28/06: Day 150 – from Thailand to Myanmar
4.45 am, alarm clock rings. 5.15 in the taxi. 5.45 at the airport. 7.15, plane takes off. 8 am, with the 30 min times difference, I was in Yangon. I was so excited to finally be here !!!! New country I couldn’t wait to visit.
Okay, with some Kyats in hand and my new Burmese chip, I jumped into the taxi to get to my hostel. Really good first impression; I’m really surprised how well the taxi speaks English. He gives me this booklet full of information on travel destinations in Myanmar and genuinely very friendly.
First thing I want to do, cause I’m exhausted from getting up at that early, the circle line. It’s a local train that goes around the outskirts of Yangon. Wasn’t as busy as I expected, but the experience is there. Very local. People jumping on and off the train, throwing their bags of fruit, snacks, eggs or bit and pieces of a bit of everything they wanted to sell, on the train as it was still moving. It was an incredibly organised mess. Everyone is so smiley, but so shy, it’s quite funny. I bought a pineapple (had rarely, if not ever, tasted such a good one) and towards the end of the 2h30 ride, this guy smiles at me, kind of giggling, like a lot of them do… he finally took the courage to come up to me to ask if we could practice his English. Once again, very surprised by the pretty decent level of English.
Went back to the hostel through the Scott market. Not immensely fascinating, but if it’s your last stop in Myanmar, I guess it’s the good place to buy your gifts.
After a little rest, I decided I wanted to get to the Shwedagon Pagoda (which I can finally say straight, after spending months saying Shwebaba, Sudabon or the big pagoda in Yangon… It’s actually not that difficult – SHWE – DA – GON). By the way, it can be useful, Paya is the Burmese word for Pagoda.
Took my time to get there, wondered a bit in the streets. Stopped in a temple full full of cats. They were everywhere, yet it seemed quite lean. I even saw a young girl arrive with quite a large bag. She was looking for a hidden corner to actually take out of her bag a cat with her 5 or 6 kittens. She took them out discreetly, gave them food, but apparently, abandoning her cats here was not something she was authorised and a guard came rushing up, telling her to take back her cats and go away.
Then walked a bit more and stopped to eat Feel Myanmar Food and had my first Tea leaf salad. It’s so good! It’s a mix of tea leafs, peanuts, tomato, garlic, chili and some other things I don’t remember. I loved it! More on where to eat and drink here.
Continued and finally got to the most famous pagoda in Yangon. One thing to know when you visit Myanmar, is that one should always go around with a plastic bag. Obviously I didn’t know that on my first day and I was asked to buy a plastic bag to put my shoes in (no shoes allowed in Pagodas and Buddhist temples). I was probably slightly scammed on that one, because for sure they wouldn’t ask Burmese people to do that…
Once I walked up the couple of 100 steps or so up the pagoda, it was already late and it’s 8$ to get in and I wanted to make that most of it, so I decided just to have a walk around it and I would come back the next day.
On the way back to the hostel, I stopped at the Sule Pagoda, which I didn’t think much of and went to bed !
Four Rivers Hostal : it’s an alright hostel. Common area is quite small, but people where nice. Good price, clean and well located.
29/06: Day 151 – Yangon
As I left the hostel, I discovered how the streets of Yangon are fabulous. They are a mix of colours, temples, people, sometimes overcrowded, sometimes empty, of beauty, of poverty, yet have these amazing crumbling old colonial buildings and houses, hiding behind courtyards and high gates, that were once rich and grand, where you just want to adventure yourself until you see a dog running up to you, with the housekeeper looking at you from afar thinking “I’m watching you young lady”… They have this smell that you can only really strongly perceive in your first days in Myanmar. That smell of Betel that you quickly get used to and that, if ever you were to smell again elsewhere, you would think back to it with tenderness and would always tie you back to your Burmese adventures. What one doesn’t obviously get used to, and that goes for all of Myanmar, are seeing the Burmese spitting out the Betel and leaving great big red stains on the floor. What’s Betel you’ll ask. It’s the equivalent of the coca leaf for the Bolivians, but even more harmful, or simply, a cigarette. Betel contain areca nuts, wrapped in a betel leaf coated with slaked lime. Some contain tobacco. Spices may be added for taste in different parts of Asia, including cardamom, saffron cloves and sweeteners. Sounds pretty inoffensive and natural, but it’s actually a huge threat to the country. Almost every men, starting when they are very young, chew Betel, which gives for sure a very nice red smile, but more importantly, oral cancer. Read more. Anyhow, it still has that unique smell that embalm the city.
In the streets you’ll also always find hours of traffic jams, lines and lines of cars. The city is always packed with them. There’s a reason to that: unlike the rest Asia, no scooters are allowed in Yangon. There are many urban legends around the why they are banned in the city. The version I heard is that a high General died in a motorbike accident or was killed by one, so bam, they were Prohibited!
Wondering around, I bought my first Longyi (women’s traditional Burmese skirt) for 8000 kyats, which is decent!
Walked back in front of Sule Pagoda, still didn’t think much of it. In front, you have something that just looks like a small copy of the Washington Monument, which is funny. As I was observing thing “interesting” copy, a kid dressed as a Monk came up to me asking me for money, which I found rather strange… yet it’s true who could resist any requests from a young monk? Well I was happy I could, because I had learnt my lesson! Indeed, I had been told in Chiang Mai that the monks could never ask for things, whether it’s food or anything else; they give you hints, but, supposedly they never ask. And I was right! Indeed, The Vinaya (the regulatory framework for the monastic community of Buddhism) prohibits monks from asking for money and it’s a common scam, so don’t forget it!
Walking in front of the “Government Telegraph” building was like being in an old colonial city, that had long been deserted by the colons (in this case, they were actually chased out, but that’s a detail).
Just before getting to the Botataung Pagoda, I stopped in one of these tiny street kind of restaurants, so characteristic from Myanmar, to have lunch. A Typical Burmese meal is composed of loads of small plates of meat, corn, cucumber, other vegetables, soup and a big plate of rice. Yummy yummy!
Botataung Pagoda is a famous stop in Yangon because it’s supposed to, or rather sorry, it does, enclose one of Buddha’s tooth or hair. It’s quite unusual. The walls are covered in gold and protected by glass, where people can slip in money.
I was keen on a drink and I had read about Monsoon, which was near by, so stopped there. So funny… It’s say is kind of local… but for the upper class local. It’s a chic bar/restaurant, with a colonial style, relatively expensive, but if you’re fed up with the cheap little local restaurants and want to treat yourslef a bit, it’s a nice place.
Then headed to Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple. It houses one of the biggest Buddhas I have ever seen! It’s huge!! Tall, large, long, enormous! Very impressive, not only by the size, but also by its ornaments. People praying next to it looked so tiny. The surroundings and the view are also pretty impressive, a mix of jungle, city and temples.
The walk to Kandawgyi lake was beautiful. Old narrow back streets, saw these big old houses I was mentioning. I was pushed back 100 years earlier. Not at all city like.
