Welcome to the blog of the sailing yacht Sea Bunny.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas at Nai Harn

We left the Rebak "cruisers' retirement village" on Sunday 18/12 via Telaga for check-out, fuel and wine.  Despite a fuel booking for 280 litres at 1500 we got to the fuel dock at the appointed time to find the tank was empty.  This was actually convenient as we could leave Sea Bunny on the dock while visiting harbourmaster, customs (not there but harbourmaster was moonlighting as customs and gave us our clearance) and immigration.  After the formalities we were able to take the RIB over to the wine shop before the tanks were refilled and diesel became available about 1800. 

A quick trip up, stopping overnight at Ko Rok, got us to Panwa Bali, opposite Ao Chalong, on Tuesday in time for dinner ashore with Amoenitas. Wednesday entailed a visit across the bay to Ao Chalong to check in.  The new computerised system overlaid on top of the paperwork does not yet seem to offer any streamlining of the procedures, stacks of paper being printed out and signed.  We still had to provide paper copies of the boat's registration document ans skipper's passport to each of immigration, customs and port control, despite having uploaded it.

Back at Panwa Bali it was easy to get a taxi into the Central Festival shopping centre for last minute Christmas supplies - no tonic though - apparently this shortage is island-wide after the floods north.  Too many expats downing  their Christmas G&Ts.

After successful emergency troubleshooting on the genset it was a short sail around to Nai Harn to meet up with the advance guard of our Christmas group - MV Mandella II and SV Catcha Star were already anchored in the NE corner of the bay  - Catcha Star, with a new paint job, being identified by her status as a "dangerous target" on AIS.

A trip ashore to leave laundry resulted in a partly swamped dinghy on leaving - par for the course here.

There is not the crowded bay chocka full of boats that there was 2 years ago.  The Christmas Eve buffet at the Ao Sane restaurant was still very good. The swell had built up on the beach there too, resulting in a slightly wet landing from Mandella II's large "tinny" and a very wet trip back to the boats at the end of the evening - thanks Peter.

After Christmas lunch
Christmas Day dawned with 20-25 knots of offshore wind in the anchorage.  The wind generators were working hard!  The gustiness caused a modification to the planned mobile lunch (one course on each of several boats) and the group from 5 boats (Mandella II, Catcha Star, Crystal Blues, Sandy and Sea Bunny) congregated on Mandella II at 1200 for the gargantuan Christmas feast, leaving around 1800. On most boats no more food or drink was required until Boxing Day.  Phone calls to the UK via Skype were not successful but we got the two boys via mobile.

Boxing Day saw the wind continuing and swell on the main beach preventing a dry landing to collect our laundry, we had to walk round from Ao Sane on the north of the bay - we needed the exercise anyway but failed to realise that we had lost a large dinghy wheel -how careless, now presumably on its way to Sumatra.

"Morning tea", as Australians call a mid-morning coffee break (morning smoko in NZ or elevenses when we were young in the UK) was back on Mandella, with mincepies, cake and stollen.  Planned lunch ashore was cancelled due to the wave break on the beach and a scratch lunch was put together.

Boxing Day concluded with talking to our daughter, dinner and admiration of the new sound system on Crystal Blues.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Train Bangkok to Alor Setar for Rebak

In Chiang Mai we were able to book first class sleepers from Bangkok to Hat Yai.  The train apparently splits in Hat Yai with the 1st class carriage being removed before continuing to Butterworth via Alor Setar.  
Beside the track leaving  Bangkok there is still extensive flooding with some houses immersed half way up lower floor windows.  At one point during the night it sounded as if the train was passing through flood water.
The train stopped for about 10 minutes at Hat Yai Junction while our coach and others were detached. Just enough time to buy a ticket (we were first in the queue and had no difficulty) and find a seat in the 2nd class coach that was being converted from sleeper to seating.  In many ways – for seating - this coach is more comfortable than the 1st class but, of course, lacks the privacy of a private 2-berth compartment.
At Padang Besar, the border station, we had to get off with our bags to pass through Thai immigration and Malaysian immigration and customs.
The train attendant suggested that we should get off at Arau, the station for Kuala Perlis, where we could get a ferry to Kuah.  As we know the Kuala Kedah ferry route we opted to stay on.  The attendant may have known something we didn't though as a horde of people, mainly young, got on at Arau, so there was standing room only and we shared our seats. Everyone pealed off at Alor Setar and the station staff called us a taxi for the Kuala Kedah ferry.
After taxi, ferry and taxi we were at the Langasuka jetty in time to catch the 1630 ferry to Rebak and watch the final fly-past of the air show. 


