Neil and Annette's 2016 tour

Paster, Vienna

Mummy Bear's Vegan Guide to Cooling the Planet

Aug 3rd

Well, here is the blog I promised to do. We are now in Vienna after two days on trains *, stopping overnight in Paris. We have a two room apartment in a hostel. Today we took a taxi to the Prater * which is the oldest amusement park in the world. Had a ride on the Viennese Giant Wheel featured in The Third Man (watch it). Magnificent views from the top. Going for an Indian this evening to build up our bodies.

The journey to Istanbul was knackering, still recovering. Three trains, two outgoing passport checks and two going in. Entered Turkey at 2.30am where we caught a bus to Istanbul arriving at 6.50am. Got a taxi to the hotel and slept until midday. In the afternoon we walked to the Blue Mosque which is huge and magnificent. Today we visited a vast underground cistern built by the Romans and still supplying Istanbul with water today. Two of the columns have heads of Medusa at the bottom, one upside down and one on it's side??

Dropped the camera in the water, it's drying on the windowsill having had hair dryer treatment. There's a surprising lack of Europeans in Istanbul!. We were the only people in the Indian restaurant tonight.
On the last day in Istanbul we visited Hagia Sophia Which is an amazing building built in 537AD as an Eastern Orthodox Christian cathedral converted to a mosque in 1453 when the Ottoman Empire beat the Byzantines, and now it's a museum.

Aug 14th

We are now in Erzurum in eastern Turkey having crossed almost the whole country in 24 hours. Hot and stuffy, no AC. There appears to be some sort of demo going on in the street outside our hotel. Cars blocking road, horns and drumming! Had a long hot walk (40C) in search of a new phone for Annette and a chemist. Failed on both accounts because it's Sunday. Visited Çifte Minareli Medrese a madrasa or Islam college built in the 13th century

Aug 16th

Yesterday we had a bus ride through magnificent mountains that got greener as we neared the coast. Read books for five hours in Trabzon bus station. The next bus took us to the Georgian border from which we took a taxi to Batumi, Today we shopped for ingredients and Annette made a wholesome and delicious meal. Too wholesome, too tomatoey, upset my stomach.
Annette got Anti-emetic and sugar/salt powder. OK the next day. Walked down to the pier. Not like Saltburn. More like Monte Carlo on the Black Sea. Lots of Russian millionaires. Annette bought a new phone.

Aug 23rd

The bus ride to Tbilisi was very scenic, just about everything is beautiful in Georgia. Lot's of ruined villas near Batumi and up the coast. We had a hotel hidden behind gates up an alley in the old town. The courtyard was shaded with a roof of vines. on arrival our host gave us wine from it. Found an Indian restaurant, strangely empty. The main tourist attraction in Tbilisi is Rikhe Park with its peculiar geometrical shaped bridge and an exhibition centre (no exhibition) that looks like a shiny exhaust pipe. It's hot, 35C, in Tbilisi, little shade and hardly any wind. We only stayed in the old town for two days. Tried to walk to the new Cathedral, built as a symbol of independence in 2004.The roads are very steep but it is very pretty though sadly neglected in places. Our next accommodation proved to be inaccessible for me, we had to cancel. Got the taxi (£2 per journey) to take us to an internet cafe. Found another vineyard, we're staying at Wine Garden Apartments. Very hot no AC, just fan. Had a few days phone saga involving Dezerters Bazaar, so called because deserting soldier sold their weapons there, and the brand new out of town Tbliisi Mall, it's got all the big international stores The upshot is that I have a new phone to now. There's an accessible funicular railway that climbs steeply above the town to a fairground on a hill. I wanted to go an the Ferris Wheel but it was not accessible.

