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Friday, March 12, 2010

Myanmar/Burma - Off the Grid until April 4

I am scheduled to fly out of Bangkok to Myanmar/Burma tomorrow and will have no internet for the next 22 days.  I am scheduled to fly from Myanmar/Burma to Siem Reap on April 4 and I should have internet once I reach Cambodia.  If not I should be home by April 11th.

Total Expenses for Thailand

Total I spent in Thailand was $378.58 an average of $60.10 per day.  Thailand is no longer as cheap a destination as it once was partly due to the lower dollar and partly because prices have gone up.  You can still get some good deals with food, if you eat from the food stalls.   I spent a total of $154.83 on my hotel room or $25.80 per night (the room included private bath with a hot shower, wifi and tv). I spent a total of $87.86 on food or an average of $14.64 per day.  Tours and transportation cost me $80.39 (most of this, $54.83 was for the taxi to and from Wat Bang Phra where I got my tattoo).  I also spent a total of $26.43 on souvenirs ($18.38 of which was for the donation for the tattoo).  And, finally I spent a total of  $6.27 on wash and some other incidental items.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bangkok Day 30

Today I decided to walk down to Chinatown and visiting a couple of sites on the way.  I stumbled upon a couple of interesting sites including a market where they were selling frogs, turtles, eels and other items.  I then took the river boat back-up to where I am staying.  It is a lot nicer staying by the water and using the river boats for transportation than a taxi or tuk-tuk (they will try and rob you blind), much better scenery and a lot faster also.

Spent sometime in the park reading and watching them film a movie than had some dinner on the water and watched the sun set.  It was a very peaceful day.  I hope the rest of the weekend there aren't any big problems.  However, it doesn't look good.  I just hope I don't have to spend Friday and Saturday in the hotel room and that I have no problems flying out on Sunday.  It seems that more problems will happen late Sunday and Monday, if anything happens (which I hope it doesn't).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bangkok, Thailand Day - 28 and 29

Yesterday I spent most of the day getting my visa for Myanmar/Burma and getting enough American dollars for the trip.  It wasn't too bad to get the visa.  I arrived at around 8:00 am and was the fourth person in-line.  The embassy opened at 9:00 and I was out of there before 9:30.  I paid extra to get the visa the same day so I didn't have to go there again another day.  So I walked around and visited Lumphini Park, something I didn't get to do when I was in Bangkok in 2006.

Last night I saw the biggest snail I have ever seen.

Today,  I visited Wat Bang Phra to get a Sak Yank Tattoo from a Buddhist monk, Hwong Pi Phaew. More about him and video of him giving tattoos can be found here.  I hired a driver who took me to the Wat, about 30 miles north of Bangkok.  After arriving, you buy some incense, flowers and cigarettes (70 Baht) that is a donation to the Wat and then you put money into an envelope for the Monk.  

There weren't too many people around.  At the end of February there were over 30,000 people there for the annual Tattoo festival.  

He gave me two tattoos the first is the Yant Goa Yord.  A Yant is a Sacred geometry design incorporating Buddhist psalms and magical formulas that invoke various elements and powers of protection and various blessings.The Buddhist psalms written within and around these yant are know inThai language as a "kata" or "Mantra".  It is for protection and good luck.  The second is for a gift of the tongue.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Arrive in Bangkok in time for Big Political Rally

It seems that the supporters of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra have postponed a major political rally from March 1, 2010 to March 14 (the day I am set to leave for Myanmar/Burma).  This is the same group that shutdown the airport last year.  

The Thai cabinet has recommended invoking the Internal Security Act (ISA) to maintain law and order in Bangkok between March 11 and March 23 in response of the mass rally of the "Red Shirts" this Sunday.

You can read more here

Sunday, March 7, 2010

New Plans

I didn’t know how hard this trip would be and that I would miss my wife as much as I do.  Things are just not as much fun when you don’t have someone to share it with.  And, although I know she would have hated India, she would love Nepal (maybe not seeing all the temples - I am starting to get templed out). It is nice to have someone special to share things with.  Of course, you meet people when you are alone, but it isn’t the same.

So here are my new plans:

I leave tomorrow (Monday, March 8) for Bangkok, where I will see a few things I missed on my last trip and hopefully get a tattoo by a Buddhist monk and secure my visa for Myanmar/Burma.  I am scheduled to Fly to Myanmar/Burma on Sunday, March 14 and then fly to Siem Reap on Sunday, April 4 and then fly home on Saturday, April 10.

India was tough because of the amount of people and all the hawkers and because I really missed Denise.  Nepal has been a lot better and now that I know when I will be home I can really enjoy the next month.  I saw all that I really wanted to see in Northern India, and although I haven’t seen everything that Nepal has to offer I think I hope to come back here again with Denise.  I am really looking forward to Myanmar/Burma because I have heard lots of great things about it and although I will be spending 22 days there could probably spend more (although you can only get a 28 day visa), but because of being afraid of running out of money (you need to take all your money (American dollars) with you because there are no ATMs and the bills can’t have any marks, tears etc. (because they won’t be accepted) and has to be small bills (which makes it tough) I got advice that 22 days was what I needed to see what I wanted to see.

