An Italian, Greek and Turkish love affair

As you would know from reading my previous post, l left Certaldo and headed south to Napoli for a few days. I took Flixbus, which was very easy except something obviously had to go wrong in travel for me and the first bus l was on got a flat tire so l was eventually moved to a second bus. In Napoli, l stayed at a hostel called 6 small rooms. The hostel wasn’t quite in the old historical centre but l knew this so l wasn’t bothered because a short 20-minute walk and l was there. It is located down a back alley and at the top of 6 flights of stairs which is not fantastic especially when you need to take your bag all the way up. The hostel is nice and small but l was slightly let down a little by the staff and their attitude to the place because only one of them introduced themselves to me and that was because he was checking me in and for a small place with the rooms so close to a common area had a noise curfew of 12am meaning the staff would play loud music from reception which was easily heard from every room upstairs (there are rooms on the floor below), the fact thatthey were not being paid might have be why some lack of motivation existed however l didn’t let this bother me and made the most of it.

The next day for me was raining in the morning but it was the first Sunday of the month and in Napoli, that means all museums are free which lucky enough for me included Pompeii and Herculaneum. I chose not to do Mount Vesuvius after some quick google search as it was low cloud cover and while I read you can see the crater, you won’t get the views of the world below in. There is only one train line out to Pompeii and Herculaneum, so you won’t get lost but l highly suggest not getting a tour guide and just picking up a map guide yourself (l guess a good thing about my hostel, is they had some free for the guests to borrow). If you want to know more about the sites of Pompeii, another way is to walk around and stand next to a tour group for that section, but just don’t hang around for too long otherwise they will get suspicious. Herculaneum l picked up an audio guide for 8 euros which when traveling on a budget that is expensive however l justified it as l had free entry into the two sites, l could afford it. I actual though Herculaneum was a lot better than Pompeii, maybe because Pompeii was bigger and more spread out but Herculaneum has more preserved paintings and a lot less people. On a side note, when in Pompeii and you make it to the thermal baths, in the main room, you will look up and see a window up high, face it and cover the light with your hand, below the window you will see something but l will leave it as a mystery for you to discover yourself.

That night, once back at the hostel, l met another Australian in Lily from Perth and l convinced her we should go get some of the best pizza in the world as Napoli is where margarita pizza was born however due to our ‘fantastic’ hostel staff, we walked around all Sunday night to one of the top 4 places to find they were all closed and we when we got back we mentioned it to them and the response we got was “yeah, they are all closed on Sundays”, on the bonus side, l got free cardio training in after the 5km walk.

Monday morning came around and l took myself off to the Napoli underground walk which is a guided tour of Napoli’s old water tunnels and bomb bunkers used in world war 2. I highly suggest this tour and it only costs 10 euros with the guide (If you get Alex, he is fantastic) for an hour and a half and then the rest of the day consisted of being lazy after looking a little around the city and finally getting a pizza as they were open and yes, it was good however l like my pizza base a little harder than it was served but the topping was amazing and that taste l will never forget and then by the time l knew it,

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Pizzeria Da Michele – The place we went too

Tuesday was upon me and l was due to leave however l did manage to get a kayak tour of Napoli in before l left which was great however lily and l unfortunately didn’t get the proper tour as one of the main sites was closed due to an Italian TV show filming there. That night l headed up to Gaeta where l spent the next 5 nights with close family friends, some who l had not seen in 10 years.

Gaeta is the getaway town for all the families in Napoli when it comes to their annual holidays in August and for me is a must do if you want a break from the cities and get a feel for a small town on the Italian seaside. It has a nice walk up to the top and around one of the mountains next to town, Split Mountain which it is said that 7 cliffs split the moment Jesus was crucified and this was one of them (there is also a monastery there now too) and some of the best seafood in the world which l highly recommend their local dish of octopus pie but you might get in trouble if you don’t try their olives of buffalo mozzarella and if you do, don’t be like me and tell them they are just like any other, they won’t let you live it down. I also got a cheeky day trip to Rome in and saw Vatican City minus St Peters because the pope was holding a service and it was closed, the Spanish steps and the Colosseum.

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Gaeta from the mountain top

After Gaeta, l headed to back to Rome where l met up with some friends from home in Steve and Nate as we were leaving on a cruise ship to Sicily, Mykonos, Kusadasi, Santorini, Athens, the Amalfi Coast and then back to Rome. In Sicily, we hired a car and drove to Taormina which had amazing sights from in the mountains to a cable car to the beach. Mykonos was a day on quad bikes for Nate and l as Steve woke up late so we went on and did our own thing. Kusadasi was the place to buy ‘genuine’ fake items and Nate and l headed to Virgin Mary’s final resting place out near Ephesus and Steve to ladies beach (it’s hard to drag him away from a beach). Santorini, Nate and l rode donkeys to the top while Steve took the cable car and then we all spent the day on quad bikes visiting Oia in our time. Athens, we went into town but the price of getting into the main areas scared us off a little so we walked around the markets and then in the Amalfi coast we hired another car and drove along the coast and back. Many new friends were made while we quad biked, rode donkeys, walked many kilometres and probably consumed one to many scotches. I have made a rough video of our time on the cruise. Once l reached back to Rome, l had one final day with the boys before l moved onto solo travel again.

