Myanmar – 23 days in Burma
1. Yangon | 2. Mawlamyine | 3. Hpa An | 4. Inle Lake | 5. Pindaya | 6. Mandalay | 7. Bagan | 8. Yangon return
DAY 1 – 03.12.2018
We land at the airport shortly before 8am, passport and visa in hand, there are few people and we pass quickly customs. We exchange some money before taking a taxi to the city center, which cost us 10000 MMK (6 €). After 45 minutes drive we reach our Guesthouse located in downtown, it’s 10am, rooms previously booked, waiting for us. We take the time for a shower and a little rest before embarking on the streets of the city, our friends arrive in the evening, we have the day to discover the near areas.
We walk on the busy streets toward Kandawgyi Park and its lake. After we get lost by 3 times we finally arrive in this green space which, although spacious, has no specific interest, not even some place to eat around. So it’s a little disappointed, and a bit tired by the heat, that we took our first small Burmese meal in a supermarket cafe, before waiting for our friends at the hotel.
Upon their arrival, we decided to reach the 19th street where a night market and many restaurants are waiting for us. It is in the Chinatown area, a lively and perfect place to eat at night. Between Chinese skewers and Thai noodles around country’s beers and surrounded by smiling faces of Burmese, our stay looks good.
DAY 2 – 03.13.2018
Our first real Burmese day will begin with the visit of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, despite the heat and fatigue we leave motivated and relatively early, after a hearty breakfast at our guesthouse. On the way we will take the time to admire the city and visit a church, as well as a temple, before we start to climb the small hill on which the pagoda rests. Accessible by huge covered staircases, themselves lined with stalls of offerings and souvenirs, it is at the top that we leave the penumbra to discover the magnificent golden stupa radiating in the sun and the size of the site. We will spend a good time, amazed by the golden beauty of the various temples and sculptures to the glory of Buddha.
At the exit we let ourselves be tempted by a fresh coconut juice to hydrate us, before continuing our way to the pagoda of Ngar Htat Gyi where we will be almost alone to contemplate the large sculpture of a seated Buddha then we will continue with Chauzkhtakyi pagoda to amaze us in front of our first glowing golden reclining buddha. A platform has been installed at his feet in order to admire it as a whole.
We had lunch at Café 20 as the only customers, we will have very good foods despite the impressive choice of dishes offered à la carte. We will return to our guesthouse by taxi to rest a bit and then go buy our bus ticket for the next day.
We will end the day by the visit of the covered market where most of the jewelers are located, before taking a shopping break at the modern mall center opposite, in perfect paradox. We will find nothing, and it’s finally on the street stalls that we will buy, after negotiation, some new textiles (sarouels and long skirts) useful to visit the future temples without dying of hot. The day will end with a Chinese restaurant, a night stroll around Sule Pagoda and a good night’s sleep.
DAY 3 – 03.14.2018
For this 3rd day we must face an early wake-up. We need to get to the bus station at the other end of town for 7:30 am. We had negotiated a quick breakfast at our guesthouse at 6am before taking a taxi to the bus station. At this time of the day, the traffic is not so dense and we arrived with a little advance, before taking a seat in our bus to Mawlamyine for a 7 hours route.
Arrived at destination, we discover that the bus station is a little out of the city and we don’t want to walk to the city-center with our bags, fatigue and heat. So we take a tuk-tuk toward the guesthouse spotted in our “routard” guide, the sandalwood guesthouse (which is not in sandalwood haha).
In order not to lose the day, we decide to start our visit of the city enjoying the early evening, and its soft light, to climb to the the pagodas’s hill. To get there we will go through pedestrian streets, a small labyrinth of dwellings where locals will show us the way with big smiles and “Mingalabar” (hello) on all sides. We will begin with a white marble Buddhist temple visit, follow by the Santawshin monastery where the monks will show us the way to reach the magnificent Kyaikthanlan pagoda, which overlooks the surroundings and will allow us to enjoy the place and the panorama in the warm light of the setting sun.
On the way back, young monks will invite Bastien to a football game and then we will visit St Matthew’s Church before finishing the day at the food stalls of the night market where we will have dinner before returning to the hotel.
DAY 4 – 03.15.2018
After a decent breakfast at our hotel, we go to the Breeze guesthouse known for having a monopoly on all the boat tickets, tour tickets, scooters or tuktuk guide rental for the day. We reserve a boat ticket for the next day to head to Hpa-An passing by the U-Na-Auk monastery. After some dithering, we also decide to take a tuktuk driver so that he takes us to discover 3 key points out of town during the morning. The location of places is not easy, since no panel is translated into English, this means of locomotion seemed to us to be the easiest and comfortable.
