A Travellerspoint blog

Day 21 - Yangon to Perth (via Singapore)

sunny 32 °C
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D-Day, Departure Day. Definitely the saddest day of every trip is to leave a fantastic country, with the friendliest people, greats sights, too many pagodas and malaria tablets (of more concern).

Breakfast is so early this morning, as I am to be at the airport by 0700. A sad farewell to my Aunty who is returning to the UK and the parents who will be flying back to Perth later in the day.

I thought I would try and sum up the trip with a few of the most frequently asked questions I was asked when I arrived back in Perth:-

What was your favourite thing about Myanmar?
The People and the Culture. This is magnificent to see and experience as I found it was still relatively fresh as the Country has only opened its boarders recently. You feel like to get to experience true, untouched Myanmar, and the Myanmar People are some of the friendliest folk around.

What was the most impressive sight?
The Pagodas/Stupas throughout Bagan, it’s impossible to choose just one as there are literally thousands. A preference goes out to the one that have not been covered in gold leaf I must say. I hope Myanmar’s restorative efforts to not see the historic archaeological, ancient temples turn into impressive modern monuments.

What would you not do if you had your time again?
The day trip to Kakku (3 hours from Inle Lake) and the Pa-O village. I did enjoy the destination, however a 3 hour drive each way felt a bit like a waste of a day. Would have loved to spend it cycling around Inle Lake.

What was the most amusing thing from your time there?
I absolutely loved the lady selling bananas from the shore to people taking the boat ride from Bagan to Mandalay. Seeing the hands of bananas thrown up and then patrons trying to throw scrunched up money down without getting the paper notes wet or floating away down river. I was such a perfect sales tactic. A closer runner up would be seeing huge bags of fresh produce being shoved through train windows on the Yangon Circle Route.

Best tip for travel?
Dont make amendments to any of the items on menus. In our experience the dishes do not come out tasting good. Trust the chefs to make their home countries dishes to perfection. Also, if your coffee mad, be prepared to have powdered milk and 3 in 1 instant coffee for a lot of your travels.

Where would have you liked to spend more time?
Inle Lake, I felt a bit rushed having 3 days and 3 nights. Would have loved to spend more time cycling the lake and back streets. Time can be sacrificed from your Stay in Yangon which I think with some relatively careful planning you could get done in 3 - 4 days (not including any day trips to Golden Rock (Kyato).

Was it really cheap?
In country expenses I found were very cheap, such as food, beer, drinks, sight-seeing, tours etc. I think over the 3 weeks i spend a little over $650USD. However, compared to the rest of South East Asia, accommodation is overpriced for what you get. I think this will improve as more tourist accommodation is constructed (a lot of development was happening in 2013.

Shopping, any good?
I try not to shop too much, but I couldn’t help buying longees (man skirts). My one regret was not finding a neck ring, worn by the hill tribes to extend the length of your neck, although would one have sufficed? Not sure.

Best Food? It is very hard to decide where the best food in Myanmar is as it’s so diverse dependant on the Country closest to the City you are in. Street Food everywhere was delicious, the freshness and the fact that you watch it get made adds to the experience. The Mutton Curry in Bagan was pretty hard to beat as best sit down meal. Worst food would be the cold chicken curry we had in Mandalay.

Regrets? Not going longer, could have easily stayed twice as long and explored a bit off the beaten track. Furthermore, would have like to be a little more independent, rather than being driven around (my pet hate is drop off - pick up sightseeing) but the compromises we make for family.

In conclusion, Myanmar is a definite RECOMMENDED travel destination.

Posted by lee_1986 20:19 Archived in Myanmar Tagged lake bagan burma mandalay yangon myanmar inle faqs Comments (0)

Day 20 - Yangon

sunny 36 °C
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Okay so I would just like to start out by saying, 5 – 6 days is probably too long to stay in Yangon. Whilst it is a beautiful City, it is very much a City of limited attractions and today for the last few days we have been stretching out the sightseeing. On reflection I should have booked an overnight trip to Bago to see Kyato (Golden Rock).

