Myanmar (25.01.2010 - 21.02.2010)

Asia » Myanmar
January 25th 2010
Published: May 14th 2010
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Our host family having breakfast Our host family having breakfast Our host family having breakfast

We stayed the second night in Kon Hott village during our motorbike trip.
After a week on the beach on a Thai Island, we headed back to Bangkok to catch our flight to Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar or Burma. Burma's political situation has been unstable, since the military Junta has taken over control in 1962. People are being forced to labor and anti-government protests are being violently suppressed.

Traveling in Myanmar
Talking in public about these issues is not done. If the local person in question is caught, he'll end up in jail. There are no ATM's in Burma, so we had to bring in crispy US dollar notes in different denominations and change them on the black market. The use of internet is restricted. A lot of sites like Facebook or even Travelblog are initially blocked. This is usually bypassed after the local internet shop owner changed some proxy settings. Power cuts are daily routine, but are usually being backed by generators. We choose to support the government as least as possible, by spending our money on local shops, eateries, guesthouses and by not using any telephone services. We didn't travel by train or plain, because these are (partly) owned by the government. A lot of provinces are forbidden for tourists. Sometimes you have to obtain a special permit to enter and the only way to get there is to fly in. Because of this, we couldn't go too far off the beaten track. It sounds all a bit difficult and threatening, but I can assure you that Burma is one of the safer countries we have traveled in and we found the Burmese people one of the kindest in southeast Asia.

Sick in Yangon
The guys from Motherland Inn picked us up, so we didn't have the hassle of organizing an overpriced taxi into town. After check in and free breakfast we walked to the bustling city center. When we were downtown, Anna was feeling very sick so we decided to go home and get her some rest. Back at the hostel, it got worse and worse. She was constantly vomiting and had diarrhea attacks. Everything she ate or drank came out instantly, either from above or from below. She couldn't even hold ORS, Cola, Sprite or simple cookies. Like this the antibiotics she was taking couldn't be effective. We decided to change to a room with air conditioning and stayed there until she felt better. I didn't do much while Anna was sick, I wondered around town a couple of times and got some supplies for Anna. One afternoon I saw Avatar in a generator supported movie theater. After 4 days we had to postpone and rebook our bus ticket to Bagan. It took around 8 days before she was feeling strong enough to travel and it took even longer for her to fully recover and to be able to do and eat everything she wanted.

When we arrived 5 a.m. in Nyaung U, the gateway to Bagan, we took a horse cart to a hostel and slept for a while before going around in the village to find a better place to stay. The following morning we changed to a cheaper, better located hostel and hired a horse cart for the day to show us the most interesting temples around the Bagan area which is by the way not a UNESCO world heritage site. Bagan covers a huge area along the Ayeyarwady river, where thousands of temple-ruins are standing. Some of the temples date back to 850 AD. The scenery is amazing especially during sunset. The second day we went around by bicycle to see
Woman crossing U Bein's bridge at sunsetWoman crossing U Bein's bridge at sunsetWoman crossing U Bein's bridge at sunset

In search of a Lonely Planet coverphoto
the temples around Old Bagan. We finished with another sunset, this time from the Buledi temple. Here we were unexpectedly confronted with enormous amounts of package tourists. Later on we would find out that they would be hard to avoid if we stayed on the main tourist trail.

Mandalay and around
Many people told us that they didn't like Mandalay much. Though the city is quite hectic and hasn't got a bustling, colorful city center like Yangon, we thought Mandalay was OK to stay at. We rented bicycles and went around the city to see Shwe In Bin Kyaung, an old Monastery with terrific teak wooden carvings. On our way back we visited a gold leaf factory: 1 man has to pound the gold with a hammer for hours and hours to get the leaves that ultra thin. They use the leaves to stick it on temples and Buddha's. We wondered around the streets and night market a couple of times and had the cheapest and best vegetable curry and chapatis at our favorite street corner restaurant.

The best sights are situated outside Mandalay. With 3 other people we hired a pickup and driver for the day. Our fist stop was Mahamuni Buddha temple, where we saw people sticking the gold leaves on Buddha's image. Only men are allowed to do this. Our trip continued to Mahagandhayon Kyaung, where we witnessed hundreds of monks receiving their food and eating it in silence. Unfortunately there were also hundreds of other tourists. After this we went to Paleik village where snakes live at a temple. There we saw how the snakes were being washed and fed. In the afternoon, the driver took us to the ancient city of Sagaing, capital of the Sagaing province. We climbed to the temple on top of the hill from where we had great views over the city's many temples and monasteries along the Ayeyarwady river. Our tour ended at Amarapura, a former capital of Myanmar. During sunset we took a rowing boat to see people cross U Bein's bridge, the world longest teak bridge (1.2 km). From our boat we tried to make pictures which could match the photo which is currently being used on the front cover of the Lonely Planet. Did we succeed?

