June - December 2016
  • Day181

    Day 180: Home.

    December 13, 2016 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 36 °C

    Here we go! Up at 5:20, downstairs to check out by 5:30 and wait for our Uber to the airport. Brief moment of panic as the driver went down the parallel street (Uber had dropped the map pin on the hotel building which is shown as between the two, and there's no easy access between them in reality, unlike on Google Maps), but the front desk managed to call him and he picked us up with no further problems.

    Long ride as usual out to the airport but with very little traffic at this time of day. Checked in about 2.5 hours early, and checked in a bag for the first time on our entire trip! Through emigration, customs and then spent a little while at the GST refund counter getting that sorted out for Shandos's new laptop. I was annoyed at myself since I could've gotten a GST refund for my phone as well if I'd thought about it earlier!

    Since we'd paid a bit extra for flexible flights where we could move the date at no cost, we also had free access to the AirAsia premium lounge! So we headed in, grabbed some breakfast and enjoyed the extra fast wifi which is way better than the rest of the airport. Before long it was boarding time, so we headed over and jumped on the plane.

    We'd booked seats in the "quiet zone" up the front of the plane, where children under 12 aren't allowed, and loud talking etc is discouraged. Because these seats are a little more expensive than the regular seats, it meant that the section was half empty. So we all spread out, naturally. We'd started with the bulkhead row for extra legroom, but Shandos moved to a window seat where she had all three seats to herself.

    I listened to a couple of podcasts, and watched the first four episodes of The Grand Tour (the new version of Top Gear), and before we knew it it was time to land! Touched down just on time at 8:15pm. Being in about the third row of the plane meant we were first off the plane, through immigration very quickly (though with the SmartGate scanners it's super quick anyway these days). Had to wait maybe 10 minutes for our bag to turn up, but as we'd booked premium fares it was marked as a Priority bag, so again it was among the first bags to appear.

    Little bit of time going through customs since we had some wooden gifts and a couple of packaged foods, but no problems there. Short wait in the carpark before Vicki and Harvey arrived to pick us up, then the long hour's drive back down to Thirroul as we caught up with them. Finally arrived, and had a very happy reunion with Schnitzel - he definitely remembered us! Lots of licking and tail wagging involved.

    Stayed up a bit longer chatting and doing a bit of unpacking but that can wait for another day. All in all we've had a great trip - not much in the way of disaster or misfortune beyond stubbed toes and a lost iPhone. Some places didn't live up to expectation, but others massively exceeded so no real complaints. Look forward to catching up with everyone and having a proper rest, before we start planning and head off again in a month or two. Until next time!
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  • Day180

    Day 179: Free Day in KL

    December 12, 2016 in Malaysia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Last actual day of our trip! To celebrate, we had no plans. Again we basically just wandered around the shopping areas, though we didn't buy much other than burgers for lunch and some Hokkaido cheese tarts in the afternoon as a snack. Headed to a nice cafe in the afternoon for a drink and relaxed.

    We'd hoped to use our hotel's rooftop pool up on level 35, but it was overcast again and drizzling on and off, so it wasn't really an option and we just stayed in the room. After a few sums, Shandos decided that the new MacBook she wanted to buy was going to work out several hundred dollars cheaper if bought in Malaysia rather than back home in Australia like she'd planned (currency conversion plus you can get a refund on their 6% GST when you leave the country with it).

    So after a bit of maths and working, we headed off to Suria KLCC which is the big fancy shopping mall underneath the Petronas twin towers. Bought the new laptop from an Apple authorised reseller (the whole store looked identical to an Apple Store anyway), then had a late-ish dinner in the food court. As much as I like symbolic gestures, I didn't have a fitting final meal of our South East Asian adventure - I had a kebab because it was cheap and looked tasty!

    Back to the hotel around 9pm to get some sleep ahead of an early start tomorrow, and our journey home!
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  • Day179

    Day 178: Still shopping in KL

    December 11, 2016 in Malaysia ⋅ ☁️ 27 °C

    Another day of shopping, as we only got about half of the presents we needed to get yesterday. This time we took a slightly different tack, and headed to Chinatown, Petaling Street and Central Market. Much more of a tourist market than a proper shopping mall, so the goods are slightly less authentic but also much more affordable!

    Again, no spoilers for what we bought.

    We were all finished by mid-afternoon so headed back to our room. In the evening we went out to Jalan Alor, the long street food street, where we met up with a travel blogger we knew from TBEx. This was the same person we'd met in Coron as well - double coincidence! She's Polish and travelling around extra slow - she writes a lot more than we do, and tends to work her way around (front desk at hostel/guesthouse etc).

