50 things we’ve learnt during our 27 days in Myanmar.

1. They drive on the right but it’s 50/50 what side the steering wheel is on. 

2. If the vehicle is not air conditioned, expect everything open… Including the boot. 

3. Rickshaws have 2 seats in a side car – one facing forward and one facing backwards. In Mandalay, these rickshaws are motorbikes. 

4. There is a brand of ION drink called ‘Pocari Sweat’. 

5. There is a device used in the bus station to stop exhaust fumes going into the waiting area (it’s half an oil drum on its side!). 

6. The underside luggage compartment on a bus is used as a seat for fruit and food sellers until it has to leave. 

7. Music videos in Myanmar feature torture with quite high frequency… 

8. You make a kissing noise to get people’s attention… Waiters, shop keepers, taxi drivers – anyone!!

9. Lychee Fanta is incredible and is definitely THE drink of our Myanmar trip. 

10. Children in Myanmar stare at you as if you have five heads until their parents hit them (gently) and tell them to wave hello. 

11. Stay away from green fish on a stick – my tummy turned funny just looking at it!

12. Tourists walking around a local market get treated like royalty. 

13. Some men don’t wear anything under their longyi (we’ve seen far too much!!)

14. Women and children rub thanakha (yellow sandalwood like paste) on their faces to protect themselves from the sun. 

15. Why drive your scooter to your destination when you can tie it on top of the bus and relax instead?!?

16. Discounts are offered in Bagan for every occasion – Rainy day discount, sunset discount, first/last customer discount, ’cause you are beautiful’ discount… The list goes on!!

17. Tea mix in a sachet… Jayne is in heaven!

18. Hotel owners are fully aware that there is limited accommodation choices and price their rooms accordingly… We’ve paid more for a room here than we did in the Maldives. 

19. Food, on the other hand, is very cheap!

20. You have to let your motorbike cool down in the shade for 5 minutes if you’ve been driving too long. 

21. If you miss your stop (or need to transfer to a different bus) the driver pays your fare. 

22. It’s perfectly acceptable to stop the entire bus so you can do some pottery shopping. 

23. Being a passenger on a non-air conditioned bus is similar to sitting with a hairdryer blowing on your face… For 6 hours. 

24. Thunder and lightening is called ‘electricity in the rain’.

25. The only food available to you in a restaurant is the one that the waiter knows the translation for. 

26. The speed at which you visit a temple is dependant on how much of it is in the shade. Temples are also hazardous zones during rainy seasons with super slippery marble floors. 

27. Police are more concerned with you having an actual helmet rather than if it fits and is functional. 

28. We’ve been hassled for money by Buddhist monks in Myanmar more than anywhere or anyone else. 

29. School uniform – it doesn’t matter what they wear as long as it’s dark green on the bottom and white on top. 

30. The toilet paper and napkins remind me of crepe paper we used at school for arts and crafts. 

31. A hard hat is a suitable alternative to a motorbike helmet…

32. When driving an ebike uphill, the passenger may have to jump off and run – husky sleigh dog style.

33. A rain storm brings out hundreds of insects, frogs, lizards and giant snakes!!

34. It is perfectly acceptable to park your motorbike inside a temple if it is raining. 

35. Motorbike license plates are in written in Myanmar… Car license plates are in English… Large vehicles have their license plates also written on the sides!

36. Around 4 out of 5 tourists we met were planning to deliberately overstay their visa as it was only a $3 a day fine. However, the amount of times we had to show our passports at police check points, I’m not sure either of us would feel comfortable/confident doing that!

37. Fresco peanut butter wafer sticks are dangerously addictive. 

38. Sunflower seeds are the snack of choice in the cinema – and the seed shells get thrown all over the floor. 

39. Myanmar is the first country we’ve visited where tattoos have been common and visible – on the young and on the old, on men and on women. 

40. Firemen sit on top of the engines not inside and the truck siren sounds like a sick and dying bell. 

41. Sidewalks/Footpaths stink and are wobbly. They are effectively just a piece of concrete slab over the sewer. You only choose to walk on them when cars are parked too far on to the road. 

