Friday, September 28, 2012


Readers of this blog will know that we have a corny appreciation for many things, but our two favorites are waterfalls and water buffaloes. Walking along a stream in eastern Myanmar, we heard the steady rush of falling water combined with the happy splashing of something large. The photo above is what we saw. While it may not be the most picturesque scene in Myanmar, it definitely brightened our day (not to worry about the blue rope in his nose--it's the Asian version of a bridle or nose ring).

The only thing that would've made the moment any better is if we could have somehow worked a sunset into it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The best part of a visit to Myanmar is meeting the people who live here. Despite plenty of reasons to be less than happy, (rampant poverty and a life under a totalitarian government, to name two), the folks we've met have been some of the happiest, friendliest anywhere. 

On a bicycle ride through one of the local villages near Inle Lake, we met a man named U Paw San. He was walking with his nine-year old daughter along the shore. We said hello, he said hello. We were lost, as usual, so we asked U Paw where the dirt track we were on was headed. Luckily, he spoke some English. He gave us directions and then answered a few our inane questions about where to see birds, what time the sun sets, and if we were allowed to even be in his village.

The next thing we knew, he invited us to his house to meet the rest of his family and to have tea. It may sound somewhat abrupt, strangers getting asked into someone's home, but this quick hospitality happens often here. You start up a conversation with a local, and in two minutes, you're holding their baby or giving them high fives or having tea at their house.  

The most rewarding part for us came when his shy daughter finally started talking to us. Over hot tea, U Paw told us she was one of the top students in her English class at school, and she really wanted to practice. But she wasn't used to meeting strangers.  1 of 7

By the second cup, and after much encouragement from her dad and mom, she brought her little backpack to a small table on the floor, pulled out her English workbook and started reading off a list of vegetables in English to Liz. There was no electricity in the house, which was built on wooden posts for flood protection, so we drank, read, and studied by candlelight. 

After about two hours of reading and talking, she decided to show us everything in her backpack. In addition to papers and well-used school books, the most interesting thing she showed us was her pencil sharpener--a small straight razor, which she was quite adept at using, much to her dad's delight. It's hard to imagine seeing 20 nine-year olds in class all whittling pencils with razor blades at the same time. 

Typical of Burmese hospitality, U Paw and family invited us to come back the next day. We couldn't say no, and we spent most of the day with them (more about that later), culminating in another candlelight English session over tea and rice cakes. As a bonus, the daughter taught us to count to 100 in Burmese. 

After spending so much time with the family and meeting so many neighbors in the village, we took some photos of everyone and printed them out as a thank you for adopting us temporarily. 
U Paw San's niece, face smeared with thanaka, came downstairs to read with us for a while. U Paw's parents and sister's family live upstairs in their two-room house. 

Mom holding MoMo, their youngest, surrounded by five young neighborhood boys.
Mom and son MoMo. They have four children total--three boys and a girl.
Liz playing "swing me" with a new friend. 

Monday, September 24, 2012


Everyone gets bored sometimes--even, it would seem, novice monks who've been studying and meditating for hours. We saw the young Buddhist above sitting on the steps of his monastery one afternoon during a float trip along the shores of Inle Lake. 

At first we thought he was in deep thought, contemplating the day's lessons. But when our boat got closer, we realized he looked just like hundreds of other teens his age in need of some excitement. After a few waves and shouts of "Mingalaba!" from our boat, we finally got him to smile. But as soon as we were gone, he re-assumed his previous position. 

Being a teenager is hard work no matter where you are.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


These kids were very in, climbed up onto our motorbike to have pictures taken with us.
Happy kids, they're ridiculously contagious. No matter where you are, a group of smiling, giggling kids will light up your day, especially when they're giving you hugs, kisses, and hi-fives for no good reason whatsoever. 
Once Liz found the puppies, the boat ride was forgotten. The
bus was almost forgotten too until Kip pulled her away.
It all began with a broken down ferry. We really wanted to take a boat trip up the Thanlwin River from Moulmein, where Rudyard Kipling visited and composed some prose. Unfortunately, the ferry that the guide book said made the trip is out of service. Permanently.

But who needs boats when you have a bus station (read: empty lot) complete with puppies and local women selling all kinds of snacks from baskets on their heads. Plus, monks take the bus, so it must be good.
A Burmese woman sells fruit from the basket balanced          
           on her head.