No that, that is said, todays happenings.

Today is my last full day in Myanmar, and am happy to have a relatively relaxing day and early night before tomorrow’s flight. We leave the hotel late today (mostly arranging and repacking my bags). The first destination is the Yangon Zoological Gardens. We were all quite concerned about going, as we were not sure about the animal welfare in a developing country. But once arriving, my fears were alleviated (for the most part). The big cats whilst looked a little thin had plenty of room, food and water in their enclosures (maybe animals in Australia are too well fed).

I was especially excited to see Hippopotamus’ as I have not been able to see these. All around the Zoo you can buy treats (Asian Greens for the Hippo’s and Bread and nuts for the bears and monkeys). The Hippos are amazing watching them get in and out of their pools to come and get food. The bears were a little more aggressive fighting each other for the bread (which made me thing they were a little too hungry). But reading the information, it mentions that all the bears in the facility are rescue bears, used as entertainment in Myanmar and surrounding countries.

After leaving the Yangon Zoo (which only cost us $2AUD entry per person, I embark on a leisurly stroll to the Peoples Square and Park which had a great view of the Shwedagon Pagodo, which we say a few days earlier. It was nice to sit around and soak up the atmosphere on my last day in Myanmar. Tomorrow, sadly I head back to Perth, Australia.

Posted by lee_1986 19:02 Archived in Myanmar Tagged park zoo yangon myanmar shwedagon Comments (0)

Day 19 - Yangon

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Up very late this morning, probably the first real sleep in I have had since departing Perth, but I think it was well overdue.
Today the family are heading to the Governor’s Residence (my most dreaded activity of the whole trip). This is essentially a expensive, albeit fancy and beautiful hotel, sigh. Apparently people go just to sit in the hotel and have coffee so they can say they saw it. Definitely Not My Thing!

Once we arrive, you can instantly tell, I do not belong somewhere like this on holiday. Underdressed, hair not done, sweat from walking around and experiencing the real Myanmar, so I decline coffee and take a walk around the streets. The location of the Belmond Governor’s Residence is in quite an affluent area of Yangon and is spattered with every embassy you can imagine.

Walking around the streets you get a different perspective on a way of life I had not yet seen in Myanmar. About a 10 minute walk I pass the International School Yangon (where I assume the children of embassy workers are educated. It was around midday and I could see the students leaving to head out for lunch.

I walk past one of the street vendors and hear people yelling at me. The teachers there also are on their break and strike up conversation as I walk past. I am invited to eat with them, which consisted of Rice and a tomato puree spiced sauce, was simple but quite delicious. The conversation revolved around, education in Australia, English Curriculum (which I was no help – English was always by worst subject at school), and how the new government is improving education in Myanmar with free schooling and university. The teachers there have some of the best English of anywhere we have been so far, and I must say I was quite touched to be asked to join for lunch. As their break ended they seemed genuinely surprised I stopped to talk to them. This is something I would suggest everyone try to do as it was a really education experience to hear about the emerging Myanmar from its educators.

After walking around for a short while longer, I meet up with the rest of the family and head back into the City centre for dinner and to track down the famous Burmese Balachaung (Dried Shrimp Paste) which has eluded us all trip. We head down to walk along 17th and 19th Street which is what can be best described as an eclectic mix of markets and artisans from every corner of Asia. After scouting out for around an hour, we find a lovely lady selling Balachaung and every other paste, spice, and nut under the sun. She is definitely the funniest local I have met. She lets us try nearly everything and makes fun of the faces I pull, when trying the spicy (hot) condiments – I stayed strong but required so much water afterwards.

This constituted dinner for me as the stomach was not feeling the best today. Walking around the markets late into the evening give new appreciation to electrician work in Myanmar as cables are perfectly hoisted about head height and the intricacy of the coils and cross overs provides beautifully lit street stalls.

