(Update 12/29 - 1/4)
After much deliberation, I finally finished packing with 3 1/2 outfits, 3 pairs of shoes, and enough first aid/supplies/meds for every eventuality. When we arrived to the airport we found out that Zach's visa had the wrong birthdate. One of us panicked for the rest of the trip, and one of us thought that that was a problem for future us. (I'll let you guess who was who.) While we were on the plane Zacharoni was very excited about the blankets.
Me: Did you just put that blanket in your backpack?
Me: Why would you take it on the first flight and not the last flight on the way back?
Zach: Oh, I'm going to take that one too.
After the first leg of the flight, we're walking though the airport (with this lady we met at Sea Tac and she was super-duper friendly and chatty and I got to hang out with her while Zach looked for water.) I saw some computers and told Zach he could try to look into evisa while I "checked in" to make it facebook official.
Zach: So this is Singapore.
Me: Nope. We are in Taiwan.
Zach: Good to know.
Then we walked around for a bit longer, down one hall and then I thought we'd better turn around.
Zach: Are you worried about time or do you just not want to enter the boys side?
We were told in Seattle to make sure that we check on the Visa situation and then double check that our luggage would make it to our destination. After we went to the counter and looked in on these things, the women there looked a bit but essentially dismissed our concerns, again, a problem for future us. Second flight was just as great as the first, and the meals were actually quite good. In fact Zach at one point said, "I've eaten more balanced meals on this flight than I ever have." When we were in Ho Chi Min airport I grabbed a coffee and some free wifi so I could check in again because I'm a loser, or at least that's what I read from Zach's look so I maturely answered, "It's the only way I can prove I've been here!"
The gate was pretty empty.
Zach: Not a lot of people wanting to go to a place with military dictatorship.
We arrived to Yangon, Myanmar at around 1:30, where we were greeted by our tour guide, Pew Pew and she brought us immediately to a gigantic reclining Buddha (and we were totally the only ones there.)
She then brought to our hotel where a watermelon smoothie was handed to us while our guide checked us in (after we put our stuff through a metal detector as we walked through the metal detector setting it off.) Now, we thought we were going to have to be on our own after that, but instead, the guide had a full day's worth of fun for us! It was really really amazing, and not just because I was expecting very little of the day. The coolest part of the day was the Shwedagon Pagoda which is 325 feet tall, covered in gold and is surrounded by even more amazing temples all around the Pagoda.
Tour Guide: Sometimes when people come to Yangon for three days I run out of places to take them.
The next morning, we got up and the hotel had an amazing breakfast. Zach: I could stay here all day! Did I mention that after dinner with Pat's parent at Christmas, I became really worried about where we were staying and what the bathroom situations might be and texting Zach and Kelly about bringing toilet paper with us. I was mocked pretty hard when we arrived at the 5 star hotel. Zach: Still worried about toilet paper?
Then we flew to Bagan. A picture of Bagan from the air that makes it look like our propeller was too cool to be functional.
We were taken straight from the airport to the Buledi Pagoda, where I had my first terrifying moment of the day. I didn't know I had any real phobias, but it turns out that I am afraid of old stairs. Now we both know. Especially very steep, high, no railings, falling apart stairs. By the time I got to the top I was shaking a bit. That's when Zach said, "I'm going to run down and go up that other pagoda over there so you can take my picture." At least it gave me time to recover before I had to go back down the stairs which is even scarier. When I asked the guide if anyone else had been afraid going up, he helpfully said, "nope!"
Then we went to Alo-daw Pyi Pagoda, and then the Ananda Temple and the Shwezigon Pagoda - please don't ask me which was which. So from what I can tell, in Myanmar, the difference between a pagoda and a temple is that you can go inside a temple. We were not allowed to wear our shoes at any of the religious sites. I had been wearing shoes and being really careful for 3 months because of the plantar fasciitis, so walking all day barefoot was... different. At one point, Zach asked about a building we passed by, and we were told that it was a monastery that was in use between the 11th and 13th century. Then to driver proceeded to stop on the highway and reverse. We tried to tell him that it was really okay, but they made it happen for us anyway. You tell me if it was worth it.
I believe it was the Manuha Temple that was built by this king who was basically on house arrest during his time of rule, so he expressed his feeling of confinement by building these huge Buddha statues with no extra space around them. We had to squeeze to get around the legs of the one Buddha to even get into the "room."
Htilo Minlo Temple was the second biggest and we heard a story about a king with a diseased finger, and then a queen magically sucked the disease from his finger and so the king made her son a prince. This story took much longer to tell, and I am still not convinced it was true.
