KAT // FIN

Dream. Do.

Some Are White Light // Thank you // Last episode

”A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”
– George Moore

We came back to Finland at the end of April 2015. At that point we had been travelling 6,5 months. Everything in Finland was exactly like it was when we had left in October. Except that dark late-autumn had turned to fresh spring. Our beloved ones were waiting at the airport. Air was so fresh so fresh.

I was in total mess. Culture shock which hit in Finland was something I hadn’t expected. Leaving was actually really easy compared to coming back. (I’m sooo beginner in this travelling business…) May and June was mentally worst months I’ve ever been through. I felt lost between two worlds and it seemed that I didn’t quite belonged to either one of them. My old clothes didn’t seem like clothes I could wear anymore. My old flat didn’t feel like home anymore. I felt like a total stranger in my own country. I felt like I had just come back from the war. I could never find the right words to tell to people about all the things I had seen and experienced.

It is funny…my internal search started only when our trip was over. That was the reason I had to travel far. To notice that all the answers were already lying inside me. That was one motif for my travels, to change something within me. To grow gratitude. To grow respect. To grow love. To find my way again. After my breakdown, after struggling for a while and after questioning all the choices in my life I finally got my answers. I started to feel good about the current situation. I started to feel confident about the fact that life would bring right things to my path when the time would be right. Life after making my big dream come true started to feel like a great ever-going adventure. Suddenly everything that I had never noticed in Helsinki or in Finland started to gave new perspective. I started to see more opportunities. I started to see more beauty. Life isn’t a day-to-day struggle between home and work anymore. Life is a great adventure where every day gives you great bunch of new opportunities…if you want to see them around you. And I want!

I started to work for my old company two months after coming back home. How much I loved that old family I had always had there! I started to search for a new flat, found a perfect one and moved into it alone for the first time since 2008! I bought a proper bed, colourful curtains and many flowers. I had my own sauna-shift every wednesday. I started to enjoy cleaning my new flat and having all my old stuff around me. I started to smile to strangers on the streets and talk to my neighbours. Happiness grew with each passing day.

And what my trip taught me?
– Never fear what travel brings.
– Always expect the best.
– Being open and honest is the only real way to be. People give you back what you give to them.
– There is no real barrels between people. Ethnical, cultural or religious differences don’t mean anything if people encounter a soul level.
– Doing good always comes back at you.
– Travelling far helps you to understand that answers will be found near.
– Travelling far helps you to appreciate the smallest things. Seeing Taj Mahal really isn’t a big deal compared to seeing humanity in everyday life.
– You can always choose your thoughts and attitudes.
– Your thoughts are shown through your actions.
– Whether you think you can or can’t do something you are always right.
– No matter how carefully you try to plan your life it will always surprise you.

At the moment I feel ridiculously happy. I feel free every day. I continue dreaming and have the trust that all my wishes will be answered eventually.

”Intuition recognises those future motifs that lies within us.
Belief turns them into actions.
Trust gives strength to carry on even many difficulties may appear on the path.”
– Tommy Hellsten

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There is a bunch of people who made our trip to Nepal, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia. All these people taught me something. Thank you for appearing into my life!

Tara P Panthi [thank you for a nice meeting and chat in Kathmandu…I appreciate so much the work you do for Nepal…world needs more people like you!]
Tuomas Klaus [thank you for nice and surprising meeting in Kathmandu and for sharing your great stories from Kabul]
Bijay Rai [thank you for all your help, Dhanyabad!]
Kajiman Rai [I can’t ever thank you enough for sharing all the stories which told so much about your attitude towards life and Nepal, thank you for the rum we shared every evening on the way to the base camp, it made us really feel special :)]
Mani Rai [thank you for plying those nepali songs on the way to the base camp and for carrying our stuff for 10 days, thank you for each and every ”let’s go” during those mornings and thank you those best moments when we played cards]
Pushpa Guesthouse / Mr. Raj Ojha [thank you for your kind help in Pokhara]
Shankar Kalay [thank you for your kindness and best drinks enjoyed in the dark night facing Phewa lake in Pokhara]
Markus Forss [thank you for sharing your interesting story]
Manish Forss [thank you for your kindness]
Koondan Joshi, Amit, Rozesh, Ashutosh [thank you for sharing all those great songs and stories with us! We hope to see you again!]
Kristal KC [thank you for the most funny trip to Kirtipur]
Dinesh Raja [thank you for your friendly attitude in Elite]
Nikhil Thapa Magar [thank you for your kindness and tongpa :D]

Grace India Holiday, New Delhi [hmmm…thanks for showing us how systems in India work :D]
Sabby’s Cabby, New Delhi [thank you for your friendliness and for driving us safely away from Delhi!]
Kuldeep Verma + Anu, Udaipur [thank you for the most memorable riksha-ride ever!]
Josh + Elliot, Jaisalmer [thank you for the nice afternoon in Jaisalmer]
Camelmen in Thar desert [thank you for the trip and great photoshooting session!]
Rachel + Jake [thank you for the times in Mumbai]
Ankit Uniyal and Sunny Mandyal, Goa [wow….thank you guys for the most memorable 4 days in Goa]
Anju / Lemon Dew, Alleppey [thank you every yoga session and for your kindness]
Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Math, Amritapuri Kerala [Māṁ āpakā śukriyā]
Houseboat crew, Kollam Kerala [thank you for the most memorable trip to Munroe Island and thank you for the excellent food Eric!]
Vinod Viswa + Mari / On the way, Varkala Kerala [thank you for your kindness and for the best atmosphere in Varkala…was really pleasure to meet you both!]

