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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report Mostly Myanmar and a bit of Thailand

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So many months have passed and my apologies for not following up with a note upon my return from Myanmar and Thailand. With all the amazing help from all the folks here on Fodor I'd like to be available for any questions people may have on their visit to Myanmar.

The trip was wonderful! Everything worked out beautifully, there were no glitches, and no need for all the worries I had prior to the trip. I was such a worrier! I even used a travel agent for my hotels and flights... which in when I look back, I could of done myself. Being so picky about where I stayed, that might of been the best thing. However all in all my travel agent did ok.

One big piece of advice is if you can afford to hire a driver definitely do this. You get the freedom of seeing the country at your pace. And the driver is usually a great source of personal information that you just don't get in the guide books.

I did take three days off from Yangon and headed up to Golden Rock and then down to Hpa An… and yes Sadder Cave. End of October, the weather was perfect!

Hired a driver (came recommended from my travel agent which cost me $100 per day) who was pretty good in every way. He spoke good english, friendly and knew the area we traveled to. Golden Rock: The best part of Golden Rock was going there. Getting out of the city into the countryside was wonderful. Stopping along the way and watching the water buffalos or visiting a roadside stand selling dry fish, and just sitting by rivers edge watching the scenery… loved every minute of that. And of course the ride up the mountain and back. Golden Rock wasn’t the highlight of my trip, but I loved the journey there. Although there were a few moments where I felt the experience of Golden Rock was authentic, but for the most part a bit hokey.

Hap An was wonderful, the landscapes were magical! The Cave was… scary to say the least. So slippery! When we arrived to the cave for some dumb reason the driver or myself didn’t ask to keep the lights on. And the lights were already on… so assumed they are on. However halfway through the lights turned off! Fortunately I had a flashlight… unfortunately the batteries were on there way out. The other issue was my bare feet. My feet are sensitive to any pebble I walk on. And so if you remember the surface was not only slippery but gravels and stuff where my feet hurt. The driver was with me, literally held my hand most of the way, otherwise I would of fallen. It was so scary it was almost funny. All I could think, is why would anyone do this. Obviously caves aren’t my thing. And of course when we finally got to the light I was relieved, and the boatman were there taking us through to the starting point. The boat ride was worth the experience. Pure Magic! The water lilies and the mountains in the distance, simply a delight.

The Taunggyi Balloon Festival was one of the super highlights of my trip! What I loved about Taunggyi was that there were very few tourist. I mean there were very few of us. The city isn’t much to look at but felt authentic and friendly. The Hotel KBZ (very basic) wasn’t much help in finding my way to the festival. I was persistent with the hotel owner and finally was able to get a car to drive me up to the festival. You would of thought being the Balloon Festival was happening the hotel would of be able to set up the entire experience. But for some reason they were clueless. So very little english was spoken everywhere. I did manage to find to fellow westerners who also were at the hotel to get to the festival, so we joined forces and went together. Of course I worried would the driver wait for us, and would we even find the car at the agreed time. But it all worked out beautifully.

The first nights weather was warm with no rain. The second day was misty and rainy. The first evening getting there with the traffic and thousands of people was pure madness. But we were excited and filled with anticipation for what we hopped to experience. And we were richly rewarded. But first must mentioned that the night before one of the balloons exploded and four people died! I had heard that there were dangers but now with the news we knew for certain that this was a dangerous festival. So we arrived around 9pm and off we went right into the thick of the festival. We could of stayed safely a distance from the balloons, but we didn’t! We were fearless, maybe stupid and experience the chanting, the music and the sounds of clapping as the balloons filled with hot air, and then lifted up where the basket of fireworks were attached. Balloon after balloons went up. I even helped unfold these paper balloons. I could feel the heat of the torches sending up hot air into the balloons. There was one instance where one of the balloon drifted over the field and exploded onto the crowd! I heard that a mother and child died! Very sad indeed.

The following day we went back up, but this time the authorities must of decided that the field should be blocked off from the spectators. And because of the rains, and waiting for three hours, no balloon made it into the field and so we left. But if any of the balloons did happen, they would be far from the spectators. Safe but a different experience. So I was glad I had at least one night where I could be up close to the experience. I wonder what next year will be like?

The other highlight was Keng Tung! I was blessed with a wonderful guide who spoke perfect english and knew the villages very well and spoke their language. His name is Sai Leng and his email address is: sairoctor.htunleng@gmail.com. If you can get this guy you should. The weather was gorgeous, and perfect for trekking into the hills. Everyday I would wake up and downstairs in the lobby (Princess Hotel) be greeted by Sai Lang my guide and his father who acted as our driver. We would go to the market place and buy balloons for the children, seeds for the farmers, and aspirin and simple medicine for the villages.

