|29/10/2019||Tues||Sydney 10am to Bangkok 3.30pm|
|30/10/2019||Wed||Bangkok 7.25pm to Yangon|
|1/11/2019||Fri||Yangon to Kinpun to Mt Kyaiktiyo|
|2/11/2019||Sat||Kinpun to Hpa-An|
|3/11/2019||Sun||Hpa-An to Mawlamyine|
|4/11/2019||Mon||Mawlamyine to Bilu Island to Mawlamyine|
|5/11/2019||Tues||Mawlamyine to Ye|
|6/11/2019||Wed||Ye to Dawei|
|7/11/2019||Thurs||Dawei to Maughmagan Beach|
|8/11/2019||Fri||Maughmagan to Dawei to Kanchanburi (Thailand)|
|9/11/2019||Sat||Kanchanburi to Bangkok|
|12/11/2019||Tues||Bangkok 5.50pm to|
Monday 28th October, 2019
Newcastle to Sydney
We both have a busy day at work (me at Aruma and Mark at JSA). Mark also has a late meeting so we can’t catch the train till after five o’clock arriving in Sydney at 8pm. We have dinner with Tam at Jillian and Michael’s then a few drinks before an early night.
Tuesday 29th October, 2019
Sydney to Bangkok
After a 5.45am alarm we’re soon walking down to Museum Station under clear blue skies. The airport train gets us to the International Airport in fifteen minutes where we check in at Thai Airways. With the usual three hour wait, we buy Bacardi, eat McDonalds, use the massage chairs, ring Jackie and Facetime Lauren and the Dollies.
We have two squashed seats in the middle row and no leg room for the nine hour flight, but we’re off to Asia so we’re happy. Mark is extra happy watching Season 8 of Game of Thrones.
We land at 3pm at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (which means ‘Golden Land’ by the way) and are speeding in a taxi towards the Old City in no time. We’ve booked a little guesthouse I saw online – because I loved the look of it – one of the old timber guesthouses that are quickly being replaced by high rise hotels. This is the Laksameenarai Guesthouse set in an alleyway behind Khao San Road. We’ve stayed all around this area of Banglamphu but not in this little laneway.
The Laksameenarai is an old teak house painted yellow and green with lots of lattice work and wooden shutters. Our room is off a shady side garden with our own tiny bathroom and even air-con for $45 AUD. Even better is that the garden opens onto the empty block next door overgrown with lush tropical plants. This is our heaven already!
After dumping our gear we cross over to Soi Rambutri, our favourite soi in all Bangkok. Not much has changed although it seems quieter than usual. Here is Sawadee House and here is Pink, our much-loved massage place. It’s painted a hot pink with laid back chairs outside so we settle in for foot massages with our old friends. We’ve been coming here for years! Someone races off to buy Mark a beer so we feel very spoilt.
Now we hang out at Madam Masur’s, a rustic café just along the soi. Mark has Tom Yum Goong and I have chicken satay skewers washed down with beers and Margaritas. Later we walk up to Thanon Rambutri and Khao San Road but it’s too crazy so we head back to our little laneway near the Laksameenarai.
Much more chilled here and we make camp at the open sided restaurant next door. This is run by a French guy so it’s popular with expats. At the moment it’s a peaceful escape from Khao San and even better when a sudden tropical downpour sends us moving further inside.
A perfect end to our first day. Bed at 9pm.
Wednesday 30th October, 2019
Bangkok to Yangon (Myanmar)
A really good sleep in our quiet little room then up early to make the most of our day in Bangkok before we fly out to Myanmar tonight. Crossing the very busy Thanon Chakrabongse in the bright sunshine, we find one of the tiny shaded alleyways that lead from here to Soi Rambutri. All along the alleyway local people have set up basic little stalls selling just a few dishes and all cooked right here in front of us.
We watch while a friendly lady makes us a bowl of chicken green curry for just 60Baht (about $3AUD). This is the Thailand we love the most. Mark works on his phone while I wander up to Sanam Luang then we both head for Soi Rambutri. The Wild Orchid is being renovated so we find a cute new bakery called Like Italy Cafe on Thanon Phra Arthit for Mark to have his morning coffee. On the bend near the Fort he has a haircut ($5) and a shave ($3) at his usual barber.
Mark still has a few work phone calls to make so we hang out in the park by the river – the Chao Praya. I come across a couple of trendy restaurants across a small arched bridge over the klong (canal). These are colourful places set up in old Thai teak houses and we know we’ll be back here for sure. We just hope that these tranquil, leafy pockets of traditional Bangkok don’t get swallowed up by new developments.
We ask about getting a boat up the klong but we don’t have enough time and put it on the list for next time now that we know where to come. Instead we wander around the Soi 1 area where we’ve stayed many times before. This is a pretty local neighbourhood of shady trees and teak houses where everyone cooks on the footpath.
Popping back out onto Thanon Chakrabongse, we come across a funky little place painted in a rainbow of colours with almost every inch of the walls covered in travellers’ messages written in black texta. The crazy old owner hands us a pen and we add our own message that we’ll check out next time we’re back in Bangkok. She tells us that things are very quiet and she has ‘no money’ so she’s very happy that we order pineapple and mango shakes and promise to come back.
It’s time to check out of the Laksameenarai where we store our bags in the foyer till we leave for the airport later this afternoon. Now we have time for a massage upstairs at Pink then buy chicken skewers from a street cart in the temple grounds. This is all so familiar and feels like home.
We chat to a taxi driver in the laneway and arrange for him to pick us up at 4pm to drive us to the airport. Now because we’re just about melting from the heat and humidity we find an air-conditioned place where we order wanton soup and Mark has a beer and I have a watermelon shake. The Thais really know how to make a great shake. We’re entertained by the owner’s naughty, cheeky little girl – oh no, we miss our good Dollies already!
We still have time to be pampered at Pink – I have a hair wash and blow dry then we both have leg massages – all for a pittance!
At 4pm we meet our taxi driver and speed out to Suvarnabhumi Airport for our 7.30 pm Nok Air flight. It’s dark when we take off into a sky lit up by lightning – another tropical storm but all is well and the flight is only an hour and a half.
Myanmar is 30 minutes behind Bangkok so we wind back our watches. This also means that it’s only 8pm here in Yangon so plenty of time to head out for a drink. Mark withdraws money at the airport then we find a taxi to drive us into the city passing the brightly lit Shwedagon Pagoda that we’ll visit tomorrow.
We notice some changes that have happened in the capital since we were here fifteen years ago. The main street is lined with lots of modern buildings but the old Yangon still exists especially as we turn off into the backstreets where our guesthouse sits just around the corner from the famous Sule Paya which is glowing in the dark on a sort of giant roundabout.
And we love the Okinawa. It’s set in a narrow quiet street and has oodles of atmosphere – a vine covered entrance, dark wooden walls, Persian style carpets, a steep little staircase and cute coloured glass windows in our room – all for $15 a night with breakfast.
