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Posts Tagged ‘Myeik’

Our final day of sailing in Myanmar

March 8th, 2014 No comments

I’m writing a lot for this travel blog as the days go by which I didn’t expect. I was expecting to have a lot of sitting around doing nothing and relaxing, which we did, but there’s so much going on around us as well that I don’t want to forget as I’m having such a great time. Today was no exception and while it was a thoroughly exhausting day it was very special.

It was an early start this morning for two reasons. Firstly as I needed to get ready for the trek I was taking part in today and secondly as I wanted to see if it was my swim shorts I saw hoisted up the mast last night, and to take them down if it was. It seems my senses didn’t fail me last night as when I rose from my room this was what I saw. Sorry everybody but you’ll have to try harder next time.

Shorts ahoy

I found my shorts

There wasn’t time for a full breakfast as we were soon taken ashore by dinghy to start the trek to the top of the hill overlooking the bay. There were only a few of us taking part as we were warned in advance that the trek was more of a climb up rocks with the aid of ropes and was quite difficult but I wanted to take part so I didn’t end up just staying on the boat all week.

If you want to do this walk when on the trip make sure you take some proper shoes as you will need them. The terrain to start with wasn’t so bad, as we walked along a path that had been cut beside the worker accommodation, but it soon got steeper and more overgrown. I went through a lot of water as the gradient got steeper but I was advised to save some for the last half as it was even harder. This was true as the last few ascents were literally a case of pulling yourself up rocks and gravel with the aid of ropes. Some of the group found this easy but I’ve always found downhill to be easier than uphill even though most people say the opposite.

The bar

The bar at the resort

The start of the trek

The start of the trek

Trek

The trek was like this by the end

There were several times when I wanted to give up but I’m glad I didn’t as the views from the top were spectacular. You could see a large amount of the island all the way down to the bay containing the resort and our boat. There was another view point a bit further along the trail which allows you to see the other side of the island but this would add an extra hour to the trek and we didn’t have time for that so we just chilled at the first summit for a while enjoying the views, catching our breath, taking photos and watching the eagles that were soaring around the peak.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to waste as we needed to head off, and I was eager to enjoy the toasties which we had been promised for lunch, so I headed off at the head of the group and made my way down to the bottom of the steeper sections pretty quickly along with Ashu. I decided to wait for the others in case they were worried about us but Ashu headed straight down to the resort so he could make use of the wi-fi for the last time before we lost contact with the outside world again. I’m glad I waited as I was treated to a view of a pair of hornbills that were up in the trees.

MacLeod Island

The view from the summit of MacLeod Island

Me in Myanma

Me at the summit of MacLeod Island

At the peak

At the peak

Overall I really enjoyed the trek. It was almost at my physical limit, and was very hard, but was definitely worth it for the views. The rush down the hill was pretty exciting too although the others didn’t agree with me and they were happy when we arrived back at the beach meaning that the descent was over. We had to wait on the beach for a while for the others on the boat to see us and dispatch the dinghy but it was only a short ride back to the boat where we got our hands on our much deserved toasties. I was so hungry at this point!

Myauk Ni Island was our next destination today and it was a long sail so we set off as soon as everybody was on board. The journey today was a mixture of sailing and engines but we all just sat back and enjoyed the view of the islands going past. We didn’t see much wildlife, and we didn’t have anything exciting happen like yesterday, but this was our last full day on board so we were happy to just relax,

Finally we arrived at Myauk Ni which is a small deserted island in the middle of a big channel and we were all amazed how beautiful it looked. Even though it was small there was a really nice beach and the water looked clearer so we were all hopeful that we would see some marine life. We did, but I didn’t expect to see quite as much as I did after some disappointing days earlier in the trip.

Myauk Ni Island

Myauk Ni Island

When we entered the water we could see the anchor on the sea bed for the first time all trip so we knew our prediction about the water clarity was correct. However we were a little disappointed upon reaching the shore as we didn’t see much except a few small fish and urchins. We all snorkelled for a little while before taking a walk on the beach to see if we could find some better snorkelling sights further along the beach. During our walk we saw some fish traps, found Wilson, and got some great photos but were advised not to venture into the trees as Myauk Ni has quite a lot of snakes living on it.

As the island is small it didn’t take long to walk to the other end and both Ashu and myself were eager to get back in the water again so popped our snorkelling gear on and entered the water. The others decided not to join us which was a shame as we saw so much marine life – far more than the rest of the trip put together. The water was a bit murkier but, along with the usual urchins, we saw Parrotfish, Dory, Nemo and his dad swimming in and out of an anemone, angelfish and whole shoals of both large and small fish that I didn’t recognise. The highlight, however, was a stingray that we shadowed for a while before it disappeared into the murk.

