Back to Bangkok – again…

Days 82 and 83 Monday and Tuesday  26/27 March 2012, – Yangon to Bangkok

Monday started as Sunday  finished, sitting on the night bus from Inle Lake to Yangon. I would say I managed a few minutes sleep at most. We arrived in Yangon, pretty much on time at 6.00 AM. As is usual we were swamped by taxi drivers when we got off the bus, the one driver who managed to get dibs on us wanted to charge Mike and I 5000kjat each to go our hotel and Lisa 7000 to go to hers, we argued with him for ages about the per head price for a taxi before walking off as he would not budge from 17000 for the three of us, we found one who do it for 10000, which is still ridiculous, but at least it is  better than 17000.

We arrived at the hotel at 6.30 and found, against all hope, that are room would not be ready until the afternoon as they were full. We hung around the lobby were there was a massive domestic between a Burmese couple which we endured before moving into the restaurant when it opened at 7.00 for some breakfast, the first full meal for me in 24 hours as I just do not eat before long bus rides – it was great to chow down on some rice and fried egg and sink a couple of coffees.  Luckily some people vacated their room early so we were allowed to doss there for a couple of hours where I had a wee doze.

We managed to get into a room fairly early, and pretty much did sod all for the next day and a half, dozed, read, watched bad movies and football on TV and mike raided my laptop for books and travel guides and all the photos I took while we were together – that took a long time, my laptop has lots of goodies on it! We found a good (read expensive – by Myanmar standards) restaurant just up the road – Coffee Circles. It had Wifi and the connection was bad, but better than nothing. They also had great coffee, which you would hope given their name. We had dinner there on Monday and coffee back there on Tuesday morning.

We checked out Tuesday at the last possible minute  before 12.00 and caught a cab to town, looking for a pharmacy as Mike was getting my cold, as well as souvenirs and a money changer. We lucked out on all things, Mike couldn’t find any cold medicine he knew, souvenirs were not in the part of town we were in and walking the streets on Yangon at mid-day in March is just dumb! And finally we discovered the money changer was closed – it was armed forces day and a public holiday in Myanmar… We had lunch at Monsoon instead then taxied to the airport via the hotel.

We had to wait an hour and half at Yangon airport for the Air Asia check in to open, passengers are advised be there three hours early – especially in Myanmar as it is sloooooow, but then AirAsia only open the check in desk two hours before the flight !

Mike was flying to KL and on to Europe and I was flying back to Bangkok and on to something, but no idea what at this stage. I planned on a couple of days in Bangkok catching up on blog posts and emails and booking flights to Da Nang for the wedding in a few days, and then finding something to do for three of four days outside the city.

My flight left early and arrived at BKK on time. Had a good ride back to the reliable old HI-Sukhumvit, with all the trains arriving as I did, so was there reasonably early. I picked up a small bottle of whisky on the way at the local 7 11.

I enjoyed the four weeks travelling with Mike, we made good companions I think, we certainly had a few good laughs and did some pretty cool stuff. So Mike – thanks for your company and your patience  and I wish you well in Europe and beyond and will plan to see you in Vancouver in the future !

Today was my third month anniversary of travelling so I had a wee celebratory dram in my room, in bed, alone – party on !

A couple of lazy(ish) days in Inle

Days  80 and 81, Saturday and Sunday  24/25 March 2012, Inle Lake

I woke up Saturday morning with a very full head and mostly deaf, but felt a lot better and after staggering around for a while my ears cleared and I was almost back to normal. Today all five of us had to check out of the remember inn as they had a tour group arriving, last night we arranged rooms at the May Inn so we moved there soon after breakfast.

We had a fairly lazy start and kicked around the inn for a while before hitting the dusty streets of Nyaungshwe to hunt down bicycles for the day, there was not a lot of choice, one shop had five bikes out the front, three of which had flat tyres – not a great selling point in my opinion, we ended up going to two places to get enough bikes in ‘working’ order for us to be able to go riding.

Our first stop was the Red Mountain winery about 3km from town, it was a good sealed road all the way (pays to be a to tourism operator I think) and an interesting ride, my bike had gears but most didn’t work well so i ended up riding in the hardest gear in the end – same as my singlespeed at home – or close to it anyway.

The entrance to the winery was up a steep driveway which we all had to walk up. The vineyard was started 10 years ago by a Frenchman and they grow a large number of grape varieties. We hoped to try a couple of wines over an early lunch but once we saw the pricing we knew this was never going to happen.

We elected to get the 2000kyat for 4 samples deal, but this turned out to be about a thimble each of four different wines and really soured the teasing for us, ridiculously small, plus there was no water to rinse the mouth between each sample so in the end it was a BAD deal and one I would not recommend !  sorry Red Mountain, the wine we tried was not that great either and we left a bit disgruntled. The vineyard did have a busload of tourists arrive just before we left so I guess this is their target market anyway and us independents are just a pain in the ass.

We rode back to the hostel for a rest and then hunted down some cheap street food for lunch, deep fried flour – yummmmm…. (this photo was actually taken on Sunday !)

After lunch G, R n B and I decided to ride out to find the Koun Soun Taungbo temple and nearby caves, the map we had was a bit loose, but we found them Ok, down a rocky dusty side road, really not designed for the types of bikes we were riding, would have been awesome riding there on mountain bikes, though gears would be useful…

After a false cave start we found the real cave temple system and had a local monk as a guide, you are not allowed to enter on your own, though the caves are perfectly safe. Sadly they have been renovating so the walls have been painted white and new crude murals have been started. However these are not really tourist cave temples, more active working places of worship for the village.

I stopped to get a photo of another drink station – I do really like them !

Mike was feeling a we bit unwell so we went and had pizza for dinner and the others had cheap local food. I bought a 330ml bottle of grand royal whisky for less than a big bottle of beer and we all met in the hotels garden and had a drink or two before bed.

Sunday was a slow day – not due to drink! We were all tired and Mike and I were on the overnight bus to Yangon so we spent the morning mooching around the inn, chatting G and R n B before going for a lunch time stroll to the market –  hand made local cigars.

and then checking out and waiting for the 3 pm pick up to take us back up to the junction for the bus to Yangon.

We had a few discussions around the cost of the pick up and after a few minutes of arguing agreed on what was a fairish price. I am 90% sure the guy who was driving the pickup, at hair raising speeds, was learning to drive at the same time. I was very happy when we arrived at the junction….

