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the delights of Taungoo

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The bus trip to Taungoo was uneventful but took a little longer than we had been told it would so by the time we arrived it was beginning to get dark. Due to me being a little eager and thinking a rather grand looking building was the town hall when it wasn't we ended up getting off a little earlier than we should.

On first impressions there didn't seem to be a lot to the place, and we didn't discover the hidden gems till later the next day. As things stood the town was drawn out along the highway and there were a few places to stay. We made an attempt to locate a hotel we'd read about in the guidebook but in the end we were too tired. We stopped to have some food at a restaurant and ended up staying at their hotel as well. The room was nice, a little dark due to the wood panelling that covered the walls but it was comfortable.

We wanted to go on to Inle Lake the next day and a boy who worked at the hotel asked if we would like him to purchase the tickets for us. When we enquired about the price it was the same as we'd been told it would cost to go all the way from Yangon to Inle. For this reason we decided to try and find the bus station in the morning and hoped it would be cheaper if we cut out the middle man. We relaxed for a little while and then went out to get some dinner. We opted for takeaway and a couple of young girls cooked some kebabs we picked out on a small bbq. They gave us shy smiles and other people walked by with wide eyed expressions, it would seem the foreign tourist trade is not booming here. We enjoyed our dinner and then called it a night.

In the morning we walked over to the restaurant and ate our complimentary breakfast before going in search of the bus station. Still believing the building we'd seen was the town hall made everything a little confusing and our day got off to a frustrating start. Having not found the bus station we ended up getting a rickshaw driver to take us to the train station. However after some pointing at the map we managed to gather that a train did not go the whole way and we would only be able to go so far before having to transfer to a bus. As this seemed a bit pointless we decided we would definitely take the bus the whole way.

Another rickshaw driver then took us to a few different stands which were set up in small houses/shops along the highway. They represented different bus companies and sold tickets to Inle. Unfortunately the price the boy had quoted the night before was one of the cheapest and as we were to discover it seems to be the norm to charged full fare even if you are only doing part of the journey. They also openly and covertly charge you more for being a foreigner which angers us as it I don't think it would really happen in the UK. In the end we bought a couple of tickets and were told to return at 5pm.

By now we had realised our earlier mistake and found the real town hall so the map made more sense. We returned to our hotel to check out and collect our bags and then trudged back in the heat to drop them off where the bus would pick us up that evening. The morning had been tiring and tensions were quite high as we turned off the highway and finally found what we knew had been there all along the heart of Taungoo. Slowly over the rest of the day the charm of the place and the people softened things, I think even a heart of stone could be melted by the old man we were to meet.

We went over the ancient moat, crossed some train tracks and then walked down a quiet street with a few shops. We then passed by a nunnery on one side and a monastery on the other. The nuns wear similar robes to the monks but theirs are pink instead of the dark red or orange that the men dress in, all of them have shaved heads. You could hear the chanting or reciting coming from the open windows as much of their day is spent learning. Just a little further on was the towns pagoda, called Swesandaw.
It is said to contain a hair of the Buddha and is therefore a very sacred place. Instead of going in we continued on and came across a lake.

The lake was quite large and marshy, and there were hundreds of water lilies covering much of the surface.
There was a little boy fishing with a home made rod and it was so quiet. We went to sit on a wooden bridge and enjoy the tranquillity. After a while an old man approached us, he was slightly stooped and had a kind and open face. He asked us where we were from and we told him, he then invited us to follow him. This just wouldn't happen at home and if it did you would be suspicious but here I had no qualms.

He lead us through a little park area to a quiet spot. Here he motioned for us to sit down. I can't remember his name which sounds terrible but he only told us once and it's always hard to register when it's not familiar but we sat and spoke to him for the next hour. He explained how his dad was a policeman when Myanmar was under British control and he seemed to have a lot of respect for the English despite our shameful history in the country. He told us that we were the first British tourists he had ever met.

His English was very good even though he kept apologising for it and he was one of the most endearing people I have ever met. He was in his mid sixties and had a wife but no children. He had only ever visited China but had lived in both the very North and very South of Myanmar. He had never seen a passport and leafed through ours as if it was some kind of treasure. Unfortunately we didn't have any sterling on us because he really wanted to see some but nonetheless he seemed happy to simply chat.

