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.

Gili T and the Waterlice

Even after doing so much sightseeing every day, 2 days of relaxation and chilling out was enough for us so we decided to take a boat trip out to some cool snorkeling spots where we might see more turtles and some other cool sealife. Our hotel organised it and after being escorted to the boat we jumped and were given the chance to have flippers.

The boat was fun and pretty rocky as we crossed between the islands to Gili Meno and turtle point! Once we reached our spot everyone jumped in and followed our snorkel guide. As we were swimming it felt like something had stung or bit me! I had a bit of a panic and quickly looked around me but I couldn’t see anything.

This continued for the rest of the swim as we watched turtles far below us grazing on the seabed, one of them came swimming up to the surface and the whole group went crazy trying to get close to it, why can’t we just enjoy things without having to touch?

I later found out that the little stings I was getting were from sea lice – more on them here : https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/oceanfit.com.au/education/sea-lice-an-itchy-problem/amp

The swim took us to our boat which had gone ahead and was waiting for us all. We jumped back on and sped off to the next snorkelling spot a little closer to the shore. The fish here were good and it was fun being a bit further out than I had dared the day before, but after the 3rd spot it all became a bit too similar. Even though we were in a group of 20 or so I never felt too crowded apart from the turtle moment.

We stopped on Gili Air and had a little wander and a beer to celebrate a good days snorkelling before heading back to Gili T as the sun was starting to go down. When we got back Peter decided to go for a massage, but I was only interested in seeing that amazing sunset one more time.

So I walked over to the West side of the island and sat at a table, ordered a beer and watched an incredible sunset over Bali. It was sad to think that tomorrow would be the last day we spent in Asia. That night we went back to the BBQ place where I had lobster and Peter had steak. It was so good and cheap compared to back home, but expensive compared to the rest of Bali.

Gili T and the Seasnake

The journey from Ubud to Gili Trawangan, the largest of the 3 Gili Islands should, on paper, be simple. However, these types of journeys are rarely easy in Asia. Our taxi was late picking us up, and I knew as we got on that the empty mini bus was a bad sign. Sure enough we went to another 3 hotels to fill the bus out before heading off to the port of Padang Bai where our 1pm boat would be waiting for us.

We arrived at the pier just before 1 to crowds of people, and no sign of any boat. Basically a boat would come in, they’d shout a company and everyone with those tickets would board. Luckily we could buy beers, juices and snacks while we waited. I think our boat arrived at around 4pm. We randomly met a couple from a village not far from where I grew up who were waiting for the same boat.

We all crowded on, I bought a few beers for the 2 hour boat crossing and we sat near the back. I had read that the boat crossing wasn’t great and it turned out to be very true, the boat stank of petrol fumes and was pretty rocky. I was stood by the door with a bit of breeze but I don’t doubt the reason everyone fell asleep was because of the fumes.

Finally we made it to freedom and jumped off onto Gili T, after a full 8 or 9 hours of travel. Luckily it’s not a huge place and it was only a 15 minute walk along a main track which circles the island to our hotel, the Pearl of Trawangan. A beautiful bamboo restaurant and bar awaited us and a lovely little cabin in amongst the foliage.

We were pretty tired and once we had unpacked and relaxed for a bit we walked out to the beach and had a little wander before heading to the restaurant and enjoying a couple of beers and some great food. We had a little walk up the strip and sat on some bean bags at a beach bar. We were soon ready for bed so went back to our cabin and had a great night’s sleep.

We had a bit of a lie in the next day and enjoyed the free breakfast back up in the restaurant. Our plan today was beach beach and more beach, our hotel opened out onto beautiful white sandy beach and we chose a spot with some loungers and set up camp.

After a while sun bathing we decided to cool off and do some snorkelling. I’ve only really been snorkelling in Koh Samet, Thailand and this was a million times better. There were fish everywhere as we swam along grassy banks and over rocky areas.

As I was following some fish over one grassy peak I was greeted by the sight of a black and white striped sea snake heading straight toward me. I basically panicked, thrashed about a bit and turned round swimming like hell in the opposite direction. Looking back I probably scared the snake more than anything but there was no way I could act cool when one of the most poisonous animals was coming towards me!

