Published: January 1st 2008December 20th 2007
Fisherman in the eye of the sun.
To go or not to go, THAT, was the question. Aung San Suu Kyi said "don't come" based on the theory that tourism only reinforces the ruling junta's behaviour. The troubles of a couple months back didn't make the decision any simpler.
Why then, are we here? Selfishly because we wanted to. We can also justify it because there are plenty of arguments in favour of visiting, most notably, the rank and file people of Myanmar need the funds. Like the majority of independents we avoided wherever possible channelling our dollars into government coffers and rather into the pockets of those who really do need it. The overwhelming opinion we developed was that the people of Burma are desperate for tourists to visit. As a consequence of the incidents this year, tourist numbers are WAY down and the people are hurting. So consider that before deciding whether to boycott.
The political portion of the blog now out of the way, our 11 day sojourn into Myanmar commenced with an -
OUCH! The elbow hurt when I stumbled on a loose paver Day 1 in Yangon and hit the deck. The minor injury paled into insignifance compared to the pain of my
The Burmese are a supple bunch.
main camera no longer functioning due to the impact. What were the odds of finding someone capable of repairing a NIKON D200 in Burma? The good news, this happened at the beginning of Week 51 and not the beginning of Week 1.
Now for a song - to the tune of "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" -
"You say Myanmar, I say Burma.
You say Yangon, I say Rangoon.
Myanmar - Burma,
Yangon - Rangoon.
Let's call the whole thing off."
Regardless of however you might want to name these places, the all too prevalent frustations of travelling around this nation could lead you to wanting to "call the whole thing off."
Starting with money. There are no ATMs and in fact credit card companies pulled up stumps here years ago. Thus, it's US dollars in cash that must be brought in. Not just any US dollars but hot off the press mint condition. You hand over a bill and it is invariably heavily scrutinised. We have regularly had $20 notes rejected because of "faults". eg. a 1mm corner overturned, an ink mark on the edge barely visible to the naked eye, or my personal favourite - "the man
I liked the light reflecting off the yellow dye.
on the note is too old." (message to US mint - remove President Jackson from $20 note and replace with Justin Timberlake). When you do manage to cash in dollars, you will receive in return the "ALL POWERFUL KYAT" the local monopoly money. $100 US will buy you a bucket full of the stuff. It doesn't take a lot to be a millionaire in Burma.
Getting around. The distances may look paltry but there aren't a lot of autobahns in Myanmar. eg. the 200klm jaunt form Inle Lake along the "Road to Mandalay" was an 11 hour bone jarring, jam packed, knees under the chin overnight joy ride. The entrenched BO plus the guy behind us vomiting was the cherry on top.
With a big red line through the bus option, we then plumped for the slow boat for a "romantic cruise" down the Ayerwaddy form Mandalay to Bagan. 17 hours after boarding, a bunch of bedraggled tourists stumbled ashore at the destination. The officials weren't kidding when they named this the slow boat.
Electricity. The power in Mandalay operates from about 3am to 7am (no exaggeration), just when a person REALLY needs it (I hope everyone reading this is
Shoreside temple complex.
familiar with the concept of sarcasim). During these hours it was possible to partake in a hot shower. After 1 week I'd managed about a 1 x 2 minute spurt of hot water.
Food. It's OK but a lot of people have stomach bugs. Christmas Eve and we ventured into the most western restaurant in Mandalay for their slap up Chrissy Eve din din special roast turkey. I wasn't previously aware turkey had 4 legs and teeth, so we stuck to the rice and curry.
Christmas Day itself but it sure didn't feel like it. The closest thing to a Santa outfit was all these guys prancing around in red/maroon/orange robes. We had to use our imaginations with the shaved heads.
Right now I can hear you all screaming from here -"YEATESY, YOU'RE GOING SOFT(ER)." Perhaps, but it's been a long year and we've earnt the luxury of some softness aorund the edges. Perhaps I'm also becoming a (bigger) whinger.
So let us all take 1 step to the left onto the positive side of the ledger. Inle Lake is magnificent. Twas one of THE wonderful days cruising on a longboat around the dozens of villages built in/on/around this beautiful
Village on the water.
lake surrounded by mountains and the shoreline dotted with temples.
If Inle Lake was a treat, Bagan was a Utopian delight. There are about 40 sq klms of temple infested land that oozes tranquility and splendour. Standing atop 1 particular temple at sunset, all alone save an amiable Hungarian couple we ran into, gazing over the plains dotted with literally hundreds of payas/stupas/pagodas, was another of the year's standouts.
There are plenty of options for zipping amongst this area. We opted for pushbikes, mine a very elegant pink ladies ensemble.
Combine all this with some semi-reliable hot water in our $9 room and Bagan could really grow on you.
