Wednesday, May 31, 2006

South It Is

Yes, sitting here at a computer in above 100 degrees F (42 ish) I have just found out that volunteering in Bangalore IS ON and hanging around in Himalayan ashrams is off. I am very excited and will be spending the next 10 days gallivanting south, quite the opposite direction from any other right minded traveller. The monsoon hit the south last week so it should be an interesting month or so.

The organization that Dave and I will be working for is the Parikrma Foundation, a nonprofit company "aiming to help the poorest of the poor break their cycle of poverty". When a German lass called Steffi described how much she enjoyed her time there and how worthwhile the organisation is I decided I had to give it a go. Her feedback stood out amongst the numerous not so satisfied stories and I hope it will live up to it. You can judge it for yourself by clicking on the link on the right margin of this page.

I just can not wait for another 26 hour train ride across the heart of India at the hottest time of the year in what may be described as a human oven. Delightful.

Back in India

Ah yes, I find myself back in the shere craziness of Calcutta with another 6 fascinating weeks ahead of Dave and me in this nutty sub-continent.

No more Burmese internet restrictions. I shall therefore resume this blog with out concern of that bastard of a regime.

Just off to see the famous symbol of old empire known as the Victoria Monument then relax into to another overnight train journey to Varanasi, just as I undertook with Thilo in early March. A fascinating place like no other and I can not wait to get there.

Then where...

The north or south, only some people in Bangalore know as we must wait for news of voluntary work. I can not think of much a more interesting place to wait.....

to Varanasi!!!!

Burmese Days

So, some time to let the mind roll-over my first experience of Burma in another karaoke poisoned (the worst I have ever heard – this country’s pop is worse then Cantonese or even Tibetan – seriously wrong) cramped bus trip headed straight for Yangon. Another night at the ridiculously friendly Mother Land II guesthouse, a wander around markets and then a final tea over-looking the picturesque port and Schwedegon that dominates it. Then back across the Bay of Bengal to India with our dodgy beards.

An important area that I must delve into. This country is famed for its oppressive regime and indeed many choose to avoid it for that very reason. How far was I able to investigate the situation? How informed an opinion could I attain? The truth is not far and not much. That though is compared to the standard of knowledge that should usually be expected to give a reasoned opinion, but this is not an ordinary scenario. The whole situation can not be grasped from the hand-full of areas that are on the tourist map or from a people who are generally too scared to speak up. This I believe makes it even more important that those who can, publicise the snippets of information they can gather.

Firstly from what I saw with my own eyes. I saw a strong military presence, propaganda and an undoubtedly suppressed people who were noticeably cautious in speaking out. Freedom of speech is curtailed on airwaves and with closed access to Hotmail/Yahoo/news sites etc. Overall it reminded me a lot of western parts of China and that was a key point in my thinking. Here we have two oppressive governments that act secretly, strangle free-speech, suppress minorities, open-up some areas for foreigners to see how well everything is getting along while closing off other large regions where god-knows-what goes on. Many similarities. Why then is the rich world treating them so differently? Surrounding countries seem to treat Burma comparably openly (compared to how the West treats it) - as can be seen in the streets of the capital laden full of East Asian products. The West has chosen a policy of shutting-off the country while at the same time opening their arms to China.

From the little I can see, a policy comparison that deserves closer attention so to avoid hypocrisy. I repeat I have not seen much, but it has raised questions in my mind.

Now to what I heard with my ears. In particular, two individuals opened up politically to me (their names or roles of course kept confidential – people are scared to speak out for a reason). From them I heard stories of killing and suppression in the cut-off areas. Of child armies, drug-wars, and immense human rights violation. Of friends in jail and an increasingly powerful and paranoid government/military structure. The impression I received was far from a government weakening under western constraints, but rather one that is constantly consolidating power and a people with ever less heart to openly fight it. The situation was described as hopeless up until alcohol took effect and one man stressed the need to find a leader to give hope.

It is hard to have any settled opinion from only a few weeks in this country but from what I have guaged there is little hope for short term political freedom in this country. As I left, the "Lady" as she is known (Aung San Suu Kyi) was put under house arrest once more, but for most people I spoke to she gives little hope. In fact one side of the argument goes that she is as much a hindrance as a help. Yes she does bring publicity to the struggle, but provides a convenient excuse for the West to do as she asks - isolate the regime and officially sanction the government - while at the same time largely forgetting about the situation. The policy is not working. On the surface the situation does not appear to be improving. The government does not seem to be weakening but digging in further. I just cannot see a successful revolution coming from the mass of these peaceful people in the near future.

