Trekking In Northern Vietnam

Trekking In Northern Vietnam

Hiking through beautiful rice terraces in Sa Pa, Vietnam.

Hiking through beautiful rice terraces in Sa Pa, Vietnam.

Compared to the first half of the voyage, the second half is flying by. Rather than the longer crossings between ports, like the 12 days in between South Africa and India, or the eight(ish) days between Spain and Ghana, we now have only had four of five days in between each country. From India to Myanmar and from Myanmar to Vietnam. And later from Vietnam to China and then China to Japan, which is only two days in between! This means that our time on the ship goes by like nothing, and then our time in five or so days in country go by as quick as always. That means that ten days feels more like just a few days. As I write this, we are just leaving Ho Chi Minh City and are heading to China, which means that we only have two countries remaining on this voyage (China and Japan)!

This was our second time in Vietnam, the last being in 2014 when we traveled for about three weeks from the north in Hanoi to the south in Ho Chi Minh City. I was offered to be the Trip Liaison on the field program to Sa Pa, Vietnam, located all the way to the north and near the border with China. I was especially excited about this field program because Sa Pa was one place that we didn’t make it to in 2014 because it is so far north.

Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City

Sailing upriver past container ships.

Sailing upriver past container ships.

Arriving to Ho Chi Minh City by ship was especially unique because of the journey we made up the river. At 7AM, the pilot got on board, at the same time that we could start to see mountains along the coast of southern Vietnam. We worked pararalel to the land for 20-30 minutes; meanwhile, we saw views into these towns. A large statue of Christ on top of a mountain overlooking the sea (very similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and a large monument of Mother Mary holding baby Jesus. It seemed that this part of Vietnam, along the coast, was a large Christian community.

We finally found the mouth of the Song Soai river and then began working our way upstream. This part reminded me a bit of taking a boat along the Mississippi River in summer – greenery lined the bends of the majestic river with little development along it. Rather than barges, many cargo and tanker ships were coming up and down the river.

My field program to Sa Pa was the first group to leave the ship so that we could make our 3:30PM flight. Because of this, I was packing frantically as we got closer in order to be ready to go (should’ve done it the night before!). However, I was able to take in some of the views as the ship passed highrise apartments, fishing boats, oil tanks on the coast, and passed under a large bridge. Before we even knew it, we had arrived and started unloading.

Our Field Program involved quite a bit of travel, but it was an adventure. We took a bus to the airport (45 minutes), a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi (2 hours), had dinner in Hanoi, took an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (8 hours), took a bus from Lao Cai to Sa Pa (1.5 hours), had breakfast and freshened up at a hotel, and then a bus from Sa Pa to an Eco Lodge in the mountains (1.5 hours), where we started our trekking.

Trekking in Sa Pa

Our group trekking in northern Vietnam.

Our group trekking in northern Vietnam.

The hotel in Sa Pa was called the Tubehotel, a trendy and unique hotel with a type of “tube” rooms. The rooms were individual rooms in the shape of cylinders on their sides. They had two small beds and a bathroom, very simple. The peaceful and relaxing environment is what really made it the perfect place. We overlooked the town of Sa Pa and the surrounding mountains of northern Vietnam. We would’ve stayed there all day if it was in the itinerary. Our breakfast there was pho (pronounced “fah”, a Vietnamese beef noodle soup) and Vietnamese coffee. I love the coffee in Vietnam; it’s strong and served with condensed milk, giving it a unique flavor. Just like in 2014, I indulged in the coffee.

After the hour and a half bus ride further, with a few stops at observation points, we started trekking. Immediately, it was incredibly beautiful. Dramatic mountains filled the sky in the distance. Terraces are carved into the green hillsides to form rice paddies, a way to catch rainwater rushing down from the mountains to let the rice crops soak it all up. A few streams and waterfalls could be seen in the distance. We could almost always see water buffalo in the distance, as they grazed in the rice paddies to find whatever leftovers they could after the harvest in September. Lucky for us, the 60 degrees and rain that was expected actually turned out to be low 80s and sunny for two full days of hiking.

We walked through several small villages made up of various ethnic groups. In Vietnam, there are 54 different ethnic groups, including the Viet (the majority ethnic group). We walked through villages of the Red Dzao people (known for the red head scarves worn by the women), Tay people, and Black Hmong people (Hmong people known for their black clothes). These villages have lived close by each other for years upon years. Some do allow marriages between ethnic groups and villages while others do not. They have kept their local languages, and Vietnamese is taught in schools as a second language. And the architecture of the houses is different in each culture.

Our group at our homestay.

Our group at our homestay.

The trekking was difficult but not too strenuous. We started up high on a mountain, so most of the first half of the day was flat or descending. We were prepared so much for the cold that some didn’t pack lighter clothes, so some were overheating. As part of the tour, we had our Tour Director (Thoi), a Local Guide (Niem), and three porters carrying food and water. The porters were champions, carrying bottles of water and food for almost 20 people, up and down these mountains. Along the way, we also stopped at a few lookout points to see the valley, the farms below, and the surrounding mountains.

On Day 1, we trekked from about 10AM to 1:30PM, had lunch from 1:30PM-2:30PM, and then trekked after that until about 4:30PM when we arrived at our homestay. Our homestay was in a Red Dzao village. The house was what they called a stilted house, a house with two levels. All 15 of us slept in the upper floor, an open floor where they had small mattresses laid out with sleeping bags and pillows, each underneath an individual mosquito net. The lower floor had two parts, the first is a common area where we ate dinner and the second a kitchen and living area of the host family. The host family certainly knew what we liked – they cooked a snack for us soon after arriving, and nit happened to be seasoned fries with ketchup. The village was very small with only a few stores and one primary school; I’d guess maybe 300 people lived there. Dinner was a feast, with white rice and five different dishes ranging from pork to chicken and beef, all with various vegetables. Also, fried spring rolls!

Hiking with Minalee (center, from Sri Lanka), and Sierra (right, from Brookfield, WI)

Hiking with Minalee (center, from Sri Lanka), and Sierra (right, from Brookfield, WI)

Most of our group was exhausted and went to bed immediately after dinner around 7:30PM. I’m pretty sure this was the earliest some had ever gone to bed. I was one of the last ones to bed around 9PM, a funny change compared to the ship life where most students stay up regularly until after midnight.

Visiting the Red Dzao School & More Trekking

The elementary school put on a performance for us.

The elementary school put on a performance for us.