42. Myanmar beer is a chaser. They add Johnny Walker Black Label to their beer and can finish a large bottle quite easily in one sitting. 

43. They have a Myanmar version of some English songs – Ronan Keating and Westlife are popular!!

44. We’ve heard (but not seen) that they shoot fireworks into clouds to make it rain. 

45. The need for pristine US dollars is no longer necessary – there are ATMs everywhere – and whenever the price was in dollars, we were able to pay in kyat. 

46. Water is called ‘PH7’ on menus and hotel mini bar price lists. 

47. Our ‘Point It’ illustrated dictionary and a notebook have been the best (and sometimes only) tools of communication. 

48. Trains on the Yangon circle line don’t stop at all the stations… Sometimes they slow down just enough for people to jump on and off. 

49. The smallest denomination of money is 50 kyat but prices can be in denominations of 5. Supermarkets and restaurants just round your bill up or down (usually up!!). 

50. Haggling is not a custom in Myanmar – the people are so nice and honest, you are usually always given a good price – and it’s lovely! 

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Travelling – day 245

Isn’t it always typical that the one morning you have to set an alarm to be awake at 7, the hostel staff decide that it is also the day they aren’t going to sing Buddhist chants from 6am onwards?!? Got up and showered before having a leisurely breakfast. Finished packing and headed to the Main Street to get a taxi to the airport. I was put in charge of negotiating the price (and as everyone knows, I’m rubbish at this!!!) so I was completely shocked when he offered 7,000 kyat – 3,000 less than what I was prepared to go to and 1,000 less than what Jayne wanted me to aim for… Score!!! He seemed slightly worried that we were going to take a long time to get there due to heavy traffic but we had given ourselves plenty of time and, knowing this, he relaxed!! Took us over an hour to get to the airport and it was plain sailing getting checked in, dropping off our main bags and heading through immigration. Scary looking staff were pulling people aside who had overstayed their visas… Used up the rest of our currency on some food and last minute presents before boarding the plane back to Bangkok. Having promised Jayne a Burger King all throughout our travels in Myanmar, we had lunch at the airport before getting a taxi to the hostel. Stayed at the same hostel we used the last time we were in Bangkok (3 years ago) and it hasn’t changed one bit – if it’s not broke, why fix it?!? Used the super fast wifi (ahhhhh… We’ve missed you decent wifi!) to upload various photos to blogs and do some research for the next few days in Thailand. Our stomachs started grumbling so we headed back out to the street to try and find our favourite street restaurant from 3 years ago… Clearly doing much better, the three tables we were used to, had spread to 22! The food was, as we remembered, phenomenal and we gorged ourselves on chicken Pad Thai noodles, chicken green Thai curry and spicy papaya salad. Lips slightly red from the spices, we stopped via the shop to grab some water before heading back to the hostel to Skype parents and go to sleep!

Wednesday 8th June 2016

Yangon – day 244

Although Jayne still wasn’t feeling 100%, I was going slightly stir crazy in our ‘cell’ of a bedroom so convinced her to do something low key in the morning. After breakfast, we headed to the train station to get on the Yangon circle line train. The nearly 32 mile trip is slow moving, taking us over three hours to travel around Yangon and the neighbouring countryside. The train shook at times so much that we almost slide off the benches, whilst the cockerel onboard crowed constantly at his discomfort of being tossed around like he was in a washing machine on full spin cycle! The journey was actually really nice, full of commuters and food venders, passing through different parts of the city which are off the beaten track. It got particularly busy and interesting when the locals boarded the train, chucking their produce from the main market through the open windows and immediately began re-bundling it to sell on when they got closer to home. Arriving back at Yangon main train station, we quickly popped back to the hotel to use the toilet before returning to ‘999 Shan Noodle’ for a late lunch. 

