Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Beautiful Bagan

What an amazing day ! 

I love this place.

Had to be up before dawn which felt like torture. Other Brits at the hotel were on the balloon trip too and kind of let me integrate. Slightly jealous of the group bonhomie they had, but then also think my way of doing this is very different and I'm not so cocooned. Think going down a dusty, dimly lit track to the Lonely Planet recommended restaurant last night was a million times better than playing it safe, hotel food with accompanying samey touristy music. Though less comfortable, it was worth every bit of discomfort in the old and bumpy taxi ride to see the look on the very young  driver's face ( 21 he said ???) when I gave him a generous tip. He'd had to pay to access the airport and initially refused my offer to reimburse him. On our shared journeys  - two separate trips in one day - I learned that he lives in a monastery ( with 80 other young men accommodated by the monks) and gets up at 5.30 a.m. to pray before breakfast every day before trying to make a meagre living from taxi driving. It allowed me a whole different experience to being driven in a much smarter, air conditioned hotel commissioned taxi or tour group luxury coach ( several came and went at the hotel) You learn so much more. He waited for me twice and barely factored that into the price.

Won't gush on about the balloon trip. Did start  off feeling really apprehensive ' What on earth am I doing ?' In my head and then when all the other tourists were donned in British weather walking gear ( fleeces and sensible shoes) and I was just in long sleeved cotton shirt and flip flops, felt a bit of a novice. But they were wrong, it was perfectly warm .The company had said ' wear cotton' I thought because of the hot climate but not so, if things go wrong, you set on fire more readily  if wearing synthetics !  OMG not what  I wanted to hear at 5.30a.m. A very impressive outfit ran the trip and our pilot earned complete confidence instantly. It wasn't until later I found out he was a Yorkshire man ( from Harrogate) Lived just down the road from Andy & Jill.

Once in the air, it wasn't a tiny bit scary - very serene in fact. I could have stayed there for hours. Thousands of temples and dozens of other hot air balloons made it a photo opportunity of a lifetime so inevitably everyone was crazily taking snaps - mainly on little cameras ( there were quite a lot of sedate looking seniors) Think possibly mine was the only ipad. Would like to do a duplicate trip where I didn't take photos ( nor did my fellow passengers). and just took it all in. Maybe they need to do a camera - free basket ????

Another highlight of today was going to a place the pilot's wife told me about this morning - an Action Aid  run shop selling hand made crafts and clothes ( all lovely. The charity supports and trains hundreds of women in poor villages so that they can become more independent.  Spoke to a fantastic French woman aid worker who talked about how her feminism drove her to this and how hopeful she was for a new way in this country with changing attitudes amongst the young.

Unfortunately by Burmese standards, I'm morbidly obese, so can't fit into anything. If I'd  had more time, they did do 'made to measure.' 

This is such a poor country, I just felt so overwhelmed by the enormity of what needs to be done to help and how little a contribution my small purchases seemed. Want to do more when I get home. It puts a lot into perspective.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Big girl now !

Last night I dreamed I went to Mandalay.

Different spelling, I know but then I woke up and realised it was true. The stabilisers are off, after all these years of being spoon- fed by two people who had Masters degrees in travel planning,  I'm on my own two feet for the first time. 

Credit to Hannah, she's left me to it completely, apart from the odd bit of photocopying travel documents and helping me rationalise a massive pile of clothes into something manageable that fitted into the minutest of hold-alls.  Other than that, she's not checked up on what I've organised. I'm sure she's had to bite her tongue / sit on her hands a number of times. 

So far have only had a brief taste of Mynamar. Having had a whole month in Thailand I've acclimatised to Asia, albeit a very different one, and that helps. The day before yesterday I was in Central Embassy, Bangkok's newest shopping mall with every designer label and international food outlet ( there's a Harrods cafe and  a Laduree if you want a French macaron. ) You can get anything (at a price ).

