Hiking to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)

ABC

Arrival at Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)

Our 12-day adventure began at 7:30 am when we took a minivan from the tourist city of Pohkara along twisty and very bumpy mountain roads to a village of Nayapul.

Nayapul to Tikhedhunga: On the first day of hiking, we walked about five hours along a dirt road up the mountainside. The road was like a snake because it twisted around the mountains. It was very hot because there was no shade.

Mule Train

Mule Train

Tikhedhunga to Ghorepani: The second day we climbed up about eight thousand Gurung steps. The stone steps were not the same height as the one before it so it was really hard. There were many mules along the trail carrying goods or building materials. These groups of mules are called mule trains. The mule trains were sometimes scary because a mule would come barreling down the stairs towards you. Fortunately, we were not hit by a mule train because the mules have bells on their necks to warn you when they are coming. When the mules get close to you, you have to step to the inside of the trail so that you do not get pushed over the edge of the trail. There have been people killed by the mules because they were pushed off the side of the mountain.

Mountain Range

Mountain Range

On day three my parents and my sister got up at 4:30 am to head to Poon Hill to see the views of the mountains. I was too tired to go so I decided to remain in bed. That day we decided to take a break day to acclimatize. When hiking up a mountain, you need to take time to acclimatize to the altitude so that you do not get altitude sickness. When you get up higher, there is less oxygen in the air and it is harder to breathe. Taking a break day means that your body can make more red blood cells. More red blood cells means that your body can take in more oxygen and you can breathe better. Check out this article on All About Blood and Adapting to High Altitude to learn more.

Ghorepani to Chhomrong: On day four the views were great and you could see many mountains off in the distance – the Dhaulagiri range, the Annapurna range, Himalchuli, and Machhapuchhare. The rhododendron trees were blooming with red and pink flowers and were beautiful. We saw four Langur monkeys in the magnolia trees. They were eating the magnolia flowers. It was interesting to see them jump from branch to branch, reach up and pick a flower and stuff it in their mouths.

Ascending the Gurung Stairs

Ascending the Gurung Stairs

View of the Valley Below

View of the Valley Below

Me Descending into Valley

Me Descending into Valley

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chhomrong to Bamboo: On day five, we spent the day going up and down a lot of Gurung stairs because the terrain isn’t flat. It was really difficult because we had to go down one side of the valley, then up the other side and then back down. At the bottom of the valley, we had to cross a long suspension bridge and it swung when we walked on it. When we got to Bamboo, I spent time feeding the bunnies and smashing cans. This was kind of fun.

Bamboo Bunnies

Bamboo Bunnies

Bamboo - Smashing Cans

Bamboo – Smashing Cans

Bamboo to Deurali: On the sixth day we walked from Bamboo to Deurali. Bamboo is at 2145 meters and Deurali is at 3200 meters. So we walked about 1055 meters up but in total we probably walked 20 kilometers. It is very hard to measure distance in the mountains because of the large up and downs.

 

Crossing Rivers

Crossing Rivers

Deurali to Machhapuchhare Base Camp: On the seventh day we walked from Deurali to Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC). MBC is at 3900 meters. We got there just ten minutes before the really thick clouds rolled in. We played cards while sitting inside the lodge in the clouds.

Machhapuchhare Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp: The next day we walked up to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). It was a really hot and hard walk up because of the snow and altitude. ABC is at 4130 meters and even though it sounds as if this is not far from MBC, it is actually a very long distance and took over 2.5 hours to hike up. When we got there, it wasn’t what I had expected. Annapurna seemed a lot smaller than I thought it would be because we were now so close to the mountain. A cool thing about ABC was that when you go up and look over the moraine there is a cliff and you are literally standing on a glacier that has dirt on top of it.

Snowfield on way to ABC

Snowfield on way to ABC

The walk out: Then we walked down to Himalaya, which is a small village before Bamboo. On day ten we walked back to Chhomrong. Then we walked 8 hours to Pothana the next day. On our last day, we walked to Pheti and took a taxi to Pohkara where the next day we took a bus back to Kathmandu. This trekking experience was great because at the beginning I didn’t think that I would be able walk that far. At the end, I was happy that I had made it (with only one sore knee). :)

Journey to Annapurna Base Camp – Part 2 – Our Trek Continues

Calamity will befall us!

Calamity will befall us!

The itinerary for the next three days had us continuing to descend into the valley, getting as low as 2100 meters (7000 ft). We stayed in three villages, Chhomrong, Bamboo and Deurali. As Chhomrong was one of the last places on the route where meat is available, we gorged ourselves on delicious Nepali chilly chicken and scrumptious chicken dhal bhat. Just before Bamboo, we saw a sign that stated if you were to eat chicken, pork or buffalo, then personal calamity or harm may befall you. The Annapurna sanctuary is considered a holy place, and no slaughter of animals or eating of animal flesh are allowed. This meant that we were going to become vegetarians for the next four days. Thankfully, the vegetarian food at both Bamboo and Deurali was tasty!