The park around the lake wasn’t anything too special, but it led to the Shwedagon Pagoda. The important thing was to get there not too late, to make the most of seeing it in the sunlight, but not too early to stay there for the sunset and see its face at night time.
There’s a long and busy avenue that runs up to the pagoda. Its full of small shops, street food, other smaller temples and full with people either going to the temple, or busy selling stuff or doing whatever it was they were doing. The one thing that caught my eye even more that all the rest happening, was 2 kids playing a mix of tennis and ping pong on that street, but with stacks of flat wood. Jees one realises how lucky we are, but, even though it didn’t look like it was working too well, they seemed to be having fun.
Finally got up, again to the pagoda, WITH my plastic own plastic bag this time. It’s a truly stunning and fascinating place, not only thanks to the magical glow that, in turns, the day and night light gives on the reflecting gold, but also thanks to the life that #Burmese people bring to it: young in love couples, families bringing their small children, groups of young Buddhist monks hanging around, friends saying their prayers or just farang soaking in the atmosphere…
I sat on the floor for a while, observing that gigantic dome covered with gold, dressed in my new purple Longyi and barefoot, as it is the usage in holly places. It was a hypnotizing setting and I was alleviated by the beauty of the place, where Myanmar’s soul was beating. It isn’t just a temple, it’s all an organization, perched up on a hill, dominating Yangon. It’s a real labyrinth of cupolas, sanctuaries, domes covered with gold, prickling with needles on their top. They say, the Shwedagon encloses within its heart, 800 of Buddha’s hair. Legend wants that when the hair was moved from its sacred tomb, to be buried under this dome, their unveiling gave back sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. The earth trembled and the trees of the Himalayas covered themselves with flowers and fruits.
Went back for diner to the Feel Myanmar Food to have my Tea leaf salad and some dumplings again. So good, again!
As I was heading back to the hostel, I made a detour to go and see the Yangon Strand Hotel. A friend of my father had told me to swing by the hotel, that he had stayed at when he had visited Myanmar 20 years ago. I mean, Myanmar for me was already an adventure, but compared to his 20 year old stories… So jealous! Anyway, why The Strand? The Strand is one of the jems of Yangon, left behind by the Brits back when they controlled the country, and testifies form a glorious and prosperous time.
For a bit of history, because I at least think it’s fascinating, in 1886, as the British Empire controlled Myanmar, it attracted many merchants, in search of wealth. The country was indeed, and still is, immensely rich, with oil, teak, gold, ruby, etc. and had a very strong agricultural production (it was one of the biggest exporter of rice). With this annexation by the English, new trade opportunities emerged for foreigners and the need to welcome a businessman clientele grew stronger. No hotel at that time could guarantee the adequate standards of luxury for this new clientele. In 1901, The Sarkies brothers, who created the Raffles in Singapore, bought the building and launched the creation of a new luxury hotel, ideally located in front of the river. The concept of the Strand was born. The hotel passed through several states; among others, it was overtaken by the Japanese during WW II, before its nationalization in 1963.
I have to say I was a bit disappointed because it was under renovation when I went, so couldn’t visit it…
30/06: Day 152 – Golden Rock
Left quite early to get to the bus station direction The Golden Rock, on Mount Kyaiktiyo. 1h30 early… Because the traffic is so bad and the station actually quite far, the it’s recommended to take a large margin…
Got to Kinpun late morning and first things first, lunch. I was supposed to spend the night here and as I was walking around to look for food, I wasn’t too impressed by this little town, that I am sure is much more lively during high season, ie. when you don’t have buckets of water pouring over your head all the time… So, quickly decided I would move on that same night.
Ate and then got on the little bus that brings you up there. Crazy bus ride up to that mountain. Anyhow, so, Mount Kyaikityo is famous for the huge Golden Rock perched at its summit. It’s one of the three most sacred religious sites in Myanmar, along with the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Mahamuni Temple. Pilgrims come here from everywhere to worship and add gold leaf to the rock, which seems to defy gravity by delicately balancing on the edge of the 1100-metre high mountain.
For sure to see it balance like that on its edge is very impressive, but I have to say the howl place is… well, first of all, an entire cemented village was built around it, so there are huge floors of concrete around the rock, which, it is true, is more practical when it is pouring rain, it does avoid having to walk in streams of mud… then of course, who says great pilgrimage spot, says lots of shops and finally, you can’ do much about it, but it’s still frustrating, only men can get close to the rock…
On the way back down, I met 2 Chilean guys with who I hanged around until I took the bus for my next step, Hpa An.
In Hpa An, stayed at Soe Brothers Guest House, which is probably one of the most famous places for backpackers. It’s not a hostel, nothing too special, they only have 12$ individual double rooms and they offer tours of the main stops of Hpa An for the clients.
01/07: Day 153 – Golden Rock
For many, the 1st of July is the beginning of the summer, the holidays are coming soon, the idea of relaxing on the beach, getting that tan that you wait for all year long. Well for me right now, 1st of July rings like crap!! The end of my trip is coming so fast and that does not make me happy! On top of that, it’s definitely not summer here, as the rainy season is nicely in.
Anyway, I’m exited to be in Hpa An, in the Karen state, discovering, more or less, where my friends come from.
The program for the day:
- Yathae Cave
- Kyauk Ka Lat Temple: cute temple. Like in many temples, you always have young couples that seem to meet up or groups of friends also, really like a place to hang out together, its, for me, unusual to see that.
- Lumbini Garden: I would really say these gardens are part of the best things I saw in Myanmar. Spectacular. In the middle of some cliffy mountains, you have this great big field, with sitting Buddhas everywhere, built in so many rows, you couldn’t even count them. Absolutely unique > See video.
- Kyauk Kalap at water lake: famous pagoda, set on top of an unusual rock formation in the middle of a (man-made) lake. It is a beautiful spot.
- Kawt Ka Thaung Cave
It was a good day. Saw amazing things.
02/07: Day 154 – from Hpa An to Malawayine
It’s raining it’s pouring, the old man is snoring… But I did rent a scooter even so, which marked my first Burmese experience on the road? Didn’t see anything special.
Took the 2h bus, which was more of a city bus than a regular, long distance bus, for Malawayine and headed to Breeze guesthouse…. Well that will teach me to always look and confirm before just trusting one blog… that guesthouse was not good, being renovated, so everything completely knocked down and beds where awfully soft.
03/07: Day 155 –Malawayine
I had breakfast with the kind of person you wonder if they are real or if you just had a dream. The kind of person that has had a thousand lives, from being born in Myanmar in the 40’s, of an Australian or British couple, to the carols he would sing for Christmas under the windows of these colonial houses in Malawayine, to adventures in India, Europe and Asia. The kind that has seen so much and is so eager to share and talk about his stories that seem straight out from a book.
After that fascinating meal, I walked around the city… Moulmein, now called Mawlamyine, was in former times, the capital of British Lower Burma. It’s now the capital of Mon State. I didn’t think too much of it and again, I think it’s a shame it was rainy season and therefore quite empty. However, thanks to its colonial history, many vestiges remain from the past, even if, because of a lack of care, they aren’t aging very well.