Another fun tid-bit is that people hang out in the temples when it's hot because the stone makes it cool. Ananda Temple is known as the most beautiful temple. They are currently working on taking off the white wash, but when we were there all the people were taking a break for lunch. It also took me around ten minutes to understand that the guide was using the word conjure. Things I'll remember forever.
We went to at least 4 more temples, and then went on a horse and buggy type ride around a village in the old bagan walls. I took a bunch of pictures, all stalker like, to capture how people live right in between these ancient structures. After that ride we headed over to one last temple for the sunset. Before we left, we walk to this building that was right there, but no one else seemed to be taking notice of.
Zach: Let's check it out - I mean what are we going to do after this hang out in the hotel?
Me: And go to an epic New Year's Party! Okay yeah, let's go.
It was completely dark, without any windows, with a huge laying Buddha. It was amazing, and mystical and I'm so glad we checked it out.
The hotel was amazing, even if the wi-fi was not up to par.
Me: This doesn't feel like New Year's Eve.
Me: Well, we were site seeing all day, it's warm and now we're in a hotel.
Zach: I'm used to being in a hotel and going to hotel parties on New Year's.
Me: Of course you are.
Apparently, these parties are rated by the food, and the food was excellent. I had this Myanmar curry that I've never had before, and it was really yummy. I continued to have this same curry for the next 5 days. 6 am we were getting up - another day another flight!
Zach: You know when we think of Burma...
Me: I've never thought of Burma in my life.
Me: Really, really.
Zach: South East Asia, then.
Me: I thought of Bangkok once.
Zach (ignoring me completely): You'd think it was more like India but I always think of the Japanese influence.
Actually, he probably said something else that made more sense but I was laughing too hard at myself.
We flew Air Bagan to Mandalay. Let's talk about the airports for a second. First, I was very excited that our tour guide helped us check in because otherwise I would have been freaked out when someone just came and grabbed our bags when we hadn't even gotten our tickets yet. Speaking of which, they handed us our tickets and these stickers to wear because the speaker system didn't really work. (Later you would find people congregating by sticker, hoping not to miss their flights, and on one flight, I totally lost my sticker and panicked.) Before security, they checked and stamped our tickets without looking at ID - probably because our names were not on our tickets. Then we went through a "metal detector" made of wood and waited for a bus to take half a block to our plane. You know those carts that airports put your luggage on? Well outside the bus we saw someone pushing one of those carts to our plane making me feel even more guilty for being on the bus to begin with.
In Mandalay we went to the Maha Gandayon Monastery to witness the monks lunch ritual. They eat two times a day, at 5 am and 10:30 am and then they just drink after noon. They also have their meals donated and cooked for them. We saw the whole procession and then took a walk around to see the kitchens and what not. Part of this was really cool, but part of me was uncomfortable with the people hanging out taking pictures and what not (myself included.)
Then we went to the longest wooden bridge which was terrifying. It was wobbly and falling apart (made of teak wood, which lasts 200 years, and it was creeping up in age) and the only railing was a very small section that had to be reinforced with cement railings.
Then we went to a place that they make lacquer, and a silk factory, and a gold leaf place where I was more fascinated by how long it takes to make the bamboo paper that goes in between the golf leafs and they just throw away. And then we went to the Shwenandaw Monastery that that was made with wood from the palace of the last Burmese King. It took 700 carpenters, 2 years to create.
One of the temples we went to we saw some of the young ladies during this cool ceremony that I will probably mess up when explaining. So all the boys in the country become a monk when they are younger and again after they are 20. And sometimes the girls go into the nunnery when they are young too. You can actually go more than that, but the kids that are really young might only go for a couple of days. Before the go, though, they get all dressed up and sometimes ride horses of elephants through the street like a prince or princess for the day.
While we were there we also saw these brass sculptures from Angkor Wat, which we thought was there like a touring museum. But what they really meant was that they stole them during one of the wars, and we would find later in Cambodia that Angkor Wat doesn't have any of these sculptures. Sad for them, but cool that we got to see them.
We also went to the Kuthodaw Pagoda to see the biggest book because it is written on 729 (9 is a lucky number) slates, each housed in their own stone houses, oh an there was a Starfish tree. And then we finished up on Mandalay hill for a view of the city.
At breakfast in Mandalay:
Zach: The empires today weren't as old as the were yesterday in Bagan.
Me: You know today is a different day than yesterday?