Avalanche Zone

Avalanche Zone

We left Deurali very early in the morning because the trail to our intended highest sleeping point, Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC), was littered with avalanche zones. When the sun hits and melts the snow, there is a higher chance of an avalanche happening. To get through these zones we had to walk uphill quickly which was a little difficult at high altitude and I was promptly tired. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any avalanches. We heard that an hour after we had passed through one zone, an avalanche occurred, closing this part of the trail.

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Looking over the edge

Two exhausting hours later, we finally arrived at the lodge where we were planning to stay. After eating a delicious lunch of momos, a traditional Nepali recipe similar to a Chinese dumpling, we decided to go for a short hike on the lateral moraine next to our lodge. I had expected there to be a plateau at the top, but after walking up to it, I found a 150 meter drop off. I scrambled back from the edge as our guide shouted at me. The edge of the moraine was eroding, leaving open space under the dirt and my unexpecting feet.

 

Snowball fight on a moraine

Snowball fight on a moraine

Soon after, I got the idea to have a snowball fight. I picked up some snow and threw it at Matthew, hitting him in the middle of his back. Right away, he attempted to throw one back at me, and just missed. We continued our fight until we had reached the bottom of the hill, where Matthew threw a snowball that hit my cheek. I repaid him by lobbing one directly at his bottom. He shrieked, and I couldn’t help but buckle over in laughter at his dramatic reaction. Soon everybody had joined in, but we were abruptly stopped by the approaching clouds. We quickly made our way back to the lodge as it is very easy to get lost in the thick fog. We had an early dinner, and went to bed at 7 pm because we planned to wake up very early the next morning.

 

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Hiking to ABC from MBC

Nooooo! I mentally groaned, as my annoying alarm blared. It was 4:00 a.m., and I did not want to get out of my toasty warm sleeping bag. I eventually dragged myself out of bed and was instantly met with –10 degrees Celsius air. After putting on 5 layers of clothes, while doing jumping jacks (I must have been a sight to see), I was much warmer and ready to start the hike to ABC.

 

 

Arriving at ABC

Arriving at ABC

The next two hours would prove to be grueling as the air is thinner at altitude and walking is much more difficult. This time was made even more difficult once the sun had risen as is much more powerful the higher up you go. Add that to it reflecting off the snow, and you’ve got a UV of more than 15. It seemed weird that morning to have to slather 50 SPF sunblock on when it was so cold, but I understood the reason once we reached the long snow field we intended to cross.

 

 

Arriving at ABC

Matt and I at ABC

As we got higher, I began to notice that the altitude was taking an even greater toll on me. Each step was exhausting! There is less oxygen at higher elevations. Therefore, your brain gets less oxygen making you feel sluggish and tired and some people experience altitude sickness. More severe signs of altitude sickness include dizziness, vomiting, and insomnia. Fortunately, no one in my family exhibited such symptoms.

 

 

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Annapurna I and the viewing hill

Though I was exhausted from the lack of sleep and oxygen and from what I’ve been told I was very irritable, I was extremely happy to finally reach the sign for Annapurna Base Camp. We made it!!! Then, I learned that we had to walk further to get to the viewing hill. There were so many Buddhist prayer flags strung, that we almost had to crawl to get past them! The panorama was indescribably amazing. Straight ahead was the magnificent Annapurna I, to the left and right were some snowcapped foothills, while behind was the sunrise over Machhapuchhre. It was incredible to be so close to some of the highest mountains in the world!

 

 

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Himalaya to Chhomrong

Our next challenge would be descending these mountains…Down, down and more down. My knees were dead by the time we had reached Himalaya, the tiny village in between Deurali and Bamboo. The last three days of our trek were the most difficult. We were walking 7-8 hour days, and my legs were seriously sore from hiking for so long. It also didn’t help that Matthew wanted us to move at the pace of Kumar and Mila, our porters, who were moving double the speed of Mom, Dad, Jaget and Khol. The last day of our trek though was the hardest. It took us 8-9 hours of fast paced hiking to reach our final lodge in Pothana. I was just about ready to drop. I was so happy that we had an attached bathroom rather than a public one that I actually jumped for joy! Let me tell you, jumping when your legs are about to crumble is a feat. After washing my hair for the first time in 6 days, I settled down for a nice cup of hot chocolate, and a plate of delicious Nepali chilly chicken. Khol, one of our guides, who used to be a cook, made what was some of the best food I’d eaten in Nepal.

