Taman Negara , The oldest rain forest of Malaysia

I am recalling some of my memories of travelling  in Jungles. Usually, I regard myself as a xylophile ( someone who loves trees ) and always try to find spots with lots of trees.

I went to a jungle with lots of stories in 2012. The forest is called “ Taman Nagara” which is the biggest national forest of Malaysia. It is estimated to be older than 130 million years and covers 4343  square km. It is believed that there are still endangered species of animals such as Malayan tiger and rare species of birds.

I have to admit that I didn’t go many places there as it was a day trip and I didn’t have enough time to explore the area. I was attending a wedding of my colleagues in a town, Jerantut which is 2 hours drive from the rain forest. So me and my travel partner decided to visit the forest in a short time without proper plan.We drove from Jerantut to Taman Negara and the scenery was very nice along the way.

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Then we arrived at the jetty and met our tour guide Mr lee.

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jetty of Taman Negara

Mr Lee led us to trek, and showed the rain forest. The water was quite shallow that time and lots of birds fluttering around the flowers.

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our tour guide Mr lee

 

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Then we went for the canopy walk. According to the record, it was the longest canopy walk in the world although it was built recently in 1992.

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my friend Raihana, smiling on the canopy walk.

 

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The guide led us for hiking ( I didn’t go for hiking and waited for them at the base of mountain , resting on the bench, luckily I found interesting people , one is a geologist and two are French tourists, they entertained me while my friend was hiking the mountain

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the geologist I met during my trip. He has a lot of knowledge about rain forests and has been in Taman Negara many times.

Then, wee were on the boat again  and visited a village belongs to Orang Asli ( aboriginal people ).The villagers are short, dark and have curly hair. They look more like short people from  Africa, totally different from Orang Asli I found in other places of Malaysia. However, Orang= man, Asli= Origin, so they don’t need to be the same people as different people arrive Malaysia in different places of the country in different time. Our guide Mr Lee said he believes the people are originated from Papua New Guinea.20

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They looked disturbed when we arrived and children were afraid of us. Many of them ran towards their mothers as soon as they found strangers. One kid was so adorable and I asked permission from mom to carry him, but he struggled out of me and I had to return him to his mom. All of them had Tinea infection ( fungal infection ) and their living condition is not very hygiene.

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Most of them were on bare foot as they cant’ afford foot wares. They know how to swim, fish and hunt very well. The guide showed us how to make fire out of two stones and how to shoot arrows.

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the guide showing us how to make fire

But the more interesting part is about the people.

Orang Asli people in Taman Negara still holding their belief strong. They never bury the dead bodies and instead carry them to the deep part of the forest. The spiritual leader called Bomoh arranged the journey and he only allows less than two people to follow him so that they can carry the dead body. When they arrive the secret spot, they hang the dead body on the trees. The place is kept as a secret and only Bomoh , chosen spiritual leader knows how to go there. Actually, like other Orang Asli, they are very attached to the forest and willing to remain as spirits inside forest after their death. After Bomoh has done his ritual, he orders his followers to cross the river for seven times so that spirits will not follow them on the way back to village.  Their belief is once you reach the area of spirits, they can follow you on your way back.

Once they arrive back the village, they observe the nature and behavior of the animals . If the animals seem disturbed or get diseases within seven days of arrival, all villagers pack and leave the village, seeking another spot to settle.

Another ritual which makes me amazed is their marriage. Once man and woman wants to get married, the villagers will lock two of them inside the building ( a house / a hut/ any kind of enclosure ) and lock them from outside for 24 hours. And people are not supposed to disturb the couple. If no one demands to get out before 24 hours ( I have no idea how to do that, they must knock the door or shout from inside ), their courtship means successful. Then after completion of 24 hours, the door will be unlocked and the whole village celebrate the marriage by having a feast.  By the way, as I worked in the town which is two hours away from that village, I know they get married very young. One time, my patient who was in labour was only 12 years old. The marriage was arranged by her parents and her husband looked like he was 40 plus. The girl was crying in pain and we couldn’t even ask her the name of her husband because she simply didn’t know and not bother to know as well. She just asked us to call her mom. Usually, most Orang Asli girls  marry young and have a lot of children up to 12- 16 children. They rarely use contraception and a man can get married easily when the wife dies. The men prefer to marry young girls. Nowadays, the government gives priority towards Orang Asli regarding education and health care. All of them can get free health care and education although some of them are not willing to go to towns.  I have a friend who is an Orang Asli girl and she is a doctor. I hope there will be more educated young people in their population in the future.

Another interesting thing is their belief about spirits. They don’t have religion and they usually worship on spirits. As they live in jungle and live on farming and hunting, the favor of spirit is very important to them. For example, you must pray to spirit of river if you want to have fish, and have to be careful not to piss the spirits of land if you want to harvest. The children have to be careful not to venture at night into jungles as the spirits can make them sick etc. Some Organ Asli do sculpture of spirits out of wood and keep at their house. One time, I went to museum to observe these sculptures. The museum was deserted and to save electricity, the room was poorly lit. I looked at the faces of these spirits and it made me feel scared. I was wondering they might see the spirits , otherwise how can they make sculptures out of imagination.

 

I don’t know whether spirits really exist, but the guides who are educated are also very careful about jungle spirits. My guide told me some tour guides lost their way in Taman Negara although they were not far from the village. They believe it is because the spirits hide the way. And a lot of tourists have tragic events in Taman Negara such as drowning. Let me tell you my experience. We took a package tour organized by a well experienced tourist guide.  We were on the boat and observed lots of beautiful birds from the boat.

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before going for swimming

The tour guide allowed us to swim in the river. I was not a good swimmer, in fact I know very little how to swim. So I decided just to waddle in the shallow water. As I wanted to see the trees, I walked further and further away from the crowed. Although I was walking in the shallow water, suddenly I plunged into a deeper part of water. It really made me scared especially the soil of river bed was not sand and very sticky mud. I tried to call out my friend to help me, I felt like I was drowning. She thought I was joking with her as the river looked shallow to her. But I swear that that time, my legs couldn’t reach the floor of river bed anymore and I was struggling to float. And the current, it was pretty strange that I felt that the current was pushing me further only at that particular spot.  I was drifting away from the crowd. My friend herself doesn’t know how to swim , but she is much taller than me. She waddled and walked towards me and finally her hand griped mine. Then she told me “ how come you look so afraid? The water is very shallow.” I can say that that is the most weird thing I have encountered in my life. After she reached me, I felt the water was not deep anymore. It was at the level of my breasts. Suddenly, I could feel that my legs could stand on the ground. It was extremely creepy.

