Our trip through Asia is almost over, and so we have been extremely busy with preparations to ship the van, to organise the visits of the following countries, and to rent a car in India. Here’s what we have been up to on the past couple of weeks:
- We spent a lot of time in Bangkok, getting ready our van to be shipped to South America. Since we couldn’t cross Myanmar by car, we thought this would be the most practical solution. The van will hopefully ship today, thanks to the support of Rui Tavares and Carlos Suarez from Victoria Seguros, and the Dachser team in Portugal and Thailand.
- We stayed in the Kanchanaburi province in Thailand, where we visited an elephant sanctuary and where we did our last and biggest toy donation in Asia, in a refugee camp near the Burmese border. More on these below.
- We left the van in Bangkok to be revised by customs and shipped, and spent a little over two weeks on holidays in Myanmar and Nepal.
- We just arrived in India, where a car was ready for us, thanks to the help of our great contributor Hertz and its Indian partner Orix. Here we plan to finally continue our project, focusing on providing school resources to unprivileged children in schools and institutions.
- In the coming days, we will launch a small fundraising campaign, to help us cover the shipping cost of the van, and continue our trip in South America.
Saying bye to the van (warehouse in Bangkok)
1. Elephant sanctuary
One of the most common attractions in Thailand are elephant refuge centres or sanctuaries. We wanted to visit one but we were a bit scared, as we knew that in most of them, the elephants are not well treated. We almost gave up, until we found a website which suggests a few centres that you can trust. Here you can also learn what are the dangers that elephants face in Thailand, and for example, the reasons why you should never ride an elephant:
We went to Elephants World, in the banks of the river Kwai, but left with mixed feelings: we felt that the elephants are still used as an attraction, for the hundreds of tourists who visit the place daily. Nonetheless, it is still a much better place for the elephants, most of which were previously mistreated and overworked.
2. Tham Hin refugee camp
With the van being shipped to South America from Bangkok, we wanted to do a very large last donation of the hundred or so remaining toys still stocked in the van. We had heard about refugee camps settled close to the border with Myanmar and started digging online to find out more about them. The Tham Hin camp is located two hours drive from Kanchanaburi and is the home of nearly 10,000 Burmese refugees, most of them ethnic Karen (Kayin).
The drive to find the camp was quite unique, on bumpy dirt roads surrounded by a dense and exotic jungle. It took us four hours, and help from a Buddhist monk, various villagers and three kids on a motorbike to find the camp, before we finally made it to the entrance and were stopped by a military checkpoint. Without any official authorisation it is obviously impossible to enter the camp. But the military seemed to be willing to help and asked us to wait. We waited for about one hour until suddenly some big pick-up ‘buses’, filled with young children, started arriving. We got very lucky: the children were coming back from a school nearby and our new military friends stopped the buses before they entered the camp and gathered the kids close to our van… The following pictures speak for themselves. Both for the children and for us this donation was a wonderful surprise and will remain as one of the most special moments of our journey so far.
3. Unexpected toy donation
In Kanchanaburi, we stayed at the LPK Apartment, a nice hotel run by an adorable family. Without telling us anything, the son looked up our website, and the day after they surprised us with a very generous toy and school supplies donation! We filled one box, which will be our first batch of toys in South America!
What not to miss in Bangkok, Myanmar and Nepal
- I am coffee serves amazing sandwiches, and has a nice atmosphere, so we spent many hours working there.
- We went many times to Mont Café (at MBK shopping centre) to enjoy its delicious and well-known coconut crust toasts and milks.
- Kinokuniya library (at the Siam Paragon) is Ana’s favourite library in Asia, a rare find offering many editions of thousands of great books.
- Our two favourite tourist visits were the Wat Pho stupas and the Jim Thompson House.
- Inle lake is a wonderful place where we did one of the most enjoyable boat tours in South East Asia, through floating villages and pagodas. If you want to relax after a day of cycling, we recommend eating at the Bamboo Hut, near the lake. They probably have the best fried noodles in Asia!
- Mandalay is not the most beautiful of cities, but we recommend exploring its surrounding villages: Mingun, Sagaing and Inwa. The Hsinbyume Paya (white pagoda) in Mingun is one of the most stunning in the country. Our favourite traditional Burmese restaurant is Aye Myit Tar, which has an incredibly delicious ‘cooked pork’. Offering quality food for a cheap price, it is understandably full both of travellers and of local families!
- Bagan is a magical place with thousands of stone pagodas, in a wild desert surrounding, best discovered by electric bike. If you’re tired of curry and noodles, La Pizza, in Nyaung U, makes the best wood-fired pizza we had in Asia.
- The scenery in Hpa-An, especially stunning around the dirt road that leads you to the Saddam Cave, reminded us of some of the most picturesque landscapes in Vietnam and China.
Floating village in Inle lake
- Although partly destroyed by the earthquake, you can’t miss the ‘top three’ Durbar Squares in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur (the last being our favourite). The entry price is not cheap, but you will be helping the reconstruction efforts, which is great.
- We had dinner four times in the Rosemary Kitchen in Kathmandu. We recommend the rosemary chicken and mushroom raviolis, and both the cheesecake and tiramisu are incredible. We liked to hang out at Gaia, over two cups of its ‘Ginger Warmer’, the perfect winter drink (made of hot lemon juice, honey and ginger).
- Trekking is a must do in Nepal, we didn’t have the time to do a long one, but we are looking forward to coming back to do the Everest Base Camp.
Himalaya scenery from Chisapani
As always, thank you so much for reading us, and please follow us on our Facebook page, where we post all of our updates. We have some news coming soon, but for now, here’s a photo of us with our newly arrived balloons, courtesy of Jennes Lee from Vietnam (we received two thousand!).
Ana and Ludo
Disclaimer: all the touristy stuff + restaurants, etc. are at our own expense (just to reassure you that all your donations are TOY-exclusive!)