Why Myanmar?

What is it about Myanmar that makes you feel like you have separation anxiety everytime you leave? I say its the people that make me feel this way.

I am a Malaysian, an 80’s baby and for me, I am used to hospitality, neighborly love and openness. Growing up in Malaysia in the 80’s and having spent holidays at my grandparents and relatives who used to live in the estates, kampungs, I grew up amongst lots of people who genuinely cared for you and your well being. Over the years we moved, we no longer had “kampungs” and people became less and less interested in spending time with you or sharing stuff with you.

Having lived in New Zealand for some months, I received the same openness and welcome. I used to walk down the streets and never greet anyone, you do not do this in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, and it was great to have people smile at you and make you feel like you mean something. I never knew how big acknowledging someone’s presence was until I experienced it in New Zealand. Some of my friends who see me greet the bus drivers, cabbies and say “Thank you” would probably know that it was habit I picked up while traveling in New Zealand.

BUT nothing prepared me for Myanmar. I was there last year in May and I was stranded , within 10 minutes I got a lift from a guy who felt very offended when I tried to offer him some cash for the ride. The same day, I decided to go to a Hindu temple, and the priest invited me to meet his sister who he mentioned I would love meeting. I ended up watching Tamil movies at their home having vegetarian lunch that they bought for me specifically, letting me try her mango acar that she made for the new years and even offered me a lift to the bus station. I was NOT expecting that at all. What makes a stranger open their door to someone they have no relation to at all? To open your home, to feed and to make me feel comfortable. I truly felt love that day.

Fast forward to today. We were in Yangon a few weeks ago and we got a lift from a 21 year old guy. We were still traveling with my uncle, but he was to stay in Yangon for a night and we would head on to Inle Lake. This guy hearing this offered my uncle his home. Later I learnt, that his mom had cooked fish curry, let him sleep on the bed and did not accept any money for the cab ride to the airport. We are not looking for handouts and freebies, but someone who struggles everyday to make a living, this is a big sacrifice and I for one am so grateful to learn and pass on this kindness. I decided to meet Kumar and meet his family as he insisted I do when I came back to Yangon. We had a delicious meal prepared from scratch. I made sure we bought the ingredients for the lunch and left him a big tip for the ride. I know I was not able to help his family as much as I wanted to, but what he did for us would be something I remember for a long time.

After all, isn’t that what we strive for? To be remembered for the good deeds that you do. To do good. I learn so much from these people I meet that I would not have had the chance to if I stayed home.

This picture was taken at Inle Lake, we spent 2 hours with the ladies of the family who took us to the outskirts, and later was invited for tea in their home. DSC_0264

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Myanmar from Thailand overland

I tried my best to post this as soon as I can for fellow travelers but alas the connection in Myanmar was very slow, if we were lucky to get wifi connection. I am not complaining, it was nice to stay out of touch for a while. I will be updating the blog in no order. Just randomly. 

As you may have known the Thailand-Myanmar border was officially opened for overland crossing in August 2013. There are four openings. We entered via Mae Sot-Myawaddy. We exited Myanmar Htee Khee-Phunaron. 

It was very easy to get from Mae Sot, we took a tuktuk to the immigration counter, queued up in the foreigner line and were led to a room where they took a copy of our passports and our picture. The immigration officers are excited to usher in travelers into Myanamr and that was a nice welcome into the country.

The only thing to be wary off is the day you decide to do the crossing. We went directly to yangon, so we had to leave on sunday as the traffic goes down on odd numbered days and goes up on even numbered days. We left on sunday the 26th. The road is very bumpy and if you are prone to motion sickness take some pills with you, medicated oil, and prepare yourself for the 15 hour journey. Our tickets to yangon from myawaddy only costs us usd12 per per person. 

we wanted to exit through tacheleik but were not able to as we have to travel via plane to tacheliek foreigners arent able to travel by land. I really think the exit would have been easier by flight but because we are on a budget we took the land exit too.

the bus to dawei from yangon(aung mingalar) was long tiring and bumpy. We did not get on a vip bus and this bus goes up the treacherous roads at night..very scary indeed. We then had to take a minivan at 8 am that took another 6 hours up the windy, bumping, motion sickness inducing ride..and then 500baht per person and 1 hour to kanchanaburi. Please come prepared with food and water and patience or a good book. I was not very friendly exiting as i had quite enough of the bumpy roads. I just wanted to share these tips as i know a lot of people want to travel overland as this option is available to us now

happy travels and share 

 

Before you embark on a backpacking trip, you gotta choose the right backpack

As a plus size girl, buying clothes in Singapore can be quite a nightmare, imagine trying to buy a backpack that would fit my needs! I needed a bigger, thicker straps, wider hip belts and straps that wont dig in my chest. 