After booking in with the owner, who seems a bit clueless, we have a quick change then set off towards Sule Paya where we hail a taxi to take us to 50th Street Bar and Grill. We’d been talking about this with Jillian and Tamara who’d been here years ago after we told them to check it out. It’s still the same upmarket place surrounded by rundown houses in a dirt laneway. We take photos to send to Jillian and order chicken wings and nachos. Mark drinks Mojitos and I have too many Margaritas. I’ve definitely have had too much to drink and nag the poor taxi driver to death all the way home about not having seatbelts. Sorry about that.
A good sleep in out tiny air-conditioned room.
Thursday 31st October, 2019
At 8am we’re having breakfast outside on the street – fried eggs, sweet toast and powdered tea and coffee – pretty awful so we’ll eat somewhere else soon.
Our street is busy this morning with small stalls set up along the walls of the old buildings and people setting down baskets of vegetables that they’ve carried on the ends of bamboo poles balanced on their shoulders.
We plan to catch a train from here to Kinpun tomorrow and the word is that we need to book a couple of days in advance so we hope we can still buy our tickets today.
If there has been some modernization of Yangon in the last fifteen years, the Myanmar Railways Booking Office is still in the same appealing basic, shabby building as before. It’s more like a farm yard with chickens scratching around and there are no signs in English but a helpful local man soon comes to our aid. For a measly $2.40AUD each, we now have Luxury Class tickets for the five hour trip to Kyaikato (pronounced Chaido) leaving early tomorrow morning.
We spend a pleasant hour drifting around the streets. Myanmar was a former British colony and is covered in traditional architecture that still looks gorgeous even if very rundown.
The plan now is to find Bogyoke Market but we get lost despite asking directions, and end up catching a taxi. The Bogyoke Aung San Market was once called the Scott Market by the British who actually built it in 1926 during the British colonial period – maybe named after a relative?
Here we eat in a funny food hall sort of thing and buy our lunch from a shouting lady. Despite the shouting she’s really funny especially when she tries to get the fan to work to cool us down. A couple of men come to help and it’s all hilarious! Lunch is only $5 for two fresh pineapple juices, a coke, spring rolls and rice plus hot and sour chicken.
I suddenly need to use the loo where I have to pay 20c to a lady who unlocks a cubicle for me. We wander around the market for a while before finding another taxi to take us to Shwedagon Pagoda. This is one of the most famous pagodas in the world and the most sacred site to Burmese Buddhists.
We visited here in 2004 with the only difference is that we tourists can now enter the dramatic northern covered walkway, bustling with merchants selling anything from flowers and incense to antiques and souvenirs. We buy flowers for offerings from a very funny lady sporting bright red lips and cheeks painted with the white thanaka that most Burmese people wear. We also have to hire a shawl for me and a longhi for Mark as we’re entering a sacred place.
At the top of the staircase we burst out into the heat and sunshine and our first glimpse of Shwedagon Paya. The Pagoda is 2,600 years old, making it the oldest pagoda in the world – apparently debatable.
Words can’t really describe how really beautiful it is. On top of the main gold-plated dome is a stupa containing over 7,000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires, topped by a massive emerald positioned to reflect the last rays of the setting sun.
We do a slow lap of the whole complex then end up with a guide who explains what it all means. He shows us how to pour water over the Buddha statue at the station or “corner” that represents the day of our birth, and to ding a few deep tonal dongs out of a huge cast-iron bell.
Outside we cross the road to buy drinks in a simple café with a dirt floor then hightail it back to the coolness of our room at Okinawa. Of course we have a nanna nap before dressing up for a night on the town. We’re semi-presentable for a change as we plan to have drinks at the very posh Strand Hotel.
Walking up to Sule Paya (also 2,500 years old) we catch a taxi to the Strand where a doorman greets us and shows us to Sarkies Bar. This was named after the Sarkies brothers who built the hotel in 1901. Lined in rich dark panelling, the bar is set up in intimate lounge areas but still good for people watching. We pretend we’re staying here and not at the budget place down the road – ha. I have a Bloody Mary for Lauren and to celebrate Halloween which is actually today! I also have a Margarita while Mark has a beer then a Myanmar Sling (a take on the Singapore Sling made famous at that other Sarkies brothers hotel, Raffles.) Dinner is chicken caesar salad and fish and chips.
Mark has been googling other places to have a drink so we set off in another taxi to 7th Street where we find a string of trendy bars all decorated in spider webs and hanging skeletons for Halloween. The staff are dressed up in black robes with white painted faces and we have a ball. First at the Bob Marley Bar then the Cuba Bar which has an excellent live band. The staff are super friendly and make us free Halloween drinks – bright blue with dry ice to give a ‘scary’ look.
But we don’t stay out too late, though, as we want to be good for our early start in the morning.
Friday 1st November, 2019
Yangon to Kinpun
The alarm wakes us at 5.30am then after a quick pack we’re walking up to Sule Paya in the early morning light to catch a taxi to the railway station. Here we buy water and some snacks before settling in to our luxury compartment. ‘Luxury’ might be a bit of a stretch but it probably means that we have padded seats instead of the usual hard wooden benches. But it’s still wonderfully basic with no air-conditioning, just wide open windows. To make it even better our travel companions include a couple of monks and only local people – no Westerners here and we really feel like this is the start of our southern Myanmar adventure.
The train pulls out at 6am, slowly trundling past shacks built right up to the tracks where people live in the most basic of conditions.
Soon the city gives way to rice paddies and small thatched villages where we wave to the local kids. Behind pastures dotted with hay stacks and people ploughing the fields, golden payas shine in the morning sunshine. We see all kinds of animals – cows, ducks, chickens, goats, water buffalo and even oxen pulling carts.
This is truly my favourite thing about travel – chugging through the countryside watching local life go by through the open carriage windows. Small wooden huts built along river banks, ponds covered in lily pads and pink flowering water lilies, bamboo fences, palm trees and vegetable gardens. All this while hawkers with baskets on their heads walk up and down the aisles selling birds eggs and other Burmese delicacies that I know I couldn’t stomach. We do buy mandarins and hot corn on the cob.
The atmosphere is so nice with local families, the monks and a man sitting opposite singing the whole way. Our seats also recline so Mark has a snooze as the green curtains billow in the breeze – did I say this is heaven?!
At 9.15am we pull into Bago where we spent two wonderful days all those years ago. We’re 45 minutes late and Mark makes a quick calculation that we’ve been averaging a speed of 30kph – ha. In Bago we buy watermelon and a sweet lady gives me a mandarin. We give her little girl a toy koala.
Off again we see kids riding pushbikes in immaculate school uniforms of white shirts and green longyis. They all have thanaka on their faces as do everyone else in this rural area. The scenery is still lovely with grains laid out to dry in the sun, small horses and lots of goats. More hawkers sell us fruit and water but we pass on the bugs.
As we approach Kyaiktho, we see a huge sitting Buddha in the distance then pull into the cute station around noon – only an hour longer than the scheduled five hours which apparently is pretty good going.