On this trip to Bangkok we decided to stay at a hotel in the Sukumvit area rather than, as previously, in Silom.  The Kingston Suites, recommended to us by a couple we met in Chiang Mai, proved to be an excellent choice.
The visit was mainly spent in the nearby shopping malls, of which Bangkok has many! The squalid traffic laden streets, with little pedestrian walk way,  contrast violently with the sleek malls and overhead skytrain that whisks you between these malls. The latest shopping experience is Tower 21 which is designed like an airport and each floor is a city - very difficult to navigate the terminals when all you want to buy is a hairbrush because the bobbles have worn off your old one!  

Train Chiang Mai to Bangkok

The “rapid” daytime train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok leaves at 0845. The second class  carriage was not crowded although when we booked online it looked as it it would be – we were only given a choice of 5 seats.  Light snacks and lunch are served en route free of charge.
The first part of the journey is through hilly country with several rivers following the route.  The scenery becomes less interesting as the flat agricultural region is reached but then darkness falls.  Approaching Bangkok we could see that there was still flooding, with vehicles driving through water close to the railway.  Arrival in Bangkok was at 2215, 1 ¾ hours late.  Whether this was due to reduced speeds in the wake of the flooding or just “Thai time” we can’t tell.

Chiang Mai

Circling the stupa
We were fortunate to be able to share a car hired by a German couple , Wiebke and Fins to go up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthup 16kn west of the city.  As it was a holiday weekend (King’s birthday) the wat was very crowded with pilgrims doing three circuits of the central stupa praying for good fortune in the coming year. Unfortunately there was smoke haze over the city so the view was not too good.
Further up the hill at the Phra Tamnak Phu Phing palace we were able to visit the gardens.  This is a winter residence for the royal  family although one might have expected it to be a summer one to escape from the heat of Bangkok.

Night market set-up

 The Sunday night market takes over two intersecting streets in the centre of the walled city and is impressive for its size and speed of setting up.
The OMCTG had selected only 4 wats to visit, of which 3 were open to visitors.  In one, chairs were out and there was a service going on – probably prayers for the King.
Visits to “factories” making umbrellas, silk products, lacquerware and leatherware comprised a rapid tour of a workshop area followed by the showroom.  Most of the goods are, of course, made elsewhere.  A highlight was an Indian salesman trying to convince Susan that a pashmina clearly labelled “viscose/polyester” was made from the cheaper wool from the belly of the goat.  The showroom that was impressive was the one selling solid teak and rosewood furniture at very attractive prices that included shipping to UK.
Our hotel ,Villa San Pee Seua, was some way outside town across the river and situated beside it.  Scheduled transport was laid on twice daily into town and on a couple of occasions on request.  On alternate days the evening transport is by boat. It was a very friendly place.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chiang Rai environs

Akha house - Ban Lorcha
On a recommendation we hired a car and driver for our golden triangle day. Starting in the north west at Ban Lorcha hilltribe village of the Akha tribe tourists can visit in a controlled way that actually brings benefit to the villagers in as non-exploitative way as possible.  A small entrance fee is charged and a villager is provided as a guide.  This ensures that the tourists do not intrude into areas where they are not welcome and lets them visit on the villagers’ terms rather than a commercial tours’.  The village has been helped by the PDA, who hope to extend the concept to other villages.

View near Mae Salong
At MaeSalong, which was originally settled by Chinese fleeing the 1949 revolution but from Myanmar - too much fighting to go into, the mountain air was cool and crisp and the veiws are stunning (nasty word).
The Princess Mother, the present King’s mother, who died in 1995, is much revered by Thais for the good works she did, particularly for the hill people of the north.  Her home at Doi Tung in the hills is open to the public as are the botanical gardens that surround it.

