Month 40: Travel Summary and Statistics


Lauren in Bagan
Thinking of home

After a couple of slow and easy months in Chiang Mai, it was time to move on. Myanmar was calling my name — a country I’d longed to visit for years and a country I’d put off committing to for just as long. I nearly cancelled my visit this time around, too.

Finding a work-life-travel balance is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to living a life like this. In Chiang Mai, I was good with the work and good with the life. I was hunkering down in coffee shops and working on this site, writing freelance articles and finally achieving that elusive inbox 0. In the evenings, I was catching up with friends, eating good food and sipping toffee apple cider.

Work was good. Life was good, too. Travel was non-existent.

And therein lies the struggle.

A few days before leaving for Myanmar, I freaked out. I knew my work would fall by the wayside the second I packed my backpack and lugged it into a songthaew. It always does when I travel, the sensory overload and full days of exploring leaving my brain too crammed with stimulation to expend any creativity in writing.

My travel and life quota would be full but I wouldn’t be able to achieve anything in between all the overnight buses and temple hopping and sunset cruises.

So I said no to Myanmar and resolved to stay in Chiang Mai for a while longer. I’d continue to work in coffee shops and meet up with friends and sip toffee apple cider while my social media feeds filled with photos of Dave doing all the things we’d planned to do together.

It was the FOMO that led to me changing my mind and leaving anyway.

Lauren at Bagan

And I’m glad I did.

Yangon was nothing like I expected. It was swelteringly hot to start with and, being ill-prepared as always for a country where I’d have to cover up, I did much of my wanderings in damp jeans. The buildings were crumbling and colourful and the roads chaotic — but, unlike in other Southeast Asian cities, there wasn’t a scooter to be seen (they’re illegal in Yangon). The food was delicious, with tiny plastic tables and stools a constant along the roadsides. I didn’t spot many tea leaf salads — about the only Burmese dish I knew before arriving — but Shan noodle soups were soon to make my acquaintance.

We were staying in the heart of the downtown area and I was surprised at the lack of foreigners. November is high season for Myanmar and I expected there to be white faces everywhere. Of the tourists we did meet, there was a disproportionately high number of French people. And Chinese, as always.

Walking around, Yangon felt like a conglomeration of places I’d visited before. The colonial architecture reminded me of Penang, in Malaysia; the buses of Belize; the clouds of incense of Kathmandu; the trains of Sri Lanka. I need to learn to stop making comparisons and perceive a city for being itself, not a mishmash of the places I’ve visited before.

We began our Yangon explorations on the rickety Circle line, holding on as we bounced over the tracks and gazing out the window at lush grasses, the surprising number of factories, and bustling markets that took place in railways stations, quickly shifting out the way when we rolled through. It gave us an insight into daily Burmese life, and Dave struck up a conversation with a local, eager to share his opinion about the government and the fact that not much had really changed in the country for most people — lips not as sealed as they would have been a few years prior.

Market on the Circle Train

We pagoda-hopped our way across town, starting at Sule and ending in Shwedagon, via the icy air conditioning unit at Botataung. I’m one of the few travellers to have never experienced temple fatigue, always quietly awed by the shimmering golden stupas breaking up the city roofs and, in Myanmar, it was more shimmery than usual. Gold, gold, everywhere.

Lauren at Shwedagon Pagoda

I was dreading transportation days in Myanmar, having heard dozens of horror stories, but travelling on a VIP bus was an oddly comfortable experience — it was my best overnight journey to date! It was air conditioned, the road was smooth, the seats were large and comfortable, the bus was quiet. Even breaking down an hour outside of Yangon was a bonus as it meant we arrived in Bagan at 7am instead of 5.

Bagan is the best.

I thought Angkor Wat was incredible but it has nothing on Bagan. Dave and I rented electric bikes to see the temples, and I loved our daily routine of biking around the temples in the morning, resting by the pool (and writing) in the afternoon and heading out again to a nearby temple for sunset. I can’t wait to share more about this wonderful, magical place!