Either way, the idea in the West that if we strangle the government the people will revolt and fix the situation so that the West can fling open their arms seems incredibly narrow sighted. On the one hand it seems unlikely as the government entrench and the people lose heart and on the other, if it were to come about, imagine the likely humanitarian crisis in the process of the “normalization” of relations. Revolutions can go down in history as glorious successes, but they can also go down as bloody failures and either way may take many souls with them. These people need assistance.

A policy rethink is needed for a huge problem. If the correct policy for China is to open arms and carefully guide it away from its negative side then why not for Burma. To be honest I do not know what policy is best but I am sure there needs to be a RETHINK!!!!

Burma: From the hills to the Bay of Bengal


A two day trek took us up, down and over valley from the hill-station of Kalaw to the fishing and farming communities of Inle Lake. Ascending lung-bursting fir-tree covered hills and transversing patchwork valley that would look ever so much like the south of England were it not for the huge water-buffalo and paddy fields.

We passed through numerous villages seeing people of varied and proud Shan hill tribes. This is an area that has been at ends with the government for a long time. It is technically off-limits but we went after ascertaining that it was relatively safe for foreigners. The political situation in the immediate locality of our route has calmed down in recent years with less open aggression and an undertaking from the locals to stop growing the opiates that the region is famous for. The people were very friendly and on the first day we ate lunch in a local house with a birthday celebration before setting off again through the heat.

Part of the reason I enjoyed the trek so much was undoubtedly because of the beauty and tranquility of the area we trekked. The other part of the story is the group we trekked with. A really fascinating group of Simon (English doctor to be who has been volunteering in East Timor), Israelis (interesting), Belgian (funny) and "Ladies Love Larry" (hilarious – he even inspired me to cycle from England- Greece, watch this space), made the walk and the few days relaxing afterwards a pleasure.

Overnight we stayed in a monastery half way up a hill in the middle of nowhere. A shower outside with a bucket, some great food, great chats, local card games and a floor in the corner of the prayer-hall combined with the utter peacefulness of the place refreshed the legs after the 25km of the first day.

Around the hill we trudged to be greeted with a series of simply blissful views. Those who have trekked mountainous areas will recognize that moment when from passing next to and betwixt the mountains you turn a corner and are blessed with a sudden clear view of valleys stretching are far as the eye can see. A precipitous point of elevation that allows you to view the earth as if from the air and even more satisfying after having to break a bit of a sweat to get there.

Only a couple of clicks on we once again were given the most bonita vista. A similar elevated panorama of valley stretching below, twin hills rising dramatically but broken in the middle by space for Inle lake to proudly show itself, glittering in the afternoon light.

Down again we went past numerous small villages. Past children guiding buffalo and women reaping the fields before we broke through the trees and slowly descended to the lake.

After some more ancient pagoda watching, we took the long narrow boat through the little river ways (literally jumping over the small ingenious dams) out into the expanse of the lake and across it to the main village of the valley. In the center of the lake you are quite a distance from the high hills that line the valley on two sides. The gently sloping plain that adjoins these parallel rises spreads from you in all directions as watery mass before being engulfed by read, village, paddy and eventually hill. The lake communities fish and farm from huts with legs surrounded by this blue and green.

Four days we spend just chilling out here. OK, I watched some monks play football (precarious with those robes), went on a couple of magnificent walks past dead snakes up into the hills (over the rim to the border area with Thailand – strictly off limits where much is grown in abundance) and around the plain (some locals I think thought I was a bit mad wandering aimlessly all on my own in the middle of nowhere), played chess, watched both big cup finals, played Pro Evo (big local favourite here), downed caipirinhas with the crowd, laughed at Larry’s footie jokes, hanged around with Tom Cruise, progressed my juggling and ate copiously, but in general just relaxed. Bliss after running around for so long.

