A Travellerspoint blog

Thaipusam Eve


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large_5550_13592092516526.jpgLord Murugan's chariot.
Thaipusam Eve Procession

I got to the junction of Jalan Sultan and Jalan Tun HS Lee just before midnight. There was a large crowd plus presence from the police and volunteer firefighters (who had their own paramedics). It was too hard to get any closer to the Sri Mahamariamman Temple (where everything will start from) which was half a block into Jalan Tun HS Lee.

It started drizzling. Soon after midnight, fireworks went off. This is now the eve of Thaipusam (click here [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thaipusam] to know more about Thaipusam).

The police van started moving slowly followed by a lorry of musicians. Another lorry carried a brightly lit float containing a statue of Lord Murugan flanked by several priests). This was referred to as the chariot by some.large_5550_13592092514357.jpgDevotees carrying jugs of milk.

A crowd followed the chariot on foot at snail’s pace. Tucked in the crowd were some devotees dressed in yellow and barefooted, carrying metal jugs of milk on their heads, chanting “Vel, vel, vel …” (referring to Lord Murugan’s spear).

In this day and age, it appears no one knows how to carry a jug on their head without holding it with one hand. I suppose it isn’t a good time to practice in a large jostling crowd.

The 14km journey to Batu Caves [Batu-Caves-travel-guide-1348409] for them would take about 13h (arriving early afternoon). Google Maps suggests that it should take just over 3h at normal walking pace.

In the tropical heat, the jug of milk should have turned into yoghurt by the time they get there.

There were a couple of kavadis being carried and no body piercing of any kind was observed.large_5550_13592092517143.jpgDevotees carrying jugs of milk.I enquired with bystanders who advised that the serious stuff will be on Sunday, which is the actual day of Thaipusam, over at Batu Caves.

Most of the activity was over by 1am and the area looked like a war zone with lots of litter. The council’s cleaning contractor started work clearing the rubbish immediately.

After a light supper from 7-Eleven, I was in bed by 2am.

In Broad Daylight

After a good night sleep and spending half the morning doing my fortnightly admin and paperwork (so it doesn’t hit me after 3 months), I ventured out. There was not a hint of the frenzy that took place only several hours ago.

I did my KL routine again with an ais kacang at the Pavilion followed by a blind massage at Bukit Bintang [Bukit-Bintang-travel-guide-1358163].large_5550_13592092524886.jpgOne of very few kavadis.I walked there and back; even though it took only 20 minutes each way, it felt like a very hot and sweaty workout.

I did depart from my “usual” slightly by dropping in to Uniqlo to buy a couple more shirts that I really liked from a few months ago. I feel like such a big boy when I do that as I normally don’t buy my own clothes.

Unplanned outing to Batu Caves

I had settled into bed to review my photos. But at 10pm, I had a sudden wave of motivation. I decided I’d go to Thaipusam. I had originally planned to go in the morning in broad daylight and also in the evening. But now, I’m gonna get there at midnight when Thaipusam actually starts (plus another trip in the morning in daylight).

I wanted to take the bus to Batu Caves as I’ve seen them departing from around the corner outside Bangkok Bank.large_5550_13592092527393.jpgFruit bowl offering.This seems to be the most direct way. I spoke briefly to a hotel staff on my way out and he insisted that I take the KTM Komuter train’s direct service. I thought it would be too inconvenient as it required a change but apparently I can walk to another station (the old Moorish Kuala Lumpur station) which seemed too far on a map. In actual fact, the station is connected by walkway to the nearby Pasar Seni station.

I got to the station only to miss the train by seconds. The KTM staff advised that there would be another one very shortly and he was absolutely right. The ride was at crawling pace through the city’s built up area but despite that, the journey only took 25 minutes. I was pleased to have come by train as the traffic on the roads were at a standstill.

Upon arrival, I immediately checked on the return train arrangements and was pleased to find that KTM have 4 days and 3 nights of round-the-clock service. They’ve also created additional exits, entrances and ticket booths at the Batu Caves station to cope with the flood of humanity. The additional exits and entrances are manned by ticket checkers and also have temporary Touch’n Go readers installed too. Well done KTM Komuter; you impress me!