Sapa O’Chau / Mô [thank you for the best guidance and for showing us your home and family in Lao Chai]
Le Gecko hotel, Sapa [thank you for your help to organise our christmas lunch and for the most memorable Christmas celebrations!]
Kate + Steve O’Neill [thank you for spending great Christmas with us!]
Hue Happy Homestay / Viet [thank you for your excellent advices and help in Hue!]
Easyriders [thank you for the best ride between Hue and Hoi An!]
Le Vinh [thank you for the best guidance in Hue]
Ali [thank you for your great company in Hue]
Manu Mart [Manu…thank you for all the great talks in Hue, HCMC and Phnom Penh…it was great great honour to meet you!]
Maria Ora Pro Nobis [Maria…thank you for all the great talks in Hue, HCMC and Phnom Penh…it was great great honour to meet you!]
Jack Riley [Jack, thank you for the great talks in New Years Eve and in Finland! :D]
Pham Trung [Trung, you felt like our brother in HCMC…thanks for everything you made for us. You will have the same treatment when you will come to Finland!]
Phạm Nam [Nam, you felt like our brother in HCMC…thanks for everything you made for us. You will have the same treatment when you will come to Finland!]
Tak Ng [thank you for nice company in HCMC!]
Chinh Nguyen [Chinh, our vietnamese father…thank you for everything you made for us in Vung Tau!]
Lien Pham [Lien, our vietnamese mother…thank you for everything you made for us in Vung Tau!]

Nomads and Encounters Guesthouse, Phnom Penh / Robert and Vandara [Robert and Noreen thank you for so nice stay in Phnom Penh that it made us to come back over and over again! Thanks for your kindness Noreen and thank you for the mangos :)]
Badeth [thank you for all the fun we had in Phnom Penh! Wish to meet you again!!]
Isabelle [thank you Isabelle for your company in Phnom Penh and all the great advices for Myanmar! You are brave traveller, it was great to meet you!]
Isabel [thank you Isabel for all the fun we had in Phnom Penh!]
Jess [thank you Jess for all the fun we had in Phnom Penh!]
Pawel [Pawel…it was the best coinsidence to bump into you in Phnom Penh because it lead to having such a nice experience in Angkor Borei…I hope your business in Takeo is doing great!]
Cecy [thank you Cecy for all the laughs and talks we had in Angkor Borei!]
Yayi [thank you Yayi for all the laughs and talks we had in Angkor Borei!]
Asean International English School / Koy Sro, Sophea Koy, Sokun, Mr. Rati [I can’t tell how much I appreciate your attitude towards your work in Asean International School. I wish I could have helped more. Keep up with the great work Sophea!!]
Sena [thank you for your kindness and for sharing your story with us in Angkor Borei]
Shinn Tan [thank you for sharing your company and your poems with us in Siem Reap!]
Harald Vedø Tveit and Eirin Myklebust [Harald and Eirin, it was a great pleasure to meet you two lively spirits in Koh Rong! Thank you for sharing all those evening drinks and talks and especially thanks for Harald for teaching me how to tie a hammock!]

Zlatan [thank you for the great talks and great time in Phuket!]

Myanmar Exotic Travels and Tours, Yangon [thank you for great ticket organizing all over Myanmar]
Auli Kuivalainen [it was really inspiring to bump into you in Kinpun…thank you for those amazing stories from your travels!]
Shunsuke Kataoka [it was really great to spend time with you in Nyaung Shwe…especially I will always remember that birthday party when we sang happy birthday in many languages :)]
Han Sang Gyoun [it was really great to spend time with you in Nyaung Shwe…especially I will always remember that birthday party when we sang happy birthday in many languages :)]
Mya Ya Ta Nar Inn / Mya Mya [Mya Mya you were the most warm person we met in Myanmar…thank you so much for your great hospitality in Pakokku]
Uli [Uli it was inspiring to meet you in Pakokku…you have a great story to remember when you are back in Germany!]
Stephan Alexander [Stephan it was inspiring to meet you in Pakokku…you have a great story to remember when you are back in Germany!]
Re Mouchoss [Thank you for showing that there is guys like you around!]
Joy Kyaw Hlaing [Joy thank you for showing us the best attitude towards life]
Sai Sai [thank you for driving us safely around Shan hills :)]
Htun San Oo [it was really great to bump into you and Michael on the train…I will never forget that ‘Super Bass’ which you rapped on the train :D]
Michael Sapel [it was really nice to bump into you on the way from Mandalay to Yangon]
Bhaddanata DhaMaparala Monastery [thank you for letting us experience the monastery life for a couple of days in Yangon]
Sai Wai Yan [best Si Thu, thank you so much for your friendliness in Yangon :)]
Ei Ei Thaw [best Han Han, thank you so much for your friendliness in Yangon :)]

Daniela Hofner + Chris [Daniela and Chris…you felt like our adventurous parents in North-Sumatra…it was so much fun to travel with you in Berastagi, Ketambe and Lake Toba…I will never forget our jungle trips! :D]
Modestos [Modestos thank you for all the interesting talks in Berastagi! I will never forget that 2-week jungle trek that you had made. (There is always somone who is more hardcore than me :D)]
Polo [thank you for your excellent guidance and best attitude in Gunung Sibayak]
Pindra [thank you for your excellent guidance and best attitude in Ketambe]
Ahmed [thank you for your great hospitality in Ketambe]
Ketambe Boys / Alex, Ajak, Armada, Iwan, Kaiser, Muli, Sabri [<3 best performances and adventures in Ketambe...thank you!]
Salman and Putra [boys boys boys…thank you for the interesting time we shared in Ketambe and Lake Toba!]
Dharta Guesthouse, Ubud / Ketut [thank you for the best atmosphere in Ubud!]
Derakota Boom [Rini…thank you for teaching me so much…I still remember all the things you read from my hand…it all turned out to be true!]
Mariana Goncalves Braga [thank you Mariana for your great and happy attitude, it was a pleasure to meet you in Ubud :)]
Yogabarn Ubud [thank you for the best spiritual experiences]
Odysseys Surf School / Jimmy [haha thank you for giving your best attempt for trying to teach surfing to us]
Mario [thank you for the best beach bar in Kuta!]
Otto [thank you for the times in Kuta]
Zega [thank you for your patience when teaching me to surf :)]

