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Trip Report Thailand and Myanmar-Hot Hot Hot!

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Today I began a month of travel, including a return to Thailand for two weeks and then about three weeks in Myanmar. Thailand because my plans to hike Annapurna were shortcircuited by the tragegy in Nepal, and Myanmar because I want to see this lovely land before hostels cost more per night that it takes to spend a week in a hostel in Cambodia.

Four years ago I came to Thailand having learned enough of the language to get by-and today I am utterly delighted to report that a fair amount of it still exists in my brain pan to make people smile and laugh at my lousy accent but genuine attempt to converse. The plan is to spend 13 days in Phuket, and that plan is wide open- what that means is that I"ll be adventuring, exploring, horseback riding, kayaking, kitesailing, or anything else that might be available during the uber hot season. No beach sitting. Not my thing. I signed on for a three day kayaking adventure beginning next Sunday, but that's the only current plan. I've no clue, and frankly, that's going to be part of the fun this time around.

Those of you who know Phuket (and I don't, having blown through here last time in favor of Krabi and Trang and places far north and northeast) kindly fire me suggestions. Open to any and all. Thanks in advance.

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    It's 9:30 am Bangkok time, and this open restaurant is crowded. With staff. I'm the only client here which is a happy advantage, the Thai are famous for their service and I've been waited on hand and foot. The rather limited breafast menu was expanded quickly when I finally remembered the words for pineapple and mango and the young man whipped out the real menu and proudly showed me a fruit plate. A few minutes later he carted out an enormous platter fit for the King, which has taken me a very happy hour to consume. Since I'm from Denver, chowing down on fresh papaya and pineapple and dragonfruit is close to heaven. AAAAAAHHHHHH.

    It's not often that I can say I LOVE my airline, but United did me a good one, in that I was able to upgrade at the last moment and said upgrade translated to a three across in their Dreamliner to Narita. International travelers can relate: three big chairs in Economy Plus, three pillows, three blankets, total yum. I could watch The Equalizer three times over (okay I admit it I did) and eat all I wanted for the cool ten hours it took to get to Narita.

    While it was a good while later getting to Bangkok, and I actually woke up my hotel driver (he was at home and in bed asleep) when I got there, I found my way to my resort (a loosely interpreted word if there ever was one) near the airport. It was, um, hot. The room was sticky. Kid turns the a/c on, blessed cold air flows out, I take a hot shower, feel renewed. Sleep.

    Wake up and the room is a flippin refrigerator. I risk my head out from under the covers and ice crystals form from my breath. Now this is funny. The window is weeping, the mirror is weeping. My bladder is shrieking. I argue with my parts for a few minutes before I give up and dance across the frozen tundra to the toilet, which, btw, is a heck of a lot warmer since the window had been left open. I stay there and thaw out. Any Floridian (I am one by birth) knows this drill. It's hot, you turn on the ac to cool off, forget to turn it down to "reasonable" and wake up in the antartic.

    I dress in less than four seconds and fling open the door, and nearly send myself butt over teakettle because there is a huge puddle on the slick tiles: thunderstorm the night before. My glasses instantly fog over. I'm blind, but I do make out intense greenery, and happy humid warmth. Everything is dripping, including my eyelashes, and I let the air sweep into the room, and I find the bathmat to soak up the puddle.

    Welcome back to Bangkok.

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    Hey darlin'. Did I say it was hot?

    Heat index today was (still is) 106 F. What is that, 46 C? Or thereabouts?

    I hate to admit to this but after spending a day in my BRAND NEW SNEAKERS I returned to my room to shower off the sweat in preparation for the flight to Phuket. Removed sneakers. Augh. They could clear out the Bronx YMCA. Come ON man. Really? I just started this trip. I find it hard to adjust to the reality that the older I get, my high arched dancer's feet have developed a remarkable tendency to become useful for riot control. Took out a pair of sneaker balls and with Very High Hopes jam them down the throats of the offending footwear. Now in sandals, which can get just as bad, my first stop in Phuket is a store where you can buy those smelly dingleberries you put in cars. For my backpack.

    I have been known to say that getting old stinks but I didn't intend to be taken literally.

    The good news, the really good news, is that I remember enough Thai to get by and send the staff into paroxysms of laughter, good humored, and they have been giving me tips all day. As well as feeding me lovely, luscious Thai food. I love this country.

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    lol - we did warn you that you had chosen the absolutely hottest time of the year to visit. I'm glad it lived up to our billing.

    Enjoy your beach time - a good place to good in the heat.

    Wait until you get to Yangon - hottest city I've ever visited - and that was during the "cool" season. It makes Bangkok feel air-conditioned.

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    Hey Kathie,

    Well, the earthquake in Nepal forced my hand, andf what's funny, I never would have chosen Myanmar in May had I not been going to Annapurna for the hike. It's just how it all ended up. I find it hugely amusing. Sitting here in my ac room, blinds drawn, largely to keep out someone's prattling voice down the street here in Kamala Beach. I can only guess it's sales or polltical, who knows.

    My first funny was stapling an email (without reading the prevoius thread, of course) to my reservation in Bangkok. I was expecting a driver at the airport, and there was none. So, natch, since my phone didn't yet have a SIM card or minutes, I nabbed a helpful agent. Called the poor guy and dragged him out of bed. It was, after all, nearly midnight.

    After he finally understood what we were asking he said, trying to be polite, "That's a long way away...." You think? The light began to dawn on my travel addled brain. I did ask if I had the wrong airport but he either didn't hear me or had already hung up. Which of course he did, had every right to do, and went back to sleep. I found my hotel bus, and promptly wrote a huge apology to the driver, who was kind enough to show up last night and take me to my new digs.

    So whaddya get for eleven bucks a night? Surprisingly, even in Phuket, a lot. A huge clean room, a/c, a fridge, wardrobe, big queen bed, balcony, big bathroom, two waters. And a lovely view of the construction site across the street. Which, of course, we all have to put up with, even the nice condos next door.

    The down side is that the safety box doesn't work, the staff speaks no English and you have to pay for the electricity. If you use the kitchen, you pay for the electricity. You get the picture. They have services here there and everywhere but to use them you have to find someone who can speak to you, which means that someone has to call the absentee boss, who does speak pidgin English and is nearly impossible to understand.

    This is what you get for eleven bucks. OH- and you have to turn off the ac when ypu leave the room. But hey, I do that at home.

    It's surprisingly quiet at night in this part of the beach area, which is why I picked Kamala. The stores and supermarkets are a very sweaty but reasonable walk away. The best news is that about a hundred steps out the door I stumbled into a house/travel agency (lots of those here) where I got referred to local riding outfits, a ride to see them later to set up rides, and a sweet gal who also set me up for some other cool adventures. She supports her family with this business and I like the idea of giving her the work.

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    The best news about uber cheap digs, which I love when I travel until the very last week, is that this allows for paying for the stuff that really burns the baht, like kayaking tours for one (you have to pay double), horse back rides, parasailing, kite sailing, all the uber cool things that I love to do or have never done and eventually will not be able to do. I love parasailing but the paid tours give you five minutes. Five minutes, are you nuts? When I paraglide I stay up for at least an hour, depending on the thermals, and with parasailing you don't need thermals. So my tour agent down the street kindly informed me that the best place was to troll the beach at Patong and hire someone- that was after she translated the word parasailing and called some friends, did some research and then helped me out, Which is why I am going to go back and keep giving her as much business as I can.

    The agent's brother, who runs a taxi in Phuket, got me to the local riding club, and due to low season and because I wanted extended hours, they offered me a cool package of ten hours for 7000 baht. That is a nice deal. Now it's true that I'd be on the same trails every day, but different horses, after I'm vetted. But that happens everywhere, since some people have an unfortunate habit of claiming to be better riders than they are. I go out with a guide first thing in the morning and based on that I get a spicier horse. I saw a few today, too, along with their Appaloosa stallion, one gorgeous piece of horseflesh, and two of his newly born offspring. Even as they stood in the stalls, these animals were sweating, but to the stables' credit fans were blowing on them. I suggested that I'd be delighted to show up at 5 am and ride to 7, to ensure the horses' comfort, but that suggestion was pooh-poohed. That's unfortunate, for I'm not allowed to ride bareback, which I would prefer, and it would be cooler for the horse. I'm a far better rider bareback than on a saddle; some of you can relate especially if you grew up riding bareback as I did. But, that's all right, I get to ride, and that makes me very happy.

    The manager showed me a Thai horse, which is really interesting. He was at one point their breeding stallion. No more than perhaps 13 hands, at most, he's a pony, and cut proud (castrated after he'd been used for breeding). He was nippy and mouthy, a little sorrel, not suitable for young riders or beginners. Handsome but small, typical of what most Thais would own, those who have them or race them. I would liken him to an Icelandic pony without the shaggy coat.

    What I like best about this stable is that they are constantly consulting a vet who has advised when to ride, how long to ride, all aspects of care to protect the animals. I saw several horses which were either very old, or handicapped by being blind in one eye. The owner has kept and taken care of these animals and given them a lively, interactive life, including stalls which allow therm access to their neighbors. The one-eyed animal was very affectionate and not head shy at all, easy with strangers. Only seven, this animal has found a good home. All this speaks well of Phuket International Horse Club, where what I've seen so far is a focus on good horse care as well as fun rides.

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    Very interested to hear about the riding club! I've competed in show jumping my whole life and love to see my beloved equines when I am away from them while on vacation- love the price too- about $21USD/hour? Can't beat that!
    I hear you on the 'vetting' of rider thing. I tell people that I am an advanced rider, but I know they hear that all the time. When I was in Malawi I did a trail ride/beach ride (just me and the guide- so much fun!)and the owner of the stable thanked me for putting training on the horse during the ride (guide told him I wouldn't let the horse stop and eat grass). He even offered me a free ride the next day, but alas I was scheduled to leave early the next morning.

    Glad you found a place that treats the horses well, that is always my #1 concern!

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    Dear thursdays,

    I've had a good chuckle about this place, given the absentee owner, but I honestly can't complain about what I do get for so little. Once I got my bearings in the neighborhood and made friends with a few folks nearby, I was set. The owner here would prefer that I use his facilities for my tourist needs but I can't talk to his staff about what he offers, so until he's willing to invest in someone who can speak the coin of the realm for international travel, that door is going to be hard to open. And I'm with you- sleep cheep and save your bucks for what you love!