The bus was a proper airc con bus (not a VIP bus, but not bad) with one person per seat and no roof riders or standers… we left a couple of minutes early for the 14 hour overnight ride to Yangon. The first couple of hours were not too bad but the ride down the hills was pretty interesting, there were a huge amount of trucks coming the other way and passing was on occasions a tight and slow manoeuvre – at least all the drivers took care  the road!  At one village we passed through we had to an emergency stop as an elephant wandered out into the road…. we stopped twice, once at 6 and once at 8, but apart from those stops it was all the way to midnight….

the bus.

A day on the lake

Day 79, Friday 23 March 2012,  Inle Lake

I am sure the pickup ride yesterday didn’t help, so I woke up with a streaming nose this morning, bugger it.

Nyaunshwe is a dusty little town, there may be some small sealed sections of road, but largely it is dirt roads and small single storied buildings – I liked it !

After all the ‘fun’ yesterday I forgot to mention we ran into Giovanni (G) at an internet cafe in town and he said he had arranged a boat ride for us today on Inle Lake, along with Richard and Blathnaid (sorry for murdering your name : ) ) to now be known as R n B – which kinda has a wee bit of funkiness to it, who he had met earlier in Myanmar.

Inle lake has a number  of points of interest around it and the only way to see them is to hire a boat, though one day is never enough and that ignorance is definitely milked by the boat drivers and you get taken to many places where you have the chance to “invest in local crafts”, as it were…

We met with G over breakfast and were introduced to R n B,  R is Scottish and B is Irish and they were of similar age to me, well travelled and very interesting (and as turned out- very cool to hang with). Breakfast at the remember inn was the best in Myanmar, with  more choices than others and mine was fried rice and egg, the rice was great – not stodgy boiled and they did the eggs perfectly, yumbo !

We also had Lisa join us on our cruise, a Chinese woman (I guess late 20s) who spoke good English and was cruising SE Asis like the rest of us – which is highly unusual for a Chinese woman !

Our boat

Our driver collected us at 8.30 and we walked down to the canal to get on our boat for the day, we had hired it from 8.30 to 6.00 PM for about $4 each, though it only had 4 chairs. Mike and Lisa were happy to slob on mats on the deck.

The ride up the canal was interesting – I shot more photos today than any other single day on my trip – and deleted as many – taking photos from a moving boat – with head cold – of moving objects is not that simple!

After 20 or so minutes we hit the lake. The lake is the primary source of LIFE in these parts, it provides water (for everything), food, fertiliser, transport – and lastly a large and growing source of income in tourism.

The fishing boats are all canoes and mostly powered by humans. They have a unique style of paddling here – using the leg !

Collecting lake weed to be later used as fertiliser for the floating market.

Our first stop, (shopping opportunity) was at a weaving shop where they hand make a number of products, Mike has been gagging to buy a longyi – which is the male skirt worn by most Burmese men, and he picked up one here. It was interesting to see local cottage industries at work, and if I was not such a horrible cynic (and in need of a skirt) I could have been tempted to buy something. The technology is basic here, as is common in a very poor country – until you visit you do not appreciate poverty – nothing goes to waste and as there is no electricity so many things are done manually. Cotton is spooled on an old bike wheel…

I loved this crude form of pool/snooker/billiards, played all over SE Asia, using all sorts of material, old beer bottle tops being quite common in Myanmar. The guy with his back to camera is our boat driver.

We then stopped at a Myanmar cigar making place – now I know for a fact that Cuban cigars are rolled on the thighs of virgins so I was bitterly disappointed by this.

We had a further opportunity to share financially at a silver smith, but they were all lying about till the boat docked, leaped into action to make things, then all went back to drinking tea when it became obvious we were not spending any money – so, so much for cottage industry !

The package tour tourists got given nice umbrellas, we got to roast in the unrelenting sun, my cold did not improve! But I know where I would rather be.

After a lunch stop we went upriver to see an old temple site, the river was very cool, with a lot of buffalo cooling off and some wonderful bamboo weirs to manage the water level – my weir photos suck so you don’t see them.

We arrived in the village with the temple site which was surrounded by spending opportunities, I managed t make my way to a wonderful collection of very old stupas and was merrily snapping away when i got approached by a guy who demanded I pay to take photos. Apparently I had missed a sign saying I needed a photo pass, by this stage my snozz was a streaming mess, I had a monster headache and was no way paying to take photos. I said I would stop and he said I had taken some photos, so I walked over to him and deleted every photo in front to him and stormed off in a monster huff – and huge loss of face. He followed me all the way back to the boat. I was steaming (it was 36 degrees – everyone was steaming !) . I found this on the seat by the water – my only photo of the site- but fuck it, I am not paying to take photos – a tourist scam, bastards. 

I waited an hour for everyone else though, so more fool me, tough R n B joined me after 20 minutes so we got a good chat in. I did get a nice shot of some of the local women in this particular head dress (which I am sure has a name) but it is unique to this area.

Once the suckers who had paid their 60 cents to take photos (it was a matter of principal, no cost) had arrived back on the boat we head back down stream to the jumping cat monastery.  I had heard that the cats only jumped in the morning so I had told the boat driver that if there were no jumping cats then I was not paying any money… luckily there was one !

Though whether it was worth visiting or not is a mute point. The monastery has been teaching cats to jump through hoops for decades, well before it was a tourist thing, so I was not concerned about any weird animal cruelty thing. The monastery itself was quite interesting, some awesome Buddha and monk statues, but so badly lit it was impossible to take photos.

From the monastery we had a quick whip through the floating gardens – a vast vege patch built out of the lake – and where all the fertiliser goes, and then back out to the lake for an hour long ride back towards the canal for sunset. I was feeling so crap by this stage, nose streaming, sneezing and coughing all the way, no fun on a large uncovered canoe for 10 hours –  at least my hanky got to dry in the sun : )

We stopped at a great sunset spot and the local poser drifted past for some classic Inle Lake photos – I took a lot, posed, but hey I am not going to get them again – he drifted past for a collection and we were all happy to throw a few dollars in the pot.

Once we got back to the hotel, I crashed for a few hours while the others went for dinner and then I joined them for a beer later on.

Bagan to Inle Lake – really it’s not that far…

Day 78, Thursday 22 March 2012, Bagan to Inle Lake

You will be glad to know this post features no temples, but I still managed to make it a long one; which sums up the day I guess. One of those days I will remember for a while I suspect !

We were up at 6.15 to get ready for the 7 am bus and were wondering about breakfast when the breakfast guy knocked on our room door and asked if we would like him to make us some food, that was so awesome, most places wouldn’t bother – we said yes to coffee and he didn’t need to make eggs for us.