I have to say I saw a traumatising scene today… two street dogs, clearly one male, one female, that were trying very hard to unstuck each other if you see what I mean… It looked horribly painful for both of them..
Anyhow, I bumped into a mototaxi, that spoke a bit a French and he convinced me to drive me around, starting with the world’s largest reclining Buddha, 20km to the south of town.
It’s for sure a gigantic Buddha, with the weirdest “museum” inside, yes yes, inside the Buddha. It’s on 3 floors and the whole thing is about… 400 m2. Before detailing that and visiting the… museum… I had an interesting conversation with my driver about Buddhism, where he was trying to convince me that I should be Buddhist and actually explaining the concept of Karma and how it applies in your life. It was super interesting and I kind of understood Buddhism could for somehow be applied as a philosophy of life, on top of another religion. As I was going… in the Buddha, just outside, a group of ladies saw me putting on my Longyi and rushed to dress me up. Knotted my Longyi, closed my cardigan and made absolutely sure I was descent and presentable. It was SO cute and funny. They really appreciated that I adapted to local customs. They didn’t speak English at all, but they were happy to chat to me in Burmese.
Inside, 3 stories of our equivalent to the representation of Hell, Earth and Heaven. Hell being particularly scary and bloody… What it must be like to be a Buddhist miscreant… outch. Very weird place.
Then the taxi dropped me off where I could take the boat for Shampoo Island (Gaungse Kyun). Shampoo Island because during the Ava period, the yearly royal hair-washing ceremony customarily used water taken from a spring on the island. 10 min tuf tuf boat ride to get to this tiny island. It’s cute, but doesn’t really have much to it. Its 900m2 are fully paved and live around a (kids?) monastery.
As I got back to land, I walked up to Kyaik Than Lan Paya, which is a pagoda and is also a nice viewpoint. As I was walking around, a group of 12 year old kids called me out “hey, you you, come come”, making me signs to go and sit with them. They spoke just enough of English to ask me “What’s your name?”, “Where you come from?”, they were really trying to have a conversation and they found it so funny. It was so amazing for me to see these kids, not afraid of anything and so curious about foreigners.
That was quite a buzy day, but what I want to remember are the streets of Malawayine or Moulmein. “Je te parle d’un lieu que ni photos, ni mots ne peuvent décrire”, en tous cas pas les miens. These houses, kind of slums I guess, made out wood and sheets of metal, where the families pile up and live sarrounded by way too much junk, yet the kids still come out, in this case rush out to speak with you. These kids ran up to me, asking me to take photos of them; they were so sweet. I asked them for their names and there started a long and, apparently, hilarious conversation. Each one would give me their name about 3 times and 3 different ones and then they would call their friends and say his name is blablabla, which would probably correspond to pipi, caca, prout prout, stupid and fat and they were laughing away about it, speaking to me in their language, which obviously I couldn’t understand a thing of.
Decided at the end of the day that it was more than time for me to leave the place; so took the 9 pm night bus back to Yangon. Comfortably settled in this fancy bus (screen, plugs, covers), 20 min before departure annnnd I don’t have my phone…. Urgh rushed out the bus, asked if the bus could wait for me 5 min, to enable me to go back and get my phone… yeah I’m not so far… then, ask everywhere for a taxi and of course that was the only time when 10 people don’t jump on you to bring you wherever you’re going… eventually fond this guy that didn’t even want to charge me, but doesn’t understand English… okay, already 8 min gone; he rushes through the city, got my phone back and check the time – 9.02… we wizz back through the city, after stopping a bus, which I thought was mine, we go back to the bus station, eventually, 9.17, the bus was still there waiting… but all the way I was thinking of how, if the bus left with my backpack, it was going to work out… but also was a bit concerned of leaving my daypack, with my computer, passport, money, credit cards, to the bus company’s front desk lady…
Everything worked out fine and I was able to watch Wall-E directly from the bus….
04/07: Day 156 – Malawayine – Yangon – Ngwe Saung
Got in to Yangon, changed bus terminals and hopped on a bus to Ngwe Saung. It was probably one of the most uncomfortable, yet most beautiful bus rides. The trip was about 6 hours, in an old old bus, just with locals. Ho and by the way, 6 hours to probably do something like 300 km…
As we slowly got out of the city and made our way to the beach town, the scenery got more and more jungly. The roads were very new, but you could tell that they had dug right through the jungle to make the way and apart from that road, there wasn’t much else around us.
As I arrived there, I had planned to follow the tip that the girl I had met in Pai gave me and go to Sea Fan camping sight. She had told me it was great and that the people were really nice. I guess the whole town has a very different place during rainy season… while it THE beach town in high season for all the backpackers visiting Myanmar, it’s nooot quite the same atmosphere the rest of the year.
First of all, when I asked the mototaxi driver to bring me there, he was very sceptical on the fact that it was open… It turned out to be indeed closed… so he brought me to some member of his family who rented rooms for about 10$.
I walked around a bit, in the little town, on the beach… in the wind and sometimes the rain, but nothing much was going on. I did eat well though. But for sure it wasn’t really worth coming all the way out here for this; not in this weather anyway. I have to say, I had been warned though! I’m happy I still got to see it as it is now. When I’ll go back in 20 years, it will look like Koh Tao and I’ll be able to say: “When I came here 20 years ago…”
05/07: Day 157 – Ngwe Saung to Yangon – Yangon to Mandalay
I have to say today was painfuuuul !!
- Left Ngwe Saung, again the bus ride was a mix between uncomfortable and beautiful.
- Got in to Yangon beginning of afternoon and the next bus to Mandalay was around 8.30 pm. I had like 6 hours to wait around in the station, because it just wasn’t worth going back into Yangon and come back to the station. So I just watched movies on my computer. Wrote a bit…
- Got into Mandalay around 4 am, of course the hostel told me, sorry, you didn’t book for the night, you have to wait until check-in to have a bed. I thought I was going to cry… Insisting a bit, I paid half price for an extra night and was able to go to sleep !
Four Rivers Hostel: It was good, clean, big, price was reasonable and for sure, depending on who is staying there, it can have a good atmosphere.
06/07: Day 158 – Mandalay
Objective n°1: get a scooter, or rather, first of all, ask where I can get one… Supposedly (I was told) in Myanmar you need a proper driving licence to drive around in a scooter… not sure how true that is, but the one true thing is that for sure it’s more expensive! 15.000 kyat if I remember correctly for 1 day; not 24h like in the other countries, no, you need to bring it back by 7…. So I quickly abandoned that idea. As I was kind of pissed by the situation, because that’s not how much I was going to spend and I needed it for longer anyways, I sat on the steps in front of the shop looking angry and sorry for myself, which, surprisingly, or not, caught the eye of a mototaxi just in front.
In a couple of minutes, he had managed to cheer me up and convince me to let him drive me around to show me everything there was to see in Mandalay. So off we were!
Mandalay makes me think a lot of Chiang Mai. 2nd largest city in the country, Temples everywhere, a central old neighbourhood in the heart of the city, crossed by a river, the Irrawaddy river, that whole style and atmosphere I thought was quite similar.