Ashu started to get cramp in his legs so decided to walk back to the start of the beach but I decided to continue snorkelling while staying within reach of him to maintain the buddy system. I’m glad I did as the number of fish I saw increased even more. I saw a whole range of fish I didn’t recognise but while passing alongside the edge of a steep drop I could see shoals of large fish swimming below in the darkness. Unfortunately I couldn’t see what they were but they didn’t look like sharks so that was good enough for me.

We were ushered back to the boat by Mike as he wanted to make way for our anchorage in time to arrive before sunset. Tonight we spent the night at the same location as our first night and were once again greeted by a fleet of fishing boats although it was nice to be slowly eased back into the real world after a week of being away from everybody and everything.

Jill had issues with her credit card before the sailing started which was worrying for Marie as Jill had paid for her replacement passport on her card while they were both in Bangkok. They decided to use the satellite phone on board to try to call Jill’s credit card company but didn’t have luck and asked me for help. I had never used a satellite phone before so it was cool to get my hands on one although I didn’t have any luck either. I managed to get through but the reception was so bad and the line kept cutting out even though there was nothing but clear sky between us and the satellite. We decided to try mobile phones and it turns out we were just in range of the Thai phone masts (foreign mobile don’t work in Myanmar) so I loaned Jill my mobile and we were able to get the whole thing sorted out.

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

After dinner we gave thanks to the crew for an amazing week and gave them the proceeds from a collection I had organised to show our appreciation. They were all amazing people and great at helping us to have a good time whether we had been on a sailing trip before or not. I didn’t want to cut the night short as I was having a great time and knew this was my last night on board but we needed to leave at 6am to get back to Kawthaung so I decided to have an early night. I’m back in my cabin again and Ashu has decided to sleep out on deck so I should get a great nights sleep again. I’m not adverse to sharing rooms while travelling but this arrangement seems to work for us so we may as well stick with it.

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Pilot Whales and an overdue shower

March 7th, 2014 No comments

The days just keep getting better and better on this trip. I’m not sure if the trip has been planned this way, if I’m getting used to life on a boat away from everybody, or if it’s just the way it is but I’ve just got back to the boat after spending a great evening on Macleod Island to round off what has been a very eventful day.

We had another beautiful sunrise this morning. Unfortunately the sun itself was behind the island but all sunrises and sunsets are beautiful in this part of the world. After breakfast it was time to say goodbye to Swinton Island which was a shame but we were treated to more sailing under wind power rather than using the engines. According to Marie we’ve sailed more in the past 24 hours than the last few trips have all week which is great.

Breakfast

Breakfast before departing Swinton Island

Mike

Mike enjoying a final view of Swinton Island

Hein and Win

Hein and Win raising the main sail

Part of our journey today was across a channel which was in the region of 60 – 70 metres deep and during the short time it took us to cross so much happened. First we saw a few dolphins which, usually would make me smile for ages, but we didn’t have time as Mike soon announced that he had a fish on his line. We stopped the boat to allow him to pull it in but he had a lot of trouble. We weren’t sure whether the trouble was due to the fish wrapping around the rudder or whether it was just that there was a big fish on the line but this question was answered very quickly once a giant Oahu fish was brought up on deck.

The fish was so big that it would be enough to feed us for the rest of the trip and feed the next trip completely but the excitement didn’t stop there as the catch hadn’t even stopped wriggling when we were surrounded by a pod of Pilot Whales which didn’t come close but stayed with us long enough to get a few photos. However as quickly as the excitement started it stopped when we left the deep channel on our way to Macleod Island.

Mike catching dinner

Mike catching dinner

Pilot Whales

Pilot Whales

MacLeod Island

Me relaxing on board the boat at MacLeod Island

Macleod Island is the only island which has any tourism infrastructure on and is the site of an expensive resort containing a few dozen beach huts, a bar, and bungalows. It’s also set in a beautiful setting but none of this excited us on the remaining couple of hours of sailing today – what we had our sights set on was the showers at the resort.

When we arrived we decided to fit in one last snorkel before heading for the showers as we were told that the waters around Macleod Island were a prime spot for spotting turtles and this was too good an opportunity to miss. We were taken half way to the snorkelling area by dinghy but swam the rest of the way as we had to be quiet so as not to scare the turtles away. I stuck pretty close to Mike as he has eyes like a hawk and said he spotted turtles the last few times he snorkelled here. My plan almost worked as after about 10 minutes Mike called me over saying he had spotted a Hawksbill Turtle but unfortunately it had disappeared by the time I swam over.

The snorkelling here was the best of the trip so far and we saw lots of fish and some beautiful corals. Unfortunatley I didn’t take my camera with me as it acts a buoyancy device and the images are awful but Ashu took his so I’ll try to fit some of his photos in my blog. I was sad when it was time to stop snorkelling but I knew that it was soon time for a proper shower!

