Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chinatown, Bangkok

Amber:  One of the reasons I love to travel... the food.  I try not to be too much of a foodie and write constantly about the cool stuff we eat.  But, what can I say, Bangkok's Chinatown's food is worth writing about.  Chinatown it's self is awesome.  It is teeming with energy.  Big red Chinese lanterns are draped everywhere.  People crowd the streets, walking between shops, street stalls, and restaurants.  Everything is so different!  Shark fin soup, birds nest soup, fruits we've never seen, it's awesome (we still havn't mustered up enough courage to eat the birds nest soup, and shark fin soup... that's just wrong).  The streets are still open to traffic, so it can be a bit of a challenge to cross to your next favorite place to eat.  While there are lots of interesting things to shop for, we never actually go shopping, we just eat.

Tim and I have become creatures of habit in Chinatown.  First we start with roasted duck served over noodles at a tiny little food stall. Perched on kids sized stools at a long street side table, crammed in with the locals, we make ourselves at home. It has to be the best duck in the world, for about $1.35.  It is the only thing that they serve, so they have it nailed down to an art.

From there, we walk down the bustling street to find our favorite seafood street restaurant and fill ourselves on giant prawns.  Tim is a master at ripping the head off and getting the meat out of the tail.  The prawns are hot off the grill, so getting their shell, head and legs off usually ends up with me burning my fingers and I somehow end up with prawn guts on me every time.  It's all worth it tho, as they are huge, and are served with the best lime chili dipping sauce.  I could eat them for hours.  We get the prawns with a curried chili crab, which is amazing as well.  It is rich and delicious.  Washed down with a big Chang, it's amazing, and we are full.

But, we keep going.  There are these awesome, warm, stuffed rolls at a tiny little food stall that are to die for.  They are a cross between a biscuit and a dinner roll, warmed and filled with butter and your choice of peanut butter, marmalade, chocolate, or cinnamon sugar.  Having tried them all, marmalade is my favorite.  For Tim, its all about the peanut butter.  Really, its the melting butter that matters.  And at this point, we have to stop eating or else we would burst.

We love taking our friends to Chinatown.  It's a fun way to spent the evening.  So far this time in Thailand, we have gone twice.  The first time, Tim, Justin, Ciara and I took a ferry down the Chao Pria River and they did the circuit with us.  After impressing them with the duck, Justin was able to convince us that dim sum needed to be added to the mix, so we went off in search of the best dim sim in Chinatown.  Being close to Chinese New Year, it was really crowded.  Being as we were in Chinatown, it was really hard to find dim sum.  We were able to find the dim sum restaurant, however, and all shared a large selection.  Ciara had never had dim sum, but I think she now has new favorite food group.  They were tasty. 

The second time we went back, it was actually Chinese New Year.  Complete with the big dragon puppets, it was a special time to be in Chinatown.  It was so packed with people, the streets were actually closed off to traffic.  We hit up all our favorite food groups, and enjoyed the show. Unfortunately, all the photos are locked on Tim's phone, so you will just have to imagine how cool it was!

Khao Yai, Thailand

Amber:  We enjoyed two nights in Bangkok before heading north to Khao Yai.   Justin, Tim, Ciara and I were all thankful for Ciri on Tim's phone as we rented a car and maneuvered the chaotic, massive highways leading out of Bangkok.  The city is at least 7.7 million people, and growing rapidly.  Tim is a very good driver, so he was nominated to drive.  Not only does one drive on the opposite side of the road as we do in Alaska, but the driver is on the other side of the car as well! Tim did great (even with three back seat drivers).  Lane lines in Thailand are merely suggestions.  Cars, motor scooters, busses, semis, all dance around each other in a race to get there first.  While he is perfectly safe, Tim is aggressive!  It is funny when we get home, he keeps up the same offensive driving; darting through traffic.  It takes a few weeks for him to re-acclimate to drive like a normal person.