Thailand foreground, Myanmar left, Laos right
On a hill outside Ban Sop Ruak there is a superb view of the confluence of the Maenam Ruak forming the border between Thailand and Myanmar and the Nam Khong (.Mekong) forming the border between Thailand and Laos and, to the north of the junction between Myanmar and Laos.  Casinos have been established in both Laos and Myanmar close to the border here to capture some Thai money.  They have also been set up in the border town of Tachilek in Myanmar just across the river from Mae Sai.
A very long day back by 1900 hrs, perfect driver  - lucky tourists we are!

Chiang Rai

Figure in Cabbages & Condoms
The Hilltribe Museum established by the PDA(Population and Rural Development Association) contains a chilling history of the opium trade which flourished in the border areas of Thailand, Laos and Burma until recently.  It makes clear the roles played by the British, French and USA in developing the market, protecting and facilitating the trade.  Particularly concerning is the role of the CIA at the time of the conflict in Vietnam and Laos when, through Air America, they actually assisted the local warlords in transporting the opium and heroin out of the area.
On the same site is the interestingly named Cabbages and Condoms Restaurant, profits from which support the work of the PDA, which has had a significant impact on population control reducing the average number of children in a Thai family from seven to 2. It has some unusually decorated statues.

Wat Rong Khun
A local bus took us 15km toWat Rong Khun, the White Temple.  It is an intriguing modern complex in the making -very shiny like royal icing. The local famous artist is working, rather like Michael Angelo did on the Sistine Chapel, and it is not expected to be complete until 2070! The main temple is highly ornate but with some disturbing representations of lost souls around it.  Inside there are stunning murals with very modern themes reflection the battle of good and evil. There are spacecraft, the Twin Towers, “Transformers”, warplanes and George W and Osama Bin Ladin to list but a few!

Public toilets at Wat Rong Khun

The complex also contains what must be one of the the most ornate golden public toilets in the world stunning.

Oub Khum Museum
The Oub Kham Museum houses a collection of artefacts from the Lanna region of North Thailand, NE Burma, NW Laos, southern China and NW Vietnam. The collection has been put together by a private individual to preserve the art and culture of the region.  The quality of the exhibits, their preservation and their display rivals and excels the national museums of both Laos and Myanmar.  It is absolutely stunning. The Baan SoonTree Hotel just out of town where we stayed is well recommended.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chiang Khong

Wat Luang
Back in Thailand!  Another hotel on the riverfront - the Chiang Khong Teakhouse very peaceful. In the evening feeling now masters of the Lao bbq were able to assist others with its intricities! This place is a friendly frontier town  and the OMCTG (O Mighty Chief Tour Guide aka Project Director) went on a wat tour before catching our bus to Chiang Rai.

After Laos the temples here are very well cared for - in fact two of the three we visited are in process of major restoration/repainting. One, Wat Phra Kaew had been completely gutted, most of the images removed and the main Buddha covered in dust sheet.  The main temple, Wat Luang, was being painted outside and was locked up. 

Bees nests - Wat Sridonchi
The third termple we visited, Wat Sridonchi, had clearly been recently renovated - the murals were pristine and paintwork fresh.  Even the bees' nests seemed fresh!

A recurrent theme seemed to be temple guardians comprising one dragon eating another or coiled dragons - neither of which we had noticed before.
Dragon eats dragon - Wat Luang

Coiled dragon - Wat Sridonchi

The Mighty Mekong

The VIP boat
Collected from our guest house at crack of sparrow fart, 0630 ,our guide took us by tuk-tuk to pick up the 3 Swiss ladies with whom we were to share our jouney upstream on the Mekong, or Nam Khong as it is known in Laos, on the Nagi of the Mekong slow boat.  This is VIP in that we have soft seats, taken from a coach, lunches and overnight stay in one of the better hotels in Pak Beng included.  Well we were under way by 0650.

