Upper Burma

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I was in Myanmar last month, a country that is in the news for all the wrong reasons.

A lot has happened since my previous visit seven years earlier. At that time Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, receiving the world’s sympathy and adulation for her brave and determined opposition to Burma’s military rulers.

Now she is Myanmar’s de facto leader and is under fire for not speaking up against the forced expulsion of the Muslim Rohingya community, which the UN and many others regard as ethnic cleansing but which the Burmese see as sending foreigners back to where they came from. Whatever the circumstances, there is no excuse for the inhumane treatment of innocent people, especially women and children. 

There are probably days when Aung San Suu Kyi wishes she was back in her cosy Yangon bungalow under house arrest.


My trip this time was to the Mandalay area in what is sometimes called Upper Burma. I particularly wanted to visit Pyin Oo Lwin, formerly the British hill station of Maymyo, named after a Colonel May.

I have written five articles for my other website and you can read them by following these links:

1. National Kandawgyi Gardens

These are among the finest botanical gardens in the whole of Asia.

2. Maymyo Hill Station

Pyin Oo Lwin, formerly known as Maymyo, has a wonderful climate, many well preserved colonial buildings and beautiful flowers and gardens.

3. Maymyo English Cemetery

Here I met a Mr. McDougall, a mixed race Anglo-Burmese who told me something of his family history.

4. Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin Train

This four hour train ride costs 40 cents.

5. Mandalay

I was slightly disappointed by Mandalay but there are a few sights worth seeing.

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Malaysian Road Traffic Signs

Road traffic signs in Malaysia generally follow the international standards used in Europe, but there are a few which have been tailored for local conditions. This one is my favourite:

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It informs users of this busy urban dual carriageway that bullock carts, trishaws, pedal-powered food carts and bicycles are not permitted.

The chances of seeing a bullock cart these days are rare. I recall seeing some in Malacca about 25 years ago. They were used to ferry tourists around the padang. They’ve gone now. This may be the only bullock cart left in Malacca:

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Trishaws have all but disappeared too as a means of transport. There are a few in the main tourist area of Melaka for selfie purposes. This working trishaw was spotted in Penang a few years back:

Trishaw-Penang Food carts are still around but they too are under threat as urban councils tighten up on hygiene laws and parking spaces. I snapped this photo in Muar some time ago (probably would cost a lot more than RM 3 today):

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It’s a shame to see these icons of traditional culture disappearing from modern Malaysia, to be replaced by sanitised shopping malls, food trucks and Uber cars. All that’s left is the road sign as a reminder of what has been lost.

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Kowloon Extension Agreement 1898

When Brexit Secretary David Davis sat down with EU negotiator Michel Barnier last month for a round of talks he was criticised by some in the media for having a completely empty desk while his opposite number came prepared with piles of documents.

Perhaps Davis is modelling his draft Brexit agreement on some of the concise conventions and treaties from Britain’s imperial past.

Take for example the Kowloon Extension Agreement of 1898 in which Britain obtained possession of Hong Kong’s New Territories for a period of 99 years.

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This masterpiece of brevity filled just one side of A4 paper and was probably knocked up by MacDonald (the British signatory) and his private secretary one evening over a couple of gins in the Hong Kong Club.

Of course it helped that it was prepared at a time when Britain was strong and the Chinese side was in a weak negotiating position, leading the Communists to later describe it as an ‘unequal treaty’ when they took over China in 1949. But the amazing thing is that this treaty remained in force and was honoured by both sides for 99 years exactly, until Hong Kong was handed back to China on 1st July 1997.* This despite major wars and changes of regime in China.

It is doubtful that any agreement Messrs Davis and Barnier draw up will last for 99 years. It certainly won’t fit on one side of A4.

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* Although the treaty was honoured, its ambiguous wording did lead to some problems in implementation, particularly with regard to Kowloon Walled City. You can read a fascinating account of Kowloon Walled City here.

 

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The Last Post?

3 Rifles A Company Fire Support Group Jackals on Patrol Sangin

Regular readers of this blog might have noticed a decrease in the number of posts in recent months. The reason?

My blog is hosted on WordPress.com which comes with 3 GB of free space. Now, after seven years, 448 posts and a heck of a lot of photos, it seems I’ve almost used up all my free space.

This has put me in something of a dilemma. I have a few choices:

  • I could upgrade my plan and pay WordPress for additional space. This would probably be the easiest and most sensible thing to do. However it is not the Thrifty thing to do. While I don’t mind not getting paid for writing I’m not really keen on paying for the privilege.
  • I could delete some of my old posts to free up space for new ones. I would be reluctant to do that. Some of my old posts still get found by the search engines. For example, my most popular post ever (Mt. Kinabalu vs. Fansipan vs. Rinjani) was written almost seven years ago and still gets visitors.
  • I could convert my old posts into eBooks before deleting them. That would be a waste of effort – nobody would ever read those!
  • I could just start another free WordPress blog and call it Thrifty Traveller Too (or 2). But that would mean starting all over again to build up visitor numbers.

Instead of the above I have begun posting all my travel articles on my other website, Malaysia Traveller, even if they are not related to Malaysia. Malaysia Traveller gets far more views than Thrifty Traveller and it does earn a few cents in commission so it makes sense.

You can find a summary of my recent posts, including travels in Japan and Laos, on this page:

http://www.malaysia-traveller.com/Malaysia-travel-blog.html

You can follow Malaysia Traveller’s Facebook page by clicking on the ‘Find us on F’ button if you are a fan of Facebook.

So is this my last post on Thrifty Traveller? Hopefully not. I still have about 1% of my 3 GB left. Perhaps I’ll use it for any posts that are not travel-related.

Thanks for reading.

