Kat: May 2013 Archives


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The combination of the last minute planning and not knowing what to expect meant that Greg and I took the easy route and booked a room at the Strand. The Strand is one of the oldest hotels in Yangon, built in 1896 and famous for having such notable guests as Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell. The building itself was incredible and probably the first place we’ve stayed where we really felt like we were in a completely different place (and in this case time too).



We were a little worried that staying in a place like that would mean we wouldn’t get to see much of “real” Yangon, but that concern was completely put to rest when we walked just a few blocks away from the hotel. Unlike so many of the street vendors and food stalls we’ve passed everywhere else the striking lack of tourists meant that the ones we saw here were filled with people going about their daily lives. One of the things that surprised us most was that despite the level of disrepair of some things (seriously crumbling stairwells and sidewalks riddled with sinkholes) other things looked like we could still have been in any of the other southeast Asian cities we’d visited so far (and with far better drivers).

While we were looking up things to do we read about two places fairly close to our hotel and that turned out to be definitely worth visiting.The first was a local craft shop named Pomelo that works with local aid organizations to sell various textiles and craft items. They had everything from paper maché animals to handwoven scarfs and blankets. All absolutely gorgeous and in the upstairs of one of the big, clearly British buildings that was amazing just to be able to step inside.

The second is an art gallery and studio named Pansodan. This was absolutely one of the best experiences we’ve had on the trip thus far. It wasn’t super far from our hotel so we set out walking when all of a sudden (seriously, it was quick) the sky opened up and we were caught in a downpour. We finally made our way to the gallery (after stopping to buy an umbrella from a street vendor) and walked up a dark, rundown stairway to find the owner of the studio hanging out at a table with a couple of other people and hundreds of paintings stacked and scattered throughout three rooms. Everyone was immediately very welcoming and encouraged us to have a cup of tea while we looked around. We found a couple of pieces we really liked, unexpectedly met the artist of one of them, and had a lovely time chatting with the owner, Aung Soe Min, while everything was being packaged up.


After we left the gallery we went to go see the Shwedagon pagoda. We had been trying to make it before sunset, but spent longer at the gallery than we had expected and instead got there just as the sun was going down. The Pagoda was absolutely stunning as the sky turned from bright blue to navy and then black and the lights of all the various shrines were turned on. Also, either because of the time of day, or the rain, it wasn’t nearly as hot or crowed as we’d been warned it might be making for an even better evening.


There’s so much more that we saw, and can barely describe (wonderful architecture, Obama graffiti) and even more that would have loved to have seen. For now we’ll have to settle for our 48 hour whirlwind tour. In the true spirit of this round-the-world trip as a way to figure out where we want to come back to, Myanmar definitely makes the short list.

Thailand (Phuket)

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Our time in Phuket was not what we were expecting, but probably exactly what we needed. We found a room through Airbnb with a couple of lovely South African hosts, Max and Johan. It turned out to be a wonderful place to just relax, regroup and enjoy some great Thai food and gorgeous sunsets. P1080880 On our second day they took us by motorbike to visit Mimi, a local travel agent whom they work with frequently. She helped us to book a day trip to the Similan Islands, a national park that’s only open for six months of the year and happened to be closing in just a few days. It took us two hours by bus and the an hour by speed boat to get there, but it was totally worth it. We went snorkeling, and though not the best we’ve found, Greg did manage to see an octopus. The real highlights were the empty beaches with white powder sand and turquoise water. Our tour guide told us that because it was the end of the season they were unusually quiet (our speed boat usually carries 50 people but there were only 18 in our group) which of course made for an even better experience. IMG_1667 The rest of our stay was spent exploring the area around Patong beach, and admittedly getting caught up on some American TV. We even managed to watch the Bruins games though with the tape delay it was tough trying to avoid the scores online ahead of time. All in all a wonderful stay and a great end to our time in Thailand.

Thailand (Koh Samui)

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We arrived in Koh Samui on Friday on our short flight from Bangkok. It was hard not to immediately start comparing it to Bora Bora. The airport is tiny and very island-style with everything outside (though baggage claim does include a motorized belt).

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We were completely spoiled again and spent two more of our free hotel nights to stay at the Conrad on the far side of the island. It’s spectacular and once more the closest we have to compare it to is Bora Bora (the fact that we can even compare it to anything is ridiculous). We were perched along the side of the island with not another building or person in sight. Apparently we also chose to stay during one of their low months, and lowest occupancy days of the week so I’d be surprised if there were more than 50 guests total making for a very quiet and relaxing stay all around.

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The definite highlight by far was the private infinity pool, though the rest of the resort was gorgeous too and the restaurants all served some really delicious thai food.

May starts the rainy season here in Thailand and we had scattered showers throughout our stay. Besides never lasting for long, they helped to drop the humidity and on our last night we sat on the balcony and watched a thunderstorm light up the sky.

From there we went back towards the airport side of the island and stayed at a hotel that had just opened in between Bangrak and Chaweng beaches. Obviously anything was a drastic change from the Conrad, but this place was nice and everyone really went out of their way to try and impress us (they’re unabashedly trying to keep their top rating on Trip Advisor). It was set back from the beach a bit, but they had their own tuk tuk that ferried us to and from.

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We arrived quite late on the first day so just hung out and had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant (also quite good, though despite Greg’s continual ordering of curries that are “thai spicy” I could still eat most of them and I don’t think my taste buds have been destroyed to that level yet). Anyway, even with the pouring rain the next day we went out to explore Bangrak beach. It was nice, and on a sunny day could definitely see the appeal of renting a lounge chair and just staying put. Alas, we trekked on, got completely soaked and mud covered from the passing cars, and found a great little restaurant with some really cheap (but tasty) dinner and drinks. Combined with a gorgeous sunset and a local dog named Moody (s?), that Greg became instant friends with, we had a fantastic evening.