Aug 28th

Got to Baku now. Took a night train from Tbilisi. Azeri customs take you into a special compartment to photograph you. Baku an oil city, is like the USA, hectic shops and fast food.The most exciting thing to do is watch bubbling mud.
We've hit the first major delay . We should have been out of here yesterday but on arrival we could not get a ticket to Russia until the 31st Aug. That means we miss our connection to Uzbekistan. Can't get another until 4th Sept. Six days behind schedule. Phileas Fogg would be livid. To pass the time we visited the Flame Towers

Sept 5th

We eventually caught the train to Russia at 01.15 on 1st Sept. Lovely classic russian train, everything that could be made of metal is made of metal. Every carriage has a samovar, a constant source of hot water for endless cups of tea. We never made, breakfast though.. On approaching the Russian border at about 4am we were awoken by Azeri customs who noticed we had overstayed our self imposed limit of five days in the country. So what, we thought, only to disturbed again five minutes later to be told to prepare to leave the train. So there we were at 5am outside Yalama railway station accused of a heinous crime. We were bundled into a taxi and sent back to Baku. We had to go to the Migration Office who told us we were being charged £100 per day that we overstayed our welcome. We had run up £300 already. Next we recovered part of the cost of the truncated train journey. We had to get out of Azerbaijan fast. Unfortunately and though against our principles we had to take the first flight available to Uzbekistan. The next day, after paying £400 at the airport, we flew via Almaty, Kazakhstan then to Tashkent.

That means we are ahead of schedule now but we've missed out Bukhara and Samarkand. Spent one day in Tashkent. Our host, Azamat helped us to buy train tickets, find an honest ATM that paid in dollars and to change $100 dollars on the black market into 625,000 soms (Three times the official rate). The largest unit of currency is 5000 uzs which is worth £1.25 so you have huge wads of notes. The supermarket we went to had a money counting machine. Azamat's help was an invaluable introduction to the Stans.
Next day we took a train to Samarkand which is moving east but it seems right to go back to places we missed. Samarkand is amazing, virtually no sign of western influence no McDonalds or KFC. The main attraction is the Registran, a collection off three madrases built between the 16th to18th centuries, fell into disrepair and ruin in the 19th and now restored to their former glory. The magnificent facades lead to calm courtyards behind. Can't get near them today. Uzbekistan's President Karimov died last week and Putin is coming to Samarkand to join in the day of mourning. All the roads are blocked and the shops are shut.

Bukhara is like a living museum.. The old town,where we stayed is a maze of passageways with beautiful gardens hidden behind closed gates. Uzbekistan has a surplus of gas, they run their cars on it and everywhere there are overground gas pipes supplying the houses. The centre of the town is pedestrianised so easy for me. There is a lovely pond with cafe in a leafy park with two madrases facing it.. The Great Minaret is 150ft tall. It is said that in olden days naughty people were cast to their deaths from the top. Everywhere you look there are mosques. The jewel in the crown is the Ark,. a fortress dating from 500AD that has been attacked and rebuilt many times over the years. A mad Russian general had it bombed in 1920. Only the gate, throne room, stables and much of the gigantic walls survived. I think Bukhara is my favourite place so far..

Sept 12th

We are in Osh, Kyrgyzstan now having caught a train back to Tashkent for a night. No buses or trains so we got here by taxi. Lovely journey through the biggest mountains yet and the verdant Ferghana valley. The Kyrgyzstan customs were very curious about my Ben Elton book (Blind Faith).

Visited the largest bazaar in Central Asia. We could only find dried fruit and nut, tasteless clothes and vegetables, maybe we were in the wrong part.

Sept 20th.

Another taxi took us to Sary Tash which is remote village at a height of 3710m.

It has three roads, one to Kyrgyzstan, one to Tajikistan, and one to China which carried no traffic because as we found the Chinese border was closed. For two days, we thought but it ended up being five. There is nothing to do in Sary Tash except admire the stunning view of the Pamir mountains or

watch the numerous children playing. Two generations ago the people of Sary Tash were nomads. They still haven't adapted to settled life. There is no mains water or plumbing, which caused some problems for me.

Sept 22nd.