The interesting part is after I came back from Taman Negara, I had a chat with a colleague about the place, just discussing about jungles in general. She was smiling uneasily and said “ oh, Hnin, my parents would never allow me to go there”. I only thought overprotective parents usually don’t allow daughters to travel far. But she continued that “ do you know that my brother who was a swimming champion died in Taman Negara out of drowning. He was 19 that time. That’s the reason my parents didn’t feel good about the place”

Back to our story, after I had nearly drowning experience, I didn’t feel like staying there at night anymore. I nagged my friend to go back. But she was very keen to stay there and finally I gave in. She booked a night safari tour for us  and we were about to observe nocturnal animals . Around 8 pm, the tour guide came and fetched us to go to the palm plantation area. It was not the deep jungle. But we were at the back of the van without roof. The driver told me to hold a bottle and I thought it was like a water bottle. He told me “ this is the holy water and keep it with you. We usually carry it when we have night tour “. So, I gripped the water bottle tightly with me. We found wild pigs, pythons, fogs and lots of birds already resting on the trees.

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night safari tour

 

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birds nesting on the tree

We spent the night at a cheap motel and I couldn’t sleep well because I had a very unsettled feeling. The next morning, we drove almost 4 hours back to our town, Kuantan.

The good thing is we met a group of tourists who became our friends .

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with our new friends, Tan Richard, Ding and Simone

But the thing I want to tell you is my feelings after the trip. Once I arrived back home, I took out my camera and tried to download the photos into my laptop . The photos were both day time and night time taken. But when I looked into night time photos, I felt very uneasy feeling as if some images were inside my photo. In one photo, I found a woman sitting on the tree. ( I just wish it’s not real and I just wish it’s all my creepy ideas). Finally I shut down my computer and deleted a lot of photos. For weeks, I felt like there was someone with me, especially when I stood in front of mirror. It was very bad until I was afraid to stand in front of mirror. I called my friends and they shared me some prayers.  Finally with the help of prayers, I no longer feel the woman was around me anymore.

Well, if someone ask me “ do you wana visit Taman Negara again?”. My answer is “ No…..”

cycling in Bagan , Ancient city of Burma

Yesterday, I read a post named “ Silly things I made during my travel “ by a blogger whom I follow.

Then , I was thinking about the silly things I made during my wanderlust years. There are countless number of events  including

Riding a motor bike, unskillfully and had a fall paired with  a fracture of my arm in Thailand,

Going to Komodo national park when I was having period ( Do you know komodo dragons can smell the blood from a few kilometers away and can bite  you straight away as they are forever hungry carnivores. )

Swimming in river of jungle ( Taman Negara ) in Malaysia ( without knowing how to swim ) and almost drowned.

Before you get irritated with my silliness, or should I call it more like stupidity, I would like to write about Amazing Bagan.

Bagan is situated in central part of Burma, standing on the Eastern part of Ayeyarwady River. Bagan Era existed from 107 until 13th century and reined by 55 kings, there are lots of stories behind. For example, there was the time, people left pretty ladies for the human sacrifice at the area of big bird who only wishes to eat beautiful girls.  It makes more sense to think that giant bird cannot be defeated by villages and instead of letting it come to village again and again , runing everything randomly, the villagers decided to choose girls to feed the bird. I was making joke with my best friend that I would not be eaten even if I was born in Bagan that time. Haha. According to the legend, the bird ate 4300 girls until it was killed by a hero. There is a display of the statue of bird as well as the tunnel area where girls used to hide from the bird.

the statue of giant bird
the cave where the bird used to live, the place was transformed into a building with tunnel inside
the entrance of the cave

 

Some pagodas were built by a dedicated hero whose spirit still linger around the pagoda. For example, near Dama Yazaka pagoda, the tourists was taking photos and later he could see the image of a man wearing an ancient attire in his photos. Creepy! Isn’t it?

Damayazaka Pagoda

Some pagodas were built to compensate for the sins of the kings or to show the remorse. For example, King A Laun Si Thu made the mistake of vowing “ I am the most powerful King ever in Bagan” although there are 44 kings previously. He became blind because of his inappropriate statement, punished by the spirits of the previous Kings. To counteract his mistake, he made the statues of 44 Kings in gold and worshipped in the pagoda called “ Kadot Palin “.

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Kadot Palin pagoda

Another example is Dhammangyan Gyi pagoda which was built by crule King “ Narya Thu” ruled AD 1163-1165. He killed his father and brother as he wanted to get the power. After the cruel killings, his guilt haunted him and had continuous nightmares. He asked National Counsellor, a monk for the advice to get rid of nightmares. The monk asked him to build the pagoda. To outdo his predecessor, he recruited the best architects from the country and made a statement that “ all the bricks should be strong and should align to adjacent bricks without any gap in between. If a pin can be inserted between two adjacent bricks, the hand of the bricklayer responsible will be chopped off”. The pagoda could withstand the earthquakes even though there is some dark stories behind. ( Bear in mind that, whatever the Kings did, was not reflection of real Buddhism and Buddhism would never allow anyone to kill for any kind of compensation. The building of pagoda cannot compensate for the sins too. It was just a cultural belief of that time )

Dhammanyan Gyi pagoda

Some pagodas have happy stories as they were built by good Kings who ruled the country with rule of Laws and justice.

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Thatbyinnyu Pagoda, the tallest pagoda in Bagan with stunning archaeology

I think I am getting lost in the stories of pagoda which can be very long. Really, Bagan has many stories, many types of buildings built in different Eras. When Myanmar Government ordered the residents to move out of area of ancient buildings, the place became deserted at night. It has been a good decision ever as people can destroy our archaeological value.

