Thursday, December 30, 2010

Interim Stop: Yangon

So, back to Bangkok for another week! Boy, do I regret wishing for more time here now! Before all of that though we had our flight back to Yangon. Now, our flight a few days earlier with Air Bagan was going to be pretty hard to beat, seeing as we got free food and drink, so we were expecting some serious competition on the return leg with Yangon Airways. And in fairness, we weren't disappointed! We got more free food, but instead of just fruit and sandwiches, we got two pieces of cake; a muffin and a slice of Madeira cake (in fact, I got three pieces in the end as Ash didn't want one of hers! Result!). This edges it for Yangon Airways in my book, although Aisling disagrees...

As we arrived in Yangon airport, we expected to be greeted at arrivals by our man, Zaw Hein, but when we got out there was no sign of him. We had a wander around in case we missed him, but still no sign. Where could he be?! We had his calling card so I gave him a ring on a pay phone. It turns out he was stuck at a garage getting his air conditioning fixed, and he'd be over to us as soon as he could. And sure enough, he was over to us in no time at all! It was great to see him again. And, he had a whole day of activities planned for us too before we had to be back at the airport that evening. What a guy!

First of all, he took us to a lovely restaurant for lunch, where he ordered three bowls of chicken noodle soup. It was delicious actually, and huge portions too! We treated Zaw to it of course. I battled through it with the chopsticks given, but poor Aisling had to ask for a fork halfway through. Next, he took us to see some other wonders of Yangon; the Marble Buddha, some white elephants, and then an enormous reclining Buddha! It was huge! Waaay bigger than the one in Wat Pho! And way better too!

Afterwards, Zaw took us out to Inya Lake and bought us coffee (well, I got some strange ice tea instead), and we had a great chat about Myanmar. He told us about Burmese monks (and fake monks, who dress in the robes by day, and then go out drinking at night), corrupt government taxi drivers, and (in hushed tones) he told us more about Aung Sun Suu Kyi. He pointed out to us the house where she was imprisoned for the last 20 years, and told us the story of the American, John Yettaw, who swam across the lake to get to her house in May 2009. She took him in and let him stay the night, but the next day he was arrested swimming back across the lake. She was given an extra 18 month sentence for illegally having a foreigner stay the night in her home, meaning she couldn't take part in the 2010 elections. This was two weeks before her scheduled release. Zaw was telling us that the Burmese people believe it was a set up by the government, to make sure she was still imprisoned for the elections, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was true.

Unfortunately, that was about it for our brief stopover in Yangon. Zaw brought us to the airport to catch our flight, and we gave him all the money we had left to say thanks (about $10 and 10,000 Kyat), plus a postcard with a little message we wrote for him, and that was it for our time with Zaw. As I said previously, we'll definitely be coming back here again to finish our planned trip, and to hang out with our friend.

Ok, well actually to go back a few lines, we didn't give him all of our remaining money. I kept $20 just in case, and it's a good thing I did! As we entered the airport we were told that everyone flying out of the country had to pay a government tax of $10!! We were haunted that we actually had the $20 to pay for it, otherwise we would have been stranded in Yangon (how many times have we nearly been stranded here?!).

So, back we flew to Bangkok! It was sad to be leaving Myanmar behind, but such a relief to have ATMs again! As soon as we got off the plane, we rushed to the nearest one we could find (half expecting there to be some other problem...). Ash went first and we waited nervously for money to come out, it was the longest few seconds of our lives! Thankfully the machine made its little whirring noise and we had money again! Phew!

Next I went up to get some cash for myself, only to read that my account had been disabled. It's just one thing after another... Welcome back to Bangkok!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

6th Stop: Bagan

Ok, Yangon a minute! Stop the presses, hold the phone, do whatever you want, the competition is over from here on in! There's no point in even keeping score anymore, Mynamar has just swept the board! Between Yangon and Bagan, all the trophies are heading to Myanmar; best people, best food, best accommodation, best cultural experience, the lot! If we had decided in that travel agents to turn around and leave the country when things started to get tough, it would've been the biggest mistake of our lives! We're already planning our trip back here in the summer! My words aren't enough to convey to you how exceptional this place is, so I'll quote once again from the Lonely Planet, "Gather all of Europe's medieval cathedrals onto Manhattan island and throw in a whole lot more for good measure and you'll start to get a sense of the ambition of the temple filled plains of Bagan...". I only wish our photos could do the place justice. It was without a doubt, the highlight of the trip so far. But I'm getting ahead of myself, let me tell you how it all Bagan...

We got to the airport with about 2 hours to spare before our flight, of course, that's what you do at airports, right? We needn't have bothered. We went up to our check-in desk, where the lady wrote our names on a sheet of paper and gave us a sticker for our shirts. Next we went through "security". Myself and Ash starting taking things out of our pockets and any liquids out of our bags, as you do, but the guard stopped us and just waved us through. And that was it! We were in the departures hall! There were no gates or anything and we weren't sure where our flight was going to be leaving from. Ash joked that when our flight was ready, someone will probably just come out and yell "Bagan!"... how right she was. We climbed aboard the plane and were greeted by stewardess handing out warm towels and free drinks. I can't remember the last time I got a free anything on a plane! We joked that hopefully we'd get a free meal too, but that was ludicrous seeing as it was a 70 minute flight. Surely, right...? Wrong! We got a tray each with a little circular sandwich, fresh fruit and a cup of tea. It was like flying in Ireland again in the 90s! Free food, lax security... who knew that a little circular sandwich could make us feel so nostalgic?!

Things were just as laid back when we arrived in Bagan airport. Our bags were literally carried off the plane by two guys and handed to us in the arrivals lounge. We jumped in a taxi to the Kumudara Hotel, and were welcomed at the steps by a host of staff taking our bags and offering us a tray of drinks. We were shown to our room and could hardly contain our excitement! This was heaven. It really couldn't get any better! That is until we walked out onto the balcony, and saw our swimming pool with a panaramic view over the temple strewn plains! Unbelievable.

We were wrecked after our early flight so decided to go for a little nap. We were woken abruptly though by a phone call from reception, someone had rang the hotel looking for me... Myself and Ash wracked our brains as to who it could be. Very few people would've known that we were in Bagan, let alone known what hotel we were staying in! We couldn't figure it out. Reception passed through the call anyway... It was our man, Zaw Hein! He was just checking up to see that we had arrived safely. We love him! He was saying too that we should meet up when we arrive back in Yangon before we fly back to Bangkok! We said we'd have to check on the flight times but we'd do our best. Zaw Hein, what a guy!

