Tagged: boat

Danube River Cruise

 This year Dave, Bob and I did our first European river boat cruise together. Last summer Viking River Cruises was having a 2-for-1 sale so we decided to venture out from the usual university trips and try something new. The Viking River cruise ships are much bigger than anything we have done before, our trip had 188 guests on board. Although the ship accompanies a lot of people the layout is the same, two levels of rooms with the dining room and bar/lounge on those levels as well. There’s a third bottom level where the staff sleeps, and there’s a rooftop deck that spans the whole boat. The rooftop is covered in turf and has lounge chairs, tables and chairs, a life size chess set, and a shuffleboard court. 

 With this group we had at least four coaches for daily excursions instead of the one or two that we’re used to. There’s too many people on board to meet everyone, which makes the trip less intimate. Also, many of the daily activities, like a music concert and bike riding costs extra; and alcohol is not included in the price. All our previous trips have been all inclusive, but they have also been much pricier so I can’t complain.

Passau, Germany

We did a Danube River cruise from Passau, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary. The three of us took the train from Munich to Passau. Here we got a taxi which was driven by an older Bavarian woman. She drove us down the river to the far port where we boarded the ship. About an hour later the ship moved ports to be in the Old Town in Passau. After dinner Dave and I left the ship and walked through the town. It turns out it’s a university town full of young people. The Old Town is incredibly cute with a bunch of cobble stone streets. There is a long pedestrian shopping street and in general everyone looked very cheerful. It was a Monday night and the Irish pub the boat staff recommended to us was closed, so instead we just wandered.

The next morning we did a walking guided tour of the Old Town. A lot of the windows have painted trimming instead of the usual stonework which was a bit odd.    
That afternoon the boat cruised down towards Linz. Dave and I went to the roof deck and played shuffleboard; it was my first time playing and I loved it. The scenery was amazing. Deep greens hills, wooden country houses along the lake, and random bike riders peddling along the river road. The sun was hot and the drinks were cold. The boat had to cross two locks on the way down and I was able to touch the bridge as we passed under one. 

Linz, Austria

After dinner Dave and I walked through the the downtown city area of Linz. It was a Monday night and the city was pretty quite. We found ourself on an endless shopping street. We ended up in Sax bar, which ended up being a gay bar. There was a drunk dog owner and I took the leash to play with the dog. We got back to the ship and finished watching The Sound of Music which we had started earlier. 

   [After Salzburg the next day Dave and I walked back into Linz and got haircuts. We went to a nice place but our hairdressers seemed untrained and we both walked out with German-looking hair. My girl did not know how to properly layer or angle and my hair is stiff and dead straight across in the back.] 

 

Salzburg, Austria

The next morning we took a two hour bus ride to Salzburg. Along the way we had a rest stop at a restaurant overlooking a lake. The alps were in the background and it was the most amazing view. We sat and sipped coffee taking it all in. 

 We were dropped off in the New Town of Salzburg and with our audio tour walked across the bridge and into the Old Town. The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg and I was incredibly excited to see many of the places they filmed. We saw the fountain and arbor where Do Re Me was filmed, as well as the hotel Julie Andrews stayed at while filming. 

    Mozart was from Salzburg. We saw his birthplace which is a yellow apartment building on the main shopping street in the Old Town. We also walked past his residence which is a pink house in town. Many places in Salzburg are named after him. There’s the Mozart Hotel, the music school, the restaurant, the bar, the park, a statue, etc. 

 Each of the stores in the old town has an iron sign that represents what the store originally sold. Many people used to be unable to read and therefor pictures were useful. There’s a key for key store, dressed women for the clothing shop, a Lion for Lions den bar (which is now McDonald’s,) etc. 

 After walking with the group we set out on our own and took the tram up the mountain to the fort. We had lunch at the outdoor cafe on the top overlooking the city. We tried to do the interior tour but the wait was too long so instead we walked around the exterior.      Back in town we met up with the group at the square where Cafe Tomaselli Seit 1703 is. It’s the oldest coffee shop in Salzburg. Before getting back on the bus I stopped at the farmers market and bought tomatoes to snack on.   