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When I visited Bagan in 2014, me and my friend decided to cycle in the ancient city as it will give us access to a small lanes and hidden areas. As it was in February, it was not so hot . However, Bagan is always a bit more hotter than other parts of Burma. We hired battery bike and cycled them to various temples. We cycled across the river banks, near pagodas and remnants of unknown buildings, etc. We felt like we were back in the past, exactly 2500 years ago, lost in all old buildings.

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resting before continuing our cycling
me with archaeological remnants

 

 

beautiful Ayeyarwady river
river bank where you can see life style of people
boats are the main transport for some villagers
Htilogminlo pagoda, AD1218( it was built with the wish to get the throne )
we found people getting on hot air balloon,

 

remnants of building
sunset of Ayeyarwady , taken from Bu Phayar

 

But we didn’t notice the battery bike need to be charged. So in the end, the battery ran out and we were stranded in Middle of Nowhere in Bagan. It was quite far from the town and very deserted. As it was getting dark, I recalled stories my friends told me. There are still lots of spirts around Bagan and they decided to come out at night to have a stroll around pagodas. Some are pretty ladies wearing ancient Attire and they like to hire the horse wheel cart. The drivers of these horse wheel cart are used to the spirits and usually allow them to get on the carriage. Upon getting off, the ladies would offer them gold coins in return of gratitude. Some drivers were freaked out and ran away as soon as they see that sort of girls on the road.

horse wheel cart , transport for Bagan
Sulamuni pagoda where you can see the giant heads in each corner of pagoda, it was meant to protect the pagoda

Back to our story, while we were alone on the highway at twilight, I was more concerned about spirits and ghosts than the robbery. As usual, I am full of imagination and I would not know how to react if the spirits came out and talked to us . So we tried to get a lift from passing vehicles. Unfortunately, the road was rarely used by travelers and for a long time, we couldn’t see anyone. Then some private cars passed by us without offering us any lift. Finally, a motor bike stopped for us and offered one of us a lift to go back to town. It means one of us would be left behind with two bikes without battery. None of us wanted to be left alone. So we declined the offer. Then the biker said “ it is getting dark. I am worried for your safety. I will wait until we get another bike. However, who will take care of the bikes? If the bikes are unattended , someone will steal them. You should call to owner”.

So we desperately tried to contact the owner of the bikes. We were worried we would miss the bus as it was only one hour away from the departure time. We were supposed to go back to Yangon on the same day. Finally, the owners of bikes came to rescue us. They took back the bikes so that we could safely go to the bus station with the gentle men who gave us the lift.

 

Next time, I would charge the bike every 4 hours. Don’t worry.

Note: These photos were taken in 2014 before the earthquake of 2016. So some buildings were damaged due to earthquake and you might not find the original pagodas anymore.

 

Beautiful Pindaya Cave, Shan State, Burma

20161229_145145.jpgNow, I wana post photos of Pindaya Cave in Burma. The Cave has legends and its situated near a big lake and people believe angels came and swam in the deep blue water of Lake.

While angles were inside the cave after a good swim, a giant spider closed the entrance with its spider webs and trapped them.

Then a prince appeared and killed the spider. Later, he fell in love with the youngest sister and the angle did not follow his sisters back to Heaven.

However she was forced to go back by her father  . Later the prince went up to Heaven to bring her back.

Anyway, there are lots of Buddha statues and pagodas inside the cave now.

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the view on the way to cave
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The view on the way to cave
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Gorgeous landscape
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These trees are more than hundred years

 

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PONE TA LOTE LAKE

 

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The view from the cave

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Gaw Yan Gyi island part II ( the myth of the island )

 

In my previous blog, I have mentioned about the location, how to go and where to stay in Gaw Yan Gyi island.

Now I am going to write about the most mysterious part about this blog, which are legends and stories passed from one generation to another about the island . Some people said they don’t believe it. Some people also told me about  the facts which are their first hand experience about the island.

Gaw Yan Gyi island is situated 25 miles south of Chaung Tha and Nway Saung beach of Ayeyawaddy division, Pathein Township in Myanmar. The original island is only 3 miles long and 1.5 miles in width and 300 feet high.  An author from another blog described it as a peninsula for now, but it was an island surrounded totally by water a half century ago.  The Eastern part of the island used to have forests before and now it is left with only some trees due to excessive  logging.

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Eastern part of island

 

The Western part of islands has a lot of cliffs , rocks and caves dwelling lots of bats and pythons.

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This place is so windy and nice to sit

 

I asked two elderly men who lived near the island for 60 years. Both of them said that there used to be jackals, wild cats, deer, monkeys and cobras. Both of them said there used to be a large tiger who roam the island once a month. People called him “ the island roaming tiger”. It was very gigantic and mysterious because it only came at the time of full moon. One day, a hunter shot the deer and saw very bright eyes nearby. He randomly hit the eyes and heard the roar. Then a few weeks after that, they found out the skeleton of the tiger in the cave. Usually, Burmese don’t kill the tigers as tigers are regarded connected to Nat ( supernatural well being ).

Around 45 years ago, the island was isolated and not connected to the mainland. ( Note: all the hotels are situated in the mainland called Kway Chaing and not on the island ) Between the island and the mainland, there was a deep and torrential strait which allowed international cruises and vessels to pass through. Then one day, a person who looked like a lunatic arrived the island and predicted that one day, the island would become connected to the mainland so that people from all over the world would come and visit it. His name is Mann Shwe La Yaung and later people regarded him as a prophet . His prediction came true only after 5-6 years. The strait has been replaced by a new formed beach which is 500 meters long.

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Newly formed beach which replaced the area of strait.

Now there is a village on that beach and the soil is very fertile. The farmers grow crops and paddy field and they think the fruits and rice from that area is more delicious than crops from other areas.  Long before Shwe La Yaung came, the hunter who transformed into a hermit decided to build a pagoda on the island. It was a difficult time for any construction on the island as people needed to use boat to go there. However, the hermit managed to build the pagoda with only white color stones. He chose white color because white symbolize purity. He also didn’t accept donation from people who earn illegal money.  The villagers carried the pebbles and stones in their sarong and built the pagoda slowly. At first, the monks did not like the hermit as he used to be a hunter. So the monks boycotted the pagoda and only hermit had to do opening ceremony himself. The pagoda is 18 feet tall and later someone came and built the statue of a dragon. People also believe the hermit created the pagoda with the help of dragon queen.

