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Published 8:23 am, 27 Jan 2015
UMPHANG & TEE LOR SU WATERFALL
So it was a case of déjà vu today as we rode back to Tee Lor Su Waterfall headquarters, determined to at least get the 4WD trip out to the actual falls for only 1500 baht, after being quoted a firm 1600 yesterday. Before we could even begin a bargaining process, a guy that had seen us yesterday came straight over and offered us a 1400bt fare, after seeing us walk away from a deal the day before!
There was still the 200bt entrance fee for farang, only 20bt for Thai, but we quickly agreed and jumped in his ute, even scoring berths in the cab as we were the only ones going. This may sound trivial, but it was a rough, rough road in and we were so thankful to be comfortable up front as opposed to being hurled around violently in the steel cage on the back! After doing it, I'm actually really glad we couldn’t take the bike!
The trip through mountainous jungle took around an hour, and it’s only a 26km journey, before we arrived at the basic ‘grounds’ to start our 2km walk to the falls. A very easy walk though as it was a concrete path all the way with no major up or downhill sections and we were soon greeted by the sight of the mighty Tee Lor Su falls. Full credit to the marketing committee, this place did not disappoint and really is an amazing set of falls - misty, thundering, clean water, cascading over a huge mountain peak, splitting into many different sections and smaller yet equally impressive falls, with various ledges and pools all the way up through the lush jungle. The best? Who knows.. but it is most certainly an amazing place to behold. From the base we then hiked up the mountain trails to the numerous pools and minor falls, precariously tip toeing across the lip of a few along the way, before finally reaching the ‘main event’ at the top. This would have been an incredible spot for a swim – and I honestly tried, going in up to my waist and over ‘my boys’, but it really was just too ridiculously fucken cold to go further. I would have loved to swim over to where the massive falls were hitting the lagoon, which was literally a pool perched on the side of a mountain, but I seriously feared I might get hypothermia. We hung around for a while and only then were there more people starting to show up, we had pretty much the whole place to ourselves since arriving, aside from another Thai couple and their guide..?? (or leery old man peeking through the bushes…??). We had only arrived in the afternoon too, around 12.30pm, so it pays to get there early/ish I’m guessing. Same again in reverse, we hiked back down, walked the concrete path, took the rugged jungle ride and were back on the bike, seeking a temple made completely from wood - though never found that and ended up just riding around the mountains until giving up and heading for beer… I mean home! We have loved our time here in Umphang, seriously a place you could just hang out in for weeks, and Tee Lor Su is definitely a highlight, but tomorrow we are back on the road, heading to Mae Sot once again for a night and then making our way north along the border, with Chiang Mai roughly in our sights.
Published 5:25 am, 27 Jan 2015
BACK IN THAILAND - MAE SOT TO UMPHANG
So back to the border crossing from Myanmar and we were now in Mae Sot, Thailand, back to the Pongpicha Boutique House, where we spent just the night, at only 450 baht, before hitting the road again and heading south along the Myanmar border to the small town of Umphang.
Another place, like Sangkhlaburi, situated near the finish of a dead end road, meaning another back track on the bike but we’re already glad we came.
It was a casual day on the bike with us only covering about 180km, with our couple of stops on the way - Pra Charoen National Park and Tara Rak Waterfall. Another wild ride through tight windy roads, I think we went up and over at least 4 mountains to get here with some incredible views and some heart stopping overtaking of trucks along the way. The journey only took us a bit under 4 hours, I’m thinking this is a good distance to aim for in the upcoming weeks, not so much wear and tear on our butts from sitting on that scooter all day! After a quick rip around town looking at accommodation options we ended up at Umphang House, a great little place with nice rooms for only 250 baht! We rode out to Tee Lor Su this morning in anticipation of checking out Thailand’s supposed number 1 waterfall, but on arrival were told that no bikes are allowed for the last 26 km section of the journey and that a 4wd return trip would be 1600 bt! Plus the fucking 200bt farang entrance fee – my Thai drivers license no good for the local price here… Needless to say, I told them to stick it up their ass (not really, but I was thinking it) and we left, headed for a different waterfall in the area – Pa La Tha, a mere 50km from where we were, though only 30km from Umphang itself. It was a great ride once again, very hard not to have an enjoyable ride in these parts (or pretty much anywhere in Asia) but there were some real nasty potholes for nearly a 10km section, a couple of them very nearly throwing us off the bike, and that takes some doing!
We also stopped at Dot Mua Hoi Lookout on the way, a small pinnacle of rock in the mountainous area that provides spectacular views for as far as the eye can see.