Snowball fight on a snowfield

Snowball fight on a snowfield

Amazingly, the next day I got to sleep in until 7 a.m. instead of the usual 6. Pheti, the town that we were going to hire a taxi in, was only a 2-hour walk away. We gladly walked at a much slower pace. My legs were way too sore to go any faster then the turtle speed at which we were moving.

Once we reached Pheti our trek was over and it was hard saying goodbye to Jaget, Khol, Kumar and Mila. The four of them were going to the local bus station, where they were going to immediately take a bus back to Kathmandu, while we were planning to stay in Pokhara for the night. I felt sad that the guys were leaving. This meant that the trek had come to an end and this was one of my favourite parts of our world trip so far!

 

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Kol, Mom, Matt, Me, Jaget & Dad at ABC – Annapurna I in the background

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Crossing a river in the middle of a cloud

 

 

 

MBC in the Background

MBC in the Background

Journey to Annapurna Base Camp – Part 1 – First Glimpses of the Himalayas

Annapurna I is the 10th highest mountain in the world, and one of the 14 mountains that measure over 8000 meters. We left Kathmandu in hopes of reaching the base camp of this huge and incredible mountain.

First Glimpse of Annapurna South

First Glimpse of Annapurna South

Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) is roughly 4130 meters or 13550 feet high. At the beginning of the trek, I had had no clue of what to expect – the tallest mountains I’d ever seen in person was the range of La Cloche, in Ontario. At about 500 meters or 1650 feet, these Ontario hills aren’t comparable to the amazing Himalayas in any way. I got my first glimpse of Annapurna South during the drive from Pokhara to the village of Nayapul near the trailhead. It was gigantic and white, towering over us in all of it’s magnificence, hundreds of kilometers away. I obviously shrieked and pointed out the van’s windows, shaking Matthew awake, while asking our driver if we could stop to take a picture. It seemed as if my dad and I were the ones who were excited to see Annapurna South, as my mom was not feeling well she begrudgingly looked out of the van window, while my dad took a picture of me and the looming mountains in the distance.

Mila, one of our Porters

Mila, one of our Porters

We were soon in Nayapul, outfitting ourselves in 50 spf sunblock, and wide brimmed hats. Meanwhile, I watched our two porters, Kumar and Mila, roping our duffel bags together, and preparing to carry them. This style of transportation uses a tump, where a person will have a headband-like strap, with rope attaching this head piece to the load. The headband piece is placed on the forehead, while the bag rests on the back. I was worried that Kumar and Mila were going to strain their necks as they were carrying about 25 kilograms each, but they proved me wrong. This day was mostly spent ascending on a dirt and dusty road. Many trekkers hire a Jeep to drive them to Hille, the small village after Nayapul, but we – 2 guides, 2 porters, Matthew, Mom, Dad and I – opted to walk 5 hours instead. Our final destination for the day was 20 minutes past Hille, a small village called Tikhedhunga.

Kumar, our second Porter

Kumar, our second Porter

Our first night on the trail was pretty much as expected – other than the public squat toilets and freezing cold showers – I couldn’t complain. The bedrooms were basic and relatively clean, two bare cots (2 people per room), each pushed to a corner in the rectangular room, with a night table in between, and a window above. Immediately after we had received the rooms, I had hopped onto a bed and relaxed, before jumping off after remembering that I had been told to be aware of the pillows in trail lodges as they might contain lice or other insects. Fortunately, we had down jackets that could be used as pillows and borrowed (but clean) sleeping bags that kept us cozy and warm.

A Dhal Bhat Platter

A Dhal Bhat Platter – Half Eaten

The next day’s trek, from Tikhedhunga to Ghorepani was brutal. We ascended over 8000 uneven steps, and added 1200 meters to our elevation. By the end of the hike I had a mild sunburn on my arms, as the morning half of the day was spent in the blitzing sun.  I also had extremely stiff legs from the seemingly unending stream of stairs. Luckily, my room was on the first floor, so I didn’t have to go up too many stairs. My room also had an attached bathroom with a Western toilet and shower! After an amazing dinner of Dhal Bhat, a dish made up of lentil soup, rice, vegetable curry, pickle and spinach, that 90% of Nepali’s eat twice a day, we turned in early. We were planning to wake up before our usual time, so we could climb up to Poon Hill to catch the sunrise over the mountains.