The pagoda has 420 steps and you can see the panorama view of the island from pagoda.

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Panorama view of island from top of the hill where the pagoda exists
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the beginning of the stairs . The pagoda is called Mya-Wa-Di pagoda

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the statue of the hermit who built the pagoda

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The view from the pagoda ( Eastern part of island )

 

The stories are like that. The first residence of the island was a couple who  started banana plantation on the island. They noticed poisonous snakes on the island. The wife stepped on one of the snakes and the husband also touched a snake with his hand  by accident.  But the snakes didn’t bite them. I have read this information near the pagoda. The Narrative described the snakes as cobras. But when I saw them and took photos and matched from photos of internet, it turned out they are yellow lipped krait which is 20 times more poisonous than other snakes. Once they bite, people can die instantly. But I didn’t hear any mortality related to snake bites in that island. People regard the snakes as holy and don’t dare to kill or harm them. Residents as well as visitors have strange dreams in which the holy person wearing white color dress came and cured their illnesses such as chronic back pain and knee pain. The villagers also noticed if they can’t control the temper of their domestic animals such as oxen and roosters which fight with others, they send those wild animals to the islands and the animals became tame and more approachable. More than that, a long time ago,  farmers mixed rice with poison and tried to feed crows as the crows came and  destroyed the crops, but it was not successful as the crows were unharmed after ingesting the poisonous rice. Similarly, the fishermen injected strong insecticide inside the fish and fed the jackals as the jackals stole the dried fishes. However, the jackals could withstand the poisons. Since then, the farmers and fishermen have not poisoned any animals and instead pray that their crops and fish cannot be stolen by the animals.  I didn’t see any jackals nor crows on the island when I arrived there because the place is more like a tourist site more than the fishing place now.

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My Journey

 

I went to Gaw Yan Gyi with a friend and we didn’t know whether we would like the island or not in the beginning. But in the end, we fell in love with the place. The journey was tiring as the roads are not developed yet. I felt sick on my way back.

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The road towards Gaw Yan Gyi island

The thing I vividly remember is once we arrived near Nga Yoke Kaung before entering into the mountain ranges, the driver stopped the car and all the crew got off the bus. I thought they were going for toilet, but they were praying at the big tree, lighting candles and scented sticks. It was around 1 am. I think this is how bus drivers usually do so that the bus will be safe in traditional way.

After we arrived at Nga Yoke Kaung Town around 5 am, we sat at the café at the bus stand and had a cup of coffee. We had to wait as the boats are not available till 6 am.

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the cafe at Nga Yoke Kaung

Then we went to the jetty at 6 am. The bike men sent us to Nant Thar Pu jetty and it was a total mistake. It’s because after we crossed the river,  we had to hire the motor bike to go to our hotel.  I realized the other side jetty was too far from our hotel. The journey was spine chilling as the roads are very narrow and sometimes need to slide down the hills very often. I often thought I was going to break my arms or legs if I fall from the bicycle. But the bikers managed very well. The ride was almost 30 minutes and they charged us only 4000 kyats per person. I can say that it is a fair price, but it would be much easier if we chose different jetty which has boats for kway Chaing.  Then the  motor bike takes only 5 minutes to go to hotel from the jetty.

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Sun rise at the jetty

 

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lol, our tired faces

After we crossed the river, we had an uneventful motor bike ride. I could not concentrate much on scenery as I was struggling not to fall off from motor bike. However I would recommend you to ride motor bike at the beach front. It was  phenomenal. I just loveeeeeed that.

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The view along the ride. People used to live on farming and fishing before it became tourist destination

We stayed at the Adventure resort on the first night. The staff are friendly and they even cooked us very delicious prawns and crabs.

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Prawns and crab curries

The bungalow is clean and spacious enough for two people.  No air con in all hotels as there is no electricity supply in the village.

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My refuge from heat

 

The problem of Adventure resort is the bungalows face towards the coconut  trees and not towards the sea. As it is summer, at night, we felt very hot. We couldn’t also open the windows as we are not supplied with mosquito nets. We cannot use the fan as they give us electricity from 6 pm to 12 midnight only. So I sat outside in the armchair and cooled myself. I even thought of sleeping outside, but the tile were to cold to lie without any mattress .   I walked to the beach and lay down on the sand. The wetness of the sand made me feel so much better. I looked at the starry sky. I usually kiss the sand and talk to the rocks as if I was a lunatic. But unfortunately, my friend was near by standing and watching the every inch of increment in tide. She kept on saying “ I will see the water and once the water arrives this line, you need to get up. “. I think she was overly concerned as she rarely go to beach. Sometimes, I just need to be worry free.

 

The next day we hired the boat and went to  “ Late Chaing”, it was named for the stone which looks like a tortoise.

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Lake Chaing

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The sand at Lake Chaing

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The peculiar thing about Late Chaing is the beach is like two steps and forming like miniature waterfall.

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When the tide came up, it brought lots of fish and they can be trapped under the rocks once the water level went down. We found a dead fish trapped under the stone.

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The area is quite rocky and not a good place to swim, but it’s relaxing to watch the tides and mini aquarium inside the rocks where there are lots of trapped fish.

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crabs under the rock

 

 

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People showed me the rock where they regard it as the place belonged to supernatural well being. They believe that area has lots of bowls, plates and pots like 100 years ago. These bowls and plates can be borrowed from the place as long as you return them. Some people said they heard the noises came out from the rock around 2004. They said it was not the sound of waves and different sounds of cutlery and bowls rubbing against each other.

The interesting part is finding snakes. I know it sounds dangerous to try to find snakes. But I really wanted to see them, not to disturb them, but simply curious how they looked like. The next day, we went there again from the pagoda. It took 45 minutes to walk along coastal line. You need to climb 100 steps of the stairs towards pagoda and then got off the stairs towards the trekking.

