Buenos Aires – Argentina

Hello

We left Córdoba and headed to Buenos Aires on an overnight bus. We chose the bus company el Turista which cost us $900 Argentinian pesos (£40) for the 9 hour tip. We arrived to an absolute torrential downpour and when we got to our hostel at 8am to leave our bags before checkin, we discovered that their whole ground floor had flooded overnight! Fortunately it cleared up for the rest of our stay. Buenos Aires is a huge capital city at 203km squared, so there’s quite a lot of public transport available. However, the city felt safe and we found ourselves just walking everywhere in Buenos Aires and ended up walking about 10-20km per day. I suppose cost effective given how painful withdrawing money in Argentina was. Firstly it was usually a faff to find an ATM that actually accepted our cards and once we had, the withdrawal fees were absolutely extortionate; the maximum you can withdraw is £100 with a £5 charge!

We did one of our favourite free walking tours ever here; Buenos Aires Free Walks. They were really professional and even had microphones which was a first. The walking tour stopped at various landmarks, all with interesting stories such as the Palacio Barolo whose architecture reflects the Divine comedy with floors representing hell, ascension and heaven with a lighthouse at the top and we saw Auguste Rodin’s statue of The Thinker (who knew there was one in Buenos Aires?!).

But the best thing about the tour was that he actually gave us a political and economic commentary of Argentina whereas most tours try to avoid too much bias. It was even better that he said off the bat, that obviously this was his opinion but it was still a really interesting insight we wouldn’t have otherwise got to see. I think we were both most shocked to learn that last year, Argentina had a 40% inflation rate! It helped to make sense of why everything was so expensive and Buenos Aires had the most homelessness that we’ve encountered in South America so far. We did a food shop for eggs, bread, ham and cheese which came to an insane £10. It was also linked to the fact that all monuments, statues and important buildings are gated due to the protests against the government in 2011.

La Casa Rosada (the pink house), the main government building, is located in what is considered the heart of Buenos Aires; Plaza de Mayo, (May, the month of the Argentinian liberation). The floor surrounding the central statue is painted with the symbol of Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo (the mothers). The symbol is of a nappy made of cloth that belonged to all the lost children of the dictatorship. These mothers are praised for their silent protests when they demanded information on their missing children which brought light to the human rights violations on an international stage. During the dictatorship, newborns were taken from their mothers and given to parents within the military junta. The organisation offers blood tests to a certain age group who have questions about their heritage and who might be one of the lost children. The organisation has apparently located 122 lost children, including the grandson of one of the founding members, Estela de Carlotto. The people of Buenos Aires seemed to be really engaged in politics and human rights. We saw so many references to the lost children of the dictatorship, so many posters about a rally against Benjamin Natanyahu (Israel’s Prime Minster) to account him for his human rights violations in Palestine and finally, everywhere in Buenos Aires you’ll see “Where is Santiago Maldonaldo?”; on posters, in graffiti, in shop windows. Neither of us actually knew about this recent case but it refers to a protester who went missing in August 2017 and the mystery surrounding his disappearance, the Argentinian people fear it is history repeating itself with the disappearances under the dictatorship (1976-1983).

When you think of Buenos Aires, the main thing that comes to mind is Tango! Though there are many places, including our hostel, that offered tango classes, Dave and I (as we have 4 left feet combined) decided we’d leave it to the professionals and just wanted to watch a show. On the walking tour, we’d been pointed out Cafe Tortoni as more of a landmark. It’s the oldest cafe in Argentina founded in 1858. Whenever you walk past, there are queues round the corner for the food though apparently its more just for the experience of the cafe. Anyway, we’d asked our hostel about the tango show they offered but it was more expensive than the one hosted at the historic Cafe Tortoni! So we decided to go there instead. We went early in the day to book our tickets for the evening’s show. There’s an 8pm and 10pm performance, we opted for the earlier show and it was $400 Argentinian pesos each (£17). They led us to the downstairs area and we were seated at a table right in front of the stage. The seating must have been based on who bought the tickets first as the waiter had a specific seating plan, so definitely worth us going early. We settled down to a bottle of Tortoni red ready to enjoy the show. Neither of us had ever been to any type of dance performance so we didn’t know what to expect but it was absolute incredible! The dancing was mesmerising and we were just nudging each other in awe at how they move their feet so fast, kick so high and somehow don’t kick their partners in the crotch. The show was telling a story and there was a man singing in between each dance, but to be honest, we didn’t really understand what the story was. The only words I got from the song were ‘corazon’ and ‘amor’ (heart and love).

