenage girls took turns to have their photo taken with me, one by one. I could get used to this!
Snorkelling trip from hell
I was really looking forward to my snorkelling trip from Koh Lanta to four nearby islands. I had heard really good things from some people at my hostel that had been the day before. The day before had been sunny, but the day I went: not so much. It started out OK with a cloudy sky but no rain at least. By the time we were heading to our stop on Koh Ngai for lunch after lacklustre and crowded snorkelling stops, the wind had whipped up something fierce. It was low tide so as the boat lurched violently side to side, we had to disembark in waist deep water and wade over sharp rocks to shore to eat our lunch exposed to the cold wind, with only bathing suits on. Fun. The one hour boat trip back wasn’t much better. The boat rocked constantly and we were all sprayed with water. Luckily another girl on my tour gave me some seasickness meds early on so I didn’t feel sick like a couple of others, but I did fear for my life at times. Worst snorkelling trip ever.
Left birkenstocks on the beach on Ko Phi Phi
I feel like such an idiot. I am usually so careful with my stuff but I somehow took my expensive sandals off to swim at Ko Phi Phi then didn’t pick them back up again with the rest of my stuff when it was time to leave. I realised about halfway back to Koh Lanta and by then it was already too late. An expensive lesson in carelessness and one I hopefully won’t make again on this trip: I can’t afford it!
Badly sunburnt lip and subsequent infection
On the same day I left my sandals on the beach, I managed to get a badly sunburnt lip. I usually have lip balm with sunscreen in it but I had lost it a couple of weeks previously when I was in New Zealand and had been using a cheap one ever since. I have unfortunately had a few sunburnt lips in my time and when it was feeling tender and looking slightly swollen and purple, I knew it had happened again. Every time I have had sunburnt a lip in the past I get a virus type infection that sees my lip bleed and painfully scab so I had to deal with that for the subsequent week or so. Never fun.
Sick for over a week with a cold
I don’t tend to get sick too often and when I do get my one cold a year, I am usually only feeling sick for one to two days. Maybe the flu germs in Thailand are worse than back home because I caught one of the worst colds I have ever had, complete with a body-shaking cough. I felt terrible for over a week and ended up getting antibiotics because I just didn’t know if I could get over it otherwise. It was a massive downer feeling sick for so long, especially during the time I had with my friend, and I started worrying that something worse was wrong with me. Eventually I got better then had a relapse a couple of weeks later, but thankfully on a much smaller scale.
No one likes rain on their beach holiday, no one. Unfortunately visiting Thailand at the tail end of the rainy season meant there were still a few showers around. I would have been fine if they were just for an hour or so a day but Koh Lanta ended up having all day rain for three days then we also had rain for two days on Koh Phangan. Quite frustrating but there really isn’t much you can do about it.
Sairee beach on Koh Tao
Sairee beach on Koh Tao: meh. I’m sure if I hadn’t have been sick the whole time I would have enjoyed it more but the tiny line of sand at high tide and the cloudy waters just didn’t really do it for me. The worst thing about Sairee beach for me though was the town centre. Noisy, smelly, full of drunk and obnoxious backpackers. It was just not my kind of place. It’s a shame I wasn’t up to exploring more of the island as I am sure there are much nicer (and quieter) spots that would have been more my speed.
Seasick on the ferry from Ko Tao to Ko Phangan
The skies opened as we boarded our ferry from Ko Tao to Ko Phangan and I had a feeling that I would probably end up feeling seasick due to the increased swell from the increment weather. I was right, and even though I popped a tablet when I boarded, it didn’t work in time and I ended up hugging my seat and trying my hardest not to think of spewing for two hours. I managed to hold it in, just.
The short hike that nearly killed me on Ko Tao
I had been sick for a few days and had mainly been resting but I was starting to feel restless and I really wanted to see more of Ko Tao so we decided to go for a short hike up to a viewpoint. Well we got lost, the heat was unbearable and I just couldn’t deal with it in my sick state. I honestly thought I was going to pass out or throw up and got the worst headache. After the temperature cooled and I took a couple of painkillers I felt much better.
Lack of exercise
I have felt a bit lost the past six weeks not being able to hike. I just can’t stand hiking in the humidity of (most of) South East Asia, and as hiking is usually my main form of exercise I have been feeling quite sluggish and unfit. Doing the three day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake definitely made me feel a lot better but the last few days I have been fairly inactive again. I hate gyms and I’m not really sure what else I can do to stay fit on the road when it’s too hot or there is a lack of hiking trails. I guess it’s only for another six weeks then I can get back into in Sydney.