Life on a boat is fine but due to the nature of sailing you don’t really have much of a chance to shower. It’s possible to rinse the salt off using a hose on board, and to cool off by going for a swim, but there is no way to have a proper shower which is one of the reasons the trip stops at Macleod Island. The showers aren’t traditional ones we would expect in the west, instead they are situated right on the beach allowing us to enjoy the beautiful scenery while using them. I spent a long time showering as my hair was a mess by this point but by the time I dried off and met the others at the bar I had never felt so clean in my life. Ok that’s probably an exaggeration but it was nice to feel clean for the first time in a week! Another tip if you come on this trip is bring a towel that’s big enough to change under unless you want to get naked on the beach when changing into your proper clothes. I’ll add that to my list at the end of my blog.

MacLeod Island

MacLeod Island

Shower Time

Beach shower

There isn’t a dress code at the resort but I decided to dress up a bit and wear a shirt as dinner tonight was a sit down meal in the resort restaurant so I thought it would be a nice touch. However before dinner there was enough time to take advantage of the wi-fi at the resort to get in touch with the outside world for the first time in a week, and we all decided to take advantage of the resort bar. I decided to hit the cocktails and had a couple of Caipirinhas then finished off with an Amaretto Sour which were all quite expensive but worth it!

Dinner tonight was a Myanmar Tealeaf Salad followed by a seafood curry which was nice although it was a little pricey and came to $50 along with my cocktails. Although I didn’t mind as the whole atmosphere on the island was amazing. There we were in a largely deserted archipelago, on a beautiful island, sat on a veranda having drinks and that’s what travelling is about and why I decided to come on this trip.

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

Tea Leaf Salad

Traditional Myanmar Tea Leaf Salad

After arriving back on the boat I realised that I left my swim shorts drying on the back of my chair so asked Hein if he could look for them when he went back to get the second group. Officially they didn’t find them but it takes a lot for me to not notice things and I just saw Marie and Hein hoist something up the mast and it looks suspiciously like my shorts but it’s too dark to tell for sure. I’ll just get up tomorrow and play along anyway as that’s a good prank and at least they’ll be dry as it’s quite windy tonight.

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BBQ on Swinton Island

March 6th, 2014 No comments

I slept really well last night as I had the whole room to myself with Ashu in the hammock. He said he got a great nights sleep too so we’re going to have the same arrangement again tonight but I might suggest we make it permanent as I could do with a good sleep each night – these days are turning out to be more exhausting than I thought considering this is supposed to be a relaxing holiday. However today has been another day to remember.

Departing Lampi Island

Departing Lampi Island

I got up early to watch the sunrise on deck and, after an early breakfast, we set sail for Swinton Island in time to get some perfect photo of Lampi Island as we were leaving. Today there was quite a lot of wind so we managed to sail most of the journey which was great as it was so relaxing without the noise of the engine. Even though the wind was strong the seas weren’t rough at all which I was pleased about as I was told Swinton Island was the most breathtaking of all the islands we would visit and I didn’t want to arrive feeling sea sick.

When we arrived I could see what all the fuss was about. Swinton Island, which the crew and Jill have been talking about since the start of the trip, is set on a wide beautiful beach surrounded by trees, with a small island offshore stopping large waves coming in. It also has a couple of secluded bays with beautiful turquoise water which are perfect for snorkelling. Much to my delight snorkelling was the first activity after dropping anchor.

Arriving at Swinton Island

Arriving at Swinton Island

The water was still very murky but cleared once we got closer to the rocky shore and the depth decreased. I saw a LOT of urchins while snorkelling but today was also the first time we saw some proper marine life since starting the trip. I saw lots of Angelfish, Parrotfish, a few of whatever Dory is in Finding Nemo and loads of other fish I didn’t recognise. I also saw a few large clams.

During the snorkel we slowly made our way to the turquoise bays we saw upon arrival where the water got shallower and warmer. It also got clearer and unfortunately this meant not so many fish so we decided to take a break from snorkelling and enjoy the views from the beach for a while. The beach wasn’t too big but provided us with some great views and gave us a chance to take some lovely photos.

Swinton Island

Swinton Island

Swinton Islnd

Swinton Island

Me on Swinton Island

Me getting ready to snorkel again

A few of us were eager to get back in the water so decided to swim around to the second bay which looked a lot more promising for snorkelling. The water was a little murky but had lots of rocks and deep channels which provided shelter for a whole variety of marine life. I saw clownfish, an albino urchin, some Oriental Sweetlips, and lots of the same fish we saw earlier. We also saw Mike, the skipper, spearfishing and while we didn’t see him catch anything he already had a large number of caught fish in town which meant that the beach BBQ tonight would be plentiful.

