Taha’a: scooter for the day

A mere 8500 CFP / US$80 for the day, inc one tank of gas (which we nearly bled dry). The 50cc scooter laboured up the handful of hills near the center of the hibiscus shaped island.

The scooter was delivered to us at the boat dock, and picked up at our restaurant prior to sunset, so we never had to go to their office.


Clockwise from top left:
– sunset from waterfront dinner resto Chez Louise
– tasty seafood dinner (lobster, parrotfish, curried non-local shrimp, raw fish Tahitian style – parrotfish, not tuna, this time), 5500 CFP /US$50 pp plus drinks(but tax and tip included)
– cows with Raiatea in the background, on our 15 min hike to a semi-deserted beach
– helmets required!
– one of the bays at center of the island
– view to Raiatea from the southern tip of Taha’a
– drying tamanu nuts (used for skin products)  at the vanilla farm… this is the Vanilla Isle after all
– Joe Dassin beach with snorkeling just offshore, inc a dropoff

We also visited a pearl farm, had a tasty lunch on the bay at Taha’a Maitai resto, and tried to see rescued turtles at Hibiscus hotel but they no longer do that (the danger of an LP guide that is 2 years old :-)

Tip: most places have hard to see road signs :-)

Tikehau lagoon excursion: all-day boat trip

From 9:00 to ~16:30, 4 couples and 2 friendly crew on a fast boat with a bimini for shade.

Stops were:
– La Ferme aux Mantas, a manta ray cleaning station by a former pearl farm on a little island in the lagoon; we saw one (none in recent days, so we were lucky); had to swim hard to follow him to get a close up look
– a deep water snorkel spot where crew spearfished fish for lunch
– Motu Puarua (bird island), where 4 species of birds, inc red footed boobies, nest on land
– delicious lunch on a private motu, inc Tahitian raw fish, coconut milk rice (best rice ever!), bbq’d fresh fish, beer and water; plenty of time to soak in the shallow water (like a natural swimming pool) before and after eating, and feeding the fish carcasses to the many sharks in the hot tub warm shallow water of the channel where the boat was parked
– Eden Island, a bizarre hippy-ish organic island paradise founded by some Taiwanese Christians who followed some prophet here
– another check for manta rays (none) so we snorkeled at the other end of that island

The lagoon is roughly a 25km diameter circle (slightly oval, really), and the trip takes you from one end almost to the other.

– take water, hat, sunscreen, chapstick with spf
– wear a rash guard or T-shirt for sun protection
– apply sunscreen often, esp on face after each bout of snorkeling
– did I mention sunscreen?

… Or your face will look like this (see my cheeks below the eyes. ouch):


Cost: ~$105 pp
Definitely worth it.

Will upload photos after the trip, as I didn’t take my phone on the boat.

Tikehau: Tuherehera village

Our resort on a private motu runs a free shuttle boat to the village (same motu as the airport) of Tuherahera, pop. 500, four times a day.

– you can ask for a free bicycle rental at reception, and they’ll load it onto the shuttle boat for you
– ask reception for a village map (not critical, as it is small)
– hit the store before returning, not on arrival
– bottled water is 1/6th the price compared to the hotel
– there is a bakery near the boat dock

We missed the bicycle opportunity (we had read that pensions in the village provide them, but it hadn’t occurred to us that an island resort would have them). Apparently there is a nice sandy beach on the ocean side of the motu, and a dirt road to cycle on…

So we walked around in the heat, taking one of two parallel roads to the west end of the motu where there was a nice soft coral beach and we met that fisherman with the dogs and circling sharks.


We passed an elementary school, several churches, two snack bars, and friendly locals who waved or said ia ora na (hello; sounds like yora-na)

On the way back, we stopped at the little grocery store which had more mosquitoes than produce :-)
We picked up cold drinks, and a few larger water bottles to take back to the hotel.

Funny story: we were at reception (next to the boat dock) booking our lagoon excursion and fancy massage) when I look around to check the time and notice the boat has already left (early). Not sure how we missed the commotion, oops. The receptionist tried to radio the captain unsuccessfully, however she did arrange for the captain to ferry us over as soon as he returned (it’s only a 7 minute ride each way).