After that, we got in a taxi to go to the Shwedagon Paya – think we paid too much at 2,500 kyat but at less than £1.60 it seemed silly to argue! Considered one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites, you can see this massive gold pagoda from almost everywhere in Yangon. Dropped off at the Eastern stairwell, we climbed the long staircase lined with shops, which reminded us of the first Myanmar temple we visited in Pyay! Paying our entrance fee, we were given a map of the temple complex. Deciding that we wanted to just explore by ourselves, we put the maps away and wandered slowly around the 325ft pagoda which is believed to enshrine eight hairs of the Gautama Buddha as well as relics of three former Buddhas.As we walked, we saw people pouring water over various statues, which we later realised were the different Buddhas and animals that represent the day or, in my case, the time of day on which you were born! I was born on a Wednesday morning which is apparently significant as Buddha was born on a Wednesday morning, so I have an elephant WITH tusks as my animal. Kept walking, finding hundreds of nooks and crannies filled with Buddha statues and images. Sheltered from the rain for a while before continuing to wander looking at how the bright gold pagoda, decorated with 27 metric tons of gold leaf and thousands of diamonds and other gems, changed colour in the fading sunlight.Got chatting to a Buddhist monk in one of the halls who seemed incredibly well travelled (or very handy at Photoshopping himself into famous landmark photos!). We chatted about Myanmar, religion and our respective jobs whilst he told us how it was too difficult for him to get a visa for the UK. Took our time visiting more of the Temple before downpours and Jaynes level of fatigue made us call it a day (at over two hours!) and we got a taxi back to the centre of town. Grabbed something for dinner before heading back to the hotel to pack our bags, ready to fly to Bangkok tomorrow.

Tuesday 7th June 2016

Yangon – day 243

We both woke up this morning feeling a little bit lethargic and, as such, took our time getting up and ready for breakfast despite the enthusiastic Buddhist chanting coming out of the TV in reception, joined by the not so melodic voices of the hotel staff. After breakfast, Jayne didn’t feel too good so went and had a lie down whilst I went through the bag that we had left behind at the hostel and repacked our stuff back into two separate rucksacks. Still not feeling too great when she woke up, I went on a search for paracetamol and rehydration sachets. Asked the hotel staff who sent me to a pharmacy about 1km away (only to later find out that the shop downstairs sold everything I needed!!). Walked past a deserted minister office building, seemed such a shame that such a magnificent building would be left to crumble… Popped into the supermarket opposite the pharmacy to get Jayne some (better tasting) ionic drinks and some snacks before heading back to the hotel. Spent the afternoon sorting out our days in Thailand and trying to plan out some sort of rough route around Australia. Decided to force Jayne out of the windowless and stuffy box that is our hotel room, luring her out with a visit to the cinema to watch ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’. We were a little too early so got our tickets and then headed back down the road to a local Shan noodle restaurant. Both had some chicken noodle soup (which was amazing and better than the Shan soup that we had in the Shan state!!). The film was brilliant and just what the doctor ordered although I don’t think either of us will ever get used to the amount of talking that happens in SE Asian cinemas… The guy behind us chatted on his phone for ages whilst a lady a few rows in front had constant ‘pings’ coming through as she messaged people. At least the film was loud!! Monday 6th June 2016

