Lake Toba, Medan , Sumatra , Indonesia

I went to Medan, Indonesia in February 2015. Well, my flight was pretty cheap from Malaysia to Medan, it cost me only 50 us D to and fro. And bonus is I went there with my Indonesian girl friend who is an avid traveler and also a blogger.

Dea is from Jakarta and her ancestors lived in Medan although she had  never been there. So she wanted to give a visit to Medan to look around for the first time. We stayed at Zaza zizi house in Medan which cost us only 15 us D per night. The chef Eva was very friendly and she gave us an excellent breakfast. I like the way they displayed quotes about food on the wall.

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My favorite quote they display on the wall

Here is the Zaza Zizi Inn’s facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Zaza-Zizi-Cafe/134492623426279

Here is the booking.com acccount of Zaza Zizi

http://www.booking.com/hotel/id/zaza-zizi.id.html

I recommend this hotel because it’s close to town center and can get money changer and shops near by. Please change your money before you arrive Lake Toba as there will be no money changer near Lake Toba.

I didn’t find any fascinating places to see in Medan. You just have to head for Lake Toba which is almost four hours drive from Medan. Luckily, we could get the coach via our motel . they told us we need to pay 100,000 Rupees by each person. In fact, they planned to send seven passengers together to Lake Toba. Unfortunately, the original group could not join us , but the driver didn’t charge us extra and on the way, I was feeling sorry for the driver as he would not earn much with only two passengers. But he was jovial and I gave him tips.

We saw lots of paddy fields, some areas of palm oil and rubber plantations and churches on the way to Lake Toba.

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We arrived at the jetty and then need to get a boat to go to Samosir island . There are lots of guest house and hotels on the island. But we chose to stay at traditional house called Batak house  as we want authenticity. Our motel is called Hisar’s Guest house. They charged us 40 us Dollars for the whole house. Some tourists said it’s still expensive for Lake Toba, but we were quite happy as the house is cute.

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Bataknese guest house we stay. These kind of house only exist in lake toba nowadays. They draw the design at the roof , door and window. They use red color for human, black for earth and white for God. 

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you need to get in via this tiny door, ” be careful of your head”
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very basic amenities of house, it’s not hot inside, outside is quite cold at night

There are some mosquitoes and you need to bring insect repellent. There is no air con and they don’t provide us mosquito net either.

Whatever happened in the evening and at night after struggling with blood thirsty mosquitoes, you will still be happy to see the view of lake from the balcony.

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another Bataknese chalet near our guest house
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The view in front of our chalet

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perfect place for the girls to do Yoga
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A perfect place for me just to be myself ” a lazy sloth”

Now, I am going to tell a bit about Lak Toba. It is the crater formed after eruption of a gigantic volcano. That massive eruption cause death of human beings until they almost extinct. Thank God, we are still here and others think the volcano can reactivate after many years. Below is the extract from wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Toba

Lake Toba is the site of a massive supervolcanic eruption that occurred 69,000 to 77,000 years ago,representing a climate-changing event. It is the largest known explosive eruption on Earth in the last 25 million years. According to the Toba catastrophe theory, it had global consequences for human populations: it killed most humans living at that time and is believed to have created a population bottleneck in central east Africa and India, which affects the genetic make up of the human world-wide population to the present.It has 100 km length, 30 km width, 1666 feet depth.

Now , I am going to post lots of beautiful photos of Lake Toba.

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Actually, if you are fit and like cycling, you can cycle around Lake Toba . The only drawback is you must put a lot of effort in uphill. I tried to cycle and could finish around 10 km, haha.

Another reason I enjoyed my trip is because of my Indonesian Girl friends. My friend Dea is from Jakarta and her friend Marni is originally from Lake Toba. Both of them are Batak tribe and they said they are open, brave and loud because they have so much of Bataknese blood in them. haha. Some locals said I look like Batak people too.

Its nice to travel with local girls who know about the place so well. My Indonesian friends said they have to know their tribe as inter tribal marriage was not allowed years ago.The beginning of the rule was Indonesian king married many women and they gave birth many children who were related to each other. Without that rule, they might have ended up marrying own cousins.
They told me that their bataknese people are agressive and straight forward. They were carnivores many years ago and still eating cats and dogs. My friend said she cried her heart out when she came back from holiday and having found out her pet dog was already eaten by her uncle. Apart from that, my friends are proud of their cultures and beautiful houses and very happy to introduce me to their amazing country for the first time. Its very nice people welcome heartily as soon as they speak bataknese which is different from Bahasa Malayu. Although I understand official indonesian language, I get lost once they start to speak Bataknese.

Previously, females did not cover their breasts. Not even queens. Women with nice breasts are chosen as queens regardless of face or other parts of body’s features. They used to believe women with beautiful breasts are fertile and can give birth to good men who will become good kings.  ( No, we didn’t find out any King there, shame on us, haha )

They also refer to breasts as mother. There are pictures of lizards and breasts . Lizards mean Bataknese people who can survive everywhere like lizards. However, lizards always move towards breasts where their mother exist.

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We went to the show of dancing doll .According to the legend, the dancing doll was created by the King in memory of son who loves dancing so much. People can dance together with the doll and the music was very nice.

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You can notice Batak people loves lizard. They think lizard represent them as lizards are tough animals and they can survive everywhere.

