Monday, February 28, 2011


There were a few things I had to do in Tokyo such as eating as much awesome Japanese food as I could like sushi and Kobe beef, and getting a handmade chef’s knife.

My first stop was the fish market in Tsukiji, which opened at 4:30am everyday, closed on Sundays. Only about 167 people a day are allowed to view the tuna auction, but the metro started running at 5:04am from my stop so I wasn't sure if I would make the tour. Luckily, I did some recon the day before and had some idea of where to go, just making the second and also last round of tours.

Most of it was chaotic, cold, and confusing with mini forklifts and other machinery whizzing close by you as you wear a bright green vest following a set walking path. The real reward was having the freshest sushi and sashimi at one of the mini restaurants. Daiwa Sushi is the best one at the fish market and just down the road is another great place called Edogin. Toro, the belly of the tuna, is the best part at about 1500 yen ($17.80) apiece. I had two along with my set meal… it was worth it!

Also, at the fish market was a famous knife shop called Aritsugu. They have been making hand forged knives for over 400 years folding the metal of each blade to press out the impurities. Interestingly they originally made swords using the same technique.

So I got one of the heavier knives for about 10,000 yen ($118.70) and they engraved my name in Japanese on the handle for free. They also sharpened it on a special spinning rock stone. Luckily they took credit cards and were very helpful in explaining the different knives.

On another day my friend Issac wanted to try whale meat. I was like gross, but as I was looking for a good restaurant, Ganso Kujiraya (2-29-22, Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0043), for him that served whale I decided to tag along. Try everything once right? When we got there the hostess pointed to a picture of a whale to make sure that we knew what they served.

After we sat down we saw the menu, which was only whale served in everyway possible. Not knowing if we would like it we ordered just two things, whale steak and BBQ whale. Our dishes came and we both took our first bites with a, “Oh Shit….. we are going to hell.” It was so good I couldn’t believe it. Now we knew why so many people liked whale. Thank goodness I don’t believe in hell.:P

On one of my last days I found a good restaurant, 511, that served Kobe beef. I decided to go for lunch since it was cheaper and took three new friends. We all got the same lunch set for 3,500 yen ($41.54) along with beer of course. The place was really beautiful and when the food came we all went silent. I always knew that Kobe beef would be good, but never expected to be so amazing, after the first bite I was wishing I could eat it everyday and shed a little tear because I knew I couldn't.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


So after about a year and a half of working I was finally able to set some time to travel again, but only for a month. :-(

My first stop was Tokyo, Japan. I always wanted to visit this expensive city, but it was always out of the way of my travels, until now…

I’ve always heard that Tokyo was a great city, but also expensive. Both rumors were right. The best word I can think of for Tokyo would have to be orderly. Everyone followed the rules. No smoking while walking, lining up before the subway approaches, no littering, and etc. The entire city was spotless, not even down in the subway tracks was there one piece of garbage.

Some of my favorite things over there were all the vending machines, some even with beer. You could get both, hot and cold drinks. I would always get the warm sweeten milk tea in a plastic bottle. Even the 7-11’s had a hot rack section where you can get your coffee or tea all pre-heated. But my all time favorite thing has to be the heated toilet seat covers.

I know, you’re thinking what the hell? Me too and I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not, but once I sat down…. Ahhhhh…. Bliss. It was so nice and comfy. Some of the more fancy ones had these complex controllers on the side of you with a zillion buttons. There was also a bidet integrated in the seat cover. So with the fancy controllers you could adjust the pressure and temperature.

One of my new backpacker friends told me that they would all get drunk, crank up the pressure, and trick some new backpacker to use the bidet. That would be a great April fools prank…

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The End of the 2008-2009 World Tour

Okay, I have been really, really slack in my blog post during my time in Myamar so I’ll try and write a brief wrap up so I can write about my current travels.

I did end up going with Sam’s travel guide company and my guide’s name was Taik So who spoke great English and educated me about the surroundings from Kalaw to Inle Lake, my final destination.

The countryside and the people were beautiful, often carrying a pole with two huge baskets of vegetables weighing about 100lbs to sell at the train station. I saw young kids as well as elderly women making long treks down and over a couple of valleys to the train station just so they could make $6-7US from their two baskets.

