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At the end of each month I am going to send out a summary of the highlights of the month and update you on our plans for upcoming trips and activities. Here is the summary for February 2018. Follow me on social media or by email to see the full posts coming up soon.

Happy Birthday to Me!

I cannot believe that another month has gone past so quickly! It was my birthday this month, and while I am really not a big birthday person, this year I had big plans.

But first, back to the beginning of the month when we woke up in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Not for long though, as we jumped on a bus for the three hour trip up the road to Chiang Rai. We were only here for two nights, and the main reason Chiang Rai made it into our itinerary was so that I could visit the White Temple.

White Temple Chaiang Rei

The beautiful White Temple

There is so much more to see in this town though. I immediately felt much more at home here than I had anywhere else in Thailand and really enjoyed the day and a half we had. Chiang Rai seems to love its colours. Not only did we visit the stunning White Temple, but we saw the Blue Temple and the Black House too.

Blue Temple, Chiang Rai

The Blue Temple

My favourite place to visit in Chiang Rai though was the Cat ‘n a Cup cat cafe. We first saw it when we were walking from the bus to our hotel, and visited twice during our stay. Not only was it exceptionally clean with well looked after cars, the coffee and food was delicious. They do this amazing looking waffle stack that I highly recommend, but be warned, it’s huge! For two people don’t order any more than two layers! We made the mistake of getting three, and there was no way we could finish it.

Cat 'n a Cup Cafe

Seriously huge waffle stack!

From Chiang Rai we flew into Yangon. This was our first visit to Myanmar and I really had no idea what to expect. It’s not exactly a country that comes up on my radar very often, so lots of things surprised me. For example, Yangon, the biggest city but not the capital, has a population of around six million people. I think I was expecting it to be some sort of romantic backwater, but it’s a big, bustling city.

Yangon, Myanmar

The Independence Memorial in downtown Yangon

One of the main attractions is the Shwedagon Pagoda, and as far as pagodas go it’s pretty impressive. We’ve seen a few by now, and I half considered not bothering with this one, but this is on another level. We ended up staying for quite a while to catch it during the sunset.

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

The main stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda

Also in Yangon we caught the circle train. For a dollar or two we spent three hours doing a big loop on a very slow train around the city. This is a great way to see many different parts of the city and ordinary people going about their lives.

Yangon Myanmar

Some of the stations of the circle line train double as a market place.

Next stop in Myanmar was Bagan, which most people would have heard of because of the thousands of pagodas. I had seen many photos of sunrise or hot air balloons floating above them. I was surprised to see the pagidas were everywhere. It wasn’t just a fenced off area, they were in scattered all through the town and around the area. The entry fee is paid before you leave the airport since as soon as you walk out you are amongst the pagodas.

Bagan, Myanmar

Pagodas are everywhere – these were on the roadside just metres from our hotel

We spent a couple of days wandering around, enjoying a sunrise, and a sunset over the plains. We hired a tuk tul one day to take us to some of the pagodas further away but otherwise explored on foot, which the locals seemed to find very strange. Apparently tourists don’t do that!

Bagan, Myanmar

Sun glinting off two of the pagodas just before sunset. Like many of the pagodas, the one at the front was damaged in the 2016 earthquake that hit the area.

From Bagan we went to Inle Lake. Simon had booked the accommodation here, and I had said to him to book something on the lake. He did, but it was 9km out of town! It was a resort, and absolutely beautiful, but it meant it was hard to just pop out for a meal.

Inle Lake Myanmar

Sunset from Inle Resort

Through the resort we organised a day out on Inle Lake, visiting the local communities, markets and industries. I’m fairly sure the same tour is offered by ever company in town, but it was a great way to see the area. One of the highlights was another pagoda – I know, I can’t believe I’m saying that either! It wasn’t the temple itself though, but rather the hundreds, if not thousands, of stupas outside. It looked like a stupa forest, and was so impressive to wander through.

The floating village on Inle Lake

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Just a small selection of the stupas at the Shwe Inn Dein Pagoda

The following day we borrowed bicycles from the resort and off we went. First stop was a winery, which I would not have expected in Myanmar. We tasted four different local wines, but unfortunately I didn’t really like any of them. Still a way to go before these impress on the world market.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Wine tasting at Red Mountain winery

We then continued on into the town for a late lunch and to stock up on some supplies. By the time we got back to the resort, we had cycled well over twenty kilometres, so I needed to give my legs a well earned rest – I am so not a cyclist!

Mandalay was our last stop in Myanmar. We had only one full day here, and I didn’t have a whole lot of plalns except to climb Mandalay Hill then see what else we could fit in. As we left our hotel, we were approached by this guy with a motorbike and sidecar thing which seated two. He said he would show us around town for the whole day for something like $20AUD($15USD). So after our climb up Mandalay Hill, we visited a few temples, a workshop where they make the thinnest gold leaf I’ve ever seen, had lunch at a tasty local restaurant, saw the world’s largest skinny buddha, the world’s largest book, and watched sunset over the U Bein bridge.

Mandalay Hill

One of the pagodas on the way up Mandalay Hill. It doesn’t show up well in Photos, but all the tiles on the columns around the edge are little mirrors.

Mandalay largest book Myanmar

The world’s largest book. Each one of the 729 little pagodas holds a marble tablet containing one page of buddhist scripture

Mandalay

The largest skinny buddha. I hadn’t seen statues of buddha like this before.

Our driver was fantastic, and I would have loved to recommend him to everyone, but he has no phone and no way to contact him. His English was probably the best we had come across in Myanmar, and we were surprised to hear he only went to school until he was nine years old. As an adult has taught himself to not only speak English but to read it too. Now he is working hard to ensure his kids stay at school, and learn English as well as Burmese.

