So after being on the road consistently since January, it got to the point where I felt quite tired of moving around. So I’m now on Cat Ba island in Vietnam for a couple of months working here as an Adventure Guide for Asia Outdoors. It’s pretty cool. I would have never imagined myself working outdoors like this in a foreign country. The bay is beautiful although it does make me really sad how much rubbish is floating around. The locals litter a lot as do the big tourist cruise ships which is heartbreaking. The education in Asia really needs to be improved to make the locals aware of how delicate the environment is.
The work is cool, I work with a really good bunch of people who all love the outdoors and are really good fun. The days are long and tiring, it’s proper honest work though which does give you a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. Cat Ba seemed like a good place as there’s plenty of climbing here to go to do on days off. So far, I haven’t quite had as many sport climbing days as I’d like but I’m hoping that will change.
Deep water solo is also an awesome activity that is on offer here that’s perfect now that we’re heading into the hot and humid summer.
This whole travel adventure has thrown up a lot of questions about what I want from life. It’s caused me a fair amount of stress from not having even a rough plan of what I want to do. But one epiphany I had from climbing the other day is that life is like climbing. As you move through the different foot and hand holds, you’ll come across different options but you won’t know until you get there. It was a nice summary of where I was at. It doesn’t matter if I don’t end up living the cookie cutter lifestyle I always thought I had to live. I don’t want that and it’s in accepting that there are other ways to live that will give me the freedom I’m seeking.
It’s been an eventful week and a bit since we arrived in Indonesia. When we first arrived, I have to admit I really wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy my time here. The idea of being somewhere where it was the Australia’s answer to Benidorm really didn’t seem appealing to me. I also wasn’t quite ready to be back amongst the normal holidaymakers having been amongst climbers for nearly a month.
We stayed in Sanur for two nights whilst we waited for my dad to join us for a week. Unless you are heading to catch a ferry, I would avoid Sanur. There’s nothing outstanding about it and it’s festering with locals who pester you to offer their services. Once we landed on Nusa Lembongan, it got much better with the island providing a much more relaxed atmosphere. We originally booked for four nights and ended up staying seven as Ed wanted to do his advanced course as well as his open water. The island (and the neighbouring two islands) are beautiful and are so good for watersports. If you like diving, surfing or just beaches under a blazing sun, this is the place to go.
The islands are stunning, I would highly recommend renting a scooter to explore the island as well as crossing over to the smaller but no less spectacular Cennigan. Although I would not recommend what my dad did which is drive his scooter off the edge of a 2.5m drop… If you do have any mishaps, the East Medical Centre on Lembongan is very good. The treatment rooms are clean, they have good equipment and it’s sterile. Luckily my dad only escaped with scrapes and the need for a couple of stitches for a particularly bad cut. Do take care! Some of the roads on Cennigan are particularly steep and in bad condition and certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Having already done my Advanced PADI, I spent my days mainly surfing and doing admin bits. I’m a complete noob at surfing so it was quite amusing to take on the beginner surf lessons with Thabu Surfing and get absolutely spanked by the waves. The lessons were really good and in my last session I could stand up on most of the waves I caught. At 450k IDR a lesson it’s almost worth doing the lesson just to catch Thabu and his instructors catch waves themselves. The names for the surf spots did make me chuckle though, they were Razors, Lacerations and Playground with the last one being the least friendly so I’m told.
The highlight of our stay on Lembongan was definitely the day of fun dives I did. We went out with Blue Corner Diving who were super great from day one. I saved my day of fun diving for a day with less swell so we could go out to Manta Point. We went out early at 8am and saw dolphins playing in the water as the boat left the reef. The boat trip was fantastic to showcase the beauty of the Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Cennigan and Nusa Penida. We arrived at Manta Point being one of the first boats there and got in the water without delay. Within less than a minute of descending, we saw mantas. Not just one, but about eight to ten of them all together feeding. Throughout the dive, every so often a manta would just zip past you nonchalantly, it did not get old! Considering they were between 3-5m wide, it was definitely a little intimidating at first! What a thrilling first dive of the day. After that we dived at Crystal Bay where I finally saw my first turtle and then at Sen Tal where I had my first proper experience of drift diving. It was a fantastic day.
Whilst most of the people I met say that Inle Lake was much more touristic than Bagan, I have to say I thought it was more the other way round. Yes there is a tourist town that caters towards tourists and also the boat tours take you to places that no local would dream of going, it all didn’t feel too contrived. The cigar making places, the weaving places they were all trades and practices that do exist in Myanmar and are very much still used by the local people. I also enjoyed the rotating market where you could experience a real marketplace experience.
