Summing Up Our Trip Around the World

Taking three months to leave our jobs and throw caution (and all our savings) to the wind turned out to be the type of experience we will look back fondly upon for the rest of our lives. In 86 days we took 32 flights, traveled through 12 countries, across four continents, meeting countless interesting people from all over the world and getting to spend every day being active and exploring together.

As our trip was nearing a close, we could have easily done another three months. Traveling that much did little to quench our thirst for it — in fact, it fueled the fire. Every traveler you meet has other favorite places to consider. Like our list of books to read, the number of places we want to go continues to far outpace our ability to get there.

The most common question we get is, “What was your favorite place?” The sheer diversity of what we experienced, with all sorts of different activities and highlights, makes that a really challenging question. But to give it a shot, a few of the highlights that do come to mind:

Futaleufu river rafting in middle-of-nowhere Patagonia, the Torres del Paine trek in Southern Patagonia, gorilla tracking in Rwanda, summiting Kilimanjaro, the 4,000 temples of Bagan in Burma, our Inle Lake trek in Burma, and Kangaroo Island in Australia.

But really, the highlight wasn’t any one place, but rather the overall experience. Living with just a backpack, exposing ourselves to as much of the natural world as possible in three months, being super active and outdoors every day, meeting interesting people, and getting to do it together just after getting married is what makes this memorable.

Here we are 18 months later, writing our conclusion, and we’re as wistful and nostalgic as ever. We hope we maintain a lifelong passion for learning and exploration, and hope that our curiosity never wanes.

– Jill & Dan

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Down Under: Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef

(The 18-months-late update…)

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For our last stop on our three-month trip we went to yet another ridiculously amazing and animal-named island: Lizard Island, in the Great Barrier Reef.

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After a harrowing 45 minute flight on what appeared to be another Toyota Corolla with wings, and a pilot who looked like she had just celebrated her 16th birthday, we took off into a complete storm where visibility was about 3.5 feet (we knew because we were basically sitting right next to the pilot). The turbulence was strong to quite strong. Let’s just say Jill was not wild about this transfer.

Once we got there, we understood what the hype was all about. While very different from Kangaroo Island, Lizard Island was out of this world in its own right. The food could not compete with Kangaroo Island, but the scuba diving, hiking, and 14 private beaches made it just as memorable. Since you can only get there by puddle jumper and a private runway on the island, it has a laid back, middle-of-nowhere island feel – with no locks on the bungalow doors. We loved it.

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Dan in his pensive perch pose again. After a nice hike to the island’s peak.

On our hike

A hot but beautiful hike

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We don’t have any photos from our scuba diving day at Cod Hole, but it was the most amazing scuba adventure we could ever imagine. The only problem was that even Jill’s faithful bonine dosage was no match for the rough waters, and she spend most of the boat ride taking deep breaths (etc.) over the edge. She was so sick by the time we were ready to start the dive, that the dive masters threw her in the water first – ignoring her anxious question, ‘Is that a shark right there??!’ (Dan later admitted that yes, he did witness his wife being tossed overboard amidst dorsal fins, all in the name of seasickness).

The next day the Lizard Island crew dropped us off via motor boat with a delicious picnic at a private beach, and came back for us a few hours later. See below for the picnic, Dan getting to act like a four-year-old practicing his karate kicks, and laying down in the surf without a care in the world.

Our private beach again

Our private beach for the day

Daniel-san practicing his karate kick. Pretty good form, no? And pretty tan too.

Daniel-san practicing his karate kick. Great form, better tan.

Dan laying in the surf on our private beach for the day.

Dan laying in the surf on our private beach.

Our "picnic" which was a tad more gourmet than most picnics we've had.

Gourmet picnic heaven

Met a wonderful family from Connecticut -- Bob, Joanna, and Robert.

Our new friends — a wonderful family from Connecticut — Bob, Joanna, and Robert.

Saw about a thousand of these massive guys. Aptly named island.