Posted by lee_1986 18:47 Archived in Myanmar Tagged markets yangon balachaung governorsresidence Comments (0)

Day 18 – Yangon (side trip to Mingaladon)

sunny 37 °C
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Today, marks the day of the one stop I was very keen to visit, the Taukkyan War Memorial and Cemetery. Not for any particularly sentimental reason, but rather for an historical experience and to understand the impact World War 2 had on Myanmar.

My mother, fled post was Burma (in the 1940’s part of British India) as a child in the 1950’s in the midst of political uncertainty and Burma’s ever growing list of limitations placed on the populations rights. Limiting its international exposure to unstable economy, political unrest was then Burma’s way of preventing further world leading countries intervention.

But, back to the trip up to Mingaladon via taxi, which took approximately 1 hour. I would suggest that you ask the taxi driver to stay as it was difficult to procure a taxi for the trip back into Yangon.

The memorial and cemetery are kept in pristine condition and the graves of the soldiers that rest here are cleaned and polished every other day. The pillars with the names of the fallen whose bodies were never recovered or identified are deeply moving and a reminder of the immense loss war causes. What is heartening to see is there is no segregation of nationalities, and plaques are scattered with Burmese, Indian, Nepalese, British, Australian and New Zealand Troops in amongst each other.

The trip back to Yangon is quietly reflective. Following our visit we head to a sentimental sight for my family. Saint Mary’s Cathedral. This is the place where my Mother and Aunty’s were baptised. It was nice to hear the story of who my Grandfather would come to this very place and pray to have a son and ended up with 3 daughters. The Cathedral has beautifully maintained wooden carved pews and seeing the sun light up the stained glass windows adds an completely other dimension to this place.

Following an emotionally draining day, we head out to one of our favourite (and only recurring) restaurants of our trip for dinner. We can sit on the outdoor balcony, order drinks and just relax for the rest of the evening until tomorrow.

Posted by lee_1986 17:55 Archived in Myanmar Tagged memorial cathedral yangon cemetary war Comments (0)

Day 17 - Yangon (again)

sunny 33 °C
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After a relatively relaxing day yesterday ‘meandering’ from one place to another, shot out of the gates early this morning, skipped breakfast, but consumed my first cup of brewed coffee in 10 days.

The one thing about Myanmar that concerns me is the lack of freshly brewed coffee (first world problems I know). However, after surviving on instant 3 in 1 packets (milk powder, sugar and what loosely resembles coffee) with luke warm water, I was pretty desperate for a nice cup.

Anyways a few coffees later and I have all the energy in the world to tackle, a walk around the beautiful Inya Lake, the largest of the lakes in Yangon. I thought we had got there early but so many locals had already arrived for their morning exercise, which made the walk even more special being able to chat and smile with the every friendly people of Myanmar. This is the one this I have noticed with consistency, everyone, absolutely everyone we have met in Myanmar could not do enough to help us, chat or just through a smile our way, definitely a candidate for friendlies nation.

There we some beautiful views, and lunch will have to be had looking at them. We choose a restaurant right on the water’s edge, with its Milk Crate décor and extremely low tables, its what I will describe as quaint. However, the food is amazing and could not be topped, perfect combination between spice and sweetness.

From Inya Lake and Gardens, we hop a taxi to the Shwedagon Pagoda which is the most impressive man made landmark in Yangon and you can practically see its gold leave dome from everyone corner of the City.
We are told that as the sun sets over the Swedagon Pagoda, the gold leaf domes really starts to shine. So after a few escalators up we are greeted by its magnificence. The one thing that puts a slight damper on things is the strobe light, Christmas lights, or fairy lights that they place around the heads on the effigies and statues of Buddha, it’s almost looks like he has dressed for a rave (or for the kids and grandparents – a disco).

As the sun sets, something unexpected happens, what I can only describe as stadium light turn on and shine down on the gold roof lighting it up (so not really the sun setting then) which is a shame because the lights really ruin any photos you can take, unless like the pro’s you scouted a great location beforehand.

With the sun set and things getting dark we head off for dinner and retire for another night.

