KAT // FIN

Dream. Do.

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

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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

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

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    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

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

2-days biking trip in Kratie

After Phnom Penh we decided to take some time off. We travelled to the city of Kratie, located approx 200km north of Phnom Penh. We rent bicycles in Kratie and arranged our own 2-day trip to the nearby villages of Kampi and Sambor which is 35km away from Kratie. All these villages are located next to river Mekong so we got to enjoy great scenery all the way.

DSC_2228 Biking team ready!

DSC_2231 We saw many signs of ‘Cambodian People’s Party’ on the way.

DSC_2232 Biking through smaller…

DSC_2243 …and bigger villages.

Local fisherman in Sambor took us and our bikes to an island of Koh Pdao which is the biggest island in Mekong. Koh Pdao seemed very remote island with only a few other tourists. Perfect! It’s funny how you start avoiding any pre-arranged tourist-tours after you have travelled for a couple of months. Success in doing something ‘on your own’ feels sometimes a great accomplishment. With this I mean something like buying your transportation ticket in stations instead of doing the easiest way and booking them in your hostel. Travelling in South-East Asia has been made very easy and every hostel offers you almost anything you can ask for from tours to transportation tickets and pick-ups. We enjoy when we have to search information ourselves and actually make an effort for getting things done.

DSC_2244 Koh Pdao port

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DSC_2260 Biking in Koh Pdao in the morning light…as if it was midsummer in Finland!

DSC_2261 Koh Pdao

Our own biking trip felt as an adventure – we didn’t have any reservation made of where we were going to sleep and didn’t have any maps with us either…we just wanted to believe that everything would sort out on the way. When arriving in Koh Pdao and seeing these dusty roads and only local people who didn’t speak a word of english, made us doubt the success of our trip for a while. Was it wise to come to a remote place like this in the late afternoon with no idea if there even was any guesthouses or homestays there? We knew that darkness would come after one hour so we started to make jokes about sleeping with chickens and pigs in a shed. Have to admit though – I was keeping an eye of some abandoned houses just in case…Since locals didn’t speak almost any english (if you don’t count those ‘hellos’ we often heard) we had to use bodylanguage to show that we were looking for a place to sleep. After some searching we found a sign of a homestay approx 4km away from where our boat had left us in the first place. We were so happy we didn’t have to sleep in any abandoned shed!

DSC_2246 This homestay we found after several searching

Our homestay was a local cambodian house lifted up from the ground. Below the house the family stored their motorbikes, kept their animals and hung their hammocks. Floor was made of sparse bamboo braches and walls were made of bamboo panels. They warmed the house from below with open fire (never mind about fire safety…) For them it was cold (it was maybe 25 degrees in the evening and they were wearing woollen hats). They wondered how we could wore only t-shirts. Toilet and bathroom were separate buildings, also made of bamboo. We got to wash ourselves old fashioned way without running water. I washed my hair carefully, it felt so great. (We noticed that when trekking in Vietnam they had some ‘westernized’ standards to homestays. Places where we stayed at Sa Pa had running water and they were serving banana pancakes for breakfast.) To me this homestay in Koh Pdao felt more real, more authentic. There was 9 people of us sleeping in that house; the owner couple with their 4 months old baby, owner’s parents and her two brothers. They separated a ‘room’ for us with curtains from a bigger space. There was an own ‘room’ for owner couple which walls were made of plastic mat. We had rice for dinner served with vegetables and some meat. After, owner ‘Mom’ showed us her wedding photos. She had 8 different dresses in the pictures! It was completely dark after 6pm so we went to bed early. We were the only ones who were sleeping on a mattress, others had just tatamis. In the morning we were waken up by a rooster.

DSC_2250 Sunset in Mekong, Koh Pdao

DSC_2256 Sunset in Mekong, Koh Pdao

Our one-night-stay in Koh Pdao cost 16$ from 2 person including dinner and breakfast. Homestays in Koh Pdao are part of a Cambodian Rural Development project and can be booked also in Kratie’s Cambodian Rural Development Tours-office. Our food was cooked by another family and homestays actually have travellers in turns. They have a sign ‘My Turn’ if it’s that homestays turn to take travellers. This way more people benefit and money will spread more widely.

What was really funny to notice during our trip: almost anything can be carried here by motorbikes! On the way back from the island we travelled with a huge pig at the same boat. Pig was put inside a cage which was attached to a motorbike. It was interesting to observe how they got that carriage inside and out from the boat…

DSC_2265 We shared a boat with this interesting load…

DSC_2235 Stopped here on the way back to Kratie.

DSC_2266 And found great place to take a nap and enjoy afternoon swim in Mekong.

-Katariina

Morning in Mekong

Pictures taken this morning in Cai Rang floting market, Can Tho, between 6-8am. Loved that morning light!
Some pictures show vermicelli noodle making to which we were introduced during the same trip.

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Tomorrow we head to Chau Doc in order to cross border to Cambodia by boat on wednesday!

-Katariina

From Hué to Hoi An by motorbikes!

The best way to explore the coast of Vietnam is definately done by motorbike! We met two Austrian girls in Hué who had came from Hoi An by motorbikes…they sounded super-excited about the trip and since motorbike is ‘the’ vehicle in Vietnam we wanted to do the same. So we rent motorbikes with drivers (called as Easy Riders here) and did the 100 kilometer trip in total of 6-7 hours. We stopped a couple of times which made the total travelling time longer but without stops it can be easily done in 3-4 hours. The route was scenic crossing famous Hai Van Pass (‘ocean cloud pass’). It had been raining last days in Hué so we were prepared for the worst and were really heavily dresses against the rain. Luckily weather wasn’t rainy and we were able to enjoy the amazing views. You just sense changing landscape and weather so much fuller than from bus window…and you can sense the freedom!

Easy Riders can be easily found from Hoi An and Hué. We paid 50$ each for the trip. In case you wish to continue your trip further, Easy Riders will take you all the way to Ho Chi Minh City (approx 1000 kilometres from Hué, it takes 7-10 days depending of your stops) for the price 50$ a day including petrol. That is definately recommended way to enjoy the beautiful coastline of Vietnam (compare this with crowded tourist buses full of western people) and if we wouldn´t been in a rush to HCMC we would have continued the trip with Easy Riders for sure! I can imagine only driving motorbike yourself would beat this way of travelling!

Hai-van-pass-Nguyen-Minh-Son-Photo- Hai Van Pass by http://paowmagazine.com/Nguyen-Minh-Son-Photo

DSC_1871 Our group properly dressed!

DSC_1900_edit Some scenery from Hai Van Pass

DSC_1903 Even backpack could travel this way easily…(I was surprised my backpack didn´t look any more hazardous!)

DSC_1911 From the highest point of Hai Van Pass…it was windy!

-Katariina

Christmas in Sa Pa

This year’s Christmas was different!
DSC_1524 We enjoyed great Vietnamese coffee…

DSC_1526 …and peaceful atmosphere of Sa Pa…

DSC_1696 …went to see the Christmas mass…

DSC_1700 …celebrated pre-Christmas with a huge hot pot…

DSC_1717 …made rice porridge in ‘Le Gecko hotel’ being second guests ever wanting to cook themselves!

DSC_1709 …and sweet raisin soup…

DSC_1723 …which we couldn’t finish all by ourselves so let hotel people try as well…

DSC_1729…bought similar tops to each others by accident…

DSC_1739…were invited to hotel’s Christmas celebrations…

DSC_1731…got eat for free from great buffet table (one big pig was gone!)

DSC_1742…ate cake for dessert with sticks…

DSC_1777…which really made this Australian couple Steve and Kate laugh!

-Katariina