Sunrise over Annapurna's from Poon Hill

Sunrise over Annapurna’s from Poon Hill

The alarm I had set the previous night for 4:30 a.m. blared, and I attempted to turn it off, half asleep. It was freezing outside of my sleeping bag, and I threw on random articles of clothing in an attempt to warm up. A few minutes later my mom, my dad and I met Jaget and Kul, our two guides, and set off for Poon Hill. The hour hike was tough, my legs were still sore from the day beforehand, and as we were walking up to 3200 meters (10500 ft) it became much harder to breathe. The sun was just beginning to show itself when we we reached the top, and I could clearly see many mountains in the distance. To the left was Dhaulagiri 1-5, and Nilgiri. Straight ahead were Annapurna 1-4, Annapurna South and Gangapurna. For me, it was too early and too cold to be overly excited about actually seeing these great mountains so close, though it seemed that the large Indonesian group were doing enough screaming for me and the other 200 people on the hill. After descending from Poon Hill, my parents decided that we were going to take an acclimatization day, and remain in Ghorepani instead of walking the planned 6 hours to Tadapani this day.  

Annapurna South (R) Annapurna I (L)

Annapurna South (R) Annapurna I (L)

More stairs greeted us the next morning – ugh. Even though the map said that Tadapani was 200 meters (650 ft) below Ghorepani, we had to climb up to 3200 meters (10500 ft) again, before we could start descending into the valley that would eventually lead to Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) and ABC. I felt more acclimatized then the morning before, and it was much easier to ascend higher. Another blessing was the clear skies. Most days clouds will roll in and completely conceal the mountains before 8 a.m.; however, there wasn’t a speck of white in the sky and the mountains were in full view. The view was just as good, if not better than Poon Hill. The air was warmer, I wasn’t so tired, the rhododendron trees were in full bloom with brilliant pink and red flowers, and the crystal blue sky provided an excellent contrast against the mountain range. Unfortunately, as we continued and descended into the valley the rhododendron blossoms disappeared, along with our magnificent views of the Himalayas.

Stay tuned…to find out more about our journey and whether we make it to Annapurna Base Camp?

My Mom and I on the top of Poon Hill

My Mom and I on the top of Poon Hill

My Mom, My Dad and I on Poon Hill

My Mom, My Dad and I on Poon Hill

Dhaulagiri Range from Poon Hill

Dhaulagiri Range from Poon Hill

Mom and I on Poon Hill

Mom and I on Poon Hill

My Dad and I on Poon Hill

My Dad and I on Poon Hill

My Mom and I on Poon Hill

My Mom and I on Poon Hill

Jaget, Kul, Mom and I Descending from Poon Hill

Jaget, Kul, Mom & I Descending from Poon Hill

My Mom and I on Poon Hill

My Mom and I on Poon Hill

View of Annapurna South (R) and Annapurna I (L)

View of Annapurna South (R) and Annapurna I (L)

View of Annapurna South (R) and Annapurna I (L)

View of Annapurna South (R) and Annapurna I (L)

Annapurna South (R), Annapurna I (M) and Nilgiri (L)

Annapurna South (R), Annapurna I (M) and Nilgiri (L)

Dhaulagiri I

Dhaulagiri I

 

Exploring Myanmar By Foot – Our 14 Kilometre Journey!

Beginning our Hike near Kalaw, Myanmar

Beginning our Hike near Kalaw, Myanmar

The sun was already beating down on us, when our opened-back truck taxi dropped us at the starting point of our trek, an ox cart road that disappeared into the fields and mountains beyond. Nambo, an enthusiastic 20-something guide from a local ethnic group with thanaka on her cheeks and a wide brim hat, led us down the trail. We soon came upon a small schoolhouse, with two classes taking place inside, one for older children and another for younger kids. The older kids were doing long division, similar to the curriculum for grade 4 in Canada. The younger children appeared to have free time, and were screaming and running around the classroom while eating snacks. Many of them kept shaking my hands, and saying ‘hello’. It was pretty clear we had become a distraction, so after a brief visit we decided to continue our walk. Opposite the school was a monastery, with three monks in front cutting a tree into firewood. My dad helped brace the tree trunk while two monks used a ginormous hand held saw to cut it up.

Monks Chopping a Tree

Monks Chopping a Tree

Some Local Children in School

Some Local Children in School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabbage Patches

Cabbage Patches

After meeting the monks Nambo lead us through a terraced field where locals were now growing cabbage, as it was the dry season. They grow rice during the wet months. There were two water buffalos grazing in some fallow sections of field and we had to nervously walk around the biggest one. The fields stretched off towards the west, where they ran into the small mountains we would soon have to traverse.

 

Tones of Ginger at a Local Farmer's Home

Tones of Ginger at a Local Farmer’s Home

As we continued on our trek out of the field, we came upon a small collection of homes.  The first appeared to have recently had a fire. Some men were taking apart the metal roof, and scavenging what they could for the house that they were constructing beside the burnt out one. Another house had piles upon piles of ginger that was being stored to plant during the next growing season. A little bit later we came upon two men cutting up bamboo. Nambo asked them what it was for and we learned that they were making coverings for marrow plants because marrow needs a cool shaded place to grow. They also informed us that bamboo grows 4 meters a year! Talk about growing like a weed!