So we leave for our first stop, direction the Win Sein Taw Ya‘s Buddha also known as the largest reclining Buddha in the world. On the path leading to this gigantic statue which is actually a building, 500 monks sculptures with different faces accompany us on the road’s both sides. If the exterior of this Buddha looks quite impressive by its gigantism, the interior, on the other hand, looks like a disinfected building. There is, however, a real desire to develop the place with sculptures relating Buddha’s life. For lack of funding, the whole thing is far from being finished while the outside already needs renovations, something we will participate in, by the purchase of two tiles that will be used for the external restoration of the toga.
Our second stop will consist to take the stairs up to Kyauktalon Taung pagoda. Before the summits, the paths are divided, women have access to only one stupa, the other is reserved exclusively for men. After a quite difficult climb due, in part, to the heat we discover a pretty 360° view of the surrounding area including the jungle that extends far.
Our last stop of the morning will be the visit of a pagoda enclosing a golden reclining Buddha and a garden with wood carvings, a pleasant and serene place.
Back in town we will enjoy a delicious meal in the garden of a small restaurant spotted on the road, before taking a second driver for a guided tour on Bilu Gyun Island, or Ogre Island.
On this island we will make several stops, we will start with a fabric factory where the women work hard on old bamboo looms. Hard labour for a beautiful rendering, but so low paid. Then we will discover a factory of traditional bamboo hats, before we stop on the “factory” of rubber bands made with the rubber trees sap, whose plantations proliferate on the island. Next we will fall under the charm of the wooden sculpture workshop’s objects, where we will make various pleasant purchases, from the bracelet to the spoon through the cigarette’s pipe and the pen. We will be welcomed as kings despite the late hour and the closure of the place, the Burmese opened their doors with tea and many biscuits to show us the result of their work.
We will end our tour by the visit of an old rice factory, with machineries from another age and which, nevertheless, still work for a yield of 200 bags of 50kg of rice per day. Then, our driver obviously enjoying our company, he decided to bring us on an impromptu stop at the “public pool” of the island where the boys will dare to dive despite the green color of the water, which also looked more like a pond than a pool.
After all these beautiful discoveries, we will be happy to sit around a real Burmese meal, restaurant recommended by our driver, before returning to our rooms for a well deserved night’s sleep.
DAY 5 – 03.16.2018
We leave Mawlamyine at 8:00 to board, with another French couple, on our transport of the day, the local motorized canoe. Along the wide river, mud color, we will navigate for 4 hours in a non evolutive decor and therefore uninteresting.
Along the way we will make a stop at the U-na-Auk monastery, with its red and gold carved wooden buildings, its shimmering mosaics and, again, this calm and serenity conducive to the place. We really enjoyed this discovery, which had us out of our monotony waves in which we were immersed since the morning departure.
1h30 later, we disembark at Hpa-An then we look intensively for a guesthouse. It’s a whimsical matron, as hilarious as frosty, who will welcome us in her “golden sky” guesthouse, a whole character. Not wanting to lose the afternoon, we quickly find a tuk tuk to lead us to the Kaw ka thaung troglodyte temple, where apparently a free natural swimming pool allows a refreshing swim.
Faced with this pleasant idea, we could only choosed to go and, indeed, after visiting the cave we continued on a dirt road to reach a small pool surrounded by cafes on stilts. A charming place where locals bathe dressed, but we were the only tourists and all the attention was already focused on us. Also, facing this small pool and all these silent questions around us, the desire of a refreshing bath was quickly forgotten to give way to a drink on the terrace of one of the cafes around.
Back to the city, where the nightlife is very quiet, all our paper guides push us to the Birman restaurant of San ma Tau, where we will taste good small dishes, typical, tasty and hearty.
DAY 6 – 03.17.2018
Today, we booked a driver for a big tour discovering Hpa-An surroundings. Monning 20,000 MMK (11 € *) our driver picks us up at the hotel at 8:30 with his Tuktuk, already filled with a friendly Spanish couple, then let’s go for visits.
We start with a stop to the troglodyte temple that we visited the day before. So, this time, we will choose to climb the hill overlooking it, to reach the pagoda at its summit and enjoy a 360 ° view of the surroundings. A difficult moment because the climb is steep and there is not a breath of air to relieve us of the heat, but we did it and found the point of view… Not bad.
We will continue by visiting the huge Saddan cave, a crossing in the bowels of the earth, with natural rooms so spacious and tall that you do not feel to be in a cave at all , especially as the air there circulates which is really nice. The crossing is punctuated by altars dedicated to Buddha, lights, stairs, bridges, bats cries, and a pagoda before ending on a small pond. At this level, we can either choose to turn back on foot, or pay the services of a boatman for a ride in a dugout canoe before reaching the entrance of the cave by land, we have obviously chosen the canoe that really amused us.
We took our lunch break in a tavern of the “Waterfall” village (Dohn Yahn), a place where two pools fill up thanks to a natural water source and where it is possible to swim, but no waterfall on the horizon . A pool is reserved for men, the second is accessible to women, so that men can enjoy the pure water before it empties into the women’s pool … Bastien will be the only one to dare a swim in these places before we go back to our day tour.