    Headed for the hotel around 9pm, though I realised Manchester United were playing at 10pm so headed for a nearby pub. I didn't have much cash so I had one schooner and made it last the entire game. Very tense, but we pulled off a 1-0 win over Spurs. Back to the hotel just after midnight for our last full day in SEA!
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  • Day178

    Day 177: Shopping in KL

    December 10, 2016 in Malaysia ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    First day in KL, and we needed to get our Christmas shopping done. Our flight to Australia in a few days comes with 20kg of luggage allowance, so we'd decided to spend a couple more days here doing shopping where gifts are generally a bit cheaper.

    Without going into too much detail, we went to a bunch of large modern shopping malls! Pavilion, Lot 88, Suria KLCC, Fahrenheit, Low Yat Plaza and Sungei Wang were where we bought most things. Lots of presents for everyone, so no spoilers!

    Went out for dinner in the evening, at a food truck park over near the twin towers. Was a really great idea - basically just a single-storey carpark during the day, and from 5pm every night a bunch of food trucks park and set up shop. Such a simple idea, I don't know why they don't do it in Sydney. Though the cynic in me knows that rather than paying a few ringgit for cheap food, the Sydney version would be stuffed with $25 gourmet options like the noodle markets every October. Alas!
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  • Day177

    Day 176: Back to KL (again!)

    December 9, 2016 in Malaysia ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    An early morning flight means an early morning wake-up, sadly! Alarms for 5am, downstairs and checked out by 5:30 and in a cab heading for the airport. It's a long drive out of town to get there (though not quite as far as the bus station), and took us about 45 minutes. Big queue at check in as there was an AirAsia flight to Bangkok leaving at about the same time, but we managed to skip it by just going to the document check counter instead (most AA desks have a self-checkin machine but not here sadly).

    Everything sorted, we had some breakfast at a cafe to use up the last of our kyat, then proceeded through emigration and security. Plane a little late arriving but we were underway only about 10 minutes behind schedule.

    Uncomfortable flight, as I was on the window seat and the guy next to me was talking ridiculously loudly to his friends in the adjacent two seats. They also all chewed betel nuts through the entire flight which stink, spitting their chewed-up seeds into the vomit bags, he hogged the armrest the whole way, and he smelled like BO as well. Very annoying - thankfully it was only a 2.5 hour flight!

    Landed in KL with no problems, straight through immigration and customs as usual and then decided to take a coach into town rather than the train or taxi. 2 tickets for the coach is 24 ringgit ($8) for the hour-long trip, so it's a hell of a lot cheaper than paying 100 ringgit for a taxi or 80 ringgit for the train. It's not even that much slower than a taxi, although we had to get from Sentral to our hotel (we used UberX, which cost a further 7 ringgit).

    Beautiful hotel this time, Shandos found a really good last minute deal. We're staying in a serviced apartment, so we actually have a small kitchenette that we likely won't use. But the room is large, very nicely furnished and very comfortable, so we're looking forward to the next few days here.

    We did a little reconnaissance in the afternoon as we hadn't stayed in this area before (it's about halfway between two areas we have stayed), but soon retreated to the room as we were tired. For dinner we just ordered in a pizza from a nearby place as neither of us particularly felt like going out. Early night after a long day, and we've got a couple of intense shopping days to come!
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  • Day176

    Day 175: Free Day in Yangon

    December 8, 2016 in Myanmar ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Last full day in Myanmar. We basically had no plans for the day, other than potentially meeting up with someone I vaguely knew online in the evening. We basically spent most of the day bumming around in the hotel room, though around lunchtime we headed out to a large marketplace a couple of blocks from the hotel. It's called Scott Markets and has been a mainstay of Yangon shopping since the colonial era, but unfortunately it wasn't that interesting. Prices were generally a bit higher than what we'd seen elsewhere in Myanmar, and a lot of the tourist stores were just selling the same stuff.

    So back to the hotel, where we just hung around for the rest of the day. Did some internet stuff and caught up on various things. Would've been nice to have a final thing to do in town, but alas.

    My friend got caught up in work so we didn't end up meeting him, though we did venture out in the evening to the same Shan noodle place we'd been to a few weeks earlier. They didn't remember us, but they get a lot of white faces in there so I'm not surprised! Early to bed as we've got a typically early start tomorrow for the trip back to KL.
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  • Day175

    Day 174: Back to Yangon

    December 7, 2016 in Myanmar ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Our time in Myanmar is slowly winding to a close, and today was the first step on that journey, as we took the bus from Inle Lake back down to Yangon. Had our last hotel breakfast and got picked up around 8:15am in a small ute thing, drove around a bit picking up some other passengers before arriving at the bus stop around 9am. The bus showed up about 10 minutes later, already mostly full (it had come from a city a couple of hours further down the road).