He started by bringing me to a Gold leaf preparation workshop, King Galon Gold leaf workshop, famous in Mandalay. So I could observe how much hard and thorough work it is to make these tiny, very thin golden leaves that you can buy and usually sticky on sacred Buddha statues.
Before getting to all the pagodas and monasteries, first things first, so I had to buy my 10$ ticket (valid for a week), required to enter many tourist sites in Mandalay and the surrounding area. It can be bought at most places that require it for entry. In some locations (such as Inwa, Amarapura and Sagaing), the ticket is technically required.
I’m not sure of the order, but we started with Mandalay Palace, which was just… I’m not sure how to explain, because the whole palace (buildings and gardens) is large, very imperial looking, throwing you back at the time of the strong and powerful kingdoms of Myanmar. Built in the 1850s, it is the last royal palace of the last Burmese monarchy, so it should be kind of a big deal right? Yet no! it’s half abandoned, the grass in the gardens is totally wild, it’s not really looked after, some parts of the palace are full of pigeon poop, etc.
What happened is that it’s not actually the real original thing… Between the English that burnt half of it down, the Japanese that used it as a supply depot and the allies that bombed it during WW II… by the 50s, Only the royal mint and the watch tower survived. Reconstruction of the palace began in 1989, initiated by the Department of Archaeology, but government funds were insufficient, so… and that’s only my very personal opinion, I think they probably did what they could with what they had and allez! On en parle plus! (okay, let’s do it and not talk about it anymore). Again, it’s very nice, but you feel there’s a lack of budget invested in this place…
- Kyauktawgyi Pagoda
- Atumashi Monastery
- Shwenandaw Monastery: It a very nice teak made monastery, very austere, but all the sculptures in the roof, walls etc., are superb.
- Maha Myat Muni Paya or Mahamuni Buddha Temple : Myanmar’s second holiest pilgrimage site. It is a 4-metre high Buddha statue, made of gold and decorated with precious jewels. There were lines of men, no women allowed, who were waiting to stick a golden leaf on the big Buddha. I’m not quite sure what the belief is around that custom, but you can see on the different photos in the temple, how the Buddha has grown and changed since the early 1900s because of all the people sticking these golden leaves. Quite impressive.
- Sandamuni Pagoda
- Kuthodaw Pagoda: known as the world’s largest book, with its 1460 pages and by far my favourite sight in Mandalay and probably in my top 5 in Myanmar. I don’t want to give away the secret of this book, so just look for it! What I can say is that it’s an impressive and, I found, very serein pagoda. As usual in Myanmar, pagodas aren’t only a pilgrimage sight and here I was able to discreetly, because they are often quite shy, observe a small group of young high school students, seemingly revising for an exam and repeating their lesson out loud, on a bench, under this big tree protecting them from the sun, it was such a cute scene.
- Mandalay Hill: from which the city actually got its name, is a holy site, and is said to have been climbed by the Buddha, who prophesied that a great city would be built here, where his teachings would flourish. It is a perfect sunset view point, around the Sutaungpyei Pagoda, with a panoramic view over Mandalay and a perfect place to chat with locals. A lot of students come up here to practice their English with foreigners.
- I don’t remember the name of it but we ended in this museum pagoda, that was sooo kitch! They had different big Buddhas exposed behind glass panels, with these Christmas looking lights everywhere, it was so funny, borderline ridiculous, but I didn’t say anything!
07/07: Day 159 – Mandalay surroundings
We had agreed with the same taxi driver that he would also bring me around today, around the outskirts of Mandalay: Mingun, Inwa, etc. But anyhow, we started the day early with an impressive monk balai at the Mahagandhayon Monastery.
Imagine approximately 1500 monks all going around the same time to have their mid-morning meal. After seeing them flow all together, its beautiful and impressive to see them all gathered in this huge dining room. Imagine the size of that kitchen and of these cooking pots… The scene is pretty short and starts around 10.30 am, so one can’t be late to assist to this daily ritual!
For sure it’s beautiful and very unique, however, I’m not sure how I would feel if a huge crowd of foreign tourists would come every day to look at me and observe me, taking photographs, while I’m having lunch… I don’t think I would enjoy it that much…
As we were starting to drive away towards Mingun, we passed lines of stone workshops, where they were sculpting and working the stone to produce, it seemed like, all the Buddhas of the nation. We passed through clouds of dust coming from all that stone carving outside the shops and none of these workers, young ones on top of that, we wearing any kind of mask or other protection… no judgment, just feeling lucky.
After a good 30 min bumpy but pretty nice drive, we got to Mingun. There are a couple of ancient temples, big and small, that very much recall the Ayutthaya style and architecture. Most of them are not in a very good state. One was totally destroyed inside, with only half of the façade still standing up, yet people to could climb inside, on top and everywhere and in what looked like an abandoned field, which it wasn’t. I love places like that, especially as there was almost no one there but a couple of local kids playing football, I could fantasize on what kind of life this temple had had. On the other hand, it’s sad to see that they were not maintained… For sure I know that if Myanmar had to preserve all its temples, they would spend absolutely in their money on that and still would be missing masses.
Then we went to Mingun Pahtodawgyi, same style, not very well maintained and famous for its huge crack in the middle.
Mingun Bell was quite cool. It was the largest ringing bell in the world, with its 90 tons, until 2000.
We also went to Hsinbyume Pagoda, a fully white pagoda, that, with the sun reflecting on it, blinds your eyes. While I was visiting the pagoda, I remember my taxi driver telling me to leave with him my Ganesh ring, as he could see it had this dirty golden colour and he assured me that certain leaves of a specific tree that was there could clean the ring… I had paid it 80 baht in Kanchanaburi so I wasn’t risking much and when I got it back, couldn’t see any difference, but of course acted as if I was seeing a new ring when I got back.
We drove around Inwa, also to see a couple of other abandoned temples and pagodas, there even was some cows eating on and around some pagodas they were so abandoned. In one of these specific temples (yes, it was a modest conglomerate of small temples), I found again, like in Bagan, but this time I was really alone, a “secret passage” to explore the temple, that one could only find with a light or if you knew the place. It was great. Really loved it.
To finish they day, we headed to the famous U Bein Bridge. Didn’t go for a boat ride, not sure how much it’s worth it, but walked the 1850, 1,2 km bridge, enjoying the nice sunset. The walk was nice, crowded, but still felt authentic. It can be like that when, on top of the usual tourists and travellers, you have crowds of locals, a father and his son, a group of students sitting playing the guitar, old friends… It is, or rather, it can be, quite a bucolic and romantic promenade.
I met 2 Dutch girls on the bridge, who had rented their own scooter and we agreed to meet up for dinner. I don’t remember how, why or where, but we met up in this very good and super local restaurant, because I seem to remember one of them had lived or was living in Mandalay, or had taken advice from someone who had, or something rather, so had the perfect evening!