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our trekking began like that
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it was hot and the scene can be barren as it was summer

 

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bright red fruits , Thu said you can feel itchy forever once you touch it

We started our trekking at 3.30 pm so it was still quite hot and the leaves were dry. I was supposed to go with our guides who were also our taxi drivers. These two gentle men suggested accompanying us as the trekking may be tough for us who are apparently couch potatoes. I really enjoyed the walk  and saw some interesting trees which intertwined with each other.

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Although we planned to go on our own, two boys who were the grand children of pagoda’s guard offered to go with us. They are very familiar with the place and said they like trekking. SO I allowed two of them, the elder one is around 8 years old and younger one is 5 years old. Elder one is Thu and his younger brother is Zwe. They are adorable, Thu is a chatter box and occasionally gives command to his younger brother. Out of the blue, one black dog also followed us and it became a crowd with four adults, two kids and a dog. What a marvelous team! I asked the kids whether the dog is theirs, but the kids said “ Mal Lone” aka Blackie is a dog who will accompany anyone going that trek. The boys know the dog very well although he is a stray. Blackie is apparently a very good guide dog as he usually runs in front of us. When we were left behind too far, he seemed concerned and waited for us patiently. He made sure we use smooth lane. He really is a happy dog because once we reached  the Lake Chaing at the area of Bay, Blcakie rolled on the ground , wiggling his tail. He was apparently on cloud nine.

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our great trekking team
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the path may be tough, but I will not give up

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When we reached “ Lake Chaing” , Blackie left us alone. He didn’t want to follow us to the area  of snakes, I guess. We crossed the sea water and climbed on the big rock to find the snakes. It was hot and I guess snakes do not usually come out during day time. So We squatted down  and searched the snakes under the rock and stones. Thu told me that he found a very big snake with the size of a tree when he was fishing. He had to leave his fishing rod and run.  Then our guide called us to show us the snake. The snake was sliding under the stone leisurely. When we tried to take photo, it did not run away and just kept on moving towards us., I think that phenomenon is a bit strange because snakes will usually run away when people approach them. But that snake, as if it was a celebrity, did not bother flashes form our camera. I left it alone and stood at the edge of the rock , looking at the scenery. Then another guide called us to show many snakes knotted into each other. I gasped and said “ may be they are mating”. Then my little guide “ Thu” said “ no aunty, you can’t say that. She is a mother and she is looking after her children”. I had to try to hide my giggles.

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Amazingly, 5 year old boy Zwe was quite tough and could climb and hop on rocks and puddles efficiently. Sometimes, I was concerned he might fall. When I praised  Zwe, Thu said “ Do you know why he is tough? It’s all because of my training. I trained him which fruit is bad and which is good, which way he should go and which way he shouldn’t. I also forced him to walk as much as he can”. Thu behaved as if he was the General ordering his little brother along the way.  Then we saw people throwing pebbles at the rock and picking up sea snails or clams ( I have no idea how you call that ) . I asked them what they were doing. Thu said people were opening the clams and eating the flesh inside. Some were picking up clams to sell back.  I asked them “ is it tasty ?” and both kids started to nag me to try one.  One of the guys overheard our conversation and offered me flesh to eat raw. I was not sure whether I should because I am asthmatic and didn’t want to have drama of bronchospasm in the middle of nowhere. But I was also tempted as they said it was such a delicacy. Finally, I ate one and it was salty and tasty , not as fishy as I thought. Suddenly, I remembered the notice displayed at the pagoda not to kill any living thing near the pagoda. I felt guilty , but comforted by Thu that the clams would not suffer any kind of pain as it was the lowest form of the planet. What an insight from an 8 year old boy?

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we opened these clams studded to the stones to eat the flesh inside.

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Then we had to go back and it was a pleasant walk because the sun was beginning to set. We could view the beautiful sunset with tides and a stretch of cliffs. At one point, I saw the rock at the bay which exactly looked like a broken bridge.  It made me wonder whether the island was an emerged ancient town which was built thousands of years ago.

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I thought the two long rocks behind me look like a broken bridge
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Can you recognize the broken bridge?

My thoughts are like that. May  be the island was a bustling town with lots of archaeological value thousands of years ago. Then it was covered with water a long time until it emerged again. I had to tell this because I found lots of rocks are quite strange. Some of them looked like a chair and others looked like doors. Some rocks looked like elephant statues. I have never seen that kind of rocks even though I have been to lots of beaches all over the world.

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17352013_1676300609063497_7402481628573184695_n.jpgI felt I was connected to the place as if I was there in my last life. I just knew I was there. Well, before the readers think I am out of my mind, I am going to show you the photos of the beach.

Here are the photos of the places I have taken everywhere in Kway Chaing. The area near the red bungalow is called “ Palin Chaing” and the red bungalows are owned by  “ the Log”,  the most expensive motel in Kway Chaing.  I saw a school of fish were trapped in the rock , restless and swimming to and fro. I wish the tide would come at night and send them back to sea otherwise, they might die.

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The next day, we climbed up the hill near our inn and saw lots of small birds. The birds are called “ Ziwazoe “ in Burmese and the birds make their nest of vomit’s. A lot of people want to drink that for good health. Poor little birdies.

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the view from the small hill
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our hike

I thought I felt tired after the hike and slept under the shade of the stone. It was a nice sunny day. I felt good about everything and dozed off.

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interesting insect under the rock

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IMG20170317083643.jpgThen I sat in shallow water , but I was unable to sit quietly as the waves hit me violently and dragged me back towards the shore. Finally I went towards deeper water and sat peacefully.

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Then, my friend started to nag to get back to shallow water as both of us couldn’t swim. So I thought this is the time to preach her. I told her the stories of people died inside their own house while sleeping as the plane crushed into their houses. And I also told her another story of two girls hit by a car in the shopping mall as a teenager tried to drive the new car which was displayed for sale . The moral is “ People might die any time how cautious you are. But we only live once”. With that, she became quiet and let me do whatever I want.

 

I came back to my inn, showered and indulged myself on the hammock, reading a book called “ Wild”.  When my eyes get tired, I look at the coconut fringed sea shore. What a life !  I just loved every minute of it.

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Overall, I would  rate the island as one of the best islands so far. People now call it as “ Burma’s Maldives”. Well, I would not say that because the sand quality is still not as good as one from Maldives. But you have to go there to see the rocks and to hear the legends of Gaw Yan Gyi especially if you can endure horrible roads and lack of electricity.