THANK GOD for online shopping!

I must admit I had to do a lot of research online, measured my torso (proved to be quite a task when you try to do it yourself!), went trying on a couple of backpacks physically and then crossing my fingers and buying one online.

I choose the Kelty Redwing 50 Litre backpack in size M/L. Yes, it fit my torso length, does not suprise me that I have short legs..I can live with that. I have been using this bag for 2 months now and it has been great, I have managed to stuff 2 pairs of sneakers, 2 pairs of sandals, 7 pairs of t-shirts, 5 pairs of pants, some night wear, 7 bras , socks and a Lonely Planet. I also have some toiletries, squeezed in a day pack and a travel bag. 

When we are walking with our packs, strapped in securely, if I stand straight up and walk, the weight of the backpack is distributed well on my hips instead of my shoulders, which reduces the time in which I will tire and the soreness on my back.

I would not recomend buying the same backpack, but just saying that plus size ladies or men should find something that suits their body type. I saw a lot of Deuter, Karrimor, Osprey backpacks but they all had much smaller straps that would really dig in and hurt your shoulders, arms, hips. 

Good luck with the search. 

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My trusty backpack and I.

Plus size finds in THAILAND!

I know a lot of my friends will benefit from this post and also some ladies out there who are in Thailand or will be traveling here! 

After having lived in Singapore and getting used to shopping online from forever21 and Asos ..I thought when I started to travel I would not be able to shop anymore because I found it so easy and affordable. i can see chavez cringing as i say this but ladies bring your purses and that extra bag to Thailand because i have found places for you to shop.

The best shop i found thus far is located near the tesco lotus in lopburi, it is in the side entrance opposite three food stalls..her shop is called Nora and the shop next to hers also sells XXL clothes. Nora sells a lot of clothes focused for the lady traveler, maxi dresses, jumpsuits, pants, animal print, basic colours, lycra is the most used material here. The store beside hers is mostly shorts, printed t shirts, a lot of rubber yellow duckies on sweaters right now and hello kitty! 

 

The next place worthy of mention is ayutthaya. There are two shops one is near the Old place guesthouse across the street there is a shop that makes frames for pictures on that street there is a shop called LUKMOO..the plus size clothes here are very special one of a kind a bit pricier 450-500 baht for tops but compared to what we spend in singapore this is peanuts. The other shop is right across this shop on the left ..it is the first clothing store on that street. They have real cute t shirts with slogans, hello kitty and some dresses and jeans. 

I cant say about Bangkok as we have decided not to go into bangkok due to the protests but from memory i love the lingerie in the departmental store in Siam Paragon that focuses more on beautiful baby dolls, nightwear and some good bras too! 

Enjoy your time and please feel free to leave feedback on other countries special plus size finds! 

First trail- COMPLETED!

After the Penang National Park incident, I have been crossing my fingers to not go to places where there are hills to climb or do any straining activities, except of course Chavez loves the outdoors and I love the beach life but we do have to compromise. So after spending all that time in the beach and being in Krabi, we decided to leave for Kanchanaburi 3 hours from Bangkok. 

We had a little bit of difficulty getting a bus after 5 pm to Kanchanaburi so we had to settle for a minivan. The trip was longer than expected but in terms of price it was almost the same as taking the 1st class bus to the city. We arrived around 10pm and a young Thai man gave us directions of how to go to our hostel. He also said we picked the right one because of the food. After having that long gruelling episode in the bus station I thought we would never experience proper thai hospitality. I was wrong.

Thanu, our new found friend bought us some dinner chicken noodle soup, and even drove us to the hostel. I was so touched, here we were tired, hungry and we could not handle anymore “tuk-tuk” “where are you going” and this nice man offered to send us where we headed to. We also had a pleasant conversation , which sometimes we need as a couple traveling together to hear other people’s stories and life experiences. I was very grateful for his kindness. 