Huge Terraced Valley

Huge Terraced Valley

A half-hour after leaving the village, we entered a huge terraced valley growing thousands of cabbage, lentils, ginger and oranges. There weren’t many farmers working in the fields as it was noon and the sun was blitzing. The mountain on the opposite side of the valley was shaded so we headed in that direction. As a hat can only do so much, we were grateful when we arrived for a respite from the brutal sun.  Once we ascended the hills we looked down to see an astounding amount of intensive agriculture in the next valley as well. All we could see were orange groves, green tea plantations, coffee fields, lentil bushes and more cabbage fields. We were continuously astounded by the sheer amount of land being used for agricultural production!

The Village Where We Ate Lunch

The Village Where We Ate Lunch

After walking closer to the edge, I noticed that there was a small village that appeared to be hanging off the side of the mountain. A ridge divided the valley into two. We headed for this small village and stopped at a home where the owner was manually preparing coffee beans in his front yard. Here we learned how coffee beans are made. First the coffee fruit (called a coffee cherry) is mashed up in a mortar and pestle-like device to remove the outer red skin. The white interior is then dried in the sun. After it is dry, this inside part is mashed again to ensure that the white thin skin is removed. The remaining beans are then dried once more.  Lastly, the farmers roast the beans and sell them at the local market. Matthew and I got to help mash some of the coffee cherries with the gigantic mortar and pestle-like device.

Nambo (Right) Preparing Lunch

Nambo (Right) Preparing Lunch

A few minutes later, we found ourselves sitting inside a local villager’s home, while Nambo prepared us a delicious lunch of clear soup, an avocado-tomato salad, along with stir-fried noodles and vegetables. Meanwhile, my brother was playing with some young village children. They were very energetic and loved running around and chasing Matthew. One of them found a pigeon with broken legs, which prevented it from flying away. He would pick it up, and swing it around, while I tried to get them to stop scaring the life out of the poor bird!

 

Local Man Enjoying the View

Local Man Enjoying the View

As we left the village to continue our hike down the other side of the mountain, we stumbled upon what resembled a garbage dump in the middle of a small creek! It was sad to see that the locals would throw their trash into the forest without a second thought. This does make sense though because there is, unfortunately, no way to dispose of the garbage in the mountains other than burning it. As we continued down and into the last valley we were to visit, we saw lentils, cabbage, mustard, avocado, marrow, oranges, taro, dragon fruit, green onions and more growing. The orange trees didn’t look very productive, as it is very dry. Nambo told us that oranges are being grown instead the opium poppies – the crop that the locals historically farmed.

As this 14-kilometer hike in the mountains of Myanmar drew to a close, we hopped into another open-back pickup truck, and while we drove back to Kalaw we watched the sun set over the mountains we had climbed.

Locals Working in the Fields

Locals Working in the Fields

Drying Green Tea Leaves

Drying Green Tea Leaves

Coffe Plant

Coffe Plant

Mashing Coffee Cherries

Mashing Coffee Cherries

Matthew and Some Village Children

Matthew and Some Village Children

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Dragon Fruit Plantation 

My Adventure with Electric Motor Scooters in Bagan, Myanmar

Preparing to Go

Preparing to Go

Me - pretending to drive motor scooter

Me – pretending to drive motor scooter

In Bagan, Myanmar we rented electric motor scooters and went on an adventure. On the motor scooters you technically did not have to wear helmets, but through a lot of effort my parents were able to get two helmets for my sister and me. My dad and I were on one scooter. My sister and my mom were on another scooter together. When I first got on one of the electric motor scooters, I was excited and scared. I had never been on a motor scooter before and I was worried that I might fall off. These scooters had different speed levels. Each level had a maximum speed. The first level had a maximum speed of 40 kilometers per hour and that was the level that my parents would only allow. After we tested the motor scooters and had our helmets, we set off to see some temples.

Gold Painted Buddha

Gold Painted Buddha

There were previously 13,000 temples in Bagan, but you can only visit about 3,000 of these today. Our first stop was a temple that was built in the 11th century. At the entrance of the temple, there was a big gold painted Buddha that was about 7 meters tall. Inside the temple there were tunnels that led to meditation caves. We had to use flashlights to move through the tunnels to get to the caves. My mom did not want to crawl through the little hole to get to the meditation cave. I think my mom was scared of the rat that I had just seen!

