Wrapping up the months: Of finishing studies, azure Ko Tao, rambunctious Hat Yai, and enchanting Myanmar
I’m back! How’s everyone doing?
If you’ve been following me on Facebook or Instagram (a fave since I got my first ever smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy S III in June), you would notice that I didn’t really banish myself from the cyber world at all (I doubt that would ever happen in my lifetime, lol); I just wanted to take an indefinite break from the blogosphere and filled my days with activities that I’d long anticipated since I completed my university course in June.
Yes, finally! Finally I was freed from the metal chains of assignments that had deprived me of many nights of sleep. 2 years’ worth of sweat, blood, and tears that had been shed on these school projects were finally brought to fruition. A big hoorah to that!
And on September 21st, looking suave for once in my academic dress, I joined the rest of my coursemates as we entered the convocation hall, sat through the whole ceremony, and waited eagerly for our respective turns to go on the stage and receive our scrolls from the hands of the school’s pro-chancellor. It was my second graduation, and I felt great to be celebrating the occasion with my family and friends again.
Now that was a blessing, wasn’t it? :)
Long before I graduated, I came up with a list of things to do once I wrapped up my final semester. Needless to say, the travel bug in me insisted that a vacation somewhere was an absolute must, and a top priority at that. In fact, I had all the reasons in the world to celebrate the end of my university days (who wouldn’t?) and I must reward myself with something that I’m truly passionate about. And in this case, it’s travelling!
Precisely one year before my graduation day, AirAsia was having a big promotion and I managed to grab a pair of return air tickets to a country that had long fascinated me, Myanmar (Burma). And there, my graduation trip! Or so it seemed.
Having travelled to Sri Lanka and Cambodia earlier this year, I didn’t really expect an additional trip to come before this one, which I deemed to be the last that I was gonna have before I submit myself to the working world. And since I couldn’t make it to Ko Lipe last December, I’d been dreaming of a beach holiday like forever. After much deliberation, I decided to slip in a week-long island getaway to Ko Tao in the Gulf of Thailand in July, roughly a month before my trip to Myanmar. Ko Lipe on the the Andaman coast would be in the midst of the monsoon season, thus I had to consider an alternative destination to satisfy my beach fix.
Ko Tao, Surat Thani Province, Thailand
Of the three main tourist islands off the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand, Ko Tao is the smallest and northernmost of the bunch that also includes the world-renowned Ko Samui and Ko Phangan. A picturesque and rather hilly island, Ko Tao is a little tropical paradise that packs quite a lot of charm. On one side of the island, serene bays and sandy beaches stretch all the way from north to south, while the other coast consists mainly of rocky shores and elevated terrains.
All in all, I had a very pleasant and memorable stay on Ko Tao. Instead of wandering around on a shoestring like I usually do, I decided to ditch the backpacker brand and upgraded myself to a trendy flashpacker. Thinking back, it was kinda funny that I took quite a while to convince my usual stingy self to stretch my budget in order to have an indulgent, rejuvenating holiday. And so I skipped the regular backpackers’ lodge and checked in at reasonably-priced yet charming little resorts, spent the whole morning lounging by the resort pool, lazed the afternoon away in a hammock at a fancy hilltop sea view bungalow, and of course, not forgetting what I came here for in the first place: beach bumming and unwinding my tired soul.
And the best thing? I came home a few shades darker.
My trip to Myanmar has got to be one of the highlights of all the places I’ve travelled to. I guess much of the allure lies in its relative isolation from the international community and its immense, largely unexplored cultural heritage that is no less impressive than those found in its perennially popular neighbours.
Myanmar (or Burma, as some would prefer to call it) is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, and the second largest in the region after Indonesia. I undertook this incredible journey with the hope of unravelling the many layers of mystery that has shrouded this beautiful country from the rest of the world for so long and captivated the imagination of many since the dawn of international tourism. Indeed, I was rewarded magnanimously from my 16D15N solo travel through the Golden Land.
Yangon, the country’s largest city and former capital, struck me as a pleasantly chaotic metropolis with a faint South Asian atmosphere. Interestingly, I’d earlier presumed it to resemble Bangkok with its monumental golden stupas and pagodas; but boy, it never once crossed my mind that the city would appear more like a twin of Kolkata! The abundance of graceful colonial edifices, localized Indian staples, and an eclectic mix of cultures were all reminders of its past as one of the integral components that made up the realm of the British Raj.