And especially big thanks for those who have always supported and inspired us the most:

mothers and fathers
sisters and brothers
the strongest network of friends!
Parviainen Architects
everyone who inspired me by their own example: my mum, Jiri, Andy, Annika, Meiju…
Joonas/Kilroy

It’s pretty much it guys. Thank you for following my blog. I’m blessed. Time to fly on… :)

– Katariina / KatFin

Train travelling over Gokteik Viaduct and motorbike adventures over the hills in Shan state

We decided to do a three days trip to a town of Kyaukme after hearing recommendation from swedish Isabelle. Kyaukme is small town in Shan state between Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw. Train travelling between Mandalay and Hsipaw can be recommended! Landscape is propably the best I saw in whole Myanmar. Train left Mandalay at 4am and went over hills and rural villages. Actually travelling by train in Myanmar is an experience worth having. Train network covers the country pretty well. Trains move relatively slow (you can do the same journey by bus in half time or less!) and ride is bumpy in every direction. (You can imagine Linnanmäki’s rollercoaster now.) There is two classes in the train; the upper and the ordinary class. We took upper class seats as we did mostly 12-16 hour journeys. Upper class seats are wider and upholstered, ordinary class seats are wooden benches. Ordinary class was always crowded of local people travelling with the most unbelievable carriages…sometimes they even had chicken with them. We saw as well how one car was loaded full of goats!

DSC_3589 Train left Mandalay at 4am. When I woke up at 7 landscape looked like this…breathtaking morning light!

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    Vendors selling local strawberries and other foods and drinks through the windows

DSC_3623 First class travelling

DSC_3624 Takeaway coffee

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DSC_3659 Highlight of the train journey between Mandalay and Hsipaw is a bridge called Gokteik Viaduct. It was built by British in 1905. It is said to be second heighest in the world.

As many tourists hit to Hsipaw in order to do trekking we hopped out of the train couple of stations earlier and wished to organise our own trek in Kyaukme. Once again we didn’t have any bookings made in advance but things sorted out well and we got a guide from our guesthouse. Joy is a 26 years old Shan guy who has many years experience as a guide. We were thinking about doing actual trekking but when Joy told about motorbike trekking we decided to go for it instead! We had a 20 year old SaiSai as driver since neither of us knew how to drive motorbike. (I thought though that with one evening practise it would have been possible for us to drive bikes ourselves… :D) Having a driver turned out to be an excellent decision when we headed to the dusty routes and narrow paths which squirmed over the Shan hills.

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DSC_3722 Monastery

DSC_3721 Taking nap in the monastery

DSC_3712There is 37 spirits or ‘nats’ in Myanmar. Buddhists built these shrines so that nats could rest where-ever they want. There is shrines in every village. It is believed that you can see nats only with purest heart.

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We stayed overnight in small Shan village with a local family. Family didn’t speak a word of english nor we spoke Shan (except hi – mae son khaa, bye bye – la lai khaa or thank you – chom jau khaa, which Joy and Sai Sai taught us). We knew these words in burmese but it’s not considered nice to speak burmese in Shan state. Each state in Myanmar have their own language and ethnic minorities still practise their old traditions in each state. They rarely had tourists in that village we stayed and first time I really felt that I was far away from home! There was two families living under the same roof…what we heard – total of 14 people. In Myanmar families are large and it’s common to have two or three generations under the same roof of a two- or three-room house. People don’t have their own bedrooms and same room has many functions; during daytime room can serve as a kitchen and livingroom and bamboo mats are placed next to each other when it’s time for sleep.

We spent evening in the ‘living room’ with the family and two chicken which they treated like pets. It was pretty dark – one dim bulb in the middle of the room. Steam and smoke coming from kitchen filled the air. Most burmese still cook with open fire (also in restaurants) and in homes fireplace is often embedded to floor-level. Since villages are poor they have to control food amounts. Rice is often served with one or two small and bony pieces of meat with many kinds of sour vegetable sidedishes. Especially in Shan state they eat a lot of leaves and our dinner included a lot of rice, soup, eggs and two kind of curries made of these leaves.

DSC_3742 Village where we stayed overnight

DSC_3743 ‘Siskonpeti’ – Joy, SaiSai and Auli

Around ¾ of Myanmar population are rural-dwellers and much of a local life in going on around villages and farming the countryside. Main farming products in Myanmar are rice, corn, tea and opium. Tea is the main income for tribes living in the hills. We saw trucks carrying workers to tea plantations. Joy told that tea pickers don’t get paid in money but in tea. Half of the amount of leaves they pick they can keep.

DSC_3692 On the way to tea plantations

DSC_3747 Tea plantations

There is constant internal conflicts in Myanmar many of them taking place in Shan state. Joy was talking with the father of our homestay about recent conflicts between burmese soldiers and Shan rebels. Fights between burmese soldiers and ethnic minorities have been going on already 67 years and it seems that there is no end to them. Previous week rebels had killed burmese soldiers just 30 minutes drive away where we stayed. Joy’s previous trekker group had accidentally overstayed at the same place with 60-70 rebels. There hadn’t been any problem though, they had been smoking cigarettes peacefully together with the rebels. Conflicts are common in Shan state, almost every week either soldiers or rebels get killed. Situation is even worse near China border where opium is widely grown. Joy told that rebels are good for these villages…they protect their peoples’ rights. Before there were any rebels burmese soldiers came to these villages and forced villagers to give whatever they wanted, if it was food, women or money, they didn’t care. Joy told that if a Shan family has more than one child, one needs to join the rebels. Even many peace agreements are made in management level between rebels and soldiers, it seems that in the grassroot level fights can’t be stopped.

Joy’s dream was to have his own guesthouse. He had made some actions towards it already. He had bought a land for 4500 dollars last year. He wished to build 12 authentic bamboo houses there. We visited a couple of villages where Joy went to ask about the building costs of villagers’ houses. He wished to build a small summer house for himself first. Simple bamboo house could be built in Kyaukme for 1500 dollars including materials and carpenter’s salary. In Myanmar basic salary is around 200 dollars a month. I wish to be back in Kyaukme after 5-10 years to see how’s it going with Joy’s business. As determined as he seemed, I’m sure it will be a success!