After a short two hour ride through parts of the beautiful countryside of the Mon and Kayin States, we arrived at Hpa An (pronounced: Puh Ahn). We had almost forgotten we were in a country where the government demands extreme, totalitarian control of its citizens, until we came upon an English translation of a billboard we had seen in several places (see below).
A multi-lingual billboard that explains the goals
of the Myanmar government. 

Seeing as how we had no intentions of disintegrating the union, or national solidarity (at least for the moment...we had just arrived, after all) we decided to see some of the sights around the area, of which there are more than two

And, since we missed out on our scenic ferry ride, we were lucky enough to find a willing boat driver to take us out for a three hour tour on the river, past river villages and many pagodas best viewed from the water. 
View from the river of one of the many golden stupa topped islands.
With our river cruise behind us (gladly, as our boat turned into a sieve halfway through) we opted to explore the countryside on a motorbike, one of our favorite things.  We are glad we took advantage, since the government recently restricted motorcycle use by foreigners in most areas of the country due to "safety concerns."

We may have gotten lost a few times on the back roads, but there were always plenty of villagers who, though they spoke no English, pointed us in the right direction. Kip even tried to ask this new baby goat for directions, but couldn't get a straight aah-aah-aah-answer.

At last we arrived at the Kaw-goon Cave, one of many limestone caves in the area that are religious sites. This cave, with statues and carvings dating back to the 13th century  has its own monastery, koi pond, and numerous Buddha statues.
Kip gets a closer look at the intricate wall carvings of Kaw-goon Cave.
As we set off for another one of the area's caves, we spotted the tip of the gravity defying Kyauk Kalap pagoda above the trees. As impressive as it was from afar, it was even more so up close, enhanced by the groups of brightly colored monks that were laughing in a group at the beginning of the bridge. 
Monks cross the bridge over the lake to their island monastery.
And, to make this temple even more amazing, was our welcoming committee of local kids in traditional Kayin dress. We got lots of hi-fives, and were even asked to pose for a few photos. We chatted for a while, and Liz impressed them with her ever growing knowledge of Burmese (about 5 phrases), which they found hilarious. 
Kip poses with this awesome group of fun kids.
They sent us off with hugs, kisses (for Liz), and more hi-fives. What can we say, we love this place. 

Friday, September 21, 2012


Photo Friday,,

Two female farmers paddle their harvest to one of the many daily markets located along the shores of Inle Lake in Myanmar.  We've seen hundreds of these boats on our trips out on the lake. Many are so loaded down with vegetables/fruit/rice/kids that the middle of the boat is often under water. This results in some lucky passenger squatting in the center bailing furiously with a small pail or their hands. 

These two ladies, however, clearly have their boat buoyancy under control. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Burma Buddha 1 of 7 Liz Kip
Looking like a flea on the great Buddha's shoulder, Kip (see blue arrow) peers from a trap door we found.
Why more tourists don't come check out what must be the world's largest--and strangest--reclining Buddha, we'll never know. At nearly 600-ft long and ten stories high, Zina-thu-kha Yan Aung Chan-tha is an architectural marvel by itself. Yet, it's what's inside and surrounding the super-sized statue that should shift it to the top of anyone's must see list for Myanmar.

More akin to a 50-acre Buddhist Disneyland than a solemn place of worship, "Buddha's Playground" can be difficult to describe. Hopefully, the following photos will help.

Lining the entrance to the Park, some 200 stone monks, begging bowls in hand, march solemnly toward the big Buddha. 

The line of saffron-robed men stretches for more than a kilometer, crossing over the road by elevated bridge, heading through a wooded area and finally disappearing over a small hill.

Once beyond the monks the main attraction comes into view, dwarfing everything around it, including homes, store fronts, the surrounding hills and more than 100 temples, pagodas and other shrines built nearby.
Above, that's Kip on the scooter heading toward the Buddha. A basketball court could almost fit on one of the statue's unpainted feet. A pedicure must cost a small fortune.

The 60-ft high seated monk above with bright pink lips is more a diversion than a focal point, though the scaffolding encircling his bald head gives him the appearance of the horror film character Pinhead, only somewhat less menacing.

In addition to strange outdoor statues, the Park even features its own water slide and swimming area at the base of the Reclining Buddha (left). Boys and girls, all fully dressed, raced up and down the five slides during our visit. 

Once inside the cavernous statue, things get truly interesting. More an unfinished construction project than a place of reverence, there's little in the entire statue that's 100 percent finished. The smell of wet concrete, sawdust and paint follow you every step. 

