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  • hardie karges 2:42 pm on February 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Mahasi Monastery, , , Rangoon,   

    Ten Days in Mahasi Monastery, Yangon: None flew over the cuckoo’s nest… 


    Mahasi Monastery in Yangon, Myanmar

    Somewhere nearby a gong sounds–loudly. Then someone beats a drum. Then again. And again. Then every dog in the surrounding neighborhood howls in anything but unison, as I smile thinking about Allen Ginsberg, howling, growling, smiling somewhere out there but not Heaven, crazy wisdom incarnate, poet’s blood unrepentant…

    The air is still fresh and cool at night at this time of year in Yangon (Rangoon) and the scene at 0600 at Mahasi Monastery is a bit surreal: monks and nuns float through the monastery grounds in the moonlight, marching weeping shadows creeping. Ruby-robed monks line up in the streets with beggars’ bowls in hand, primed for the pump, while nuns float through on gossamer wings, all dressed in pink, with nothing to think… (More …)

    • Esther Fabbricante 9:15 pm on February 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Deep stuff – explained well.

  • hardie karges 1:43 pm on February 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Mawlamyine, Mon, , , Thanlwin   

    Mawlamyine, Myanmar: Saving the Best for Last… 


    The bus pulls into Mawlamyine after an all-day truck from the capital Yangon and I’m immediately flashing back to Saigon, Hanoi, Viangchan, or Phnom Penh, take your pick, c. 1995 or thereabouts, just coming out of the self-imposed shadows, them not me, but wait a minute, let me think, dirty broke-down funky and authentic, before all the development, all the tourists and the humans from the West, all wanting a piece of the action, all wanting a bit of loose change, hopefully for the better not worse…

    But there are no money changers here, not yet anyway, just banks and ATM’s, and ‘no beer no alcohol’, say all the signs, in the restaurants at least, unlike Inle Lake, there advertising ‘mojitos caiparinhas gin and tonic’ you name it, but here lotsa Chinese and Muslims, and most hotels close at 10 p.m. or 10:30, three red lights and a rush hour inversely proportional to Yangon’s. But the real action is down on the Thanlwin River, with markets both black and white, Mawlamyine’s lifeline and raison d’etre (More …)

  • hardie karges 11:44 am on January 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Inle Lake,   

    Inle Lake, Myanmar: It’s a Wet Dream…. 


    Inle Lake Fisherman

    For the first time, I’m annoyed at Burma, probably even pissed, at having to pay an entrance fee to the tourist complex at Inle Lake, based in Nyaungshwe. I mean: preservation of an archaeological zone is costly, and expensive, too, but Inle has none of that, and Nyaunshwe is a bit shabby, if you don’t mind me saying, a coat of dust covering the entire affair, tourists included. What are we paying for, anyway?

    But the main offense is the mere proliferation of tourist amenities, albeit without the aforementioned infrastructure. This is something that has been lacking—refreshingly—so far in Burma, and really the reason to justify the higher prices, like paying a premium bride price for a virgin. And the main marketing pitch seems to be toward millennial malingerers, looking for alcohol and a place to drink it… (More …)

  • hardie karges 3:28 am on January 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ayeyharwaddy, , Irawaddy, Mandalay,   

    Burma Up North: The Road to Mandalay… 

    img_1773…sounds romantic and all, but it isn’t so much, really, just asphalt and gravel, like anywhere else. Fortunately there are other options, like the train, plane, or boat. I’d like to say that the boat ride to get here from Bagan makes it all worthwhile—but it doesn’t, not really, though admittedly it is more comfortable than pot-holed roads and betel-chewing Burmese drivers…

    At any given moment the average Burmese working stiff is working a wad of chew that would make a Cincinnati Red pitcher green with envy. But don’t startle him or he may accidentally unload a dollop of spittle your direction that just might ruin your day. At least they don’t drive like the maniacs in Thailand. Burma is chilled by comparison—and the roads simply won’t allow it…

    img_1744But the river trip really has nothing much to see, not until you get to Sagaing, and that’s an easy day-trip from Mandalay, anyway. It’s not like there are loads of cool river villages and towns to view along the way. There just aren’t. So I’d say the river trip is optional—at best. Burma is not cheap, anyway, so save your money for something more worthwhile, like paying your entry fee to selected sites, like the archaeological zone at Bagan or the human zoo at Inle Lake—free sarcasm available upon request…