Arrived at the Lumbini garden with Mount Zwe Ga Bin in the background, we are asked to pay the sum of 4000 MMK (2.25 €) which allows entry to the garden and access to the climb of the mountain. We already know that we do not have time to climb the mountain and when we notice the state of the garden, strewn with rubbish and overgrown with weeds, where the Buddha‘s 1000 statues are, we simply refuse the visit for go directly to the next point.
Kyaik-Ka-Lat, the rock placed on the water, has the particularity of being narrower at its base than at its summit. We will enjoy the atmosphere of the place, and beautiful reflections on the artificial lake. We will also attend a short prayer to the Buddha and we have been blessed on the head with the luck water, then we will join our tuktuk for the visit of the next cave.
Kaw Gun Cave is certainly one of the most historic place of our travel. It was noted as one of the most breathtaking places in southern Burma, as it contains engravings of the Buddha carved on the walls and ceilings and dating, for the oldest, from the seventh century. Incredibly well preserved given their age, these sculptures were made until the 13th century. Faced with such a piece of history we can unfortunately only regret the state of dirt in this amazing place, and the number of engravings covered with bird droppings …
To refresh our ideas we decided to drink a fresh coconut juice on the spot and to take the pulpit with us to nibble it on the way to reach the next point.
Yathay Pyan Cave, is the spot that where we first met the Birmans monkeys, happy as kids to be able to offer them the coconut pulpit that we didn’t eat, in order to be able to approach them. So the visit of the troglodyte temple passed a little in the background, but we still appreciated the places at their fair value. This cave has the particularity of being through, and the arrival on the other side reveals a spectacular and unexpected sight on the falling day soft light.
We will end this busy day with the “Bat Cave“, a cave that, as the name suggests, houses a million little bats that take their flight every evenings for the night. We will make the mistake of climbing up to the top of the pagoda, accessible via ladders, thinking that we would see the flight of these nocturnal animals from the high point of view. It was not the case, and the time we became aware of our mistake and went down from the top, the sky was already too dark so that we could take any correct pictures. We enjoyed, however, to see clearly the facts of our eyes, and received some droppings of bat on the head, to attend this impressive phenomenon.
DAY 7 – 03.18.2018
After the past exhausting day, we choose to take a little rest. We will have breakfast at 8:30 and will enjoy the rooms until check out time, after all, we are on holidays.
Afterwards, we decide to leave our bags at the hotel’s “luggage service” and then we took a walk around the small lake of the city, where the lovers meet to frolic in the reeds out of sight, or , simply, to take a “pedal boat” ride. We will eat in a lake front snack and then decide to offer us the crossing of the river to visit the Mount Hpan Pu pagoda, which offers a view of the city and its surroundings, perfect for the sunset.
Going down from the mountain we were invited to a birthday, the locals insisted that we eat at their table, they were proud to welcome white people, we did them honor. We took an impromptu meal with them under their tireless pics capture, all the family will have their picture and we will leave with a full stomach and a happy heart.
At 19h we take the night bus to Inle Lake, 14h transport are waiting for us, this will be our first night bus ride.
DAY 8 – 03.19.2018
Arriving in Nyaungshwe after a restless bus night, we decide to offer us a nice hotel instead of a cheap guesthouse. Costing 20 € per night we find our little paradise at the height of our expectations and even more, the Princess Garden Hotel. A green and peaceful setting, spacious and clean rooms, a swimming pool and a rich breakfast, the dream.
After our installation in this charming hotel, and not wishing to lose the day despite the fatigue of the bus, we choose to book a trip on the lake for the next morning and then rent bikes to explore the surroundings. Leaving for other pleasures, we choose to take the direction of the French vineyard Inle hills the “Red Mountain Estate Vineyards“. After some detours and cross roads we arrive at the vineyard for a tasting in due form. Two white wines, two red wines, peanuts and a nice view is what we needed to get back on our feet, even if the wines were not really good. We choose to eat on the spot before taking the bikes back to town.
In order to stay on our pleasure mood, we then agree on having a little Burmese massage, a method that we discovered between pain and relief. We will then attend, by chance, a religious parade full of traditional costumes, dancers, offerings, horses and even elephants.
Then we will end our day quietly at the hotel to bask a little in the pool before returning in town to eat on the Europeanized “Asiatico pub” rooftop.
DAY 9 – 03.20.2018
Our 9th day in Burma will get us up early for a nice breakfast at our hotel, before our 8:00 am appointment. Our guide, and captain of the day, is waiting for us in front of the hotel to take us to his boat, an equipped pirogue, which will be our means of transportation throughout the day.