At 5:50AM, the village loudspeaker started blaring with announcements in the Red Dzao language. I’m unsure if it was news, community events, or what it was, but it was a nice wake up call for most of us (others slept through it without a problem). Already awake, I went for a walk around the village but really didn’t find much except a small store to buy some small snacks. We were pleasantly surprised for breakfast. With tables set up outside on the concrete, we sipped on tea and coffee until they brought out something we certainly were not expecting, crepes! With bananas, honey, and sugar, we prepared for the day by eating as many crepes as possible. It was quite absurd how many the 15 of us ate. When it’s something we can’t get on the ship, it’s a luxury.

After breakfast, we packed up our bags and headed across the street to the primary school, the only school in the town. Each one of Semester at Sea’s Field Programs usually have some sort of community visit, either to an NGO or to a school. We had brought donations with us to give to this school from Semester at Sea; this included plenty of pens and pencils, notebooks, jump ropes, feminine products, soccer balls, and more. As small as it is to us, it can be a big difference in some communities.

When we arrived, the children brought out small plastic stools and organized into several perfect lines and took their seats. At first, the head of the school spoke, and then various students performed by singing and dancing. The performances were adorable, especially when one girl, probably 6 years old, would stop and look to her mother in the back. They seemed nervous, as would I, and their classmates seemed to enjoy it, as well.

After the performance, we had free time to try to get to know the kids, a bit of a challenge with the language barrier. Immediately, we threw the soccer balls to the ground and many of the kids started playing right away. A few of the kids taught me how to play a game they play with marbles. It’s essentially like bocce ball but will small marbles, and they flick the marbles. It’s funny how quickly kids go from being scared and shy to playing as if we knew them for years. Once they start, they don’t want to stop.

After hanging out with school children for a bit.

After hanging out with school children for a bit.

We spent about an hour at the school in total. After finishing up, we began our descent down through the rice paddies and to the valley. The hike was similar to the first day with stunning vistas of the green mountains, rice terraces, and water buffalo. This time, it was a bit more technical as we walked along a small concrete irrigation stream, which was about 10 inches wide. Walking from about 9:30AM until about 12:30PM, we finished up our hike at a house in a small village, where the guides and porters made lunch with the local family. Lunch was banh mi, sandwiches with baguettes as the bread and a smorgasbord of toppings. We had cheese, tomatoes, spam, salmon salad, omelet, and more. This large hunk of bread was exactly what we needed after some trekking.

The bus drove us an hour and a half back to Sa Pa, where we had about an hour of free time for shopping, exploring, whatever. Sa Pa is the hub for tourists coming to this region, so it was full of visitors (both Vietnamese and foreign), souvenir shops, cheap clothing stores, massage parlors, and restaurants. I went to a café which was recommended from the guide, and I ordered the Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk (of course). They brought it out in a fancy little mug that was hanging over a lit candle, a way to keep the coffee warm. I sat looking out at the main square enjoying this delicious drink and resting my legs.

View from inside our capsule hotel, where we had a chance to shower and clean up.

View from inside our capsule hotel, where we had a chance to shower and clean up.

Then began our journey back to Hanoi. We had time to clean up again at the Tubhotel, the unique hotel with the hotel rooms that seem like tiny homes. We then had a two-hour bus ride to Lao Cai, where we had dinner very near the train station. To understand how much some students miss the comforts of home, we had a large dinner in which all of us were pretty full; however, the option of burgers and fries and pizzas was too much, so many ordered these to go and ate them on the train just a few hours later.

One of our first observation points.

One of our first observation points.

View from outside our capsule hotel, where we had a chance to shower and clean up.

View from outside our capsule hotel, where we had a chance to shower and clean up.

Our capsule hotel, where we had a chance to shower and clean up.

Our capsule hotel, where we had a chance to shower and clean up.

Pho for breakfast.

Pho for breakfast.

One of our four overnight train cabins.

One of our four overnight train cabins.

Our group hiking.

Our group hiking.

The start of our hike in a small Red Dzhao Village.

The start of our hike in a small Red Dzhao Village.

Hiking through beautiful rice terraces in Sa Pa, Vietnam.

Hiking through beautiful rice terraces in Sa Pa, Vietnam.

Our overnight train back to Hanoi.

Our overnight train back to Hanoi.

Sa Pa's town center.

Sa Pa’s town center.

Fancy Vietnamese coffee in Sa Pa

Fancy Vietnamese coffee in Sa Pa

Downtown Sa Pa with lots of clothing and tourist shops.

Downtown Sa Pa with lots of clothing and tourist shops.

Second day of hiking along rice terraces.

Second day of hiking along rice terraces.

Beautiful views with mountains in the distance.

Beautiful views with mountains in the distance.

Breakfast at our homestay.

Breakfast at our homestay.

Water buffalo.

Water buffalo.

Rice terraces.

Rice terraces.

Incredible views.

Incredible views.

Water buffalo.

Water buffalo.

Hiking down to lunch.

Hiking down to lunch.

Our guide, Thoi.

Our guide, Thoi.

The start of the hike.

The start of the hike.

More incredible views.

More incredible views.

Revisiting Hanoi

Hanoi

Hanoi

We took the same overnight train back to Hanoi from Lao Cai, and then a bus transferred us to a nice hotel in Hanoi to freshen up and rest. We arrived around 5:30AM and needed to be ready to go at 8:30AM, and that included time to eat breakfast at the buffet in the hotel. When everyone else went up to nap for a few hours, I decided that I only had a limited amount of time in Hanoi, so I should make the most of it. I showered and then went on my way to walk around Hanoi as the city awakened.

I located where the hotel was in relation to the part of the city I already knew, and I realized it was only a 15 minute walk to get to the Turtle Lake, a place and area in which Chika and I had spent so much time when we visited in 2014. When we first visited, I really enjoyed being in Hanoi. I went back and read the blog from over three years ago, and I raved about it. When the city was waking up, I quickly remembered why. The mix of architecture, where every building is different from the one on its left and its right, which French influenced styles. The buzz of the motorbikes cruising through the intersections. The vendors set up along the street with selling anything from fruits and vegetables to pho. I arrived to Hoàn Kiếm Lake and quickly remembered the place. Even at 6:15AM, the park around the lake was filled with people exercising. Stretches, dance classes, badminton. It was a lively park for that early in the morning!