We were down in reception waiting for the bus to arrive to take us to Meiktila, a town about 4 hours away and the main junction point for buses going to Mandalay. We had to pay for a seat to Mandalay even though we got off less than halfway,  I am guessing that as soon as we were off the seat was resold to some one else. We were thinking – stupidly that this would be some sort of directi(ish) bus, but an utterly ridiculous thought, though there is only one road, we stopped everywhere and must have packed dozens of people on. At one point, when we were so full I though we would burst we stopped in a town and seven more people got on – from there we were obviously full as we stopped no more  I highly suspect the driver and ticket guy/spotter get paid for x number of people, I guess the legal limit, and anything else is a bonus, they do not give a shit about how many get on, and I guess for those in rural towns with no transport apart from these buses, this is how they normally travel.

The bus…  Are you loving the grungy unshaven look ? it is now 7 days later and the face has still not seen a blade, a new unshaven record. The heads up the centre of the shot are people sitting in the aisle seats, so yep – there is no aisle.

There were 7 or 8 people crammed in the stairwell…

Back to the spotter reference. As mentioned a few posts ago in Myanmar the cars are predominately right hand drive, which is fine in NZ where you drive on the left hand side (and Thailand where I guess vehicles come from), but in Myanmar they drive on the right. This puts the driver on the sidewalk side of the vehicle, which must suck big time if you want to overtake safely, which they generally do here,  but they love to overtake so they have a guy who stands on the left hand side and signals the driver when it is safe to move out into the middle of the road. The roads here are so narrow that any parked vehicle will force a moving vehicle on to the other side of the road. The spotters on these trucks must have one of the crappest jobs out – the roads are extremely dusty.

We stopped for breakfast under an hour into the journey (where I took the above photo), once on the way we went five minutes before stopping for gas, and to allow the driver to flirt with the gas girls, once under way again, we stopped to pick up more passengers and then broke down… seemed to be dirty gas as there was a lot of tools being used and a strong smell of fuel in the bus, I am assuming they were cleaning diesel filters. Under way after twenty minutes we stopped to pick up passengers – repeat….  though this was the last time. I suspect all bus drivers in Myanmar are mechanics at heart – though we got away lucky as you will see later in the day. (though lucky is erm yes interesting…)

After so many stops I lost count, we arrived in Meiktila, one hour late after five hours of the four hour bus ride. We were suppoed to be taken to the bus station but were unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road and vague finger pointing suggested which direction the bus station was in so we could make our way to find the bus to Nyaungshwe, the main town by Inle lake. Or at least to the junction at Shwenyaung which is the main town on the Shan highway, which is where the buses to Nyaungshwe stop and from there you get a taxi or pickup to the Nyaungshwe.

The road from Meiktila is the Shan Highway, lonely planet calls it a national disgrace. Given how crap some of the roads in Myanmar  are you can only imagine…  I may as well cover it now, as far as roads go, yes it was bad, it was so bad that all vehicles went slowly, which really makes it not so bad after all – if we had been doing Malaysian bus speeds on this road it would have been awful. As a notified highway it was bad though – very narrow, barely two car widths wide in most places so passing an oncoming truck or bus in the hills was slow or at least interesting, the road is very rough and in a few places just dirt and rock. However, there are a lot of road works going on so in a year it will be not as bad –  still bad, but not as bad ! I liked it as it is – at least it was slow – I would hate to be doing it at pace… Right,  back to the story (and another whisky)

The eight of us found our way to the Meiktila bus terminal only to discover there were no buses to Shwenyaung until tomorrow, however the kind gentleman could offer us a ride in the back of his truck – no seats, just a tray – we asked him how long and he said 7 hours. We laughed…. his second offer was a ride in a pickup.

The pickups are an extremely common form of public transport in Myanmar, we argued over price and availability of buses, but ended up facing the possibility that it was this or nothing (I am still not sure if we were conned or not, but the Burmese are pretty genuine, so I don’t think so, maybe on the price). We agreed on a price and foolishly thought it was just us going in the pickup, oh how naive we were ! Once we said yes, 3 burmese jumped onto the pick up and the 8 of us were left to find spots.  You can sort of see this grin on Mike’s face as he was thinking this is just silly, little did he (or we) know, silly got sillier and sillier…

We made it about 100 metres before the first stop where we picked up half a gear box, on the floor under our feet, and a massive bag of something on the roof. The second stop was to pick up 6 massive bails of something that went on the roof, plus a bunch of people.

Third stop saw a big bag of something, dumped under our feet and a person sitting on it….. stop, stop stop. We were soon under way with about 25 people on the vehicle. In NZ you would legally be allowed 2 – in the front – both wearing seatbelts.  The ride was still 7 hours…. The ute had 3 in the front, two rows of 4 each facing fwd in the back, 6/7 of us facing inwards in the back back, with 2 sitting on sacks/gearboxes in the middle and up to 4 standing on the tray and 5 on the roof…

The road was rough, dusty and dirty, we were crammed in, we let people off and more got on, we stopped for ciggies, for wees, for drinks (hopefully not the driver) and we stopped to allow the engine to cool. The good thing was it was slow, though my butt was killing me after a while, the padding was a layer of vinyl on wood. Bizarrely, once the inevitable was accepted, which didn’t take long, I actually enjoyed the ride, we saw a lot, we shared the travelling experience with numerous people, some quite intimately – if they were sitting in the middle, they were sitting on my feet, if they were standing on the tray then there crotch was in my face… The worst was the dust and the fumes, I had the start of a head cold and was blowing and coughing all the way and the dust just made it all worse. I was wearing a bandana over my nose and mouth cowboy styles for a chunk of the way – I wasn’t the only one…

The ride up the Shan hills took about 2 half hours, of slow grind, though the scenery was amazing, the villages, rural, but friendly . We stopped half way to allow the engine to cool down, parked next to a truck of chickens. The driver is hosing the engine, not urinating on it !

And a really broken down bus, –  that is the engine on the road side with the head off… I did say earlier our wee bus issues were minor compared to some.

There were loads of road works all the way up the hills which forced a lot of vehicles to share a single narrow lane, the drivers here are used to this type of driving so giving way and patience is part of their style – thank God ! apart from road rollers the road works are done by hand, rock breaking and laying, the heating of tar is done by road side fires and the tar is poured by hand – I would hate to see the lungs of these poor men, women and children. Sadly children are part of the workforce in the remote areas:( this is a hard hard life.

After 7 hours we arrived in Shwenyaung and got shifted to another pickup, where there was just the 6 of us (we lost 2 at a trekking town further back) and the last few kms were done at a good speed on a (my Myanmar standards) good road. It was dark by now and it was amazing to see the amount of fires burning all around, lots of burning off of corn and cane fields, the sky was alight in many directions.

13 hours after leaving Bagan we arrived in Nyaungshwe, we asked the pickup to drop us off at the Remember Inn where we had arranged to meet Giovanni who theoretically had arrived hours before us on the direct bus. Fortunately he had and they even knew who we were and had a room for us when arrived – awesome!

