Author Archives: Erin Onsager

About Erin Onsager

Erin tries to escape her corporate confines as often as she can. She loves far-flung destinations, exotic locales, street food, airports, photography, and fun adventures. Please email for any inquiries or just to say hi!

Hiking the Four Pass Loop, Colorado

Labor Day weekend 2017, I set out to hike the Four Pass Loop in Colorado with my sister Erica, my cousin Becca, my friend Jessie, and Becca’s friend, Margaret.  27 miles in 3-4 days.  The views were incredible and since I haven’t posted in awhile, I thought I’d share a few highlights here (and try to motivate myself to post pictures from my travels, which I haven’t done in a few years).

Erica, Jessie, and I had attempted to hike the Four Pass Loop over the 4th of July weekend, 2016, but made alternate plans to hike the Wheeler Geologic Area instead as the mountain passes were still covered in snow and rain was in the forecast.  The trail is good on the Four Pass Loop so great to do when the weather is perfect, but I can’t imagine doing it while trekking through snow.


Iconic view of the Maroon Bells, which we hiked around in a loop


My friend Jessie on her final ascent up West Maroon Pass


Our first camping spot in the valley between West Maroon Pass and Frigid Air Pass


Looking down on Snowmass Lake from Trail Rider Pass – we were lucky the wildflowers were still beautiful in early September!


Snowmass Lake


My sister ascending up the final pass, Buckskin Pass as the sun rises on the mountains

Lake Inle, Myanmar

After Hsipaw, Trish and I headed to Lake Inle, with Beth, the Australian girl we met on our flight to Yangon and with whom we trekked around Hsipaw.  Lake Inle is apparently Myanmar’s most popular tourist destination and the town at the northern part of the lake, Nyaungshwe , was the only place in Myanmar that had a backpacker feel to it, as the streets were lined with travel agencies, bookstores, internet cafes, massages, and restaurants.  Lake Inle sounded beautiful and I was curious about this method of leg rowing that I had heard that the fishermen use.  We arrived in Inle Lake/Nyaungshwe in the middle of the night and were given some mats to sleep on on the floor as no room was immediately available.  The next day, we wandered around and ate at the Pancake Kingdom, which was a delicious respite from rice and curry!  We interneted, ate street food, and I got a one hour long four-hand massage, for only $5.

The next day, we hired a boat (a very long boat) and the three of us cruised around Inle Lake, which was great!  In the morning we saw fishermen.  The men stand on the bow of the boat and with one leg wrapped around the paddle, paddle the boat forwards.  It’s an unusual method, but apparently helps them to see over the reeds in the water, since their view would be obstructed if they were sitting.

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A fisherman on Inle Lake, using the leg rowing method of paddling

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Leg rowing on Inle Lake

Our boat driver took us to a number of touristy shops on the lake – a silver shop, a fabric shop, a monastery, etc.  While designed entirely for tourists, each stop afforded us the opportunity to watch craftsman practicing their craft – be it designing silver jewelry, weaving fabric, or building a delicate umbrella.

The frame of an umbrealla

The frame of an umbrealla

Carving the handle for an umbrella

Carving the handle for an umbrella

Creating string/yarn (to ultimately be used on a loom) out of the stem of a lotus flower.  This was my favorite thing to watch/learn this day.

Creating string/yarn (to ultimately be used on a loom) out of the stem of a lotus flower. This was my favorite thing to watch/learn this day.

Jumping cats monastery.  So named because of the cats that reside at the monastery who have been taught to jump through hoops.  The most entertaining part was watching the sheer quantity of people that took pictures of sleeping cats - not cats jumping through hoops, but just sleeping cats who allegedly can jump through a hoop

Jumping cats monastery. So named because of the cats that reside at the monastery who have been taught to jump through hoops. The most entertaining part was watching the sheer quantity of people that took pictures of sleeping cats – not cats jumping through hoops, but just sleeping cats who allegedly can jump through a hoop.

Aside from stopping at touristy little shops, it was fun to cruise around on the boat and pass by floating gardens (made from copious amounts of reed from the lake), or entire villages of stilt houses – built entirely over the lake.  Instead of a school bus, children were transported home on a boat.  Houses had electricity despite being located entirely on the water.