 

Melk, Austria

In the morning we took a walking tour of the Stift Melk abbey. The exterior of the abbey is traditional with great views of the Danube River and the town below. The interior of part of the abbey has been turned into a museum with neon lights. 

     The tour stopped at the library which had floor to ceiling bookshelves which reminded me of the library in Beauty and the Beast. Then we went through the church and were able to stand in the back and observe the end of a prayer; locals sat in the benches. When the priest was finished speaking Bob walked all the way down the aisle and asked the priest if he knew where the toilets were. 

There was an optional 30km biking excursion from Melk port to Durnstein port which about twenty of us younger-ish folk opted to do while the boat cruised down. Dave and I started last and went to the right, which we saw the group do as well but we were no longer with them. About fifteen minutes down the river pathway we went onto a bridge that crossed over the Danube. We decided to stop and take a photo on the bridge, and then also to check google maps to make sure there would be another bridge eventually so we could get back onto the right side of the river. It turns out we were going in the opposite direction, we were going towards Linz and not Vienna. We also realized that neither one of us knew which town our ship was docking at. We peddled back to our ship and discovered that it had already left. Luckily there was a different Viking ship there so they called and found out all the details for us, and gave us directions how to get onto the river path going in the right direction, towards Vienna.  

The road to get out of Melk was very confusing. We thought we finally figured it out and then we ended up in an army area and had to turn around again. Eventually we made it to the scenic bike path along the river. Along the 30km we drove past a castle, a few small villages, and through a lot of forest. On the other side of the river there were ruins of castles, farming along the mountains, and a few slightly bigger towns. The last hour or so of the trip we rode through vineyards, specifically the Gruner vineyard which is the wine we’d been drinking frequently on the ship. We also passed many apricot and peach farms but they weren’t ripe yet. 

  
 Luckily our GPS worked because there were absolutely no signs for Durnstein. We reached a playground near the waterfront and immediately realized we were on the wrong side of the river and there were no bridges anywhere nearby- we saw our Viking ship on the other side. Luckily there was a motorboat ferry that we were able to take across. We saw the group of bikers approach the ship and it turns out we made it (sort of) before they did. I played in the playground and we admired the view of Durnstein before we took the ferry across. The captain of the ferry was a British guy from London; we chatted with him for a while. 

  
  We dropped off the bikes then headed for a stroll through Durnstein, a tiny village on the hill. Many of the shops made their own apricot schnapps, so we made sure to try a shot. We wandered around and discovered that one man owns almost all of the property including the five star hotel.

We came back to the ship and played shuffleboard. We even got Bob to play with us and it turns out he’s great and be beat both of us. He did injure himself once by banging his thumb against his hip- OPP (old people problems.)  

Vienna, Austria
We woke-up in Vienna, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. Almost every single building is old and ornate. We did a bus tour along the famous Ringstrasse. We passed the Opera House, which is famous for Mozart performing there, the Imperial garden, Parliament, Town Hall, the last remains of the city wall, a votive church with a double tower facade, and more. 

        We then got out of the bus for a walking portion. We walked into Place Maria-Theresa, then Heldenplatz. We saw the Archbishop of Vienna giving a speech outside; it happened to be a religious holiday that day.

We walked past the city horse stables, and down the high end shopping street to Saint Stephan’s Cathedral. We didn’t get a chance to go inside the cathedral but we did sit at Do&Co coffee shop across and watched the procession with the archbishop go by. 

   That afternoon we went to Schonbrunn Palace, a UNESCO site. It is a former summer residence, most recently decorated during Maria Theresa in the 1740-50s. It has 1,441 rooms and we were able to see about ten of them. The palace is compared to Versailles and although the interior and exterior of the palace is vast, rich and beautiful, it cannot compare. 
     Later that evening we went to a Mozart and Strauss classical music concert in a Viennese palace, wiener borsensale, in the city. The musicians were occasionally joined by a ballet couple, and an opera singing couple. It seemed that all the performers were has beens, or just never made it; not to say they weren’t talented. 


Bratislava, Slovakia

The next morning we woke-up in Bratislava and had a bus and walking tour. We first went to a palace on the hill, then into the old town. A few buildings were run down but it still looked like many other old European towns with small streets and tourists shops. After the group tour we walked on our own down a tree lined plaza and stopped at Good Mood coffee shop where they gave us creamy coffee topped with ice cream when we ordered iced coffees. 