Posted by lee_1986 01:13 Archived in Myanmar Tagged pagoda yangon shwedagon inyalake Comments (0)

Day 16 - Inle Lake to Yangon

semi-overcast 33 °C
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It’s the first day of December, but no wintery northern hemisphere weather her in Inle Lake which provides another beautiful sunrise to go with our canal view from both the Villa and Restaurant.

Another beautiful breakfast spread at the hotel and we are jet setting back to Yangon which ends up taking most of the day I would definitely recommend staying at Viewpoint Lodge and Fine Cuisines if anyone makes it to Inle Lake.

I am used to usually booking red eye flights which save money on accommodation and maximises exploration time, but when you travel with family this goes out the window and most of the day is spent at the airport, flying, and getting taxi’s back to the hotel.

After a long day of what I will choose to call ‘meandering around’ for the lack of interesting events contained within this timeframe, I elect to write the rest of the afternoon off to go snack shopping, eating, and retiring to the hotel for much needed sleep.

Posted by lee_1986 01:07 Archived in Myanmar Tagged hotel flight lake yangon inle recommendation Comments (0)

Day 15 - Inle Lake (Side trip to Kakku)

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Up early this morning for another enormous breakfast provided by the hotel - starts with 2 different juices papaya and pineapple, yogurt with fruit, fruit platter, Parma ham and Swiss cheese, 4 different types of pastry, soup of the day, samosas, and tea and coffee after stuffing my face we take the 2.5 hour drive to Kakku where we are to see the Pa-O village and a collection of around 1200 stupas. After a long drive we arrive at our destination an are treated to the view of these 1200 stupas.'its amazing to see the shear quantity of the stupas which were built some 2000 years ago.

After walking through the stupas and hearing the guide take us through we stop for lunch - the menu has no prices but there is nothing else around so we order. When we ask for the bill - it seems like the just make up the prices as they go along and it costs me 5000 kyats or 5AUD for a soup!

After this we drive to the Pa-O village - we are taken to is old ladies house and are shown all the vegetables and dried chillis that she grows. She laughs with us even though she speaks no English and it's just nice to see someone that lives so simply be so happy with life. She shows her kitchen to us and see how spare and simple it is make me think that I could never cook in something so basic as wood fire and Calderon.

After the visit I brace myself for the 3 hour journey back to the hotel. We arrive back and head in for a walk around the small lake town. We stop at a cocktail bar and order a margarita, piña colada and tequila sunrise - never will u do that again the cocktails are horrible and we have a good laugh but they just haven't got making cocktails right yet half because of the mix and half because of the lack of order ingredients.

We retire to the hotel balcony for some coffee and honey cookies as we wait for tomorrow mornings flight to Yangon.

Posted by lee_1986 01:27 Archived in Myanmar Tagged lakes burma pagoda inle_lake myanmar stupa Comments (0)

Day 14 - Inle Lake (Side trip to Kalaw)

sunny 34 °C
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Today adventure takes us to the town of Kalaw and onto the the Green hills elephant park.

The short stop in the town of Kalaw is quite beautiful and we head to a tea house to stop and get some coffee the ladies are so sweet and pour us some green tea as a gift for coming to their shop - we tip big! The coffee is nice and piping hot so very happy.

The trekking to the green hills elephant park drop off point is reached and we meet our guide to take us on our trek. We are told that the trek takes about 2 hours and the heat is already exhausting. We start walking through a little village where we stop and use what seems to be the oldest outhouse in Myanmar. We go through the fields and the path is barely wide enough for my shoulders to get through. We cascade down through the jungle down many steep hills and steps cross ravines and over bamboo bridges.

As we reach our destination after only 1 hour and 15 minutes we a met by a lovely pool of water along the river. The guides give us some pants to wear for the aching of the elephants. Two elephants slowly meander down the river and lay down in the pool of water as is by routine. We are given coconut husks and wade into the water to help scrub down the elephants it's funny that even though their skin is 1.5 inches thick you can tell they enjoy the washing as their skin is that sensitive. We then get to ride on the elephants shoulders back to the camp for their lunch. We feed the 7 elephants their banana lunch.

