To Asia, With Love (and Other Emotions)

Shelley with Ultadanga kids

My time in Asia challenged me, rewarded me, made my heart ache and churned out a stronger person. I learned more in the last 11 months than I have in the last 11 years, and that’s no hyperbole. I became more familiar with the world and with myself. As it turns out, I’m a nomadic homebody. My style is to hunker down in a city and get the lay of the land instead of moving every three days. Maybe when in a state of constant change, it’s comforting to know where you can go for a reliable bowl of pho or a cup of REAL coffee.

Surprisingly I did make it to 12 countries (if you count Tibet and Hong Kong as separate from mainland China, which I do). I’ve had 7 telephone numbers, taken 13 flights, crossed 2 borders overland, added 31 stamps to my passport, secured 10 visas and spent about $24,000. Below is a snapshot of my feelings about each country: what I liked, what I didn’t and how I sum them each up. India is longer than the rest because I spent the most time there and it had such a profound effect. Ladies and gentlemen, I present my view of Asia in 2,000 words or less… Continue reading

Myanmar Part II- Mandalay, Inle Lake and Golden Rock

Monk on bridge- Mandalay

Monk standing on a bridge in Mandalay

We left Bagan by boat before sunrise and headed up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, where we arrived after sunset. It was a very smooth ride (a nice contrast to the train!) but not much to look at along the way except for a few golden pagodas that seem to crop up everywhere. Wait, that made it seem like they aren’t fabulous. They ARE fabulous… there are just so many of them it became a joke to say, “Oh look, a pagoda!” Continue reading

The Golden Land of Myanmar- Yangon and Bagan

Shwedagon Pagoda 1Maybe TOUR isn’t always a four-letter word

For most of my traveling life, I have thumbed my nose at organized tours. The sight of large a/c buses parked outside the Taj Mahal and colored umbrellas carried by tour guides in St. Mark’s Square often made me squirm. I don’t like being told what to look at when; I’d rather explore on my own, getting lost down small side alleys and discovering a lovely cafe.

With Myanmar, however, I made an exception. For years it’s been high on my list of places to visit, so I had to make it work during “Asia Tour ’13/14”. Since they opened their borders more widely to tourists post- military regime, there has been a huge rush. Approximately 800,000 tourists in 2011 became 2 million in 2013, and accommodation prices have tripled in the last two years. The demand outweighs the supply, and the infrastructure has not caught up. I was concerned about this shortage, and the idea of someone else organizing the logistics was admittedly tempting- especially after so much time in India where buying a train ticket can take six hours. And then there was the mom factor. She was (ahem) not thrilled with me visiting a country whose 50-year military regime has been out of power for only a few years. At the mere mention of the word “tour” she said, “Yes, PLEASE YES!!!” Ok, it shall be done. Continue reading