French Polynesia update: super nice again

I’ve been having trouble uploading posts with photos due to slow connections since leaving Moorea on Thursday for Huahine, after doing a power snorkel with a Bond-like device that pulls you along.

It was actually sunny for the morning, the flight, the minivan + boat shuttle to the hotel (how cool is that?) to our charming overwater bungalow. Then the wind picked up again, clouds moved in and it rained occasionally.
It cleared a bit on Fri afternoon, then partly sunny on Saturday for our interesting anthropology tour, and finally sunny for our Sunday lagoon day boat trip.

On Monday we flew via an hour stop at Bora Bora airport code BOB! which is on a motu with light blue water and transfer boats) to Taha’a for our final island and fanciest hotel.
The resort provided boat transfers (35 min) directly from the airport, literally 30 steps from baggage claim (even cooler than previous island!).

And now sit on our gorgeous overwater bungalow with a cooling breeze over turquoise water, and a view of Bora Bora. We saw stingrays and puffer fish snorkeling below our deck.

And lots of sun :-)

More details and photos to follow…

Huahine – the Garden Isle

On Thursday we moved to Huahine. After a short flight, we had a minivan + 15 min boat shuttle to the hotel (how cool is that?). Btw, there are no metal detectors, no security, no long waits in boarding interisland flights in these one room airports. Check-in cutoff is 20 minutes before the flight.

The hotel was quite empty, maybe 8 bungalows occupied. The food was good, but dinner portions were huge, so even though we had half board meal plan including appetizer, entree and dessert each, we scaled it down. The tuna appetizers (sashimi, carpaccio, tartare, and raw Tahitian style) were super tasty.


We moved bungalows the second day to have wind protection on the deck, and then the sun came out again for a while.

On Saturday we did a super interesting half day road trip with an anthropologist.

On Sunday we did a fun all day boat trip around the lagoon.

More on those in later posts.

Myanmar/Burma: insurance on train ticket

So on my sleeper train ticket, the K12,750/$12.75 price included K3.86 for insurance.
That’s $0.00386, ie less than half of one cent.
I have to wonder two things:
a) just how much would that actually pay out?
b) should I lose confidence in the train safety if they don’t have much themselves?


Myanmar/Burma: Yangon airport departure

I budgeted an hour to the airport, but it was almost 70 minutes leaving my downtown hotel at 8:00 this morning.
It was K8,000/$8 as that businessman had told me in the plane on arrival, but this was the only time I paid that little.

Singapore Airlines recommends 90min prior arrival, I made it at 70 at the checkin counter, after passing through a baggage X-ray and metal detector just to get into the checkin hall.

Immigration was quick and painless upstairs, and after changing my last kyat for SGD, now I’m in the little multi-airline lounge.

They have Wi-Fi, a guy running an espresso machine (cup a cappuccino!), a self-serve fridge with water/soda/beer, and a little buffet of snacks. Including Pringles (2 flavours no less).

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)

Myanmar/Burma: the train part 1

This was my itin from Yangon to Inle Lake:

1 – 17:00 train in sleeper car to Thazi, arr 4:55 (12hrs; K12,500/$12) actual arrival 1hr late (it’s a stop on the way to Mandalay)
2 – 7:00 slow scenic train to Shwengyaung, arr 17:00 (10hrs; K3,000/$3)
3 – taxi to Ngayng Shwe, the town in the northeast corner of the lake (15km, K10,000/$10, split with the other couple on the train). Yes, that is the previous town name transposed word-wise, like Tokyo and Kyoto, except in Japan those cities are hours apart.

First train:
Small gash in floor through which you can see the ground, check.
Spiders on the ceiling, inc one over my bunk, check (they were mostly in the hallway).
Amazingly rickety, check. the writeups weren’t kidding and perhaps even underdescribed it. At first, moving slowly through the burbs of Yangon, it rocked either side to side like a ship, or up and down like riding a horse. Forget about reading or writing (but ‘rithmetic OK). Which meant we basically laid down to sleep by 18:30…
Except I was often woken up during the night by the violent rocking and bouncing, sometimes literally tossing me 1-2″ above the bed.