Today we travel the famous Inle Lake, and our entire course will be orchestrated by our captain. As it is early, the bottom of the air initially cools us a little, and we are glad that multicolored covers, a little kitsch, are available on our respective chairs, as well as bottles of water.
Our first stop, unfortunately, will start with some bitterness. Our captain will bring us closer to traditional “fishermen” who use big baskets, and who pose clearly in front of us. It’s a bit of an iconic picture of Burma, and especially Inle, the fisherman holding the balance of one leg on his canoe and fishing with the other. But we quickly understand that this is a setup touristic shot, if you take pictures … You pay ! No one is fishing voluntarily with this method in the lake anymore. In short, we quickly explain that we are not interested and are therefore dismissed with contempt. That announces the color of this day. Already, we dread the continuation …
Our second stop will be to a gold and silver manufacture, large building in teak wood on stilts. We are told about the traditional methods to recover these precious metals, then they expose the ancestral knowledge of the family, generations to generations, to create ornaments, objects and jewelry of all kinds. The explanation will remain interesting and, of course, followed by a mandatory visit of the shop. Even if everything seems very beautiful and meticulously worked, none of us has the skills to know if it is really precious metals, and the prices, which are on a case-by-case basis and to the best haggling, although more interesting than in France, remain expensive and without guarantees. That’s why we will not buy anything there.
Our next stop will be on the former “floating market” become islands of land for tourists. Wherever you arrive, you will find a multitude of stands of all kinds with a clientele exclusively from tourism. At least things are clear, so it is much easier to buy things at a bargain price because we know that everything is probably false. On the other hand do not hesitate to lower the price, we had bargain at more than 10x less than the price initially proposed, and when you give up, the sellers run after you, even if they are terribly dissatisfied with the selling price. So we did 2 or 3 shopping before quickly escape from this place that has nothing traditional.
Our next step will be to visit a lotus fiber fabric factory. From growing to harvesting and the creation of fiber-to-fiber yarn, the various stages of the lotus fabrics are unveiled. This discovery will be a real realization about the cost of these fabrics more expensive than silk, given the work that a simple scarf can represent, and the working time, we can only confirm that the price is justified. For a simple scarf it takes 2 months of work, and for one meter of lotus thread, nearly 300 stems to harvest. Simply amazing and interesting. This visit will have taught us a lot about this material, it was very pleasant.
Before our meal break, we will make a last stop on a traditional ironwork, it was more an explanatory show about ancestral methods and laborious. The principle is to recup some metal parts for recycling into various objects ranging from knives to bells etc. …
After that we will have a good meal on a on stilts restaurant terrace, in the middle of the lake, a nice place where we will recover energy before the continuation of our course.
We will continue our afternoon, without nap, but this time going to discover the traditional manufacture of canoe teak wood. A material highly prized in Europe and which is, here, inescapable. A young woman will explain us almost all the steps in French! She doesn’t speak a word of our langguage but knows her speech by heart, and just for the effort we bought her some trinkets in teak wood to thank her. Next door, is the cigar factory waiting for us. Everything is done in a natural way, dried tobacco flavored with spices without additives, sap as glue, a piece of corn cob as a filter and a vine leaf to roll everything, in short what give you the urge to try. As cigar smoking is a feminine activity, men prefer to chew betel, there are several sweet scents, and as good tourists we will be seduced by a sweet and spicy assortment.
Then we commit to the religious part of the day starting with the Hpaung daw U pagoda, better known as the peanuts pagoda. For the record, this pagoda housed 5 Buddha’s statues, which, over the years, by being covered with small gold leaves, now look like big gold nuggets shaped peanuts.
The following stop will lead us to a jewelry shop where we meet four giraffe women who should be from the Padaung tribe. At this moment we will not question ourselves anymore, we felt too privileged and preferred to enjoy this meeting and this moment of intimacy. But with a little hindsight and looking at the pictures a few days later, we ask ourselves, was it really Padaung women? Because, looking closely, their necks, adorned with necklaces, do not seem really disproportionate compared to ours. We suspect that these women and children were only there for the show, and for the gullible tourists in our genre.
Our penultimate stop was not least because we discovered an absolutely fantastic place, the Shwe Indein pagoda and its more than 1054 stupas. An incredible scenery, we came up the river’s arm to get there and then we didn’t take very long to abandon the main covered path to walk all along the whole through the set of different stupas. The oldest almost in ruins have a stunning and beautiful authenticity full of spirituality. Getting lost in the heart of this place has been the most beautiful experience of the day, a moment of serenity out of time.
Our final stop will be at the Nga Phe Chaung Monastery said cats’s monastery. The latter is known to be the largest and oldest monastery in the Inle region. The interior is dark wood, which creates an atmosphere different from what we have seen so far. The structure is retained by nearly 650 poles, cats sleep in the corners and many statues of the Buddha, richly developed, enthroned everywhere. There was a time when a monk had educated cats to jump in hoops which had created the reputation and the nickname of the monastery. Today the monk is no more, the cats do not jump anymore but remain very present.