Snorkelling

Snorkelling at Swinton Island

Mike

Mike Spearfishing

In order to get ready for the BBQ we had to cut the snorkelling short and after being taken back to the boat we dried off and headed straight to the main beach to collect wood and set up the area. Collecting wood was hard work – not because we we’re all unfit on this trip but because Win is like a machine. He already has a reputation within the group for working hard and today was no exception. While most of us were collecting sticks and other small burnable materials Win was chopping down trees and severing branches using what looked like nothing more than a meat cleaver. This was great and meant that we would have a huge bonfire but meant that we were exhausted carrying the logs and trees to the BBQ location. While collecting we didn’t see much wildlife but this is probably just as well as we saw some cat tracks in the sand. I don’t know what sort of cat the tracks were made by but generally the wild cats in this area aren’t too friendly!

After building the bonfire there was time to relax and enjoy the sunset on the beach. I can see what all the fuss was about as the sunset was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen – I don’t think it quite beat the sunset over the Kazinga Channel in Uganda a few years ago but it came close.

An Eagle

An Eagle visited us

Swinton Island

On Swinton Island

Bonfire

Setting up the bonfire

Sunset

Sunset over Swinton Island

We made a quick stop back on board to freshen up and grab supplies before heading back to the beach for our BBQ and Bonfire. If you come on this trip you will need to make sure you bring insect repellent as Swinton has a lot of sandflies once the sun goes down. Even though I had to apply a lot of mosquito repellent this didn’t spoil the evening as we had such a great evening. Win and Hein were in charge of the bonfire while Marie and Mike cooked us a great meal of chicken, fish, rice, potatoes, salad and much more. I’m not a huge seafood or fish person so I mainly stuck to chicken but I tried some of the Oriental Sweetlips and it was a really beautiful fish with a delicate taste. According to Mike it’s rare to find them in markets as they lead solitary lives so aren’t caught as much as we were lucky to have some for dinner.

We sat relaxing and chatting after dinner until the bonfire burnt itself out and it was such a relaxing night although it’s now almost 11pm so I’m going to be heading to bed without socialising tonight. I’ve had such a great day today and while I’ve had better snorkelling Swinton Island is so beautiful and I’m glad we spent so much time on shore.

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Visiting the Moken

March 5th, 2014 No comments

Today has been a very long day but has been a very enjoyable one. Unfortunately the sunrise this morning was behind the island so I didn’t get as great a view from the hammock as I hoped but the day more than made up for it.

Sailing in Myanmar

Sailing in Myanmar

Mike our Skipper

Mike the Skipper

Our first stop of the day, after an hour or so of sailing, was Ma Kyone Galet which is a village populated by the Moken Sea Gypsies. This was the part I was looking forward to the least as “community visits” on trips tend to be set up but today didn’t feel like that. Plus their story is quite sad. When the Myanmar military junta were at the height of their power they were quite oppressive towards the different indigenous groups around the country. One of the things they did was to force the Moken onto land and make them settle down in villages. Ma Kyone Galet is one of those villages although restrictions have eased slightly and the Moken are now allowed to spend time travelling around the islands for a few months before returning to one of the village which usually houses around 850 people in 100 families.

We were lucky enough to see a family of Moken leaving the village on their way to whichever island they had chosen. They were being towed by a motorboat in a line of rowing boats containing the entire family, chickens, dogs to keep away evil spirits and general supplies to keep them going. It was nice to be able to see this part of local life.

Moken village

Arriving at the Moken Village

Moken family

A Moken family leaving for months away on an island

A beach bar

A beach bar

Ma Kyone Galet is set in the channel between two islands and after landing at the village, while waiting for the others to arrive, we had a chance to take in the beautiful view and take a few photos both of the scenery and of the local children who started paying is a lot of attention.

Our plan was to look around the local school before exploring the village but it’s the school holidays at the moment so once we had all arrived we set off into the village. It didn’t take long for most of the village kids to find us and by the time we made it to their main road we had dozens of kids following us, holding hands with us, asking to pose for photos and generally trying to show us their village. The whole thing reminded me of walking through villages in Uganda a few years ago and the kids were just as happy to see us.

The village itself is mainly made of tin shacks but the main road was lined with stalls selling everything from fruit to water and from general supplies to doughnuts. I didn’t buy anything as I was too busy interacting with the kids but some of the group did. While walking through the village Hein, one of our local guides, told us that on the trip last week they gave the school its first ever computer which is probably one reason why we were getting so much attention. This was probably true but I’ve travelled enough to know that kids in indigenous communities are generally curious of travellers so we would have generated a lot of attention anyway.