We were too awake at that stage to fall back to sleep so we decided to go for lunch. We flicked on the TV as we got ready and watched a bit of 'Cinderella Story' with Hilary Duff. I wanted to go for food but Ash was really into it and made me stay and watch the whole thing! Pfft! (Ok, confession time, it was actually the other way around... It was awesome though!) The hotel also did food (delicious food!), so we just ate there. (In fact, it was so nice that we had every meal in Bagan there...).

After lunch, we went on the hotel's computers to look up flights back to Bangkok. The internet there was painfully slow and we couldn't access websites like yahoo, hotmail or meteor. Still, we eventually found an Air Asia flight back to Bangkok on the Saturday evening, which also meant that we had half a day to hang out with Zaw in Yangon! I emailed my mom to get her to throw some money that we had left at home onto our 3V card so we could book the flights the next day. With all that sorted, we could have some fun in Bagan! We got a couple of bikes at the hotel and asked the staff to recommend some temples for us to visit. It was so exciting knowing there was so much out there to be discovered. We grabbed our map and plenty of water, and hit the road!

Ok, I'm gonna save a lot of time here. We saw an awful lot of temples that day, and I'm sure you don't want to read about them all individually, as much as I don't want to write about them all! Even if I wanted to, I can't remember a lot of the names and I don't think most of them even had names! (in fairness, there are over 4,400 temples here, I'd be surprised if someone thought up names for all of them). We had such an incredible day though, and I hope the fact that I'm rushing through the descriptions doesn't diminish what an unbelievable place this is! We took so many photos over our three days here, so I'll try to cram this entry with as many as I can!

Our first stop was just down the road at a massive stuppa, no idea of the name unfortunately... (We've seen so many stuppas, temples and pagodas here, and we're pretty sure we know what a stuppa is, but we're still not entirely sure what the difference is between a temple and a pagoda...). We had to climb over an old brick wall to get to it, and wade through some long grass and briars. We felt like such adventurers! Also, because of the fact that there are so many temples and so few tourists, whenever we stopped off somewhere, we generally had the place to ourselves. We had a good look around, seeing as it was our first stop, we really wanted to savour it. There was also a temple (or maybe pagoda...?) next door so we had a wander around that too. When we went inside though, there was some guy asleep on the floor. (That ended up happening quite a lot). You can't blame him though, it was roasting outside and nice and cool indoors. Also, who wouldn't want to take a nap in a temple?!

We spent the rest of the day cycling through the countryside, exploring what was on offer, eventually taking a well earned rest to watch the sunset atop Shwegugyi (I think...). When we arrived there, a lovely local girl called Nunya, gave us a tour of the temple and a mini history lesson to boot. We knew she was only doing it so we would buy something in her lacquerware stall outside, but we didn't mind, she was lovely! (and yes, we did end up buying something from her in the end). She kept telling Aisling that she was beautiful too (she was dead right!). Although it wasn't the most impressive temple around it had a great view of the surrounding area. She took us up to the top just in time to watch the sun go down over the land. It was stuppa-endous!

Actually, while Nunya was showing us around the temple, this guy kept following us around, trying to jump on her bandwagon and sell us gems. It was very annoying. We really didn't want any gems! We kept telling him we didn't have any money but he wouldn't stop pestering us. He even wanted us to trade him things from our bags (there was no way I was trading Frankie for a few fake gems, let me tell ya!). We finally shrugged him off, but when we were buying things from Nunya's stall afterwards, he spotted us and came over again, obviously realising we were lying about not having money. We felt kinda guilty about that... not guilty enough to buy anything from him though!

It was pitch black when we got back to the hotel and we were both wrecked after our action-packed day. I went for a quick dip in the pool to cool down before dinner, and it was awesome! I don't know if I had ever swam at night before, but there was something really peaceful about it. It was great. Afterwards, we had a lovely meal in the hotel. There seemed to be some party happening the next day too, as we saw the staff decorating one of the dining rooms with a stage and everything. We asked the waiter what was going on but he kept saying something about noodle soup... we couldn't really understand him... And that was pretty much it for our first day in Bagan. We had another early night as we were so tired after our cycle, and also we had an early start the next morning to catch the half 8 bus to Mount Popa, the so-called, Mt. Olympus of Myanmar.

The next morning, we got up and had our free brekkie in the hotel, giving us plenty of time to make it to the bus station. As we left, there were a load of wedding cars arriving at the hotel. That must've been what all the decorations were for! Still no idea what the waiter was on about though... We walked down the road to the centre of New Bagan looking for a taxi, but were having very little luck. (This was nothing like the Khaosan Road...) We just couldn't find one anywhere! With about 15 minutes before our bus left, we finally found a guy in a pick-up truck who said he'd drop us there. We held out hope that we'd get to the bus station just in time. What we didn't realise is that the driver meant that he'd drop us to the bus station after he did all his deliveries around town... It was the most uncomforatble journey of all time, but in a strange way, kind of fun! I've never seen a truck in such bad shape, I don't know how it worked! Myself and Ash were squashed into the front seat, staring through a shattered winscreen with a petrol can between our legs.

We got to the bus station 40 minutes later, and realised we'd have to just get a taxi there. It was over 55km away though, so we knew it'd be pricey enough to go there and back. The cheapest prices we were hearing from people was 40,000 Kyat, but we eventually worked a guy down to 23,000. (We're after becoming great at haggling! We really honed our skills in Bangkok. Myself and Ash even have a kind of good cop, bad cop routine that works a treat!) So we jumped into the taxi (well, actually it was the back of another pick-up truck) and headed to Mt. Popa!

What a journey! We almost enjoyed the trip there as much as the destination itself! As with the circular train in Yangon, it was incredible seeing the Burmese countryside first hand as we passed through. From tiny villages to green fields and sandy paths, it was a really enjoyable trip.

Mt. Popa itself was no disappointment either may I add. We eventually made it to the top after climbing an infinite amount of steps, and dodging an equally infinite amount of monkeys along the way! It was definitely worth it for the view though. The temple at the top was kind of tacky, but it didn't matter with such spectacular scenery all around. We chilled out at the top for a while, to catch our breath and to take in the surroundings.

And yes, as I said, monkeys all over the place! They were all fairly tame but there were just so many! They could've definitely taken over if they wanted... On the way down, we even saw one doing its best Kate Winslett impression! If only it had a little monkey necklace...