Lauren on an electric bike

Lauren in Bagan

Dave and I also celebrated our three year anniversary this month, and splashed out on a fancy hotel to celebrate. We were planning on taking a hot air balloon ride at sunset but at around $320 each — not so much. While Myanmar was much cheaper than I was expecting, we only had a limited amount of USD to last us our two weeks and we didn’t want to run out of money.

Fancy resort in Bagan

Onto the statistics for the month! 

Month 40 travel map

Countries Visited: 2

Myanmar, Thailand 

Cities Visited: 4

Bagan, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Yangon

Distance Travelled: 1800 km

Photos Taken: 771

Highlight of the Month: Watching the sun set over Bagan. A magical experience I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Lowlight of the Month: I’d say that my electric bike-related misadventures on my first day in Bagan were pretty traumatising. Not only did I reverse into a tree, drop the bike countless times and almost run over a monk, but I also drove straight into a temple wall. In front of many worshipping locals.

I pulled up outside the temple but hadn’t realised I still had my hand on the throttle. When I released the brakes, my bike went hurtling forwards and smashed into the temple wall. Mortified.

Incident of the Month: I left my passport in my guesthouse in Bagan. Seriously. Dave and I were collected by a pick-up truck and taken to the bus station with 20 sleepy travellers at 6 am. It was half-way through that pick-up truck journey that I had the flashback of throwing my passport on the floor the night before and not picking it up that morning. Three years of travel and I’d left my passport behind.

Being British and not wanting to cause a fuss, I considered not telling anyone and just taking the bus to Kalaw. What do I need a passport for anyway? I’m sure I can just get a new one! That would be better than putting out some strangers I’d never see again.

The judgement levels were high in the truck when I had to ask if we could turn around. Our driver refused and told me to jump out the truck and walk back to the hotel myself. With a sorrowful glance at Dave, I did just that.

On my race back to my guesthouse, my pants fell down around my knees. Moments before, a local guy spotted me and began to yell, “LADY IS RUNNING! LADY IS RUNNING!” He got more than he bargained when I flashed him my underwear.

I raced into the guesthouse, and the receptionist raced up to me with my passport in hand. Now I needed a taxi and I needed one fast. I was about 15 minutes behind the pick-up truck and my bus was leaving in 30. All of the taxis were shuttling tourists from temple to temple in the cool morning air and I hadn’t seen any on my jog to the guesthouse.

The guesthouse owner rode off on a scooter to find me a taxi and I got to the bus station with 10 minutes to spare. I sprinted around the station, only too aware that I didn’t have my bus ticket and I didn’t know which bus company we’d booked with. I jumped from bus to bus but couldn’t find one with Dave inside. It had left without me.

I asked around and the next bus was in 12 hours, and would see me arriving in Kalaw at 3am, alone and with no idea which guesthouse Dave was in.

It was then that I saw Dave pull up in the back of a pick-up truck. A stressful start to the day!

My Favourite Photo: 

Sunset in Bagan
Watching the sun set on my final evening in Bagan

The Best Thing I Ate: 

A delicious bowl of steaming Shan noodles!

Shan noodles

The Worst Thing I Ate: 

The guesthouse breakfasts in Myanmar were uniformly terrible. This was one of the oddest: a banana toastie! Note the gourmet cucumbers with ketchup and mayonaise.
The guesthouse breakfasts in Myanmar were uniformly terrible. This was one of the oddest: a banana toastie! Note the gourmet cucumbers with ketchup and mayonaise.

