After spending 3 and a half months in Pai it was time for a chance, time to wander again. While my time in Pai was far from over I was called to Myanmar otherwise known as Burma to see what it was before it changed to meet the modern age.
In my first few months of world wandering Southeast Asia I had seen many of the countries and by May I had covered all except one Myanmar. It was on my list for a long time, since I heard about the changes occurring across the country as the military slowly relaxed its grip on the country.
Seeing the money generated in Thailand and other Southeastern Asian countries Myanmar made reforms to make tourism more open. In September of 2014 they implemented an e-Visa program significantly cutting down the hassle for getting a visa into the country.
After getting to Bangkok wandering Siam for a day I took an 8 am flight to Yangon. It arrived an hour later and I was greeted to the usual army of taxis waiting to grab a tourist with an overpriced fare into town. The airport while small is relatively modern with ATM’s and foreign exchange booths being plentiful
Airport rates always suck so if you change money make sure to only do enough to last a day or two because you can probably get a better rate at the banks or even the private money changes.
Just make sure you have new crisp and clean bills at the ready at the airport because they won’t take anything less. If you have older US dollars then save those for the privately aka non-bank exchange places. You may get a lower rate but at least you can change them there.
I found some other folks from my plane and we caught a taxi to Yangon for 10000 kyat which is about $10 usd which we split 5 ways to cost 2 dollars each. We were driven a block away from the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. From the start you could see the remnants of Myanmar’s colonial history with buildings that look like they came out of Europe not Southeast Asia.
There was construction everywhere you went and a country that didn’t have readily accessible mobile phone networks is now awash in them and smartphones. Even at the airport you could see the near omnipotent branding of Samsung with humidifiers at immigration. So the goal in the morning was to go hostel hunting.
Now I know that prices for accommodation in Myanmar can more expensive than in Thailand but I was able to find a bed at the Cherry Guest House for $10 usd which I thought was a pretty good deal. I had one bed in a four bed dorm and they had decent Wi-FI access and the best breakfast I had anywhere in Burma if only for the tiny tangerines.
If you want good internet speeds then Myanmar is not the place for you unless you are in the big cities like Yangon where it was decent in comparison to the country side. As the former Capital of Myanmar Yangon is at the heart of their identity even now after the capital was moved to Naypyidaw. You can still walk U Wisara Road and see the long empty ministries.
This is a city that is dominated by the Shwedagon Pagoda which is visible for kilometres around and is surrounded by parks and a litany of other Pagodas, Stupas and Temples that all lead to the Golden laid Shwedagon. Close by there are several parks which allow you to marvel at the golden Pagoda in the peace of greenery.
As you walk up the layers of stairs you must take off your shoes, leaving them at the front counter for a donation. There is a $10 usd price for foreigners to go to Shwedagon but there are four entrances after you enter the main gate and up the stairs right before the last set of steps all you have to do is go through the western entrance where the ticket booth faces the inside of the pagoda and make a left.
You may still have to pay if you look like a foreigner because the ticket booth minders will ask for your ticket. That’s one way to do it the easier way is just ask one of the tourists exiting and ask to buy their ticket for a few dollars.
From a block from the Sule Pagoda the Shwedagon Pagoda is about a 30-40 minute walk but from where I was the closest thing to wander was the Bogyoke (Scott) Market. It carries a little bit of everything from jewelry, clothing and food. On any day except on Monday there will be people selling and on the street food a plenty.
You can eat on the street in plastic chair surrounded by locals having tea or your can try out one of the many restaurants. Just a few blocks away from where I was staying there was a great Southern Indian place where I had Naan for 1000 Kyat.
If you are looking for a party town then Burma probably isn’t gonna be for you at least not for the next while but it is a place you can almost see transform before your eyes. It hasn’t become too touristy yet and there are still many places you can go where the locals see any foreigners at all and that is a gift that is rare and worth discovering. So that was my first day in Burma known today as Myanmar.
I’ve wondered what makes people fight in the ring. It’s come up now and again because I am doing Muay Thai. Everyone is different and the reasons for training and fighting are not necessarily the same. Since I’ve done muay thai for the last 3 and a half months I’ve struggled to find a reason why I train.
Do I even need a reason in the first place or do I need to know the reason to know that this is right at this moment. I want to commit to something and break free of the limitations I see within myself and of those imposed by others. I guess I want to redefine what I see as possible within.