Golden Rock & travelling – day 242

Woke up in our gorgeous triple room and jumped into the amazing rain fall shower… It may have been the most expensive hotel we’ve stayed in during our time in Myanmar but it certainly is worth it! The breakfast, however, was not and we were both slightly hungry after our measly portions of fried rice and fried egg!! Anyway, food not being the reason we were in this little town, we headed over to the Golden Rock bus station and boarded an empty truck (as the one in front was full). We waited for nearly 30 minutes for our truck to fill up (they don’t leave until they are full or if you pay extra to ‘fill’ the empty seats).  A rather bumpy, vomit inducing ride up the mountain, taking a detour through a hotel complex as the roadworks had blocked the road. The drive itself was actually quite nice. You could tell that the bus company uses the money from the fares to maintain and re-tarmac the road – clearly in high season, this road is a conveyer belt of trucks full of devotees. The journey itself took over an hour with several stops en route to allow for speeches asking for donations and to allow descending trucks to pass the ascending ones. Arriving at the top of the road, there was the obligatory line of shops selling tourist tat and offerings for the temples. As the Golden Rock is located above the cloud forest, during the raining season, there was a permanent wet mist that surrounded us as we walked towards the sacred rock. As women, we weren’t allowed to touch the rock or even approach near it however, being near it was enough to fully appreciate its magnitude. The monument – a major pilgrimage site for Myanmar Buddhists – is an enormous and precariously balanced bolder coated in gold and topped with a stupa. The marble floor and stairs were dangerously slippery as we made our way, slowly, around the Golden Rock. We took some photos, posed with some locals (at their request) and watched the fruit seller children use the marble floor as a slip and slide with the rain. Caught the truck back down the mountain side, sat next to a couple who decided to take up way more room than they needed, forcing the little boy to sit on his fathers lap (each bench must have 6 people!!). Took us forever to get back down the mountain, especially when we got stuck in the mud in the aforementioned roadworks. Grabbed our bags from the hotel, dropping them off at the bus ticket shop before getting some lunch. Jumped in a tuktuk (thankfully not a motorbike taxi in sight after yesterday!) and headed back down to the main road to catch our bus to Yangon. The journey was pretty non eventful as the bus played ‘Despicable Me 2’ but had Burmese music blaring over the top so we entertained ourselves with ‘Friends’. Had bought some candied sweets at the bus stop but ended up giving them to the old lady opposite us as they were disgusting (she was delighted!!!). Back at the Yangon highway bus station, we navigated the roads like pros, getting into a city bus and making our way into town. Dropped our bag off at the hotel before heading back to the restaurant we found on the first night for dinner. 

Sunday 5th June 2016

Travelling – day 241

So… I was involved in a motorbike crash today!
Now that I have your attention, let me bore you with the mundane and the rest of the bog standard day before and after this event. 
The buffet breakfast at the hotel was massive. There was cereals, omelette station, fruit, noodle soup station, fried rice/veg/meat and a French toast and cake selection. Without being gluttonous we still waddled upstairs to get our bags and down the street towards the bus station. We took the more direct route in daylight hours up and over the hill and around the monastery compound compared to yesterday’s long detour on the main road. With Myanmar people sometimes trying to be more friendly and helpful than is necessary, we found a bus that would ‘get’ us to Kyaikto from where we could get to Kinpun. An oddity and a treat to the passengers and passerby, we were seated in a normal local bus, with no one speaking a word of English and only screen shots of the Golden Rock and bad pronunciations of the town giving us any reassurance that we were heading in the right direction. The journey was typically slow and and nothing of significance happened. We were then told to come with the conductor who brought us and our bag out of the bus and put us on a pick-up truck. Not really sure what or why… but our screenshots and helpful locals assured us that we were heading in the right direction. The transfer was only to speed us further along in our journey when we could see the bus pull in for a lunch stop.So, we now find ourselves at the junction up to Kinpun, with the motorbike taxis assuring us that we would be able to buy bus tickets to Yangon at the main town and didn’t need to worry about it here at the main road. Bag reshuffling and slung over our shoulders, we were off again on another mini adventure. 