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Santorini on quad bikes

In Rome, l stayed at The Yellow hostel, which l was told had a reputation for being a big party hostel and while l did sit outside and take it all in over a couple of beers, l had a great stay with perfect sleep every night. I have headed out of Italy now and it was a pleasure for the last 5 months but l need to see more of this world so if you don’t know where l am right now, head over to Instagram and follow me at theworldaccordingtoaginger to find out.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the video is on Youtube at https://youtu.be/XI9K-X6uphY

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A tomato for you, a tomato for me, a tomato for everyone

I heard about this festival called La Tomatina festival (it’s basically a large tomato fight) around 15 years ago and l knew from that moment that l needed to go and this year, only 15 years later, l finally found my way to Valencia for 3 nights where Phil, Marcus, Giorgio and myself would stay for the duration. Phil joined me in Certaldo for 4 nights before we headed to Valencia and from the moment we hopped off the plane in Valencia 2 hours before Giorgio was meant to arrive is when our first story started. The wifi in Valencia airport, that even though it says it exists, actually doesn’t work and so Phil having data we got the address of our Airbnb and set off on the metro towards the location. We changed trains like we worked out and on the way, looking out the windows, l was getting a feeling we were not in the right area however Phil said let us just go check it out plus he needed to find a pack of cigarettes, which was the easiest part and the lady had pretty decent English (this ended up being a saving grace about 20 minutes later). We got to the address and l knew straight away this was the wrong place and our GPS took us to the wrong street, so we headed back to the tobacconist to ask about the address. She took one look and let out a little giggle that we were in the complete wrong location and we had to be back in the city, so by this time of carrying our bags and in the heat we decided to get a taxi but apparently this little town does not believe in taxis and wifi was also non-existent and the only option was another 30-minute train ride back to the city plus a combined 20-minute walk meant we found the Airbnb at the same time Giorgio arrived. We stayed just out of the old town where it was quiet enough to get some sleep but still an easy walk to the main tourist areas. Marcus arrived in the afternoon and we decided to head out for dinner and drinks however Giorgio and l decided we would cap the night so we had a good head for the next morning as it was festival day and this ended up being the best decision as Marcus and Phil were not doing that well the next morning.

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Valencia city

We woke up nice and early to get some breakfast in an walk to our pick up location as we went through the tour company es.tomantina for tickets and transfer to Buñol where the festival is held. Before l continue the story of what we had to go through to get into the festival, l need to let everyone know who reads this, DO NOT USE THAT TOUR COMPANY! We got told that our bus would depart at 7am for the 30-minute ride to Buñol, so we turned up at the meeting point about 15 minutes early just waited. There was no main organiser for about the 1000 people they had there and just a tour guide for each bus walking around with a piece of paper and a number scribbled on it which was the group they were looking after. After about an hour, Phil, Marcus and l (Giorgio had booked late and had already left) found other members of our ticket group but no tour guide and nearly all the buses had left when a bus driver walked up and said we were his group so we just went along. The bus ride was smooth enough and when we got to the Buñol, we disembarked the bus to find everyone else had been given a t-shirt and entry wristband except our bus because we had no tour guide. We ask another guide what to do and his answer was ‘you don’t have a guide?’ and then proceeded with the old saying, let me ask my boss. We stood around for another hour before we even got a t-shirt which was in an unorganised way too and when we then asked about wristbands, we got told to just get them at the entrance but no real indication exactly where. We walked to the festival to get told we had to go all around to the other gate to get a wristband and by the time all of this happened we finally got into the main fighting section 15-minutes before the fight started at 10am.

The fight, l can only describe with one word… madness. It was a bit slow to get started where we were but once it did, well there were just tomatoes everywhere. The fight lasts 1 hour and believe when l say that is all you need as by the end of it, you’re standing in 30cm of tomato sauce and you have tomato in every hole of your body, even if you don’t want it there. I lost Phil and Marcus about 20-minutes in but found Phil at the end for the long walk to the showers and back to the bus where we located Marcus again and because our tour company is awesome, our bus was delayed taking off saying he hadn’t been paid and was going to leave us there, however we got lucky and at least got back to Valencia where we were able to finally shower properly and catch up with Emily (a friend l met in Certaldo and had also planned to come to Tomantina but that is another story and if you ever meet her, she can tell you) to have some drinks.

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Tomatina madness

Day 2 of Valencia, we hired bicycles and with Giorgio being our tour guide as he had been to Valencia before, we headed to the old town for the cathedral and up the spire for the views, then over to the Science and art museum which transforms into a completely different town altogether which also included a fall from Phil as he tried to cross some water, the funny part to this is about 5-minutes before, he was telling Giorgio and l to be careful as we decided to ride in a skate bowl in bikes not made for it and then to the beach. We rode about 20kms that day and by the time we had dinner and drinks that night, we were all falling asleep at the table.

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The trip home the next day was straight forward which was a nice change for me after the strike I experienced in my last blog and getting to Valencia but in summary La Tomatina festival is a must do once in your life, Valencia is a very beautiful city with many little hidden gems and l would love to return to the birthplace of Paella but l still need to see the rest of the world first.

The many rolling hills of Tuscany and the adventures in between

I haven’t added to my blog for about the last 4 months as l have been settled down in Tuscany for the time as l picked up some work managing a hostel and figured it would be better to try and summarise my time here in 1 entry rather than weekly or monthly updates.