Saw about a thousand of these massive guys. Aptly named island.

Thank you Kim and Danny! Surprise treat with a private dinner on the beach, as a wedding gift.

Toyota Corolla 2007, with ducktaped wings.

Toyota Corolla 2007, with ducktaped wings.

Bon Voyage, Lizard Island!

Bon Voyage, Lizard Island!

Down Under: Kangaroo Island, Australia

(The 18-months-late update…)

From Sydney we scooted off to Kangaroo Island. Nestled off the Southeast coast, there is nothing between you and Antarctica. At six times the size of Singapore, it has only 4,000 people yet over 100,000 kangaroos, according to our guide. And I have to say, it’s pretty sad to see kangaroo road kill.

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The island is stunning, feels fairly untouched, and Southern Ocean Lodge (again thanks to my parents) was out of this world… to the point that I don’t think we’ll ever stay anywhere that nice again unless we win the lottery, and we don’t buy lottery tickets.

First night at Southern Ocean Lodge!

With only 40 rooms and perched up on a cliff, it’s like an Australian version of Big Sur but with no people. At all. Anywhere. It’s impossible to capture the beauty and vibe of this place in a blog post, but we’ll do our best… below are some more assorted photos from our three nights on the island.

View of the hotel from the cliff walk

View of the hotel from the cliff walk

Hotel beach

Private hotel beach down below

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Hotel beach. That’s about as many people as we saw in our entire three days on the beach.

View from Remarkable Rocks

View from Remarkable Rocks

Over 70% of the food you eat at Southern Ocean Lodge is grown or raised on the island. We truly had some of the best meals of our life, three meals a day. Jill’s long-time 30th birthday plan had been dinner at French Laundry (back when 30 seemed really far off…) but after each amazing meal at SOL, we threw the French Laundry non-plans out the window.

Amazing fresh, local, healthy meal at Southern Ocean Lodge

Amazing fresh, local, healthy meal at Southern Ocean Lodge

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Remarkable Rocks

Remarkable Rocks

Jill communicating something at Remarkable Rocks

Jill communicating with nature

My pensive pose. Seem to have a lot of these in this blog.

My pensive pose aka go-to blog pose

Beautiful happy wife at Remarkable Rocks

Beautiful happy wife at Remarkable Rocks

Beautiful happy wife at Remarkable Rocks

Path out of the hotel

Path out of the hotel

Lobby view

Lobby

Other side of lobby

Other side of lobby

Open bar, self-serve, with amazing Australian microbrews and only Australian wines. Spent a lot of time hovering here.

Open bar, self-serve (SOL is all inclusive – great vacation concept which Jill remembers from the Club Med days), with amazing Australian microbrews and Australian wines. Spent a lot of time hovering here…

Our new friends! None of whom were within 30 years of us, but that's our demo.

Our new friends! None of whom were within 30 years of us, but that’s our demo and we loved them all.

Down Under: Sydney, Australia

Not that we expect anybody to care about our journey around the world after 18 months of procrastination here, but we figured we’d post about our last two weeks on the road so that our blog can live a full and complete life. So, here are a few quick posts to sum up our time in Australia, which was our original “honeymoon” plan — two weeks of vacation bliss, thanks to the Saper parents, who gifted this last leg as our wedding present.

We started off with a brief stopover in Sydney.

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The Rocks, Sydney Harbor

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Mamak Restaurant. AMAZING Malaysian food. As you can see it’s a tad popular. Hat tip to Kay O for the rec!

We enjoyed our first travel reunion, meeting up with our Aussie friend, Nick, who we first met at our tiny river rafting camp in Futaleufu, Patagonia three months earlier. Nick is a “barrister” (fancy name for an Australia litigator), who must wear the cloak and wig to all courtroom proceedings. The good sport he is, Jill and I got to play dress-up.

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Dan the barrister

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Jill the barrister. #AliciaFlorrick #runningshoes #onesizefitsall

After our Australian rendition of Florrick Agos, we enjoyed a few days walking around Sydney with stops at the Museum of New South Wales, Manly Beach, and our favorite restaurant, Mamak.