Conscious that we had to get our bus to catch we said our goodbyes and spent a little more time by the lake. Some boys were playing in to water, jumping in off the bridge and splashing about.
We started back towards the highway but stopped to go and have a quick look round the pagoda. There were a few men seated on the ground who wanted to have a chat but we just didn't have the time. We explained and apologised before leaving for the bus.

Although the day hadn't started in the best way we left Taungoo with some lasting memories. We will always remember the man by the lake.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 02:09 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Welcomed by a very friendly Old Asia...

where 7/11's are replaced by Pagodas

View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

A little disclaimer before I begin the Myanmar blogs – I feel that I have to be a bit guarded about what I say just because I wouldn't want there to be any chance that I get someone in trouble. However little the likelihood of that is, but better to be safe than sorry. So some of the details may be a bit sketchy here and there.

As I said I wasn't too sure what to expect from my time in Myanmar but it began as our visits to countries usually begin, in the airport. It has been built since Adam's last visit and it felt quite modern, it was a little basic but still more up to date than I was expecting. Immigration went smoothly, I was a little nervous which looking back seems so silly but at the time there was the unknown factor.

There are no cashpoints in Myanmar, so we had to estimate how much money we would need and bring in the amount in US Dollars which we would then change in to the local currency, Kyat (Chat). For hotels and stuff though you can pay in dollars if you like, it's a bit like Vietnam in that respect. We paid a taxi driver $4 to take us in to the city and began the search for where Adam stayed last time.

Yangon is not that big by international standards but it is certainly very busy. There are two main streets which run parallel to one another and then there are lots of narrow side streets connecting them. The buildings are all terraced, tall and thin running the length of each of the streets. Most of the road surfaces are riddled with potholes and on first impressions it seems the city is kind of crumbling all around you.
Perhaps that it is part of its charm. In many ways it reminded me of India, which may have something to do with the fact that a lot of Indian people live here. Straight away though you can sense that it is a friendly place.

It was already quite hot by 9am and carrying our backpacks around made it hotter. Adam had a vague idea about where he stayed last time but as we wandered up and down he just couldn't find it. As we were still searching a young man motioned for us to sit down and have some food and I had my first introduction to the friendly, hospitable nature of the Myanmar people. We chatted for a little while as we ate the noodle soup and when we told him we were from England he immediately started talking about his love for football and the premier league. It's very big over here and most people put us to shame as they know far more than we do.

After we finished the food we continued to look but in the end had to call it quits. We found a room at a little guesthouse called the Golden Smile Inn. The room was windowless as it was in the middle of the building but it was fine and once again the people were full of smiles. After we'd had a little bit of a rest we went out to explore the place a some more. Sule Pagoda sits in the centre as the focal point and heart of the city.
Pagodas are everywhere in Myanmar and Buddhism is quietly present at all times. It is the religion I have felt most comfortable viewing as an outsider, and wandering barefoot around a pagoda is a very peaceful and calm experience.

We walked round Sule Pagoda and located the tourist centre where we grabbed ourselves a couple of maps. Then we went off to the market to change our Dollars into Kyat. The global economic downturn has affected things here as well, so we weren't going to get as many Kyat for our Dollars as Adam had last time. That said there is no way you could grumble about value for money here, we'd just set ourselves a very strict budget, even lower than usual so we continued to be careful. If you came here on a normal holiday you could live like a king, although I think you'd miss a lot.

We checked a few exchange rates with different gem sellers. This may sound a little strange but there is no bureau de change, so it is the local people who change the money and the majority of them are in the jewellery trade. We worried a little that maybe we hadn't got the best rate but in hindsight we did and now we just had to watch what we spent a little closer because we had a fixed amount.

Next we went to the bus station to book out ticket North. Although we were going to visit some of the places Adam had been to last time he obviously wanted to see more of the country. So our first destination would be new to both of us, it was a place called Toungoo. The guidebook said it had 'temples, a long moat and hidden ruins,' so we thought it was worth an explore.