We’re not staying in Kyaiktho but heading for Kinpun which is the closest town to the Golden Rock – the reason we’re here! But more about that later.
Now we jump into the back of a truck with a group of ladies and a monk for the twenty minute ride to Kinpun. Here we unload our backpacks and ask directions to the Golden Sunrise Hotel. We find a lift with a guy riding a motorbike with a sort of homemade sidecar big enough to hold us and our bags.
And the hotel is a nice surprise considering how cheap it is. The reception is in a large thatched open sided building with the restaurant in another thatched area surrounded by gorgeous gardens of palms and pink bougainvillea. Our room is big with air-conditioning and set in a lovely bungalow with a verandah that has views of the Golden Rock way up on top of the mountain where we’ll be headed this afternoon.
But first we need to eat so I order fish and chips while Mark has a very spicy Thai chicken soup. With cold soda waters with fresh lime, friendly service and the lovely open-air restaurant, we’re more than happy here.
Later we walk into town to seek out the bus station where the trucks leave for Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (or The Golden Rock). It’s the only way to get up there as other traffic is banned on the narrow winding road. I’ve read about these trucks and how they squeeze as many people in as they can. It’s true – we’re jammed into the front row which is not a good thing as we can’t see the road but are inches away from the truck’s cabin. The heat is stifling and it’s a crazy rollercoaster ride up the mountain. We stop somewhere to buy ice blocks that I put on my forehead to cool down. I feel horribly sick so when we stop at the cable car I have to get out.
Catching a cable car doesn’t exactly scream ‘adventure’ but throwing up in a truck full of people isn’t too appealing. The cable car is proudly advertised as Myanmar’s first and it must have cost a fortune. At the moment it appears to be a bit of a lemon as we’re the only customers.
We’re the only people in this massive empty building except the staff who appear grateful to have someone to point out where we have to go. At least the views are good but the cable car ends bloody miles from The Rock and I hate walking! At least there are lots of market stalls along the way and great people watching.
Hundreds of pilgrims visit this site every day and for most of them it’s a once-in-a–lifetime experience so most people are excitedly taking photos. Some even want us to be photographed with them.
We’ve already left our shoes at the bottom of the stairs and Mark hires a longyi to cover his bare legs.
All the while we can see the Golden Rock sitting precariously on the top edge of the mountain. It’s actually a giant boulder sitting at an impossible angle but according to Buddhist legend, it’s stopped from crashing down the hill by a strand of the Buddha’s hair.
And, yes, it’s gold! The whole rock as well as the pagoda that sits on top of it are entirely covered in gold leaf. But only male pilgrims can apply the gold leaf so Mark has a turn.
We’re actually 3,600 feet above sea level and the views stretch out before us with mountains as far as we can see. Families are here having picnics while lots of people are setting up for the night. Many pilgrims sleep on the ground near the pagoda and porters are carrying up family belongings in tall cane baskets.
We stop at the Mountain View Hotel then I have a photo taken in a sedan chair carried by four men who are happy when we give them $1 each. Back down in the cable car at 4pm because we’d stupidly bought Return tickets. Stupid because every truck going past has already been filled up at the top of the mountain! We hang out in an open area where a school bus soon drops off the village kids. Here are a row of simple shops and cafes so all we can do is to wait for one of the last buses to leave the top and will have some room left for us.
Finally two hours later at nearly six o’clock and just on dark, we’re picked up for the thirty minute drive down the mountain. A pretty pink sunset is ahead of us with an illuminated Sitting Buddha on a far mountain. This is better than the ride up as it’s much cooler and we’re not so squashed but still bone-shaking and it’s a relief to reach Kinpun.
Walking through town there doesn’t seem to be anywhere interesting to eat so we decide to go back to the hotel where we know the food is good. Mark has beef in black bean while I have satay skewers with rice and fries. Mark drinks Mandalay beer while they actually sell coke and soda to drink with my smuggled in Bacardi.
More drinks in the gorgeous reception so we can use the wifi then bed at 10pm.
Saturday 2nd November, 2019
Kinpun to Hpa-An
Wake at 7.30 am when we send Abi a photo of Mark wearing her pink satin sleep mask that we found in our backpack. It must have been left after our last holiday with them. She thinks it’s hilarious!
Breakfast comes with the price of our room – pancakes with honey, watermelon, bananas, tea and coffee, toast, cheese and fruit juice.
We’d arranged to have someone pick us up this morning to take us into Kyaiktho where we’ll then catch a bus to Hpa-An.
While we wait in Reception, we ring the Dollies – Abi says ‘Pa you stole my eye mask!’ Oh we love you Abi!
A songthaew arrives at 8.45am with some local ladies already on board and, of course, wearing thanaka on their cheeks, for the thirty minute drive into Kyaiktho. We actually aren’t sure if we’re going all the way to Hpa-An this way but we’re eventually dropped in town at a tiny travel agent. Apparently a bus will come but we don’t know when and no-one else seems to know as well.
But we’ve learnt after years of travel in Asia to just go with it and all will be well. Meanwhile, we just hang out on the pavement with a couple of German girls who are just as clueless as we are. I give money to a nun while Mark buys a coffee from a tiny café. We also buy a silver alms bowl, brass chimes and a maroon monk’s robe as souvenirs.
Finally the 9am bus arrives at 11am – it’s packed so we need to climb over the aisle jammed with boxes to reach the back seat – a Burmese movie is playing on the overhead screen – apparently a comedy and very loud. We have a cute baby girl opposite so we give her a toy koala while we listen to a Casefile podcast to keep us occupied for the rest of the trip.
We arrive at Hpa-An (pronounced Pah-Ann) at 1.45pm. It’s a picturesque little town on the eastern bank of the Thanlwin River and with views of dramatic karst mountains that jut up out of the surrounding plains. We grab a tuktuk to take us to the Galaxy Hotel which has good reviews on Tripadvisor. Our room is very clean, big, simple and with air-con. We have single beds so Mark pushes them together. The staff is very helpful so we book a market tour for tonight.
But now we decide to checkout Hpa-An. In nearby Zayden Road in the centre of town, we find lots of teahouses and restaurants including Lucky 1 which apparently is the only place in Hpa-An that sells alcohol! We’ll be back later, but for now we eat at Khit Thit Restaurant across the street.
I’m very happy here but even happier when I see a group of shaven headed nuns on the opposite side of the road on their alms rounds. They all wear soft pink robes over an inner red robe and brown sashes over one shoulder.
We follow them through the market and they giggle shyly as they line up for photos. The market is very traditional with local fruit and vegetables for sale – flowers, bananas, tomatoes, watermelon, fish, meat and poultry – very smelly with lots of flies! Mark buys a longyi.
Later we rest in our Galaxy room then Mark dresses up in his monk robes – ha!