Kids and Ashu

Kids looking at photos on Ashu’s iPad

Ma Kyone Galet

Walking through the village

Our boat

Our boat from the temple

Ma Kyone Galet

Ma Kyone Galet as seen from the temple

Temple

The Temple in Ma Kyone Galet

At the end of the main road we crossed a bridge and entered a Buddhist Temple which was our main destination on the island. We had to take our shoes off to entered, under the watchful eye of some young monks, and were soon ushered up the steps to the lookout point containing a shrine by the local kids. The view from the top was really good and it seems to be the place where the older kids hangout. We spent some time admiring the view and hearing more about the village from our guides before we were being ushered back down the steps by the kids who seemed eager to show us something. Once we got back to the river we found out that they wanted to show off to us by stripping and doing somersaults into the river.

After a while of watching the kids we made our way back to the beach where we were met by Win, our other local guide, who had disappeared as soon as we arrived on the island to visit his girlfriend who lives in the village. I was in the second group to go back to the boat so sat on the beach with some of the local kids taking photos. As soon as we were back on the boat we set sail to Lampi Island, where we would anchor for the night. We went under power even though there was a bit of wind as the tide was getting low but the skipper said it would be a great place to kayak if we arrived in time.

Moken kids

Moken kids jumping in the water

Monks

Monks watching us

Moken Kids

Moken kids

Moken Kids

Moken Kids posing for photos

Lampi Island is a lot bigger than Island 115 where we stayed last night although it’s not the biggest in the archipelago. Like the others we have seen it’s covered in forest but it has some low lying mangroves which we kayaked around for a bit. The tide was very low and there was quite a current in the mangroves so the kayaking was quite exhausting – we had to drag the kayaks over some sand bars and paddle upstream for a while. Unfortunately we didn’t see any wildlife except a few small fish and a very large dead hornet on a rock.

The journey downstream was much easier and after arriving back at the beach we relaxed to take in the view for a while before being towed back to the boat by dinghy. Normally groups also snorkel at Lampi Island but the sea was still way too murky so we just jumped in the water and swam or snorkelled in the vicinity of the boat to cool off for a while. The water was only 10 metres or so deep but you couldn’t see the bottom unless you dived down to it but I only did this a few times as there wasn’t much to see as far out as we were anyway.

Lampi Island

Me with a Kayak on Lampi Island

Lampi Island

Being taken back to the boat

After a beautiful pork green curry for dinner we relaxed with a game of Skip Bo before chatting about the events of the day. It seems the Moken village visit was a positive thing for everybody. Ashu has decided he’s going to take the hammock tonight so I might spread out down in the room – if I open all of the hatches and turn the fan on it shouldn’t be as hot as it was the first night and hopefully some of the diesel smell should leave.

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Snorkelling in Myanmar for the first time

March 4th, 2014 No comments

I didn’t sleep much last night as it was very hot my room so tonight I’ve decided I’m going to sleep out on deck on the hammock. I’ve never known such clear skies and such fresh air so I should have a great nights sleep staring up at the stars.

Today was my first taste of sailing around Myanmar and it was a great introduction. To be honest I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy a sailing trip as I’ve never been on one, because I like to keep busy when travelling, and because I’m not great with rough seas but I’ve always wanted to visit Myanmar and the scenery here is just so beautiful I had to give it a chance and so far I’ve not been disappointed.

We set sail at 7.30 this morning after a quick breakfast of cereal and toast and after making our way past the fishing boats we were in open water watching the world go by. There wasn’t much wind today so we were mainly under power but we did manage half an hour under wind power. During today’s sailing I sat out on the bow of the boat for a while but didn’t see much other than jellyfish and the islands going by.

Sunrise

Sunrise from the boat

Relaxing on board

Relaxing on board

Island 115

Island 115

We had planned to stop at an island along the way but as the water is murky at the moment we went straight to our anchorage for tonight, called Island 115, so we could spend more time here. One of the things I’ve been looking forward to the most is the snorkelling so I was happy to hear that the first thing we would be doing at Island 115 was snorkelling. Unfortunately the water was very murky so I didn’t see much except jellyfish and LOTS of urchins. After around 45 minutes we were picked up by dinghy and taken back to the boat to freshen up for lunch, which today was pasta and salad.

Me snorkelling

Me snorkelling off Island 115

Jellyfish

I saw this unhappy looking creature while snorkelling

After lunch we chilled for a bit before being taken onto land for a bit of exploring with our local guides. It felt good to be finally setting foot on Myanmar soil, after being here for a day, although unfortunately it wasn’t the mainland. After taking some photos from the beach we were lead down a path through the jungle that had been cut by the Moken Sea Gypsies across to the other side of the island. The walk only took about 10 minutes and when we reached the other side of the island we were treated to a magnificent beach with a great view.