We unloaded our gear and I jumped straight into the shower in my shirt and undies in attempt to get the dust out (my shorts were too far gone!). After washing my shirt while it was still on my body I discovered I still had my non-waterproof money belt on, I so rarely use it that I had totally forgotten I had it on. Mucho swearing ensued, though luckily my passport was only damp around the edges, but all money was soaked – the room looked like a money laundry as I dried it out – I had close to 80 notes of various currencies – mostly worthless mind….

Once the passport panic was over Mike and I went for a wander around town and had Italian for dinner while my nose streamed nonstop.

Bed was a relief.

I am going to say, the new NZ passport with the silver fern on the front and back is the most distinctive passport out there, it utterly rocks for coolness – so well done NZ Passport designers – the coolest passport in the world.

I have washed that shirt 3 times and it is indelibly stained with dust of the Shan highway, I am not sure whether to keep it as a badge of honour or toss it in the bin as a dirty dusty relic, and to think that Nike shirt cost me at least $3 maybe even $4…

The temples of Bagan – day 3

Day 77, Wednesday 21 March 2012, Bagan

Back to using MS Word, not that I disliked BlogDesk, I just realised I lost my own original copy of the blog… I may go back to it yet.

Mike was feeling unwell this morning so we hung around the hotel for a while to see if things would improve, around mid-morning the power went out which knocked off the fan and air con, didn’t do much for Mike feeling lousy but was a good reason for me to go out. I had sort of arranged with Giovanni to ride out to Old Bagan with him, do a couple of the temples that neither of us  had seen and then go our separate ways.

Our first stop was LokaHteik Pann, one of the big temples on the way to Bagan.

This temple had steps right up the outside which was quite unusual for the area but great for the views…. A tour bus full of Burmese arrived as we were there, they were escorted to the top and back down again and back onto their bus, all quite normal tour bus behaviour.

When we got to the bottom I ventured off into one of the other buildings and found this stunning example of a reclining Buddha, probably 20 metres long, the Buddha was only lit by the three doorways it was just awesome and I cannot believe the tour group did not stop to see it. It was the most beautiful one I have seen in Myanmar.

Next was Sulameni Pagoda, which had been extensively repaired with assistance from the Korean government, and this was subtly noticeable in the site. We were here at mid-day again, which sucks photographically, but does mean very few other tourists and more time to look at the detail. This temple had some stunning art work inside, a lot of which was in original condition, or if it had been repaired it had been done very well – so maybe good on the Koreans for being subtle. I was faffing about admiring the art and taking photos and found Giovanni sitting around outside. I said how much I loved the murals, and he said “I am Italian, we have great murals” . I had to laugh, I guess when you are used to Michaelangelo , the works here are very crude…. plus a wall with 999 Buddhas is probably not that interesting !  I still loved it. (apologies, just saw that this image is wonky !! and i cannot be stuffed fixing it !)

We went our separate ways from here with Giovanni going back to the temples in Old Bagan and me heading out to the southern area. My first stop was Dhamma Yazika pagoda, which was an odd 5 sided pagoda built in 1196, quite different to the others in Bagan. It has also had extensive renovation and is quite well visited by local worshipers.

This was the most southern point on my travels and for me the last place that was ‘fun’.

[rant warning] I like temples, I mean I really do like them, not for any religious reason as I am a confirmed non-believer, but I like them as sacred places and respect their reason for being.  I like to spend time looking through them at my own pace, looking at what I can (I respect all the rules and never go across barriers) and in the order that takes my fancy, and often this is in the “wrong” order – but I don’t care. What pisses me off is being followed or ‘guided’ around the sites by souvenir touts, at the next temple I went to the ‘guide’ got quite annoyed as I was not going where he wanted nor at the pace he was dictating, I chose to stop and look out at the view, or look at the images that were ‘uninteresting”.  it got worse as I went around the southern temples so I rode off in a huff and it ruined my day. Well not really as it was still freaking awesome ! [end rant]

Stupidly I did not get the name of this white pagoda, but it is stunningly beautiful and you cannot get inside without the guide. This was the first locked pagoda I have come across in the 3 days of touring Bagan, I can understand why they are locked (sort of), the murals here are great and it appears few people come here. And I am sure the guide is trying to be helpful, but not speaking anything but Burmese and speaking through a mouthful of betel nut was next to useless. He also got grumpy as I was wandering at my own pace, but at least I could take photos…

I loved this nat image.

I left there a wee bit frustrated and rode off hoping to find some more obscure pagodas down the dirt roads.

I got to Nandamannya Pahto which had some stunning mural work, but this one I was not allowed to take photos, though the betel nut chewing incomprehensible guide was willing to sell me some art works showing the murals.

I just got the hump(not visibly – bad loss of face and offensive in SE Asia!) , got on my bike and rode back to the hostel.  I met an American guy who was heading in the opposite direction to me and he said it just got worse…. and damnit my bike was awesome all day !

I guess most of you (if you have made it this far – maybe not ! are sick of temple photos anyway)

I had a wee lie down and Mike was feeling a whole lot better for not going out today. Giovanni and I caught up again later on and went out for a final ride around town to look for a sunset, we headed down to the river and found these  monk trainees kicking a ball around at the back of the monastery.

Then went down to the river for sunset.

The three of us left reconvened for a final meal at Weatherspoons and I spoiled myself with a big burger – a massive protein hit. It was damn good… while we there we watched the owners kids  counting spaghetti sticks, we asked him why and he said he imports his spag from Italy, it was expensive so he wanted to make sure all his customers got the same amount per meal, rather one getting too much and another not enough. Awesome.

Giovanni was on the 5 am direct bus to Inle and Mike and I were on the indirect at 7.00 so it was an early night.

I loved Bagan !!!

2 days in Bagan – Part 1

Day 76, Tuesday 20 March 2012, Bagan

Lots to track back on as it is now 10 days later and I am in Bangkok. I have a few scribbled notes and some photos as a source for the post – as well as some good memories.

I am also experimenting with a new tool called BlogDesk that I have just downloaded off the net, so this could be either a great post with some detail, or a second attempt using MS Word that is really short! I will soon find out, if it has a faster method of uploading and inserting images I will be mega-happy.

Mike and I tried to book direct bus tickets to Inle Lake for tomorrow but there were no seats available so will stay here for another day and go the slow way and get a bus to Meiktila and try to catch a bus from there to the lake, there must be more backpackers around than are visible ! I am not complaining too much as I quite like it in Bagan and we have a couple of spare days up our sleeves.