That’s as close as I can come to an answer but the thing is would I want to fight? Do I want to fight? I know that’s the goal, to get past my fear and push harder and in ways no one could ever picture me doing. I can’t do that for anyone but myself. It has to come from within.
I haven’t told many people that I want to fight it out on the ring. I’ve never believed that I would be good enough and that is the first thing that needs to change. You have to believe you got a chance and be willing to put the time and energy you can to give yourself the best possible chance to succeed.
That doesn’t mean that success can ever be guaranteed but if you do everything within your power to prepare, if you go beyond what you think is possible then you have already won no matter the outcome in the ring. I have to stop believing that I can’t, I must banish that thought from my vocabulary and only believe in the words I can, I will.
Those are the words I must live by starting today. It means hard work, it means falls and fails, it will need me to focus on my physical conditioning and strengthening my mental game but I can, I must, I will because I want it to signal for myself a start to seeing the door opened not the ones that are closed, cause that’s the only one that matters in the end.
So when I get into the ring, when I give it voice to the gym I will do so with the goal of going beyond winning the fight, although I want to win what’s more important is setting the stage for what is to come outside the ring even more so than within the ring.
Getting into the ring in a muay thai fight is as much a metaphor to beat my demons and say that I can take it as well as I can give it.
This is a post from my friend Justin Levy from New York city whom I met while he was passing through Pai to do some Muay Thai. He was changing course looking to the writing scene as am I and here are his thoughts on his trip through Southeast Asia.
Trying to explain your Southeast Asia trip to those back at home in a nutshell?! You’re crazy, forget it; the conversation was over way before it started. But if you can articulately explain the complexities of organic chemistry to a second grader then you can handle a proper recap of this extraordinary region of the world. For me organic chemistry was never my specialty. Even if I fail, I’ll try my best – here we go.
It may seem that everything is out to get you, and it is. It’s you versus the alien elements of a radically diverse environment, a place no westerner can adapt to right away. If you can, congratulations – you should have no problem hosting your own survival show on the Discovery Channel.
Asia is a place where your stomach and local dry cleaners will hate you. The water is undrinkable; health and safety are non-existent. Still, everything seems to work in harmony. Tropical climates are great for loosing those few clumsy pounds you put on gorging on airplane food and free wine. Sweat it out my friend. If your internal organs aren’t crying for help within the first few days of arrival, you aren’t eating the right foods. Sure, a tech-savvy flash packer can try to search the top rated restaurants closest to the hostel but you won’t do that.
Everything they tell you in the guide book are of no importance, you’re going to eat that delicious fly covered mystery street meat on a stick anyway because it smells so damn good. I don’t see a refrigerator in sight but that guy just ate the BBQ chicken heart in chili sauce and he’s still standing, I’ll take two please. As a wise traveler once told me, if you’re not getting sick, you’re not traveling. No wiser words have been spoken, dig in.
Every day is a new adventure. Walking to 7-Eleven to buy a pack of gum could inspire a novel. Yes, you will be asked a half dozen times if you want a massage, even if you’re coming back from a massage. Yes, the mighty, ubiquitous 7-Eleven; Western influences run deep in some parts … cough Starbucks cough Burger King. Twenty two hours on a plane will not get you far enough from the inescapable grasp of Ronald McDonald. The traffic in Asia is intoxicating to watch.
You can wait a long time to cross and you will. The longer you wait the better; there are few more amazing things than watching the density of motorbikes, animals, and questionably safe trucks stacked with cement and rice flow together in a mosh pit of controlled chaos. It’s truly eye opening. You can be lost somewhere in Bangkok’s remarkably confusing and endless China Town one day and the next day gulping down a cold Bintang with fish guts dripping down your chin on a deserted island in Indonesia.
These are a few suggestions if you decide to visit this remarkable, take no prisoners place. Now please by all means, I am not dictating what you should do because let’s face it, everyone has their preferences but just have fun! Turn off your phone; don’t worry if the place you’re staying at has Wi-Fi. I have never met such remarkable people, both local and fellow traveler.
You will be in one of the few places in the world where people say hello and run up to take a picture with you. No, people don’t want you to take their picture; you’re going to cheese it with them. You’ll be a rock star and they will change your life in one way or another. You’re probably going on a jungle trek. Bring lots of bug spray and sunscreen because like I said, nature is trying to get you. Embrace the stillness of nature, realize you’re so far from home and if something goes wrong, there is absolutely no one that can help you except you. You’re on your own buddy, so don’t get dengue. Regardless of what CNN might report, the world isn’t that scary.