One by one we said goodbye to the trekking company until it was just Dave and me. We jumped on the 20 odd hour bus accompanied by a whole contingent of monks to the soon to be disposed capital Yangon (more politics – the government apparently fear US invasion and are retreating inland in their paranoia). A couple of hours for lunch and then on another 6 hours to an overnight stop at a big fishing town and some more Pro Evo before the final 2 hours across the vast delta to a beach…… a beach….. exactly what I have needed since leaving all those in South America heading for the golden sands of Brazil for the hot, dry expanse of central northern India.


There is not too much to say about 5 days spent at a mostly cloudy-rainy Chang Tha beach. It is a nice, reasonably developed palm-clad beach that looks out onto the emerald Bay of Bengal. More of a family place then for party, with Burmese walking into the sea mostly fully clothed in much smaller numbers then usual partly because the rainy season has just arrived and largely because the largest hurricane in 40 years had ripped through the location as we landed in the country and devastated much of the vegetation and construction. Fortunately there was early warning so no-one was hurt. It was a bit weird coming in the aftermath of such a thing but, support where it is needed, we could assist the clean up with our almost nightly fires on the beach burning excess debris.

In fact I believe that was the highlight of our time. Learning fire bush skills from Dave while others played guitar, sang (on my part attempted to), talked, drank whisky and whiled away the dark hours under the beautiful array of bright stars that chose to show themselves every so often through the cloud.

There were very few people around, but those that were were good company to accompany my headlong dive into David Copperfield. In fact the only negative companion was a bottle and more of very evil local whisky (we are talking can’t move uber hangover) and some fishy stomach bug that inhibited my partaking in a veritable lobster feast which, from the corner of my eye, I watched Dave devour as I squatted on all fours in the mud removing the contents of my stomach.

On the one sunny day I got suitably burned after swimming across the delta to an island and giving the whole sun-bathing thing a go found my “travel-tan” is fundamentally insufficient. Otherwise there were walks into the surrounding villages and swims into the sea, but most importantly exactly what I need from beach time - not sunshine or party, but the knowledge that there is nothing I have to do except lie back and hear the mighty ocean lap against the shore – BLISS!

Sunday, May 28, 2006



Spot the Poser

So down the Irrawaddy we floated for a dozen sizzlingly hot hours accompanied by some very stiff German package tourists in their corner and a couple of hundred other people crammed in.

I vaguely remember something about Indian whisky and very little sleep the night before and thus the morning was spent curled in a ball on the floor waiting for normal bodily function to return. When it did I was greeted with hour upon hour of watching the beautiful green country float serenely past, only occasionally perforated by manic bank stops where planks are thrown down as makeshift bridges and the whole village and his dog clamber on and off the boat selling a whole array of goods that interested me very little - the banana-cake was though great.

The sun had just fallen off the horizon in a typical blaze of dieing glory when we arrived at the high banks of Bagan. I caught only the smallest glimpses of 500 year old Pagoda as we floated to the bank - I would have to wait for the morrow to see if this island strewn with hundreds of hundreds of years old temples lived up to its billing.


Three days were spent in Bagan criss-crossing the dry plain by bumby horse-cart from one impressive temple to another, exploring in-out under and over many, often all on our own. Three nights were spent learning Russian pool off a cool bunch of Burmese and watching footie in a typical Burmese "cinema".

Rather than trying to describe even just a sample of the temples, I feel it better to limit myself to a couple of moments this sight and setting gave me.

Sitting atop a gold plated pagoda peacefully reading my book ("Burmese Days" George Orwell - a highly rated fictional critique of British Burma) in the peace found when you occasionally look up from the fascinating world you are throwing yourself into at the wondrous world of reality that surrounds you - content. Precariously heaving yourself up huge monuments for that unique view of the plane and mighty river - contemplation. Finding your way through dark bat-infested innards with the occasional glistening Buddha and faint relic of past glorious wall-paintings coming out of the gloom - fascinating. BUT above all others, that truly special moment that this place gave... that very first view of the whole magnificent panorama.

Dave and I climbed up Shwezigon temple, arriving before and departing significantly after any others. We were greeted by a stunning plain surrounded on two sides by sharp hills and drawn out by the majestic Irrawaddy. Such sites of nature take your breath away, but add more temples then you can count stretching out in all directions and you are truly blown away. The golden roofs of those up kept temples glisten gloriously in the strong summer sunshine as they point sayingly to the sky. Some the size of palaces, others that of garden-sheds scattered across scorched earth crossed by sheep, shepherd, monk and tourist. Truly special. I was for one knocked-backwards by the shere beauty of the place as the heat of the day wained, giving way to the reds of the decline of the day and then the blackness. Wow!!!