The car ride to Khao Yai was a little over 2 hours.  Khao Yai is an over 20,000 square km park in the center of Thailand.  Wild elephants, Horn bills, gibbons, tigers, sun bears, and thousands of other animals live in it's protected rain forest.  We were all excited for a chance of seeing a wild elephant.  There are over 250 scattered throughout the densely forested mountains.  Monkeys are everywhere, as well as wild elk and little wild deer.  Justin had gone twice before and been skunked both times, so we all had our fingers crossed that this was the time to find the allusive elephants and gibbons.

Our plan was to drive between different viewing platforms, hike into them, and wait out the elephants.  They were our top priority.  Or where the gibbons?  We weren't sure, we wanted to see both.  And a tiger.  Maybe a little optimistic, but we were excited.  The park was beautiful.  Who knew that such an awesome rain forest was so close the the chaos of Bangkok?  We saw Horn Bills high up in the trees on our drive into the park.  A family of Pig Tail Maquas sat on the side of the road.  They weren't the least bit shy.  Ciara's first monkeys in the wild, complete with tiny baby monkeys!    We drove into the park and searched out the different viewing platforms.  There was elephant dung everywhere!  The Gibbons were nearby as well, we could hear them calling to each other in the forest. 

We spent two nights in Khao Yai, renting camping gear and sleeping in a busy camp ground.  We drove up and down roads, hiked through the jungle, waited in viewing platforms, and stayed out so late one night that we missed dinner as the camp restaurant shut down.  We had Reese's s'mores for dinner, cooked over a charcoal fire, instead.  They were delicious!  As we sat cross legged around the coals, Tim got a leach on his foot.  It was horrible!  It was a little inch worm looking thing attached between his toes.  He pulled it off, and of course his foot started bleeding.  That was enough for everyone to climb into our tents and say good night.  Gross!

We never saw an elephant or a gibbon.  We did see the biggest porcupine I have ever seen in our camp ground, as well as wild elk, the little wild deer, and a little wild cat like thing.  We needed to spend more time in our camp ground and less out in the jungle, apparently!  We did hear an elephant trumpet twice, and gibbons calling to each other constantly.  We fed pig tail maquas potato chips and marshmallows.  It was fun to have them take the food from our hands.  Their hands are so neat!  The big bull was scary, so we stayed in the safety of our car and fed the little cute ones from our windows.  One was so brave, she climbed up onto the car and wouldn't get off.  We threw food down onto the ground and started to drive away, and she jumped down, snatched it up, and bounded back onto the car.  Even though we didn't find the elephants or gibbons (or the tiger!) it was still a beautiful place, and we all had a fun weekend. 

Goodbye Myanmar, Hello Thailand

Amber:  Tim, Justin, Ciara and I returned to Yangon a few days before our Myanmar visa's ran out.  Tim has two classes left before he completes his MBA.  Happily, Alaska Pacific University, the private college he has been attending, has made their masters program into an online format, with an on sight long weekend at the end.  It worked out perfectly for Tim; his last two classes were being offered, and we would have 5 and a half months to travel before it was mandatory for him to be back in Anchorage.  His MBA classes started our last two days in Myanmar.  The classes consist of once a week, two plus hour adobe connect sessions, per class.  Myanmar has just opened up to Westerners, and with that, the internet.  The availability of internet, although vastly improving, is still few and far between, and extremely (painfully) slow.  Yangon was Tim's best bet for getting a connection fast enough to run adobe.  He found one that charged about $0.60 an hour, and was good to go!

Tim, Justin, Ciara and I enjoyed our last few days in Myanmar.  We were all so thankful we were able to experience such a beautiful, fresh country.  The hot, sunny days and cool nights were so enjoyable.  The history was amazing.  We all loved Bagan.  U Bein Bridge was beautiful.  Inle Lake was spectacular.  The trek was so fun.  The locals were such lovely people.  Tourists, although we saw them, are no where near as plentiful as they are in Myanmar's neighbors.  Myanmar Beer on draft in a chilled mug; so delicious!  But... we were also excited to return to Thailand.  Our last night in Yangon, Tim picked up more travelers tummy.  As it turns out, so did Justin and Ciara, who flew to Bangkok the following day.  The morning of our flight, Tim was greenish white and doubled over.  There is no such thing as keeping hot food hot, cold food cold, or shelf life.  Also, there is hardly the appropriate sanitation (at least in the budget accommodations we visited).  Maybe we should have gone vegetarian for our month in Myanmar.  We met a couple at our guest house in Yangon that shared the hot, hour long cab ride to the airport with us. Their story's about their travels, and sharing ours, kept Tim's mind off how sick he felt. 

