Ep. 4 – Myanmar

Hello

Hope you enjoy our little video of Myanmar. It really is an amazing country and I’m so glad we went. Before we left, neither of us knew anyone personally who had been to Myanmar. Perhaps people avoid it because it is so unknown or because of its’ violent history. I hope you’ll take our word for it that it is definitely worth adding to your list of places to go!

Don’t forget to watch in 1080p!
Sophie & Dave

 

Bagan – Myanmar

We really liked Yangon, loved Inle Lake but we absolutely adored Bagan! We’d go as far as to say it was our favourite place we’ve ever been! Bagan is basically a sandy plane carpeted with thousands of buddhist temples. In the 11th and 13th century, Bagan used to be the thriving capital city of Burma before the Mongol invasion. Unfortunately, an earthquake hit the area in 2016 damaging many of the temples so some were closed for restoration. We couldn’t help but wonder how incredible it must have been last year when none of the temples had bamboo scaffolding structures to help support the ruins. Still, we are so lucky we had the opportunity to go; apparently within a year, all the temples will be closed. Tourists will still be able to drive round, just not climb up them (which was half the fun!).

We arrived in Bagan at 4am on another overnight bus and again we decided to power through the day as we were close to sunrise. We rented E-bikes (electric mopeds) which are the only form of transport in Bagan. I can’t drive so I always find mopeds a little terrifying, more because I’m not accustomed to being responsible on an actual road.  The helmets provided were rubbish and mine flew off in the wind. The main roads themselves were okay, a good few pot holes, but fairly decent. The sandy off-road paths however, were a different story. The E-bikes would often slip so we had to go really slow, like 10kmph slow. We drove to a main temple for the sunrise and discovered that you had to take your shoes and socks off before climbing all temples. Normally I have no problem with this but when you’re climbing crumbling steps with rubble strewn across the floor, it’s a little uncomfortable to say the least. The barefoot element also meant it was better to explore temples early in the morning or late in the afternoon as temperatures reached 40 degrees which made the stone unbearable to stand on around midday. Our first sunrise was absolutely spectacular. As we’d arrived in the middle of the night, we hadn’t really seen any temples other than vague silhouettes in the dark as we drove along on our mopeds. We were stunned when the sun finally rose to reveal such an incredible landscape; abandoned yet so grand. Bagan is also infamous for all the hot air balloons that are released at sunrise. Though I’m sure it would have been amazing, ballooning was too expensive for us, we hope we’ll come back one day and do it.  We just spent hours driving along with no real aim or direction and stopping to look around these incredible ruins. On our first evening, we decided to go for a change of scenery and found an abandoned temple overlooking the Irrawaddy river; we were the only ones there and it felt like we were the only people in the whole world.

On the second morning, we set the alarm for 5am, apparently Dave said I had a full conversation with him saying that I was too tired and that he should go see the sun rise alone, I am still adamant that I was talking in my sleep and he didn’t wake me up. Fortunately Dave said I didn’t miss out on much as it was so cloudy and windy that morning that no hot air balloons even went up.   Turns out I also had bad food poisoning so perhaps a blessing in disguise that I didn’t go out. There’s a horrific story there but one that is not appropriate for the internet – ask me in person one day. I managed to settle my stomach by late afternoon so we still had a good few hours exploring and managed to watch the sunset. We went to find a temple view for the sunset this time. As we pulled over to consult our maps for a good sunset spot, two little girls came over and pointed us in the direction of a good view point temple that we could climb. We followed their directions and found a beautiful spot. The two girls later joined us at the top. One was 12 and her younger sister only 6. They were so adorable and spoke incredible English. I was powerless to their charm and bought a painting of two monks painted by her older sister (couldn’t even face haggling with her and just accepted her first price – only £3). I was happy to hear she learned her English at school and aspired to be a Bagan tour guide one day, her little sister wanted to grow up to be an English teacher.

On our final day in Bagan, we got up very early to another beautiful sunrise. We spent the morning exploring the last areas we wanted to go and ended with our favourite temple we’d found. It was a little bit different because it was more grand than other temples; it had a courtyard leading up to it and the temple itself had intricate carvings and stone gargoyles. It also had 4 massive intact Buddhas on the inside (normally there’s only one big one) and though one of the stairwells advised no entry, we found another one that we were able to climb to find an incredible view. As with so many of the temples, we were the only ones there! On our way back to the homestay; I accidentally ran the only red light in Bagan…I just didn’t see it. Oops! All ok though. According to our E-bikes we’d driven over 130km by the end of our stay!

That afternoon, we hopped on a 5 hour bus to Mandalay for our last few days in Myanmar. Unfortunately, we can’t tell you much about Mandalay because we’ve spent most of our time in the room. We’ve been really unfortunate with food poisoning in Myanmar! We think my food poisoning is still from Bagan, but Dave also managed to get it here from something we ate and ended up projectile vomiting again. Oh well! At least we’ve had some rest and recovery days and will hopefully be fighting fit for next week in Chiang Mai, Thailand!