With the help of google, I found out another explanation of lizards association with Batak people. According to the legend, there is a Goddess who escaped from God world to the earth and she was followed by her suitor who is a lizard ( why lizard and why not dragon? I have no idea ) and they had two children, a boy and a girl. These children have incestuous relationship and from their marriage, Batak people arose. Their God parents went back to their world in heaven.

http://australianmuseum.net.au/creation-story-from-lake-toba-sumatra-indonesia

From Lake Toba, we headed towards Baristagi to go to Sipiso Piso waterfall, which is one of the highest waterfalls in Indonesia. The only thing is you should go there earlier as you need to climb up and down a lot of stairs to see the waterfall in close range.

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Dea climbing stairs back after seeing the waterfall in close range

Our first plan was to visit  Mount Sinabung. Unfortunately, the volcano was erupting that time and we couldn’t climb that mountain.

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ash spewing volcano from far

However, we still  proceeded to the Gundaling hill to watch the sunset and the eruptions of Mount Sinabung . Sinabung volcanos have been spewing lava and ashes since 2014. It was dormant for 1700 years but eruption started again in 2010. Every year the locals have to be evacuated as people died because of eruptions . Then we met a daring photographer who always climbs mount Sinabung to video tape the eruptions , as near as two kilometer away. Ten people behind him died when he was shooting his video. We gasped when we watched his video. Sadly,the local News Agent offered him only 10 us dollars for that video which he took risking his life.I hope he will get better price for that.

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sunset view of Sinabung, nearby area was white due to falling ashes
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the photographer who showed us his life threatening event of catching volcano eruption

From Barastagi, we went to the hot spring called Si debuk-debuk  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Si-debu-debu/347711411990508?rf=168344736681209

It took one hour from Barastagi to go to hotspring. They have 10 pools with different temperature and you have to start from lower temperature to highest. It can be pretty hot and can see steaming vapor coming from the pool. I sat down at the side with my feet in, but not dared enough to go down. My driver said nobody gets scaled because of hot water and said it’s very theraputic and good for circulation. There is no entrance fee and it’s totally worthwhile as I felt frersh after long hours travelling.

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One thing which makes our journey more enjoyable is we met two gentlemen from Singapore during our journey from Lake Toba to Baristagi. We hired the same coach which turned out to be driven by a rude and calculative driver. He dropped us at the middle of nowhere and don’t want to drop us near hotels or guest house. As a result, I had to carry heavy luggage and these gentlemen helped me to carry . It is a random act of kindness. Later, we found out they also travel extensively and the younger brother even traveled two years non stop.  We had a good conversation with them talking about places they have visited.

Now, I am thinking of Samuel and K 7 while I am writing this post.

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Samuel, me, Dea, the staff and the guest house owners at Talitha guest house in Baristagi

Sometimes, I think of them when I take photos. They think we were crazy chasing for good photos while they only tried to remember scenery in their mind.

Well, I am surprised I am writing this after more than one year. Here is another story about Lake Toba written by my friend Dea. Dea is a regular travel blogger, she wrote beautifully about our journey to Lake Toba  and you can get more information there.

https://deasihotang.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/how-to-go-to-lake-toba/

Then, I noticed  she also wrote about Batak food here.

https://deasihotang.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/knowing-about-bataks-food/

This is the photo of Dea, wearing her traditional dress.

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Thank you so much for reading.

Hninn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Northen Vietnam, Hanoi, Sapa

If you love nature and not willing to spend a lot on your holiday, Vietnam is the perfect place for you. Having been exposed to a lot of beautiful places, I still appreciate undisturbed nature of Vietnam, especially Sapa.

Before you decide to visit Vietnam, you should know that North and South Vietnam is totally different in weather, climate and food. Some of my Vietnamese friends said even language is slightly different as well as accent. As everybody knows, Southern Vietnam is much more developed than Northern Vietnam, still I decided to visit Hanoi as I don’t fancy about developed towns. However, it’s undeniable that Vietnam is one of the most progressive countries in South East Asia at the time being.

As I have been to only Hanoi, I am going to  cover only  what I know about Hanoi ( capital of Northern Vietnam ). Whole Vietnam has cold and hot season, cold season is from November to April and hot season is from May to October. The temperature difference in South is only 3 C while it can be different 12 C in North. In Hanoi there are four distinct seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. But it is able to be divided into two main seasons: the rainy season from May to September (it’s hot, heavy rain), and the dry season from October to April (it’s cold, little rainfall). The annual average temperature is 23.2oC, but in winter the average temperature is 17.2oC.
I highlighted above statement because it’s not advisable to visit Sapa when there is heavy rain. You need to jungle trek and walk at least 12 to 20 km per day up and down. So my advice is PLEASE do not visit SAPA from May to September.

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Vietnam map showing tourist attractions.

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Sapa is at Lao Cai, very far north of Vietnam

Hanoi is in northen part and Ho chi Min in south. My guide said the food and accent is totally different.

We arrived at Hanoi on 1st October/ 2014. We have booked the hotels from Agoda and found out it’s much cheaper than booking via hotel owned website. Apart from that, when you book directly with hotel, they always have hidden charges like tax, for example, although they show the price is 80 us D per night, it can become 100 us D per night with tax.