On dusk, we meet the German girls downstairs as they’re also booked in for the Night Market tour – only $10 each and all we can eat. At seven o’clock our guide, Veja, arrives. He’s a friendly young man who piles us into the Galaxy jumbo and drives us through the dark streets to the market situated on the edge of Kan Thar Yar Lake. Like all night markets, it’s very busy with loud music and lots of coloured lights and nice seeing all the happy local families.
Ladies sit on one side of a table surrounded by baskets and bowls of fresh ingredients which they whip up into their own special dish for customers who sit opposite on tiny plastic stools.
Veja stops at different stalls for us to try sticky rice in bamboo, quails’ eggs, barbeque chicken, sweet pancakes and fresh orange and pineapple juice. Everyone passes on the fried bugs but I can’t stomach anything except watermelon. I feel sick and desperate to find the public loo. Besides this, the German girls are annoyingly chirpy so we decide to head back into town.
We find a tuktuk and I feel better already as the breeze cools us down. Of course, we end up at Lucky 1. It’s like thousands of other no-frills local places all over Asia – painted cement walls, a wonky tiled floor, wooden tables covered in plastic floral cloths and mismatched plastic chairs – we love it! A couple of men have had a few too many and keep us amused while Mark downs three draught beers and me my Bacardi and coke.
By the time we walk home at 9.30pm, the street is totally deserted and all the lights are out – another early-to-bed little town.
Sunday 3rd November, 2019
Hpa-An to Mawlamyine
We’ve set the alarm for 7am as we have a lot planned for this morning. Breakfast is in the sunny dining room downstairs with double wooden doors opening right onto the street. It’s quite a feast – a vegetable stewy things, sticky rice wrapped in leaves, milk tea, milk coffee, watermelon and pancakes. Mark eats it all but I only manage the watermelon. I wrap the pancakes up in serviettes to have as a snack for later.
Yesterday we’d booked a driver to take us on a half day tour – $45. Our driver, Jorme, meets us at 8am and we’re soon heading out of town into the beautiful countryside that Hpa-An is known for. It’s another glorious day without a cloud in the sky.
Forty five minutes later, our first stop is Kaw Ka Thaung Cave which i sa busy temple as well. Outside is very pretty with overhanging greenery, a colourful entrance, Asian music playing and ladies sitting on the ground under umbrellas. They coax us over to buy tiny turtles and fish in plastic bags. The deal is to set them free in the lake for good luck. We promise to come back after we visit the cave.
Kaw Ka Thaung Cave is spacious at first but narrows towards the back. Rows of sitting buddhas draped in yellow silky cloth sit either side of three larger buddhas where we light candles and incense for Angie – yes, our darling, you’re with us here too. We crawl through a low narrow tunnel to a smaller cave then explore the topiary gardens outside.
The ladies call us over and we buy a plastic bag of fish and one of turtles which we set free on the edge of the lake. Horrible when we see three monster eels appear out of the shadows lying in wait hoping to gobble up our poor little creatures.
Back in the car we pass the three hundred red monk statues that line the road then stop at a waterfall that runs into a little dam that devotees use for bathing. The pond is surrounded by shops and restaurants on wooden stilts – gorgeous!
From here we pass flooded rice paddies with limestone karsts in the distance. Rubber plantations soon line both sides of the road and we ask Jorme to stop so we can have a closer look. A family is working here and the old man offers to show us around. He shows us how they collect the rubber from the tree into tin cups which is then boiled and rolled into doormat sized blocks before being hung in the sun to dry. We give a donation to his wife.
Our destination now is Sadan Cave which is the biggest in the area. It must also be the most popular as we see lots of buses parked near the market at the entrance. Under tall spreading trees, thatched stalls sell mainly incense and other things for offerings as well as drinks and food. It seems to be favourite with families.
A long tiled staircase leads up to the beautiful entrance which opens into a gigantic cavern filled with buddhas and pagodas. This is huuuuge! Golden pagodas and standing buddhas covered in gold leaf are dwarfed by the vastness of the cave. We light candles and incense again for all the ones we love, here and gone.
The unique thing about Sadan Cave is that you can walk right through it under the mountain to the other side. Leaving the light filled entrance cave, we head into the gloom of the inner cave. A concrete trail, stairs and raised walkways pass huge stalactites and colonies of bats hanging from the roof. The floor is damp and slippery with bat poop but a great experience anyway.
After twenty minutes light pours in from the mouth of the cave opening onto the other side of the mountain. From the top of the stairs we can see a pretty mirror-calm lake with brightly coloured wooden canoes tied up to the little jetty. Lots of local people are hanging around with basic stalls selling fresh coconuts, drinks and food.
We hire one of the canoes to take us back to the main entrance instead of walking back through the cave. The canoe passes through a second cave so low that I think we’ll hit our heads on the roof. Inside, the cave walls are perfectly reflected on the water’s surface. Really lovely and more lovely out on the other side as we cross the lake passing canoes going the other way and a family of ducks. Beyond are more limestone karsts rising up behind emerald green rice paddies being irrigated with water from the lake through a series of small canals.
To get back to meet Jorme, it’s a short walk around the base of the mountain where mother hens and their chicks are running around. Back in the car we drive another half an hour to Kaw Ka Taung caves and pool. The temperature is sweltering by now so we can’t wait to get in the water.
But first we eat in one of the open-air restaurants next to the pool – noodles and fried rice – then change into our swimmers. Because there are lots of locals I wear a sarong as well then we both spend ages floating around in the cool water with a beautiful cliff covered in lush vegetation as a backdrop.
Our last place to visit is Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda, a stunning limestone pinnacle topped with a golden stupa. This is set on a tiny tree-covered island in the middle of a man-made lake, itself surrounded by paddy fields. After dodging the noisy geese (I’m scared of geese), we cross a wooden foot bridge to the small island inhabited by a monastery then climb the wonky stairs to the viewpoint half way up. This place is really spectacular and a great end to our tour.
Now it’s time to race back to Hpa-An to grab our bags from the Galaxy and get down to the river to catch the local boat to Mawlamyine. The lady owner comes with us and waves us off.
We’re happy to see that it’s a simple wooden boat painted a bright blue with a roof but open sided. Hard wooden benches are sore on the arse so we’re grateful once again for our cushions we always bring with us. We use one as a pillow and share the other with the only other passengers – a friendly and very handsome Spanish couple.
The trip is only three hours and we enjoy every minute. The water is perfectly calm as we chug slowly downriver past golden temples that we can also see sparkling on the top of every ridge around us. Small boats drift by as well as an occasional noisy long-tail.
As we pull into the riverbank at Mawlamyine about 5pm, we jump out into the shallow water and almost straight into a waiting songthaew already full of people including a monk.
The drive through town is lovely and it seems that Mawlamyine really does live up to its description as ‘the charming tropical capital of Mon State’. The British made Mawlamyine their first Burmese capital in the 1800s and many beautiful old colonial buildings still line the quiet streets.
We’re dropped at the Golden Rose Guesthouse which looks cute from the outside but very ordinary inside with a messy foyer. The owner is sweet though and even gives us a lift to the night market.
