the romance & resilience of myanmar


I’m always on tenterhooks after returning home from an adventurous backpacking trip. But we have slowly adjusted back to Aussie time, acclimatized to the dry, cooler weather, and grown accustomed, again, to the space and silence we are fortunate to occupy. It’s accepting the everyday routines that get to me. I worry that the vividness of our journey will diminish and fade and we’re down the street responding to friends’ questions about our backpacking adventure with “what trip?”

The high rise of Yangon

The high rise of Yangon


But this time round, compared to last year’s Vietnam adventure, we have returned calm and content. Maybe, we say, it’s being amongst a majority Buddhist culture. The romance and resilience of Myanmar has, surprisingly, not washed off immediately. The beauty of travelling together as a family is that there are six individuals on the journey seeing a new place with their own eyes and hearing with their own ears. It makes for interesting and engaging conversations. We all remember and recall the same, but different aspects of a street or a bus journey or a meal.


climbing temples in Bagan

Since we’ve been back, I’ve noticed that we all have a combination of romance and resilience swirling around our heads from our backpacking journey throughout Myanmar. I see in all of us, especially my four kids, a greater toughness to life’s everyday challenges and requirements. I also see the spark in their thinking when we discuss travelling the world and visiting different places. There is a knowing, or a deeper level of knowledge that they have now. More than they could ever obtain from reading a book or watching a movie. It’s real and it’s their life experience now.

I love knowing that my children enjoy travelling, even though the life of a backpacker can be grueling it is definitely adventuresome. They are not afraid to visit other continents, travelling through different countries and experiencing unique cultures, even though that’s what our daily dose of news programs would have us believe. Yes, Myanmar has had a violent past of military rulers, and it continues to have many obstacles to overcome on its way to a real democracy. But I wouldn’t have changed it-the chance to see Myanmar now before it changes into something else-for the world.


the gang of e-bikies in Bagan

Even though we live in a multicultural society, unless you live in a suburb that is multicultural, or you wander into one and settle for a while, you don’t really ever get the opportunity to experience the different ways people are in the world. I have never been a “helicopter parent” and honestly, I dare not share some of the freedoms we gave to our girls while we were travelling because it wouldn’t make sense here. The relevance of their freedoms live in the context of what our daily life was like in Myanmar, and unless you go there yourself, the reality is that you will never really know.


freedom on the back of a motorbike in Chuang Tha Beach

Many times throughout the journey, we faced challenges. Language barriers when no one spoke English, not even a hello! Food and water considerations when hungry and thirsty, sickness when the toilets were not so pleasant, long bus trips when interconnecting buses are missed and plans need to be hatched on the spot under the beating sun, and long trekking tours into the mountains and ending in darkness without a torch. Patience, a good sense of humour and an ‘it’ll be okay’ attitude are all requirements needed when you sign up to a backpacking trip with kids in tow.

Myanmar has definitely left its mark on us. I know that we are not the same family as we were on departure day 7 September 2013. We have fallen head over heels in love with the romantic notion of backpacking and now we have a resilient travelling core that seems unbreakable and unmistakable.


solidarity and support walking the dusty streets of Inle Lake

I have always loved this quote, but now I can truly appreciate its meaning.

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” Mary Anne Radmacher

I realize this may not be the post you were expecting as my first, but neither was I! I had envisioned going back to the beginning: packing, fundraising, house and pet sitting, saving…but it just wasn’t to be. I was swept off my feet by Myanmar and its beautiful people as well as my amazing children and their resilient natures. I couldn’t resist the urge to write about these things now.

Stay tuned for more Thanks🙂

no internet at home

We’ve been to Myanmar and back, unpacked, and come home to write about our intrepid backpacking journey but we have NO INTERNET!

I’m at University today with internet access, so thought I’d let you all know we haven’t disappeared again overseas just yet, but that our home internet will be rectified on Friday and am so looking forward to uploading an article about Myanmar.

Sorry for this delay.