    Thankfully our reserved seats were empty, so we settled in and got comfortable. Probably the nicest bus we've been in so far - it was a Scania which is I think Swedish, so built with European bodies in mind. Nice wide seats, lots of leg room, even a small TV in the seat back facing you! Air conditioner was still set to "Siberia" of course, though with the sun out it wasn't too bad.

    Not a whole lot to report from the journey really as we were traversing roads we'd already seen. The first hour was spent heading back west to Kalaw where we'd started our trek, then a few more hours heading back west out of the mountains. The view here was actually pretty spectacular, and we obviously hadn't seen any of it on the way in since it was dark!

    But once we descended from the hills and stopped for lunch around midday, we were back in the dry central plains area which is mostly unpopulated and fairly uninteresting. Stopped again at about 4pm for another break, where we were informed our arrival in Yangon would be about 7:30pm (we'd actually had no real sense of when we'd arrive).

    True enough, we pulled into the enormous sprawling bus terminal on the outskirts of Yangon around 7:20pm, making it a 10 hour bus ride. Aside from the freezing temperature after sunset, it wasn't too bad on the whole. Found a taxi with no problem, bargained him down from the hilarious to a moderately outrageous fare into town, though a little surprised that his wife and infant daughter were occupying the front passenger seat. Oh well!

    Arrived back at Hotel Clover around 8:15pm, almost precisely 12 hours door-to-door. Settled into our room (identical to the previous one, just two floors higher), went a few doors down the road for a Japanese dinner, then bed around 10:30pm. We have one final free day in Yangon tomorrow which we're not sure what to do with, before flying out to KL the following morning.
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  • Day174

    Day 173: Winery

    December 6, 2016 in Myanmar ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Last full day here at Inle Lake, and we were both feeling refreshed and definitely ready to move on. It didn't help that our hotel's wifi connection seemed to be down more than it was up! But we had one last stop we wanted to make - a small winery just outside of town.

    Since it's located up on a hill, most people recommend going there for sunset. But we planned to ride bicycles there, and figured that after a bit of wine tasting, riding home in the dark probably wasn't the smartest idea. So we had our breakfast, relaxed for a bit, then grabbed some bikes and headed for the winery around lunchtime.

    It was a nice enough ride, heading out through the less-touristy eastern side of town and then onto the "main" road south. A bit further down this road we turned off to the left and headed up a fairly steep hill to the winery. I only made it about 200 metres up the hill before I had to hop off and push. Not to make excuses, but my bike was pretty crap and only 3 of the 7 gears actually worked. Oh well.

    Eventually we made it up and were rewarded with a great view back towards town and across the plain north of the lake (the town itself is actually a couple of kilometres north of the lake proper, connected by a long wide canal). We had some decent food (club sandwich for me and a chicken claypot rice dish for Shandos), then headed to the winery out back for some tasting.

    They did a sauv blanc which was OK, a bit dry for my liking, and a late harvest muscat which was nice and sweet. Plus a pair of reds, a shiraz and a temperanillo which were both OK but not the greatest with the warm weather. It was a nice environment up there, so we stayed for a while but eventually headed back down around 2pm.

    Rode back into town and stopped again at Chillax Bistro for a cappuccino and banana cake which we'd had yesterday and was again delicious. Then back to the hotel where we spent the rest of the day reading, relaxing and sitting around the pool.

    Evening came and we headed out again for dinner, this time at One Owl Grill - a sister venue to the rooftop pub we'd been to a few nights earlier. Great food here - Shandos had some minced chicken skewers, while I had a burger with tasty mince, egg, hummus and jalapenos.

    On our way back to the hotel we stumbled across a roller skating rink, maybe the only one left in the world! There were quite a few locals skating around very skilfully, and of course a few Westerners flailing around like they'd never skated before. We considered having a go, but no socks and no skills meant I just watched from the sidelines.

    Back to the hotel for a semi-early night, our bus pickup tomorrow is at 8am and we need to be packed and ready well in advance!
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  • Day173

    Day 172: Boat Tour on Inle Lake

    December 5, 2016 in Myanmar ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    Following our day of rest, we decided to get out on the lake today. It's one of the largest lakes in Myanmar, very long north to south, not particularly wide, and very shallow (only 2-3 metres deep in dry season and 3-5 metres in wet season).