Today we hired bikes from the shop next to the hotel, only 1000kyat and with normal valves in the tyres, which will hopefully mean we will have less issues with leaking valves than we did two days ago.

First stop was Kyan-Sit Thar Umin temple which was right on the edge of town, there is a new and old temple here, we visited the old temple first and got up to the roof to snap a few photos of town, there was some quite good art work inside.



Bob had told me about a couple of good temples just out of town on the old road to Old Bagan so we pedaled there next. Passing these young monks on the way.P1100705

First up was Thagyapone Phaya, I was looking forward to this one as I had been told it had an 11th century Buddha figure with 13th century Buddha built around it, I have not seen this before so was quite keen 🙂


On the way up to the roof I discovered a wee bee hive right on the inside of a tight corner, so with safety in mind I backed the truck up…. the bees are very small here, about 1cm long.P1100724

The next temple in the group was undergoing some renovation, unlike some of the shoddy work we saw in Inwa this looked to be pretty good. There was also some very good original wall art in this temple, the best I saw in Bagan that was not in one of the heavily touristed temples.




While I was in the temple Mike was spending some time chatting to some of the workers outside, including one in Arsenal shirt, so when I came out we got to chatting about the team and their fortunes over the season, he was one passionate Arsenal supporter ! Football has its good side – two men from wildly different backgrounds with a common interest to chat about!

From here we rode back to Old Bagan and to one of the main temples – Htilo minlo Guphayo-Gyi, as we were close to lunch time there were not a lot of tourists about, though of course it was damn hot !





and then a minor temple before lunch, the elephants had all been repaired as well as the ogre, but the work was quite good and will hopefully age to the same colour as the original. There were only a small number of elephant carvings around.



Mike bought a painting here while I milled about taking photos – and I took a lot…

Back to Yar Pyi for lunch, where we met up with Bob, Paulo and Giovanni and I had the famous guacomole and poppadoms, which I will say was damn good…. we also had a game of Burmese dominoes (I am sure it has a name in Burmese) with the owner as Bobs 4th visit (and final) and everytime he came he brought more customers…


After lunch Mike and I rode to Shwe Gu Gyi another one of the big temples, which was starting to get a bit crowded again. this temple was built in 1131.


I loved the way the gold leaf was pealing off the Buddhas in this temple, but had been utterly left alone.


There was also a neat stairway to one of the lower roof’s with a good view out over some of the other major temples.





When we went to leave here I found I could not release the lock on my bike, Mike had a go, one of the local kids had a go, the lady selling water had a go, her husband had a go – by then we had a small crowd and I decided it was time to carry the bike back the main road…

Mike rode back to the shop to get help as I walked, I got to the main road and a guy on a bike stopped to help, he couldn’t work it so flagged down 2 guys on a scooter, he couldn’t do it, one of them went an organised a horse and cart – against my wishes, but I believe out of a genuine desire to help, so I ended up spending some cash to get a very slow horse and cart back to town. As we hit the edge of town the bike shop owner saw me and flagged down the horse driver. We unloaded the bike, the owner turned the key and the lock magically opened…. Burger !

I rode like mad back to the shop, got another bike and then tried to find Mike who had gone looking for me, after riding all the way back to Old Bagan, I gave up and rode back to the guest house and found Mike lying down waiting 🙂 not sure how we missed each other a he had ridden all the way back as well.

We said a farewell to Bob who was heading off that afternoon and the went back to the Weatherspoons for dinner with Paulo and Giovanni. I had my first salad in almost three months and it was great !

I made the mistake of asking the owner how much a Grand Royal Whisky was he said 200k a shot, this is 25cents…. Grand Royal is advertised everywhere in Myanmar and I had been wanting to try it. I got a double and it was damn good – OK it is not a fine single malt, but as a blended whisky it stood up fine. the guys all had a sniff and ended up with one each, and the Irish guy at the next table did likewise….. A good score!

We said goodbye to Paolo here and I said I would catch up with him in Italy when I am there and he promised to show me some good food and wine – sounds good to me!

Mt Popa

Day 75, Monday 19 March 2012, Bagan – Mt Popa

At dinner last night we discussed the possibility of joining Bob, Paulo and Giovanni on a trip to Mt Popa, about an hour and half drive from Bagan in a hired van. Mike and I decided to go ahead so agreed with Bob over breakfast. The total cost for the van was 35,000 Kyat and worth it split five ways, under $10 NZ a head.

Mt Popa is known for the Popa Taungkalat monastery on its peak and the the 37 nats (spirits) that live on the mountain. Me Wunna is the main nat.

The van left town with the five of us on board soon after 9.00 and we had a mandatory tourist stop (which wasn’t on our plan) at a jaggery making place. Jaggery is a sugar like substance made from the sap from the seed of a Toddy palm tree. It was actually quite interesting to see how it was all made using the primitive technology that is available to the Burmese villages where there is no electricity,this farm had sixty palm trees. They also make peanut oil from grinding peanuts using a bullock drive pestle and mortar and “whisky” which is basically pure fermented sugar alcohol.

Alcoholism is a big killer with young men frequently drinking themselves to death on the cheap locally produced fire water.

After our local tourism show we set off on the real journey to Mt Popa.

After an hour or so of driving and soon after we hit the low hills our driver stopped for us to take a photo of the view of Mt Popa and the temples. It was a wow moment  ! none of us had any idea of what to expect, i was thinking a monastery on a hill, but nothing like this. Another foggy/smoggy/dusty skyline, everyday in Myanmar was the same, it is the time of year, little wind and no rain to blow away the dust and the constant fires from burning off old cane and corn fields as well as the destruction of forests, cooking and dirty old cars.

Sadly it is ‘the” place to stop so the local villagers had the young girls out selling souvenirs, so sad they are not at school.

It was another half an hour to the temple entrance and there were a lot more tourists here than i expected, the whole village is geared towards tourists and there was a significant amount of industry around it, stair wipers, monkey shoo-ers, souvenir and water sellers etc etc.

Note the slingshot, used to deter the more aggressive monkeys.

The monastery is quite ordinary (by the regions standards !!) , but the walk up to the top was interesting, there are numerous stops on the way with descriptions of the life of Me Wunna and the various nats. Me Wunna is in the green.

The top had some semi-spectacular views (hazy again) and plenty of Buddha and monk statues. There was a MASSIVE amount of cash offerings in all the small temples – a guy with a gun and helicopter could be very rich ! 

We spent a couple of hours there and headed back down to the village.

Giovanni, Paulo, Bob and Mike.

Love this cow.

Obviously NZ farmers have been bullshitting us (pun intended) for years about how many acres are required per cattle beast !

