A Travellerspoint blog

February 2015

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Street art & trishaws

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We'd heard a lot of great things about Georgetown from fellow travellers and hoped it lived up to our expectations... it did!

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We caught a direct bus from the Cameron Highlands to Georgetown. Technically Penang is an island, but there's a huge bridge connecting it to the mainland so no need to faff with ferry journeys. We thought we'd try and give Jason's mum a hostel experience... a short walk from our bus terminal we arrived at Wassup Hostel. As far as hostels go it was pretty posh; our own bathroom, air con, hot shower, modern and no dog bed.

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We got straight into our sightseeing and spent the afternoon walking around the city. I think we managed about 50 metres before Debbie went on a spending spree and purchased a whole new wardrobe (no encouragement needed). If only I could buy new clothes... I definitely can't carry anymore!

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There's lots of street art around Georgetown, infact it's on almost every building in sight. The afternoon soon passed us by as we got distracted by colourful graffiti, iron cartoons, colonial architecture and cultural diversity. I tried my best directing us and reading out information from our guide leaflets.

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We treated ourselves to a lovely meal in the evening and me and Jason indulged in a glass of wine (none for Debbie as she says she can't handle her drink at her age before bed... He he).

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Debbie treated is to a cup of tea and breakfast in bed... I could get used to her as our travel companion. We were all prepared for our busy day... First stop... more shopping! This time for souvenirs and a stroll through a busy Chinese market.

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Then we walked along the sea front where you can see the town hall, old fort and posh cruise liners docked up in the city port.

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The Eastern & Oriental Hotel is of historical importance in Penang because it used to be owned by the Sarkie brothers, the wealthy businessmen that owned other Asian hotels such as Raffles in Singapore, and has an extensive celebrity clientele history. We'd read that no trip is complete to Georgetown without a lunch here to try tiffin. Tiffin is a style of lunch that comes in tin tiered pots; ours included a fruit punch, soup starter, spiced vegetables, chicken curry, fish, salad and banana fritter. Of course I had to try their signature cocktail, an E&O sling (Cointreau, gin, crème de menthe)...I was the only one that liked it. The setting was beautiful; a luxurious and exclusive courtyard overlooking the sea.

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We finished our lunch just in time for a guided tour around the Blue Mansion. It's a restored home that used to belong to the wealthiest man in Asia. I would recommend anybody a visit here, we had an excellent guide who was evidently very enthusiastic about the property and its history. He explained that his mother used to live here when it was split into rental rooms for some of the poorer families. We were particularly impressed with the floor tiles that Cheong Fatt Tze, the Chinese owner, had had shipped from the UK, Stoke-on-Trent. The tiles were in original pristine condition because they had been covered by a layer of dirt for years, as nobody had been bothered to clean them when the house was in a state of disrepair. Me and Debbie raised our hand like geeky school children to inform the guide that we were from Stoke-on-Trent...to which he said that it's his wish to visit there one day. All in all its a very beautiful home with a very informative guide... much enjoyed.

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We had a lovely evening in Georgetown. We firstly enjoyed a happy hour cocktail, frozen marguerita, and it was huge!

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And then found ourselves two trishaw drivers to take us around the city by night. We had a slight disagreement about which trishaw drivers we wanted because we'd promised our business to one, who then couldn't be found again as we'd started to negotiate with a different one... Oops! Mine and Debbie's was named Mohammed, he was lovely but unfortunately couldn't speak much English, so we had to have a run through of what Jason had learnt from his driver after our tour had finished. We were taken through Little India, China town, past colonial buildings and then small markets. It was such fun... although Mohammed was sweaty after cycling us two around for over an hour.

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We weren't that hungry after our huge tiffin lunch, so called in at a local food stall for duck noodle soup (its not been my favourite dish, but it filled a hole).

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After that jampacked day I was certainly in need of some beach time.

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Posted by bloorsontour 08:07 Archived in Malaysia Comments (4)

Cameron Highlands

Malaysia's premier hillstation

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The Cameron highlands appear on most itineraries on the Malaysian peninsular so we thought we'd show mum an Asian hill station. The hill stations were set up by the colonists as a place to get away from the heat and humidity of the lowlands. We have been to several in Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the Philippines and have always enjoyed the quaint atmosphere, the cool temperatures, peace, quiet and great food.