08/07: Day 160 – Mandalay to Bagan
Left Mandalay at dawn and hopped on the 6 hour bus ride to Bagan. Yes, that magical place called Bagan. On that ride, I met Morgan, who was going to be my travel mate for the next few days. He’s a French guy from Britany, with a pretty cool project actually. First of all, a bit like I did with my Ember card (actually I haven’t spoken of her yet! I’ll come back to it), he would take all his photos with an Henaff paté tin box. The guy would share his photos on their Facebook page. Eventually, it was such a success and he was making them pretty good/funny advertisement, they offered to send a full box of the tins to the destination of his choice! Anyhow, that was not his project. Morgan left France for approx. 2 years for a world tour, with the intention of training with Judo teams in all the countries he would go to. In big countries, he would train with local minor teams, but in smaller countries, where Judo isn’t such a big thing, he was able to train with the national teams. It’s an amazing way to travel, meet people who share the same passion as you and who are willing to share so much about their culture. He’s now writing a book about his “Judo world tour” and all the crazy encounters he made (I’m even mentioned in it! ^^).
As we got to Bagan, we went to book our bed at Hostello Bello, I just couldn’t believe that anyone could actually decently ask for 25$ a night for a bed in a hostel… Then, the Entrance Fee. As any archaeological sites of this magnitude or any big museum, one needs to pay an entrance fee, in this case, 15 or 25€ (25.000 Kyats) to circulate in the Old Bagan and to get into some of the big temples. At the desk at the hostel, they tell you it’s mandatory and push you to buy it from them. If and when you are a good and an honest person, you pay the fee and that’s normal. But those who know me, and if you don’t, now you know, I’m a terrible person and I’m French… So, if and when you are not a good and honest person like me, you don’t buy the entrance fee and when someone asks for it, you act like a stupid tourist that doesn’t understand much and you say you forgot it at the hotel… It worked….
Left our stuff, rented one of their electrical bikes and off we went.
Bagan is a unique place in the world, there’s only one of its kind. I have never heard of any other place that would come close to something similar (Okay, a part from Mrauk U, 18h away from Bagan, that’s supposed to be same same but even better). Bagan isn’t really about wondering on your motorbike around the different temples, it’s more about the crazy, amazing, astonishing, breath-taking, unique views!!! The real thing of Bagan is getting on top of these temples, admiring how far all these temples extend in the valley and enjoying the silence while watching the sun come up or down in the distance. There are so many thousands of these temples, that if you search well enough, you can have your own temple and be totally alone and quite far from the next living soul. It’s a place where many, I’m sure, are inspired by the powerful atmosphere that lives here and by the heavy burden of such a rich past.
We were lucky to find a calm spot, absolutely precious, with no one around and after a quick rain shower, which gave it even more of a mystic feel, we were able to admire one of the most beautiful sunsets.
Another downside of rainy season in Myanmar is that because I guess it must be dangerous in case of rain, there are none of these renowned hot air balloons over Bagan, so couldn’t admire that famous display of colours in the sky, so typical of every postcard picture of Bagan. However, the weather was very nice almost all time, pretty hot, sunny and even the nature was dryish.
Ho and back to Ember, I was mentioning earlier. Ember is a card, from a Pokemon-like game, that was given to me by colleagues just before I left Boston. Not that she was going to bring me luck, protect me or anything, but my mission was to make her travel and see the best sights on this planet and send the photos with my colleagues, which I did all along my journey.
Hostello Bello : sure, it’s a good hostel, great atmosphere, but it’s probably the most expensive in the howl wide world !!!!! 25$ for one night. One can easily find a hotel room for the same price but for 2 people.
09/07: Day 161 – Bagan
Spent the day on this electrical scooter visiting Bagan and its temples. The fact that you can go in and on all of them is pretty cool. The big temples are very looked after, you should show your ticket before you get in, you have signs everywhere, etc., but for the other 2159 others ones, there’s nothing and no one. What I preferred in these smaller temples, were the secret passages. In most of these temples and Pagodas you can climb up, so sometimes you just have stairs on the outside which enable you to go on top, but sometimes you need to find the secret passage, which is usually this very small door, hidden on a side; you crunch in (these stairs where definitely made for small people – and by the way you can make the contrast between these small passages and the usual massive doors of the temples) and get to the top. It was funny because one really needed to bring out a torch to find the passage. Interestingly, that’s actually one of the reasons it’s not a UNESCO sight (the fact that you can climb all over the place, how you want), along with the fact that the temples are not maintained in the exact same way they were built, so they refuse to sponsor and protect the sight.
Took a little break and went to the market in the little town just next to old Bagan. That’s where I bought the 1000 longyis I sent back home. Obviously it took me ages to choose, then negotiate, then they had to be sent to be finished (they show them unfinished on their stand for a reason that I ignore, so when you buy them, they are brought to be sown on the top and closed in a circle, like a skirt), but I was so happy to have this unique, traditional souvenir for my friends and family, that (understandably) no one wears… nor as a longyi, neither even as a scarf, which I hoped, cause I do!
As we got back to old Bagan, that’s when we tried to get on the White temple and acted like stupid when they asked for the ticket and it worked. I’m glad it did because I was worth it.
Later in the day, we went on the “sunset tour” of the hostel, which was a mistake, although the view was really good, but I much preferred being alone on a temple enjoying the silence of this magical place, rather than being with 40 other people…
10/07: Day 162 – from Bagan to… Mrauk U – Ho no sorry, back to Mandalay
After a long hesitation on whether I should go to Mrauk U, which was the plan, because it really sounded amazing, I have heard so much good of this place, I opted to go back to Mandalay… the 18 hour bus from Bagan kind of put me off and no one was able to give me a straight answer on what the weather was going to be like… I read everywhere that it is not a good place to go to during rainy season; in Mandalay they had told me that it was all flooded, but then someone else said the opposite in Bagan…. Anyway, so I’m a bit disappointed (again after Ngwe Saung…) but I preferred to play safe, rather than finding myself again in a place where it is pouring rain and with no one there. However, when I’ll go back to Myanmar, it’s definitely a place I will go to, together with Mogok.
Last day in Bagan; didn’t do much. Just chilled and posted my photos.
So, I’m on my way to Mandalay, I need to send all my stuff through the post office tomorrow (all these longyis I bought yesterday, which are actually really heavy) and then head to Pwin Oo Lin.
11/07: Day 163 – from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lin
I was going to say nothing special happened, but… I went to the post office to send back home the Longyis, the Tea mix and some clothes I didn’t need and not only did the package cost me the price of the content, which is fair enough, but I spent over 2 HOURS in that stupid post office!!! It’s worse than French administration! There were maybe 10/12 people in front of me… and that was only for international post… However, it did get to France in less than 2 weeks.
After spending a wonderful morning, headed back to the hostel to go to Pyin Oo Lin with the “local bus”. The guy at the hostel wrote down in big letters Pyin Oo Lin in big Burmese letters on a piece of paper (and there are by the way 100 ways to write that town, at least in English) and sent me on the main road, telling me to wait for the bus showing this sign… I felt pretty stupid. But anyway, now I know when someone means “local bus”, they mean a covered pick up that stashes people in the back, with the luggage on top and that for 2 hours… not the most comfortable, but it was a funny experience.