Sleeper compartment has 4 bunks, I had a top one which is less desirable, esp when getting off at an intermediate stop in the middle of the night (you can’t look out the window). Plus I didn’t have a station list, nor did I know if we were running late or not… so I ended up getting up just before scheduled arrival time (around 4:30, not as hard as it sounds given the early bedtime), and kept asking locals (in the non-sleeper car) which station it was, as I couldn’t always see the sign (at one little station, the master shone a flashlight onto the name sign).
Several people said my stop was next, though it was actually several stops later. I ended up standing in the hallway for an hour…

You get a pillow with case, and a sheet, but that’s it (the conductor gave them a quick spritz of something, either freshener of bug spray. Hopefully the former, as I don’t care for bug spray on my face).

It was an experience, to say the least. No wonder the night bus is more popular…

Oh, the toilets were pretty clean (one squat, one western) since they were hard to use due to the rocking, and I don’t think people from lower class cars snuck into my car. Thank goodness for Immodium!

However, train #2 made up for it…


Japan: quick update

Will get more stories and photos together, yesterday I arrived in Kobe (after a rainy detour through Onomachi, a small seaside town on the local train line)  and spent the day walking around with Susan’s high school fried Junko. Had some very tasty sushi last night. And some Japanese language tips, thanks Junko!

Tomorrow I return to Tokyo for a few hours before going to Narita airport (NRT) for a 787 dreamliner flight to Singapore, followed by an early morning flight to Yangon (Rangoon)

Update: the shinkansen (bullet train) translates to “new trunk line”, and it’s pretty much always elevated, like a modern aqueduct, even in the countryside.
Also, they must clean the bullet nose front frequently, because it’s shiny white (you can see near the crown and sides and top of the train that it’s gray from dirt)

Japan: shinkansen, baby!

I forgot how smooth and quiet the shinkansen is. And punctual, like northern European trains were 20 years ago. And crazy long – 16 cars!
I don’t recall noticing a train bank so much, which is obviously necessary on the winding tracks west through greater Tokyo.

Non smoking, quiet, clean… 3-2 seating in airline-like seating (but more leg room) with a tray table.
Only complaints: no power ports and this annoying window municipal tray that hits my bicep and I can’t comfortably rest my arm on the armrest under it. U suspect this is because the seat should have been further back so that the ledge would be more in front of me.

Update: 2nd train had 2-2 seating with a better placed window tray, and one power port (with a sign that “supply voltage may shutdown or fluctuate”).

So this morning I was up early and went for a dawn walk along the river before breakfast, then headed to Tokyo Station where I exchanged my rail pass voucher and made free reservations for the 3 days of train travel (having done research online at Hyperdia at the hostel), exchanged some cash for Yen at Travelex (since they don’t do cash advance in visa credit cards and banks aren’t open), and bought some more clothing at UniQlo (which has a small store in the train station, which opens early even on weekends – turns out I “overpaid” at 7-11 as I picked up better underwear, socks and a T-shirt for ¥1000/$9 combined).

I actually couldn’t reserve the first shinkansen (to Shin-Osaka) I wanted, so I left 30 minutes later (seems they run hourly, and sometimes half-hourly). There are unreserved cars on the train, but I didn’t want to fight for a seat or have to stand for 3 hours.

FYI, shin means new, and bashi means bridge (as in Asakusabashi vs neighbouring Asakusa). Speaking of which, that “u” is silent (pronounced Ah-suk-sah), but the local train line’s bilingual announcements did pronounce the “u” in the English announcement (as ah-sah-koo-sah), since most gaijin would (mis)pronounce it that way.

And while we are on tangents, the subways and local trains in Tokyo are great, even if they do stop before 1am on weekend nights.

Collage has bullet nose of shinkansen, my first elbow room issue, snacks inc cheese-stuffed squid and strawberry-filled crepe to go (with an actual strawberry in it!):