A Travellerspoint blog

Myanmar

And finally the beach...

a perfect end to an amazing experience

sunny
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In the morning one breakfast had magicked itself in to two, so we gobbled down as much as we could stomach at the early hour. It was another long day on a very bumpy bus before we reached Pyay where we were hoping to find a bus waiting to take us to the coast. However things just were not going to be simple in Myanmar and there were no buses going where we wanted. It took a lot of too-ing and fro-ing, um-ing and ah-ing for us to decide it would make most sense to get an early morning bus to Yangon and then catch another bus to the coast. Which did then raise the point that we could have caught a night time bus to Yangon from Naypyidaw and saved ourselves a lot of hassle but we worked out it wouldn't have saved us too much time and we'd be minus a couple of good stories.

We had a quiet night in Pyay as we both needed sleep. So we just had a lovely bbq dinner at the market before hitting the hay. All too soon it was time to get up and make our way to the bus. The six hour journey went by quite quickly, it is quite surprising how you get used to it. Once we reached Yangon we discovered the bus we wanted to catch towards the coast left from another bus station and so we had to get a taxi to take us there.

We then had a bit of a run in with the ticket seller. We thought we were rushed for time based on some misinformation so made an error in judgement and went with the first person who told us they want to Pathein, a port town we had to go to before finally reaching the beach. It turned out however that we were not rushed for time and there were lots of buses, some of which were cheaper. We had an argument with him when we told him he'd over charged us and he explained the taxi driver had taken some commission for bringing us there. This angered us more because we'd told the taxi driber to take us to the bus station, he hadn't done it off his own back. In the end they caved in and gave us some money back. A little bit sated by this we went to get some lunch as we still had half an hour or so till the bus left. Just as our food was put in front of us someone came along telling us our bus was ready to go. We told them our bus didn't go for another half hour but they kept badgering us and in the end I couldn't enjoy my lunch with them hovering so I left mine half eaten. All of this seriously annoyed Adam with the final icing on the cake being he was certain they moved us on to a cheaper bus. It did seem that way as the one we got on was not the one pointed out to us. As it turned out we were moved on to a nicer bus that was just a little way behind us when we reached Patien, for some unexplained reason. So we got to be on it for all of five minutes. Roll on the quiet beach, that's what we kept thinking.

Pathein has a bit of a colonial past and we were hoping to wander round in the morning before catching our final bus to Changhwa Beach. Arriving late and in a rainy Pathein we hurried to find somewhere to stay. The first place wanted silly money and at any rate was a government hotel, when we heard this we quickly scurried off. We ended up at the Paradise Hotel, which like it's namesake in Bangalore shared very little characteristics with my idea of paradise. Ignoring this though as it was simply a bed for the night we went to sleep after yet another long day on buses.

In the morning we made our way to the bus station to book a ticket for an afternoon bus to Changhwa Beach. For once the process was completely painless and over in a matter of minutes. After this we had a wander around the town. As I said it is a port town so we got our first look at the sea for quite some time. It was a bustling little place, with a market and narrow streets. We hunted down the few colonial buildings that are left, which despite being pretty run down were still pretty much intact and they gave the place a kind of Havana feel.
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As we were walking up and down the streets a lady on a bike stopped next to us and asked if we needed any help. We explained we were just having a look round and she then told us that her grandfather was English and had come to Burma during the war and never left. She said she would have liked to show us round but unfortunately she couldn't as she was a teacher and had a class to get to. We thanked her for her kindness and walked on.

In the end it didn't take so long to look around Pathein and conscious that we had a bus to catch we decided to head back to the hotel to relax for a little bit before making our way to the bus station. When we got there we saw three men filling every single nook and kraney the small vehicle had. It had seats that were high off the floor so boxes could be slid underneath, the aisles were filled with produce and then there were the passengers. We'd been allocated prime seats at the front and although we had to sit crossed legged with our knees around our ears we were better of than most. Changhwa Beach is a very small place and at the end of the line as it were so everything has to be brought in Patien and then transported along the bumpy, windy road which we were now on. It took about three hours and I fidgeted the whole way because I could get comfortable but it was all worth it.

Our time at the seaside was the perfect end to our hectic Myanmar visit. When we'd boarded the bus a man had been loaded on some boxes and he struck up conversation. He explained he worked at a hotel at the beach and was in town shopping, he would return in a couple of days. We took a business card and it turned out to be the hotel we were planning on checking out first so we told him we would take a look. Thankfully it was one of those times where the first was always going to be the best so we didn't need to look anywhere else.

The rooms were all in little bungalows dotted around a grassed area with the best ones practically on the beach.
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Lucky for us things were quiet and we were shown to our beach side home for the next few days. I don't think we could have got a better spot, as we sat on our little veranda looking out at the sea.
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It may not have been everyone's idea of a perfect beach as the sand wasn't pristine white and the weather wasn't blazing hot but it was peaceful and had lots of rustic appeal.
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The best part for us was the room service as we were served every single meal on our little terrace. Our waiter was a very sweet guy who always showed up smiling with a tray full of good grub. It became a routine that he would show up about an hour before lunch to tell/show us what fresh seafood they had and then the same an hour before dinner. We had a chat with him one evening and asked him if he was born at the beach and he explained that he came from a little village further South. When the cyclone hit a couple of years ago the majority of his family lost their lives but he had been ok because he'd moved away to work at the hotel. It was very sad and difficult to convey in the right way that we were sorry with the language barrier but he seemed to understand.