Meanwhile in the ancient city of Bagan, I was instantly reminded that this was in fact Southeast Asia, as the thousands of ruined pagodas on the magnificent Bagan plains mirrored the great Angkorian temples that I saw in Cambodia. And as I moved further north, the influence of British India was felt again, especially in the architecture and demographics of good ol’ Mandalay. The latter’s proximity to China’s border also means that Chinese traces are particularly evident in this city, most of whom are immigrants from neighbouring Yunnan Province.
With recent signs of Myanmar opening up to the outside world, it’s wise for interested travellers to seize the opportunity to visit this country now before it is being systematically transformed into another replica of tourist-infested Thailand, gradually losing all its pristine, authentic charm to ruthless commercialization. One thing for sure, Myanmar is never gonna be the same again. I’m afraid I wouldn’t even recognize it on my next return!
Hat Yai, Songkhla Province, Thailand
In September, my aunt invited me to join her on a day tour to Hat Yai, the largest city in southern Thailand and a firm favourite among Malaysian and Singaporean tourists. It’s always a huge plus to live so near to the Thai border, which is a mere hour’s ride away from my hometown.
I am certainly no stranger to Hat Yai, as I’ve been here for umpteen times, probably the most for a foreign destination. And yet, it’s always a joy to return to this city, and this time was no exception. Malaysians usually come in hordes to shop ’til they drop. As I’m no shopper, it’s the food factor that keeps luring me back. I salivate each time the delectable mango sticky rice (khao neeo mamuang) pops up in my mind, and it’s a must-have whenever I visit the Land of Smiles.
On this trip, I toured Hat Yai’s floating market for the very first time. While it was by no means the level of Bangkok’s (not that I’ve been there either) and a tourist trap in itself, the floating market was filled with food stalls and tacky souvenir shops. And to my surprise, I found possibly the town’s cheapest and best mango sticky rice here for only 35 baht (it’s almost always priced at 50 baht elsewhere). What a deal!
Say hello to lil’ Couscous, a month-old baby stray and the newest member of my fam! :)
c a t e g o r y | canine in da house . life as a student . passport to nowhere . yummylicious
f l u f f e r p u f f | beaches . food . myanmar . religions & spirituality . southern thailand . temples & wats . thailand . travels . university life
I love five foot ways. This mostly five-foot wide (duh), verandah-like architectural feature can be found in old shophouses (as well as the new ones) throughout Southeast Asia, which in turn inherited this design feature from the tong laus 唐楼 of southern China and was imported by the early Chinese immigrants.
Although it serves mainly as a covered pedestrian walkway, modern-day five foot ways have found new ways to reinterpret this aged concept. Many restored conservation shophouses that have been turned into guest houses and cafés often have lounge chairs and coffee tables placed on the strip in front of their respective premises, transforming it into a social space where people come to meet, chill, and chat the night away.
Relaxing Egyptian-themed restaurant in Kampong Glam, Singapore where the owner makes good use of the five foot way
Elegant, highly ornamental Victorian style five foot way of Stamford House, Singapore
Beach Street’s historic Standard Chartered Bank’s imposing five foot way in George Town, Penang
c a t e g o r y | passport to nowhere
f l u f f e r p u f f | malaysia . penang . singapore . travels
Whenever you take a flight, where are you seated most of the time? So far, I’ve been lucky enough to be assigned window seats on most flights or a seat next to it (middle seat duh, though many would abhor being sandwiched between two passengers). To be honest, I don’t mind that as long as I could get a glimpse of the view from the window. And that’s prolly the reason why I tend to avoid aisle seats as much as possible.
As soon as I settle down and buckle up, I always find myself looking out the window to see what is going on out there. I would make sure that I don’t miss a single scene after the flight takes off or minutes before landing. In between, if I learn that we are flying over a new body of water or crossing into a new territory, I’d lean towards the window and gaze at whatever land or distant object that I could spot from my seat. All these blues and greens just seem so fascinating to me regardless of how many times I’ve seen them. It just ain’t enough.
On my last trip to the Kingdom of Cambodia, we took an early morning flight and we were fortunate enough to catch a spectacular sunrise from above the clouds. And as we neared our destination, the colour of the terrains beneath us took a dramatic twist ~ a sprawling earth-hued plain gradually came into view with sporadic plots of green, and a mighty river that meandered through the interior and gracefully split the land into two. That was my first glimpse of the legendary Mekong, Southeast Asia’s longest river. It was unforgettable.
Gosh… I just don’t think I’d give up window seats anytime soon.
c a t e g o r y | juz bloggin' . passport to nowhere
f l u f f e r p u f f | cambodia . ramblings . travels