When we got back to the hotel, it was still quite early so we just had a nice relaxing day lounging by the pool. Absolute heaven. It was a nice break though, seeing as we'd be spending all of the next day cycling around the temples again. We had planned on booking the flights back to Bangkok that evening too, but there were people using the computers any time we looked. It was just going to have to wait til tomorrow.

We got up the next morning, ready for another day of cycling. We had to sort out the flights beforehand though. As with all Air Asia flights, you have to book at least 24 hours before the flight leaves, so we made sure to do it that morning as, come 5:40 that evening it would be too late and we'd be stranded in Myanmar... but that was aaages away, we had loads of time! ...or maybe not. As i said, the day before I emailed my mom to get her to put some money on my 3V card, and she did exactly what I asked. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask her to send on the voucher number so I couldn't book the flight! Even worse was that this was at around half 8 Myanmar time, meaning it was 2am in Ireland (they're GMT +6:30 in Myanmar, weird time zone...). Panic stations! I emailed my mom straight away for the voucher number, knowing that she wouldn't get the email for at least another 8 hours, that is if she even checked her email in time! (I tried ringing too, but the connection was predictably awful and couldn't hear a thing. Also, as I mentioned, we couldn't access meteor here so I couldn't even send a webtext) Knowing my brother would be definitely checking his emails when he got into work, I sent him one too asking him to pass on the message and also if he could send on his credit card details to me (we were really getting desperate at this stage, so we had to cover every base). And that was all we could do... we just had to wait until Ireland woke up, and hope that things fell into place for us, one way or another.

But there was nothing we could do about that now, we just had to put it out of our minds and enjoy our last day in Bagan. We went to reception to get bikes for the day ahead, but when we got there, there was a big group of Spaniards enquiring about bikes too! Fearing there wouldn't be enough to go round, I nipped over to another staff member and nabbed a couple of bikes for myself and Ash, before the Spaniards sorted themselves out, and off we set! The first day, I think we made the mistake of stopping off at every nice temple we saw. This time around we had much higher standards. It really had to be top notch to catch our attention, and we weren't disappointed! We really saw the biggest and best Bagan had to offer! Again, I wont bore you with the details of every single one.

The main one we wanted to see that day was Dhammayangyi Pahto, an absolute monster of a temple, with its huge corridors and giant double walls. We had a good look around but unfortunately the stairs to the top were closed. On the way out too, first we were engulfed by a herd of goats, then cattle, then another herd of goats! It was great though. Classic Myanmar!

After that, we got a bit lost... There were so many small and twisty paths that it was hard to judge where you were on the map. We cycled along the sandy trails for a while, not really having much success figuring out our location. It was after getting really hot at this stage too so we decided to take a break at a temple up ahead. It didn't look too amazing but we needed a breather.

We went inside, out of the sun and had a general wander around. As we walked along, we spotted a padlocked gate to the roof that was slightly ajar. Most of the temples we had visited that day had staircases to the roof, but they were all locked off, so we were very excited about the prospect of seeing what was up there! It looked like it should've been locked so we were worried whether or not we should go up... there was nobody around though, so we said we'd take a sneaky peek. (As there was noone around, we kept our shoes on too. We hated taking them off and putting them on again at every temple!) When we walked up those stairs to the roof, we didn't have much expectation as to what was up there (we didn't even know what temple we were at!), but I can tell you now, and you can quote me on this, it was the single greatest view I have ever seen. Ever. And again, the pictures just wont do it justice. (Also, we found out later that it's called Pyathada Paya)

We stayed up there for about 40 minutes, just taking in everything from the viewing platform. The caretaker must have been passing by and seen our bikes as he came up to us. He was grand though, he just told us to take off our shoes. (The floor was absolutely roasting! It was a good thing he wasn't here from the start, we wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes up there in our bare feet!) He stayed with us up on the roof, probably making sure we weren't up to any mischief, and after a while asked us if we wanted him to take a picture of us. We gladly agreed, walked over to the edge and stood in the generic photo pose. He was having none of it though and wanted something special (he was obviously a budding photographer in his spare time). He showed us what he wanted and we giddily obliged. That photo is one of my favourites from the entire trip!

It was getting late on in the afternoon at that stage, so we headed back to the hotel (getting lost on the way again!). It was seriously hot too and the sand was so thick in places that it was impossible to cycle. We finally made it back and went straight to the pool! So refreshing. We recovered for a while, got some food and then headed over to the computers, back to our mission for the day.

It was about 4 o'clock at that point (half 9 Irish time), giving us a good hour and 40 minutes before our deadline, and also giving my brother half an hour to reply. And reply he did! Thank God! He sent us on his card details so we could finally book the flight. We filled out the form and were ready to send everything off, when we realised we didn't have all the details we needed! We didn't know what type of card it was and what bank either! Sigh... it's just one thing after another. It was about half 4 at this stage and time wasn't on our side, so I sent off another urgent email, waiting frantically for a reply... but nothing came. The minutes were ticking away and still nothing... We waited and waited, but no reply. We had no choice but to guess! And guess what, I got it right, first go! Success! ...Or not. Another security screen popped up (probably cause we were in a strange location) asking for more information. This time we were finally beaten.There was only 20 minutes to go before our flight closed and we had hit another dead end. We waited on the computer, just in case there was a last minute miracle... and with 7 minutes to go, there was! My brother apologised about missing my emails as he had to pop out of the office, but he had the 3V code from my mom for us! It was now just a race against time to fill out the forms in time and for the page to load (and with the internet speed here in Myanmar, that was no guarantee!). Finally, finally, finally with 4 minutes to spare, our flight was confirmed. Neither of us could really speak for a while after that, we were so mentally tortured. Thank God. We had the flight!

That night we just chilled out in our room, too drained to do anything else. We tried to watch Jumanji, but were both just too tired and fell asleep. We had to be up early for our flight back to Yangon the next morning anyway. So, that was our time in Bagan! I can't recommend it highly enough. Visit this place, that's all I can say. Oh, and stay at the Kumudara Hotel, it's awesome!

So, next stop Yangon and our date with Zaw, before we flew back to Bangkok.

Friday, December 10, 2010

5th Stop: Yangon

"This is Burma", wrote Rudyard Kipling, "It is quite unlike any place you know about." How right he was and over a century later Myanmar remains a world apart - Ok, I stole all of that from the Lonely Planet, but they speak the truth!

"T.I.A." said Leonardo DI Caprio in Blood Diamond, and that definitely holds true here, albeit a slightly different acronym; This is Asia! We've had a good taste of Asian culture so far on our journey through Malaysia and Thailand, but both countries are still relatively Western. You've still got your McDonalds and Subway and Starbucks just around the corner. You could avoid the Asian lifestyle completely if you wanted. Not here though. Now we're really in Asia. Hardcore Asia!