On arrival in the main backpacker stop off for the CH, Taman Rata, Soph and I were a little put out by the traffic and high rise buildings. We found a small cafe for mum to have tea and a scone and us to have our curry roti fix. Soph did a reccy and found a couple of accommodation options and we went for a nice place on a quiet backstreet. The men of the establishment were friendly and helpful, but the women were surly and rude. The place was just what we needed though; fairly cheap and mum didn't need to be on the dog bed.

We decided to spend the afternoon/evening pottering around Taman Rata; eating, drinking and also booking flights to and from Langkawi, our chosen place to give mum some relaxation time before flying home. It took all evening to find somewhere with internet that would get us through the booking process, but we managed it in the end! We also had a good meal and a few beers.
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We had priced up getting a car, 2 motorbikes or a taxi, but couldn't beat the £5 a head that the 5hr bus tour would cost. As bus tours go, it was good and fit in a lot of what we wanted to see, leaving the afternoon free for a walk.

First up was the butterfly and miscellaneous creature place:
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A mantis...
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Next up, the bee farm. It was a bit wet so we were the only ones to look around and then got told off by the driver for being late...
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We got a taste of the honey, including one by tiny stingless bees... It was good bit not worth a tenner so we moved on...

Next, the Boh tea plantation. This had impressive views, good tea and even better cake. There is an onsite workers village with temples, church, shop, school and football pitch...
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The next stop; a flower farm/attraction thing, complete with slide...
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Our penultimate stop was a strawberry farm- good strawberries but better frozen strawberry pops!
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And finally, a Buddhist temple...

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None of the walks were particularly sold by their descriptions on the guesthouse notice board... "past the garbage falls", "through the power station" and such like... We took the one round the back of a golf course via Parit waterfall (which did have quite a bit of garbage). Once away from the river it was nice, though having not been on a golf course for 9months, I was pretty gutted to be walking without a stick in my hand following a ball! The course looks very impressive. We continued to the town of Brinchang where there are plenty more hotels in the same high rise concrete... In Brinchang we asked about getting a taxi up to Gunung Brinchang, a mountain less than 30 mins drive away. The set fare of £5 an hour was apparently insufficient so we gave up... Taxis in Malaysia carry signs saying metered taxis, no haggling, but perhaps 1 in 5 actually take you on the meter. I'm usually happy to persevere...
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We went for another curry in the evening and this one was great! Very cheap and one of the best currys we've had. We ate until moving became difficult...
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Mum enjoyed the Cameron Highlands and perhaps we have become snobs. The views were nice in places, but the place certainly wasn't peaceful and the large amount of building works, concrete and polly tunnels certainly detracted significantly from the natural beauty of the place. The towns lacked much of the charm that we were hoping for. We made the most of our time and enjoyed our day and a half, but don't see why it is on everyone's Malaysian itinerary...

Posted by bloorsontour 02:55 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Taman Nagara

Welcome to the jungle...

semi-overcast

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As Jason's Mum was on a pretty tight schedule we decided to get an organised mini van and boat to the rainforest, Taman Negara, rather than local buses. Our hotel in KL managed to organise this for us. The mini van was simple with a brief change of bus in Jerantut and then we had a scenic boat ride for 3 hours down the river (it was definitely the best way to enter the rainforest, but my bum was numb by the end).
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We were welcomed into our guesthouse by a smiling lady, Delimah, with fruit juice and biscuits. Our room was basic, but clean and homely, and it provided us with a lot of entertainment when we realised Jason's mum's bed was a mattress in the corner of the room, nicknamed the 'dog bed'. It happened to be Debbie's best nights sleep of the whole trip.
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The 4x4 night safari had been highly recommended by a girl at our guesthouse who had seen flying foxes and sloths the night before... so we quickly organised a tour for our first evening. Our high hopes for the tour had quickly disappeared... the tour consisted of a slow moving Jeep on the main road with a spot light pointing up at trees 50-100m away in the hope of seeing a sign of life...Jason may have seen a wild cat, we saw a small wild pig and then the tail of some form of mammal...we were really bored and disappointed with our drive along the main road (not what we expected of a safari).

