Thailand to Laos: Boats, buses, tuk tuks and opium dealers.

The mini bus from Pai to Chaing Long was severe. The roads wind up, down and in between the gorgeous lush Thai mountains. I was shattered and could have done with a sleep. No chance. We arrived at Chaing Long at 2.30am and were crammed into a guest house for a short and brief 4 hour sleep. I felt like a caged animal.

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Waking up early, I cold showered and ate a cold scrambled egg on toast overlooking the river I was about to cross to get into Laos.
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I was with a large group of tourists. All shapes and sizes. Most of them were adamant on getting completely twated on the boat journey. A bottle of whiskey or rice wine cost just over a pound, and that’s a full size 70cl bottle. Getting drunk was not what my body needed but inevitable.
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We had a pick up truck take us to the pier, a quick check in and a short boat trip over to Huay Xai, Laos. Here was where the process took a bit of time. We waited while our visas were being sorted out and once we were all ready, we moved on into Laos. Not much had changed. There were still Red Bull and Chang’s on sale. Nothing seemed cheaper either. Most of the people I’d met who’d been to Laos said it was much cheaper than Thailand. Not yet its not. Fact.
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However, spirits were a lot cheaper. You could buy more expensive ones with snakes, scorpions, spiders and lizards squeezed inside the bottle. According to Laos legend, drinking spirits from one of these bottles helps your immune system fight bites from the animals inside. Debatable.
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I bought my first Laos baguette and a fresh little Beerlao. Everything seemed very expensive. We waited.
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The rules plastered up by the visa office proved to be excellent reading material. The laws of Laos clearly, or not so clearly, state that any funny business will be punishable with extreme fines or imprisonment. I read these beautiful written masterpieces while a duck was savaging his wife. Welcome to Laos.
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Finally a tuk tuk arrived and took us to where our slow boat was waiting. We waited more. The day seemed to include lots of waiting.
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Approximately 40 people squeezed onto each of the two slow boats. We set sail, alcohol and food heavy we all started to consume our goods as we floated down the Mekong River. The start of a two day journey. My research told me about the legendary Mekong catfish. They are huge, up to 3m long and are unique to the river. I didn’t see one. The Irrawaddy dolphin also lurks around in the Mekong, although there are no more than 76 of the little fellas left. I didn’t see one of them either.
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Our boat was the party boat. Drinking soon descended into binge drinking buckets. The young ones of the group got the drinking going and everybody it seemed, young and old, joined in. The beauty of Laos, the river, mountains, jungle, distinctive rock formations and village life passed us by as we drank the day away.
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The boat had comfy seats and cushions for the wooden chairs. No dramas. No sore arse. Don’t believe The Planet or the hostel signs. The engine however, was extremely noisy. But then again, so were we.
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The young ones on board started pouring their alcohol into a massive bucket. The consumption was starting to get out of hand. A particularly boisterous Canadian, despite warnings from the staff, whipped off his shirt and climbed on to the roof. The roof wasn’t strong enough. The boat came to a halt and staff had to get him down. Oh dear. Boozed up tourists getting out of hand at only 2pm. We were only half way there.
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After drinking our supplies and the boats supplies dry, we had a pit stop to get more Beerlao. It was the other boat who supplied us. A loud cheer from the party boat erupted as the crates were passed over from the sober boat.
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Then it rained.
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Real hard.
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The rain poured into our boat as we struggled to get the rain blinds down in time. The sky was black with it. A small fishing boat pulled up to us, our staff gave him a bucket and helped him scoop the water out of his vessel. The rain continued for at least half an hour.
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The dark skies remained for the rest of our journey. We pulled in to Pak Beng in the early evening. There was a dark and eerie feel to the town. This wasn’t what I’d expected Laos to be like. Our tuk tuk which we’d prepaid for, didn’t show. The other tuk tuk drivers wouldn’t tell us where our guest house was. We were then confronted by an array of drug dealers. Weed, ganja and opium was on offer.
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It was wet and cold. Our hotel was easy to find and we all put our bags down, tired from the days drinking activities. I wasn’t feeling good at all. The lady who grumpily greeted us then stated if we didn’t order breakfast now, we’d not be allowed to get the morning tuk tuk to take us back to the pier. What a charmer. She ignored us when we asked her about the non existent tuk tuk we prepaid for earlier. We all refused her breakfast and decided to walk, out of principle. Some people have no idea how to treat their customers.
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After we’d got rid of the in-house drug dealer we found our room, which was surprisingly quite nice and ventured out for some food. It was expensive but good. A cute Dutch girl commented on how beautiful my eyes were, and a dude said I had the whole Jude Law thing going on. Both were clearly pissed and disorientated but my ego was massaged all the same. Thanks guys. But my head was spinning, I didn’t know it yet but I had a virus kicking in. Maybe a daily dose of alcohol isn’t good for my 30 year old body. Maybe a mix of Bangkok, Pai and day time drinking sprinkled with a lack of sleep had lowered my usually strong immune system.
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That night, I was hot and cold. All night long I sweated. Hard sweating. I felt dog rough.
Boon, the nice dude at reception, taught me some basic Lao phrases before I forced down my overpriced breakfast of fruit and hot lime. I was dying. A little late, I dragged my feet down to the boat and clambered aboard. I’d managed to get on the wrong boat. The destination was the same, the boat looked the same but the people were different, the older type of tourist who consume less alcohol. It was a blessing in disguise. I felt rough. I got a comfy seat next to a Chinese man and an Indian English couple.
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I popped paracetamols on the hour. My head was pounding, my body temperature clock was running riot and every muscle I owned, ached. Siting down was painful.
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The river ride was a pleasant one, a lot quieter than the day before. Half way through our ride a huge wave, created by a larger boat, splashed over half of the boat, soaking me but luckily not my electronics. It woke me up. I wanted the boat to be in Luang Prabang right there and then. But I had a few more hours to go.
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I felt trapped but I had the beautiful Laos jungle, rock formations, villages and river life to visually consume. I put on some soulful drum and bass tunes, courteously provided by Hospital Records and attempted to relax.
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Luang Prabang finally arrived and I was ready for bed. Laos hadn’t blown me away yet. In fact it was nothing like people had told me. I was surprised. I’d only met one nice local person, the rest had been rude or tried to sell me drugs. It was beautiful but the grey skies had tainted my views. Let’s hope Loang Prabang can make my day. First of all, I got to sweat this fever out. I’m going to upgrade and get a private room. Wish me luck.
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Pai: Burgers, waterfalls and an abusive Republican.

Pai came highly recommended. Then again, so did Koh Phangan. Some people get stuck in Pai and find it hard to leave. Some people stay for a long, long time. It’s a backpackers dream. I can fully understand how easy it is to overstay here. Pai has its magic.

