31 Dec Mingalaba to Myanmar (Burma)
Myanmar (a.k.a Burma)
1. Shwedegan Pagoda – Early arrival to Burma, we spent the day at the most iconic place in Myanmar, the Golden Pagodas. This was most definitely the biggest and beautifullest Pagoda’s we have ever seen. The place was full of local people coming to pray and many monks were there.
2. Day with a Monk – We met this monk at the Pagoda and he wanted to show us around as it was our first day. We followed him to a local place for lunch where they served up some delicious food. The monk only eats once a day in the morning, so he just sat there chewing on his beetle-nut. His teeth were completely ruined by thus nut. The local people buy this from every street corner and it has some sort of tobacco in there and gives them a buzz, but with the downside of bleaching their teeth red. Anyways, He then took us around to see other religious Buddhist spots around Yangon and told us many stories about his life. He was definitely a corrupted monk, who smokes, chews beetle-nut and drinks. The monk thought he was a professional photographer and was using our cameras to take photos of us.. unfortunately he must of been a but blind because half of the shots were missing parts of our head or the main attraction and just of us, we didn’t have the heart to tell him that his picture taking skills are awful.
3. Travelling Friend from 4 years ago catch up and “home stay” – I met a girl 4 years back when i trekked the Inca Trail in Peru and she had become a teacher. Somehow she landed herself a teaching job in Yangon, so we met up and she kindly let us stay at her place. Such an awesome time we had with Ashley and she knew the cool places for us to go to.. basically like our local tour guide. We repaid her with a lovely gift that is her favourite fruit… DURIAN!!!
5. Aqua Driving Range – Ashley recommended for us to go to the driving range, where the floodlit bays face a lake and you hit the lit up target in the lake. Something I’ve always thought would be a cool thing to do and what are the chances it’s hidden away in this Gem of a country. You can even get a ballgirl who sits next to the tee and puts the ball on it every time you make a stroke.
6. Random old school things – Below is a list of the things that are currently still happening in Myanmar.. it felt like being 20 years in the past.
a) Rolling buses / confused side driving – Not so long ago, the government decided to change the side of the road vehicles will drive on, so when looking at the cars you see that some are left handed drive and some are right handed drive.. how strange!! You also have buses which now have doors boarded up on side side and a new door created on the other side. Some buses haven’t taken that step yet, so you actually see people queuing in the middle of the road when the bus is about to arrive to hop on as the door is in the middle of the road now. The buses don’t stop, they just slow down to a pace where you can hop on.
b) Beetle juice chewers – Nearly every man you see has the most “amazing” teeth. Gleaming with dark red colours with the scent of beetle-nut, the look of vampires. They chew this stuff all day, everyday and spit it out constantly. The monk actually bought me some as Veron told him I love the stuff, so i felt obliged to give it a try. After about 30 seconds of chewing i was worried about my teeth and spat it out.
c) Internet and mobiles – Myanmar has had mobile service for a few years, however the only people who could afford to have a sim card were the rich and government officials. The cost of a PAYG sim card around 4 years ago was 1500 USD!! Yes you read that right.. One Thousand and Five Hundred United States Dollars!! Unbelievable. Before the 1st August this year, the cost dropped down to 150 USD and thankfully for us from the 1st August the new Norwegian suppliers cut a deal and the cost became 1 dollar 50. Now phone calls were good reception.. however internet.. now that’s another newbie that’s changing Myanmar and connecting then to the world. 3G was only launched of the 1st August! Yes that’s 3G not 4G or 5G.. just the standard 3G internet.
d) Credit card machines – only a few stores have got a credit card machine. The travel agents we went to for booking our train and bus tickets had just got a credit card machine a few weeks before. As we went to pay, the lady gathered her colleagues around to impress them (or i guess train them) on how the system works), we couldn’t believe it that they had only had this for a few weeks.
e) Itemising a store – Walking around the stores, whether big multifloor shops or small retailers, the staff were sitting there counting item by item and writing them down in a note pad. If you paid someone back home to do this, I think they would quit within a day. Then when you purchase one item, like the standard colgate toothbrush and Listerine i bought, the clerk would write this down in book and make note that this is what was sold and to take it off the stocklist. Definitely living in the past this place.
f) English language – Strangely the older generation can speak nearly perfect English, but the middle generation e.g. around 30’s age are not so great. The new generation are learning in school so they are going to be good English speakers. I think because the British ruled around 50 years back, and English was a more widely spoken language at this time, so the older generation learn’t in this period.