    NeedMoreVacation: While I am not a competetive rider like you, I'm a dedicated equestrian, and like you I ride everywhere I travel. The most typical response is eyerolling to my comment that I'm an advanced rider, and within a ride or two I've been bumped up to the best horse in the facility, and quite often have also been given permission to tack up on my own as well. Trust is earned- and I've come to appreciate why. Over the years the guides all over the world have shared their horror stories of people who claim skills they don't have and either harm the horses or themselves or both, and then sue. Sometimes their stories are funny, more often they are tales of silly arrogance. For whatever reason, horses can bring out our best and worst, and looking good on one (even if we aren't good riders) seems to be more important than admitting we're clueless. I recall a few years back riding with a gal from New Zealand who went into a shrieking panic the moment her horse starting trotting. The reins went flying and she grabbed the horn of her Western saddle, sobbing in desperation. The horse placidly trotted along with the rest of us, and I came up alongside of her and mildly suggested that she might want to gather up her reins and let her horse know that she was in charge. She got horribly angry at me. Such are beginners. Sigh.

    Depending on where you travel I can clue you into some magnificent places especially in Argentina and Peru where I've had some of my best experiences out of country. My friendships at these estancias have led to being able to ride some very fine animals, and have some freedoms that are gained through their seeing my skills and love for their horses. Let me know if you're ever headed that way and I'd be tickled to make the introduction. Much joy lies ahead when you go there.

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    Whenever you're ready. I've got several very dear friends who come equipped with dear animals that follow the ones you're riding as well.

    Just back (and this will come in bits and starts as a driver is coming shortly) from three days in the lovely southeastern islands of Thailand, kayaing for hours and hours and hours. So kite sailing might have to wait a day but meanwhile but thank god for tiger balm.

    I had signed on to Sea Canoe for what I thought was doing to be a solo journey of tree days' kayaking, but turned out to be three days on an escort boat- a ginormous escort boat- with four crew. Make that two crew, my guide Tom, uber competent and Cook, and two utterly useless teenagers who couldn't be bothered to clean out the used nasty TP from the girls' toilet. After three days, come ON man, exactly what are you doing for the five, six hours we're on the water? Well, I"m merciless in this regard. I took a shot of the kid sleeping and on their IPhones and that got posted on my Trip Advisor report. Frankly I hope they get fired because Cook and Tom had to work double duty to do what they couldn't be bothered to do- and I also cleaned up dishes, messes, towels, you name it. Kind of like having a family. This for five hundred bucks plus a day.. But I digress.

    What was terrific was that this boat gave us access to places that otherwise would not have been available simply by kayak. So that was a huge boon. I'd asked to see and go to places tourists don't go. And for that, Sea Canoe delivered. I'd had to pay double for this trip as they required two people so I ponied up $1600 for my three days. So Tom took me into a few caves that everyone sees, including the ones that require that you let the air out of your inflatable kayak to get in. Now let me make this clear. The tide was hgher when we went in. Tourists came later. That meant that the top of the cave scraped my nose, I had to bend my toes in. I have the video. Claustrophobics need not watch. I had a ball. I trusted Tom, I knew we'd get through, we did, and the resulting lagoon was gorgeous, And no touristss! As the tide dropped, they came in droves, but we were on our way out. Brillliant.

    The whole first day was like that. Then a huge boat full of tourists copped our camping beach, and, sigh, we had to sleep on the boat. Well...okay...I had to sleep out on the deck, until it rained, then I got moved inside under the table where I slept on wooden slats. Now I dunno about you but forty years ago that wouldn't have bothered me at all. I'm find on hard ground. But slats? I moved back on the deck about 2 am where a fine breeze, 70 ish temps and a gorgeous fat full moon greeted me. When I creaked awake aty 5, I did an hour of flow yoga in the moon's glitter in penance for the insult to my bones. I figure it was worth it.

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    JHubbell, I think I like the way you travel with more modest hotel rooms and paying the money saved for activities and food which is what we like. I also like some beach time, too. I enjoyed reading your report and will read more of your posts.

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    Still working towards time to fill in that kayaking trip, but been busy with my final rides on the beach at Laguna and my love affair with their Appaloosa stallion. It appears he loves to be massaged with fake nails. For the last two days I rode there I spent the better part of an hour at his open stall where he backed up to me and shoved his big hairy butt in my face for me to scrub. I had started with his sides and shoulders, but then he got this great idea, and just showed me his butt. OKAY, big boy, so this is what you want?

    I laid into his rear end with my nails, and scrubbed down his left leg, and hit this point right inside his left knee and he nearly collapsed, all 1400 lbs of stallion, like when you hit the IT spot on a dog and it goes spastic? His lip went up and his head went out and he got all quivery and he planted his foot wider and backed up farther and looked at me like DO THAT AGAIN. I got him on both sides with that, and he ended up with both his back legs spread way wide and his tail held high so I could scratch away. He looked ridiculous, but boy was he a very very happy boy.

    By the time I'd given him an hour of my massage time his eyes were at half mast and he walked up and planted his head on my right shoulder, I scrubbed his chin, he stuck his tongue out and I got some righteous photos of Mr. Man. My horse people love this. After that, he got all stallion on me and started nipping, which means its time to go. But what fun.

    Yesterday afternoon I visted Tiger Kingdom about which I have mixed feelings. However I went anyway and am glad I did. For the time I spent with the tigers, all four sizes of them. I concentrated not on stupid silly photos (my camera died anyway) but on massaging them. Now THIS was something else again. Sign says they love their tummies rubbed. Okay, so my challenge was to get them to flop. How do you get a 500 lb Bengal male tiger to flop? You rub, scrub, use your nails, and invite him to, and he will. His legs will land on yours and suddenly you have several acres of white tiger fur to play with. Big, loose, happy tiger belly. OMG what fun. You scrub and rub and scrub and rub and he is in tiger heaven. Trust me, not something you forget. I loved that my guides l(most of them) loved on the tigers and the tigers clearly loved them back. What I could see. I am well aware of the down side. And I am also well aware that we are chewing up their habitat, and their body parts are Asian viagra. So in some not too distant future this might be the only way we see these extraordinary creatures. I agree with the purists, but until man can control his appetites (and that isn't going to happen) facilities like this may someday be a norm. So before someone rips me apart for supporting these facilities, I considered that viewpoint already. Lots of differerent ways to consider things.

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    Hi Jhubbel,

    Looking forward to reading of your exploits in Myanmar. In planning our current trip around Asia I completely forgot about Ramadan which was when we were planning to visit Indonesia so have been looking around for alternatives and Myanmar is high on the list so lots of detail please! Nepal was also under consideration but clearly that is now out of the question.

    PS "So before someone rips me apart for supporting these facilities, I considered that viewpoint already. Lots of differerent ways to consider things."

    Elephants and tigers always seem to evoke very strong responses on this forum. This article from WWF surprised me:

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    Hi crellston,

    Great to hear from you. I am currently one night away from leaving for Yangon, and will keep you apprised as long as I have access to wifi, which may be spotty.

    Given what I know about gangs, people, the black market in tiger parts, what I've learned since being here about the price of tiger bone wine (again, Chinese viagra) and what has happened in Myanmar to the tiger population, I can believe it. Kindly don't get me started. I too have very strong feelings. And I also have no answers. As long as some redneck jerk thinks it's cool to have a 500 lb tiger in his backyard, well, Land of the Free. Personally I hope the tiger takes advantage of an unguarded moment. Some moron at my gym brought a wild cougar cub to the facility one day. Walks up to the front door. Cub gets scared and first girl to walk out the door, this terrified animal sinks its very very long teeth into her unsuspecting leg. I've got a solution for people like that: cannon fodder. Or better yet, cougar food. Unbelievable.

    I went back, this time to the Chiang Mai facillity, and did much the same thing. This time I got to work on a very responsive fully grown female who rolled around and stretched and vocalized and yowled when I scratched her butt and rubbed her tummy. Look, it isn't much. But I spent two hours working my tush off massaging and scratching and rubbing these beautiful animals and they clearly enjoyed it, and to the extent that was good for them, that was worthwhile for me to go do.

    The three day sea canoe trip with Sea Canoe Thailand quick report follows.

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    Sea Canoe Thailand gets excellent marks for two things: Tom, the top notch and very hard working guide, and Cook, who did his best, working with bad information and limited supplies.

    I paid for two people, as no one else had signed up. As I'd mentioned, my $1600 bought me a ginormous escort boat (lots of fuel), three kayaks including an inflatable, and the four crew. This confused me a bit until I realized the huge advantage. I had requested, and subsequently got, taken to places outside the tourist zone on days two and three. Once we cleared where EVERYBODY goes, we were where nobody goes, and explored.

    Tourist loads took over a camping beach, which forced (hahahaha)us to sleep on board. Okay, this is rough duty. Spread a pad on deck. Sleep in your clothing. No blanket, covers. Under a fat full moon. Breezes. Wake up with the moon sinking, the dawn breaking at your back. You're in the balance of the two orbs. You cannot create this. It just happens.

    I had brought fruit of my own, they had yogurt. Good. Because after not having had fresh shrimp and crab for years, I found that I couldn't get them down. Guts, fishy smell, goo, ugh. Couldn't do it. Unfortuntely, Sea Canoe had mangled my food instructions and cook kept sending out crab and shrimp in different disguises for lunch and dinner hoping they would get consumed even after Tom told him that I woudn't eat them. It got very funny after a while, I kept eating just the fruit and yogurt, the crab and shrimp kept coming out in new and improved settings, and they kept going back the same way they came out.

    Tom squeezed me into low caves, we slipped into sea caves to explore the gorgeous hongs which were the definition of tranquility. We would paddle in silence, avoiding water noise, just to take in the cool, the light rain, the shadows, the greens. On the first day when we were still close in to the ports, the big tourist boats sent out flotillas of inflatables. Tom got us in an hour ahead, and we would enjoy the serenity. As we headed out, these tourists would arrive into this extraordinary beauty with all the subtlety of an artillery attack. Shouting, blaring, laughing, blasting away, the silence shattered. I couldn't wait to get out. If the point is to get away from the noise, why can't people shut up and enjoy the lack of it instead of bringing it with them? I'm stumped.

    Tom taught me more efficient sea kayaking strokes. I'd done it a number of times before but my style wasn't as effective. By the end of the third day my kayak was moving smoothly and swifty through the water, a side benefit I'd have gladly paid for separately. We had to get through some wind and rough water on several occasions and this training paid off handsomely indeed.

