Exploring the ancient Cities of Myanmar.

Today I was up super early, I got everything ready the night before including a shower so I could get up 15 minutes before Min Min was picking me up. This was still 4:30am but I was excited enough to not feel too tired, Min Min was waiting for me outside and off we went towards U Bein Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in the world. It’s located south of Mandalay and is a popular spot for sunrise and sunset.

On the way we stopped at a pagoda where the monks were washing the face of Buddha, people arrived to pray and attach gold leaf to the body of the Buddha. It was a nice little start to the day.

We drove out of the City and into the countryside, arriving at U Bridge at around 6am. It was so quiet and only 2 other tourists around, unfortunately it was also really cloudy so I wouldn’t get a good sunrise. I still loved walking along the bridge and taking with the locals, I even found a little chameleon friend.

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Once I had walked to one side and back it was on to the next part of the tour, the ancient Cities. We stopped at a huge broken pagoda, destroyed by an earthquake, I had the freedom to explore the whole place, and I had it all to myself. After about 20 minutes or so I was ready for breakfast, with Min Min waiting just across the road from me.

Breakfast was a traditional Myanmar dish consisting of thick cold noodles with egg and a chilli, garlic peanut sauce. It was delicious and came with a banana plant soup. I ate it so fast the lady serving in the little covered shack was asking if I needed more! Even the little side dish of bean sprouts with a slice of lime tasted really good.

Once breakfast was finished it was back on the bike to continue onwards. We now headed to Innwa, one of the ancient Cities of Myanmar. The bike journey was so cool, passing by old temples, banana tree groves and rice paddies. We passed the old ancient walls of the City and really went off road.

The main place to see is a huge stone temple that you can explore, with a white and gold pagoda adjacent to it. I really enjoyed this place, it was a beautiful building and again I wandered around without seeing anyone else.

After I had been on my little adventure around the area, we continued to an old tower that had also been damaged by earthquakes, we didn’t linger here as you’re not able to climb it so no exploring!

The next stop was a small partly damaged pagoda with some cool Buddhas and great views of people working in the rice fields. This place was so peaceful, with villagers going about their morning duties and the scent of incense filling the air.

Our last stop in the Southern area of Mandalay was an old wooden monastery. I believe it’s used to teach children, but I couldn’t see anyone around, just a few squirrels and some dogs guarding the steps up, so I didn’t dare to climb them.

Next on the agenda was Sagaing hill, to get there we drove back up towards Mandalay before crossing the river over the …. bridge. Min Min stopped for me to take some pictures of the Irrawaddy river up close, then we started to ascend the hill.

Again I had to get off at the steepest part but it was definitely worth it as we reached the top and I took a short uphill walk to reach Soon U Ponya Shin pagoda, I hadn’t done any research on this so it was a great bonus. The bright blue curve of the temple along with all the Buddha inside was amazing. Plus the view of you walked a little further up over the whole river delta was spectacular.

We drove back down and stopped at one more pagoda, a controversial one that the government had painted gold against the community wishes. This one was good but I was a bit pagoda’d out at that point. We continued our drive and stopped for tea at a little teahouse while we waited to go to the next temple.

This next one was really cool, mainly because we got to watch the monks there chant and ring their bells before queueing up for food from one of the nearby villages. There was a lot of ceremony involved and it felt great to be able to watch it. They eat lunch at 11:30 and that’s their last meal for the day.

It was a long drive back into Mandalay but interesting to watch day to day life and the locals would always wave and smile when they saw me going past as a westerner.

Arriving back in Mandalay Min Min wanted to show me one last point of interest, Shwe In Bin monastery. I’m so glad he did as it was a beautiful wooden building with lots of intricate design. Monks walked peacefully about and I probably spent more time there than in some of the others places due to its beauty.

I was soon back at the hostel and ready to relax after being out for over 8 hours it cost me 20000 kyat for the whole day with Min Min, including food and drinks, he was so great and explained a lot about Myanmar life. I chilled out till the early evening coolness and had a wander around the hostel area. I don’t know if I was just in the wrong place but it felt like there wasn’t really much in the way of shops/restaurants or bars in Mandalay.

That evening I walked up the night market which wasn’t great, before finding a little restaurant on the street called Shan Ma Ma. It was similar to the night before, you ordered your main dish then got some sides and soup to go along with it. After explaining I only ate vegetables I was soon tucking into we great food again.

Suddenly the whole street went dark and I realised it was a power cut. My second of the holiday. Luckily the restaurant had a back up generator so I finished my meal with a beer before walking back some very dark streets and I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Back once again in Bangkok.

Waking up in Chachoengsao I packed up the few things I had taken out of my bag and Liam, via 5 minutes of driving down the wrong side of the road got us to the station.

