Getting our lilies on at Ogre Island, Myanmar
Days on the road: 152
Distance traveled: 2009.45 miles / 3233.9 km
by plane – 358.4 miles / 576.9 km
by train – 655.5 miles / 1055 km
by bus – 746.8 miles / 1202 km
by boat – 110.6 miles / 178 km
by car – 77 miles / 124 km
by motorcycle – 60.8 miles / 98 km
Number of beds: 12
The first night of this month we spent on an overnight train between Yangon and Mandalay – not sure it counts as much of a bed, most of the time we were actually in the air due to bumps and twists of the rails. We spent another night on the bus (from Lake Inle to Bago) and one more train night, but this time very comfortable – going from Bangkok to Trang en route to Koh Lanta.
Countries visited: Myanmar, Thailand
Items lost: 1
Sergey’s hoody sweatshirt.
Items ditched: 14
Pretty much all of the purchases listed below and then some. We sent a 40 kilo package home to the US from Thailand. By the way, very affordable just over $30 dollars by slow mail – our package will travel by boat for about 3months. In addition to Myanmar souvenirs (we sent everything but the blanket), Jenia sent home a pair of shorts and a button down.
Items acquired: 13
We acquired more than our share of souvenirs in Myanmar – we felt that our money was well spent though, most often going directly to the artisans. We purchased a small chime, a new wallet for Jenia, and two small watercolor drawings in Mandalay, a lacquer tray and a blanket in Bagan, we were also gifted a small canvas bag, a carved bottle opener and a small keychain in Bagan. We received two pens and two slate plates as gifts on Ogre island in Myanmar. We also purchased some wedding gifts for friends in Myanmar – but these don’t count towards the final tally.
Postcards sent: 18
Hanging out at the party for a monk initiation on Ogre Island, Myanmar. Monk initiation is a very big deal with a big celebration for what seems like the whole village. Jenia, as well as pretty much everyone else in this picture is wearing thanaka makeup on their faces — its traditional paste made to protect and cool the skin from the sun.
No deep musings this month, instead some thoughts on our packing lists. In honor of five months on the road – five most useful items we packed and five things we wish we would have brought! Things such camera, backpack, passport and the like aren’t included because that would be kind of silly.
*we originally discussed the idea of 5 things which turned out to be useless, but we couldn’t identify anything significant. We packed light, and though we have discarded quite a few items, we got our intended uses from all of them.
1. Head lamp – we’ve used it countless times, particularly useful for any adventures that involve going out to greet the sunrise or seeing the sunset. On a hike around Inle lake we came across a guide and his charge sitting outside of the cave. Turns out they were waiting for our group (3 plus guide) hoping we had a flashlight necessary to see the meditation cave. Guess how many flashlights we had for the five of us? Yep, just one.
2. iPhone – these amazing devices have allowed us to document some of the best moments of our trip (including the daily 4 o’clocks!), made keeping in touch with family and friends a breeze (email, skype, and whatsapp), made navigating cities, villages, and all spots in between easy (download maps to go, which uses GPS signal and doesn’t requite wifi), and of course provided countless hours of entertainment – from reading the news, to listening to books on tape, to a myriad of other apps. We also opted to get a sim card in Russia, China and Thailand – which allows us to call hostels/couch surfing hosts / access 3G if in a bind.
3. Silk sleeping sheet – we used ours when couchsurfing, in a few hostels, and on the train. In Myanmar the sleeping car only provided a sheet and a pillowcase, no top sheet. In China, the sheets aren’t changed between passengers – say the train is traveling from point A to point C, and someone disembarks at point B and another passenger boards and takes that spot, they will be using the same sheets. I was very glad of my sheet when I realized that.
4. Rain jacket – essential. It will rain – even in Thailand in high season. It happened to us, while we were on the boat going from one island to the next. And then for the next three days on the island. That was just one instance of when we weren’t expecting rain. There were plenty more instances where we knew it was going to rain and it did. But our jackets allowed us to keep exploring in relative comfort.