We spent some time walking around the beach on the far side of the island, trying to avoid the tiny crabs that kept popping out of the sand and running away and also discovered a hermit crab and a huge clam shell. Unfortunately we couldn’t spend as much time here as I would have liked as the tide was getting low and waiting for much longer would have resulted in us being stranded on the beach. However this meant we could relax and watch the sunset before a nice lunch of chicken strips, rice and salad.

Me on Island 115

Me on the beach of Island 115

A tiny crab

A tiny crab

Walking in Myanmar

Walking to the other side of the island

Island 115

The other side of Island 115

Hein

Hein and a big shell

Hermit Crab

A Hermit Crab

Sunset

Sunset as seen from the hammock

The fishing boats nearby have just turned their lights on so there’s going to be a little bit of light pollution tonight but the air is so clear I should still have an amazing view from the hammock.

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Crossing into Myanmar

March 3rd, 2014 No comments

It has been a very long day today but it has mainly been an administrative day and we haven’t covered much distance. Tonight is the first night I’ll be on board the boat that Intrepid are using for the trip and it seems nice so far. The bedroom I’ll be sharing is quite small but I knew this in advance – boats like this are designed to maximise the public areas.

This morning I got up fairly early and headed down to the breakfast buffet to meet my room mate who, by this point, had already been for a run, had a shower and eaten most of his breakfast. He said he was an early riser! The breakfast was really nice, especially the omlettes, and there was more than enough selection for everybody.

Time for some last minute repacking and we were whisked off to the immigration pier by tuk tuk where we met our local guides who would escort us across the border and be with us during the week. The immigration process only took 10 minutes including the time taken when one of our group was quizzed by Thai immigration about the length of their stay (this is as if you’re only leaving for a day you don’t receive an exit stamp to try to avoid the visa run). Then it was time to board the boat which was to take us across the border and, after boarding, we met up with Jill our last remaining group member. It turns out she is doing the trip for a second time as she enjoyed it so much which means we should be in for a spectacular trip!

Hotel lobby

The lobby of the Tinidee Hotel

Our transport to the pier

Our transport to the pier

Shuttle boats

Shuttle boats waiting to take people to Myanmar

The boat journey to Myanmar took around 20 minutes, although for political reasons we didn’t land on the mainland and went straight to the sailing boat where our visas were processed on board by Myanmar Immigration officials. The entry process for Myanmar was a lot longer than when I entered Thailand and in total we had to wait for 3 hours in order for our passports, visas and permits for the archipelago to be processed. One thing I don’t like is that while we’re in Myanmar the officials will be keeping our passports to make sure we come back. I guess we won’t be needing it this week but I don’t like being without my passport when travelling.

Crossing into Myanmar

Crossing the water to Myanmar

Transferring to the dinghy

Transferring to our dinghy

Me overlooking Kawthaung

Me overlooking Kawthaung, Myanmar

Then it was time to set sail. The journey today was very short and was only designed to get us as far as a sheltered anchorage out of the main shipping lanes ready to start the main part of the trip. After dinner we discovered that our anchorage would be shared with fishing boats tonight as we were in the middle of a prime fishing area. The method of fishing in this part of the world is to wait until night then deploy rows of lights to attract fish and squid that will get trapped in nets suspended below the boat. Fairly primitive but effective.

Myanmar fishing boat

Myanmar fishing boat

Myanmar fishing boat

Myanmar fishing boat

Sunset over Myanmar

Sunset over Myanmar

The cabin assigned to myself and Ashu

The cabin I’m due to share

The scenery and sunset were beautiful tonight but we’ve been told they don’t even compare to what we have to come!

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This is adventure travel

January 14th, 2014 1 comment

The title of this post is s bit of a play on the phrase “This is Africa” but I’ve done a lot of travel in Africa, and there has been plenty to fix with this trip already, so I feel that it’s appropriate.

When you take part in adventure travel, be that as a solo traveller or on a group trip of what I like to call “organised adventure travel” inevitably something will go wrong. Indeed I have had plenty of examples of that. To name but a few of the memorable ones.

  • In Namibia in 2002 we had to leave our school project a week early due to how uncomfortable we were being made to feel by the officials at the school.
  • Again in Namibia we had to cut our evening plans short one night due to the police getting into a shootout with some people fighting outside the bar we were in.
  • In East Africa in 2009 we missed the final admission to a National Park after a border crossing took longer than expected.
  • Again in East Africa in 2009 our truck broke down half way up a hill meaning we didn’t get to our campsite until after dark and couldn’t take part in our planned canoeing on a lake.
  • In Central America one of our buses took too long to get to its destination and we had to have one of the fastest and scariest taxi rides I’ve ever been on, after a quick bag swap between vehicles, to get to the ferry we had tickets for.
  • While touring the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone we ran out of time to meet the resettled residents as we spent so long exploring inside the abandoned buildings which, according to policy within the zone, we weren’t due to go inside anyway.
Fixing Oscar

Our truck being fixed in East Africa – taken from my East Africa blog

Whether you will enjoy adventure travel or not depends on how you take to little mishaps like this. On every trip there tends to be one person who stands out for moaning about everything as they weren’t expecting it, and on some trips there may be more than one. For example.