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Tomogashima Island – Japan’s Hidden Treasure Island

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Travellers looking for an off-the-beaten-track destination in Japan might consider a boat trip to Tomogashima, which is the collective name for a group of four small islands called Okinoshima (the biggest island) Jinoshima,  Torajima and  Kamijima located off the small town of Kada in Wakayama Prefecture.

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Tomogashima – Source:Wikipedia

Shugendō Buddhist monks once used the steep hilly terrain of these islands as part of their ascetic mountain training.

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This coastline was for centuries a haven for pirates who preyed on ships passing through the narrow entrance to the Inland Sea between Awaji Island and Honshu. One famous pirate was named Tsumujikaze Goemon and he was rumoured to have buried a stash of his loot on one of the islands which has never been found.

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During the Meiji period the Japanese military fortified the islands with a number of brick-built gun batteries, powder magazines, bunkers and support facilities to defend the strategically important approach to Osaka Bay against foreign naval attack. Up until the end of World War II, access to the islands was strictly prohibited and their existence was removed from maps, hence the use of the word ‘hidden’. The gun emplacements are now overgrown and damaged by coastal erosion but you can see that they would have had a great view of any approaching invasion force.

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Some say that the ruined defences bear a resemblance to those in the Studio Ghibli film Laputa, Castle in the Sky and may have inspired the artist.  One of the ferries to the island is even called Laputa, obviously aiming to attract Ghibli fans.

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Nowadays the islands, which form part of Seto-naikai National Park, are a popular place to visit for both Japanese and foreign tourists (mostly Chinese and Koreans). There are a number of well marked hiking trails around the island and in addition to the military remains there is a lighthouse, some quiet stony beaches, bbq and camping spots and lovely coastal views.

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A noticeboard on the island says this about the lighthouse:

Viewing the beautiful scenery of the Seto Island Sea from the white, western style lighthouse is sure to lighten the heart of even the most downtrodden spirit.

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There is some accommodation on the main island – Uminoie guest house.

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Camping is free but you need to register at the office first.

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We noticed a few warning signs about snakes and it was not long before we spotted a small one on the path which slithered away after a tense standoff (possibly a non-venomous rat snake?).

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Mind your step.

How to get to Tomogashima

'Laputa', one of the ferries from Kada to Tomogashima.

‘Laputa’, one of the ferries from Kada to Tomogashima.

A ferry service operates from Kada Port.

There are four sailings per day in each direction as you can see on this photo.  Two additional sailings at 10am and 3pm during the peak holiday season.

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Ferries leave Kada at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 4pm. Return ferries leave Tomogashima at 9.30am, 11.30am, 1.30pm and 4.30pm.

The boat trip takes about 20 minutes.

The cost is JPY2000 return for adults and JPY 1000 for kids.

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Kada railway station.

To get to Kada you can take a train from Wakayama City, Wakayamashi station.

Kada is famous for sea bream and there is a special pink coloured, fish-themed sightseeing train called Medetai at certain times of the day but our train was just an ordinary one.

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Gudetama Café Singapore

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While in Singapore last weekend my daughter wanted to eat at Gudetama Café, a restaurant themed around Gudetama, a quirky egg character created by Japanese company Sanrio, who also own Hello Kitty and many other kawaii characters.

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Gudetama can be translated as ‘lazy egg’ and he doesn’t seem to do much apart from lie around looking apathetic and depressed.

Sanrio’s website has this to say:

Eggs are so lazy. Look closely and you will see the eggs that you eat lack spunk.

On Gudetama’s Twitter account (yes, he has his own Twitter account) he writes:

I really don’t feel like tweeting everyday. It’s such a bother. I’ll do it because the higher-ups tell me to, but I know I’m only going to be eaten in the end.

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His ‘couldn’t be bothered because everything is too hard’ attitude seems to strike a chord with his legions of young fans who like to sleep in late and delay their school homework to the last minute.

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The cafe serves a lot of egg dishes, as you would imagine. I went for the breakfast in pan (meatless version) which was good but nothing eggseptional.

Is this eggsentric character a passing fad?  Probably, but many of Sanrio’s other characters have staying power and have been around for decades so who knows?

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Selangor Tin Dredge

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To my knowledge there are only two surviving bucketline tin dredges in Malaysia. One is the Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge near Batu Gajah which I wrote about on this blog a few years ago. The other is located near Dengkil in Selangor.

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I have seen the Dengkil dredge many times from a distance since it is visible from the main road when driving to the airport. Today I tried to see it from up close.

Thanks to Google Maps it was easy to find the best way to approach the dredge which is surrounded by lakes created by the dredge’s excavations. A gravel road takes you part of the way. This road is busy with rubbish trucks as one of the lakes is being used as a landfill. 

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I parked the car next to a lake and walked the rest of the way, a distance of about 1 km each way. The path is not too overgrown and I did not see any ‘no trespassing’ signs. There was a barrier blocking the way to cars but again no ‘keep out’ signs.

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Finally I managed to get near the dredge which is an enormous piece of engineering. According to Liz Price’s excellent blog, this is the Sri Banting Dredge, built in Malaysia in 1974 (much newer than the colonial-era Tanjung Tualang dredge) and weighs 4,800 tonnes.

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It was not possible to go on board as it was moored a few metres off-shore and there was no gangplank. Anyway it is private property. There were a couple of vigilant watchdogs on the dredge to deter trespassers.

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No doubt this dredge is earmarked for sale at some stage. Many of the other tin dredges in Malaysia were sold off to foreign buyers such as this one which was towed to Bangka Island in Indonesia in 1987.

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If no buyer can be found it would probably be sold for scrap and that will be the end of Selangor’s tin mining heritage. At least the Tanjung Tualang dredge is being preserved as a museum by the Perak State Government and should be open to the public, long overdue, at the end of this year.

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