On a relatively straight bit of road, no roads merging from the side, no hills, dips or bridge, nothing really out of the ordinary, another bike came in diagonally from the left and clipped the front of the bike I was on, rubbed wheels for a split second and then carried on veering right off the road in to the mud where he wobbled for a bit and then got back on the main road. I screamed like a maniac, the bike wobbling but the amazing taxi driver keeping it upright even when I grabbed him roughly on the left side of his chest. He must have been a bit shocked too cause we slowed down briefly before his brain had realised we were in a crash and his bike was damaged. Thus, the chase began…
From motoring along at 60kph (one of the only bikes that had a speedometer working) we were up to 80 in our pursuit of catching our assailant. We passed Katherine and her driver and gave him a signal that he understood (a.k.a. I’m on the hunt, follow me). The motorbike didn’t stop the first time we caught up to him. The next time I was signalling myself for him to stop, my driver now furious and speeding down the road at 90, over the bridges, round the bends and up the hills. I didn’t think the bike could go that fast and in the moment I was equally exhilarated by the adrenaline and terrified at the thought of falling off (without a helmet, in a country/area with limited English). But, when the bike finally did stop and I managed to get off, the adrenaline really kicked in. 
Katherine arrived soon after – not sure why they drove at the same speed – and her driver was concerned for us both, while mine started arguing with the driver of the other bike and his father passenger for the damage he had caused to his bike – completely splitting the fibreglass casing at the front. I was now starting to shake like a leaf and couldn’t even bring myself to take the bags off. 
The tourist police happened to pass by. His wife was on the back of his bike and by now we were gathering a nice crowd at the side of the road causing a nuisance to passing traffic and coaches. He drew attention to the fact that a tourist was involved in the incident and that was the first (and only) time my driver looked at me. There was wads of cash being waved around in the air, arguments and, probably, only for the presence of two tourists and the police, there would have been a full on fight. We were escorted in presidential fashion to town where the drivers continued arguing even while we paid them and the officer checked where we were staying and if we were ok to walk the rest of the way, keeping them at the station. I think should there have been further complications he wanted a witness statement, hence checking our hotel name several times. I was now beginning to feel pretty tired, the rush draining from me slowly but surely. 

With a nice triple room offered to us instead of being sent 2km out of town to our bungalow (win-win) we strolled around town so that I could calm down and not be so jittery. So, naturally, I convinced Katherine to go in to the other goals of the game of football the kids were having on the street. 10mins of mayhem and foolish foreigner antics had the kids in hysterics where we left them with massive smiles and a new crazy sort of game. Picked up a sugary lollipop before sorting out cameras and SD cards, then a really nice dinner downstairs. The new version of King Kong was on the tv and we finished watching it in the room – the graphics and CGI being so fake and out of date already. Eventful day and not surprising that it took me a long time to fall asleep. 

Saturday 4th June 2016

Mawlamyine – day 240

By some miracle, we actually got to Mawlamyine 4 hours ahead of our expected arrival time. Unfortunately, it was 4:30am that we were being shaken awake by the bus conductor to get off the bus with all the other bleary eyed passengers. I was faring better than Jayne having, for the first time ever, managed to get some sleep on the bus! Jayne had gotten about 2 hours sleep to my 4. Clearly a touristy town, the locals were abandoned as we were surrounded by taxi drivers all desperate for our fare. However, having been on a bus for over 8 hours, our hotel being less than 3kms away and knowing full well we wouldn’t be able to check in anytime soon, we had decided to walk. As the day began to break and the sky began to get lighter, we were walking past pagodas and colonial houses until we began following the river into town. The very nice man at the hotel gave us the wifi code and told us to sit in the lobby for as long as we wanted… Baring mind it is now 6am and check in isn’t until 14:00! Had a little picnic breakfast in the lobby before heading out at 7:00 to do the recommended Lonely Planet walking tour. We started at a quaint garden with some cute topiary bushes, watching old local men do some (rather ineffective) exercises!! Continued walking down the road, watching the Buddhist monks collect their rice offerings from residents and shop owners. Walking down backstreets, looking at the colonial architecture before stumbling across St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Vividly painted in bright colours, the church was founded in 1829 by the De La Salle brothers. After looking at the gaudy bright interior, we headed up the road to the overgrown graveyard. Absolutely deserted and unkept, the head stones, many with English names, dated back to the mid-19th century. We were walking towards the Kyaikthanlan Paya when we found a shop making dosa’s… Row upon row of heated cast iron plates with a constant stream of men spreading mixture onto them as others peeled them off once they had cooked with a single man at the end of the rows mixing up more batter using a giant machine.TTMMcfpaTTMMcfpbTTMMcfpcTTMMcfpdStarted walking up the covered walkway, dodging dog poo and rubbish in our bare feet (as footwear is prohibited). The panoramic views at the top of the temple made the steps worth while, especially as we saw the Mawlamyine prison – built in 1908 and believerd to be the setting for George Orwell’s short story ‘A Hanging’. Visited the other pagodas in the temple complex, walking towards the Mahamuni Paya, the largest temple complex in the town. The main chamber in the temple resembled a massive disco ball – the room shimmered with mirrors, rubies and diamonds.TTMMcfpfTTMMcfpgContinued walking around the town, walking past the Surtee Sunni Jamae Masjid (a mosque built in 1846 to serve the Muslim officers and civil servants of British Burma) before walking through a local market on our way back to the river front. Stopped for an early lunch in a riverside cafe where the proceeds go to helping the elderly citizens of Mawlamyine. Headed back to the hotel to check in and work out what we were going to do for the rest of the day. Turns out, everything worth visiting in Mawlamyine we had already done before midday.TTMMcfpeTTMMcfphTTMMcfpiThe other site suggestions were way out of town, not always accessible during monsoon season and required renting a car… Decided that, since we didn’t have the money or inclination to rent a car to visit more Buddhist temples, we would spend the afternoon relaxing with the amazing view of the river from our bedroom window. The rest of the day was spent watching crap films of the TV, eating junk food and generally lounging around in our pyjamas. We ever ordered room service for dinner so we didn’t have to get dressed!! Watched the sun set as a drone was being flown around on the footpath just outside our hotel, scaring the living day lights out of the locals on motorbikes.TTMMcfpjFriday 3rd June 2016