So our days fell into a pattern which mainly revolved around doing very little. We walked to the other end of the beach and then back through the tiny village once but in the end found the appeal of staying close to home a bit too alluring. We spent some time rock pooling and looking at all the little hermit crabs.
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Really we just enjoyed the simple pleasures as we recharged our batteries. The only thing which interrupted the tranquillity was the nephew of the man we'd met at the bus who came round a couple of times a day to see what we were up to and enquire about how much we paid for every meal. Apparently we could go to his aunts house and it would be cheaper, something which he told us he shouldn't be saying because the manager would be angry. We didn't really take to him though as he came across as a bit nosey and not very genuine so we politely declined.

We were pleased to find out that we could get a direct bus to Yangon rather than having to change in Pathein. It was going to be the last long bus trip we would be doing for some time and we were both pleased about that. We'd had enough for a while. The night before we left the beach we enjoyed a lovely sunset, yet another mouth watering meal and we gave our waiter a big tip for being so helpful and kind.
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We were then up to catch the six am bus which was not the coach we'd been hoping for but it was the last one so we could take it.

Back in Yangon we just had one full day to do a bit of shopping and pick up Adam's suit. Unfortunately it was not to be a repeat of the success in Bangalore but more of a laughable failure. I think someone who had about a minute to just get a mental image of Adam's measurements could have done a better job. The jacket was about three sizes too big as was the shirt, the trousers though were more successful and so in the end we just agreed to take them. I think they could all see that it looked ridiculous and was not what Adam had asked for in the slightest. Perhaps we will have better luck somewhere in South America.

Adam spent a little more time wandering around Yangon but I had to call it a day a little earlier on as my knees were really beginning to be painful. Walking around on the uneven pavements and potholed roads was taking its toll and I decided it was better to rest. He brought back a takeaway dinner and we called it an early night.

As we flew out of Myanmar the next day we were waving goodbye to old Asia as from now on we were just going to frequenting modern cities. Myanmar is as traditional as it gets, it's the way Asia used to be and it was an eye opening experience. I hope one day that I can go back like Adam has and visit some of the wonderful people that we met.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 04:20 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Access Denied

but atleast there were kittens!

sunny
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The bus picked us up from outside the hotel which was one good thing although it was about an hour late, an hour which we could have spent in bed! Which was a little frustrating and it began the theme for the day. When the bus finally did come it was small and packed, so we sat uncomfortably squished until we reached Meiktila. From the roadside drop off we trekked through the town until we reached the bus station. We were pleased to see that the next bus was more modern, which we should have expected as it was going to the new capital. It seemed to be an old Japanese city bus so it seemed a little odd considering for long distance but we weren't complaining.

Our presence on the bus did seem to have people a little confused, I don't think they could get their head round why we were going to Naypyidaw. When we were dropped off at the bus station which looked more like a slightly shabbily built but new housing estate we weren't sure what to make of things. However first things first we wanted to book our onward bus ticket so that we had proof that we would abiding by the curfew and leaving before dark. This is where the fun and games began. Our intention was to go to the beach or if it was not possible to do this directly then to go as far south as possible.

We were directed by a few people and finally found someone who got on the phone and then asked us to sit down. He didn't speak much English and as we sat and waited we began to wonder what was going on. In the end small framed, smiley man appeared and asked us what we were doing here. We explained we had been told we could look round the new capital as long as we left by dark and so that is what we were hoping to do. The man said that an army officer had been called to come and see us and he would make a decision about whether we could have a look round or not.

That may sound a bit scary but it wasn't really presented in that way and I was a bit excited about the drama of it. That excitement however wore thin as the time ticked by. We ended up following the smiley man next door to where he ran his bus ticket selling business and also where he lived with his wife, daughter and four cats, two of which were kittens. That was one of the upsides along with the free food and drink that he happily dolled out.
He was really friendly and we spent the afternoon eating noodle salad, coconut, sweeties and playing with the kittens. I forgot how much entertainment a couple of lively cats could be, much better than a television. The man seemed to be the pied piper where they were concerned and as soon as he made a specific noise they all came dashing over, it was really quite sweet. He spoke good English which was due to him having worked in Singapore for a while.

Other people came and went, buying tickets or perhaps just stopping by to see the unexpected arrivals. We were getting a little impatient by now as there was still no sign of the officer. Our options for leaving were also a little limited as there was a night bus to Yangon, that we did not want to take or an early morning bus to Pyay which was in the right direction however we were also aware that we may not be allowed to stay the night.

In the end the officer showed up and we dutifully explained why we were here and what our intentions were. He then informed us that we were not allowed into the city to look around but he would let us stay the night so we could get the bus to Pyay in the morning. We were to go to the hotel he mentioned and stay there until it was time to catch our bus. It wasn't like we could argue, we just tried to explain our rather restricted budget which they seemed to understand and take in to consideration. We were then directed to a bus and told we would be directed when to get off. It hadn't exactly gone to plan but it had been an interesting and pleasant day, all of which was thanks to the friendly man who we thanked before being driven away.

When the bus stopped at the gates of a resort we knew the drama was not finished for the day. Still we decided to continue to play along as we were shepherded into a golf buggy and taken up the sweeping drive way to the main entrance. Before we unloaded our bags we asked the killer question, 'how much does a room cost?' We were informed between $75 and $125. This of course was a tad out of our price range and we had to assume there had been a bit of miscommunication earlier on and perhaps they thought we said we could afford $60 dollars when in fact we said $16. The hotelier obviously could not lower his prices that much and we could not stretch our budget even if we wanted to as we only had a certain amount of money on us.

We were now a little stuck, there was a specified 'tourist zone' that we were meant to stay in and apparently all the hotels here were a little pricey. Our only option appeared to be camping out at the bus station until it was time to go and so we hoped on the golf buggy which took us back down to the main road. A tricycle driver then took us to a little area by a market where we hoped to catch a bus to the the right bus station. Feeling pretty miserable, mainly due to being absolutely exhausted having gotten up at 3am we stood and waited for a bus. Thankfully our fortunes then changed slightly as we saw a familiar face. A man we had met in Mandalay, an English teacher appeared to come to our rescue, well sort of. He was here visiting his brother who he introduced us to and then we explained all that had happened and how we were now looking at a night outside. He spoke to the local motorbikes drivers who said they new of a hotel which was cheaper and so we agreed a price for them to take us there.