Sure, you don’t want to let your guard down after finishing a bottle of Sangsom but people are generally good. Breathe in the cold stillness of morning air on top of an active volcano; jump from a boat into the bath warm waters of the Indian Ocean to swim along sea turtles and other questionably dangerous marine life. Then hang on for dear life as you and your new friends weave through the wrong side of traffic in a tuk tuk, explore the ancient temples which are definitely older than your own country.
Take classes in things you’ve never thought you’d sign up for even if it means getting whacked with a bamboo stick and yelled at in Thai for slowing down during a Muay Thai workout; leave your map at the hostel and get completely lost in the back allies of a foreign city.
Then sit down roadside in a small plastic chair alongside locals and have some of the best food your taste buds have ever savored for a fraction of the cost back home. Go meet random people at your hostel and end up best friends eight hours later; rent a motorbike, feel the passing air cool down the remnants of water on your skin from that waterfall you just climbed a few minutes ago as you barrel through hillside tribes and around mountain ranges; learn about someone’s heritage and what makes them tick and embrace every damn second.
But lastly, inspire. Drive people out of their comfort zone to do something so extraordinary it sets off a pervasive emotional or physical reaction in others. I dare you from this point forward to become more inspired by everything and everyone around you. I am inspired by the people I have met and by the badass, exotic, mysterious, place that is Asia.
Have you ever been stuck between numerous choices unable to decide what direction to take. I’ve faced that choice many times and what I know today is that ultimately it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do something. You can’t keep all possibilities open, that just isn’t an option and if you choose more than one or two can you really give your all to either?
When you travel with no set plan you are faced with a sheer endless amount of choices about what to do or where to go and what I have realized is that you are always going to miss something by choosing one option and that you just have to accept that. In travel it just means you are adding more places to your bucket list in life it means recognizing that there will be other opportunities to fill the void.
Choice is about risk and reward, what are you willing to do and what is the opportunity cost of pursuing it. Success is never guaranteed but even if you don’t succeed if you learned something then that choice isn’t a waste it is a building block for a foundation of future success.
I’m writing this in Pai, Thailand in my bungalow before I go to train for the next 2 hours in Muay Thai, I am trying to write a story and it is a choice I had to make, I’ve been to easily distracted recently but I can feel the story back, the pieces finding their way from the back of my mind to the front.
It is hard, I know that success may be a reach but I believe in the value of what I’ve already crafted and that have to write it for myself, not anyone else. That is my way ahead as I also try to craft a new sense of self and make every day count whether it’s getting ready to fight in the ring, putting myself out there of diving deep into the story well to see what magic can be made. This is the journey spurred by my own challenges and sparked by the wonder travel has shown me that I have to make real, even if it is only to myself.
So just go out there and make the best choice you can now, don’t worry if it works or not just be doing something, just have a goal and do your best. That’s all anyone can ask for. That goal will crystallize your thoughts and your actions, make sure that your actions are focused towards whatever that goal is and know that no matter what happens it will be worth it as long as you learn something that you know you will apply when the next problem or challenge comes across your path.
So from one indecisive guy to the next let’s show ourselves that we can make our choices count no matter what that choice is and from however many options are available to us when you make your choice.
It’s hard to be dedicated to something, I know that because I’ve always kept my foot in one door and the other out in case it all went to hell. It’s not impossible to be dedicated while making other plans but I find it much simpler and more focused to just go for it.
In the last 5 weeks doing Muay Thai I’ve seen the dedication that the fighters who will be in the ring give and the Thai’s where it is their life. I can’t give that kind of dedication but what I will do is show up if I can walk. That is half the battle. I will not make it a habit to skip a session because to do so is to show that I am not putting the time into it.
I can’t always give 110%, being physically active in such frequency is still so new to me, exhausting and a punch to the gut. In some ways you have to be stubborn, not willing to give into the doubt you have or that others have about you.
I was talking to one guy the other night, one of the fighters who always had an intensity I could never approach. In a session I move to music and when asked to count during stretches I sing the numbers or do it in a radio voice. I do it because I am sick of being forgotten and what this guy said is that when he first saw me he hated me, or at least he thought I was a stupid piece of shit.
I never talked to him but unconsciously I could sense that, but he said that he came around. I didn’t really ask why but I think in part it was because I showed up, every damn day, every session. I don’t know enough and I see myself as the forever student, I push myself to extend my range and capabilities no matter how frustrating.