 

Nay Pyi Taw – day 239

Possibly the best beds that we have slept on in a long time! Both of us felt a million times better than we have in ages even if the torrential rain storm did wake us up several times during the night as the raindrops sounded like golf balls dropping onto the roof. Showered and dressed before heading to the restaurant for breakfast. A slightly weird set up where you would pour your own coffee but they would carry it to your table… The buffet breakfast included fish which, although we both scoffed at the thought of eating fish for breakfast, was actually really nice. Fully loaded up with orange marmalade and plenty of coffee, we went to reception to organise motorbike rental and a late check out. They wanted us to rent two motorbikes but when we told them that Jayne didn’t have a bike license they let us rent one. Went back to the room whilst they organised the bike to find the wifi working – finally!! Sent a few messages to parents to let them know we were still alive before picking up the bike. Clearly concerned with a weight issue, they had organised a ‘proper’ motorbike with gears for us to use (unlike the scooters I grew up riding in Paris and the type of bikes we’ve always rented in SE Asia). Having only used a bike with gears on my CBT, over a year ago, I decided to go up and down the road in the hotel before Jayne jumped on and we braved the roads! We were told that we needed to put some petrol in it and were pointed in the direction of the nearest man selling it out of old water bottles by the side of the road, 4km away. Except, we never made it… About 50m away from the petrol man, the bike stalled and we couldn’t restart it. Would have been scary but the roads here are absolutely deserted! Fortunately a man pulled up next to us (we think it might have been one of the guys from the hotel) and tried to help us restart it. No such luck, so I pushed it over to the side of the road and down to petrol man who filled us up with, what looked like, very watered down petrol… Anyway, the bike jumped back to life and we were hurtling down the road towards the Uppatasanti Paya temple, with Jayne doing some excellent navigating from behind. Happened, purely by accident, to fall upon the infamous 8-lane highway. A rather surreal experience as the road was practically empty – enough for us to feel completely comfortable to take photos standing in the middle of the road!  I drove up and down parts of the highway by myself, enjoying the speed of the bike before Jayne hopped back on and we continued on our way to the temple.       Located at the top of a marble staircase (or a lift, if you’re feeling lazy) is a 98m tall golden pagoda. We had seen it last night from the bus window, looking impressive in its illuminated glory!! We both thought it was just as nice in the daylight, despite the criticism from the guidebook about it being hastily constructed and poorly finished. The inside wall is lined with murals depicting the life and legend of Buddha along with some key scenes from Myanmar’s Buddhist history, all carved out of stone. The mural with the man and his necklace of atoms fingers was particularly intricate… Wandered around the inside and outside, enjoying the panoramic views of the valley before picking up the bike and driving round to see the elephants.  There are 6 white elephants housed at the temple, along with two grey ones. Have never seen a white elephant before – I’m guessing they are basically an albino version of grey elephants but their pink ears and pearly eyes were bizarrely fascinating.  Back on the bike and to the 8-lane highway to let Jayne have a go at driving. Feeling a bit nervous, I think we were both just glad she didn’t do a wheelie like she did in her CBT… After she had a go (whilst I stood in the middle and on the side of the road taking photos), I got back in the drivers seat and started making our way back to the hotel, stopping at a shopping mall to get some snacks for the bus later and to get some lunch.   Back at the hotel to upload some more blogs whilst the internet was still working whilst Jayne tried to clear some space on my iPad so I could download some films and more books to read. Had to call the little golf cart when we checked out to take us to reception as it was chucking it down with rain again – we were told by reception that monsoon season has officially started! Got a car taxi to the bus station (wasn’t prepared to get on a motorbike in that kind of weather) and had some dinner at a local tea shop whilst waiting for our bus to arrive.   Thursday 2nd June 2016