Thanks for reading!

Sophie & Dave

 

Inle Lake – Myanmar

We arrived on the overnight bus at Nyaung Shwe, the main village near Inle lake, at 6am so the sun was just rising as we walked to our hostel shaped like a giant boom box – gentrification at its finest? Despite not getting much sleep on the bus and the fact that the hostel had a travellers room for early arrivers, we decided to power on through the day. Bicycles were available to borrow for free so we cycled to the lake. Note to self; check the brakes first when choosing a bike. My brakes were tragically poor and made an ear-splitting squeak as they grinded non-responsively to a halt. It was actually a lot further than we thought (or Dave conveniently failed to divulge this to me) and we ended up cycling around 30km, taking regular “shade breaks” from the scorching sun. Fortunately, the roads were fairly flat. As we were cycling along, a local young lad started chatting to us and offered to show us his village up ahead. He pointed out his bamboo hut house where he lived with all his family. It made us laugh that despite the tiny size of this rural village, one of his first questions to us was whether we’d watched the final of the Myanmar Idol singing contest last night. He took us to the rice paddy where we stood right next to the farmers as they planted little clumps in straight lines with impressive speed and accuracy. We then carried on and arrived at the Maing Thauk bridge, a 450 year old wooden bridge spanning 500 metres. Though you can get a motorised canoe to cross the lake with your bike, we decided we’d just have a walk around the bridge, get a drink from a neighbouring floating bamboo hut cafe and then head back the way we came. We planned to cross the lake the next day anyway. We had a relaxed evening at the hostel, only venturing out for some Dim Sum.

We had an early start the next day getting up at 5am. We booked on to join the hostel’s day tour (only about £7 all in for the full day each). We were taken in a tuk-tuk (so crammed that two guys just stood on the back and clung on) to a canal where our 4 seater, motorised canoe was waiting for us. The boat went quite fast so it was surprisingly cold with the morning air stinging us but they gave us blankets which made the ride more enjoyable. We hadn’t realised how vast the lake was the day before; it’s actually 116km squared. We stopped in the middle of the lake, parking I suppose, in a thick patch of water plants to watch the sun rise over the surrounding mountains. As we were speeding along, it seemed the people on boats were the only life inhabiting the lake, but once we stopped and looked over the edge of the canoe, we saw the water was alive with water snails, dancing dragonflies and more. The sunrise was truly beautiful and everyone in the group was silent. We were also given breakfast whilst we watched; an interesting cheese and jam sandwich.

We headed to Maing Thauk bridge where we were the day before, only at this time in the early hours of the morning, it was much quieter and we were able to take in the surrounding rice paddies and admire all of these crazy bamboo stilts supporting the huts. We got back in the boat and went to another village to a market. Though we didn’t buy anything, it was interesting to meander through all of the little stalls selling both produce to locals and souvenirs to tourists. I noticed quite a few stalls selling necklaces which I said to Dave – “They look like teeth..”, then the vendor chimed in happily: “Yes! Yes! Traditional necklace. Buffalo teeth. You want?” I politely declined…

We drove on to another little village for lunch in someone’s house. Again, a little hut perched on fragile bamboo stilts. Lunch was what can only be described as a fish carcass with veggies and rice. One of the women in the house was applying the Thanaka (wood suncream). This was the first time we got to see it in action; a little log being ground and mixed with water. She then offered to apply it to everyone in our group, I went first!  I’m judging the effectiveness based on the fact that Dave didn’t get burnt that day. After lunch, the women of the house took us for a little paddle on actual wooden canoes. We were each given a little oar, though we were basically redundant compared to their foot paddling. There’s a rowing technique unique to Myanmar where they sort of wrap their leg around the oar and rotate it as they paddle; it was quite a sight.

We then carried on to visit a hut where Myanmar cigars were made. The cigar rolling was really impressive as the women did it with such speed and precision. Apparently each person rolls around 700 cigars per day! They make 2 types; plain tobacco and a sweet version. We tried the sweet one where the main ingredient is star anise, it tasted like liquorice and I wasn’t a fan. Our next stop was a weaving factory, I say factory but it was just a larger bamboo stilt house. We saw women at work on traditional weaving mills and the highlight was seeing Lotus weaving. If you crack the stem of a lotus flower, there’s a sort of fine string that’s inside. This is extracted to make thread and then used to weave garments. A tiny scarf made from 100% lotus retails for $170 USD! Apparently they make robes for monks out of lotus as well and each robe takes about three months to make! Our final stop before returning to the hostel was a blacksmiths where we watched the four men it took to make a single blade.