Delimah had fed and watered us at breakfast time in preparation for our walk in the rainforest the next day. Unfortunately my toe was still painful and so I wore Debbie's new walking shoes which were slightly wider than mine for the walk. We caught a small boat across the river and made our way to a viewing point in the rainforest. The initial paths are all wooden board walks with signposts all the way through the trees, however if you go further into the forest (which is the size of Luxembourg) it is completely wild and you have the opportunity of catching sight of their big animals, including bears, tigers and elephants. We stuck to the board walks, which were steep and sweaty work in the humidity of the forest, and were rewarded by a spectacular viewing area where we were lucky enough to see lots of tropical birds (catching a photograph of them was more difficult, I promise you we saw bright red ones, green ones and blue winged birds too).
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We also walked through the rope canopy of the forest, which was good fun; but unfortunately no wildlife as I guess the animals know that they are disturbed by humans there.
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After all that walking in the humidity we were in need of a refreshment break and found the perfect spot by the river. Jason and his mum enjoyed their pineapple roti and we all admired the view, including some monkeys and a huge Rhino-horned Hornbill flying across the forest canopy (which we were very lucky to see).

In the afternoon we went on a tour down the river to a local village. We got soaked! The boatman insisted on rocking the boat through the rapids, which in turn sprayed us with water (I think Jason won the prize for being most wet). We were a little concerned by our village stop at first as our guide just left us to walk around it ourselves, we couldn't help but feel as though we were intruding. The tour got better once our guide sat down with us and explained a bit about the villagers; they have an unknown origin, some say their genes are from African descendants and they certainly look more African then Asian, they still hunt in the forests for food and eat gibbons, they have certain marriage and death rituals, there's a village shaman, and many more interesting ways... They demonstrated how they make fire and catch animals with a blow pipe. We all got a chance to use the blow pipe on a target... guess who was the best? Me!!!
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You would think Jason's Mum would have been exhausted by the days activities... but no, instead she treated us to a night walk in the rainforest to see the critters that come out to play in the dark. We donned our waterproofs as it was chucking it down and our torches to meet our guide. We were a bit unlucky with the weather because a lot of the wildlife hides in the rain, but nevertheless we enjoyed it and was a new experience for us all. We saw: stick insects, a family of wild pigs, bird eating spider, a yellow bird in its nest, gecko, porcupine and a scorpion. Apparently we had just missed the deer from the viewing hide, I think the group before us must have scared them away. I really enjoyed it despite the rain.
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A little family cafe became our place to eat whilst in Taman Negara. We ordered drinks, nasi goreng (rice dishes), paprika chicken, Thai soup and for the three of us it never cost more than £5 total. We all also discovered we were partial to a coconut smoothie from a local lady who serves them from her front door... calorific and delicious!
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A jampacked day...no rest for the wicked... next stop the Cameron Highlands.

Posted by bloorsontour 02:11 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

An extra Bloor on Tour

sunny

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I'm writing lying on a beach recuperating from Mum's visit! We had a great 2 weeks, but no time for blogging and not enough sleep (old people dont need as much sleep, eh mants?), so we'll be catching up on both over the next few days...

Kuala Lumpur

We arrived in KL the day before Mum's arrival to get our bearings, do a little admin (fix my phone and do some laundry) and generally prepare ourselves... Before we knew it, it was time to get to the airport to await her arrival.
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As an aside, Mum once let my brother, Christian, set up sky internet for her. The next day, she was calling the helpline to deal with a fault and explaining that her username: 'Psychomantis4' was not of her choosing... Mantis has stuck as her nickname and the whole incident goes down as one of my brother's finer moments!

