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Published: September 7th 2016
Mingalabar to Myanmar!
Mingalabar means 'Hello' and was about the only word I managed to learn, I couldn't even say the word for 'Thank you' even after many tries
Time to continue on with my Asian tales write ups, although I've been a bit slow at getting around to them, I'll get them done evenutally. After leaving HK I flew to Bangkok for a few days to meet up with a friend for some more travels. I’d been to Bangkok many years ago and was left undecided about the place, so I thought a second chance was in order and also I would be spending some time with someone who once lived there, which would hopefully give me a different perspective. However, I can’t say that after a second visit the city grew on me anymore, there is just something about Bangkok I am not too keen on. Ah well, it’s just not the city for me, I know many people love it there.
The main purpose of going there was it was en route to our next destination, a country that currently not the easiest of places to get to, and until a couple of years ago wasn’t really open to visitors anyway. These days Myanmar has started to open up and is now welcoming to foreign visitors and since the visa has gone online, it is a
A friendly reminder..
Naturally I was well behaved and followed all the rules
lot easier to get into the country these days.
Flying out of Bangkok, we headed north to Yangon, formally known as Rangoon and formally the capital of Myanmar. It is still the largest city in the country but the capital was moved to Naypyidaw (which was only built in 2002) in 2006. As the trip was planned at short notice, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Info on the internet suggested we would need US dollars to get around but thankfully in the last year the country have cracked down on the black market and made sure cash machines are everywhere so the local currency can be used, which is a lot more convenient. Grabbing a taxi we headed to our first hotel, the Kandawgyi Place hotel, on the Kandawgyi lake in the centre of town, mingalabar to Myanmar!
The hotel was once the Rangoon Rowing Club (yep, we Brits were there) and is a teak colonial delight, the perfect place for a G+T at sunset in the tropics. What! What! I soon found my favourite spot on one of the swing seats on the verrandah. The pool was pretty nice too and of course the dinosaur
Yangon night market
It's very hot and fragrant but worth a trip
in the gardens added an extra dimension to breakfast.
As I mentioned the trip was a bit of a last minute plan, we hadn’t really accounted for the season and realised as we arrived in Yangon in 40+ C heat, we might have picked slightly the wrong time to come as it was the dry, hot season just before the monsoon breaks. Still, as it was the off season it meant the tourists were few and far between and the pool was nice an empty most of the time.
Once settled in we decided to see what Yangon had to offer and headed to the night market in downtown Yangon’s China town (I was assured by my Chinese travelling companion the Chinese had been in Myanmar since ancient times..). Exiting the taxi, the night was as steamy as it was fragrant, it must still have been in the high 30s and very humid, game over for my frizzy hair for two weeks then. The older part of town is a grid system and many streets are lined by colourful market stalls and roadside cafes, clearly the locals enjoy an outdoor meal of an evening. The whole of the
Promenading on the Kandawgyi Lake
The Royal lake in the heart of Yangon, brollies at the ready for a Sunday afternoon stroll.
city seemed to have descended onto the streets for their evening meal, probably a relief to get out of hot flats that time of year. We took a stroll down to the Sule Pagoda which sits on a roundabout near the city hall, the first of oh so many pagodas we were about to see over the next couple of weeks.
Walking around we noticed that everyone was wearing a strange beige paste on their faces, this traditional paste is called Thanaka and they wear it for a variety of reasons. The paste is made from ground bark, which can be purchased at many markets. The paste is applied as a sunscreen or in decorative patterns on females and children mostly, however a lot of men do wear it as well. Also the men were often to be found wearing the traditional Longyi which looks a bit like a skirt and when combined with the ubiquitous umbrella, form the uniform of many men in Myanmar.Beaten by the heat, we retreated to the hotel for a G+T and prepared for an early start as it was clear it was going to be so hot, we needed to avoid the heat
The Kandawgyi Palace Hotel, once the Rangoon Rowing Club, now a lovely hotel on the lake, the perfect place to stay.
of the day and try and get up early for some sightseeing.
One thing had started to bother me at this point though and I couldn't quite put my finger on it, then eureka! I worked out what was wrong, it was the cars. Having once been under British control, the cars had driven on the left had side of the road as we do and the steering wheel is on the right hand side. However, a while back the Government of Myanmar decided that they would change to drive on the right hand side of the road, all very well but they didn't change the side of the steering wheel, it was all a bit chaotic but somehow seemed to work.
The next morning after a rather tasty breakfast under the watchful gaze of the hotel dinosaur, it was time to brave the furnace and take a stroll around lake Kandawgyi. The lake was actually built by the British to provide drinking water and of course somewhere for them to practice their rowing. It is very pretty and there are lot of wooden walkways built over the water, a little broken in parts but fun to promenade
Not your average boat
The Karaweik on the Kandawgyi lake, it is a replica of traditional royal boat, however this one was a restaurant and wasn't going anywhere
along. The lake affords lovely views over Yangon’s main attraction, the Shwedagon pagoda. Sadly, a couple of tower blokes have started to creep into the city skyline but most of the views from the lake are still unspoiled, for now…
We managed to walk most around of the lake, ending up at the Karaweik, a fake royal barge which is actually a restaurant and was built in the 1970s, but resplendent in gold leaf, dominates the south end of the lake. At this point we were practically melting, it was HOT. All the locals were sensible in walking with an umbrella but of course, being European and on holiday, I was yet to succumb to picking up one, although after a few days I would have to give in. Everyone looks very elegant in their long skirts and umbrellas, it almost feels you have gone back in time to a more genteel age. There was only one thing for it, off to the pool! The hotel pool overlooked the lake and Karaweik and was just the place to sit and enjoy the beautiful sunsets, even if the birds were rather noisy as the sun went down.
