Saturday, 28 February 2009

Asia Update, umm... #6? - Thailand, Burma

Well it's been bloody ages since the last update, but luckily most of what we've been up to in the last three months can be summed up in only a few words: beaching, boozing and bumming around. After Malaysia, we headed straight to the resort island of Phuket in Thailand, where we stayed for six weeks with Sergey, a Russian friend we met near the start of our trip. Living next door to us in Chalong were a bunch of funny, party-hard Swedish guys, more of which seemed to appear every week, and who certainly kept us entertained.

As you may be able to gather from the photos, we didn't get up to a whole lot in Phuket, where whole weeks seemed to disappear before you realised it. A typical day consisted of sleeping until midday, going to gorgeous Naiharn beach for the afternoon, a sauna and massage, and then partying with the Swedes in Patong until the wee hours. Patong is the biggest nightspot in Phuket, and it's main drag Bangla Road is home to a few night clubs, pubs, gogo bars, and laneways with dozens of tiny drinking spots. The whole place is packed with tourists, Thai girls and ladyboys, and around there pretty much anything goes.

In mid-December we took a break from the hard life, and crossed Thailand to the island of Ko Pha Ngan, home of the infamous Full Moon Party. About 20,000 ravers make the monthly pilgrimage here for the dance festival on the beach, which goes all night and well on into the next day. Some even manage to keep going until the following evening. We'd travelled from neighbouring Ko Samui just for the night, and ended up crashing on the beach.

The only other thing I did in Phuket were a few boat day trips - twice to a local sea gypsy island, and another with the Swedish guys on their boat, where out of two dozen people I was the only non-Swede. Just for a change, these trips mostly consisted of hanging out on island beaches and drinking.

Eventually in mid-January we decided it was time to get back on the road, and so we flew across to Burma (Myanmar) for a few weeks. It's an incredible country, with very friendly people, thousands of amazing temples with far too many Buddha statues, and an oppressive military junta (which I've written more about the antics of here). In Rangoon (Yangon) we saw the massive Shwedagon Pagoda, a 100m high stupa covered in 50 tons of gold. Around Mandalay we visited four ancient cities, with colossal crumbling temples, a kilometre-long teak bridge, and the world's largest intact bell. Near Monya we saw a 30-story standing Buddha, a temple holding over half a million Buddha statues, and were invited to a Burmese wedding. In Bagan we were overwhelmed by the thousands of temples in every direction, just out in the middle of fields. From Kalaw we trekked for three days, visited local villages, attended another wedding, and slept in a monastery. We finished at stunning Inle Lake, with it's floating gardens and entire villages on stilts over the water.

Burma was a lot different than I'd expected, and much better than I'd imagined, even despite their dire political situation.

After Burma, we headed back to our home base of Phuket, where Ben has gotten himself engaged to a Russian girl. I've since gone by myself back to Bangkok, en route to Cambodia for a few weeks.

I'll try to send out these updates a little more consistently in future, but at least no-one can complain I'm inundating them with emails. I've updated the map so you can see where we've been, and finally got all the photos uploaded. The next month should be interesting, as I've never backpacked alone before, so will let you know how it goes!

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