Our next task was to locate a tailors. After things went so smoothly in India when Adam had his suit made, we were hoping for a repeat and equally cheap experience. He had a name and address of one so off we went scouring the streets for the right place. We were more successful than we had been this morning and had no problem finding the tailors, the problems began when we got inside. The guy working there did not speak English and neither it would seem did the shy woman who was lurking in the back.

While we were stood there gesticulating and racking our brains for different ways to explain or act out a suit being made, a young woman crossed the street and approached us. By this point we had left the tailors as we'd banged our head against the brick wall enough and she met us in the street. She was incredibly smiley and she introduced herself and asked us if we would follow over the road to her English class. It turned out she was a student sent to invite us by her teacher and there were ten students all looking at us through the open door. Even if we'd wanted to it would have been really rude not to accept and even though I was a bit hesitant I was also intrigued.

We spent the next hour in the class talking to the students and answering questions about our selves. The students capabilities were quite varied, some had only been learning for a month and others for up to and over a year. About half the class were Buddhist monks and it was the first time I had ever met one. I don't know why but I never expected them to be so chatty or involved with people, I guess naively I always had an image of them meditating in the confines of their monastery. This however is what the trip is all about, meeting new people and learning new things.

Everyone was incredibly friendly and eager to learn. The teacher was this slightly hippy-ish guy with long hair and a few odd quirks. It was kind of like he was on speed as he spoke very quickly and his actions were quite erratic and jerky but he was very engaging and I could see why the students liked him. By now it was approaching 5pm and we hadn't eaten lunch so we made our excuses and agreed to come back the next day. Adam had explained about the suit to the girl who had first approached us and she guided us to a cheaper tailor who spoke better English. We looked at material, discussed the style and the price and then Adam decided to sleep on it and told them we would come back the next day if we wanted to go ahead.

We said goodbye to the girl and a monk who had come too, then made our way back to the room and bought some refreshments on the way. After a bit of rest we went out for a proper dinner and then purchased desert from a street seller. Adam had always raved about these sort of pancake/chapatti things which are shallow fried in front of you and then covered in sugar, so we bought some for me to try and for him to retry. I had to agree they were really good, not sure how many I could or should eat but we've had them several times since.

The next day we ate breakfast, and then went to the market in search of an umbrella. The students had taught us a little bit of Myanmar and we put it to use which people really seemed to appreciate it. Everyone was full of smiles any way but making the effort is always important. We made a few purchases and then headed back to the tailor to make the final arrangements for the suit. We are going to be a little less involved than we were last time as it will be being made while we travel but still for the money it will cost I think it is worth taking the risk.

After that we walked to Swedagon Pagoda, probably the most famous pagoda in all of Myamar and definitely the largest. It sits in a raised area with many other small pagodas and Buddhas, and there are four main entrances each guarded, as almost all pagodas are, by two seated lion statues.
These ones are giants and some are in better nick than others, those at the main entrances are well maintained while others fall in to disrepair. We walked round almost the entire perimeter without actually entering and then we sat down to have some lunch.

Once we were refuelled we find our own way up into the area designated for the pagoda which includes some grassy patches which are very peaceful. We then made the final climb and came out on to the marble tiled floor and I got the full impact of the golden structure for the first time. It took my breath away a little bit, the size of it is quite imposing and the colour in the sunlight is very striking indeed.
The atmosphere was tranquil and there was a warmth about the place. It was a day of Sabbath so many people were sitting crossed legged under small open structures repeating the chants of the monk they were all facing. We sat and soaked it all up for a little while before making our way down to the street once more.

Adam guided us down a road where you get a really good view of the pagoda from below and then we got a taxi to take us back in to town. We changed a bit more of our dollars and then made our way to the English class. They seemed slightly miffed with us because they thought we were late even though we arrived exactly when we said we would. One student said he thought Adam has he was German the day before and everything was a little less comfortable. Still it was nice to feel like we were helping and many of the students were happy to have us there. There is not that much chance to speak to foreigners and any one who we have met here who is trying to learn English says pronunciation is the biggest problem so they are always keen to hear us talk.

After class we went on the internet to let our parents know we were safe and well and then headed back to the hotel. Later we ventured out in the rain to grab a takeaway dinner and then called it a night.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 02:00 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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