On our travels from bus station to hotel and so on we had seen a little of the city which seemed quite sparse. All of the roads, unlike anywhere else in the country were newly tarmac-ed with multi lanes and pretty much deserted. Things seemed new but at the same time instantaneously old, there was no character or it would much planning. There was a small park with ponds, fountains and an electricity pylon, all in all a bit odd.

The journey on the motorbike was a quite long and it was dark by now. We passed by a massive golden pagoda which was all lit up and it did take my breath away. I wish we could have got a good photo of it but all of Adam's attempts were a little blurry when taken at speed. The road up to it was all lit up and against the twilight sky it shone like a beacon. I wonder how much it cost.
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It was a no no at the next hotel, apparently we were now outside the tourist area and therefore we were not permitted to stay. By now we were beginning to wonder if the day would ever actually end. The manageress seemed to sense our slight desperation and she suggested a hotel inside the tourist zone which had cheaper rooms, so we asked her to call. A few minutes later it was confirmed that they had $20 rooms but they didn't have mini bars, it didn't take us too long to decide this wasn't a deal breaker and we were on the bikes again.

One more drama before bed as Adam's motorbike driver sped off into the distance the bike I was on came to a spluttering halt. The man wheeled it in to the side of the rode and tried his best to get it going. It seems silly now but standing there in the dark, beyond tired, knowing I couldn't actually reach Adam (mobiles out of commission) and having no idea where he was, I burst in to tears. At this point another motorbike stopped and a guy came over, he spoke to my driver who obviously explained the situation. I was then ushered on to this new bike who drove off and I just hoped we would find Adam.

We pulled in to the market that we'd been standing at earlier and I was still blubbering but trying to hide it. The man it would seem needed petrol and I tried to hide my tears from the onlookers who were peering at me through the dark. Still no sign of Adam and I wasn't sure how we were going to spot each other, especially if he was now looking for me. Once the bike was filled up we hit the road again and I kept looking left and right until finally I saw a tall guy with a backpack on and everything was ok. We were reunited and Adam explained his guy had gone of to find me and had left him with a tricycle driver who he was talking to.

In the end Adam's guy turned up, saw that I had now appeared and the two bikes took us the rest of the way to the hotel. It looked as posh as the first one we'd been too and our hopes sunk a little. Thankfully our luck was finally in as we were met by a very helpful woman who told us they had very basic rooms for $20 and a man presented a couple of orange juices to us on a silver tray. We also got one breakfast for our $20 which we asked if they could split in two and the lady smiled and said she would give us extra. Finally we could relax.

The room was small and pretty much unfinished but it had a massive tv and beds! We had to be up at 5am but at least we had somewhere to sleep. So now we could look back on all that had happened and laugh, well when we had the energy to.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 04:15 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Exploring the Ancient World

On ancient bikes!


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Our bus to Bagan was quite nice in comparison to the last few trips we'd had. The only probably was the a/c which often leaves people's teeth chattering. Regulating the temperature seems to be a fine art which in most instances has not been mastered. We did meet a very smiley and chatty man though, he approached us at one of the rest stops when we were shovelling some tea and cake into our hungry mouths. He asked where we were going but the conversation got cut short as it was time to reboard the bus. We'd meet him again though.

A little later than expected we arrived in Bagan and once again Adam had the unenviable task of figuring out where we were in the dark. With me as his over tired and slightly grumpy sidekick it wasn't easy and in the end we decided to see whether the guest house a rickshaw driver kept going on about was up to scratch. We made our way through the deserted, middle of the night streets and had to wake somebody up to open the gate. Thankfully the room was nice and fairly priced so we could happily call it a night.

In the morning we got up as early as we could manage. Our time in Myanmar seemed to be running out and we still had places we wanted to go so we could only afford one day in Bagan. Now is probably a good time to explain a little about Bagan, or rather Old Bagan. It is the ruins of an ancient city which is spread out over about 42 square kms of sandy wasteland covered in scratchy plants and grass. Almost all of the ruins are pagodas, some made of red brick, some stone and the most extravagant are embellished with gold. They range in size from 10 feet to massive structures which stand as proud testaments to a prosperous past.

Adam had been before and had told me what a magical place it was, better in his opinion than Angkor Wat and so I was really excited to get on with our explorations. First we ate our complimentary breakfast and then we went out to rent bikes from the hotel. It seems we were left with the scraps, i.e. the ones which were slowly beginning to fall apart. My handlebars were in the habit of rotating forward if I applied too much pressure on them which would prove pretty frustrating as the day continued. Both of them were incredibly hard to peddle and it felt like we were having to exert an enormous amount of energy just to ride along a flat surface, but it would definitely be quicker than walking. So off we set.

We made a quick stop at the bus station to try and book tickets to Naypyidaw, which is the new capital of Myanmar. A couple of people had told us that tourists were allowed to visit during the day as long as they didn't take any pictures and were gone by six o'clock. Intrigued about what this new city would be like in comparison to the rest of the country we decided we wanted to go take a look. No one really seemed to know why it had been built apart from suggestions that it was considered better if it was inland and away from the sea. The bus ticket sellers seemed a little bemused by our desire to go to Napyitaw and told us it was quite difficult. We would need to transfer in Meiktila and it would take about eight hours, so we knew we had to start really early in the morning if we wanted to have any chance of seeing anything before we were kicked at out 6pm. We decided to think on it throughout the day.