Hoàn Kiếm Lake

Hoàn Kiếm Lake

The buffet breakfast at the hotel was perfect, a mix of Vietnamese, Western, and other. Sushi, buttery garlic bread, fried rice, bacon, croissants, and black coffee. It was exactly what I needed!

Our guide gave us a tour of the city throughout the rest of the morning. We went to the Ethnography Museum, a museum highlighting the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. We then went to the Hoa Lo Prisoner, also known sarcastically as the Hanoi Hilton; this is where John McCain and many other American pilots were imprisoned after being shot down. And we ended with a quick walking tour of the Old Quarter, where the street names are literally what businesses used to line these streets. There is a Chicken Street, a Blacksmith Street, a Chinese Herbs Street, etc. While these streets aren’t any longer exclusive to these industries, many of these businesses are still here.

Hanoi street life

Hanoi street life

Another fantastic lunch at a fancier hotel, a normal occurrence on SAS trips, and then we headed to the airport. Our four days were action packed with a good mix of hiking and city exploration. Sa Pa was even more beautiful than I expected, and visiting Hanoi again made me remember exactly why I liked it so much. Before we knew it, we were back home at the ship in Ho Chi Minh City, when we had just one day to explore before departing from Vietnam

Exercises at Hoàn Kiếm Lake

Exercises at Hoàn Kiếm Lake

City Center Hanoi

City Center Hanoi

Hanoi

Hanoi

The Hoa Lo Prison, the "Hanoi Hilton"

The Hoa Lo Prison, the “Hanoi Hilton”

Water puppet show in Hanoi

Water puppet show in Hanoi

High-ceiling traditional home

High-ceiling traditional home

Long traditional home

Long traditional home

Street vendor in Hanoi

Street vendor in Hanoi

IMG_20171117_071650914 IMG_20171117_071005356

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Hiking the Golden Rock

Hiking to the Golden Rock

The Golden Rock is one of the most sacred places in all of Myanmar. Read about my experience there.

The Golden Rock is one of the most sacred places in all of Myanmar. Read about my experience there.

Last time we visited Myanmar, we spent about three weeks in the country. In that time, we visited almost everything we wanted to do. The only exception was seeing the Golden Rock Temple (Kyaiktiyo in Burmese). This temple is literally based around a massive rock, painted in gold, that sits miraculously hanging off the edge of a cliff. Because it’s out by itself, we didn’t take the time to see if last time. This is even more of a reason to visit it this time, when there was nothing else that really sparked my interested.

I left the morning of Day 2, leaving the ship on the first shuttle out. Arriving at the train station, which happened to be right where the shuttle from the ship drops off, I found that the next train was leaving at 11AM, giving me about two hours to essentially wander. I decided to go find breakfast, and I stumbled upon a small restaurant not far from where we stayed three years ago. I asked them what is good here, and the immediate reply was “dosa”. Knowing exactly what dosa was after India, it was an easy decision. Dosa is a large crepe that you dip into different savory sauces, some spicy and some not. Delicious! After ordering, a guy invited me to his table to join him, which I happily did. He is from Yangon and teaches English, so he spoke pretty well. He told me about his school where he works, about his wife who has been working in Bangkok, Thailand, for the past two years in order to earn more, showing me pictures of her. He lives in an apartment not far from where we were, but he said he certainly enjoys the countryside more. It was interesting getting to know him in this short time chatting.

 

Getting to Golden Rock was not easy by local transportation. I know there are other ways, but the simplest in regards to leaving Yangon was to take a train to the city of Bago, then either a train or bus to Kyaikto (I wasn’t sure if there was a train doing this route), and then a pickup taxi from Kyaikto to Kinpun, the town known as the base camp for getting to the Golden Rock.

The train has two different class tickets, upper class and lower class. The lower class ticket for this two-hour journey costs 600 kyatt (about $0.45), and the upper class ticket costs 1,150 kyatt ($0.85). An easy decision, I went with the upper class. The train car itself was pretty standard, I’d say just a step below Chicago’s “L” trains but with more comfortable seats. I was pretty happy with it!

The upper class ticket, for the small additional cost, was worth it!

The upper class ticket, for the small additional cost, was worth it!

Train travel is one of my favorite ways to travel. I’m not 100% sure why, but it just feels to adventurous to be on a train. Maybe it’s because historically it’s that classic way of getting from one place to another, dating back to the 1800s. And maybe it’s because it’s that form of transportation that really isn’t used much in the US any more. Either way, I would almost always prefer to take a train rather than a bus.

After two hours, we finally arrived in Bago, and I walked about 20 minutes to the bus station, where I was completely confused about what happened there. A man greeted me at the road that enters to the bus station, and he said he was the “bus company manager”. I knew right away this was a fabrication – if he was, he wouldn’t be hanging out on the side of the road like an aggressive sales person. He then took me to one bus company where the only bus in the station area was waiting. He said it’s going to Kyaikto, so I jumped on and paid him 3,500 kyatts, just under $3. Soon after, the same guy gets on the bus and says that it’s the wrong bus, and he gave me my money back and told me I had to get off the bus. I looked around at the locals, hoping for help. I kept trying to repeat the name of the town (Kyaikto) with little success. Finally, someone nodded to me in agreement that this bus was, in fact, going to Kyaikto. I stayed put in my seat with the same amount of money I had before entering the bus station. About 5 minutes later, a different gentleman came onboard and asked for 2,000 kyatts. I paid, and we were on our way. I have no idea what was going on and why there was so much confusion. At first, I thought it was a scam with the first guy. But then why would he come onto the bus to give me my money back? Always an adventure!

Seeing pagodas from the train car.

Seeing pagodas from the train car.

I arrived in Kyaikto and got off the bus along the main road. I then asked around for where the pickups leave to head to Kinpun, the base camp. After I found the place, I picked up some snacks and a coke as I waited for the truck to fill up. About 30 minutes later, I was in Kinpun and had found my accommodation for the night.

I realized I have made a turn in my expectations of quality. When I arrived at the guest house, I was shown a room that cost $8 for the night. It was a simple bed, concrete walls, no windows, and a pretty thin mattress. I then asked if there were other rooms, and they said they did have other rooms, but they cost $17 per room. I asked to see it. The mattress was much thicker and more comfortable, it had its own shower. A/C, and was just much more comfortable. I went with the $17 room. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have even looked at the $17 room. But here we are: 30 years old and going for “luxury”.

My guesthouse in Kinpun.

My guesthouse in Kinpun.