    We got way far out, places where villagers had illegal traps, we paddled in water only inches deep, using the sand to push ourselves back to deeper waters. We fought tides to get back to the boat. Paddled for hours with and against the water flow. Paddled around big islands, explored bat caves, found thousands of fruit bats and not a tourist boat in sight.

    That's what the investment got me. And it was so worth it. Today I got an email from Tom of about twenty shots from his camera, which were backups to the ones I was taking. Great service. I'd already submitted my review. Depending on what you like, if you like crowds and lots of socializing, you would prefer to organize a group. My trip allowed me lots of thinking time, kayaking time, time to develop skils, explore where people didn't normally go. It was also hard damned work which appeals to me immensely. My arms and upper body got enough of a work out that when I got back to Kamala Beach, kite sailing was flat out of the question. There were knots upon knots. So an investment in the little massage studio a few doors down was the perfect thing. I developed new wrinkles from grimacing but I was much more limber afterwards and we laughed the whole time.

    What I so appreciated about Tom was that he saw that I took the kayaking seriously, and treated me as such. So he pushed me very hard. It annoyed me at times, but I'm ex-military. I've had much worse than Tom shout in my face. (Tom shouted over the waves) He developed fine new skills in a demanding environment and I now have that muscle memory. And that is priceless. In many ways, this was almost a sea kayaking clinic, taken in one of the most gorgeous places on earth, seeing things that few people will ever see. For that, I consider $1600 a bargain indeed.

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    After a few more lovely days' riding at Laguna, which afforded me both a deeper relationship with Bonita as well as a chance to rub down that Appaloosa stallion I can further and happily argue that the Laguna facility, once they have a good read of your riding skills, really go out of their way to accommodate. When I'd come in from my ride and wash up, there would be a basket of cut carrots for me to distribute among the horses in their stalls. This was a vote of confidence, because by now I knew who bit and who didn't. I know horse body language very well, and they can be very wiseass about looking sweet and taking a swipe. I ended up with plenty of great shots of babies, had baby time with the cold working on his ear scrubs which he came to love, and spent an hour a day on daddy. I got some candid portraits of big man leaning his head on my shoulder, eyes at half mast after an hour of massaging his butt and back legs. He looks drunk.

    The staff also allowed me to wash Bonita down, an activity that finally cost me my first pair of paddock boots which were never intended for sea water and horse bathing. After five exposures to that level of dousing, they disintegrated, and they took leave of me in the big trash can at my hotel in Phuket. the half chaps survived.

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    My last side trip was a three day excursion to Chiang Mai, actually about two days. I landed just in time to get ready for the Sunday Night Walking Market. I'd done this about five years ago. My hotel, the Safe House Court, was about fifty steps away from the midpoint. What was more important, however, was the fine little antique store that I discovered right across the side street from Safe House Court. There I met Juliet, the villager who made her way to antique shop owner, collector, and one truly beautiful and delightful soul. After I'd walked the market (a great deal of tourist same same) and found two truly good handmade things, I made my way back to her shop. There we grabbed waters, sat on straw mats, and talked for hours. I picked out four or five gorgeous items, knowing that this was where I'd likely spend most of my money.

    The next day my taxi driver picked me up and we began the adventure by tracking down a pewter manufacturer by the name of Loyfar. My potter friend Jill wanted pieces from them, wholesale, and we took an hour to track the facility down, located on a tiny windiing back road in an isolated area. Long story short, they had a hard time with my story and sent me to Siam Celadon where they were for sale, retail. Jill is legit wholesale buyer but she hadn't armed me with cards or a resale number. Sigh. At least Siam Celadon was a fine place to pick up some gifts for my roommate and friends. My carryon bag was gaining weight fast.

    Arnot, my driver, took me the considerable distance to the second Tiger Kingdom, we've covered that already, and we stumbled on another antique shop where I met a military family specializing in old SEA pieces. The woman was a lieutenant, a nurse during Vietnam, and her husband a Lieutenant Colonel. It's rare that I get to meet an Asian service woman. We were the same rank, and had fun saluting each other. I found a wonderful wooden horse, we bargained like the gleeful old ladies we are, and had great fun finding a suitable price. We closed the deal new friends, and she spent extra time showing off her prize Buddhas.

    Arnot also helped me track down a couple of hilltribe stores. Neither had air conditioning on. The first, HillTribe House, does a modern take on hilltribe fabrics. Go upstairs, however, and you can purchase the hilltribe pieces (used) yourself, or the fabrics from the villages, all vintage. Having been to the Hmong tribes I will say their prices are pretty high, but their rent is also high given their city location. The interpretations downstairs are quite pricey, roomy, loose and robe like. Two hundred or so, on average. No tailored pieces. This being said, the fabrics are what set them apart. They also have jewelry and other small items, but for what I was after this was not the place.

    The second had a unit but it had been turned off. It was the more authentic of the two stores but was actually much hotter inside that out, and so insufferably intense inside I almost couldn't breathe. And this with 102 heat outside already. They did come to my rescue and turn on the huge unit, where I stood gratefully until the rivers of sweat abated, before I tried on the jacket I ended up buying.

    That night I returned to Juliet's shop with a glass of water, and enough cash to purchase all my treasures. We again sat and spoke for another few hours, after which I bought what I'd chosen plus a few more things. However Juliet was the real treasure. The next morning she met me on the curb and put a jasmine flower necklace around my neck as I climbed into my cab. The precious, extraordinary, wonderful people you meet.

    Juliet is the kind of person you make that special trip to see, and wrap other things around spending time just with her. Her husband was teasing us about how long we spoke, but as anyone who travels knows, when you meet one of these people, you stop. You invest the time. They don't come along often and when they do, they make your life ever so much better. Travel increasingly becomes a combination of adventurers combined with returns to places where pearls have been discovered and need to be treasured again, and that is indeed the best part.

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    So this morning was fun, although it didn't begin that way. Nee, my Muslim travel agent right down the street from Kamala Beach Residence had prior to my Chiang Mai trip sold me an airport transfer (her brother to drive me) for today, pick up at 5:15 am. I went to bed very early, woke up at an appalling 3 am. Dressed, packed, cleaned. Hauled my gear downstairs and waited, at 5 am. For some reason I just didn't have a good feeling about it.

    5:15 rolls by and no brother.

    Morning prayers were a while ago and there are many Muslims whizzing by on motorcycles. No brother.

    By 5:25 I'm concerned, because I need an hour to check in, that means arrive at 6 am, and my 15 minute bumper is almost gone. I try my phone. Dead. I walk up the street, there's a small Muslim shop open. A man buying coffee. He offers to help but has no phone. The shop keeper points to hers, I call the main line. Rings until it stops. Try the cell. Answering machine. Try the main line, they've taken it off the hook. Well they live over the office, that's about thirty yards up the street, I'm out of options, time to storm the castle. The Muslim man follows me on his motorcycle.

    He yells out (turns out the father is his uncle) while I'm banging away on the glass door. We do this twice. A few seconds later all the windows in the neighborhood are open, including the ones over my head. Nee looks down. I wave the airport transfer at her. 5:15 am pickup? Your brother? Must leave NOW, sorry, please? She says okay okay, the windows close. I thank the man, we nod, and he goes, smiling.

    I make my way back to my hotel. Quiet. I wait. After a while I think I see headlights. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. Like a car is attempting to start.

    Suddently headlights hit me and an aging Beemer hurtles in my direction. The brother, bedraggled, barefoot and embarrassed, jumps out and we hurl my backpacks over the bumper. We have 18 minutes.

    I sit in the back and seek my Zen. Brother turns to me and yells "Nee forget to tell me I take you to airport today!!" I start to giggle. You cannot be mad. You just cannot be mad. This poor guy hasn't had time to pee or put on his shoes and we're rocketing along these little roads threatening to take out anything going less than 100 mph. For this I woke up an entire neighborhood. This is funny.

    The creaking Beemer, true to its nature, somehow makes up the extra 12 minutes and we go careening into the airport with seconds to spare. Brother and I make formal goodbyes, we grin at each other. Nee is going to get an earful from the whole neighborhood, much less her own family.

    Family businesses.

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    What a delightful read!!! Your adventures sound awesome crazy funny. My husband and I always say that travel is an adventure. Thanks for sharing yours in such a fabulous style.

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    Simpsonc you are most welcome. This morning was far more tame, as I awoke at the steaming hot Bangkok airport, albeit inside a room so cold that the fruit plate from last night took a good crack on the bottom to loosen up the fruit to eat like popsicles. Hahahaha. Not really but you get my drift. The AC is either off, or AFC which is in family friendly language Absolutely Freezing Cold.

    Not where I am now, ensconced in the waiting area of Agga Guest House in downtown Yangon, where a few of us are waiting to be allowed in the house. Kathie who commented earlier on the heat here in May, well, lemme say this.

    You're right.

    Feels good, doesn't it? I'm buying an umbrella like the locals. It's just too damned hot. All the women walking by have one, I'd be a fool not to. Lots of very young backpackers here. Hmm. I have a week here at the end of my stay and that is currently being reconsidered. Funny how the pic and the real thing don't always jive.

    I'm writing a book called The Spaces In Between, which is about what happens when plans fall through. Today was a perfect example. Agga has a guy at the airport, I"m in line for ages getting my paperwork stamped, money changed. I can't see anyone with a sign for the place and with my name on it. Hop into a cab with a kid who speaks really good English. I'm paying eight bucks for this ride, and along the way, I ask about the city and what he charges. I like this kid, his language skills, and his price. And his willingness to start at 7 am before the heat begins to crack the pavement. So we've set it all up, he's going to be there early, he has an air conditioned cab, and I'm happy.

    So while I missed my free ride, I paid a pittance and saved a load of time by finding the right guy to take me on a tour tomorrow, which is exactly what you might do when people don't show up, can't be found, plans flop or whatever life hands you a pickle. I even have my ride to the airport to get to Bagan set for early the day after tomorrow. Totally perfect. You're not always handed such nifty alternatives and anyone who's lost two tires in the middle of the African outback can attest (my hand is up here) but even still, we somehow find a way out. Uh, mostly.

    Now time to find a longyi, brave the heat and bring back some fruit. It feels a bit like being inside an old fashioned steam cooker with no release valve at the top. I feel like my innards are cooking when I go

    Anyone familiar with those mist sprayers installed outside the hotels in Vegas, and also here there where affordable in the world's hot spots (saw a few in Chiang Mai)? I need one installed on my eyebrows.