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DSC_3781 Joy’s land – to be continued…

- Katariina

Bagan and Pakokku

Bagan is a huge ruin city located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady river on the south side of Mandalay. Bagan is home to approx 2500 Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. For many tourists Bagan is the main attraction in Myanmar and the area is well prepared for tourism. There is many dusty paths connecting temples and it is pretty easy to go around by bikes, e-bikes or by horse-cart. Watching sunset and sunrise is popular attractions during early morning/evening. After travelling 5 months in Asia, we started to be pretty full of temples especially after spending three intense days in Angkor, Cambodia. The most impressive thing in Bagan is that temple area is so huge that when you’re watching it from above it just seems to continue over and over. This time we allowed ourselves not to go to see too many temples inside and instead we enjoyed e-bike rides on the dusty roads between the temples for a couple of days.

DSC_3384 Thatbyinnyu temple

DSC_3390 Horse-carts

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DSC_3518 Seeing the sunrise in Bagan is the thing…many people pay for seeing it from hot air balloon

DSC_3449 E-biking in Bagan

DSC_3394E-biking in Bagan

DSC_3450 Local traffic jam

After Bagan we travelled to the small town of Pakokku for a couple of days after hearing recommendations from other travellers. We travelled there with local transport, with these small pick-up trucks which won’t leave until they are packed to their fullest! Normally they are loaded so full of people that some need to travel on the roof! Travelling is practical like that in almost every transport vehicle. There aren’t any seats or other free space which wouldn’t be full packed at least with luggages. In buses they place ‘secondary’ seats to corridor between the actual seat rows so every inch is in use.

DSC_3535 We left Bagan with style…first by horse cart…

DSC_3536 …and next by local pick-up truck

Pakokku is one of those places where you don’t meet many western people and which doesn’t seem to be affected at all by tourism. Local people are super friendly and you hear ‘min-ga-lar-par’ and get smiles from every direction. People don’t try to overcharge you and actually we were invited to taste burmese food from local peoples’ plates in the streets. Most impressive experience in Pakokku was still the humble and hospitable guesthouse Mya Ya Ta Nar Inn with it’s charming owner Mya Mya. Mya Mya had kept her guesthouse since 1980 and it was the oldest in town. We felt like living with our grandmother… Mya Mya lived in the same house with her daughter, with her grandchildren and with many cats. Sleeping in this guesthouse felt like living in a burmese family, so welcoming and hospitable they were! Mya Mya is one of those persons whose presence calms you down immediately. She also spoke very good english and also taught english to other people in Pakokku. At the moment we stayed at her place, she taught money exchanging phrases to local bankers so that they could communicate better with tourists. Mya Mya took us to buy longyis in the local market and we invited her to tea afterwards. While sipping burmese sweet tea Mya Mya shared many stories about her life and about Myanmar with us.

DSC_3537 Buying longyis in the market with Mya Mya

Mya Mya was worried about the effects of tourism in Myanmar. Money earned from tourism goes mostly to the pockets of government since many tourism services including tourist agencies, fancier hotels and guesthouses are owned by the government. It’s difficult to know as a tourist which places are owned by families and which by the government. Especially when we asked for room in some of the more authentic looking guesthouse in Bagan they said it’s only for locals. What can you do then…go to the ‘only tourists’ accepting guesthouse. In Mya Ya Ta Nar Inn there were both tourists and local people staying and Mya Mya said it’s the same prices for both of them. Mya Mya told that authority from Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is regularly visiting her guesthouse and asking her to renovate her premises. For example she had to replace her old traditional wooden entrance door with a glass-door because of their order. We were making jokes that soon they will ask her to put wifi to her guesthouse. I can truly recommend this place in Myanmar! It was nice to know that you were supporting directly this family instead of Myanmar government.

DSC_3547 Bulls at work, Pakokku

DSC_3553 Pakokku

DSC_3550Pakokku

We went to this lovely coffee shop for a couple of times during our stay in Pakokku. Family lives in this same room where they have customers during daytime. Propably they all share this one big bed. People bathe themselves and wash their clothes in the streets or in the river nearby. Food is many times cooked with open fire. People use bulls for farm work. People don’t own much, children don’t have too many toys but people seem to be very happy. Many of them are singing while working and they really seem genuinely happy when seeing that foreigners are interested in their country.

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-Katariina

Nyaung Shwe and magical Inle lake

Our trip to Nyaung Shwe/Inle lake started with chaotic rush to the bus station in Yangon. Even we had left 1,5 hours earlier to make a trip which should have taken 30 minutes, our taxi driver had to call to the bus company and tell that we would be late. Luckily we made it to the bus only a couple of minutes late. Bus travelling in Myanmar is propably the worst in South East Asia. Even landscapes are beautiful, local people have terribly sensitive stomachs and bumpy roads cause a lot of vomiting. Many buses between the main tourist towns (Yangon-Inle-Bagan-Mandalay) are nightbuses. We arrived to Nyaung Shwe, a city near Inle Lake, in the middle of the night which is not the most practical time if you don’t have any hostel booked in advance. We relied on our good luck and luckily met a nice guy working for a guest house at the bus stop. We took a pick-up to a Palace Nyaung Shwe Guest house which was a little bit farther from Nyaung Shwe centre but turned out to be excellent and peaceful guest house.

It was our first day in Nyaung Shwe and during lunch we were already invited to a birthday party of a local restaurant keeper’s son. That’s a good example of Burmese hospitality. They didn’t expect any presents from us (we asked if there’s something we could give) they just wanted foreigners to accompany their celebrations. They offered us food and cake and didn’t expect anything back from us. We gave a ‘present’ though, later we were singing ‘happy birthday’ in finnish, english and korean with korean traveller Han and japanese Shunsuke who we met in our guest house. Locals were videotaping our singing!