That evening, I strolled around the small town, had a tea at a little tea shop/family restaurant, and got dinner. Kinpun is essentially two roads the intersect, with stores lining the road going north. Because the Golden Rock is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the country, many people, Burmese, Thais, Malaysians, Europeans, etc., come through here. I enjoyed the town before waking up early for my hike up to the Golden Rock.

Hiking to the Golden Rock Temple

Some sweeping vistas while hiking.

Some sweeping vistas while hiking.

I really didn’t know what to expect on the hike up to the Golden Rock. From Kinpun, I knew that it would take around four hours if I go at a decent speed, but I am one that loves to stop quite often for views. I started just before 7AM and started walking north out of Kinpun, where the paved road quickly turned into a dirt path. As I was leaving the town, a monk was having a tea at a little family tea shop, and he called out to me in English, “Wait! I’ll come with you!” He explained that he will be walking up 1.6 miles (very exact) to his monastery, so he would accompany me. Interested, I waited for him to finish his tea and we were on our way.

Unfortunately for me, his English wasn’t great, so I had a hard time understanding most of what he was saying – I caught maybe 33% of it. When I would ask a question, very rarely would he understand. However, I listened intently for the next hour as we walked up to the monastery, right along the way where I was heading. Halfway, we had a beautiful view over the Burmese mountains, and he stopped and said he wanted a picture of me. I don’t really mind when people want a picture of me, but I always make sure I get a picture of them in return. He was loving the views!

He was happy with the views!

He was happy with the views!

The hike was interesting because of the amount of homes along the way. At least every five minutes or so, I would come up to someone’s home, and almost every one of them also operated a store out of their home selling cooked foods or snacks or drinks or souvenirs. They would set up their homes so that the home was on one side of the path, and the other side was either a place to sit or was another part of the store. This meant that all hikers would walk through between their home and store, under a tarp connecting the two sides. The hike ended up taking me about five hours with all stops, and I think I must have walked through 30-40 homes/stores like this. There was never a lack of things for sale like water and snacks.

I came up on many places like this, where people were selling food out of their homes.

I came up on many places like this, where people were selling food out of their homes.

Along the way, the path has many nice views of the surrounding green mountains. In the distance, I was supposedly able to see the western border with Thailand. A few of my favorite places were homes and tea shops that had seats overlooking lovely views of the countryside. About ¾ of the way up to Golden Rock, I stopped at one and had a coke. Coke always tastes better with a view!

My view while drinking down a coke.

My view while drinking down a coke.

The Burmese love tea (as do I). When you go to a tea shop, you will order a tea, and they will serve you a cup of tea very similar to Indian tea. It’s a natural tea with various spices it in, making it a thicker and almost milky tea. In Myanmar, when you order a tea, they bring you this cup of tea and there are always thermoses of green Chinese tea on the table. This is a right for anyone going to a tea shop, to be able to fill up their tea over and over again with this Chinese tea. Nothing made this right more clear than when I ordered a coke at this place with a view. After taking my seat and taking my first few sips of the refreshing cola, the owner sets a huge glass of tea right in front of me. Order a coke, get a free glass of tea. I thought it was humorous since these two certainly don’t go well together, and that is plenty of liquid together.

Around noon, I finally arrived to the top. The last half a mile was on a steep paved road, around an 18% grade. I now understood why it requires these massive trucks to get up to the Golden Rock, if one decides to go the easy route (which most people do). I was one of the few on the path that I saw going all the way up from Kinpun. The top of the mountain was full of vendors selling food and souvenirs, lining the road to the entry to the temple. I paid the foreigner fee of 10,000 kyatt ($8) and made my way in, taking my shoes off before entering, as is custom for all Buddhist temples.

Entering the Golden Rock vicinity.

Entering the Golden Rock vicinity.

Many people are disappointed when they get to the Golden Rock. It’s a long journey here, and some people probably hype it up too much to their own detriment. Going in with no expectations is always better. I loved it. I was fascinated by how this massive rock is still sitting on the side of this cliff. It seems like it could fall at any moment. Legend goes that there are two Buddha hairs that are miraculously holding the Golden Rock in place. Almost humorously, a golden pagoda sits on top of the gold-painted rock, which makes it look like one of those birthday party hats.

I spent the entire afternoon marveling at the rock, the views of the mountains, and having small interactions with Burmese who were visiting the Golden Rock. There is a platform that leads directly to the Golden Rock in which only men are allowed (apparently Buddhists aren’t immune to sexism, either). Men can purchase a small golden leaf from a counter, and they can then go and put this golden leaf on the rock. There is a bridge directly under the rock in the exact location the rock would fall, if it were to fall, and this provides some great views of the enormous rock. Around the Golden Rock was a large area of tiles, where no one is allowed to wear shoes (the official temple area). There were some smaller temples around but nothing that seemed impressive to me. I loved seeing all the people there.

Amazing that it still sits there!

Amazing that it still sits there!

Just like in India, many Burmese are curious enough about foreigners that they oftentimes ask to have pictures with them. As reciprocation for being in a picture with them, I always ask if I can have a picture with them as well. Some staff members have been asked to be in so many photos that they now charge to have pictures – not just to make money but to ensure they don’t spend all their time getting their picture taken when all they want to do is walk around a pagoda.

Throughout the day, I found various places to sit down and just enjoy the moments. At one point, I walked out of the temple area, where there was a long line of teashops and restaurants, and I had myself a tea. I then continued on further and visited a pagoda on top of a hill which is about ½ mile from the Golden Rock. I then took a seat adjacent to the Golden Rock. And then took a seat on the top area beside the Golden Rock. For some reason, I couldn’t get enough of it.

Photo with those who wanted my photo, too.

Photo with those who wanted my photo, too.

Had I taken a truck to get to the top, I bet I wouldn’t have been as enthralled as I was. But the fact that I got myself to the top from Kinpun, one step at a time, I think I enjoyed it more along with that sense of accomplishment.

I did, however, need to take the truck to the bottom because it was getting dark. The last truck is said to leave at 6PM, and the sun started setting just after 5:30PM. I watched every minute that I could as the sun went down and the Golden Rock lit up with surrounding spotlights. Seeing it in the dark was an entirely different experience, and a magnificent one at that. It was incredibly beautiful as its golden skin shined in the night. I took in every moment that I could, and then I rushed to get to the last truck departing for Kinpun.