Got to Pyin Oo Lin, in the “Golden Dream Hotel”, I think it lives up to the empty weird hostel in Melcacca I was in… in terms of awkwardness they hit pretty high. For 5$ I had a big double room, with a key that apparently didn’t open only my room… and the whole set up looked like a former asylum… and again, I was the only one there…
Anyway, not much to do in Pyin Oo Lin, if not nothing at all…. I mean, sure, the town is a former colonial hill station, which was the place to be in the summer during British rule, when they wanted to escape the heat of Mandalay, so it does have a bit of that vibe, which is always interesting. I also heard the surroundings were very nice and that there were some good waterfalls, but wasn’t going to stay for that.
12/07: Day 164 – from Pyin Oo Lin to Hspiaw
So, the actual reason, or rather one of the reasons I came to Pyin Oo Lin was to catch the train to go to Hsipaw. Not that the train only left from Pyin Oo Lin, it did leave from Mandalay, but it left at 4 am… and I am getting very bad at getting up early; so at least I was able to catch the same train, but at 8.30….
It was one of these small old colonial kind (again) of trains and already when I bought the ticket they didn’t even ask me which class I wanted to be in, but automatically sold me a “1st class” ticket. Then, once arrived on the train platform they started sending farang people on one side and Burmese people on the other side. Then as the train came in the station, for sure the difference was noticeable. 1st class was nice comfy big seats, 2nd class however made me think of my train ride from Bangkok to Koh Tao, hard narrow wooden benches. It’s probably a bit hypocrite of me, but I was the first time I felt such a strong split and the organisation was probably not so different from what it would have been 100 years ago. I mean, sure, I could have asked to get the cheaper ticket (and vice versa for the Burmese) and I was happy I didn’t, but the separation was just so flagrant, it was somewhat surprising.
Anyhow, it’s a really super nice ride, beautiful. I’ve pested a lot against the downside of rainy season, however the good side is that, unlike when I was in Cambodia or around Chiang Mai, nature now has this generous juicy green colour, at least around here. It’s a slow train ride, that goes right through the gorgeous fields of Shan State (remember that to go from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lin, it takes over 4h in the train and it took me 2h to do it in a small tuk tuk…). Immense fields of corn or cotton or other things I don’t remember, mingled with the working buffalos or the lazy ones resting in mud ponds. I wouldn’t adventure myself in saying that the state is prosperous, but for sure they do a lot of business with China, selling them almost 90% of their harvest (or rather China bought all the land and sends everything back home). The train even goes over an old, more or less, suspended bridge, that gives a plunging view down to a small river, 200 m below.
I met a couple of people in the train, of which Fabiana, which makes all the difference for when I get to Hsipaw. Fabiana was doing an internship in Phnom Phen and making the most of travelling before going back to the Netherlands. I remember being surprised by someone doing an internship in Phnom Phen, but found it super cool!
Hsipaw is a cute little town, nothing much to do I don’t think, but perfect to spend half a day or so before starting your trek. It’s the “Mr” town: Mr. Shake, Mr; Mushroom and THE famous Mr. Charles. After booking a room in a hotel, Fabiana and I went to book our 2 days / 1 night trek with THE organism to go with, Mr. Charles, which is also a famous hotel / hostel. Everyone is given Mr. Charles as a trekking tip for Hsipaw. We were ready to face and brave the Burmese mountains !
What we were not obviously ready to face though, was the gun shots. We were chatting with some people who had just come back from the trek and they told us that, from their homestay, they had heard some gun shots, not soooo so far… Shan State, along with most of the others actually, is still one of these states that is still very much under tension between people from the government, from the different ethnise and from the state (read more about Internal conflicts in Myanmar). Maybe we were not ready to face them, but that’s no reason we were not going to go!
13/07: Day 165 – Trekking in Hsipaw
Fabienne, myself and the 3 other people of our group, of which a Korean guy and a young French couple, left early in the morning, around 8.30. Beautiful green mountainy sceneries. People and animals working in the fields. Our guide was super nice, aguy who had grown up here.
We arrived around 4 pm, in our family homestay. Got pretty sceptical is we got there, seeing that we were going to sleep on straw carpets on the floor… Burmese style.
Walking around the village, we came across the cutest children. Although the mothers didn’t seem too keen on us playing around with our cameras with them, the kids were seeming to have the time of their life! Laughing away to every single selfie we were taking together. Genuinely happy kids.
Then we improvised ourselves English teachers at the end of this tiny school’s class (they were actually doing their homework and not listening to us at all…!). But it was interesting to see their classroom, what 7 to 11 year olds, in a small village lost in the mountains, learn and what their school books look like. If I remember correctly, and I may be totally wrong, but I think school stops being mandatory and free at the age of 11 or 13… That’s again when you think, according to our established system, we are very lucky…
The showering part was interesting… local style. Women (and probably men also) wash dressed up. In our case, our host family just had a big well (it wasn’t a well, but kind of) in a corner of the garden and would poor water over themselves and wash with their Longyis on, and so we did. Logistically a bit complicated (with the drying and getting dressed again), but it made all 5 of us laugh quite a bit.
We spent the evening in the garden, looking at the starts, thinking of what kind of food we were missing the most and obviously (but mainly because we were 3 French out of 5 people), cheese won. Totally knocked out, we all went to sleep pretty early.
14/07: Day 166 – Trekking in Hsipaw day 2 on French Bastille day
Can’t say I spent the best of nights, and I don’t think any of us did, but I guess it’s just a matter of habit to sleep on the floor…
We didn’t have much interaction with the family, mostly with the guide, but this old lady, I guess the grandmother or the mother, but anyway an old lady, came that morning, sat in a corner at the window, smoking her Burmese cigar (they smoke these thin, green cigars, that’ don’t really taste that good). She looked like the crazy kind, but the respected crazy kind, smoking away on that cigar. For sure she didn’t look like the kind we would want to mess around with.
Then left our host village to walk the 6 or 7 hours that separated us from Hsipaw. Of course we didn’t go the same way. It was again super nice, everything super green, walking through these beautiful fields. Gorgeous scenery. I think then end was slightly difficult (mostly because I hadn’t been trekking much over these couple of months), but we did finish in a nice waterfall to cool down, which was just was I needed.
Then back to Hsipaw, just the time to have some diner and hoped on the bus to Kalaw.
15/07: Day 167 – Day in Kalaw
Can’t say I did much that day. First of all I arrived, with the Korean guy, around 3 or 4 am in Kalaw, which is absolutely ridiculous. Anyhow, it took us 1000 years to figure out where to go, which hostel we could check out, luckily all of them had a 24h reception. Eventually, mostly for price reasons, we split up and I found a room in Golden Lily hostel, or something rather.
Slept until like 11 am and didn’t do ANYTHING! Mostly because there’s not much to do in Kalaw and the weather was bad, but it’s also nice to have, every now and then, days where you just stay in, chill, relax and do nothing.