Mom and Alex on the Scooter

Mom and Alex on the Scooter

After we finished this visit, we got back on our scooters to continue our adventure. We drove along back roads and the highway to find more temples. We had to park our scooters in a small village because the road was too rocky, sandy and steep. We were all worried that we would wipe out if we drove the scooters down the hill! After walking for about a half of a kilometer, we finally came upon a monastery surrounded by lots and lots of temples. Each temple had a Buddha statue inside. If you want to go inside the temples, you need to take off your shoes and socks. We only went inside a few of these because we were wearing running shoes and socks and it was a bother to take these off again and again.

Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto Panorama

Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto Panorama

Next, we wanted to find the Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto. In some spots on the road there was a lot of sand and it felt like we were driving on a beach. The scooter was sliding around in the sand. Fortunately, my dad had strong arms and we did not fall over. My mom and my sister almost fell over once! When we finally arrived at the Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto, we found the stairway and went straight to the top. The roof of this temple had a panoramic view of the 3000 other temples in Bagan.

We spent the rest of the day zooming around Bagan to try to find more temples. There was always a Buddha statue in each temple. Some of the Buddhas have gold leaf on them, some have gold paint, and some were just painted white and red. We probably visited about 12 temples this day. It was a nice and fun day in Bagan.

Sunrise in Bagan

Sunrise in Bagan

Temples

Temples

Red & White Buddha

Red & White Buddha

Gold Leaf Buddha

Gold Leaf Buddha

40 Foot+ Buddha

40 Foot+ Buddha

Modernized Buddha :)

Modernized Buddha :)

Golden Temple

Golden Temple

Biking in Inle to find a floating village

Waterway to the Front Door

Waterway to the Front Door

Sugar Cane Truck

Sugar Cane Truck

One day, my family and I biked around Inle Lake for ten kilometers to try to find a floating village. We passed crops of sugar cane, sunflowers and lentils. The sugar cane was 2 to 4 meters high. It was being harvested in the fields, then processed in a tiny factory right there, and made into sugar juice.

After biking for five kilometers we came to a little teak pier. We left our bikes and then walked to the end of the pier where we rented a canoe and hired a driver. To move around the floating village the driver paddled and we helped. It cost us 6000 kyats for an hour ($7 CAN). There are about 150 houses in the village and about 230 families.

Exploring the Village by Canoe

Exploring the Village by Canoe

A floating village is not actually floating. The houses are on stilts over a swampy area of the lake. The fisherman put their houses on stilts because during monsoon season the water rises. If the houses were not on stilts, the houses would flood and potentially be half way under water. To move around the floating village everybody has a canoe and everyone has to know how to paddle. The people in Inle have an unusual way of paddling. They paddle with one leg (see picture). This allows their hands to be free so that they can do other things, such as fishing with a net.

 

Floating Gardens & Houses

Floating Gardens & Houses

Each family seems to have at least one garden. The gardens are patches of floating earth held in place by bamboo poles. The families were growing a lot of fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, papayas, tomatoes and aubergines. The floating garden is also useful because during monsoon the water rises and so does the garden. This allows the farmers to grow food even during the monsoon season.

 

 

 

View of Inle from Winery

View of Inle from Winery

After visiting the floating village, we biked to the only winery in Myanmar where my parents tried a few types of wine. I had a cheese platter and some French fries, and my sister had some chicken fingers. The winery is located on a mountainside where we watched a nice sunset. After sunset, we biked back to our hotel to get some sleep so that the next day we could be ready for more biking – ugh! – another 10 kilometers up and down hill to find more temples!

 

 

 

Workers Cutting Sugar Cane

Workers Cutting Sugar Cane

Floating Gardens

Floating Gardens

Floating Home with Laundry Drying

Floating Home with Laundry Drying

A Kid Leg Paddling His Canoe

A Kid Leg Paddling His Canoe

Leg Paddling to Move Around the Village

Leg Paddling to Move Around the Village

Fisherman Paddling with Leg & Casting Net

Fisherman Paddling with Leg & Casting Net

Golden Buddhas, Golden Stupas and Gold Leaf – Discovering Something Very Different While Biking In Mandalay, Myanmar

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Three Buddha Statues at the First Temple

Our teeth chattered as our bicycles bumped along the roadways of Mandalay as we set out to explore this bustling city. We had set out in search of amazing temples and places that were completely off the beaten track.

Golden Buddha

Golden Buddha

Our first stop was a large local temple hidden on a small back street off the main road. As it was midday and because this temple was not a touristic site there were only a few locals inside. The entry hall was lined with red and yellow pillars, with flower patterns made of mirror. As we walked further inside the temple and into the center chamber, there stood a 2.5-meter, pure gold, diamond, jade, emerald and ruby encrusted Buddha. Quietly we tiptoed around the room so that we did not to disturb the local people in prayer, I scanned the room for security cameras and found none!

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Woman Praying at First Temple

As we continued to wander around this huge temple complex and admire all of the statues, I noticed that all of the Buddhas had slightly different faces! I couldn’t imagine how many artists it must have taken to complete all of these hundreds of unique Buddhas!