In short, the truck ride was a roller coaster ride. It’s a large truck that sits about 45 people in the back in open air seating. All the seats were full, so I was up front with the driver. With these 15% descents, the drivers did not take it easy. In the midst of the ride, I felt like I was either on a roller coaster or in a video game. It did not seem real how quickly they were taking these hills and turns. Three of the trucks drove together, so I could see the one in front of ours. On the verge of getting sick, I was happy to have arrived in Kinpun.

Views from the train.

Views from the train.

Views from the train.

Views from the train.

Views from the train.

Views from the train.

Views from the train (a water buffalo)

Views from the train (a water buffalo)

Views from the train.

Views from the train.

Walking in Kinpun.

Walking in Kinpun.

The ticket cost actually includes an insurance amount. That amount is literally fractions of a penny.

The ticket cost actually includes an insurance amount. That amount is literally fractions of a penny.

The Golden Rock at night.

The Golden Rock at night.

Amazing views of the surrounds.

Amazing views of the surrounds.

Restaurants and stores on the backside of the Golden Rock complex.

Restaurants and stores on the backside of the Golden Rock complex.

How is it still standing? Those are men placing gold leaflets on the rock.

How is it still standing? Those are men placing gold leaflets on the rock.

Gorgeous views.

Gorgeous views.

Another photo with someone who wanted my photo.

Another photo with someone who wanted my photo.

Landscapes.

Landscapes.

I couldn't believe people would actually pay someone to carry them in a throne.

I couldn’t believe people would actually pay someone to carry them in a throne.

Fresh tea.

Fresh tea.

Mohinga, a noodle soup.

Mohinga, a noodle soup.

Small house while hiking up.

Small house while hiking up.

Sweeping views.

Sweeping views.

Views near a store on the way up to the top.

Views near a store on the way up to the top.

From the location where I drank a coke.

From the location where I drank a coke.

Rural Myanmar.

Rural Myanmar.

A small temple complex with several animal statues.

A small temple complex with several animal statues.

A small temple complex with several animal statues.

A small temple complex with several animal statues.

Hiking up.

Hiking up.

Hiking up.

Hiking up.

Hiking up and seeing many monks near the monasteries.

Hiking up and seeing many monks near the monasteries.

One of the typical houses I walked through as I hiked.

One of the typical houses I walked through as I hiked.

More views.

More views.

A small duplicate of the golden rock temple. FYI, I didn't try to climb up.

A small duplicate of the golden rock temple. FYI, I didn’t try to climb up.

A small duplicate of the golden rock temple.

A small duplicate of the golden rock temple.

To the Golden Rock.

To the Golden Rock.

My companion for the first part of the hike.

My companion for the first part of the hike.

Walking up.

Walking up.

Kinpun.

Kinpun.

Kids playing Dance Dance Revolution in Kinpun.

Kids playing Dance Dance Revolution in Kinpun.

Locals watching a British soccer match.

Locals watching a British soccer match.

The tea that I drank so much of.

The tea that I drank so much of.

Bago: The Former Mon Capital

After a night in Kinpun, I took a bus back to Bago to explore for the day. I wanted to get back to the ship that night, so I had just that one day to visit. I arrived in Bago around 11AM after a 2.5 hour bus ride, and I just started walking around the city. I found the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda. While the city of Yangon has the Shwedagan Pagoda, this one in Bago is actually a bit taller but not as impressive around the outside. It is certainly a site worth visiting because of its size and importance, but the one in Yangon is certainly nicer to visit.

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

I had originally planned on renting a bicycle in Bago, but similar to Forrest Gump, I just started walking. And so I walked. I found some fried banana snacks on the street. Hungry for a more comfortable environment for food, I ran into a shopping center and had lunch at the food court (still Burmese food, and it was still only about $2.50 for the meal of pineapple rice with chicken). I then realized that I had two options, I could walk to a few of the sites, but they were a distance away, so I would have to expend a lot of energy in the afternoon heat. Or I could simply get a taxi from place to place. Because the taxis are so inexpensive, it was an easy choice. I paid just over $0.50 (and I was certainly “ripped off” compared to what locals pay) for the 15 minute motorbike taxi ride to the Myatha Lyaung Buddha.

In Theravada Buddhism, which is especially prevalent in Thailand and Myanmar, the image of the reclining Buddha is an important one. Buddha is said to have achieved nirvana, the highest state of mind, when he was meditating under a lotus tree. These reclining Buddha statues show Buddha literally laying down with one hand propping his head up. This is exactly what the Myatha Lyaung Budda is showing, and it is certainly a large reclining Buddha!

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

The Myatha Lyaung Buddha is located near several other Buddhist sites, including another reclining Buddha. While the Shwethar Lyaung Pagoda Reclining Buddha just north is now indoors, the massive Myatha Lyaung statue of reclining Buddha is all outdoors. This means that if you’re in the area, you can certainly see reclining Buddha popping up over buildings. A bit later on, I climbed to the top of a nearby Pagoda, and I loved seeing this large reclining Buddha in the middle of this forested city.

The Shwethar Lyaung Pagoda, like I mentioned, is another reclining Buddha located just north of the first one. The Shwethar Lyaung Pagoda is more decorated, more elegant, is now indoors to preserve it, and is certainly more famous. This reclining Buddha was created in the 9th century here in Bago, and it really is quite magnificent to see. The backside has detailed images and a short write up of how this Buddha was eventually built – how the prince of the Mon people married a woman who was Buddhist, how she was about to be banished when they realized she was following Buddhism, and how she redeemed herself. Afterwards, the prince, the king, and the entire royal family became Buddhists, along with their entire land.

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Finally, I made a visit via tuk tuk (motorized rickshaw) to the Mahazedi Pagoda. This one, unlike most other pagodas, has steps in several directions that lead towards the top. Just like the Golden Rock platform, only men are allowed to go up the stairs. I climbed up the stairs to see stunning views of the surrounding area. The reclining Buddha was in the near distance, the far distance had the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda, the largest golden pagoda in Myanmar, and I could see tens of other golden pagodas dotted around the city. While in the city, I didn’t realize how forested it is. But from up above, the city seemed to mostly be covered in trees. Smoke rose from many different places as locals burned wood to cook food. It was a view that was hard to step away from. Once at the top, three boys around the age of 10 started following me around. They didn’t speak any English, so they got very nervous when I would say anything to them. They followed me around for several minutes, quietly, until they finally got bored and went down below, seemingly going home for dinner.

Looking down from the Mahazedi Pagoda.

