Thursday, 30 January 2014

Transport for travellers

You can hire bikes everywhere and they are great for exploring. ( this one is near Inle Lake in Myanmar)
I think buddha also wore Birkenstocks. Slip on slip off at the temple
Spot the odd one out 
Train station at kalaw in Myanmar.  5 mins before kids were playing soccer on the tracks
Me and about 50 people on my bus waited here ( near vang vieng, laos) incredulous when our bus driver pulled over and stopped for 15 minutes to admire his friend's lime green paint job. 
Taxis in Bangkok are cheap and safe
The mighty Mekong. Two days from Luang Prabang to Thai border with the amusingly named Shompoo Cruise

My favourite form of  transport
In Luang Prabang even the tuk tuks are beautiful
@travelinasiaWould like to apologise for the lengthy delay to your journey today. This was caused by unfeasibly large potholes, Chinese dams upriver, dodgy brakes and epic overcrowding. #arrivedalive

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Stupefying stupas

Pagodas are the Monros of Myanmar and bagging them in Bagan is on every traveller's list.

From 1044 to 1287, Bagan was the capital as well as the political, economic and cultural heart of the Empire that later became unified as Myanmar. Over the course of 250 years, Bagan's rulers and their wealthy subjects constructed over 10,000 religious monuments (approximately 1000 stupas, 10,000 small temples and 3000 monasteries)in an area of 104 square kilometres.

Over three days I zipped around sandy tracks on my Chinese-import e-bike bagging pagodas and chasing sunsets.  It is impossible to visit them all but the challenge is addictive.  Every stupa has its own personality. Some are surrounded by souvenir hawkers,  some contain huge glittering Buddhas. Others are eerily quiet and many are simple small personal shrines.

Wednesday wanderings

I was born at 5.47pm on a Wednesday.   I never liked being Wednesday's child because according to the poem I was supposed to be "full of woe".  I wanted to be Thursday's child who had far to go.  In Buddhist mythology each day of the week has a different meaning. When Buddhists visit a temple they first offer their respects to the shrine corresponding with their day of birth.  Buddha has a different posture for each day of the week.

At  Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon I removed my shoes, walked clockwise through the throngs of worshippers and arrived at Wednesday afternoon.  There are two images for Wednesday because in the morning buddha received alms and in the afternoon he retreated to the forest and wandered with a monkey and an elephant.  Apparently Wednesday afternoon's Buddhist children are trustworthy and hardworking and strong like elephants.

Crowds can be lonely places when travelling on your own but I joined my fellow Wednesdians at our shrine and got talking to a burmese sailor.  He spoke quite good English because he travels the world on cargo ships and had just returned from Ghana. He only had one night in Yangon so had come to Shwedegon to pay his respects.  We laughed about being stuck with a life time of hard work ( not like those lazy children from Tuesday.... ) and being blessed with the strength of elephants.  He shared his candles with me and I lit some incense.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Mingalabar Myanmar

The guide books tell you to expect a culture shock but the arrivals hall at Yangon airport felt very familiar. The men were wearing jandals and long wraparound skirts,  the air was muggy and the wood panelling dingy. I thought for a second I was in the Pacific until I adjusted my watch. Myanmar exists in its own mystical time zone half an hour behind Bangkok and half a century behind the rest of the world.

Many years of brutal military rule and isolation from the rest of the world have left an indelible mark on all aspects of life in Myanmar that are obvious as soon as you leave the airport.

The roads are terrible, even in the middle of Yangon. There are almost no street lights and many people live without power or running water.  Wandering around Yangon in the dark I kept bumping into hanging bull-dog clips which I later learnt were makeshift door bells for the aging apartments above.  People live in a real paper world rather than in electronic cyberspace. Train tickets are purchased in person and written in triplicate using blotting paper.  I paid cash for everything.  Mobiles are rare. There are landlines plugged into every street corner and throughout the country children were playing games. Their repertoire included knucklebones, wheel rolling,  puddle skipping and oxen riding rather than angry birds and facebook chat.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Thai transition

 Seven years at the BBC and It seems  I have not developed any journalistic instincts.  The riots were in full swing this week in Bangkok. Instead of grabbing a camera and chasing the action, I pottered around suburban neighbourhoods, watching cats yawn and banana leaves sway.  I will leave the reporting to @pakhead (BBC correspondent in Bangkok) and @richardbarrow ( independent local journalist) My timeline is full of tears for Mandela and rioting worldwide. Apathy is not the eighth sin anymore but I am following the path to slothful enlightenment by the pool at the fantastic Refill Now ( In keeping with the theme I did venture out to visit Wat Po, the reclining Budda. The 15m high 43 m long statue is a thing of bling. The feet are inlaid with intricate mother of pearl carvings and the whole statue is coated in gold.