I stayed in the room, watched movies on my computer, cleaned and reorganised my bag, sowed on the bag all the flags I had bought and never had time to sow on. I did get out at some point to book my trekking at Uncle Sam’s trekking. I went out with these ridiculously short shorts, which was totally stupid of me, in a country like Myanmar and in a small city-town like Kalaw. I felt so stupid, everyone was looking at me as if I was a slut, at least that’s what I felt. So, I went to Uncle Sam, the most famous “company” to go trekking with (which doesn’t mean it’s the best one, even though it went perfectly well) and rushed back to the hotel to change, before going out again for some food. By the way, some trekking companies propose to sleep in a monastery, which sounded really nice, but I wasn’t sure of their organisation and I had heard and read everywhere about Uncle Sam, so I played safe.
As for food, I just want to mention it because it was so good, I went to Aung Nyein Chan Aung (II) for lunch and dinner.
16/07: Day 168 – Trekking from Kalaw to Inle, day 1/3
Left around 8 am again and this time we were 4 French people, an English girl and a Spanish guy. One of the French girls was actually super interesting as she was working for the Franco-Burmese chamber of Commerce in Yangon; she had started there for an internship I think and continued on working there (for me, it’s quite something for a foreigner to work in Myanmar, so I was fascinated).
Before we start, if you wonder if we trek with our big bags for the 3 days (since we are not doing a circle but a line) of course NOT! They bring the bags by car to the hostel that you chose.
Anyway, so we left, of course the scenery was precious, the level was a bit more difficult, I was happy to brag about the fact that I had JUST done the 2 day trekking of Hsipaw and here I was again doing another 3 day trek (Karma kicked my ass, because I was the one suffering the most on the last day – it will teach me!).
As we were marching in the middle of nowhere, we started walking on what looked like an abandoned railway. The grass was growing everywhere, trees were narrowly growing around it, so I guess we all took that for granted and didn’t even ask our guide about it. At some point, we heard in the far distance a “tchu tchu” kind of train noise… So someone did ask “this is not in use right”? The guide said, no no, it is in use but no worries, the train isn’t supposed to come before 3 or 4 hours… Obviously it was a, late, or early, but most likely very late, train coming at us… We couldn’t see it yet, but it was coming right in front. Because there was a lot of vegetation growing all around the track, there wasn’t really space for us to get off it and properly get out of the way, so the guide, who was actually quite far ahead of some of us, turned around and said “ok, run! Run!”. We all started running, still on the rail, but we still couldn’t see it, so I was definitely thinking that he was just being cautious, but that for sure we had time. Pfff, how wrong I was! Eventually the last person was able to through herself 1m out of the way, maybe 100 meters before the train passed. It could have been a bit dangerous, but it was actually quite funny…
20 min later, got to this super cute tiny little train station, where people would come down of their tiny villages to sell some fruit, vegetables and other goods. There was this fascinating train timetable, written all in Burmese; everything was all so local.
We got to our village around 5. The bed setting and the shower system was almost the same than in Kalaw… It was rudimental, but it actually felt good to do things their way, the local way (even though I’m sure, even then, it was customised for us).
From the window of our host family’s house, we could see some farmers, and a lot of kids actually, coming back from work, on the back of their buffalos. It was an amazing scene.
Our guide was the perfect man to marry!! He was super nice, he cooked incredibly well and on top of that, he offered to each one of us a full massage! Probably one of the best ones I’ve had!! He explained us that, when they go to be monks, they have to massage their “mentor” every day, so he was well taught… (still not quite sure what I think of that…). For the story, it is mandatory for Burmese boys/men to spend some time as monk and several times in their lives. It can go from as short as 7 days, to a couple of months, years, or to their whole life. Of course, the longer the better, especially as they usually get free education.
Again, got to bed super early, for a nice and early morning start.
17/07: Day 169 – Trekking from Kalaw to Inle, day 2/3
Had a perfect breakfast, probably one of the best ones I’ve had over my trip. Our guide got up maybe 1 hour before us to make us pancakes, shopped up fruits, we had muffins, hummm so good !!
Then left the village pretty early. The scenery was a bit different at the start, it was more the plain top of mountain rocky kind of scene, which felt different and was cool. However, the path rapidly got somewhat… “complicated”. It had been raining probably a couple of days before started our trek and consequently, everything was completely muddy, at least that day anyway. At first we tried to walk around, or on the sides, but at some point, it just got totally out of control. Even the poor guide, who by the way didn’t have a splash of mud on his shoes, was getting a bit irritated. I was so happy at that point I had been carrying for months my big walking shoes, that took a ridiculous amount of space and wait – my shoes were muddy but my feet were dry!
After about 3 hours of dragging our feet in the mud, that mud that sticks to your shoes and make them look 4 times bigger, it eventually got better. After that episode, I can’t remember exactly if I was doing it out loud, but for sure I was pesting and complaining inside, as my legs were getting heavy and tired. Just before lunch time, I was even annoying myself!
We arrived around 5 or 6, in a little village, where a couple of other groups were also staying and after 30 min of intense stretching, people, farang and Burmese kids (including a monk kid), started a big football game on the main village square.
I’m not difficult, but I avoided the shower that day. The water was still in a kind of well in the garden, but this time I guess the water had been stagnating for quite some time…
18/07: Day 170 – Trekking from Kalaw to Inle, day 3/3
Had another perfect breakfast (after a not so perfect night and an early wake up), with crêpes this time, so yummy!!
Off we went for the last stretch. That part was nice because as we were getting closer and closer, we could see the lake, but also because they were much more traditional vested people, essentially women. They are mainly characterised by the bright coloured turban they wear on their head. Some are bright pink, some yellow, green or orange and each one has a meaning, or rather a belonging. Our guide explained it all to us, there’s a legend with a Dragon linked to the explanation, but the story didn’t stick in my memory… Anyhow, walking through the mountains with all these working locals was interesting!
Unlike Bagan, there was no way I was getting away with not paying the 12,500 kyats entrance fee to the Inle Lake area.
Eventually, fiiiiinally got to the end it! We all pretty much collapsed in the chairs, as we got to the restaurant to have lunch. Even getting up to go to the bathroom seemed impossible.
After having food, we just had a bit more to walk to get to the boat. We had arrived on the other side of the lake and now had to cross it to get to Nyaung Shwe, the city bordering the lake, which took about 1h30.
As we got there, we were all eager for a shower and a rest, so agreed we would meet up for dinner later and all went to our different accommodations. That’s exactly what I did straight as I got to Richland Motel, after meeting at the reception, a French girl with whom to share the room.
All of our trek crew met at this Italian restaurant and guess who called approximately 2 min after 2 months of disappearing… Mr. J made my day…
Richland Motel was pretty good. 12$ for an air con room. The staff was really nice and the breakfast was delicious. The location was perfect.
19/07: Day 171 – Trekking from Kalaw to Inle, day 3/3
Our trek crew had booked the night before with my Motel, the day boat tour around Inle Lake. The lake is famous for its floating houses and gardens and for the renowned fishermen that do impressive figures with their nets (more or less to amuse the tourists).