Airport transfer

There is a shuttle bus ( number 7 ) which commute from airport to the tourist hub near Hoan Kiem Lake , and it will cost you less than 1 us D. But if you take taxi, it will cost you around 15 to 18 us Dollars as it’s 45 minutes drive for 20 km. You need to know the price as my friend was charged 30 us Dollars when he got the taxi from airport. I used to think the hotel charges more for airport pick up, but it turned out wrong. Taxi driver at airport charges you more and more than that, if they find it’s difficult to reach hotel, they might charge you extra at the end of destination although they agree with lower price in the beginning.
If you intend to shop in Hanoi, the best place to stay is the hotels near Hoan Kiem Lake. For me, the lake is not particularly special , it’s muddy water and you can see illegal fishermen fishing there. But what’s special about the place is it’s the hub of the city, where you can see people playing chess, doing exercise, chatting, shopping, strolling, sightseeing and just sitting, doing nothing. It’s the gathering place of both locals and foreigners. You can have everything you want, food, post office, banks, massage parlor, hair dresser, pedicure and manicure, and gift shops.

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We stayed at the Hanoi Royal View hotel and it was a pleasant stay, it cost us only 40 us D per night, but they gave us spacious family room although we booked for two people.

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Hanoi Royal View hotel
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Hanoi Royal View hotel
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laptop is complimentary . Athough it’s old, it’s usable

What I noticed about Hanoi buildings is the architecture is really look like colonial building and gracious, but the space is narrow, there are plenty of building like 10x 60 feet which I see rarely in Malaysia. The reason is land is very expensive in Hanoi and they have to make use of the land, almost all buildings are more than double storey. I admire the hotels because although building is not spacious, they make the room very comfortable.

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building in Hanoi

For example, I stayed in another hotel which got excellent award in 2013, called Golden Land hotel. The hotel has 7th floor, but they also only have 7 rooms while they used ground floor has dining room and reception. The hotel staffs sleep on the floor while the guests go to bed, it’s pretty weird, but they are very friendly. For example, I needed to check in and print out document for my flight, they let me use their registration counter, and printer, but they didn’t charge me a cent. That was quite generous of them.

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Golden land hotel, 32 us D per night in 2014
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this hotel cost us only 32 us D per night, but it has jacuzzi

The streets of Hanoi are jammed with motor cycles which hardly abide the law. All of them are crossing roads at the same time from different directions. To make matter worse, a lot of foreigners like to hire the motorbike as it’s cheaper than taxi and they don’t know the roads quite well. Even tour guides teach the foreigners, “ do not stop and just run away when the police stop you” and I didn’t see many traffic police there. But I have to admit that the skill of motor bikes is admirable.

If you like to sightseeing without worry for crossing the roads, you can hire trishaws with around 80,000 ( 4 us D ) per hour, but you have to be specific where you want to go , otherwise, they just go round and round the same area.

Be careful of street sellers. They almost always increase price to tourists. I overheard locals scold the seller as they increase the price immediately when I ask for the price of some grapes. You just have to be careful and ask counteract question like “ it’s not 50,000, it’s only 30,000 Don right’ and they will only ask 30,000 Don. It just worked with me. Street sellers hardly know English, but they always type the price on their phone, but with sign language, you can always argue with them. My friend gave 500,000 Don to the banana seller and she only gave her back only 40,000 Don instead of 490,000 Don. She lied that she mistaken 500,000 as 50,000 which is bullshit. It doesn’t mean I don’t admire street sellers in Vietnam, I am so sure that they deserve to be paid well as they need to carry their loads on their shoulders whole day. But you just need to be careful so that you will not run into someone who might cheat.

Arts in Hanoi

Hanoi is the paradise for people who love arts. They have plenty of oil paintings and the quality of them is very good and they are amazingly cheap. Apart from art galleries, there are plenty of crafts made of bamboo, coconut, fabric, table cloth, embroideries and handbags. You have to look around first before you buy something. I have bought some small purse only with 1 US D ( 20,000 Don)and sling bag for only 2 us D ( 40.000 Don). When I went to Sapa, it’s even cheaper as they are the people who do stitching and embroidery. Their fabric are amazing, I bought very beautiful table cloth with only 10 us D ( 200,000 Don ) although the person asked me 20 us D. Rule of thumb is they might increase double or triple ( but not more than that, not like India ) and if you try to bargain with half of the price they ask, you are not wrong. But bottom line is you MUST bargain. For me, I have known the price as I surveyed the whole day and in the end, I found a shop which does not increase price much, so I did major buying there in dozens.
If you want to be amazed, please don’t miss to visit the Museum of Arts where you find plenty of modern arts, as well as wood carving, oil paintings, water color paintings. The museum is in the walking distance of Hoan Kien  Lake ( may be 15 to 20 minutes depending on your stamina)

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gallery of oil painting

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very famous painting of a girl called ” little Thuy” , mentioned in the text book, photo taken at art museum
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the sound of pestle, 1957, Gouache
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sculpture from ” Temple of Arts”
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modern arts displayed at the shop beside the street

Food at Hanoi

Hanoi has lots of food stalls and all are cheap. The diet is healthy, mostly soup and vegetables. They like pork a lot. But there are some Halal shops too. Someone wrote famous food at Hanoi and I had taken photographed. So I am going to post it here.

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yummy food made of sugar cane and meat. The waitress serve very well

The tripe to Sapa

Now, I want to tell you how to book for Sapa, so far, there are a lot of tour agents in Hanoi, so you don’t need to worry about these tours unless you want to make sure things are in order. You can always go there without booking and still can find lots of tour agencies which can offer you better price than you found in online booking ( in contrary, you must always book the hotel before you go there ).

Luckily we got useful information from our Vietnamese friend called Chung

He gave us a following link

http://goseasia.about.com/od/vietnamstopattractions/a/Hiring-A-Travel-Agency-In-Hanoi-Vietnam.htm

We went to Sapa with Vega travel tour. It is also recommended by trip adviser.

http://www.vega.travel.com/?f=North&op=8&p=9

To go to Sapa, we have to get a train from Hanoi and you have to be on train for overnight. It is arranged by our tour agency and if I am not mistaken , we have given to tour agency around 120 us D  ( I have already forgotten the details of price as I am writing this after 2 years of traveling. This remind me I should take note and write blog as soon as I travel ). The train is comfortable and you can sleep on it as there are two double beds in one carriage. You can also charge the phone in the carriage.  Believe, it’s the best to go via tour agency because we calculated on our own if we go without tour agency and it’s much more expensive. It might probably because tour agents get discount train tickets and hotels .

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the berths on the train. They are our travel partners. Obviously, they took the difficult trekking as they are young and fit

The link for railway station is here

https://vietnam-railway.com/train/touristtrainstosapa?gclid=CKL56PDfrs0CFdIXaAod0mcA3w

sleeping berths on the train

The train ride is very long and there is nothing much to do at night . We met two lovely ladies from USA who are daughter and mother. Daughter is a college student studying English literature and she wants to become an author one day. Her mother is very youthful  and told us many interesting stories about America which we truly enjoyed.

The train has toilets, they are just ok, but not so clean. You can also order food from the restaurant in the train. We have been frequently checked at certain stations by the train wardens whether we have ticket or not. SO please make sure you keep your ticket in hand.

When I arrived at Sapa, I finally realized I need to walk 12-25 KM trekking per day. I was shocked because I didn’t know it before hand. Finally, I demanded I would not be able to walk 20 km per day and if I walk with other tourists in group, they will be disappointed as I am going to be slow. I was also surprised because I booked the tour for only two of us and realized I had to go with a group who were all under 30. My concern is I didn’t want to slow them down because of my snail pace hiking.  At first, they asked us 30 us D per each extra for a tour guide . But I have already seen a lot of local guides hanging around and I told them it’s not fair if they want to take advantage on locals as one local girl asked me only 10 us D to accompany me. AT last, they gave up on squeezing money from me as I told them I am going to write bad review about them on trip adviser. haha.

We had a refreshment at the hotel in the town and head for trekking with the help of local guides while our original group went along with the tour agency guide. However, I am so thankful that I went separately because these local tour guides were very caring ( except the time they demanded you to buy things from them ). At last I realize they want to accompany us as their villages are in the mountains and they expect us to buy things from them.

start of journey, building in the town

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the view from the motel in the town
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church in Sapa

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City square for performances. The architecture of the houses are influenced by French and China. The land price is up to 1 million for 200 meter

 

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All of them followed us. My tour guide pressed her forehead with buffalo horn covered with herbs to cure herself from headache. They use a lot of herbal medicine too.
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beginning of trekking near local market. They have fresh fruits and a lot of massage parlors which are quite good there.

We decided not to go down to use the hard way that is using the earth lane. Instead we only use tarred road which is easier to walk. But at some areas, these tour guides helped us to use short cut which we had to go down and used small and difficult lanes for short distance.

The weather is favorable and it is a bit cool. So walking does not make us tired. Here, you can see lots of plantations in the mountains which is quite breathtaking.And the most fascinating thing is these rice fields have been there since 2500 years ago.

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I love the mountains in the clouds
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we are so ready to walk
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more mountains and some wild flowers

There, our local tour guide showed us one interesting thing which is plantation of ” Marijuana” which is illegal in most countries. They explained that government just allowed to use the stems which are used in weaving, but not allow to use the leaves which can be consumed as leisure. So we questioned them, how can government check they don’t use the leaves and just use the stems, they were just grinning.  Here is the photos of Marijuana plants

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the stem of the plant which used in making clothes

Sometimes, I am also amazed at the way the Vietnamese manage to do plantations at highland.

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Sometimes we passed through lakes with ducks swimming inside.

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We also passed through the plantations of fruits such as peach .The road is surrounded by bamboos and trees, and it is quite shady.

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this is not a usual trekking. This is an easy way  for a sloth like me who can’t hike difficult trekking. 

On the way, we could see very beautiful wild flowers too

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and also some plantations and interesting houses

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persimmon/ peach trees
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they grow vegetable on the roof

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After awhile, the tour guides left us and picking up some leaves from the plantation and they came back with some beautiful handy craft

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the heart made of leaves and it’s for me
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we walked on

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At one point, we needed to use short cut to make our journey faster. I was very scared of falling down as my feet were wobbly.

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Our guides were very helpful and helped me to steady my feet.

We passed through the river, bridge also.

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It was not a tough trek , but it was not easy either to walk for ten km and luckily the tour arranged for us to have a delicious meal at a restaurant near the river.

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After that the girls nagged us to buy all the fabrics from them as the village is theirs and they went quickly back to their houses and tried to sell us. It’s up to the level we could not tolerate or even felt irritated. But we really owed them a lot for walking with us, and I tried to give them free pocket money as their items were pricey. Finally we had to buy some souvenirs from them.

But around that village, the houses were displaying hand made blanket and they are so beautiful.

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I bought one of them with very reasonable price . Then the girls left us and we had to continue the journey with our tour guide Cong. He is a very jovial person and we had a good time chatting on the way.

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The above is my friend Sumie and she was wearing a bright color jacket. At one point, we were quite distant from our tour guide and not any villagers near us. We came across some buffaloes. As she was wearing the bright color, they stared intensely at us. The buffaloes have big horns. We were so scared of them and had to run up the hill and walked across the muddy paddy field which was quite slippery. I almost fell down although it was quite fun. Please don’t wear too bright color if you go to Sapa.

Then we were approaching the village we were supposed to stay and my feet started to have blisters partly because I needed to buy a new trekking shoes and as usual, they were quite tight.

So our tour guide called a bike who passed by and asked him to give me a lift to certain point. It was a thrilling experience as the bike drove through very small lanes with stairs, uneven pavement with all dogs, ducks, buffaloes, and pigs walking around. I was quite worried the bike would fall, but the boy who drove the bike managed to send me to my destination without any accident.

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I passed through this road with motor bike, lol

We stayed at a homestay at the river bank which is 14 km from Sapa. We woke up with the sounds of flowing river and the chirps of various birds. My guide said there are bears , deer and snakes in the near by forest

We slept at the house who belongs to a quiet couple with a playful son. It was all arranged by the tour company and we were happy with it as it was not a commercialized hotel nor a motel. As it was the real house belongs to a local, we could observe the life style of a typical Vietnamese. The house was situated at the fringe of the river which was flowing beautifully. The lady cooked very delicious meal composed of 4 or 5 dishes. It was very yummy especially after a long trekking and a shower. They do not have facility like hot shower or air conditioner. But it was fine and we didn’t need air con as the weather was cool. We woke up with sounds of bubbling river , rosters , hens and ducks quacking. And above all, we were so happy with our breakfast near the river.

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simple breakfast with pancakes and fruits. Look at happy face of traveler

The guide was quite tired and he was keen to sleep off his day. He told us to explore on our own and we were happy with the plan as there was a river and a waterfall near by.

 

But interesting part is there were two little girls who observed us from the bridge and later they joined us. At first, they wanted to see the key chains . My friends bought it. But after selling, they still wanted to hover around us and offered us to guide to the water fall. I think they are best friends who live near by. They ran on the bridge like little goats. The sun rays fell on their faces. It was a lovely sight.

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Aren’t they beautiful

These kids are very adorable. They guided us as if they were professional tour guide. They were so small but handed their hands to hold me when I almost fell. My friend laughed. I might have dragged them down if I fell. They were amazingly kind .  It was quite slippery to hike the mountain. At the summit, we saw a shed . We had a rest in it and took photographs for the kids. They were so happy to see their photos again and again. They squealed with delight and giggled nonstop whenever we showed them their photos. I wish I could have printed out some of their photos with us and given to them.

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Later, the children made crowns for us, using flowers and leaves from the bushes near by. They were really generous and kind.

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they made this crown for me, can you see the little monkey behind me? 🙂 kids like to climb up and down waterfall, we were worried for them

At the summit, I could see the whole view of villages. The peace permeated me. I was just contented and happy.

After we came back, we climbed down the bank and sat near the river. We dangled our feet into the icy river and observed someone fishing. We were tempted to swim, but didn’t dare as the current was strong.

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near the river bank
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the bridge across the river
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the river with strong current

We lazed on the boulder and tried to observe the whole atmosphere and nature. The leaves fell on us, we could hear the water flow through pebbles. It was heavenly. I love everything about Sapa and hope I would go back one day and meet these two little angels again.

thank you so much for reading.

 

 

 

Chin State, Mount Victoria, Burma

In May, 2016, I could tick off one of my bucket lists which was travelling  to Chin State. Not only I went to the place I desire to see, but also I could escape from the maddening heat of El Nino in Yangon. As weather forecast has predicted, 2016 is the worst year of Burma and neighboring countries ; suffering from the strongest El Nino and when it was paired with very often power cut off, Yangon was as equal as Sahara to me. I could not take the heat.

I requested my uncle to bring me along as he was planning to travel Chin State with my cousin. He was reluctant as the trip would be of only males and I would be alone as a woman. When I said I couldn’t care less about that, he really helped me to tag along with them.

We went with a bus until Ma gway division and then a friend of my uncle came and pick up us to give a lift to Chin State. Buses are quite ok and they have aircon and comfortable seats.

Our destination is Nat Ma Taung ( In Burmese, meaning spirit favored mountain ) or Mount Victoria which is the highest mountain in Chin State. It is located in Kanpetlet Township   https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanpetlet_Township and Mindat district.

Take note: there are 117 villages in Kanpetlet Township and only 13 villages have  access to motor road. How sad !

Yes, I went to Mount Victoria for my own pleasure and to see the wonder of nature as it is famous for its lush forests, orchids, varieties of birds and distinct culture. However, I came back with a heavy heart ,carrying the sadness of Chin People who have to endure unpredictable weather, frequent landslides due to soil erosion, deforestation, lack of proper transport and spine chilling roads, improper health care , inadequate education and poor social support. I am not surprised at all most of them migrate to main Land Burma, or take refugees under United States and India.

Chin people do not have proper record where they originate from, but it was mentioned that they are of ” Tibet-Mongolian” origin. I have seen that they have facial features like Tibetan, fair and square face with narrow eyes. Their thin lips show their determination and strength.

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Chin woman with facial tattoo on her face . They like to use basket made of bamboo  to carry things

Above photo is taken by me and the below is from following link. ( credit to the original photographer ) https://www.pinterest.com/maiabey/face/

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Regarding facial tattoo, it has been practiced for 200 years and nobody knows exactly why they like to fill their beautiful face with tattoos. A lot of people told me it is originated from the era of Burmese Kings who liked to pick up beautiful women regardless of their marital status to be their wives . To avoid  becoming the slaves to the Burmese Kings, the beautiful ladies tattooed their faces to disfigure themselves. However, a lot of senior citizen women think that the more tattoos you have on your face, the prettier you look. In fact, most of them chose to have tattoos willingly . Nowadays, a lot of Chin women do not carry out their tradition of facial tattoo.

 

 

Earliest notice of Chin is in stone inscriptions in Burma of 12th century adjacent to Chindwin River of Northwestern Burma. In the next century, the Chindwin plain was conquered and settled by the Shan ( another ethnic of Burma ) and from there, more and more of the Chin were pushed up into the mountains.

By the 17th Century, these pressure increased owing to the Burmese wars with the Kale Shan and with Manipur/ India.

Some became refuge under the protection of the maharajas of Manipur ( India ).

In the late 19th century,they were brought under British rule.

When India and Burma got independence in the late 1940s,some became under the Indian union and some part became under Burma.

Inspite of their traditional freedom, these people are dependent upon the plains civilizations of India and Burma.

They have very few amenities like brass ware, woven goods, gold and silver like the plains have. May be thats the reason Chin call themselves as “Zo” meaning. “People who are inadequate”. So they had to trade to have those luxury items with their products of Chin forests or raiding the plains

There were also human right abuse towards Chin people by previous military government and to make the matter worse, Chin National Army composed of Chin people were worse than Burmese military and instead of helping people, they beat, shot and killed villagers in Chin State. Basically, like other ethnic groups in Burma, Chin people were sandwiched between army and the rebels composed of their own people.

well, I don’t want to bore you with the history, now let me show you the journey to Mount Victoria. Like I told you, our travel started from Yangon and the bus used the Yangon-Pyay road, then we had to cross the Irrawady river to be on Pathein-Mon ywar Road. We had to pass the Magway Division first to arrive Chin State.

It is a vast contrast between two states, Magway state is dry and barren partly because we went there in the summer. But once you drove towards Chin State, the temperature significantly drops and you can start to see green forests and mountains.

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the view in Magway division, dry and barren
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toddy trees in Magway Division, you can get liquor and brown sugar out of toddy trees
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if you see carefully, you will see the ladder and the sitting area made of bamboo .

Some toddy plan have sitting area on the tree for the drinker who like liquor fermented from toddy fluid. By drinking on the tree, the person will not dare to drink excessively , otherwise he will fall down. Sounds credulous? That’s what a local told us. Most probably the drunkard can have possibility of lots of fractures and injuries .

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sunflower field.
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villages in Magway division near paddy fields

Sometimes, the road passes through the stream without any bridge. These areas are called ” water by pass” or in Burmese ( yay kyaw) . It is mainly because the streams are quite dry most of the times except in monsoons. It is costly to build bridges for every stream . The draw back is once the monsoon comes and when there is turbulent flow of river, these roads are not accessible anymore as the water is too deep to pass through. The local person told me he was once trapped in a secluded area as his car could not pass through the river and he had to rely on plain rice alone for one whole month.

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water by pass / Ye-kyaw road
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This area or similar places can be flooded during rainy season

We were suffering from the heat while we drove through Magway division because of the scorching sun. Once we entered into Chin State, there was decline in temperature and we felt better especially after seeing green mountains.

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Welcome to Chin State

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It is impossible for you to go there without a guide or a skillful driver as the roads are rough and can be quite dangerous especially nearer to Mount Victoria.

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Another thing I notice about Chin State is the nature of the soil. Even though it seems rocky at some parts, the soil is extremely soft , causing a lot of deadly landslides and accidents associated with mortality.

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you can take off  the soil easily from the rock by bare hand

I quite salute the courage of Chin People who build the flimsy houses near the divine and live there. The houses are cute, made of wood and either thatch or zinc roof. They also like to use a lot of blue and green color to pain their houses. The houses are long legged and they keep their livestock such as fowl, pigs, goats and pet dogs under the houses.

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Main transport is motorbike as they can’t afford a car
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I would not feel secured living at those houses, but may be this is the best they can manage
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More reliable and beautiful house at Kan Petlet Town

Along the way, even before we arrived Mount Victoria, we saw lots of beautiful birds. We also saw lots of people grow orchids in front of their houses in Kan Petlet. The temperature is at comfortable range in Kan petlet and we stayed at a motel in Kan Petlet as we can get a cheap motel there. We paid 10,000 kyats ( 10 us dollars ) per head while foreigners have to pay double. If you want to stay near Mount Victoria , there are two expensive hotels at the base of mountains, but they can be pretty expensive.  I have read in a blog written by another Burmese that foreigners need to get permission before you enter into Chin State and the process can take a few days to weeks . Please discuss with your tour agent before you go there, otherwise, the motels will not let you stay without permission.

Here , there are more photos of our journey and the mountains.

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lovely view of a village from the higher hill

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Now I am going to tell about how Chins live. It seems like Chins are non pioneer shifting cultivators. They grow rice and other wheat and grains as long as soil permits on the hill slopes and after 5 years and more, the soils have to be left to regenerate. The longer the soil is used for farming, the longer regeneration time is needed. They also grow peppers, vegetables, cotton, fruits such as apples, oranges and teas. But the chief hindrance is poor transportation system to send the products to the other parts of Burma especially Yangon.

Chin States used to have a lot of wild life including Bengal Tiger, brown and black bears, rhinoceros, elephants, deer, monkeys, various kinds of jungle cats. They like hunting with dogs and there used to be hunting games even towards big animals.

Nowadays, it is almost impossible to see a Bengal tiger there . Even before when they were quite available, Chins avoid hunting Bengal tigers because like other South East Asian regions, they think that tigers are related to the souls of human beings and after killing a tiger, they need to do expensive and dangerous ritual ceremonies. It is the same as they did rituals after doing head hunting. It was mentioned that Northern Chins used to practice head hunting related to dispute of land ownership  or with the hope of sending their slaves to the world of spirits for the next life.

We have seen lots of  animal skulls displayed on the front yard of the houses. We tried to get some information from the locals why they put the skulls there. Most skulls belong to the semidomesticated bovid forest browser , which are bred to get meat and for ritual sacrifice.

According to the Chin people we met there, the cows or the bovid is tied to the pole and the house which do ritual sacrifice will prepare food and liquor . Then they kill the cow by using rifle ( may be by knife or arrow before ) and after the cow died, the crowd can dance and cut the cow to cook . The food will be distributed to other villagers. Usually the ritual sacrifice are done before cultivation or after hunting the big game animal or before getting a new house.

The merit feasts show the social rank

For the dead, they erect memorial posts to show one’s social and ceremonial rank.

They beliece only if one had conducted feasts of merit, he and his descendants have wealth and well being.

Sometimes, ritual sacrifices have to be done by the order of medium who can call spirits or when someone is sick in the family.

There is a guy who told us that the higher the number of skulls , the higher the status or the wealth of the family. That means they have done enough rituals for the societies.   At some houses, we also saw lots of goat skulls.

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Display of cow head

the skull 2

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it was written in Chin ???, and the circle is called ” Evil eye”
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Most henious traditional offences in the society were theft, bastardy and  having an evil eye or jealousy towards the wealth of others. By having jealousy, Chins believe one can have a downfall such as sickness, losing property or having a child out of wedlock.

Although they still believe in spirits and ritual sacrifices, a lot of Chin people became Christians after colonial time and even before that, after arrival of missionaries. We saw a Baptist church and some nuns. I have read some advertisement about  sponsorship of Chin students, fund raising is arranged by the church in collaboration with foreign missions.

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a nun with the children
A nun with the students

I am grateful to all these donations and missionaries who are trying to promote the education of children in Chin State. Other wise, children have to walk miles to go to a school. In some area, monasteries and monks help for the education of children like other parts of Burma.

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It is very common to see a kid carrying a younger sibling, I wonder whether they can go to school seeing them during school time at home.

Usually, it is very uncommon for the Chin to allow you to go inside their house willingly. However, we visited the orchid farm and the worker at the farm wanted to sell us some wine and also strawberries. So we had a chance to take the photos inside the house. Let us look how they live.

A tool used for farming
A tool used for digging the soil for the farming. The children are so happy because we gave them some pocket money
baskets
baskets are piled at one corner ( used to collect vegetables and fruits)
cooking place
cooking place ( take notice they need to use the wood and some burn the pine trees to get oil from the trees, I wonder whether it contributes of deforestation )…. but of course, not up to the amount the previous junta had raided the jungles and the forests
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wood used to make fire
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burning of the trees to get oil which is used as fuel to get fire

We had to sleep at Kan petlet as it was too late to continue to Mount Victoria. We had a lunch and dinner there. The food was quite expensive and fish was not readily available there as Chin State does not have many rivers and streams. We need to pay more than we pay for the food in Yangon. And the taste of the food is not really outstanding like in other districts like Shan and Mon. However, the wine is really yummy and as the temperature drops at night , it helped us to warm ourselves. ( temperature of Chin State can be below zero up to 32C  )

Kan Petlet is 15 miles from Mount Victoria and some hikers start hiking from Kan Petlet up to summit of the mountain. Otherwise, you can drive up to 10 miles and then walk for 5 miles. After a few miles, it became earth lane.  We traveled there with a four wheel drive and the driver is very skillful and experienced. The lanes can be uneven, narrow and it is too close to the divine. Here are the photos.

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The plants in these pictures are called ” taung za lat ” and they can have beautiful red and white color flowers which we unfortunately could not see as it was not in season.

If you come during winter ( from November to February), you will see those beautiful red color flowers

Below photos with flowers are from website

https://www.adventurehoney.com/experience/trek-mt-victoria-burma-culture-and-nature-1127

 

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The mountain is at the elevation of 10,070 feet and when we went there , the temperature was just below 20 while in Kanpetlet is almost 30. Please bring your sweater if you go there during winter and rainy season as it can be quite cold there.

It was mentioned that there are 159 species of birds in Nat Ma Taung national Park . But I could not see them clearly as I didn’t bring the binoculars although I could hear their singing and shouting from everywhere.

I did observe some wild flowers scattered on the grass and even slept on them for awhile. These flowers are small and white, purple and pin and color.