Below left, Liz poses inside one of the Buddha's concrete toes, which, like many other parts of the statue, awaits finishing touches. 

Below right, a boy puts a primer coat of paint on a statue that will fill one of the 182 rooms inside the Buddha. 

In addition to the traditional depictions of the Lord Buddha's enlightenment, you'll see so much more. 

We found life-size images of ancient sea creatures flying through the air, of bull elephants stomping bleeding men, of harems of topless women servicing a prince, and of the devil himself (at left) either pouring glowing coals on suffering victims or helping warm up a clothing-optional jacuzzi.

In addition to the oddities, you will find beauty, as well. 

Below, thousands of miniature Buddha statues covered in dust wait for their turn to decorate a nearby wall or ceiling.

If you can find a window or hidden passageway, get yourself outside the Buddha, where the views are spectacular. 

Above, the vista from the Buddha's shoulder, looking down at the water slide and across to a construction area, then Pinhead to the right, backed by a small lake and beyond that miles of greenery.
Though the Buddha Park remains a work in progress, it's one of the most fascinating man-made attractions we've seen in Asia. 

So if you find yourself in Myanmar with a bit of time and are looking for an off-the beaten track adventure, go check it out. 

Our bet is you'll be glad you did. 

(The Buddha Park is located 20 km south of Mawlmine, Myanmar

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Liz and Kip seeing the sights of Bago in their stylish ponchos.
While the headline may sound like a title for the next Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson movie, don't worry. It's not. But our journey to see Myanmar's famous Golden Rock at Mount Kyaiktiyo did get a little Hollywood crazy--complete with giant pythons, torrential storms, ancient temples and, thanks to yet another Kip-caused delay, a chase scene that would've made Jason Bourne proud.

Traveling to one of the country's most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites isn't easy, but we were willing to do whatever it took to see the famed Golden Rock. First, though, we had to get there.

The Rock (the site, not the actor) isn't exactly on the way to anywhere, so we hopped a local bus four hours east of Yangon to the town of Bago. We intended to stop in Bago for the night, but due to the terrible shape of the hotels and constant pouring rain, we decided to have lunch and review our options. During our meal, we were harassed helped by an entrepreneurial moto driver who guaranteed he and a buddy could deliver us safely through the downpour and get us to "all" the sights in town in under an hour to catch the next bus out. Done.

First stop: The Snake Monastery
Since we are in Burma, our trip wouldn't be complete without getting up close and personal with a Burmese Python, possibly the world's largest snake. So when we learned there was an 18-foot monster nearby that was supposedly the reincarnation of a long-dead monk, we had to drop by. The massive snake, which has a handler that stays with it at all times, lives in its own personal monastery, complete with a bedroom and swimming pool, as well as worshipers who come by to pray and leave money with the holy reptile daily. If only his holiness had slithered around a bit while we were there, the visit would've been so much cooler. 
HUGE Burmese Python, which is actually a reincarnated monk. People bring it offerings of cash, which look incredibly small on its massive body. These are not miniature bills, but are the size of a U.S. dollar.
Kip does his best one-legged chicken impersonation.
Next Stop: Drenched, we raced toward yet another pagoda and an ornate building (left) that our energetic tour guide couldn't identify, despite a huge sign posted out front. Near the sign was a large golden chicken statue, which Kip decided to imitate quite pathetically. The guides at least laughed.

With that, we were informed that we had seen the best Bago had to offer, and so our next stop was the bus station. Amazingly, the bus actually departed five minutes early. Which would've been so great, except it must have pulled away while Kip was mid funky chicken. 

Undeterred, our fearless guide decided we would chase the long-gone bus through the downpour until it pulled over to let us on. That's exactly what happened--through insane traffic and pouring rain. Around rivers of water. Dodging falling cats and dogs. Until he found and loaded us onto the bus. Impressive. 
Liz racing through traffic after the bus.

So, with a hair-raising chase complete and the (two) sights of Bago behind us, we headed toward the much-lauded Mt. Kyaiktiyo. 

To make a short story much longer, it turns out there's no direct bus service to the Rock during the rainy season, so we only made it a few hours from Bago, before hiring two motorcycle taxis for a 30-minute drive to the town of Kimpun.

It was on this motorcycle drive that Liz caught her first glimpse of the famed holy shrine. Yet when she saw it, she was sure this couldn't be it. It appeared so much smaller than in the previous photos we'd seen.

Yes, that tiny speck of gold is "The Rock."