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Coal Workshop

While we were biking to the next temple, we saw a small workshop where children ages 7 to 10 were breaking big chunks of coal into smaller pieces. Their faces were completely blackened from the coal dust and their clothes were falling apart. We couldn’t believe our eyes! Once we were a block away, we stopped to discuss what we had just witnessed. My parents decided that we must bike back to confirm what we had seen – it seemed so unreal. My dad felt that the scene reminded him of parts of a Charles Dickens’ novel. We watched these children for a few more minutes both in fascination and pity.

Golden Stupa at Second Temple

Golden Stupa at Second Temple

My head was still spinning as we arrived at the second temple. This temple had countless stupas in its walls, each one different. The biggest stupa was coated in gold leaf, which was hard to focus on, as it was bright out and the gold was reflecting the sunlight directly into our eyes. In another part of this temple, there were some statues that depicted Buddha under a bhoda tree, with some of his disciples sitting around him. These followers looked oddly like Jesus, which we found strange.

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Palm Sugar Refinery

Soon after leaving the second temple, we saw a rusted, corrugated steel building, with many old and used oil barrels outside. The air smelled strongly of molasses, and my dad was curious as to what the purpose of the building was. When my dad peeked in, he saw that some workers appeared to be making a type of sugar. One of the workers invited my dad to come further inside, and he saw that the men were using a pre-industrial method to refine sugar cane.

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Small Garbage Dump

A few minutes later we came upon a small garbage dump, which we had to ride through in order to cross the river. After hurrying through it, as it was very stinky, we biked past a fairly dingy looking temple and over a teak bridge. As the bridge was long, there was a covered spot in the middle to provide refuge from the blistering sun. I felt a little uncomfortable as we walked our bikes through the roofed section because there were many young homeless men sleeping on the floor and the wooden benches. A few minutes later, we reached the other side of the river and came upon many people, who although they appeared to be quite poor living in makeshift homes without running water or toilets, were smiling and waving at us.

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The Ayeyarwady River

Soon after we had left this area, we suddenly came upon a large restaurant for tourists overlooking the Ayeyarwady River. As we were famished, we decided to stop for lunch. While we sat waiting for drinks and food enjoying the amazing view, we reflected on how great the differences were between the lives of the locals and that of the tourists.

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Long Teak Bridge

After lunch, we re-crossed the small bridge and stopped in front of the temple we had seen before lunch. My parents wanted to go in, but Matthew and I did not. After looking around for a bit, I noticed numerous coffins on the floor of the “temple”, and we realized that this “temple” was actually a crematorium and morgue! After this discovery, we decided to hurriedly get out of there because it was a bit creepy – to say the least!

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Local Market

On our way back, we crossed through a buzzing local market. There were so many people, carts and trucks that we had to walk our bikes! It seemed like the only foods for sale were tomatoes, garlic, onions, pickled vegetables and potatoes! One stall sold only onions. They had hundreds of huge mesh bags full of them! Another had thousands of different types of tomatoes for sale. As we made our way through the market, we noticed that everyone was looking at us and smiling and waving.

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Gold Leaf Right After Pounding

 

 

Shortly after this, we finally arrived back at our hotel. After cooling down for few hours, we got back on our bikes in search of a gold leaf market. Gold leaf is created by placing small sheets of gold between thousands of pieces of paper. The papers are then placed into a bamboo box, and workers continuously pound the containers with a sledgehammer thinning the gold until it becomes what is known as gold leaf. This process normally takes upwards of 5 days. At the gold leaf market, we noticed that men were the ones pounding the gold leaf, women were cutting the leaf, and children were responsible to make the packets that held the leaf. Pounding the leaf appeared to be very demanding and the children looked sad as they did their work. Gold leaf is important in Myanmar because it is often applied to Buddhas and stupas for good fortune and health. Typically only males are allowed to apply the gold leaf. Females are not permitted to do so in Myanmar – which I found very sexist!

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Pounding the Gold Leaf

When I started out on the bike ride in the morning, I had no idea what I might see. I had assumed that I would see Buddhas and stupas and maybe run into some monks. What I actually saw was very different. For the first time, I witnessed child labour and extreme poverty. Again, I feel very lucky to live in Canada.

 

 

 

 

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Tons of Tomatoes at the Local Market

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Buddha and his Followers

Motorcycles & Impossible Loads in Vietnam

Motos, Motos & More Motos!

Motos & More Motos!