The 'Mantis Bloor' sign went unnoticed, both due to her excitement at seeing our faces and her dodgy eyes.
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We decided to get her straight into backpacking mode, so took the bus into KL rather than a taxi. She was on good form considering the flight, but we were all ready for bed by the time we made it to the hotel. After a decent (though too short for my liking) sleep, we were ready to go and explore. There was no plan so we took her for a nice breakfast where we decided on a plan for the next week. Having done a little booking, we set off to the bird park, which was a Grandad recommendation. It's a huge aviary that you can walk through, dotted right in the middle of KL city; we had fun and saw lots, we even had time for a fruit stop and mum's first try of mangosteens... They were a hit. With all the birds we saw at least we wouldnt be too disappointed if we didn't manage to see much in the jungle...
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Next up, we headed to the Indian area for a curry and a mango lassie.

We decided to have a treat and went to the Heli Lounge for a sunset cocktail or 2... The place is pretty impressive, essentially just some tables and chairs on the helipad atop a skyscraper, looking out over the KL skyline of the Petronas Towers. It was a great evening and Mum was definitely in the holiday spirit!
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On our way back, we stopped off at the Pavilion (big posh shopping centre) food court for some breakfast supplies and a spot of supper. Thai green curry, proper Ribena and beef fried rice. Mantis was starting to flag by this point, but we had to eat... We jumped on the free bus back to our hotel and got our heads down ready for our trip to the jungle the next day...
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Posted by bloorsontour 05:40 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Yangon, Myanmar

Take Two

This is just a brief blog entry as I'd said that we were revisiting Yangon at the end of our Myanmar trip; we did but I'm afraid we didn't do that much.

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We arrived in the early hours of the morning after our overnight bus from Inle Lake, so were unable to check in to our hostel room. Instead we thought we'd visit the Shwedagon paya before the tourist buses arrived later on in the day. Unfortunately we only saw it from the outside as the price was more than we expected,we felt a little templed out already and it was covered in scaffold... whether this will be a decision we regret I'm not sure... We still got a good view of it from the surrounding streets anyway.

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From here we headed to the same Indian biriyani place we'd been before for some breakfast... yes, we had a curry breakfast, just doing it Myanmar style, and a banana lassi.

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We then quickly visited the Bogyoke Aung San market again to do some souvenir shopping; which included a young boy choosing some lounge wear for Jason's brother as a birthday gift. We were then both feeling pretty tired and went back to the hostel for an afternoon nap.

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We had both been quite keen to go to the Strand Hotel happy hour in Yangon, however we couldn't because they only do it on a Friday night...bummer! Instead we went into China town for a meal and a few beers for our last night in Myanmar.

Posted by bloorsontour 05:30 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Inle Lake

Water and wine...

sunny 26 °C

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It's been so easy to travel around Myanmar; granted we've stuck to the backpacker buses rather than local buses, but even so, they're so cheap and efficient. We caught another overnight bus from Hsipaw to Inle Lake, which arrived on time, 5.30am, and we managed to check straight into our hotel to catch up on few hours sleep in the morning.
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We stayed at Blissful Inn; a relatively new hotel with very attentive door staff (racing to open the door, even tripping over themselves to ensure they get there before you). In fact all the young staff were really nice and seemed to work there 24/7, we often had to wake the receptionist and ask her to deal with our request in her pyjamas. Nonetheless, they were all really friendly and helpful.