As I mentioned in the last entry, we left Bangkok on our way to Myanmar (very nearly missing the flight too!) with a fraction of the money we needed for our week and a half stay there. And although the Lonely Planet (our bible for this journey) said otherwise, we still held out hope that there was an ATM somehwere in the country... anywhere... surely... There wasn't. On top of that, there were no currency convertors either, no legit ones anyway. We read that the best way to change your money to the local Kyat, or the also used US Dollar, was to go to a street market in the city and find a vendor who will change your money for you. Also, you had to be careful of dodgy vendors who will short change you or just run off with your money altogether... Great! We were also told not to change your money at the airport as you will only get half of what it is worth...

So, here we were with less than half the money we needed, in the wrong currency, and the only way to change it was to find a street vendor to change it for us (somehwere?!) and get him to give us a good rate and not just run off with our money (somehow?!) Also, most of the signs here are just in Burmese, making it virtually impossible to find our way around...

We had to collect our tickets too for our flight to Bagan that afternoon. We were really lost, in every sense. We didn't even have a notion where to start sorting things out. We went and grabbed a taxi to the city centre, as we guessed that was where we needed to be (even if we didn't know exactly where we were going). We really needed a miracle... and boy did we get one! It came in the form of our taxi driver, Zaw Hein, our Burmese guardian angel. We weren't planning on telling him our tale of woe, but he was so nice and we got such good vibes from him (also, his English was excellent!), that we told him everything. He really took us under his wing.

First he took us to an outdoor market where we could change our money. He needed to change money too so he came with us to show us what to do, and to make sure we got the best rate. The exchange "office", if you'd call it that, was at the very back of the market, down a series of small back alleys (we'd never have found it!) and consisted of a 15 year old boy sitting on a step with a box of money and a calculator... this is such a funny country! We changed our money to a mixture of US Dollars, which is used for things like accomodation and flights, and Kyat (pronounced chtt! - not a typo) which is used for food, drink etc. We felt so rich after changing our money though! I changed about 50 quid's worth into Kyat and got back this massive stack of notes, I couldn't even fit them into my wallet!

Next, he took us to a travel agent to get our tickets for our afternoon flight to Bagan. Now, the more observant of you may have noted that the title of this entry is Yangon, not Bagan... That's right, another problem. We were told that with Burmese flights you had to collect the tickets 24 hours before the flight (which is a stupid system seeing as you can only fly into the country through Yangon, so anyone hoping to fly somewhere else in the country has to stay in Yangon for at least a night). So, another disruption to our plans! It just seemed to be one problem after another in our trip to Myanmar. From the Visas, to the ATMs, to the flights...

We were stuck in Yangon for the night, that much was certain, so we were sitting in the travel agents with two choices:

- We already had flights back to Bangkok paid for in a week and a half, so seeing as we had so little money, we could just slum it in Myanmar til then, spending as little as possible, and just endure our time in the country til we could fly back to Bangkok.

- Or, we could stay the night in Yangon, cancel our flight in a week and a half and just run back to Bangkok the next day with our tails between our legs...

We were really tempted to choose the latter, as we had become so disheartened at that stage... But, in the end we said fuck it! We're getting the most out of this country no matter what! Forget plan A or B, we're taking plan C! We're going to spend the night in Yangon, have a laugh, then get a flight to Bagan the next day, spend all the money we have for as long as we have it, and then get a new flight back to Bangkok when it all runs out! It meant losing the flights we had already booked, and we wouldn't be able to go to the other places we wanted to go to, Mandalay and Inle Lake, but we had no other choice.

There was a lot of planning to do before all of that though. First we actually had to find flights to and from Bagan, and in fairness, the two girls at the travel agents (April and Soe Moe Moe) couldn't have been more helpful. They spent about 20 mins ringing up various different airlines til they eventually found a flight out the next day, with Air Bagan, and a flight back three days later, with Yangon Airways. They also rang the place we were meant to be staying in Bagan to change the days of our stay, and make sure we didn't get charged extra for it. (While they were on the phone, Zaw was letting us know what was happening too) The two girls really couldn't have done more for us!

So, next stop was finding us somewhere to stay in Yangon for the night, as cheap as possible! And our man Zaw came up trumps again for us, taking us to a lovely hotel and getting us a double room for $12 a night. (On a side note, he also offered to loan us money and gave us his calling card in case we needed anything while we were in Yangon. What a guy! It was so touching that this Burmese taxi driver was offering us 'rich Westerners' money cause we were in need) We took the room anyway and sadly that meant the end of our time with Zaw. It was a teary goodbye... He even refused to take money from us for his services cause we couldn't afford it, but we made sure he took $10. We'd have given him more if we had it! He also said that the next time we're in Yangon, we'd have to go to his house for dinner with him and his wife, and we're welcome to stay with them too. I said it before but, what a guy! We made sure to get a picture with him before he left, and he got a picture with us on his phone as well!

So, the hotel room... it was hilarious! We knew for $6 a night each that there must be something up... and I guess there was. It was a great room and a great hotel, I've no complaints about the place. We had our own TV, bathroom, air conditioning, fridge, double bed, everything! And the room was pretty big too, well, in two dimensions anyway... the ceiling was literally 5 feet tall! And the door to the room was about 4 feet, we had to crawl in! I wouldn't change it for the world though, it was great fun.

Seeing as we were in Yangon for the day, we said we better go and do something. We read in the Lonely Planet about a 'circular train'; a train that leaves Yangon, goes through the surrounding countryside and villages, and back to the station three hours later. We thought it would be a great way to see true Burmese life, so we said we'd go for it! What an experience. Everything about it. First of all, we headed to the train station, and were waiting at the platform for about an hour. After a while, a man came up to us, shook our hands and walked off. We thought that was kinda weird... Next, two lads of around 18 or 19 came up and started chatting to us. One of them kept calling me brother too. After that, a man brought his nephew over to talk to us and invite us to a festival in their home town of Pyay. (and we'd have gone with them too if we didn't have other plans!) People were queueing up to see us!

While we were waiting too, we bought two flavoured blocks of ice from some guy walking around with a bucket of them. They were only like 5 cent each. They were like some sort of Burmese Mr. Freeze! (I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere... a Brrr-mese...?)