We started cycling off down the dusty roads and more and more little pagodas began to sprout up around us. There are over 6000 of them that have been recorded in the whole site, some of them are clustered together, and others stand alone.
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As we were travelling along a man and a woman went by on a motorbike. They waved and we realised it was the man we had briefly spoken to on the bus the night before. We all stopped and he explained that he had a restaurant in a town a little further on and said we should stop in for lunch. We told him we would try and off they sped, his wife's arms full of fresh produce which definitely made us more interested.

There weren't very many tourists, just a few other couples on bikes and we spotted some small groups on buses. This meant that most of the time it felt as though we had the place to ourselves, that we alone were discovering and exploring these crumbling monuments to a great past. The tourists may have been few in number but round the larger pagodas the local people were there, eager to sell their wares. This was really the only downside to the day, as it is a double edged sword. On the one hand you find it annoying that you are being harassed and just want them to leave you be. On the other hand I always begin to feel really guilty because the items really cost nothing and there are so few people to sell things to. I think they sense my weakness and start telling me about their families, I caved a few times.

We climbed up one the largest pagodas and there was a great view out across the baron land.
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There are people farming here but it seems like it would be very hard, even though this is the wet season the land seemed too arid for anything to thrive. We sat for a little while our legs dangling over the edge and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Everything felt so rushed in Myanmar, we were both hoping that we would make it to the beach for a little relaxation before we had to head back to Yangon. Once we had descended and avoided anyone looking to make us buy something we cycled off through the shrubby land, often having to dismount because the paths became too sandy and all friction disappeared as our wheels began to sink. These were the times when my handlebars would slip forwards and I would have to fight to keep from plummeting head first over them.

We rode through some narrow village streets until we came out on to a larger road. There was another pagoda here and we decided to have a look round and have a bit of a rest. As we wandered around the back we went through a little doorway and there was a massive gold Buddha lying down, it must have been more than 30 feet long. As we were gazing at it this woman entered and told us that if you looked at the face from different angles it looked as though it was smiling and not smiling. This softened us a little bit and then she asked if she could show us some paintings. We decided to take a look and ended up buying one, although I don't think she ripped us off, which is always nice.

Afterwards we got back on the bikes and cycled down the road a little until we came to what we presumed was the man's restaurant. It was near enough lunchtime so we decided to head in, it was definitely a good decision. They were really pleased to see us and we served by their son who was on his school lunch break and spoke very good English. The food was really nice and they brought out extras for us, including some fruit for desert. The man sat with us and recommended a few pagodas he thought were really impressive and where he thought would be a good, quiet spot to see the sunset. The whole atmosphere was lovely and we really appreciated the special attention they were giving us. For that reason we gave them a larger tip than we normally would and they ended up bringing out another bottle of water and the lady gave me a lovely wooden bangle. Full of warm fuzziness from their kindness we waved goodbye.

We then stopped at a couple of lacquer ware workshops. At one we saw how the items were made from start to finish, which can take months for the real top quality items. They have to be painted and then left to dry a number of times to build up the layers before the intricate designs are painted on them. We bought a nice little pot at one of them but had to reign ourselves in a bit as we were on a restricted budget with only a certain number of dollars at our disposal.

Having spent enough money, at least for a little while we headed back out in amongst the ruins. We left the bikes and walked out to some which weren't so accessible. Even walking over the soft ground was hard work and we were both beginning to feel quite tired. Still we pushed on and visited two of the largest and most impressive pagodas.
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They are both made of stone and are great feats of ancient architecture, with the intricate designs carved into them. The tops are then finished with gold which gleams in the sun. One of them has four separate entrances and at each one you are presented with a large, golden Buddha whose hands are in placed in different positions, each having an individual meaning.
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All doorways are linked by a dark inner passageway which is interspersed with little peep hole windows that offer glimpses of the gold statues until finally you are presented with the whole image.

The day was now getting on and sunset was not too far off so we went in search of the perfect spot. There is a popular large pagoda that you can easily climb but we were hoping for somewhere a little quieter. We cycled around trying to decipher the map we had but everything is very similar, including the pagodas themselves which although vary in size all retain a fairly standard shape.
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The restaurant owner had told us of a place and we did manage to find it but we couldn't climb the pagodas and we really wanted a raised view.

A man on a motorbike had passed by a little while before and told us there was a good one which we could climb, at the time we thanked him and moved on but now we decided maybe it was a good bet. As we were searching he found us again and we let him take us to it. It was a bit of a precarious route up to the top as in a few places the bricks had fallen away but in the end we found a good place to perch. Unfortunately our quiet sunset never really happened as as soon as we were settled the sales pitch began and it was relentless. Another man then climbed up to join in with the badgering. We ended up buying a couple of items after first repeatedly saying no and then bargaining as hard as we could. There were of course the usual pleadings of 'for my family' and the looks of desperation, how can you say no?

The sunset didn't rival some of the others we had seen so in some ways that was a small conciliation being as we couldn't really enjoy it. We climbed back down, jumped on our bikes and rode back to the town. All in all it had been a good day and the magic of Bagan was obvious; a quiet place with modest glory and a wonderful example of ancient history that has stood the test of time.
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As we were both absolutely exhausted the thought of getting up at 3am to catch the first bus towards the capital didn't really fill either of us with much joy but we knew we were going to do it anyway. To that end it was a quick stop at the bus station, a bite to eat and then bed to catch as many zzz's as possible.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 04:00 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A few days in Mandalay...

with the perfect guides

sunny
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A combination of headaches, an over packed bus with minimal leg room and the on board tv turned up to the max made the journey to Mandalay less than restful. To make matters worse when our tolerance levels were at an all time low the tv was showing a sketch show by the most famous and popular comedians in Myanmar. The laughter pierced through the soothing piano music I was listening to and I began to (over dramatically) wonder whether the torture would ever end.