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On our last full day in Koh Samui we took the tuk tuk to the other beach nearby, Chawang. This is the considered the busiest beach on the island and definitely felt like it. We had a good time, but we could feel the difference that the boom in tourism over the last twenty years had made. Of course tough to reconcile that with some of the quieter places we’ve enjoyed while being tourists ourselves. Still another week in Thailand so looking forward to Phuket next.

Thailand (Bangkok)

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I’m running out of adjectives to describe how much we’re enjoying this trip. Terrible problem I know!

Oh well, despite the risk of overuse we are having a fantastic time in Thailand. Thailand and India are the two places we’re spending the most time in and so far it’s proving to be a very hot, but very great decision.

We flew into Bangkok last Wednesday and spent two nights at a hotel on Sukhamvit road. It was a business hotel that had mostly positive reviews online. As a side note, thank you to everyone who has ever left a hotel or hostel review online. So far this has been our primary method of choosing where to stay and, knock on wood, quite effective. Anyway, when we got there they had decided to upgrade us to a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment. For those of you who know how little we’re traveling with the image of Greg and I with only our backpacks staying in this fairly large apartment was quite amusing. We were also close to the Skytrain and thus had easy access to more of the city where we went exploring and found some great food (thanks Gary for the recommendations).

Knowing that we’d be back in Bangkok again before flying to India we decided to spend the next day trying to get visas for Myanmar. This was something else we’d attempted before leaving the US, but that didn’t work on our pre-travel timeline. Reading instructions and reviews online we showed up at the embassy in Bangkok around 7:30 in the morning to wait in line until it opened at 9. I held our place while Greg went down the street to a local convenience store that runs a side business of helping people fill out the visa applications and making requisite photocopies of passports and travel itineraries. Despite the balmy 95 plus degree weather the waiting really wasn’t that bad and I was impressed with the level of solidarity of those waiting as we all held places for one another and gave hopeful assurances that this process would work.


When 9AM rolled around we were impressed with how efficiently the whole process took place. We were ushered in, given a number and very DMV-style sat until our number was announced and a screen told us which window to go up to. As we left for Koh Samui the next day we needed to get a same-day visa in order to have our passports back in time to fly. Despite the signs that told us we needed to have confirmed plane tickets to Myanmar in order for this to happen (which we of course didn’t have) we pled our case, paid the expedited fee, and were told to come back between two and five that afternoon.

As this was only a few hours away, and we were almost an hour from our hotel, we decided to stay relatively close and kill some time in the easiest source of air conditioning we could find - a local mall. To make the non-tourist experience complete we stopped for breakfast at Starbucks and then saw Iron Man 3 (two days before it was released in the US). I love going to movie theaters while traveling abroad and that sense of disorientation when I step out and for a moment forget what country I’m in. This illusion was only broken for a bit at the beginning of the movie when after the previews when we followed the crowd and stood up while the national anthem was played and a video montage of the royal family was shown. I have a new appreciation for King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Greg cracked up trying to convince me that movies in the US would be so much better if we had an Obama home video before every show.

After the movie, we successfully retrieved our visas and went home for an early night before our flight the next morning to Koh Samui. While we didn’t actually see much of Bankok during this first pass, we were immediately impressed with how friendly everyone we came in contact was and how well it seemed to exemplify organized chaos. The metro seemed to have the crowds and personality of Beijing and Hong Kong, but a level of organization closer to that of Singapore. Hundreds of people lining up to get onto the metro at rush hour, but when one train filled up the line simply advanced and waited for the next one. Very surprising, impressive and hopefully a good sign of things to come.


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Singapore was the closet to the equator that we’ll be on this trip. It says a lot then that even in 100 degree weather we both had a great time.

We spent the first three nights at a hostel in little India. It was a cute place despite the night club specializing in K-pop karaoke on the other side of the wall (thank goodness for earplugs). The metro was super clean and modern and made for a really easy trip from there to the harbor where we spent most of our time.

On our first full day there we explored the new Gardens by the Bay park. There were tons of orchids and a model train that if you look closely at in the picture below shows a model of the Rangeley line from Maine. We went to the food market for dinner and ate chili crab and I tried Durian (a tasty fruit but with such an unpleasant odor it’s banned from the subway). As adventurous an eater as I am I’m not sure it’s something I’ll go out of my way to find again (much to Greg’s relief).



The following day was spent exploring some of the sites of Little India and China Town. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum was a definite highlight where we made it in time to hear the monks begin their daily sutra chanting. It also happens to be less than a block away from a gorgeous Hindu temple and then a few yards further down the street is one of the largest mosques in Singapore.


On our last day we splurged and spent the night at the Marina Bay Sands, home of an infinity pool on the 57th floor, the world’s highest. The views of the harbor were incredible and the rest of the hotel (which also happened to include an ice skating rink, and a Lego exhibit at the on-site art gallery) was ridiculous (in a good way).



When we were first looking up things to do we read a review that said something like, “Singapore is ‘Asia lite’ so sterilized that you couldn’t get food poisoning even if you tried”. While I think that may be true, and wasn’t exactly what Greg and I had been expecting, it also felt like a modern city very far and different from home. A place we’d totally recommend and love to go back to again someday.

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Kat in May 2013.

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