Our driver was a bit miffed that we did not want to have lunch at the local restaurant, we assume he got some kickback. Bob had been to a great vegetarian place Yar Pyi in Old Bagan and wanted to go back there today. Our driver was initially reluctant to take us, but once the inevitable had sunk in he was OK with it, turns out Yar Pyi is owned by his uncle.

The food at Yar Pyi was great, most of the guys had the famous guacamole but i went for a pumpkin curry and it was very good. The owners family were great, very friendly and a bit of a laugh. They loved Bob as he had been there twice before and kept coming back with more people in tow. After lunch it was back to the hotel for a lie down and a clean up before dinner.

Dinner was back at the Weatherspoon again, I had my first salad since being in SE Asia and it was great!

Though this post may not inspire any potential visitors, if you are in Bagan and can get a crew together to take vehicle, it is definitely a worthwhile day trip, I did enjoy the day !

Bagan – beautiful Bagan (day 1 of 3)

Day 74, Sunday 18 March 2012, Bagan

Ah, Bagan !  Bagan is what I have most wanted to see in Myanmar. The Bagan archaeological zone is approx 42 square km’s and contains over 3000 (yep three thousand, or 4400 depending on your source) stupas’ monasteries and temples dating back to the 1100’s. Angkor may contain big and impressive temples but Bagan has the volume, and oh how I loved them !

The plan for the day was to hire bicycles (1500 kyat (2 NZD) for a day), leave late morning and ride to New Bagan about 10km away and the furthest point from Nyaung U. At New Bagan we would check out some of the mid-range accommodation options and see if any had wifi (our hotel has no internet) or would be a good place to chill if we got sick of the Eden Hotel after the two nights we had booked for. We would then check out the temples etc on the way back and hit one of the biggies for sunset.

At the free breakfast – toast, egg and fruit I was chatting to Bob who I met last night and he was meeting an Italian guy he had met at Inle Lake who arrived in town yesterday, I asked him the Italians name and he said it was Paulo. I replied that I thought it might have been Giovanni (who I first met in KL and again 2 days ago in Mandalay) and he said that Paulo had just met with Giovanni and was meeting him again in town tonight, so we planned on all meeting up for dinner later –  a small world. Unfortunately breakfast pretty much went straight through me , so I was really hoping it was not a re-occurrence of last week.

I went and checked the internet shop again and the web was still out of action, damnit ! I wanted to email a few people and let them know what was happening in my week. I am so reliant on the web, so different to when I went to Europe in the eighties and it was all slow post and no one worried if they didn’t here from you for a few weeks.

Around 10.30 we went to the bike rental place over the road from the hotel and rented two (untrustworthy) steeds. I would call them girly bikes, but everyone rides them and the basket on the front is so much better than having a backpack sweating away on your back. The seat was way too low, it had one gear and virtually no brakes, but it was a bike and we were off exploring.

If you got bored with me going on about Angkor Wat, now would be a good time to stop reading, as this is all about temples, and I soooooo love the temples – and the buddhas and monks and nats and ogres and all the other bits and pieces associated with Myanmar’s Buddhism.

The first km was riding through the outskirts of town, past the villager’s houses and gardens, cows and chickens and pigs. It is very dry so not a lot of small greenery, though plenty of trees and as with most of SE Asia, lots of cafes, small restaurants and little shops selling all sorts of useful things. Out of town we started to see stupas and small pagodas on the road side. It is a six 6km ride to Old Bagan on the old road and there is plenty to see on the way, we had decided that we would focus on the further away sites today and come back tomorrow for the closer ones, so we just rode on past. The road was not pancake flat like I expected, with lots of small dips and rises and the surface was not too bad. Mike got his first flat tyre just outside of Old Bagan, fortunately bikes are very common here so there are numerous bike repair stands around the place, so we were soon back on the road after a valve replacement.

The archaeological museum is in Old Bagan, so we paid the $5 entry fee and took an hour or so to wander around the museum (relishing the air con) and learning about the things we will see today. It seems a lot of the carvings and features of the temples have been removed, either stolen or damaged or taken to museums for safe keeping. It was a useful trip as there is little or no information out in the field and my guidebook is next to useless for detail. The museum looks like it has been built at great expense by the government, which sucks when you see how little money the real people have 😦

Old Bagan used to just be called Bagan until 1990, when the government forced all the residents out of town and moved them to a new village – now called New Bagan, four kms down the road. Old Bagan is now full of resorts for rich people and package tour tourists as well as some of the big temples – hence the clean out…

The massive temple building effort in Bagan was started in 1044 when King Anawratha took the throne and embraced Buddhism. The building frenzy lasted 200 years until King Narathihapati bankrupted the city building Mingalazedi pagoda leaving the area vulnerable to invasion by Kublai Khan in 1287. The whole area was damaged in an earthquake in 1975. Sadly Mingalazedi, which is supposed to be beautiful inside is under renovation.

We carried on the ride to New Bagan, where we had lunch at the Green Elephant, it was a tourist place with inflated prices but we decided to eat there as we had not had decent  food for a few days and my stomach was not feeling that great. The food was very good too ! one of the great things in Myanmar is a lot of the restaurants give a gift of a small plate of fruit as a dessert, I ate a bit of the fruit but pretty much had to go straight to the loo again, I had a lot of fruit at breakfast as well so I am wondering if I am overdosing on fruit after a long period without it ? I was a bit worried that this was going to be the start of another four days of stomach illness, but fortunately it was the last real episode.

Outside the restaurant I found my first flat tyre of the day, so walked down the road  till we found a tyre repair man who pumped my tyre up and we rode around and looked at a couple of hostels. At the second hostel we visited my tyre was flat again so had a valve change and rode on some more, this time we managed to make it out of town and it was time to go sight see.

We stopped at numerous small pagodas during the day, a lot are empty of anything at all, most of the stupas had four Buddha figures inside and most of those are locked behind gates. There are a lot of great Buddha and monk statues to see though.

My wheels…

Lay Myet Hnar temple

The view from the roof. A lot of the pagodas have access to the roof, but the passages are small and tight and in some cases very easy to miss.

Dhammayangi temple

Some of the temple have remains of murals on the walls, a lot in a state of disrepair, which I like, in some cases touch up work has been completed which ruins the authenticity for me. The same applies to most of the large Buddha figures. This monk was part of a series of monks painted on the wall.

This temple was built in the mid 1100s and is one of the biggest temples in the area, the inner part of the temple was blocked soon after it was built, but we could walk around two external passageways.  I found a sneaky passage way to an upper window and shot a few photos of the view.

The big temples close to the villages where the roads are sealed and in reasonable condition draw all the package tour tourists and late in the day is when they all come out. Like some pre-dusk vampire hoard they magically appear and suck all the vitality out of the sites, luckily they only seem to stay for a few minutes – or maybe the light is just too much for them. This is why I suffer the heat of the day. (Mum – sorry !!!)