Our train arrived anyway and it was everything you'd imagine an Asian train in a developing country to be; a grubby metalic shell with two wooden benches on either side, crammed full of people, but we sucked it up and said it was all part of the adventure! As we climbed aboard though, the conductor ordered a load of people out of our carriage, tied a rope across the middle and gave myself and Ash half the carriage to ourselves, while the other half was packed with locals! We felt so guilty... but secretly delighted with out special treatment!

The locals didn't seem to mind though, and were lovely to us! One woman gave us a local newspaper to read (even though it was all in Burmese), so we just looked at the pictures. Some guy was saying to her that there was no point in giving us a newspaper cause we couldn't understand it. Everyone was joking with him though that we could understand it, and I was pretending I could too just to prove him wrong! We had such a laugh! They were pointing at pictures of Westerners as well in the paper and saying that they looked like me and Aisling! We had so much fun on that train. It's funny how we were able to understand each other and have a joke, even though neither of us spoke the other's language. (I was thinking later on though, how racist would it be if someone back home pointed to a picture of Jackie Chan and told an Asian that it looked like him!)

The train was such an incredible experience though, and not just the people on board. Seeing the surrounding countryside, villages of straw huts, farmers ploughing the earth and working in the rice fields, and kids singing and dancing in the sun. It was unreal. And everyone waved at us! Boy, did they wave... At one stage we even passed a truckload of school kids. I've never seen so many waving hands... We felt like such celebrities that day.

While we were in Myanmar, they were going through one of the biggest periods in their recent history. They were just after having their first election in 20 years (although Zaw told us that everyone knew it wasn't a fair one) and also democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi (who in fact won that last election, but was arrested and locked up since then) was just after being released. The Burmese people have been oppressed and isolated from the outside world for so long, and it's all the more heart breaking cause these are by far the nicest people we've met anywhere in the world. The way the country is run is awful. The people even have a joke that George Orwell didn't just write one book about the country; Burmese Days, he wrote three; 1984 and Animal Farm too! It would be funny if it wasn't so true... I think the people were so glad to see us because we were a link to the outside world and perhaps a signal of coming change...

Either that or we're just gorgeous!

After the train, we just went for a wander around Yangon. It was tough finding somewhere to eat that night as the town just had traditional Burmese restaurants and many didn't have menus in English. We found a place anyway, a bar that did food, and were lucky to get a table. We ordered the most familiar things we could find on the menu, (fried rice and noodles) and as we sat there waiting for our food, Ash realised she was the only female in the whole place! And worse yet, as she was eating her food, she spotted an insect in it. We didn't want to be rude and complain, but luckily one of the waiters must have seen Ash staring sorrowfully at her plate, and made her a new one.

We returned to our mini-room to watch some more Amazing Race and on the way stopped off to get some snacks. We found a massive pack of 250 sweets for two quid, bursting with flavours such as tea, butter, corn etc. (what is it with Asians and corn?!) They had normal flavours in there too so we bought it, and when we opened the pack we found a little package with 200 Kyat in it! It's only like 20 cent, but it's always nice to win things! We had an early night seeing as we had to be up at 4am to go to the airport.

We went down to the lobby the next morning to find all of the lights off and someone asleep on the couch. We presumed that he worked there and were about to wake him when the receptionist walked in (who obviously just woke up himself to check us out). He got a taxi for us too and we made our way to the airport. We never found out who that sleeping guy was...

So, that was Yangon! Not bad for a day in an unplanned city! Next stop, Bagan!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

4th Stop: Bangkok

The next morning we jumped on the return ferry, sad to be leaving Ko Phi Phi behind... (and even sadder to be travelling back to Phuket! Sorry...) It was a horrible ferry crossing too. When the crew started handing out sick bags before we even left, we knew it was going to be bad. It was funny, myself and Ash didn't know what they were handing out at first, but it finally clicked halfway through the journey when we saw people hunched over bags of yellow liquid... We arrived finally in Phuket and headed straight for the airport. After a straight-forward flight to Bangkok, we jumped on a bus to the city centre. Ash had been here before and didn't really like the place, but on that drive from the airport, I got a really good vibe from the city and was certain that I was really going to love it here!

We got off near enough to our hostel on the Khaosan Road, the Mecca for backpackers in Thailand. It was mental! We actually got very used to it in the end but at first, it was a real attack on the senses. It's a pretty small stretch of road, but it takes you about half an hour to walk down it cause there are just so many people!

We got to our hostel eventually, thanks to two different people who went out of their way to give us directions. We obviously looked lost. (or else they knew about our friendliest people competition and were trying to make an early claim for Bangkok...) Our hostel, or rather hotel - Rikka Inn, was beautiful too! We dumped our bags and took a stroll up to our rooftop pool, that's right, rooftop pool!!! It's got a great view over the city and there were even fireworks! They obviously knew we were coming. This only cemented my view that I was going to love the place! It was just a shame we'd only be spending two days here...

We had a walk around and saw a restaurant showing the Villa-United match, so we ate there! (I think you can see a trend forming...) Villa, despite being 2-0 up, were pegged back to draw 2-2. Still, it was an exciting game. The food was rubbish though... We went back to the hotel and had a quiet night seeing as we had to get up early to go to the Myanmar Embassy in the morning (we were flying there in a couple of days, so had to sort out Visas).

The next morning we got up and had brekkie. Halfway through Ash realised today was Sunday, and the Embassy would probably be closed... she was right (we really have no concept of days anymore). That was a terrible realisation, seeing as it takes a day to get a Visa, and we were planning on flying out the next morning... So, that was our Air Asia flight down the drain... I guess my longing for another day in Bangkok was blowing up in my face...

After breakfast we set about trying to fix another one of our problems, Aisling's laptop. We looked up computer repair places in Bangkok and found one that was recommended in Pantip Plaza, so we set off for there! We found the place and went up to the counter to show the girl our problem. It wouldn't work for the past three days despite numerous efforts, turning it on and off etc. but as soon as we take it out to show her, guess what, it starts working again perfectly... Typical! Very embarrassed, we left the shop, though we were glad we had our computer back.

A side story about that journey: In Thailand, you don't have to look for a taxi or tuk-tuk, every street you walk down you'll get about a hundred offers, no matter what. If you want a taxi, you just have to say yes and someone will usher you into their car. When we were going to Pantip Plaza though, (one of the few times we actually did want a taxi!) we saw this guy parked on the side of the road, so we went over and told him where we wanted to go (it was at the other side of town so a nice fare for him). He paused for a second and said "Nah, too much traffic". Being rejected by a taxi driver in Bangkok... definitely a low point in our lives.