So initially I thought that I would only be starting in Nepal when I will actually be ending my trip, but in a little over two months I got to see India, Nepal, Thailand (Again), Myanmar/Burma, and Cambodia.  I have saw lots of great things and will hopefully see lots more before I return home.  I have experienced lots of new thing, tasted some lots of great new food, met lots of great people and changed in lots of ways and hopefully will change in many more.  So I will return home with new experiences and hopefully a little wiser in time to find new adventures and for the beginning of the baseball season.  Go Nats!

Total Expenses for Nepal

Total spent in Nepal was $1063.23.  I spent a total of $242.00 on hotels, $80.37 on Food (average of $8.03 per day), $443.88 on Tours and Trekking, $303.48 for two flights and taxis, and $6.21 on souvenirs and misc.  I also sold some books for $12.67.  Kathmandu was a little bit more expensive than I thought, especially food.  However, the total amount I spent would could have been decreased if I did the trekking as planned and not been in Kathmandu for the amount of time I spent.  Also, since one day was Holi a lot of restaurants were closed and I had to go to a more expensive place ($17.10 for dinner) than I would normally have gone to otherwise.

Nepal What a Wonderful Place

Sorry I have had any updates in awhile, but because of the power and the slow internet it is really tough to get access.  Also, I have been quite busy visiting various places and have been exhausted.

Let me first say that Nepal is nothing like India.  The people are all very friendly and not trying to rip you off.  There are some annoying hawkers, but if you tell them "No" 2 or 3 times they leave you alone.  Also, it is not as crowded and although you have to watch the motorbikes it is a lot more pleasant place to walk around.  The only real problem is that the power is off a lot, which is not usually a problem unless it is scheduled to be off during the evening hours and you want to take a shower.  However, most of the hotels have generators. Also, the internet is extremely slow and depending on where the server is located may not be working, which isn’t a problem unless you need to send an email, book a plane ticket or are writing a blog.

Nepal is a very diverse country, and I have only seen a little bit of what Nepal has to offer.  There is of course the mountains, but they also have rivers and nature preserves where you can see tigers, rhinos and other animals, not to mention all the historical and religious buildings (there are a lot). I urge you, if you have the chance, to visit this amazing place and the amazing people who live here.

I arrived in Lumbini on the evening of  Feb. 25 after crossing the India/Nepal border at Sunali.  It was a pretty easy process since I already had my Nepali visa and just involved some stamps checking me out of India and into Nepal.  I exchanged the few Indian Rupees I had for some Nepali Rupees and got a taxi to Lumbini about 25 kms away.

The next day I visited the site where Buddha was born and the many temples that are scattered around Lumbini.  These temples are massive and most are currently under construction.  They are planning a massive center.

Day 18 - Saturday, Feb. 27
From Lumbini I flew to Kathmandu.  Initially I was going to visit some other cities around the area and then I was just going to go from Lumbini to Pokhara  (but there is no bus to Pokara), so instead of taking the 10 hour bus from Lumbini to Kathmandu I decided to take the 30 minute flight, not only is it shorter, but you get a good view of the Himalayans.

I arrived in Kathmandu and was picked up by Rajendra Sapkota (Raj) a business partner of the hotel owner of where I stayed in Lumbini.  Raj, who owns his own Trekking and Expedition business got me a good deal on a hotel in Kathmandu and helped book my ticket to Bangkok.  

Day 19 - Sunday, Feb. 28
The next day was Holi, also known as the festival of colors, is held on the full-moon day in the month of Falgun.  During Holi people spray water and colored powder or a combined colored water around as a reminder of the cooling monsoon days that are about to come.  It seems that foreigners get special attention.  So I ventured out to see what was going on and to see how long it took before someone sprayed me with water.  It took awhile before I was doused with water and then a guy came up to me and put all kinds of colors on me.  Since I don’t have any really old clothes I made a hasty retreat back to the hotel (after my initiation) because once you get colored you are bigger target for more people.  Some people were just covered.  After cleaning up I watched the craziness from the rooftop.  It was a lot of good fun though and most people asked before they put color on you (not the water though).  

He are some more pictures.

While watching from the roof of the hotel I met a girl from Holland who with some street kids in Pokhara in a program that tries to get them ready for school.  Unfortunately the kids can only be in the program for 6 months and she said that many of the kids can’t even write their name (we are talking 11 and 12 aged kids) and that it is very rewarding to teach a kid to write their own name. 

Day 20 -  Monday, March 1
The following day I  met with the Shishir Dhakal, the guy I was supposed to do the 13 day trek to Gosikunda lake, to discuss what we could do instead.  