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Obligatory Opera House couples shot

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Jill breaking out a few shavasanas under the Sydney Harbor Bridge

Terrible form/missing SF yoga under the Sydney Harbor Bridge

A stopover in Bangkok with two of our favorite people

DSC04167Gabe and Becca began their two-month globe-trot right as we were wrapping up, so we had the pleasure of spending a few days with them in Bangkok. If I could leave you with just one image that truly captures the essence of Gabe and Becca, it would be this one:

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I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I had to. How adorable are the matching pamphlets sticking out of their tooshies? Jill and I were just so jealous that they were starting their epic trip right as we were ending ours.

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#sweatstains. It was about 100 degrees that day.

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So we toured the Grand Palace with our two long lost friends, got group foot massages (twice), enjoyed some good food, and had a few drinks.

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Coconut sisters

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Hello, $10 foot massages!

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On our first day, the girls went back to nap, so Gabe and I wandered off down a series of random side streets until we were among 100% locals. We found this big gregarious dude cooking street food and decided to try it out — amazing salad!

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Big gregarious dude

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Amazing salad

A few beers later, and things got interesting. One thing led to another and before we knew it, we were having a pushup contest on the dude’s floor. Here are Gabe’s sub-par pushups (ok, they’re not bad form actually):

But he was still 20 pushups shy: Tramiel 26, Saper 46. The sweet smell of victory.

All in all, a great yet brief few days with two of our favorite people in the world. We wished them well on their journey, and we were off to Australia to wrap up ours.

Chilling in Luang Prabang, Laos

From Cambodia we set sail (figuratively) to Luang Prabang, Laos for some utter relaxation in one of the most quaint and serene places we visited.

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Sunset view from Mount Phusi, right on the edge of town.

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Someone feed that boy a bagel.

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Nestled in between the Mekong and Nam Kam rivers, Luang Prabang is a small French-influenced Buddhist monastery town. The Laotian government has somehow managed to keep it incredibly well preserved and true to form — while plenty touristy, you don’t feel it. A very hard balance to strike that they have done masterfully.

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We found Biggie.

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The rivers are lined with amazing villas, restaurants, local woodwork stores, silk shops and cafes.

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Three Nagas restaurant. Thanks for the rec mom 🙂

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Jill hammered. Wait, my mistake — dead sober.

We stayed in two awesome cottages (both under $40 a night), with free bike rentals.  It’s the perfect town to aimlessly pedal around.  Stop in a cafe, read for hours uninterrupted at the AWESOME riverside bar called Utopia,  take a river cruise up the Mekong, and enjoy a spectacular 360-degree sunset view over the town and rivers atop Mount Phusi. You can also ride elephants, which we opted out of — free the beasts!

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Greatest bar of all time: Utopia

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Jill’s reading the same book as her teenage friend next to her: “Game of Thrones, Book 1.”

A very cool experience that is quintessential Luang Prabang, is the giving of the alms in the mornings. You get up at dawn and watch the monks walk up and down the streets collecting their food for the day from locals (primarily). It is getting quite touristy with a lot of folks snapping pics (us included), but still a serene way to start the morning.

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We also ran into Jill’s friend Sarah from Piedmont, which was good fun. She has been a Backroads bike trip leader the past few years, and was there with a few of her other guide friends. So we enjoyed some delicious Laotian street food together.

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We had been told by a number of a friends and family that Luang Prabang had been a favorite destination in Southeast Asia. It did not disappoint.

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Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Okay, confession. We are back in the USA and not in Cambodia as this blog post might make you think, but we are going to do a few more posts from home to make sure JDAdventure is complete. We had a no-blogging-on-our-Australia-honeymoon rule, then we flew home and moved back into our apartment, went back to work – and anyways, here we are talking about a trip to Angkor Wat that seems like it happened in another lifetime. Oh well!