Fitting in with the locals – We thought it’d be a good idea to get some local clothes or temple attire as we were calling it to roam around all the villages and temples. I think the Myanmese appreciated it and we were getting compliments left, right and centre.
1. 17 Hour train journey – From Yangon to Mandalay, we opted to take the train as we heard it was a scenic route. We left early in the morning and arrived at the station with a random guy taking us to our seats. The train looked pretty old and we were definitely the only tourists on the train. Totally filled with local people, we sat down in our seats which had some padding on at least. Considering we just saw the last 4 carriages on the walk up and they were wooden benches, we really couldn’t complain. The train sets off and along the tracks we see men, women and children playing, walking with huge items on them across the tracks. Peering out the opened window or shall i call them shutters, we could see pure greenery everywhere. Lots of farming going on but clean fresh air and unspoiled beauty. The teaboy looked after us very well, albeit us being skeptical about the food, we still enjoyed some fried rice and tea. Around 11p.m. in the pitch black, Veron suddenly see’s a spark out the window. The train comes to a halt. The train attendees, driver and security guards all pull their flashlights out and take a walk to see whats happened. We stepped out to follow and we see a massive break of the link between two carriages. Sitting on the tracks in the pitch black in the middle of nowhere with the drivers all contemplating what to do. Then cleverly they get the idea to take the bolts out of the carriage for the restaurant, drive the train on the track next to it, drop the restaurant part out and then come back and re-attach the passenger carriages. Good thinkign on their feet i say. I did go outside the train to offer some light so they could hammer the train back together, but really i was there filming away on my cellphone.
2. 3 Seater motorbike taxi – We hired a local motorcycle taxi to take us around the area. We thought he was going to call his friend to get another bike so both of us could be on a bike each, but he opted to just make us both sit on his bike, So the three of us sitting on the small motorbike roaming around town. Not the most comfortablest but we got a pretty good deal and saw the main spots.
6. Mandalay Hill / Friendly Burmese Girl – Our last stop for the day was a sunset view from Mandalay Hill. We met these uni grads there who were wanting to practice their English with us, so we spent some time talking to them and watched the lovely sunset over Mandalay.
7. Local Bus Journey to Bagan – A bus journey that we was squashed onto with all the locals. it was so squashed that the aisle was blocked with people bringing their own plastic chairs on and lining up in the middle of the aisles, I don’t think thatts a safe thing to do but hay I guess it’s normal to them.
1. Three wheeler taxi – arriving at 3a.m. in Bagan bus station, we were offered to take a taxi or a three wheeler, The three wheeler was half the price so we went for that option. Now both of us thinking a three wheeler is going to be like a tuk tuk or a rickshaw… now this wasn’t the case in Bagan. We turned around the corner and there is this guy sitting on a bike with two seats attached, one facing forward and the other facing backwards. We just laughed and attached our luggage and sat down. The dude peddled this cycles for about 20 minutes in the pitch black to our guesthouse. A Lovely ride as there is no light pollution or sound, so you could enjoy the stars on a late night cycle journey.
2. Electric bicycle – One of the best ways to explore this city is by E-Bike. We hired these electronic powered bikes for the day, they were pretty cool as all you have to do is sit on the and go, Kind of like scooters but safer and slower. They have peddles just incase you run out of power, but we were going to make sure we headed back before that was going to happen.
4. Mt. Popa – Ashley arrived in Bagan to meet us for a day and we climbed up the stairs to the top of Mt.Popa. Along the climb there were dozens of mischievious monkeys trying to steal things, jumping on people.
5. Horse and Carriage to Airport – We saw some Hore and Carriages around the city for tours, but as we only had a short time remaining, we decided to take a Horse and Cart to the airport rather than a Taxi. Now i have never heard of or seen anyone ever pull up into an airport on a Horse and Cart.. well Bagan allows you to do it! What a funny and cool experience, we was on this horse for about 45 minutes to 1 hour and the horse seemed to get a bit tired. We ended up missing the check-in time, we explained that our horse was a bit slow to get here and it wouldn’t go any faster, so the women took sympathy on us and let us check in. Defiiately felt like we was wayy wayy back in the past in like a Cowboy film or something rocking up for our flight on a Horse and cart!! Who does that…?