Arriving in Yangon, Myanmar (from Hanoi, Vietnam) the complete lack of motorbike noise and chaotic movement was distinct. Although there was an extreme monsoon-like rainstorm underway as we taxied to the city center, the palpable calmness of the people and traffic was remarkable. Despite trees falling on cars and streets flooding, there was a notable patience in the movements. “Aaaaahhhhhh, yes,” I thought to myself with a deep exhalation, not unlike Savashana in yoga. The mantra “nothing more to do,” rang clear in my mind. And for all of Myanmar we didn’t hustle. Though we saw much and moved often, the happy resignation to the natural flow was replenishing. Simple breakfasts were included at most accommodations. Flavorful street food for pennies on the dollar kept our bellies full and spirits high.
Despite the unbearably sad situation with the Roghingya, we decided to travel to Myanmar and spend our money only in local businesses when possible. As the situation was isolated to two areas, we felt very safe after conversations with other travelers, and understood the Burmese people needed the tourism income desperately.
We took the common train with hard plastic seats from Yangon to Pye, and then the packed mini bus over the Rakhine Yoma Mountain Range to Ngapali Beach, a seven kilometer dream. Staying at the end of the beach in the local-filled Paradise Hotel. While we could have taken a 45 minute flight, this two-day journey gave us a special insight to the village life in the mountains, over a pass that had only recently been re-opened.
With water festival (Thingyan) upon us, bus services were all but cancelled. We took shockingly quick flights with nearly empty planes for the remainder of our tour through Mynamar. First, to Bagan, where we rose at sunrise to beat the oppressive heat and see the ancient temples in their misty glory. As the heat of the day emerged, we cruised our electric moped through the streets to get thoroughly drenched by the buckets and hoses of celebratory dousing. Music blasting, shrieks of joy and surprise. “Thank you,” being the appropriate response (despite shock as the cold water runs down your spine) as this was the shared cleansing and the marking of a new year.
Then, on to Inle Lake for the second half of water festival. Here Josh got in the mix with the street shenanigans, hosing down passerby with a group at a street-side restaurant. We took a spectacular, long boat ride on Inle lake, visiting floating villages and local silver jewelers. Our favorite dish of Myanmar was found at a roadside stand for US .50 - Shan Noodles in their brothy, spicy, textured glory. We had taken bicycles on an afternoon ride to see the winery, which was closed, but we were forever thankful for the noodle surprise instead! Our last day in Inle Lake was spent at the Khaung Daing Nature Hot Springs, where we had the three beautiful tubs all to ourselves. To round out our Myanmar tour, we spent a day in Mandalay before our departing flight, where we explored Jade Market and had custom pendants carved and polished!
In Vietnam we found ourselves fairly exhausted after nearly two weeks of train and bus travel from Ho Chi Minh north to Hanoi. My step-son Dakota had joined us in Vietnam for his spring break and we were in need of a little vacation from our vacation...as silly as that sounds! (Full disclosure: “traveller’s tummy” and Malaria pills added to our general malaise.) So we sought a bit of R & R to round out our fast-paced trip. With the immense popularity of cruising Ha Long Bay, we searched extensively for the best nearby experience without the crowds. We were beyond happy with our special find, a newer company: Cat Ba Express!
We had Cat Ba Express pick us up from our Hanoi guesthouse with their clean new bus, driving us to our ferry to Cat Ba Island. In Cat Ba town we enjoyed a leisurely evening walking the waterfront and having pizzas. Upon arrival, I had hustled myself over to Asia Outdoors to join their small-group Sunset Beach Yoga, but sadly just missed it. If you find yourself on Cat Ba, I would recommend Asia Outdoors for kayaking, rock climbing and trekking in the National Park. You could even try your hand at deep water solo climbing over the ocean: push your limits and get personal with the limestone!