The town l have been located in is Certaldo. It is 1 hour (approximately) by train from Florence and Pisa and 40 minutes from Siena. Its described as being in the belly button of Tuscany were you are surrounded by vineyard after vineyard. I took over as manager of this beautiful hostel (guesthouse) called Fattoria Bassetto and instantly fell in love with our ancient and calm the place made me. It was mostly built in the 13th Century and was once a monastery (as if l haven’t visited enough in my first 9 months since l left Australia) and then it was a vineyard were later it became a tobacco farm as producing wine wasn’t as profitable and then eventually a guesthouse.

I didn’t know much about Certaldo and l was severely low on my knowledge of the Italian language but l had to be in Europe for the summer as the main reason to be here was to be able to jump over to London for a week and witness my beautiful sister marry the love of her life which will always be a memory to treasure however l knew that l wanted to be in a new country and experience everything l could. Certaldo is also a curvy but short 20 minute drive to San Gimginano(SG will be used for future reference) which l was actually able to experience on my second day of being here. SG is an old medieval town which has amazing views of the vineyards surrounding and has to gelato shops that are to die for (one did win awards a few years ago for the best gelato in the world, however l preferred the one that hasn’t won the awards, but this is a personal choice).

A month later l was lucky enough to visit Siena during the festival day of Il Palio. It is a traditional horse race that run in the main square of Siena. It is conducted twice a year so don’t be too worried if you miss the first date. I highly recommend being in Siena for this event and to describe it in 3 words would be to say ‘it’s utter madness’. There are 12 districts that are able to compete and l chose the goose house (working off the fact that l am probably a little bit of a goose) and walked around the city before to see sights and the festival parades all leading up to the race in the evening. I headed into the square to get a decent view point about 3 hours before the race in the hot sun until the race started, however at least l got to watch all the districts entering the square in the formal parade for that time. The horses then came out and lucky l found a local guy near me who could speak English and explain to me what was happening where the biggest point l took out of it was in this race if you’re not first, you’re last but a horse may still finish and place in the race even without its rider. The race was run and the winner was the she-wolf house where for all those hours standing in the sun was worth it as the celebrations were held right in front of me, however l had to made a quick walk to get to the last train leaving Siena for the night and also to get back to Certaldo as l had a table booked at the pub to watch Italy continue their run in the European championships. If you’re wondering, the goose house came second.

Life in Tuscany continued with many more visits to SG and Casa Alle Vacche and Poggio Alloro, these are 2 wineries I highly recommend when you are in the area. A month later l was graced with a visit from my parents and my aunty for a week and in this week, l finally got to visit Volterra and attend the Mercantia festival which brings local acrobats, performers, bands and other performers to Certaldo Alto. Volterra is another medieval city about an hour drive from Certaldo and much larger than SG where it also contains ancient ruins of a roman amphitheatre. The day l left for London, the family and l decided we had to see the Leaning tower of Pisa and get that tourist photo and while l don’t have a copy of the photo, you can have a look at the family selfie. img_0289

I headed off to London at the end of the week and caught up with the many family and friends for the sister’s wedding. I don’t need to blog about this because it was a special time with family and friends however the journey home was where the biggest adventure started. I left for Heathrow well over 1.5 hours before l had to be there and my train got stuck at a station for 20 minutes and by the time we got to Heathrow, even though l had checked in, the bag drop was closed. I was told to try and get a 15kg bag on cabin luggage but continued to argue the stupid point the bag drop lady was trying to make as l knew l wouldn’t get it on. They finally accepted and off to Pisa l went once l used the express lane through security because the lady just didn’t care about who was going through. I arrived at Pisa (l should mention my phone provider TIM in Italy are terrible and my sim card had stopped working) and with no phone, l had to get a new sim card and get it registered however being a Sunday the only place was at the airport. While l waited for it to register, l found out there was a train strike and this was after l had bought the train ticket! I tried many options for returning to Certaldo but in the end the only option was to return to the airport, get a bus to Florence and then a second bus to Poggibonsi (it’s the next town about 15 minutes from Certaldo) where l had to be picked up. In the end, a journey that was meant to take 1.5 hours from Pisa took me a nice little 6 hours to complete.

Life went on in Tuscany and l had my friend Laura from Myanmar come help me around the guesthouse plus l also made a few more amazing friends however l was graced with the beautiful face of my friend Phil on his way through to Thailand as a few months before we had decided to go to La Tomatina festival in Spain (La Tomatina is in a separate blog). In the week leading up, we headed out to Volterra for a medieval festival and saw some knights fight for a championship.

In the weeks from La Tomatina to the point the blog now finishes where l am up to now, I was able to get up to Empoli for a Serie A game and out to Livorno but l am still in Tuscany for the next 2 weeks before l move on Naples for a few days and slowly back up to Rome via a town called Gaeta to visit some family friends and then out of Rome, l am getting on a cruise with some good friends from back home to the Greece and its islands.

Myanmar to Tuscany with some camels in Morocco

I should start off and apologise for the long time coming post but l am fianlly writing about the move after Myanmar.

I left Myanmar for good on the 20th May and headed for my new hostel of employment in Tuscany. I decided many months ago to take the long way round and wanted to have another major stop over on the way, to where l decided to make it Morocco as in the last 5 years it has been one of my top 5 countries l needed to travel too. I stopped in Bangkok for a night at a hostel called Refill Now. Awesome little place and set up and away from the main party streets and because l was only there for less than 24 hours, it was what l needed. The next day l headed to London to stop in for a couple of nights to see my sister, which l am pretty sure she would of killed me if l didn’t.

