You’ve woken early. It’s 6am on a random Wednesday morning and you’re wondering: “What shall I do with myself before work?”
Chances are, the answer would normally be: “roll over and get some more sleep” rather than: “get into my lemur onesie and party with a thousand new best mates at a back-alley warehouse rave”, but today’s not a normal day. Nope – today’s a day to grab by the balls. After all, you’re fun and gorgeous and you’re excited about waking up in the city of Melbourne, Australia.
And there’s a lot to be excited about in Melbourne. It’s like the entire population is crawling all over itself trying to entertain and engage with each other. There are festivals and celebrations coming out of Melbourne’s earholes. (If any city can be said to have earholes, Melbourne would be it, and it’s earholes would be filled with music from all the events leaking out)
There are huge, mainstream events like the Melbourne Cup Horseracing Carnival, Australian Open and Melbourne International Film Festival. There’s an incredible creative event called White Night, a spinoff from international art movement, Nuit Blanche, where the entire city becomes a monumental gallery of larger-than-life installations.
Just about every suburb, block and street has it’s own micro festivals too. Johnson Street becomes a river of Hispanic vibrance in November. There are food truck festivals and themed food markets as well as the massive Food and Wine Festival each March. From Comedy to coffee, writers to beer drinkers to brides-to-be and pretty much all nationalities, subcultures and human beings in between, there’s an event in this city for you.
But today’s the day you’re going to turn up for that warehouse rave at 6:30am sharp. You’re got your ticket. You’re already in your lemur onsie, and you’re ready to dance. The horizon warms with dawn’s pinks and golds. The DJ warms up the decks. There’s a colourful throng lining up in the alley and your Rat & Dragon crew are behind their cameras catching the joy and madness. This is Morning Gloryville Melbourne and you’ve got two and a half hours to dance your ass off before you need to shed your onsie, wipe off the glitter and facepaint and saunter into your office to casually answer “fucking amazing” when your colleagues ask: “How are you today?”
You don’t quite know what’s hit you. A previously totally unimaginable sensation is chasing through your body and you have quite literally just had your breath taken. Through the spinning, whirling, rushing, mind-blowing surroundings, you suddenly re-focus your eyes on what’s going on around you. And you realise, that you, little 60kg bundle of human cells, are 4km above the face of the earth, hurtling through the troposphere past layer upon layer of air, clouds and wind towards your home planet at over 200km/h.
Barely able to grasp what’s happening but resigning your body to just go along for the ride you start to really enjoy yourself. Adrenaline’s pumping around your body making you hyper alert to the stunning beauty of Earth, life and generally having a brain to capture it all. The view from 14000 feet is breathtaking, clouds and landscape are lusciously high-def and 3D and there is really no other way to see it but jump out of a perfectly good plane.
Suddenly, you spot something moving from the corner of your eye, and it’s getting closer and closer, circling you as you fall into the abyss. It can’t be your tandem master, who’s firmly strapped to your back and making sure to keep you total beginner from falling to your otherwise certain death. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a dude in a flying squirrel onesie? The being comes closer and closer and you see a massive smile emerge under the rim of some ridiculously cool sunnies. A flicker of recognition and your face merges from your previous ‘wow’-face into a ‘yeeeeeey’-face as you realize this being is Ben, who you met earlier when you were getting all harnessed up. His tell tale double camera rig bolted firmly to his helmet, he flies even closer and you become the key participant of the most epic fist-pump in the history of mankind, at 260km/h, 10000 feet above the tropical North Queensland coastline and the Great Barrier Reef.
These are the moments we treasure the most – moments of unashamed exhilaration, of blowing your comfort zone to bits and experiencing things the vast majority of humans throughout history never dreamed would be even remotely possible. As your favourite maverick film team, we’ll over the next few months have the utter privilege of capturing those moments at 12 unique Skydive Australia drop zones around the country. And we can’t even start to explain how excited we are, how many fascinating aspects of Skydiving we have VIP access to, as well as how incredibly skilled our drop zone camera fliers, tandem masters, ground team and pilots are.