X Sixbackpacks

Myanmar’s fog

Hello world. We are already back home from four weeks backpacking in Myanmar (Burma). And this is certainly a different way to blog: to start when you’ve just arrived home.

It has taken me three nights to get back into a normal sleeping routine. Myanmar is 4.5 hours behind Melbourne time, so while I was writhing and twitching in bed at 2am or drinking milk and eating peanut butter sandwiches in the wee small hours with my daughter Ashley (who also has had trouble getting back to normal time), my mind wandered back to Myanmar and its people. Over the past three days, the glorious Myanmar fog has lifted and almost disappeared completely. I liken that foggy place to a middle world – it’s neither a travel life nor a normal life. It’s a no mans land, and I’m trying to hold onto it as long as I can.

Due to the lack of working internet  in Myanmar, I had to abandon my grand plans of travel blogging from the ground. On the upside of this  disappointing set of circumstances, I went back to pen and paper and thoroughly enjoyed the act of writing about what we experienced, felt and saw on our intrepid backpacking journey throughout Myanmar. It also gave me more time to take pictures and simply watch people doing what people do best – going about their daily lives. I have a handful of digital blog entries on Pages in my iPad that I quickly typed up, at another ungodly hour, on an overnight bus trip. But that’s it! So the tools are my little red travel journal, iPad, photos and the Myanmar Times.


There were times when I was able to connect the iPad to a faint wi-fi signal and many of you have already seen some of the images I was able to upload short blurbs of description onto Facebook. So I’ve been thinking about the best way forward when I’ll be working backwards! And I’ve transformed this predicament into an opportunity.

I am still going to blog about our amazing journey to Myanmar (because it was AMAZING) but with a difference from the way I blogged last year in Vietnam. Instead of short and snappy blog posts (due to being on the go all of the time), I’m going to delve deeper and wider. Most of the blogs I’ll upload will be long-form narrative nonfiction blogging (I think I just made that up!) which means that I will write more in-depth blogs with some research about the places, people, politics, problems and possibilities of Myanmar that we experienced while we were there. I’ll also be writing about where we donated the A$3,000 we raised from our Burma Bands fundraising effort and share the snaps too.

I hope to be able to provide you with a greater knowledge of Myanmar’s past, present and future – fog or no fog. I’m excited; hope you are too.

Let the blogging about our Myanmar journey begin🙂

x Lisa @SixBackpacks

PS Just so you know, I’ll upload a new blog each Friday. So the first one is next week folks!

Yangon ants

I have found internet in Myanmar!

We arrived in Yangon from Malaysia and we were hit for six. Our first impressions of the city of Yangon was jaw dropping OMG! It’s an ant colony – there are people and cars and buses everywhere. The buildings are old and run down, the streets have no drainage, there is waste and rubblish on the sides of the road. Everywhere your eyes look at there is something going on. It is organised chaos at its best.


Living on top of each other in Yangon


But the people of Yangon are so friendly. They all smile and wave as we walk past. They yell out “hello” and love it when we say it back. Many of the older generation know and understand English from colonial days, but many of the younger generation do not. The men wear longhis – usually a tartan pattern or plain skirt that is wrapped around the waist and tucked in. Women wear long skirts too that come in a variety of colours and patterns and they are called a tamai.

The youth of Yangon have surprised us. They must be some of the hippest, coolest looking people in all of South East Asia. They dye their hair red, pink, yellow, any other colour to stand out, they wear trendy clothing and sunglasses, men have earrings and tattoos. Remember this generation has been brought up under a military junta that took away freedoms and shot anti-government protestors in the 80s and 90s. I see individualism and expression from these young people which is something we didn’t see so easily in Vietnam last year. For a country that has just opened its doors to the world, watch this space. In 2014/15 there are elections with Aung Sun Soo Kyi a leading contender If they hold free and fair election processes.

Penang’s George Town

Penang has been a real surprise for us especially George Town. It is such a friendly part of Malaysia. This is a place for coffee lovers and foodies, artists and wanderers, colonial relics, multiculturalism and many religions. We love it all and we have already said Penang is a place we would definitely return to.