Images in the upper cave at Pak Ou
Initially the route is as we took on the book boat.  Shortly after Ban San Souk we reach Pak Ou  caves.  There are two of these, with over 4000 Buddha figures.  Very good exercise climbing the hill. Before 1975 the caves received royal protection, with the village of Pak Ou on the other side of the Nam Khong at the confluence of the Nam Ou and the Nam Khong, responsible for looking after the caves.  Maintenance appears to have reduced with the loss of royal patronage.

In many places the Nam Khong is narrower than we expected but, even when  fairly low, runs fast - we estimated about 4-5 knots of stream against us.  The boat was making about 10 knots over the ground which means the downstream trip takes about half as long.

One of the larger riverside villages
We passed numerous small villages perched above the flood level.  As the water level drops the newly exposed river banks and sandbanks are planted with crops and in some cases small buildings are constructed on sandbanks.

While the scenery is undoubatbly impressive we were surprised by the lack of undomesticated animal life.  We saw maybe 20 birds on the whole trip - no waders or even egrets with the cattle. Allthe animals seen were domesticated -buffalo and other cattle, goats, pigs, dogs and even elephants.

Sticky rice field
Another surprise was how much of the primary forest had obviously been cleared.  In some places, especially on the second day, there was extensive cultivation of sticky rice but in many places the forest had been cleared and the land left to regenerate.  Apparently, after a crop of sticky rice the land is best left fallow for 10 years or yields reduce, although recent adoption of crop rotation may have improved this.  This leaves vast areas of scrub with a few clumps of original forest.  In some places, especially along the river, there were patches of clearly replanted timber - we think teak, but these were few.   We couldn't ascertain whether the timber had been commercially logged.

A planned visit to a Hmoung village on the second day had to be abandoned to ensure that we arrived in Hual Xia in time to check out of Laos and cross the river into Thailand before the border shut at 1800.  As it was we had to pay 10,000 kip (or $1) per person overtime charge as we were after 1600. What a lazy way to spend two days - well recommended.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

UXOs, waterfalls and moon bears

We had learnt that there was an orphanage run by COPE which had a visitor centre similar to the one in Vientiane, which we had failed to visit. The minibus driver we had hired with another couple found the orphanage with no difficulty but no visitor centre. After several false trails were followed we eventually ended up at the visitor centre of UXO LAO, one of the NGOs involved in clearance.  A sobering display of the extent of the problem included an opened cluster bomb containing 680 inert bomblets.  Apparently some had up to 3000 bomblets.  An etimated 30% of all ordinance failed to explode.

 Following this the waterfalls are places to chill out.

Tad Sae
Tad Sae is accessible by boat along the Nam Khan - we went as part of our Elephant Village tour.  As well as the swimming area it has a multi-stage zip-wire where customers descent on a series of wires, finally crossing the bathing pool.  It is also the site of another of the elephant parks.

Tad Kuang Si
Tad  Kuang Si is about 25 km from LP by road and much more commercialised with a large area of stalls and restaurants clustered around the entrance.  The main cascade is around 100m and very impressive.  The river then enters a series of pools, suitable for swimming, which Susan braved. As at Tad Sae the water is a pale turquoise colour, very similar to glacial melt water, presumably because of very fine sediment.

Moon bear at the rescue centre
Within the centre is a well maintained bear rescue centre. It has 23 bears, mostly asiatic black bears (moon bears) which have been rescued from the illegal trade in bear bile (used in Chinese medicine) or donated by people who have misguidedly bought cubs as pets. Unfortunately because of the nature of their capture few of these can be returned to the wild.

The real Laos

Across the Mekong from Luang Prabang one enters a different world, away from the relative prosperity and, one might say "disney world" of the world heritage site.  Although the river is only some 300 m wide the wealth gulf is immense.

We had the privilege of visiting the high school in Chomphet district in the company of a group from "A Helping Hand" charity from the Round Table in Perth, Australia who had donated a library to the school through the locally based NGO Community Learning International (CLI) and attend the basti (animist) celebratry ceremony.  Are there really more NGOs''here than in Cambodia?

The new girls'dormitory
CLI had also been responsible for the construction of a 150-bed dormitory for girls from remote hill villages attending the school. Click on the location link to see the exact location of the dormitory (under construction at the time  of the image - now completed).  The library is the roofed building to the south of the dormitory (click on the location link below and zoom well in on satellite view).