Looking down from the Mahazedi Pagoda, the three boys now at the bottom.

Wanting good food again, I took a tuk tuk back to the city and then went back to that same shopping mall. There was a Thai place that looked good, so I was craving that. What I didn’t realize is that they had a huge terrace overlooking the city, so I was able to have a nice quiet dinner with fantastic views of the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda. Almost done with my food, the electricity in the entire city went out. I saw for a few moments until the mall’s generator kicked on. While I still had dim lights, the golden pagoda that was just shining so brightly was now dark as night. Just a reminder that even some of the most important religious sites in Myanmar aren’t immune to everything!

Dinner view.

Dinner view.

Train Ride Back to Yangon

For convenience sake, I took a train that evening from Bago to Yangon. It is more convenient because the bus station in Yangon is far outside the city center, and the train station in Yangon is exactly where the Semester at Sea shuttle picks up to go back to the ship.

The last shuttle leaving to go back to the ship from the train station in Yangon was 9PM. Missing this meant I would need to get a $15-$20 taxi to the ship. I was told the train was about an hour and a half back to Yangon from Bago, and it was originally supposed to leave at 6:55PM. That should be plenty of time, I thought. When 7:20PM rolled around and the train was just starting to pull up to the station, I had my doubts. The upper class tickets were all sold out, so I purchased the standard ticket ($0.50 compared to $1 of the upper class). It was quite a different experience. The train car was pretty dirty with various trash and scraps on the ground. The seats were hard plastic compared to the cushioned seats of the upper class. These I didn’t mind. However, the worst part was the prevalence of moths and other bugs attracted by the lights in the train cars. Hundreds of moths and other bugs flew around the train car, seemingly landing on me every minute or so. I was actually pretty bothered by this, so I was swatting bugs off of my legs and arms for the next hour and a half.

The timing couldn’t have been cut any closer. With the last shuttle leaving at 9PM from just outside the train station, the train arrived in Yangon at 8:54PM. I sprinted off the train, outside the station, and quickly found the bus. As soon as I took my seat on the bus, the door closed and we were on our way. I was very fortunate with many factors outside my control, to have just barely made it in time.

And just like that, I was back on the ship and sleeping in my own bed.

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda

Corn fried inside of a spring roll.

Corn fried inside of a spring roll.

Chicken Fried Rice with Pineapple

Chicken Fried Rice with Pineapple

Bago

Bago

Church in Bago.

Church in Bago.

Mosque in Bago.

Mosque in Bago.

Bago.

Bago.

Motorcycle taxi in Bago.

Motorcycle taxi in Bago.

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Near the Myatha Lyaung Budda

Near the Myatha Lyaung Budda

Near the Myatha Lyaung Budda

Near the Myatha Lyaung Budda

Near the Myatha Lyaung Budda

Near the Myatha Lyaung Budda

Near the Myatha Lyaung Budda

Near the Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Myatha Lyaung Budda

Mahazedi Pagoda

Mahazedi Pagoda

Mahazedi Pagoda

Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

Views from the Mahazedi Pagoda

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Yangon: Second Time Around

Yangon: Second Time Around

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.

Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar and is a place in which we spent plenty of time but saw barely anything at all. The reason: we both got sick and were recuperating in our hotel room for several days. When others would ask us about what to do in Yangon, we could never come up with much else besides the main sites – the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Sule Pagoda, the Independence Park…and that was about it. One of the sites I found on the map was the SOS Clinic, the medical clinic we visited along Yangon’s Inya Lake, which I remember very clearly. Because we rarely go back to the same place twice, we were looking forward to revisiting these places and reminiscing about our time here, albeit a more difficult period at the time.

We made an interesting arrival into Myanmar. Whereas we typically dock on the sea coast of the a country, we ascended the Yangon River for about three hours before we made our arrival at the port. We quickly noticed this changed when the water changed from that deep blue ocean water to a dark brown mucky water. This was due not to pollution but from the sediments the water brings up from the river as it made it was down the country. We would pass a long line of fishing boats, all perfectly lined up for nets to be linked between them in order to bring in the fish working their way down the river. The line was as far as the eye could see as we passed by them perpendicularly. These rickety boats were getting thrown around in the swells but were perfectly placed all the way to the horizon.

Arriving in Myanmar.

Arriving in Myanmar.

The Yangon River became almost a mile wide as we got closer to the port. On both sides of the ship, we could see green farmland and the occasional golden pagoda rising up from the land. Numerous other smaller fishing boats crowded the river, many coming a bit too close to the ship to where the captain had to sound the horn as a warning. As is normal, many voyagers crowded the bow of the ship in anticipation of arrival.

After arriving and clearing the ship, Chika and I were able to get on the first shuttle into Yangon. With traffic, it’s about an hour ride, and we got to the city around 6PM. We began our walk of rediscovering the city. There is the Sakura Building. This is where we got the sugar cane juice that maybe got us sick. We drank tea there once. Then we found the Cherry Guest House, where we spent so many hours during that week we were sick. And right next door was the Japanese restaurant that gave us refuge, comfort food and what felt like less risk in a time when our stomachs just wanted clean food.

We found a restaurant nearby that we found on Google Maps and had good reviews for the mohinga, a rice noodle soup. The place was filled mostly with foreigners, and when we were leaving, about 20 people from Semester at Sea were just making their way there. Shows the power of Google Maps and a few ratings on there!

Moginha, Myanmar's unofficial national dish.

Moginha, Myanmar’s unofficial national dish.

We walked down to the Sule Pagoda and the Independence Park. The Sule Pagoda has a traffic circle build around it, giving it an important feel but also a less intimate feel than the Shwedagon Pagoda which is so large and is outside the city center so that you don’t notice any traffic or outside noise. In the Independence Park, a place where we had spent some time relaxing, they were showing a movie on a large screen. This park seems to have been developed quite a bit since 2014. Nicely trimmed bushes were placed around the park. A life-size elephant sculpture was placed on the east side. And this was the happening place in Yangon, with food vendors and vendors selling glow-in-the-dark objects all over the place. At the vendor area, we stopped for a sugar cane juice, something we certainly enjoyed last time we were in Yangon. It is quite literally sugar cane crushed to squeeze out all the juice and served with ice in a pint glass. It is pure sugar cane!

Sugar cane juice.

Sugar cane juice.