Our time in Myanmar was up, but we were really excited about our next country – Malaysia! This would be my fourth visit, and I knew it was going to be an easier country for us to navigate. Simon’s mum is from Malaysia, so we had plans to meet up with lots of family while we were here. But most exciting of all was that our daughter MacKenzie was meeting us, to spend the next two weeks here too.

We flew into Penang late at night, and had booked the Hilton for just that night as a treat since it was Simon’s birthday the next day. He didn’t have a really good birthday as he woke only a couple of hours after we arrived with a bit of an upset stomach so spent a good portion of the day on the toilet, and the rest was spent sleeping. In the middle of it we had to move to the hostel we were staying at in Georgetown, and I made the trip back down to the airport to meet Kenz by myself.

Luckily Simon woke up the next morning feeling better as we we meeting up with a few of his Aunt’s and Uncle’s for breakfast. Mostly they were people I had met before, but there was one Aunt I had not met. Simon’s mum has many siblings and a complicated family history due to the family being separated during the war, so there always seems to be someone new to meet! Mostly their English is good, which is very lucky since we don’t speak Cantonese.

We spent much of our time in Penang eating, drinking and resting up for the challenge to come, but we did spend one hot morning hunting down some of the famous street art.

Penang Malaysia

One of the many pieces of Penang street art

Another day we braved the heat late in the afternoon and checked out the Botanic Gardens before catching the cable car up Penang Hill. We had been warned by Simon’s family that it would still be really busy thanks to the Chinese New Year holidays, so we left this until our last night. Still the crowds were crazy. We watched the sun go down then walked the short distance to Kek Lok Si temple.

Kek Lok Si

Kek Lok Si stood out on top of the hill as we walked towards it.

For a month over Chinese New Year, Kek Lok Si is lit up with thousands of lights and really is a sight! It is also one big traffic jam getting to and from it on the narrow roads. When we visited years ago we climbed up to the temple through some local stalls selling souvenirs and other tacky bits and pieces. This is no longer the main entrance, but we went the same way to avoid the crowds. No one is there selling now, it was quiet and dark.

The temple itself seems to have become a bit of a sideshow. It’s pretty, but it’s an Instagram site now, not a religious one.

Kek Lok Si temple Penang Malaysia

Inside Kek Lok Si was a forest of lights

From Penang we flew to Kota Kinabalu. The reason we were here was because I had decided to really challenge myself for my birthday and climb Mt Kinabalu. I’d been talking about this for years, and impulsively booked it a couple of months ago. As it got closer I was freaking out a bit as I was no where near as fit as I wanted to be.

Kota Kinabalu

Sunset at Kota Kinabalu

We did a 2D/1N package out of Kota Kinabalu, and oh boy, the climb is tough! It is compounded by early mornings, the cold and meals at unusual times. I didn’t quite make it to the top to see sunrise on my birthday, but I wasn’t far off and I did make it to the top! Then came the worst part, getting back down! If you want to climb Mt Kinabalu, it’s a fantastic experience and I recommend giving it a go, just do the 3D/2N package to give yourself more time to recover from the summit climb before heading back down!

Mt Kinabalu, Malaysia

Some of the views during the climb of Mt Kinabalu

After a recovery day in Kota Kinabalu where we didn’t leave the hotel (we even got room service) we flew back to Kuala Lumpur. Our time here has been mainly spent in malls, mostly looking for some clothing and shoes appropriate for the below freezing temperatures we are about to encounter.

While in KL we of course had to visit our favourite street food location, Jalan Alor to eat our fill of char kway teow and chicken satay. We visited the Petronus Towers at night to see them all lit up and watched the light and fountain show outside.

Kuala Lumpur

The Petronus Towers all lit up at night.

We also caught up with Simon’s cousin Ernest and his wife Reena for a quick coffee too. It’s always great to see people we know during our travels.

I’m sitting in one of the KL malls at a coffee shop finishing off the last of this post and about to make our way to the airport. I’ve always liked South East Asia, and Malaysia is a big part of that. I’m sure it won’t be too many years before we are back here again.

Coming Up

We have two months left of our gap year, and we will be going home with a bang! Our plans changed over and over, but eventually we came up with a crazy two months in Europe. The first month will be a whirlwind tour of Scandinavia and the Baltic countries. We hope to see the northern lights, and not freeze to death in the process. This last week has been really cold in Europe, and we still have forcast temperatures of -14 in Tromso while we are there! For someone who has barely seen snow and thinks anything below 20 degrees is too cold, this is going to be quite a challenge.

The second month we will be spending in Western Europe, mostly Portugal, the UK and France, catching up with friends and hopefully defrosting a little before a couple of days in Singapore on our way home. We land back in Adelaide on May 1st.

Catching Up

In case you missed them, here are my February blog posts:
January 2018 Summary
Travel Diaries – Macau
Travel Diaries – Cambodia

Don’t forget to follow along on social media where you will see some content that does not make it onto my blog.
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/josiewanders
Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/josiewanders
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Pinterest – http://www.pinterest.com/josiewanders

Blogging Wins

We were back to terrible wifi in Myanmar, and then had MacKenzie with us, so I didn’t spend very much time on my blog in February, as the number of posts shows. We little to no effort, visitors to me site ticked along nicely. I have been trying to focus more on Pinterest, and I am starting to see more results from the small amount of time I have dedicated to it. I am really looking forward to getting home and being able to spend more time focussing on the blog.

Until next month, take care.

*Note – this post may contain affiliate links. If you book using these links, then I receive a small percentage to help me fund this page. Thank you for your help.

January 2018 Summary
March 2018 Summary