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    Yangon is under a blanket of wet heat, which is fine if you're inside with some a/c, but my room also has been treated with some powerful chemicals for mossies which argues a tradeoff. I'd rather have netting, as the chemicals are costing me one heck of a headache. Especially after the young man came in here yesterday and sprayed the place liberally with yet more chemicals (aerosol air freshener which I ended up doing my best to clear out by snapping a towel and opening the door to my room, losing all the ac and letting in the mossies anyway.

    Honestly, you have to laugh. It just stinks in here. But it is cool, which is lovely. It's just before 7 am when my yound driver picks me up and we hit the highlights, and I am going to prowl a few obvious sites and some of Kathie's suggestions from another thread. Then it's off to the hinterlands, and I am looking forward to seeing this country. I am unloading my big backpack here for storage and taking my small one, which considerably lightens my load and makes life much easier. Besides, the airlines have limits, and much of what I have is for sports I'm not doing on this trip.

    Fruit was expensive on the street last night. So it will be interesting to see what I find out and about today.

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    Love it JH!
    Just catching up on the horse stories, so sorry your paddock boots died! But love that you got to spend so much quality time with the ponies :)

    I head to Yangon in 6 days, I realize it will be HOT HOT HOT, but it was now or never.

    Let me know of any horse activities you come across in the country- I have a couple days in Yangon/Bagan/Mandalay where I've got some un-planned time!

    Are you on anti-malarials? I always take Melfoquine, but read that the malaria is resistant to it in parts of Burma, so am hoping to get away with not taking any!

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    Your writing style makes for an interesting read. I'm glad you are writing a book! Hope it gets published. Good luck, and please keep your report coming. I hope your day tour works out well.

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    Fun to read as usual JH.

    The guide I mentioned previously for Inle Lake ( Phyu Phyu) is located in Yone Gyi Rd, Naung Shwe. Her bamboo hut is about 400 m down from the main canal to the lake. It's next door to a bright blue steel two storey shed.
    She supports two young sons and her parents, has good English, and does massages !

    Wet towels on the back of the neck, or on top of the head help with the heat !

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    Well as you can all guess, wifi was at a premium from the time I left Yangon and headed to the hills. In fact, everywhere I went, which included Bagan, Inle Lake and Kyaing Tong, wifi and sometimes power in general were a joke. So what follows are the stories are reports from the last ten or so days, which were full of joy, laughter, adventure, great learning, and in every single possible way, worth doing. I did not get the guide's information for Inle Lake in time, but found a good one anyway who spoke good English, and that worked just fine. But I'm now back in Yangon resting for the day in an airconditioned room. Today is a writing day with periodic trips out to get fruit and drinks, and to pack for some day trips. My utterly ruined but once favorite white (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!) Under Armour travel shirt forgive me while I roll on the floor about the white part, its current color'd like to be polite but can't, I can say that anyone who's ever changed a diaper can relate, and I have scrubbed the hell out of this shirt every single night until my arms fell off. I'm actually laughing out loud, I don't think pure bleach will get this out. But I WILL trek in 108 degree heat for hours on end in the Shan Hills and I WILL play with animals and kids and clamber into people's dusty houses and I WILL massage huge bullocks and dogs and if you WILL do these things then...nuff said. Sorry I can't load up pics, there are a slew of them on my Facebook page.

    So. On the 16th May I flew to Bagan. And the fun began.

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    As soon as I landed in Bagan, I snagged a taxi driver and negotiated with him to work with me for about three days. This got me a decent rate. The reason was he spoke good English, was unerringly polite, was early every morning and found me a great guide for Mt. Popa. He also directed me to a superb lacquer shop where I dropped an appalling amount of money ( a horsehair cup there now goes for fifty bucks, what inflation and a tourist economy does, they cost about five a few years back. The jewelry box I paid $150 was twelve. Ouch).

    Bagan- where the Chinese have not done such a execreble job of rebuliding the extraordinary stupas and making them look brand new- is a wonder. The heat was a living thing. I stayed in a blessedly cool dorm room with a changing group of men or women, but it was clean and fun and they fed us. Each day my guide showed up ten minutes early and he took me to the temples. What engaged me most- after I'd taken the requisite Buddha photos, and after forty of them decided I'd rather had my fill- were the amazing artwork on the outside. The biggest problem here as Kathie will most assuredly recall is that all approach is barefoot. YAH! Well, yeah boy howdy, with that sun, by about 10:30 you are blistering your pinkies, which is exactly what I did, being determined to see the outside, the roof, all the animals and courtyards and and simply cannot run fast enough. By the third day we had rain, which was blessed for more reasons than one. That gave me the chance to stand outside and see what those 11th-13th century kings were paying so much for.

    Here is where the real artistry exists. Inside, wind and time have made the painted frescoes that reach to the ceiling very difficult to see, and the bored attendants who whisk you through with a flashlight (note: bring your own, take your time, or even better, wear a headlamp) tend to want to get you back outside to "look at my paintings." Now this wouldn't be so bad except this kids are dropping out of school to hawk paintings, which is the same thing I saw in Sa pa Vietnam. I don't buy from hawkers for that reason. There are markets galore outside the most touristed pagodas and stupas and people there have begun to use the most common phrases like "where are you from" and other conversation starters to get you to look at their goods. For someone who really just wants to see the stupas, this really can and does get in your face after a while, especially if you've already done your buying, and people are getting aggressive. And they do. I had one woman who had some education, of which she was duly proud, chase me all the way into the pagoda, and keep after me until I simply refused to respond to her any more, took out my own flashlight and began to study the walls. Everyone is selling much the same thing, which is part of the problem. What I did buy was a Coke for my driver, which he received with great joy. Personally I despise the stuff but they love it, and a cold Coke tended to revive him after waiting in the foul heat for me while I traipsed through the pagodas.

    The other wonder, especially at the less busy locations, was just the pure brilliance of the designers in their use of height, windows, air movement and shadow to create a cooling wind that was constantly blowing inside while outside it was a fury. I recall walking past a Buddha and into a crosswind which instantly dried my sweat. It might have been around 78 degrees, while outside at least 30 degrees higher. I walked through the entire building, and around each corner the same sweet breeze met you in the face.

    Some pagodas allowed a viewing platform, from which you could see what remained of the 7000 known pagodas and stupas from the extensive building periods from the 11th to the 13th centuries. It is astounding, and humbling. In some cases, kings ( in my humble opinion) competed with each other to build a bigger pagoda, more gold, more ornate sculpture. In fact, in some cases, when a pagoda was just that good, for his trouble that fine architect got assassinated. I'm sure that part wasn't in the original contract. The king was simply making sure his rival couldn't hire the guy away. Sound like American business, anyone?

    What these architects and their artists did build were nealry living pieces of art. The buildings had the most remarkable artwork, details, delicate handwork that to walk around them was a process that took so much time that I worried about my driver. I used up my camera batteries. I studied, touched, photographed. At one point these buildings had been covered in colored stucco, not the raw brick that they are today, but even now the red of the brick is a delight to the eye.

    My driver took me to other temples that tourists typically ignore, like the ancient Hindu temple. Once he knew that I was interested in seeing beyond the standard, he took me to see gates, sights, temples, all kinds of things that had no one poking about. And as well, when he found out that I was desperate to find fresh fruit, we tracked down a little fruit stand where I scored fantasic mangoes. a huge watermelon and a surfeit of finger bananas. That tided me over with the daily eggs, for nobody served fruit for breakfast in Bagan that I could find. Noodles and eggs but no fruit.

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    Fruit is an interesting commodity here, and it seems to depend upon who's buying it. Not always. I just walked down the street to buy mangoes here in Yangon. The first time I did it a woman wanted 1000 kyat for one. This time a man wanted the same for three, same size. What I found out in the hinterlands was that if I had a guide with me doing the negotiation it helped a lot. For example in the Inle Lake market, and I landed on market day, mangoes were 1500 kyat apiece. Nothing doing. I got them for breakfast at my hotel, the Aquarius Inn, and more if I asked. I've no idea if that's the tourist price. Some told me that this was typical of Inle Lake.

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    So my driver, at my request, found me a guide (40 bucks) for the half day trip to Mt. Popa, and he gave me a good deal (40 bucks) which is normally about 55 from what I heard. They were at least fifteen minutes early and the guide was there ready to give me the day's itinerary. We were going to stop and see some villages along the way, eat at this restaurant, fine fine fine. We left.

    The village stop is a standard tourist display. First thing I see is a massive white bullock pulling in a tight circle, his master sitting on the spoke that he is pulling, grinding what turns out to be ground peanuts and sesame seeds for pig food. I'm outta the cart and at the bull's head in a heartbeat. We get permission and I start scrubbing Mr Man's ears. To which he gives me this "Whaaaa?" look and drops his head and gets into it. I mean INTO it. I walk around him, giving this big boy a serious nail scratch, over the hump, into the wrinkles, down the legs, under the belly. Down goes the head. Down. Down. Down. I'm on his butt now. ZZZZZZZ. His owner is watching this, big smile, wide eyed. I walk around him on the way back, by now my fingers are black. I scrub the poo out of this boy, and make may way back over the hump and up to his ears again. HIs muzzle is on the ground, eyes closed. I kneel on the ground right in front of him and scratch the big folds under his chin and neck. He lifts his head and gives me this big wet kiss ( do I need to remind you that the most common place they stick their tongues is up their nostrils) right on the left cheek. One very happy boy. He stands there and swivels his head towards me expectantly, while I wait for him to get going again. Eventually he does, but each time he gets to my shoulder he stops and looks at me with eyes that say a very Dickensonian "More please?" and he licks my hand. Gawd I love to do this. What a sweetie. Not all of them let you, not all dogs let you rub them. Trust me. The ones who do, wow. The rest was all show, how they make hootch, the candy, and they want you to buy something. It's educational. But the bull was the treat for me.

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    Hey sartoric, I took wipes at times, finding that wet towels were too heavy to carry, and I drank all my water. On the hottest climbs (four hours, 45 C, no clouds and no breezes, out all day from 9 til 5 pm) I sweated so profusely that my own cooling system actually did precisely what it was designed to do. While my poor Under Armour shirt may no longer be white, the material is such an effective wicking fabric that it was constantly evaporating. Cotton is useless for that when you're working that hard, that long, it just doesn't release the moisture quickly enough. Remarkably enough though, I found by experimenting with some new fibers, that extremely thin wool tops that are made by folks like Icebreatker and Smartwool end up being the best because they do not hold odors, the bane of all adventurous folks and those who have to travel lightly and use the same items over and over on a trip. The problem though is that those items have no pockets (can't live without them) and an oldie like me HAS to have a place to put the peepers. Can't see squat without the peepers.