DSC_3145 Birthday of ‘Joshwe’ at Mee Nge’s Gardenia Restaurant

DSC_3146 Mee Nge and Shunsuke

On the next day we headed to Inle Lake with this same group. To me, seeing Inle Lake was one of the most impressive places during our travels. Inle lake is home for 70 000-100 000 people of an ethnic minority group called Intha. Inthas have built their village above the lake. It is said that the local Shan chief (otherwise it is Shan people living in this area) refused to grant rights to Intha to land around Inle and that’s why they started to built their stilt houses on the lake itself. Inthas’ way of life is very unique with their floating gardens and one-legged rowing system.

Our long-tailed motorboat left early in the morning. It’s not the main tourist season now when summer has just started and temperature goes up to almost 40 degrees during the daytime but there were many tourist boats though. Still the impression of Inle Lake stayed pretty serene and peaceful. Inle lake is one of the main tourist attractions in Myanmar and tourism is well developed in Nyaungshwe and Inle area.

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DSC_3239Intha village above the lake

DSC_3274 Intha village above the lake

DSC_3210 Inthein market

The main income for Inthas are fishing, farming and hand-made goods like tools, carvings and other ornamental objects, scarves made of lotus and silk, silver jewellery and cheroots. Inthas have developed a lot of tourism around their lifestyle and as a tourist you will be taken to see many workshops where they produce these goods. We got to see silk and lotus weaving, scarf and cheroot making for example.

DSC_3217Scarves were made by long-necked women. We learned that they start to put rings to girls’ necks when they are 8 years old. They start with 10 rings. They add them (I don’t know how often) until they have reached the maximum of 25 rings. It’s Inthas tradition and they think it makes them more beautiful. Rings are made of bronze and I got to hold them…they were so heavy! Rings actually make your shoulders and collarbones go more down. That’s what gives the impression that your neck is very long.

DSC_3264Cheroot making workshop was our another stop. Cheroots are cigarettes produced in Myanmar. Inthas produce cheroot by wrapping tobacco mixed with anis and other flavors inside an indian cherry leaves. Natural filter is made of corn leaf.

DSC_3170Leg rowing/fishing

DSC_3177 Leg rowing/fishing

DSC_3304Leg rowing/fishing

Inthas unique rowing style evolved for the reason that the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants making it difficult to see above them while sitting. Standing provides the rower with a view beyond the reeds. However, the leg rowing style is only practiced by the men. (Wikipedia)

Atmosphere on Inle lake was just magical. It was great to see how Inthas have adapted their lifestyle so beautifully on Inle Lake. We saw schools for example, people bathing, fishing and carrying things on the lake. It felt funny…to notice that Inthas have all services they need just there, they don’t necessarily have to go to the mainland. They have succeeded to built even gardens above the lake where they grow vegetables. Imagine living so close to the nature.

DSC_3309 After day spent on the lake we rewarded ourselves with some rose wine in the nearby winery.

DSC_3314 Red Mountain Vineyards and Winery

Last day in Nyaung Shwe we rent bicycles and cycled to the hot springs nearby. On the way back to the town we stopped for dinner to tiny bamboo house which served as a small restaurant. We were the only customers. They had three rooms, first room for customers which had three tables and a small snack shop. Behind this ‘common room’ they had small kitchen where they cooked with gas stove and behind kitchen a small bedroom. Everything was made of bamboo. Beautifully detailed bamboo furniture were made by owner lady’s father. She told us that five men had built this house in just one week but even that she had built it with her husband it belonged to the government and that government could ask them to leave anytime.

DSC_3316 Having coffee break on the way to the hot springs. Local family was so welcoming even we didn’t share the same language.

DSC_3323 Small restaurant on the way to the hot springs…everything was made of bamboo

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    Charming owner in her kitchen…notice the floor construction

DSC_3321 Watching sunset in settings like this…not bad…

-Katariina

Pilgrimage to Kyaiktiyo Golden Rock Pagoda

From Yangon we took a 6-hour nightbus to Kinpun. Kinpun is a small village 160 kilometres from Yangon. After finding accommodation in the middle of the night and sleeping there maybe three hours it was time to start trekking to Kyaiktiyo Golden Rock Pagoda in a nearby hilltop. Kyaiktiyo is a holy site to Buddhists, third important in Myanmar after Yangon Shwedagon Pagoda and Mandalay’s Mahamuni Temple. It is believed that a hair of a Buddha is secreted inside a pagoda standing on the top of the rock. Speciality with Kyaiktiyo is the fact that that it’s defying gravity. Gilded rock is balancing above another rock and it seems that it might flip over the edge any minute. It is said that it’s possible to pull a string between these two rocks. Buddhists believe that it is the weight of the sacred hair which prevents the boulder from toppling into the ravine below.

Most of the people are transferred to Kyaiktiyo by trucks from Kinpun. Truck platform is crammed full of narrow benches that are loaded full of people. Trucks drive up and down winding roads terrible speed. We decided to do like the most devouted pilgrims do and hike up the mountain. We thought it would have been a nice couple of hours hike but actually it took us five hours to trek up 15 kilometres of serpentine roads surrounded by the jungle. We started at 6.30 and were on the top by midday totally exhausted. It was maybe 37 degrees when we reached the top. Many trucks were passing us on the way with people waving, showing thumbs-up and even videotaping us. We saw two monks doing the same route except that they were coming down. Another one of them walked without shoes. There is always someone more hardcore than you!

DSC_3087Kinpun village was very peaceful and had only a handful of other western tourists.

DSC_3089 Loading trucks

DSC_3070Trucks leave people 15-45 minutes before the top so everyone needs to walk at least a bit. There is an option though for those who aren’t able to walk at all. It is possible to hire sedan chairs carried by four men to carry them up. We saw a couple of those carriages.

DSC_3047 Only men are allowed to enter the boulder through the narrow causeway. They were applying golden leaves to the rock. Women can admire the rock from farther viewing pavilion.

DSC_3050 Buddhists were offering fruits, flowers, incences for example.