Money Spent: 

Accommodation:

  • Chiang Mai: $160.08 over 24 days: $6.67 per night
  • Yangon: $64 over 2 days: $32.00 per night
  • Bagan: $170 over 4 nights: $56.67 per night

Transportation: 

  • Scooter rental in Chiang Mai: $30.48
  • Gas for the scooter: $8.00
  • Flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok: $37.49
  • Flight from Bangkok to Yangon: $62.89
  • Circle Train ticket: $0.19[!]
  • Overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan: $18.50
  • Electric bike rental for 4 days in Bagan: $11.00

Food: $278.34

Visas and Entrance Fees: 

Visa for Myanmar: $50.00
Sule Pagoda entrance fee: $3.00
Botataung entrance fee: $3.00
Shwedagon entrance fee: $8.00
Bagan entrance fee: $15.00

Miscellaneous:

Chiang Mai Gym membership: $40

Total Amount Spent: $959.97

The Next Month: 

Month 41 travel map

I’ll be finishing up my time in Myanmar with a few days of rest in Kalaw and a couple of days cruising around Inle Lake, before heading to Yangon to eat as much as possible.

Then, Taiwan! I’m thrilled to be heading back to one of my favourite countries in the world and I can’t wait to show Dave how ridiculously friendly the Taiwanese are. We’ll be spending time in Taipei, Kaohsiung, Kenting (a new destination for me!) and Hualien.

Looking to follow along with my travels through my monthly summaries? You can read the previous month’s summary here, the next month’s summary here, or head on over to the monthly summary page to read from the very beginning!

54 Comments

  1. December 5, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks for the lovely post on Myanmar! I’m working my way back to Asia after having lived in the the US for 11 years Your journey is inspiring me to plan to stay longer in the region.

    • December 8, 2014
      Reply

      You absolutely should! I only planned to spend a couple of months in Southeast Asia and I’ve probably spent over a year there, on and off :-)

  2. izzy
    December 5, 2014
    Reply

    Myanmar sounds amazing, and congratulations on your anniversary. But did Dave really leave you to run back for your passport all by yourself and potentially not catch up again for 12 hours? You sound like one of the toughest, smartest, most adventurous people ever so you could obviously handle this situation. But sometimes Dave seems thoroughly unhelpful and a bit of a meanie >.<

    • December 5, 2014
      Reply

      Yup, I’m a terrible human being.

      To lend a little perspective, if I’d got off the pickup as well, we’d have had to take our big backpacks with us, making the walk/run back to the hotel much slower. I also backed myself to be able to hold the bus for a while – with a small bribe changing hands if necessary – while Lauren made her way to the bus station. If she still didn’t make it in time, I wouldn’t have gone without her – we would have just caught the next bus or minivan together when she did arrive.

      So yes, meanie or otherwise, there’s always more to the story. ;-)

    • December 5, 2014
      Reply

      Hi Izzy,

      Thanks for calling me adventurous! It’s not something I ever think of myself as being :-)

      Yeah, I mean, I’ve travelled solo on and off for probably around 10 months of the last three years so I wasn’t really concerned about dealing with it by myself, and spending 12 hours apart didn’t seem like much of a big deal! Also, it was my mistake, not his. It would seem silly for us both to get off and run to the guesthouse together when him being there wouldn’t provide any extra advantage. Likewise, him having to pay for a cab to the bus station, and then a new bus ticket if we missed it, all because I messed up didn’t seem fair.

  3. December 5, 2014
    Reply

    Those definitely look like some amazing places. Myanmar and Thailand! And the photos are just incredible!
    Have fun this month!
    With love,
    Vera

  4. December 5, 2014
    Reply

    I’m dying to go to Bagan! But where did you get such cheap flights to Yangon from Bangkok?

  5. December 5, 2014
    Reply

    Ha at the being British part! I’ve been in this situation so many times, where I know I ought to speak up and say something, but don’t want to put anybody out in the process. Then I remember that no one else has such a consideration for other people’s time, and I speak up anyway ;-)

    Myanmar sounds amazing. Bagan is a place that’s been on my bucket list for years, too…

    • December 9, 2014
      Reply

      Yes, exactly. And I was never going to see those people again! I need to learn to speak up more :-)

  6. Happy anniversary to you both! Not many relationships last these days so it’s good to hear that you’re doing well! Enjoy Myanmar these last few days and have fun in Taiwan!