  
     
That afternoon we spent on the roof deck of the ship playing shuffle board and sun bathing while we travelled down the river. We entered into a massive lock and another Viking boat came in next to us. Together we sank at least 60 feet before the opposite lock doors opened. 

 Budapest, Hungary

That night was the Captains farewell cocktails and dinner, then at 10:15pm the whole ship gathered on the roofdeck to watch our entrance into Budapest. We were all decked out in jackets and blankets although it ended up being warm enough to walk around. The entrance was magnificent. The city completely lights up and sitting near the Danube is the Huge ornate Parliament building, as well as many grand churches and a palace. The view from our cabin that night was of the old Chain Bridge and the Buda Castle. 

    We woke up to the same great view of Buda from the Pest side of the Danube. In the morning we did a bus tour of the Buda side of the city, then did a walking tour through the old town. We stopped at Matthius Church which is one of my favorites of all time. The exterior and interior is decked out in different patterns. The exterior roof is decorated with colorful tiles, and the interior with bright colorful paint. 

     Right next to the church is Fisherman’s Bastion, which looks like a princess castle entrance. 

    We walked around the old town which was full of old colorful doors. Every apartment building had one. 

We then did a bus tour around Pest. After lunch on the ship we drove out into the country to Lazar Equestrian Park for the Puszta horse show. We sat and watched a performance and then rode on a carriage, I got the front seat. There was also a small farm area which had lambs with antlers and rainbow colored chickens. 

      After our last dinner on the cruise we watched a traditional Hungarian dance show. The men and women who performed wore traditional ballroom dancing outfits- tuxedos and princess gowns. When all the adults went to bed a few of us went out. Along the waterfront local teenagers and adults drank bottles of wine and/or vodka; this seemed to be the place to hangout. There’s no railing along the edge of the water and people get pretty smashed.

We walked right under the Chain Bridge to an outdoor bar. The bar was a mix of tourists and locals, and it drew a nicer crowd. We drank rose spritzes and took a shot of traditional Hungarian flavored liquor, which a lot of locals were drinking. We danced and I met a bachelorette group where the bridal party all wore white and the bachelorette wore red.

Budapest continued on next post…

Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo

 

 At 12:30pm four of us from Borneo Sandakan Backpackers were picked-up by a minivan to take us to Kinabatangan River. The drive was 2.5 hours. There was me, an Aussie girl, and two German guys.

The 2 night package with Asia Green Travel cost 371 rm ($100) and included meals, lodging (basic lodge dorm,) 2 jungle walks, 2 night jungle walks, and 4 river cruises. Our guide was named Aloy and came from the town across the river bank.
We arrived at the lodge and and were shown our room, a 6 bed dorm with about 6 inches of space in between each, and a bathroom. Luckily there were only four of us because the space was incredibly tight, although it was the nicest basic outdoor lodge I’ve stayed in. It even had AC and hot water. 

 It’s green beetle season right now and there are literally thousands of lime green beetles all over the place- the floors, walls, air, etc. There were also massive lime green grasshoppers and cicada’s.  Our schedule for the first day was snack, afternoon cruise, dinner, night jungle walk. For our snack we had roti’s and curry sauce which was delicious. It heavily down poured before our cruise which I think scared a lot of the animals away. On the night walk to saw a Blue-eared Kingfisher, a bright blue/pink/yellow bird.


Aussie and I stayed up late hanging out with our guide. The lodge is going to be town down soon because the owner is building a resort in its place. We were given a tour of the new lodges and at midnight Aloy and Elvis, the lodge host, took us into the massive restaurant under construction on the waterfront. The design is wooden and upscale.
The next day we left at 5:45am for the morning river cruise. Then had breakfast and left for our daytime jungle walk. We used the boat to cross the water bank then trekked for an hour to Lake Oxb Lake. Here we threw bread into the water and immediately tons of tilapia babies starting fighting over it. On the walk we saw tiger leeches, millipedes, a black squirrel, pigmy squirrels, and a big daddy long legs. There was a bunch of pigmy elephant poop with mushrooms growing out of it, but we didn’t see any elephants. 