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    BTW Needvacation, I did see where there were the occasional riding clubs. After all the Brits were here for years. And there are horse carts here and there too. However when I asked, my guides had no clue at all. They didn't know what a riding club was and the concept of riding was a little unknown to them. So it would take some sleuthing, and I would imagine it lands among the upper classes. I didn't try to chase it down, no longer owning a pair of paddock boots, and leaving most of my gear behind in Yangon.

    When I enquired here about various more exciting options for things to do I got blanks. The response pretty universally was "we don't have that here." Tourists are mostly the kind who sit and look, walk a short way and look, or are boated around and look, but don't much care for hard core adventure. Locals or Asians are willing to hike, as are younger tourists, but they are just getting accustomed to that kind of demand. That's both good and bad for the change it portends.

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    The other adventure if you can call it that, or at least something that demands a little sweat equity, is the pagoda and series of stupas on the top of a volcanic stub right next to Mt. Popa. A monk envisioned something special there, and it happened. It takes about twenty minutes, depending on your conditioning, and you have to do a fair amount of dodging to get to the top. That is, away from very aggresstive, filthy, obese monkeys and their poop and pee all over the stairs. The hardest working volunteers there are the ones constantly cleaning the stairs and I don't see THAT job described on World's Nasiest Jobs. It is, trust me.

    I love to run steps, and these were fun, even if monkeys did bum rush you from the shadows. They have these wicked guerilla tactics, and as you go up you learn to anticipate where they might be hiding. They have mange. NOT NICE. But the top is worth the climb.

    It's interesting to note here that there seems to be a revulsion to physical labor on the part of those who have enough income so that they don't have to work. In other words, those who don't have, labor. When I've had guides, and there is labor involved in going up stairs, a lot of them, or hiking up mountains, steep ones, I've been very surprised at how quickly these men flag. They are half my age or younger, and I lose them about half way up. There isn't yet that love affair with muscles that Western countries have, here leisure is more valued, and with that, the loss of tone, endurance and everything else. In the villages, the elderly, with rare exception, might be missing some teeth, but they were spry, lively, bright eyed, and engaged, and still working hard in their seventies. It's an education to see these values at work.

    The other interesting, and often very funny, part of Mt. Popa are the "nat" shrines. The way my guide explained it, nats are animal spirits but they are in human form. There is a very long exhibit for all the nats, ruled over by a woman and her two sons. It stretches a long way in either direction. Each has a fun story, and each has money stuffed into its hands or costume according to the most recent pentient.

    After I heard the stories and explanation, here's what I gleaned of the reasoning behind the nats (which preceded Buddhism in these parts: Myanmar cultures are very nonconfrontational. Almost every nat has a story in which the perpetrator (who later becomes a nat) is killed or destroyed for something like dereliction of duty or drunkenness or taking issue with the king. By praying to or worshipping a nat, it is the perfect passive aggressive way to take issue with a public figure like the king without losing your head over it. You can ask for interference, revenge, hurl your bile and pay your money. So if the object of your anger runs into misfortune you have the pleasure of knowing you were the source. What a perfect setup. It works in the other direction as well, for positive interference.

    Then Buddhism came along, but people still revere and worship nats. I gave money to the woman on the tiger purely for symbolism's sake.

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    Sounds like you've had a fine time JH, good onya.

    If you have some spare time in Yangon, take the local boat across the river then hire a motorcycle taxi to take you around.

    I'm probably too late with this suggestion also ....��

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    Hey Sar, my local guy, Zaw, is picking me up at oh dark thirty to carry me off for two days to Golden Rock. We've got some plans for a village, a zoo and some other good stuff as well. My thinking is that I'm trying to not have to hit the ATM again ( I just peeked at my bill EEEKKK) so I"m hoping my $350 US is going to stretch. Today I've been using all my org skills to fit everything into my bags. What I also realized was that I'd bought some Burmese antiques in Thailand, and I'll bet you dime to a dollar that will get challenged at customs. So I had to also go digging through all my reciepts to make sure I had all my proofs of purchases in Thailand before I got on the plane. Better safe than sorry, and in this country even more so.

    Thanks for a tip o the hat.

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    Inle Lake was my next adventure, and my very first impression was that the stories I'd heard about $65 US taxi rides were wrong. Mine was $20US, and while pricey, nobody was being unreasonable. The kid who WAS, was the one pinning an extra dollar on top of the ten dollar Inle Lake entry fee. My driver said ten, kid said eleven . I fought him on it out of principle. It' s not the money- it pissed me off royally when people do that kind of thing. Ultimately I gave in but the principle of it still annoys me. People do it because they can. That kind of power gets deep under my skin.

    My place in Inle Lake was Aquarius Inn, a simply charming, hidden in the gorgeous trees and gardens kind of place. They met you with fruit and tea and treated you so well, and I loved it there. They had a sweet natured dog with the most delightful manners (he would run to you at brekkie but under no circumstances would he eat from your hand. He would wait patiently for you to put his offering on a plate on the floor, then delicately take it up. I've never seen such good manners, not even on so called "well behaved" dogs in my country, who shove their faces in your lap and dislodge your fork in their enthusiasm. This little boy discovered that I had a mean way with ears, and he buried his ears against my fingers and sighed deeply. That is until he found out that I had an equally good way with toes, legs, belly, and his pelvis, which turned out to be his Donnybrook.

    One of my fave things in the world is to find The Perfect Spot on any animal and for this boy it was right between his pelvic bones. Whether sleeping or standing that was his I'm in Heaven Spot, and he came right after me when he smelled me nearby to present said butkus for massaging. He slept in the deep, dark, earthy soil of a long planter next to card tables, and he was up early. As the first one up for breakfast I had his pleasant face facing me at the table, patiently waiting his turn. The cats were much more insistent, climbing on the table. Aquarius served oodles of fruit and tons of tea and lots of eggs. We often got rained on, and they had a line on a great guide who spoke excellent English.

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    The first time we went out I'd planned to go out solo but a couple of Aussies and two Dutch girls joined us so we ended up doing the tourist route. Kathie would be pleased to know that the lotus weaving was on our run that day. My battery was shot, so I already knew I'd be making another boat run the next day, so I concentrated on learning and watching. And finding a purchase. The scarves are so dear it was hard to choose one, but when you take into account the extraordinary extraction process and the handwork, it does seem well worth it. When I went back the next day, my primary interest was in capturing on video the rhythm and movement of the looms, and the clacking made by a roomful of women weaving all at once. It's an extraordinary sound, unique in all the world.

    The second day (and my last) was far more engaging, as the water levels were so low that the previous days' heavy load of five people prevented my driver from taking us to a few spots because we'd have gone aground immediately. With one light person aboard we easily sped down the canals to see the umbrella factory and a few other spots, including silver making, that were out of reach the prior day.

    What I enjoyed most of all was Inthein, where there was a pagoda at the top of the hill surrounded by more than a thousand ancient and perfectly beautiful Asian stupas. Now I'll get this over with and insult a few folks but this is my opinion and mine alone. When I got to the top and saw what was being done to these ancient works of art: effectively selling them to foreigners to be rebuilt in lifeless, ugly, smooth concrete so that you can "dedicate" it to your kid or something else equally ridiculous (pardon my sarcasm but this should be a priceless UNESCO World Heritage Site here not a place where you buy a placque for your damned baby). The result of these remade stupas is so sterile, lifeless and offensive compared to the living relics below with their aging Buddhas, their gorgeous artwork, their pricelss archeological and historical value, well, nuff said. I took tons of photos because I honestly believe that some greedy fool or fools actually will end up selling off those rights to foreigners who want to immortalize their children rather than donate to something higher, better and well served. Done. Hate mail welcomed.

    I was stupefied by what I found in these relics: decaying Buddhas, pieces of artwork untold centuries old, each of which made a tremendous photo. The stupas have been entwining with Mother Nature for centures, with trees growing from their spires, bushes leaning horizontally, flowers everyhwere. Buddha would be so pleased, I suspect. I've rarely seen anything so balanced and lovely, ancient and natural, so blended. Concret. Phooey.

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    We also spent time put putting slowly around the graceful forms of the fisherman balancing so deftly on the ends of their boats, moving quietly across the lake using the unique one-legged paddling motion common to Inle Lake. My video would make any viewer seascik as the boat is bouncing in the waves, but at least I can watch and enjoy it, and remember. The lotus patches floated by us, the clouds scudded by ahead, and over the city their bellies opened up for rain.

    In town I discovered a restaurant called The Natural. A mean cashew chicken (without the chilis) and rice, and fruit to go, three nights in a row. Once I had it I had to go back, it was by all means the best food I had in country. Period. The mangoes in town were ridiculously expensive so I counted on their take home boxes of lychee nuts, mango, bananas, watermelon and various other sweets for late night snacking. The meal was chock full of cashews. The first night the skies opened up on us while I eating, and I was the lone customer. It didn't abate. If anything the downpour grew in intensity.

    This is when this gear pig really has fun. I'd brought a pair of superbly lightweight Marmot rain pants and a Patagonia jacket made for high mountain winds and rain conditions. Here was a perfect storm in which to try it out. I stepped into my gear, loaded up my take home boxes and headed cheerfully out into the deluge.

    The hood of the orange jacket allows you to snug it down around your face and there's a bill, so that the rain is kept out of your eyes. Nobody was driving, but I had to keep an eye out for cyclists on their way home. The puddles were very deep.

    As I made my way home I waved cheerfully at people who were huddling under their awnings from the onslaught. Inside my gear I was warm and dry. I could feel the pounding of the rain and the wind on my body but nothing was coming through. My hands and feet were wet, but that was minor.

    The only thing I had to do upon getting back to the Inn was snap the rain gear a few times and then hang out to dry which they did in the wind of the fan in just a few mintues. I love good gear.

    One thing I learned about Inle Lake, rain and mud was when I'd first arrived. Rain has preceded me so there were plenty of big puddles in the main road. There are no drainage areas so it just puddles there. I was walking along the road and saw what I thought at the time was a large pile of rocks. Now up to this point I'd been quite accustomed to seeing rocks on the roadside for road work. These were laid by hand. So I just made what would have been a perfectly normal assumption that that's what this pile was, and so I started climbing it to avoid the traffic and deep puddles on the main road.

    Not smart. Not rocks.

    This was the most wicked, treacly, sticky mud I have ever encountered. Every step more of it would cling to my sports sandal. weighing them down with the effect of tying bricks to my feet. There was nowhere to brush it off, knock it off. One had to just keep on walking, accummulating more and more of this unruly goo until you land on the other end, fully four inches taller than you started. Now. To get this damned stuff off.