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Back to Kuala Lumpur


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My flight to KL leaves at 1715. I’m very good at wasting the day away. I slowly repacked and went rambling around old Yangon before having a foot massage.

I managed to fit in yet another South Indian meal before checking out at midday. I have South Indian too often in Yangon because the central area where I’m staying is very Indian and Indian-Muslim.

There was only a couple of hours to kill on the computer before going to the airport at 1430. At the airport, I ran into this couple I met at the Malaysian High Commission in Wellington during a Ramadhan dinner a couple of years ago. They had moved from Masterton to KL recently. It’s such a small world.

The flight left about 10 minutes late, so we landed equally late at 2140. I promptly made my way to the bus and boarded one to Pudu Raya station (new territory for me as I always head to to KL Sentral).

After an hour plus, I checked into the Swiss Inn and got into my room at 2340. On the stroke of midnight, the eve of Thaipusam begins. So I only had 20 minutes to spare. The procession would leave the temple around the corner for Batu Caves, which takes about 13 hours.

I booked the Swiss Inn for its proximity to the temple at a ridiculously cheap price which turned out to be an error on their part. It wasn’t a price they could honour but they came back with a great rate which was 25% off their highly discounted rates and threw in some freebies.

It has been perhaps 10-15 years since I have been Chinatown. Will be interesting to see the changes in daylight tomorrow.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Parting thoughts on Myanmar


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After two weeks in Myanmar, here are some of my thoughs:

Likes

1. The weather in winter is perfect in the shade and in the highlands.
2. Watching day turn into night at Shwedagon Pagoda.
3. Small rural towns and cycling through the countryside.
4. Cruising Inle Lake.

Dislikes

1. It isn’t a value destination. Accommodation is expensive. Eating is also expensive compared to richer SE Asian countries (eg. USD0.80 for a bowl of noodles, USD2.50 for an Indian roti).
2. Accommodation is scarce and is often fully-booked when one tries to ring ahead.
3. Sights can get monotonous after a short time; they’re largely related to Buddhism.
4. There is always a worry that one could run out of USD and be forever stuck in Myanmar; there are international ATMs now but it is virtually useless as with a transaction limit is around USD20 and USD5 fee!
5. Depending on where one ends up staying, I found it hard to meet other travellers for the more urban parts of the journey.

Surprises

1. Yangon is now very modern since my previous visit some 15 years ago.
2. There is quite a noticeable uptake of smartphones.
3. A lot of visitors are oldies in large groups.
4. Most visitors to this "Golden Land" are in their "golden years" on group tours.
5. All but one bed (dorm) were double-sheeted, unlike in many neighbouring countries where you’re up against blankets used by everyone before you.

Top Tips

Decide where you want to visit and book your accommodation in advance. Reconfirm along the way. When I'm sitting in hotel receptions, it’s shocking how many people get turned away each time or have to change hotels in the same city as they can’t get all then nights they want.

Costs

My total spend in Myanmar over two weeks was USD728, of which USD379 was for accommodation nearly (nearly entirely in twin/double rooms by myself) and USD349 for general expenses. If I had travelled with a companion twinshare, the accommodation would have been USD194, making the total USD573.

On top of that, I spent USD331 for three expensive domestic flights and USD75 for the visa through an agency. Both of these were well worth it; the former because of my hip and back issues lately. And the latter saved me having to stay several days in KL or Bangkok to wait for a visa.

At the end, I only had USD84 left over. I could have been easily stranded with no money if I had been unlucky with accommodation in a couple of places, eg. having to accept a more expensive place. Like I said, hotels are very full and prices have doubled since the last version of the guidebook ... and quadrupled since the version before!

Summary

There are other places I want to explore (or revisit) before I’d consider another visit to Myanmar. Firstly, the attractions aren’t varied enough for me. Secondly, it isn’t a fun-and-value country like say Vietnam, where one can experience the culture and yet have hedonistic moments for very little money (eg. food, drink, massage, shopping).

Don’t get me wrong, travel isn’t all meant to be hedonistic. It’s about experiencing as much of the world as possible and that I’ve done in Myanmar.

But I didn’t like the fact that pricing seems so wrong for a poor country. I somehow enjoy myself better in countries like Indonesia, Pakistan and China.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Back to Yangon


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I had to wake early for the 0900 flight to Yangon [Yangon-travel-guide-1320501] as the airport is over in Heho, some 50 minutes away.

The ride was very picturesque with Intha fishermen working in the mist. Then there were lots of monks collecting their alms; with not just their begging bowl … this time they a bamboo pole carried by two monks which had a frame hanging off it that had the various side dishes that have been given. Pity the camera wasn’t handy.

My flight to Yangon operated through Ngapali Beach (Thandwe), taking a total of 2 hours plus a little bit more for some serious headwind.

Ngapali Beach was prettier than I expected. The water was blue-green and the sand golden. Somehow, being on the Bay of Bengal, I expected wetlands and swamps like the Sundarbans.

School was just out as I taxied from the airport into Yangon central. The traffic was shocking; I had never seen it like this on my previous days.

I whiled the day away updating my blogs and relaxing. I even had a nap; I really felt like I needed it which is most unusual. It could have been the decongestant I bought locally.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Cruising Inle Lake


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large_5550_13590272025615.jpgIntha fishermen at work.
I had enquired several times about excursions to Inle Lake [Inle-Lake-travel-guide-1314553] and the standard itinerary was about USD 17. What they don’t tell you is that the price is for the whole boat, which seat five. When divided by five, it becomes a really cheap daytrip. Finally, something cheap in Myanmar … because there is a freemarket supply-and-demand for a change.

I managed to gather a group comprising of a German couple and Dutch couple, all of whom I had kept running into in Nyaung U and here in Nyaung Shwe. We had all ended up at the Gold Star Hotel but thye had to move due to the hotel not being able to take them beyond the first night.

We met at 0830 at my hotel and walked down to the jetty with the boatman. The boat was set up with five seats each with a blanket and a lifevest.large_5550_13590272023449.jpgIntha fishermen at work; they row with one leg keeing their hands free for attending to their nets.

We cruised on the river and wetlands past the “Birds Preservation Area” (sic, taxidermist at work) before entering the lake.

We slowed down to see the Intha fishermen at work. They row with one leg wrapped around the oar leaving both hands free to tend to their fishing nets. They must have amazing balance.

We proceeded to Hpaung Daw U to see the markets, ceremonial barges and the temple.

From there on, the day was largely a shopping trip. While I'm not a shopper, I enjoyed learning about the traditional crafts and the cottage industries that have become of them. We saw:

1. Lotus stem fibres were spun into thread and woven into fabrics.
2. A blacksmith made knives, scissors, betelnut cutters etc, where everything was beaten by hand. A young boy sat on top of the furnace pumping the bellows by hand.large_5550_13590272023808.jpgIntha fishermen at work; they row with one leg keeing their hands free for attending to their nets.
3. Local cigars were rolled by hand. Some were flavoured with star-anise and others with pineapple.
4. Silversmiths made intricate jewellery.
5. Bark was hand-beaten into a mash before being made into handmade paper and then umbrellas. They had some longneck Padaung women here on display; I don’t like using people as an “attraction” like a petting zoo.

The shopping (window-shopping for me) experience was broken by lunch. We then cruised around what seemed like a neighbourhood of bamboo homes with water for roads. A floating village or water village, if you like.

Around sunset, we dropped into the Nga Pe Kyaung (better known as the cat monastery). While there are plenty of cats there, their gym master has passed on and the remaining monks don’t have too much interest in pussy-calisthenics. So the cats don’t jump through hoops for nobody no more.

We cruised the Floating Gardens where vegetables (largely tomatoes) are grown on trellises in the shallow water.

It was nearly dark when we got back at 1830 into Nyaung Shwe. The group reconvened for dinner by chance for a local Myanmar-style dinner at the Lin Htet restaurant.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

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