Am I do everything I can…. no I could be doing more, but you can always be doing more but for now I go in for 4 hours a day and try to go beyond my limits even if just for a moment when I’m trying to find an opening to attack. You have to show up because even if you are great, if you don’t show up then you can’t get to the starting line.
Action is proof, talk is nice and as a writer I love the art of words but action is real and tangible proof that will give the words power. There needs to be something behind the words to give them force. If there isn’t and in my case if I don’t show up how can I expect anyone to believe that I an giving it my all.
So show up, every time as long as you are able. Start from that point, make it your part of your rhythm, if you are there you will get better but if you are not then how can you expect to make the gains you need to. So show up, be remembered and don’t fall into the background, be remembered, don’t be a number be a person and if you can do that you’ve already won in focus, dedication and action.
I’ve never had the urge to learn any form of martial arts but for the past month I’ve gotten up every day and trained for 2 sessions each for 2 grueling and exhausting hours. I will admit one thing I was a quitter, I was running away as much as I wanted to experience life and that was how I defined my truth until I realized that I was warping my reality living in the cesspool of negativity, self doubt and shame.
I will not be that person any longer and I want to do more than just travel although I am not ready to stop I want to start creating not just consuming. For me Muay Thai is about commitment, about working on my physical self to gain confidence and learning to hold my own. I want a solid foundation so I can continue to train in some capacity no matter where I go. I want to make it more than something I tried and make it part of who I am, in the best sense of the word and I can’t do that in a month but I think 5 is enough for a head start.
Muay Thai can be brutal, its a tough as nail kind of martial arts where the basics are simple but mastery is a lifelong pursuit. Here the thai’s don’t do it just for fun it is a way of life and probably way more than I can possibly understand as a foreigner. After traveling to see and experience I want to travel to expand who I am, to bridge the gulf between who I am now and who I can be tomorrow.
Muay Thai is about taking the limits I thought I knew and getting beyond. It happens by starting from zero and seeing how far I can push to see just how far I can go and that my friends is an honour and a gift I can’t thank Charn Chi enough for..
This is a guest post by Erin Myers, the first time that I’ve had one, I am humbled and honoured to have her write on my site. Thanks for your contribution to my online home.
Traveling efficiently doesn’t mean taking chunks out of your routine.
Those of us who travel often will have fallen into a sort of routine – we’ve packed our bags so often, we already know what to stuff into our suitcases and where each and every little tidbit goes. We know which buses to take or which roads and exits to drive to the airport to get there in the shortest amount of time possible, and we know which cafes to eat from at the airport. This familiarity is often what we draw comfort from when we travel, but often, it’s this familiarity that also gets in the way of us traveling efficiently.
Efficient traveling doesn’t mean just cutting back on the amount of time we spend getting to and from each destination, or cutting corners on cheaper flights. Here are some small changes you can make to your routine, to make everything from packing your bags to getting to your flight on time more efficient:
1. Pack Like a Flight Attendant
Your favorite way of packing might not be the most efficient. If you’re still folding your clothes instead of rolling them and tucking them into a suitcase, then you need to make some changes. Heather Poole, a flight attendant who’s probably packed more bags than any of us could ever imagine, has been featured on the New York Times for her guide to efficient packing. The secret? First, roll your clothes and set them aside. Put your shoes in, and then start packing the rolled items into your suitcase, from heaviest to lightest. This makes it easier to close your suitcase and compress the items together.
2. Save Up on Airport Parking
Driving to the airport can be quite a hassle, and many people have opted to take cabs instead of driving themselves. After all, as one surprised Filipino traveler found airport parking can be expensive. Do your research and try to secure parking in advance, as some airports can even help you cut off on time by parking your car for you. London’s Gatwick Airport, for example, has something called the “Summer Special Parking” – a service that, despite its name, runs for the whole year. Parking4less explains that the Summer Special Parking allows the airport’s customers to leave their car at reception, with a member of the staff taking the car and parking it afterwards. Small services like these are essential to saving time – no more wandering around looking for a parking space!
3. Download the Right Apps
Today’s travelers are more technologically-inclined than ever before. Whether you’re a backpacker or a first-class flier, you’re bound to have a smartphone or some other device with you. These can be great for general travel, but to make your trip even easier, make sure you download apps that are specific to the place you’re traveling to. Area-specific apps usually have more information than general travel apps – and because they’re almost always community-driven, they’re bound to be more updated than other apps. Getting the right apps is a great way to cut back on time you spend asking around for information.
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