We flew from Kunming, our last stop in China, into our first stop in Myanmar- the capital Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon). We wanted to move a bit slower here than in China.
Our first impression of Myanmar was pretty unusual…the taxi drivers didn’t try to rip us off even a little bit for our ride to our hostel. Then, we got in the car, realized the steering wheel was on the right, and realized 5 minutes later that the cars were driving on the right hand side of the road anyway. As in, British cars, North American roads. WHAT!? I guess it’s working out ok for them though haha. We arrived at our hostel, one of the few in the city, close to Chinatown (yay China). That fist night, we walked to the biggest, most important and most famous of the Burmese pagodas: Shwedagon. It was so full of tourists. Rich middle-aged European packaged tour bus tourists to be exact. They were to be a constant fixture of our travels through the county. The pagoda was pretty impressive, but we realized that we basically ruined every other pagoda we were going to see for the next two weeks. Woops. Next day, we decided to try to find Aang Sun Su Kyi’s house, because it was listed on the tourist map the hostel gave us. We did eventually find it, but the whole thing is closed up with barbed wire, and is now some kind of military compound. Which is why I usually research the crap out of anything before I go see it haha! Spent the rest of the day shopping for hot weather + conservative culture appropriate clothing (WORST combination), drinking tea, eating food and drinking beer. Next day, we checked out the Yangon circle train. Never designed to be a tourist attraction, this is a commuter train that runs in a huge circle through the outskirts of Yangon. It was a real cheap day. We met a monk who studied English and Korean. What a coincidence right!? Our final day in Yangon, we checked out the odd Drugs Eliminating Museum, recommended to us by some expat journalists living in Yangon. Specifically addressing the government’s successes with destroying anything opium related, the museum was filled with lots of odd and very old exhibits. That night, we jumped on a hella comfortable VIP bus to Inle Lake.
I think I can safely say this was my favourite stop in Myanmar. Quiet, cute fishing village, mountains, lake, pizza, everything you need! We arrived at 4am (because night buses and Burma are totally ridiculous) and were lucky to be able to get in our room straight away without paying for an extra night. We didn’t wake up until basically noon that day, at which point there wasn’t time to do a whole lot but walk around, drink some tea, eat some dinner and plan out our next 3 days. We got really lucky, as there was a huge festival happening in a nearby city that we had heard would be cool to go to, but we didn’t really know how we would go about getting there. Luckily, a German guy had already set the wheels in motion to arrange a pickup tuk tuk to drive several other guests at our hotel out there for the night, so we joined in. So glad we did! I am pretty sure it was the New Years celebration for the ethnic group called Shan who live in eastern Burma. It did not disappoint. Live music, hot air balloons with fireworks, man-powered ferris wheels, food and beer, horrifying toilets, it had everything. We were all sad when it was time to leave!
The next morning we rented some bikes and set off on a bike ride around the like with a cool British couple we had met the night before. The scenery was amazing. We biked until we got to the famed “hot springs”, which for our cheap asses meant two public baths, one for men and one for women. The other option for the rich tourists is to pay $10 to go for a swim in the fancy bath owned by a hotel. The British girl tested out the water and reported that it was way to freaking hot to get into, which was ok because I had already decided I probably wasn’t going in it. We carried on, caught a boat across the lake with our bikes, and leisurely biked back toward town. A great day all in all!
Next day: woke up fairly early to go for a hike through the villages in the mountains with a guide/restaurant owner down the street. He was totally worth the little money we paid him. He knew everyone in the villages and even led us into a few houses to say hi to people! And into the schools! Which made us pretty uncomfortable, and caused some confusion until we explained that we were teachers before and we didn’t like disrupting the classes like that. He took us to a house and made us a pretty awesome lunch, then took us to a secret, untouristed lake in the mountains, and made sure we saw the local couple making out under a tree (he thought it was VERY shocking haha), then we went home. And drank some tea. Burmese tea is kind of like Chai…but maybe a little different, and instead of milk the put condensed milk. It’s like a cross between a Chai and a Vietnamese coffee. Why isn’t everybody selling this!? We drank a lot of those. That night, I convinced Conor to go see a traditional Burmese puppet show (he was like “puppets? meh”) because it was only $3. Best $3 we spent! The marionettes themselves were beautiful, and we had a master’s control over making them dance. Apparently, Burmese people started making puppets dance before human dancing ever became popular, so that the traditional human dances look a great deal like puppet movements. Then he told us that we could buy and actual marionette for like $10 and I was like SOLD! SO SOLD! And then I had to carry it around with me until I left because I was warned by locals not to mail ANYTHING out of Myanmar. Either way, it was another good day.