There are 90 million people and over 40 million motorcycles in Vietnam. There seem to be motorcycles everywhere you look. In the big cities, especially Saigon and Hanoi, motorcycles make it very hard for people to cross the street. The motorcycles do not stop at red lights and they don’t seem to follow any of the rules of the road. Lots of motorcycles ride on the sidewalks, and I was once almost hit by a motorbike that came up in front of me onto the sidewalk. I also saw some motorcycles carrying full families (a dad, a mom, a sister, a brother, and a baby) driving at full speed and with nobody wearing helmets. Some other motorcycles had what I call an impossible load. This type of load is when a motorbike carries something way bigger than the driver. It might be an orange tree, a 15-foot bamboo ladder, a big screen TV, a refrigerator, or a 500-kilogram load of mangoes! In Canada, these loads would be illegal and sometimes more than we put in cars. Somehow the motorcycles and their loads manage to get safely through the streets!

Here are some pictures of impossible loads I saw:

Entire Family on Moto!

Entire Family on Moto!

Orange Tree on a Motorcycle

Orange Tree on a Motorcycle

Bamboo Ladder

Bamboo Ladder

Tying On a Big Screen TV

Tying On a Big Screen TV

500 Kilos of Mangoes & a Woman on Top!

500 Kilos of Mangoes & a Woman on Top!

Transporting Art! The art is attached to the moto!

Transporting Art! The art is attached to the moto!

A Step Ladder, Pole and Other Things!

A Step Ladder, Pole and Other Things!

Delivering Water!

Delivering Water!

Fridge & Other Things!

Fridge & Other Things!

Another crazy load!

Another crazy load!

Visiting Ho Chi Minh – Hanoi, Vietnam

 

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

Determined to visit the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, the father of communism in Vietnam, my family and I woke up early one morning and set out into the crazy Hanoi traffic to try to find him. As his mausoleum had very limited visitation hours – only a few hours each morning and a few days each week, we hurriedly walked through the pouring rain for over two kilometers before reaching the north gate of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. Unfortunately, the guards at this gate told us that we had to enter the complex from the opposite side, over a kilometer away. As it was fast approaching ten and entry closed at 10:15, we had to rush. Fortunately we made it just in time, and we were through the queue for security screening by 10:10. We were then marched two-by-two in groups of thirty from the security building to the mausoleum. While we were walking towards the granite building where Ho Chi Minh was being showcased, there were guards posted every ten meters, dressed in pure white uniforms – even wearing white gloves and white rain boots. When we reached the mausoleum, I noticed that the path leading up to it was a red carpet, with guards on each side, which I

Guards in Front of the Mausoleum

Guards in Front of the Mausoleum

found odd because I associate a red carpet with royalty. Inside the mausoleum, guards were posted on every corner, increasing in number as we neared the room where Ho Chi Minh was resting. This room was dimly lit, and many guards lined the walls, each holding a rifle with a bayonet. Ho Chi Minh was elevated on an island about 3 meters in height with four guards encircling the base. His hands and head were backlit, giving Ho Chi Minh an unearthly look. His skin showed no sign of deterioration, and it appeared that he was simply sleeping, not dead. Nearing the conclusion of our extremely short viewing of Ho Chi Minh, my mom noticed a nearly invisible screw poking out of his neck. When she stopped to look more closely, a guard aggressively told her to keep moving. In the end, we were only able to view Ho Chi Minh’s body for about thirty seconds, but I thought that that was more then enough time to stare at his embalmed corpse. Overall, I found the whole experience unnerving, the soldiers standing so still – like statues, with their eyes fixed on the walls behind us, and Ho Chi Minh in his eternal sleep.

Note: It is forbidden to take pictures in the mausoleum, and all cameras are confiscated on entry. Knowing this, we didn’t bring our camera and do not have pictures. The pictures here were taken from the internet.

A Dozen Doors

A few months ago, a good friend of ours, Danielle, gave us an art project to complete – photograph a dozen doors from around the world and post them on our blog. After taking pictures of hundreds of interesting and unique doors, Matthew and I selected the dozen that we think captures aspects of each country.

Thanks to Danielle for this awesome art project!

Fortification in Ronda, Spain

Fortification in Ronda, Spain

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Local Residence in Chefchaouen, Morocco

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Local Residence in Fes, Morocco

Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail in Meknes, Morocco

Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail in Meknes, Morocco

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Local Residence in Marrakech, Morocco

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King’s Palace in Marrakech, Morocco

Karnak Temple - Egypt

Karnak Temple – Egypt

Preah Khan Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Preah Khan Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ta Prohm Temple - Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ta Prohm Temple – Siem Reap, Cambodia

King's Palace, Phnom Phen, Cambodia

King’s Palace, Phnom Phen, Cambodia

Citidel Interior in Hue, Vietnam

Citidel Interior in Hue, Vietnam

Citidel Gates in Hue, Vietnam

Citidel Gates in Hue, Vietnam