    • December 9, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks so much, Miriam! I’m amazed we’ve lasted so long, given that we spend close to every waking second together :-)

  7. December 5, 2014
    Reply

    Omg, that scooter – temple story sounds like a nightmare! And I couldn’t help but laugh at the gourmet pickle, haha!

    • December 8, 2014
      Reply

      It was so embarrassing. I’m sure that PassportGate was karma for me riding into a temple!

  8. December 5, 2014
    Reply

    Every time something bad/embarrassing/stressful happens my motto (coined by my mother!) is “it’s all blog fodder, darling.” Now you can think that it’s “book fodder”! I do love reading about your mishaps but only because you write so brilliantly about them!

    • December 8, 2014
      Reply

      Absolutely! Forgetting my passport will make for a great chapter in my sequel :-). So happy to hear you enjoy my mishaps!

  9. Looking forward to reading more about Myanmar and it is great to hear that you enjoyed Bagan more than Angkor Wat because I have decided to go to Myanmar for 3 weeks on my next big trip instead of spending 3 weeks seeing a couple of places in Cambodia and Laos. I will visit them another time.

    • December 8, 2014
      Reply

      Yay! I found Bagan to much more impressive, and so easy to escape the tourists! Walk for five minutes away from a popular temple and you’ll have a small one to yourself :-) Make sure you rent an electric bike while you’re there!

  10. December 6, 2014
    Reply

    Wow, what a ton of gold, that’s amazing! Great write-up. We’re looking forward to checking out this area in a few months, so thanks for the detailed run-down.

    • December 8, 2014
      Reply

      No problem! I’ll be writing about Myanmar more over the next couple of weeks :-)

  11. December 6, 2014
    Reply

    Hey,

    I notice that you never include travel insurance costs in your budget. Is this because you don’t buy it or do you just choose not to declare it as a monthly expense?

    Thanks a lot :)

    • December 6, 2014
      Reply

      I buy travel insurance 18-24 months at a time so it’s not a very regular expense! I think I included it last time I had to buy it.

  12. Charlie
    December 6, 2014
    Reply

    Ah, I’m always terrified of leaving my passport behind! Glad to hear you got it back without too many problems. I’ll be in Myanmar in January, three weeks into my rtw trip. I can’t wait to visit it, the country looks beautiful, especially Bagan and Ngapali Beach. I definitely want to rent bikes like you did.

    • December 8, 2014
      Reply

      It was so great exploring with the electric bikes! It gets so hot in Bagan that exploring by bicycle sounds pretty awful. The horse and carts you can rent looked uncomfortable, too.

  13. I am glad you made it over to Myanmar too! This place is very high up on my list, and for good reason I see. Your photos are stunning, the colors are so bright I can’t believe it!
    Thanks for sharing,
    Katie

    • December 8, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Katie! I’d put Myanmar near the top of my favourite countries so you should definitely pay it a visit.

  14. December 7, 2014
    Reply

    I’m so glad to hear you did go to Myanmar in the end, you would definitely have regretted it if you hadn’t! Work does need to take a backseat sometimes, and I’m sure you’ll still get the book finished in time :)

    • December 8, 2014
      Reply

      I had so many incredible experiences in the country that I’m happy I visited. I’m working hard now but it was worth it :-)

  15. Every time I read about your adventures in Asia it makes we really want to go, and a little nervous. I can’t wait to go, but I have no idea when that will be. We’ll stick to Europe for now since it’s where we live and I’ll just live vicariously through you :)

    • December 9, 2014
      Reply

      Nothing to be nervous of! Southeast Asia is a wonderful part of the world :-). And I’ll actually be spending most of next year in Europe.

