Ngwe Saung, Myanmar

Two years after my last visit to Myanmar, I’m back. I have beaches to explore.

This started out as a dive trip, but since the Mergui Archipelago is better reached via livaboards or via Bangkok, we settled for quiet beach R&R at Ngwe Saung. It’s the ‘closest’ beach to Yangon (5 hours drive) and a popular spot for Burmese families.

The actions starts at 6am when families (loudly) set up picnics on the hotel grass with what seems like a whole household of kitchenware. Four generations of family rent inflatable black rubber tubes to play in the waves. They all remain fully clothed, wearing their $1000Kyat woven green palm tree hats in an attempt to keep their skin whiter than white.  For the majority of the day the beach is absolutely deserted. Everyone siestas to avoid the 40 degree midday sun. The beach only starts to come alive again for sunset where you can take $2 USD pony rides up and down the surf.

For sun-worshiping Westerners mad enough to brave the 2pm sun, there’s ‘Lovers Island.’ It’s quite a cool game to see if you can judge tide & 800 meter shallow channel walk / swim. Otherwise you could be there a while (hence the name.)

wpid-img_20140420_201209.jpgIf you rent motorbikes, you can reach a decent elephant camp 45 min inland.  The little Dumbos look cheerier and better kept than the ones you see in neighboring Chiang Mai. Apparently after they’ve done their tourist work in the morning, they release the herd into to chill the wild every afternoon. Their keepers sometimes have to walk up to 3 miles to round them up the next day. The crafty elephants have learn to stuff leaves into their neck bells so prevent against a dead giveaway!

Overall, there’s lots of talk of Myanmar ‘opening up’ after they hosted the 2011 SEA Games. Maybe. But very slowly. The music videos remain innocently non-MTV, and the 60 year old Korean cast off buses still rumble through the unpaved countryside. BBC’s Top Gear recently waved their magic wand with their Burma Special, so it’s yet to see whether this has the ‘Vietnam’ effect.

Along with Inle Lake & Bagan which I visited last time, Ngwe Saung falls into the ‘lovely’ Myanmar box; authentic, friendly, hassle free.  Yangon (after a quick second visit) still has a way to go. After a nice meal at Feel restaurant and $5 USD cocktails in the most amazing airport departures bar, it edges nearer though.

Where we stayed:
* AMBO Hotel – $35 Beach Bungalow. Rustic (cold showers, fan not aircon) lovely owners, $1 USD motorbike rides into the village or 15 min walk. There’s only a couple of budget options V’s the $150 USD resorts. It’s a long walk between each hotel along the 15KM beach.

Where we ate:
Ume Japanese Cafe – A unexpected wood-decked gem across the road from Silver Beach. Massive portions and kick-ass rum & lemon juice cocktails.

Getting there:
* Bargain flights with Tiger Air, even over Easter weekend – $160 SGD return.
* Private night car transfer from Yangon to Ngwe Saung (x5 hours) – $150 SGD!
* Bus tickets Ngwe Saung to Yangon (x6 hours) – $10 USD (Daily)




24 hours in Taipai, Taiwan…

My top 3  spots for a stop-off in Taipei…

Taipei 101. Once the world’s highest tower, now relegated to 5th place, it does have bragging rights over the world’s fastest elevator.

Beitou Hot Springs. I love a jacuzzi but at 45 degrees they mean HOT!

Tamsui Seaside (or Danshui as it’s written in Mandarin on the MRT may just to confuse you.) Taiwanese Blackpool.

Getting there:‎ use Taipei as a handy stop-off to/from their Seoul route.

Where I stayed: Socket Hostel, 10 min walk from Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park MRT.



JSA, Panmunjom, (Almost) North Korea

Photos from the Joint Security Area (JSA) from the Southern side of  the infamous North/South Korean border.

Technically you can ‘cross over’ to the North by hovering down the middle of the JSA conference room Military Demarcation Line (like you can by jump through air  east to west on the equator.) Venture any further than that however and you’re guarantees to be snipered within seconds. (No joke, there have been several tragic incidents including the famous 1970’s Axe Murder.)