           We walked back to the boat and went back to the lodge. We had lunch then played cards with our guide. It started to downpour again but at 2pm it had stopped and we left for our village walk. The village nearby, Bilit Village, ended up being a few houses and a school with a convenience store. We bought drinks, visited our guides family’s house, and played with newborn puppies.  After the village walk more people arrived at the lodge. Two older British couples, a young couple from Vancouver, and a young Swedish guy. We all snacked on fried shrimp bread balls then headed out for our cruise, which was by far the best one yet.


On this cruise we saw a big older orangutan making a nest high up in a tree. We also saw 5 elephants feeing along the water. On the way back we stopped and watched two Proboscis monkey families fighting over tree space. In total their were eight groups of monkeys in that tree, and the surrounding ones. The monkeys were jumping around and actually hitting each other; I thought I was watching National Geographic. 

     After dinner someone spotted a 2.5 meter long Yellow-ringed cat snake on the exterior wall of the outdoor bathroom. It was black with yellow stripes. Me and Aussie ran when a guide attempted to pick it up by it’s tail, and Aussie actually broke the floorboards when she sprinted off.


The next morning we woke up early again for another sunrise river cruise. This trip I noticed all the old used orangutan nests throughout the trees. Apparently they only use a nest for one night then move on.

On the four river cruises we saw Proboscis monkeys, long tail macaques, pig tail macaques, silvered langur monkeys, black hornbill birds, Oriental Pied hornbill, black hornbills, Wrinkled hornbills, a red hornbill, purple herons, great egrets, osprey, white-bellied sea-eagles, crested serpent-eagle, stork-billed Kingfisher, a 4m crocodile, a foot long baby crocodile, 2 orangutans, and 5 elephants.


After breakfast I was dropped off at a junction 35 minutes away to grab a bus driving from Sandakan to Semporna. I paid 40 rm and the bus took 5 hours. All the land we drove through was Palm oil plantations. Imagine a corn farm but Palm trees instead.

Komodo, Flores Island, Indonesia

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I was picked-up at the Labuan Bajo airport by a local (a friend’s friend) who I had been talking to for the last week. He drove me into the port town to his office and I booked a trip to Komodo island, and a scuba trip. I then checked into Hotel Matahari, a single room for 80,000 rp. I spent the entire day in bed resting then went out for a quick local dinner at Blue Corner. I was exhausted from all the early mornings and traveling.

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The next morning I boarded a small wooden boat for a 2 day- 1 night trip. The group was me, two Argentina girls, an American couple, a German man with his Balinese wife, and her brother. There were also two local captains. We headed first to Rican— island, part of Komodo National Park. The mountains of land jet out all over the ocean. The grass covers the land like a golf course- smooth with random Palm trees. I’ve never seen anything like it.

At Rijan Island we paid the park entrance fee of 228,000 rp ($17 per day,) and we did the medium hike which was a little over an hour through both jungle and open land. We saw a bunch of lazy resting Komodo dragons, which look like large lizards with crocodile skin. There were three random water buffalos and a lot of buffalo poop. A few monkeys and jungle turkeys. We didn’t see any snakes or deer.

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After the hike we had lunch on the boat then drove for two hours towards Komodo island. The weather turned but it only drizzled for a bit before the sun came out again.

We got to Komodo Island to find deer lounging on the beach. At the gate we were told we had to pay again for tour guides and a hiking fee, another hidden cost that they opt to not tell you about. All seven of us decided we didn’t want to pay again especially because there was nothing different on this island. So we boarded the boat again and headed to Phuket island to go swimming. Here and our next stop locals arrived on long wooden boats to sell pearl necklaces and Komodo dragon wood figurines.

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We then drove a little farther and docked for the night. I sipped whiskey with the German and his local brother in law while the sun set. We then had a feast, this time with fried calamari. The locals played western music and a nearby boat lit fireworks randomly throughout the night. I slept on top of the boat on foam mats covered with a wooden awning.

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In the morning we were up with the sun and started off for Pink Beach at 7am. The beach did not appear pink from the ocean but once on it I could see the tint of pink along the shoreline caused by broken up pink coral. The snorkeling before the shore was amazing with pink and purple corals.