Then we would drive for several hours and trek for a few more hours to these villages where I witness farmers working in the fields and children playing with grandmothers. The women wore wonderful headdresses and very hospital to us. They knew Sai Lang and enjoyed his visits and so I was warmly welcomed. I got to experience the ritual of a women who lost her husband a year ago and was going through the ceremony with family and friends and monks to pay their respect. Amazing... and why I love to travel. To experience the intimacy of people who lives are so different from mine.

I did this for three days and each day was a different village with different customs. This experience was another highlight of my trip!

Of course I loved Inle Lake, and the boat ride, and the vastness of the lake. What I learned is if you want to go to the market you must get up very, very early. If you don't when you arrive you will be surrounded by fellow tourist which takes away the experience. Getting up early you practically have the market for yourself. And loved Bagan and the temples, loved the Balloon ride at dawn. Highly recommend the extra expense of the Balloon ride. You get to see the temples from a different perspective. And rented the electric bike to get around. One day I hired a driver to escape the heat and this was to go to some of the remote temples. And as I traveled by myself I always met lovely people and had good times to share.

By the time I got to Mandalay I was templed out. Didn't realize how far the airport is from the city. I think it's about an hour away. Stayed at The Smart Hotel, which was fine. Room was small, and the upstairs breakfast pretty amazing. You had lovely views and lot's of delicious choices. Dinner was expensive. I enjoyed walking around this city watching and taking in all the sights or day to day activities. I walked into shopping malls and stores just to see what it's like. I did wake up at dawn and hired a boatman to view the Ubein bridge. And thought the experience amazing and great photographic experience.

I flew from Mandalay to Chiang Mai. The plane was my first shock of what I was to expect. The passengers were mostly if not all Thai. And what a difference a people they are from the Burmese. The women were fashionable, as the men. The women wore makeup and sunglasses! For my time in Myanmar, non of this existed… Thailand is first world where Myanmar is third world. And so the difference was striking and prepared me for my Thailand experience.

I enjoyed Thailand, but loved Myanmar way more. I found Chiang Mai to be like Disneyland, filled with tourist and felt very few locals lived there. Of course this isn’t true, but I guess if I visited 25 years or more ago I would of experience Chiang Mai differently.

I did go up north to Chiang Dao and stayed overnight at the Nest (LOVED) also to Mae Salong which was gorgeous. The mountains up north were spectacular along with the terraced tea plantations. Misalign Mountain Home was a treat as I got a lovely cottage with the tea plantations spread before me. Although the weather was misty, I loved the atmosphere.

After Chiang Mai and the north I flew down to Hat Yai and found my way to Pak Bara where I got myself a speedboat to Koh Lipe. The connections worked out beautifully. I stayed at the Smart Hotel, which for one night was fine. Very basic and inexpensive. I arranged my transfer through Cathay Taxi Company (which was across the street from the hotel). Got to Pak Bara and walked up to the Bundhaya Pak Bara Company to get my Speedboat ticket. It all worked like a charm. Then 1 hour by boat to a floating barge where I transfer to these boats to the beach. Then a taxi to my resort Lipe Beach Resort. What a journey to this island. I wanted remote and this island was remote. Yet I learned there are very few places you can go where tourism hasn’t touched. Koh Lipe was lovely, but bursting at it’s seams in over development. I was lucky to be on the right side of the island where peace and quite was possible. I saw many resorts that were stacked right next to each other... but mine felt a bit remote and I was glad for that. Although be warned it's hard to escape the sound of the motor boats going up and down and around the island transporting people.

My trip to Bangkok was arranged through Air Asia. This included my boat and taxi to the airport. Everything worked out perfectly and on time.... very impressed by how professional everything worked out. Very different from Myanmar where tourism is still in it's early development stage.

Loved Bangkok and wished I had planned more days there. I only had three nights and could of added three more. So much to see and do in Bangkok! Maybe because I’m a city guy, I love cities. Bangkok is world class and the energy was fantastic.

I’ve attached images I edited down from 1000 images. The link should take you to my Lightbox where you can see images. Not sure how long the link will be active, but for now if you get a chance to see my images, hope you enjoy them.

So I thank you Kathy and all the others who provided awesome endless support. I was such a worrier as my trip was a complex trip where I had no idea how things would fall into place. And everything did. I did use the help of a travel agent in Myanmar, but was totally on my own for Thailand. I brought enough cash, there were plenty of ATM’s and I didn’t get sick. The trip was awesome!

So if anyone has specific questions feel free to contact me, I'd be glad to help where I can.

Click below to view my shared Lightroom collection:
http://adobe.ly/16Zkr8k

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