  • In East Africa in 2009 we had one person who moaned bitterly about the previously mentioned delays even though there was nothing anybody could have done about them. We also had one person who moaned that we didn’t have hot dogs all trip despite the fact we were in Africa and had a beautiful, and large, selection of freshly cooked tasty food each day.
  • In Central America there was one person who every time the smallest thing went wrong felt the need to complain. Apparently the bus ride taking too long was the tour leader’s fault, as was a previous bus getting stuck in traffic in Guatemala City. This person even moaned that our leader was a few minutes late arriving back to the hotel on our last transfer morning despite the fact the leader was grabbing food for the first time in days after feeling ill – during which time all duties were performed to a much higher standard than I could ever hope to achieve. This person even made a point on the last few days of telling everybody she was going to complain which did nothing other than persuade some of us to send compliment to Intrepid about the tour leader in addition to completing the survey form.
  • In Chernobyl there was one member of the group who moaned for 24 hours continuously about missing the resettlers to the point that we all had an argument while out for a group meal as we couldn’t take any more.

However if you are willing to accept that things happen on adventure travel you can have the most amazing time. In Namibia sure the sound of a bunch of gunshots outside were scary but we had just spent a few great hours in a local bar in a town that hardly any westerners had visited in decades so it allowed us to get under the skin of the country in a way we wouldn’t have if we had stayed in our sterile camp within a walled school. In East Africa our food was the best I’ve ever had while travelling, and the delays crossing the border meant that we stopped in a town that wasn’t on our itinerary and ended up playing pool, playing darts and drinking with the locals at a local bar. Some of us also had a chance to hang out with some Park Rangers at the entrance to a National Park for a few hours while the others insisted on going on our pre-planned nature drive even though it meant delays in getting to our next destination.

Then more recently in Central America we got a true taste of the region and if it wasn’t for using public transport we would have been disconnected from the surroundings and missed so much. Central America is a chaotic but vibrant and friendly place which you won’t see as much with private transport. In Chernobyl if we had left Pripyat early to ensure we saw the resettlers we would have had to cut out the last few buildings which we were allowed to explore – and these for me were the most amazing and memorable.

Science Lab

We were allowed to wander around the abandoned buildings in Pripyat, against policy, which allowed us to see and experience so many memorable things. This was far better than a staged meeting with resettled residents.

None of the things that have happened in the past while travelling have put me off the idea of going to weird and wonderful destinations – in fact they have probably persuaded me even more that this is the style of travel that I enjoy. While camping may not be the top of my list of things I want to do right now, and while after Central America I’ll make sure ear plugs are at the top of my packing list, what I want to do with my life is get out there and see the world. I want to get under the skin of the countries I visit and see what they have to offer and I want to discover and experience things that most people I know could even dream of. I also want to do this on the terms of the country I visit rather than acting like a stereotypican western tourist who wants everything the same as back home.

That’s why when I saw a photo of the Myeik Archipelago in Myanmar in an advert on Facebook advertising new trips for 2014 with Intrepid I knew it was something I had to do. Myanmar is a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time and the idea of experiencing a side of the country that nobody else gets to see really appealed to me even though I had never really considered a sailing holiday before. However being an adventure holiday, and a brand new one at that, inevitably things were to go wrong. On this occasion, however, things started going wrong and needing fixing a few months before the start of the trip instead of during it.

The Myanmar sailing trip, when I booked, had two options available. I could either start in Phuket in Thailand and be driven up to the Myanmar border or could start in Yangon and fly to the starting point. Phuket has never really appealed to me, and I wanted to see as much of Myanmar as I could, so I chose the version starting in Yangon. However a few weeks after booking I noticed that it had disappeared from both the Intrepid and Gecko’s website. After contacting them I discovered that this version had been temporarily suspended as a temporary travel warning had been put in force by the Australian government for the town that we would fly to in the south of Myanmar. Being an Australian operation they had to put a hold on the trip following this advice for legal reasons but they recommended I didn’t change my flights yet as there was the possibility that it would be reinstated.