Ananda Paya

This is supposed to be the most beautiful temple in Bagan, but frankly I found it dull. It had been extensively renovated and all the small figures were behind bars. It is possibly the most beautiful on the package tour trips, but i found some stunningly preserved sites out in the field over the next few days.

There was very little mural work., but it was in original condition and hard to find, it is lucky I like poking my nose into all the doorways and walkways….

What was cool was the inner wall was lined with indented shelves, presumably with Buddha figures, right up to the ceiling five or six metres up.

When we left Ananda I found I had another flat tyre, which I had pumped up at the place Mike had his flat repaired earlier in the day. We were originally planning on going to one of the big temples and getting to the roof with the horrible herds for some photos, but the sunset looked like it was going to be as dire as every other day in Myanmar and with the constant flat tyres and a six km ride between towns we decided to head back before nightfall and check some of the small temples on the way.

At the Upalithein Monastery

Mike found he too had another flat tyre so started walking towards town and I rode ahead and stopped to take photos along the way. After stopping to at my final temple I had a flat front tyre this time so ended up walking with Mike back into town. It was a looong 3km…

We got back later than expected so had a quick shower as we were meeting Bob for dinner, we  walked way the heck out to the small Weather Spoon cafe where we had an excellent meal and a couple of well earned beers with Aussie Bob and Italian Paulo. The cafe had slow and sporadic internet and I managed to get one email and one facebook posting away before giving up !

On the way back I was drawn into one of the local cafes to watch the end of the Chelsea / Leicester City FA cup tie, they LOVE their football here.

Surprisingly after a warm day of riding and walking I felt good. The weather here is not as hot as elsewhere and definitely not as humid as Cambodia.

Did I love the day – yes I did !

The last of the prepared posts, back to writing and some photo editing now !

The boat from Mandalay to Bagan

Day 73, Saturday 17 March 2012 , Mandalay to Bagan

Up early, no internet again, I found out that the connection was in the hotel owner’s house and he doesn’t turn it on until 8.00 AM, we left at 7.15.

Today we caught the fast tourist boat to the town of Bagan down the Ayeyarwady River, a theoretical six hour ride that took eight. The boat was great, big and half full with a small, but expensive cafe and definitely priced so that only tourists could afford it at $40US a ride.  It was a lot more expensive and slightly faster than the bus, but a whole lot nicer I suspect.

The morning was very glarey again so the early photos are quite washed out. Stupidly I did not get a photo of our boat, but I suspect the one below is one of the slow ones.

And this fishing boat should not be on the water at all.

As we passed Saigang we saw a few of the things we missed when we only did the quick stop yesterday, there was some nice colonial buildings near the water front.

This is the dry season so the river is incredibly low, small communities move down onto the sand to fish and have easy access to water. Thatched huts with no power or water are common throughout the parts of Myanmar that we travelled.

The ride was long and uneventful (thankfully) though it was far from boring, lots to see from the side was we made our way down the, not so beautiful, Ayeyarwady River to Bagan.  

This lady was selling snack food from another boat when we pulled in to pick up a river pilot for a section of the river. You will see on her face a white/yellow paste, this is called Thanakha and is on most women’s, a lot of children’s and some men’s faces, throughout Mynamar. It is part make-up, part skin freshener and part sun block. I would suggest this woman is using it as a sun block as normally it is only applied to the cheeks and forward. it is an old tradition in Myanmar and one that has thankfully not died. Thanakha is made from the ground up root and bark of (I am assuming) the Thanakha tree… 

The sun was setting just as we arrived in town.

We had not arranged any accommodation as there is a vast array in the three large villages that make up the Bagan region, Nyaung U is the budget village, Old Bagan, the resort village and New Bagan is the mid range. The boat docked at Nyaung U so we decided to try there first.

Once on dry land we encountered the usual manic state of dozens of cab, motorbike and tri-shaw drivers trying to sell us their services or suggest a hostel. I got a bit ticked off with them as i tried to consult the guide book on hotel names. Naturally the one I chose happened to be owned by the uncle of one of the tri-shaws so we ended up with him and his friend transporting us, via the archaeological site ticket office ($10US for a week) to the Eden Hotel. The hotel is cheapish, reasonably comfortable so we decided to stay. My pack on the back of the tri-shaw.

We had dinner in a cheap Myanmar/Chinese place up the road (we found way better eats the next day) and then went to the internet shop, where the internet was apparently broken. I found the cheapest beer in Myanmar (Andaman Gold), so grabbed a couple of very cold cans and went back to the hostel. Outside our room I ran into Bob an Aussie of similar age to me who is living in China, we chatted for a while and I shared a beer.

And that was the end of a reasonably enjoyable day, as a means of transport I have enjoyed the boats I have caught.

Mandalay – 3 ancient cities tour

Day 72, Friday 16 March 2012, Mandalay

Yesterday we booked a car to take us on the ‘3 cities’ tour, it is a well worn tourist route that takes in three ancient cities that are near Mandalay. There is limited public transport available to tourists and this just seems to be the only way to get out of the city to see the sites when you do not have much time. It was just over $30 for the day for the car so not unreasonable. Jacqueline, who we met in Yangon joined us for the day as well so the cost between three was good.

The car was a small, old, Mazda ute and we sat on a couple of bench seats facing inwards in the back. I like travelling out in the open, though the dust and fumes got to us by the end of the day. We left the hotel at 8.30 into the tail end of rush hour, the roads in Mandalay are not as wide as those in central Yangon so there was a lot more traffic, mixed in with the scooters and the usual lack of any traffic control at intersections and it was a noisy stop start ride to the edge of town. It appears that Mandalay has every type of transport available to man, horse and cow drawn carts, cars, bikes, buses and trucks, all fully laden. I particularly love these small trucks and have yet to see them elsewhere, they are very loud, slow and belch out masses of dirty black smoke. I have seen a number of Toyota Hiace trucks with these engines bolted on to the front.

The main road out of town has been fortunately split into two separate roads, one for each direction, so reasonably safe, given the way they drive. On the way to Sagaing we hit a traffic snarl up, after a while I took a peek round the side of the ute and was staring at the bum of an elephant in a truck, not something I see every day !

The first stop was Sagaing Hill, sadly our driver had lousy English so we didn’t get any explanation about things during the day and I don’t think we got to see much outside of the big attractions. As we were walking around yesterday we were offered day tours from a number of people who had excellent English, but we had already booked through the hotel so had to turn them down. Next time I will wait and make better informed decisions.