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DSC_3068 Mountaineous scenery through which we had walked

DSC_3083 We took a truck back down. It was like being in amusement park’s rollercoaster!

-Katariina

Days in Yangon

When we arrived in Yangon, the biggest city and the former capital of Myanmar, it was already dark. Traffic was pretty chaotic. Even local people didn’t seem to know how to cross the street, they were randomly running amongst cars. Cars didn’t necessarily slow down when they noticed a person crossing. There was some fluorescent tubes performing as street lights but otherwise city felt way different than other capitals in South-East Asia. Couple of hours later we went to search cheap street dinner. I noticed some familiar things; scent of betel nut and men wearing longyis made me feel like being back in India. Street vendor woman selling us a typical burmese style salad was very friendly and taught us how to enjoy these new flavors even we didn’t share the same language. People were telling ‘hello’ or ‘min-ga-lar-par’ to you from many directions. Friendly people and indian influences were my first impressions of Myanmar.

DSC_2875_edited_2 Yangon street view

DSC_2904 Trishaw taxi

DSC_2902_edited Locals living in the central

DSC_2897_edited Locals living in the central

DSC_2928 Local eatery on the street

There is many British colonial-era buildings in Yangon. Everything is little bit shabby but that’s what makes it charming. Even guesthouses have this authentic feeling. Our guesthouse, Mahabandoola GH, was situated in typical colonial block. Rooms were mint green with no-smoking signs written on the wall, floors were covered with flower-patterned, soft vinyl and rooms had claustrophobic feeling since they had no windows. Our hostel-keeper was smoking through window when he had free-time and his employees (three young guys) were reading buddhist prayers or studying. Mahabandoola didn’t have any air-con (during the day-time it was almost 40 degrees in Yangon central!) but lousy-working fan. I hadn’t been swetting this much during our travels so far. It was as if my face was melting!

DSC_2917_edited Yangon blocks

DSC_2921 Mahabandoola Garden…famous hangout for locals

DSC_3013 Mahabandoola Guest House

DSC_2927 Mahabandoola Guest House

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    Rules in Garden Guest House

Luckily during our first day we came across very burmese relieving thing against the heat. They call it thanaka. A girl in the street stall made thanaka to us. Thanaka is a natural plant-derived paste that Burmese women (sometimes men as well) use as natural sunscreen or ‘make-up’. Other burmese thing we did during our first days was buying longyis. Longyis are long skirts both men and women wear. We bought ours in the main market, Bogyoke Aung San.

DSC_2870 Thanakas

I would rank Yangon high what it comes to characteristics or uniqueness of a city during our travels so far. Compared to metropols like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon is way behind. It has zero percent westernized atmosphere. You need to do some effort to find a pharmacy or a decent mart for example as they are more difficult to notice in Yangon’s busy street view where you don’t understand a thing about the signs as they are mostly written in burmese letters and shops are not branded. It was funny – my phone broke during one night. I spent the next afternoon searching a repair shop. I had to go to three places before I found a right one. Luckily people are friendly here and they come to show the place to you themselves if they can’t advice you in english about the directions. Local young guy who didn’t speak any english dismantled my phone to bits and pieces to solve what was wrong. After one hour my phone was working and I was 10 dollars poorer. I felt like hugging that guy!

Our third day started desperately. We both had been sleeping like nothing in Mahabandoola. We felt no hunger and even a thought about eating more rice or noodles gave us shivers. After dodgy breakfast of sweet and sour potato (because we just felt like having potatoes and that was the option we came across) enjoyed in a chinese restaurant, we decided to go to see Shwedagon Pagoda in the afternoon. Shwedagon is the most sacred buddhist shrine in Myanmar. According to the legend the shrine encloses relics of four buddhas, including eight hairs of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. We booked a guide which turned out to be an excellent decision. Our guide pointed out many things we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise and told many interesting stories about the pagoda. Especially interesting was to see and participate worshipping of deities in planetary posts which corresponds with one’s day of birth. In Burmese astrology there are 8 days (Wednesday is divided into two, morning and afternoon). In each planetary post, there were a Buddha statue with a larger guardian spirit statue behind it. Each day is associated with different animal and this animal is represented beneath the statue. I am born in Wednesday so I worshipped Wednesday’s planetary post. Animal for Wednesday is an elephant, with tusks for morning and without tusks for the afternoon. You worship by offering water, flowers, paper umbrellas or incents to the Buddha statue. Most people pour water to the statues, different times for Buddha, for the guardian spirit and for the animal. (Our guide was excellent and also told that he is living in a monastery and welcomed us to visit for a night or two in case we wanted.)

DSC_2933 Local bus to Shwedagon Pagoda

DSC_2967 Shwedagon pagoda

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    Worshipping at wednesday morning planetary post

DSC_3001 Shwedagon by night

Our last day in Yangon surprised us. We were walking aroung Sule Pagoda which is situated in the very centre of Yangon. In fact, the main traffic circle is formed around this round shaped pagoda. Suddenly a monk started to talk to us. Monk was 27 years old A Shin Candimar, who had been a monk since he was 20 years old (before he had been a novice since the age of 13). After maybe 10-minutes smalltalking he told us that he was going to his english lecture and asked us to follow. We followed him with excitement to a narrow stairway which led to the second floor of a shabby block. There were maybe 10 students in the classroom, half of them monks. Most of the students were between 20-30 years old and had already finished their studies. Teacher Uma advised us to talk with students as he thinks talking to foreigners is important part of their english learning. Students told that they pay for these lectures and that they come almost everyday between monday and friday after their other duties (school or job) to study with Uma. They think it’s important to know english now when their country has become more open to the world. (Before that Myanmar was led by communist military junta who basically isolated the country from other countries in the world.) We were talking about our countries and cultures, how education system works, about our jobs and families and about buddhism for example. We told about our journey in Asia. Many of the students wished to travel or work abroad in the future but they also seemed to be very content and happy being Burmese. Auli asked some monks to come to Finland during winter and learn to ski!