    It bloody well refused. And I mean refused. I scraped and stood in water and did everything a reasonable person might do to remove normal mud. But this is not normal mud. This is science fiction, Born in the Bowels of Hell Mud, the kind that your kids used to get on the clothing and shoes and tramp through the house right after you bought that new beige rug mud. The kind of mud that does NOT come out of the white shirt mud, if you get my meaning, this was the beginning of the end of my white shirt.

    A battle ensued on the street. I'd scrape, curse. find gravel, scrape some more, find water, scrape, you get the picture. I've never seen the like of it. It had the consistency of wet cement mixed with Super Glue that doesn't set. And it stains instantly. Finally I got enough off to commence walking. I guess I could have gotten the clue when NOBODY ELSE WAS WALKING ON IT but that bright thought didn't penetrate. Once I got it mostly removed from my sandals I felt so much lighter I nearly ran for the nearest scale to weigh myself.

    It came to me later, after observing so many large earth moving machines in the water, that due to the lack of rain for so long (NO of course there's no climate change, what are you talking about???) they've had to deepen the channel. Without the channel all life ceases to move. The channels are the supply chain, something I know quite a bit about. All commerce and the movement of people and products stop. So if the water dips too low, and believe me I saw a lot of sandbars where my driver said there shouldn't be, there's trouble. The big eartth movers where everywhere.

    That mud came from the bottom of the channel. As Gandalf might say, "It came from the Dark Deep." Orchestra makes threatening music in backround. That mud needs to either stay where it is, or be put in someones garden. I'll bet it's incredibly rich. But on the damn road? What are they thinking????

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    Mr Man of the Dreaded Pelvis Rub followed me in to my room, something I know full well he wasn't allowed to do, but I was curious to see what he would do in there. He was intensely curious. He inspected everything. Everything.

    Then he disappeared into the bathroom.

    Now many of you know that when you travel so often toilets and showers are combined, so that the tiles on the floor are always cool from the shower. My room had a fan going most of the time, and the bathroom was in the shade all day, so the effect was that this room was almost cold.

    Mr Man wasn't coming out.

    After a while, since I'd left my room door open for him to explore elsewhere, I figured he'd left. But just in case, I checked. There he was, splayed out on the near icy floor of the shower, enjoying temps that I doubt he'd ever felt against his body before. He was snoring.

    I left him alone to dream of Alaska, of dogs that grew fur, and bears that chased them and sometimes played with them.

    In the meantime, content that I could give him a respite from the constants of heat and humidity, I worked, read and napped. At some point I heard him get up. I looked up at him as he made his way out the door. I swear he winked at me.

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    Inle Lake was pleasant, but touristy for my tastes, and smelled too much of fish. The prices were hiked up and the goods were too familiar and while there were things that were lovely to the eye and Ioved my hotel and its sweet staff and adorable dog, I was ready to move on. Had it been cooler, I might have done the hike from Kalaw or seen the elephant camp. But heat is a huge factor here as are the rains. So I left for Kyaing Tung, and arrived about mid morning after a weather delay.

    A young man who calls himself Eric (Kyaw Sein) collected me pretty ferociously at the airport but I was the one who pinned him at his rickety motorcycle taxi. I again used the same approach. I had three days to fill and I wasn't interested in the touristy village visits practically in town. Eric was a member of the Akha tribe, and immediately offered to take me up high into the Shan Hills. He'd help me pick out what to bring as gifts, we'd start early and spend the day. He eyeballed me closely. You CAN hike, can't you?

    Remember that line.

    My hotel, the very welcoming Khema Rhatta, had only one problem, which the whole town suffered. Well, two. The power often went off, often for many hours at a time, and wifi was a joke. They did however have a massive, monster bathtub. Now I recall driving into Sapa with a small group in January to a freezer of a hotel which also had a massive bathtub, thinking that at least I could have a hot bath. I had not yet learned that the Barbie sized breadbox on the wall was your entire hot water supply, which came out to about two inches of water, the sum of which turned to ice crystals as I futilely splashed it over myself to get clean and also attempt to warm up.

    This isn't that. This place had water so hot that the first time I filled the tub I had to wait an hour for the water to cool down. I fell dead asleep in pure relief, as I am a bath taker, the simple joy of floating in such relaxing luxury was overwhelming. Wifi? What wifi....zzzzzzzzzzzz. Every night I was in bed at 8 and up at 4. Breakfast was eggs and fruit at 6:30 and Eric was there at 7:30. The schedule was to hit the market, pick up soaps, knives and peeling instruments. I also suggested nail clippers which went over very well with the men.

    Day one was a long drive. Now let me explain something. Eric's taxi is made for groups. You put your tender butt on a hard wooden bench and suffer the consequences of the most evil road conditions on the face of the Earth. Too narrow for a Hummer. Only navigable by motorcycle, motorcycle taxi or ATV, if there were any and there aren't. I've never had my spine smashed or my pelvis pounded so hard as the thirty miles we drove those three days. The word "roads" do too much justice to the Pits From Hades that we drove. The government does nothing to grade or work on the paths that lead out towards and up to the villages, although the close in ones get attention. Even there the heavy gravel threatens to shake out your molars. But these "roads" are pathways carved deeply by rain, rivers and puddles, very deep holes that eat the tires, send your coconut through the canvas and make you bite your tongue. My hands were bright red from holding onto the bars on either side. Most of that was simply trying to say in the cab and avoiding going completey airborne. But Eric took pity on my bony butt and installed a soft bucket seat which balanced atop a big fat tire which balanced atop the metal floor of his taxi. Nothing strapped, secured, no seat belt. Hang on baby. The seat moved everywhere, including up and down, and so did my sense of humor. By the last day my lower back was so annoyed with me it was speaking in tongues even Southern Baptists wouldn't understand. But that's why they make Panadol.

    So up we went, and found the day's resting place for Martha the Mauler, and we picked up our gear and took off. Not knowing what to expect I'd loaded my backpack so my gear on this extremely hot day was about 25 lbs. Eric's cousin had come along to practice his English.

    Along the way we stopped in at a friend's where Eric kindly fashioned me a walking stick of bamboo (very strong and sturdy, wish I still had it!) and in minutes we were off. And headed straight up.

    And up up up up up up up . The road curved around right and left and left and right, always up up up up up. Now if you read my stuff you know I love to climb. I'm a fool for it. I run steps at home to be able to do this. This year for the first time I invested a horrendous $600 in orthotics to deal with the vicious left knee pain that nearly sent me hurtling down Kilimanjaro a few years ago, and has made descents such a misery. They were in the boots that day. Up up up up. I found my stride.

    At some point I realized I hadn't heard anyone say anything for quite a long time so I turned around and neither of them was in sight. Now mind you, Eric is 32, so that makes him about half my age. His cousin is younger.

    I waited. Took some photos. Found some shade.

    Waited. Eventually the cousin appeared, then he stood at the curve, hands on hips in that classic NFL Defensive Unit posture of "crap I'm tired."

    Eric labored around the corner. I was taping them on my camera. We were hardly a third of the way up. I wasn't even warmed up yet. My best work is at the end of the day, not the beginnning. Eric was having a tough time, and also he had no hat in this heat. He wore a heavy polo shirt in a dark navy. Not choices I'd have made in this environment but he lives here.

    Well I did wind sprints. I'd find a spot up head, sprint to it, find the shade and wait. Then they'd come up and we'd do it again. But once we got close to the villages I walked behind Eric, this is a conservative country, and it's his family. Along the way he told me about his people, the culture and what to expect.

    I didn't even realize what was missing at the time. Knee pain. Nothing. Nada. And with that, a level of energy that comes when you're not constantly correcting for, protecting for or in some way afraid of sending that ice pick into your knee. God love my sports chiro.

    The village appeared and with it, the first Akha woman, wearing the extraordinarily complex, pure silver decorated headdress that my Thailand antique dealer friend Juliet had shown me back in Chiang Mai.

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    In Eric's village of the Akha people, all of whom he considered family, the first thing they do is push the local hootch in your hand. You're expected to down it immediately. I do not imbibe. This creates a problem because I'm aware that to not to so is to be rude. So I tip the glass and do my best to fake it, but I stil get some of this holymotherofgodjesusmaryjosephwhatdidtheymakethisoutof stuff on my lips and tongue. We were inside with about six people and they were are watching me for my reaction and happily they all had a good laugh, and while they were doing that I stashed that evil stuff next to my leg where I could do no further harm to my person. Tea came next, something I spent a great deal of time drinking, and the woman of the house put out some lovely boiled peanuts. I damned near ate the whole bowl, too. They were delicious.

    We sat and ate and talked amiably for a good long while. The questions most frequently asked of me were always about my age and family. Since I have none, and this was distressing, I fashioned an answer that providing some satisfaction. What I told them was that since I didn't have children or a family I am out meeting my entire family which is the world. And that in many ways is very much the truth. The more I said it the more I felt the truth of it. And to them it made sense, too.

    Eric knew that one of my goals was to buy that headdress and the outfit that went with it. So we slowly made our way through a series of households. At each, we'd stop and spend time with one of the diminutive women, most of whom came up maybe to my mid chest. For each we had soap, which was treasured, and for certain households we also gave out knives, which were a big deal. LIstening to Akha was fascinating, as Eric spoke at least five dialects among the villages, and I did my best to learn thank you in three of them as we hiked our way around.

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    Just before noon Eric walks me up to this house (they are all on ground floors, this is the only village we visit that has houses sitting on the ground) and an ancient woman, taller than the others, comes out to greet us. We go in, drink tea, eat peanuts, and eventually she puts a mat on the ground and out come the goodies. We go through the entire collection and soon I am the happy owner of a silver headdress, a jacket, belt, scarf, purse, and leggings (Danskin did NOT originiate this idea). All for 130 bucks US, which btw, is about a third of what that headress cost in Thailand, and the same headdress costs $300 plus in the marketplace down in Kyainag Tong. This way the woman gets paid directly, and boy can she use this cash. She is beside herself.

    Suddenly the house is a flurry of activity. Eric comes flying through the house with a screeching hen in hand shouting THIS IS YOUR LUNCH and before I can say WAIT I HAVE MANGOES I hear a clunk and no more screeching. Well I guess that's lunch now. Begins now the long process of boiling and plucking, and since I grew up on a chicken farm this is all very familiar territory. Meanwhile Grandmother brings in and begins to knead big platters of herbs. Eric's got his shirt off and Grams has brought in liquor and peanuts and is constantly indicating to me to eat eat eat eat. I'm already nearly full, and chicken something or other is coming.

    This is a real honor to have a hen killed for you, a genuine celebration. The fire is stoked, the herbs and garlic and all the home grown veggies are cut and the whole thing is put together slowly and carefully. Eric has no clue that this dish is called, only that he grew up with it and he loves it and wants to share it with me. That's what's important.

    I sit with the old woman as the boys cook, and I tape her while she pantomimes kicking them out of the kitchen and taking over. She's a hoot.,

    Finally, plastic chairs are produced, bowls full of chopped chicken and parts I don't recognize are set out, and rice and other bits are placed in front of me. The broth smells heavenly. Suddenly a cat appears and insistently moves in and among us, and Eric produces a basket. The cat clearly knows what's coming because she moves to escape, but down it comes over her head, and there she sits. Waiting. Because eventually she gets goodies, which we sneak to her as we work our way through this tough as nails chicken. This creature has spent its entire life running for its life, and it is made of pure ligament and tendon. I was given a drumstick as the honored guest, but I swear to you, I bit into it and did not find meat. I did my best and Kitty got the rest. The broth, however, was fragrant and wonderful and over rice, that and the leaves and herbs that Eric had used were simply lovely. Kitty continued to get gristle and bone, and there she sat, happily distracted from her prison, cracking bones to her heart's content.

    I took out my mangoes, and as I cut up the sweet flesh I shared big slices with the old woman, Eric and the cousin. They initially refused, but fruit this good- and I had three- is not to be refused. She was in heaven.

    She was so happy for the sale, so happy for the company and the fact that we spent the time, and ate with her. It was the beginng of my favorite time in country.

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    Sounds like you are having quite the adventure!

    I absolutely agree with you about the stupas - at InThien, at Kakku. I love them in the state of blessed decay. But it's a cultural thing, having to do with making merit by "fixing" up the stupas and painting them white or gold.

    I'm enjoying your trip, though I'll still opt for the "less hot" season Nov-Dec-Jan

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    The only horse riding for tourists I have come across is at Ngapali Beach where there is a string of about 4 well kept ponies available for riding along the beach water line. Experienced riders can dtot whilst newcomers are accompanied.The ponies appear well kept and fed and are treated well.
    Some Burmese friends were visiting us in England a couple of years ago and we took them down to the family Equestrian Center and their surprise at the facilities ,which they called the English Horse Hilton, was a joy to behold. Their eyes popped out of their head when they saw inside the Horse Box,not only the comfort for the 4 dressage horses, but the TV/Kitchen/Lounge/Sleeping area for the humans!
    As for sweet spots- the horses all love it and Laddie our chockie Lab rolls his eyes and moans with delight when one hits the right spot.
    Your narative is a joy to read but also confirms that my normal visiting months to Myanmar-October through February, are the right ones.

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    The march down the mountain at midday was a scorcher, and again, it wasn't until a lot later, like the next day, that I noticed that the knee pain was missing. The forests were cooling, the shade was deeper, and we quickly devoured the way down. Periodicaly motorbikes would pass us. Otherwise we were along in the aging afternoon, and we came back upon the motorcycle taxi and threw in our packs. We were all soaked to the skin, and ready for the breeze, such as it was, of travel.

    One trick that sometimes helped with the intense beatings one took in the back of the taxi was to keep moving. Shift and move and flow and bend, and in all ways keep the spine flowing. It kept you from being rigid, and trying to resist being slammed around, which was inevitable and hurt far worse. It helped. But I still needed Panadol in the morning. And a lot of yoga, which really helped.

    The next day we visited the Eng tribe, a very different tribe, culture and way of being in different villages in another part of the Shan Hills. The hike wasn't quite as epic but the sun was hotter. No cloud cover, and the power had been out the night before at my hotel. We arrived at mid morning, and climbed the stairs into the home of two women who were waiting out the heat of the day. The grandmother was rail thin, and she had her grandchild tied to her body. She immediately came to sit with us and began stuffing betel nut and leaves into her mouth. During the next half hour she continued to stuff more and more matter and products and leaves into her mouth until she had quite the mouthful, and then she proceeded to carry on a conversation with Eric. She had few teeth that I could make out and what was left were blackened stumps from the betel juice.

    For any child who'd ever resented being told not to speak with his mouth full, this was the village to live in. However these children have never seen nor smelled soap or water, been bathed, known clean clothing. There is no toilet, nor shower or any kind of facility. There is no concept of hygiene. My guess is that the kids, who wear a constant layer of grime and who play with all the animals who are equally dirty, have about the most powerful immune system imaginable. When I mentioned to Eric I had to pee, he pointed down the path to the woods. I actually found the town "toilet" which, interestingly didn't smell, dor did its people or children. The tp of choice were banana leaves.

    There was a very primitive water delivery system that brought a trickle of water downhill through as series of wood troughs. That constituted the entire water source for the village. These houses, as were all the others we would see, were up on stilts, so to visit people you had to walk up to a platform. The advantage of this was to allow air to circulate freely and cool the house. Fires were in the middle of the house, the house was made of wood or rattan, wide open but for the women's quarters. The Eng were the only people who did not remove their shoes when coming upstairs and walking on the mats that people sat on. Their language was distinct, I learned to say "Mom" with a long "o" sound for thank you, when I gave out the gifts.

    Eric explained to me that prior to five centuries ago, the Eng had no enemies. Everyone around were just other villagers. Everyone had shaman in each village. Then missionaries came: Catholic, Baptist. For the last five centuries, there have been enemies. I find this no surprise, as any people who strongly identify with a belief system rather than the people will end up feeling a need to be right about it, and that causes wars. I'm no fan of missionaries, but that's just me. I come to learn, not to judge someone's religion as being right or wrong. But then, that's why I have a problem with missionaries. If they'd just show up to provide education, fine. If they proslytize, there's the road out. I can't think of a single country that this didn't end up in war and death. but that's just me. I'm just a journalist.

    What struck me most, and story follows later (bedtime here) was the generosity of people so starkly poor, but the question I had to raise was by what standards? And that becomes a very interesting question.

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    I'm with you on the weather. The heat is stupefying. I've never traveled in such heat before, and don't plan to again. While I've kept my sense of humor about this, I recall vaguely times when I was in Oz and it was bloody hot but nothing, nothing like this. This is like traveling in a broiler, and on top of that, hiking, exercising, and exercising HARD in it. That it doesn't seem to affect me terribly is surprising, but that said, it's just not pleasant. Geez what an understatement.

    I heartily agree with all you've said about time of year. And yes, I'd have liked to make it to Mrauk U, and your guide finally did contact me. It wasn't until I was nearly done with this trip that she did. One has to appreciate just how bad the internet really is to understand that lack of response to a business inquiry.

    Next time!

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    Zaw and I left this morning at 6:30 for Golden Rock, and he failed to tell me one itty bitty detail. There's an epic hike involved, for if there's a choice between taking the truck or hiking, I will do the hike. I only had my sandals. They made it, but not my choice of footwear for the conditions. That's besides the point. It was still fun. We got to Golden Rock about ten and I check into the The Eternity Resort right away. On the way Zaw keeps telling me that this hike take guys about 3.5 hours, and women about four, so it should take me about five.

    Now I should preface this with a story about when I was seventeen. I had just quit smoking five packs a day (you read that right, 100 cigarettes a day, my parents were smokers), and I had severed my Achille's tendon. My family doctor, Willie Steele, informed me that I would limp for the rest of my life. The day after the cast came off I marched out to my junior high school track and began running. Hurt like hell but I never limped a day in my life due to that injury. I don't take well to having other people throw limitations at me, and one of the reasons I speak- especially at women's conferences- is for that very reason.

    So I've checked in. Lightened my load. The hotel manager has pronounced it will take at LEAST four hours and so does my driver. I tell them three. They laugh. Zaw takes me to the start point, I take a photo of my watch, and take off.

    This is a wondrous hike. You climb ancient steps.You go through the middle of people's houses and they want to sell you water. There are plenty of places for food along the way although most were closed. The way was devoid of tourists but for the two guys from Seattle I stopped to talk to when we were viciously attacked by the sweetest natured little puppy who licked us to death for about fifteen minutes. What a love, almost stole him. Then off again. I sweated rivers, oceans and thunderstorms. There were a few flat spaces as I traversed from hill to hill, but most of it was combination of rotting stairs and rocks that worked as stairs. There were such beautiful woods around certain stairs that they made photographs. Finally there were views.

    What was utterly hilarious were the two times I got hijacked by a golden rock that I didn't realize wasn't the real thing. I stopped, climbed up the steep hill, took a photo. The monk who was working the ground said to me on the way down, "You're the first person who's done that." Thanks a rock.

    When I got to the second, someone saved me from repeating myself and sent me up an incredibly steep concrete road. This, I would learn later, was the roller coaster mad ride down by truck, which many people take up to avoid what I had just done.

    I made the stairs in precisely three hours, took a photo, then wandered the grounds until I found the REAL Golden Rock. Then I enjoyed the breezes, the view, and mildly wondered what the big deal was about except that really it was very pretty. There was a lot of construction going on, all by hand, with young women balancing a great many loose bricks on their heads and young men carting them by bag held against their foreheads.

    On the way down the fun started. By the time I found the truck only one bank of seats was left. A solid row, one thin plank to sit on. The clouds were threatening and people were selling brightly colored raincoats. It had been threatening for hours and I had already covered my pack. Suddenly my seat had about twelve people on it and there were elbows and arms everywhere as folks dressed for the inevitable.

    The truck started down hill and immediately I realized that this was no ordinary ride. We had a sadist at the wheel, and he took great evil pleasure in hitting the hairpin turns at the highest possible speed. There were of course no belts, the only option was to hang on for dear life, which we all did, to the steel bar of the seat in front of us.

    The rain began to build and soon there were umbrellas in my face, which served only to channel a great deal of rain onto what was left of my dry pants. We all hunkered down, trying to grasp the umbrella while also doing our best to stay in the bed of this enormous truck while this madman hurtled around the turns. I got my camera out, and taped the entire trip down, and boy am I glad I did.

    I have gleefully ridden some of the most terrifying roller coaster rides in the USA, and I love them. However this was far worse. Rollercoasters have bars across your body for safety. They use G-forces to ensure you don't rocket out. This is the real thing, and the only G-forces are the one grabbing at your various body parts to rip you into the canyons below. On long stretches the guy would speed up to the extent he could without overshooting the hairpin turn, our stomachs would lurch forward and we'd go flying around the turn and I swear body parts would detach.