Note: I know you come to Burma to enjoy and you might need to save money for other trips.  However, please be kind to locals and at least offer a few tips to those who are honest and hardworking.  Last, please don’t leave behind the rubbish. I gave credit to Haymar Aung for her amazing photographs. You can search her facebook to see her photographs about Burma.

 

 

Thanks for reading

 

Hninn

 

 

Gaw Yan Gyi island , Myanmar , how to go there and where to stay

Gaw Yan Gyi island is situated in Irrawaday division of Burma, Nga Pu Taw Township. I was in doubt when people said how mysterious the island is, but I found out it is really a fairy island and people should go there before the tourists destroy the genuine nature. As this post is going to be long, I am going to divide the blog into two parts. The first one is how to go there and where to stay.

HOW TO GO THERE

You might think you are very good in driving and you might want to drive there. Please don’t do this unless you have four wheel drive and you can drive like “ Fast and Furious”. The road till Pathein is quite ok, but after you pass Pathien, you will suffer a lot of road sickness as the roads are  narrow lanes close  to divine. The scenery may be nice but after watching outside for a while, your head will be spinning as the bus drives up and down the mountains. Luckily, there are two buses running directly to Gaw Yan Gyi and the bus is quite cheap. They charge only 10,000 kyats per person ( You might need to pay more if you are a foreigner ) for one way. The journey takes 9 hours. The roads are not developed yet and some area are still under construction. First , you have to arrive Nga yoke Kaung sub township where you need to take a boat to go to the island.
Here, I will give the phone number of the buses

Name of Bus : Kan Htoo Aung

Name of Bus station : Dagon Ayya  in Yangon ( Hlaing Tharyar Township ), Other bus stops don’t have direct bus to Nga Yoke Kaung.
Phone : +95-9 4211 559 11, +95-9 4211 55922 ( From Yangon to Nga Yoke Kaung) departure time: 8.30 pm
Phone : +95-94900 2539 ( From Nga Yoke Kaung to Yangon ) Departure time : 6.30 pm

Name of Bus : Myat Mi Khin
Name of Bus station ; Dagon Ayya (  yangon, Hlaing Tharyar Township )
Phone : 09-444779309, 09-768612572 ( From Yangon TO Nga Yoke Kaung )
Phone : 09-444779314, 09-768612577 ( From Nga yoke Kaung to Yangon )

You will arrive very early morning at Nga Yoke Kaung town around 5 am. The sampans or boats will not be available till 6 am. But you can take coffee and snack at the café at the bus stand. Some people will ask you to go with mortor bike which can cost you around 7000 kyats. Please don’t do that. The road will be very bumpy and long. We were also misled by the motor biker because they sent us to the wrong jetty. By the way, the motor bike should charge you only 500 kyats  per person to go to the jetty. There are two jetties called Nant Thar Pu jetty and Kway Chaing jetty. Ask your hotel which jetty is nearer to your hotel.  The boat will take around 20 minutes to arrive Kway Chaing where you can have lots of hotels. The boat fare is only 200 kyats per person.

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Nga Yoke Kaung Town ( Photo credit to Hay Mar from facebook )
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The bus station of Gaw Yan Gyi, there are only two bus companies which has direct access to Nga Yoke Kaung.
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Nant Thar Pu jetty
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Enjoyable boat ride at dawn

 

Where to stay

There are various places to stay . But I will start with the most expensive one.
1) The Log hotel
Price : 90,000 kyats per night for two people. If you need extra bed, they charge you 45,000 kyats for one extra bed. Yes, it’s crazy. The hotel is quite isolated and good for people who needs privacy such as Honey Moon goers. But there is no shady trees around the hotel and I guess it is hot in the afternoon. Remember, there is no Aircon in any hotel as there is no electricity on the island. They use engine to have electricity and can get it during night only. It is situated at Pa-lin-Chaing.

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The Log Hotel

Unfortunately, I can’t find the contact of the hotel. If you know it, please comment below.

2) G7 Plage
Price : 50,000 kyats per night for two people, for extra bed 25,000 kyats per person.
For foreigner : 45 US D per night.
Review : The nicest location as the beach is the most beautiful and the best location for wind surfing. You can cycle, ride motor bike or jog just in front of the beach. The bungalows are modern and clean. They have western toilets and rain showers.

Reservation : g7hotelplage@gmail.com
Phone : 09-453 235 252 ( Myanmar ), 09-452 216 685 ( English )

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G7 Hotel Plage
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G7 Hotel plage

3) Adventure resort
Price : 50000 kyats per night for two people and extra bed is 15000 kyats. For the hotel which is a bit far from sea, 40,000 kyats per night . If you want to live on the upstairs, they charge 10,000 kyats extra.

Review: clean, comfortable. The food cooked by hotel chef is nice. Their prawn and crab curries are super delicious.  The hotel does not charge extra for foreigner . The staff are very friendly and will do everything to make you feel comfortable.
Disadvantage : It is very hot as the wind does not blow across the hotel. There is fishy smell at the front beach as the fishermen dry the fishes there. There is a stretch of blue sea  , but not rock formation near by. They give electricity only from 6 pm to 12 midnight while other hotels give from 6 pm to 6 am.

You can look for the contact from facebook page called Adventure Paradise Hotel, Gaw Yan Gyi. It’s always easier to message from Fb messenger.

Contact number : +95- 9444489991,  +95-9444489992

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Adventure paradise 
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Adventure paradise

4) Thirithuta Hotel

Price : 35000 kyats for two people. Extra bed 15000 kyats per person.

They also have tents and cheaper accomodation . For example, you pay only 8000 kyats for one person if you don’t mind to use common toilet and bathroom.
I stayed there for two nights in beach front bungalow and I really recommend it. The place is very near to pagoda and Lake Chaing . They have hammock in front of the beach. They also have beautiful scenery near by and to swim. There is no fishy smell. It is not too hot like Adventure resort. People are friendly
Disadvantage : The food is not so good . I recommend to eat outside or bring your own food there. They also display motor bike fare for various places so that motor bike people cannot cheat you.