After taking hours to move mere kilometers by bus anywhere in Myanmar, the hour long flight from Yangon to Bangkok was such an easy way to travel. The views were pretty out of Yangon. Flat rice fields gave way to an island speckled shoreline as we followed the coast south.  After about an hour, a brownish gray haze rose up into the pretty puffy white clouds.  Smog!  We had reached Bangkok.

After getting a room on Khao Saun Road, Tim read more for his classes and tried to get his stomach to feel better.  I went to Ethos, my favorite restaurant in Thailand, and had red curry.  It was spicy and delicious.  I decided to have a mango coconut shake for dessert.  I spent $4 on dinner.  Tim and I had managed to live for less than $30 a day per person, including every expense (airfare, visa, transportation, lodging, beer, food), while in Myanmar.  That was the most I had spent on one meal in a month!  But... it was very tasty, and as a bonus, it was nice to know that I wouldn't be getting food poisoning. It was worth every penny!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bagan, Myanmar

Amber:  Bagan was definitely a highlight for me from our trip in Myanmar.  Found in central Myanmar, it is a huge Buddhist complex of over 3,000 stupas, monasteries, learning-caves, and temples. These span across 20 square miles, following the Ayeyarawaddy River.  They were all built between 1100 AD and 1300 AD, so the same time as Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  It is believed that there used to be over 4,000 stupas back in Bagan's hay-day.  The river has changed its course over the last 1,000 years, therefore causing close to a thousand stupas to be lost.  Earthquakes, and of course time, has taken their tole as well, so a lot of reconstruction has taken place.  Millions of dollars have been invested into restoring Bagan.  Unfortunately, historic design hasn't always been followed, and UNESCO dropped Bagan after comparing the extravagant, sometimes over the top, restoration, to Disneyland.  We still thought it was an amazing.  Each structure was different.  While not as grand as the huge, sprawling temples of Angkor, the number of stupas as well as their uniqueness, was awesome.  Some of the stupas still had original frescos of the Buddha painted on the walls and ceilings.  It was amazing looking at 1000 year old art work!

Tim, Ciara, Justin and I took the slow boat down the Ayeyarwaddy River to Bagan from Mandalay.  The 17 hour boat ride was painfully slow as we motored down the river.  Accommodations were to sit very squeezed on the upper deck on plastic lawn chairs.  At four am, it wasn't ideal.  As the day wore on, people unloaded slowly into the small river villages, and our deck space became tolerable.  The sun came out, and it was a beautiful ride down the river.  We ended up getting a few Chang (Thai beer) and played some silly road trip games to pass the time.  We arrived in Nyaung Oo, the small town just north of the historic sight at around 8pm.  It was dark out, so we found a hotel, sleepily had some dinner, and every one was extremely happy to crawl into bed early that night. 

The next morning, the four of us rented bikes and toured the main temples and stupas of Bagan.  Tim bought a map and planned out our day.  It was extremely hot out, but the sky was blue and the sights, amazing.  We took a loop that had us take the less traveled road, viewing literally hundreds of stupas as we biked past in the heat.  Old Bagan houses the most well known stupas and temples, so we made our way there.  After marveling at the beautiful stupas, temples and monasteries there, we biked back towards Nyaung Oo.  Tim and Ciara had been having issues with their bikes being lower geared than Justin and mine.  Both Justin and I ended up at an intersection, waiting for Tim and Ciara.  We waited.  And waited.  Finally, Tim arrived, pushing his bike.  It had a flat front tier.  Ciara was not with Tim, as we assumed she would be.  Justin was just about to turn around to look for her when she too came into view, pushing her bike.  Her peddle had fallen off.  As it turned out, right where we were waiting, a nice local man had an abundance of tools.  He fixed Tim's tire, and then Ciara's peddle.  What a sweetie!!