After our discussion he and I went to pick up the package that my wife sent me and I got to see the bureaucracy of Nepal in action.  First you need to go the Cargo center at the airport (even though she sent it FedEx).  After you show you paper work and sign some stuff you are allowed in the compound (which they charge you for parking).  Once inside you show the paperwork to a guy who writes it in a book and you sign your name, then you bring it to another guy who reviews it and you pay the tax (in this case .17 a lot cheaper than the $50 he thought) and sign your name again and then you bring that to another place where they write it in a book and you sign your name a gain, then you wait for them to bring out the package which they open and inspect to see if there is anything that shouldn’t be in there or not what you said was in there, than you go to another guy so he can write it in a book and you sign your name once again, then you bring it to another place and finally another place to get the slip to show on your way out of the compound, and once you are outside of the compound you need to show the paperwork again, pay some more and then finally leave.  In total, it took about 2 hours to retrieve the package. 

I can not say enough about Shishir, he is a great guy and very honest and runs a top notch company.  As I said I was supposed to go on this 13 day trek, but since my knees were bothering me and I didn’t want to get halfway into the trek and need to be airlifted out I decide to do some other things included a Mountain Flight to see Everest and some small trekking, along with 5 days of seeing everything there is to see in the Kathmandu Valley.  He also took me out to a “Welcome Dinner” to taste some real Nepalese food.  It was very good.  During dinner I found that his company is only a  year old, although he has worked in the business for over 15 years.  It must be very hard to establish a business because there are tons of companies advertising trekking and tourist services.  However, if you are looking for an honest, good company that takes pride in what it does and fantastic service you can do any better than Ambition Himalaya.  Shishir, not only took me to get my package, took me to dinner, met me every morning before I was supposed to be picked-up to go on a tour, accompany on the trekking portion of the tour, but offer to take me to the airport to catch my flight to Bangkok for free.  I cannot recommend him and his company enough.  He offers lots of tours and you can contact him at or or visit the website at

Day 21 - Tuesday, March 2,
My first day of touring of Kathmandu.  First we went to Durbar Square.  Durbar Square, a world heritage site, is a complex of beautiful temples and shrines, both Hindu and Buddhist.  Most of them were built around the 12th and 18th centuries.  It is here that the kings of Nepal are crowned.  It is also where the Kumari or living goddess living goddess live.  She is considered to be an incarnation of the goddess Taleju.  The Kumari is usually chosen when she is 3-7 years old and holds her place as the Kumari until her first menstruation. The new Kumari was just chosen last year.

When we arrived at the Square a young kid came up to me to try and sell me something. I told him I wasn’t interested, but we got to talking and he asked me the normal things: “Where I’m from?, What’s my name? etc. but then he asked me how many languages I spoke and I said just English.  He said you are kidding and I said no.  So I asked him how many languages he spoke and he said 12. He was around 12 and he spoke 12 languages.  

Most of the temples had beautiful woodcarvings and many of which included some pretty erotic scenes.  There are a couple of different speculations of why these erotic images are thee, but no one knows for sure.

Next we went to Swayambhu Mahachaitya or Monkey Temple, also a world heritage site and sits high on top of a mountain (some 300 plus steps). It is believed that the stupa is over 2000 year’s old and consists of four main parts that represent air, heat, earth, and water.

Next we went to Budhaikantha temple which has an amazing 5 meter long image of Vishnu as Narayan which was created in the 7th or 8th century.  What is amazing is that carving is from one piece of stone.  It is perhaps the most impressive, if not most important, Vishnu shrine in Nepal.  The image shows a sleeping Vishnu image (because Vishnu is supposed to sleep through the four monsoon months and big festival is held in November when Vishnu is supposed to awaken from his annual sleep), which lies in a small sunken pond enclosure that foreigners are not allowed to enter.  

Finally, we went to Pashupati temple, which is one of the holiest temples in the world and worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists.  It is also on the riverbanks of the Bagmati, which is a holy river and like in Varanasi it is a place where people are cremated and their ashes are put in to the river.  When we were there we basically saw all the stages of life: we saw the living, we saw someone near death being brought to the hospital that is on site, we saw a dead body wrapped with its feet in the water for cleansing, and we saw a body being cremated.  The impermanence of life.

Day 22 - Wednesday, March 3

I had to wake up at 5:00 am today to get to the airport for the Mountain Flight that was supposed to go off at 6:30.  I don’t think the flight left until around 8:00.  However, I am lucky because the past two days there were no flights because of the visibility.  Once we took off we had some good views and although at first Mt. Everest had a little bit of clouds around her peak they moved off to the side and we got to see her in all her glory.

After the flight and some breakfast, we visited some more temples including Bajrayogini temple in Shankhu, which is high up on a hill.

We also visited Boudhanath, another world heritage site, home to one of the world’s largest stupas and home to many Tibetan refugees.

Finally, we visited Kopan Monastery, a Tibetan monastery where they offer courses.  They were getting ready from a highly regarded lama from India.  It seemed to be a very peaceful place.