Finally escaped Sary Tash on 19th when the border opened. Left 6.00am, arrived Kashgar China 9.00pm. 191 miles, nine checkpoints (Eight of them in China) and fourteen passport inspections. Taxi, hitched Chinese truck, minibus,taxi. The last taxi couldn't find our Hostel so we walked for ages trying to find it then, exhausted, checked in at Barony Tarim Petroleum Hotel. The manager gave us 1000 yuan off? The next day we found our hostel. Kashgar is full of mopeds driving too fast, sometimes carrying whole families. Serious competition for my wheelchair. Yesterday we turned left and walked a long way looking for and failing to find a supermarket. Today we tuned right and found everything we wanted in the old town.

September 29th

Lots happened since last report. Took a minibus from Kashgar to Tashkurgan which is the first part of the Karakorum Highway. The first part was very rough because the Chinese are turning it into a super highway. Stopped at a beautiful lake in the mountains. Tashkurgan is situated on the Pamir Plateau at a height of 3094m. It was and still is where traders from India and Persia meet to trade with merchants from China. We found a Pakistani restaurant which is a welcome change from the Chinese food in Tasghar. The town has an unfinished feel. Maybe they're going to build an airport.

The next stage of the KKH takes you up to 4693m on the Khungerab Pass. The bus from Tashkurgan dropped us at Sost , the first town on the Pakistani side. A taxi took us to Ganish in the Hunza Valley. It is said that the book Shangri La was based on it. I can believe it. It's like the alps times a hundred. The climate is perfect for growing anything and the people are friendly . Quite the most beautiful place I have ever seen..

Could have stayed in Hunza forever but the journey must go on. Had a fast ride in a Land Cruiser to Gilgit. Gilgit is horrible, smoggy and there are soldier/police everywhere. There is a bubbling tension between Shias and Sunnis. Only stayed one night. The next day we entered the final dramatic stage of the KKH which runs for a hundred miles along vertical or near vertical cliffs. The road follows the gorge in the Karakorum formed by the River Indus. That takes seven hours to do then the rest of the journey is spent trying to sleep. We're now staying at a hostel in the Margella Hills to the north of Islamabad. While there we visited the Pakistan Museum and the Pakistani National Monument

Oct 4th

Last stop in Pakistan. We are staying in Lahore which is a noisy, smelly, polluted city. The taxi ripped us off last night and the hotel tried to. This lets down the rest of Pakistan. Only here to work out transport to India.

Oct 18th

We are in Kota now which is in SE Rajasthan. However, I have a lot of catching up to do. Our first stop in India was at the wonderful Mrs Bhandari's Guest House, Amritsar. In my opinion the best guest house in India. Outside the room the buffaloes roam and you get their milk on your cornflakes.Should you ever find yourself in NW India it is worth a visit. We reluctantly moved on to Jalandhar.
There we visited Devi Talab Mandier which is a group of temples dedicated to various Hindu deities around a lake which was empty at the time. It was very busy due to it being Dusshera, the last day of Navratri which occurs 20 days before Diwali. More on Diwali later. We also had a ride out of town to a Science Theme park with lots of buildings covering different aspects of science. I was disappointed that the sections on renewables were badly neglected. Watched a good film on climate change in Hindi.
From Jalandhar we took a night train to Jaipur. You haven't travelled India if you've never been on a night train. The first hotel we stayed at in Jaipur had no internet and we found stale urine in the kettle. Needless to say we left the next day to stay at The Fern, one of a chain of ecohotels. It has a swimming pool on the roof. There is masses to see in Jaipur but we 've been before so we restricted ourselves to the City Palace, which is a sprawling complex of beautiful courtyards, and the Monkey Temple which is a beautiful place in the hills to the east of Jaipur and, of course, there are many monkeys..