DSC_3026 Uma’s english class

-Katariina

Bangkok + off-the-beaten-backpacker-track in Thailand!

What have we done in two weeks in Thailand?

WP_20150218_003 Fixed our visas to Myanmar in Bangkok…it took three days

DSC_2855 Had a walk in Lumphini Park in Bangkok and happened to crash a free park-concert played by Bangkok Symphony Orchestra!

10923282_10153080971573560_9068890945243438053_n Celebrated Chinese New Year with fellow travellers

WP_20150219_006 I went crazy in Bangkok…got anxious, got fever and almost felt like quitting travelling! Auli took me to hospital <3

WP_20150219_004 Auli thought that a relaxed holiday would do us good…holiday with no stress…

WP_20150224_004…so we booked a nice and pricey resort for 5 nights in Phuket (zero backpackers – only pensioners…so refreshing!)

WP_20150224_007…which had jacuzzi on the balcony. Seriously we left this hotel propably twice!

Plus we bought tickets. Not back to Finland but to Myanmar! There is highs and lows in travelling and especially I have been travelling in emotional rollercoaster for the last two weeks. Even it sometimes feels hard, we decided to keep going. Arrivederci guys!

-Katariina

Half-way check!

After my last post I got high fever during the same day. I never have fever back in Finland so it was strange and made me go to see a doctor after a couple of days. Luckily it wasn’t malaria nor dengue. I think it was my body’s way to force me to stop for a while. So I have been admiring Bangkok through our hostel’s windows. I’m fine with that. Actually it inspired me to make these lists of some of my top experiences so far!

MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES

DSC_0735_edit Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Nepal

DSC_1283India – all of it!

WP_20141127_003 Goa…in many ways

DSC_2054 Living two weeks with locals in Ho Chi Minh City with the best morning coffee ever!

DSC_2362_edited Teaching local kids in english school, Angkor Borei Cambodia

FUNNIEST EXPERIENCES

DSC_1360 Transportation in India – all of it!

WP_20141217_001 Minibus-ride between Lao Cai and SaPa with locals who offered booze to us all the way. Half of the bus was throwing up because of curvy mountain roads. We had a party even we couldn’t understand vietnamese nor they could english.

DSC_1739 Making rice porridge and raisin soup in Sa Pa and after being invited to local’s christmas party!

BEST SUNRISES / SUNSETS / STARRY SKIES

DSC_0541 Poon Hill/Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Nepal

DSC_1293 Thar desert, Rajasthan India

DSC_2256 Mekong river, Koh Pdao Cambodia

DSC_2694_edited Angkor Wat, Cambodia

MOST PRACTICAL SKILLS I’VE LEARNED SO FAR :D

DSC_2024 How to make a proper Vietnamese coffee taught by Mr. Pham Trung

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    How to succeed growing a mango tree (also in Finland!) taught by Mrs. Vandara Chea

DSC_2779 How to tie your hammock properly instead of a lousy banana shape taught by Mr. Harald Vedø Tveit

PEOPLE WHO MADE THE GREATEST IMPACT

DSC_0566_edited Porters in Nepal

DSC_0703 People living in poorly accessible mountain villages, Nepal

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA People living as devotees in Amritapuri Ashram, Kerala India
picture: http://whatsupwithsara.files.wordpress.com

DSC_1663

    Mô, our guide in Sa Pa, who had lost his husband and who lived in very basic conditions with her two children but who was always happy

DSC_2324_edited Devoted teachers in Asean International English School, Angkor Borei Cambodia

DSC_2331 Cambodian people in many ways…

DSC_2348_edited Children who always seem so live their fullest no matter which their living conditions are!

I can’t believe that I’ve experienced all this!

-Katariina

I need a holiday from my vacation and from my mind!

Koh Rong island near Sihanoukville in Cambodia was the place where it started to hit me after four months of travelling. I had had some symptoms already for a while but when entering more quiet side of Koh Rong with 6 kilometres of white-sanded beaches, turquoise water and only handful of other travellers staying overnight, made the symptoms suddenly go worse. We were in the place where I ‘should’ have felt relaxed, calm and being able to process experiences we had had so far. Instead of these dreamy feelings I started to feel frustrated and anxious. It got that bad that it was difficult for me to fall asleep. It wasn’t these ‘exciting’ jungle sounds or the sounds of waves striking the beach near our bungalow that kept me awake during long nights. It was my mental shit.

DSC_2738_edited Long Beach, Koh Rong

DSC_2756 Long Beach, Koh Rong

After a couple of days confusion about what was happening to me, I diagnosed myself suffering from ‘travel fatigue’ at least in a medium level. It had started with feelings of not having interest to make any further plans. I felt exhausted about changing place often and always planning where to go next, where to stay overnight next and with which vehicle we should go next. It worsened by having feelings that even this paradise island’s landscape couldn’t impress me. Like if this couldn’t impress me, what would impress me?! I felt lost and alone even when being accompanied with other people. I didn’t feel like myself at all. I thought a couple of days relaxing holiday in Koh Rong would make it better but actually it didn’t. I felt I just couldn’t enjoy like other people seemed to do. I felt ashamed and had a guilty conscience. It was me who was supposed to have the greatest time of my life right now! Why I didn’t feel like that? Why couldn’t I enjoy and instead of hanging with people I felt more like spending time alone?

DSC_2759 Our bungalow ‘Tiger’

I did some self-reflection in order to solve why I felt like that. My organized mind always seems to want to plan the future even it isn’t yet processed things that happened a day or two ago. I feel happy when things go according to my plans. I need to feel that I’m in charge of my travels whether my plans turns out to be good or bad. I need to have some idea of what to expect of experiencing. That’s when I have time to dream about it and that’s when I have time enough to mentally prepare for it. Now my mind feels tired. Tired of planning and tired of looking things forward. I’ve been questionning what was my real dream in terms of this trip. I always thought that it would have been the feeling of freedom. Where is that feeling now when I feel that making further plans are more a burden than a pleasure? How well feeling of freedom goes together with too much planning?