Travelling – day 238

The electricity had gone during the night so we were packing in the dark. It was typical that only after finishing breakfast and about to leave that they started the generator. Leaving the quirky antiques and eccentric decorations behind we were escorted to our tuk tuk by one of the ladies at the inn. Well, somebody was escorted, while the other enjoyed the rain. Guess who was treated like royalty???  
The locals tend to get on with their work and day-to-day life in the downpours. They have no idea how long the rain will last or if there will be enough of a respite in between showers to get where they need to go or do whatever it is that needs doing. As such, we picked up a lady passing the market, with three massive wicker baskets full of fruit & veg (mostly tomatoes) and saw a couple of monks with their beautiful paper and bamboo umbrellas walking in to the city to one of the temples. The rain briefly abated to glorious sunshine and intense heat when we stopped for a lunch time pit stop. The girls at the restaurant thought we were incredibly fascinating or funny (maybe both) and used every plausible excuse to visit our table – more kimchi, more soup, checking we were OK. They found it hilarious and were in fits of giggles every time we spoke a bit of Myanmar. We bought a packet of beans and banana chips and went to stand in the shade of the building and watch the town folks go about selling to passing buses that weren’t stopping. It was with mixed feelings that we got back in the bus… the air con was already a welcome relief, but the gentleman in the front row had not cleared out his system and was still heaving and puking quite noisily for the rest of the trip. The smell got so bad that one girl was pretty much leaving the Vicks vapour stick up her noise and the conductor sprayed air freshener into the air con outlets to spread around the bus quicker. 

We arrived in what we thought was Naypyitaw, but was in fact the main bus station north east of the city. The main station for the capital and the hotel zone was north west of the city. We weren’t prepared to pay 50,000ks to get us to our hotel so we waited for the bus to continue its journey and get us a bit closer. By which time we were prepared to jump on the back of a motorbike taxi (working out 3,000ks cheaper than a taxi) (with rucksacks) and speed down the empty highways to The Golden Lake Hotel. But sure of course, didn’t the heavens open again and the entire city became a golden lake with the streets now covered in a pale orange glow on a tar-macadam road that was saturated so quickly as to be a continuous shallow lake.     We arrived safely – albeit a bit wet – and dumped our bags before enjoying a pork Myanmar curry, a hoisin chicken clay pot and lavish attention from a waiter. We didn’t get the golf buggy back down to the room, but pretty much collapsed in to bed after an uneventful yet tiring day travelling. 