Thankfully after a while it did but we were then awoken at around 12am when everyone filed off for a midnight meal, it would seem a snack was not sufficient. So drowsily we looked on through the bus window as people chowed down. We thought maybe they were just getting nicely full before the long hours that lay ahead but about three hours later when we had drifted off into a contented slumber we awoken once more and we had arrived. Usually it is great when you arrive places early but on this occasion I really didn't want to be ejected and have to deal with the host of people wanting to offer their services.

About half an hour later after a man had repeatedly told Adam there was no pick up we were standing on the back of one which was overflowing with people and I just hoped it wasn't going to take too long to reach the centre. In the dark it was difficult for Adam to get his bearings but he did very well and we got off pretty much where we needed to be. We then had an early hour faff around with a couple of rickshaw drivers who's local hotel knowledge was not up to scratch. In the end though we found a compact but welcomed room at the guest house Adam had stayed at before. Then sleep.

In the morning we still felt a little drained but we made ourselves get up. Last time Adam had been here he had met a monk on a bus to Mandalay and was eager to see him again. Through another monk he had managed to email him and so we were hoping he would reply and we could meet up. In the first instance though we needed some food so we headed towards the clock tower and then the market. As we were looking around we were approached by a young man and he struck up a conversation with us. He explained that he was trying to learn English and although in most other countries this would have set alarm bells ringing (i.e. con), here everything is a little more genuine. We told him we were looking for somewhere to eat and Adam asked if there was a tea house near by, these are all over the place in Myanmar, which means green tea is continuously flowing! He told us there was one round the corner and offered to pay if we would chat to him and we quickly agreed, of course we had no intentions of letting him pay, we just wanted to talk to him.

He was a sweet guy; a rickshaw driver and he did offer us his services but more as a sideline it wasn't the main focus of the conversation by any means. He had moved here from the country, was married with one child and he explained that times were tough. A little tougher than anything the global economic downturn is responsible for, people in Myanmar are very, very poor. We listened as he described how the competition in the rickshaw driving business is fierce and being able to speak foreign languages, especially English, is a real advantage. He told us all the places he could take us but with our plans not being firm it was a little tricky to agree to anything, even though we really wanted to. Adam explained about his monk friend and how he needed to check his email to see if he had replied. So this is how it began.

The rickshaw man took us to an internet cafe and we were both happy to see that the monk had replied. He was still saying in the same monastery and Adam knew where this was so we got the rickshaw driver to take us there. The monastery is made up of a few dorm buildings and then buildings where the monks do their studies. This is where things got a little tricky. Adam had put a photo of his monk friend on my camera as he was a little unsure of his name but when we looked it wasn't there. We asked around a bit and Adam tried to remember but it was proving a little difficult. The rickshaw driver did his best to help but it wasn't easy. Finally he asked someone and the monk smiled and said 'from England' and we nodded, he smiled again and went off to fetch someone. That monk from now on I will call Smiler because he had the best smile and even though his English was not as good as the others, he communicated well and just thinking about him makes me happy!

Then there was the reunion as Adam and his monk friend met up again after three years. It is heart warming when you think that there has been no communication in those three years but it was like long lost friends finding one another. It was clear from the outset that we were more than welcome. We went to have a little look around their living quarters and Adam took a picture stood in the same spot as he had last time. Then we were shown around the monastery and we saw hundreds of monks all sat on the floor lent over their books, reciting out loud. The dedication required was very apparent.

The next part was a little tricky as we still had the rickshaw driver with us. As we had now found the monks and they were on foot we didn't really need wheels any longer. As politely and gratefully as we could we explained this and I could see that maybe he had been hoping we would require his services for longer but I think we paid more than the going rate so we felt a little better. After this parting of ways we had a walk round an old monastery built of teak wood, which was incredibly peaceful.
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Again the whole shoe removal makes you feel more connected to the experience, as your footsteps are a little lighter and more careful.

We then caught a pick up to a park which also has some fairground attractions, such as a haunted house, a small rollercoaster and a ferris wheel.
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As things stood it was just Adam's monk and Smiler (are merry band would increase in number) who were acting as our guides. The park was a little shabby round the edges but it had real charm and it was clear that being here was a treat for most of the visitors. A small entrance fee was charged but being a monk, or with one provides a golden ticket to many places and although we weren't privy to what was said we didn't hand any money over before we were ushered in. We did pay for all of us to enjoy the ferris wheel though. I'm sure in England health and safety would have condemned it but their concerns would have been unfounded as our round trip into the sky went by without a hitch.
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There were great views over the city and the monks pointed out several landmarks including a number of pagodas and Sagai mountain which we would visit.

Being in Myanmar is like stepping back in time and being shown round by a couple of monks at times felt a little surreal. Next we were headed the for Ubin Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. Best views are to be had at sunrise or sunset, as the suns descent was still a little way off we stopped to rehydrate with some much needed cold drinks. The sun was beating down and it was taking its toll on all of us. We then caught a pick up and I had my first proper conversation with Adam's monk. His English is really good but conversation was a little tricky over the sound of the engine and the other passengers. Pronunciation as I have mentioned seems to be the main problem and so understanding each other was at times difficult and we had to resort to spelling words which was really effective. Adam was helping Smiler, as he would continue to do with basic things. He is a big fan of English and European football so that was always an easy and light hearted conversation.