I also saw Robin, the guide I was going to take, walk by with two other tourists 20 meters behind him and they did not look like they were enjoying themselves.

During my trek there was a cook who traveled ahead of us to prepare meals everyday. They were more like feasts because even I couldn’t finish everything he made. All the meals were amazing vegetarian dishes where the cook used the local vegetables of each village we stayed.

Inle Lake was nice, but my favorite part was the trek. I then took a bus back to Yangon after it was blessed of course, and flew back to Bangkok. I then decided to fly up to Chiang Mai and took some Thai Cooking and Thai Massage Classes. After that I flew back home to figure out what I was going to do next.

I ended up starting my own Immigration Law practice, blah, and created a Non-Profit organization to support Orphans Disabled Arts Association (ODA), the orphanage in Cambodia.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Who to Trust?

Due to the global economic crisis the drop in tourists had substantially affected this little town. The desperation for business had created aggressive behavior among the tour guides to the point of bad mouthing each other and sometimes violence.

I first spoke with Lily, the owner of our guesthouse, and she was explaining the different treks, a two and three day hike. The price for a guide, food, and accommodation was $10US per person a day. She also told me that the government would take 30% for taxes, they would keep 20%, and 50% of the money would go directly to the villages we would visit. This was very inspirational, but I still wanted to check around before making a commitment.

Before I left to walk around Lily began to tell me that they were the only non-government business in the town. She said that the owner of the guesthouse next door was in the army and used the business to launder drugs. She also told me that there were military training camps all over the area from Kalaw to Inle Lake and I would need a guide to avoid possible military trouble. In addition, her guide (her husband Robin), knew all the different dialects/languages and would be able to talk with the villagers and translate for me.

Feeling good about getting the down low on Kalaw I wondered around for a bit and eventually found a nice place for dinner, Sam’s, to think about the trek. I asked if they had any rum and they brought the whole bottle. I only wanted one drink and didn’t want to pay for a whole bottle until I notice the price was 1800 Kyat! That’s about $1.80US for a whole bottle of RUM!

Finally, I decided to go on the trek with Robin the next day when I noticed a huge map of the treks and villages on one of the wall and began studying it. Close by was an elderly man, who I learned was Sam, enjoying his tea. I introduced myself and we started to chat about the area and trekking. As I spoke about what Lily told me and how I was happy that 50% of the money would go to the villagers Sam’s face was in shock.

Sam proceeded to tell me that he had lived in Kalaw for 20 years and knew all the villages, never had he heard of Lily giving money to any of them. Also, there would be no way to sustain a business on 20%. Furthermore, there were no military training camps around and the province was completely open to tourists. This of course was distressing, how did I know if Sam himself wasn’t lying. Who should I trust? I asked Sam these very questions.

Sam told me that I should ask around to verify all the information and not just take his word for it. He also stated that he had nothing to hide and it would be fine if I told Lily about our discussion. In the end Sam said that he could answer any question I had about trekking for free and I should make my own decision about who to trust.

So I kept asking Sam lots of questions about his family, his life in Kalaw, and learned a lot about the man. Sam came to Kalaw a bit over 20 years ago and it took him that long to finish one of his goals of building a school for one of the nearby villages. The schools in the remote villages only went up to 5th grade so Sam’s son-in-law, who grew up in one of these villages, asked if Sam could build housing for the kids who wanted to continue their education in Kalaw. Sam agreed and only asked for the parents to provide rice and firewood for their child to help with costs. Each child also had to have the blessing of their parents and head monk of the village.

In addition to owning a restaurant Sam also ran a travel agency with guides speaking several languages. He explained the 3 day trek would cost $10US per person a day and $13US for the boat ride at the end of the trip. Besides a guide and private cook, they would provide all the meals and accommodation. About 20% would go to the villagers and the rest would cover costs and profit.

One of Sam’s interesting stories was about his first time as a tour guide. Young Sam had a group of Japanese tourists who asked so many detailed questions about everything which he didn’t know that answers. This experience caused Sam to lose face and feel shame of his ignorance about his surroundings. From that point on Sam determined to learn everything about everything and acquired a comprehensive knowledge of his surroundings. He also passed this philosophy on to his guides, making sure they all have a thorough knowledge of the region to explain to their clients.