We were dropped off at JollyFrog but they had no more rooms available. A young lady showed us where we could stay and finally at about 12.. we crashed in our 250 baht a night room, private bath ensuite in a beautiful garden.

The next morning we walked over to JollyFrog and took our new temporary house for the next 5 nights for 150 baht per night. Yes, it is THAT cheap. You do have a shared bathroom closeby, with freezing water, but you cannot beat 150 baht per night. The food we had was so good too and very very cheap. 

One recomendation is to go to the night market and look for a guy that sells Shakes. He sells them in a variety of flavours including coconut, thai ice tea, milo , coffee and chocolate. I’ve tried everything except the ice tea, and I will tell you, that I was there every night craving for his shakes, dissapointed that he takes off nights and not letting me have part of these heavenly shakes, but they were heavenly. 

Kanchanaburi is famous for its Death Railway bridge, Erawan Waterfalls, Bridge over the river kwai. We decided to take a tour of the city by renting a motorcycle for 150 bath per day. We opted not to take the drive out to Erawan as it was far, and good thing we did not. Taking a bus to Erawan was very simple, go to the bus station (or go towards the Allied War Cemetery and flag 8170). The buses  go hourly. and the first one leaves at 8am. Make sure you finish your trail by 3.30pm as the last bus back is at 4pm and can get very crowded. The trip was 50 baht per person each way and there is an entrance fee of 200baht per person to the Erawan National Park. 

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At the entrance it states that the walk is 45 minutes away to the top, but it was more like 1 1/2 hours for me. Maybe if you ran it, or if you were really fit it would be 45 minutes! I liked the scenery as I have never really seen a waterfalls in that colour, but the tourist in the waterfall, made it seem like it was a theme park or something. They were also walking around in their bikinis and I found that a tad bit disrespectful to the locals. This isn’t the beach people!! I did however enjoy my walk and happy that I completed my first trail with Chavez’s support! 

 

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Let’s usher in the New Year in Tioman!

Laetitia was going to return to Paris and so we thought it would be fair to spend a little more time with her in the sun, sea, sand before she left and before we headed over to Thailand. We were torn between Langkawi and Tioman and we decided to go to the latter as I myself have not been there and I wanted somewhere quiet to chill and relax. 

Our accomodation was confirmed over the phone with the very friendly staff of Nazri Nipah Camp, we took a room for 3 people and we paid about MYR80. Off peak could get you lesser, our room had air condition, a bathroom and very clean mattresses. We did stay in the front of the place which could get noisy at that time of the year. However, I had no complaints as there were hammocks there! Again, the staff are very obliging and friendly!

The food in Tioman was pretty expensive for Malaysian standards, but we had a malay seafood dinner on our last night which totalled to MYR80 for rice, vegetables, squid and a fish for three people. The fish was excellent. 

We decided not to party but would walk on the beach to usher in the new year, and we were glad we did. We had the waves, the ocean, the chill breeze, some Bob Marley playing in the background and the fireworks. I am very glad 2014 started off with two beautiful and very important people in my life. I was also happy that just days before that I spent a very fruitful time at my family’s visiting Ipoh and its neigbouring places like Papan, Gua Tempurung, Kellies Castle. 

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A local man staring at us in Papan. 

 

 

 

Pulau Pinang National Park

We decided to do something adventurous whilst in Penang, so Laetitia, Chavez and myself got our stuff ready and went on a very long bus ride to the National Park. The bus can be boarded in Jalan Chulia and goes directly to the National Park (it is the last stop) or you can take it from KOMTAR. The bus number is 100. We paid about MYR3.20 per person from my memory and the ride took about an hour and more. The bus drivers though are very friendly and the bus trip will not be very unpleasant just as long as you do not get noisy teenagers around you.

We arrived nearly 12pm and therefore we started our hike late. We initially wanted to go right up to Monkey Beach but the hike was not very easy for me and I decided to go back as I did not go prepared.

The first part of the hike was very pretty as there were wild monkeys, monitor lizards, kingfishers flying around and a beautiful view of the beach. However, after some hours of walking, you do not get the view of the beach but still it’s enjoyable for those who like the nature.

I wish I was more prepared to finish the hike but I am glad I got to see this part of Penang, away from the speedboats, sellers, plastic bags of Batu Ferringhi. And both Laetitia and Chavez agreed!