    So we had our hotel breakfast and wandered down to the canal area where the first guy offered us a boat for 15,000 kyat - we'd been expecting 20,000 and he answered our questions fairly well so off we went.

    Although it's a nice environment, the lake tour itself tends to be a bit of a tourist trap. You visit "workshops" where they demonstrate how various products are made - laquerware, silver jewellery, Shan paper, silk, lotus thread, cigars and so on, before you then get ushered into the shop. There are loads of each type of workshop, and the boat guy gets commission from the stores based on what you buy. We didn't buy anything.

    It was interesting to see various products being made, but I'm fairly sure the actual purchasable products are made elsewhere, probably in China, because they're all exactly the same with essentially no variation. The hour or so we spent heading out on the lake was quite cold as it was overcast and still a bit early (8am-ish), but after a couple of hours the clouds cleared and it heated up again.

    I didn't mind the workshops, but the stores bored me to tears, and the prices were pretty high for what the items actually were. Especially considering you have no real guarantee that the craftsman you've just seen has actually made that item, and it wasn't done by someone in Chengdu using imitation materials.

    We also visited a local market where about half the stalls were locals going about their business, buying meat and vegetables and betel nut, and the remaining stalls were people selling the exact same tourist junk. Buddha figurines, fridge magnets, Japanese swords for some reason, pipes, and the same earrings, necklaces, bracelets and scarves we'd seen at every other store. Shandos ending up buying two scarves for 8000 kyat, which originally started as one for 8000! I wonder what the actual cost price was.

    Had lunch at a restaurant on the water next to the cigar "factory". Was expecting another tourist trap but the prices actually weren't too bad, and our cashew nut chicken dish was pretty good!

    After lunch we went through the floating gardens area, which is a huge area of the lake where the gardens are, well, floating. Row after row of what looked like tomato plants, though how they actually grow without soil is beyond me!

    Last stop was then a monastery built out over the lake. Nothing particularly exciting about it that I could see aside from a large collection of teak Buddhas, though there was a large group of kittens in one corner! It used to be the Jumping Cat monastery, where a monk had taught the cats to jump through hoops, but he's since died and nobody has picked up the hoop, so to speak.

    And then it was time to pile back into the boat for the long ride back into town, nearly 45 minutes! Nice day spent on the lake, but it really felt like the biggest tourist trap in Myanmar. We also went past some local fishermen - they have a unique technique where they paddle their boats with their leg wrapped around an oar and balancing one-legged on the prow, leaving both hands free to manipulate nets and fishing line. It looked quite beautiful, though there were more of them standing around posing for photos (and demanding tips) than actually fishing.

    Back to the hotel where we chilled out for a bit, then headed off for dinner around 6pm. Decided on a cheap local place for dinner, where we both had bowls of Shan noodle for dinner. 3500 kyat including a longneck of beer; good price but not the best example of the cuisine we've had!

    Last full day at Inle tomorrow, before our long bus ride back to Yangon!
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  • Day172

    Day 171: Relaxing in Nyuangshwe

    December 4, 2016 in Myanmar ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    Finally we'd finished our hike, had a nice hotel for relaxing and all the time in the world. So we made the most of it! Had a lazy breakfast in the hotel before heading back to the room, only to discover that the decent wifi from yesterday was now down, and no word on when it might be back up!

    We puttered around in the room for a bit, I went out to a laundry service, then we headed out for lunch. Figured we might as well go back to Chillax Bistro since they served Illy coffee and had pretty good food. Prices were steep by Myanmar standards, but still fairly cheap for non-backpacker Westerners (I think our two baguettes, coffee and fresh juice was about $13).

    We stayed here for a couple of hours since their wifi was quite functional and working nicely! Back to the hotel around 2pm where we sat around the pool for a couple of hours. Unfortunately it was too cold to really swim in (the last water we'd been in was 30+ degrees in the Philippines) so we just lazed around relaxing instead.

    Evening approached and we headed into the main part of town where the canal from the lake runs up. Fended off constant approaches by boatmen for a trip tomorrow (even though we were intending on taking a boat trip, I figured the price would be lower tomorrow morning), and wnadered around looking for a dinner venue. Eventually found a pub with a rooftop bar, very un-crowded like basically everywhere else here. Had a couple of happy hour cocktails and shared a pizza for dinner before wandering back to the hotel with some baked goods for dessert.

    All in all a very relaxing day, and one desperately needed after the exertions of the previous few days!
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