We felt like a chilled day initially at Inle, so this turned out to be a food and wine day... lovely! We hired bicycles from our hotel and our first stop was a 'sort of' bakery for a homemade burger and avacado smoothie. We then cycled through Nuangshwe, the town we were staying at on the lake, and worked up an appetite and thirst...what better way to deal with hunger and thirst than a stop at a Myanmar vineyard. The Red Mountain winery sits just outside Nuangshwe, a short 30 minute cycle ride. It has a lovely outdoor area where you can soak up the views of the lake with a glass or two of wine. We really treated ourselves and ordered a tasting set each of 4 wines, then a bottle of wine (a lovely sauvignon blanc) and then a glass of red each. I was pleased with our wine afternoon, but I was even more chuffed that I got to eat proper blue cheese (I've not had decent cheese for 8 months and I've missed it so much). It all went down a treat. By evening time we needed some food to even up our alcohol intake, so had a nice meal at Lotus restaurant; lemon chicken, lime lassi and avocado salad.
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On our second day we decided to see Inle Lake up close...it was a brilliant day! We paid 14000 kyat each to spend the day on the lake with our very own teak boat, boatman, chairs, blankets and umbrellas. You can take your pick of boat companies to take you out on the lake, all doing the same sort of tour (souvenir shops, silversmiths, cigar workshops, traditional fisherman, stilted village and floating allotments). We picked ours based on an honest initial quote (rather than all the haggling and pestering)...it turned out to be the right choice.
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The lake's huge and surrounding mountain scenery stunning. It took us about 1 hour to get from the north side to 2/3 of the way down. We were both amazed by the stilted villages and floating farm land of fruit and vegetables...I could have spent hours just boating in between the villages to see how they live. We've visited lots of villages throughout Asia, but none like this... aesthetically it has to be my favourite... the wooden houses are perfectly suspended over the lake water by thin wooden poles, creating beautiful waterways of teak lodges. The villages have schools, the local post office and all the usual daily goings on of normal village life, except that neighbours don't just pop next door for a chat or to the local shop, instead they have to elegantly row themselves through the small water channels. Almost all of the villagers income is from farm produce, fruit and vegetables, that are grown on marsh land... you can see the villagers tending to their tomatoes, courgettes, fresh flowers on their small boats...just amazing to see! There's so much fresh food and they're all sold at the local markets that happen at village sites over the lake.
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Our boatman called in at the obligatory souvenir and workshops; including silversmiths, weaving, cigar making, boat timber men, ladies with long necks (I'm not sure what tribe they were from) and craft work.
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I think our boatman soon guessed that we weren't the type of tourist that was interested in the tacky souvenir pitch, so spent more time taking us around more villages and floating gardens.
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We stopped for lunch at a stilted restaurant and had a lime sour fish dish with rice and noodles... Delicious!
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As the sun was going down over the lake we made our way into the middle where the fisherman were using traditional techniques for their catch...elegantly the men balance on one leg and paddle with their foot, what seems to be effortlessly and with grace, whilst casting their nets out to catch the fish. Again, I could have spent hours watching them, it was fascinating. Our lovely boat man let us circle the men, so peaceful, and joined Jason with a Myanmar cigar while we all relaxed in the middle of the lake watching the sunset... a truely beautiful day, one of my favourites!
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What better way to end an already fantastic day than to have a curry and a beer in the evening. We ordered chicken and Dahl curry, with plenty of naan bread to soak it up...oh and an avacado salad (in case you haven't guessed by our Myanmar blog entries, we can't get enough of the avacados here).

On our last day in Nuangshwe we had just enough time to visit a couple of temples by bicycle before we had to get the bus back to Yangon. Oh, and we happened to squeeze in another curry, Nepalese this time...
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Posted by bloorsontour 18:14 Archived in Myanmar Comments (4)