First things first, let’s hope this blog reaches you all (fingers crossed)!

The streets of George Town

The streets of George Town



Riding bikes in George Town



Artwork is shown on walls throughout George Town






excitement of Myanmar

Last week we filled out the visa forms for our upcoming family backpacking adventure to Myanmar. For $35 each we will get the opportunity to explore a mysterious, just opened to the world country in South East Asia. The excitement is starting to build. The girls saw it as ‘adult paperwork’ which means boring stuff. But for Steve and myself, it was something tangible, an action that propelled this trip forward.

Burma Map

However, last night was quite a different story for our four daughters. My brother called and said I had to watch SBS tonight as cook, Luke Nguyen was visiting Myanmar. I decided the girls could stay up a little later than usual and we sat on the couch in our back room waiting to see our first glimpse of a place we would be walking through in just five weeks time. Let’s just say, the excitement of Myanmar is now coming from all of six of us!

Ashley’s comment as we watched the half hour show was, “mum, it’s not looking as bad as you keep telling us”. You see, I’ve been giving them little snippets of information from time to time as we talk about our trip and plan for the heat, maybe the rain and quite surely the lack of infrastructure and western privileges we have grown accustomed to: hot showers, electricity, internet on tap, western-style food, proper roads and did I mention INTERNET?

Even though we successfully backpacked through Vietnam last year for five weeks, I’ve been researching that Myanmar is easily 20 years behind Vietnam. It’s definitely going to need some changing attitudes, a lot of patience at times and an ability to accept whatever comes up or gets in the way. Dacey, our youngest who is 7 years old but turns 8 the day after we depart Melbourne, kept groaning at the food that Luke was cooking. Wandering around the outdoor markets and cooking the traditional dishes of Mohinga or soup snack with ginger, lemon grass and tumeric powder with the cat fish. If I made this dish at home, I’m fairly sure Dacey would run away with fingers clenching her nostrils!

And then, to increase that excitement about Myanmar right here at home, the post woman delivered a box. What was this? And as I started ripping the tape off, I realised what this box had inside it – silicon writs bands! Our fundraising project for Myanmar orphans and children can begin. And here I am alone with all this excitement!


So with only five weeks to go, we will try and raise as much money as possible from selling these wrist bands with the yellow and red colours of Myanmar flag on the band and the green colour used for the written message: Give2MyanmarOrphansInBurma2013. So stay tuned for details


Until then let the excitement continue…


a mini-Easter break at Fairhaven beach

It’s Easter school holidays and Steve has a week off, so we’re making the most of our time together and escaping our home and heading off down the coast: along the Great Ocean Road to a place called Fairhaven. We leave Monday and will return Friday – 4 nights, 5 days of family fun. But first we must pack and just looking at the “stuff” we need to pack for the six of us is enough to put me in a bad mood.

Considering we happily backpacked around Vietnam for 5 weeks with just a backpack each, seeing the “stuff” spread out on the living room floor gets me ordering directions at the girls “take one bag only”, “that doesn’t need to come”, “we do not need to take your whole bedroom!”. After we arrive, I notice as the unpacking occurs two hair straighteners make their way into the packing!

Steve and I work quickly when we arrive – I drag all our “stuff” upstairs and he sets up the Jayco camper in the driveway with the help of the kids. We bring the Jayco along as extra sleeping quarters for the kids. The kids are great at assisting too and before we know it we’re at the edge of Victoria; walking down the beach steps onto the magnificent stretch of pristine coastline. Ahhhh…the sighs come forth as we breathe in the crisp salty air, listen to the roar of tumbling waves and look out towards the horizon where the separation of sky and sea disappears.

me walking along the beach

me walking along the beach

Fairhaven has become a home-away-from-home. My grandfather purchased a beach house for the whole family to use and enjoy in the early 90s so my family has been coming down here on school holidays since I was a young one. It’s a place that holds many childhood memories: attempting to surf but nose-diving straight onto the bottom of the rough sand, boogy board races with my brother, lathering of sunscreen and my first kiss with a boy called Toby in the rugged sand dunes. Now I bring my own young family here with all of our “stuff”.