Ciara and I had asked the man whom we rented our bicycles from if shorts were ok, or, as we were visiting a religious sight, if we should wear long pants.  He had assured us shorts were fine, and we ran into no problems until our final stupa.  We should have know better when we pulled up on our bikes and a group of women rushed out, exclaiming that we should park our bikes next to them.  They pinned butterfly flowers onto our shirts and told us to leave our shoes with them as well.  Ciara and I had no longies, so they allowed us to borrow some they had in their shop.  The local people had been nothing but gracious and sweet to us so far, so we thanked them and carried on to view the stupa.  On our return, we got bombarded.  The woman demanded that we look at their shop, and forcefully made us sit down.  They wouldn't let us stand up.  The items they were selling where hugely inflated.  Ciara and I felt some what obligated to purchase something due to their generosity with letting us borrow their longies.  However, they were very aggressive. I would put an item down, and they would grab my hand and put it back in it. I tried to stand up, and they shoved me back down.  They were doing the same to Ciara.  Finally, we decided we just needed to leave.  The women became very angry, and started yelling, calling us cheap.  We got onto our bikes and shakily biked away.  How awful!

We viewed the temples of Bagan three more days after that.  The next two days we rented a van and looked at the further out sights.  We were even able to climb up onto some of the temples, allowing for amazing views of the planes of Bagan.  We attempted sunset, but the cloud layer didn't work out for us.  We decided to come back for sunrise.  Sunrise was beautiful.  I think all four of us could have spent a week or more at Bagan, especially at sunrise and sunset.  It was so beautiful there!

We became friends with the owner of our favorite restaurant in Bagan, Weather Spoon.  Winton, the owner, had traveled to Europe to learn about Western food and service.  They made the best burger in all of SE Asia!  Tim had three in a row.  The red curry was also amazing.  And we had an avocado salad with each meal.  We pretty much didn't eat anywhere else once we found Weather Spoon. 

Winton was from a small village about 13km away.  He invited us to join him to a very special ceremony where young monks are joined into the monastery. We were thrilled for the opportunity.  It was a very beautiful ceremony, but we felt like the main attraction.  The moment we arrived we were ushered into the front row to get the best pictures of the young monks and monkesses.  Next we were lead into a dining hall to sample small snacks.  An old man with only two teeth developed a strong liking to Tim and lead him by hand around the ceremony.  While we ate, he stood and fanned flies from our table!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mandalay, Myanmar

Amber:  U Bien Bridge is just north of Mandalay.  It is about a quarter mile long old bridge that is completely made out of teak.  As luck would have it, it is positioned so that at sunrise, and again at sunset, it is silhouetted against the suns rays.  Villagers and monks frequent the bridge as, to this day, it is the main means to cross between the two little villages that border the lake it crosses.  So, as a photographer, our friend Justin really wanted to go see it.  He put it as one of his Top Three of Myanmar.  We were excited to go check it out as well. 

We arrived in Mandalay after hiring a taxi from Pyio Oo Lwin for about $30 for the four of us.  It was supposed to take over an hour and a half.  It took under an hour and fifteen minutes.  I think our driver thought he was in NASCAR as he zoomed down windy roads, around bicyclists, past buses  and dangerously close to small children and dogs on the side of the road. 

Mandalay is a big city.  It has a lot of urban sprawl.  We had finally dropped out of the mountainous region we had been in since Kalaw, so it was considerably warmer.  After searching for a hotel in the budget traveler district, the four of us went out for some dinner.  There isn't much for restaurants in this area of Mandalay, so we settled for some traditional Burmese food that was recommended by Wiki Travel.  This consisted of buffet style curried pork, chili chicken, vegetable chicken, and variety of cooked vegetable dishes.  Justin tried the pork, while the rest of us had chicken and shared a few of the vegetable dishes.  Aside from being quite oily, and at room temperature, Burmese food is good.  Not something I would eat on a regular basis, but enjoyable.