A couple of days later, l was off to Morocco! To say l was excited is an understatement. I flew out of Luton with a nice early flight of 7:30am with Ryanair….. My first experience with them and l got caught by their extra fees policy. For the people that don’t know me, you can call me old fashioned but l am someone who personally likes to do a lot of check ins at the airport, considering a lot of cheap airlines can’t send anything to your phone and l am constantly changing sim cards, but l paid the price and when l went in to check in at the counter the lady directed me to another one, where l found out l had to pay $90 AUD to print my boarding pass, this was more than my seat on the plane. After that, everything went smoothly, but l learned another travel lesson, don’t fly Ryanair (i most likely still will though).

I landed in Marrakech a couple of hours later and entry into the country was very straight forward. Changing money was easy and finding our way around even easier but l got outside to the taxi l booked through the hostel, well the taxi l thought l had booked but it didn’t show. I waited for 3o minutes and still no luck so l jumped of a bus which l now reccomend. It cost 40 Dhirums and it takes you straight to the center of town or the main square. It was still early in the day so the square wasn’t at all that busy yet which was nice considering i was able to find my hostel (Rainbow Marrakech) with ease. I unwillingly had a boy show me the direction and had to give him some money but they will do that even if you don’t want them too.

I didn’t have much organised for my time in Morocco except that l wanted to do a couple of day trips. My day of arrival l spent wandering and getting lost in the markets which are amazing but be aware of pick pockets. It didn’t happen to me but l was  closely followed at one stage l knew l had to do something to throw them off. The next day l headed out to Essaouira, which is a famous port town of Morocco, with a stop at a goat tree. This tree, and l am not exaggerating, had goats just standing around in it all day. Please don’t ask me how they got up there as l couldn’t find out without paying someone but they looked quite happy. It is beautiful and its famous blue fishing boats in the harbor are a must see, plus for all the game of throne fans, part of the series was filmed here.

On day 3 l decided to go on an overnight desert trip into the zargoza desert. It set me back about $60 USD but for me it was a great experience. I chose to sleep under the stars than in the tents provided and out next to the camels. It wasn’t my best night sleep but it made the trip. The only thing l would like to change, would be that l spend longer then the 1 night. It took a long bus ride out and back to Marrakech which didn’t seem to justify my trip.

The summary of Morocco is a must do. It’s an amazing country and most of the people are genuine. If you get to the main square, look for Cafe France, but don’t go there. Head down the small road next to it and you will find great little restaurants for a lot cheaper. I can’t remember the name but look for a young guy called Sam. He is a local guy who was awesome. He didn’t pressure me once but wanted to know about Australia and its culture. He speaks almost fluent english and is one guy who will provide advice for free.

I flew to Milano on day 5 and spent a few days enjoying the city with the buzz of the Champions league final on the same time before l headed down to Certaldo in Tuscany where l have now settled until October. My next blog won’t be until late August when l get to head to Spain to take part in Tomatina festival.

The journey of middle Myanmar

Day 6 – 8: Rewinding back to British colonial life

I arrived in Mandalay at 4am after a bus ride that turned out to be longer than expected and receiving some much unwanted attention from a local man for the last 4 hours of the journey however I think I won that battle because after he kept leaning on me, there was nothing a sneaky elbow in the back or kidney couldn’t fix to keep him from sleeping on that bus.
I was able to get a free hotel bed due to some brilliant people which I was able to get some sleep for a couple of hours before I made my journey to Pyin Oo Lwin (POL), I left my hotel at 10am to hitch hike via a pick up to POL. This was easy enough and the journey which is only an hour long took a bit longer because as all my transport journeys in Myanmar, the drivers have to stop for a 30 minute lunch break.
I arrive in POL at my hotel Nan Miang, which is situated amongst some old British Indian colonial buildings and like most the town still has its appeal along with the heavy presence of Indian Burmese people. I chose this hotel because a friend of mine Elle is helping manage the place however the place is very decent to stay in as well and with big open space, you can really feel relaxed here.
This is about as exciting as my story goes until day 8 as I fell ill with the flu from only I can think is a combination of things and with some strepsils, water and flu tablets in hand, I have past the worst of it and am on the mend.
On day 8 I feel a bit more human and decide to get out and see POL plus head to waterfalls to have a swim and continue to relax. These water falls are a must visit however be warned that the walk down and up is steep. I got this warning so I stocked up on water (1x bottle), my thongs and a German waterfall enthusiast (probably not), we headed off to hitch hike to the entrance of the waterfalls which we were told is only 5kms away from the hotel and would have been fine if our ride hadn’t dropped us at the wrong entrance, pointed us in the wrong direction where we walked about 2.5kms to only find out the hard way.
Lucky enough, when we turned around to walk back, there was a local man outside about to drive away in his luxury Land Rover willing to give us a lift…. We didn’t hesitate. I didn’t get his name but he was very helpful plus I found out that while he currently lives in the USA, he has a hotel in Myitkyina and he was from the Kachin state, so obviously I had something to talk to him about.
We arrived at the waterfall and headed down to find a little hidden paradise with some cold water but brilliant when we needed to cool off. I only stay there for 2 hours as I need to head back to buy a train ticket but I know I am not going to enjoy this climb as I have have the cardiovascular system of a 5 year old so I have to stop every 10 minutes for a break (I am blaming the illness and not that I am unfit) but as I finally reach the top after an hour looking like I have only just exited the water, I hitch hike back to the train station to get the common response of no. They proceed to tell me the ticket office is only open 4-6pm and I need to come back….. It’s just after 2pm.
The rest of the afternoon is filled with going back to the train station via an awesome English speaking motor bike taxi man called Osama and proud rock n roll Muslim, a walk through the market with friends, dinner and drinks back at the hotel.