The Shwedagon Pagoda towers over the lake, the name means three gold hills apparently.
left my guidebook somewhere in Hong Kong so hadn’t read much on the local cuisine but one thing I did remember was the green tea leaf salad, called Laphet Thoke. We gave it a try in the House of Memories restaurant, once the home of General Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi. The food in Yangon was quite similar to Thai, nothing too distinctive but when we moved away from Yangon there was certainly more distinctive types of food in the Shan state.
The following morning, we had to give in to the heat and decided to visit the Shwedagon pagoda very early in the morning. This pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar and believe me, there are rather a lot of pagodas in Myanmar, so this must be a good one. The tradition in Myanmar is to enter all temples and pagodas barefoot, which might not seem much of a problem unless like us, you pick the hottest time of year and the floor is not too dissimilar to walking across molten lava. Hence the need to get up early and do the sightseeing before it gets too hot or you end up
Once known as 'Scott's Market', another relic of the British occupation. Now full of many wondrous items of tourist tat and jewellery stalls
with burnt toes. Still it provided amusement to the locals to watch us hopping and skipping across the hot floors.
We arrived at the pagoda and removed the shoes, the pagoda has four entrances which all involve walking up lots of steps and then if you are a foreigner, a small entrance fee and then you are finally allowed to enjoy the splendour of the site. The main pagoda is about 99m high and is surrounded by many other smaller ones and it is thought to date back 2600 years, although it is more likely it was built in the 6th
century. Even though it was rather early, the place was packed with lots of people praying before they went to work, clearly we had the right idea with this whole getting up early lark. The pagoda was amazing, lots of the gold on all the stupas and pagodas is real, you can buy gold leaf to add to many of the pagodas, well you can add it if you are male but we females can only watch. Even though we had set off early the temperature was soon creeping up and already a bit too hot to walk
Fetch me a G+T
I enjoyed a cooling drink in the very cool swing seats on the hotel verandah, what! What!
around, we grabbed one of the many taxis and headed off to see another temple and rather large reclining Buddha and then took a trip to Bogyoke market for a spot of shopping.
Yangon has many lovely old Colonial buildings left, however there hasn’t been a great deal of investment in infrastructure in the last 40 years and it shows. Taking a walk around the south part of the city, there are still many beautiful buildings left, if you like Colonial buildings that is. It will certainly be interesting to watch over the next few years to see if they preserve them or decide they want to knock them all down and start again, it could certainly be a beautiful city if they preserved them, similar to my old favourite, Shanghai.
It was time to head out of Yangon and take a flight to Heho! Which is just such a great name and I feel should always be written with an exclamation mark after it. Flying with the local airline, Air KBZ, I was wondering what sort of flight we were going to get. It turns out the local airlines are rather good, probably as most have only
Randomly our hotel was also once a natural history museum and the dinosaurs remain to watch over you as you eat your breakfast.
just started up in the last couple of years so the planes are nice and new. My top tip for investing in Myanmar, it seems the KBZ company has its fingers in many pies, airlines, banks, constructions, perhaps they will soon take over the world. After a short but pleasant flight, landing at Heho! safely, we took a cab to the nearby town of Nyaungshwe which is the base for day trips on Inle Lake.
Nyaungshwe is located in the Taunggyi in the Shan State, it is a bit of a backpacker town catering for those who want a pizza or pasta while experiencing ‘the real Myanmar’, many people use it as a base for cycling and hiking and it does boast quite a good market. We originally planned to stay there as we wanted to go on a day trip to the Kakku temple complex but about a week or so before there was a ‘big wind’ and half of them fell down, oh dear. We switched our trip to have a day out on the lake instead and I think it was probably better than the original plan.
Our guide picked us up early from the
Early morning at the Shwedagon Pagoda
It was so hot we had to get up early and go, before the floor got too hot
hotel (it was still 40+C and now we were also at a bit of altitude) and we took trishaws down to the lake edge to catch our ride. The lake has many attractions, the local men have a distinctive way to row their boats with their legs while fishing and there are many villages built on stilts scattered around the lake. Our first stop was to one of the village markets, the location of the markets varies day to day with a few villages taking turns to host them. Then we headed to the village of Inthein to visit the Shwe Inn Thein Paya pagoda complex, it was rather spectacular with over a thousand stupas scattered around and being off season we pretty much had it all to ourselves. The Shan Buddhas are also quite unique as most have happy smiling faces which are rather nice. Of course it was getting hot again and I had to admit defeat and cover up with an umbrella as we headed for lunch in a restaurant over the water. The Shan state is famous for a certain style of noodles and they were very tasty indeed, although the Shan style breakfast I had
at the hotel wasn’t quite so appetizing.
Post lunch we headed to see some of the traditional crafts of the lake folk, including silk made from Lotus flowers, hand rolled cheroots, silver smiths and the gardens growing tomatoes over the lake’s waters. We visited a temple which contained some Buddhas once lost in the lake but were found by some miracle or other and now are covered in so much gold leaf, they just look like blobs of gold. Our final stop was a trip to the Nga Phe Kyaung monastery which once had a monk that trained cats to jump, I’ve no idea why, then it was back on the boat for the trip back to town and another trishaw ride. It was a brief but very pleasant trip to Inle lake and the next day we were heading back to Heho! airport to catch another flight to our next destination...
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