Our day cruise with Cat Ba Express included bus pick up at our hotel the next morning, lunch, kayaking and all the lovely sights from our beautiful boat. With just about ten people on the boat we were totally blissed out. During this full day tour we saw the outskirts of Ha Long Bay before ducking into Lan Ha Bay and discovering the same pristine karst beauty without the common crowds. We kayaked through limestone islands and under stalactite roofed caves into little hidden grottos...so cool!
This tour met our needs perfectly with a long cruise time, no crowds, a great lunch and a unique route. It served as a spot-on “mini-getaway” to round out our Vietnam family time, with adventure and relaxation blended seamlessly.
When planning our Round-The-World trip it was great fun to start with some bucket list ideas. Japan? Yes! SKIING in Japan? Could we possibly swing it? YES!!
Despite our modest budget, there were two factors that allowed us to claim spring runs in Japan:
I found the wandering village streets of Hakuba to be a more relaxed vibe than Niseko. The Wagyu beef at the Korean BBQ will live in our food memories forever! Another favorite of Hakuba: the free hot mineral foot bath by the train station and the many onsen throughout town (hot springs bath houses.) After a wet and windy day on the slopes, the most blissful apre-ski I have known is submerging myself in a hot mineral pool, gazing at the falling snow beyond the yellow-glow of patio lanterns.
This trip was our first time in many, many years renting skis and the equipment thankfully did the trick. We enjoyed ourselves, despite lower performance than accustomed to. If we were going to Japan for skiing only it would have been worth bringing our set-ups. This was a very special and fortunate stop on our much longer journey around the world. A ski trip to remember forever, as much for the cultural differences and scenery as the actual act of skiing. To claim the most serious of turns in we would have needed more time and better gear!
We enjoyed two scenic mid-March days in Nikko in the Nippon region of Japan. Off-season here allowed for a truly uncrowded and splendid winter wonderland. The emerging buds on the cherry trees promised change in the weeks to follow.
Our first day was spent on the Tobu bus line with a hop-on, hop-off ticket to Sambonmatsu, where we started our day gazing out on the expansive snow-covered Senjogahara Moor. The area boasts top cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, with rental shops at the Sambommatsu bus stop. We opted for sunny road-side walking due to our clothing choices for the day! For lunch we stopped for a tea and dumpling set at Ryuzu No Taki waterfalls after a short hike to the top of the falls and back. To round out our sightseeing for the day we wandered around pristine Lake Chuzenji and took the late afternoon bus winding down the dramatic mountain switchbacks to Nikko.
Our second day we ambitiously started with a copy of the Nikko Historical Walking Map to tackle first the Takino’o path and then one half of the the Kanman Path Loop, each approximately 5 KM loops. Unless you are a crack-of-dawn kind of person, there is far too much to see in these areas in a single day, so be prepared for a two day journey or concessions on seeing ALL the World Heritage sights. On the Takino’o Path we first visited the Rinnoji Temple and Taiyuin Temple (800 Yen ticket.) Heading further into the forest of old growth conifer trees, we realized the depth of spectacular free temples and landmarks there were to see. In a steady rain, we had the area nearly to ourselves. I love hiking in the rain. But waterfalls AND rain together-even better!
On the Kanman Path, the sky opened up, and we gingerly walked through the mud past the 74 stone statues of Jizo (Buddhist Guardian Deity, carved in the 1500’s!) and the dramatic Kanman-Ga-Fuchi Abyss, an area of the Kaiya River formed by lava from Mt. Nantai. After a total of about 8 KM we arrived wet and weary at the Yashi-No-Yu Onsen (hot spring) to soak the day away! What a great stop and full of amenities, including a stellar massage chair to write home about! We took the easy public bus back to town, relaxed and ready for sleep after two fully satisfying days of Nikko sights.
Thinking of touring the North Island of New Zealand? We had a stellar time camping and cruising beautiful NZ in February. It’s hard to believe how much we saw in just two weeks! Renting a car or campervan is definitely the way to go. We tent camped, but having a campervan offers even more glamping options in Kiwi land. Check out our stops below, in order of our travel path!