Floating houses on Inle Lake

Floating houses on Inle Lake

Trish and Beth looking quite glam on the boat ride

Trish and Beth looking quite glam on the boat ride

As daylight waned, we watched sunset over the hills beyond the lake before returning to town.

Sunset on Inle Lake

Sunset on Inle Lake

We spent one more relaxing day in town – more interneting, massages, sitting at a coffee shop reading, etc.  It was a great way to end our time in Myanmar.

We eventually made it back to Yangon, enjoyed a very brief afternoon there, walking around, breathing in that familiar, but slightly sickening aroma of betel nut.  Yangon’s sidewalks are stained with red splotches of spit – and the poorest of the locals teeth are stained red from the betel nut that they habitually chew.

Betel nut is prepared on the street in Yangon

Betel nut is prepared on the street in Yangon

After departing Yangon, Trish and I sadly parted ways in Bangkok.  I rushed to enjoy my final night of my trip, only to discover that my flight was cancelled.  I re-booked my flight for a day later and spent an entire day in Bangkok getting 3 massages, eating well, and relaxing by reading and sipping a cocktail.

All-in-all, Myanmar was a great trip and a fantastic country.  The borders only recently opened to tourists, so its not a very developed country, despite the fact that wealthy speculators from Singapore and China are building developments.  The people were consistently very friendly, genuine, not jaded by tourism, and not pushy, which all contributed to a pleasant traveling experience.  The food was good, even if rice and curry three meals a day got a tad repetitive.  We spent about 10-ish days in Myanmar and while I think we could have spent a few more, it was the perfect two-week trip (including our time in Bangkok obtaining our visas.  Myanmar is beautiful, historic, and a bit of a hidden gem!

Trekking outside of Hsipaw

After we left Bagan, we headed via overnight bus (such was our primary way of transportation – we had limited time and it quickly allowed us to get places without losing precious days) to Hsipaw.  I immediately liked Hsipaw – it’s a small hill town and not overly touristy.  Once we arranged a 3 day, 2 day overnight hike, we spent the rest of the day relaxing on the balcony of Mr. Charles Guesthouse.  There, we were pleased to run into Beth, a Australian girl in her early 20s who was on our flight from Bangkok to Yangon.  She decided to join us on our trek and we also got Jordy, also an Australian who we met on our bus ride to Hsipaw to join us as well.  After a day of relaxing, Beth, Trish, and I walked through “the suburban part” of Hsipaw and visited a monastery, and stopped to play with children along the way.  We ate a delicious dinner of Shan noodles and went to bed.


The next day, we woke up and began our trek.  We hiked up and up and up into the mountains, and finally arrived at our first village.  We stayed at our guides’ parents’ house.  This trek was probably my favorite part of Myanmar, if only because it’s fascinating to see how others live.  Their homes are designed with a raised roof (above the main roof) over the fire, so that smoke can escape.  There was no running water, in fact, the UN’s development program had only built a central water spigot a year ago – prior to that, villagers had to walk down to the river to get water.  All food was prepared from scratch (of course).  We dined on rice and a delicious assortment of curries and tea leaf “salad”.


Sipping tea


The family patriarch


Removing a pot from the fire


A man smokes a cigarette through a water pipe

From here, we trekked on to our next village, which was interesting if only because most tourists do a one night overnight trek or a day trip and so these villagers were more in awe of us tourists.  The children would stare while their parents encouraged them to wave at us.  Jordy was smart and brought balloons in town to hand out to the children.  Walking with him through the village was a slow, but very adorable process, as for those children, he was akin to Santa on Christmas Day.


Jordy handing out balloons to children in the village

At this second village, we girls decided to shower, since we hadn’t at the first place.  Showering was in public, of course.  We put on lokis (a tube of material that is worn as a dress or skirt) and bathed by dumping bowls of water that came from a large barrel on ourselves.


A little boy waits for his bath

The most interesting thing about our trek to Hsipaw was simply experiencing a different way of life.  Our meals were delicious, but consistent: rice and curries and veggies (usually tea leaves).  My rough estimation is that each meal took about 3 hours to prepare.  Privacy is fairly non-existent, as many people from one extended family will live under the same roof.  From talking with our guide, it seems that 10-15 people living in one house is fairly typical.  Houses are practical – a year’s supply of rice and wood take precedence over individual bedrooms, specific beds, and certainly privacy.  All members work, including children – normally their job is to take care of livestock (boys), or help with the meals (girls).  The people were incredibly kind and very hospitable.