After missing our turn and having to backtrack for about 8km, due to me daydreaming too much and not watching the GPS, we took a very short ride through the tiny village of Ban Pa La Tha and then onto some rough dirt tracks through the hilly forest, before finally reaching the waterfall. A good ride, if a little rough, my mind couldn’t help but wander to visions of tearing through there on my dirt bike! The waterfall itself was nice, absolutely nobody in the area whatsoever as far as we could tell and although the day time temperatures are fairly hot here, it does get quite cold mornings and nights being up in the mountains, and the water was just a bit too fresh for a swim. Back to the guesthouse where we Noi caught up on some much overdue laundry and I made some slight plans as to the rest of this journey. We will however be sucking it up and heading back to Tee Lor Su tomorrow, bending over, and taking the exorbitant cost of a waterfall trip, fair up … well you know where. No point coming to such a remote place and not seeing what we came here for, no matter how ridiculous the pricing is. On the plus side, I have only spent 927 bt yesterday, and 584 today, (inc room) so can afford to splash out a little on our trip to the waterfall tomorrow!! Still pissed about it though!
Tara Rak Waterfall
Pra Charoen National Park and Waterfall
Somewhere between Mae Sot and Umphang
Dot Mua Hoi Lookout
Pa La Tha Waterfall
A cave we poked our heads into on the way..
Published 4:24 am, 26 Jan 2015
MYANMAR.... FINAL THOUGHTS
So I will offer up my final thoughts on Myanmar, it was a great trip and I loved the things we did, but there just didn’t seem to be enough attractions and things to do around the country. Possibly due to the limited information, the foreigner restrictions or the lack of freedom to be able to simply explore anywhere we wanted, but it felt this way.
As I said - I loved our time here, it was definitely different to other travels I have done but I only possibly see myself back there, which is a unusual for me, every other place I have been it is a DEFINITE that I will go back. The things we did were great, amazing at times, though as an overall travel experience/destination there are plenty of other options I see as being better. The food was incredible, the locals friendly and everything aside from the accommodation and some of the bus trips was extremely cheap. Though, unlike everywhere else I have travelled, Myanmar just isn’t screaming ‘come back’ to me, but it was a great experience that we certainly don’t regret.
This is not me saying 'don't go', not in the slightest, just my reflections on our time there coupled with comparisons to other SE Asian options.
Perhaps Myanmar is better to just do a ‘highlights’ tour as opposed to trying to go almost everywhere, though there are most certainly still a few places and things that I would have liked to have seen - maybe I will go back!!
A few final pics of Hpa An
Published 9:50 am, 24 Jan 2015
YANGON, MAWLAMYINE, BILU ISLAND, HPA AN & BACK TO MAE SOT, THAILAND
Back in Yangon we are staying at The Royal Star Guesthouse, fairly nice at $30, but with shared bathroom and unreliable wifi. It was a cool 2 level room with the whole downstairs set out like a lounge room with sofa and large tv, then an upstairs area for sleeping, essentially giving you twice the space you would normally get.
Early the next morning we were back at the Thai Embassy to do my next visa, I was trying for a double entry tourist visa, but as we were crossing into Thailand by land and not flying, they would only issue me a single entry visa.
This will give me 2 months to stay, plus I can extend it by another month for around $65 au, the double entry lets you visit for 6 months, though you do have to exit the country after your first 3 month stint and activate your ‘second entry’, but this can be done overland.
The cost of visa was $40 US and after maybe only an hour in total, I was told to return the next afternoon to collect my passport and visa, hence forcing us to stay 3 nights in Yangon with very little to do.
We did find a couple of new favourite places to eat though, 1 of them being directly across the road from the Royal Star. Cheap delicious food, cheap beer and at night they would set up tables right in the very busy small street, a great spot to watch all the hustle and bustle of Myanmar life.
After our unwanted, but very necessary, stay in Yangon, it was another bus trip that took us closer to home and to the town of Mawlamyine, a lively little spot on the banks of the Salween River. Bus fare was $10.50 and took around 6 hours. They were showing Avatar on the little tv in the seats which I still have never seen, so I watched about the first 3 quarters before we stopped for lunch, where we also ran into our boat trip buddies from Bagan. Once on the bus again I was ready to resume the movie and see the end – BUT NO…. the movie started again! So I read a book on the Ipad and sort of watched it again, this time around we got fairly close to the end before the bus pulled into Mawlamyine and cut me off from seeing the end of this movie!! F*** I hate that! After cruising every single accommodation option in town and finding them ridiculously overpriced, full or both, we ended up at Breeze Guesthouse down by the river. $20 gets you a shared bathroom with cold water, slow wifi in reception only and was overall fairly average, but the owners are friendly and helpful, can organize most things, plus they have scooters for rent. We organized one for the following day to take a trip out to Bilu Island, before heading back to the waterfront for a cold beer in readiness for sunset. They also have a great little night market bbq scene there with a huge selection of food all ready to be cooked, you just pile up your plate and they’ll bbq it and bring it over to your table as you relax with a drink and watch a great sunset. This turned out to be some more of the best eating we had done and given the chance, I’d probably eat it every day. There was corn on the cob, marinated chicken, curried potatoes, quail eggs, vegetables, seafood, plus a huge array of different meat skewers – it was so good we went back the next night. For some reason we didn’t get a photo of any of it… The next day we took a ride around town, before only just making it to the right ferry in time to head over to Bilu Island, just across the muddy river, but the landing point is about an hour away by boat. Boat tickets are $2 each and we somehow got the bike on for free! When I say ferry, it really was just a large floating platform used to transport all the villager’s and their huge amounts of stock over the river after they had come shopping in ‘town’. Once on the other side we were quickly off on the bike, leaving the other tourists (all 3 of them) in our dust as they scratched their head and pondered what to do now? It was a nice enough ride around the rather plain island, through some villages and at one point past some sort of celebratory procession of bikes and trucks involving at least 200 locals all donned in matching outfits. Other than that, I would have to say the whole trip did very little for us really, sure it killed a day, but in hindsight I could very easily have skipped the whole thing - Bilu Island did not fare well on my travel highlights scale I’m afraid! You never know if you never go, but I don’t rate it very highly. Another $2 each for the fare home, this time in a smaller boat, plus another $1 for the bike and 90 cents at each end for some locals to lift it on and off the roof for me – money well spent! As I said, bbq dinner again by the water with some other new friends, tonight even better as there was also a lunar eclipse to dazzle us after the great sunset. I looked online but can’t seem to find information anywhere regarding this, but it definitely happened!