Our final stop in Buenos Aires was the ecological reserve. We’d tried to go on the first day we arrived but it had been closed due to the flooding from the previous night. The reserve is 360 hectares and full of wildlife. The stars of the show being Coypu who swim in in the lake. We’d never even heard of them, they are like beaver/rodents with long tails and bright orange front teeth. We also saw Brazilian guinea pigs who only stay on land. This enormous reserve is on the edge of the ocean as well. It’s very surreal seeing the outline of the buildings of the biggest city in Argentina behind you whilst you’re walking through a huge park full of wildlife and on the other side, the vastness of Rio de la plata which feeds in to the South Atlantic Ocean.

We also really enjoyed strolling along Puerto Madero, we ended up there when we were buying our onwards boat tickets to Colonia, Uruguay.  But its a lovely area for a walk, and also the terrible Westerners we are, we got Starbucks but Dulche de Leche flavour. I don’t know how I’m going to live my life after South America without Dulche de Leche.

Thanks for reading, join us next time as we head to Uruguay!

Sophie & Dave

Santiago – Chile

Hello!

We left Auckland, New Zealand and flew direct to Santiago, Chile on an 11 hour flight. New Zealand is 15 hours ahead so with the time difference, we arrived before we had even set off. It was a little bit of a struggle working out how to get to our hostel. We thought we could get the metro direct from the airport, but turns out you have to get a bus to the metro first and it was all in very fast, overwhelming Spanish, but we got there in the end. Whoever says jet lag isn’t real is unequivocally, lying. Neither of us had experienced jet lag anywhere close to this before. We were nocturnal and completely useless for about 3 days! Our first two nights were staying in a hostel near Parque Forrestal. Santiago is a huge city with very little green spaces so this park is always packed with people and pets alike. Our few excursions during the jet lag days were to the park. We then moved hostel to a slightly different area. Our room was on the first floor with a balcony and at 3am, whilst we couldn’t sleep with jet lag, Dave heard something, got up and pulled back the curtain to see a man about to attempt a break in! He put his leg over and jumped off the balcony when he saw Dave. A bit of an uneasy start to South America!

Our first proper outing led us to Castillo Hidalgo, an old castle on a hill in the city centre. There are a quite a few steps to get up to the top but it did give an impressive view of the city surrounded by the Andes mountain range in the distance. Santiago has so much pollution that the mountains are obscured in a sort of haze. The real highlight of the castle for me was catching sight of Hummingbirds! I have only ever caught a brief glimpse of one in Barbados but here, in the middle of a concrete jungle, there were about 5 feeding on the nectar from a red cactus – see photos below! Google tells me that they are green-backed Firecrown Hummingbirds. In the evening, we stumbled upon an amazing restaurant in the Listeria area called Bocanariz, well, its predominantly a wine bar with over 300 types of wine. Dave said the Red Carignan he chose was the best wine he’d ever tried, but it also had delicious food including the best empanadas ever – a staple here in Chile.

I took Spanish for 2 years when I was 15/16 (8 years ago now!) and I was quite good at the time though now it is very rusty! Dave could only say hello and our first few days in Santiago made us realise by far, this country spoke the least English we’d encountered yet. This isn’t me saying I expect all countries to speak English (why should they?), it was just quite the shock. Especially considering Dave usually does 100% of talking to strangers, checking in, getting directions, recommendations etc. I’m very shy and prefer to just loiter usually with my camera around my neck. But here, roles are reversed and it’s bad enough I have to converse with strangers, but now I have to converse in Spanish! Anyway, point being, we decided we needed to take some Spanish lessons ASAP; Dave to learn the basics and me to brush up and get some confidence. We did a bit of research and enquired whether there were 2 places available to start the following Monday (in 2 days time). They replied promptly and so we enrolled for a week course with Escuela Bellavista.