I could have spent a day in Sagaing alone, the area has over 500 temples and stupas all seemingly connected by vast covered walkways up and down the small hills. Sadly, as it has been everywhere in Myanmar, the sky was foggy/dusty/smoggy so there was limited view and the glare really made photography tough. Like the other large stupas in Myanmar the main stupa on the hill is layered in gold leaf. 

Around all around Myanmar are these drink stations (I am not willing to try them) . I am quite fascinated by them, not sure why as they are mostly the same and quite simple, I will do a photo post of them at some stage.

From the hill we had the driver drop us off at the start  of the Ava Bridge, which crosses the Ayeyarwady river (Irrawady) and we walked over to the other side, with me stopping for photos along the way. Bizarrely the walkway over the bridge was infested with small moths, thousands of them, not something I have seen anywhere else. The Ayeywady runs pretty much north to south through central Myanmar and is the key source of transport and water for many people.

The next stop was the ‘island’ of  Inwa, largely cut off from the mainland, by the river and canals the island held the Burmese capital of and on for four centuries from the mid 1300s ,  but few remains of this exist, parts of the palace wall and one tower are all that are viewable.

[rant warning] I really liked the things we saw today, would loved to have spent more time exploring all the places we visited, and much more around Mandalay, but from Inwa till bed time I was very frustrated by unexpected costs. I didn’t realise you had to get a boat to Inwa (I didn’t know it was an island before we left, should have read more), so the boat was an extra expense for the day, it wasn’t much but by the end of the day we had shelled out a bit here and a bit there and I pretty much spent three times my daily allowance. Hopefully this will not haunt me later in the trip as the budget was tight and I cannot get more money as there are no ATM’s. Inwa was also the start of Siem Reap size hassle by children (and adults) trying to sell souvenirs, they are persistent and annoying. [rant over]

The boat ride was a couple of hundred metres and once on the other side we found we had to take a horse and cart ride around the sites (it was further than we thought – ignorance strikes again) this was a further $10 for the three of us. Again our guide spoke no English so I have no idea about the first stupa was stopped at as it was not in the book. The ogre motif is not something I have seen anywhere else in SE Asia.

Some extremely shoddy repair work had been done on some of the stupas here, it was a real shame as a lot of it is unnecessary, it wasn’t needed for safety reasons, and it was appallingly and slightly randomly done. I am glad this Buddha had not been touched as I liked the state of disrepair.

We made our way to Bagaya Kyaung a teak monastery from the mid 1800’s, which is still being used as a school. Here we had to pay $10 each for a week long pass to visit all the old sites around Mandalay, an expense I was anticipating. The monastery was bare but fascinating, the external carvings being quite weathered. The Buddha inside was a lovely alabaster creation, but too dark too photograph.

The monastery had a small working school inside, I am not sure if this was for the benefit of the tourists or not. Don’t get me wrong seeing kids in school was a great thing as most do not seem to go at all, so any education is good, but the monk was just sitting there while the kids did their thing.

[edit] At breakfast on our last day in Myanmar I was talking to an American volunteer teacher who said that school is mandatory in Myanmar, and most kids go, maybe she hasn’t been to Inwa or maybe the school day is short and kids go in shifts as is the case elsewhere in Asia. I was pondering a post on ‘well meaning’ christian teachers after listening to a couple at the airport in Yangon as I was leaving the country, but I wont as I may offend. [end edit]

The next pagoda we stopped was mostly collapsed but had a very nice, weathered Buddha figure with a monk on each side. I haven’t seen this style, I particularly liked the peaceful expression on the kneeling monks faces.

The royal palace watch tower was built in 1822 and is virtually all that remains within the palace walls, the tower was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1838 and has been partly restored the view from the top was pretty good (though of course hazy !) and we got to share the space with some young girls trying to sell us post cards, we didn’t stay long. The tower is on an angle and is known as ‘the leaning tower of inwa’.

The final stop on Inwa was the Maha Aung Me Bonzan monastry, which was started in 1822.

After the monastery it was back in the boat and back to the mainland, where we pretty much were forced to stop and buy lunch at the local cafe for about twice normal prices. The food was BAD, so we were not entirely amused. At lunch I  ran into Giovanni, the Italian guy I did the night visit to the Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur with back in Feb. It was good to catch up. [edit] and the first of many catch-ups!

From Inwa we went to Amarapura and for the me the highlight of the day [edit] maybe of all Myanmar[end edit] – U Bein’s bridge. This is the world’s longest teak bridge at 1.2km, during the rainy season the river is almost to the bridge – there must be a huge amount of water going through.

We arrived too early for sunset so we took a leisurely walk across the bridge and visited a small temple on the far side, we then took a slower stroll back. In theory we should have spent more money and hired a boat to row us out into the river to take photos of the sunset over the bridge. Instead we walked down some steps to a sand bank in the river and hung out there until the sun set, which was entirely unspectacular. Giovanni joined us here for an hour. (and I run into him again in a couple of days). I loved the bridge and had a good time on the river bank taking photos of the people walking across.

I was desperate to get a good monk shot here and I was rewarded with a few.

After the sunset over the bridge it was a dirty, dusty, fumey, eye watering ride back to the hostel. Jacqueline and I had decided to meet with some others from her hostel to go and see the Moustache Brothers political cabaret show. So it was a quick shower and out down to her hostel to get a cab to the show. We were expecting normal cheap SE Asia prices but we were told it would be $10 return and no negotiating. We told the driver no and went and found another driver who said the same thing – i suspect a rort, the ride is about 4kms, and basically it is the only way there. I would feel safe(ish) walking the streets of Mandalay, well safe from being robbed, but there are no sidewalks, a lot of the cars and bikes have no lights running and the air is foul, so we took the cab.

The beer at the cafe next to the show was twice the price of beer at the hotel, but we had a local guy with us so paid a normal price for beer and some snacks. The show also cost $10, which was more than it was worth and way more than we all expected, I had to borrow a couple of thousand kyat (pronounced chat) from Jacqueline as I didn’t have enough money on me. The show was interesting I suppose a mix of political jokes (the govt.  Does not like burglars as it doesn’t want the competition) comment on their past and a song and dance show showing Burmese dress styles (weird)…. The Moustache brothers have been doing the show for many years and have been arrested a couple of times, in 1996 they were sentenced to six years hard labour for dissent after a show at Aung San Su Kyi’s house. They are only allowed to perform the show  in their house and in English, which they do nightly – it was funny in parts and weird in others, regrettably I did not think to take my camera.

Internet was off when I got back to the hostel.

The text was written at the time, but not posted till 12 days later due WordPress being blocked in most of Myanmar, and slow internet where it wasn’t. I have noted where I changed from the original.