Udaipur or the Lake City is probably my favourite city in India. It has a magnificent City Palace overlooking one of the two lakes. The other one has a lovely peaceful park on an island. We celebrated our wedding anniversary with a meal at a very smart hotel by the lakeside opposite the City Palace which was reflected in the lake.We also had a meal at the Baba Palace Hotel. We stayed there last time we were in India. The rooftop restaurant looks over a busy square and temple. Udaipur is not really a place to do anything . With the narrow streets packed with tuk tuks and motorbikes, holy men, colourful shops and cows , just being there is enough. Wheelchair users note the Ropeway is no longer accessible

Oct 28th

At the beginning of the last posting we were in Kota. Kota is not on the tourist circuit. We visited Seven Wonders Park, a collection of famous monuments reduced in scale. Not a westerner in sight. Likewise at the city fort/palace/museum where we received personal service. The museum contained palanquins, elephant jewellery, everything a self respecting maharajah might want. While waiting for the night bus to Jhansi Annette had her bag (containing pizza) stolen by a pig. It took three Indians to restrain it and retrieve the bag covered in porcine saliva..

Jhansi is not on the tourist circuit either. The run down palace/museum contains fragments of carvings that have fallen off temples dating from the 7th to 12th centuries

Our next port of call, Khajuraho has the real thing. A collection of seven magnificent Hindu and Jain temples in a beautiful park. We visited a sunset, the light on the temples was magical. There are many other temples and sacred lakes in the surrounding area. Khajuraho is by far my favourite place in India, it is a pleasant relief from the hectic cities we tend to visit. We stayed in the Yoga Ashram Guest House which provided Annette with the spiritual sustenance she needed.It even got me meditating on the roof at dawn

We took a night train to Allahabad. On arrival, as is often the case, we had to cross the tracks because of inaccessible bridges. The path was blocked by a train, we edged around it but slipped and I fell against the buffer of the train and got covered in black grease. We didn't see much of Allahabad, a brief stop on the way to Varanasi. The one day we were there were were driven round and round in circle by a tuk tuk driver, by the time we got to the museum it was closing.

When got off the train at Varanasi at about 9pm two guys were very helpful with the stairs. Turned out they were tuk tuk drivers, they told us our hotel could only be reached by a passageway two kilometres long and not wide enough for a wheelchair. I knew they were lying but also knew they would dump us somewhere dangerous if we didn't go to their friends hotel. We said their friends hotel wasn't suitable, nor the next one. We booked into a hotel we spotted and paid pennies for the tuk tuk. They gained nothing by inconveniencing us.We're having a bad run with tuk tuk drivers.

Varanasi is the city of the dead. Hindus go there to die. Then they are cremated on the ghats (riverside steps) and their ashes are cast into the filthy Ganges. The e-coli count is 44,000 times that it should be. We took a boat at dawn to witness this spectacle. The next day (Diwali) we were on the river again to see an Aarti which is a bit like a small, live Bollywood show on the ghats at sunset. OK, I said I'd talk about Diwali so here goes. Diwali to Hindus is like Christmas to us. It last for five days centered on the last new moon of at the end of the Hindu lunar month of Ashvin and the start of the month of Kartika. It's all about the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. Shops, public buildings and roads are strewn with ropes of coloured lights. We watched from the roof of our hotel and it seemed like every street across the city was letting off fireworks. The people clean their houses until they are spotless, wear new clothes and eat lots of sweets. If you want to know the religious significance look here On our last day in Varanasi we visited Barabar Caves which feature in the book/film "A Passage to India". The path was too difficult for me but Annette and guide climbed to the caves. Annette managed to enter the cave without going crazy like Miss Quested

Nov 11th

We're in Kathmandu at the moment but lot's has happened in the meantime. After Varanasi we stayed in Bodh Gaya. It is a very holy place for Buddhists because Buddha first attained enlightenment sitting under a Bodhi tree. A descendant of that tree stands within the Maha Bodhi temple. We joined in a mass meditation that was going on for ten days and attended by Buddhists from all over the world. Our hotel and a lot of others surrounded Hari Om's a cafe catering for International tastes.
When we were in Bodh Gaya four years ago it stood alone on a bit of dusty wasteground.