Day 9 – 11: POL to Hsipaw and back

One of the main reasons people head to POL is to take the train to Hsipaw, which for a long time while I was in Bagan, was told it is the best train ride in the country and they were not lying. The train took off about 8:30 out of the station and while it is much longer than a bus, it only costs k2750 to experience the ride. Words can’t justify this ride so I can only offer pictures (the one at the top is from it). The train also stops many times and you can get off to stretch your legs and I wasn’t worried because before it leaves it gives a loud toot of the horn, but also being a Diesel engine, it’s a slow mover to start.
I arrived in Hsipaw just after a large downfall of rain and was greeted by my hotel to give me a free transfer. This was nice of them so I didn’t have to walk through the mud however when I arrived at the hotel, I realised I had accidentally booked a more expensive room than their guesthouse so I got a little luxury for the 2 nights.
I spent the rest of that day and the next discovering Hsipaw. There isn’t much in this town and I realised it is more of a base to start trekking tours but I did see more Pagodas (yay!) and my last sunset for the country at Sunset Hill which was a nice little 2km bike ride to the base of the ‘hill’. I say it like ‘hill’, because I have come to realise that Burmese people have to understand the difference between a hill and a mountain. Every time I get told hill, it’s a long step climb but every time it’s a mountain, it’s just an easy walk.
I headed back to POL via bus this time and took the 5:30am service. I was told it would take 6 hours but my driver was excellent and we managed it in 3. I was able to check in early, so had a little nap and went to the botanical gardens. It’s one of the main reasons people come to POL where it was nice to just stroll around. They have a open bird aviary and to my surprise a couple of cheeky monkeys running and swinging their way around inside. All the walking had made me hungry, so on the way back, I stopped into an Indian restaurant called The Taj that I was hoping I could find a butter chicken curry and thank you to POL and its British-Indian heritage, they had it and made it perfectly, I paid just over k10,000 but this time, every kyat was worth it.
I have spent the remaining time in POL just resting up and not doing much, trying to have a bit of quiet before I start moving regularly again until I get to Italy, however in this time, a military officer did give me a ride back from town for free without me asking which must of looked a little weird for locals. I am off to Nay Pyi Taw on the 18th, the country’s capital that is very artificial and quiet and wonderful for many weird reasons

Day 13-14: The wonderful world of Nay Pyi Taw

I arrived at my bus station at 9:15am for a 10am departure to a bigger and very spacious bus for what they said was a 4 hour journey, but I should have suspected something was going on. Everything started fine except by the time we did the rounds picking everyone up we didn’t really get going until 10:30 and we headed down the mountain range, passed Mandalay and onto the main expressway until about 2 hours later when the bus turned off and took the back road…. Then started stopping every 5 minutes. This is the point that my 4 hour journey turned into 9. In Nay Pyi Taw (NPT) there are 2 bus stations and I got off at the northern one after I was told yes, this is it but obviously they didn’t understand me as I found this out once I got to my hotel (The Golden Lake) via a motorbike taxi in the rain and not being able to find the hotel as the taxi didn’t even know it existed (at least he does now).
As you know I’m now at my hotel and the lady at reception was fantastic and was really helpful but what I was warned about NPT is everything is away from anything and considering by the time I got to my room and it was late plus dark, the nearest restaurant was 20 minutes by taxi away, I decided to eat at the hotel. Another expensive meal for simple food but I didn’t have much choice, at least this time I knew the price.
The morning came round and l had a few hours until my bus left for Yangon so I hired a motorbike for 2 hours and went to look at the 2 things in NPT that I wanted to see, the highway and the main pagoda. The highway is well known as it has 20 lanes and originally built for the expansion of people to the city and country but it never came and to this day is a massive open road that hardly gets used. I got to the highway first and it was exactly how I had imagined it, empty. I rode around on it for a while zig zagging around and got a few photos lying in the middle where the photos were taken by policemen because they had nothing to do except get a photo with me after they had taken my photo.
The pagoda was next and I was told when I got to the car park that there were elephants around today I headed up to the one of the entrances where a lady proceeded to tell me l couldn’t put my thongs in my bag and carry myself, that I should buy a flower wreath for Bhudda as an offering but didn’t understand when I said I don’t worship him, then it happened, another lady stopped me and said I have to wear a longi (this is a skirt looking thing all the men in Myanmar wear) as my knees would be showing. I had managed to avoid wearing one the whole time in Myanmar until the second last day. The pagoda a was huge and seemed like there were more boxes and people asking for donations instead of actually praying and the elephants, well l couldn’t get close to them but they had some white elephants. White elephants are considered rare and in scriptures of Bhudda, very sacred.
I went back to my hotel, packed up and went to the bus station where this time the bus actually took as long as they said.

I have now left the country and my time in Myanmar has come to an end. I honestly won’t be going back for a while as some people loved it and for me it really is a beautiful country yet, it still has a lot of growing to do. I do highly recommend people to check the country out but I have spent long enough there now to want to go back any time soon.
My next spot to stay is Certaldo in Tuscany, Italy but I have a couple of nights in London (where I currently post this), a few nights in Marrakesh and 2 nights in Milan on the way through.