    When we left the concrete and hit road that was still under construction the sound track took on some comments that weren't for public consumption as there was of course no padding on the seat and the wood and metal beat the poo out of my bony parts. It reminded me that a Snickers bar now and then really doesn't hurt.

    My battery finally ran out and I spent the rest of our trip enjoying watching everyone else, checking to make sure my hands were still functional (white but functional). When the guy pulled up in front of the The Eternity Resort I was so befuddled by backlash I had no idea it was my stop) and he was taking off by the time I realized I'd better holler for him to stop again.

    This place did a very nice turn by delivering tea and a menu right to my hands as I walked up, so that within minutes I had a meal at the door. I am of course drying my clothing again all around the room, I had to round everything up. As soon as I removed said clothing they stood up and headed towards the door quite on their own and announced they were going hiking again. I do believe they had a bit of a workout this trip.

    I do wish to make a disclaimer, for there is at least one poster on here who has in the past misread my comments. I love to take on challenges because a good speaker walks her talk. It's not about ego. As I age I will discover limitations. And at the same time I will find new possibilities. The point is that I push. That is why I do this. Speakers who don't go out and constantly get new material, who don't walk their talk, aren't authentic. Travel is an extraordinary teacher of both, and of finding the sense of humor to be gracious about letting go along the way.

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    Well, drat. I had posted a couple of items on here, thought I pushed the submit button, and now a few days later.....hummhhm.

    Okay, rolling back. My driver, Zaw, whom I now consider my friend (have to with all the time I've spent with him) took me as promised to the wildlife center not far from Yangon. I had want to ride, feed and bathe elephants, and he knew of a place where some of that might be done. So off we went.

    What ensued was really, well. As a proflific writer, I'm stumped. I'll try. These are the facts. Three ellies, tied to trees. (Not my country, but I HATE this). You buy sugar cane in small buckets. They want the food. I get inspected by a long trunk and immediately my poor grungy-but-clean shirt is done for the day. All good humored. While I do this, I explore ears, scratch, rub eyelids, so very gently. Test the reaction. Zaw photographs, the ellies are happy about the food and not resisting the touch.

    Handlers are mystified at what I'm doing, and why would I show affection? Well, it's not something you can explain.

    I went to the boy who was still looking for food after spending about fifteen minutes with the female, who decided she was happier with my working on her right side. These animals have never had someone scratch behind their ears, gently rub the skin around their eyes, scratch their heads, chins, anything. This is all new. So they're curious when human touch feels really really good.

    I reached up and scratched behind Little Man's left ear and he let loose with a big song, which is all I can describe it as, right into his female partner's ear, and ended with a blast of air. Not angry or aggressive, more like WOW, and he settled down into just receiving. So I went after him, the parts I could reach, the areas my fingers were strong enough to scratch. And on an ellie, there are limitations. What I found was that the softest skins were the places they most liked scratched, behind the ears, the ears themselves, way inside the ear canal (YUM) and the eyelids and around the eyes.

    We have three videos of his behavior, the last being the most evocative. After about forty minutes, during which I'd go back to the female every so often, I was standing on the roots of the trees so that I could reach higher on his ears. When I stepped down, he leaned his head into me and pinned me against the tree. Not hard, just firmly, and then he moved his head so that his eye was about two inches from mine. There he stayed for minutes on end. I'm scratching his ear, rubbing his face and eye area, and we are looking into each other's eyes. Then he sways out in a rocking motion and does the same thing, over and over, for about thirteen minutes, until he stops, and I have my right arm wrapped around his face, and my left around his head, and close my eyes. He's totally calm, and we just move together like that, rocking a bit.

    What that felt like to be that close to this enormous creature and be without any fear (respect, absolutely but not fear) is what I cannot express. I have photos and videos. Otherwise I'd have disputed the truth of it myself. This creature responded to touch, I can't know what was going on in his mind, or the whys, I don't know ellie behavior. But I felt, and was, perfectly safe, and apparently he felt that way with me.

    Had others not shown up wanting to feed the ellies this might have gone on longer, but I'd likely overstayed my welcome. I didn't ride or bathe either, just loved on them. Frankly this was quite enough. That such a massive animal allowed me to attend to him in such a way, well, what I do know is that much of this trip has involved some kind of engagement with very large beasts, and the opportunity to explore massaging and touching them, and being in an amazing zen place while doing so. Not all accept attention any more than all kids or adults do. But the ones that do, do so with a grace and gratitude that make you feel so humble.

    After we left the ellies, we drove through the many divisions of monkeys. In fact we merely had to stop the car and they would gather. This was birthing season, all the moms who weren't still pregnant had just borns clinging to them. And they were proliferating. No natural predators except the local villagers. All the tigers are gone, so they get fed from the cars. Not a good idea but no one has told people not to do this. However, knowing Myanmar, they'd do it anyway, just as cyclists ride in the passing lane on the "highways."

    One more stop before we left revealed a group of smallish deer with some stags. A doe was close to the road, and a woman selling greens to feed her with stood nearby. I got out, approached the doe, offered her an ear scrub first. She laid her head in my hand with some force in that way that dogs do when an ear scrub is just what they've been wanting all day long, and I took that as my cue. Sure enough, this doe was delighted to accept a full body massage. She was intensely curious about what was going on when I got to her back legs.

    At one point I was working on scratching the inside of her right rear leg at the knee (same place that the Appaloose collapsed) when she reached around with her delicate wet nose and touched my hand, and then lifted her leg as if to say, "Under here please?" So I obliged. Her sweet little head dropped, dropped....there she went. We taped this too. She was the calmest thing.

    When I sat down she poked her nose in my face a few times, and I just caressed her for a while. I was her main bud until another cab showed up and another girl got out and bought her FOOD. Whereupon I was relegated to chump change and she wandered off to make goo goo eyes at the new patron. Sigh. Love affairs are so short and sweet.

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    Yesterday Zaw took me to the pottery village not far from Myanmar, where the industry spawned the entire town, and is now slowly dying off. This place makes the large pots into which people put their plants or crabs, depending on the design. We watched the process done the old way, with the eldest man carving up river mud blocks into shavings which were placed into circles of pottery powder. Then he poured water into the middle and mixed it where it would sit, and then be mashed for a while like old fashioned wine making.

    This man, a lean, wiry, happy faced ancient of 81, was as lively as anyone a fifth his age, and been doing this for six decades. The other man, with whom we were talking, was bemoaning the fact that he couldn't find young people to teach.

    He handed me a small piece of clay to work with, which I made into a horse head. I handed it to him, and he made it into a bird. I love how you don't have to have words to speak.

    A few years back my professional potter Jill (and by professional potter I mean that she put her kids through college, bought land and teaches classes, and buys and trains her Arabians professional potter) and I were in Taos. We were shopping, and we had met a woman who was showing us clay. Jill was working a small piece as this woman shared with us the loss of her daughter not long before. When we were ready to go, Jill handed her a perfect little horse, which is the Tarot symbol of the emotions. The woman was utterly charmed. I never forgot this gesture. I had the pleasure of traveling with Jill in Thailand years ago and hope to entice her out of country again, as she has a habit of leaving good feelings behind everywhere.

    Zaw and I had cobbled together a list of souvenir shops to visit from a fancy brochure I'd found, but most featured very overpriced hilltribe weavings and scarves and the kind of made in China-look things that people buy on impulse. However, one did provide some goodies worth looking at and I did drop some dime there to add to my rising pile: Nandawun, No 55, Baho Road, corner of Baho Road and Ahlone Road, Ahlone Tsp. The shop is in a two story colonial and features room after room of many of the typical and some not so typical items. I found some metal (read: heavy) pieces here that were appealing, and they also had antiques. Selection was good, some pieces were impressive, and the wall of puppets had a wonderful selection and decent pricing. Clothing, lotus scarves, and two rooms of jewelry as well as a room featuring the sequinned embroidery finished it out downstairs. And then if that weren't enough, you could go upstairs to peruse both antique and new books on Myanmar, of which there were quite a few. All in all, one of my favorite places, and the air conditioning and comfortable surroundings made for nice browsing. Laquer pieces were also on sale for 50% and there were antique pieces as well. Recommended. BTW you can use your cc if you spend US100, which I found easy to do.

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    Well, you now understand why I don't recommend most of the elephant/wildlife places in SE Asia. As an animal lover, this must have been heart-breaking to observe. Still, I am glad you had good interactions with the elephants.

    There is one that is truly dedicated to the welfare of the elephants, The Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai. The others range from neglectful to abusive for the most part. Most places use hooks to train elephants, and visitors often see gashes in the hides of these great beasts, but it doesn't keep them from voting the camp the #1 attraction in Chiang Mai on Trip Advertiser. And any place that has tigers should be actively avoided (such as the Tiger Temple on the way to Kanchanburi).

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    Interesting Kathie that Tiger Temple had a very serious attack of a monk reported, no surprise. Where there is abuse, people will get hurt. BTW I got through the airport with ALL my stuff, was loaded to the gills, had my receipts. Of course not a soul asked. Good to be ready, though.

    What struck me was the emotional response of the animals- the ellies were gentle, responsive to affection. As a farm girl, I've been around huge animals all my life. Kindness goes a long long way.

    Got home to hail damage, a rainy Colorado and getting ready for Iceland in July. All the goodies are laid out on the table, and some have already found homes on shelves and walls. Worth all the trouble to get them here. They're stunning- and bring back all the memories.

    Crosscheck, thanks for your kind comments. This trip moved me immensely. I left having gotten quite close to Zaw and his family and hope in every way that my recommendations get him business.

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    I'm glad to hear you arrived home with all of your purchases intact. Do the things you brought home look different in the light of familiar surroundings? I find the things look more beautiful, more exotic at home than they did in the shop or stall. Sometimes I think I get shopping fatigue and things all start to look alike.

    Welcome home!

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    I agree so much about shopping fatigue. Things lose their exotic nature when you are peering at thousands of them. Taken out of context, here at home, they are magnificent all over again. Most things have found a home, and a few gifts have landed in joyous hands. My large wooden dancing couple is awaiting mounting in my dining room. Temple angels go up in the bedroom. A mounted warrior is still on the way. Most other items have been placed here and there to please the eye and incite storytelling.

    I have put the Akha outfit onto a mannequin in my dressing room, where it proudly shows all its color and that wonderful headdress.

    Like walking around a travel museum....

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