To see Liz's actual view, check the photo at left. See that small speck of yellow on that hillside? Was that really what we took three taxis, two buses, and almost eight hours to see?

Turns out that yes, that was it. 

No matter. We refused to be disappointed since we had planned to splurge on one of the nice hotels on the mountaintop near the Rock so we could view it at night and catch the sunrise as well. 

With that in mind, we raced to the bottom of the road where you catch the pick up trucks to take you up the mountain. And when we guessed it--we were told the last pickup pulled out about 10 minutes ago. Lovely. 

But there's a happy ending. On our way to look for a place to spend the night, we met a precocious young man whose family owned a nearby guesthouse. As we followed him toward the hotel, he told Liz talked about their favorite singers. One of his favorite songs was "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel. With that, Liz confirmed our reservation at the unseen hotel, and together they walked down the empty street singing a duet that would've made even the Piano Man himself smile. 

Well rested, we walk down the following morning to take the mountain "pick up truck ," which is actually a rusty dump truck with 2x4's spread across the back for seating. The truck took us halfway up, and we hiked the remaining 45 minutes to the top. Tired and wet, we finally received our reward. 

Shrouded in a morning mist, the shrine was truly stunning. The Rock itself is precariously balanced atop another rock, giving the appearance that it could topple over at any moment. It's coated in pure gold, placed there sheet by tiny sheet over decades by pilgrims coming to worship at the shrine. 

Though it was a marathon journey to get here, we'd do it again. Next time, though, we'd skip the rain, the chase scene, and having to watch Kip's funky chicken. Otherwise, we wouldn't change a thing.
Kip tests the structural integrity of the shrine.

Liz wanted to help Kip push, but ladies are not allowed near the shrine. 
Workers clean the steps to the top with wire brushes. As with all Buddhist shrines, no shoes are allowed, so we
were happy to have the cleaning crew.

Friday, September 14, 2012


An elated Shan woman greets us at a market in the Shan state, Myanmar.
As we've said before, we love markets. Lucky for us, there are plenty of them in Myanmar for us to mill around in (or for Kip to wait while his wife mills or whatever).

In Shan State, women trek miles across mountain trails each week for market day, carrying atop their heads bulging baskets and plastic bags with everything from firewood to vegetables to water buffaloes and elephants carved from local teak. The woman pictured above, who spoke no English but loved to have her photo taken, wears her village's traditional clothing complete with brightly colored terrycloth head scarf.

While her "million kyat smile" didn't quite cost us that many kyat (the local currency, pronounced "chat"), the lady did convince us that we (or more accurately, Kip) needed a few of the wood carved animals she had for sale. 

Monday, September 10, 2012


"Goat fighting balls?" Yes, it must be lunchtime at 1 of 7 again, with today's "Funny Monday" special being served up from rural Myanmar.

While it doesn't take a redneck or a rancher to guess that a "fighting ball" is an animal testicle, we couldn't help but be impressed by all the ways they're served here. "Dry?" "Sweet?" "with Bean?"  

It's like Burger King's "Have It Your Way," but for balls. 

If that's not enough to get your juices flowing, add a heaping serving of stewed goat's brain...with quail eggs, of course. Which are "sweet." MMMM. 

And people ask us why we lose weight when we travel. At least there's no feces this time.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012


School kids at the Seik Phu Taung Youth Development Center in southern Myanmar. 
From the rear of a local bus cleverly disguised as a 1970s Toyota pickup, we glimpsed a big sign on the roadside that marked the entrance to the “Seik Phu Taung Youth Development Center.” Being in Myanmar, where you can only guess the actual meaning of anything posted publicly in English, it was impossible to know what the sign represented.

Was it a government-run propaganda education camp set out to brainwash help children? Was it something more worthwhile?

When we got to the nearest town, called Kinpun, we asked a couple folks about the place. Surprisingly, we learned Seik Phu Taung serves as a privately-run orphanage and school for some 600 of Myanmar’s underprivileged boys and girls. And, unlike many places, the government doesn’t forbid foreigners to visit (much of Myanmar still is off limits to foreigners). 

Mr. O gives Liz a tour.
After hitting up a store for a big stack of notebooks and pencils for the kids, we jumped on the back of two motorcycle-taxis and headed back the way we came. An hour later, we were getting a tour of the center from the headmaster, a retired teacher we called Mr. O, who was extremely happy to meet two English-speaking foreigners bearing gifts the kids could use.