Important information that might help you along the way:

– Pick ups from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin are easy to get if you head to the corner of 77th and 34th street however if you stand anywhere on 77th and look for the trucks filled with cargo and people, you should find one without any problems.

– Never ask for a taxi through your hotel, the taxi drivers (not the hotel), will charge stupid amounts of money. The guy I asked originally wanted k8000 for a 2km journey. Walk on the street and find it cheaper.

– Most motorbike taxis in POL are k1000 to anywhere so don’t be to worried if you get lost, but you probably won’t.

– Mr Osama (the rock n roll Muslim) can organise anything for you from guides, bicycles, car, motorbike and horse rental. Give him a call at any of these numbers. 09-256495957, 09-796391504, 09-970797720

– Niang Miang for me is the place to stay. Good pricing at $8/9 beds which are comfortable, nice quiet atmosphere but still able to have a beer and talk while listening to music. It’s not far out of town, but a quick bicycle ride (which you can borrow for free) and you are there.

– Pre purchasing your train ticket isn’t usually necessary (maybe in high season it changes) so don’t worry about getting it a day before. I only did it because I wasn’t sure and while in Bagan, my recommendation was to always buy the day before to save disappointment.

– Nay Pyi Taw is only good for 1 night, I wouldn’t recommend unless you wanted to waste a lot of money

Northern Myanmar and all the fun that goes with it

Day 1: The road to Myitkyina

6pm: The bus is meant to leave at 3pm from the northern bus station in Mandalay and the bus in the picture on the website Myanmar bus ticket is first class compared to the ‘step cousin that no want wants in the family’ bus that I was put on. They asked us to board at 2:30 for our departure however we sat around until 3:30 without even moving.
We finally took off and headed slightly south to cross the Irrawaddy and then turn back north. While like the rest of Myanmar, the road is bumpy but trying to get any sleep can be impossible when they play local music and a comedy show in Burmese out loud on the only TV in the bus.
We have stopped once for a toilet break just outside Shwebo. Shwebo is a large built up town, quite modern and from the bus looked cleanish but since leaving Shwebo, it has been 1 lane road with us competing with trucks coming the other way and of course the occasional bike. This is also a road that no one other than my bus likes to use a headlight, no matter what size of vehicle it is. Special mention to my bus driver, I know that the Myanmar people love honking, but is guy, he honestly must hate when there isn’t any honking going on. To make more sense of this comment, if this guy entered a competition on how many times can you honk as you pass one motorbike, I’m sure he would win.

12am: I have made it to the ’10 hour left mark’, we have now stopped twice more. Once for dinner where the options to eat where chicken or meat of a pig plus soup, now while I am usually the try everything once type of person, this restraint was in the middle of nowhere and I just wasn’t sure on a meat option so I took the vegetables only and as it didn’t look like there was much source for purified water, I didn’t want to try the soup. I have seen a man recently with bad food poisoning and it wasn’t pretty, at least he had some sort of medical facility near by. Our second stop was for the toilet which consisted of the bus load of Burmese and one foreigner on the side of the road doing our business… Yes l mean women just openly squatting away too.
Thankfully the TV has now been turned off as they moved from comedy to a really bad Myanmar soap opera but I would probably still prefer to watch it over some other long running soap operas that exist, however while the TV has been turned off, the driver has his stereo going. I managed a win because the seat next to me has become free so I have tried sleeping in every position I can try and get myself into but to no luck l find myself wide awake writing this blog.

8am: I have arrived. I made it 2 hours earlier than expected which is a blessing to finally get off the bus after I managed to get some sleep even if it was entirely broken. All I have noticed so far is how genuine the people up here are and that even though I am a westerner, I don feel l have been ripped off in price at all. I have found a bed for the night at the local YMCA, it’s not much but it will do for a couple of nights. I can confirm though that I was unlucky to get the bus I did, twice we came past 2 first class buses that were owned by the same company.. The ones I was told I was on but as they were currently North, l only had the one option.
It’s very green up here, looks and smells like a bit of rain recently however it’s just over 20 degrees which is a pleasant change from the Bagan 40 degrees. Going to get some sleep before I head out exploring but initial thoughts are this place looks amazing and I can’t see what else it has to offer.

Day 2: Myitkyina City

The bed isn’t that bad, considering it’s a thing worn out mattress on a bed frame, I was still able to sleep or maybe I was just that tired that it felt like heaven, anyway on further inspection, my basic room has all I need except my shared bathroom was missing a toilet seat, however I should be grateful, it has a western toilet with toilet paper, plus it is only $10 a night.
I spent the first half of the day walking around my immediate surroundings. I tired to find information on the trains out of here but when all the notice boards are in Burmese and the only person I found to speak to kept saying the only word he knew in English which was tomorrow, obviously I still have had no luck. I will try again tomorrow.
I continued my walk and found the local markets, an ice cream shop (prices cheaper than Bagan for double the portion) and a man who tried selling me a motorbike rather than renting it. I was also on the hunt for a new phone and they are quite cheap here but even if you have an older model as longer as it is bigger, it’s more expensive, that’s just how it works.
I returned to my guesthouse where I asked my amazing local lady on where I can find some Kachin food (a must try if you are ever in the area) and she said it was far but if I took her bicycle, I could manage…… I did but I didn’t.
I got lost not once but twice. On the way there, l kept getting mixed directions from locals until I asked a police man and he had his friend ride in front of me and take me to the actual place. It’s a little sad that I was so determined to try it, because with out knowing the price for 1 person, it set me back k9000.
I spent my time there by the river, just taking it in when I decided to leave, I thought I knew the best way back… I guess I didn’t. I took a wrong turn somewhere and when I finally decided to check my phone because nothing looked familiar, it turns out that I was actually 4kms past my turn off but to end this part of the story, I made it back in one piece.
I have decided not to head far for the night, maybe a light snack but get some sleep early and a shower which I have heard rumours, it doesn’t have hot water. I have a full on day tomorrow. Going to hire a motorbike, head to where 2 rivers meet and create the mighty Irrawaddy and some general exploring, plus I have to try and find out about the damn train times otherwise I will never get out of here