To the people of Burma and, particularly considering the most trying of circumstances they endure politically, are smiling and friendly. Says a lot for the merits of Buddhism.
Unusual sights abound. My favourite was the old lady pedalling along with a bird cage precariously balanced on her head. Can I be sure it was a bird cage? Judging by the number of our feathered friends flapping around inside, YEP, pretty sure.
No pubs in Burma, they have Beer Stations. Pull up a chair and "fill er up beer station guy." They
Dig that crazy jewellery.
aren't the classiest of establishments but they are friendly. Sitting by a dusty, noisy Mandalay road on Christmas day, overlooking the moat surrounded Royal Palace, sipping 40 cent Myanmar brews, life could have been a lot worse.
11 1/2 months gone, and Christmas and New Year to go, Burma sounds good, our last destination to finish off 2007. My head cold is still thumping, the dusty smoky streets of Myanmar probably not helping, taking me a few days to acclimatise.
Inle Lake was the first stop for a few days. Sitting on a deck chair in a dug out motorised canoe was a relaxing and pleasant way to explore the local villages, their markets and the various craft areas. All the houses up on stilts with wooden walkways arranged across the lake for pedestrain access. No noisy cars, just the sound of other boats going by. We probably should have stayed longer but with such slow transport to each town / village we had to factor in large hours on transport to go relatively short distances. 11 hr overnight bus to cover 200 klms. The roads are slow and inadequate. Whatever small quantities of bitumen that was laid
Novices on the march.
50 -60 years ago now worn thin with pot holes, making even travel by horse and cart difficult. Buses and trucks constantly having to pull off the road to let on-coming traffic pass. The buses are old but are the cheapest means of transport for locals and tourists.
Our next stop was Mandalay where we spent Christmas. Probably one of my quietest non "Christmassy" days ever. The town was quiet as it was also having a few days holiday. Being a buddhist country, very little decoration or reference to Christmas could be seen. We had decided to head to a vegetarian Indian restaurant for lunch that was decked out with lights and stars and run by a Christian Sri-Lankan family. We were the only ones there. Served a bowl of curry rice, accompanied by luke warm chinese tea and a piece of madeira cake for our big Christmas lunch. Not our usual Christmas slap up lunch. When I asked if Madeira cake was their traditional Christmas cake, the woman replied with a smile "no dear, it is impossible to cook cake here as we never have the power on long enough for it to cook." I think it sums up
There's the odd stupa in this country.
Having journeyed on the overnight bus, we both agreed that bus travel in Burma was not for us and opted for the "slow" ferry to Bagan. It almost sounded romantic. The reality unfortunately was something else. A 4am wake up call. 5am arrive on the ferry and find a plastic chair to sit on for the duration of the journey. Some 17 hours later (YES, 17 hours - 4 1/2 of those waiting at various villages along the way as cargo was lifted on and off the boat). We arrived at 10pm that night greeted by the local horse and cart taxis service. Did I mention there was no food on the boat all day except some packets of nuts, packet cake and some suspect meaty dish!) I think we are getting too old and too soft for this type of travel! Or is it just the 11 1/2 months travelling taking their toll on us. No I don't think either is the case, unfortunately my flu is bothering me and the panadol wearing off.
Our next 3 nights in Bagan were bliss, riding bikes around the village and stopping in at the various and impressive pagodas until
The Royal Palace from the beer station, Christmas Day.
sun set each night. It probably wasn't until we got to Bagan that I fully appreciated Myanmar. The people are really quite lovely. So smiling and tolerant and accepting of their lot. So happy to help and ensure you have a good time. When I think back at all my complaining about slow roads, overnight buses, the ferry from hell etc etc, the locals deal with this and many other constraints each day but still manage to make you feel very welcomed. I know I will reflect on our short time in Myanmar with fond memories.
Penny - over and out for the year and for the blogs for this travel session.
It's over. 52 weeks, 365 days. We should have left later to include 29th February this year in our 1 year ticket. In January it felt as if this would go on forever. Now forever is here. There is a plus to that. You see, through a complete accident of birth, we are from "Down Under Mate." If you must go home, then we are damn lucky that home is where it is.
This year has been one to remember for all the right reasons.
Atop Mandalay Hill.
to anybody who intends catching up with us on return, a request:
1 x Coopers Pale Ale.
1 x Coopers Sparkling Ale.
1 x Hunter Valley Verdelho.
1 x McLeesh Semillon.
1 x Clare Riesling.
1 x Yarra Valley Pinot Noir.
1 x Margaret River Cabernet.
1 x McLaren Vale Shiraz.
By the glass and in that order. Line em up, we're on our way.
Colvin and Yeates, OVER AND OUT!!!
There are more photos below