Always wanted to know how to pack a parachute? Fly a plane with the doors open? Use a camera in freefall (no hands, mum!)? And what those Mission Impossible squirrel suits actually do? This is the Skydive project, watch this space…
You know sometimes someone tells you about this amazing place they went where they escaped the stresses of modern life and finally felt at one with the power of nature amidst the primeval scenery. And then you take the weekend off to get there and it’s a mozzie-filled, over-run crack in the earth with algae-water at the bottom, half the size of the adjoining car park and surrounded by otherwise completely unspectacular landscape. Sometimes you need to take a step back, think for a bit and rationally persuade yourself to appreciate the beauty of what lies before you. It looks like a boring stone but it’s a 1 billion year old stone, so give it some kudos. Sometimes people need to tell you their weekend was spectacular, so they don’t feel like they’ve wasted it. Sometimes people think everything’s amazing. Sometimes people are underwhelmed by ‘the thing to do’, but are too afraid to sound negative if they don’t rate what other people en masse have proclaimed their ‘best day ever’.
Different people have different tastes and it’s hard to know if you’re going to genuinely like something before you actually go and experience it for yourself, especially if you’ve never heard of it before. No reviews on Trip Advisor? Surely there’s a reason everyone prefers this famous spot over the unknown one… Well, dear reader, if you are still with us after 2 years and 77 blog posts, then we hope you’re tuned into what we like, and this reflects on some level the stuff that you like. So, we’re going to make a bold but confident assumption. If you don’t mind getting a little scruffy, sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold and definitely wet, if you enjoy the great outdoors and like climbing around on stuff, then, if you’re not positively blown away by Karijini National Park, by God, we’re going to eat our hats. Dangling corks and all.
You may be surprised to learn that roughly 110 million years ago, Australia was half covered by an ocean called the Eromanga Sea, that stretched right into the Red Centre and split the continent into 6 large islands. The presence of this sea explains the discovery of marine reptile fossils like the Plesiosaur or the Kronosaurus as far inland as Richmond, western Queensland. Crazy huh? This inland sea is also the creator of the layers upon layers of different coloured sediment that make Karijini’s steep cliff faces look like pieces of 100m high, oh-so-yummy, gloriously streaky bacon.
Karijini is about 1 long day’s drive from Broome (named after 1880’s Governor of WA, Sir Frederik Broome, not a brush on a stick), inland from the Australian North West Coast in the middle of mining country. 627,442 hectares are declared National Park, which is lucky as otherwise the still small mine right in the park’s centre could have swallowed it up by now. Karijini is also one of the very few places on our travels in health & safety conscious countries where you have a real chance of dying if you don’t pay attention. Where other law-suit-paranoid attractions will shepherd visitors inside a child proof safety pen route and spell out the thermal nature of hot beverages available next to the overpriced gift shop, Karijini declares you an adult who can respect instructions and take responsibility of your own physical well being.
We scaled down through four of its gorges – scrambling over huge rocks, wading though chest deep water, hanging off smooth rock faces and basking in little pockets of sunlight. Each trek was unique. Joffre Gorge has an incredible 360 degree 100m high bowl at one end that you enter though a narrow corridor after wading through a stream fed by a giant S shaped waterfall. Weano Gorge’s bowl half way down is filled with water, and you have to clamber down a narrow crack at the top of the waterfall with a handrail for safety. Dales Gorge is a beautiful 1 hour walk through a botanical garden like river bed, from a mystical perfect circle pool (aptly named ‘Circular Pool’) to a wide cascading waterfall at the other end that provide nature-made sunbeds alongside the aquamarine waterfall pool. And Hancock Gorge (which is pictured above), lets you climb through the heart of the red rock to magical Kermit pool, and like a giant nature-made game of Tomb Raider, the part beyond Kermit pool is only accessible via abseiling.
And this is the most stunning part of Karijini. The rock is smooth and perfectly human size, making the whole place look like it was constructed (like a computer game) to be just right to scramble around. The cliffs are super-high, the colours are breathtaking, this place looks like a postcard from every angle, and you’re right in the middle of it. Never mind that you have some of the clearest night skies on the continent to marvel at the milky way whilst you listen to dingoes howling in the distance. Never mind that you can spot red kangaroos, wallaroos, echidnas, geckos, goannas, bats, birds and snakes (including pythons!) in between the wild flowers, ghostly white snappy gums and metre high termite mounds. Scaling through one of these gorges would make your jaw drop any time, and Karijini has more than 10, all with well marked descent routes and safety instructions.
Make sure you take shoes and clothes that can get completely wet (as in: you go swimming in them), a dry bag for your camera (that you can swim through a lake with), sunscreen and bug spray. You can camp or stay at the eco retreat, but remember there is no electricity (except at the reception building) or phone signal. Make sure to not enter a gorge too late to come back out again well before sunset, check the weather report and if it starts raining get out as quickly as possible as flash floods have killed people. Only hold onto solid rock (not trees that can snap!) and be amazed as you remember clambering around the world that was an adventure playground when you were a kid. Here’s the thing: it still is, and Karijini is one of the best places on the planet to re-discover this.