I didn’t let this put a dent in my snorkelling fun and continued to explore, secretly hoping to see a turtle. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and after trying to relax a bit more on the beach we got itchy feet and decided to spend the afternoon walking around the island.

We stopped our stuff off and started heading along the one track. The walk took us past super posh looking resorts, little huts selling magic mushrooms and a bit of a rubbish tip in what looked like an abandoned hotel development.

The best bit was finding some bleached trees out on the beach with a swing to enjoy the scenery and take some great Instagram pics. We continued on to the next bar and stopped for a drink and some shade from the sun for a bit.

Gili T is such a relaxing place in the daytime, the weather was gorgeous and you could see excellent views of Bali and Lombok across the sea.

We continued around the island and hit the beginning of the main strip, this is full of bars, hostels, restaurants and street food.

We grabbed a bite to eat at Scallywags, a BBQ place with unlimited salad bar and a hatch where you can order various meat and fish and tell them how you want it cooked, which sauces, rubs etc you want on it and they’ll then bring it to your table.

The food was really good, even the salad bar had some good stuff on it. Once we had eaten our fill we met up with the couple from the pier the previous day and went for a few drinks and a dance on the main strip. We had such a good time and agreed to meet up the next day to do some more beach chilling and snorkelling.

Singapore slingin’ and supertree groovin’.Β 

We were up this morning for a quick and easy breakfast at the hotel in Kuala Lumpur ready to check out and take a taxi to the airport. It worked out just as cheap as taking the monorail and train and it’s much easier to travel this way sometimes.

Arriving at the airport it was an easy hour long flight to Singapore, I grabbed a quick 45 minute nap and awoke to what seemed like hundreds of ships surrounding the City. We landed and soon made our way through customs where we jumped in a taxi straight to our hotel for the next few days. Another Park Royal, this time on Beach road, so named because before land reclamation the beaches were found here.

We quickly checked in and freshened up, eager to get out and explore the City. It was hot and humid as we walked along beach road towards the famous Marina Bay. As we wandered along checking out the huge skyscrapers around us the heavens opened and it started to pour down with rain.

Taking shelter I took some Singapore dollars out and we hid in a little cafe having coffee and cake to perk us up. The rain soon subsided and we found ourselves a few minutes walk from the famous Raffles hotel. Raffles has existed here since Singapore was just an up and coming colonial outpost and is a Singaporean institution.

Unfortunately the exterior was being renovated, but one of the bars was still open, it was only lunch time but we were on holiday so thought we would treat ourselves to a Singapore Sling.

Supposedly invented at this hotel the Singapore Sling is a fruity gin concoction. I don’t think I’ll ever have a better one… it’s pretty pricey but worth every Singapore dollar. A bonus are the free monkey nuts, you even get to discard the shells onto the floor without even a raise of an eyebrow.

Once we had an early afternoon buzz from the gin the rain had stopped so we pointed ourselves in the direction of Marina Bay. Now this is the place that travel photographers will dream about, with the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel, the water lion statues, and the framing of the whole bay by skyscrapers, colonial buildings, and fancy architectural developments.

After enjoying seeing parts of the F1 tracks we diverged from out path to check out the Merlion fountain, the views over the bay from here are mesmerising and as good as I had imagined. It was exciting to think we would be on top of the huge ship-shaped hotel that looks over the bay.

After checking out the interestingly shaped theatre building we carried on along the promenade and across the cool Helix bridge to Marina Bay Sands. This was a little tease of what was to come as we stepped onto one of the walk ways above the reception area.

It was crazy to think we were staying there in a couple of nights! It was so cool, in more ways than one as we enjoyed the aircon. It was starting to get pretty humid outside and we enjoyed the change in temperature.

Emerging out onto the other side of the hotel we were hit with another incredible view, the whole reason we had planned the trip. Gardens by the Bay and the futuristic supertrees.

Everything had lived up to expectations so far and this was no exception. You could see for miles out to see past the tops of the trees and out to the Singapore Flyer across the bay.