By bumpy horse-cart we were able to see many of the most famous temples including the magnificent Ananda temple, and many not so famous. All in all a simply fantastic few days.

Two asides during this time are worthy of mention. Firstly the strange experience of having to interrupt a "cinema"(room with TV crammed full of men through the night - commonplace in this country) where the local folk are watching cheap porn so that we could watch the UEFA Cup Final. Secondly, a visit to the rather odd Mt Popa (see photo of temple on hill) where the 37 Gnats (pre-Buddhist Gods) are said to live. I saw more monkeys then Gnats but an interesting spiritual place with stunning views of the valleys beneath. On said trip, we first realised the full potential of Larry as he did his crocodile hunter thing in catching us a chameleon with his bare hands.

Take a second to view the blocked up offices of the NLD (National League for Democracy) and try and deny that such things are not suppressed.

I have to move on. We said our farewells to the magnificent plain over another sunset viewed from atop a hard-climbed pagoda and jumped on a very bumpy bus to the hills. As we climbed cramped up in half-seats, the scenery became ever more lush into tropical forest. On we climbed on one of those curling roads that clings to precipitous fall, until almost unthinkably after the hot dry plains we were surrounded by beautiful alpine forest. Here a momentous decision was made and with a little convincing not just us, but also Simon, Larry, 2 Israelis and a Belgian Lass jumped off the bus at Kalaw and within a few hours had arranged a two day 40 something km hike through partly out-of-bounds territory, hill-tribe and monastery to the peace of Inle Lake. This was to prove the highlight of my trip to Burma and bring out some revelations.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Schooltime in Mandalay

We did the usual thing of climbing up the 1400 steps (up and down) of the Mandalay Hill for sunset and got captured by a group of students ranging from 14 to 21 wishing to practice their English. Despite the slight struggle this was while climbing in heat somewhere around 40 degrees C (Mandalay is HOT) it proved a very satisfactory occurrence. The older ones had pretty good English but the younger ones were mostly restricted to ‘hello’, ‘what is your name’ and ‘Steven Gerrard’ (they are really obsessed with English football here, but be warned most of the monks support Arsenal and will get angry if you cheer for other teams). The girls were so cute. They were so shy and would in certain cases respond with a spew of giggles when given attention.

This is perhaps a time for introducing another observation from this country. The girls are really beautiful. After coming across from India where women are incredibly reserved and covered up, landing in Yangon was a very pleasant surprise with so many engaging beautiful people. There is not so much a general striking beauty but rather one that knocks you back when that wonderful smile comes out from the whole body and bursts onto the faces. There not many relationships with foreigners outside of the paying sex-tourists and I understand that it is very much looked down upon by the government - it is the little things that abound which make you aware of the suppression of the regime. The existence of many nuns, in pink robes sporting shaved heads adds to the interest of the country. Of this I would like to know more as it was explained to me that if they are good Buddhists they can hope of being blessed by reincarnation as a man. Lucky them.

Back to the chain of events… After watching a wonderful sunset with the sun descending over the far hills lighting up with an array of colours the broad flat valley, ancient cities, mighty Aryerawaddy, Mandalay itself and endless fields stretching off in to the distance, and a good couple of hours of basic English practice, we were offered and agreed to quite some delight to come and help out in an English lesson at their local monastery.

Their village was on the other side of Mandalay Hill from the city and it was there that we met the keenest of the students for some cane-ball and Frisbee before sitting down to some more practice around a small pagoda. A pleasant early evening ensued but as the teacher was late we never got truly into a lesson. Therefore we offered to come back the next day earlier and for longer.

This third meeting was the most eventful. We begun by going down into the village amongst a whole range of staring faces for a game of footie. This was carried out to some success and I am sure, to the denial of Dave’s claims, that my team was on top when he pussied out scratching his toe. I am being rather unfair. Firstly, my team were perhaps behind. Secondly, playing barefoot football on such a pitch less than sensible and Dave did practically take his whole big nail off and was in quite considerable pain. This necessitated Dave being ridden home by the teacher to wash his wounds while I was left in the monastery to take the class. A bit of a daunting experience for one with practically no teaching experience but I loved it. It is quite engaging sitting in a candle-lit monastery maintaining the total attention of 20 wide-eyed students of such varying abilities before the presence of a few fascinated monks.