Once the pick up dropped us off it was still a bit of a walk to the bridge so the monks hailed down a horse and cart to take us some of the way. Knowing a local is the way to experience a country, you do and see things you never ever usually would and this was one of those moments. After we'd climbed down from the cart we stopped for some dinner. Since meeting the monks we hadn't eaten and all we'd had for breakfast was a few little cakes at the tea house so we were starving. The monks eat very little, it seemed to change and we couldn't quite figure out whether sometimes they have to fast. Everyday though, all monks go out around 5am with big lacquered bowls that have straps which go over their shoulders. They walk round and ask for food donations; sometimes there are stalls set up to give out food and there are long lines of monks waiting for their portion in the early morning light.

In this instance the monks did not eat but helped us order what turned out to be an abundance of food. We felt so guilty when our shrunken stomachs could not consume all that was placed in front of us and we asked them to apologise for us. As we walked to the bridge we asked them about their robes and whether there was a reason why some wore orange and others dark red. They told us that it was just a choice and as it turned out the colours of their robes changed over the next couple of days. We were also informed that they did not wear dark red or burgundy as we suggested but true brown. Not sure if there was some significance in this.

We came to the teak bridge which has a very basic structure, and it resembled a pier but as it led to an island it is of course a bridge. The simplicity was once again charming, it blended into its surroundings, which was a placid lake without needing to make any large statement.
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There were a couple of leafless trees which stood out of the river, and as the sunset they became stark silhouettes. The monks asked me if I liked them and I told them yes, although I found it hard to tell them why in words I thought they would understand. Adam's monk had written a poem about one of them and I could see why.
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It was quite busy on the bridge and we saw some Westerners, all of them with guides. Both the tourists and their guides seemed a little confused by us and our monk escorts. We waited for the sun to set, casually meandering our way to the end and then back again. By now we were both extremely tired, the lack of sleep on the bus and an action packed day had really caught up with us. I was also beginning to have a bit of trouble with my knees, (for those that don't know I have arthritis in both, not only the oldies that get it!) and really needed to rest. Unfortunately there was no horse and cart around and it was quite a long walk in the dark, as there were no street lights to speak of, back to the pick up stop. When we made it one soon turned up but it was rammed full of people, there was a week long festival which people were making their way back from, so we had to stand at the back. I was very pleased when we finally reached our room. The day had been really, really enjoyable though and we arranged to meet the monks the following morning at 6am. As we planned to visit a town a little south of Mandalay.

Too soon the alarm was sounding and then we were trudging zombie like down the road to meet the monks. There were plenty of them up and about with their lacquered bowls, going from place to place asking for donations.
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Our monks were a little late but in the end it didn't matter. The pick up we were planning to get ended up sounding like it was going to be too expensive as we would be paying for monks too. It also turned out Adam had been to the place before and so we decided to change plans and just stay around the city.

After some breakfast in a tea house we went to the largest pagoda in Mandalay. Inside there is a massive Buddha whose size has increased over the years as people have placed sheets of gold leaf over his body as an offering. You can see before and after pictures over the years to see how much he has grown. Adam and I walked round the statue while the monks prayed and then they joined us and we explored the other parts of the pagoda. There were a series of paintings depicting the transportation of the Buddha from one kingdom to another centuries ago and also there was a large map of Asia floating in a shallow pool which highlighted the Buddhist countries. We then fed some popcorn to these enormous catfish which were occupying an outside pond with a couple of terrapins.
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As we were leaving the pagoda Adam's monk bumped into a friend and he invited us back to his monastery. Here we met more monks and we sat for a couple of hours drinking green tea and helping them with their English. Adam was helping Smiler with sentence structure and I was given the task of looking through a book on idioms and then highlighting and explaining ones which I thought were relevant/actually used. I really enjoyed myself because it is not often that you actually think about the English language and how wonderfully descriptive it can be and it was nice to discuss this with people who were genuinely interested.

The English lesson over we decided that we would like to go to the festival that was being held and the monks arranged for a taxi. There were now six of us in our group and we all cramped into a tiny taxi. The festival was in no way religious, in fact it was quite the opposite and none of the monks had ever been before. It was in honour of a spirit called a Nat which takes on many different forms and is borne out of folk legend and superstition. By holding the festival and giving offerings the people believe that they will enjoy good luck. We had to get out of the taxi and walk the rest of the way because it was so busy. When we finally made it to one of main areas where stalls had been set up we saw lots of people carrying flowers into a kind of small shrine, this is where they placed their offerings.
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There was also music coming from an area which seemed to be the main focus and the monks managed to clear a path for us so that we could see what was going on. There was a little room set up with people sitting at a table or on the floor, there were bottles of liquor dotted about and in the centre there was a man dressed in drag dancing about and people were giving him money. He/she was supposed to represent the Nat I believe although I must admit this is where my understanding ends.
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We saw another display like this a little further on but it was a bit strange and the monks didn't seem too taken in by it either. It was interesting to see but it was so busy and it didn't seem easy for us to just join in, so we decided to move on.

The taxi found us again and drove us out of the city where we stopped for some lunch and the monks did eat. Once we had filled our bellies we headed for Saigai Mountain and a pagoda which sits on top of it. It was a long climb up the steps to reach the top and we all had to rest a couple of times. Adam and I were pleased to find that our fitness levels had improved though as we were first to reach the top. It was well worth the physical exertion though as the view was lovely and there was a refreshing breeze.
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We relaxed for a little while and everyone took a few photos to document the great day we were having. On the way back down Smiler struck up conversation with a couple of Americans and we chatted for a little while. They had been to over 70 countries and since retiring were living a kind of nomadic life, and they seemed very happy for it!

In the taxi once more we headed back in to the city and said our goodbyes. We still had one day left in Mandalay though so we arranged to meet the following morning for a trip to Mingun. This massive pile of bricks would have been the largest pagoda in the world if it had been completed but a high fatality rate during its construction brought things to a halt. Once again Adam and I were both knackered and were very ready for sleep when we got back to our room.

