As I left last time I mentioned we decided to catch a train. It was up early at about 4.30am to start getting ready. We were to say good bye to Myanmar Han, our stay for the last couple of nights and make our way up to Mandalay for the last two nights in this amazing country. Today’s I was able to catch what I think is some of my most loved landscapes but I was here to push my photography, try things different and experiment outside my “norm”.
We arrived at the station….. what was ahead of me? Was I going to regret this decision going by train? I had read horror stories, read that the experience was really bad. We had the equivalent of business class (first class was not on this train) and it pulled up…….. ok….. not so bad. We got on, stored our bags and we were off. This was great!!! I had legroom, we sat around and watched the world go past, no glass windows and open to the world. I could get up and stretch, I could go for a smoke at the door while the train was moving along, this was the greatest decision yet when it came to transport. I was able to catch some great shots as we pulled up to each station.
Finally arriving around 8 hours later (it honestly felt like 3 we were at Mandalay in the north of Myanmar. We negotiated our fare to the hotel and we were off on the back of a truck. Arriving at the Ayarwaddy River View Hotel, it was nice. We made our way to their rooftop bar and had a beer watching The Sun set over the river…. bliss. This trip has not allowed for much “relaxing” so getting those times, even if it’s 30 minutes really hold value.
For those that are curious about the gear I take with me on a trip like this, here is a pic of what I have to carry around. I take the following –
• Canon 7D DSLR with a battery extension clip
• Canon m3 Mirrorless
• Canon EF-S 10-22mm
• Canon EF 50mm 1.8
• Canon EF-M 18-55mm
• Sigma 70-200mm 2.8
• Sigma 18-300mm
• Mefoto Tripod
• Joby Gorilla Grip
• Nisi Filter set up
• 1.2 Grad filter
• 10 stop filter
• 10.5 iPad Pro with Apple Pencil
• 15 inch MacBook Pro
• iPhone 7 Plus
I use all of the above each and every day, some lenses more than others. My two favourite lenses are the 70-200 and the 10-22.
The following day we were off to check out some temples., once again we hired a driver for the day and headed out to an area about 1.5 hours drive in the other side of the river. The first place we went to was unique and as you can see it’s hard to tell what is man made and what is natural rock. Upon arrival you are bombarded by kids trying to sell thugs for “Buddha” by way of incense or flowers to place in front of the statues above. Like all pagodas and important areas it’s shoes off as you head up barefooted. This was followed up by walking through some markets and the art work for sale was incredible, if this was the last stop I would have purchased some for sure but with three more weeks travel it would have become ruined unfortunately.
Next (all mostly in walking distance) was The main reason for coming here. This is an 18th century built site that is all white. It was getting hot, really hot so we decided to head to the last location for the day, a bridge that I had read reviews on, mainly the age of it being the oldest bridge in the country.
I must say was disappointed there was so many people here, it was insane how many were crossing the bridge (as you can see) and the sunset was slightly disappointing. I think I had too high an expectation on the sunrises and sunsets like somehow it is so different to home when In fact it depends on so many things including the weather.
The following day we were set to fly to Bangkok, we were flying Air Asia. For those who don’t know me, I’m 6ft tall, mostly in my legs and somehow I don’t think Air Asia cater for people my height or taller
Arriving in Bangkok airport we had to make our way to the northern bus station, you will be quoted all different prices, my advice is just jump into a taxi that has a meter on it, it will work out much cheaper for you.
The next bus was to take us from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani, the town that it towards the Far East of Thailand. The bus left at 6.30pm and was set to arrive at 4.30am. We actually arrived to a near deserted bus station at 3am in the morning, I was so tired and couldn’t understand why they were telling just us to get off and take our bags off…. what’s going on? Works out we are at the destination, just very early. I take my things in a rush (even when getting the last of my things the bus takes off till they realise I’m still on board. I jump off and take a seat…… I look at my bags…… I go to check my pockets…. I have no pockets…… I have no wallet….. where are my beats headphones??? Aaarrrrhhhhhhh I left my wallet and headphones on the bus! Lucky I have two wallets (or had two) as I only lost some cash (about AUD$150) and one of my debit cards. I accepted they were gone, cancelled the card and then started to work out where to next. I find a company that is going to Pakse at 9.30am in the morning (the first main town as you enter into southern Laos). That’s only 6 hours away.
Whilst at the station in the morning it turns into a hive of activity, they have tourist assistants there who were wonderful, spoke pretty good English and loved to chat.
We jumped onto the bus and we were off to our next country, Laos!
We arrived at the boarder (and no one gives instructions in English so you just have to look at body language and things people are doing or collecting at a stop). Seems we are at the offical boarder, we jump off and are directed into a building, the normal checks and balances then you are ushered through to another area that then descends underground through a tunnel and back up to an open area (no signs) and buildings in the distance, you once again follow the other person. There is all different windows for departure, arrival, visa, visa on arrival etc etc. the windows are black with a tiny hole at the bottom making you bend right down just to see if there is someone there. First stop is hand over passports, get you arrival cards, fill out said arrival cards and to another window (for some reason in this part of the world there is no understanding of the concept or care for that matter of lining up and waiting your turn). Just as I was handing over my passport and information two people just slide all their stuff informer of me and walk off???? The guy (who I can just see the bottom half of his face) start working on their stuff till he looks at me…. I think I have that “don’t you dare do their stuff first look” and he drops it and works on mine. After some broken English questions he says “have a good time Mr Australia” and as I walk off I hear him saying “kangaroo”. Good stuff mate. To note all my visas were organised before the trip except Thailand as they have an easy auto acceptance of Australians on arrival, organising the other visas prior made life a lot easier and I highly recommend it.
I’m then left standing there… no bus in sight…. no direction…. I finally work out where I have to wait and the bus arrives to take us to Pakse Bus Terminal.
We arrive to once again a horde of taxi drivers picking on you trying to give you a ride. Once negotiated it was arriving at the hotel. Here we are staying at Le Jardin De Pakse. It’s nice, clean, pool, aircon. It was short felt because then it was time to walk to the shops and get some food, I have eaten really anything in over 24 hours.
Just down the toad there is an extremely modern mall but the night market stalls were just starting to set up so we decided to try some more local food. It was lovely!
Once wrapped up it was off to Head up the mountain to a huge 25 meter high Buddha on top of a mountain.
That finished up our first day in Laos with much more to come. We have negotiated with the same driver to take us to 3 or 4 waterfalls tomorrow, it will be a great opportunity to capture some more traditional landscape shots.
One thing I have noticed in Pakse is it is very dry and dusty here in most parts, less developed and the roads outside of the main areas are rough. A key difference I have noticed to that of Myanmar is with driving, in Myanmar they use their horns on the car literally every 30 seconds to a minute, to warn others, to say hi, to tell off, to generally communicate even when it is not necessarily needed. Here in Pakse there is none of that but still some slightly crazy driving.
To date I have now covered over 11,036kms in 16 days.