Hsipaw, Myanmar

Cat and mouse

sunny 30 °C

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We'd read a few travel blogs about Myanmar and people had recommended taking the bumpy train ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw (pronounced tea-paw). It meant leaving at 4am on a very cold morning, on an extremely smelly and ramshackled carriage, complete with our very own mouse...ergh (this was despite being in upper class). The journey took 12 hours and for the most part isn't actually that scenic, but there is a creaky viaduct that makes the journey sort of worth it. The Gokteik viaduct was built in 1901 by an American steel company and cuts over a deep ravine, it is still in full use despite its age and probably lack of renovation. The train has to stop completely before it goes over and can only travel slowly, I mean snails pace over it, feeling every inch of its sway. It makes for a good photograph anyway.
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Mr Charles Guesthouse in Hsipaw seems to be on most people's travel agenda, so didn't feel much like being of the beaten path as our guide book had promised. We had a twin room with shared bathroom, very clean and efficiently ran. The guesthouse also has hotel rooms too, so there's a mix of backpackers and the more luxurious of travellers there. The big draw of this place is that it organises tours/treks to the local villages, having the monopoly of tourism in Hsipaw. We chose to do an overnight trek to the Palaung village of Pankam.
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The trek takes you through some beautiful scenery, rolling landscapes and flat fields. There were 7 people in our group and we spent a little of our time talking to a British man Ollie, 63years of age and he seems to have travelled most of the world. His 'thing' is to get a tattoo from each place he visits and his Myanmar one was of a leaf (but he didn't know why or what it meant?!). My 'thing' of collecting keyrings from each country didn't seem to impress him... can't think why? He was fitter than me and talked about some of the different treks that he'd been on over the years. The only reason he had to go back to the UK after Myanmar was because he had no more pages left in his passport.
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Our guide, Aweso, was really nice and pointed out a lot of interesting things along the way; such as Shan noodle making, peanut plants and traditional production of sugar blocks from cane. He was really interesting to talk to, his English was brilliant and he enjoyed reading novels in English; and seemed to have his very own library at home. He spoke a lot about the political history of Myanmar and the need for change, and also about his hopes and dreams for the future; which included a cheap and tasty Thai food stall with organic produce. He'd worked in Kuala Lumpur away from his family for 7 years just to save some money for his wedding (a 3 day affair with over 2000 people on the last day) and said if things didn't change with money distribution in Myanmar he would have to consider working abroad again. It's tough for a lot of Myanmar people, the county's said to be the poorest in Asia.
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We stopped for a lovely lunch break at a village and were offered an absolute feast. There was banyon leaf curry, cabbage salad, noodles, rice crisps, fermented bean bars (horrible), vegetable rice, and much more. All vegetarian and off the land, and all but one were delicious.
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Unfortunately I keep having a problem with my hiking boots in hot weather and my little toe blisters. I was in quite a lot of discomfort for the last part of the trek and so couldn't wait to reach our village home to put my feet up. By the time we arrived at Palaung village it was already dark. We were staying in a large stilted house with a local family; parents, grandparents, 2 little boys. They were all really nice and friendly, but disappointingly there wasn't much interaction between us and the group considering it had been sold as a homestay. Nonetheless it was still lovely to meet them and see a little of their way of life. I learnt that 'hello' is 'cam-sigh' and 'thank you' is 'rock-main'. The family even offered me and Jason a private room because we were the only couple; it was small and cosy enough with a very firm rug to sleep on the wooden floor.
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I had a pretty bad nights sleep... it was freezing and so uncomfortable. There was a lot of noise all night from the cockerels and their pet cat. In the middle of the night the cat got louder and louder, I turned on the torch and there at the end of my bed was the cat with a mouse in its mouth...OMG! I HATE rodents, anything with a tail and it was in my room! I woke Jason up with the words "Oh...My...God" (I couldn't shout or scream in case the cat dropped the mouse in the room). Jason couldn't believe it either. Some how I managed to slowly usher the cat with the mouse out of the room, but from then on there was no way I was sleeping in case it came back in.
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The next day we got shown around the village, it has its own monastery, school and local shop. The kids at the school were so cute. We watched 6 lessons going on at the same time in one small room. Tom & Nicola, both teachers in England, there is no way you could teach properly in that environment. Each lesson involved children shouting and chanting at the top of their voices, every word that the teachers were saying was echoed back in loud chorus.
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The next day I gave up on my boots and resorted to walking in my flip flops. My blisters were now really sore. The only problem was that I am so clumsy and tripped over a stone, stubbed my toe and am now pretty sure it's broken with thick purple bruising covering my toe. Let's just say I was far from happy during the final 3 hours of walking.

At the end of the trek we were picked up by a tuktuk and taken to some hot springs. I only dipped my toes in as it was really hot in the midday sun and appeared quite dirty, but Jason went fully in; as we were leaving several locals turned up and started doing their dirty laundry in the hot baths...gross! The food in the restaurant next to the springs was very good- the tea leaf salad and shan noodles were delicious and we all ordered double portions.
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When we finished the trek we had one final night at Mr Charles Guesthouse to recover. We had a day of pottering around Hsipaw; including a visit to the market (I bought a beautiful handmade woven hat), fruit juice by the lake and we found Mr Shake smoothie bar. It's quite a pleasant town to spend a day or two in, but most people come here for the village treks like us and skip the town itself.
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We really did enjoy Hsipaw and the people are extremely friendly, but for now I need some time off trekking to let my toes recover.

Posted by bloorsontour 17:35 Archived in Myanmar Comments (2)

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