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I stayed here for four nights. I could have stayed longer. Pai isn’t full of wonderful culture and isn’t loaded with an interesting history. It’s not a Hampi. But it does have lots of backpackers. Cool backpackers. Not the Koh Phangan dickhead variety either. And it has lots to do. Plus it’s relatively cheap.
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Pai has many restaurants and quirky bars, shops and stalls. The pace of life is relaxed and slow. The whole town was designed to cater for back packers needs. At a guess, tourists out number the locals. But this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Pai has got the balance right. The scenery and mountains surrounding Pai town give endless options for day trips on a scooter or bicycle. Internet and WiFi is easily available. 7/11’s make drinking cheap. Accommodation is cheap and offers cute little bamboo huts in a back packer friendly environment. Hammocks galore. Chill out areas. Socially focused. Pai tends to every need.
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The mini bus took me through the mountains, through 770 curves and into the beauty of Pai. Thailand is beautiful. I arrived to find the backpacking gods had given me a little present, long time traveler champions, Guy and Tim. Before I knew it, I was signed in to the mini Glastonbury style living quarters down by the river called ‘Giants’. I met some Kiwi’s, an Argentinian, some British, even a northerner, some Ozzies, a German, some Dutch, the list goes on…
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We drank in the cool and hip bars of Pai. I felt at home immediately. Everyone was proper nice. Chang’s ahoy.
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Living in Giants was easy. A comfy mattress in a bamboo hut, with a mosquito net. Basic but comfortable. Outside was a kitchen area with free drinking water, tea and coffee. This was the social meeting point. There were PC’s with free Internet use. Tables and chairs surrounded the living area for the family who owned Giants. There was a large field with a bar and chill out area by the river. Bamboo huts scattered the grounds. It was quiet here. Tranquil. You could party as well as sleep. Perfect.
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On the first day in Pai we struck up a friendship with the local football team. There was a slightly rough looking full sized pitch next door to Giants and we were invited for a game. Thailand v The Rest of the World. We played a strong and sometimes heated game at times and lost triumphantly, 5 – 0. OK the result sounds worse than what it was. In truth it was a fair and challenging game. One irate Dutch player fouled and wound up every Thai person on the pitch. Maybe he’d inherited his nations blood thirsty playing style they displayed against the Spanish in the World Cup final. We thought it may get out of hand but the peace was kept. Tim’s constant overly passionate shouting made my day. Especially when Guy was the focus of his outbursts. My ‘Pheobe from Friends’ style running amused the masses, I still have no idea what they are talking about. Meanwhile, their team of 11 seemed to grow into 17 without a single sub being made. Players were added and taken away regularly. Only when the pitch got crowded did we twig onto their tactics.
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After two nights of football without a goal, we suddenly got lucky. I lobbed a route one ball down the middle for Ireland striker Rory to chase, neatly dink past the keeper and slot in from close range. Our first goal provided a moment of pure ecstasy. A mass of happy smiling back packers had spent hours of gut busting hard work for this moment. We’d done it. A goal. And I won’t let any of you forget who provided the assist.
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The Thai players were strong and demanded respect. I liked them. We bonded. When the national anthem was played at 6.30pm every night we had to stop and stand still, as a sign of respect. They liked our participation. The Dutch fella didn’t play game. Twat.
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Dressing myself one morning I found a gekko in my bag. Slippery little bugger scared the life out of me and it proved to be one of many meetings I was to have with these little four legged fellas. Pai seemed to house a fair few of them.
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Hiring a scooter cost £4 a day. I had one for three days and explored Pai’s mountains and surroundings.
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The growing Giants family drove out to the Mor Paeng waterfall for an eventful days activities. Firstly I cannon balled into the pool and smashed my left arse cheek on a rock on the bottom of the water (which still gives me problems now, three months afterwards). Then an Irish girl slipped on the rock and fell half way down the waterfall. This waterfall was the lower one that no body dared to slide down. She got stuck. It looked painful. It took thirty odd people and two brave local lads twenty minutes to save the startled girl.
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Meanwhile, someone was stealing Pedro’s wallet and phone. While trying to solve the ‘how do we get this girl out of the waterfall and to safety’ mystery, an American girl asked me the question, ‘were you that guy from last night?’
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Now I double looked her and hope to God we didn’t have any form of romantic relationship, in any form. Admittedly, I was a little tipsy the night before and my memory was short, but surely I would have remembered an encounter with a particularly unattractive American chick. Luckily for me, we didn’t get involved romantically. In fact, according to her, I’d shouted at her. We’d had an argument and I’d told her she was a stupid republican twat. Weird, because I’m not fully understanding of what being a Republican is all about.
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I felt bad. I don’t usually shout at any one. I’m Mr Nice Guy. I was gutted. Even more so when I realise she was hanging out with a bunch of hot chicks I’d been talking to. After the waterfall, the Giants family jumped on our scooters and headed towards the hot springs, with the hot chicks, who all thought I was a grade A knob for abusing their mate. Class.
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That evening, we chilled out and dipped in the pool. Good times were had. When in the toilet, I almost urinated on a large gekko who’d found a resting spot in one of the urinals. I screamed momentarily, like a girl.DSC04025
The signs in the hot springs were hilarious. I’d seen a lot of signs with dubious English spelling, but these ones win hands down.
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I spent all that day feeling awful about how I’d behaved last night. It was only after the pool that night, at the Rasta Bar, that I found out it was actually Ben that abused this crazed yank and not me. I was not guilty. False identity. I’d also been told by trustworthy sources, that she had asked for her verbal drilling as she was acting a spoiled and opinionated, pompous twat. She had many outbursts about how everyone in the world hated her because she was American. She had serious issues. Everybody hated her because she was a self obsessed muppet. Some people need to learn a lesson when the behave in an inappropriate manner. I wish I had shouted at her. But by this time it was too late, the hot chicks who were previously ‘Team Michael’ had moved onto someone hotter and less argumentative than me and my chances with any of them were lost. Thanks you Republican twat.
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The team at Giants were cool. Clive had lived at Giants for over three months and organised a BBQ one night. To his surprise, 51 people paid and signed up. Needless to say it was an epic BBQ, I was surrounded by nice peoples.
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During my time at Giants I mastered the butt gun. A notable change in my toilet habits. Enough said.
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There was a swimming pool in Pai. This place also took over two hours to produce my club sandwich. It was nice to chill out at a pool, but not so nice to be starving.
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One day saw a sober Tim and I hit the road on the scooters while everyone else slept off their hangovers. Tim drives like a girl and has a long history of smashing up motorbikes in Thailand. I knew I had to be on my guard. However, Tim proved me wrong and put in a sterling shift whilst we manoeuvred Pai’s surrounding beauties.
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We came across a little Chinese village, which had been built specifically for us tourists. The village was full of colourful lanterns and bizarre and very empty looking shops. The highlight of this treasure in the mountains was a massive plastic Chinese castle. A strange construction that baffled us as to it’s uses. The 25B charge to use a wooden swing threw us as well. Needless to say, not many tourists were viable. A bizarre little place that has to be seen to be appreciated.
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DSC03965Quirky little parks with miniature houses and view points entertained us for the rest of the morning. The monastery with a row of cock statues produced a short giggle. Cocks as in cockerels.
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We drove through the lush mountains, taking in its beauty and stopped in small villages to high five the local kids who should have been in school. We found view points and a British style post box.
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DSC03982Elephant treks are big business in Pai so we stopped to say hello to Nelly and his gang. It was fun at first. Fooling around. They tried to lift me up with their trunks.

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However, they were chained up. One was trying to loosen his chain around his ankle. I felt bad for the little fellas. People pay big money to ride these guys but in reality, they are kept against their will to make big money for their owners. I made a pact, with myself, not to pay money to any organisation that is cruel to animals, or humans.
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That evening we picked up Rory and stumbled across a hilltop temple. A brief walk up to the top and we admired to the views of Pai. We found a little green dude too.
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I could have spent many more days driving around. Pai had a lot to offer.
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Western food restaurants were everywhere. Burger Queen was my favourite. A real burger, real bun, real mayo, real salad, real cheese and real bacon. The chips were homemade beasts served with a handsome dollop of mayo and sweet chilli sauce. Heaven. My guilty pleasure.
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My last day in Pai was spent exploring. I went to the beautiful Pambok waterfall first. it was early and I was on my own. I walked up and around the waterfall. A short and peaceful trek.
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I then drove through the valleys and small villages. The greenery and fields were lush. The road was dusty, winding and the drive was a pleasure. Rural Thailand away from tourism. I found it at last.
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DSC04065Later that afternoon, after a cheeky visit to Burger Queen, I checked out Pai Canyon. Another Pai beauty, the canyon was overgrown and boasted lush greenery. The views were amazing. I was again alone. I meditated at the top. Blissfully peaceful. And very hot. I reflected on my time here. Enjoyable but not an education, I fell in love with Pai. I could live easily here.
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On my way back to base camp, I stopped off at an organic farm where Tim was enjoying fresh dragon fruit, banana crisps, potatoes and farm made wine. No money was asked for, just a donation. How surreal. I then picked up the Argentinian mother of our group Guchie and drove back to get my bus to Laos.
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Several goodbyes we’re made. I’d met nice people here. Contact details taken. I was sad to leave but happy to start my Laos adventure. Back to real back packing. Back on the road. One day bus journey through the mountains and two days along the Mekong River by boat. Destination Luang Prabang.
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Bangkok Round 3: Scorpions and gymnasiums. Buckets and meditations.