Anyways, back to Asia!

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When we were planning our trip everyone told us we absolutely had to see Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. ‘Can’t miss it, incredible, 8 days was not enough…’ was all we heard. So we went!

And then it was a little disappointing. Sometimes in blog-land everything seems so perfect and happy, so I’m here to burst your bubble.

You do not absolutely have to see Angkor Wat. There cannot possibly be a place that 100% of travelers love, and in this case, I was definitely part of the minority that was not feeling the Angkor Wat love.

Dan and I both realized that after eight days in Burma with the out-of-this-world temple-viewing in Bagan, we didn’t really have ‘fresh eyes’ (as another traveler put it) to take it all in. We were a bit tired and templed-out.

Case in point, I took a little nap while Dan climbed some steep temple stairs.

Yes, I did fall asleep on those rocks.

Yes, I did fall asleep on those rocks.

We also arrived in Siem Reap on the heels of a very remote and un-touristy trip to Burma. Now with over two million tourists a year (up from about 600,000 in 2006), Angkor Wat felt like Disney World. There were huge tour buses in traffic jams and a bajillion people everywhere, not to mentioned the Dairy Queen in the Siem Reap airport.

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Peeps. Be. Everywhere.

The upside is that we really realized how unique our Burma experience was. Burma was totally off the beaten path, and we felt lucky to have been there before it potentially becomes another…Angkor Wat.

Okay, enough on the negativity. After dealing with the tourism culture shock we had a really nice 1.5 days in Siem Reap.

And even though Angkor Wat can feel crowded, there were moments when we were totally alone.

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The temples are incredible.

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And go on for miles.

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Admittedly, we also did not prepare quite as well as we could have for this trip. This comes with traveling for three months. Between Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, and emails to friends, Dan researched Burma like a crazy man. Then we just showed up in Angkor Wat, ready for a break from planning. Not the best idea since Angkor Wat is a place that requires some research to make it worthwhile. I would highly recommend finding an excellent guide. We skipped the guide and just had a driver from our hotel take us around. He immediately proceeded to lock his keys in the car outside of the first temple. Oops! So not only were we melting in the heat waiting for an extra set of keys, but we didn’t have a great guide to give meaning to the places we saw. Lesson learned for next time.

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Thanks for reading our first back-in-the-USA blog post. It’s fun to relive the trip again and a million times easier to blog from a laptop than a tablet. I only wish it was warm enough in San Francisco to break out those hot pink elephant pants! Until next time…

Inle Lake

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Our trek led us into one of the hundreds of finger-like canals that feed into Inle Lake.  It is a stunningly beautiful place, with homes on stilts over farmland that somehow grows right into the lake. The lake is fairly large at 44 square miles but the average depth is only five feet.

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We saw men up to their chests in water tending to the crops. Women were rowing long sleek canoes filled with vegetables. Inle Lake is known for the “leg rowers,” where men hold a single paddle with one leg, standing on the other leg at the back of the boat, gyrating their body rhythmically to row. It keeps their hands free for fishing and farm work.

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While there were certainly some tourists around, Burma kept its “untouristy” streak going strong at Inle Lake. It is serene, unique and still feels relatively untouched.

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We stayed at the Golden Island Cottages 2 which was fantastic. It was our “splurge” in Burma at $80 a night. It is centrally located on the lake and all the rooms are private cottages on stilts over the water, with open lake views on one side and the bordering hills on the other. An amazing place to stay.

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Unfortunately… Inle Lake was the only place I got sick during our three months on the road (I think my large intestine was trying to eat my small intestine but only for 24 hours). Nonetheless, the place was still unquestionably a highlight of the trip.

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Trek to Inle Lake

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After temple touring in Bagan we headed to Kalaw, a small mountain town in Central Myanmar, to start our three-day trek to Inle Lake. This trek is a must-do for backpacker travelers in Myanmar, and since we had transformed into super tough and rugged backpackers over the past two months (see “modified backpacking” in Chile, 16 porters on Kili, and a very tearful summit) we signed up right away.