You can book accommodation through them, either a hostel or a Chilean family exchange but we decided to just book our own apartment for the week in Santa Rosa where we were up on the 11th floor (fortunately no more break ins) and with a perfect view of the skyline and the spectacular Santiago sunsets – see below! There are 5 levels in Escuela Bellavista; complete beginner (Dave’s class), Basic 1, Basic 2 (my class), Intermediate and Advanced. We completed a quick online test before starting and had a meeting with a Spanish teacher before being sorted in to our groups; I think we were both put in the perfect levels. There were 7 people in Dave’s class and 8 in mine, so fairly small groups. Though we could definitely have done with at least 2 or 3 weeks of classes, I do think it was really good for basic practice for me and basic words for Dave. We did a few activities with the school after classes too which gave the opportunity to practice a bit more Spanish. We went to a traditional Chilean restaurant as a big group where Dave tried a ‘Teremoto’ which is a local drink translated to ‘Earthquake’ which is apparently the effect it has on your head once you’ve had too many. It’s essentially cheap, sweet, fermented wine with pineapple ice cream to be consumed in large quantities. We then did a city walking tour with one of the teachers; perhaps not the greatest walking tour we’ve done but interesting nonetheless and we walked round places we had not yet been such as the Palace Moneda which has been restored after it was bombed during the military coup and Plaza de Armas. On the last day of our classes, we joined a Pisco Sour making class. It was more about being handed multiple glasses of Pisco sour and chatting than actually making it. Funnily enough, after not really drinking alcohol for 6 months and having 6 cocktails, my Spanish was the best yet!

In our own time, we climbed Cerro San Cristobal. You can get a funicular up but we decided to walk. At the top of the hill, there’s a 14m statue of the Virgin Mary. Some people go up for the religious element, but for us, it was more about going to see the views of the city. Unfortunately, the pollution haze made the visibility quite poor but nonetheless a spectacular site seeing the juxtaposition of snowy mountains and a hugely built up city.

Our final stop in Santiago was the Museum of memory and human rights. The museum is free but we decided to pay the $2000 pesos (£2.50) for an English audio guide. It’s very heavy with 70 ‘chapters’ to listen to throughout the museum but it was really educational. Neither of us were particularly knowledgable about Chile’s history of dictatorship under Pinochet from 1973-1990. It was very moving and interesting to learn more about the initial military coup, hear from survivors, understand the role of the media, see the impact of cultural censorship and the condemnation from other countries. I think the most interesting part for us was listening to the former president Salvador Allende’s final speech broadcast to the nation on the radio before he killed himself on the day of the coup after the parliament had been bombed. We were reading the translated subtitles, but I imagine listening in Spanish would have been all the more powerful. It’s absolute madness that he remained so composed and delivered such an inspirational speech to the Chilean people moments before his death.

Join us next time when we go to Valparaiso, the street art capital!

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave

Chiang Mai – Thailand

We were excited to arrive in Chiang Mai where we’d be spending a full five nights in one place, the longest stay we’ve had in the last 2 months! We stayed in a guesthouse just on the outside of Chiang Mai’s centre (a big square) near Chiang Mai Gate. There was an adorable little dog called Chanom (milk tea in Thai apparently). We were glad to be on the road just south of the main square as it was much quieter and more peaceful but within close walking distance to all the restaurants/night market etc. Unfortunately, when we left Myanmar, we said we hoped to be fighting fit. This certainly wasn’t the case. Dave had such bad food poisoning that he most definitely should have seen a doctor (but he is stubborn so obviously didn’t), I’m pretty sure he had salmonella. So for our first couple of days in Chiang Mai, Dave mostly just ran a high fever and slept (amongst other more unpleasant things). I only ventured out on my own for food rather than touristy things.