Wednesday 1st June 2016

Trekking & Inle Lake – day 237

Much like the night before, activity started as suddenly as it finished. The monks were out and about at nearly 5 o’clock exactly and the floorboards bounced with them marching across the monastery to head outside. Katherine rolled over and went back to sleep where I was now wide awake and ready to get going. Thus, I wasn’t taken aback or woken up abruptly when 40 young voices started chanting at 05:20. It was certainly one of the most unusual alarm calls we’ve ever had, but it was so cool. 
After another feast of a breakfast – with neither guide nor chef listening to us to serve less – we set off at seven o’clock and were soon at the counter to buy our Inle Lake zone tickets.  We were the first customers of the day and didn’t realise how far ahead of schedule we were until we arrived at a garage/shop at 08:00, when Ko Aung normally arrives there at 10:00 with his groups. Knowing that we had in fact broken our guide, we rested for half an hour before setting off again. The rain picked up a bit and we trekked along the main road so as not to be on the slippery trail all the time.     We were told that it would take us approximately 3hours to get to our destination and we could do it in 2.5 if we were fast walkers. 

Heading in to the wilderness, making for a path between the hills, the pace did slow down a bit. The soft red earth was sticking to the bottom of our shoes and needed to be removed every few steps on a root or bit of stone. The extra weight of the mud was surprisingly heavy and made the legs tired, the feet a bit cramped and the already slippy trail a bit more treacherous.  But, we started to see better views of the lake in the distance and the scramble down gullies and across ravines was becoming less and less. Soon we were levelling out and walking across a soccer pitch, past stupas and dashing across a main road towards our final destination. We had made it to Inle Lake (in 2.25hrs) where our guide pretty much collapsed. 

With breakfast less than 4hrs ago we were slightly shocked at the amount they had prepared for ‘lunch’. There was no way we could eat all of it and it was a small relief that the pineapple pieces were too sweet to eat. Waddling around the corner to the jetty it was so weird to see Gouramis (a type of fish) living in the streams. I used to sell them at Squires at £3 for the small species. There were hundreds of them and a few small shoals of killifish or something similar (the nice ones that eat the mosquito larvae and look like guppies). We thanked the guide and chef with a small tip each which they were totally taken aback by. Katherine said the chef was so confused with the money he thought I had given him rubbish and/or had dropped it. Ko Aung (still no idea how to pronounce it properly) waved goodbye to us as we popped up our umbrellas to protect us from the sun.  We were about to start our journey on the lake and he could return home to put ice between his legs and sleep some more before his next group. 

The section leading out to the lake was brilliant. There are bamboo sticks driven in to the bottom that are piled up with mud and water hyacinth and with barely enough of a gap to allow a boat through. As such, there is a tiny bit of a drop between each section, much like a mini weir.  The boat would pick up a bit of speed and we would have to slow down for passing boats and to line up for the next gate. We motored past houses on stilts and fields covered in trellises and bamboo poles. The area is used really well with the boats able to pass underneath the trellises to gather marrows and pumpkins and pass down between the dikes to harvest aubergines and tomatoes. We spotted gentleman selling veg between boats and a hive of other activity before we even got out on to the lake proper.   In total we must have been on our little boat for a bit over an hour. It was a bit nerve wracking when we stopped and had to clear the propeller of plants, with us tilting more and more towards the murky brown water, in the middle of a lake which we had no idea how deep it was and a few miles from a shoreline of any description. But, we needn’t have worried and soon we were not only in Nyaung Shwe, but our inn for the night. 

They hadn’t received the message attached to our laundry (or chose not to do it), so we had an hour and a half of scrubbing before we could enjoy a nice hot shower. With clean clothes and a pot of green tea from the valleys we trekked through, we were able to take on the town. Unlike the Dutch guy whom chatted to us over tea! On the similar 3-day trek he was heading to bed when we went in search of the market (frightening a tuk tuk driver with some karate) and a decent coffee. Katherine had an amazing Cafe Latte (noted by the absence or need for any sugar) and I had a Coconut Mocha (reminiscent of Hoolympic days).  Before the rain became too heavy we headed back to watch some friends and chill out. We headed next door to Mr. Cook for some local Shan State food to celebrate and finish the day. The Kim Pound-Kyam were pretty much spring onion tempura and the fried rice poa pyat (red bean paste) smell worse than it tasted. It was accompanied by a really flavoursome soup, but not as good as the mango lassi to wash it all down. With no sudden lights off like the monastery, Katherine checked some Facebook were I’m positive I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. 

Tuesday 31st May 2016