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The prices for motor bike
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Thirithuta Hotel

 

5) Win Beach Hotel
It is recommended in one of the website. One bungalow charges only 4,000 kyats for four people. There are two kingsize bed and the bathroom and toilet attached to it. They cook for you like other hotel with fair prices according to review.
Phone : +95-9 49734702, +95-9 250118017

 

6) Family House resort

Price : 40000 kyats per two persons

Review: clean, good accommodation, understaffed, looks like the staff does not know much

Disadvantage : No Western toilet

I saw tents there also. The location otherwise is very nice.

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There are lots of other hotels which I do not mention as I don’t have photos. Please find it in their facebook page for contact.

Boat fares

From Thirithuta to the pagoda, it is only 1000 kyats per person. But if you hire by only two person, they charge you 4000 kyats per person.

Motorbike fares
They can charge up to 10,000 kyats for the whole day. Otherwise, you can only give 500- 1000 kyats for near by places. Some hotels regulate the taxi fares and you should ask advice from your hotel.
There is no available taxis there and motor bike are only available transport. Although, the road is bumpy and spine chilling at certain areas, they are very skillful drivers.

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Phone and internet availability

You can only use MPT phone line there. So please buy one sim card before you go there.

Things to bring
1) Sun screen
2) Sun glasses
3) Hat
4) Mosquito repellent ( not much mosquitoes, but certain hotels for example Adventure and G7 plage do not offer mosquitoes nets . But Thirithuta hotels give mosquitoes nets )

For Foreigners, you need permission from Pathein if I am not mistaken. Please contact the travel agent. Otherwise, I don’t think police will chase you just by visiting there as I saw some foreigners as well.

 

Note: I took some photos from Hay Mar facebook.  Some photos are taken by me.

Please continue reading about myth and legends about island in my blog Gaw Yan Gyi island part II. Thank you

The racism

Yesterday, one lady was talking to mom that she was disappointed with the way Indian filmed about Buddha. She complained the actor who was acting as Buddha was not gracious enough. She said ” our Buddha is the most handsome one”.

Then I intervened ” well, Buddha was an Indian and let Indian film his biography”. In my mind, I added following conversation ‘” just don’t watch it if you don’t like” and as if she heard my mind, she claimed she stopped watching the film after a few minutes.

Then mom suddenly argued. ” No, Buddha was not an Indian. One Buddhist monk already explained”.

 

I was like “Huh”.

My mom was born and raised up in Indian community. She is regarded as a kind person to all people.

 

But I was disappointed that I could sense racism in her tone.

I think Burmese need to stop thinking Indians are not good enough. In Burmese movies, they chose Indian guys as either rapists or bad people. What the fuck !

I am just fed up with this society which is so hostile to certain community without showing violence. My country has turned into a racist country and sadly, I just have to accept that.

May real Buddhism rise up again in Burma! ‘Amen.

 

 

 

 

Mergui archipelago/ Myanmar

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Marcus or Harris island

In February 2017, I could tick off one of my bucket lists, travelling to virgin islands of Burma, my mother land.

Mergui archipelago is located in the most Southern part of Burma bordered by Thailand.

The archipelago officially has more than 800 recorded islands. But according to my guide, there are 2000 islands and out of them, only 800 islands are officially recorded, and out of 800, only 200 islands are accessible to the outsiders. fb_img_1488690567190

There are not only islands but also lots of mangroove swamps enriched with diversity of plants and animals. ( the government does not allow foreigners to sleep on the islands. But you can arrange day trip tours. please check before you go)

fb_img_1488686652542There is still no proper rule regarding land ownership and the fishermen build the cottages on the island and can stay there without paying anything to government. The government approves most of the application to build settlement as the region needs to be developed.

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the small island with two houses.

To arrive Mergui islands, I had a flight  to the town called Myeik with Myanmar National  Airline ( unfortunately, it’s as expensive as the flight to BKK ). Myeik is a beautiful town, it’s clean and roads are spacious. There is not much  traffic jams and lots of nice food. And if you are very much into birds, there is a lake where you can watch varieties of birds.

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there are three kinds of birds in this picture,one of them has brown color when they rest and they turn into white color once they fly

fb_img_1488686892822And to see the panorama view of Myeik, you can go to Thein Daw Gyi pagoda to watch the sunset and the amazing view of the Adaman sea.

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panorama view from Thane- Daw – Gyi pagoda

fb_img_1488686921106If you wana try famous cuisine in Myeik, I would recommend “ Kyan Taw” restaurant and “ U Maung Win” Restaurant , phone 098763270. At U Maung Win restaurant, please try pork brain mixed with eggs, It’s yum. And you can order “ Kat Kyay kite” ( fried white color noodles ). For accommodation, I would recommend you  “ Golden sky Hotel” ( telephone 059-41991),

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it’s just 5 to 10 minutes drive from airport, very clean and has a pool. The price is 28000 kyats for Myanmar citizens and 40000 kyats for foreigners per head , if two people, they charge extra 10000 kyats. You can also ask them to arrange airport pick up for you.  It is very easy to get motor bike for your transport if you are alone. They are not costly and bikers are very skilful. I think it’s more fun to ride on bike in open air than in the car. Afterall, the town is not big and you can go everywhere with bike .

From Myeik, you need to arrange boats to go to the island. It takes one and half hour to go to the  nearest island. Mergui travel and tour has very nice boat and its more speedy than other boats.

fb_img_1488686990880We went there with Blue Ocean Star Resort and Travel. The project developer is Kyaw Moe. His cell phones are 09 451022389, 09420709547. Email is kyawmoe2005@gmail.com.

Blue Ocean company is developing Harris island into a comfortable place to stay. They built a cottage where some staff live. They cook, clean the place, do some buildings, and organize the boats.  The staff are multi purpose and one of them even massaged for us at night. They also have clean toilets and enclosed bath rooms. They developed a tube well for fresh water. Before blue ocean arrived that island, an old lady was staying alone selling fresh water to fishermen. Harris island is 1300 feet long and the water is crystal clear.

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They built a bridge where you can look into deep water from the bridge.