We then visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, one of Myanmar’s most important Buddhist sites. We loved visiting last time and couldn’t pass up the chance to experience it again, especially at night. The golden pagoda really shines bright at night, and the sun is long gone which paves way for moderate temperatures, comfortable for walking around. The Shwedagon Pagoda was as impressive as we remembered. Like the Taj Mahal, many Burmese were visiting for the first time, and it’s fun to watch them marvel at the site, as well

From there, we made our way back to the bus stop and then took the shuttle back to the ship for the night. Chika was on duty for the next few days, meaning she is not able to get off the ship. Over the next three days, I decided to travel to the eastern part of the country to see the city of Bago and the Golden Rock temple, another major religious site in Myanmar.

Our final day in Myanmar, I did make my way back into Yangon to explore further. I really took my time walking around, ate a nice Indian breakfast of dosa, found an important pagoda that I had never seen before, and visited an NGO which operates as a fair-trade business. I really just wandered, relaxed, and saw what I saw.

Quail eggs on the street.

Quail eggs on the street.

The pagoda that I saw was the Botahtaung Pagoda. Located along the Yangon River, this pagoda is most unique with its hollow pagoda in which one is able to walk through. The gold plated walls are built like a maze, a beautiful air conditioned maze. In the middle of the day, when it’s 90 degrees and sunny, air conditioning never felt so nice. And you know how important a site is when it is air conditioned – it’s not cheap! Inside the temple is an impressive gold shrine which commemorates this pagoda, supposedly housing a hair from Buddha. Just around the corner are old relics that were placed inside this pagoda. While most had one barred cage around them for safety, I came to one case that had two large barred cages around it, signifying how important and valuable these hand-made Buddhas and Pagodas were. These contained large amounts of gold and are hundreds of years old. Outside the pagoda, back in the heat, I worked my way around the temple. They had a small pond there that literally had hundreds of turtles. And then I finally saw the bronze Buddha. This beautiful temple was well worth the visit, especially to have the chance to walk through the actual pagoda.

Botahtaung Pagoda and Temple.

Botahtaung Pagoda and Temple.

After this day visit, I took the shuttle back to the ship and was ready to depart for Vietnam.

Botahtaung Pagoda

Botahtaung Pagoda

Inside the Botahtaung Pagoda

Inside the Botahtaung Pagoda

Inside the Botahtaung Pagoda. Expensive items inside with the extra locks.

Inside the Botahtaung Pagoda. Expensive items inside with the extra locks.

Inside the Botahtaung Pagoda

Inside the Botahtaung Pagoda

Inside the Botahtaung Pagoda

Inside the Botahtaung Pagoda

Inside the Botahtaung Pagoda

Inside the Botahtaung Pagoda

Botahtaung Pagoda

Botahtaung Pagoda

Turtles!

Turtles!

Botahtaung Pagoda

Botahtaung Pagoda

Botahtaung Pagoda

Botahtaung Pagoda

Burmese pancakes.

Burmese pancakes.

Yangon's City Hall

Yangon’s City Hall

Yangon's City Hall.

Yangon’s City Hall.

Streets of Yangon.

Streets of Yangon.

Streets of Yangon.

Streets of Yangon.

Yangon architecture.

Yangon architecture.

Yangon's train station.

Yangon’s train station.

Shwedagon Pagoda.

Shwedagon Pagoda.

The guest house we stayed in on our first trip here in 2014.

The guest house we stayed in on our first trip here in 2014.

Departing from Myanmar.

Departing from Myanmar.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Revisiting Myanmar

Revisiting Myanmar

In 2014, when Chika and I traveled around Southeast Asia for four months, one of our favorite places to visit was Myanmar. We spent about three weeks there, getting sick in Yangon, seeing the temples in Bagan, exploring the city of Mandalay, and hiking three days from Kalaw to Inle Lake. The country had so much to offer, and the warmth of the people made it fun to simply walk around in any city. At the time, Myanmar was just being discovered by travelers from Europe, and we had met very few Americans along the way. The country was closed for so long that people are just now discovering this place.

From the shipboard community of about 700 people, including students, faculty, staff, and Lifelong Learners, only a handful of people had visited Myanmar. Even most of those who have traveled to more than 50 countries had never been here. This meant that the three weeks we had spent there had made us some of the “experts” onboard. The several days leading up to our arrival in Myanmar, many people asked us to have lunch with them to talk about our experiences. We took part in many conversations around the ship about what we recommend doing and giving cultural tips. Chika even helped lead a seminar along with our Interport Lecturer, a banker from Myanmar, in which they gave travel tips to all who wanted to join (probably 300 attended).

One item that had changed in Myanmar is the intensity of the persecution of the Rohingya people in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, in the western part of the country. While we had heard a bit about what was going on in 2014, in August of this year, the government ramped up attacks on Rohingya Muslim communities. For years, the Rohingya had been forced into refugee camps. After a few Muslim attacks on a military traffic control, the government waged all out war against the mostly unarmed Rohingya people. They went into many villages and shot the men on the spot, raped the women, and burned their villages and crops. Over 500,000 Rohingya fled from their villages to refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh. The UN has called it “ethnic cleansing” sponsored by the Myanmar government.

Leading up to Myanmar, we had many talks and seminars about this terrible situation in the country. Because all this was happening in the Rakhine State, where there are no major tourist attractions, we knew that our shipboard community wouldn’t be in any danger. However, the government is the party that is killing and driving many people away from their villages, creating all the conditions in order for these people never to return. The money we pay for visas, government-run sites, all sales tax, that all goes to the government. Essentially, just docking in the country, and money we spend, at least a portion of that is going to the government. Some students believed we shouldn’t go at all. Some thought we should go so that we could learn about the country and educate others back home about what is going on. I sided with the former, wishing that we’d continue east a bit a dock at a country like Thailand.

When we arrived in Thaniwa, about 20 miles south of the city center of Yangon, a diplomat from the US Embassy came onboard and talked to our community about the history of Myanmar as well as the current events. He had fantastic information and many great thoughts. When asked more about where our sales tax money would go, he went into further detail about how the country is set up. Essentially, the military and the civilian government are two completely separate entities that seem to rarely communicate. The civilian government was elected in 2015 in fair elections, but the ever present military still has a strong control. The civilian government collects all taxes, and the military is a budget item for the civilian government. White we do know how much the civilian government is giving the military, we don’t know what the military is using that on in detail. The diplomat said that the country is on its way to democracy, a process they never thought would be easy. Although the military has done some horrible things, the country is going the right direction for a full democracy. The way to keep moving this forward is to keep the economy going up, and our money going to the locals who offer accommodations, food, souvenirs, etc., that all help the economy. In his opinion, which I believe is genuine, it is better to go and to help the economy and to also learn about the people and take stories home.

