Another early start to catch our shared taxi – supposedly cheaper than paying for a tuktuk to the bus stand and then buying a bus ticket, the shared taxi picked us up at our hotel in Mandalay, drove at lightening fast speeds up the mountain roads (which were fortunately one-way for most of the route) before dropping us at the door of our hotel in Pyin Oo Lwin. Having the choice between a cheap but bad hotel or a slightly expensive one, we decided to ‘treat’ ourselves and splash out £20 for a posh hotel!!! Clearly not the only ones with the same idea, there were three other backpackers in the lobby looking as out-of-place as we felt!! Took us a while to (reluctantly) leave the room with satellite TV, a sofa and a bathroom that actually has hot water. Walked into town towards the bus station to check out train times and buy tickets for tomorrow to get us to Hsipaw. Unable to buy tickets as the station was closed, we wandered a different way back through town trying to find an ATM that was 1. working and 2. would accept my Revolut card. After three attempts, we gave up and used the HSBC card instead. Started heading towards the National Kandawgyi (botanical) gardens, walking past loads of roadside garden centres and sculptures made out of artificial flowers. The 435-acre gardens were created in 1915 by Alex Rodger with help from Lady Cuffe, the noted botanist from Kew Gardens. Now containing more than 480 species of flowers, shrubs and trees the tranquility we were looking for was slightly ruined by the funfair blasting out English (c)rap music just by the entrance. Had lunch in the cafe, enjoying the views of the gardens, the wooden bridges over the pond and the small gilded pagoda, watching hundreds of Burmese tourists pass us by – most of them waving to us. After lunch, we started following the walking tour track around the gardens. First stop was a, surprisingly, fascinating fossil museum which had animals and parts of elephant fossils that were over two million years old. Not all of them are behind glass and there are signs on some saying ‘touch me’ – was pretty awesome touching something so old. Next door was the ‘petrified wood’ exhibit. Have never seen fossilised wood before and they showed the different stages of polishing the wood to make it into jewellery and other souvenir items. We wandered over the raised wooden path in the ‘swamp’, looking for the giant insects that were making such a racket that we couldn’t hear each other talk!
At the end of the swamp was an enclosure with Takin (Thar-min). Part of the goat and antelope family, it was a huge, strange and hairy looking creature that Jayne and I had never even heard of before, let alone seen. Were beckoned over by a zoo keeper to go round the back to see the baby Takin – we even got to go into the enclosure with it.
Continuing on the walk, as it began to rain, we ended up at the walk-in aviary. The definite highlight were the huge hornbills that were eating fruit at the back of the aviary – slightly frightening when they flew towards you due to their enormous size! We then went on the timber elevated walk way, which will forever more be referred to as the walk way of certain death. Clearly not too bothered about people falling through, great sections of the railings were missing along with severely rotten floor boards. We ended up walking along the rafters on the walk way to make ourselves feel slightly better. We got to see some deer during our obstacle course so it wasn’t all bad…Popped into the orchid house and the bizarre butterfly museum before going up the Nan Myint Tower. A slightly bizarre looking medieval Chinese watch tower, we got the lift up to the viewing deck on the 10th floor of the 12-storey tower. The views up top where lovely although Jayne felt a bit uncomfortable being up there, especially after the timber elevated walk way!! We walked down the external staircase so that I could better appreciate the panoramic views, as Jayne stood as close as possible to the wall. Back at the hotel to rest for a bit, realising that we’d walked for over 20km, before heading back into town for dinner. Went to a little local cafe and got an ice lolly on the way back to the hotel. Think the shop keeper was amused by the fact we chose ‘children’s’ ice-creams – a fruity spaceman and alien with jelly chews stuck on them… They were delicious!Monday 23rd May 2016