Two weeks with Intrepid through Myanmar
Overnight stop in Singapore after an early flight from NZ. Arrived to a humid wet evening and headed straight for the hotel. I was staying north of the airport as I thought it would be closer but you had to drive south and loop around so could hand stayed more centrally just add easily. Had some sashimi at the hotel and called it an early night as I was pretty tired at this point.
Yangon is a busy city and the largest in Myanmar with over 6 million inhabitants. I can't say it's a place that I've fallen in love with but it does have a certain charm in amongst the hustle and bustle.
The architecture is a fascinating mix of old colonial buildings, more traditional Asian structures and the occasional modern tower. Many of the older buildings really show their age and the party I actually love is how many have trees and plants growing from the side of them. The streets are busy and full of cars and people and crossing the road can be challenging as the cars don't give way to pedestrians.
I walked up to Kandawgyi Lake with the intention of having a walk around the park but found it surrounded by a high fence and no entry close by. As I walked around the outskirts on my way to Shwedagon Pagoda I soon found trying harder to find an entrance world have been a bad idea, the raised path I would have wanted to walk along the lake on was non existent in parts and in the process of being rebuild.
I arrived at Shwedagon Pagoda via the East gate and climbed up the stairs to the pagodas on the hill above. You have to take off your shoes before climbing and there were kids running around on the walk up trying to convince you to take a plastic bag for your shoes. At the top of the stairs I paid my 10,000Ks entrance fee and had to put a deposit down for a longyi to cover my legs, shorts down to your knees apparently not being acceptable.
It's a pretty impressive sight at the top, golden temples everywhere and they were full of locals sitting around, praying or even having group meals. The merit of shoes was proven when a little boy stepped in pigeon poop when existing one of the platform's, saving me from the same fate.
I had to leave via the same gate to retrieve my longyi deposit but was able to circle around the top of the hill to the west gate. It was actually interesting how different this small walk was when you left the impressive covered stairsways, the surrounds were rundown and full of people working at a variety of not always obvious activities.
My next stop was the National Museum, a large rectangular building in unimpressive settings. Entrance was 5000Ks and the contents was solid, certainly give for the few dollars entrance.
It didn't take long for me to get museumed out and I headed back into the busy downtown getting a serving of spicy pork noodles for lunch.
I had a late start as I had to change rooms and liked the idea of some time to myself before meeting my tour group later that evening.
I g out myself a haircut at a local barber for 2000Ks, certainly the cheapest haircut I've ever had and certainly not the worse.
My next stop was Botahtaung Pagoda, a more laid back and local affair by the river that cost 6000Ks to enter. They let me just roll my shorts down to just below my knees and through in a free bottle of water into the price. It's certainly not as impressive as Shwedagon but I liked how much quieter it was. You can walk around inside the the Pagoda following a small maze around the centre and all the walls are lined in gold. I visited the mirror room out the back but this was full of groups of people counting huge mound of cash on the floor, from what I saw they were raking it in.
The people seem to be genuinely friendly and like a lot of Asian countries they did my height fascinating. You see a lot of people walking around with paint on their faces, something I still need to chase up.
Meet my group on the evening. The guide Min went on for a bit but then most of them do at the start so I'll try to reserve judgement for now; the amount of time he went on about hiegene has me worried though.
The group is made up of of:
Jen and Chris from Switzerland
Jacquie from Switzerland
Karina from Perth
Simon from UK/Sydney
Kirilee from Sydney (both teachers traveling together)
Jason from Suffix
Cyril from Switzerland
Niten from UK
Allan (Deak) from US
Emmy, late addition from Aus
We had bused our way up to Bagan which took most of the day.
Our first day in Bagan was spent cycling around some of the more impressive temps out of the four thousand plus that make up the site. In the morning Min took us around as a group and we went or own way in the afternoon. I ended up cruising around with Simon and Jen and Chris fort the afternoon. By the end we were all pretty tired of taking our shoes off to enter the temples and settled for just shaping a photo from the outside.
+17/01/2018Balloons over Bagan
Myself, Jaquie, Karina, Amy, Niten and Kirilee took the balloon ride in the morning, which at $310 was rather pricey but also so worth it. Floating over the temples in the morning light was just a gorgeous experience.
In the afternoon most of us based out to Mt Popa which looks impressive from a distance but it's covered in rubbish and monkey shit. At over 700 steroid it's a decent wee climb and made for a decent die trip from Bagan.
In the evening I hated out to the viewing tower with Jen and Chris fort the sunset. At $5 is a lot cheaper than the balloon ride and offers a really decent view, though nowhere near as good as the morning balloon ride.
We were up before 4:30 for the ferry trip from Bagan to Mandalay. Unfortunately, while we were on the ferry and ready to go at 5:30 it wasn't; almost four hours later, just when a replacement had arrived it was fixed and we were off. Amy and Karina had bailed after three hours deciding to take a bus which wasn't that upsetting as the constant complaining was getting a bit old.
The trip was actually great after the slow start. Lazing back on deck chairs in the sun with beer and watching the country side roll by, I love this part of traveling. A few hours up the river we meet the replacement they'd sent down which turned around to follow us back up; just as well as the steering broke again and after trying to use the backup to push us along they gave up and we transferred to the other boat for the rest of the trip.
The going got slower in the dark and we ended up in Mandalay after 10pm instead of 5pm. I would have happily got in a couple of hours earlier but all up it was fun day and a great way to see the country side.
Well Mandalay is a fairly average city, not that exciting and a day was plenty. We checked out a gold leaf shop, the gold Buddha and a teak monastery in the morning, none of which were particularly impressive in my opinion.
In the evening we visited the book pagoda which was actually quite cool, especially in the evening light, before making our way up Mandalay hill for the sunset. There's a pagoda at the top covered in mirrors and while the sunset itself wasn't as great as some we've seen recently it was a nice end to the day.
+20/01/2018U Bein Bridge
U Bein Bridge, Myanmar
Today was a travel day to Kalaw but first we stopped at U Bein Bridge on the outskirts of Mandalay. This is a teak bridge that stretches for over a kilometre over the lake. Typical for these parts it's surrounded by trash but even so managed to be quite beautiful, with a few pagodas reflections in the background and full of fisherman and ducks and surrounded by fields of cross being worked.
The bus route to Kalaw was mostly flat with the last few hours winding up the hills to what used to be an old colonial tea station.
Today was all about the hiking in the hills around Kalaw. The rest of the group seemed pretty delighted and while it was nice to get out and walk, it was more of a stroll through the country side than a hike and the landscape didn't do much for me. The hills were pretty enough and the weather lovely I just didn't get into it as much as the others sadly.
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Before leaving Kalaw we'd checked out some cave temples in the morning before an easy bus trip to Inle Lake. I'd had a light fever last night and was still struggling most of the day but was mostly recovered by today.
We spent our first whole day in Inle Lake on a boat trip to various sites around the lake. First we visited a local market then weaving and boat building centres before lunch, after which we visited a pagoda and some jumping cat monastery. I loved the boating around the lake which was full of fisherman and other tourists, the villages built on stilts in the lake and the canals that joined them all. I was less a fan of the stops which were all very touristy, not bad itself, and the rest of the group did seem to love them.
All up it was a good way to spend the day and the setting on the lake was quite picturesque.
Our last full day involved a morning flight back to Yangon. I joined the walking tour in the afternoon but skipped the visit to the Pagoda after as I didn't fancy two hours wandering around a site I'd already checked out extensively.
We had a nice evening meal then all posted ways. Got a taco to the airport on the morning with Niten then headed to Kuching and my next adventure.