Unfortunately, by the next morning, Justin was experiencing full on travelers stomach and unable to do much more than look miserable while he lay in bed.   Ciara, Tim and I were fine, so hoping Justin would be up for going to the bridge by sun down, hired a small truck with seats in the back to see the sights of Mandalay, with a stop back at our hotel to check on Justin's progress.  We hiked Mandalay Hill, which is a pretty steep hill that you had to climb barefoot as it is holy.  Thankfully there are steps all the way up it, and several stupus housing Buddha along the way.  At the top stupa Ciara and I had to wear longies, the traditional Burmese skirt, in order to walk around.  We weren't sure why, but all the locals were laughing and pointing at us.  I'm sure that other foreign women had climbed the hill before.  A young man bashfully came up and told us we looked beautiful, but we were pretty convinced he meant silly.  We never found out quite what was so strange about the two of us in the longie.

We went to several stupas on our tour of Mandalay.  Ciara and I did not plan ahead.  As it was hot out, we had worn shorts and tees.  At the first stupa we went to, we met a sweet old Burmese woman who's grandfather was German and grandmother was an American.  How cool, what a romantic story that must have been for her father to come over and meet her mother so many years ago!  It must have been so different back then.  She kindly informed us that we must wear the longie in order to enter any the holy sights.  Which, of course, we already knew, we just weren't thinking when we left our hotel. Our taxi driver was nice enough to give me his jacket to wrap around my legs, put on some shorts and gave Ciara his longie so that we could carry on.  We saw the worlds "largest book", which was unique.  There were about 200 stupas that housed the Tripitaka, the Buddhist holy text, all lined up in orderly fashion.  Each stupa had a different verse from the Tripitaka, and together they completed the text. 

At a different stop, we saw a Buddha that was made of solid gold and had real gem stones all over it.  It was then covered with gold leaf from people paying their respects to Buddha over the years.  This Buddha was quite impressive, even if Ciara and I, as women, weren't allowed to get within 20 m of it.  There was specifically a sign that said "No women beyond this point."  I was so sad!

After checking on Justin and finding him still in the same state we left him, we continued on to U Bein Bridge.  At first, we were not impressed.  Loads of tour busses had apparently had the same idea we had.  The bridge was packed.  We decided to hike across to the other side as we had arrived well before sun set.  On our way across the bridge, we saw a young man fishing.  It was incredible.  He was waste deep in water, and would just lung through the muddy water and somehow come up with a fish between his hands.  It was at least 8 oz!  We were quite impressed when he put the fish into his longie and actually did it again.  And again!  The three of us watched him catch at least five fish this way.  Once we made it to the other side of the bride, we stopped and ate some chili crab.  They were quite small, so we were only able to get meat out of their two front claws, and then broke the body in half and dipped it into chili lime sauce and ate it whole.  The only thing left were the crabs little legs.  It was really good!  We all had two and a half crab each.  So yummy, and so cheap!

Finally, it was sunset and we were able to experience the bridge like all the pictures we'd seen.  The sun was huge.  You could actually see the spherical shape of the sun as it set behind the horizon.  The bridge was beautiful, and there were two, ancient, dead banyon trees that were really pretty.  We were so happy with the sunset, we decided to postpone our departure from Mandalay so that Justin could come back the next day and hopefully take professional quality photos of a sunset just as beautiful as the one we had just seen. 