Zach: Days equal cities now, Tiffany.
Fair enough. Another day, another flight. Thanks Myanmar. You were great! This was our first flight on Air Asia, which was not the incredible service we had become accustomed to. We arrived in Bangkok to find that we were apparently on our honeymoon. Don't worry, we put the swans to good use.
We took a cab out to explore because Kelly and Maggie were still out on their tour. We saw the main government like place, and then walked over to check out a temple, and then Zach and I kept walking around. I said I would be okay with that until it got dark, only it did get dark and then a police officer like guy told us to hold still while the king drove by. We walked a little bit further, and then I got uncomfortable and made Zach and I go back.
Zach: Didn't you grow up in NY?
Me: Yes, and that is why I know we should go back to the hotel.
The next morning we met up with Kelly and Maggie for breakfast. They thought the hotel was top-notch, but Zach and I were so spoiled by then we were like, "meh, it's okay. It's not 5 stars, but it's alright."
We met our tour guide Nancy in the lobby who took us on public transit, for a Chaopraya Express boat taxi ride to the market. I had fallen in love with dragon fruit earlier in the trip and at the market, I saw it in its natural state. Nancy bought us some fruit to try. I didn't listen to directions very well, though.
Me: I just ate the seed.
Then Kelly spit her seed on the pavement and Nancy smacked her for it.
Nancy also yelled at me a lot for how many pictures my friends were taking. I refused to pass the message on though, so the dawdling continued. So many tourists in Bangkok that Zach and I were seriously missing the military dictatorship. Wat Pho, known also as The Temple of the Reclining Buddha was a good example of this. Going through this temple, we were packed tight, meanwhile back in Yangon we were at a much larger reclining Buddha and it was just me and Zach. I did get some extra luck using some lotus flowers and blessed water. (We'll have to ask Kelly for those shots.) And we saw the royal area and Wat Phra Kaew the temple of the Emerald Buddha and the grand palace.
Nancy wanted to drop us off at the end of the day, but Zach wanted to see more cool, old, religious stuff, so we climbed a bunch of stairs and saw cool, old, religious stuff... with a view!
Backing up, when I was in Newark airport, I exchanged dollars for Thailand money. Then when I got to Thailand, I got another 100 just in case. When I tried to buy a water, they wouldn't take some of my money, but they did take the other money. I just thought that maybe the money was older, because that had happened with US dollars a couple of times. Not so much. Turns out, in Newark, I got TAIWAN money. Whoopsie-Daisy.
I only brought a three outfits, with every intention of washing clothes in a sink. But then I remembered I'm in a fancy hotel and I could pay someone to do my laundry. Our clothes were returned all wrapped up and perfect, but we took a picture and told Dawne to be proud of her son finally doing laundry.
Kelly stopped by while Maggie took a little nap. That's when Kelly saw my two extension cords, one with 5 USB ports and one with 3 outlets and two additional USB's. I used these to power a phone, iPad, Kindle, camera battery, and 4 extra battery packs. Me to Kelly: Do you like how much power I have?
And then we were off to Chiang Mai! At the airport, we invited Kelly and Maggie to watch Elementary with us because we had 5 available jacks for audio, but they just looked at us like weirdos. Or maybe that was because Zach got dairy queen. We were met at the airport by Tus, our guide. He took us back to the hotel where we checked in and grabbed some lunch. Before the guide left though, he reviewed our itinerary with us.
Tus: And on Wednesday I'll take you to the airport.
Me: Is there anything that we could do before the airport, maybe a temple?
Tus: Tigers? Yeah we could go see tigers.
Me and Maggie: TIGERS!! YES!!
Zach and Kelly: Tigers? O - kay.
Someone asked me how I knew Maggie, and despite only meeting her once or twice prior to the trip, I told them that we were best friends from when we were little because it felt like it told a better story. We had lunch and as there was a lot of tasting and trying things happening, I decided (and later felt bad about embarrassing him) to tell Kelly and Maggie that Zach wasn't into sharing drinks. They immediately made jokes about cooties and then observed that when Kelly took a bite of Zach's meal, "only Kelly got cooties in this exchange." Sorry, Zach. I'll try to shut up next time. That evening, Tus took us to see the old walled city, some temples in the historical part of town and the Sunday market. This is also where he took us to eat from the outside food court/cart area. Kelly and I did a through perusal before we landed on "safe" food for dinner. Oh, and we saw these Monks messing with the New Year's decorations. When we went to take pictures Tus told us to be careful because the monks don't wear underwear.