Finally, the excursion will come to an end by the comeback ride on the lake through the countless floating gardens. A peaceful and surprising environment that will take us back to our hotel in the light of the setting sun, the next day we will leave this little paradise.
DAY 10 – 03.21.2018
For this day, we were preparing to leave Inle Lake, we organized our early morning departure by taxi from Nyaungshwe, to reach the main road and the bus stop. From there we wanted to take a bus to the Pindaya Caves, then go down to Aungpan at the end of the day, after our visit, to take a night bus to Mandalay. Unfortunately nothing happened as planned.
After some technical understanding difficulties, it turned out that the bus supposed to lead us towards Pindaya, and for which we had our tickets, did not pass at the schedules that had been informed to us. After, a little anger and a few negotiations, we finally find an arrangement, to get a taxi with a lower cost in addition. It is therefore our driver who will take us directly to Pindaya, and its 8000 buddhas caves.
It was a detour that we absolutely did not regret. After a quick meal in a local shop at the temple entrance, we went to discover these caves with a mix of curiosity and excitement. It was a fantastic visit, rich in spirituality but also fun. We had a lot of pleasure browsing hidden nooks and the “prayer niche” accessible only to 4 legs and very well hidden. It was as pleasant as it was intense and we all loved it.
After this visit, our driver will take us directly to the Aungpan bus station where we booked our tickets for a night bus to Mandalay, 5 hours later. It was at least the initial plan, until the tourist sickness hits, or food poisoning, leaving us for only option the emergency booking of a hotel room nearby. We will let our friends leave without us, in order to not lose all the bus tickets, before taking refuge in a luxurious room of the M Royal hotel. No need to detail the painfully painful night that followed.
DAY 11 – 03.22.2018
After a difficult and uncomfortable night, the sickness seems to have calmed down. Unfortunately, the only bus to Mandalay is at the same time as the day before, so we have to spend the day there and especially think about getting us back some energy. We gently accept the idea of leaving our room, then manage to negotiate with the hotel to be able to wait for our bus in their meeting room, to be better installed than the bus station a bit unhealthy. After a visit to the pharmacy, a new bus ticket reservation for the evening, and the purchase of more sanitized food in the supermarket, we just have to wait in the hotel space between serie’s episodes, nap and movie.
In the evening, we finally take the bus for Mandalay.
DAY 12 – 03.23.2018
Arrived at 4am, we reach the guesthouse where the friends were by taxi, before going back to sleep a few hours. We will wake up for a mediocre breakfast at the hotel, before leaving to rent scooters and go to the famous U-bein bridge. Before heading to the Amarapura’s area, where the bridge is located, we will make a small stop at the bus station to organize our departure the next day to Bagan.
Arriving at Amarapura, we wonder about the accuracy of the place, and finally learn, at our expense, that in this time of year, the place is not charming. Indeed, the drought making, the meager remaining trickle of water is at a level of, at least, 5 meters below the bridge. In other words, the river is dry and the bridge overlooks an empty sandy ground like a wooden aqueduct. Some unscrupulous Burmese will also try to force us to park our scooters in their “pay” carpark which we will appreciate only moderately. Moreover, being always tired of illness and exhausted by the heat and lack of sleep, it was difficult to find here a little moment of wonderness.
We will anyway visit the Maha Gandar Yone Monastery on the other side of the bridge, before returning to town for a nap. Later in the afternoon, Jess will be resting at the hotel while others will visit the Mahamuni Pagoda and enjoy the sights of the setting sun, before giving back the scooters.
DAY 13 – 03.24. 2018
We wake up early so we can enjoy a quick breakfast at the hotel, before our tuktuk driver picks us up to take us to the bus station from where we will take the bus to Bagan. Unfortunately, it turns out that the said driver did not show up at the agreed time, and seeing the time passing we decided to take another driver in a hurry, losing the amount we had paid for the previous driver. Arrived at the bus station we tried to be reimbursed by the company with whom we organized the morning pickup, to no avail. We finally took our little bus to Bagan a bit grumpy.
After a 4h30 drive and a lunch break, we arrive in Bagan where we learn, at our expense, that you have to book your hotel room, not on site, but directly online ! The hotel we wanted let us know that if we did not booked online before, they didn’t have any rooms availables for us… So we tried to introduce ourselves to the next hotel, which was kind enough to give us a wifi access so we can make a reservation directly on the internet. As the prices of this hotel were too expensive, we used the connection to check the first hotel we had chosen, which was supposedly full, and miraculously discover that they were not so full …
So we went back there and let them know that we miraculously managed to book 2 rooms for 2 nights in their full hotel. We will not have a word of excuse or explanations despite our small verbal shots at them, but will have the satisfaction of enjoying their beautiful rooms.
