You can get to Inchon airport from Seoul either by the Metro and then the AREX Airport train or by special Airport buses which leave from various points around Seoul, about an hours journey. Train costs $5 and the bus $15, on the train you could be standing all the way. My hotel was a short walk from the bus stop so I took the bus which was very comfortable.
There are buses leaving at least every hour from Kuala Lumpur Airport (KLIA2) to Malacca, the journey takes 2 hours, costs RM24.30 and the seats are very comfortable. You buy your ticket from a booth on the ground floor and the bus leaves from just outside the entrance a short walk from the ticket booth. At the airport I also bought a Digi SIM card for RM20 good for a week and withdrew cash from an ATM.
Malacca – first colonised by the Portuguese (1511) then the Dutch and finally the British, old world charm with well preserved colonial buildings, the Malacca river lined with cafe’s, a mix of old and new, I will be back.
Yangon to Seoul via Kuala Lumpur was the first time I have had any significant delays in the over 180 flights I have been on in the last 10 years. Normally the KL to Seoul flight takes about 6:30 hours, this time it took nearly 14 hours. When we arrived over Inchon there was fog so we circled for 1:30 hours then were diverted to Gimpo to refuel and wait, not allowed off the plane. After 3:30 hours we were allowed to take off and more circling before we finally landed at 21:05.
Seoul, one of my favourite cities. It’s huge with a variety of restaurants both big and small, craft beer is popular and the people are friendly and helpful. It also has the best public transport system on the planet, well organised, spotlessly clean and not expensive. This will be the third big city I have visited on New Year’s day, New York, Istanbul and now Seoul. Christianity is the largest organised religion (28%) in South Korea so Christmas is also celebrated with all the usual trappings. It is also very cold in winter with temperatures below zero most of the time, dropping to -13c overnight at one point. Definitely stay indoors with comfort food and beer kind of weather hahaha.
This is the best and cheapest place to buy your SIM card for Korea http://www.krsim.net/. You buy and pay for it online and pick it up at the airport, it will only start working the following day if you arrive after business hours.
Day trip to Yeongwol, this is the town to which King Danjong who became King at the age of 12 was exiled by his evil Uncle and later murdered. From Yeongwol I drove with a friend to the Buseoksa Temple. The people who built these monuments and temples always built them on top of hills obviously to punish the sinners on the way up before forgiving them if they managed to make it to the top.
New Years Fireworks
Seoul Sky – the top of Lotte World Tower, 5th tallest building in the world.
Night visit to Mount Namhan to see the lights of Seoul, very slippery.
From Mandalay I travelled by boat to Bagan. This boat was not the usual ferry but a tour boat slightly more expensive and comfortable with breakfast, lunch and a village tour included. I bought the ticket online at http://www.alliancemyanmarrivercruise.com/. Depart at 0635 and arrive in Bagan at 1740, journey time 11:05 hours, speed 20kph, we lost about an hour in the morning when we twice had to moor near the riverbank due to heavy fog. After you get off the boat there is a check point where you pay the Bagan zone fee of US$20 or 25,000 kyat.
Bagan – the city of Temples, more than 2000 of them and that’s what’s left over from the original 10,000. They are spread out over a vast area, you need some form of transport to get around, I had a car, driver and a guide. The guide was a bonus he was practising his English and learning the job. Shoes and socks off and on at each Pagoda, wear sandals.
Today we drove to Popa hills, stopped on the way at a place that makes products from the Palm tree and peanuts. First grinding peanuts for the oil using a bull to pull a grinder while walking around in circles. Next collection of the sap from the Palm trees using a ladder and pots, next tasted the 3 kinds of toddy extracted from the sap, sweet and fresh (no alcohol), 5% alcohol (like beer), next distilled spirit (firewater), all tasted good. Next to where an old woman was stirring the sap in several large woks over a fire waiting for it to thicken after which it is divided into small chunks to dry into palm jaggery. From the jaggery they make various sweets mixed with Ginger, Sesame & Coconut and dark jaggery. From the palm leaves they make toys, roofs and walls, from the trunks they make furniture.
There is a temple on top of one of the Popa Hills with hundreds of monkeys running around, stealing and fighting. I walked halfway to the top and stopped at the point where I had to take my shoes and socks off, balancing without them on is difficult on uneven surfaces. On the way back we stopped at another temple on a hill and then a visit to a village where they also sold handicrafts, then we visited a few more Pagodas.