You may have noticed we’ve just been to Western Australia. Seen STA Travel’s new film? Total eye candy. Been on Instagram lately? Selfie heaven. Read our project lowdown on STA Travel’s blog? Pure inspiration. We have had so much to write/colour leak/shout about because the project was genuinely awesome. But as we submitted our final bits of commissioned material and read through everything again, there was something missing, that we hadn’t quite had the space to put our fingers on.
As you know from our previous blog post about different types of travel – we’re a fan of all of it. Whether you’re enjoying the highlights of Europe on a 2-week party bus or hitchhiking solo to a secluded hill in East Timor, we don’t see the point of being snobbish. Everyone nowadays claims to take you where none of the other tourism service providers take you. Even day trip providers at Bangkok’s floating markets that are flooded daily with boatloads of pale, sunburnt, squinting westerners compete at sales point bragging about the fact they take you to the ‘real’ market. What? Everyone else goes to a virtual one? And shipping your 3 busses of 50 tourists (yep, I’ve said it) to the ‘secret spot’ daily keeps that spot ‘secret’ for the next day’s load?
You’re never going to get more off the beaten track (OTBT) than everyone else (locals, anyone?), unless you’re a highly trained specialized deep-sea diver in the Marianna Trench. Or an astronaut. ‘Tourist’ has become such a dirty word, just look at hundreds of inspirational quote pictures that spread like wildfire.“I’m a traveller, not a tourist”, is such a stamp of moral high ground, even crappy websites like holidify.com are using the slogan for their poorly executed ad campaign. Since when did travellers sleep exclusively in tents with one t-shirt and a stupid amount of camera equipment for shots they can’t back up cause taking a laptop makes them a tourist?
But we digress. What made Western Australia so cool was that it seemed to be blissfully unaware of this distinction between tourists and travellers and the deeply rooted judgement in to OTBT or not to OTBT. Yep, Perth had its fill of pissed up student types throwing up kebabs on historical monuments in Freo. Wannabe professional photographers stood around street art hotspot Wolf Lane, like it was some exclusive underground club, to be spotted and deemed ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’ by other wannabe professional photographers. But for some reason, the alpha-OTBT-body-language-hierarchy wasn’t as present. Maybe it’s the fact that Western Australia has been out of the mainstream’s minds that the place still has an air of collective adventure. On the road our touring mob mingled with families in campervans, shoestring backpackers hitchhiking to places that would otherwise be too expensive to get to, high-end glam packers and crusty my-grandad’s-been-comin’-here-since-he-was-6-and-so-have-I’ old-timers. Yes, we certainly had different hygiene facility expectations, but on the whole there was a refreshing absence of “ugh, look at those smelly youngsters” vs “OMG, my SOUL would DIE if I EVER signed up for a TOUR. How MAINSTREAM is THAT???”
Maybe it’s the people. WA, like Australia in general, isn’t cheap, and you can’t get away with not showering. Maybe the hardcore off-the-beaten-trackers don’t fancy places as ‘westernised’ as Oz, but want to bathe Facebook with shots from this-cute-little-third-world-country-no-one-has-ever-heard-of-before-except-me. Maybe it’s the way the ‘attractions’ are laid out – you can’t just get there in an hour on the back of a scooter and be back for your sunset yoga session. We drove more than 3000km, and that takes some dedication and a relatively comfortable means of transport, or you’d quickly get bored of being in pain. You also just have to stick to the way things are run, put up with the ‘constricting’ regulations and health & safety rules you have to follow cause this is Oz, not Java. No adventurous riding on car roofs here, but we do know a good spot in Myanmar!
We think the most defining thing for us was Western Australia’s unexpectedness. Everyone knows there’s a photo opportunity spot just above Machu Picchu, cause everyone who goes has their pic taken exactly there. Hell yeah, we totally would too, that is the point! It’s an amazing place, so why wouldn’t you want to remind yourself that you were there? When it came to WA though, all we could come up with from our pre-knowledge brains was a generic pic of Perth’s skyline, a shot of a whale shark and some endless bush. This lack of pre-chewed visual narrative was amazing, ‘cause we were surprised round every corner. We had no idea how beautiful Karijini National Park was. We had no idea that Shell Beach’s waters were so crystal clear, and whale sharks were really SO much cooler in real life. We had no idea how amazing the colours of the container ships and red rocks of Gantheaume Point in Broom contrasted with the turquoise sea and lush green vegetation. And we had this stretch of West Coast, three times the length of the UK, to explore with a completely blank slate. To take yourself where you haven’t been before through other people’s eyes is in a way of getting ‘off the beaten track’. And a place where you can do just that, in this incredibly well documented world, is really quite unique.