I stayed a total of 7 nights in Bangkok in Mama’s Guest House next to the Rasta Bar, down piss alley half way between Khao San Road and Soi Rambuttri. I needed my driving license. My lovely mother had sent it to me. No more bribes to dodgy traffic police. Only issue was … the wait.
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Khao San Road for seven whole nights. I’d rather be locked up in a cage with Freddy and Jason.
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Bangkok sucks you in. Puts you in a daze and somehow, you come out. Alive but in doubt of your sanity.
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Let’s go back to the beginning….
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Mama’s Guest House has a bar downstairs and also houses a variety of Thai people who are related to Joy, I’m presuming she is the Mama. In order to get to the stairs that take me to my sweat box room dorm, next to the bar room, I need to walk through the sleeping area, where babies, children, dogs and adults sleep on what looks like a double sized double bed. Conditions are cramped, there’s always someone sleeping, 24/7. It’s a bizarre set up.
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My dorm has a fan. Bangkok is hot, humid and sticky. The fan does little to stop the inevitable. You get what you pay for. Mama’s is no thrills. It attracts the strange. Even the dogs were strange.
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Guy and I up with Joe and his new found lady friends Lisa and Bina. These girls were a laugh. We drank the usual large quantities of alcohol and talked of great things, that will on one day in the future, never change the world. As usual, we attract other members of our hostels and venture out into the depths of the dark, dirty and extremely seedy Khao San Road.
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This is when every night goes wrong. Khao San Road is the devil of Bangkok. Be warned. Joe and Guy ended up watering the pavement down an alley with this sign on it. Round of applause for team Britain.
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An argument broke out with a local. The Thai dude has obviously caught many a dirty back packer relieving their bladders down his alley and has decided to invent a scam to gain revenge. Joe and Guy both tried to leave but he got violent. He was really pissed off and wanted his money. In the end, the Italian stallion Mario paid the extremely irate Thai dude off and the lads escaped unhurt.  Lesson learned. Do not piss down an alley that has a ‘do not piss down this alley or you will be fined by an angry Thai dude’ sign. Just another night in Bangkok.
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Drum and bass in Bangkok. Nice.
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I woke up hungover. Not the best way to be on my ‘fix my camera at the Sony repair center’ day. There was a hair that had managed to work its way onto the lens. I managed to locate the 511 bus and it took me some of the way towards the Sony Repair Center place I needed to go on Petxhburi Road. The 99 bus took me the rest of the way. I sat down in the spotless and very modern Sony Repair Centre’s leather chair and started to rant about the issue. The dude looking at my camera seemed confused. The hair had somehow managed to lodge itself free, thus making my Sony camera fault free. A miracle. It fixed itself. I laughed with the Sony man. He thought I was nuts. I stunk of booze and still feeling partly drunk from the night before. I must have, again, represented the UK in the only way I know how.
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Smiling and on top of the world, my camera problems were relieved. Momentarily. I was blissfully unaware of the fun I was to have over the next few days.
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As I walked down Petchburi Road I clocked a variety of malls and exclusive shopping outlets. This place was über modern and brand heavy. I spotted the sky bar that was featured in Hangover 2. According to my sources, It’s a tenner a drink up there. Shame I never made it.
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I popped into the Palladium Fashion Mall. Six floors of fashion clothes only. It was mobbed but the air con was a welcome break from the heat outside. I walked, indecisively not buying any of the thousands of t-shirts on sale. After frustrating myself, a young guy from Singapore and I went in on a deal and bought 10 between us making each t-shirt just over £2. Bargain. Crap printed t-shirts that I’ll never wear in any other country. Just what I needed.
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My shorts, dirty from life on the road, were in need of some replacements. Signs are in shops declaring that no trying on is possible and they don’t give any change. No refunds either. How customer focused. I found a tiny shop that could accommodate my need to try on some shorts before purchasing. I bought two pairs. The dude was charming. The first good customer service experience in Thailand. Well done fella.
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That night my SD card failed. I had lost my pictures again. That’s the second SD card to go. I tried to buy a ticket for Future Music Festival in Malaysia with my credit card, that also failed. PayPal failed too. Fustrated.com. Bangkok was already getting to me. I stopped trying to sort things out as Chang o’clock was calling. Joe, Lisa, Guy, Bina and the gang entertained me for the night.
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Bangkok has a variety of weird and really weird sales people. They sell things you don’t want or need. Some are persistent  some are rude, some are children and some are old ladies. This little angel was particularly annoying. Trained to be rude and to hit tourists until they give her money. Sad.
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That night we ate scorpion.
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And I believe someone bought one of those silly hats.
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The next few days was spent going to IT world and the Platinum Mall on Petchburi Road. I had numerous issues with my pictures, numerous viruses on my USB sticks and stupid computer experts who kept giving me more and more viruses. After a few visits, a load of scary moments and a lot of waiting around I had my pictures back and in one place. Too much of my time and effort was wasted on this issue but I love my pictures, they are my memories of this incredible journey. I’ve learned my lesson, don’t use virus infected Internet cafes and buy a cheap laptop. Loosing all my pictures and having to get them recovered plays with my emotions. I’m not into that.
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It was Chinese New Year and all the Chinese people were pretty happy folks. While in the six story mega mall for electronic goods, waiting for my pictures to be recovered by the useless recovery dudes, I saw a massive Chinese dragon, operated by 20 dedicated small Chinese guys. They weaved through the customers and up the escalators. I even found one of the fella’s on the boat back home.
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That night we went out to Chinatown and partied with the Chinese peoples and a bunch of tourists. Most of the activities and fireworks happened earlier in the day, but the streets were still heaving. Food stalls were busy and the masses blocked the traffic attempting to squeeze through. Mayhem. In trying to locate something of interest we met a Russian dude who spoke Thai to an American, who also spoke Mandarin. Quirky. Any ways, the Chinese New Year was popular, thousands were off work and Bangkok was flooded with tourists with Chinese decent.
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We escaped to Patpong. Not exactly the best escape plan in the world but when you’re a wee bit tipsy and end up in a gay bar on gay street in the gay quarters of Bangkok, it all seemed worth it.
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I’ve been to gay bars before. They are fun and full of the outrageous. Mischievous fun and full on party antics. But this was different. There were a lot older and larger white tourists sitting drinking with younger Thai boys. Fun didn’t seem to be high on the agenda. There were a lot of sad and serious faces. Maybe they could smell the heterosexual on us, maybe we were having too much fun. It was weird. I liked it.
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Patpong is the capital of the sex show areas in Bangkok. We swerved these establishments and the ping pong balls. It was interesting to see but we’d done our token ping pong show on a previous trip. The area boasts a market selling sex toys, dangerous weapons and everything contraband. Bangkok is a crazy place that can’t surprise me any more. Not even being offered young boys for the night phases me. The city of sin.
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We haggled a tuk tuk down and we enjoyed our last night together at the Rasta Bar. The rasta bar is owned by Thai rasta’s, plays reggae music and has a nice crowd compared to the knobends that grace the Khao San Road. In the morning, everybody left to go their separate ways. I was on my own. My weird and wonderful collective of traveler buddies and my good self said our emotional farewells and parted ways. At this point I continued to sort out my pictures issues as they got worse and better daily, and I started to detox. Thailand sucks you into a life of sin. I needed some goodness in my life and I was determined to find it. In Bangkok.
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No more alcohol Michael. It’s bad for you in large quantities.
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Hungover, I awoke and stumbled onto Soi Rambuttri. I saw a German dude I met from the previous night eating breakfast on the street. He was going to see a monk in the local monastery with a couple of other German back packers. I went with them. No idea what I was letting my hungover and broken little brain in for. Goodness was waiting for me.
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I met the English speaking guru Manit. He gave us a lesson in vipasanar meditation. A three and a half hour lesson. I learnt how to do the walking meditation thing. I took it all in. My mind was on overload. Still running through the hilarious antics of last night in the gay part of Patpong. I was happy I went, sad I was so hungover. I was invited to attend some meditation classes. I accepted and planned a visit.