It was still dark when we left our hostel to catch our bus to Hsipaw in the northern part of Shan province. It started to get light when our bus left from the bus station. The last few hours to Hsipaw the bus takes winding dusty roads through the mountains. When we arrived in the afternoon we booked a room at Mr. Charles guesthouse. In Hsipaw were much less tourists, so that was a bonus. In order to get more off the beaten track, we hired a motorbike from "Mr. Bike" and started our 3 day road trip, which we consider to be a Burma highlight. We used Mr. Bike's self drawn map for our drive up to Nam Shan and loop back to Hsipaw. Most of the unpaved road was in terrible condition: rocky, sandy and potholed. But the winding road up in the mountains brought us to some remote villages, where we could see the traditional rural life of local tribes. The views were amazing and the people warm and friendly. We were invited for some tea a couple of times. We stayed overnight in the beautiful village of Namshan. Unfortunately the monastery started a 7 day - 24 hour non stop chanting over the city's speaker system, so it was difficult to get some good night rest. The following morning we continued our journey to the tiny tribe village of Kon Hott, where we could stay at Mr. Bike's parents-in-law. Since they couldn't speak any English, we spend most of the evening playing with the 4 kids living in the same house and watching how mother-in-law silently cooked on the in-house open fire. Of course we had a flat tire, but as usual, we where lucky that we were close to place where someone could repair it.

Trek: Kalaw to Inle lake
We took a night bus to Kalaw. When we arrived too early in the morning we slept first for a couple of hours, before exploring the nice village. Too bad we didn't have that much time left on our visum, so we had to start the trekking the next morning. We would have loved to stay a bit longer in this chilled out hill station. During the trek we visited a few remote hill tribe villages and we were even invited to a wedding. We saw in the kitchen outside how they had cooked over 650 kilos of meat for more then two thousand guests! The first night we stayed at the village chief's house. He had a rather big and modern house in comparison to the rest of the village. During the following day we didn't see many villages, but the views and the surroundings were very beautiful. Occasionally an oxcart passed by, carrying limestone which they use for building. Our last night we stayed at a monastery, where we were woken by the loud chanting of the novice monks early in the morning. The third day, we walked from the hills down to Inle lake. When we arrived at the lake a boat took us down the lake towards Nyaung Shwe, where we had booked our accommodation. On the boat we enjoyed a nice breeze, amazing views and lunch complete with soft drinks and a cheroot.

Inle Lake and back to Yangon
At Inle lake we were getting on the package tourist trail again. Many boats carry signs from the tour operators, the boats without the signs are from independent travelers and there were not that many! We hired a boat together with Ray, the German guy with who we did the trekking. All activity takes place on or around the lake. We saw a few temples, from which some of them where floating. We cruised through floating gardens, where they were growing fruits and vegetables and saw a village on stilts. An unique phenomenon is how the people row their boats. Standing on one leg, they use the other leg to control the peddle. The second day we hired a motorbike and visited a pagoda and monastery up the hill on the eastside of the lake. After we came back from the other side of the lake we had lunch at a tiny local restaurant on stilts overlooking the main canal of the stilt village. We ended our stay with a sunset wine tasting at a vineyard in the hills above the lake.

Another night bus with too small seats took us back to Yangon, to catch our flight to Bangkok. We had one full day, which we used to recover from the bus journey. In the end of the afternoon we went to one of the main tourist sites in Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda, where we saw hundreds of Buddhists and tourists wondering around the huge temple complex. During sunset the pagoda gets the most beautiful colors. This holy place is truly magical in the evening. After almost a month in Myanmar, we had to fly back the following morning. We had a great time in this county and want to encourage everyone to go and visit Myanmar.

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16th October 2010

hi there! i just wanted to say i really enjoy and like your travel blog especially this one in myanmar. i plan to travel there next year. do you have any idea which hotel is good and cheap to stay in yangon? thank you! awesome pictures! sylvia from singapore

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