As we returned to our hotel, we drove past a little street stall selling some good looking pancakes.  It was a really simple set up with a large flat skillet where they would take pancake dough, spread it really thin on the griddle, and then break an egg and put other toppings on the inside.  When cooked, they folded the pancake up into a neat little package, and served it with a bean spread. We decided to go there for dinner.  The shop appeared to be run by all young boys ages 8-12 with a few 18, 19 year-olds, all in matching sports Jerseys.  We were ushered to sit down at a tiny street side table and our young server began to bark at us in perfect English all the menu items.  He was so feisty, we couldn't help but love him.  He was probably 10 and ran the place!!  We got chicken and egg stuffed pancakes, topped with cilantro, garbanzo beans, and spicy Thai chilies.  They were delicious.  We ordered some Burmese tea, which is really sweet and milky.  Tim and Ciara liked them enough to have two more.  We had to stop after a banana pancake.  It isn't expected that you tip in Myanmar, but our little serer was so cute we left him about half of what our meal was extra in khyett.

Justin was feeling better by the next day.  We went to the golf course in Mandalay to wait for sun set.  We each hit a cart of balls from the driving range (I have to say, I'm horrible at golf) before finding out that playing an actual 9 holes of golf was going to set us back over $50 each.  Which is well over over Tim's and my budget.  So, we went and found some Western food.  Burgers and Pizza, yum!  The burger was really sweet, closer to meat loaf in flavor and texture, and the pizza had Vienna sausage on it, but over all, a delicious meal after Burmese food.  We were stuffed after our late lunch, so went in search of a ride to U Bein bridge.  We booked a jeep, and off we went. 

When we got to the bridge, there was a thick cloud cover towards the West.  We rented a small wooden boat to get the best angle.  With the four of us and its oarer, we weighed a lot for the little vessel.  It started quickly filling with water through large cracks on its side. Our boat is the only one that seemed to have this problem.  We laughed as we were probably in waste deep water, so aside from our cameras, we weren't too worried about the water.   By the time the sun got close to setting, it had slipped behind the clouds.  We asked our boat captain to return us to shore before we sank and we enjoyed a Myanmar beer lake side before heading back to our hotel. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar

Amber:  Tim, Justin, Ciara, and I had the most terrifying bus ride of our lives driving north from Hsipaw to Py Oo Lwin.  Well, maybe not of our lives, but it was scary.  The roads over here are narrow, and mostly wind up and down gradual hills.  There is a huge gorge between the two little mountain towns that one must slowly zig-zag down, cross a little bridge, then wind and wind and wind up.  With no guard rail, and a very steep free-fall like cliff off to one side.  In a big, long bus.  With breaks we weren't too sure about.  Early on in our drive, the bus pulled over to hose off its breaks to cool them down.  Not so good on building ones confidence about the vehicle.

We had heard that the train ride was amazing between the two towns, as there was a really cool bridge, apparently crossing said gorge.  We have been avoiding train travel since arriving in Myanmar as the government charges double for foreigners to take the train from what the locals pay, and also, because they are really slow, rocky, lurchy, and undependable as far as their arrival times.  We were willing to make an exception to switch things up and also get an opportunity to check out the bridge.

We woke up early, had breakfast, checked out of our small, yet very sweet hosted guest house, and took a small truck taxi to the train station.  The ticket master apologized that the train was running behind... four hours behind.  The train was already considerably slower than the bus, so after much debate, we decided that the bridge wasn't worth it, and returned to our guest house to get a bus ticket. 

As it turns out, getting a bus ticket meant sitting in a lawn chair on the side of the road, hoping a bus would drive by.  Which finally one did, and we all loaded up onto the bus.  A few other foreigners loaded onto the bus just a few meters down the road, and the purser actually made two local women move to different seats so that the foreigners could have theirs.  The pursers wanted the foreigners to enjoy the shady side of the bus to avoid the mid day blazing sun.   I thought it was rude that they forced the two woman to have to sit in it instead.  Which leads me to the scary gorge.  I literally was too scared to be car sick as we slowly motored down the 1,000' steep face of the gorge.  Tim and Ciara were in the isle seats, while Justin and I sat beside our significant others in the window seats, mesmerized by how close the bus tires got to the edge of the cliff.  No one spoke in the 50 seat bus as we drove down the mountain, the tension was pretty high! 