On our final day, we went out on the lake for the famous Inle Lake boat tour. We were hoping to find buddies to reduce the cost, but no luck (still not expensive). Because so many tourists do the tour everyday, the whole thing has become super touristy. The boat driver takes you around to various workshop/showrooms, where you get a tour around the workshop and then are escorted to the shop. I kind of just thought of it as an interactive museum, where I could learn things. Burmese people are waaaay less pushy sales people than in other SE Asian countries, so the experience was not unpleasant. It was incredibly interesting to see the floating gardens! OUt in the lake, tomatoes, lotus roots, flowers, other stuff…pretty cool. We managed not to buy too much, and finished off with some cigars and a bottle opener. When it was over we grabbed some dinner and got on another overnight bus to
Bagan is a plain filled with ancient temple ruins. Not just a few, but hundreds. The best part is, nobody really knows that much about who built them or why, but Marco Polo makes a reference to the grand city of Bagan in one of his writings. Bagan itself is hot, dusty and dirty, and not at all pleasant like Inle Lake, but the temples are amazing.We were unable to prebook any accommodation, so we had to spend a little while finding a cheap place, where they once again allowed us into the room at 4am without charging extra. When we finally woke up at noon, we decided to rent e-bikes. Electronic bikes are halfway between a scooter and a bicycle. It was my first time to drive any kind of motorized bike so I was worried, but I did fine for the most part. The bikes are the best way to get around, as all the temples are spread rather far apart, it’s hot as hell, and the small roads between them are nearly entirely made of sand. Checking out the old temples really makes you feel like Indiana Jones, despite all the middle aged Europeans in there with you. We chilled out, grabbed some tea, and scooted over to the famous sunset pagoda, which we knew would be crammed full of middle aged European tourists, but was really supposed to be the best one. We found a little spot near the top and took our photo, then waited for all the middle-aged Europeans to clamber down the hella steep stairs and load onto their tour buses, then called it a day.
Woke up the next morning at 5am to go watch the sunrise. Rich tourists can pay over $300 for a spot in the basket of a hot air balloon the flies for an hour over the fields of temples at sunrise. Poor tourists can climb up on of the temples and take photos of this phenomenon. It was actually somewhat difficult to find a good temple because not all of them were climbable, and at night they were totally unseeable from the road. When we did manage to find one it was SUPER Indiana Jones, headlamp and all, and there was a big spider in the narrow stairwell that almost prevented us from making it, but we got there! Over the next 30 minutes about 10 more people joined us and we waited for the sunrise and the balloons to take off. We were not disappointed. About 16 balloons set off over top of us, and it was exactly as beautiful as we had imagined it would be. Then we went home and slept until noon again! When we woke up, we carried on exploring the temples, but we were starting to get temple ruin fatigued. WE made sure to catch one last sunset, then headed home for dinner. We were lucky to bump into some friendly Aussies we had met in Dali, China, who had splurged on the balloon experience for the next day. We agreed to meet with them the following evening for dinner to check out the photos and hear about the experience.
Next day: having grown weary of temple ruins (so spoiled I know) we rented regular bikes and explored the town of Nyaung-U. Turns out there wasn’t too much to see and it was a pretty lazy day. We caught up with the Aussies and marveled at their hot air balloon photos at dinner and decided that they hadn’t wasted their money. The next day we hopped on a bus to
For once in this country, we arrived at a reasonable hour instead of 4am from the bus, which was good because it was tricky to find our hostel. When we did find it, we were happy to have nice beds and an awesome breakfast the next morning. Our first day in Mandalay we rented some bicycles and set out to find an old teak monastery that was supposed to be nice. Turned out biking in Mandalay was a little frustrating, but we managed to stay safe AND find it! And get a really good feel for the city along the way. At night we took a taxi out to the world’s longest teak bridge (official record holder) for some beautiful sunset photos. The next day, Conor was feeling pretty sick so we didn’t do much. Mandalay doesn’t have as many attractions as other areas in Myanmar, so we didn’t feel like we were missing out on too much. At night though, I went out to watch the Moustache Brothers, a famous comedic trio known for criticizing the government during their acts. Two of the brothers spent time in jail because of their anti-government acts. These days, they’re only allowed to perform for tourists in the front room of their home, and only one brother speaks English. We decided it was less “HAR HAR HAR” funny and more “hmmm that’s interesting” funny. But I’m definitely glad I got to see it. We then went to check out a Burmese “club”, which was basically 20 women in not so sexy clothes singing songs and doing “fashion shows” while men drank beer and watched them. It was reeeeeeeaaaaaaally weird. When we went back to the hostel, a street market had kicked off into high gear with some kind of concert/performance thing. We checked it out, and everyone freaked out that two foreigners wanted to sit there and watch and we were given the total royal treatment. It was a really cool experience and I’m glad we got to see it. Unfortunately, I needed to wake up pretty early to catch a flight, and the music continued on until like 4am and I didn’t really get ANY sleep! Oh well. The next day we caught a flight to Bangkok, where we spent 6 hours eating, and then onto KL, where we spent a day eating, shopping, grooming and watching the latest Hunger Games movie. We are now in Kathmandu, planning out our trekking route!