We had to catch a boat to Mingun so we headed down to the little port area. The cost of a ticket was a little pricey and Adam noted that it was definitely more than he'd paid when he visited last time. Still we were here now and we knew it was worth seeing. We had lost one of our companions from yesterday as he had prior engagements but there was still Adam's monk, Smiler and one of the monks we had met the day before. His English was the best out of the lot, he seemed to have a real ear for it and remembered everything I said. He'd come out with phrases like 'not my cup of tea' which made me smile. The boat trip took about forty five minutes as we slowly chugged along. There were a few other tourists on there and I recognised a some of them. As the traveller route in Myanmar is pretty set and there aren't a lot of tourists in the first place you tend to see the same faces.

We docked and walked up to enormous plinth like structure made of red brick. The reason the King was going to build one so large was so that he and his wife would be able to see it from where they lived many, many miles away.
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We climbed up to the top which was quite hard going but again worth the effort because the view was even better than the one the previous day. As we gazed out we saw the green hills which surround Mandalay, all of them intermittently dotted with the dozens of golden pagodas. We walked round the whole of the top of Mingun which was falling to pieces in places. It was a bit treacherous at times and definitely violated healthy and safety but that was part of the fun.
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Once we had descended we made our way down the road to see the second largest bell in the world. The largest is in Moscow but it has a crack in it, so technically it is the largest intact bell in the world. We stooped down to get in underneath it and it was covered with scratched in graffiti which seemed a bit of shame but also gave it a little more character.
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The day seemed to have gone by very quickly and it was soon time for us to board the boat. Back in Mandalay we had to say goodbye to the monks as it we had a late afternoon bus to catch to Bagan. We were both sad to say goodbye to them, but Adam especially felt sad about saying goodbye to his friend. I think meeting up again had meant a lot to both of them. I'd learnt a lot and I was so grateful to them for showing us around as it gave us such a unique experience. We all said we would stay in touch and then they headed back to their respective monasteries.

We saw little point in hanging around in the city and simply went back to the hotel to get our bags before making our way to the bus station.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 03:45 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A look at life on Inle Lake

with cat acrobatics!

overcast
View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

We arrived at Inle Lake around 5am and unfortunately the journey had not provided much in the way of rest. Spitting is a part of every day life through out most of Asia but here it seems even more common. A lot of men and some women chew something called Betel Nut. It begins with a leaf (I'm not sure from which plant or tree), then a paste is applied to one side containing lime and some spices and finally the nut is sprinkled on. It is then folded into a neat little parcel which is slid in next to one cheek, creating a kind of one sided hamster face. As they chew the nut it gives a similar effect to nicotine I think and may also give people more energy, we're not totally sure. The downside to this habit is the fact that you cannot swallow while you chew, hence the increased spitting. It also turns your saliva red and discolours your teeth. So on the bus they hand out little plastic bags for people to spit into which of course is completely normal over here but leaves me feeling a bit queasy.

Thankfully finding a room was very simple and soon enough we were fast asleep. When we awoke a few hours later we ventured down to the lakeside port area to try and see about organising a boat trip. It didn't take long for someone to approach us and he explained that really it was too late to go today. There are daily markets out on the lake which is one of the attractions, and they work on a rotation moving from site to site. By now it was about 10am and they finish around 11am so we wouldn't make it. We were quite tight on time in Myanmar so we had been hoping not to spend two days here but it seemed we didn't really have a choice. After checking out a few different places that offered boat trips we booked one for 7:30am the next day.

We then went to get something to eat and had a quick look around the local market. Last time Adam was in Inle there was really bad flooding and the bus trip from Yangon took twenty four hours instead of the usually eleven. It also meant that he did not get a chance to look around the town so it was the upside of being here for an extra day. Still feeling the affects of little sleep we slowly wandered back to the room and ending up dropping off once more. We must have been tired because ever since we arrived the local monks had been chanting on a loudspeaker from the Pagoda over the road but it didn't disturb us. I really wish I knew what they were saying, it all sounded incredibly similar and almost morphed into an indistinguishable drone at times but it must have been significant.

In the early afternoon we woke up and felt quite fresh. Although we couldn't help being tired it did feel like we were wasting the day so we got up and decided to rent bikes. We rode around the town which isn't very large at all and we covered much of the same ground as we searched for different things.
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Firstly we booked our bus ticket to Mandalay for the following evening and then we checked out some of the local souvenir shops. There was a women selling lampshades made out of handmade paper which were pretty, however we weren't sure whether we would see them cheaper somewhere while out on the lake so we decided to wait. We then went to find some food and I had my first taste of Papaya salad. Adam says it's very different to the one he'd had in Thailand and unfortunately we weren't really fans. The first couple of bites were ok but it was very samey. We bought a few other bits and bobs and took them back to the room to munch on.

The next morning we were up bright and early. We had our complimentary breakfast and I ate mine with the guest house's cat on my lamp. He was very friendly and clearly used to getting fuss from the tourists.
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After that we walked down to catch our boat. It was long and thin with a few cushioned wooden seats spaced out along it's length and then our driver sat at the back. The weather unfortunately was a little grey so when we got going it was a bit chilly and we had to put our macks on but it was nice to be out in the fresh air.
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We sped down a narrow strait of water before the lake opened out around us. As we headed to our first destination we saw people starting their working day. There were lots of fisherman and people gathering plants that resembled seaweed from the bottom of the lake.
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Adam pointed a man out to me who was rowing with his leg, something they're famous for doing here. The action looked a little awkward as he stood upright, had his leg curled round the oar and then moved it in a circular motion but it was effective.