    But I don’t think Mandalay deserves the bum rap that it sometimes gets. Sure, it’s a big busy city, but I’ve seen worse. At least it’s walk-able, something you’d have difficulty saying about Bangkok, Jakarta, or many other places in SE Asia, or the world, either, for that matter. And what it lacks in charm, it makes up in open space, including a massive palace complex and a commanding hill-as-pilgrimage-site like only Burma really knows how to do it—okay, so maybe China, too…

    What I don’t like so much about Mandalay is that the quality of refreshing innocence available elsewhere seems to be singularly lacking here. And of course, that’s most easily measurable amongst the taxi drivers. Whereas in Yangon the first price quoted is pretty accurate and honest, God bless them, in Mandalay that doesn’t hold true, and in fact they can be as rape-atious as anywhere in the world. They beat me on the price from the boat landing to my hotel, so I was on guard after that…

    img_1777After the long walk to Mandalay Hill AND a long confusing walk up to the top, I somehow managed to come down a different path, despite my best efforts. So that kind of disorientation is always a good time to hail a taxi, so I proffered offers to the local moto-boys. The first one asked 30,000 kyat (about $25), at which I sggested he needed psychological help, and responded with an offer of 3000, which I figured to be about right, walking away to make my point…

    …which is what you have to be willing to do, of course, if you want the right price. Anyway, I walked over, so I figured I could walk back, so that helps. Another bike-boy came up and did the trip for 2500. It also helps if you know the name of landmarks in the local tongue, correctly pronounced and with the right tones. The main market is zeigyo, pronounced zay-joe not ziggy-o. Don’t f*ck with me, m*otherf*cker…

    So yes, Mandalay is guilty of the same crimes as Paris and the same samsara pitfalls as Kathmandu, but it ain’t all that bad, really. But no, Mandalay is not a place to fall in love with, more like a place to bide your time, a place for life to happen while you make other plans…

    img_1779Those plans could include excursions in any direction, though Shan state to the east is the big lure for me, with close relations to ethnic Tais in Thailand and Laos and China, too, the Far east of the state arguably more ‘Thai’ than Burmese, and an open question for me as to whether and how well I might be able to communicate, what with my knowledge of standard Thai, Laotian and northern Thai dialect…

    The Burmese and Thai language have little or nothing in common, unlike Khmer and Thai, unless you count the similarities between the Thai and Burmese words for two-wheeled conveyances, ‘mo-to-cy’ in Thai and ‘mo-to-by’ in Burmese, apparently deriving from a common Sanskrit root (cue laughter)…

    Oh well, I guess it’ll have to wait, unless my meditation retreat in Yangon falls through, something Burma has become known for, apparently, though not the inspiration for this trip. But that’s where I’ll go after a brief stop at Inle Lake, and that’s worth more to me than all the travel in the world. Mindlessness or mindfulness? Tough choice, yeah, right…




    • Esther Fabbricante 3:58 pm on January 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Amazing insight.

  • hardie karges 2:22 pm on January 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Bagan, , , Mt. Popa, , stupas,   

    Angkor What? Buddhist Field of Dreams in Bagan, Myanmar… 


    One of many ruins around Bagan…

    The first thing you notice on the bus up from Yangon to Bagan is that the entire countryside seems empty. As Gertrude Stein put it so aptly when describing Oakland, CA: “There is no there there.” Now this may indeed be the new road, so avoiding the population centers directly, but still: in Thailand every available parcel of land would have a ‘For Sale’ sign before the road was even finished, and there would be new developments springing up as fast as the equipment could be trucked in from China…

    But when we finally do get off the main road and into some villages, then you see why. It’s poor, dirt poor. If Communism stopped a clock for those countries that only began ticking again in 1991, then ‘Burmese socialism’ stopped a clock which is only now beginning to tick some quarter century after its Commie neighbors in SE Asia. Better late than never, I suppose…
    (More …)

  • hardie karges 12:30 pm on January 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Pagoda, Shwedagon,   

    It’s Myanmar now, no more Bummer: Welcome to Yangon… 


    The Golden Spires of Shwedagon Pagoda

    I’ve been to the Burmese/Thai border-town Tachilek many times on visa runs, and so have had my eye on the country for years, while never having a pressing need to collect the stamp, just to satisfy my personal mandate to visit every country in the world before I die—or it does…

    And I’ve been to the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot a few times, too, and even though it’s on the Thai side, while the other is officially Burmese, it always felt more truly Burmese to me, Muslim Burmese mostly, refugees I suppose, and complete with nearby violence and cross-border excursions from Karen (no, not her) tribal violence in the area… (More …)

    • Esther Fabbricante 3:54 pm on January 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Beyond my imagination!

  • hardie karges 2:32 am on January 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    HARDIE’S HYPER-AWARD for Country with Worst Hotel Rooms in 2016: Malaysia 

    img_0746As previously blogged: “I don’t know where Malaysia, and the Phillipines, and Mexico, and maybe a few others, got the idea that rooms without windows are acceptable—but they’re not. On Expedia, they’re generally specified that way (no doubt from cruel experience), but hostel-booking sites may forego the detail. That’s too bad, because I’m a hostel guy and now their WiFi isn’t even reliable—and that’s the reason I became a hostel guy in the first place! Not to mention the issue of fire escapes and proper egress, a technical term…

    So the first time it happened, I let it slide, foregoing the request to change. After three days of that I needed therapy, and arguably still do. Remember ‘sensory deprivation’ from the 60’s? It’s like that—or prison. This may prepare you for a bleak future, but I doubt it. They’re air-conditioned, though, if that’s your thing, so that’s the trade-off. I’ll pass. So I quit booking hostels here, and stuck to Expedia. Boo hoo. Of course, the problem with windows is noise from below, so pick your poison…”

    And that’s the deal. Many countries have it to some extent, but Malaysia seems to be the worst, which is too bad, since otherwise it’s a very nice country. All claustrophobia aside, imagined or otherwise, you wouldn’t want to be in a windowless room during a hotel fire–case closed. It’s Chinatown, Jake. Good luck out there…

    • Esther Fabbricante 3:04 am on January 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Our experience of a room with no windows – is sometimes we play bridge in the ballroom at the country club – and partitions are affixed – thereby making the windows availale for only the outside area. That is tolerable from 9:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. And if we were only sleeping in a windowless room, I think that might be acceptable.

    • davekingsbury 11:01 am on January 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Even if they were free I’d think hard about taking one …

  • hardie karges 12:47 am on January 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Citibank, credit card, Pay Pal   

    HARDIE’S HYPER-AWARD: Worst Credit Card to travel with in 2016: 

    IMG_1530.JPG…would be PayPal, Debit Card, that is, which I only possessed (past tense) as a convenient option, figured WTH, for withdrawing funds accrued, rather than cycling back through to bank. The good news is that they won’t likely refuse the card as you travel around through weird countries with sketchy histories, but that means that if you’re hacked, then they won’t help you much there, either…

    So while checking my e-mail one morning, I noticed three transactions on my PayPal debit card that were not authorized by me, for a total of almost $800, and I’d be able to report the crime immediately, so should be no problem, right? But Pay Pal won’t even take the call, informing me to log in to the website, then informing me a week later there’s no crime, so talk to the dealer if I don’t like my product or service! Ouch! (More …)

  • hardie karges 1:33 pm on January 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Biman Bangladesh, , Dhaka   

    HARDIE’S HYPER-AWARD: for worst airline (and airport) of 2016 goes to… 


    PEK gives new meaning to the term ‘layover”

    …Air China, of course, and Beijing, for bad service above and beyond the call of duty, a total lack of concern for passenger comfort, and incompetence bordering on malpractice. For that honor, they not only had to totally change my return flight LAX-PEK-BKK, and do it not only with no prior notification, BUT NO NOTIFICATION AT ALL!

    I caught it in plenty of time, though, worry-wart that I am. But if that wasn’t bad enough, the real problem was that the two flights didn’t even connect, the initial leg due to arrive in Beijing after the connecting flight has already left! Well, they must’ve been anxious to correct that little spot of bother, right? Yeah, right… (More …)

  • hardie karges 12:25 am on December 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai, hill-tribes, Kwan Yin, Lahu,   

    Thai Holidays Outback Up North, part 3: Six Temples, Two Borders, a Maharishi and a Funeral… 

    Continued from previous…


    Kwan Yin (Kuan Im) festival near Chiang Dao, with many hill-tribe participants…

    So after the funeral in Uttaradit Province, Thailand, I’d like to explore that new border crossing into Laos, but my priest has other ideas, and he’s the boss. I’m the driver. So that means another late night drive from near the Lao border all the way back to the small town of Sarapee near Chiang Mai, finally pulling in to the temple about ten p.m. dead tired and more than a little wired, from twisty windy back-country roads…

    This is all so that we can buy a new truck, to take to the Tai Yai ‘Shan’ people out on the Burmese border where we were last week. Seems they’ve graduated from blankets and dried noodles to new 4 x 4’s. Bizniz is good, I guess. So we do: drive, that is, out again past Pai, into the remote fastnesses of Mae Hong Son province, where foreigners are not usually even allowed to enter, much less drive, but membership has its privileges, I guess… (More …)

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