Built on a 15-acre compound, the Center houses and educates boys and girls from 1-15 yrs old. A school onsite provides a secular education up to 8th grade, and it’s all run on donations from visitors and local benefactors.

Mr. O walked us into two of the classrooms, where around 20 children were learning English and math. While the math proved a bit difficult for us (because it was in a foreign language, Kip thought we should point out...), we were able to help a little in the language department, talking with the kids, who were terribly shy at first, but slowly began to test their English skills with us.

Liz and one of the English teachers, whose cheeks are spotted with thanakha, a lotion and/or sunblock made from trees.  Women, children, and some men have worn thanakha for some 2,000 years. Many still wear it and consider it a Burmese beauty secret.
After a too brief but fun visit, we let the kids get back to their regular lessons, thanking Mr. O for the tour and for his time. He shook our hands and told us that every little bit helps. He also asked us to pass on the word about his “little school” in case anyone else wanted to drop in or make a donation. We assured him we would. 

While there’s no way yet to donate online (the web address he gave us,, wasn't working at press time) you're welcome to stop by. Seik Phu Taung is on the road between Kinpun and The Golden Rock, aka Mt. Kyaiktiyo. Among many other things, the Center needs notebooks, pencils, rice, and soap.

Friday, September 7, 2012


On a tiny island on a tiny lake in southern Myanmar, atop a needle-like column of limestone there sits an ancient golden pagoda where holy men still go to worship. Below the stupa numerous monks live, including the crew seen crossing the old concrete bridge above. All the guys seemed happy to see us, shouting out a loud "Mingalaba" as they approached. One even gave us a thumbs up. Despite all the hardships the people of Myanmar endure, we have never been greeted with anything less than a smile and friendly word. It's a habit we're trying to learn ourselves.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Celebrating 150 days on the road at a sidewalk food stall in Rangoon, Burma (aka Yangon, Myanmar).
After eight countries and around 20,000 miles, we hit the 150-day mark of the trip this week in Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma.

While there have been plenty of teachable moments and surprises, the most shocking part so far is that Liz hasn't left Kip stranded in a rice paddy with a water buffalo (see photo 5), or that Kip hasn't killed us both in motorcycle wrecks (2) or cliff jumps/falls (many). Seriously. 

In celebration of reaching such an auspicious milestone safely (as if we need a reason to celebrate), we pulled up two plastic chairs at a sidewalk food stall in Yangon and ordered a tall, cold Myanmar beer, toasting to the simple pleasures of the traveling life while hoping we wouldn't get food poisoning.

Yes, we were sweating, the mosquitoes were feeding, a smelly stray dog sat under Liz's chair (which she loved), and the beer was actually a bit warm, but no matter. This was living! 

Inspired, we did a bit of calculating and came up with a few of the more interesting numbers from the journey thus far. It's been a long, strange trip indeed. 
The five little angels in white sprint back to their mosque after helping us clean up a beach on the tip of Borneo. 
A few more:
  • Books read: 28 each (long bus/boat/train rides; beach time)
  • Weight lost: 10 lbs. each (third-world travel is guaranteed weight loss, whether you want it or not)
  • Overnight buses: 10+ (saves a night in a hotel, plus you wake up in a new place; of course, you're exhausted, cranky, and confused upon arrival, but, hey, that's like every morning before work back home, right?)
  • Times mobile phone rang: 0 (not that we have working phones, but still...)
  • Times shaved/worn a suit/tied a tie: 0 (this one's for Kip)
  • Times worn close-toed shoes: Twice (to hike a mountain and to prevent leeches)
  • Missed flights: three (all Kip's fault)
  • Pairs of flip flops worn out: 5
Second favorite 1 of 7 photo:
Kip makes a new friend in the Philippines.

Monday, September 3, 2012


In addition to the positives about traveling in Myanmar (friendly people, incredible scenery, etc), we've also heard many not-so-great things about visiting here--horrid roads, ancient buses, bugs galore, limited internet access, not to mention no ATMs or credit card capabilities, which means you must enter the country hauling stacks of crisp, clean, never-folded, like-new US dollar bills (they are extremely serious about this).

Oddly, pristine dollars are the only currency exchangeable for the local kyat. All this of course comes under the watchful eyes of a totalitarian, often brutal goverment.

However, who knew the government was concerned about "immortal materials" outlined in their customs forms we received upon arrival.

Lucky for us we had nothing to declare, as we left all our morally injuring and immortal items back in Bangkok.