Mingalabao from Myanmar!
Oh hey guys! If you’ve been following along on Instagram (or Facebook to a lesser degree) you probably already know I’m in hot, sticky, Myanmar traveling with my friend Treva. But I’ll give you an update as to what I was up to in September since I clearly am not good at blogging in real-time.
I started off the month with grand plans to be in Afghanistan by September 1st. Did I not tell you that? Nope, I didn’t. I know quite a few would lose their fucking minds if they knew I was planning a jump into the graveyard of empires.
By August 21st I had secured a visa to Afghanistan with plans to visit the Wakhan Corridor. Well, the September 1st plan didn’t pan out because yours truly is a poor planner and didn’t pay attention to the upcoming Eid holiday, so luckily I found out the day before that the Eshkashim border would likely be closed for the next few days. Naturally, I had a backup plan to trek to the mountain lakes of Bachor in the Central Pamir (Tajikistan).
Of course, the Bachor trek couldn’t go as planned since I went and got sick on the third day of the trek. Not altitude but surely something food-related. It was pretty up there none the less, however, it’s a place I plan to revisit in the future. I ended up turning and going back because I’d prefer not feeling good at 12,500 feet rather than nearly 15,000 feet. Then a couple of days later headed back to my home-away-from-home, Khorog.
And then came the day, heading to Afghanistan. With no fixer in place on the other side of the border and fingers crossed to trek some of the Wakhan Corridor, I went anyways.
I did manage to find one tourist (who was fully prepared and booked on a private tour) that was planning to cross the border that same day so I did hitch a ride to Tajik Ishkashim with him. The border crossing went fairly easy and I was in.
From there was the bumpy taxi ride to Sultan Eshkashim, the Afghan fraternal twin on the other side of the river. We were brought to the Marco Polo guesthouse where I met Malang, who was probably the key person to meet in Eshkashim. He started arranging as soon as he met me.
Off he went into town with my passport to get the bureaucratic nightmare kicked off. You need special permits to travel in the Wakhan Corridor, and like most anything else in this part of the world, it’s a multi-step process that involves nearly 10 photocopies of your passport and 4 passport photos. A day and a half later of ramen noodles, canned tuna, meeting half of Eshkashim, and a 4-hour visit to an Afghan police station, permits were in line and we were on our way.
With my two-week plan in Afghanistan cut short to about 8 days our new agenda was this: Visit Qazideh (this is Malang’s village), head to Wuzed to begin the trek into the Big Pamir, trek to the Shepard settlement of Maydon and eventually to the summer pastures of Aksanktich and the nearby high altitude lakes before returning to Wuzed and then making my way back to Eshkashim.
So over the course of the next few days, I was kidnapped by mobs of women and girls Io be introduced to their lives and spend afternoons over tea laughing together, got a quick glimpse into the daily lives of the remote and super traditional Wakhi people, learned how to milk a yak, ate fresh yogurt and drank bowl upon bowl of shirchai.
The negative? Well, the only bad thing that happened in Afghanistan was the 8 hour Afghan colon cleanse I experienced about the moment we set out from Qazideh. A long day in a Toyota Corolla on probably the world’s bumpiest road. I don’t think I’ve ever clamped my buttcheeks together so hard and for that long in my life.
The other negative? Getting a small taste of Afghanistan left me, of course, wanting more. I had a feeling this would happen. The Wakhan is very removed and isolated from the rest of the country. It’s never faced any of the warfare or Taliban control as many other areas of the country have. Now I can’t help but be curious about what the rest of Afghanistan is like.
Don’t fret: There will be upcoming posts all about my time in the Afghan Wakhan!
Back to Tajikistan
And without a hitch, I made it back into Tajikistan although this round was essentially a transit. I got back into the country on the 14th of September and needed to catch a flight out of Bishkek at the ass crack of dawn on the 22nd.
And with my normal luck, I got back to Tajik Ishkashim just a little too late to make the shared taxis back to Khorog and so there I was with a night in Ishkashim and a very long next day with a shared taxi to Khorog and then another to Murghab to be followed the next day with yet another to Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
First stop: Osh!
With 5 whole days I decided to go somewhere I hadn’t been yet- Sary-Chelek. Of course, this involved a minibus from Osh in which I’d eventually be buried in a pile of luggage, backpacks, and vegetables on one of the weirdest road trips of my life where myself and two French backpackers would eventually get kicked off at the village of Arkich. (The bus said Sary-Chelek, so we wrongly assumed it went all the way to the park near the lake).
So we decided the three of us should split a taxi.. that is until I greatly offended the driver by busting out laughing when he drew the second zero in the 1,500 som price tag in the dirt on his minivan window. I had read that if you had to take a taxi from Arkich that the prices were extortionate, so I kinda expected this.
I think the damage was done to his macho when I laughed so he wasn’t even really willing to negotiate, plus it’s not like there’s a plethora of taxis or tourists here for that matter. So with about a half-hour walk I successfully hitched us a ride in the back of a good ol Russian UAZ work truck headed toward the small lake a few hundred meters before Sary-Chelek.
The perk to Sary-Chelek? We were the only tourists who camped there overnight. Like literally not another soul around. Well, except for that angry cow that chased one of the French girls on her way back from the toilet that night, and then came over and ate the apples we had collected on the way out there.
Yeah, one of these days I’ll share how I got to and from Sary-Chelek with you all so that any of you Kyrgyzstan-bound readers can visit as well.