Previous (and still used) boarding accommodation
The girls'"parents are reluctant for them to attend the school because of a lack of chaparones and safe accommodation. The present accommodation is 100 or so very basic huts each with a central fireplace, each housing 2-5 students. You can see the huts to the west of the new dormitory on the location image.The stream that is present the source of water and sanitation is  to the west and south of these.  This stream  dries to a trickle in the dry season.

To supplement the new provision there remains a requirement to provide adequate sanitation, a safe water supply i.e well and food preparation facilities for the boarding students.  The school is the only high school in the district. We were told it caters for 2300 students.

Susan's ties of friendship
After the visit the school teachers entertained the group to snacks, various blessings in Lao and the tying of numerous lengths of cotton cord around our wrists - a gesture of friendship

The Book Boat
 Another project run by CLI is the "Book Boat" which travels to remote riverside villages to provide reading books to children who otherwise have no or very limited access to reading material.  We were able to visit Ban Sansouk village some 15 km away with them. 

Avid readers
 Some 100 children came to the riverbank to meet the boat and after some games led by a teacher and one of the volunteers the youngest ones were given pictues to colour while the older ones chose a book from the boat and spent an hour or so reading before the sun became too hot and the boat had to leave. 

For many of the kids this is the only access they have to reading books. At other villages the organisation leaves a "book bag" containing 100 books so that children can borrow them for a longer period.  Bags and/or books to go in them can be purchased at the Luang Prabang library.

Luang Prabang - Elephant Village

View from Elephant Village
One of the popular tourist attractions in Luang Prabang is an encounter with retired or rescued logging elephants.  With the rapid decline in the need for them in the logging industry some are being given a new role in the tourist industry where their work is less arduous.  While some of the operations are exploitative others aim to really care for the animals while enabling them to earn their living.  The most recommended elephant encounter business near LP is Elephant Village.  The village is some 15km from LP on the NamKhan river, with an excellent view across the river to fields and the mountains.  Options range from a half-day tour with elephant riding through one to six day "mahout training" packages. We opted for the half-day tour.

Mahout Richard & passenger
This involved an introduction to the work of the village, a 40-minute ride (two customers per elephant rather than the 6-8 we have experienced in India) which took us down a steep slope to the Nam Khan River, about a 200 m  walk in the river to an island, where the mahout got off to take photos and there was an opportunity to take his place.

Feeding time
On return to the village the elephants are fed.  "Ours" clearly did not like the bananas that were on offer as a addition to the grass that was the bulk of the feed.  Apparently the dung is collected and made into paper, the elephants having commenced the pulping process.  And we had thought the hand-made paper on offer as notebooks, cards and bags were made from mulberry bark!

A boat trip to a nearby waterfall,.lunch and a short swim in the pool completed the trip.

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang - part of which is a World Heritage Site - is a mix of temples that have been renovated, Laos traditional buildings and French colonial period architecture.  Buddhism, since the revolution, is making a revival so the temples are not such a hive of local activity as they might be except for tourists.The city is still uniquely divided into villages or Bans. From the temple of each Ban the drums beat at 0400 hrs to wake the faithful and the monks who walk round the ban at 0600hrs collecting alms from the devout.

Recycled flower pots
Recycling has yet to take hold here - except for some of the ordnance dropped by the US (see earlier blog).  These flower pots were on the hill overlooking the town.

The river and cargo boat
The city is situated on a peninsular between the Nam Knan and the mighty Mekong.  The riverfront is busy with people offering sunset cruises, trips to various waterfalls and to the caves 2 hours upstream and with travel shops offering bus trips around Laos including claims to reach Vientiane in 8 hours. It is more commercialised than we thought it would be with old houses renovated for guest houses, caf├ęs, travel agents or massage use and the neat pavements all built with UNESCO assistance!.

Vat Xiang Thong
The most important temple, Vat Xiang Thong, is typical of Laos temple architecture with its sweeping low eaves.  Inside are gold leaf murals on a black background. Only Laos has buddha statues where the arms are held straight down the sides of the body -  praying for rain.