How to volunteer at the zoo negara Kuala Lumpur

It was really easy to become a volunteer for the Zoo Negara. Contrary to what I read online, the staff and the zookeepers were delightful, friendly and very knowledgable with a few exceptions of course there are in any organizations. Some of them may be quite due to a language barrier, but if you break the ice, they are very nice people and I have a great time working with all of them in three different departments.

You have the option of printing their form online and then bringing it to their office (the entrance for the volunteers is the staff entrance behind the ticket entrance) go early by 8 am and book your slots over the phone. Information is easily available online on their website. You pay RM10 once and you can volunteer as many days as you want. Half day is 8am-1pm and full day 8am- 4pm. Apparently, if you do 5 full days *40 hours* you will get a certificate. We did not complete 5 full days but we weren’t motivated by the certification. 

Pack your lunch as the food is limited to one canteen and the rest is restaurants but they are expensive and the food did not look appetizing. You have your break time to wander around the zoo or take a break under the shade. Do not forget to use some mosquito repellent as you will be attacked by mosquitos. 

Our only problem with the zoo was the transportation. There is a bus that goes from Wangsa Maju MRT station but we have never seen the sign of that bus! So we ended sharing a cab with another volunteer and paying 5 bucks per ride to the zoo from Wangsa Maju mrt station. On the way back you can take the overhead bridge and take a bus to Wangsa Maju for only MYR1.

All in all this was an unforgttable experience and I will definitely do it again!

 

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Smiling after a tiring 1 hour of raking leaves, cleaning pellets and then the happy time is when its feeding time of course! 

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I was so fortunate to hold this 4 day old kid. And also see a few hour old kid the very same day!

Slow down and life begins to unfold

We decided to get out of the house for some “exploration”. It has been raining everyday since the day we arrived in Kuala Lumpur and everyone we met says “but you can’t go to Taman Negara because of the monsoon” or “these days there are no fireflies in Kuala Selangor” or the elephants are no longer fed in Kuala Gandah… so I decided that we would simply get out of the house and make our way to Putrajaya. I was pretty sure the weather was not going to stand in our way today.

The best thing about traveling on an extended period is having no fixed schedule. Still we wake up early these days. I had my roti canai and milo ice and Chavez Oatmeal and raisins. We took a slow walk to the MRT, I have been walking to and from the train station since the day I got here and when I used to live here for 3 years I think I would have walked less than five times. What a difference a job makes? 🙂 I was just lazy then. Still am.

We took to train to Pasar Seni and decided we were going to check out the graffiti. I have always wanted to take some pictures but never had that drive to do so. I finally did. We walked all the way down to the end of the tunnel and found a staircase that led us into the tunnel where the graffiti is all along. We walked from Pasar Seni to Masjid Jamek admiring some of the work. I LOVED IT. I would say if I could wish for just one talent, I wish I was able to draw or sketch. Made me think of how much beauty we take for granted and pass by in our busy days. I lived in KL for three years, did quite a bit of sightseeing and still I had never gone into that place. I am happy I did. 

 

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Finally treated ourselves to Mcdonald’s after 3 days of our cooking. The meal wasn’t what we expected it to be. Gosh, these advertisements. As soon as we got out of Mc’ds our bus to Putrajaya arrived, we jumped on the bus, paid MYR3.80 each and arrived Putrajaya in less than 1 hour. We then got some help from the information counter on how to get to the “touristy place” and he happily told us that we could take L01/L07 to JPM and walk about 100m to the sights. It was very simple and easy to get there and I really think Putrajaya is a great place to see.

We walked in the rain, a little drizzle would not hurt and took some pictures. Chavez was allowed to hold a parrot in the Souq, I was being my usual chicken self. 

My highlight of the day was the “Pink Mosque”. I remember going to the National Mosque some years ago and thinking how beautiful serene and calm it was. I could not go into the mosque to feel what it meant to be there. Today, I was allowed to and I was right. The architecture was a mixture of Iranian, Egyptian and Persian, it was beautiful. I am now intrigued and want to visit more mosques in the near future. As we were walking back to the bus stop, the sun began to set and we just sat there in awe, enjoying the view of the mosque, the lake and the sunset. When you slow down, everything begins to look beautiful. The volunteer I met at the mosque mentioned when I told him I quit my job to travel ” go out and travel after all in the Quran Allah says” to go out and see my creation”.

And that is exactly what I am doing.  

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