Then it was off to my final Central Asia stop: Bishkek. Bishkek gets a bad rap for being boring. However, that’s the beauty of Bishkek. There’s not much in the way of big attractions so you never feel pressed to cram your visit, but it’s got enough Soviet-era architecture, good coffee, a variety of restaurants, and the perfect amount of Central Asia weirdness to keep me entertained for a while.
I did manage to squeeze in a lunch to finally meet Stephen Lioy (amazing photographer, by the way), thoroughly explored the hectic Osh Bazaar and went wakeboarding.
Did you know there’s a wakeboard park in Bishkek? Neither did I! I had to take advantage of that, and this was the first cable park I’d ridden at. I stayed at Asia Mountains HOSTEL (there are a Hotel Asia Mountains 1 & 2, these are not the same place), and Timo who runs it also coaches at the wakepark. And yes, stay at the hostel. I loved it, plus they have probably the cutest cat in the world.
So slightly suffering instant separation anxiety I found myself at the Bishkek airport waiting to board my flight to Dubai. I still cannot believe those two months in Central Asia came and went. I honestly feel like I was there for two days, and I miss it.
In Dubai, I got to catch up with my friend Inna from Moldova and meet her lovely husband. Inna was actually my very first host on Couchsurfing. 5 years ago she showed me the ropes in Chisinau. I think a lot of my fondness for Moldova is all thanks to Inna.
Not much to note here other than a long layover. However, I spent that layover at the Boxtel. It’s in the airport and you can rent tiny private rooms by the hour to catch some sleep between flights.
Catch up to real-time! I’m currently the #BigSweaty, frying in the sun here. It’s been a while since I traveled to Southeast Asia. I’m not sure I’m equipped for this climate anymore, I’ve been spending way too much time in ridiculously high altitude moonscapes more recently. However, Myanmar is amazing.
I’ve been traveling a lot of middle of nowhere destinations in the last couple of years and I was worried Myanmar would be a shock coming from Central Asia but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not crowded and overtly touristy like some of its neighbs. I feel like Myanmar is very much raw, pure and uncut Southeast Asia. And also the people are incredibly friendly.
The first stop was Yangon to check out Shwedagon Pagoda and then an overnight bus to Hpa-An.
Originally our plan was to go up to Bagan first but we quickly found out that the hot air balloons are grounded for July, August, and September so we rerouted the trip! We actually enjoyed Hpa-An enough that we made a quick trip to Mawlamyine and came back! Hpa-An has a lot to offer. Then next we endured the overnight bus to Inle Lake, which hadn’t been on our radar but after hearing so many good things we decided to head on up.
Inle Lake was interesting and we even arrived as a festival was going on (although we never did find out what the festival was celebrating). Then from Inle Lake, we endured yet another overnight bus, this time to Hsipaw from which I’m writing this post, sweating profusely. If you’re reading this, I am currently trekking in the jungle.
So what’s up in October?
My 31st birthday of course! But that’s not till the 17th. I will be in Myanmar until October 8, until I leave the plans are to trek in the jungle and catch the sunrise from hot air balloon over Bagan.
My next jump will be straight back into ex-USSR territory: The Caucuses! I have a press trip to Abkhazia for about a week exploring the separatist region. After that, the plan is to travel back into Georgia and explore Armenia and Georgia before taking off into Turkey to traverse the country and then end this trip finally in Cyprus.
What I published this month:
Okay, let’s face facts. This is a lie. I wrote every post except for this one you’re currently reading and ‘How to Get an Afghan Visa’ before I left home. But I only pre-wrote posts through the 20th of September, so fingers crossed I can keep up with writing on here until I head home!
- How to Get an Afghanistan Visa
- How to Camp Like a Boss
- How to Shoot the Aurora: Editing
- How to Shoot the Aurora: Camera Settings
- How to Shoot the Aurora: Camera Gear
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6 thoughts on “Mingalabao From Myanmar!”
I guess eight days in Afghanistan is better than no days, right? I am so curious to see what that country is like, as well, given its significance along the Silk Road and the Hippie Trail of the 60s and 70s. Can’t wait for it to be stabilized again – whenever that will be!
I’ll def take the 8 days over 0! I hope it stabilizes soon, just so sad that one country has been in a state of chaos for as long as it has. Not looking too hopeful with the Taliban making a bounce back and the US ramping up strikes there.
Really keen to visit Myanmar before the country changes, and it becomes like others in S E Asia. I live in India, it should be easy, but somehow just havent managed to go. Your tip on hot air balloons in Bagan will be handy.
Go soon! It’s changing quick from what many who live here have told us, but I think it’s gotta a long time before it becomes as touristy as its neighbors. I’d be curious to see what Myanmar is like in 5 or 10 years.
Definitely keep the hot air balloons in mind before your visit! I actually had no idea that there was a stretch that they didn’t fly, but luckily still able to catch them as they start!
I went to Myanmar earlier this year and absolutely loved it! It quickly became one of my favourite places, I agree about the “untouched-ness” of it. Hpa-An is definitely a highlight and I heard only good things about Dawei, Hsipaw and Chaung Tha even though I couldn’t make it to those places myself.
I’m hoping to make it to Central Asia next year so I’ve been reading all your posts for inspiration 🙂
Glad to hear your planning to head to Central Asia! There’s a lot more posts to come over the next few months on the region.
Myanmar has definitely launched to the top for me for Southeast Asia. Such an interesting place and I’m happy to have visited now because you can just feel how rapidly the country is changing. Just leaving Hsipaw right now and absolutely loved it! Wishing we would’ve made time for the Mergui Archipelago.