Bamboo bridge across the Nam Khan
At the confluence of the rivers at the northern end of town where there is a bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan leading to a small bar overlooking the junction and on to weaving villages.

Evening view from Tha Heua Mae balcony
Our guest house, Tha Heua Mae, overlooks the Mekong, run by Russians and only opened a couple of months ago.  We have the front room with a view of the river and there is a balcony for people watching.We breakfast at the Manichan Guest House just around the corner where Peter provides an excellent spread.  Both are highly recommended, particularly when combined as for us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

VIP bus Vientiane to Luang Prabang

From Vientiane to Luang Prabang by road is around 370 km.  This took 12 hours with about 2/3 of this is over mountain roads rising to around 1300 m.  The 0700 tuk-tuk pick up was punctual and after the town pick ups, the 0800 VIP bus left on time.  The bus was comfortable enough with semi-effective airconditioning, passable legroom, reclinable seats and a toilet (which we did not brave).  Water, rubbish bags and hand wipes were handed out on departure - very civilised for this park of Asia.
We made one short stop at 1030 and another at 1400 for lunch, which was included in the ticket price (although, not being able to read the ticket, we found this out after ordering) - we chose the noodle soup.  Other than a few brief stops to take on or drop off passengers it was then non-stop, arriving at around 2015. 
Lunch stop
The scenery initially was flat farmland.  Around Vang Vieng, about 1/3 of the way, there were large karst formations - rather like Phang Nga bay except these rose out of the land not the sea.  After the lunch stop we rose into the mountains, which were impressive.  The road was sealed (mostly) but very winding, passing through several mountain villages.  Too bumpy to do suduko! The bamboo houses clung to the edge of the road with vertical drops behind.
While the trip was long we were pleased to have an extremely cautious driver.  Up in the mountains there are nearly vertical drops of several hundred metres.The driver was extremely cautious,the sort that you would gladly have a whip round for in the UK, but the guy hardly got a thank you.

Vientiane, Laos

Patoxai - Victory Gate
  Laos' answer to the Arc de Triomph is definately asian style close up and gives a view down the main boulevard to the palace and  the river.  It was apparently built with American cement donated for the airport runway!  The view from the top is good as are the surrounding gardens.

Does this mean you shouldn't share a joint?

The water level in the Mekong appears low, unlike the Chao Praya in Bangkok where there is still flooding.

That Luang
A few km outside the city centre is That Luang, the principal stupa in Vientiane, surrounded by cloisters.  A solid looking structure with none of the charm of Shwe Dagon, Rangoon.  Vientiane suffers greatly in that it has been razed on several occasions in the past and its treasures carted off to Thailand including the green emerald buddha.

We tried to go to the visitor centre at COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Entreprise) where there is a display covering the bombing of Laos inthe 1970s.  Laos is the most heavily bombed per capita country in the world.  Over 2 million tones of ordinance was dropped on the country in 580000 missions - with a population of 6.5 million that comes out at around 300 kg for every man, woman and child! The continuing problem of making safe the estimated 8 million bomblets from cluster bombs that remain is immense and the human cost in terms of injuries and fatalities continues.  Unfortunately on the day we went - our last in Vientiane - the centre was closed, the staff having gone to a charity bazaar!

Our hotel in Vientiane, the Hotel Beau Rivage, was excellent as was the co-owned Spirit House Restaurant next door.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Langkawi Cable Car - posted from Rebak

One of Langkawi's tourist attractions is the cable car (actually a gondola) leading to a mountain top overlooking Telaga harbour and the west of Langkawi.   Since our first arrival in Langkawi in November 2008 we have made several attempts to go up.  These have been thwarted by various impediments - too windy, too misty, Wednesday morning (closed for maintenance) to name a few.  It is somewhat reassuring that it is regularly maintained, unlike many things in Malaysia which suffer from a severe lack of maintenance.