At the end of our hike, we stopped by a sugar factory, which was fascinating.  I love seeing work in progress for something which is foreign to me (I’ve never been to a sugar factory before), when it’s in its natural, non-touristy, environment.  One of the men offered us sugar cane juice and some candies and when our guide offered money, he declined, saying it was a gift for the visitors.  Genuine generosity is such a much-appreciated gift.


Sugar cane cakes drying in the foreground, while sugar cane juice boils in the background


Pouring the thickened sugar cane juice into a mold so that it can cool and dry before being cut and sold in the market


From Yangon, we took an overnight bus to the ancient city of Bagan.  While less famous than the nearby Ankor Wat temples in Cambodia, the stupas of Bagan rival Ankor Wat in terms of impressive historic religious sites.

We spent two days biking by the stupas and often stopping to enter and explore the insides.  Though all stupas were of varying size, all that we visited had some significant similar features: generally square construction with an internal hallway (some were small and cramped and required bodily contortions to fit through and others had massive hallways) that had 4 buddha statues.  We respectively walked clockwise through any building we visited

Bagan was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan.  During the height of the kingdom (11th to 13th centuries), over 10,00 Buddhist temples and pagodas were constructed.  Today, reports vary, but between 2,200 and 3,200 of these structures remain (in varying condition) and are scattered across the plains in and around Bagan.  After awhile, a temple is a temple, but Trish and I really enjoyed riding our rented bikes (my butt enjoyed it less so since it was hard to find a bike that a) fit a tall person and b) had tires that didn’t deflate mid-ride) through the countryside, with a seemingly endless supply of beautiful temples as our backdrop.

Once we tired from biking, we climbed Shewsandaw Pagoda’s steep and narrow steps to wait at the top for the world to turn so that we could enjoy a breathtaking sunset from one of the highest points in Bagan

Trish, climbing the steep and narrow stairs on Shewsandaw Pagoda

The views were stunning:


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Bangkok and Yangon

With a new job offer in hand, I racked my brain for my next impromtu trip, as I think that job transitions should always incorporate some personal time off (if possible).  I had been weighing my options and was leaning towards a trip to Colombia when my high school friend, Trish, told me she was going to Myanmar for exactly the same two weeks I was heading out of the country.  After a few minutes of G-chatting, I was on and bought my ticket to Bangkok and onto Yangon!

First, Trish and I flew into Bangkok and spent 2 days together there while we got our Burmese visas.  It was a great opportunity for me to get two custom made suits.  I paid $171 per suit and had custom made suits 24 hours after walking into the tailor’s shop.

My father had warned against the political protests in Bangkok, sending me email after email about the “situation in Bangkok”.  Upon arrival, we learned that there were 8 sanctioned protest sites.  Unbeknownst to us, we chanced on a protest site on Sukhumvit Street and found the street lined with tents, vendors selling t-shirts that said “Shutdown Bangkok, Restart Thailand”.  There was a stage with performers, but there was no violence.

Tents line Sukhumvit, part of the political protest

After our brief stint in Bangkok, we boarded an AirAsia flight to Yangon, went to bed immediately as we knew we had a full day the next day.

On our first full day in Yangon, we visited the Shewdagon Pagoda in Yangon, which is the most important religious site for Burmese.

Entrance to Shewdagon Pagoda
Shewdagon Pagoda

In the afternoon, we took the Circle Train, which goes through the Yangon “suburbs”.  It was interesting to watch life come and go, to pass by markets set up at the train station, to see the houses change from sturdy structures to huts, to see the hawkers selling fruit and corn, and to see the women farmers enter and exit the train with 6 cumbersome bundles of cauliflower, tomatoes, and other vegetables.

Locals on the Circle Line train around Yangon’s “suburbs”

Watching boys as young as 12 with rotten, red-stained teeth from months or years of chewing on the addicting betel nut and spitting the juice out the door of the train was sad.  Yet, seeing the locals sit on the train for an hour or more, content to watch life go by, with nary a book, or a smartphone to entertain them, was an important reminder that life – without distractions of the modern world – is enough to content us.

A prisoner laughs while handcuffed and accompanied on the train.