This is situated on the bank of the Salween River with dimly lit stalls selling mainly things on skewers so we buy a few chicken ones as well as freshly made fruit juices. Most stalls seem to be run by pretty young Muslim girls with scarves covering their hair. Lots of tables and chairs have been set up next to the river so we settle in with the locals.
Later we hire a couple of guys on motor bikes to drive us to Olala Bar on Strand Road where Mark has Myanmar beer and I manage to have a couple of Margaritas. Back home on motor bikes.
Monday 4th November, 2019
Breakfast is in the top floor dining room with lovely views over the rooftops and the many tall trees and palms about town. With our usual tea and coffee we’re given watermelon and noodles with a fried egg on top.
Despite the sweet owner, I book a different hotel for tonight so we’re soon speeding off in a tuktuk to the Hotel Queen Jamadevi in the Myine Tharyar Quarter which is about three kilometres from the centre of Mawlamyine. It’s a three star hotel which is three stars more than we’re used to but at only $40AUD a night it won’t break the bank. It’s set along a gravel road with open countryside opposite. The foyer is large and open on three sides with a vaulted ceiling lined in bamboo.
We have the choice of a room in the two storey building attached or one of the wooden bungalows in the garden. After checking out the bungalows, there’s no need to look any further. We have a wide verandah overhung by the thatched roof and the room is exotic. The bed is a thick mattress on a raised dais with a white mosquito net hung from the cathedral ceiling and the bathroom has a shower over a deep bath set into the stone floor.
The bungalow itself sits at the end of a dirt path that winds between vegetable gardens fenced off with bamboo. We really could hang out here all day but we need to meet our driver outside again as we’ve hired him to take us sight-seeing for the day.
Taking off in a tuktuk we head for Bilu Island also called ‘Ogre Island’. A new bridge crosses the Salween River to the island which is home to the Mon people, one of the many ethnic groups in Burma. The village people divide their time between farming and cottage industries which they sell to the wholesale market. There are 64 villages on Bilu so obviously we won’t have time to visit them all.
At Mu Doon village we stop at a family home to watch the husband making school slates. It takes me back and I can’t believe they’re still used in schools here. We buy one from his young wife and wonder what the hell we’re going to do with it.
The next village is the rubber band making village – no joke. This is fascinating! It takes about two days to boil the tree sap, dye it, dip it, dry it, peel it, dry it again, dice it, then hand-separate the thousands of rubber rings. We watch each step of the process all carried out by women with painted thanaka faces. The setting is lovely – under shady trees in the yard of a stilted timber house.
A few kilometres on, the next stop is to watch a family of men making scythes with wooden handles – all done by hand – no machinery here. Now we pass lily-ponds, a little lake with a pagoda in the centre and lots of market gardens. Next is the wood turning village which is really pretty consisting of houses on stilts, all built close together in laneways and amongst flowering gardens.
At one home we’re taken upstairs to watch a lady making wooden buttons. Green tea is brought out for us while we choose gifts to take home. A toothless smiling old man is sitting cross-legged on the floor near us and another lady is cooking something in the adjacent room. An elaborate family buddhist shrine is pretty with flickering candles and purple and orange flowers.
Later at another village, a lady is sitting on a cement floor making conical hats. Every material she uses is natural, all from bamboo actually – the brim plus the needles and thread. Pith helmets are also look – ha ha. We’d like to visit more villages but we want to head back to Mawlamyine to see the sights in town.
So back through the green countryside of Bilu Island we head first to the Cinderella Restaurant for lunch. We choose to sit in the shady garden for an excellent lunch of prawn pasta, crumbed whole prawns and a salad – worth the price.
Now we’re off to the must-see Kyaikthanlan Pagoda. This is the ‘Old Moulmein Pagoda’ mentioned in Rudyard Kipling’s beautifully romantic poem ‘Mandalay’ that begins: “By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea/ There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me…”. Awesome!
Kyaikthanlan Pagoda was built around 875 AD and said to be the home of Buddha’s hair relics. It’s the tallest structure in Mawmalyine and can be seen perched on a ridge high above the city. From the street we climb the many steep stairs to the top only to find there’s actually an elevator!
The main stupa is surrounded by 34 smaller stupas as well as prayer halls and we explore it all. From this high up, we have a panoramic view of the town plus the Gulf of Martaban, the majestic limestone mountains of Kayin State in the east and all the nearby islands and rivers.
Worn out by this stage, we tuktuk back to our hotel for a rest in our lovely bungalow. On dark we dress up and decide to just have dinner in the restaurant here tonight. Mark is happy with his whole grilled fish but my meal is raw and I don’t eat anything. Later we have a drink in the lobby then go for a walk in search of some loud Indian music playing somewhere close by. We set off in the dark but a couple of streets away we come across a pack of dogs who frankly scare the shit out of us so we hightail it back to our hotel.
Bed after Mark chases mosquitos around the room with a sort of butterfly net we found behind the door. Ha, ha.
Tuesday 5th November, 2019
Mawlamyine to Ye
Our plan today is to bus it to Ye at the southern end of Mon State. An early tuktuk is waiting in the laneway outside to take us to the bus station. We always love bus stations in these small Asian towns – so much to see with local vendors selling food to passengers for the trip ahead. Some have just a few apples and mandarins in a tray they carry on their heads while others sit on low plastic stools with a few vegetables displayed on the ground in front of them.
At 7am the bus pulls out and we start our journey down the National Highway. It’s not as grandas it sounds but we’ve been on much worse roads on our travels. The bus is perfect with open windows that let in the fresh air as we speed south towards our destination, the small town of Ye.
The National Highway is, of course, the main road that runs between Myanmar’s north and the far south on the narrow strip of land squeezed between the Andaman Sea and the Tanintharyi Hills, which form the border with Thailand.
It’s a picturesque drive with the endless pagodas popping up at almost every turn and thatched villages and roadside stalls selling drinks and lottery tickets. In one village we all pile out at a market shaded by spreading trees where we buy grapes and tiny apples. Directly behind is a restaurant where other passengers buy food in plastic bags. We also use the toilets – a hole in the ground but clean.
Back on the bus the villages become less frequent, replaced by rubber plantations, betel-nut and lots of coconut trees and other tropical palms. I never, ever get bored! The road has become narrower and more winding by this stage but improves as we reach the outskirts of the remote town of Ye.
At the bus stop we find a tuktuk to drive us to the Starlight Guesthouse which we read about on a traveller’s blog. The town is very pretty, nestled on a picturesque river bend with a tree-lined lake near its centre. This is where the Starlight Guesthouse used to be but we soon find out that it’s moved so we set off again. The new Starlight is on the edge of town but with the same owners who greet us warmly.
They’re David and Mimi, an American-Myanmar couple, who show us to our bungalow behind the main reception area. We don’t waste time hanging around and we’re soon jumping onto a motor bike that we’ve hired from David.