After that amazing experience we settle in to for the 2 hour drive back to Nyung Shwe and then our hotel in Inle Lake.

Posted by lee_1986 01:23 Archived in Myanmar Tagged mountains lakes temple elephant burma inle_lake myanmar Comments (1)

Day 13 - Inle Lake

overcast 28 °C
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Back on the boats again this morning to take a trip to the 5 day markets as we arrive there are so many people pulling up their canoes trying to sell stuff to you it's quite harassing for the boat driver to move between them but ends up just hitting them with the bow out of the way. The 5 day markets used to be floating but now due to the tourists are on land and are filled with stalls that sell crap as opposed to the thriving fruit, vegetable and spice markets they used to be. We finally arrive at the fresh food markets and see many Pa-oh ladies buying groceries. Everyone is friendly and let's us try things along the way to see what the many spices taste like.

Leaving the markets we head to the Indien Archeological site which has the old huts and dam that the village constructed it's quite good to see this untouched area to see how villages used to live.

We go to the floating village and gardens on Inle Lake to see the Intha people also knows as the sons of the lake. The village is built in the middle of the lake and they get from place to place by wooden canoe. The village is amazing and the way people live having pigs and chickens where there is no dry land. All the homes are on stilts and allow for the lake to rise and drop with the seasons.

A canoe trip through the Nampan village shows you the floating gardens which the main crop is tomatoes - these gardens supply 60% of all the tomatoes in Myanmar and it's amazing that these gardens move around by floating the lake. The men rowing the canoes use the traditional Leg rowing technique where they balance on one leg and move the oar with the other while standing on the tip of the canoe.

The hour and a half journey back to the hotel has wiped me out and a nice coffee on the balcony suits me before bed.

Posted by lee_1986 00:32 Archived in Myanmar Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises lakes burma buddha pagoda inle_lake myanmar Comments (0)

Day 12 - Mandalay to Inle Lake

semi-overcast 29 °C
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The morning starts early as so many have, as we arrive at the airport for our flight to Inle Lake. Before the plane get to full flight we are already coming back down and the flight takes a whole 45 minutes.

Upon arrival at our beautiful hotel we have a coffee and drink as we wait for check in. Our guide suggests that while we wait we go to the nunnery where he teaches them English in his spare time. We take a walk through this lake town and are greeted by nuns in pink robes it's really quite a sight with their shave heads and gowns. The nuns are very hospitable and we talk to the head nun who tells us about the place and the work they do. She goes to the back of the cupboard and get the nice biscuits for us and some oranges and green tea. We leave the nunnery and leave a donation as they have been so hospitable to us.

We now are heading to the motor boats to take a ride on the lake - it's is vast and magnificent and you can see the nature preservation and along the banks and the fisherman rowing in their traditional one leg style. They all have fantastic balance and I still don't have my sea legs yet an still stumbling on and off the boat.

We have stopped at the normal touristy stops including a silversmiths, weaving factory, metal work factory, paper and umbrella which was only interesting because they had the women with the elongated necks because they place one ring per year for 25 years around they necks. The guide explains to us that where they life there are tigers and the males were able to fight off he tigers bet the women old not. Since they had no way to defend themselves and tigers attack for the neck they covered their neck with brass rings. The women who is weaving is kind and funny an jokes with us and shows us how she takes it off at the bottom to sleep. We then boat to the cigar making factory - this is the most interesting factory to date. The rate at which these women roll cigars is incredible to say the least. They make 100 cigars per hour and we time one lady at 24 second per cigar. It is truly amazing how much hard work they do.

After this we take the 1.5 hour boat journey back to the hotel for dinner where we feast on Curry and Myanmar wine which tastes great and is locally grown in one of two wineries that supply to the whole of Myanmar and export to China.

Retire to bed after a nice evening on the balcony looking over the water.

Posted by lee_1986 23:28 Archived in Myanmar Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises burma mandalay inle_lake myanmar Comments (0)