While we knew that we were set to go to Myanmar, it was still important to have these discussions. As a passenger on the ship, I had one of two options. I could either stay on the ship and spend no money in order to minimize how much was going to the government. Or I could use my time to visit some places in the country. I debated back and forth, and I ended up deciding to travel a little but to keep my spending to a minimum and to local businesses as much as possible.

In trying to continue finding the positives of going to Myanmar, one student probably said it best. “If we had diverted from Myanmar, no one would have cared to learn about the Rohingya people. Because we are going there, the discussions around these events have increased awareness to 700 people. Hopefully this translates to action.”

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Kochi: The Heart of the Kerala Region

Kochi: The Heart of the Kerala Region

Our home, the MV World Odyssey, docked in Kochi, India.

Our home, the MV World Odyssey, docked in Kochi, India.

When I originally saw that we would be docking in Kochi, India, I fully expected that there would be nothing to see in Kochi. I had never even heard of the city, so I had no expectations whatsoever. As you might expect by the way I am starting this paragraph, I was pleasantly surprised by what I did find in Kochi.

Kochi is the largest city in the state of Kerala, located in southwestern India. It was actually the first part of India that was settled by Europeans, when the Portuguese colonized the area around the year 1500. You can still see the impact clearly in Kochi just by seeing the religious buildings in the area. Whereas most of India is Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh, 35% of Kochi is Christian. You see this with the cathedrals, basilicas, and churches around the city. I also heard that whereas most of India does not eat beef, as the cow is a sacred animal, many people in Kochi do.

I had about one day and a half to explore Kochi, including the first day on arrival and the last day before departing. All the time in between was spent on the Field Program to northern India I wrote about in the previous post.

The main part of Kochi is split into two different parts and islands: Fort Kochi and Ernakulum (the city center). Our ship was docked at Willingdon Island, which doesn’t have too much, so the easiest way to get around was by ferry. Our first day, Chika and I went along with several others to explore Fort Kochi.

Fort Kochi

A Hindu Temple in Fort Kochi.

A Hindu Temple in Fort Kochi.

Fort Kochi was once a small fishing village until the land was given to the Portuguese by the Rajah of Kochi (King). That’s when the Portuguese started to build, including building the actual fort in Fort Kochi. Later on, the British and Dutch built homes during their times of rule, and this has created a nice mix of architectural styles and traditions in the city.

To arrive to Fort Kochi, we simply walked about a ¼ mile from the ship to the ferry station. We all got on this old rickety boat that held probably 70 people. At a cost of about 25 cents, the twenty minute ferry took us to the station in Fort Kochi. Fort Kochi is the area of the city that is most visited, so there are plenty of hotels, restaurants, and shops in the area.

Chinese fishing nets in Kochi.

Chinese fishing nets in Kochi.

Some of the main sites included the Santa Cruz Basilica (a rebuilt version of the first church to be built in south Asia), the Chinese Fishing Nets, and the Dutch Fort. The Chinese Fishing Nets were especially cool to see. I will let Wikipedia tell you how they work:

“Huge mechanical contrivances hold out horizontal nets of 20 m or more across. Each structure is at least 10 m high and comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the sea and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the other end. Each installation is operated by a team of up to six fishermen. While such nets are used throughout coastal southern China and Indochina, in India they are mostly found in the Indian cities of Kochi and Kollam, where they have become a tourist attraction.”

We watched them in use, though it was mid-day when I imagine they wouldn’t be catching too much compared to the early morning or late at night. Just as Wikipedia describes, a team of several fishermen worked together to raise this large fishing net out of the water. They do it as quick as possible to pull up everything that is in the net at the time. The fishermen were selling the fish they caught right on the spot there, as they kept the unlucky ones in buckets. Just down the way was a market right along the water, where one can pick out a freshly caught fish and have it cooked right on the spot. I’d seen this in restaurants, but never in an open air market.

A nice spot Chika and I found for tea and snacks.

A nice spot Chika and I found for tea and snacks.

Being our first day on land after quite a hull from South Africa, we just wanted to walk. And walk we did. In the afternoon, I think we walked a total of about 8-10 miles, exploring all areas of Fort Kochi. We ended with dinner along the harborfront and watched small fishing boats come in with their catches, right alongside massive container ships bringing in goods from outside the country. Our first day was a fun one, simply walking around to see what we would see. The next morning, very early, I had left for the Field Program to northern India to see the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, and Delhi.

Ernakulum

Hindu Temple in Erkakulum.

Hindu Temple in Erkakulum.

I arrived back in Kochi the night prior to the ship’s departure, so I had one more day to explore Kochi. I decided to explore the area of Kochi called Ernakulum, the busiest area of the city with markets, plenty of stores, government buildings, Hindu temples, and more. One food I knew I had to try in India was called “dosa”, an Indian crepe used to dip into various sauces. It seems to be more of a dinner thing for most people, but with dedication, I was able to find it for lunch. And it was as good as I imagined, so I ordered a second one.

In Ernakulum, I found a local market for produce, fresh fish, meats, and more. I arrived somewhat early, so most of the vendors were still bringing in their products for the day. I enjoyed this, because people were too busy to really notice me walking by. Walking through markets as someone who is obviously not from there can be intimidating, so this was a nice change.

I wandered around the city, saw the local courthouse and its surrounding facilities, saw a colorful Hindu temple, and eventually found myself looking at a statue of the country’s founding father, Mahatma Gandhi, in the middle of a traffic circle. Throughout the day, I kept eating and eating. My only regret is that I didn’t have a larger stomach to try everything I wanted to try (this has been a pretty common theme from every country on this voyage)!

Next up, Myanmar.

Gandhi statue.

Gandhi statue.

Dosa, an Indian crepe.

Dosa, an Indian crepe.

Market in Erknakulum.

Market in Erknakulum.

Fort Kochi.

Fort Kochi.

Another ship coming in through Kochi.

Another ship coming in through Kochi.

Kochi.

Kochi.

Chinese fishing nets on the coast as we cruised into Kochi.

Chinese fishing nets on the coast as we cruised into Kochi.

Kochi.

Kochi.

Santa Cruz Basilica in Kochi.

Santa Cruz Basilica in Kochi.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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