The lake is rather impressive, again, august probably not being the best season to see it, but the colour, the atmosphere, these fishermen, the pagodas, these gardens gave it quite a strong character. Our boat driver slalomed between the houses and the gardens, whilst our guide was explaining us what grows in these gardens and how the gardens actually float and stick together (I seem to remember it’s got something to do with roots being mingled together and some wood pillars buried in the water – but I’m not quite sure of my explanation).
Over the day, we stopped at a weaver workshop, a steel workshop (where I bought my Inle Lake knife that I keep by my pillow at night just in case…), a jewellery workshop, a wooden boat workshop and a cigar workshop. They were all working in their floating houses, certainly local style, but it did feel very touristy… every workshop showed us how they worked their raw material, but each one also had their little touristy shop, where you were slightly encouraged to buy stuff…
We also stopped at the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, a pagoda in the middle of the lake, where WE were the attraction. I don’t remember what it was, but it was a festivity day in Myanmar, so, day off for many people. As we arrived in the pagoda, it was packed with people, some praying, some eating, some just visiting, it was so noisy and that’s what’s nice in Pagodas. Unlike churches for example, pagodas are a gathering place, where families, or friends, or lovers meet up and hang out together. The other French girl and I, were being taken for real attractions. It started with one or two people wanting to take a photo with these tall, white girls and then this group of 10 girls came along and all wanted to take pictures with us. First a group picture, then individual selfies, then with the friend, then with the other friend. We literally spent 20 min posing for these girls. At the end, our jaws and cheeks were numb and painful at the same time because we were smiling so much, but it was so funny, they were so cute.
We finished the day around 4.30 and I was the only one sticking for a little longer here, so our paths split there. That’s what’s interesting when you travel, it’s that, you can become close enough to people to share a nice, sometimes intense, experience, but it usually doesn’t last long enough for you to be upset or too affected when you part. And when you do find people you really get along with well, you can change plans and/or do a piece of the journey together.
20/07: Day 172 – Inle Lake and last day in Myanmar ! 😦
That morning I went out to buy some tanaka. Tenaka is the product many Burmese put on their face. Other than the traditional looks, it is supposed to be quite good for your skin, cool it down, make it whiter and protect you from the sun.
Anyways, so on my last day, I went full traditional and asked the front desk ladies at the hotel to help me do it properly. They were both so cute, so happy to put it on for me. And that didn’t stop there. All day, Burmese people, men and women, were looking at me and saying how pretty I looked with the tanaka; I hadn’t had so many people tell me I was so pretty in all my trip !!! It was so sweet to see how happy they were that I had made the effort to “go local” and how much they appreciated it J !
As I was wondering in the local market, I thought it would be a great idea to buy for my dad’s birthday a traditional red (that’s their colour in Myanmar) Monk outfit – the same the Monks wear. It doesn’t look like it, but it’s actually pretty hard (if not impossible) to wear properly. No tutorials exist on Youtube of course and we don’t have many monks to teach us the technique in Europe… It’s a shame, my father would have looked very convincing as a bonze!
After that, rented a bike… a BIKE !!! for the first time of the trip… (I hate biking), but anyways, and headed to the Red Mountain Estate winery. The view was really beautiful!! It was a bit of a tropical south of France in Myanmar. Had a little glass of white wine in front of this magnificent view of the mountains plunging in the lake. The soul view is worth it. Perfect. Don’t ask me if the it was good, I have no idea, I don’t like wine, but it’ supposed to be best one produced in the country.
Cycled to the couple of other temples and places around Nyaung Shwe. What a stupid idea to have taken a bicycle! I don’t do bicycles!! Anyhow, for lunch I stopped in this amazing restaurant, the “Bamboo Hut”, the food was so so good. I took a mint salad – I thought it would be a bit strange, but it was delicious!! A must go! On top of the good food, the little terrace gives on a Dragon fruit plantation. The owner of the restaurant offered me one for desert – same, I’m not usually too crazy about dragon fruit, which usually doesn’t have much taste, but this one… this one was sweet and juicy. Never tasted such a good one. The funny part is that I spent most of the meal on the phone, with my childhood friend Camille, telling her how extraordinary all of this was, and of course I was not only talking about the food and the view, while, on the other side of the planet, she was going to work. I then realised how crazy it is that today you can be connected everywhere at any time. Good thing or bad thing?
Got back in town, complaining again about this stupid bicycle idea and before joining a bit later my French roommate for dinner with her crew, I went for souvenir shopping. Bought my Myanmar T-shirt (yes, I had been buying at least 1 t-shirt for every country) and a couple of other traditional goods.
I also bought and tasted betel, which was really bad… I mean the taste it decent, actually not bad, but the texture, it has these bits inside that you are not supposed to swallow and the fact that you have to spit out all that saliva… beurk! I don’t know how one could get anywhere close to be addicted to chewing that thing !!
21/07: Day 173 – It’s time to go… From Inle Lake (Myanmar) to Huay Xai (Laos).
It’s been long since I haven’t felt sad leaving a country. I was sad leaving Cuba and now Myanmar. Thailand is different because I know I always come and go (it’s actually funny, when I arrive in Thailand, especially in Bangkok, I feel like I’m back in my comfort zone, I’m back home).
Can’t say I had the wildest parties, met that many people, had great weather… but the country is enough in itself. The food was great, the sceneries were perfect, the culture and history is amazing and the Burmese are the best.
Wahoo that was a long journey. At first, and it was still the case 2 days ago, I thought I would take an easy night bus from Inle Lake to Tachileik (border with Thailand). Just seemed too obvious. Actually… I understood that it wouldn’t go that way when, I can’t remember who, but some Burmese person, explained that half of Shan State was forbidden to tourists, because it was too dangerous (Note to self: yes, maybe I should have checked the map of no go zones in Myanmar before going). Gerilleras are still quite intense between different ethnic groups that want an independent state, then between the government and the ethnise, then between the government and the state, etc., etc., anyhow, it’s apparently not safe. #ThisisMyanmar. The only area up north of the state that is clear for tourists is the town of Tachileik, so people can at least go in and out, but… by plane. So plane it was!
So. Left at 7.30 am and arrived at 7.30 pm.
- Started by taking the taxi from Inle Lake to Heho airport (cutest airport ever! Just 3 planes in the middle of the jungle): 1 hour to get there
- Then took the plane 1 hour from Heho to Tachileik (border with Thailand)
- Then took a taxi from the airport to the border (rip off!! 4000 kyat for 15 min…): 15 min
- Then crossed the Burmese/Thai border by foot obviously. I felt so sad to leave Myanmar….
- Then minivan from Mae Sai to the bus station: 20 min
- Then took the bus for Chiang Rai: 2 hours
- Then Chiang Rai bus terminal 1 took a 7km drive to Chiang Rai terminal 2: 10 min
- Then Chiang Rai to Bokeo / Huay Xai to get into Laos: departed 4.30 got there around 7
- Then took a minivan from the bus station to the guesthouse: 10 min
Wouhouuuuuu finallyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy !!!!