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After we drove to Manta Ray Point to snorkel. The manta ray’s look like giant sting rays, one we saw was 3 meters long. They swam to the surface so we could see them from the boat, but it was much more exciting to swim with them. As cool as it was though it only made me want to dive to actually swim deep with them. To our surprise there was a lot of trash in the water.

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After a few manta ray spots we went to a small beach. We had lunch then snorkeled around. Snorkeling I saw brown coral with blue tops, and there was one 5″ pink fluorescent fish that kept running into my googles with wide eyes, backing away, then doing it again. That made my day.

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I lounged on top of the boat taking in too much sun as we drove back to Labuan Bajo. I went back to the same hotel but got a dorm this time, then relaxed for the night. Unfortunately it rained throughout the night and I had to walk outside to get to the shared bathroom.

The next morning I was at Manta Rhei Dive shop at 7am for a full-day three tank dive. The Manta Rhei wooden boat was much nicer than the previous boat I was on; it was clean and new looking with big colorful bean bag chairs on the top. They served grain bread and donuts for breakfast, cookies and oranges in between dives, a nice lunch including a salad with avocado (my first salad in months,) and pound cake and watermelon after our last dive.

[I bought a red filter for my GoPro which is needed for diving, which I learned in Thailand when all my photos came out dark green. However, this time all my photos came out yellow and red. I'm not sure why but I'll figure it out before my next dive. For now here are some abstract photos of the bluest water I've ever seen.]

The American couple from my snorkel trip were also on the boat. My dive group was a dive master from the shop, a dive master in training from the shop, an instructor from Mexico fun diving, a dive master from Bali fun diving, and an open water diver who dives at home frequently. This was the first dive boat I’ve been on where you enter the water by falling backwards. I smacked the back of my knees all three times on the ledge even though I thought I straightened my legs- three days later it still hurts.

The first dive we went to was Mini Wall. The water temperature was cold, at 25 Celsius. I was chilly in a wetsuit, which I did not expect considering I was diving in Thailand without a wetsuit and was fine. I ran out of air faster than everyone else, and faster than I ever have before (because I was freezing,) so for the next two dives the dive master in training became my buddy so we could go back to the surface early without dragging everyone else back with me. [All the other divers were wearing multiple wetsuit layer which they brought from home- my dive buddy was wearing 2 wetsuit tops underneath his normal wetsuit.]

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The second dive we went to was Makassan Reef (Manta Point.) This was my first Drift dive and would have been very exciting if I knew how to handle it. The current was insanely strong and we moved so quickly, like a high-speed conveyer belt above the coral. The other divers in my group were relaxed but I had never done a drift before and didn’t know how to control my body from slamming into the ground or floating too high up, so in the end I probably looked like a maniac flapping away. The black and grey reef manta ray’s were incredible, ranging from 3-4 meters. We saw about 10 of them during the dive. At one point my dive buddy grabbed me and we stayed low while a manta swam directly above us.

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The third dive was at Batu Bolong. This is known as being the best dive site in Komodo for having the largest animals- sharks, large fish, octopus, etc. However, I did not get to experience the site as it should be. It was the coldest dive at 24 Celsius, and there was also intense currents. We were constantly battling the drift one way then it would shift and we were fighting to get back the other direction. It was a non-stop workout and I ran out of air the fastest here at just 33 minutes. I did manage to see a few white rip reef sharks, a lion fish, and a turtle, but nothing I hadn’t seen before.

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When we got back onto the boat we saw how intense the water looked from above. The area we emerged from looked like a toilet flushing. It was difficult to move around and get the other divers, and the ride home was a mess. It started to rain, then pour, and the waves were rough. The captain was unable to turn the boat towards the mainland without almost tipping, so we went out of the way for a while. The boat didn’t have sides so the rain was soaking the boat. I attempted to hide in the captain’s quarters but when the local crew jumped out to wipe the windshield and guide the boat I also got the splash of the rain. It took almost four hours instead of two to get back.

I decided I needed a massage when I got back to shore, and a hot shower. My knees were incredibly sore from working them so hard in the freezing water, and my back (which is always sore from poor beds and non-stop travel) was in even more pain from sitting awkwardly on a wooden shelf for the past few hours. I’m sunburnt from the live aboard so as good as the cream felt on my skin it also burned when she grabbed me. Throughout the night after the massage I was in more pain. I think I pulled a muscle in my neck, and my chest felt funny.