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With the team now dispersed around Asia  I located a gym on Khao San Road. It had a Muay Thai boxing ring and martial arts area. I smashed my first workout in four months and took a sauna afterwards. I felt amazing. Exercise releases natural endorphins. I was on overload. A bloody gym in the middle of Khao San Road. I knew I’d find something good in the devils street. I loved it. I ate a green curry and sipped on a huge fruit shake. Healthy again, I was to avoid drinking alcohol for at least another day. I’m jumping from the extremes of binge drinking to extreme healthy living styles. Interval training at its best.
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The following day saw me loose my pictures to more viruses. Thailand’s Internet cafes are riddled with viruses. I felt like I was going round in circles. I was on a real low. Speaking to Charley and my lovely family really cheered me up. I hit the gym again. My driving license must turn up soon. I need to escape the drunken twats of Khao San Road. When you sober up it’s a dark, dark place. A shining example of whats wrong with society. The devils playground. Our dirty pleasure.
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They love their king in Thailand. He gets everywhere. Billboards, monuments, poster. He’s a popular guy. You can get put in jail for speaking badly of him. Say nice things only.
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Enjoying the western benefits that Bangkok has to offer, I had a Starbucks hot chocolate the following morning. It was heaven. I then spent the next three hours recovering my pictures from the clutches of 5000 viruses that the data recovery people had originally given me. There was a lady at the desk, who complained of the same issue. This dude had obviously set these viruses wild on lots of others computers too. Prize jobsworth. Thanks you twat.
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My pictures were finally sorted and I was on a high. Again. My only issue was to decide whether to go to Laos or Cambodia. Funemployment is tough.
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After a run in the morning I decide to do my tourist duties and visit the temples and stuff tourist people do. The Grand Palace was first on my list. Due to Chinese New Year there was an influx of Chinese tourists. The Palace was mobbed and at 500B, ten English pounds, I decided to give it a miss. I’ve seen a lot of temples and stuff. I don’t need to pay to see more. However, the army dudes with the big guns impressed me. They impressed me even more when they started stamping their feet on the ground. Menacing little fellas.
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The local boat took me across the river for 3B to Wat Arun Rajwararam. A decent looking pagoda made from unsold Chinese crockery back in the day. Once I’d climbed the steep stairs to the top I discovered a decent view of Bangkok city. After all this time I’d spent in Bangkok I was finally seeing some culture and learning about its history.
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Wat Pho was pretty impressive too. Free for Thai people but 100B for tourist folk, Wat Pho was well worth the money. Included in the entrance fee was free chilled drinking water. Bargainous. I suppose the main attraction is the dozens of Buddhas scattered around the grounds and that huge reclining Buddha in that really big building. It seemed silly to have such a large Buddha in a building that wasn’t much bigger. You couldn’t marvel at its entire size, just small portions. I suppose the reclining Buddha’s in Bago, Myanmar had set the standard. Either way, it was till pretty large.
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The temples and monasteries looked impressive inside Wat Pho were perfectly kept with fresh paint work. Although the tourists piled in, yet it still had a relaxed and calm feel, Buddhism has that effect on people.
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In between the pagoda’s, shrines, temples and Buddha statues I spotted a large group of trainee monks sitting what looked like an exam. Strange to host it somewhere that has thousands of pilgrims and tourists pouring through the gates. However, the monks worked hard and the tourists stayed respectful. All that meditating must help focus the mind.
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Inside the grounds they have a dedicated and world famous massage school. However, they like to charge top whack so I opted to stay loyal to my Khao San Road ladies who clearly have no idea what they are doing.
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Walking the grounds I felt at peace. Despite the tourists, the ambience got me in the mood for a quick meditation. After all the stress I’d put my brain under, it was time to give it a well deserved treat. A brief respite from the hectic streets of Bangkok.
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At the entrance there was a festival feel. A man was filming for local TV, a tent had monks accepting donations and offerings while they blessed them over the loud speaker system while music was being played. Another tent had boards you could write your wish on. If you donated some money then the wish would be granted, presumably by a monk. It was all go.
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I popped back to Khao San Road and met up with old time India and Koh Phangan compardrez Christian from Chile. We went to the monastery for meditation. He’d just completed a vipasanar 10 day retreat and Manit had just given me his knowledge. I was pumped and ready to meditate.
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However, proceedings weren’t as we’d presumed. We signed in and climbed the stairs to the meditation room. The chanting continued for a complete hour. By this time Christian had left, but I was adamant that I wanted to meditate. One of the core disciplines of vipasanar is patience. I was to practice this. When the chanting ended an old dude in the usual Buddhist colours of red and orange graced the stage. He proceeded to talk, in Thai, forever. I gave up after an hour and a half. No meditation, no zen, no inner chee. I spotted these little rubber dolls on a street stall. Barbie doesn’t sell out in Thailand.
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That night I met up with Christian and a Thai chick he met in Koh Phangan. She was there with her pals. A strange bunch. The token gay friend, a trendy camp makeup artist. The large, smiling and overtly bubbly bar girl who served us a treat of alcoholic beauties. The cute vintage dressed media chick. The lesbian DJ. The night was interesting. My first ever interaction with young, Thai, party people. It was like hanging out in London, Thai style. These hip young Thais having the same lifestyle as any other westerner.
We sank drinks and talked. We walked down to Khao San Road to see all hell breaking loose. The bars were hectic with binge drinkers. Thai tramps, street kids and back packer boozers started a street dance to Gangnam style. My bed was calling. Khao San was full of prize muppets. I’d overdosed on Bangkok. My time to escape was soon.
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I received my parcel. Driving License, sun lotion and a wallet. A real western man wallet. I declined another night out with Thai girls as I wanted to be sober for my journey up north the following day. Bangkok had got to me. I spent the day sorting out my pictures and doing general stuff on the Internet. I had a foot massage with Christian. A day like this is needed every now and then. I was in bed early and up early.
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I took the 53 bus to Hua Lamphong Station to buy my ticket to Chang Mai. The Information help desk outside the station had an extremely helpful English speaking attendant. She asked me questions relating to my onward travel and took me to the counter to buy a ticket for me. Helpful to the extreme. It’s so easy to travel here. The station reminded me of a European built station. It was clean and smart. Branded shops served food and drink. There was even seating for waiting passengers. Monks get first dibs on the seats as standard.
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Although it was more expensive than the bus, and considerably longer, I wanted a train experience in Thailand. The cheapest ticket available was a second class air con sleeper. I opted for bottom bunk.
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While waiting for my bus back to the hell hole I live in, I have a brief conversation with a Thai fan wearing a Liverpool shirt. The bus back took us ages. My first experience of the famous Bangkok traffic jams. By this stage of my journey, I was familiar with Bangkok. I got out and walked the rest of the way, it was quicker than waiting on the bus.
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As I walked through the now familiar streets around backpacker central, I felt a sense of happiness with my familiarity. The same feeling you get when you settle somewhere and know the area well. I almost longed to have a home. Something I don’t have. I’ve been drifting around Asia for almost five months and have rarely stopped anywhere for longer than a few days. Bangkok has been the place I’ve spent the most time in since I left England back in October 2012.
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I pack my stuff, say goodbye to my rather strange and dysfunctional, adopted Thai family at Mama’s Guest House and feast on what is to be the finest green curry I have ever tasted. I was ready for my 14 hour train journey.
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With only India and Myanmar giving me experiences on trains in Asia, my expectations were low. Anything more than a dusty and dirty slab of foam that is too small to stretch out on and I would have been pleased.
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I was blown away by what I received. I laughed in amazement for several minutes.
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This is what I got…
  • Train is spotlessly, perfectly clean
  • Toilets have a butt gun, sinks and soap
  • 4 beds to a berth, instead of the usual 9
  • No rats or cockroaches
  • Air con was freezing cold to the extreme
  • Bed was huge and included a soft mattress and a curtain for privacy
  • Bedding and two pillows provided
  • Fold out tables
  • Electricity sockets
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I was genuinely shocked. I liked it. I froze that night but I liked it. I sat next to a Malaysian dude from Chinese decent.
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Note: Never discuss the Dalai Lama or Tibet with a Chinese man. Differences of opinion can occur.
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The train took 16 hours. I was late to meet my pals but it was well worth it, my little luxurious treat after 7 nights at Mama’s. My toes frozen through I was glad to pull into Chang Mai. New adventure calling.