my youngest, Dacey, loves the beach

my youngest, Dacey, loves the beach

Mini-breaks work for us. It allows all of us to catch up with one another and reconnect outside of the habitual routine that has us at home. Life is hectic juggling work, our jumping castle business, netball and running club commitments, homework, readers, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes…aghhhh…STOP! An opportunity to change life up a bit was too tempting to refuse. We invited other family members to join us for a night or two – Steve’s sister came down with her two boys, Steve parents and even my parents joined in. We had a full beach house for a night and we went to Lorne and enjoyed 1kg of mussels for $10 at happy hour at the Pavillion, walked along the Lorne pier on the most beautifully calm night watching the sun slide down the other side of the mountains. Then we drove to the Aireys Inlet pub for dinner. Ahhhh being able to enjoy family time together in a little beach house made it so much fun. Sure it was cramped and busy but that’s what makes it so memorable. In the morning Steve got busy in the kitchen poaching eggs, browning toast and tossing spinach leaves in virgin olive oil. Our home grown barista, Ashley churned out coffees and hot chocolates from the trusty red ALDI coffee machine. All this for 13 people on a small electric cook-top while we watched the drizzle outside set in and the cousins play another game of UNO.

the cuttlefish collectors Dacey and Billie

the cuttlefish collectors Dacey and Billie

Another reason for getting away was for me to ignite the creativity: do some reading, do some some writing. But no. With everything going on it was difficult to pinpoint the creative flow. It was more like creative flop. But a phone call I received on the second last day  sent me to outer space. It was an impromptu call from my former boss who I hadn’t heard from for nearly 15 years. Of course it was a pleasant surprise and great to hear from him. But in the conversation he just dropped this boulder onto my pinky that made me really squirm: “you could have been one of the best industrial marketers out there, but you went off and f*@#%^ it all up!” Silence. What to say? I reflected what could have been, like the movie Sliding Doors with Gweneth Paltrow or Neo in the Matrix taking the red pill or the blue pill? The fact is, I quit climbing the corporate ladder after I married and had babies. Four of them in five years. Do I hang up on this a-hole? No. I came back to the phone conversation with my open mind and listened to how my former boss’s life too had taken diversions since we last worked together: an ugly divorce and his son, now at high school, not talking to him because he left his mother and the marriage. It was the last thing I went to bed thinking about, and it was the first thing that I thought about when my eyes opened in the morning-did I make the right choice?

And so on the final day, notoriously called the clean-up day, I descended into a state of hopelessness about being a “pretend” writer. Don’t worry folks, this is not a new phenomenon of mine and I can’t blame the former boss’s comments either. All too often I experience creativity slip away from the page and I’m left a heartbroken mess. Add to that my former boss’s quote of the year and I was lost in dirty dishwater. So Steve made a deal with me – he and the kids would clean and pack up while I wrote. I only wrote a paragraph when Mrs Guilt came on over and settled herself on my lap. Great, what next?

I thought back to backpacking throughout Vietnam, writing, uploading and posting on my iPad as we moved from place to place on buses, at train stations, sitting at the beach, lying in hotel rooms, or cramming a story in time before heading out to find dinner. I did all that. So why can’t I write here? Am I not inspired? With all of our “stuff” to pack away and the guilt, I started to automatically fold beach towels with tears ready. And I realised, after being gently yet sternly told to sit down for a chat in the Jayco by my amazing husband, that I was a real writer and that I just needed to start with something small, something real and something honest.

my man

my man

The Jayco is packed. The beach house is clean. The road is clear for me to write. Steve has joined the girls for a final walk along the beach while I sit here, peacefully and happily writing about our amazing mini-break and in the background I’m dreaming of coffee gazing out the window at the Aireys Inlet lighthouse. This is my life; it’s full, it’s big, it’s adventuresome and all too often I can’t see the beautiful little experiences that happen right underneath my nose to write about and share.