Finally back to the hotel to wait for pickup to the bus station at 2100. On the bus at 2130 departed at 2140, new modern Scania with large comfortable seats, 3 seats across in a 1-2 arrangement, I had a single, total 9 rows of seats 27 passengers max. Snack box and juice handed out at the start, EU 2 pin outlet for each seat. Stopped at 0120 for half an hour at Napyidaw toll gate rest stop which had a few restaurants busy with passengers eating. Arrived in Yangon at 0540, the bus station is quite a distance from the centre of the city past the airport unlike the train station which is right in the centre of town.
Mandalay – second largest city in Myanmar after Yangon and the last capital of the country, population 1.2 million.
The train journey from Yangon to Mandalay was one of the highlights of my trip to Myanmar, literally a step back in time. Apparently nothing has changed since the days of the British Raj. The carriage rocks from side to side, bounces up and down while swaying, all at the same time hahaha, you actually get bounced completely off your seat and get airborne. How on earth it stayed on the tracks is beyond me. I took the day train for the view, there is a night sleeper train but that would be a waste of time because you would miss the view, not get a wink of sleep and would finish the journey bruised and battered from getting bounced out of your bunk :-). The seats are narrow with more than enough legroom and the carriage was half empty. The travel agent booked my ticket which cost $10. We departed at 0600 on the dot and arrived at 2120, journey tine of 15:20 hours, distance 650km, average speed 40-50 kph. The train stops frequently and there is a constant stream of hawkers parading through the train, selling food, snacks, beer, water, etc. The noise is deafening with the rattling, banging, clattering of the carriage combined with hawkers shouting and most of the windows open letting in noise and dust. My ticket got checked 4 times, every time a new conductor got on the train I think, so keep it handy.
First stop today was a hand loom workshop, next to the Mahagandhayon Monastery which has 1400 monks, they parade along the street in the morning with bowls and tourists who are lined up on either side of the street put food and gifts into them. Next drove to the U Bein Bridge, a very long footbridge across the river, walked across it and back, lots of people out and about it being Sunday the one holiday of the week. Next to a wood carving workshop and then to a place that makes gold leaf the old fashioned way by beating it with a hammer. Lunch at a restaurant that stunk of cat pee really bad, did not want to upset anyone so sat down hoping I would get used to the smell, ordered Pork Mango Pickle and it only had one piece of meat the rest was fat, never order pork in an Asian country unless you like pork fat. After lunch was an unscheduled surprise we went to a Wedding reception, the drivers friends son/daughter. Next to the Palace, here you have to buy a 10,000 kyat Mandalay Zone Pass which gives you access to 5 sites. Wandered around the palace, the grounds are huge with a wall and moat around them, the military has barracks inside. Next to the Shwenandaw Kyaung Temple carved out of wood then the Kuthodaw Pagoda which has 700 something smaller pagodas around it. Last stop for the day was sunset from the top of Mandalay Hill, parked and then an escalator to the top 1000 kyat fee, lots of Buddha’s, mirrors and lights, waited for an hour until sunset, many foreign tourists. You have to wait for the escalator to reverse direction to get back down.
Day 2 in Mandalay I was woken at 0500 by the Muslim call to prayer so there must be a mosque in the area, this place has a Muslim population of various ethnicities. The day started with a drive to Mingun across the Irrawaddy river. There is a 5000 kyat zone fee, they gave me a sticker and a map but no ticket did not think of this until later, capitalism at work. First stop a huge brick monolith Pa Hto Taw Gyi, walked around it then kept going to Molmi Paya an abandoned Pagoda, next the Mingun Bell, after that another Pagoda and then the White Pagoda. This is a tourist area both local and foreign. Street lined with shops and stray dogs. With the new Government of Aung Sun See schools are now free, seatbelts are compulsory and many roads have been resurfaced. From Mingun we drove to Sagaing where there are a number of Monasteries, Meditation Centres, Pagodas and a convent or two. Pink robes everywhere, that’s what the nuns wear, looked fairly young but hard to even tell their gender with shaven heads. Drove to the top of the hill, a pagoda with a view and a pagoda built by the Japanese. Next stop the river for lunch at a local restaurant very good. After that I took a 5 minute ferry across the river to Inwa or Ava, about 50 “Horse Carts” as they call them waiting to take the tourists for a ride at 10,000 each, I declined and walked on. Small villages, very primitive, still using bullock carts and making everything by hand including cloth and houses with walls and doors made of palm leaves. Ruined pagodas, Museum closed, walked through the fields using Maps Me to navigate, back to the boat after 5.5km and 1.5 hrs.