After a morning spent doing jobs, we finally had time to do touristy stuff! We went to Chatuchak Market for a wander (it's basically just an infinite maze of open-air market stalls, selling all kinds of everything). After finally finding our way out, we went to see some temples. (After Ash had a quick swing in a nearby playground of course!)

First on the list was Wat Pho, to see the giant reclining Buddha (it was huge in fairness). The grounds of the temple were really nice too actually, so we took a walk around. Oh, there was also this local tradition of getting a basket of coins and dropping one into every pot along the main hall of the temple. It wasn't anything special, but it was one of the tasks in The Amazing Race, so we had to do it!

Next, we headed across the river to Wat Arun, The Temple of Dawn. It was very different to the other temples we'd seen, which made it all the more memorable. It's a tall, intricately carved structure that you can climb right up to the top of, well, near enough. Oh, also while we were hanging out by Wat Arun, we saw a group of Buddhist monks taking pictures of each other with a digital camera! It was very strange...

To round off our busy touristy day, we went to Ratchadamneon Stadium to watch some Thai Boxing! There were 7 fights on the card, but the first few were just youngsters, so it didn't really kick off (pardon the pun) til the end. Admittedly, for the first few fights, our attention was drawn by a little kid in an orange t-shirt who was causing havoc in the audience. He was spitting water at his Dad, kicking plastic bottles into the crowd and was just generally up to no good. It was actually hilarious though, cause he kept popping up in different parts of the stadium! Everyone seemed to know him too and nobody had a problem. He was a lunatic!

Afterwards we got food and headed back to the hotel, seeing as we actually had to get up early to go to the Myanmar Embassy this time. For real! The next morning we arrived at the Embassy at half 8 (it didn't open til 9 but we wanted to be top of the queue for our Visas). We were in fact 8th in line. We wanted to get our Visa as soon as possible cause there was a half 4 flight to Yangon that we were still hopeful of getting. We filled out our forms as fast as we could (despite Ash spilling a bottle of glue all over hers) and handed them in at the counter, only to be told that the earliest we'd have our Visas would be half 3. We couldn't risk it, seeing as the airport was about 45 mins away, so we resigned ourselves to changing our plans and spending another night in Bangkok...

We had to head to the airport anyway after the Embassy to book new flights to Yangon for the next morning. While we were there, we said we'd take out some money for Myanmar. I was able to take out a small bit from the ATMs but Ash wasn't able to take out any... We presumed there was some sort of daily withdrawal limit, (seeing as we had earlier taken out some to pay for the flights) so we said we'd leave it til the morning. We also reserved online a new Air Mandalay flight from Yangon to Bagan for the next day (we weren't staying in Yangon at all, but it's the only way into the country).

We got some lunch, checked back into Rikka Inn for the night and then grabbed a taxi back to the Embassy. When we told our driver that we were going to Myanmar, he said "Oh you don't want to go there, you get bombed!" and during the journey he kept saying "Myanmar, Myanmar, *gun noises*", while making gun gestures at us! He was an absolute nutter! I wont go into detail now cause I'd be here all day. (Some choice moments though: Him telling us how he doesn't like Africans and yelling "Africa!" out loud every time we passed a black person. Him talking to us like we were from Holland, even though we told him on numerous occasions we were Irish. Him asking us what countries were in Europe and his surprise that America wasn't) We had to get a picture with him in the end. Nutter!

We got our Visas anyway, thankfully, and got another taxi to Wat Benchamabophit, The Marble Temple. (A nice security guard helped us get a taxi cause we were in a quiet part of town and he made the driver turn on his meter too, getting us a journey at about half the price! Another point for Bangkok in the "nice people" category! There have been a lot more too that I've failed to mention. Serious contenders here!) The Marble Temple was awesome too! Our favourite so far I'd say. It wasn't as packed with tourists like the other temples, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves!

We went back to the hotel afterwards and had a late swim in our rooftop pool, (rooftop pool!) before getting dinner on our, hopefully, last night in Bangkok.

As I said earlier, we had trouble taking money out of the ATMs the day before, so when we arrived at the airport the next morning, we hoped to God that problem had fixed itself... it hadn't. Ash still couldn't take out anything and I could only take out 5,000 Baht (about €125). Absolute disaster! Now I know what you're thinking, what's the problem, just take out money when you get there! Well, to quote the Lonely Planet's section on ATMs in Myanmar, "Dream on..."

So, here we were, on a plane to Myanmar, where we were staying for the next week and a half, with less than half the money we needed for flights, accommodation, food etc. and no way of getting more money til we left... Needless to say, neither of us were too excited when we arrived in Yangon...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

3rd Stop: Ko Phi Phi

Sorry for the delay in the blog and photos, due to circumstances outside of my control I haven't had a chance to upload anything in a while. (That, and I haven't actually written anything in a while either!)

Ok so, we arrived in Ko Phi Phi after a very smooth ferry crossing from Phuket. Maybe it was such an enjoyable ferry because the sea was calm, or maybe it was because we were so happy to be getting the hell out of Phuket! (Sorry, last dig at Phuket). Anyway, Ash took a nap on the way over while I watched 'Blast from the Past' on the TV, albeit a soundless version. We both went out on deck as the ferry approached the island. Ash had been here before but it was my first time, and my God, what a view! It was everything Phuket was not. White sandy beaches, green peaks, longtail boats floating on the water... If you imagine a tropical island paradise in your mind, Ko Phi Phi is what you'll see!

We got off the boat and there was someone from our hostel at the pier waiting to collect us. Well, I say collect us, he walked us to our hostel which was about 5 mins away. Everything on the island is walking distance, so there are no cars, no taxis, no traffic! The closest you'll get is a bicycle behind you ringing their bell. We went for a bite to eat after dumping our stuff at the hostel (really nice place actually! The room wasn't as good as Bodega Phuket in fairness, but we did have a pool there, so it all balances out!) and then just hung out by the pool for a while.

Afterwards, we took a stroll (or rather a hike) up to a lookout point on top of the island. It was a steep climb, but definitely worth it for the view! We chilled out up there for a while and stayed to watch the sunset over the island. Again, what a view!

We went back down and had dinner before retiring to the room to watch more Amazing Race (we just can't get enough of it!) During the night we could hear torrential rain outside, dreading a day of just looking out the window... but when we awoke it was blue skies! We went for a stroll to the other side of the island and took some hilarious photos of Ash with a monkey in a little pink jumpsuit! (monkeys wearing human clothes is something that will always be funny!)