Yangon Part Two: The skateboarders dream, my final samosa and lapeiye (chai) breakfast and the emotional fair well.

I arrived at Yangon Bus Station at the usual 3am. Frozen. Air con was set to ‘arctic’. It used to take a lot longer to go from Pyin Oo Lyin to Yangon but since the road and the buses have undergone a recent upgrade the travel time has shrunk by a few hours. Not handy if you are a back packer, guest houses seem to be either full or the doors are shut at 3am. But I’ve been here almost 26 days, I’m used to the 3am arrival. Yangon however, I have previously graced. And they have street lights here too. Always helpful.

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I met a Japanese dude in my shared taxi and we booked into a cheap room in the centre of Yangon. The tall building next to that pagoda built in the middle of that roundabout. The tired and slightly dazed dude at reception didn’t charge us for the room until the following check in time. I got lucky again. Result.
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I slept. It was the usual cramped, creaky and noisy accommodation I’d grown accustomed to in Myanmar. It was hot again. I sweated. I awoke after what seemed like two minutes shut eye and walked the streets in search of my final thrill in Myanmar. The flight to Bangkok was only 24 hours away. I am greeted by the usual black market money and taxi touts on my way out of the hotel before I decided to hit a couple of markets. The weather is considerably hotter than up north. The stalls and street sellers do a brisk trade in Yangon. They sell fried foods, watches, shoes, shoe repairs, coal, fruit, tea, beetle nut, cakes, bread, noodles, indian food, cold drinks, t shirts, longhis, rubber stamps, sign makers, bracelets, flip flops, chargers, mobile phones, nail clippers, sugar cane juice, lottery cards, eighties toys, black market copied DVDs, fish, chickens, rice; cooked and uncooked,  flowers, footballs, nuts, sunglasses, dried and packaged foods, oil heavy crisps, tape measures, wool, second hand clothes, sling shots and soap.
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The most bizarre street trade was the huge posters of naked babies, with a fluffy scarf on as well as their nether regions hanging out. A little bit strange to the western world that naked pictures of adults are prohibited while naked baby pictures, dressed in a completely provocative manner, are OK. Different strokes.
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A lot of stalls had got the latest Obamo and Aung San Suu Kyi gear. T-shirts, jumpers, pencil cases, calendars showing pro-Obamo pictures from his recent visit to Yangon. The Burmese people clearly happy and overwhelmed by their new found positive attention from the west. It all seemed a bit over the top but for a country that’s been repressed by its military Government for so long, this was a huge step towards the peoples plight to become a democracy. A little hope. I felt their energy.
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I noticed a few pavements dug up and new cables being laid, maybe a fast Internet service taking them further forward. Maybe not.
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And here is proof there are ATM’s in Myanmar. I believe they were introduced for tourists only in January 2013. Brand spanking new. A $5 charge also meant that these machines were virtually unused. Myanmar don’t use Visa or Mastercard. Most people don’t use banks or have savings accounts. Here, the dark ages of digging a hole and hiding your gold still exist.
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Yangon fascinates. I’m starting to feel sad. Relishing every experience of my last day on Yangon. I have loved my Yangon experience. Wandering the streets I suddenly miss Guy and Nourdes. We did a lot. Probably the most productive 26 days of my travels so far. Reflective and exploring the streets, with the sun beating down on my face, I hit a calm note of near meditation in the craziness of the market. Myanmar has given me something Thailand can’t. My inner explorer of weird and unusual things has been satisfied. For now.
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Sun lotion doesn’t get sold in Myanmar. It’s the only product that I really needed to buy but I couldn’t find it any where. On several occasions, I was pointed towards the whitener cream that had a little UV protection. I am white enough thanks. Back at the hotel, I bump into three Swiss people and soon explain my predicament to them. The extremely nice girl then gave me a full bottle of sun factor 15 cream, my saviour. My poor pink face had taken a bashing.
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That night the Swiss people’s invited me to a premiere of a documentary called ‘Youth of Yangon’. They’d found a derelict skate park and had made friends with a local skate crew. Their local skate park was in taters and they needed a new place to practice. A couple of English guys had taken pity on the situation and after a lot of paperwork, had got commissioned by the British Council to film and direct a documentary.
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It looked like a warehouse project out of Hackney. Trendy pictures, a projector at the front and TuPac playing softly in the back ground set the scene. The skaters were trendy, with tattoos and cool threads. Their was also a free bar. The atmosphere relaxed.
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I met the crew and the guys who made the video. We went for dinner afterwards. It was all a bit surreal. I was tipsy, eating and drinking with strangers I’d not known a few hours before. I was overwhelmed by their generosity and friendliness. I left feeling fulfilled. My final adventure in Myanmar had been random and spontaneous. What a treat. A world of skating I didn’t know existed in Myanmar.
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The next morning I went for a fantastic breakfast, Shan noodles, double chai, spring roll and a complimentary chicken and pepper soup. I watched the busy street. Gutted I have to leave, not looking forward to Bangkok and the seedy Khao San Road. I really have enjoyed this adventure. Myanmar is a cool place.
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We took a hot and stuffy local bus to the airport for pennies. The bus kicked out a serious amount of smoke and gurgled and spluttered through and out of Yangon. The seats were cramped, not designed for anyone over the height of 5ft. I was extremely sentimental at leaving Myanmar. Guy and Frederique felt the same. We took a 15 minute walk up a well groomed road to the neat and tidy Yangon International Airport. A world apart from the rest of this country.I spent €5 on a cake and a milkshake in a fancy Starbucks style bar. A rare treat. It didn’t taste too great but I was determined to enjoy every dollar of it.
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Back to Bangkok. The land of western food, western toilets and piss head tourism. I’ve got a love hate relationship with Bangkok. I’m going in deep. Adios Yangon. Love you long time.
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Pyin Oo Lyin: Colonial stuff, a waterfall and strawberries.

The extremely slow train journey from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lyin was well worth the $4. Our $4 ticket got us a wooden seat. Perfectly viable for a seven hour day trip. There are stranger and much softer seats in the upper classes, but then you don’t get the lower class entertainment.

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The viaduct was particularly breathtaking, something positive the British left behind from their time in Myanmar. The views of the mountains were accompanied by the usual bumps and shakes of the ageing rail network.

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I’d met a Bristol lad called Maxwell. He used to be in a band. He was alright. We talked music and all that jazz. Former artists that never made it. We put the world to rights.

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During our journey a dodgy looking fella came to have a chat. That’s him below. He said he lost his eye fighting as a rebel against the Government. He was very happy to repeatedly open up his wounded eye and show us how mank it looked.

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A very angry and boisterous ticket inspector, who was dressed as a football coach, came and burst his bubble. A couple of swift slaps on the back of the head later and the one eyed rebel legged it down the train. Apparently, he was a professional thief.

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The views were pretty good too. Beat the bus hands down. A no-brainer. The usually open doors were blocked with chairs and locked shut with padlocks. Just in case anyone or any thing fell out. Glad to see they took our safety into consideration.