Warning – the following contains information about a place so beautiful that the prose that follows sometimes collapses into poetry. We’re not hippies or anything, but there will be mention of dolphins and flowers too. Sorry. Somewhere between Byron Bay and Sydney, there’s a flawless white sand beach. Southern Pacific Ocean swells wrap around a rocky headland before peeling off into perfect waves that crank left and right along the beach’s vast length. Two small, clear creeks ripple and wind through national parks and meet as new mates, right there on the beach, their babbling waters like voices coming together to speak to the sea with one mouth. If you were to stand exactly there on the sand where the creeks mingle, you’d taste salt air, stare into 27 shades of blue and be entirely satisfied that you’d found a little chunk of Aussie paradise. You’ll also have discovered a secret. You’d be standing at Spot X – possibly the best learn-to-surf secret on the planet.
Spot X is a surf school and camp owned and run by one of Rat & Dragon’s all-time favourite clients – MojoSurf. We’ve filmed their awesomeness in Bali, Lombok, Java and Byron Bay, and now we’re installed in a little surf cabin right on the water at Spot X. We call it the RaD Shack. We are, as always, working hard but true to the nature of Rat & Dragon, we’ve also found a little time to surf and smell the roses. There are no actual roses here but plenty of red or yellow hibiscus flowers. (They don’t smell at all, but you can eat them, which is even better) Metaphoric roses that can be figuratively smelled, however, include the pods of dolphins that leap and play within arms reach while you’re bobbing around on your surfboard. The creeks are full of fish, and feathered and fuzzy Australian bush characters weave themselves through the story – particularly at lunchtime when Kookaburras eye off your barbequed sausages, or at dinner when possums blink at you from among the gum trees to a backdrop of the clear, bright Milky Way.
It’s not just the creeks and creatures that come together here. Spot X is a meeting point for people from all over the world. In Europe and the Americas, whispered stories of a perfect beach are peddled by tanned youngsters that have just returned to their homes so much cooler than when they left. Conversations go like this:
Old School friend: “Sven, why are you so tanned and cool now?”
Sven: “I learned to surf and got laid on a beach.”
Old School friend: “ Damn! I’m going to Australia. ‘Spot X’ you say..?”
If you ever discover Spot X for yourself, you’d probably be joined in the surf by Sven’s old school mate. He’ll be somewhere partway between pale-to-sunburn-red awkward Euro backpacker and cool bronze surfer dude (like Sven). And that’s partly what MojoSurf does really, even though they don’t mean to. If they do actively set out to change people at all, it’s through their surf academy here at Spot X, where they train neophytes to become surfers or train surfers to become qualified surf instructors. But their main goal isn’t really to transform people. The transformation is more of a by-product. What MojoSurf does do with great purpose is to provide and facilitate the kind of travel experiences that are so enjoyable, so extreme, so far outside what many would call their regular routine, that they might just change your life.
And this is why we like working for them. The team genuinely care about surfing – they are all hardcore swell-chasers. They love the lifestyle and want to introduce it to everyone, whilst being able to run an office and health and safety and all that. As film-makers, we run around chasing people’s first moments standing up on a board, or career through crystal clear Indonesian waters chasing that shot straight down the barrel. On this stint, our Dragon is editing all this glorious footage to overhaul Mojo’s visual content, whilst our Rat is learning how important triangles are as she helps construct a nearby river camp. And what better place to be – we’re surrounded by frothers.
Back in Sweden, Sven was a geeky kid who didn’t really know what he wanted to do in life. He was thinking of studying economics. He took a year out to go travelling. All of the travel experiences enriched him, and his time at Spot X was a huge part of that. He gained a new ability. He became confident in the water and unearthed a raging, life-long passion for the sea that never even existed before. He even got laid. He might still study economics of course, but he’ll hold surfing, and this hidden, whispered, secret beach in his very soul until he dies. And where might that take him?
We can’t tell you exactly how to get to Spot X, but in the days of the internet, here’s a digital clue. See you there.
Myanmar. The crown jewel of the adventurous South East Asian backpacker. A hard-to-reach country, long shut off to independent travel and still a little too expensive for bottom line shoestring backpackers. Of the thousands of hip young gap-yahs we have met on route over the last few years, only a choice few had stepped across the border from the default destination Thailand to mystery-shrouded Myanmar. It’s an understatement to say we were excited about shooting Stray’s first ever trip, so as our plane headed west from Bangkok on a hazy March morning, we eagerly anticipated the treasures that lay ahead.
The start of our trip was relatively straightforward. Touching down in Mandalay, we had a chance to meander around the city’s busy streets, stumble across tasty, cheep Indian food and shoot a spectacular blood-red sunset over the Irrawaddy River and U Bein teak bridge, while locals, tourists and monks strolled across enjoying Burmese dance music blaring out from a restaurant at the near end of the bridge, who’s owner was hell bent on letting everyone know where they can get a beer. Early the next morning we set off to through Mandalay’s hilly backdrop to former British station Pyin Oo Lwin, featuring it’s own governor’s house reconstruction, Kew-style botanical gardens, horse cart tours and goat-antilope hybrid. We had sweet & sour chicken lunch in a quaint Swiss-style restaurant and our bus came with a handy conductor who opened the door and guided us onto the road with help of a little wooden step. But hang on. Take a step back for a second, dear reader. You’re scratching your head in disbelief, we can see you. Is this an episode of antiques road show? Surely, cause this doesn’t sound like the Rat & Dragon blog.
And here lies our problem. Myanmar may sound super-exotic. Only real off the beaten track (OTBT) travelers ever even get close to a destination like this. Whilst we haven’t been to Iran, Turkmenistan and North Korea we know they enjoy a similar kind of promise for ‘read adventure’(by the way, we’d LOVE to go, so hit us up!). But in a country dominated by its government, tourism is often heavily regulated, which in Myanmar’s case meant we found ourselves slap bang in the middle of the Disney trail tourists are herded around. Experiencing a country in a ‘package deal format’ keeps everything well organized, accountable and ‘safe’, but just like Cuba’s many insular US-targeting beach resorts, it keeps the status quo strong and locals and tourists well apart.
Whilst travelling through Indonesia to Dili via public transport, we were confronted many times with the concept and reality of OTBT travel. It’s practically fashionable to go more OTBT than the person you’re talking to, but when faced with the reality of not having any accessible toilet, soft drink stand or road to get where you want to go, 80% of people we met discovered they do need certain basic things to have an enjoyable holiday. You want to go where no one else does? Well, there’s a reason no one else goes, and it’s cause it’s uncomfortable, risky and hard work.
Our first small taste of OTBT was just outside the comfortable circuit of Pyin Oo Lwin, as we headed down a wide but steep dirt track with no shops or toilet anywhere to be seen, with only the promise of a waterfall at the bottom. For 40 minutes we walked through the mid-day heat, knowing that with every step we plodded down we were going to have to walk back up again. A monk passes us on the back of a rickety scooter, the bruising bumps in the track making it hardly worth the lift. But when we got to the bottom, we were standing in front of Dattawgyaik, one of the most spectacular waterfalls we had ever seen. Eager for a cool off we jumped right in, but had to keep our t-shirts and sarongs on to cover up for the nearby temple. Some people may find this frustrating, but wasn’t this what we signed up for? Getting to a place away from western influence? Well guess what, they have their own rules and you can’t just impose your ideas of body modesty on them.
The walk up was seriously hard, but once the cable car is installed the place will be teaming with people. We counted ourselves lucky. Back in Mandalay we soaked up some history by visiting the Royal Palace, the ‘big book’ at Kuthodaw Pagoda, sunset on Mandalay Hill and the Shewnandaw Kyuang teak monestary, which despite being firmly ON the beaten track and full of a massive Russian tour group was stunningly beautiful. Do check it out, if you’re lucky the Russian tour group may still be there taking photos of each other.
After our wonderful slowboat ride down the Mekong in Northern Laos, we were looking forward to our journey town the Irrawaddy to Bagan, but the Disney trail caught up with us as the chosen mode of transport wasn’t some romantic fishing boat but a big, metal riverbus full of middle aged Europeans and a school class of selfie-obsessed Danes. It did give us a chance to catch up on work as the scenery didn’t change much and our group just chilled all day with cold Myanmars. Bagan had some more obligatory sites in store, including a visit to Ananda temple and a puppet show, but these brief activities highlighted the indescribable value of our guide Somboun, who’s care free curiosity and willingness to get a bit lost really shone through. On our free afternoon a small part of our group set off and did exactly what it said on Boon’s t-shirt. We strayed.
In quest of the actual local market we plunged into the maze of dusty village streets, dodged feral pigs, played hide & seek with giggling local kids in smaller pagodas and met our fair share of dead ends on our little hired electric bikes. Sunset at Shwesandaw pagoda was full of people but beautiful, just like the sunrise we’d seen earlier that morning, whilst two of our group had splashed out on a hot air balloon ride at dawn. Climbing Taung Kalat near Mount Popa the next day is also one of our favorite memories, as we shared our experience on equal level with the groups of local tourists who had come to do exactly what we were doing, and delighted in taking photos with us (not of us, and us not of them). Our long drive to Kalaw was interrupted by a spontaneous stop to see a village novice ceremony procession and later when our bus broke down. We bunkered down in the nearest bar, which happened to be a wood shack, complete with loo with a view across the hills, filled with a bunch of raucous village locals. Finally we got our ‘authentic’ drinking experience.
Our commitment to OTBT was tested again the next day as what was supposed to be a 4 hour hike to a village turned out to be an 8 hour trek to a monastery, on the top of a hill with the best phone reception in Myanmar but another 1 ½ hours from the nearest village and shop. The trek was hard in parts, but also picturesque. There was little interaction with locals, because none had been arranged and people were busy getting on with stuff. The place we had lunch happened to be a bit empty at the time, and once we got to the monastery where we were going to stay, there were only ourselves, a couple of monks and a cat to talk to. Meeting people in a crowded restaurant where you’re sharing tables is pretty normal, but someone walking into your garden, playing with your kids and laughing and chatting to you in a language you don’t know whilst you’re trying to fix your computer is a bit strange. We really started to appreciate the effort our guides put into building up mutually beneficial relationships with homestays and villages throughout their South East Asian network, which allowed foreigners to visit and hang out with locals. Sometimes a lot of work goes into your ‘natural, authentic’ local experience, if it’s provided to 20 people, consistently, twice a week.
How much fun our stay in the monastery was going to be was up to us. With nothing to do, we had to create our own entertainment, which is how we discovered the 3 wall shower, the milky way and silhouettes of monks walking through the flames in pitch darkness whilst they meticulously burned off the undergrowth to created fertile soil for next year’s plants. Our monk-prepared flaming banana desert earlier in the evening had been a little indication of this spectacular sight, and we set off smelling of smoke through the sunrise haze the next day on the long and beautiful trek back to Kalaw. We had really achieved something in those last two days, so the definite tourist conveyor belt of Inle Lake didn’t phase us as much as it would have. Shipped around a set route via numerous passive workshops, past fishermen posing for coins and farmers tired of having cameras shoved in their faces, our trekking experience still held its ‘personal victory’ magic so we sat back and enjoyed the stunning countryside, paying little attention to exiting via the gift shop. After hanging out at a local winery, our group was determined to have a last local eating experience, which ended up with a lot of beer and a long drive back to Mandalay the following day.
We left our group to continue on to Yangon, on recommendation of the Stray team, and boy were we happy we’d taken it. An overnight bus ride put us in the heart of a bustling city full of the chaos, ruggedness and air of slightly dodgy adventure we love about South East Asian cities. Life changing events seem just around the corner as you could easily get tangled up with a quest to find a hidden temple in Mongolia, breaking into a warehouse for an illegal rave or joining the mafia. Whilst Yangon isn’t hard to get to, the vibe on 19th street had an air of exactly what OTBT enthusiasts crave: backpacker community large enough to feel like you’re in the right place and there are ways to get around other than expensive hitchhiking, but still hard enough to get to which means people are still interested in others and willing to create their own adventure. Our guide for the day, Kay, reflected this vibe, was genuinely passionate about her culture and proud to share her personal favorite places, restaurants and hideouts. We checked out the fascinating Drug Elimination Museum before spontaneous lunch at her favorite soup kitchen and a trip to an aquarium shop to see fish with Kanji painted on them. The atmosphere at gold plated Shwedagon pagoda at dusk was magical, with visitors and families using the space not just as a place to pray and pay respects, but to hang out together laughing and chatting.
Street food dinner on 19th street reminded us of Shantaram’s Mumbai, with stalls all along the streets selling the same stuff to tourists and locals, beggars singing hauntingly beautiful chants for coins and genuinely interesting snippets of conversation from every angle. Whilst Myanmar’s Disney trail is well established, logistics are growing up around it and glimpses of interactive travelling are shining through everywhere. It’s a magical place, and now we’ve had a taste of its adventurous glory we simply can’t wait to go back.