We will continue our day by renting an afternoon of “e-bike” to go discover the first temples of Bagan and contemplate our first sunset on the scene, before eating in a very nice vegetarian restaurant, the Moon.
DAY 14 – 03.25.2018
For this first awakening on Bagan, we get up early and leave the hotel around 7:30 with our E-bikes to admire the sunrise and hot air balloons rise in the sky. Unfortunately we discover that it is already too late, we are only witnessing the landing of the hot air balloons, and become the unlikely witnesses of a “crash“. Fun time where we will follow the hot air balloon in distress with locals, to see the pilot land, in extremis, in a piece of garden, between a house, a fence and a tree. Far from being frightened by the event, we will then book our balloon flight for the next morning before continuing our discovery of the place.
In the afternoon, we negotiate a taxi to take us to an elephant camp that is opening near Bagan.
We went there at 4p.m and discover a kind of tourist park with 3 adults elephants and 1 baby, dozens of people were waiting to be able to ride the 2 equipped adults, others were buying trays to feed the mother and her pup in their tiny enclosure. After a few minutes on the spot we were disillusioned and discovered horrified that the trainer on the back of the female in the enclosure, forced her to accept each piece of corn or sugar cane stretched by the tourists. Disgusted by the place we will stay only fifteen minutes before leaving the scene disappointed and saddened by human stupidity.
Back in Bagan, we will pick up our scooters to admire a new sunset on the pagodas and forget about the elephant affair. We will end our evening in an Indian restaurant full of humor and beautifully decorated the “Aroma“.
DAY 15 – 03.26.2018
It’s time to fly into the sky of Bagan. To be done we got up at 4:30, for a departure from the hotel at 5am. We are taken care of by the company right out of the hotel, a charming little vintage bus picked us up, us and several other customers. At the same time the price is 250 € * per person, so it is better that everything is beautiful, clean, and comfortable. We pick up some other people and then we join the takeoff place, where our pilot of the day is waiting for us with tea, coffee and his welcome speech. PThen very quickly, everything is put in place, the balloons are inflated under our amazed eyes, then comes the moment to climb into the basket and fly away. What feeling wins us at this point, the time just stops everything is so calm, so peaceful, we watch the sun rise in the mist, and the 14 hot air balloons that decorate the dawn around us. Our pilot gives us some information here and there. We fly over Bagan, and all of its historic temples, a bit high perhaps, before we land an hour later on the banks of the river where the breeze was good enough to push us.
Very gently we come out of our torpor and we are welcomed on the ground with a breakfast with champagne, croissants, banana cake and fruits. That’s it, it’s over, 8:15 we’re back at the hotel for a little coffee and the return to the real world.
We choose to rest and enjoy our rooms until the last minute. Moment of rest and lazing by the pool, then it’s time to pack. We want to spend another two nights there, but this time in the new Bagan, we take a taxi, and tell him to drop us in front of a first hotel. It is only at the third building that we will find our happiness. We will eat late at a small restaurant, before booking our excursion to Mount Popa the next day, then buses that will take us to our next stop 2 days later.
DAY 16 – 03.27.2018
For our last day in the Bagan area, we want to enjoy a last sunrise over the ancient temples as well as the flight of the balloons. We will also transgress a few forbidden, to sneak on a lost pagoda’s top and we settle there for the show. This time we will be perfectly ready to welcome dawn and the rising sun to the front row. A magical and beautiful moment that we will all enjoy very much. We will then return to the hotel for breakfast, relax and enjoy the pool.
We get out for lunch and eat in an absolutely disgusting restaurant called “black roses” that we recommend you absolutely avoid.
Then at 3 p.m our taxi picked us up with a German couple on board, to take us to Mount Popa for about 8000 * MMK per person. We had been drived on a rutted road for the duration of the transport and will discover beggars, on a good part of the way, posted all along the road. As this is the road to the sacred Mount, beggars wait for people to throw money at them, as a symbolic offering, through the vehicles windows. What surprise our little untrained minds.
In front of us, we notice that the sky becomes threatening, we are likely to be welcomed on Mount Popa by rain and clouds, and we gradually lose our initial serenity.
When we arrive at the foot of the Mount, it is a climb of 777 steps waiting for us to reach the pagoda at the top. On the stairs, literally inhabited by monkeys, we will quietly observe these lasts and the landscape that surrounds the covered path. At the top we will be able to enjoy the landscape in spite of the clouds and the fine rain that will welcome us there, then we will descend quietly, amusing ourselves a lot from the monkeys’s attitude and a little less from the locals people’s attitude towards them. Then our taxi will take us back to our hotel.
In the evening, we will do a lot better than for the lunch restaurant by going in a discreet but very good Indian restaurant the “Royal indian food” where we will be pampered from the beginning to the end with succulent dishes, a Burmese kindness and a generosity.