We got lunch in an Italian place and afterwards went looking around in a market stall across the way. While we were there though, the heavens opened once again. I've never seen so much rain! We stayed inside the market under the shelter for about 10 mins hoping for it to die down, but we eventually had to leave because the rainwater was flowing into the shop, pushing us further and further from the exit!

We ran back across the road to the restaurant (which, because of the rain, was now jam packed!) and thankfully found a spot. We made a token order of ice cream, just so we had a reason to sit there while the rain stopped. It didn't... After a while we just decided to make a run for it and legged it back to our room. Cue a whole afternoon of The Amazing Race... We ventured out again for dinner (secretly excited to be using our rain gear for the first time) and went to a place that we earlier saw had wifi. After dinner, it was still raining outside so we just scuttled back to our room once again. It was a disappointing day in terms of the weather, but we still had fun. It's a shame we didn't get to do more though because it's such a beautiful place! We were planning on going to Maya Bay too (where they filmed 'The Beach') but couldn't really cause of the weather :(

The next morning we got up early to get the free breakfast in the hostel (we were too lazy the day before) and also to get in as much sunshine as we could before it inevitably started raining again. We spent a good few hours relaxing by the pool before, as we expected, it started to rain. We went back inside to watch some more Amazing Race, when disaster struck! Ash's laptop wouldn't turn on! It was actually terrible, seeing how much we relied upon it for the internet, storing photos and, of course, The Amazing Race! We watched the TV in our room for a while but it just wasn't the same...

The rain soon died down though so went out for dinner. As we were walking along, we saw a place showing the Villa-Blackpool match so, of course, we ate there! (and before anyone starts, Ash was well up for it! She now loves Villa and knows all of the players! Incidently, her favourite player is Stephen Warnock because he's lovely.) Villa won 3-2 thanks to a dramatic late winner from James Collins. On that happy note we headed back to the room for the night, unfortunately our last in Ko Phi Phi.

All in all, it's an amazing place and I can't say enough good things about it. It's just a shame about the weather while we were there. We still had a great time though, and it's one of the places that we'll definitely be coming back to again some time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

2nd Stop: Phuket

Pronounced poo-get, and poo is definitely what we did get! It was crap! It was seedy, dirty and packed with tourists, but having said that, we still had a larf. In fairness as well, I think we were in one of the worst parts of the island, Patong Beach (don't go there). The one good thing I would say about the place is that we've got a contender for best accommodation, The Bodega Phuket! We had an enormous bed, TV, fridge etc. (and it's a good thing too, seeing as we didn't really fancy going outside much...)

We arrived into Phuket on the night of the 7th after a short flight from KL. We got dropped off at our hostel and immediately realised we weren't in the best spot... The hostel, which itself was immaculate, was located just off the main street in Patong, littered with neon lights, seedy market stalls and massage parlours. We were both wrecked when we arrived but hadn't eaten in 12 hours so we dumped our stuff and got food in the nearest place we could, some Swedish restaurant. It was nice in fairness but we were both far too tired to eat much so we went back to the room and crashed for the night.

We had a bit of a lie-in the next morning, to recharge our batteries (and to avoid Patong for as long as we could...). We went to a nearby shopping centre to get lunch and we found a lovely Irish bar close by, "The Irish Times". It started lashing as we got there, so we were glad of somewhere dry to sit, in familiar surroundings too!

After lunch the rain had died off so we took a stroll down to the beach. We read that Phuket has some of the best, white sandy beaches in the world... well they don't keep them in Patong, that's for sure! It was tacky, crowded and it didn't help that it was overcast. We went for a quick paddle then decided to retreat back to the safety of our hostel. As we headed back, we decided to walk down Bangla Road, a place recommended on our map as a "happening hotspot", and in fairness it was... if by happening hotspot, you mean seedy shithole! The amount of people coming up to us, trying to get us to buy things from their stalls was insane! And they all had awful English so all they could say was "lookiiiiing" or "shoppiiiiing". It went from irritating, to very irritating, to actually hilarious! Myself and Ash still say it every time the other is looking or shopping. If I had a penny for every time I heard those words... well, I wouldn't be a millionaire, but I'd have a few Euro at least! One guy actually came out with "Hello, how are you tomorrow?". He either had terrible English and didn't know his mistake, or he knew exactly what he was saying and was just trying to stand out from the crowd. We like to think it was the latter, and well, it worked seeing as I'm writing about him in my blog!

Another thing about Phuket, every street is riddled with about 30 or 40 telephone and electrical wires running overhead. It looks awful, and I have no idea where they would even start to find the problem if anything ever went wrong!

That night we just stayed in our room and watched about 4 episodes of The Amazing Race. Why would we need to go outside when we can just watch other people travelling the world instead?!

The next day we decided to head to Phuket town, basically to get away from Patong. We got a songthaew (it looks like a cross between a prison bus and a fire engine) there as it's much cheaper than a taxi or tuk-tuk, and we actually had a lovely day in Phuket Town. We found a taxi driver (or rather he found us) who drove us around the town for a few hours showing us all the sights, all for only 150 Baht (around 4 quid). We went to see another butterfly park along the way (there wasn't much else to do in the town) and it was actually great fun, much better than the one in KL!

On the way back to Patong, we went to an amazing temple called Wat Chalong, by far the best thing we saw in Phuket (but that's not really saying much...). There were a few different temples around the area so we took a stroll around the place, enjoying our time not in Patong. Like most temples in Asia, you had to cover up before entering. Check out Aisling's lovely towel/dress, I think the look is going to catch on!

Inside, there were loads of flowers and Buddha statues, it was actually a really nice place. We stayed there for as long as we could before returning to Patong...

That night we gave in to our Western ways and got Subway for dinner and brought it back to the room. Aisling said on the way back that we should take a picture of ourselves with the Subway as a reminder of Phuket, so I agreed. When we got back to the hostel she said, 'put it up on the TV and take a picture'. I thought this was a strange request but did it anyway, and we ate our dinner.

Later, she told me she meant, 'put the camera on the TV and take a picture of us with the Subway', but she was so hungry at the time that she didn't bother correcting me. We kept the picture as a funny memento. (I know that wasn't a very interesting story but that just proves how bad Phuket was! We had to find anything we could to amuse ourselves!)

The next morning we got the ferry to Ko Phi Phi, very glad (as I'm sure you can imagine) to leave Phuket behind...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

1st Stop: Kuala Lumpur

Ok, so finally starting the blog! Sorry for the delay but we've just been having too much fun! I'll try to catch up to date as soon as I can! So, let's start at the very beginning...