We head straight back into town, sharing the road with a family of goats and pass roughly timbered houses, golden temple gates, lots of motor bikes with the smell of wood fires permeating it all. And since it’s almost dark, the sunset just adds to the wonderful atmosphere of this sleepy little town.
The Shwesandaw Paya is the main shrine in Ye so we pay a visit now while it’s quieter and cooler. Like all Buddhist temples, it glows with gold from the huge paya to the sitting Buddha statues to the elaborate carvings.
But we haven’t eaten for hours so we go in search of food. I’m okay with Burmese food but nowhere has anything printed in English so I just order off the photos in the menu. But the food is atrocious and I can’t eat anything. I really should be losing weight by now, but I’m not.
On dark we’re back on the bike and we’re very lucky to come across a wonderful Buddhist ceremony. Hundreds of children wearing longyis and white tops, carry flags and elaborate Buddhist umbrellas and file past us as they walk along the very long covered walkway to a pagoda in the centre of the lake. This is all accompanied by loud traditional music while everyone presses their palms together in prayer.
But we’re now in search of alcohol and end up at a dingy bar back towards the Starlight. This is a dimly lit place set back off the road called the Ko Kyaw Restaurant and Bar. Mark has a beer but they don’t even sell coke so I have to wait till we get back to the Starlight where we have a few drinks in the dining room. Bed at 10pm.
Wednesday 6th November, 2019
Ye to Dawei
Up early for a healthy breakfast of dragon fruit, watermelon, sweet pineapple and an omelette with green tea and coffee. After ringing Lauren we have a long chat with David about how to get out to Banana Mountain before we catch a bus this afternoon to Daweii.
Taking off on our bike we head north-east towards the Tenasserim Hills where Banana Mountain, or Ko Yin Lay, lies only about ten kilometres away. We travel at first along the highway back towards Mawlamyine then turn right along a red dirt road for a few kilometres. We finally come to a school where the children are in the playground performing their morning ritual of singing the National Anthem and raising the flag. They’re all immaculately dressed in royal blue longyis and snowy white shirts while they stand to attention. We stop to watch then pass through the village where people have laid out nuts and berries to dry in the sun on the side of the road.
Directly behind and looming over it all are the giant, imposing Buddhas of Ko Yin Lay – one reclining and four sitting. The monastery is in the foreground and it’s here that we park our bike. Nuns in maroon robes come and go with books in their hands – obviously coming from classes. Opposite the monastery is the nuns’ sleeping quarters in an ornate two storey building charmingly surrounded by trees and palms.
We want to visit the monastery when the nuns are called to lunch so we decide to visit the Buddhas first. The Reclining Buddha is massive and has a vast hall beneath where hundreds of thick and lavishly decorated columns hold up the roof and the Buddha above. Each column has an elephant head carved on each of its four sides and a large shrine dominates one end. Here we watch three young monks sitting in front of a chanting very old monk. The very old monk beckons us over and wraps coloured string around our wrists – ‘Thank you’ he beams, proud of his welcome in English.
Outside we run into lots of other young monks who want photos taken with us. This is my heaven! From here we walk up to the Sitting Buddhas arranged in a square with their backs to each other. Inside is a wide staircase that winds up around inner religious chambers with each floor decorated differently. At the tower at the top we overlook the whole Ye Valley surrounded by the Tenasserim hills. From up here we’re able to appreciate the colossal scale of the whole complex.
Scorching hot now from the heat, the humidity and the climb we make our way back to the monastery. A group of local ladies in the kitchen are preparing lunch for the nuns. They call us in and find tiny wooden stools for us to sit on. The room is large with a high ceiling, a cement floor, cement block walls and big windows without glass. Around the walls are numerous open fires with a grate on the top holding blackened pots with something boiling away inside. No gas or electricity here to make things easier but I doubt they’d want it.
The ladies are all sitting together in a circle on the floor having a wow of a time laughing and joking as they peel and chop vegetables. They make us very welcome, smiling and waving then one of them brings over bowls of rice and four separate bowls of vegetable stews that I can’t recognize. This is one of those travel experiences that are not only unexpected but what we love the most. A true local experience and being amongst local people. This could be the highlight of our whole trip!
After eating we meet an ancient blind nun squatting on the floor threading flowers onto string then find the main hall. This is a cool dark room with black floor tiles and a polished wooden ceiling. Low round tables have been set up for lunch for the nuns who quietly file in. They pray at the Buddha shrine at the end of the room then more prayers at their table.
Wow! We’re on a total high, but need to get back to Ye as we want to visit the market in town before leaving for Dawei. The market is situated not far from the lake which looks picture postcard today. It’s lined by trees with a monastery on the opposite bank and the pagoda in the centre where we watched the Buddhist ceremony last night.
The market is mainly run by the Mon people who sell the usual fruits and vegetables found in most markets but, because Ye has a seaport, they also sell lots of fish and other seafood. Next door is the local Gold Market. Apparently gold has kept its value in Myanmar so many Burmese people prefer to put their savings into gold instead of anything else – makes sense.
Time now to ride back to the Starlight where we pack then wait for the bus with David. The bus is actually a van as we’re heading into less popular areas and no need for a big bus. For many years Southern Myanmar was off-limits to tourists, even to Burmese from other states, and has only recently opened up to tourism. We haven’t seen a western tourist for days!
The mini-van finally arrives and thankfully is only half full which means a much more comfortable trip than we would have expected. We snake our way over winding mountainous roads passing through small towns and at one stage stuck behind a very slow tuktuk carrying cows.
For the first time this trip, the skies open up and it begins to rain heavily at the top of the mountain. But by the time we reach Dawei in the late afternoon, the sky is blue once again.
Researching Dawei, we find that it has a long history of British rule with still lots of interesting colonial architecture – old wooden thatch-roofed bungalows and brick and stucco mansions.
From where the van stops in a market area, we catch a tuktuk to take us to the Hotel Dawei. It’s an old colonial building with tropical features of wide verandahs, louvred wooden shutters, multi-paned windows and pitched roof lines plus lush gardens. It even has a pool and we’re straight in after chucking our gear into our room.
Later we decide to have dinner here in the hotel so we dress up for a ‘posh’ night. We splurge on margaritas and Mark has a seafood platter while I’m happy with a pizza.
While we’re still having drinks we hear music coming from the street and we’re in time to see another Buddhist procession. This is much more extravagant than the one we saw last night in Ye. Everyone is dressed in white and groups of men carry floats holding large buddha statues, each one lit up like a Christmas tree. And, of course, loud Burmese music accompanies it all.
An early night after a wonderful day.
Thursday 7th November, 2019
Dawei to Maughmagan Beach
Today is Angie’s 40th birthday. Happy birthday in heaven our darling. It won’t be a good day for us but I pray that you’re happy wrapped in the arms of Gra and Da. I hope so with all my heart. I’m happy that I dreamt about you last night, my angel. Lauren will be so sad today.