ON THE ROAD
DAY 17 – 03.28.2018
To reach our final Burma stop, we had to be extremely patient.
A challenge that has managed to hurt our little nerves but that will, once again, be a rich experience of confrontations with the Burmese daily life and way of life. In order to reach the Ngapali seaside resort from Bagan, we had to embark in a minibus of about ten places, in which we had to crowd to 16 people at the height of the demand. Then join, bus stop by stop, the city of Pyay that we reach at 17:00 after 9 hours of a very long journey.
From there, after stretching our legs and eating an abominably greasy dish, we took our night bus at 7:00 pm and arrived at our Ngapali Beach Guesthouse at 5:30 am on the morning of the 18th day.
DAY 18 – 03.29.2018
Our arrival at Ngapali Beach was not, as for the rest of our trip, really planned.
However, it happens that when you arrive there by night bus, the driver deposits his occupants directly to the guesthouse where they have booked. So we gave the name of a guesthouse, the “Royal lin thar“, which we had spotted in a hurry on the internet. Arrived on the spot, having nothing reserved, nobody was waiting for us at the reception. We thought we would be able to eclipse quietly, but it was not the feeling of our driver who, well thinking, made a mission to wake up all the staff of the guesthouse to welcome us. It’s therefore a bit embarrassed that we proceeded to our impromptu “check-in”. Burmese guys, always so accommodating, didn’t count us one more night even arriving at this hour and enjoying the breakfast that morning, at no extra charge. So we quickly went back to sleep a few hours, exhausted from the journey but satisfied with the welcome.
After breakfast we went to explore the places by bikes, graciously lent by the guesthouse, while Jess spent the morning in the room trying to recover from the cumulative exhaustion.
Back from the ride, it was decided to rent scooters to go around the area in an easier way, and go looking for a nice restaurant, before going to relax on the paradise beaches under coconut trees.
We quickly realize that Ngapali is an impass and that the city is not very extensive. Fortunately we are out of season, and there are only a few tourists, which is perfect for us and for the locals who can not be nicer with us. We find an european food restaurant where we will eat really well, then we will go to swim and relax at the beach. Later we will offer to ourselves a perfect 70mns massage followed by a cocktail at sunset. In short, it’s a thrill ! In the evening we decide to skip the meal, not feeling the need, before giving us a real good night’s sleep.
DAY 19 – 03.30.2018
We decide to stay in our beds as long as possible, and get up just before the breakfast deadline. Then we took the direction of the beach where we decided to rent kayaks for an hour. This is the time we took to paddle to the next bay, a small activity that we enjoyed. To thank us, the kayaks’s owner, who also runs a restaurant, will offer us fresh homemade ice-teas, and we will begin to sympathize with him. His restaurant is located right next to the massage place of the day before. Therefore we will book a second massage for the end of the afternoon, and promise to come to eat at his restaurant that same evening.
But for this moment, we decided to return to the European food restaurant “Jone’s Pizza” to fill us with food from home, because after all this time in Asia, it’s good to eat something familiar. We will go there, cheaply by taxi, since the renters of the e-bikes from the day before refused to rent their equipment to us for a half-day rate.
After eating, as expected, we went back to the beach for a swim. Letting ourselves be transported by the sweet holidays rhythm, we will continue the day with our little Burmese massage followed by a new cocktail at sunset. As promised we will have our dinner with our new restaurateur friend who will delight us with his local products.
Coming back to the guesthouse, we will book a last minute boat tour for the next morning.
DAY 20 – 03.31.2018
This morning, we leave the hotel at 8:00 toward our usual beach to board in a small local boat. On the program, a morning of traditional fishing, swimming and snorkelling that will end with a visit to Pearl Island. We will only fish two very small fish that we will take care to release, but we enjoyed the local fishing (with a wire) experience, even if you clearly have to be patient. This fishing technique has at least the advantage of not ravaging the seabed and remains well away from mass fishing. Fortunately the activity will soon give way to snorkeling, before the nausea prevails. We take a lot of pleasure to discover the seabed surrounding Pearl Island, although they are not a great wealth and health, we appreciate it for the moment and stay more than an hour dabbling in the warm waters.
A little stop on Pearl island, which is not incredible, for a drink on the white sand in front of the turquoise lagoon, then we return to our usual beach to find our friend restaurateur.
This one decides to take us on a tour of his family house, so we discover his house and meet one by one his family’s members. He is very proud to show us their way of life and their “organic” garden. His younger brother speaks a perfect English and we take great pleasure in discussing with him about the country evolution, the city and their own situation for the last 3 years and the tourist expansion in the area.
We will taste, again, dishes of choice, feet in the “Wave King” sand and will be really pampered. Then we will continue with our new habits in this place, for our last real day, on the spot with massage, bathing, idleness.
At the evening meal, our friend will give us a private concert of traditional music, we learn that he is a good musician and that he makes shows. We will have the right to a performance with classical music from 200 years ago, while going through the love song with its complicated history. A superb moment under the stars to close this beautiful last day.