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We ended up coming into Pyin Oo Lyin just before dark and decided to share a room. The trip from the station to our hotel was a special one. Horse and carriage. Love hearts and flowers covered the ancient wooden contraption and the poor struglling horse looked like it was on its last leg. We joined my fellow trekker buddies Daz and Julie and were transported slowly to our digs with a little argument over payment from our ‘overcharging and playing dumb’ driver. Golden Dream Hotel provided us with a bed and a shower, not hot as they claimed, but I’m used to it, as long as there’s water I’m happy.

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Exchanging money here proved to be difficult. The exchange rate was ridiculously low and everywhere seemed to be shut until the next day. We walked out of the town and past the night markets to a restaurant that was highly recommended in The Planet. It was in an old colonial building made by the British. It served an OK green curry and a rum and coke for a staggeringly high price, almost £7. Rich, older and considerably rounder tourists filled the restaurant as the cold night set in. Walking all the way back to our Golden Dream Hotel we met a nice Swiss guy who gave me his copy of Burmese Days by George Orwell. Lovely chap. Shame I ended up lending it Guy, who never returned it. The things men do to get women into bed.

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I slept hard and went into a deep sleep. The deepest and longest sleep I’d had since being in Burma. It was quiet in the morning, no dogs, cats or cockerels. No Buddhist loon playing mantras and prayers at 5am. Although it was cold at night, I was warm. Only a weak sounding prayer call at 6am from the Muslin temple down the road broke the silence. However, I was fast asleep and didn’t wake up. My Myanmar adventure coming to an end and I was running on empty, cramming as much of this country into my 28 days as possible.

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I ended up locating some dodgy money from a hardware store down the road at a stupidly low rate and ordered a rusty old bike to take me to the beautiful oasis called the Artisakan waterfall. It was a fair 11km ride out of town and with one gear, the bike struggled getting up the steeper hills.

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I stopped at a lovely pagoda and temple on a hill on route and rode past the military training grounds. The weather was lush and I was on top form, exploring Pyin Oo Lyin on my lonesome.

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The trek down to the waterfall took about an hour, many pathways, some large red ants and a random mini temple made the trek a nice one but the waterfall at the bottom was particularly stunning.

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By far the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen on my travels. That’s right. Ever. The water started at the top of the trek and gradually made its way down, crashing into a clear and light blue lagoon.

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The waterfall was huge, water crashing from a huge height which created a number of other pools that interconnected beautifully with each other. It was paradise. The temples an added bonus. This didn’t feel like just another tourist attraction. This is like most of Myanmar’s tourist attractions. Tranquil, peaceful and surprisingly void of tourists.

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There were only a couple of tourists from Mandalay there and me. Truly special moment. Trekking with a present at the end. I was glad I made the effort.

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I met an old Canadian guy whilst climbing back up to the top. He was travelling alone. A true inspiration. We talked. He had led a fascinating life. After downing a can of my favourite Lychee drink, I clambered back on my bike to return back to the hotel so I could get my bus to Yangon.

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The route back was considerably tougher than the way home. I stopped at a strawberry stall on the main road next to a Hindu temple. I bought some small looking strawberries from an Indian couple and practised my poor Hindi. Nobody creates a strawberry better than the British. These poor imitations were just a tease. Back on the road my Myanmar chest cough raged. Either the cold nights or the large amounts of dust that the road kicked up was not good for my lungs. I persisted on doing breakneck speeds on my one gear rust bucket. PMA repeating in my mind.

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I made it back to Pyin Oo Lyin and feasted at a local food market. I was served a dosa style food and a sweet lapaye by a lovely lady while some banging Burmese pop music was distorting at full volume.

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I found a fake Safeway’s. Old English people will remember the once famous supermarket brand. Counterfeit goods are all over Asia but I never thought I’d discover a fake version of a UK supermarket that ceased trading over ten years ago.

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Watching market life go by was fascinating. I didn’t want to go. But I had Aneel, an Indian motorbike taxi man taking me to the bus station in 20 minutes. Aneel was funny, he dropped me off at the station and tried to sell me a whole day tour of Pyin Oo Lyin, even though he knew I was leaving to go to Yangon. I smashed down another lapeiye and boarded my extremely plush and extremely cold, air con super bus to Yangon.

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I had a bloody marvelous day in Pyin Oo Lyin. I love Myanmar. I don’t want to leave.

Namshan to Hsipaw: Shan rebels, opium and a bit of trekking.

The team of trekkers assembled in Lily’s courtyard. I was joined by two English couples, Daz and his Julie and Josh and Gilly. It was 9am. The sun finally decided to kick in with a small dose of warmth, justifying my ambitious selection of shorts and t-shirt. As a five-some, we were due to drive to Namshan and trek back. Four days in total, of hardcore trekking lajusy ahead of us.