After a few days when Dave started to feel a bit better, we spent an afternoon at Chiang Mai’s Art in Paradise 3D exhibition. I have tried to drag Dave to numerous art galleries in London in vain but this one, he loved more than me. It was interactive where everything was a huge, 3D, realism painting where you became part of the art. Surprisingly we only saw about 2 kids in the whole place, it was mostly adults running around like toddlers (us included). Our favourite painting was a crocodile coming out the water and where you could lie on the ground and cling on to a branch, then rotate the photo sideways. Genius! (See below).

The next day, we woke up early and full of excitement for our day at the Elephant Nature Park. Though neither of us were 100%, we were determined not to miss this day. We were picked up from our home stay in a minivan with the other 8 people on our tour for the day. We were shown an absolutely harrowing video about the torture these rescued elephants had endured. Naturally, I spent most of the film trying to hold back tears (failing miserably and silently sobbing). Though this film was so hard to watch, it was undoubtedly partly what made the Elephant nature park so great; they really valued educating people. The film showed what they call ‘breaking the elephant’s spirit’ in order to tame them. A baby elephant is separated from their mother at about one year old and taken deep in to the jungle, away from tourists. They are chained, starved, beaten and tortured for a week and forced to obey the command of the Mahout. The Mahout must stay with the elephant 24/7 to stop the elephant trying to commit suicide by standing on its’ own trunk. This horrific process is also to make the baby forget it’s mother. Of course the torture does not end here, for the rest of their domesticated lives, they must always obey their Mahout and will be reprimanded if they don’t. So whether you ever consider going to a circus, an elephant show, or an elephant ride; consider what that elephant went through to turn it from a wild animal to a domesticated one. We will happily tell you we spent 12,000 Baht or £280  combined for this day; a hefty price tag that was worth every penny.

The Elephant Nature park is home to around 70 elephants who have been rescued from the logging trade, circuses, street begging and tourist riding, some elephants are blind and disabled. All of these elephants have been bought; each costs between 1.5 and 2 million Baht (depending on their age) which equates to around £35-50k. We chose to do the day called “Sunshine for Elephants” which entailed spending most of the day with a neighbouring park’s elephants. Lek (the founder) had educated the family who owned these elephants about how to treat them properly and convinced them to follow the lead of the Elephant nature park where there is no riding, no hooks, no chains and freedom. So these elephants are a sort of sub-family to Elephant nature park. Once we’d arrived, we washed our hands thoroughly (suncream/bug spray can contaminate their food) and waited for the elephants to arrive for feeding time. Then four huge, incredible, beautiful elephants slowly trundled over to us. I literally had my jaw to the floor and was in absolute awe. I’d never seen an elephant that close and was completely gob smacked. I’ve only just taken the photos off the memory card and as I was looking through them, I realised how embarrassing the majority of me are; I look like such a dweeb just grinning and staring at the elephants. It was amazing to be in such a small group and spend such intimate time with the elephants. We fed them watermelon and sugar cane; it was mesmerising to watch them curl their trunks gently around the food we handed them and then not so gracefully stuff it into their mouths and chomp it. Some of the elephants didn’t have teeth either – did you know elephants, unlike humans, lose and get new teeth 6 times in their lives – who knew?!

After their breakfast, it was time for a hike/walk through the jungle towards where we would stop for lunch. Now, if there’s ever motivation to keep up with a group, its definitely a 1 tonne elephant on your heels. Maybe we should adopt an elephant and I’d be better at hiking… Dave and I were at the back of the group, funnily enough everyone seemed to be pushing ahead to walk with our guide. We were given a bag of bananas each to walk with and to feed them again during the break. Two of the elephants blocked Dave’s path and wouldn’t let him walk on. The Mahout’s couldn’t really speak English so they didn’t reply to Dave when he asked what he should do (I just filmed him and laughed from a distance). Dave gave most of his bananas to the two and managed to squeeze out between them.

