Wrap-Up: January 2017

Hello friends and welcome to my brand new monthly wrap-up series! In an effort to stay relevant and keep you informed on my current travels (since this blog is usually a month or two behind on where I actually am), I’ve decided to start writing personal wrap-up posts.

So, without further delay, this is what I got up to in January!

January was the end of a fast three months of travel. When I moved to Asia in October, I was so excited to see everything that I could in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Myanmar that I got a bit burnt out. Taiwan is really where I started to feel the tiredness that comes with constant travel and working on the road.

Yes, I was slow traveling in the sense that I was in the country for over a month, but it’s not really slow travel when you’re still moving cities every few days.

Soaking up all things travel in Taiwan.

After Taiwan, came the challenges of Myanmar and another month-long backpacking trip where I didn’t have much of a chance to catch my breath.

When I arrived at the Mae Sot border town in Thailand a few weeks ago, I let out a sigh of relief. I had nothing planned and no concrete ideas on what the next month would entail, and it felt great.

But, I’m already getting ahead of myself. Let’s review the places I went in January and how I ended up where I currently am in Thailand.

Places & Memories

Kalaw & Inle Lake |  I started out the new year in Myanmar, on top of the roof of our guest house in Kalaw with locals and travelers alike. I had a 360-degree view of fireworks being set off everywhere.

It was an amazing sight to see, and it was one of those travel moment where you can’t help but feel connected to the people you’re with.

I started a three-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake a couple of days after the new year, and I soon learned the art of determination and more about the hill tribes in the Shan State.

Trekking in Myanmar - The Atlas Heart
Trekking in Myanmar – it was very muddy!

As soon as I arrived to Inle Lake, my partner became very ill again (a common thread for us in Myanmar), and I spent most of my time keeping him company and taking care of him as best I could.

I didn’t get to see much of Inle Lake because of this, but it looked like a gorgeous spot to go back to someday.

Yangon | I came back to Yangon for a couple of days because it was an easy place to find transport to the border towns in Myanmar. I didn’t do much besides recuperate and go to a movie while I was there, still burnt out from Myanmar and my three months of travel.

12 things to Know About Myanmar - Asia Travel - The Atlas Heart
Touring the Shwedagon Pagoda with locals in Yangon.

Hpa-an | I had the best night in Myanmar my last night in the country in Hpa-an. We heard about this hike up to the top of a monastery from other travelers, and it sounded amazing. We arrived in Hpa-an in the afternoon from Yangon, rented a scooter, and went off to find the start of the trail.

It was a strenuous and difficult hike. There was a steady steep incline for the whole time, and I had to do it during the hottest part of the day. I made it just in time for sunset, and watched the pink and purple hues coming out of the horizon with puppies, monkey, monks, and a few other travelers as company.

Watching the sunset from a monastery just outside of Hpa-an, Myanmar | Asia Travel
Watching the sunset from a monastery at the top of a hill, my last night in Myanmar.

It was one of the most beautiful experiences I had in Myanmar and something I would recommend to anyone coming to the country. I’ll be writing about it soon in more detail!

Mae Sot | I finally made it to Thailand after a bumpy and terrifying ride in a share taxi to the border. Seriously, drivers in Myanmar will casually go on the other side of the road around blind corners just to pass someone. No hint of worry that there could be a truck coming the other way at the same time. We had some very close calls and near death experiences, but we eventually made it in one piece.

I spent one night in Mae Sot because all of the busses to Bangkok were full by the time I arrived.

Bangkok | Bangkok was all about relaxation…well, as much as you can relax in the hectic ‘Big Mango’. By this time, I was still unsure if we were going to head straight to Vietnam, so we spent much too long in the city. I believe it was 12 days in total.

Exploring Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, Thailand | Asia Travel
Exploring Wat Pho temple in Bangkok.

By the time we finally left, I was ready to not be in a big city again for a long time. While in Bangkok, I managed to go to the aquarium, the crazy big shopping malls in Ratchathewi, Khao San Road, Chatuchak Weekend Market, Wat Pho, and I drank mango smoothies every day.

Koh Chang | And finally, I made it to an ideal island paradise in Koh Chang, something I’d been dreaming about for months. My partner inquired about scuba instructing jobs around the island, and found that he had perfect timing for a job that they needed filled right away.

Koh Chang, Thailand | Asia Travel
Our first few days in Koh Chang involved a lot of beach time.

The only catch was that the job was based on a tiny 10-square mile island further off the coast, about a two hour ferry ride from the mainland.

As long as they had Wi-Fi, I was all in.

As much as I enjoyed Koh Chang, it was still a big island. And since I was staying on Lonely Beach (the backpacker/party area), it was constantly busy. I was ready for a slower pace and being able to soak up sunny vibes on a small local island.

Koh Mak | And thus, I found myself on Koh Mak. I’ve been here for less than a week but it already feels like home. Many people on Koh Chang talked about how they dislike Koh Mak because it’s so quiet and it can get lonely. I’ve only been here for a short while, but I love the quiet nature and how everyone knows each other.

Koh Mak Sunset, Thailand | Asia Travel
Sunset in Koh Mak, Thailand.

It’s also not a bad jumping off point for other adventures around Asia either. Only a two hour ferry ride and a five hour bus ride back to Bangkok. Not to mention, I get to live on a tropical island that looks like it’s straight out of a postcard, so yeah, I’m not complaining. Oh – and the WiFi is great too.

So, in a nutshell, those were my travels in January. It’s interesting looking back on a month and seeing just how far I came from the hills of the Shan State of Myanmar to the tropical beaches of Thailand. A lot can happen in four weeks.

I plan on traveling every month or so to a new country or island/city in Thailand, so I will have plenty to write about in the coming months. In the meantime, I get to go to the beach every day while working on my computer, so life is good.

Scuba Diving

For those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile, you may remember that I got my PADI Open Water scuba certification a few years ago in Cambodia.

The only other dives I’ve done since then were around the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Again, that was a few years ago.

Diving in the Whitsundays | Australia travel
Diving around the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 2014.

I haven’t done any scuba diving in three years and that needs to change. I’m hoping to take advantage of the fact that my partner is a scuba instructor on the island, and work in the dive shop a couple of days a week.

This will allow me to dive for much cheaper and get back into my fondness for scuba. My goal is to do my Advanced Open Water certification in the next few months.

Although I haven’t done any diving yet, I have had the chance to go snorkeling a couple of times and it’s great to be back in the ocean.

I went out on the dive boat yesterday and found the most idyllic slices of paradise around the islands they stopped at just off the coast of Koh Mak.

Reads

I’m hoping to write up a post soon on the books I read in 2016, because it’s probably the most I’ve ever read in my life. I got through 25 books!

This year has started out a little slower so far, but I’ve already read Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, which is an inside look at the fundamentalist Mormon church and community in the US.

As usual, Krakauer excels at producing a piece of work that makes you think and makes you feel a bit disconcerted as well. It definitely gave me a different perspective on Mormonism, especially its fundamentalist sects in North America.

In January, I also read Born for This by Chris Guillebeau. Chris is a fellow blogger turned entrepreneur who started the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. He is a wealth of knowledge and I enjoyed reading his ideas on entrepreneurship in the modern age.

Reading in Koh Chang, Thailand | Asia Travel
Reading on the beach in Koh Chang, Thailand.

In the same vein, I also read The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles, a highly recommended book by many digital entrepreneurs. It was an interesting take on the power of positive mindset, and how anyone can become rich if they know how to think in a certain way.

Finally, I just started re-reading The Golden Compass trilogy. These books by Philip Pullman were really what first made me love, and I mean love, reading in eighth grade.

I haven’t read these books since I was 12, and it’s always a unique feeling to read a book from childhood again as an adult. I’m currently almost finished with the first book.

Published Work

One of my goals in 2017 is to focus more on freelance writing, and having a presence on other online publications besides my own blog. I started off this year with my piece on 8 Powerful Things we can do to Promote Justice after the Women’s March, that was published by Elephant Journal.

It’s one of my favorite pieces that I’ve written, and I spent a lot of time getting my thoughts together and doing research on the subject. I want to write more of these types of pieces this year.

What’s Next?

In February, I’m looking forward to relaxing next to the ocean and writing as much as possible. At the very end of the month, I’ll be heading back to Bangkok to fly out to Vietnam.

I’m meeting up with one of my best friends from California for a few days, and spending a couple weeks in total traveling around the country.

I went to Vietnam for a couple of weeks back in 2013, and I can’t wait to go back. It’s still one of my all-time favorite countries in Asia.

Vietnam - My Asia Bucket List, The Atlas Heart
The beautiful town of Hoi An, Vietnam on my last trip in 2013.

And as a bigger picture, I’m hoping to visit more Islamic and muslim-majority countries in 2017. With everything that has been going on in the US recently, and the world as whole, I would like to use this platform to shed more light on the many beautiful countries and cultures in the Muslim world.

I’m hoping to open up a discussion about islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism, and how we can work to combat that kind of closed-mindedness and hate moving forward. That’s the goal at least!

Well, that was my January! What did you get up to last month? How is 2017 treating you so far? 

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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