Well - we finally made it!  We arrived shortly after opening time to find a short queue heading for the turnstiles and the steps up to the departure platform.  We bought our tickets and joined the waiting line.  What we hadn't appreciated was that the stairs did not lead directly to the gondolas but to a large waiting area through which the queue snaked, controlled by barrier, similar to the queue at an airport immigration area but longer than most except LAX.  A visual assessment led to the estimate that there were around 600 people waiting  Each gondola took a maximum of 6 and they left at 30 second intervals so we were in for an unanticipated lengthy wait, made longer as the staff were having limited success in ensuring that each car left full - groups wanted to stick together.  It was a Saturday and a holiday weekend at that so our timing was particularly poor.

Telaga harbour & anchorage, airport & protective
breakwater & Rebak  (top right)
When we eventually got to the top patches of cloud were drifting over the observation platforms, but clearing sufficiently to give us some good views over Telaga, the airport and the north of Rebak.

Aerial walkway
 As well as the gondola itself, which is quite impressive, there is a walkway suspended out over a sheer drop of some 500 metres, affording good views of the cliffs.

On descending (no queues) the crowds at the bottom had virtually disappeared!

Inle Lake - Phaung Daw Oo Paya festival - 28 & 29 September

Our visit to Inle Lake was designed to coincided with the first few days of the Buddhist Phaung Daw Oo Paya festival. Here four Buddha inages, normally housed in the temple of the same name, are ferried by boat around the 100 odd lakeside villages in golden barges shaped like the swan from Burmese mythology. This allows all the locals an opportunity to pay their respects and apply gold leaf to the images. 
Young monk gets a snack
On day one we were at Inn Dien village, up a fairly narrow channel from the lake, where the images make their initial stop.  There was a huge crowd awaiting the arrival, and a serious party atmosphere.  Snacks were on offer catering for all tastes, including deep-fried chicken heads - probably an acquired taste which we didn't try!  Actually they are very cheap and give an opportunity for even the poorest to afford to buy.

An escort boat
Soon after 1000 hrs the first of the escorting boats arrived.  Each boat was powered by some 30-40 men, some using the traditional scullling technique, some using a more conventional paddling motion.  There was some chaos as the boats jockeyed for position, some running aground at a fork in the river.  After about 15-20 boats had arrived the barge carrying the images came into sight.  For this village a small barge was used because of the narrowness of the river.  The barge docked and the images were carried into the local temple.  The jolly crowd prevented a good view at this stage.
View from the hill top
Above Inn Dien village is a vast area of ruined stupas and a modern temple and above these a hill with a viewpoint giving an excellent view both of the temples and of the lake.  It was a convenient place to wait until it was less crowded to view the Buddhas.

Gold leaf encrusted Buddhas
Later we were able to get a good view of the Buddhas in the temple - at least Richard was able to get close, women not being allowed on to the platform where they are housed. So much gold leaf has been applied over many years that the images look more like golden snowmen than any representation of the Buddha.

Awaiting the Buddhas
On day two the images were brought back down from Inn Dien en route to their next destination and transferred to a larger barge.  The crowds to greet them at the transshipment point were, if anything larger than at Inn Dien, most of them in a fleet of boats.  All quietly waiting in anticipation of the barge.

The ladies' escort boat
We had an excellent vantage point from a bridge over a branch of the river.  Once again there were the escorting boats; this time there was even one crewed by women. Some doing traditional dancing.

The large barge
The images, coming down from Inn Dien are moved onto a much larger barge and continue on their way to the lake and their next destination.
What a barge!


Inle Lake trek - 30 September - Posted from Rebak

Local "car wash"
Back at Nuang Shwe on the mainland after two nights at an hotel over the lake, our last day at the lake was taken up with a guided trek.  Starting at 870 m we ascended to our lunch stop at 1420 m, passing through hilly farmland and some forest.  For this we had a local guide, who spoke good English, having worked in the hotel industry and also with NGOs following flooding catastophe in the delta.

Lunchtime - time for a siesta
Lunch was taken at a local house, where some delicious noodles were prepared for us and we could rest after the exertions of the climb or slip as it was so muddy! 

Cottage industry - sorting tobacco
At the house the main occupation was sorting and drying tobacco leaf for the cigar and cheroot workshops down at the lake villages

View to the lake
A day in peaceful rural surroundings, pleasantly cooler and without temples, stupas or monasteries giving time to reflect on all that we had seen.