Our hotel wouldn't let us take a bus or train and insisted we use a taxi to Patna. Never again. The driver was a manic teenager with a death wish. The roads are full of tuk tuks, tractors, cows and people. He drove at high speed recklessly overtaking everything. I feared for my life. Didn't see much of Patna. The first day we did regular traveller tasks. Got a tuk tuk which took us around the chemists to top up our prescriptions, then we bought dollars which we need for Nepalese and Chinese visas. Booked a flight to Lhasa on Nov 16th. We have to fly because the border is still closed after the earthquake two years ago. On the second day the lift was broken. Our room was on the fourth floor so I didn't get out. Spent the day choosing, editing uploading and coding pictures to this blog

From Patna we set off for the Nepalese border, First step was a train to Barauni Junction. For reasons best known by Indian Railways the train shot straight through Barauni station and dropped us a the next station up the line. We had to catch a tuk tuk back. The next train left a 2am so we had a nine hour wait. We woke at Raxaul station at 8.30. A horse cart took us across the border, stopping at customs posts and delivering us to our hotel. We explored a bit, found the main street, functional but boring, caught a tuk tuk to the bazzar. Annette bought presents. The next day the hotel owner wanted us to take a taxi to Khathmandu. Lied that the only bus was a night bus. We held out and he suddenly managed to find a bus that took an hour to fill up and left for Kathmandu at 12.15. Eight and a half hour journey but the stunning mountain scenery made the time go quickly.

Nov 20th.

We have now been in Kathmandu for ten days. Our time has been spent trying to organise our next move to Tibet, sightseeing and getting our spectacles reframed. On days one an two we visited Durbar Square which is a complex of temples in the centre of town. It has been very badly affected by the earthquake two years ago Nearby is Freak St so named because hippies used to hang out there from the 60's to the 80's. In the 80's the Nepali government threw them all out.. All the tourists and travellers have moved to Thamel now. It is an area to the north of Durbar Square and in walking distance. It is packed with six story hotels and busy streets where pedestrians fight with motorbikes and taxis. The road surfaces are hard work in places. The streets are colourful with stalls selling brightly coloured pahsimas, there are souvenir shops everywhere. In some places thre are holes where they are putting up new buildings after the earthquake.

Dec 1st

We're in Halong, Vietnam now. Just arrived this evening. Plans have changed dramatically. To pay for our Tibetan stage we had to send a FAX to my bank. It took two days to find somewhere in the maze that is Thamel that could do it. FAXing is so 20th century. Anyway after several complictions the correct version never reached the bank. While trying to sort all this out we visited Pashupatinath Temple which is one of the most holy sites for Hindus. Only they can enter the main temple.There is a shrine dedicated to Kali the goddess of destruction. They slaughter many animals to appease her. A guide told us he was disappointed that they are not allowed to sacrifice people any more. We also visited Bodhnath Stupa. When the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959 those Buddhists that could escape made for Bodhnath as it is one of the holliest Buddhist sites. After a week of this we reluctantly decided to cancel our visit to Tibet, again. David Cameron stopped us last time by talking to the Dalai Llama. We considered returning to India and going through Myanmar but we couldn't get the required papers through before our Indian visas ran out. No way out, the only escape from India was by flying again. We flew from Kathmandu to Hanoi, stopping overnight in Kuala Lumpur. We stayed in a cheap hotel room six hours. Flew out in a thunderstorm. Hanoi is busy and polluted. Not good for faint hearted vegetarians. Beef and duck on display everywhere. We walked to one of the many lakes in the city. An ornate oriental bridge led to a magical Confucianist/Taoist temple. We caught a bus to Halong. We didn't see a lot of countryside because there is terrible ribbon development so it was shops nearly all the way

Dec 7th

We're in Ninh Bình now but I'd better tell you about Halong Bay. It's a group of karst islands for miles off the coast. They are formed by torrential rain dissolving the limestone and the sea washing away and undercutting the cliffs. We took a 24 hours cruise right through them