The massage ended up being outside on a massage bed standing in the water near shore, which felt nice with the sound of the ocean, refreshing breeze, a brief rain shower, then late afternoon sun.

Myanmar/Burma: money shot

These are the most common bills (divide by 1000 for approx dollar value)  – note the Burmese numerals in addition to Roman numerals. I’d say the Burmese numerals were more common on anything not oriented to tourists.
There are no coins, no vending machines.


Tip: pay attention when using ATM’s or you might miss what the error message is. In the airport, the ATM had communication errors once, but worked upon retry. The maximum withdrawal seemed to be K300,000/$300.

Tip: international ATM’s are slowly spreading, inc inside Shwedagon Paya (pagoda) and Nyaung  She (Inle Lake).

Myanmar/Burma: power

In my hotel were fancy surge protectors for each of the A/C, TV and fridge. On the street were lots of relatively quiet generators.

I experienced power outages in Inle Lake, but not in Yangon.
No power, in no Wi-Fi, no internet.

Tip: have a flashlight! Handy on poorly lit streets too, given the absence or disrepair of sidewalks, not to mention holes and raised things to trip on.


Myanmar/Burma: train part 2 – over the mountains

This smaller milk run train from Thazi to Shwenyaung, over the mountains from 800′ above sea level to almost 4,000′. It took 10 hours, and arrived only 15 minutes late.

Live chickens – check (not by my seat though – I think it was in lower class).

Once out of the plains, the beautiful scenery changed from jungle to alpine forest (yes, pine trees!) before descending into the large valley.

Most stops in little villages were very brief but a few were 5-10 minutes long, giving time for a little stretch of one’s legs on the platform. The conductor kept an eye out for us 3 westerners to make sure we were back on the train, as did a local man who sat in my section of the train, with whom I shared some enjoyment of oddities.

Two hill towns in particular were no wider than one house next to the train platform before the hills dropped downwards, and the train had to backtrack a few hundred meters before continuing the journey as the station was on a short dead end side track.

At each station, a cadre of hawkers sold food and drinks, for much cheaper than in Yangon. For K100/$0.10 each at various stops I was able to purchase the following:
– small bag of yucca chips (plain or spicy)
– 2 avocados
– freshly made snack

This train only had 3 passenger cars and one cargo car: 2 of the cars were “upper class” which were padded Bechtel seating, 2 persons per side, with each pair of benches facing each other. “Lower class” was similar but unleaded and with people and more stuff in the aisles.

The rattling was much less severe, likely due to the slower speeds.

– get a forward facing seat
– get a seat on the left side of train is better (going east as described above)

Siem Reap: today’s outing (sunrise, temple, water village)

1. Sunrise at Angkor Wat (tip: bring a flashlight as it is still dark when you arrive and you have to walk into the large temple grounds). Btw, Angkor Wat and the other temples are truly amazing, and way bigger than I had imagined.
2. Bakong temple (in the Roluos Group, east of Siem Reap, whereas Angkor Wat and the main temple group are north of town)
3. Kompong Phlok (village on stilts near the lake edge – water is currently 4m higher than in dry season)

PR: tech tip re camera (phone)

1. Phone camera drains battery due to all that screen usage . Take an extra battery and/or portable charger (like the one I bought in Singapore, which broke in my carry-on since I carelessly tossed it in there)
Update: also bring a cigarette lighter USB adaptor – w oils have worked on one flight plus in rental car.
2. A camera phone is not a replacement for a camera on a full day of sightseeing. See tip 1.
3. I miss other features from real camera like great optical zoom
4. On the plus side, it’s easy to upload photos from the phone to blog/email/facebook.
5. So take both for sightseeing.

Update: I forgot 6: no strap on phone could be dangerous when taking photos at cliffs and such

Vieques: luminescent bio bay tour

Did this last night. Cool but not as wow as I had hoped for.
Photos didn’t work on my phone so look at Abe’s Bio Bay Tour for photos and info.
Note you can’t swim there anymore – kayak only.

Choose a new moon or close to it.
Camera phone won’t pick up the lights.
Tour is pretty short so go for dinner afterwards