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After brief banter, we boarded our already overloaded pick up truck. I got a back seat place squashed in between various bags of clothing and food types, on top of a huge bag of garlic, which I’d like to add, turned out to be rather comfortable. After a few hours of travel my weight had started to crush the bag, which then emitted a pungent but pleasant odour. The road between Hsipaw and Namshan was a little rough in parts, the journey was a bumpy and slow moving one, but we expected nothing less. The road swerved over and around the Pat Do Mung mountains. The height we’d climbed started to display stunning views. The trek was going to be a lot tougher than my previous one from Kalow to Inle Lake. This was off the beaten track, completely off it.
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Our journey was slightly delayed while the mountain road was being revamped by a team of locals and their families. Hot tarmac was being cooked up in barrels on top of wood fires on the side of the road while teams of young boys, men and women laid it on the dirt road. We stopped and waited, observing the rather old fashioned and time consuming technique they used to lay a flat-ish surface. Families work during the day and then live on the side of the road at night in what seems like a never ending job. Children as young as four or five were seen digging and mothers had babies strapped to their backs using a thick blanket while they worked. Teenage boys were used for the hard labour of pouring the tarmac and spreading the dirt. We stood and watched them graft, hard, and observed their homes made from wood, bamboo and tarpaulin on the side of the road. Hard living.
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After what seemed like an eternity, the freshly laid road was cool enough for us to drive on and we moved on. Momo, out future guide, later informed us that the Government give the locals a large amount of money and the equipment to complete the road to be built, linking them to the rest of society. However, the locals have to top up the rest of the funds as well as lay the road for no extra pay. This is why large amounts of women and their children are seen laying the roads, with no guarantee of quality.
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We’d already created a good bond and the team of trekkers was going to be a good one. I was excited. The drive was a long one. Lots of time to put the world to rights. Finally arriving in the mountain top village of Namshan, we dropped off the locals and their produce and headed towards the only guest house that had a license to take in tourists. The journey had taken almost seven hours. I enjoyed every minute.
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As we approached our guest house we were given a warm welcome by the locals who giggled, smiled and waved enthusiastically as we drove slowly past. Feeling a little like celebrities in this small town/large village of Namshan we were swiftly greeted by our charming and well spoken guide Momo and his older and very cheeky side kick Shanti and introduced to our hosts.
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The guest house was basic but clean with a stunning view of the mountains out the back balcony. The altitude difference making it much cooler. We were immediately whisked off by our guides to the local Chinese restaurant with equally stunning views. The buildings in town were all made from wood. If you took away the Palau people and the shops you would have felt as if you were in the American Wild West. Inside the Chinese restaurant there were three containers on each table. Salt, pepper and MSG. That’s right folks. pure MSG.
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We were well fed, our food was made fresh and at our request, minus the MSG. After our feast, us keen trekkers were swiftly taken on a tour of Namshan before the sun set. Momo’s English was fantastic, we were in good hands.
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There had recently been a huge fire in the village. Many houses had burnt down and had to be rebuilt from scratch. He showed us Chinatown, which looked the same as everywhere else but we were assured that the reason it was called Chinatown was due to its Chinese people that inhabit this area. We visited the monastery at the top of the hill and saw the local monks and their trainees. The young monks all seemed to be suffering from a skin disease on their shaved heads. They came across as happy and were delighted to pose for pictures.
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Walking through the streets of Namshan was fascinating. As the sun set, the cold came and so did the street fires. Shops started to close, children returned home and families started dinner. Real life.
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That night at around 7pm, when the streets are dark and deserted, we met my two American friends from my previous trek, Andy and Danea. How random. We descended upon the only drinking establishment in town for Myanmar beers and banter. Finally, after watching Guy and Nourdes win prizes from the competition bottle tops on several occasions, I won a free beer and a 200 kyat prize. Double winner. If only they were there to witness my pride and the others envy.
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The toilet the bar offered was a beauty. A drain in the back room, where the food is stored and prepared, served as a number one deposit only. Confused and tipsy when the man pointed towards the drain, I became clear of the toilet arrangements after a brief demo from a local. Classy.
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After a few beers, we retired back to the guest house. I had the munchies so along with my American counterparts I searched the only open shop for something sweet to eat. The produce the shop sold looked old and out of date. It was imported from China and had clearly been sat their for a while. All food bought has to have a long shelf life as transport to these remote parts is long and costs a lot. This was representative of all the shops we encountered in this area. The peanut wafers and fake Orio’s we bought tasted stale and dry. Almost inedible. But I did find some Gangnam Style crisps.
I went to bed, slightly tipsy and excited for the next three days. Namshan fascinated me. A strange old place in my western eyes.
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The 5am prayer woke me up and I was fresh and ready to go. I even did a brief yoga routine and a hundred press ups. I was pumped. The morning was fresh, the mist lifting from the mountains as the sun rose. A man, somewhere in the guest house decided to reach hard for as much spit as possible, hocking and flemming every minute, on the minute. Beautiful.
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Shan noodles, chai and a doughnut finger saw my belly happy before we set off. The first port of call was at Momo’s house to see his wife and say happy birthday to his daughter. As we walked out the village and into the mountains, Momo explained to us that most of the villages we would see would be Palau villages. These people are only found in certain parts of the Shan State and spoke their own language.
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We learned the basic hello and thank you in Palau which the locals loved. The path we took had not been taken many times, the locals were very happy and surprised to see us. Momo had many contacts and we dropped into various houses for refreshments. Children came running to us waving and wanting to play. Local adults smiled and stared. The village visits were fascinating and the mountain views equally so. Four months ago, I never ever contemplated being here, witnessing village life in the mountains of the Shan State, off the beaten track.
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We passed many manual labourers working the fields, driving cow and carts and motorbikes taking produce to neighbouring villages.
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The first days trekking was tough going, 9am to 5.30pm with only a couple of breaks. We stayed in Om Then village at the top of a mountain in a home stay. The family spoke little English but were delighted to have us. They cooked local food and fed us well. We ate with the charming head of the house while the rest of the family served us. A feast was had. Chinese beer and Sanayet, a local rice wine, was our tipple for the night. The head of the house was a particularly tiny, happy man with a warm smile. He pulled out his rice wine with pride and have us all a shot. It tasted like a weak tequila but was five times the potency. We were instantly drunk. My head spun. I guessed it at 70% strength liquor. Hardcore stuff.
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After dinner we huddled around the coal fire and discussed life as a trekker and as a protestor and demonstrator. Daz and Julie told us intriguing tales of life on demonstration camps back in the UK. They have lead an extremely fascinating life. Like the local Palau people, they have been used to life without electricity and water from a tap. These guys are the ones you see on the demo camps on the news. Fascinating tales were told. The cold of the night set in and I was soon under the thick blankets laid out for us on the floor upstairs. No duck feather duvets here, Definitely no mattresses either.
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At 4am, the highly confused cockerel starts vocalising and at 5am the cow bells start clanging as herds start to be transported through the village. By 6am I’m up and ready. I walk through the village, families starting to wake up and get ready for the day. The locals wave and smile. I hike up to the pagoda and find a spot over looking the mountains to meditate. Peaceful. I felt great.
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I returned for a breakfast of cabbage and rice. My favourite. Not sarcastic either, it tasted stunning.
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Guy, had realised that Gangnam Style and the infamous dance routine made famous by Pys, was known the world over. In Guy’s absence, I decided to use the dance to see if the kids knew about the South Korean phenomenon. However, probably due to lack of TV reception and actual TV’s, the children had no idea why a six foot tall white man with strange coloured blonde hair was waving his arms around whispering ‘wopan Gangnam Style’. Although I got little response from the children in the villages, I decided to persist.
We set off early on another hard days trekking. We soaked up the mountain views and the Shan and Palau villages we passed, blisters and cut feet taking its toll.
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When trekking, you get into in depth conversations. Momo was extremely knowledgeable and was happy to explain life in the Shan State. We entered a deep conversation. Back to basics, no TV, no Internet, limited electricity, simple food, working on a farm. Would there be enough stimulation for someone who has grown used to western ways? Personal relationships would become closer and time to interact with your neighbours would be your source of entertainment. The difference between my complicated western life at home in England and the basic village life on a Palau mountain top is vast.
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The trek was tougher than the day before. The mountains got higher and the pathways were at points, very steep. After a 4 hour trek we stopped in Kheun Hot, a tiny village, for lunch. We were being served a beautiful Shan Noodle soup when a small group of Shan guerrilla troops walk past. Stunned. We smiled and greeted them as they strolled past us. AK 47’s in hand. I never felt threatened, I loved it.
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Momo educated us. They live in the mountains even though they do not fight against the government anymore. Six months of peace seemed to be closing in as a permanent fixture. The villagers support them and do not inform the military of their movements. They also come to villages and pick new troops that must join them. Any male over the age of thirteen can be chosen. If someone chooses not to join them, they can make life very difficult for their family. The Shan Rebels are afraid of Government revenge and are keeping strong in case of future attacks.
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We continued our trek. I got a real sweat on. I loved it. My calf muscles tightened.
Even in these remote villages they still manage to hook up a sound system. The much loved western songs remixed into Burmese lingo are clear favourites for both the adults and their children. Akon and Spice Girls remixes were particularly clever.
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The sun set as we arrive at our lodgings in Pan Naung. It is a small village on the side of a hill and has only 35 houses and 150 inhabitants. Grand Royal Whiskey and Myanmar beers were available and we laughed and joked the night away. Another guide called AO joins us. Being close to the Golden Triangle, famous for its opium growing past and present, AO discusses his wife’s job in the opium fields. He shows us a picture on his phone and tells us his wife receives 8000 kyat for one days work. That’s just over a fiver in GBP but a huge payday for the locals living in these villages.
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That night my legs were chomped on by some sort of beast with a thirst for human blood. It left huge red sores that was tough not to itch. Bastard.
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Check out the little surprise in this fellas basket of vegetables.
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The next day was an easier trek but through more jungle like terrain. Disappointingly, the last part of our trek was along a main road with lots of traffic. As a bus pulls over, we jump on board for a free lift back to the hotel. Sore, knackered and filthy it was a perfect end to our trek. Walking through beautiful countryside, jungle and interesting villages makes for a good trek, dusty roads with lorries pumping black smoke into your lungs does not. We didn’t give up. My conscience is clear.
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I manage to get a dorm room in Lily’s Guest House and their hot shower made me a very happy trekker. The filth from a three day trek always takes at least two hot showers to dispose of. Hot water felt so good. With no plans for that afternoon, I should have rested my tired limbs. Instead I take a two hour trek out of town, through a cemetery, a village and a rubbish dump, up a long path that twisted over, under and next to a small stream. It was a small trek that had it all, the beautiful and the disgusting, real life in Myanmar. The long path took me past farms, smiling workers on the fields and picture perfect views of the surrounding mountains.
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When I finally got to the waterfall, it had dried up. The walk was worth it though. I got a decent view over the surrounding fields, villages and mountains. Maybe everybody knew it had dried up, which is why I was the only tourist. I’m sure Guy told me that there was a lush waterfall here.
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I’ve taken to the squat sit which is popular in SE Asia and as I took this stance to take in the views I notice a little black object on my leg. I flick it, squirting blood up my leg. I presumed it was a leech. I notice large red ants close by. The jungle was crawling with life. I tried to sit down and read but I started to attract the waterfalls inhabitants and decided to take the short two hour trek back.
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Walking through the cemetery, I was shouted at by two children. They wave their hands in the air, unprompted by me, and shouted ‘Gangnam Style’. I’d attempted to gain this response from children unsuccessfully for the last four days and now, finally, I’ve done it. They must have been from a restaurant in Hsipaw and been victimised by either Guy or me to do Psy’s sensational dance routine. This made my day. Thanks boys.
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I spotted Josh in Mr Foods and joined him for some fine Chinese cuisine. We were soon joined by our trekking buddy Daz and the young guide with limited English, AO, for a few draught Dagon’s. AO bought us some sticky rice pudding wraps and we coaxed him into a few more beers. He got very drunk, very quickly. He started calling people and handing us his mobile. Momo was a recipient of one of these drunken calls.
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Liverpool v Man City. A perfect end to a perfect four day trek. The roads were dark. No lights anywhere. One tea shop was open showing the game, it was heaving. The game didn’t disappoint either. The majority of the tea shop were reds fans and when Stevie G grabbed a 35 yard stunner in the top corner, the Burmese Kop voiced their approval. The Burmese football fans as passionate as ever.
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A hot shower and the usual complementary egg and toast fixed me up for the seven hour Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lyin scenic train journey. Hsipaw and its surrounding beauties left me with fond memories. I love trekking. I love that they love football. I love the Burmese people. I love that I am starting to feel fit again. I love it all. Tip top.
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Hsipaw: Little Bagan, motorbikes with gears and free oranges.