Needless to say, we survived our bus ride.  There was no plunging of our bus off the road into the endless abyss.  Pyin Oo Lwin was a nice little sleepy town.  There is a huge military base nearby, so we did sense a bit more of the governments presence. We rented bikes and toured the small sights throughout the town.  The four of us were really wanting some Western style food.  We found a coffee shop that was owned by an American expat.  They served chocolate cake, brownies, cheese cake, creme brulee, espresso, cappuccinos, iced coffee, etc.  We each ordered a dessert and a coffee and got our chocolate/caffeine fix for the month! We found a fun place to drink beer and play cards.  We had milkshakes made with the local freshly grown strawberries and had more avocados.

The highlight for everyone was the botanical garden.  It was boasted to be one of the best in the world, and while we were skeptical at first, it was actually one of the prettiest I've ever seen.  Justin, Ciara, Tim and I rented a horse drawn carriage to and from (they even let Ciara drive) and spent the day at the garden.  There was a beautiful lake in the middle of the garden.  I was surprised to see a lot of flowers I grow in Alaska; nasturtiums, marigolds, colendulas, snap dragons, geraniums!  The orchid display was beautiful, as well as the lillys.  They even had a nice large aviary, complete with giant horn bills that you could feed if you brought potato chips. We were in their large, treed cage with them, and they weren't especially shy.  They were beautiful birds, and their big beaks were pretty scary when they hopped around, looking for a snack. 

Hsipaw, Myanmar

Amber:  I loved the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake.  The trek was beautiful, and our time taking photos of the unique fisherman on Inle Lake was fun.  After a few days enjoying some amazing local wine, card games and lots and lots of guacamole, it was time for Justin, Ciara, Tim and me to move on.  While we were in Yangon,  we had heard from a couple at the end of their trip in Myanmar that Hsipaw was the highlight of their time here, so we booked the 14 hour bus ride north. 

We arrived at about 2am. Justin had unfortunately forgotten "The Book", the Lonely Planet 2012 edition on Myanmar, at the lobby of our hotel at Inle Lake.  We sleepily piled out of the bus with a few other travelers into the dark streets, a little more disoriented than usual.  Just as our bus drove off into the night, the little town of Hsipaw lost power.  So, instead of it being mostly dark, it was completely dark, with just a few twinkling stars for light.  It was chilly.  We had no idea where the bus had dropped us off.

A very nice, very bundled up couple pushing a bicycle walked by and we were able to gesture that we were looking for a place to sleep.  We had called ahead and had booked a hotel in Hsipaw, so tried to tell them the name of our guest house that was somewhere out in the dark.  They kindly led us off into the night.

I think there are all of three guest houses in Hsipaw.  The couple lead us to a guest house where a receptionist spoke a little English.  As it turns out, the guest house we had booked was all the way across town, next to where the bus had dropped us off.  We thanked the nice couple and hiked back through the dark.  Being as it was also the cheapest guest house in Hsipaw, our rooms turned out to be a little rough.  The mattresses were so hard that we were torn between using our blankets for additional padding, or for warmth against the chill. We opted to put one down as padding, put on all our warm cloths, including mittens, and huddled under the other blanket until the sun came out and warmed up our room.  Myanmar is close to the Equator, but at an elevation over1000 m, Hsipaw is pretty cold at night. 

Our time in Hsipaw was very mellow.  During the day, the sky is cloudless and the sun is hot. There was a small collection of stupas from the 1100's that bordered the edge of town.  We got a little lost and ended up hiking the long way to get to them.  We even had to cross a creek via the rail road tracks on a old, rickety bridge. The stupas were pretty cool, once we found them, making us excited for our future visit to Bagan. The coolest one had a tree growing right out of its top.

We rented two motor scooters one day and went in search of hot springs.  They turned out to be warm water that was fed into two small cement pools.  We voted to skip the hot spring experience, and just enjoyed the motor scooters, driving around the hills that surround the small town and following the back roads along the river.  Ciara had never been on a motor scooter before, so she had fun riding on the back of Justin's bike.