The weather was cloudy so the islands though dramatic and impressive were not very scenic. Besides, we spent most of the time aboard eating. The food we had was all vegan, varied and very tasty. We had a cabin with a balcony, cheap because it's low season. That's why there were only ten tourists on the boat. More friendly. We returned for one night to Halong. The next day we caught a ferry to Cát Bà which is the largest of the islands. This meant passing through islands again. This time it was sunny so they were colourful and splendid. We took a taxi across Cat Ba. It's a beautiful island with jungle coated karst scenery and not many people. The taxi took us to a quay where we caught a speedboat to Hai Phong, we passed mile after mile of freighters on one side and nothing on the other. Hai Phong was a one night stop because we couldn't reach Ninh Bình in one day. On arrival in Ninh Bình we got a taxi to take us to the Panorama Homestay, when we got there the track was blocked by a wedding tent. They said they could take us on motorbikes. We declined and we're lucky to find another hotel nearby. Another area of Karst scenery. It's a pleasant change to be in the countryside. We visited Tam Coc cave. You go on a boat along a river that passes through three caves.
The boat was propelled by a woman rowing with her feet. We also saw the biggest stupa in Asia. It is up a hill accessed by two long staircases lined with statues of wise men and thousands of gold Buddhas.

Dec 19th

On our first day in Danang we searched for a seamstress to mend Annette's bag. We also looked for pharmacies because my prescription has run out. Couldn't find what we wanted so we visited the Family Medical Centre which caters for westerners.They sold me 30 pills for $240! Anyway, I digress, back to Ninh Bình. From there we caught our first Vietnamese train to Dong Hoi. OnFebruary 11, 1965 Dong Hoi was completly desroyed by heavy, persistent bombing by B52s. Only a church gable end, a water tower and a palm tree remained. We drove past the ruins of the church. We only stayed one day, went into town and got my third set of spectacle frames on this trip. The morning we left it started raining, didn't stop until two days ago, still no sun. Phong Nha is only a short journey from Dong Hoi. In 2014 permission was given to open the local caves to the public. Since then a small town has developed dedicated to the tourist industry. Again we took a boat to the caves. Much more impressive than last week's caves. We passed through several large cave resplendent with stalagmites, stalactites and moulded limestone columns. Next day had a long bus journey to Hue. For the first two days we only ventured out to eat. It rained and rained and rained. I bought a cape. The bridge near our hotel was closed due to flooding. Hue is a nice place there were lots of bars and restaurants within easy reach. On the third day it stopped raining. We made a break and walked along way to the Citadel. This is a huge walled area containing several Imperial palaces. During the "American war', as it is known here, the South Vietnamese made their command centre in the Citadel. As part of the Tet offensive in 1968 the North Vietnamese broke in and a battle ensued. The buildings were badly damaged and even in their partially restored state it does not have it's former glory. The battle of Hue.was the longest in the war and the huge US casualties began to turn public opinion against the war. When the US were kicked out of Vietnam they dropped all their remaining bombs on Hue.
We had a day out by bus to Hoi An which is a pretty riverside town. that escaped destruction during the war. Lots.of old buildings. Packed with tourists.

Dec 25th

Happy Christmas blog readers

We are spending Xmas in Nha Trang which is the premier seaside resort in Vietnam. It has nothing going for it except for a two mile beach packed with Russians toasting their bodies (The picture was taken on Boxing day when all the Russians went home). It is a good chance for us to rest and bit. I need to. At our last stop in Quý Nhon I got bad chest pain. Visited a doctor and he diagnosed bronchitis. He gave me lot's of pills and charged me about $18. Having got better,as Nha Trang is the diving centre of Vietnam, we decided to 'try diving' as advertised by Rainbow Divers. We signed up and were up early the next day ready to go. However, on arrival at the meeting point Annette was taken aside and given a string of excuses by the instructor. Basically he didn't want my disability to get in the way of his dive. In five months over 8000 miles this is the worst discrimination I have faced. If you are in a wheelchair and want to dive in Nha Trang choose a different company.

Dec 31st

We've been in Saigon for two days now, it's New Year's Eve. We were out on the town getting a meal last night and it was really busy. I expect tonight will be busier.