My lowest month spend yet! Not really surprising as it’s my first full month in Asia and my Dad helped me out a lot this month. I’m hoping next month will be similar but I very much doubt it as flights between islands in the Philippines ain’t cheap!
VERY low this month, because my Dad paid for all the accommodation for the 17 days we have spent together exploring Myanmar and in Bangkok. Also, I got some great deals on bungalows in Thailand and split accommodation costs with Amelie for the six nights we were together.
Food and Drink $212
A pretty low month thanks to the cheap food in Asia (especially Myanmar) as well as my Dad paying for a few of my meals. I expect this will go up a bit in the Philippines for next month as I have heard food is more expensive there.
- Birkenstock sandalls $118
I had to shell out for new sandals when I left mine on the beach. I also got a longyi (a long skirt worn by men and women in Myanmar) but my Dad ended up paying as I didn’t have any small notes on me. It was $3.50.
- Taxi to Old Town Ko Lanta for Loy Krathong Festival $7
- Scooter hire and petrol on Ko Lanta $7.50
- Petrol and parking for friend’s scooter on Ko Lanta $1
- Shuttle from Ko Lanta to Krabi $7.50
- Taxi from Krabi to Ao Nang $1.50
- Return long tail boat from Ao Nang to Tonsoi $5.50
- Bus and boat from Ao Nang to Ko Tao $19.50
- Boat Ko Tao to Ko Phangan $9.50
- Scooter hire and petrol on Ko Phangan $5.50
- Boat and bus from Ko Phangan to Surat Thani Airport $14
- Flight from Surat Thani to Bangkok $11
- Public transport from airport to hotel in Bangkok $2
- Taxi to airport in Bangkok $3
- Taxi from Bus stop in Bagan to Hotel $6
- Bus from Bagan to Kalaw $11.50
- Boat across Inle Lake from hot pools to Nyuang Shwe with bikes $2.50
- Bus from Inle Lake to Bago $17
- Bus from Bago to Mawlamyine $4
- Taxi from bus stop to hotel in Mawlamyine $1.50
Lots of forms of transport this month but not too bad cost-wise at all. Dad paid for my return flights Bangkok to Yangon, a couple of taxis in Yangon and Bagan, my bus from Yangon to Bagan, and half of my bus from Bago to Mawlamyine. The rest was all me.
- Four Island snorkelling trip $22
- Ko Lanta National Park entrance $6
- Ko Phi Phi Day Trip $36
- Half day Rock Climbing $22
- Return boat to Koh Nang Yuan $7
- Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake $36
- Entrance to temples in Yangon and private guide for Sule Pagoda $20
- Bagan entry fee $20
- E-bike for one day in Bagan $4
- Village visit in Bagan $2.50
- Inle Lake entry fee $10
- Hotpools near Inle Lake $7.50
- Half day bike hire Inle Lake $1
This has been the month of fun activities! I also did an additional Inle Lake half day trip, hired a private car and driver to the Military Cemetery and reclining buddha, hired an E bike for an additional day in Bagan, and caught the boat to Shampoo Island in Mawlamyine, all of which Dad paid for.
- Donation to Lanta Animal Welfare $3
- Laundry $5.50
- Toiletries $13
- Dry bag $9
- Cash out fee $5
- Antibiotics $3.50
- Myanmar Visa $67
- Myanmar souvenirs $8.50
- Wedding gift $2
- Tips for tour guide, chef and boat driver on Kalaw to Inle Lake trek $3
Lots of random crap this month. It hurt to have to shell out for the visa for Myanmar but it was totally worth it to get to visit this fascinating country.
What’s in store for next month:
Next month will be spent almost wholly in the Philippines! I arrive on Christmas Eve when I fly into Manila. I will be meeting Trav there and we will be travelling together for two and a half weeks from the mountains of Luzon to the incredible islands of Coron and Palawan.
Once Trav leaves I will be back travelling solo for the rest of the month, probably heading to the mystical island of Siquijor and the snorkelling paradise of Apo Island, and maybe Sugar beach in Sipalay.
At the very end of month seven I will be flying to Vietnam, the last country of this leg of my big trip and one I am very much looking forward to for the food and the landscapes.
I can’t believe I am already almost half way through my time in South East Asia!
To read additional Monthly Round Ups, you can find them here