Their second feeding time was even better because we saw their personalities and how fussy they were. They’d only eat the sugar cane once they were sure there were no bananas left in our bags. A couple of the elephants also wandered off at this point to do their own thing; either throw dirt on their backs or rub their arses against trees, all very fascinating to watch. We walked on with the elephants to our lunch spot; where we had a lovely veggie buffet. After lunch, our guide said he had a surprise for us. 2 adults and a baby elephant joined us! We got to feed them more bananas and watch them interact and play with the water from the hand tap. We headed the way we came and then went in to the river to bathe the elephants. We were an even smaller group at this point because half our group didn’t want to get wet?! Basically it was just us and another couple and the elephants’ Mahouts bathing about five of them! I was tragically poor with my water bucket aim but the Mahouts were insanely good at it. It just turned in to a massive water fight where everyone was going for human and elephant alike. After a quick change, we then ended our day at the main Elephant Nature Park, meeting many more of the 70 elephants, watching them play in the mud, or eating (again) and hearing all their different heart breaking stories. Overall, it was an incredible day and we are so glad we chose to go to this genuine sanctuary and meet these fantastic creatures.

On our last full day in Chiang Mai we got a Songthaews (red pickup truck) up the mountain to visit the temple Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. We technically got 2 different Songthaews as we decided to stop off and do a little hike to the Huay Keaw waterfall. We didn’t have high hopes because we’re in the peak of dry season (but we both secretly were hoping there was a decent trickle for us to swim). Definitely not. After a steep climb, there were just lots of rocks… We came back to the main road and drove up to the top. The road had so many hairpin bends whilst we went at full speed in an open back pickup truck that I very nearly vommitted on the poor boy sat next to me, fortunately I held it in. Wat Doi Suthep had two beautiful snake designs guarding each side of the steps leading up to the temple. We enjoyed looking round the temple and its surrounding area where you could look down over Chiang Mai from the mountain top. We headed back to our homestay but got dropped off at the nearby Saturday Night Market because the road was closed. It was the biggest market I’ve ever been to. It was a tourist’s paradise and even I (who has done SO well at not buying things) succumbed to a little bag I liked.

It’s soon Songkran in Thailand, the annual water festival celebrating the start of the new year. Unfortunately due to timings, we couldn’t stay for it. Chiang Mai is meant to be one of the biggest places to celebrate in all of South East Asia. Perhaps a blessing in disguise with all of our electronics, apparently everywhere you go, you’ll get water thrown on you by unsuspecting passers by. But they still celebrate it in Laos (called Pii Mai), our next stop. So we’ll let you know how that goes!

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave

 

Inle Lake – Myanmar

We arrived on the overnight bus at Nyaung Shwe, the main village near Inle lake, at 6am so the sun was just rising as we walked to our hostel shaped like a giant boom box – gentrification at its finest? Despite not getting much sleep on the bus and the fact that the hostel had a travellers room for early arrivers, we decided to power on through the day. Bicycles were available to borrow for free so we cycled to the lake. Note to self; check the brakes first when choosing a bike. My brakes were tragically poor and made an ear-splitting squeak as they grinded non-responsively to a halt. It was actually a lot further than we thought (or Dave conveniently failed to divulge this to me) and we ended up cycling around 30km, taking regular “shade breaks” from the scorching sun. Fortunately, the roads were fairly flat. As we were cycling along, a local young lad started chatting to us and offered to show us his village up ahead. He pointed out his bamboo hut house where he lived with all his family. It made us laugh that despite the tiny size of this rural village, one of his first questions to us was whether we’d watched the final of the Myanmar Idol singing contest last night. He took us to the rice paddy where we stood right next to the farmers as they planted little clumps in straight lines with impressive speed and accuracy. We then carried on and arrived at the Maing Thauk bridge, a 450 year old wooden bridge spanning 500 metres. Though you can get a motorised canoe to cross the lake with your bike, we decided we’d just have a walk around the bridge, get a drink from a neighbouring floating bamboo hut cafe and then head back the way we came. We planned to cross the lake the next day anyway. We had a relaxed evening at the hostel, only venturing out for some Dim Sum.

