You know you’re going somewhere special when the time zone is 1.5 hours different to the country that you’re coming from. This was confirmed the next morning, when I looked out of the window to see women walking down the street with the traditional Burmese sun-cream on their faces, made from the wood of locally grown trees. Myanmar is not as different to its neighbouring south east Asian countries as I was expecting, but it is different enough to make it an experience travelling there.
This blog post will be slightly different to before: more photos, some videos, and less text. I will list what I did in bullet points, and try and provide some explanation for the photos and videos that I’m uploading.
This was another 10-day holiday from work, which is pretty much the maximum amount of time I can get off, with both paid and un-paid leave combined. As with the other 10-day trips to the Philippines, I tried to pack in as much as possible, whilst still making it a fun and enjoyable trip.
- Get flight to Yangon, changing in Hong Kong
- Get a taxi to the hostel
- Walk around Yangon
- Cannot change money, because it’s a public holiday (May Day), so I get money from an ATM (of which there are many)
- Eat at an outside, local, sit-down restaurant, close to Maha Bandoola Garden
- Sit in Maha Bandoola Garden. At least 3 different people come over to talk to me, including a Buddhist monk from Sri-Lanka, who was there on holiday
- Look at Sule Pagoda (from the outside only, as it was $3 to get in and wasn’t very big)
- Walk through India town
- Get a taxi to Shwedagon Pagoda
- Dinner and beer in Chinatown, on “beer street”, which is exactly like the kind of thing I’d eat in Taiwan, only with Myanmar beer
- Get train ticket to Began
- Tea and lunch in a local tea shop. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea eating the warm noodles that I’d been served, with such a long train journey coming up, but then I remembered what had made me ill on previous trips, and thought it was probably fine
- Go to Bogyoke Aung San market
- Overnight sleeper train to Began. Here I met Pedro, who I shared a cabin with for the trip. The train hadn’t been updated since the British left Burma (by the look of it), and we shared the 19 hour trip from Yangon to Began, which was a lot of fun
- Arrive in Began
- Hire e-bikes and ride around old Began
- Watch the sunset from the top of one pagoda, with only me and 1 or 2 other people, including Pedro. In September, Began will become a UNESCO world heritage site, and it will not be possible to climb up the pagodas
- Eat in BBQ restaurant
- Ride around old Began
- Ride around with the sun going down, hurriedly trying to find somewhere to watch the sunset from. This is actually one of my favourite memories of Began, as Pedro and I were following some Burmese girls who had offered to show us and another foreigner somewhere to watch the sunset from, but we were driving quite fast through the dusty, uneven dirt roads of Began, with the dust from the road in the air and a big red sun in the distance, with all of the pagodas going past, with no time to stop and take photos
- Beer on ‘restaurant street’, which was very touristy, so we just stayed for 1 beer and then went for food in another restaurant
- Buy bus ticket to Mandalay. This was a bit of an experience, as there was a bit of a situation in the guest house with paying for the hotel room. In Myanmar, they only accept US Dollar notes that they can easily change later or cash into the bank. I didn’t have small enough change to pay for the hotel room with, so Pedro paid first with his US Dollar notes, some of which the guest house staff didn’t accept. I was feeling a bit annoyed by this, and chose not to accept some of their US Dollars in change when I paid for the room, which Pedro had just paid with. After this, I had to go to the ATM to get the correct change, and when I got back, the guest house staff were coming up with reasons that they couldn’t help us buy a bus ticket, even though I’d asked them about this before paying and it was fine. They also gave varying answers to the questions of how far the bus station was and where it was, saying it was 10 km away at one point (the whole of Nyaung-U wasn’t even 3 km long). The bus station even had to call the guest house for them to give them my name, so they knew where I was buying the bus ticket. I chose to laugh about this with Pedro and we spent most of the 30 minute walk to the bus station and back, making fun of them.
- Get bus to Mandalay
- Hire a motorbike from the hostel and go up Mandalay Hill as it was getting dark, and get a free tour from a local student who wanted to practise his English
- Eat in a traditional Burmese restaurant (they were waiting for me to finish in the end, so that they could close)
- Be ill from a suspicious looking egg that I ate at lunchtime at a roadside restaurant (probably). It tasted strange at the time and had clearly been sitting there for a while
- Buy a flight ticket from Inle lake to Yangon several days later, to maximise my time in Inle lake. I got this from a travel agent, as the airline website was unreliable, and I would of wasted a lot of time trying to use it. On the way to get money for the flight ticket, I got some dirt stuck in my eye and spent about 1.5 hours trying to get it out again. This has not happened before, and eventually some young people in an electrical shop asked me if I wanted to sit down, and not long after that it felt better again
- Lunch at a street side restaurant. The people at the restaurant made everything by the side of the street, and this was probably my favourite meal in Myanmar!
- Go to Mya Nan San Kyaw Golden Palace. Most of this is a military site and was only opened to foreigners recently. Also, the royal family at this time only lasted for 1 or 2 generations, so the palace is very new and was barely used (courtesy of the Burmese student up Mandalay Hill)
- Go to Maha Muni Buddha Image temple. This was great, as clearly they get very few foreigners there, and a lot of people asked me to have their photo taken with them
- Eat in BBQ restaurant (also great). There seem to be a lot of these in Mandalay and the food is cheap and good. I had half a crispy duck, vegetables and a vegetable soup that I couldn’t finish, for not a lot of money
- Get a bus to Nyaung Shwe (for Inle lake)
- Find a guest house by walking around. There was a town parade that we almost got stuck in, with the bus driver trying to find somewhere for me to stay. Eventually he showed me where we were on a map and I found somewhere myself that was clean, quiet and not very expensive, with a good breakfast included
- Eat at the night market
- Hire a bicycle with the aim of cycling around the lake, which the girl in the guest house had said was possible. After figuring out that this probably wasn’t possible, I went to the tourist information centre and figured out my own plan, which was to go to Maing Thauk and Thale-U, two villages on the east side of the lake, and try and make it to Nan Pan market, to try and get a boat back again. This was way too far, so I got a boat tour around Maing Thauk from a woman who lives there (she pointed out her house as we were going around), and then later I got a speed boat tour of the lake. During this we skipped out some of the tourist sites and went to Ywama, a village in the lake where they have a floating market, and Nga Hpe Chaung (otherwise known as Jumping Cat monastery). We got here about 3 minutes before it closed and got the speed boat back, as the sun was going down.
- Get a flight back to Yangon
- Go to the Kan Daw Gyi lake, which I’d wanted to do the first time. Watched the sunset here, too, with Shwedagon Pagoda in the background!
- Eat an average curry at a restaurant recommended by someone in the hostel
- Go in search of more curry and find a street-side ice-cream bar, which was good
- See grown men, close the the mosque, drinking pint glasses of milk at a milk bar on the street
- Get a flight back to Taipei