Day 3: The surrounds of Myitkyina

Woke up after a very rough sleep, maybe it was to do with the fact I slept a bit to much during the day from the bus ride or maybe it was the 2 Mosquitos in my room having a feast on my body or from the bed being to hard but either way I still found the energy to head out on things I had planned.
I hired a motorbike for k17,000 (it’s usually k20,000) but the guy said if I put my own fuel in, then that was the price. I ended up putting k3,500 in where I saved k500 on the normal price….. Winning! (K500 is about equivalent to 50c). I rode off to a place called Myitsone. It is where the rivers Mali Hka and N’Mai Hka meet to make the start of the mighty Irrewaddy river. It takes about 1 hour by motorbike where the first 30 minutes is just straight roads passing through rural villages, but as I’m a foreigner on a motorbike by myself, everyone wanted to wave or say hi to me however I did find an amazing pagoda hidden in the hills where it was a world globe surrounded by Bhuddas. The second half of the ride is bliss, bends every 30m and winding through the mountain side following the river.
I headed into Myitsone where l had to pay an entrance fee of k500 (it says k1000 on the ticket but I’m not one to argue the ticket man if he gives me money back). The river meeting point is huge, where you could even take a boat out onto the water but after watching one of the boats get a little crazy on the strong current, I thought better of it so I stayed on dry land and had some lunch.
Once again, I failed to find out the price of lunch before l ate it and if l thought yesterday’s lunch was expensive, today’s set me back k12,000. There wasn’t much more to do out in Myitsone, so I headed back to Myitkyina. I finally sorted out my train ticket where I bought it by literally getting a seat in the ticket office while everyone queued up outside. The ticket only cost k1,750 for an upper class seat on a 4 hour journey. I then decided it was to hot and I deserved ice cream, I mean, I probably didn’t but I went for ice cream anyway. I found this newly opened Italian ice cream place and it only had strawberry and chocolate to choose from however to challenge the lady I asked for an ice cream shake, she had never made one but attempted it and did exceptionally well. She sat with my and we spoke, her name is Beauty Shen from a small town across the border in China. She has been here for 1 year and said she came for work, however I fail to see the point of coming here for work when there is some major cities in China to choose from but she is happy.
I headed back to the YMCA to rest a little but the power was out which I am not surprised at all in Myanmar anymore and then given it started to rain so it was cooler to sit outside. The local staff member sat with me and watched me play candy crush and laughed we I kept losing. I needed to get out and make sure I have seen everything and he told me about a place called prayer mountain which wasn’t to far away. That rain had died off a little so l jumped on my bike and took off. I found it after a little bit of asking around but that was mainly because I had to cross a bridge with pillboxes on the shoreline and policemen all around. This is entirely to the fact that when you come off the bridge, if you turn left you head to prayer mountain, but if you turn right, you end up in a town where you need a permit which I obviously don’t have and I really didn’t feel like going to jail.
Prayer mountain, while it isn’t a high as I would of liked, it still gives a nice view. I was told sunset is good here but once I arrived, I don’t think it would be much of a sunset view considering I was in Bagan. I headed back to the guesthouse where I currently sit writing this, going to get an early night as I have another long day being on the move again tomorrow.