We met three lovely guys from DC (our last stop on the trip); Andy, Eddy and Benny and went for dinner with them in the evening. It was a small restaurant run by an amazing woman called Zizi who strove to empower marginalised women in remote villages. She had a big poster of Aung San Suu Kyi saying “Freedom to Lead, Support Human Rights, Democracy in Burma”. It was only her doing the cooking/serving so the guys stepped in to help; chopping veg, serving customers. We had such a lovely evening with delicious home-made food. Unfortunately as we headed back to our hostel on our bikes, stopping at a restaurant to see if they had ice cream, 2 young boys on a motorbike (driving without lights and helmets whilst speeding) hit Eddy. Fortunately everyone was okay, though the 2 boys on the motorbike had to go to hospital.

On our last day, we went with the guys to the 5 day market which is predominantly where locals shop but with a few stalls with trinkets for tourists. There was the cutest little boy and Benny gave him a menthos mint and he was just laughing hysterically. I normally don’t take photographs of any kids on principle but I couldn’t resist taking one of this little one!

In Inle lake, if it’s possible, the people were even kinder and friendlier and reaffirmed how much we love Myanmar!

Thanks for reading!

Sophie & Dave

Yangon – Myanmar

Before starting our world trip, my favourite country I had ever visited was Bermuda and Dave’s was a toss up between Thailand and Barbados. Myanmar has moved to the top of both of our lists. Myanmar (formerly Burma) only opened up for Tourism in 2011 and it was the one country where we genuinely didn’t know what to expect.

We arrived in Yangon in the evening (getting through passport control/visas etc with great efficiency) and got a taxi to our hostel in the centre of town. We were surprised to find great, smooth roads where people obeyed a traffic system (one up on India already). We had been advised to get some US dollars before arriving and we were so glad we did. Our hostel only accepted USD rather than the local Burmese Kyat (pronounced ‘chat’). Where we went for dinner also requested USD. We were surprised again at how amazing the hostel was, definitely the best we have stayed in yet. It had swipe key cards for lockers and the fastest wifi we’d encountered on our travels so far!

The next morning we did our own walking tour through the city, roughly following the Lonely Planet’s guide. Everything was so much more modern and developed than anything we’d anticipated and anything we’d seen in India. The main reason Myanmar has soared to the top of our lists is the people. It is near impossible to walk around without a genuine grin on your face. Everyone greets you with such kindness and no ulterior motives. Everyone nods, waves, smiles, says “Mingala-ba” (a warmer, more welcoming version of hello).

In the afternoon we went to Kandawgyi Lake which was a good few kilometres walk in the boiling 38 degree sun but it was worth the trip. The man-made lake covered in water lilies is surrounded by a beautiful park. We spent hours wandering around and crossing to different parts over extremely dodgy wooden plank bridges. It was like a Tom and Jerry sketch where you put weight on one edge of the planking and it smacks up the other side (we opted to walk single file). We found a lovely garden restaurant in the park for dinner, or rather we thought it was lovely until later that night when Dave got projectile vomiting food poisoning…

We walked to the Shwedagon Pagoda for sunset, climbing the long, steep, staircase leading to it (we later discovered there was an escalator on the opposite side). We were glad we heeded advice to go at sunset as shoes must be removed right at the bottom and the floor can get pretty hot. The Pagoda was genuinely magnificent, we’ve seen a lot of temples in the short time we’ve been travelling so far, but this Buddhist one was my favourite. The gold plating is illuminated once the sun sets and it it just looks like treasure. I think I liked it as well because it didn’t feel like a tourist attraction but rather a place of true worship for the people of Myanmar. I’d approximate only 5% of the people there were tourists.

As we sat down to admire the glistening golden Pagoda, two young lads came and sat right next to us. The skepitism seemingly ingrained in our brains made us cautious but the boys only wanted to practice their English! They were students studying English by day and then in the evening they said they often came to the Pagoda to try and practice their English with foreigners. We had a great chat and were able to ask them some of our burning questions; mainly, what was on everyone’s face in Yangon?! Everywhere we went, locals had what looked like cream coloured clay on their cheeks. We tried to ask a few people earlier in the day but the language barrier prevented us from understanding. It turns out that it is Thanaka: a natural sunscreen made from ground bark!

On our last day in Yangon, we took it easy as Dave had had a rough night. We only ventured out to get noodles (a humiliating experience trying to eat sticky noodle soup with chopsticks but an accomplishment nonetheless). We booked an overnight bus North to Inle lake. The mode of transport is definitely buses in Myanmar, apparently the trains are extremely old and are actually slower. We were told it would be 8 hours, turns out it was 12. The seats on the bus were like rows of tightly packed dentists’ chairs, they were even that awkward not cream but not brown dentist chair colour too. We have so much to say about Inle lake so that will be its own post next!

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave