I love the Go card, the travel card for the Brisbane area. It gets you around the whole area at reasonable cost, allowing use of trains, buses and the river cats. But talking to my Italian roommate revealed that using the airport train line costs around $18, which seemed high for a 25 minute journey (if you start at Southbank stadium). Airport transport is so routinely expensive that I’m reminded of the Man Stroke Woman sketches:
If you check the Brisbane route maps you’ll see, sure enough – there’s zone 1, zone 2, and the airport line, “special prices apply”. I was sure there would be a cheaper way, maybe walking from a different line. It turned out they’ve thought of the ‘different station on a different line and walk’ trick, and put those stations too far away.
From Toombul railway station, walk over the dual carriageway to the bus station, and hop on a bus to ‘Garden City’, as they go to Skygate as well, in about 10 minutes. The Skygate transit buses go every half hour, on the hour and half hour.
Total cost… um, much cheaper. $7 or so for the two journeys? It does take extra time, up to 2 hours depending on whether you check the time of trains to Toombul (I did not), and at one point I was on a train to the airport, so had to fight the ‘ah, stuff it’ impulse. Going via the Skygate centre, though, had the extra benefit of letting me pick up lunch in Woolworths, which was another saving over airport prices.
Overall, this isn’t really a trick – either you pay the money and get to the airport, or spend much longer and do it cheaper. It’s very pleasing to find an alternative route, though.
On Saturday morning, at parkrun, an Aussie runner said ‘so perhaps today we’ll find out who is going to win this test’. That was day 3, and we didn’t. I was sat high off to one side, in a $70 seat, as I had been for day 2. Just above the pool, where on day 2 I’d been round to the left, next to the big screen. And right in front of the loud but entertaining Aussies (who, unlike England, got quieter as the day went on – either booze shut them up, or the regular visits by smiling police officers did a job). Unfortunately the England fans in front of me weren’t on best behaviour. There are a few cricket traditions, drinking is one, which leads to making beer snakes – the best I saw was to my left on day 4, with people jogging over from other areas of the stands to add their collections, and the snake reaching almost the entire height of the tier. Then there’s the collective ‘scull’ exhortations, cries of ‘scull, scull, scull‘ going up whenever a punter comes back to the stands with a round, and most people pause and down one, or some, as best they can. The keen pour it into their shoe, a Gabba tradition, and drink it from there. And an Englishman in front of me did 5 in a row, which got some big cheers.
Sadly, 10 minutes later, in response to some ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ cheers, he and a friend were singing ‘No Surrender to the IRA’.
For crying out loud. The Brexit process may well rekindle tensions there, but that song never helped anything. Behind and to my right was a group of English blokes in fancy dress, singing loudly and showing off the witlessness of the standard English songs. Unlike the Aussies, they were unable to sing songs without swear words, which is a pity – it’s truly impressive that despite the macho nature of much of the commentary, and even the culture, the Aussies have worked on the public face of something like cheering at a mass public event, and made some things emphatically unacceptable. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good swear, finding newspapers that asterisk those words out excruciatingly embarrassing, for instance, but yelled a top volume in a public place, it can be intimidatory. Nice work Aussies – see also, general acceptance of other lifestyles, and growing popularity of womens’ cricket.
To day 4, then, at which I had a bargain $30 ticket. That put me in, from memory, ‘partial shade’, which meant ‘shade for the first hour’, down close to the pitch – a good view, but you get more perspective from a little higher up. The stadium was only half full or so, though, so when I got too hot I moved up to tier two, above the pool, where I’d been before. Some people had paid a lot more than my ticket prices – I suppose they were in the always shaded areas, perhaps not quite so side on as me. But I was happy with where I sat, even if I didn’t meet an Olympian’s father (Brian Cook, father of Beach Volleyballer Natalie) this time. I did see Gladstone Small on my way into the ground again, though, so that was exactly as in 2013.
By the end of day 4, it was finally obvious who was going to win. In the end, Australia, at a canter having just nudged ahead at the end of day 3. It’s all much more positive for England than 2013-14, but the result could well end up the same.
Rain came to Brisbane, heavily, two days later, as I left. They’d still have had time enough to finish the game had that happened on day 4, but earlier in the match it might have changed the shape of things.
Two Saturdays, two out and back parkruns in sunshine. My experience of Australian parkruns is that they tend to be out-and-back, and I’ve not been to one to change that view just yet. Stones Corner is fairly central in Brisbane, if not one of the larger runs, but having been here before, I had run the best-attended central ones, like Southbank. It was still only a 4km jog from my hostel in the Southbank/West End area, though, and my 250 shirt was greeted with gentle excitement from the run director and a few ‘well done!’s.
Out and back, a few slight undulations – if anything, it’s slightly uphill on the way out, down on the way back, with a couple of twists over bridges to keep you honest. I enjoyed it, it was warm without being boiling, and again the first finisher was out of sight. This time a Brit, the excellent Ross, with whom I chatted afterwards before jogging back to then head to the Gabba for another engrossing day’s cricket.
On 2nd December I was in Adelaide. When I was here last, there was only Torrens parkrun, in front of the Oval, anywhere near. Now there are several options. I’d idly checked the map, spotting three that looked doable – Mawson Lakes, Gawler and Carisbrooke. The reality, though, was that the first two needed a train ride, and the train is a good 2.5 miles away, and that only if you cut across the freeway. Carisbrooke is either 7 miles or nearer 10 if you don’t cut the freeway, but that still seemed the better option, as I wouldn’t then need to make sure to get to the station on time, and also get a train that got me close to parkrun in time. For Carisbrooke, just get up early enough to get there.
It all worked out. It’s a bit more of a pop-up parkrun than some, with no one in sight at 7.30, though the course director had posted on Facebook before then, probably because he was at the far end of the course to add the turn-around marker. The course is a more undulating and twisty out and back than others, running along the side of the Parra river (which in places is more of a stream). One bridge crossing, near the end of the out section, into an exposed area, turn around and back into tree cover and gentle undulations.
Although it was sunny – with the best weather of the whole day between 7.30 and 9.00 (it got cold – actually cold – later for the cricket) – it wasn’t overly hot, and a breeze made for a warm but not hot run, cooler than Brisbane. I was behind the front two for most of the run, close enough to keep me interested, but one of them broke away and opened the gap wider. Second may be as high up as I get, here. Only 53 runners made for a friendly atmosphere post run. There’s a coffee van, part of a social project to get youngsters into work, but that did business beforehand, with people running and mostly then heading off. I followed suit, but was deep in conversation with the other Brit, the excellent Peter and we continued as we walked off. He was also staying out of town, though had managed to pick somewhere nearer public transport, in Elizabeth. The journey back seemed much shorter, though, helped by us walking the first mile, and then by having company for the run.
Sport. Australia has many strengths, the weather is generally warm, if more variable than the picture postcard version suggests, the people are friendly and there’s a good energy to the place. But it may do sport best of all. I was here for the Ashes anyway, then happened to check the website for the Rugby league world cup to see what was going on, only to find the first semi-final would be on in Brisbane while I was there. The final is here, too, but not till next week. And England are playing in Auckland, so I couldn’t so easily see that one. Those minor what-ifs aside, I figured why not go to the semi-final as well as day 2 of the cricket.
So I did. It’s now day 3 of the test match, and we’re no clearer as to who is winning, though Australia have their noses in front. The rugby was a clear win for Australia, as expected, and with the fervent Fiji supporting sections unable to change the tide, much as occasional bursts of creativity from Fiji were yelled at. A fair few English accents in those yells, too.
Both the Gabba and the Brisbane stadium are great. Easy to get to (I think – actually I walked to the Gabba and then from there to the other), friendly police keeping traffic and people separate, friendly security checking for aerosols, alcohol and those oh-so-dangerous unsealed water bottles, and friendly stewards welcoming you in. Each stadium is modern, easy to navigate and welcoming in any case, but so much friendly help doesn’t half make a difference.
A great sporting day. My favourite memory was the Fiji team’s pre-match song, which was beautiful and has me dreaming of Pacific Islands.
Back to Australia, and back to parkrunning. Last time I did this, I was breaking a 3-month duck, while this time I’ve only missed four Saturdays. Both the sense of familiarity and the relative lack of time meant I was much less keyed-up for this run than for New Farm parkrun back in 2013.
All I had to do was be awake in time to get to the start for 7am. Or is it 8am? Kirra definitely starts at 7, but Queensland has different time to other states – so although I was staying right on the NSW border, I couldn’t dash to Kingscliff for 8, straight afterwards, as that actually starts at the same time. So far so simple, but I had a minor concern that my watch had picked up NSW time, and wasn’t sure how to check.
Anyway, in the end I trusted the watch, it was fine, and I jogged just over 2km to the start. It was pouring with rain, enough to make me put a coat on for the initial jog, though at least it eased off for the run itself. Cue plenty of ‘you brought the weather with you/should be used to this’ gags. The start is easy to find, opposite the large, white ‘Kirra Surf’ building, and right on the main promenade along the beachfront. The course takes you out to the end of the promenade, heading North, for 2km, back along the same route, then continues South past the start/finish for 500m, before looping round to the finish.
I ran reasonably well, though not under 19 minutes as I’d thought I might when running easily the evening before. Still, the first placer set off with intent, had quite a lead within a minute or two and had finished before I completed 4k, so I didn’t even see him on the final out and back, which is pretty unusual. It is a quick course, other than very mild undulations and the two turn around points, just keep powering along the gently curving path.
Other runners were friendly and chatted a while before we all made our way home to dry off after the rain. The latter wasn’t the image I had of Australian running when planning the trip, but it isn’t constant sunshine here. I had a very wet parkrun last time, maybe I’ll be lucky and this will be the only one this time.
News that Evan and Katy (my West-Coast US friends) would be in country in a couple of days sorted out my plans, and I decided to scoot out of Mandalay, returning later, and head to Bagan tomorrow. Bagan is accessible via boat, train and bus. Of those, the quickest is the bus. So I went for that, lest I otherwise spend half my time in Myanmar on the train.
That gave me a day to run and walk around Mandalay. First I ran – round the outskirts of the Royal Palace.
Down to the river, and back.
Even allowing time for breakfast, I was up and out by 9. “Hello, taxi!” rang out around me several times, but I was happy to walk back to the Royal Palace’s East gate, even though I was starting from the South. Foreigners have to go in through the East gate, leaving their passport, paying the 10,000 kyat archaeological site fee if not paid elsewhere, and picking up a visitor pass. Walking in through the gate, “hello, motorbike” is the refrain, aiming to save the long walk to the palace – through a restricted area, which looks mostly residential, but includes some military areas – but I wandered past, with a ‘walking, walking’ refrain and two finger walking demo (because just walking doesn’t count, right?) which was picked up by the military officer sat in front of the motorbikes, who leaned over to explain that I was walking. Helpful, but in English, so an echo rather than a translation.
The Palace doesn’t get a great write up. The original was bombed during WW2, so what’s there is a reconstruction. Accounts vary – as they will continue to here, given the pace of change (conservatives should only visit once – natural change is bewildering for them day-to-day, a second visit here will leave them huffing that it is ruined/too different/a shame) – but I think that you can ignore the ‘it is not well maintained’ in favour of ‘it has recently been refurbished’ (as at Nov 2017). Regardless, it isn’t a great visit, other than to speculate on the activity that once occurred here. Mandalay isn’t an old city, though, and while I try not to venerate age in my relics (curse of a European, with relatively old history compared to many), I found it difficult to be excited by a palace constructed 1857-59, then much more recently reconstructed.
Royal palace. Take your shoes/socks off to enter the bit on the right and walk through reception rooms and the like. Or just peer in from the side.
Shwenandaw monastery – the original, unlike the rest of the royal palace. Fortunately this had been moved, so wasn’t bombed.
Just like wanning to know what love is, this pass is only for Foreigner.
The same entry fee gets you in to other attractions, and just a km or two away is the Shenandaw monastery. Originally it was a part of the palace, but was moved, and not bombed. Somehow, I venerated the age happily. It’s not a huge site, so won’t take long to wander around, but is immediately impressive.
Intricate carvings, Shwenandaw monastery.
Intricate carvings, Shwenandaw monastery.
Intricate carvings, Shwenandaw monastery.
Intricate carvings, Shwenandaw monastery.
Just round the corner is the Kuthodaw pagoda. Spectacular and gold, though no more so than other pagodas.
The interactions with the locals are the best thing about coming to Myanmar – so often you’ll be greeted with a smile, so it’s well worth learning to put aside any learned British/Northern European instinct to look away from people. And I was asked for just the third time on this trip (one in Malaysia) if someone could have a photo with me.
From the pagoda I wandered on, round the back of the adjacent Sandamuni pagoda. As I passed it and waited at some traffic lights, a great procession of noise passed by. Music blaring, plastic and other items gaudily glittering in the sunlight, participants in military uniforms. Baffling – it seemed like a military celebration of material goods.
I was tired from the walking, and retired to the hostel around 3, to chill out. Mandalay is noisy and busy with traffic, yet still more relaxed than other large cities, helped by having a whacking great palace site (9km round) with a wide moat to give the illusion of space and a walkway all around, and also by having long wide roads to spread everything out.
Not a complicated tale – two journeys, two days. I have lost track of what day it is, and amuse myself by working out how long I have been in this country, counting back or forward from whichever point of reference I can think of. I remember where I’ve stayed and for how long, my watch tells me what the date is, and I can just about combine the two to work out where I am. All that by way of telling you that when I say ‘on Friday, I…’, that simple statement took a bit of work.
On Friday, I reversed my trip from a few days (four nights, anyway, I remember that) before and hopped on an early morning train from Mawlamyine to Bago. The train leaves at 8am, so I took the chance to have a day off running, and walked to the station. That’s nearly 3km, and the hill-with-pagodas is in the way, so I left before 7 to make sure I had time to buy a ticket. It felt early when I got up and left, but it was light and there were people everywhere. Heading for the temples, mostly. The locals are obviously more suited to the temperatures here, but even so, they get up and about their business early while it’s cooler – so far as I can tell, Friday isn’t a special day to be heading to temples, but boy, was it busy, so the narrow roads were a riot of colour, honking traffic, and cars, people and scooters just about getting along. I picked the shortest-looking route on the map, not following the main road I’d taken on the way there; that took me straight up the side of the hill. On steps, but still – I passed plenty of people who had stopped for a breather because it was a long way up. If I have a favourite thing in Myanmar, it’s the happy smiles – either you are greeted with them, or people beam them at you as you smile at them. Completely fantastic, particularly when your thighs are starting to complain halfway up some steep (did I mention the steepness?) steps. We shared a laugh or two about walking up the side of a hill. I sort of expected to stand out more as an oddity (why is the Westerner not in a taxi?), until one lady swung her arms and said ‘Hiking?’ to me – yes, that’ll do, that’s what I’m up to. Up early for a hike. Once up the top, the road taking me on to the station was a gentle downward slope. Yes, I had climbed further than I needed to. But also received more smiles than I would otherwise have had, so what the hoo.
That was the action of the day, anyway. Quick tip – in Bago station, the ticket desks on the left as you look in are for future travel, those on the right are for today. I was sold a ticket for Yangon, but at an extra 1,000/1,100 (today seemed to be the latter), it really makes very little difference. And that was it. 7 and a bit hours later, we were in Bago – early, which foxed an American. He’d been told 3.30 for his train, due to leave at 3.24. It might have gone on time, but it was in at 3.10, and I suspect it left early. He had duff info and missed it, at any rate, and was taken in to see the station master for his pu… to see if they could help. They could not, and he strolled off to catch a bus.
I saw all of that because I was hanging about. There were trains onward to Mandalay at 4.44 and 6.48, and I was up for either (while also thinking that one more night in town would be a better idea, before doing the 13 hour trip the next day). The latter might even have a sleeper carriage. But the station was full of people lying around waiting for the ticket office to open. So I grabbed lunch (1,500 kyats, opposite/to the left of the station as you come out, a by-now-usual ‘pick your meat, you’ll get a small dish of that and we’ll bring you rice, salad and various dips).
Eventually a local wandered up to me and talked about tickets etc., before taking me in to the station master’s office. There, I found out that all the upper class tickets were sold for today, sleepers only available in Yangon. But I could make a reservation for tomorrow, and got myself booked on the 7.45 train – come back tomorrow to pay, just walk back into the office for that. All of that certainty was reassuring and valuable. I would have one more night in Bago.
I’ve been unsure as to what the deal is with the various helpful people I’ve encountered. Some, pointing out the right carriage and so on, are clearly just helping. But at Yangon, a youngster in t-shirt and shorts took my ticket, took me to my seat and refused a tip. When I was at Bago before, a gent with betel-stained teeth ‘helped’ me to the ticket counter, where I bought my ticket. I didn’t offer him anything, but maybe I could have. This time, though, he’d been genuinely useful – I could have waited a while. So I gave him 500 kyats. He smiled, laughed a little, and said ‘this is very cheap money’. Yes, it is. Shamed, I gave him another 1,000, he checked I knew a hotel to go to, and we shook hands. Phew.
The next day I was on the train – this time post run, as early mornings are becoming more normal, so I’d got up at 5.30 and run through Bago as monks walked the streets to pick up the food the devoted offer them every morning (or every morning they can remember the schedule, if what the owner at the hostel in Yangon said is any guide). And it was 13 hours. A journey of several parts – the early morning, cool but warming temperatures, and eating the food I’d brought, then snoozing. The middle of the day, heating up, leaning away from the seat to ease the sweat and reading. And later on, once the hawkers had left us to it, as it became almost cold with windows and doors open, fans on, the moon shining bright off to my right and me, enjoying being almost cold but frankly, ready for the journey to be over.
Eventually it was, we were a handful of minutes late coming in to Mandalay just after 9pm, and I said no to a few taxi drivers to walk to my hostel. Honestly, it’s not far, just leave me to it. I feel a small guilt in depriving them of business, but it was a mile or so, and I’m not convinced that I should become artificially lazy/navigationally confused just to prop up an economy. Mandalay seemed immediately welcoming, wide, open streets, a mixture of tall and short buildings, and easy to navigate. I took myself off to the hostel’s roof terrace before tiredness put me in bed around 11.
Mawlamyine seemed easy; moving around is straightforward, there are long open stretches to run along without having to cross busy roads all the time, and a couple of relatively relaxed places to watch the sunset or enjoy some shade. Relatively, in that honking traffic is not that far away, but the honking is intermittent and I found it easy to ignore.
I ended up staying four nights, as the cast around me in the dorm changed. An American girl barely left her sanctuary in the corner for three days, while a French girl cast around for someone to join her in the taxi ride to the border, as her visa was ending the next day. I joined a Dutchman, JJ, for dinner on Wednesday night. He had spent two months in Bago working on irrigation research – the Netherlands leads the world in agricultural research, something I’d only just read about in National Geographic, producing amazing amounts of food for such a small nation, and they also export the knowledge, leading to JJ being here. I’d caught him on the cusp of some travel, about to head to Thailand before having to write up the data he’d collected from rain gauges and the like. The restaurant we headed to, Bone Gyi, on the front, was good. I learnt that when drinking Myanmar beer from a bottle, you should peel off the inside of the cap, because some of them carry prizes. Perhaps we were particularly lucky, but we had five bottles, won two of them for free and got 500 kyats back.
Almost as fascinating to me as his educational history – as a physicist, he had many options, and picked agriculture rather than, say, investment banking – was that he is one of 10. 10! No, his parents weren’t Catholics. Evangelicals. “Does that mean a lot of kids?” I asked, still pursuing the religious stereotype line, only this time trying to learn something. “In their church, yes.”
Behind me the night market is just getting going. This shot (which needs a better camera to do it justice – sorry) taken from one of the handy benches.
Waterfront/night market area. Ignore Google, which currently puts the night market further South – it’s opposite the Infinity cafe.
The waterfront is the obvious highlight of the town, with a stretch of tree-lined and shaded pavement, a market towards the North (visible to the right if you look as you come into town on the bridge) and colonial buildings to the South. Unlike Bago, at least here something has been made of the waterfront – in Bago there is a river, but all the action ignores it, going along the highstreet. But then, there’s very little tax base for local government to ignite the riverfront into something bigger and better. There are also a couple of nice parks.
One morning I wandered up to the viewpoint. It’s also where the KyikeThanLan pagoda is, but it is known as the viewpoint. I wasn’t sure whether to go up, with a lift seeming lazy, but curiosity got the better of me. Nice ride up. And I would do some serious step action on the way to the railway station on Friday morning.
On the map I’d spotted the tomb of the rebel princess, so I had to see that for the cheap joke potential:
I had no more info, but obviously these days claiming that ‘I no no more’ while writing on an internet-enabled device is a little perverse. So, wikipedia has more about the rebel princess, Myat Phaya Galay. Though not much more – she was called rebel by the British, for demanding the return of their stuff. Once there might have been a reason for the Brits to keep it but now, with a perfectly good and secure national museum, that only some of the royal regalia has been returned is (leaving the national museum to display row of ‘Royal sceptre – replica’), as is so much of Britain’s relations with overseas, a disgrace. Or, in case I am being too gentle and you want to hear my real feelings, a total fucking disgrace. Let’s not get on to locking asylum seekers and their children up in jail while the idiot section of the population continues to claim that ‘we’re a soft touch’ because they’re told no different, eh?
Phew, that might have got political, but I think we’re safe now.
Tower holding an elevator.
Statues at the viewpoint, overlooking the town.
On the way to the viewpoint (before you go up in the lift/elevator) – art deco. And pink
I also went to the Mon State Cultural museum. 5,000 kyats to enter, which seemed a lot – I had by this point slipped into my frugal state, which is affected by the size of banknotes. Given the biggest I have are 10k, with 1k being the most useful, 5k seems a lot. But it’s £2.80.
The museum is nicely curated, with a good variety of exhibits. There are some perfectly readable captions but not that much more in English, so an hour will allow you to see most things. Rather like the National Museum in Yangon, to read people talking about the low lighting might make you think it’s going to be dark, but it’s mostly reasonably well lit. Just not the level of fluorescent lighting to which Westerners have become used.
Buddha in the cultural centre.
Four floors of exhibits. Intangible culture is on the fourth – I was taken by the bamboo toys.
In general, this was just a nice town to wander about, make use of the quieter spots and to wonder at how it will change over the coming years.
Waterfront buildings, Mawlamyine (‘More-la-mean’)
Colonial prison, and still the prison now. Plenty of people were waiting at the front gate, I assumed they were waiting to be allowed to visit, or even petitioning to see if they might be allowed to. It seemed intrusive to photograph that, so this is round the other side, and shows the condition of the buildings.
I liked Mawlamyine, though only laziness led to me staying for a fourth night – really, three would do very well, unless you’re touring around the surrounding districts to see other sights. I was happy being able to stretch my legs – I went over both the main bridges out of the city – and sit by the water, reading, but did feel I’d been lazy enough by the 3rd night.
Another travel day, Monday. I had a last run in Bago. It really is an unlovely place; the pagodas and temples are pretty, the small shopping centre an oasis, but the river, which might one day be some sort of social centre, is undeveloped, so essentially it is a busy road with buildings either side. Still, one busy road feels easier to handle than a whole city of them, and I don’t regret having a couple of nights here having escaped Yangon so quickly. Last night, my hosts brought my washing, followed soon after by some home-made honey juice, in case I wasn’t feeling at home enough.
But I was. Sat in a light and spacious twin room, the Korean film ‘Train to Busan’ on the laptop, and master of my own time.
I bought my ticket on the day, getting to the station with 50 minutes to spare in case I found it extra difficult. It’s not, though, and a local took me to the right counter anyway. Later, there was a rush from locals for tickets – it seemed as though I, and a few others, were okay to buy tickets early, others had to wait. ‘Warmly welcome and assist tourists’, indeed. 3,150 kyats for Bago to Mawlamyine. Waiting for the train was simple – access to the platforms was locked, and the train was due to pull in at the near platform. When we were allowed on, an old monk walked up to me with great dignity, shook my hand and chatted away. I have no idea what he said, but followed him down the platform and hopped on where he said, which worked out just fine. (In case you don’t know it, by the way, The Man in Seat 61 is the fount all much wisdom for train travels around the world. It helped me first with travelling from the UK to Ireland, then UK to Russia, Thailand to Malaysia and continues to help. Not least the timetables, which otherwise I can’t read here.)
Although we’d got to the first stop a good 30 minutes late, we pulled into Mawlamyine almost on time (4.50pm) and I wandered from the station to the Cinderella hotel, who had space in their dorm for me to chill out in for a bit before walking down to the riverfront. Mawlamyine is a bit more walkable than other cities – it’s the 3rd or 4th biggest depending on where you get your info, with a little over 300,000 inhabitants, but they seem to be pretty spread out, so there is space enough on most streets for people and vehicles.