Panmunjom is the furthest point civilians can venture from the Republic of Korea, and only on a pre -arranged tour booked at least 3 days before. The 9am – 5pm tours are all padded out with visits to Camp Bonifas, The War Memorial & The Freedom Bridge at Imjingag Park. I booked via Seoul City Tour.

The JSA itself (minus all security faffing) is literally only 10 mins.  Yes it’s a little over-scripted, photos are limited, & everyone’s facebook pics look the same.  However at the same time it’s  unique, surreal, and particularly interesting if you get a bit of ad lib chit chat from the USA solders.  (He fully admitted the North can hear everything that’s said, with their bugs 800 meters away.) The whole North/South guard patrol face off  is almost comedic – if it’ wasn’t one of the most armed places on earth!

Probably the most fascinating 10 secs of the day are the  glimpses of Kijongdong; The Propaganda Village 1km away on the Northern side.  Again it verges on the ridiculous with their ‘our flagpole is bigger than your flagpole’ contest (the North rebuild theres to double the height.) Shame it’s a sham and no-one lives there to see it.  Chillingly creepy!




72 hours in Seoul, Korea…

Here are the top 6 fun/crazy/beautiful things I saw with 3 days in Seoul:

1) A bad-ass tattooed couple in their 20’s paying to cuddle a kitten….

Cat cafe’s are increasingly popular in Asia.  Not just with 10 year old girls, but because young couples often live in tiny, pet-free apartments.  Plus the National obsession  Hello Kitty probably helps.  I visited Toms Cat  where for 8000 Won (the price of a tea/coffee)  you can stay as long as you want and hang out like a crazy cat lady.  It’s surprisingly therapeutic.

2) Socks, socks & more socks…..

Forget Gangnam.  Hogndae Street is the new fashionable area. Weirdly it reminds me of an alpine ski village with all it’s second/third story  alfresco  coffee chains, or maybe it’s just the cool March air.  It’s close to Hongkok University so has a ton of  graffiti, clubs & funky boutiques nearby. One question though Korea; What’s with all the sock shops?!

3) I’m gonna pop some tags, I got 20 Won in my pocket…

Outside of  Ewha Women’s University is the warren of vintage flee market stores also know as ‘that street you want to visit.’ Correct. There’s rows of  shoe shops that remind me of UK 90’s chain Garage (with a 60,000 won price range.) Plus your usual Asian-esq slogan tees and rails thrift shop jumpers. It’s also waay better than the oddly popular Namdaemun Market.

4) The Bukchon ‘Observatory’ (some guy’s 3rd floor balcony)…

Bukchon & Insa-dong areas are both worth a little meander for arts & crafts. The maze of alleyways around Buchon Hanok Village are full of galleries & teeny tiny tea cafes. An enterprising guy has done a sterling job pinning flyers to lampposts to advertise  his 3rd floor balcony as a ‘private observatory.’ For 3000 Won you can get some nice get some nice shots of the Seongbuk-dong mountains and Gyeonbokgung palace rooftop. Plus he throws in a free orange juice.

5) Businessmen in suits hopping over stepping stones…

Cheonggyecheong is a 6km stream running through the center of the city. It’s definitely worth a spot of people watching as the city workers take their lunch break, just to see guys in suits with briefcases skip over the stepping stones like little girls in a woodland :)

6) Cheery blossoms come early….

I thought these were a Tokyo thing, so what a nice surprise!

Getting there: $350 SGD Singapore to Seoul (via Taipei) with Scoot Air

Where I stayed: $25 SGD shared dorm at The Closest Hostel (1 min from Hongik Uni MRT)

Where I ate:  BistroRE just off Yanghwa-ro 18 gil, Hongik University. (Home of the freshest mozzarella in Asia!)
 : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

Blasts From The Past…

April 2014

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