First stop was the market which had been erected at that back of a Pagoda. We removed our shoes and went to have a look in there first.
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Woman are not allowed to approach the Buddha so I always remain around the periphery. It was not the most impressive one we had visited but as I have continued to find, Pagodas are lovely places to be. I think it may be something to do with taking off your shoes, it makes you feel a little more at home. Back outside we grabbed our footwear and wandered over to the market. As we suspected prices for handicrafts had been seriously inflated for the tourists, although I'm guessing they have dropped quite a bit because tourism has seriously declined in the last couple of years. Adam says that in the whole country there are less tourists than last time, which may be slightly to do with it being the rainy season but there are other more political factors too.

After the market we visited a couple of small workshops. Usually we would avoid this because there tends to be intense sales pressure but we had read that this wasn't the case here. At the first we were shown women weaving silk garments on a loom. It looked like painstaking work as they lined up the patterns with the correctly dyed thread. We went to have a look round the shop afterwards and there were many things to choose from including scarves and Longees. These are worn by almost all women and a significant proportion of men. They are simply a single piece of fabric which is wrapped and then tied around the waists to create an almost floor length skirt. So it is really a bit like a sarong worn by both sexes, there are no jokes here about men wearing women's clothing though.

The second workshop specialised in silver and we were shown the whole process beginning with extracting it from the rock. Again it was very delicate work and these people were highly skilled. There were a few things in the shop that were tempting but it is always difficult in these situations because you know the prices have been raised. Sometimes we find that we are simply not in the mood to haggle and the items are not worth the energy. Which was the case this time.

Back in the boat we made our way to a pagoda called In Dein. It is not part of the usual tour and we had to pay a bit extra. To reach the entrance we had to climb a lot of steps which were flanked by stall after stall. The number of people running them though wasn't nearly enough and if you even glanced at something there would be a person suddenly dashing to reach you, which made you feel even more guilty when you kept on walking.

The main pagoda was basic inside and felt almost like someone's house as there were cooking utensils on a shelves in one corner, but I liked that. As usual it was very peaceful and we wandered out the back and into the open air. Surrounding the larger pagoda were dozens of smaller ones, their bases white and the stupas gold.
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The very top of a pagoda is known as the umbrella and is adorned with lots of little bells. As the wind blew the bells made a high pitched tinkle, like wind chimes and we stared out at the surrounding countryside.
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Now with slightly damp socks we made our way back to retrieve our shoes from the entrance. On the way down the steps Adam bought a little book of bamboo carvings depicting the days of the week, so he eased our conscience.

It was lunchtime and our boatman took us to a restaurant built on stilts. We had a simple but tasty meal of fried rice with a vegetable salad. I felt a bit mean as we had picked the cheapest items on the menu and they obviously expect tourists to splash a bit of cash as by normal standards things are ridiculously cheap. Unfortunately for them we're serious cheapskates. However there was another table of people in there who seemed to be indulging and another group of turned up when we left. So I'm sure they did ok.

Lunch over we went to another workshop where they made the handmade paper we'd seen at the shop in town. Again we saw the process from start to finish and it was surprising how the pulp could be quickly manipulated to form a sheet. They were very keen to try and sell us their wears but we weren't biting as they wanted three times the price of those we'd seen. Sometimes it makes you feel a bit insulted but in the end you think, if I were them I suppose I'd be doing the same. We left empty handed but knowing we would go and buy the ones we'd seen the day before. We climbed back into the boat and were taken down some narrow waterways, they divide up floating gardens which at this time of year mainly consist of tomato plants.
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Next it was time for the part of the day I had been most looking forward to, the jumping cats monastery. Which isn't home to a bunch of Buddhist cat monks, rather the monks living at the monastery have taught some cats to jump through hoops. When we arrived there was a cat waiting on the dock and as I climbed the wooden steps I saw another one asleep in a window sill and soon there were lots. Inside there was a large golden Buddha statue and round the corner I saw an old monk seated on a chair with a kitten on his lamp. He didn't look in our direction and apart from him and the cats scurrying around there didn't appear to be a lot going on. The area in front of the monk had been covered in lino and there were a few empty bowls dotted about.
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We walked down some steps where a few stalls, selling the stuff we'd seen everywhere, had been set up. Having learnt from past experience we didn't even glance in their direction but instead walked to the end, turned round and walked back into the main hall. I being me wanted to play with the cats but every time I went to touch one Adam told me not to. Apparently last time he'd been he had tried to pet one and been scratched. He had also missed the show while down at the stalls, so this time he was determined to catch it. As things stood though nothing seemed to be happening and we were getting a bit frustrated. The old monk was paying no attention to us at all. Our luck changed though when a couple of other tourists turned up and some one told them to make a donation. Soon enough the monk had banged a little gong and some other man summoned the cats with a shake of the biscuit tin. It seemed the monk's role was to observe as the other man took centre stage. I sat crossed legged on the floor and snapped photographs as the cats did their stuff.
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Clearly their were a few stars, the pros I suppose you would say or the greedy ones who didn't let the others have a chance. Either way they leaped quite high in the air to earn their treats. It only lasted a couple of minutes but I was satisfied
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After we'd seen the cats it was time to head back. We'd had a fun day out on the water and it had been rounded off nicely. The journey back passed by quickly and soon we were on dry land again. We picked up our backpacks from where we'd stowed them at the tour operators office and then walked into the town centre. We made a quick stop to buy the handmade paper lampshade and the woman we'd seen the day before was there with her young son. He was a bit of a hand full but very sweet at the same time. While we were picking things out he went in the back and poured us some green tea to drink. Then as we were negotiating the price he decided to try and hang off my backpack, and he really didn't want to let go when it was time for us to leave. So much so that he burst in to tears.

We then caught a pick up (a converted open sided van) up to the junction to wait for our bus. It was another over nighter and I was really hoping that this time we would be able to get more sleep.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 02:25 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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