The whole point of coming to Mawlamyine was to then take the boat trip up river back to Hpa An, but after seeing a lot of the scenery (plus the boat they would take us on!) we decided against it and just took the bus. The boat takes 5 hours and costs $10, the bus takes under 2 hours and costs $1!
Though if we felt the scenery might be worth the journey we would have gone for it, but the area between the 2 towns is fairly flat until you get closer to Hpa An. Once again - you never know if you never go, but we saved $18!!
Back to the Golden Sky Hotel where the whole adventure began and after 27 days in the country I would have to say that this was the best value room we had stayed in during our whole trip, if only they had of all been like that!
I have seen some reviews stating that the owners or staff were not friendly, that was definitely not the case when we stayed and they were very helpful, plus huge smiles as they recognized us from 4 weeks earlier.
A bike was soon commandeered and we cruised around the very scenic area again and headed back to the bat cave for another sunset on the cliff top. Hpa An really was a highlight and a place I can see going back to, plus I'd love to explore more of the area south by bike. Golden Sky organized our taxi back to the border, once again $10 each and this time there were only 4 of us in the car, from memory there were about 8 all squeezed in the first time we did it. We had hoped for 2 nights in Hpa An, but January 24th was the day the traffic goes east through the rugged mountain road. Our driver was once again a fucken lunatic and seemed intent on being the fastest man to ever to do the mountain pass. One of the backpacker girls in the back seat was getting quite agitated and worried about it all, though by now I must have acclimatised and was just thankful he was making good time. 4 hours and 13 minutes to be exact, possibly some kind of new record, I believe our original journey took at least 6! A relatively painless immigration check and we were soon back in Thailand and to our previous hotel, the Pongpicha Boutique House, that has been looking after my bike, there were about 40 extra km on the clock, but I can’t really hold that against them! So tomorrow the bike trip begins again and we head south along the remote border to Umphang, home of Thailand’s ‘largest/tallest.. something or other’ waterfall – Tee Lor Su! Who knows where the next month or so will lead us, but I’m sure it’ll be great, stay tuned and thanks for reading
Sunset by the water
Published 7:13 am, 20 Jan 2015
NYAUNG SHWE, INLE LAKE & IN DEIN
It was time to check out Inle Lake though, the main reason for stopping here in Nyaung Shwe, and what draws so many tourists to the area. We opted for only a half day tour as we have obviously both seen enough markets and handicraft workshops, which are usually little more than a hard sell to buy some trinkets. We also took the longer voyage which takes you out to In Dein, a small village made slightly famous for it’s ruined pagodas and stupas, located at the end of a small, winding, extremely picturesque creek. The boat ride being more of a highlight than the actual temples or massive line of markets trying to sell you all manner of art, craft and jewellery in the entranceway. The entire lake area was beautiful - a vast wetland interspersed with little islands, crops, stilt house villages with canal streets, floating gardens, local fishermen, more than a few market and handicraft shops, all surrounded by misty mountains. The whole trip was a definite highlight and should be on any travellers list, I’m only regretting we didn’t do the full day trip. Our half day trip was $16, but that is the cost of the whole boat which can take around 5-6 people, though we went just the 2 of us. Standout restaurants around Nyaung Shwe were the Sunflower (try the pork and pumpkin curry) and Beyond Taste, though the latter is much more upmarket and meals there were rather expensive at $4-$5 each! We tried quite a few restaurants during our stay, but there were no others I feel worth recommending. Another 11 hour bus journey took us south to Yangon again to organize my Thai visa, though this bus ride was easily the best we had endured on our Myanmar travels. With small personal tv’s in the seats allowing us to simply kick back in rather spacious seating and watch movies the whole way, plus fairly smooth roads, the 11 hours went by quickly.
The canals in town are that dirty brown but the lake is nice
Great spot for lunch and a beer
The village houses right on the lake
Cruising the 'streets'