My dive buddy runs the Manta Rhei homestay and he let me stay the night for free, even though technically you need to do two days of diving with them to stay there. We went out to a local restaurant for dinner and once again I shocked locals with the amount of chili I can eat (I put two servings worth in my soup.) We split two Bintang’s and picked up another for home. We chatted for a while before going to bed.

The next morning he drove me to town at 8am. I had breakfast at a chic hippie Greek restaurant on the main road. I then picked up my laundry and grabbed a motorbike off the main road to take me to the airport. I flew to Bali, then to Lombok with Wings Air.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

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I arrived nearby Inle Lake at 4:30am and got a cab with fellow passengers to town. After paying the $10 entrance fee into the lake area I spent over an hour driving around looking for cheap accommodation that apparently does not exists. All the single rooms were fully booked and I ended up at Gypsy Inn for $15 a night, the cheapest I could find. Located on the bottom floor behind the main structure, my room had pink walls and was empty except for two metal single beds. The shared bathroom was outdoors.

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On top of Inle Lake lays the small town of Nguangshwe, where all the guesthouses, restaurants and life is. The town is brown and dusty with local businesses and a central market. I woke up late after my early arrival and took a walk through town. I had lunch inside the market- fish curry which she spent thirty minutes making fresh in front of me. The fish was like a tilapia and the curry wasn’t curry at all. After lunch I bought a papaya (which ended up being the best one I’ve had in SE Asia so far) and then I walked back to the guesthouse. There is absolutely nothing to do in town. Nearby town there’s a winery, hot springs and pagodas but that’s a day trip in itself that no one has raved about.

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The next morning I took my Inle Lake boat tour with two older Dutch men and one young Malaysian boy, whom I met on my bus from Bago (and who stayed in my hostel.) Our boat pulled out of the town at 6am just in time to see the sunrise on the lake. The first two hours of the tour were the best. It was before the other tourists were out and we were able to see the lake in its true nature. Moving down the inlet we saw local women doing laundry and washing dishes in the lake. In the main lake area we saw fisherman retrieving their nets, and others changing their fish traps. However, they didn’t seem to be retrieving much of anything- one fish here and there.

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We circled around local water villages on the west side of the lake. All the houses were on stilts in the water which reminded me of our Fire Island houses. Long small boats are the method of transportation here. We saw kids being taking to school and adults working in their home. Many of the homes had attached farms (also piles in water) with pigs and chickens. We then stopped at a lotus textile shop, a silver smith shop, a boat making shop, and a blacksmith shop to watch the locals at work. The experience was very touristy as expected.

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We were dropped off for lunch at one of the many tourist restaurants on the water. I had the Inle Special Fish, which was decent but not nearly as good as the grilled fish I get on the street. The dish was oily and overpriced.

The bonus stop on our tour was Indein. The town is famous for it’s market and pagodas. The market was all tourist shops; however, the Shwe Inn Tain pagoda’s were beautiful and plentiful. Handfuls of old ruins and handfuls of new pagodas standing right next to each other. The old crumbling clay next to new fresh clay, cement and gold. The old ones are very detailed while the new ones are more simple. I wandered through trying to capture images of all the different types in one shot.

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On the way back we stopped at a floating garden. Here rows and rows of crops lay floating on the water. Our boat guide jumped onto them so we could see them move and they truly were floating. It’s winter so we didn’t see much growing but it was cool to float by patches of grass that waved with the water.

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After the garden we stopped at a monastery for a few minutes. I ended up spending most of my time there watching locals eat different foods from banana leafs. A group let me try whatever it was they were eating- it was pickled spinach in some type of dough. Acidic but not bad.

Then we headed home. There was a boat zooming next to us that had about 20 seagulls flying on top of it for at least 10 minutes. The people on the boat were throwing pieces of bread into the air. One of the Dutch men on my boat decided to throw pieces of banana into the air and soon all the seagulls were on top of us. It felt surreal but I was also terrified they were all going to poop on me.

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We saw the sunset just as we were pulling back into town. A full day on the boat- sunrise to sunset. I left an hour later on an overnight bus to Bagan.