Day 4: Myitkyina to Indawgyi Lake

You know those days when you wake up and everything goes smoothly by train leaving on time etc etc but you just know it can’t last all day, well the day was one of them. As I mentioned everything just worked in the morning, checked out of the YMCA, had some eggs on toast before the train, train left on time and I even snuck in some more ice cream on the ride and then I got to Hopin. Hopin is where anyone going to Indawgyi Lake needs to disembark the train and find a ‘pick up’ truck service to take you 1.5 hours to the lake (remember I said 1.5 hours).
I leave the train station in Hopin and for the first time in Myanmar, I am not hassled for a taxi or in fact really spoken to at all. I ask around where I can find the pick ups but no one has a clue what the foreigner is saying so I continue to walk and find a bus ticket shop but all I get is “no bus to Indawgyi, pick up that way”, thank fully that way is only another 200m where I get yelled at that a pick up truck is available. Now when I say truck, it’s probably more of a shell of a car that looks like it’s been through multiple wars on top of some moving parts, but like always in Myanmar, the driver and friends put as much stuff on the back and in the car as possible before we headed for the lake at 1:30pm.
All is going well and the route gets very beautiful as we climb and turn ever so slowly over to mountains to get to the lake when as we enter the Indawgyi region and I am only a 10 minute (more like 30 in this truck) more drive and the driver turns off the main road, now that’s all fine as I think, he is just going up the road to drop some things off, however just up the road turns into an hour later and we are still going however we have now turned and driving away from the lake.
I am worried as I don’t know where I am and I still don’t have a bed for tonight but then I get excited, standing gracefully in the field, just munching away on food is a very large elephant however the driver just nods his head and continues to drive but only for another 10 minutes because he goes through some soft sand and he get stuck.
Fast forward 2 hours, time now 6pm and we are still in the same hole and after attempt number 50 we finally move……. 5 meters. I start trying to explain to them we need another car to pull us out by drawing pictures or even going as far as saying lets get the elephant but they proceed to dig, an attempt that has failed already numerous times, but then the driver runs off leaving me alone in the middle on no where with a bunch of Myanmar locals and not a single one who speaks any amount of English.
Time is now 7pm and what do you think the driver comes back with but a tractor. It has only been 4 hours but finally some smarts. As we get the car out, the elephant decides to walk past with his handlers, amazing sight when I am that close away from a elephant conservation park.
We proceed to take off and now it’s dark and he has been stuck once, the driver is more cautions and even pulling over for bikes to over take us. It’s now 8pm and we are half way down the road we originally turned off the main road too and l start think this is ok, I will hopefully be there by 9. 9pm come and we are still on the road. 9:30pm and we finally turn back onto the main road. We continue that 10 minute drive left which was actually 30mins and we pull up next to the guesthouse. I walk in just as he is closing the doors and he has a bed. Once again a bed is pretty much a non existent mattress in a small room and an outside toilet but is the best option I have and for $10, I’m not arguing. Showered and in bed and just outside there is a rather large gunshot and in northern Myanmar, the best option is to just stay inside and see the night out.

Day 5: Indawgyi Lake and the last minute decision to leave early

I met Jake and Emma quickly while at dinner in Myitkyina and as it happens we were all heading the same way however they left a day earlier. When I arrived in Indawgyi it was good to see a familiar face after all I had been through but they proceeded to invite me on a boat to the top of the lake and head for a hike along a trail filled with Pagodas, Monks, beautiful nature and land mines. Luckily we didn’t come across any of the latter.
I found out later as well that the gunshot was probably due to cat fish hunting in the lake, so all a big climax from probably nothing, but still best to have stayed indoors. On the boat ride, which takes an hour to the other end, I have decided if I make it back in time, I am going to get back to Hopin and get the night train back to Mandalay. The hike is about 8kms long and while being very hot morning was awesome, saw a bear cat or gibbon (this is still yet to be confirmed), talked to some locals and stepped in some very disgusting mud while a cow just looked at us thinking ‘idiots’.
We find a little place to eat food after the hike and we get treated like royalty however Lon Ton (the only place in the lake where foreigners are allowed to stay) is a 20 minute drive away and we were not walking any further so we hitch hike. A large truck pulls over, we climb into the back and find some locals hiding under a tarp already in the back. The bumpy but quick ride back to Lon Ton was comforted by rice sacks and many photos were taken by the locals of us.
It’s now 1:30pm and l decide I can get to Hopin, I head down the road to find a pick up which the local policemen help for me but no one is going to Hopin, only Mohnyia which is further south but still on the train line. I see it as my only option and jump in. The driver is mad but I get to my destination and in one piece. Into the train station I go and ask about a ticket but all I get is no which is not really the best thing to hear, however he then proceeds to tell me to follow. He asks his friend, there is no sleeper train that stops here, so upper class it is. His friend makes a phone call and no upper class available where they then say all they have is ordinary class, now upper class for 14 hours plus is one thing but ordinary class on wooden seats, it was my turn to say no.
He takes me back out front and gets me on a motorbike taxi after I explain to him any buses. Another person is making a phone call, I’m on a motorbike taxi and we are weaving through the streets to where we pull up next to a bus. It already has people on it and ready to depart, luckily they have waited and they find me a seat to where I sit and write this entry around betle nut chewing locals, spitting up and the ladies being sick but some days you just have to do.

Final word: Northern Myanmar is a must. Get away from the big 4 (Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake) for a few days and go. It is beautiful and I found it to be a whole new world.

Important information that might help you along the way:

– People in Myitkyina are Kachin people and speak a slightly different language to that of the South. Don’t be to worried though, a found a few of them really want to speak English

– There are not many places to stay in Myitkyina. The cheapest being where I stayed is the YMCA at $10 per night for very basic accommodation (no hot water, not a very comfortable bed) however room was cleaned everyday and they have 24 hour electricity and western toilets. The staff are lovely as well. Any other accommodation will start probably from somewhere of $30 a night when I was looking. Pre booking the YMCA is recommended.

– No restaurants that I found had prices on the menus, so always agree price beforehand.

– Orient restaurant is highly recommended. Great food, great staff and reasonably priced. It’s next to the YMCA.

– Motorbike hire will be about k20,000 for a day in Myitkyina. I got it for k17,000 but to put my own petrol in, which will still be cheaper that k20,000 if you use it a lot during the day.

– When you get in your pick up from Hopin, make sure they will take you first to drop off or at least directly close

– There are only 2 places to stay in Lon Ton in Indawgyi Lake. Both don’t have a phone number to call and limited space. I stayed at the ‘better’ one called Indaw Mahar and once again offers basic accommodation but great staff, western toilet and only $10 a night.

*all experiences and opinions are of my own and not a representation of any other person or any employer, past or present. Travel dates 6/5/2106 – 11/5/2016. All guesthouse information correct as of travel dates.