Now Mynamar seems another world, yet geographically it's only a stone's throw away from Bangkok. It feels on the cusp of being fully developed as a tourist destination. Hoping there won't be a KFC, Starbucks or Macdonalds in sight.  A long wait at Mandalay airport and a domestic flight out of it, yesterday, was a taster into how things are going to be. No Departure board  - you have to second guess where to be and when. Flights can change times, on a whim. Duty Free consists of a small room with few brands of booze and fags. Toilet hand wash is pictured - no towels. Check in and security clearance was ramshackle by other airport standards. Transfer from plane to airport building was dramatic as the ancient bus carrying U.S. had a tyre blowout, just as we halted.  But there's  a charm to it being less sophisticated and without Thai bling and fakery - so far every person has been delightful and happy :- in the airport staff sang while they worked.

I'm loving the longhi men and women alike wear. Might have to get one - you don't show your bare arms or legs in this culture - wore a linen cardi yesterday to show respect for this (even though it was boiling) - air con only seems to  be on spasmodically - power shuts down in the afternoon quite regularly, apparently, but never on an evening when football is being aired on TV!  This a country still run in a dubious and corrupt way. 

It was love at first sight when I approached Bagan at sunset, a landscape punctuated with thousands of ancient pagodas. Haven't ventured out in daylight yet but can see several of them from my hotel verandah and this morning was woken by the gentle Buddhist pre- dawn call to prayer. Those who know me know I'm not an early riser, but I was very forgiving. It seems magical. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Dec 22nd D Day is here.

What a day.

1) The shower chooses to seize up. Great start !

2) Am subjected to the third degree at the new  cattery - ( and was just beginning to think I'd passed with flying colours on chosen Mastermind specialist subject - Dora, my cat ) even managed not saying ' Hurry it up, I've got a plane to catch' until the question about cremation or freezer ? Well I lost it. Had to borrow handfuls of paper towels meant for cats' bottoms to mop up the meltdown. Felt so stupid - reduced to full blown sobbing. I wouldn't mind but she's only there for one week. Was that level of detail needed ?
Cat lady tried her best to console me but she wasn't that adept.  Said, " 3 months ? I couldn't ever think of leaving mine for that long." 'Parental'  guilt on a monumental scale kicks in and I blub all the way home, need my own personal windscreen wipers and end up albino - eyed.

3) Realise I can't actually carry my luggage, that the big suitcase ( containing the medium sized decent case ) has dodgy wheels and has to be mainly dragged. Linda (who has very kindly driven me to the station ) lugs the big case because I foolishly bought coffee and now this is more like being on a game show, trying to juggle it all.  Board the train, wondering how I am going to get off at King's Cross, never mind get all the way to Bangkok.

4) At airport security both my bags are pulled out. Liquids show up on the X Ray. Eeek - now realise I have no  idea what is actually in some of the Christmas present packages and the entrails of my perfectly packed suitcase are sprawled for all the world to see. Beautifully wrapped presents are torn open. Should have guessed about perfume being in that box so beautifully and uniformly wrapped. Amazingly I get it back.  Seemed like a good idea at the time to put the new set of underwear in carry on ( in case your luggage gets lost tip ) and now  the world knows I've got a navy bra and matching pants. 

But the worst thing about getting the Maid of Marschapel (Yes really) to help me pack my cases with military precision when I was in Louth was that all the stuff just wouldn't go back in. In front of the holidaying hordes, I had to decant the excess into separate carriers and so now instead of traveller chic, I now am bag lady. The sophisticated look not enhanced by cross terrain trainers ( yes I did succumb ) on my feet as they just would not play the last minute game of trying to squeeze things into little caverns and gullies in my case. Looking down, I feel as though I have morphed into someone else.

5) Then finally I board. No turning left so full of longing and regret now.
I knew it was a mistake. What signifies the difference ?
Well in Premium Economy you do get a welcome refresher of sorts - a bottle of water hidden on your seat that you promptly sit on. And a scratchy blanket. And about 2 inches more leg room. But no cloth napkins, no real glasses, no table cloth.
Utility is the theme here.
As I'm eating the plasticky airline meal, I dislodge a crown. Perhaps a metaphor for what lies ahead !