Its 9pm and dark. The small town of Hsipaw look like its shut down for the night. No lights on, no activity. A taxi dude truthfully points us in the direction of Mr Charles Guest House, who give us their last double room for the night. Guy and I are relatively pleased with this. Über friendly staff and a cheap-ish but comfortable room. No mattress in the corridor job here. There’s even WiFi. Slow to the extreme but its available. And in the morning a trekking guide will be at reception. At this point it all looked a bit too easy.
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The cold was closing in and sleep beckoned. Early night with the Dalai Lama’s ‘The Art of Happiness’ and I slept well, really well.
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We woke to some hardcore Monsoon style rain. This is the dry season so everyone was a little surprised, the locals blamed a storm from China. They always seemed to blame China. They reckoned it could last three days. Trekking was in doubt. I spoke to the guide. He was a knob. He obviously had rich pickings from the older, unfit and extremely wealthy middle class contingent next door in the more expensive part of the hotel. He didn’t want my money and didn’t want to give me any information.
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I walked down to Lily’s Guest House. Here I found a charming Dr Aung. He too was unsure about trekking as numbers were low. However he did say to pop back later on as something may be arranged with a guide called Momo. He was happy to help. At this point I remembered Richard, the tall Swiss guy who asked me to pose for a fine art nude photo shoot in Hpa-an, recommending Momo as he’d used him for the three day trek from Namshan back to Hsipaw. I decided to wait. Hoping Momo would come good.
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Before Guy and I rented out a motorbike, I went and exchanged my dollars for an extremely poor rate. As Hsipaw is a relatively small town the rates drop. Bummer. Lesson learned.
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There’s good decisions and poor decisions. Back packers rarely know whether the decision they’ve made will be good or bad until afterwards. New places, different rules, forever changing goalposts make decisions difficult to make. Guy had to make a choice, does he go for a bicycle or a motorbike, with gears. We’d only driven automatic scooters before, so delving into the world of motorbikes with gears, in Myanmar, where they drive on the right, that’s the wrong side of the road, it was one of these decisions that either goes great or we crash, break a leg, permanently scar our beautiful skin and end up having to  pay some gangster dude mega money to replace the bike we just ruined. Luckily for us, the day was a success. On that day in particular, decision making was Guy’s and my forte.
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The rain magically stopped and the sun had his time. We drove around the town and surrounding villages, visiting ancient pagodas, monasteries and huge Buddha statues in what they called ‘Little Bagan’.
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A tall European needs to be on his guard when in Myanmar. Asians are small, we are not. Walking over a wonky wooden bridge I again whacked my head full pelt on a wooden beam which most Burmese folk pass underneath. Guy laughed. I held back the tears and laughed along with him. Because I’m tough like that. My hair would have once protected me from such a forceful blow to the head but my new skinhead was useless. The longer I stay here, the more damage I do to my already declining number of brain cells.
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We stopped at Mrs Popcorn’s organic farm and sipped on passion fruit juice and freshly made coffee that she’d grown herself. Nice.
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The town was relaxed and the roads were easy to navigate. We drove along dirt tracks by the railway line and went over ancient decrepit wooden bridges. Kids waved and smiled as we cruised past, stopping sometimes to high five and exchange minglabba’s with the locals. We passed through villages, with bamboo houses rather than wood or concrete that they use in the town center. We drove down back alleys, through games of football, through valleys and rice paddy fields, stopping to talk to a lovely local midget lady who spoke no English but smiled and posed in pictures with us.
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No other tourists were driving around on motor bikes. Maybe that’s why we got so much attention. We felt like celebrities. Being foreign was a good thing, everybody loved the white and the brown guy on motorbikes, a far cry from the reputation foreigners in Thailand’s southern islands conjure up. Boozed up scooter dickheads we were not.
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We were drifting through normal peoples lives, observing and discovering the houses they live in, the clothes they wore, the jobs they did, the games the children and the gambling fathers played. The bike gave us freedom.
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We stopped by a small river with a bridge for the railway line. Men were casually sitting and talking on the track, drinking a bottle of whiskey. They waved and smiled at us. There were children playing in the river. Sheets of soon to be noodles were hanging to dry. Women carried pots of water on their heads.
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Parking up outside the railway station we make friends with some non English speaking locals working at what looked like an orange factory. The girl, picking the oranges by hand from the back of the lorry (that’s a truck for you Americans out there), took an instant liking to Guy. His beard pulling in the ladies. She threw him a couple of oranges. Then I got in on the action. Result. Before we knew it, Guy was helping lift the baskets of oranges from the lorry to the factory, we were being introduced to the boss and our bags were heavy with a dozen or so oranges. No common language was spoken, just an exchange of smiles and some free oranges, they were just bloody charming Myanmar folks. We ate a couple of oranges, expressed our gratitude and sped off towards the sunset hill.
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As we drove up the hill, we bumped into Josh and Gilly, an English couple we met in Moulamyine. During the sunset and eating oranges and poppy seed biscuits I discovered that they too had been in contact with Momo and booked the trekking from Namshan for the following day. The back packing Gods again looking after me.
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I immediately went to Lily’s Guest House, talked to the extremely friendly and loveable Dr Aung (who is a real doctor with a real surgery in the guest house) and booked up my place to go trekking the next morning. I was set. A 6 hour truck drive through the mountains to Namshan, one nights sleep there and 45,000 kyat for three days of hardcore trekking through tribal villages. It seemed like a tough one to get on, one that not many did. I was game. Adventure in my eyes, exploration in my heart, I was proper excited.
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In Myanmar, this would be the first time I would be away from my team of traveler buddies, Guy and Nourdes. Guy was not coming on the trek, he was aiming to go down south to find a beach and Nourdes would be on the other side of the world, throwing shapes at the Mardi Gras in Brazil. Then, as we entered Mr Food’s diner for a bit of Chinese pork and vegetable stir fry we bumped into Isabel. How very strange this back packing circuit can be sometimes. Myanmar is a small place.
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Early rise. I packed my shit, ate some breakfast, hugged Guy, slapped his arse and waddled my way down the road to Lily’s ready to be whisked away by a truck up through the mountains to a remote village called Namshan. Game on.
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