So thank you to my former boss, Mrs Guilt, creative flop and “stuff”. Right here right now, I’m writing and that’s all that counts as I hear sweet little voices scrambling above the loud noise of a passing truck trying to change gears up the hill and footsteps climbing up the stairs. The girls enter the room and ask me, “How did you go Mum? Did you get much down?” And I show them the words on the screen and all they say is, “Mum that’s great! You wrote heaps!” And that’s all I needed to do and hear to take me back home.

A Very Happy 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone. We hope you have had a safe and happy festive season. We have had a wonderful family Christmas and now we find ourselves in a new year. So what have we been up to over the past couple of months?

Firstly, we have distributed the remaining Six Backpacks money to the places we volunteered at in Vietnam. $500 went to each of the children’s blind centre in Ho Chi Minh City, the orphanage and the convent in Hue, and $700 to the Kianh Foundation in Hoi’An.

We have been able to keep in contact with the special and amazing people who operate these much needed places we visited via email and we have received some Christmas wishes from Phong, the director at the children’s blind centre, and photos taken inside their music room and outside their main building. I hope we get to go back and see Phong again; such an inspirational man.


Mr Phong and his Centre for the Blind in Ho Chi Minh City doing a wonderful thing for children who are blind and want to gain an education


I have also been in communication with Jackie, founder of the Kianh Foundation in Hoi’An who has set up a day centre for disabled children in the area. They have been inundated with requests from parents to help them with their children who suffer from autism. Even though this is not on the planning board for the Kianh Foundation, they are pooling extra money into creating a new room and support services for these families as I write this. Our money will be a very welcome Christmas present at the Kianh Foundation for this worthwhile purpose.

The Kianh Foundation also sent me an update with pictures about how Khanh Ly, the new classroom assistant teacher that we paid for, is going in her classroom. It looks as if she has settled in well and is enjoying her role with the children. These children are affected by Cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome. It’s certainly lovely to be able to keep in touch with the places and people we visited in Vietnam and continue to hear their progress and provide assistance  wherever we can. Loving those smiles too🙂


Khanh Ly (teaching assistant) with some of the children she assists at the Kianh Foundation.




So I hope you are all excited about the year ahead and have dreams and goals to follow and achieve. We are super-excited in the Six Backpacks household. We’re planning our 2013 backpacking adventure to BURMA…so stay tuned for another family backpacking odyssey in September 2013.

If you haven’t got anything planned yet for 2013 or exciting happening right now, try this:

“At least three times a day take a moment and ask yourself what is really important. Have the wisdom and the courage to build your life around your answer.”

By Lee Jampolsky


It’s been a busy time since we returned from Vietnam. Firstly, I have published a book about the adventure! It’s a big, beautiful coffee table book that took me a while to complete, but the book arrived in the mail and my heart soared.  The most wonderful thing about doing the blog to book project was being able to relive the amazing journey once more through editing posts and resizing photos to be print ready. It will be available to purchase once I have sourced a suitable printer that is cost effective.

Here are a couple of pics; evidence of my book!

Secondly, I have been doing some communications work with the Twilight School, an initiative of Salesian College Rupertswood in Sunbury with Bruno Lettieri from Victoria University. My role involves creating and developing a cultural hub in the school and wider community. So far we have has two successful Open House events attracting 100 guests and a series of short courses with offerings in Beginner Italian, Life Writing and How to host a dinner party mansion style!

The Twilight School program is open to the public conversations and courses taking place inside one of Victoria’s impressive mansions. Rupertswood Mansion has hosted guests Michael Leunig with Alice Pung talking the creative process and John Marsden talking education. Ailsa Piper author of Sinning across Spain took participants on a creative short course journey of writing unlike no other. Now, our final Open House event for 2012 is on the topic of Refugees with special guests David Nyuol Vincent, author of The boy who refused to die and Adil Al-Qassas, a PhD student sharing their stories as refugees on Monday 26 November 2012 at 6.30pm. It’s going to be an event not to be missed. Parents and students are most welcome to attend the night and ask questions, buy David’s book and get him to sign it or just mingle with the crowd over a glass of wine and cheese platter.