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Dan had organized our trek with a local guide, Toe Toe, months ahead of time — her company was recommended in Lonely Planet and she had rave reviews on Trip Advisor, so we were excited that she had two spots on a trek that worked with our itinerary.

As planned, we showed up at Toe Toe’s Kalaw office the day before our trek, but the door was padlocked shut with a sign that said “Closed — come back at 12 or 4:30.” Not a good sign.

We were so devoted to the elusive Toe Toe that we waited in front of the office at noon and again at 4:30 PM, hoping this 5-star trip advisor guide had not forgotten about us.

She had. Or, as we later learned, Toe Toe’s trips leave when six trekkers show up ready to go, email ‘confirmation’ or not. Welcome to Burma!

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As it approached 6 PM we realized we needed a Plan B. Our hotel recommended Sam’s Trekking, which was also Lonely Planet approved, so we walked over to Sam’s office hoping we could sign up for a last minute trek.

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We were in luck! Sam has 22 guides and fit us in on a trip leaving the next morning. Each trekking group can have up to six trekkers, so we joined up with a group of four awesome travelers from Ireland, Estonia, and Germany.

The total cost of our trip for three days/two nights, plus all food and lodging included, plus a guide and dedicated cook — was a whopping $40 per person. Welcome to Burma!

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The trek turned out to be our favorite Burmese experience. We hiked through remote villages and beautiful countryside. Our chef (below in the hat) made amazing traditional Burmese meals — the best food we ate in Asia, all cooked over a tiny little fire.

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The first night we slept in a family’s home, on the floor with mats and blankets. No toilets, no running water — just a bucket for washing located next to the buffalo trail (see me below).

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The second night we slept in a similar setting, at a small one-room house that Sam’s trekking company rents out along the route.

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Our 22-year-old guide Chau Xu (“Cho Sue”) was awesome, and insisted on holding every baby we passed along the way.

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Our trekking family — Yasmin and Paul from Ireland, Kristiina from Estonia, and Alex from Germany — was the best. The long, hot hiking days passed by quickly as we all shared travel stories. And as always our list of must-see destinations grew by the minute.

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By the end of the three day adventure we were completely exhausted — intense heat, blisters (I missed my Kili boots!), dust and more dust. We all had a newfound appreciation for showers and beds and agreed however primitive our next guesthouse was, we’d be grateful!

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We finished the trek at the base of the mountains, on a small river leading into Inle Lake. After lunch and fresh coconuts we took a little boat down one of the hundreds of canals leading us into Inle Lake, passing floating gardens and villages along the way.

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In the end, we were thankful that our plans had fallen apart and Toe Toe had stood us up. Our new guide and group could not have been better. Another travel fiasco turned blessing in disguise…and now, onto Inle Lake!

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Bagan’s 4,000 temples

From Yangon we went to Bagan for some premium temple viewing.

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Beginning in the 11th century and spanning the next 2,500 years, over 10,000 total temples were built, of which over 2,200 still remain. It is truly a sight to behold. There are dozens of temples that could each be a major destination in a more developed tourist market.

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Bagan is quite flat so renting bikes — at fifty cents an hour or $3 a day — is the way to go. We biked all over the three main corners of the city and stopped at a number of temples that caught our eye, leaving our bikes unlocked outside for an hour or two (along with our shoes), no problem. It’s an extremely trusting culture.

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One of our favorite restaurants from the entire two months so far was a vegetarian Indian joint in Bagan’s Old City, called “Be Kind to Animals the Moon”…which was also the coolest name of any restaurant we’d been to.

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We took a sunset boat ride one evening and then climbed the steps of the famous sunset-viewing temple, the Shwesandaw Pagoda, where you can see hundreds of temples dotting the horizon in all directions. That hour alone was worth the trip to Bagan.

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A great few days in what we’re sure will soon become a tourist Mecca for temple viewing.

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