We flew out from Cork to Stansted on the evening of the 2nd (my bag clocking in at a thoroughly satisfying 14.9kg. Take that Ryanair!) The flight over to Stansted was straightforward enough anyway, AND I made a plane friend, just some woman going over to visit her family in Kent. Plane friend!!

From our memory of booking the flights, we thought we had a layover of about 7 hours in Stansted... it turns out it was 12 hours. We were way off! It was actually grand though. We nabbed a lovely leather couch in Costa Coffee and just stayed there for the night, taking turns napping. Who needs a hostel when you've got a couch in a cafe! And it didn't Costa penny!

Our Air Asia flight was grand, no frills really. We got two meals though which I was delighted about (I don't know why but I love the novelty of eating meals on a plane!) even though they were kind of rank in the end... I watched Despicable Me to pass the time, which was pretty good, but no Toy Story 3 (which I also watched again! It's just so good!) We arrived in KL after our 14 hour flight at around 5am local time, but despite it being in the middle of the night, it was still 26 degrees outside! The blast of heat when we stepped off the plane was unreal! It's hotter in Malaysia in the middle of the night in November, than it is at the height of summer in Ireland! We got a bus from the airport to KL city centre, then a taxi to our hostel. (Just a quick note: there are loads of palm tress in Malaysia, they just can't get enough of them!) Between the heat, the lack of sleep and having to carry all our bags around, we were both dead on our feet, but when we got to the hostel, we were told we had to wait til 2pm to check in... this was at 8am... So, we had 6 hours to kill. I've never been so unenthusiastic walking through a new city...

We went to the Menara tower first, which wasn't too far from the hostel. It was pretty cool actually and it gives you a great view of the city. We were originally planning on going to the Petronas Towers which are a lot taller but you're only allowed to go halway up, so you actually get a much better view from the Menara tower. Plus you actually get a view of the Petronas Towers too! They are awesome in fairness, especially at night! There are so many skyscrapers in KL in general. It's definitely the tallest city I've ever been to! Oh also, while we were up on the Menara Tower, a bunch of Muslim school children came up and interviewed us, for some school project or something. We felt very important. One of them lived in Cork for two years too!

We just had a general wander around then, went to Mendeka Square, went for waffles, then headed back to the hostel. We could barely walk at this stage, we were so tired, and even got lost on the way back cause our brains just stopped functioning. Finally we got to bed at around 3pm in serious need of a power nap! We slept til the next morning... (Or to be more precise, I slept til the next morning, Ash woke up at 1am...)

It really did the trick though, cause the next day we were raring to go! We had a cup of Barry's tea back at the hostel (two boxes of which we brought over with us for the year!). It wasn't the best though... the tea was fine, but the milk... we knew something was up when the expiry date was June 2011. That's one thing I'll definitely miss about Ireland, the milk. After breakfast, we headed to the Batu Caves (we somehow managed to get a bus there, even though there was no bus stop, no timetables and we weren't entirely sure where we were meant to get it from...) For anyone heading to KL though, this is definitely a trip worth making! The caves themselves are pretty good, (if you can conquer the 272 step climb up) but the highlight is definitely the 43m high golden Murga statue guarding the entrance, it is unreal! Just look at the photos! There was also a less impressive statue of some sort of green half-monkey god... i didn't really get it...

We got a bus back to the city (again somehow?!) and headed up towards the lake gardens, where we went to the bird park and butterfly park. (We were planning on just going to the butterfly park but got lost on the way and ended up at the bird park...)

Afterwards we headed to the Pavillion shopping centre where Aisling went off shopping, while I got ice-cream... (just writing it now makes me sound like a child... I don't care, I got ice-cream!) There are so many shopping centres here too, and they're all enormous! The nearest one, and our favourite, Berjaya Times Square was 10 storeys high and had a roller coaster inside it! A rollercoaster!! Imagine having a rollercoaster in Mahon Point!

The next day Ash went off shopping for herself while I had a real pampering day! First I went to a fancy salon to get my haircut. It was the best haircut experience of my life! They washed my hair and everything! Twice! And it still only cost like 7 euro. I then went to get a massage in Old Asia, a place recommended in the Lonely Planet. (I made sure to consult the book in case I ended up in, eh... a different kind of massage parlour...) The massage was awesome and, like everything here, very cheap! It was an old asian lady who did it, and I'm no expert on massages, but my theory is, the older you are and the more Asian you are, the better the masseuse.

Myself and Ash met up after our respective days and went for dinner... in Ireland's Potato, an Irish fast food restaurant! We saw a sign for it earlier and decided we had to go there!

I wasn't too sure what to get, (there was very little on the menu not made from potato...) and in the end decided to plump for something called sotong. I didn't know what it was, but I thought 'hey, I'm in Ireland's Potato, how bad could it be?' The answer is very bad. It was deep fried miniature squid.

Now, I know we've away from Ireland for a couple of weeks, but I'm pretty sure that's not something we eat. It didn't taste good. (Another side note: everyone seems to be mad into corn over here! We've seen loads of different stalls selling cups of corn! Who the hell would buy a cup of corn?!)

On the Sunday, our last day in KL, we were planning on heading to the nearby town of Putrajaya, but there was a lot of hassle in organising our way around and we had to catch a flight to Phuket that night, so we decided to just have a fun day in KL! And there's only one way to start a fun day... steak for breakfast! Afterwards we went to the cinema to see Megamind. It was excellent, go see it! (While we were getting the elevator down after the cinema, a little girl walked on with a cup of corn. Myself and Ash burst out laughing!)

Afterwards we went to Petaling Street in Chinatown, just to have a wander around and then headed over to Sri Mahemahamehameha... ok, I can't remember what it was called. It was really good though! And that was about it for our time in KL.

All in all, I really enjoyed our time here. I have to say it was a very aromatic city, there was a different smell around every corner, some good, some very bad... it was strange too seeing so many enormous skyscrapers, especially when a lot of them were surrounded by old delapidated buildings. It was a very diverse city, in every sense. Literally in every sense!

Oh, by the way, on the flight over to Malaysia, we each made various predictions about all of our destinations, under the headings of:

- Best & Worst City
- Best & Worst Country
- Best & Worst Food
- Best & Worst Accommodation
- Best & Worst Tourist Attraction (excluding temples)
- Friendliest & Least Friendly People
- Best Cultural Experience
- Best Temple

and we're not allowed to look at them til after the trip. I'll keep you updated, as the cities go by, as to any possible contenders!

Anyway, peace out for now,
Mark & Ash