We had an early start the next day getting up at 5am. We booked on to join the hostel’s day tour (only about £7 all in for the full day each). We were taken in a tuk-tuk (so crammed that two guys just stood on the back and clung on) to a canal where our 4 seater, motorised canoe was waiting for us. The boat went quite fast so it was surprisingly cold with the morning air stinging us but they gave us blankets which made the ride more enjoyable. We hadn’t realised how vast the lake was the day before; it’s actually 116km squared. We stopped in the middle of the lake, parking I suppose, in a thick patch of water plants to watch the sun rise over the surrounding mountains. As we were speeding along, it seemed the people on boats were the only life inhabiting the lake, but once we stopped and looked over the edge of the canoe, we saw the water was alive with water snails, dancing dragonflies and more. The sunrise was truly beautiful and everyone in the group was silent. We were also given breakfast whilst we watched; an interesting cheese and jam sandwich.

We headed to Maing Thauk bridge where we were the day before, only at this time in the early hours of the morning, it was much quieter and we were able to take in the surrounding rice paddies and admire all of these crazy bamboo stilts supporting the huts. We got back in the boat and went to another village to a market. Though we didn’t buy anything, it was interesting to meander through all of the little stalls selling both produce to locals and souvenirs to tourists. I noticed quite a few stalls selling necklaces which I said to Dave – “They look like teeth..”, then the vendor chimed in happily: “Yes! Yes! Traditional necklace. Buffalo teeth. You want?” I politely declined…

We drove on to another little village for lunch in someone’s house. Again, a little hut perched on fragile bamboo stilts. Lunch was what can only be described as a fish carcass with veggies and rice. One of the women in the house was applying the Thanaka (wood suncream). This was the first time we got to see it in action; a little log being ground and mixed with water. She then offered to apply it to everyone in our group, I went first!  I’m judging the effectiveness based on the fact that Dave didn’t get burnt that day. After lunch, the women of the house took us for a little paddle on actual wooden canoes. We were each given a little oar, though we were basically redundant compared to their foot paddling. There’s a rowing technique unique to Myanmar where they sort of wrap their leg around the oar and rotate it as they paddle; it was quite a sight.

We then carried on to visit a hut where Myanmar cigars were made. The cigar rolling was really impressive as the women did it with such speed and precision. Apparently each person rolls around 700 cigars per day! They make 2 types; plain tobacco and a sweet version. We tried the sweet one where the main ingredient is star anise, it tasted like liquorice and I wasn’t a fan. Our next stop was a weaving factory, I say factory but it was just a larger bamboo stilt house. We saw women at work on traditional weaving mills and the highlight was seeing Lotus weaving. If you crack the stem of a lotus flower, there’s a sort of fine string that’s inside. This is extracted to make thread and then used to weave garments. A tiny scarf made from 100% lotus retails for $170 USD! Apparently they make robes for monks out of lotus as well and each robe takes about three months to make! Our final stop before returning to the hostel was a blacksmiths where we watched the four men it took to make a single blade.

We met three lovely guys from DC (our last stop on the trip); Andy, Eddy and Benny and went for dinner with them in the evening. It was a small restaurant run by an amazing woman called Zizi who strove to empower marginalised women in remote villages. She had a big poster of Aung San Suu Kyi saying “Freedom to Lead, Support Human Rights, Democracy in Burma”. It was only her doing the cooking/serving so the guys stepped in to help; chopping veg, serving customers. We had such a lovely evening with delicious home-made food. Unfortunately as we headed back to our hostel on our bikes, stopping at a restaurant to see if they had ice cream, 2 young boys on a motorbike (driving without lights and helmets whilst speeding) hit Eddy. Fortunately everyone was okay, though the 2 boys on the motorbike had to go to hospital.