After some explanation of myself and a delve into politics expressing comparable situations and freedoms while being careful not to cross that fuzzy line, most of the time was spent in far more simple idiom finding out about them. It was fascinating. A slight note of disapproval was noticeable in the air when one of them said he wanted to work for the government when he grew up. It was expressed to me how limited opportunities people have when the standard of tertiary education is so low - the universities have been moved out of big cities so to restrict political activism - and political cronyism and nepotism being paramount. A depressing state of affairs for those around me with significant talent but little opportunity. For many the opportunity of leaving their district is a wish the government will restrict, let alone traveling to another country that is all but blocked by obligatory visas costing in the region of $500US. Monetary restriction can be just as effective as an outright ban.

This whole experience was heightened by a huge electrical storm that rolled in overhead pounding the corrugated roof of the monastery. What an atmosphere it created and it was quite a frantic goodbye as I took a quick picture and ran out to many thanks, being encouraged not to forget them – I do not think I could if I tried.

Then on homeward in an open truck through the lightening and downpour to a rainy rooftop and some Indian whisky with a Chinese girl who thought she was much crazier then she was.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Pagoda to Pagoda

So it was that Dave and I landed in Yangon (Rangoon) about a month ago with 4 weeks ahead of us in Burma (Myanmar) and not too many ideas of what to expect…


We had earmarked Yangon as a place to depart pronto, but in the end a mixture of our procrastination in obtaining tickets and liking of our surroundings led us to stay a few days.

The shock of arrival from India was significant from the moment we landed and the taxi-driver said “don’t worry we are Buddhist in Burma, we will not rip you off” (such phrases I take with a huge pinch of salt, but here it turned out to be largely true). The shere contrast from Calcutta to Yangon made me feel I had flown half way around the world rather than a couple of hour hop.

From the crescendo of noise, smell, over-crowding, rip-off merchants and immense poverty of Calcutta, to the relatively quiet, spaced out nature of Yangon, full of people who smiled and would bend over backwards to help you. The negative-image of Calcutta and indeed quite unlike any other Asian city I have visited.

The shaded avenues bustling with small markets, beetel-nut chewing men and more little shops and eateries then I could count are great for walking around. Occasionally we would join in with a game of cane-ball (Takraw in Thailand – basically keepy-uppies with a ball made of cane), or just people watch - the men wearing almost universally their traditional longyi (type of skirt that has to be re-fastened every 5 minutes or it falls down) and the women likewise with faces smeared to varying degrees in a kaleidoscope of interesting patterns with a type of yellow mud/paste that protects against the sun. As usual the people in Asia are trying hard to whiten their skin while I am doing my best to darken mine.

A quick mention has to go to that Taurine advert – I mean my word how wrong can you get!

There are some interesting colonial buildings such as the beautiful cathedral, but the prize for most startling building undoubtedly goes to Shwedegon Pagoda. Now, there are many impressive pagodas in around the capital and indeed throughout this very devout country, but Shwedegon stands out, just as I believe it does against famous landmarks in other capitals such as the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben. Try and picture a large pagoda strung hill rising from the city, crowned with no less than a 98m high shining golden stuppa topped with a huge jewel encrusted umbrella.

To walk around it, sit and contemplate, meditate and or take part in ritual, is a quite startlingly peaceful experience. This is further enhanced by the subtle but striking changes in lighting and ambiance as the sun goes down lighting the gold-leaf up in a reddy glow. The huge diamond at the pinnacle can be seen to refract the whole spectrum of colours by moving backwards and forwards in certain places. Magnificent.

As for the presence of the infamous regime in charge, I have to say it was surprisingly limited. Yes the people occasionally made hints at limitations, the shops were full of Asian products rather than Western products and it seemed the police and army were the only people we met who scowled rather than produce that truly wonderful smile that makes many travelers fall in love with this country. The capital is not though where the worst atrocities of the regime are carried out.

So after an enjoyable couple of days and a very interesting night in which I took a further disliking to sex-tourists (a Singaporean man was shocked when we politely turned down his offer to buy us both top quality prostitutes at a price of 30,000 Kyat / $25 each) and ended up the last people in a club moshing to Green Day, we were ready to head north. We jumped on a dozen or so hour overnight-bus with limited leg-room (in Burma the aisle is routinely filled with people on mini-chairs) and a distinctly fishy smell (dried fish that smells like fish-food is a heavily transported food product and gets all over your bags) and eventually ended up in the old capital of Mandalay.