Jan 10th

We're in Siem Reap, which is in Cambodia, now. But let me go back to New Year's Eve. Saigon is good place to be. Some of the streets are shut to traffic and packed with people.Twice the crowd was so dense I couldn't move. Passed the new year in a bookshop/bar frequented by English speakers. On New Year's day we were both very ill. Must have been something that we ate. The next day we caught a bus to Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta. We stayed at a farmstay. Absolutely idyllic, our hut on stilts was surrounded by palm, banana and mimosa trees. A very welcome change to the city life we have had recently.We had a walk to a very Vietnamese village. On the market they had the biggest pile of ginger I have ever seen. We reluctantly left this utopia because we wanted to see a floating market. We moved to Can Tho where we got up at dawn to catch a boat to see the traders on the river. The wholesalers come from points up river where the produce is grown and sell to the townspeople. Masses of barges swapping cargoes of almost every fruit imaginable. We returned to Saigon for just one night in order to catch a bus to Phnom Penh. There we rested for a day. We had been travelling for the last three days. No peace for the wicked, we're running out of time. We've got to be back home before the end of January to get my tax return in. Moved on to Siem Reap. We are having another resting day. Of course the reason for visiting Siem Reap is to see Angkor Wat. It is not just one temple, there are many several miles apart. For this reason we took an early morning tuk-tuk to the ruins.

Jan 26th

In Bangkok airport now on the way home. Made it to Mandalay in the end from where we have flown today. Anyway I left the story in Angkor Wat. It took a whole day to get round the site in a tuk tuk. I lost track of the number of temples we visited. The pictures speak better than words. From Siam Reap we moved on to Thailand. We stopped at Sa Keog at a camp a bit like a Thai Butlins complete with chalets and Disney characters. Nice quiet break between hectic South East Asian cities like Bangkok where we headed next. We only stopped there for two days which was long enough to obtain visas for Myanmar, a place we were determined to visit before going home. We ate at an Indian restaurant that provided green chillies and garlic as a side dish to enable spicing you curry as desired, brilliant. Slept through most of the journey to the Myanmar border then stopped overnight on the other side in Myawaddy. Early start the next day, had to wake the hotel staff. The scenery on the way to Yangon was beautiful, rainforest covered mountains. Yangon is smaller than Bangkok but seems busier because the roads are worse and it's all cars and few motorbikes. They have right hand side steering wheels and drive on the right ??. We met up with Alan and Meg, friends of ours from England now living near Yangon. They took us to the Shwedagon Pagoda which is not just one pagoda but surrounded by many stupas and shrines. There is gold everywhere, stupendous in the bright sunlight. We shared a few drinks in a cafe by Kandawgyi Lake which hosts the Karaweik which is a replica of a royal barge. Also resplendent in gold. Our next stop on the road to Mandalay was Naypyidaw. The city was built in 2000 by the Military Junta and replaced Yangon as capital in 2005. It's like a big city that no-one came to. We stayed at a hotel that was so spread out you had to ride about in a buggy. A short bus ride from there took us to Mandalay, our final destination. We arrived on 23rd Jan. 184 days after leaving home. Well worth the journey. A lot of the old town was made of teak and burned down during the Burmese war.However one part of the Royal Palace had been removed from the centre of town and is preserved. Visiting it gave an impression of how beautiful the town must have been. At Kuthodaw Pagoda we saw the longest book in the world the Tipitaka which is a sacred text to Theravada Buddhism. It is written on 729 marble tablets each in it's own small cave.

We had a ride up Mandalay Hill where an elevator took us to Sutaungpyei Pagoda, a magnificent modern temple. It's terraces afforded expansive views over the town, the Irrawaddy River and the mountains beyond.



Jan 30th

We are home now but I have to mention the last obstacle put before us. You will remember we were in Bangkok airport on our way home. On checking into our flight at 8.30pm we were told we could not proceed further as the layover in Cochin, India required a visa. We found a hotel near the airport. Next morning I booked a plane home that avoided India. We eventually arrived home in the early hours of 29th Jan.

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