I noticed that it started actually already after leaving India…when I started to go mentally downhill. I had been dreaming of travelling to Nepal and India for many years. I had some ideas in my mind what I wanted to experience there even we didn’t have 100% strict schedules. I wanted to do trekking, travel across India by public transport, do yoga and go to meet Mother Amma. All these things we did and my time in these countries was like one big firework. I was open to everything even we went according to this bigger plan. When we arrived to Vietnam, my passions for travelling suddenly disappeared. Auli was enjoying but suddenly I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. I didn’t know what I should look forward of experiencing. Even we made plans together with Auli I felt like not having a clear enough idea on my own to be able to dream further things.

DSC_2741 Terrace views with unproperly tied, banana shape hammock tied by Kata

DSC_2760 Luckily met Harald and Eirin from Norway. Harald taught me how to tie a hammock right…with confidence, enthusiasm and skill of a serious climber :)

BUT…I need to change my thinking. There is no place which is 100% bad. It is up to you how you want to see things in life. We often see the faults in others (if it’s a place or a person I don’t really care…it seems that often there is someone else to blame if you are feeling bad) without realising that we can change only our own character. I don’t know if this is the thing they call a culture shock or if it´s just my internal shock which starts to affect now after four months of travelling. I hope it goes away…I try to convince me being not so hard to myself. I keep telling that during a trip this long, it’s natural to have many kinds of feelings. It can’t be only sunshine. It’s okay to feel a little bit lost. But still I have guilty conscience’s small sound in my head telling me that I should enjoy my fullest NOW…After all it’s my dream which I am now living real. I won’t give up it so easily.

DSC_2767_edited Our neighbour from Finland was often sitting on a tree playing guitar…

I wonder if this mental flow made any sense…Please send wintry pictures of Finland so that I could realize that it’s better to stay in this side of the world!

-Katariina

Stories behind the stones @ Siem Reap

No visitor in Cambodia should skip the temples of Angkor Archaelogical Park in Siem Reap. Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. These temples including Angkor Wat, are the greatest remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. Archaelogical park is huge covering approx 400 km2 and it consists of scores of temples, hydraulic structures as well as communication routes. Since Angkor is one of those once-in-a-lifetime-visit-destinations we chose to do our expedition properly instead of just going to ‘see some old piles of stones’ for a day. Actually we started by visiting Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap and got to know a lot about the history of the Khmer Empire. Temples represent both hindu and buddhist cultures and visiting the museum gave us hints of which details we should look carefully when visiting the temples. Have to say that visiting the museum was so inspiring that we spent almost 5 hours there…until our stomachs made noises so loud that we had to leave for lunch.

While many people buy only a one-day-pass to the area, we bought 3-days-pass. (For HC-temple-lovers there is also 7-days-passes available!) First day we rent a tuk-tuk with driver and did the so called ‘grand-circuit’ and went to see some smaller temples to arouse our appetite for the bigger ones. During the next day we rent bicycles and cycled to see the temples of Ta Phrom and Bayon. Even they call our second day route ‘small circuit’ we noticed by the end of the day that we had bicycled almost 40 kilometres back and forth to Siem Reap! We left Angkor Wat for the last morning and left our hotel by tuk-tuk at 5am in order to see the sunrise in Angkor. And yep, we saw the sunrise (with zillions of other people). But have to say that in order to have a nice pic I was more looking at the sunrise through a camera lens. Our definite highlight was seeing the bas-relief of great hindu mythology ‘Churning of the ocean of milk’ carved to the corridor wall in Angkor Wat. As a closure I would like to cite a tourist we saw in Angkor: “After three days, we had absolutely 0 percent of interest of any more temples”. But I’m glad that I can feel that three days was time long enough to get under the surface at least some of the stories of these stones!

DSC_2474 Welcome to the Angkor Archaelogical Park

DSC_2473 God ‘Deva’ pulling a snake ‘Vasuki’ as descridbed in hindu epic ‘Churning of the ocean of milk’ which is one of the best known hindu mythologies. Snake can be found in many balustrades in South-East Asia.

DSC_2531 Route to some of the temples was truly scenic!

DSC_2486 Temple of Preah Khan was full of stone carvings

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    Temple of Preah Khan with hindu God Shiva carved to the stone

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    Temple of Preah Khan with holy man ‘rishi’

DSC_2556_edited_2 Sunset at Pre Rup-temple with Auli and Shinn from Malaysia.

DSC_2549 Tuk-tuk drivers have lots of time to chill when tourists are touring temples.

DSC_2557_edited ‘Postcards for one dollar!’

DSC_2560 Sunset at Pre Rup-temple with Auli and Shinn from Malaysia.

DSC_2596_edited Day two’s highlight was a mahayana buddhist temple ‘Bayon’.

DSC_2625 Bayon has 54 towers each decorated with four ‘Avalokiteshvara’s’ head. For buddhists Avalokiteshvara means personification of perfect Compassion.

DSC_2626 Avalokiteshvaras’ heads are enormous.

DSC_2604 Bas-reliefs in Bayon describes daily life in 12th century Cambodia.

DSC_2608_edited_edited Funny detail one guide told us…turtle is biting man’s ass. Bayon.

DSC_2599 There were many ‘Apsaras’ carved to the stones. Apsara is a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

DSC_2676_edited Sunrise over Angkor Wat was impressive.

DSC_2667 Once again we weren’t the only ones there…

DSC_2707_edited ‘Churning of the ocean of milk’ carved in the corridor of Angkor Wat. On this side demons ‘Asuras’ are pulling a snake ‘Vasuki’ in order to churn the milk from the ocean. Apsaras can be found flying above them.

DSC_2711_edited ‘Churning of the ocean of milk’ carved in the corridor of Angkor Wat. On this side monkey god Hanuman helps Gods ‘Devas’ to pull the snake ‘Vasuki’. Apsaras can be found flying above them.

DSC_2724 Happy to leave Angkor after 3 intense days!

-Katariina