My time and money was soon running out in Myanmar. I had to determine where to spend my last week. One thought was to take a boat to the West Coast, but the rainy seasons stormy weather in the ocean deterred that idea. Not to mention that they run the boats till they literally fall apart and boat sinking’s have occurred with some frequency. Then I heard about a three day trek from a small village, Kalaw, to Inle Lake in the Northern Country.
Since the government owned the railway I chose to take a private overnight bus (20K Kyat ~ $20US). Make sure you get a seat up front or you will be bouncing up and down on these older buses. This applies to every developing country. The bus terminal was near the airport so we had to get a cab, which should be about 5K Kyat. It was a maze at the sprawled out bus terminal so just ask your cab driver to help you find your bus and you’ll be fine.

In the early morning when it was still dark the bus conductor shook me and asked for my destination. I told him Kalaw and he said something to the effect that we were there. So I got off the bus and look around to get my bearings. I asked again if we were in Kalaw and the guy nodded yes and pointed in a direction down the road. Eventually I got some answers and found out that the bus passed my stop and Kalaw was 6 miles away. Rather than waiting around for a couple of hours for bus services I decided to walk and start my trekking early.

It turned out to be a nice walk as the rising sun lit the beautiful morning sky. Soon I found my guesthouse, The Golden Lily, listed in the Lonely Planet. The owners were nice enough at first, but we’ll get into that later. Kalaw was a cute little town more and more backpackers were visiting to trek through the beautiful landscape to Inle Lake.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Myanmar's Other Side

Myanmar was a country with many contradictions and just plain weirdness. There was a person who had law degree from London selling street food, a cab driver with an MBA trying to earn more than the $10US rent for the cab, and people watching the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) on the street. Everyday you would see hundreds of people eating on little plastic kids tables and chairs on the sidewalks watching TV blasting the sound till midnight and then the streets would be dead silent and empty.

Due to the strict laws and severe punishment in Myanmar walking the streets in the middle of the night was very safe. I also heard a bunch of stories about foreigners losing their purse, iphone, and what not in cabs or other places to have everything returned to them. Of course this was mostly due to the fact that the people were mostly scared in getting caught as many foreigners do get watched by the military government.

Nonetheless, one of the most bizarre and funny thing was a place called Power Light. Imagine a dinner show with a huge stage. Now add in a Miss America pageant, without the judges, and you have Power Light. Alright, let me add some foundation info. (my personal theory). Due to the religious culture there were no public displays of affection between opposite sexes. So from this heavy suppression of kissing or even simple handholding men would normally find other outlets such as strip clubs. However, the military government does not allow strip clubs so the culture developed in a way where Power Light became their version of a naughty club. One of my Guesthouse mates told me about Power Light and decided to take me and another traveler to check it out on evening.

Let me take you through our night out at Power Light. Once we arrived we ordered some food and drinks before the show began. On stage there were three girls dressed in workout gear dancing to a routine you’d see in any US high school dance team. Then all the girls came out one at a time in provocative dress, normal for the rest of the world, and each took turns singing. Meanwhile all the men were gawking at the women drinking, eating, and buying the girls presents.

To show the women affection the men could buy “gifts” which included big fluffy colorful boas, hats, bouquets of flowers, etc. The girls and the club would get a percentage of the money spent, and this is how the girls would make money. On a good night a girl could make upwards of $300US a night. For a country where the average monthly salary is about $50/month is was big money.

The rest of the show consisted of each girl coming out alone to sing, more dancing, and other combinations of the same thing. Of course throughout the entire show the girl’s faces were solid stone, like the emotionless models you see walking down a catwalk. However at one point the DJ, a man, came on stage with his guitar to sing and people bought HIM gifts too! It was hilarious, but he was a good singer I have to admit. And if I had some extra money, I would have bought him a hat.

To us, the rest of the world, this Power Light would be viewed as almost wholesome. For the people of Myanmar it was a seedy underbelly of their culture that the majority of the population didn’t know about.

Yangon Slideshow!