A couple of tense months followed where there was still no news so Gecko’s advised me to change my flights and transferred me onto the trip starting in Phuket. A week or so of heated three-way negotiaton between Gecko’s, myself and STA Travel and I managed to change my flights and managed to persuade Gecko’s that they should pay for the £350 upgrade to my flights needed to make the changes as my original trip was a guaranteed departure but was no longer operating. While I’m upset at how long it took them to make that decision they didn’t have to agree with me so I’m thankful for that. I’m also upset with the service I got from STA when trying to change my flights but that’s the matter of a complaint that’s still pending with their customer relations department so I won’t go into detail about that here – even more so as the complaint was twice as long as this post.

However despite all of these setbacks there was no point getting too stressed about it as there was nothing that could have been done either way. It’s sad that I’ll no longer see Yangon and won’t get to travel on the Circle Train, visit the many beautiful golden temples or see Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, among other things, and it’s sad that my new flights only give me one evening stopover in Hong Kong instead of two full-day ones. However there are benefits to these changes including visiting Thailand as well, the trip being considerably cheaper and now being able to see the Hong Kong skyline at night. I’m sure there will be numerous other mishaps and corresponding benefits by the time I return home but this will still be an amazing trip which I’m really looking forward to.

I still need to receive my reissued flight tickets from STA and need to book some extra hotel nights in Thailand and Hong Kong but I’ll get to these. If I can get through the chaos that the original person at Gecko’s left me in before leaving the company and if I can weave my way through the web of illogical staff and unacceptable customer service to find the one helpful person at STA Travel then I can wait a few more days until I receive my new flight tickets and can book some hotels without any problems.

Route of new trip

This is the route of the new trip I’m doing to Thailand and Myanmar.

Even though this has been a long post I guess what I’m trying to get at is, for those of you that are reading my blog to try to decide whether adventure travel is the right thing for you or not, I would say that by the time you get this far in the post you’ll already know. You’ll already know whether you’re the sort of person that thinks it’s the end of the world when your bus stops for traffic lights or whether you can’t go 24 hours without hot dogs for example. You’ll also already know whether the things I have mentioned in this post would make you panic, feel scared and never want to leave the house again or whether you see them as getting under the skin of a country and all part of the fun of travel.

Adventure travel, be it solo or in organised groups like the ones I go on, can be incredibly rewarding if you are ready for it. You get to see so much more of the world than most people and have some of the most amazing experiences and memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I would say if it’s something you want to do, and don’t think you’ll be that one person on the trip that moans about every small detail with the aim of ruining everybody elses’s trip, then go for it. Otherwise you may as well just lay by the pool in an all-inclusive gated community in the Benidorm for a week and never experience anything that this amazing planet and it’s people have to offer.

Sunset over the Kazinga Channel

Without adventure travel you wouldn’t see amazing scenes like this…

Playing Football

…or have great memories like our own England vs Namibia football match in a town that only a handful of westerners have visited in the last few decades….

Team Breakaway

…or meet amazing people like this who you keep in contact with for years and still consider to be friends even though you live on opposite sides of the world and only rarely see them, if at all, after the trip ends.

It has been a tubulent few months since booking the sailing trip to Myanmar but I’m confident that I’ll see some amazing scenes, have life-long experiences and make new friends. In 2-3 months expect some great photos and a new blog of my experiences. I fly out on February 27th and return on March 12th.

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Myanmar Sailing 2014

October 19th, 2013 No comments

I tend to get very distracted by special offers when travelling in order to maximise everything I see. In 2010 North Korea shot to the top of my list when I spotted some special offers on flights and accomodation and the same happened in 2012 with Central America. Both were on my list but not at the top before the time I booked.

This year it seems is no different. I’ve been looking at Myanmar (aka Burma) as a holiday destination for some time as it’s a country that has a lot of history, that I’ve heard a lot about, and that just looks spectacular. However it has never been at the very top due to the cost of trips there and there still being places on my must see list that I added 10 years ago. However last week I spotted a special offer on a trip to the country and when I discovered a special offer on flights I decided the time was right.

So I’ve booked a trip to Myanmar for March 2014. The trip stars in Yangon (aka Rangoon) for a couple of nights before flying down to Kawthoung which is a small fishing town in the far south of the country on the border with Thailand. From here we board a catamaran for a week of sailing around the remote and largely uninhabited Myeik Archipelago before returning to Yangon where the tour finishes.

There was a cheaper option to start the trip in Phuket, Thailand, before travelling up to the Myanmar border but I didn’t want to spend a week in the country without seeing it so decided to take the option to start in Yangon. This also had the added benefit of flights via Hong Kong with stopovers in each direction that are long enough to allow me to escape into the city for 5-6 hours.

So there you have it – in 5 months or so expect some great photos of some beautiful scenery and a report of what looks like a fascinating country. If you want to see some photos from the archipelago click here to go a Google image search.

2014 Myanmar tour map

The route I’ll be taking on the trip. Map taken from a different tour company to the one I’m using but it’s the same trip.

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