On our last day, we went with the guys to the 5 day market which is predominantly where locals shop but with a few stalls with trinkets for tourists. There was the cutest little boy and Benny gave him a menthos mint and he was just laughing hysterically. I normally don’t take photographs of any kids on principle but I couldn’t resist taking one of this little one!

In Inle lake, if it’s possible, the people were even kinder and friendlier and reaffirmed how much we love Myanmar!

Thanks for reading!

Sophie & Dave

Yangon – Myanmar

Before starting our world trip, my favourite country I had ever visited was Bermuda and Dave’s was a toss up between Thailand and Barbados. Myanmar has moved to the top of both of our lists. Myanmar (formerly Burma) only opened up for Tourism in 2011 and it was the one country where we genuinely didn’t know what to expect.

We arrived in Yangon in the evening (getting through passport control/visas etc with great efficiency) and got a taxi to our hostel in the centre of town. We were surprised to find great, smooth roads where people obeyed a traffic system (one up on India already). We had been advised to get some US dollars before arriving and we were so glad we did. Our hostel only accepted USD rather than the local Burmese Kyat (pronounced ‘chat’). Where we went for dinner also requested USD. We were surprised again at how amazing the hostel was, definitely the best we have stayed in yet. It had swipe key cards for lockers and the fastest wifi we’d encountered on our travels so far!

The next morning we did our own walking tour through the city, roughly following the Lonely Planet’s guide. Everything was so much more modern and developed than anything we’d anticipated and anything we’d seen in India. The main reason Myanmar has soared to the top of our lists is the people. It is near impossible to walk around without a genuine grin on your face. Everyone greets you with such kindness and no ulterior motives. Everyone nods, waves, smiles, says “Mingala-ba” (a warmer, more welcoming version of hello).

In the afternoon we went to Kandawgyi Lake which was a good few kilometres walk in the boiling 38 degree sun but it was worth the trip. The man-made lake covered in water lilies is surrounded by a beautiful park. We spent hours wandering around and crossing to different parts over extremely dodgy wooden plank bridges. It was like a Tom and Jerry sketch where you put weight on one edge of the planking and it smacks up the other side (we opted to walk single file). We found a lovely garden restaurant in the park for dinner, or rather we thought it was lovely until later that night when Dave got projectile vomiting food poisoning…

We walked to the Shwedagon Pagoda for sunset, climbing the long, steep, staircase leading to it (we later discovered there was an escalator on the opposite side). We were glad we heeded advice to go at sunset as shoes must be removed right at the bottom and the floor can get pretty hot. The Pagoda was genuinely magnificent, we’ve seen a lot of temples in the short time we’ve been travelling so far, but this Buddhist one was my favourite. The gold plating is illuminated once the sun sets and it it just looks like treasure. I think I liked it as well because it didn’t feel like a tourist attraction but rather a place of true worship for the people of Myanmar. I’d approximate only 5% of the people there were tourists.

As we sat down to admire the glistening golden Pagoda, two young lads came and sat right next to us. The skepitism seemingly ingrained in our brains made us cautious but the boys only wanted to practice their English! They were students studying English by day and then in the evening they said they often came to the Pagoda to try and practice their English with foreigners. We had a great chat and were able to ask them some of our burning questions; mainly, what was on everyone’s face in Yangon?! Everywhere we went, locals had what looked like cream coloured clay on their cheeks. We tried to ask a few people earlier in the day but the language barrier prevented us from understanding. It turns out that it is Thanaka: a natural sunscreen made from ground bark!

On our last day in Yangon, we took it easy as Dave had had a rough night. We only ventured out to get noodles (a humiliating experience trying to eat sticky noodle soup with chopsticks but an accomplishment nonetheless). We booked an overnight bus North to Inle lake. The mode of transport is definitely buses in Myanmar, apparently the trains are extremely old and are actually slower. We were told it would be 8 hours, turns out it was 12. The seats on the bus were like rows of tightly packed dentists’ chairs, they were even that awkward not cream but not brown dentist chair colour too. We have so much to say about Inle lake so that will be its own post next!

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave