Category Archives: Nature

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…..”

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

 

 

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.

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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

BORACAY island, Phillipines, May 2014

For the first time, Air Asia launched direct flight to the Kalibo town near Boracay island in 2014 and we decided to fly there  in  May. Phillipines has more than 800 islands and Boracay was chosen as the best island in the world in year 2012 ( partially due to a visit by celebs like Brad and Jolie ) .

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A few travelers said some places in Philippines were not safe  but  Boracay contrary to other parts of Philippines is pretty safe and I enjoyed every bit of my holiday there.

More than that, Filipino have warm personality and good English. I blend in very easily and even local tourists thought I was a Filipino and asked me for direction, choosing me among real Filipinos. I chuckled and explained I am not a Filipino, but they said I look like  one. Haha, And I pretty admire women attitude regarding their body. I am overweight and very shy to wear bikinis, while most Filipino women regardless of age and body figure were leisurely strolling along with two pieces. I do adore them and their laughter.

At that time we got 40 ps for one us dollars and food and drinks were quite reasonable even for a tourist place. The first time, I saw color jeeps , I was so fascinated.

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We went to Kalibo with flight  ( it cost us around 250 us D for return flight from Kuala Lumpur ).  From Kalibo, we  had to get a coach . It is around one hour drive to arrive the jetty and from there, we have to get a ferry.

8The only thing I don’t really like about island is the green algae at the beach. They look pretty at sight, but I don’t feel good about them once I read in someone blog mentioning the algae grow excessively because of poor sewage system.  Yuk !

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The water is crystal clear and it’s baby blue, deep blue, light green and deep green.

18 I tried to search itinerary and found out some amazing places to go such as crystal cove island. We are ok to do crazy things, but not adventurous enough to dive from the cliff . Crystal cove is a small island near Boracay with a lot of men made decorations. They beautifully place ornaments such as lanterns, statues all over the island and it is a pretty place to do parties and weddings. And it is the only island you need to pay entrance fee.

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Crystal Cove island

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Crystal Cove’s island, you need to pay for entrance fee

There are lots of interesting boats called Paraw sailing. You need a few people to sail them and it is very nice to be on them at sunset.

58 We went to Puka beach. Puka is the shell in Philippines and the sand is very rough because of fragmented shells.

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Puka beach

We saw a private beach owned by Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao and it is awesome as he built the house inside the rock.

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I don’t really like Filipino food as it is too sweet and bland for me. They love pork and Italian restaurants are everywhere paired with live bands and reggae singers.

71829398 There was an Italian restaurant called Don Vito and it was awarded as the best restaurant of Phillipines in 2011 . Boracay has McDonald and additionally, they have icecream dipped in mango juice.

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114The length of the island is only 8 km and it was lined with street hawkers, bars , restaurants and street performers.Even with short distance, you can hire the three wheeled cars if your legs tired .  116.jpgRegarding accommodation, I don’t recommend you to book five star hotels as some are quite far from beach. You can get 3 star hotel with only 20 us D per night at the beach front

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beach front hotel with reasonable price
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the hotel we stayed

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I thought activities were cheaper outside the hotel , I was wrong. Our hotel offered better price for island trip as the competition is high. We went out and bought island hopping trips  and turned out the activities are much more expensive if we buy on our own..

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activities of Boracay, the agents will annoy you and hunt you down unless you claim you have already bought tickets

I did some braiding and it was fun , they charge only 4 us D for it while Kani did some artificial tattoo. ( Hotel warned us we need to pay fine if we print tattoo and sleep on their bed without shower ).

We waddled to Willy’s rock  through shallow water. Willy’s rock is a natural tourist attraction, oddly shaped volcanic formation in station 1 ( the island is divided into three stations ). It has a small chapel at top with Virgin Mary statue inside.

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Willy’s rock
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volcanic remains

The town is very clean and well maintained, it has many cute bars and cafe.

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cute coffee bar
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the hotel inside the town, which is  only a few minutes walk from beach
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clean and spacious roads
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stores are everywhere

We decided to do something for fun. One of my friends suggested to walk on the underneath of ocean wearing oxygen tank and suit called helmet diving. I objected as I know I would freak out. We decided to go for fly fish, a ride on the inflated balloon with handles linked to a speed boat driven a slightly insane boat man. He made us literally fly in the air as he drove the boat crazy and the balloon lifted up. We were screaming, me not out of pleasure, but rather fear of impending fall and being eaten alive by either sharks or unknown marine fish while my friend Kani was crying out of excitement and pleasure. I held the handle tightly as I know a slip for  a second would make me fall into the ocean.  Kani thought it was so fun. Belinda barely managed to hold it as she is small and I was worried she would fall. Later, she said, she always falls whenever she tries banana boat and fly fish is far more scarier than banana boat. At night, I got severe pain at the knuckles and elbows because of holding very tightly to the handle.

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before screaming and disastrous ride 
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Thank God, we didn’t fall

At sunset, we had very good massage and had some cocktails at the bar.

89 I guess everyone in Boracay can sing. They are very talented in singing and playing instruments.  It was a very nice trip and good to write about it although it has been 2 years since I went there.

1448416Thanks for reading.

Ywar Ngan village, Shan State, Myanmar

It is so cold right now, for a woman who has lived in hot places for more than 4 decades, I still cannot cope with temperature less than 15 C.  Right now, the temperature is only 9 C in Taunggyi, Southern part of Shan State. The coldest hours are from 10 pm to 6 am. I am shivering while I am typing this. However, this time is the best time to travel  in Myanmar, no rain and the roads are not wet and flooded. You can see lots of flowers in Shan State. They are all wild and seasonal flowers.

Today, I went to the place where I really wanted to go for a long time. The place is called “ Ywar Ngan” , in Burmese , it means “ salty village”, I have no idea why it was named like that.  Lately, the place has been having attention from all over the world because of its beautiful waterfalls, caves and the blue lake lagoon ( Yay-pyar Lake)

There are so many legends about that village and it will be a good story for the curious travelers who also can trace the history. A lot of villagers are afraid to venture inside the forests and the caves for the fear of spirits and usually, people even  local do not know much about the history. The local are superstitious and even tried to stop the tourists from venturing into unknown places. One time, a tourist tried to go inside a cave in Ywar Ngan village but he had to come out finally because the cave did not end after a half day and he became worried of safety.

I will tell you how I go there from Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. Taunggyi is in Southern part of Shan State.  At first, we went to He’ Ho ( a place where there is an airport ), then Aung Ban and from there, you have to turn to right . It is the same way you go to  Pin Daya. But once you reach the junction called Kyone, you need to turn left ( or go straight) , instead of turning to the right .

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Junction at Kyone

If you turn to the right, you will reach Pin daya. But don’t go that way because the road to Ywar Ngan from that way is very rough and only bicycle can manage well to go. May be the road will change in a few years as the villagers are repairing the road. For us, we had to turn back as we don’t want to damage our car by bumpy roads with  full of rocks.

We are lucky because we came across lots of beautiful scenery on the way, the view is full of yellow, because it is the time for sunflowers and sesame flowers to blossom. To add that, there are also wild flowers which are all yellow. We can see yellow, light green , red ( the color of soil is red) , dark green and white. I was so fascinated by the view and also thankful to my friend for driving there for me.

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Once you reach Kyone, you need to drive another 34 miles to reach Ywar Ngan. On the way, We see the road lined by Euclid trees. The view is beautiful because all the sunflower fields and sesame fields are surrounded by mountains. The cold breeze tickled my hair when I started to walk along the road. I even went inside  the field and observed the sunflowers and cabbages carefully, I could also see some pagodas built at the summit of the mountains.

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I was so happy in the  sesame field
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sesame flowers

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On the way to Waterfall and blue lagoon ( Mya-tha-bait lake), you can drop in at Main-ma-ye Mountain.

The mountain is called “ brave woman  mountain” , in Brurmese “ Main-ma-ye-taung” ( Taung means mountain )

I did not climb the mountain because I recently had ankle sprain and didn’t want to get another injury. But I am going to post photos of my friends who hiked it. If you are patient, you can get the nice view at the summit.

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Buddha statue at Main-ma-ye Mountain
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pagodas at Main-Ma-Ye Mountain

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After the mountain, we went to the blue water lagoon ( Mya-tha-bait-yay-pyar-aing). I believe the water is blue because of some chemical in the soil. But contrary to science, a lot of villagers believe there must be some treasure such as emerald bowl buried beneath the lake by angles. The legend is  that the angels kept the emerald bowl for the purpose of donating it to New Buddha. They also believe there are a lot of spirits guarding the lake and are extremely cautious not to offend them. For that reason, they protested the idea of a tourist who came from Europe with the purpose of diving inside the lake and measuring the depth of the lake . They believe once you disturb the spirits, the villagers have to bear the wrath of super natural beings. The lake was carefully fenced and you cannot throw anything inside the water including the bread for the fish.

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The statue of the spirit who governs the lake
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Warning for visitors by the monk and the villagers: Kindly refrain from littering around the lake, talking rude and nonsense, taking water from lake , washing clothes , hands  and feet. Please help environment by cleaning 

 

The water is amazingly transparent and we could see fishes swimming peacefully around the branches of trees inside the lake.

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Nobody is allowed to enter inside the fence

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It was fascinating and I lingered at the fence without noticing that foreigners were trying to capture photos and I was obliterating their view.

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Finally we moved on and went to the Forest star water fall , in Burmese ( Taw-kyal-waterfall). The waterfall  as well as blue lake have been looked after by the monastery nearby and they try to clean the lanes and make sure tourists are safe. They also offer public toilets for the tourists and travelers. I would like to advice to donate for a few dollars for the monastery if you can. There is a donation box near by. We also saw a few Shan children playing on the way. They are very cute and kept on calling me ” sister”, in Burmese ” Mama”. When I approached them to have a chat, I found out that they don’t speak Burmese . They only know the word ” sister”.

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Daring village girls walking at the brim of waterfall and one of them nearly fell off. I was scared even looking at them.
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The bridge was intact when Poe Poe crossed it
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The bamboo bridge fell off and the poor gentleman had difficulty in crossing the river

 

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I wanted to go to the caves  , but it will take a lot of time and you need to go with the motor bike in the early morning . So we returned back and think of going  there again. There are more photos of scenery along the way.

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The highly fertile red color soil and it can grow everything. 
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the color of the scenery can change depending on weather and season

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Thank you for reading.

Hninn

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
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baskets are piled at one corner ( used to collect vegetables and fruits)
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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

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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/