The ticket cost about 10 Baht to take us on the hour long journey to central Bangkok. I got some tasty coconut batter snacks for the train and we began our short journey. It was so pretty as we passed rice fields filled with storks and the scenery starting to become less country and more City.

Liam had recommended a hotel near Asok train station so we alighted there and ten minutes later we were checking in. It was a really nice hotel and I had splurged for the executive lounge so we could get breakfast, afternoon snacks, and free drinks in the evening.

After a chillout by the pool with a Pina colada we got some free lunch at the lounge and headed towards Siam Square for the magical rainbow cheese toastie. Bangkok is pretty easy to navigate with its metro and SkyTrain and along with 7/11s they make a nice reprieve from the heat.

We arrived at Siam Square and found the Hokkaido Cheese Toastie shop on the ground floor of the mall. We ordered some drinks while we waited for the rainbow toastie and then realised they were cheesy drinks! Actually they were delicious, Liam had strawberry and I went for matcha and they had a cheesecakey float on the top.

Then the rainbow toastie arrived and it was everything we were hoping for and more. So pretty but also super weird as the different colours are different fruity flavours. But cheese.

We wandered around the mall for a bit checking out the randomness of it all, then found the Hello Kitty cafe. I was super excited but it was actually a bit disappointing inside, and the menu was overpriced so we didn’t stay. Instead we walked along the skywalk, checking out Erawan shrine from above and finally jumping the SkyTrain back to Nana for a beer and to people watch.

We sat here for a while watching ominously as dark grey clouds closed in on us before the heavens opened up. It was past 6 at this point and we wanted to enjoy the free drinks and food at the hotel, and after a soggy 40 minutes of being packed into the SkyTrain and metro like sardines we made it.

The food was great and they had plenty of vegetarian options, Liam was super happy he could drink white wine too as it’s something of a luxury for him. Feeling a bit tipsy we got changed before heading to Tuba antique restaurant and bar. A cool little place off the beaten track that Liam had suggested.

We arrived via taxi and it was pretty cool, lots of random objects dotted about the place and tasty cocktails which were huge! We sat at the bar and chatted through the night till I was too tired to talk. So we walked slowly back to the hotel and I passed out almost immediately.

I woke early in the morning, and went for a refreshing swim before trying literally everything vegetarian on the breakfast buffet. I waited for Liam to wake up and we got ready to head out. We wanted to head to Chang Chui market with its cool abandoned planes but realised it’s closed on a Wednesday.

Instead we headed to Jim Thompson’s house as a last minute decision, and it turned out to be pretty cool. It wasn’t super expensive about 200 Baht, this includes a tour of the house in your language. It was cool seeing this snapshot of post WW2 life for an expat and the gardens and decor were stunning. It’s also easy to get to, just take the SkyTrain to National Stadium and it’s a 5 minute walk from there. We also checked out the canal just past the house.

e took the BTS down towards Lumphini park, this place is famous for its water monitor lizards though unfortunately Bangkok council had the majority of the big ones removed as they were becoming a nuisance in the City, including one casually walking into a Tesco.

The park itself is a nice break from the city and you can rent bikes or pedalos. We visited in 2015 and it seems like it’s in a constant state of fluctuation. We enjoyed the lizard hunt and were rewarded for our endeavours by spotting a big one eating an even bigger fish.

From here our plan was to take the BTS around to Sala Daeng and hit the unicorn cafe, but Liam dropped his phone somewhere in the park. Luckily a local found it and we managed to get it back but by this point it made more sense to walk down to the cafe.

It was about a 25 minute walk from Lumphini to Silom district where the cafe is and it was totally worth it. Bright and garish it was like a crazy acid trip, with unicorns hanging from the ceiling and the most colourful desserts menu I have ever seen.

We ordered some iced drinks and one of the rainbow waffles, the drinks were so sugary and sweet we had to wait for the ice to dilute them a little but the waffles were incredible.

Buzzing from the sugar rush we wandered up towards the main street in Silom near the BTS and grabbed a couple of beers. We were going to head to some of the gay bars but they didn’t open till 6pm and like needed to get back to Chachoengsao.

It turned out we probably could’ve gone there as the BTS was full of commuters so we decided to risk the Bangkok traffic and take a taxi for 100 Baht. Google maps said it would take 45 minutes but almost 2 hours of bumper to bumper cars we finally arrived at the Avani.

Liam quickly sorted out a taxi back home and I prepared for my morning departure to Myanmar, the first official leg of my tour.

Beziers and the solo traveller.Β 

So after a bit of a work change I have more flexibility to travel than ever before! So I decided to test out solo travelling my destination? Southwest France, incorporating Carcassone, heading into Andorra for a Pyrenees hike, and finally a quick stop in Barcelona. 