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orchid on the tree

beauty

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tree

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flowers at the summit
flowery bed at the summit of mountain
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Buddha statue at the summit

There are two parts of the summit, one has a pagoda and another one has a Buddha statue. Sometimes I wonder why people cannot just let the nature alone without anything related to religion and let us enjoy the view. ( No offence, I myself is a Buddhist, but I sincerely don’t think we have to conquer every summit with pagodas. )

Well, in the end, I just sat at the summit and enjoyed the view. I tried to look far, far into the ranges of mountains and try to be thankful. It may be only a few minutes, but I was totally recharged and came back home with gratitude. Thank you Mother Nature, please never cease to bless us with your beauty.

Thank you for reading.

Hninn

Reference. http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Chin.aspx

I highly recommend you to look following link to get information how to go to Chin State. The following blog is also written by a Burmese blogger.

http://www.myanmar2day.com/tag/chin-culture/

 

Southern Shan State, Nam Vay waterfall, Burma

I wanted to write this to give information to people who want to go to a recently discovered attraction called Nam Vay waterfall. Please do not imagine it as a spectacular or a big waterfall. For me, it is just a river with a few steps and torrential water flow. It is not even amount to be called waterfall.

But it is really worth to go there  as you will see ranges of mountain and untamed nature on your way despite the road is tricky and underdeveloped and there is lack of safety.

To go to Nam Vay, you need to go to capital of Shan state, called Taunggyi. From there, you use Bogyoke Aung San road and follow the road towards katku pagodas.

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The beginning of trip, it was a bit cloudy

We started our trip only around 8 as we had a nice breakfast at a cafe.

I was quite surprised to see the houses of Shan State are neat and made of brick. The housing areas are also clean . I heard Shan people take effort in improving their area on their own. They have volunteer groups who clean the public places, plant trees and alert forest fire. Shan State is also regarded as the cleanest state of Burma.

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The house on the outskirt of Taunggyi.

On our way, we saw lots of tribal people called Pa-O who are walking with the basket on the back and cover their head with locally woven cloth.

I think they are very hardworking people as they can walk miles and engage in farming seriously. They are not that friendly and are socially shy. Some of them might even refuse to take photos with you. But if you take one, do not forget to show it to them. One of them asked to take her photo again after she rearranged her dress and turban and properly smile. How cute!

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a Pa-O lady selling pineapples frm her farm
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she was shy but requested to take her photo second time

 

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a sweet lady posing for photo

I think  women are hardworking. They not only cook and look after the house and children, but also take part in farming which is a hard labour.

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By the way, it intrigued me the color of the dress of Pa-O people. All of them uniformly wear black color clothes made of cotton. I wonder why. I tried to ask that to above woman. Unfortunately she cannot answer as she cannot speak mainland Burmese. She can only speak her own dialect . Later my colleagues told me Pa-O think they are descendants of dragons and that is why they choose black color.

I also found out there can be shortage of water in Shan State during dry season as the locals depend on the river for the water usage.

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A burmese woman washing clothes at the river
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villagers washing clothes, having bath and fishing at river

 

Kids are everywhere and they are lovely. Some of them help in farming and house chores. I saw around 10year old kid riding bikes. Because of lack of transport, parents might allow them to ride although it is dangerous. The rest have to walk miles to go to school. I saw children digging the drainage in front of their houses.

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he was eating and feeding chicken at the same time

The best time to go to Shan State is the winter. If you go during summer, you cannot find much green or lush forest nor wild flowers. If you go during wet season, you cannot trek nor enjoy the bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds.

By the way, I am so proud of the sky in Shan State which shows there is no pollution and there is only the clean fresh air. Here are a few photos of mountains and countryside houses.

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The most fascinating about Shan.State is having gigantic trees which are as old as a century. They have massive horizontal braches which can hold a dozen men easily. I am glad locals did not cut them down despite they need wood to make fire as most houses do not have regular electricity.

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The branches can go very far

Regarding direction in Shan.State, it is pretty difficult to get direction from local because

1). They do not know how to differentiate left and right. They only use east, west, south and north

2) some locals cannot speak Burmese nor English

3) they do not say they do not know if they are not sure. Instead they tend to give wrong direction as they feel bad for not being helpful.

We were given wrong directions and spent extra two hours on road.

To go to Nam Vay river, you need to follow Katku road. Then you will see junction, on your left is towards katku and on your right is towards Kyauk ta lone. Please follow Kyauk Ta Lone road.

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After that, you will arrive at the lovely village called Saung Pho. Please pass through it.

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There is a big monastery with many.young novices at the entrance of Saung Pho. The restaurants are not available nor if there is, the food is terrible. Please pack your lunch from Taunggyi.

After Saung Pho,you will pass another village called Lwal Saung and then you will see the big sign on your right indicating towards Nam Vay.

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the sign towards Nam.Vay

After you turn into the lane, the tar road ended and there is earth lane with red color. Some areas have puddles and muds. Cars and cycles have to be left before you arrive at the wooden bridge as the soil is too soft to pass through.

Then you need walk over the bridge and walk another half a kilometer to arrive at Nam Vay river.

You will see some paddy fields and need to pass through streams with very flimsy bamboo bridge.

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The Nam Vay river is torrential and unpredictable for the depth. A 19 year old died of drowning in May. Locals usually do not swim there. The area is quite beautiful although water is muddy.

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Afterall, seeing Nam Vay river is not as enjoyable as seeing beautiful scenery on the way. There is no proper safety measure and swimming is not advisable.

But to have a picnic beside the mountains is lovely. I want to go there again.