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You can also climb the hill where you can see the bird eye view of island.fb_img_1488686848854

fb_img_1488690683424fb_img_1488686819002You can also jungle trek and get lost in the jungles where there are rare flowers exist.

fb_img_1488686813036 There is a very famous traditional drink . They keep the artichoke , squeeze their flash and oil , then mix with beer and drink it.

fb_img_1488686942046A lot of people like it. But we didn’t try because the locals told us it’s kinda fishy.  In contrary to what people said, I didn’t see much fish there. It’s mainly because there are a lot of illegal fishing boats near by. ( I assume illegal and the foreign companies come and buy fish from these boats) I saw a few schools of fish in deep water.  Near the bridge, the sea has lots of artichokes. They can be painful if you accidentally step on them.And if you want to go and see corals, you have to take risk of getting injured by spikes of shells stuck to the stones.

As most of us are not good swimmers, we end up getting injuried walking in the sea at the back of Harris island. I was bleeding profusely and had to get on the boat again.

fb_img_1488687026262 fb_img_1488686716800Usually, it became hot after 9 am unless you want to sit under the shade.received_1352402824805284

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a friend trying to hide from the heat

The sand is very soft and velvety. The water is blue. It’s amazing.  I went up the hill and although, I could climb uneventfully , on the way back,  it’s quite a difficult descend.

fb_img_1488686832647 In the end, I decided to sit down and slide as I was afraid I would slip and fall.

It’s a breezy day. So I decided to dip my feet inside the salty water and feel the tides touch my feet. Suddenly, the crabs ( very beautiful deep green color ) came under the stones and walked around me. They were fascinating. I always have a thing for crabs. If you want to watch them, you have to be very still. Once they can sense vibration, they run away from you.  I savored my solitude with nature and thanked God for guiding me to come to that beautiful island.

At night, we were given two options to sleep, either we could sleep on the benches made of bamboo or sleep in the tents. As we are concerned about mosquitoes ( mind you, it is the malaria endemic area ), we decided to sleep in the tents.

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So the staff prepared tents just in front of the sea. It was amazing. The highlight of the trip is we lie on the benches before going inside the tent and talked about a lot of stuff.

fb_img_1488690665771 fb_img_1488690500142There was a starry sky, it was beautiful. The beach was well lit as a lot of fishing boats anchored near the island and we were surrounded by boats with lights.  Luckily, there was no rain. The weather was perfect. I felt like I found out new friends during the trip because I could talk to my travel partners for a long time at night. So travelling is not all about finding new places, it’s also about finding new people who might become your long lasting friends in the end.

Our tour guide called Aung San Lwin is a cheerful guy, he  has a very good communication skill.  His cell phone is 09782667126, obviously a happy-go-lucky person. He was more excited than us when he saw a school of  Nimo fish. He did not accept the tips and finally, I found out he is not a staff and one of share holders for the business. He is very helpful , but not a typical guide who will watch over you.  He would rather enjoy himself. So you need to watch out danger for yourself if you are with him.

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He brought us to fish farm ( on the way before we arrive islands ) to get fresh fish and cook for us at night.

The tour guide Aung San Lwin arranged all our meals with fresh sea food and the staff can cook very well. Surprisingly, the cost of all sea food meals’are only one tenth of ordinary price there.

We also went to the Main –ma- hla island meaning Beautiful lady island. There is a shrine and a small waterfall. I saw the fishermen are taking water out of waterfall. The water is very cold and refreshing.

The next day, we went to the stone island where you see lots of beautiful stones  as if angles lay the stones there perfectly. The stones has smooth surface and rounded in shape. Some are transformation of shells mixed with lime , white in color. You can see lots of beautiful fish there although its difficult to walk on stones.

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stone beach. Please wear the footware as the stones are hot in the afternoon
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stone beach

Then we headed to the famous Moken village.

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It is quite famous for its native people called Moken or sea gypies. They are trained to be at sea since very young age. Their vision is much sharper than other people under water. They can swim tirelessly with grace. Some claim they can even sleep under water. They can dive up to 30 minutes without coming up. Previously, they are the only resources to supply famous Burmese pearls to the world as they can dive and know locations of clams more than other people. Still, they are struggling even to have a proper school and now the church is being used temporarily as the primary school.

fb_img_1488686584954When we arrived there, all kids came out from church and looked at us.  They were singing in the church in Moken language. We distributed jellies and sweets and they gladly accepted the snacks. In contrary to what I saw in books, most kids have fair skin . I think may be the skin might change once they go out to sea more often. I am glad they are still learning their own language.

fb_img_1488686599768 At times, one of my friends raised up question regarding loss of culture. We know Moken people know the sea like the back of their hands. But my friend wondered whether the tradition and culture is disappearing among young people. Then , the head of Moken village replied him that although the technology seeps inside the village, the kids still learn about the sea from their experience. At the time of Tsunami, the kids who were playing at sea noticed the change of color in the sea, they quickly ran back to the village and alerted the adults. Soon after that, the whole village shifted to the hilly area and escaped from the tides which devoured the whole village.

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Moken boy using two pieces of plastic as oars
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fishing in the small boats

After that, we went to the two faced island. The island is 1800 feet long and very beautiful. By chance, we ran into a crowd who came to island with the ship. They were celebrating a party and even offered us some free food. And some tour guide caught crabs and did barbeque on the island. We were a bit hungry and glad to be able to buy some chicken and salad on the island fortunately. It was not all time event, and by luck, the snack were sold by visitors as well. The island is 1800 feet long and nobody staying on it except hornbills which I saw by chance. It was a big hornbill and flew just above my head while I was sitting on the rock.

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two- faced island
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two-faced island

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two-faced island
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quieter side of two-faced island

We were supposed to go to a few more islands. But our boat was not functioning well because of polluted oil purchased from fishermen. When we arrived “ Don waterfall”, I decided not to go down as I know I am not a well balanced person to walk on the slippery stones. But the sight of waterfall is beautiful.

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Don waterfall
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Don waterfall

fb_img_1488686690641As our boat is not functioning, we came back with another boat and it was faster on our way back.

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We came back with lots of memories and a few cuts here and there on our bodies. I am telling to my friends that I need to go back to the island with my guitar and a stack of books. This is a place which will be forever in my ” must go back ” list.

Hninn