5. Tin mug – we have two, and have used them extensively for hot and cold beverages and food. Tin does gets hot, but it doesn’t break and it’s very light. On the train in Russia, Mongolia, and China there are hot water dispensers so passengers can make tea or coffee; on the ferry from China to Korea as well. We used our cups almost every day traveling in those countries. But we also occasionally have wine or juice from cups; on some days it was bourbon. Currently, we are using one of the cups to brush our teeth – since we have no sink with faucet and only a shower in our beach bungalow.
* honorable mention – quick dry towel. We haven’t used it as frequently, but it came in useful in a few couchsurfing situations, and also Chinese hotels (not hostels!) will frequently not provide a towel. Why the honorable mention? You can use a sarong or even a clean t shirt in a pinch, and if you will be staying somewhere for a few days you can always buy one – towels aren’t expensive and readily available.
Wish we had it
1. Flask – seriously, how else are you going to spike all of those virgin fruit shakes on the beach??? Or warm up in below freezing temperatures on an overnight bus without attracting too much attention?
2. Sunscreen – If we knew how hard it was going to be to find decent sunscreen in Thailand, there would have been several packed in our suitcase –no matter the checked luggage requirements and space taken for 3 full months of travel before we hit any significant sun. About 90% of suncreen sold in Thailand (and Myanmar – and something tells me the rest of SE Asia) promises to make your skin whiter with exposure to the sun. Thanks, but no thanks. The other 10% is a) very expensive b) rather crappy. Jenia developed a skin rash after applying it. So now we use face lotion with sunscreen.
3. Power Source – both of our iphones are old and used, i.e. batteries die fast. But even if our phones were new, its nice to have a powerful backup in case of long train or bus ride, or if we are out a whole day and use our phone extensively. Since we often rely on the phone as a GPS device / or a way to get in touch with someone, it’s essential that it actually works. We ordered one to get delivered to US and Sergey’s parents brought it to Thailand when they visited.
4. Teva Sandal – Ok. So Jenia still doesn’t really do travel clothes. And zip off pants just look sillier and sillier the more we see them. But good support on your feet is essential. We brought sneakers, which we have been very happy with. And figured that we would get a sport/walking sandals if we needed them once we got to hot destination. Guess what? We dedicated several hours-long shopping trips around Bangkok to find the elusive tevas. They don’t exist. Jenia bought knock off sandals, but they rub, and aren’t comfortable. I would give a lot for either of these:
5. New swimming suit – this one is for Jenia. Although Sergey says the he wouldn’t have mind having an extra pair of swimming trunks. Jenia brought her old suit assuming that she would just buy another one once we got to the beach. Oi, worst idea ever, unless you have the perfect body or serious eye for fit. Just think first most swim suits sold near the beach aren’t all that attractive, second there is no way to try them on, third sizing is all different, and finally, who wants to shop while at the beach?
Staged fisherman on Inle Lake, Myanmar. Still looks pretty cool, eh?
Most Useful Apps
1. Maps with Me – Simply the best app for navigation without wifi. Free version allows you to download up to 3 countries, while full version allows you to search and place markers as you travel along. GET IT!
2. Trailwallet – Although we chose not to focus on our budget here, we diligently keep track of our expenses separating all in to categories. Very handy for a long term traveler.
3. Convertbot – Whether you convert Thai Bhat to USD or square feet to meters or any other conversion you can think of, Convertbot will be your forever friend.
4. Instagram – Since there are two of us and one #housetolaos, we chose to create a hashtag for us to instagram together, rather than create @housetolaos name. It’s a complete picture of our travels. Also, iPhone is a lot easier to hide for from-the-hip shots rather than dslr camera.
5. Snapseed – The best photo editing app for the iPhone. You also can export photos as well as adjust it in a few simple steps.
*honorable mention – Waygo – We could not have eaten so many good meals in China if it wasn’t for nifty translation of our menus with Waygo. Point to the Chinese characters and translation will present itself seamlessly, nevermind that some times 1/3 of the menu is “chicken” 🙂