Budget airlines do really cheap flights to Beziers, my starting off point. With sights such as the cathedral and canals I couldn’t wait. Packed up and ready to go, I grabbed a burger and pint in the airport. The flight was all cloud up until we got to the South of France, when beautiful sunshine lit Beziers up as we flew overhead. It’s a quick and easy bus journey direct from the airport, and even at 6pm it was hot hot hot! 

The bus drops you off at the train station, and unfortunately my cheap hotel was about a mile or so from the centre. So off I trekked, sweating in the evening heat but loving the views of impressive churches and a huge arena on the outskirts. I dropped my bags off at the hotel, had a quick shower to freshen up and, with no buses available walked back to the City centre. 

Now at first I wasn’t so sure about Beziers, walking around as night fell I felt a little intimidated by the feel of the place. It was very quiet and there were lots of little streets which I tried to avoid as best I could. I walked across Allees Paul Riquet, a huge boulevard that cuts through the City centre. From here I headed down to the river Orb to catch a view of the cathedral all lit up on the hilltop this made me feel better about Beziers, it was beautiful. 

Oh I forgot to mention Beziers is located on a big hill, so lots of steep streets winding up to the cathedral. I took one of these streets to a pretty square with some nicely lit up buildings and, following a little street found myself walking beneath lovely coloured umbrellas. It was getting late now and being on my own I struggled finding somewhere to eat. So I walked back to the hotel and got some stuff from the vending machine… so spent the night eating and organising my full day in Beziers tomorrow. 

Seeing as it was such great weather I decided to walk along a stretch of the canal du midi, regarded as one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century. It’s 240km long and runs from Toulouse down to the Meditteranean. 

I walked down to the station, picking up some food and drinks for the walk and quickly found the river. It was stunning countryside and I saw a majestic bridge going over the river. This was my starting point on the canal, climbing some steep steps up on the canal I started walking, enjoying the warm sun and peaceful tranquillity of the place. 

I was headed for the famous Fonserannes lock, where 8 locks and 9 gates allow a boat to rise 21.5m over 300m. Unfortunately I branched off left at the locks, followed a dried up old system of bringing the boats up, and didn’t find a way to cross back over further up! 

I tried to walk around but ended up back near Beziers so decided to explore the town. I stopped off by the bridge looking over to the cathedral, I think it’s even more magnificent in the day. Here I are my snacks, one of which was a weird seafood pasty which was actually really tasty! It’s called Tielle Setoise and it’s stuffed with a tomatoey octopus filling. 

I sat on a little park bench and marvelled at the views for a while before crossing the bridge over to the base of the hill. A steep climb upwards and I was back on the square I had found the night before. I headed straight to the colourful umbrella streets and wandered up and down them all with my face permanently looking upwards. 

It was so hot I needed to cool down so I got a couple of ice cold drinks from a little shop. Used my best Merci and Au Revoir, then linked myself down by the Eglise de la Madeleine, a pretty church and a nice spot to test before I hit the main site. 

The cathedral in Beziers was built in the 13th century, and you can see for miles from the viewpoint at the courtyard looking over the river. 

Inside glows with the stained glass windows colourful depictions, and for a donation you can climb up to the top of the cathedral tower. It’s definitely not for the faint hearted, going up the winding spiral staircases, the steps worn away by hundreds of years of use. However, the views once you get to the top are amazing. You get a 360Β° look at Beziers and the surrounding countryside. 

I spent quite a bit of time up here, the breeze was cool and there was enough to look at to keep me interested. 

Eventually I took the descent back down and noticed a couple go through a little door round at the front of the cathedral, I was so glad I followed them, finding a lovely courtyard which led to some gardens on the slope of the hill. 

I headed back towards the Allees Paul Riquet and spent some time relaxing in the nearby ‘poets’ park. Plateau des poetes is unsurprisingly dedicated to various poets and is seen as conducive for writing them. It has a few pretty fountains and gardens to walk around, and sculptures of poets dotted about the place. It also has a very grand monument at one of the entrances.

I had been out for 9 hours at this point, and had seen most of the sights I could find about Beziers, so I started the long walk back to the hotel. I arrived back and was knackered, so I enjoyed the aircon in the room, packed my stuff up and checked my itinerary for the next day. I was headed to Carcassone and couldn’t wait! 

As hunger drew me out of the room I realised there was a McDonald’s 5 minute walk away. Shamefully I stuffed my face with a blue cheese and bacon based speciality burger. Sat on a balcony loolimg over a busy main road, I was finding it difficult to go to a restaurant as a solo traveller, preferring to get picnic food or takeaway. 

Full to the brim I staggered back to the hotel, ready for an early train in the morning to make the most of my day in Carcassone.