Open House Flyer

Student Open House Flyer

It got me thinking about Father Joe who made contact for us at the orphanage in Hue and children’s blind centre in Ho Chi Minh City. He was a refugee who fled South Vietnam after the war ended. He was only a boy and he too has an amazing story of survival and resilience and resettlement to share. Another time perhaps.

I hope you can make this special night if you live in Melbourne. I’ll be at the door to greet and welcome you all into Rupertswood Mansion, so I look forward to seeing you.

‘normal’ life

We have been back home for exactly 24 days now and I have finally overcome my resistance to getting back into ‘normal’ life. The first week back was hard mainly due to weather changes and housework (for me anyway), but the second week back was the worst. I had no idea how difficult it would be for me to get back into ‘normal’ western life. Each time Steve would call me during the day from work, I’d say, ‘have you booked the plane tickets yet?’ To put it mildly I struggled in the first two with the isolation and order of our life. There was no one out on the streets, everything was so quiet and too orderly. I didn’t realise how much I loved the chaotic nature of street life in Vietnam.

Last week I decided it was time to stow away the packs. After giving them all a good shake and removing the last physical evidence of Vietnam, I packed them away up onto the top shelf of the laundry cupboard. And there they rest until…well, another time. More on that later!

So in those 24 days we have been up, down and at times simply flat-lined it! The kids have really basked in getting back into school, and Steve has been sucked away into the working world in the city. And for me…well I have some writing projects on the go. The most exciting is a uni assignment – turning my Vietnam blog into a book. Yup…watch out folks it’ll be launched and available to purchase in November this year. It’s a coffee table book that I am working on – uploading, editing, choosing pictures, proofing and sending off to the printer. It keeps it alive.

On the fundraising front, we have been in contact with sister Anne and sister Agnes in Hue and Mr Phong in Ho Chi Minh City and they are all doing great. We have been communicating with Jackie from Hoi’An and her day centre via Facebook and have had wonderful news that with our money she has secured a teaching assistant for the year – yay! This is the update from Jackie in Vietnam:

Thanks to Lisa and Steve Cole ( who, whilst travelling through Vietnam with their 4 daughters, went out of their way to track us down and find out how they could help and are now sponsoring one of our wonderful teaching assistants.

Khanh Ly, seen here with 2 of our children who have Cerebral Palsy, is part of an important team that work directly with the children and makes the difference to their daily lives.No matter how hard it sometimes gets, she never stops smiling.

We have still got some donations coming in which is awesome, so our legacy of giving to these children will continue on. Somewhere online I read this quote which is exactly how I feel about the Six Backpacks fundraising effort.

The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remains as your legacy.” Kalu Kalu

On the home front, I have noticed some positive behaviour from the kids at home: more helpful, keeping rooms clean, better communication and being considerate of others (especially with me when I’m under the pump). We are back eating western style food and miss the noodles and rice dishes we enjoyed for 5 weeks while we were traveling through Vietnam. Charlie, Dacey and I will have to get into the kitchen and cook up the meals we made in our cooking lesson in Hoi’An.

Billie is going to send a letter and photo of her little pen pal, Thu. Father Joe from Salesian College has offered to assist with translations and maybe even giving Billie some tutoring in the Vietnamese language so she can continue writing to Thu in Hue. We have also been in contact with our English backpacking friends and they finally arrived back home in the UK this week from being away for a whole 12 months with their three sons. I cannot imagine how hard ‘normal’ life will impact them.

The other night we watched the repeat of Top Gear as the boys attempt to travel up Vietnam in 7 days on motorbikes. Steve and I laughed so hard at their journey because that’s exactly what it’s like over there! It was nice to experience it a little again. If you haven’t seen that episode before, it’s must see entertainment and insight into life and traveling in Vietnam.

Until next time…

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