DAY 21 – 04.01.2018
That’s it, the trip is coming to an end and our last day with our friends has arrived. This afternoon our paths will separate, Julie and Alex will take an internal plane to Yangon before taking their flight back to France. Us, we choose to take an ultimate bus to Yangon where we will spend one last day before the next destination.
However, we plan to take advantage of our little paradise until the last minute, so after we woke up relatively early and had breakfast we headed for the beach and our restaurant, now usual.
Last swim, last minutes of tanning, last Ice-tea housemade by our restaurant chef, then we exchange warm goodbye with our Burmese friend and his family before returning to our guesthouse.
It’s time to redo our bags, take a shower and take different way from our friends. They will take a taxi to the airport and we will head to the bus station for our transportation.
The rest of the day will be spent in a refrigerated bus even with a VIP comfort, direction Yangon. As always in Burma temperature differences between the bus at 13 °C and the climate at 33 °C will take the low health remained from us, and we will arrive on Yangon sick.
DAY 22 – 04.02.2018
We arrive at Yangon at 2:30 in the morning, this time it’s really early for a check-in. Despite it, after negotiating a taxi to the city center we decide to try a checkin to the Cherry guesthouse. This is the hotel we booked when we arrived, 20 days earlier, well located with a decent value. It’s 3 am when we ring the doorbell, we wake up the staff which was well asleep, but they still welcome us with a smile and without even negotiating they agree that we do the check-in for only one night, the one to come , not counting the current one. So we quickly take possession of the bedroom to finish our night.
When we return to the reception at 8:30, for breakfast and for the official bedroom registration, it’s the drama. Bastien lost his passport, probably forgotten on the bus.
Preparing for action, the hotel’s receptionist takes charge of contacting the bus company, they take our request into consideration and promise to call us back in an hour because they are currently too busy. As it is out of the question that we remain without moving, we catch a taxi towards the bus station. Reminding us that we are flying to Shanghai the next day and that our Burmese Visa will expire, we take note of the French ambassy address during the drive and emergency numbers. At the bus station, we are directed to the main office, then to another, we wait there 20 minutes and seeing that nothing is done, we repeat our explanations with some patterns, because the English level is not very hight here. Physically, we can not refind our bus from the past night, there are too many and we fear that it has already left. After a few calls and 10 minutes more, we see appear the driver assistant from our past trip, we explain our situation to him, he takes us to the bus, the passport is found. PHEW we are saved!
Again, we take the taxi in the opposite direction, the time we reach the downtown it’s noon, so we are driving to the modern shopping center, “Junction City“, which extends over several floors. We have lunch there and spend a good part of the afternoon shopping there before heading back to the guesthouse to rest. After the adrenaline fall from the morning, it is our health that catches up with us, we feel bad and feverish, the fridge bus of the past night must be guilty for something. We make a stop at the pharmacy then we decide to stay at the hotel quietly in order to be operational for the next day’s trip.
JOUR 23 – 03.04.2018
That’s it, the time has come for us to leave the country. We do not formalize, prepare quietly our bags before going to breakfast and find that it rains. Even the weather makes us understand that it’s time to say goodbye. The fact that we did not expect is that when it starts raining, it is not a little rain and very quickly the evacuation networks are saturated. When we leave the guesthouse the water comes to our ankles and the traffic is completely stopped. So no taxi wants to take us to the airport, the trip is too long for them considering the traffic and we receive sistematic refusal. So we got all drenched up, without a taxi with the clock turning in front of our eyes.
A little point of stress that the manager of the Cherry guesthouse will face bravely, we suddenly see him appear in front of us with umbrellas and then he leads us to the nearest avenue. The traffic is also almost at a standstill and we are all three to go in search of a taxi that will accept the race. We end up finding one and we climb in quickly by making the umbrellas to the guesthouse’s manager and thanking him warmly for his help.
The traffic is finally released as fast as the rain finally stop, that’s when we understand that the manager asked the driver to take us as quickly as possible, certainly for the sake that we do not miss the plane. So we had a special “fast & furious” trip and arrived well in advance at the airport, waiting for our next flight to Bangkok and then directly to Shanghai.
Myanmar has been a beautiful country to discover, welcoming as ever and still good in his human relationships. Of course the tourism expansion tends to distort the authenticity of future relationships, so we have lived our journey with great pleasure. The time we had on site allowed us to visit all the places we wanted to see without frustration, some deepen than others. The time of the year allowed us to enjoy fullness because the tourist affluence was at its lowest, however it is also in this season that the environment is the most arid. We have no regrets about the places visited and our exchanges with the locals were awesome over the entire stay. In short, we just loved it and I think we will not hesitate to go back there if the opportunity came to present, because it is a country with a big wisdom and elephant heart.