  16. December 9, 2014
    Reply

    I’ve been wanting to go to Myanmar for AGES and this post has definitely supported its cause – amazing photos. (Those colours!)

    Also, I totally empathise with the whole not-wanting-to-mildly-inconvenience-total-stranger- over-something-hugely-important thing. British people problems…

    • November 22, 2015
      Reply

      You should definitely go! it was amazing :-D

  17. December 10, 2014
    Reply

    Your photos are just too good. Your favorite photo is my favorite photo too – the sunset looks so poignant. Amazing experiences!

    • November 22, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks, Renuka! Glad you liked it, too! :-)

  18. December 15, 2014
    Reply

    Hi
    It seems strange over here in the uk. Everybody wants to go to Thailand and when you mention Myanmar they say where. We only know it as Burma. I have wanted to go to Myanmar for ages. Why do the same trip so many other pele have done in Thailand. When you can go to somewhere so far totally unspoilt by our western influences that is virtually next door. Great inspirational post.

    Thanks Barry

    • November 26, 2015
      Reply

      I know! I wasn’t sure whether to call it Myanmar or Burma, but went with the former because, well, that’s its name. I loved my time there and highly recommend visiting! Very different to Thailand :-)

  19. Stephanie
    December 18, 2014
    Reply

    I’ve been waiting for you to go to Myanmar for ages! I love the temples and am surprised at how green it looks.

    The breakfast looks pitiful, I bet you had a chuckle when you revealed the lone slice on banana in the toastie!

    • November 26, 2015
      Reply

      Ahh, man, that banana toastie was the worst haha!

  20. December 19, 2014
    Reply

    Burma is such an interesting place … they get savoury dishes right, but breakfast? Not so much … amusing attempt though!

    • November 22, 2015
      Reply

      Oh man, the breakfasts were so bad!

  21. December 19, 2014
    Reply

    Your pictures are phenomenal! Especially the photo of the sunset in Bagan, the silhouette is incredible. You have inspired me to visit these places! Thank you for including your budget and everything as well, it is extremely helpful!

    • November 26, 2015
      Reply

      Thank you so much, Monica! Bagan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited — I highly recommend it! :-)

  22. December 21, 2014
    Reply

    Hi Lauren
    I’ve always wanted to travel to Myanmar and so it was good to read about your experiences. The on the road work/travel balance can be quite difficult. In between, you really need to digest all of these new experiences and stand still for a while. OMG about your passport. That would have freaked me out. Glad you got it back.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Kristin

  23. Miles of Happiness
    January 2, 2015
    Reply

    I really can’t get enough of your blog… :)

  24. January 10, 2015
    Reply

    omg i had to laugh at your banana toastie!! i had the oddest hotel breakfasts all over myanmar. in yangon, i requested an omelette (which was on the menu!) and instead received a plastic-wrapped gelatinous rice cake with a pink spoon (actually not bad, just not what i ordered) and a quadruple decker processed cheese sandwich! as i struggled through, gut busting, the waiter came over & asked me if i wanted another one!

    • January 10, 2015
      Reply

      That’s hilarious! Yeah, there was something about the Western breakfasts in Myanmar — they were all terrible!

  25. February 18, 2015
    Reply

    The first thing offered to me when I arrived at my hotel in Bagan was the $300 balloon ride. I asked why they thought I would want the balloon ride and there response was that most westerners ask about the balloon ride.

    Needless to say, at a whopping $300…I passed on the offer as well.

    • March 21, 2015
      Reply

      It’s an insane price, isn’t it? I was so excited about it until I realised what poor value it offered.

  26. Soe Nyunt Shein
    May 18, 2016
    Reply

    please come again to Maynamr

    • May 19, 2016
      Reply

      I’m hoping to later this year! :-)

  27. Cat Motors
    April 9, 2018
    Reply

    Amazing! But next time care more about your a passport! =)

    • April 9, 2018
      Reply

      I do care about my passport thanks.

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