We ended up extending by an extra night and stayed in Inle Lake a total of three nights. We arrived in the afternoon and had to take a whole day to recover from the exertion and previous sleep deprivation. We did however go on the free cycle tour to a local winery for the sunset. Burmese wine, is not a thing. The sunset view however was very nice.
The third day we rented a private boat for the day (25,000 mkk for up to 5 people) and went around Inle Lake. We bought some very nice flavoured Burmese cigars and various items of clothing. The floating gardens were beautiful and the Indein village was definitely worth the diversion for.
Overall, I had a cracking day going around Inle with some good friends. We stayed out long enough to have watch sunset on the lake which was spectacular.
We stayed at the Ostello Bello and ended up meeting a really good bunch of people. The happy hour here is also cheaper than their Bagan and Mandalay counterparts thus fueling some very fun nights.
Shan noodles are a must try here as there were some really good renditions of the dish. The little “night market” near the Ostello Bello was good for Shan noodle soups. There is also a very tasty Indian called Dosa King that we tried.
From Inle Lake we took a day bus up north to Hsipaw. The day minibus took 8/9 hours compared with the night bus which goes to Mandalay before heading to Hsipaw for a total of 15 hours. The road, as we found out, gave the overall ride something of a roller-coaster feel. We even caught several cms of air at certain points! More on Hsipaw in the next post.
So we got a night bus from Bagan to Kalaw which was scheduled to arrive at 4am and we organised a two day trek that started at 8am. Now that we’ve done it, I wouldn’t recommend it haha. Our bus ended up arriving at 2.30am to Kalaw which does not have much facilities open at that time in the morning apart from a makeshift cafe. The only places which seem to have toilets are hotels (genuinely, the cafe had no loo and they didn’t seem to know what a public toilet was). The temperature at night also plummeted to 4 degrees which we were a little ill prepared for. So with very little sleep we started our two day trek walking 16-17km a day with a company called Jungle Kings. The first day we were little more than zombies ambling through the dry fields and valleys. Our guide Simon was not the most talkative, although he did show us a few plants like garlic leaf and wild coriander (if you’re one of those weird people who doesn’t like coriander, Myanmar might prove a little troubling for you). Despite the low energy, we still saw some incredible sights.
It made me really curious as to what the countryside would look like in rainy season.
One thing that kind of really put a negative spin on the trip was that there was a French woman with her three year old son. I have to start by saying that I am all for female empowerment. I do not think that women should be limited and prohibited from things like travelling just because biologically they’re able to reproduce. However, if you do choose to travel with a child, you have to make sure you’re able to show them boundaries as well as all the amazing sights. This little boy of three was an absolute nightmare. He was aggressive and violent at every possible opportunity. For example he threw a rock at me, and then at lunch threw a small wooden at me whilst I was dozing. He also throttled another guide at dinner as well as hitting people on numerous occasions. And what did the mum do? Little more than calling his name when she sensed that people were looking at her wondering why she wasn’t disciplining him. Single mums who travel, go you. And I can only imagine how hard it is to look after a child on your own particularly if you’re travelling but it’s no excuse to let them run wild and not learn when they do something wrong. Rant over.
So overnight we stayed at a monastery. A few people we’d met travelling opted to go with a homestay instead as there were rumours of bed bugs but we didn’t seem to be bitten by any on our stay. The food was delicious and a definite highlight of these trips. The Burmese people are very generous with the food and on events like these they will more often than not refill the dishes for you to eat to your heart’s content. The worst thing about staying in that monastery was the toilets. Full of spiders and just full in general, if you catch my drift. Squat toilets aren’t the most pleasant thing but even out in rural Myanmar I’ve come across some that, despite being quite rudimentary, are clean and don’t smell. Overall though it’s an experience, just not necessarily one that I would repeat.
One advantage of starting the hike on very little sleep was that I managed to a great sleep in the monastery despite monks running around on the wooden floorboards. The second day was done with a lot more zeal from our group. The activity highlight of the trek was the boat ride at the end from lusciously green farmlands up across Inle Lake to the town at the top. The lake looks small on the map but is so vast that I could almost believe it was an ocean.
Inle is a very nice respite from the dry and dusty climate we’ve come to associate with Myanmar.