This morning we’re leaving Dawei for Maughmagan Beach only twelve kilometres east so it won’t be a long travel day.
Breakfast is a set affair – juice, tea, coffee, bacon, eggs, toast and croissants. Mark isn’t feeling too well so he doesn’t eat much for a change. We actually go back to our room for a doze to see if he feels a bit better afterwards.
At 11 o’clock we pack, pay our bill and order a taxi. The road to Maughmagan climbs then descends a big hill through dense tropical vegetation and rubber plantations to the village itself. This is typical of all small villages we’ve seen in southern Myanmar with the exception that here there are lots of guesthouses.
Our guesthouse is off the main street along a sandy track between simple houses. This is called Sweet Honey Bamboo Village where a friendly owner greets us and shows us our hut. This is very cute and lives up to its ‘bamboo’ name – everything is made of bamboo including the external and internal walls, the ceiling, the bed, chairs and side tables.
Sweet Honey is a small family-run place with a row of about ten tiny huts facing an open-sided hanging-out area where a few local guests are using their ipads – good to know they have wifi. We decide to head straight to the beach so we hire a motor-bike at the little front desk. The drive only takes a couple of minutes through the village.
We park our bike near the back of some shacks which turn out to be beachside restaurants. In fact, there must be a hundred of these all along the beach facing the water. These are basic to say the least and reminds us of Thailand. We really love the rustic feel of this place but there aren’t many people around considering all the places to eat here. And it’s a Sunday so where are all the local tourists! We never expected to see many western tourists – and we don’t – because, as we’ve already experienced, this southern part of Myanmar still isn’t on the tourist trail.
I read somewhere that Maughmagan may share the sea with Thailand’s Andaman Coast, but that’s where the similarity ends. Not touristy at all so then why ….? And all the restaurants are open!
There are also beach hawkers selling food, sarongs and trinkets. And shops selling souvenirs and clothes – I buy a pair of baggy pants for me and an outfit each for the Dollies.
Mark walks down to the water’s edge to take photos of fishing boats that have brought in their catch. They look like Viking boats. He also takes photos of circular patterns made on the sand by burrowing crabs. The tide is low so the water is miles away and I’m much too lazy to walk down there!
We walk along past all the family style restaurants and back to where we’d come across a wedding ceremony being set up. It’s hard to miss with music blaring all over the village. We’re dressed in our daggiest beach clothes but these beautifully dressed ladies pull us inside to join the wedding celebrations. They feed us ice cream and drinks then I’m taken out the back where a group of transvestites are applying makeup and thanaka to the female guests’ faces. The thanaka is made the traditional way by rubbing the root from the thanaka tree onto a whetstone. Now it’s my turn and I’m included in this brilliant experience.
Back outside the bride and groom have turned up. They’re so tiny and elaborately dressed, she in a big white wedding dress and he in a black suit – they look like those little plastic dolls you see on top of a wedding cake. We have lots of photos taken with them and the other guests. Bloody hell, we look totally feral and have no idea why they’d want us to be in their photos. Thank you, sweet people.
Further down we stop at one of the simple restaurants selling seafood. A cheeky young guy at the front convinces us that his in the best place to eat and he’s not wrong. With Myanmar beer and lime sodas Mark has an excellent whole steamed fish and I have a prawn salad.
Time now for our afternoon rest, we ride back to Sweet Honey but then return again a couple of hours later. One place has music playing so we settle in for a couple of hours for more food and drinks.
Wonderful driving home on the bike in the warm dark air.
Off to Thailand tomorrow!!
Friday 8th November, 2019
Maughmagan Beach to Dawei to Kanchanburi (Thailand)
Under another clear blue sky, we leave Maughmagan very early. A tuktuk takes us to the bus station in Dawei which isn’t anything like a bus station but we unload our bags anyway. Soon a guy packs us into his rusty old truck which will definitely not be a comfy ride but we only travel a few kilometres when we’re told to move to a small van which will be heaps better on the long trip to the border.
To get into Thailand we need to do this five hour trip to the Htee Kee/Phunaron border crossing in the hills east of Dawei. I’ve read that the route is terrible so we’re pleasantly surprised with a relatively good road. For some reason, and this is no way unusual in Asia, we stop numerous times to drop things off and pick things up and random people get on and off despite the fact that we’ve paid for the van ourselves. No use caring so we just go with the flow.
At one stage, we pass yet another Buddhist ceremony with school children walking in single file along the edge of the road, some carrying temple umbrellas, big bunches of flowers, baskets of fruit and some beating drums. Small villages are picture perfect with backdrops of palm trees and flowering vines. In one village we even see a line of monks in maroon robes on their morning alms round.
If the road was okay at first it quickly deteriorates after an hour. The bitumen has given way to rough gravel and the remaining four hours are teeth-chattering as we bounce from pothole to pothole up and down hills. We hug fast flowing rivers, cross rickety one lane bridges, occasional villages but basically miles of nothingness. The trip seems to go on forever until we finally pull into the dusty border town of Htee Kee.
We’re dropped at a low wooden building where we receive our Myanmar exit stamps then back in the van for another age till we reach the Phu Nam Ron border in Thailand. As tourists we’re given free 30 day visas. Apparently there will be a bus to Kanchanaburi leaving soon so we head off down the road dragging our backpacks behind us past lots of bamboo cafes and market stalls. At last, a small and very flashy mini bus pulls up next to us and we’re off on the smooth, tarred roads of Thailand. Kanchanaburi is another two hours away but this is luxury compared to the previous five hours.
Both SE Asian countries, Myanmar and Thailand have lots of similarities but also lots of differences. They have similar climates and so similar food sources, similar coastal and mountainous regions and with both the primary religion is Theravada Buddhism. But there are differences as well and this is obvious even on this two hour drive from the Myanmar border.
I tried to read up on why this is. Myanmar had been cut off to the rest of the world for decades and so isn’t as modernized or progressive as Thailand. In a sense, Myanmar is still growing up. Mynamar (Burma) lost its identity when it was colonized by the British in 1824 then later when it fell under military rule. Suffering years of oppressive military rule has caused extensive poverty plus a terrible campaign of ethnic cleansing. On the other hand, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that hasn’t been colonized by a European power and so has managed to retain its independence. Whereas Thailand embraced capitalism and globalization, Myanmar has been held back by invasion and corruption. Complicated and lesson over!
Back to the bus. By four o’clock we arrive in Kanchanaburi where we catch a tuktuk to the backpacker area on the Mae Klong River. We stayed here four years ago at a couple of different places but found the Pong Pen Guesthouse really cheap – loads of atmosphere and even a pool. The food here is fabulous as well so after a dip in the pool we order fish, chips and salad. Back to the pool we float around drinking pineapple and mango shakes. Oh yes, we love you Thailand.
What we also love about Thailand is having a massage so just on dark we find one close by and settle in for a one hour full body for only $8AUD. Later we do a bar crawl of the street listening to local bands playing the Eagles, Van Morrison and my favourite, John Denver’s Country Roads.
