I usually motorbike when traveling and see all the sights on a DIY tour. This is mostly because I like the freedom of riding around and doing exploring on the cheap. At the Soe Brothers Guesthouse in Hpa-An, Myanmar, I bucked the trend and joined a tour. Here’s how it went.
Mrauk U in eastern Myanmar is a fascinating place to visit due to its remoteness and 15-th century ruins. It is, however, a pain in the ass to get to from most places in the country. There is, however, a reliable overland route to get from Bagan to Mrauk U that’s been making the rounds on the Internet. All it takes is $37, one transfer and a lot of patience for the overnight journey.
The sleepy Kanchanaburi province, just a couple hours west of Bangkok, is a popular getaway thanks to its mountains, waterfalls and a pleasant provincial capital. Dotted throughout the province, however, are signs of one of the many atrocities committed during World War II. The Death Railway had 60,000 allied prisoners of war and many more Asian laborers working in horrible conditions under the Japanese.
Coming into Myanmar, I was expecting to pay handsomely for the experience. Fortunately, a three-week trip all over the country only cost me $855 (including the flight from Thailand). Myanmar, or Burma, if you’d prefer, opened up to tourists just a few years ago and everything I read said that demand outstrips supply when it comes to tourism infrastructure. There are some areas where Myanmar is more expensive that it’s neighboring countries, but overall things are better than expected.
Approaching the Muang Sing Historical Park outside Kanchanaburi was a little surreal to me. I had been living in Cambodia for two years, and the differences between that country and Thailand are striking as soon as you cross the border. So to see a rather grand Khmer ruin so far away from Angkor Wat was fascinating.
During Sonkran, nobody is safe. The Thai New Year festivities involve dousing anyone and everyone with water as a way to beat the heat and ring in the coming year. The three-day holidays is celebrated everywhere in the country with water guns, buckets and lots of ice-cold water. This past April I was in Thailand to celebrate the festival for the very first time.
Cambodia’s failed effort to beat Singapore on June 12 in its bid for the 2018 World Cup was like something out of a scene in Lord of the Rings. Not what was happening on the field, though. The madness was at the ticket gates just outside the Olympic Stadium. Hundreds of people without tickets stormed the fences and ran up the steep hill. Bored cops were out in full force but didn’t bother stopping any of the fans. In many ways, it was exactly like the traffic in Phnom Penh.
The Mae Hong Son loop was top of my list of things I wanted to do in Southeast Asia. I heard a lots about this 700 kilometer (435 mile) journey from Chiang Mai, with most of the praise being heaped on the gorgeous scenery, the tricky roads and the interesting towns along the way. After completing the journey for myself, I totally agree with everything with everything. It was a hell of a fun ride.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about Southeast Asian zoos, it’s that you can get ridiculously close to the animals compared to anywhere else in the world where they have all those pesky “rules” and “precautions.”. That’s never been truer than at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. About 40 kilometers south of Phnom Penh, the first area of the zoo has monkeys running wild in a large forested pond area. Then there are deer following you around at the same time. At one point – I kid you not – my family saw a monkey riding a deer. Madness. I didn’t get a photo but I swear it happened.
The rare Irrawaddy dolphin’s numbers are dwindling to critical levels in the Mekong River. You can still see them up close in Kratie, Cambodia by boat.