The best part of the gardens is that it’s free! So we stopped and grabbed a refreshing drink and sat in the shade before wandering through lush vegetation and into the supertree grove.

The trees are actually living breathing factories, supplying the rest of the gardens with resources including water, electricity and cooling systems. They are around 16 storeys tall and you can take the lift up on to wander through the skywalk, taking in a different view from above and getting up close to the interesting plants found in the trees.

We were actually getting hungry at this point so taking a stroll along the waterfront we headed to Satay by the bay. This is a collection of food stalls where you can grab any number of things.

The food was pretty good and cheap, plus I got to try Cendol, a traditional shaved ice dessert made with mung bean and covered with various chewy sweets. It was so nice and refreshing in the heat, on our way back we did some otter hunting. The otters returned to Singapore in the 90s and have been flourishing ever since! Sadly we didn’t see any this time.

We headed to the two huge greenhouses that inhabit the gardens, these you do have to pay for and it’s around Β£15 for both of them. One is the cloud forest with a huge waterfall and plants all based around a central column you can climb up through and around. The second is the flower dome, full of different blooms all shapes and sizes.

We enjoyed this little guy, guarding all the pumpkins for autumn. They were nice to walk around and the amount of flowers and plant life was amazing.

I definitely enjoyed the cloud forest more, it was great seeing out over the supertree grove which was starting to light up ready for the evening show. Although I did enjoy the harvest showpiece in the flowerdome.

Every night there’s a show at the supertree grove, where the trees are lit up to different songs and music. It was an incredible moment and I loved every minute of it, once it was over we were pretty tired so headed back to the hotel for a night time swim in the pool and planning our second day in this amazing City.

Belem and the birthplace of Nata.Β 

Our last day was upon us! Our flights weren’t till later on in the evening so we had at least half a day to sightsee. This took us to Belem, an area of Lisbon that is easily reachable by train or tram.

Another scorcher of a day, we took the train out to Belem and walked through a small park to get to the main street. Here you can find ‘Pasteis de Belem’ where the original Nata were made from an old recipe taken from the nearby monastery.

We decided to explore a bit before having a Nata, and emerged at the end of the street onto a huge square with the aforementioned monastery taking up one side.

The Jeronimos monastery is an impressive building, it’s also where Vasco de Gama stayed before sailing for the far East!

After taking a few pictures we walked down towards the Tagus river and spotted a huge monument pointing out towards the water. A quick Google told us it was a monument to the discoveries, a nod to Portugals past as a major player in the exploration of the earth.

You could actually go up to the top of the monument but we decided against it. Instead there was a cool love sign nearby which we had to get some pictures with, and once done we got some ice creams and continued our walk along the Tagus.

The views out over the water were amazing, our destination was Belem tower, sitting out in the river and only accessible by a small bridge it’s extremely photogenic.

It was lunchtime and using foursquare I had found the #1 sandwich shop in Belem. Which sounded perfect, it was actually back on the main st we had walked along earlier so we wandered through a couple of cool green parks on our way back.

The food from Pao Pao Queijo Queijo was so good, and the name is great! You queue up and order then decide what extras you want, it was a bit like a much tastier version of subway.

We sat in the shade of a huge tree in one of the nearby parks and water our food, planning the next hour before we had to head back and pick our luggage up. We decided to visit the nearby botanical gardens as they were free.

I’d say it’s definitely not a must see place, some parts were really nice but it as quite run down. The highlights were peacocks and their chicks stalking through the grass and foliage.

As time started catching up on us we walked back towards the station, picking up Nata for the journey back from Pasteis de Belem and took the short trip to Alfama.

Hannah had to get to the airport earlier than us so I waved her off on the train before we sat in our little local square and had a couple of drinks to enjoy the Lisbon sunshine for the last time. We even had a bit of live music to entertain us.

It was really easy to get the train up to the airport from Alfama, and we wandered around a bit trying to decide on food. Eventually we just went through to the gates and picked up a few bits in there.

We were soon flying home and saying our goodbyes to Lisbon, a city that impressed us no end, even with all the sights we managed to see there is so much more to do. It’s cheap and friendly with way transport around, and close to beautiful beaches. A definite must on the bucketlist.