Bed about ten o’clock.
Saturday 9th November, 2019
Kanchanburi to Bangkok
We’ve decided to hang out in Kanchanaburi this morning and catch the train to Bangkok later this afternoon. For breakfast at Pong Pen we sit at one of the little wooden tables in the laneway – banana pancakes, watermelon, pineapple and tea and coffee. Another swim then more pineapple shakes before hiring a motor bike to drive down to the Bridge.
This is the Bridge on the River Kwai which became famous all over the world, when it was featured in David Lean’s movie. Tourists flock here every day and, being a Saturday, it’s even busier with many more local day trippers. It’s a fun family atmosphere with lots of market stalls selling souvenirs and food. We buy clothes for the Dollies and lunch at an open-air place for good people watching.
At two o’clock we pack and catch a tuktuk to the railway station. Kanchanaburi’s station is picturesque despite its terrible history of being part of the Death Railway built by prisoners during World War II. Today it’s a peaceful pretty place with simple wooden buildings and lots of flower gardens and greenery.
And the train is wonderful – open windows once again to keep us cool and to watch the world go by on this three hour trip to Bangkok. We roll into Thonburi Railway Station as darkness falls. This station is frantically busy with hundreds of people boarding and getting off trains. The train stop is in the middle of a market with tuktuks buzzing around and hawkers calling out. We quickly catch a tuktuk to the Chao Praya as Thonburi is on the other side of the river to Banglamphu where we always stay.
We don’t have to wait long for an up-river ferry and joy of joys there are monks on board. I make sure I take a few selfies with them in the background.
At Banglamphu we jump out excited to be back ‘home’. We stay in a pretty place in Soi Rambutri and head out for food and drinks. All around here is very busy tonight especially Khao San Road where we buy a t-shirt for Steve with a photo of him wearing a blonde girl’s wig. Ha.
We think we’ll escape the crowds and call into the strange little place we visited a couple of weeks ago on Thanon Chakrabongse. The funny lady owner is here and someone has fallen asleep on a bench behind us. Later we find the Reggae Bar and hang out for ages listening to Bob Marley – the guys serving even have dreadlocks – very cool.
Sunday 10th November, 2019
This afternoon we plan to move to Chinatown for a change. I’ve found a wonderful place on booking.com and we hope it’s as good as it looks. This morning though we walk over past the Museum to Wat Mahatat. We’ve been here countless times and it’s our favourite wat in Bangkok. We light candles and incense for Angie then have lunch in one of the very basic restaurants at the Mahatat Market. This is something we do every time we come to Bangkok and always happy that nothing has changed.
Later we have a massage and I have a hair wash and blow dry at Pink in Soi Rambutri. Time then to grab our packs and a tuktuk to take us the short distance across the city to Chinatown and our hotel for tonight, Shanghai Mansion.
I’m in raptures from the moment we cross the red bridge with a giant mural of a Chinese girl on the facing wall. This is art deco class!
Google says that Shanghai Mansion began life in 1892 as a trading house, and in 1908, it was transformed into Bangkok’s first Chinese opera house frequented by members of Thailand’s Royal Family and other members of the aristocracy. Since then it’s been Thailand’s stock exchange, a textile trading center, a Chinese department store and now a beautiful boutique hotel.
Inside the foyer we’re transported into the stylish mood of Shanghai during the 1930’s and where we’re treated like royalty. We’re given cool wet hand towels to freshen up plus glasses of deep pink Rosella Juice.
Along with the room, we’ll be given a complimentary High Tea which we can have after we settle in.
Our room is stunning – a black carved four poster bed, vibrant purple velvet curtains, rich paint colors, wallpaper decorated with Chinese scenery, opulent fabrics and paper lanterns. The whole hotel is just as magical and we explore every level.
Our High Tea is served in an alcove off the main bar which opens directly onto Yaowarat Street, Chinatown’s main thoroughfare. Fresh dragon fruit and pineapple, satay skewers, cakes and a few very exotic savoury things with prawns are washed down with green tea – we feel very spoilt. What a find!
Before we return to our lovely room for our usual afternoon siesta, we find a massage place around the corner – fantastic as always. The rest of the day is resting up then it’s time to eat again. And we don’t need to go far.
Yaoworat Road is in the center of Chinatown and becomes a food hotspot at night. Restaurants line the street in both directions and most set up tables and chairs on the pavement to cater for the thousands of people who come here every night. These lively places specialize in seafood some even advertising the terrible Shark Fin Soup – shameful!
We check out side streets that are just as busy with lots of hole in the wall eateries but eventually we find a couple of empty plastic stools on the bustling main road. Mark of course has a whole fish while I order a prawn dish – both good and it comes out in seconds.
By now the crowds are even worse and I’m really getting a headache so we retreat to the oasis of tranquility which is Shanghai Mansion. Drinks in the Red Rose Bar before retiring to our oh, so comfy bed.
Monday 11th November, 2019
Today we return to Banglamphu as, not only do we want to spend our last night in our favourite area, but we’ve heard that the Festival of Lights will be happening down on the riverbank tonight.
We book into a lovely new place on Thanon Rambutri – must be getting soft but these places are so cheap! There’s even a swimming pool on the bottom floor near reception.
And since this is our last day, we return to the Mahatat Market and spend up big on vases, urns and ginger jars for home – cheap as chips, as they say. We have massages, manicures, hair washes, and do lots of eating and hanging out at Madam Masur’s in Soi Rambutri.
As darkness falls we follow the crowds heading for the Chao Praya for the Festival of Lights or Loy Krathong. During the Festival, people gather around lakes, rivers and canals to pay respects to the goddess of water by releasing beautiful lotus-shaped rafts, called krathongs, decorated with candles, incense and flowers onto the water.
These are made from all natural materials like banana leaves, banana tree bark, spider lily plants and bread and many varieties are sold along the way and we buy our own to place in the river. A man with a long pole lowers our offerings into the water and off they float with thousands of others, the flickering of candles drifting off into the distance.
All the trees in Santichaiparakan Park have been strung with lights and lanterns and people gather as families on the grass but most wander around looking at all the decorations. Something exciting seems to be happening down near the Fort but there are so many people we can’t see anything and decide to escape the crowds and look for alcohol.
We’d come across some interesting restaurants across the nearby klong a couple of weeks ago so we aim for there now. Although this is just a stone’s throw from the park it’s completely peaceful. It has that hippie feel of Khao San Road twenty years ago and we feel very at home.
Still not wanting to take on the crowds we move on to a couple of tiny bars hidden away in the laneways between Khao San Road and Thanon Rambutri – we see the fattest man we’ve ever seen – just saying.
Tuesday 12th November, 2019
We spend today just hanging out, eating and having massages. Mark is the best packer and crams everything into our packs while I leave him to it. About 1pm we set off for the airport for our late afternoon flight.
Another awesome trip!
Wednesday 13th November, 2019
Arrive early morning and catch the train home to our darlings.