I found Mandalay a profoundly strange city. It just does not feel like a 5 million people Asian city. It seems so spread out and lacking in the usual buzz. Like most places in Myanmar it simply has no nightlife beyond men-only beer gardens that shut at 10.30 pm and the occasional cinema (even more male dominated rooms with TV showing mainly football and a bit of porn). Picture 50 men in skirts sitting around Fulham v West Brom while chewing a shit-load of beetel nut and smoking loads of harsh local cigarettes and cheroots (local cigar). It also has severe electrical supply problems and can be almost entirely with out light at night. Imagine it, seeing stars in such a big city.

The main palace looks impressive though we did not wish to pay the government entry charge or pass through a gate with a banner commenting on how the army will crush their enemies or something of that ilk, so we spent our time at the quainter old capitals that surround the city. Anapuna was impressive and the serenity of a series of traditionally fished lakes surrounded by pagoda and spanned by a multi-century old teak bridge meant a lazy hour in a cane chair watching the world ever so slowly unfold was a must.

My favourite sight was undoubtedly the old capital of Inwa. It is a series of impressive temples on a small island in the Ayerawaddy surrounded by lush fields that you navigate via a horse-cart ridden by a grumpy old man. The highlight that surpassed all the rest including the teak monastery where we found her was a little girl without a voice.

I simply cannot describe how wonderful this little girl was (see photo of 3 of us). Never have I seen such a sweet pleasant smile or cheeky, clever nature. She grabbed hold of us and took us all around playing games, hiding, peeking, explaining by gesture and even going as far as to try to set us up with a couple of Portuguese girls. It is rare that you see another human being that is so full of life, light and beauty and it did a good job of bashing some cynicism out of me. She wanted nothing but company. I am so glad that people like this exist.

Alongside eating a great steak (no red meat for 2 months in India) some minor stomach troubles, problems with internet (government restricted – no hotmail etc) and the obligatory walks, a chain of events leading from a climb up and down the 1400 steps of the Mandalay hill took up most of our time and that will receive its own entry.


At 5am in a daze we took a trishaw from our guesthouse to the bank of the mighty river that is the artery of the country and set off on a 12 hour journey down stream past padi and pagoda, buffalo and fisherman.

Suddenly I awoke to remember I had fallen asleep on the floor of the top-deck and found myself surrounded by the noise and confusion of dozens of people selling goods amongst numerous passengers. The most conspicuous of these were a bunch of German package tourists being journeyed from a to b to c. Far more interesting was an older Chilean couple. Although he looked rather like a strange amalgamation of Colonel Sanders and Ho Chi Minh, the husband was a particularly interesting and very well traveled guy. We also met a 60 year old Australian called Larry for the first time, but we will talk more about LLL later.

All in all it was a very pleasant boat trip watching the lush country slide by, though in truly scorching conditions and nursing dodgy stomachs. Long periods of heated serenity were broken up by short stops on the banks where people would stream on and off along precariously placed planks balancing trays of food and goods.

The sun went down majestically over the river. We said goodbye to the locals accompanying us and set foot on the island plain of Bagan. Described by the bible (LP) as the equivalent of all of Europe’s medieval cathedrals being squeezed onto an island the size of Manhattan. It had a lot to live up to.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Blimey I'm in Burma

A quickie update to say that 10 days in this wonderful country have treated me just great.

It is by o means an exaggeration to say the people here are the sweetest and friendliest I have ever met on mass in any place on earth. It simply knocks you back, rather stupefied for the first few days. I just hope it is not the sort of thing I get used to or heading back to the bustle of India will be quite a shock.

From a bit of a mad night in Yangon to chilling out at the scenic bridges, palaces and pagodas of the old capital, teaching English in a candle lit monastery during a thunderstorm, via sucking at cane-ball, to where we are now - the majestic temple strewn (thousands and thousands) plain of Bagan - it has been awesome.

Soon enough onwards to the hills and then possibly the beaches.

Safe to say Dave and myself are enjoying ourselves.

Will leave discussions about politics to another time for obvious reasons - very interesting indeed!