Arrival in Burma
We are finally arrived in Yangon.
The airport is not very big. I notice that it is possible to make a visa on the spot and that it was finally not really worth stressing in France. Next door, a sign with a strange picture attracts our tired eyes. This is an image to prevent the harmful effects of smoking; it is rather ignoble this representation of the human body with all the diseases related to tobacco … that it’s beautiful arrival!
We pass customs without much difficulty.
We have to take a taxi to get to the bus terminal. There are plenty of touts waiting outside. We find a taxi stand at the airport and decide to go to this one to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
The trip will last about thirty minutes during which we can see small shops, very simple houses, and above all, poverty. I watch people. Women and some men have yellow-colored faces and almost all wear skirts. I wonder what that thing is that they paint on their faces. The skirts are ” longyis ”: they are traditional clothes. Men and women wear them.
We arrive at the terminal. Two ladies stand behind a counter outlet. The place is dark and airy. There are metal benches on which some people are waiting, including a tourist (I suppose he is a tourist because he is white …), just under the old fan. One of the two ladies gives us stickers with the bus number and our seat.
We decide to go exploring the neighborhood and leave our staff to the bus station. It is really warm outside, I think we will have heavy rain shortly! The place is dirty, there is a lot of noise, black smoke, we are quickly covered with dust. Until then I’m not too surprised, it’s Asia! We do not come across a lot of tourists; people smile at us. We understand quickly that we should be really careful while crossing the streets.The cars have rudders on the right and roll on the right, people do not flash but hoot to announce that they arrive where they double, they go in all directions and darken.The sky becomes dark and it is very hot and humid. I thought we were in the dry season!Around the bus terminal it is very poor and very dusty. There are all kinds of shops. People seem to wonder why tourists hang around here; but they are still very nice.
We return to the bus agency … more than 4 hours to wait in the small office where flies come around us, attracted by our good smell of sweat, and mosquitoes taste some European blood. Electricity cuts from time to time, allowing us to hear the sound of torrential rain outside.
There too I see people with these marks on their faces. I start and try to find out what it is. People do not understand me right away and then finally catch what I’m talking about. We laugh. It’s “thanaka”: it’s bark powder from a tree. People apply this powder mixed with water, to protect their skin from the sun, to maintain it but also to wear makeup.
Overnight bus to Bagan
That’s it! I thought I would collapse with fatigue but that will not be the case; I did not close the night’s eye. I had the impression that the driver was driving a Ferrari on a circuit.
The buses are not bad at all. We booked on the internet a seat “2 + 1”. It means two people, the corridor, a person. So, more room.
Once inside we are asked 10400 kyt more. We do not understand why, but we pay … real tourists!
Comfort is there: room for the buttocks and legs, reclining seats, clean blankets provided, small TV (well, not the choice of the film, but it’s still nice). From the start, a young man comes to give us a little box with a sandwich and a cake (it does not give a lot to be honest), and a drink. The lights go out and it’s gone for 9 hours to Nyaung-U, next to Bagan.
The bus will stop two or three times to take pee and eat pauses. These are types of highway areas where all buses stop. It’s friendly and the toilets are clean. Phew!
Arrival in Nyaung-U and visit of Mont Popa
It is 5:30 in the morning, we come head in the shoe polish. Quentin slept well. Not me, so I’m a chouilla likely due to a lack of sleep since leaving France.
As is often the case in this kind of place, taxi drivers are already on hand to offer their services.
The city is a few kilometers from the bus terminal. We decided to go by cart convinced that it would save us a lot of money but in the end we will save a few cents and lose a lot of time! But hey it was still fun. The cart is not very comfortable, we try to make sure not to fall on the road. We sit on a kind of big soft mattress. The horse takes his time, his rider is quiet. The sun is rising and people greet us as we cross each other. Cyclists laugh while passing us, while vans, scooters and cars pass us by honking ten times before, during and after.
We arrive at the hotel at least a good half hour later. Just arrived the driver of the cart offers a van to go to Mount Popa at 9am. We expected to go there and it seems to make us a fair price. So we accept, especially that having arrived super early we can start the visits and not waste time on our program.
The guest house is run by a little lady with glasses wearing a longyi. At first sight it seems a little authoritarian, but still dynamic and smiling. I begin to ask her fifty questions but she will cut me off quickly making me subtly understand that here we must relax and start the day properly without stress. She will suggest us to have breakfast (gratos !!), to shower and to go to the toilet (thank you !!!); then give us all the information we just wanted after disclosing our identity! The people working in this guest house are very kind and helpful, it makes us happy after all this long trip. They are all listening, they speak an understandable English. The rooms are clean and the breakfast generous. Perfect to start a great trip!
The driver of the van for Mount Popa arrives. The trip will last 1h30. Well, first big disappointment … it looks great from below, this temple perched on top of a lava hill; but in fact all along the climb of the 799 steps one is almost afraid to become epileptic! There are prayer rooms on the right and on the left with super kitsch decorations! the buddhas have lights that shine in all directions and colorful spots we burn the retina … basically nothing very clean …
The entrance to the site is free but there are several people in each prayer room, and behind counters where people can slip money. People come here to pray and are therefore a little obliged to make “donations”; So it must be expensive for them at the end of the day!
Returning to the van we visit a site with kinds of Buddhas that we had never seen before: some kind of old and skeletal Buddhas, and other statues with harsh air and not very welcoming.
Okay, it’s expensive but hey, we only live once, do not we? and will we come back here one day? maybe not, because there are so many other places to visit in the world! We booked on Bagan Balloon’s website (to finally learn that it’s the same family that runs the other companies).
The awakening was a bit difficult, the van picking us up at 5am. While waiting in the lobby of the hotel we realize that employees were sleeping on uncomfortable chairs, in positions that give me pain in the spine just to watch them. They do not seem very disturbed by the noises of some tourists who do not care about what is happening around them.
The van arrives, we are not the only ones to have been tempted by this adventure. A young Burmese welcomes us after having checked our name and the company we are passing by to check it out. The road to the balloons will last well 20 minutes time to get other tourists back to their hotel, all the head in the polish and silent.
Arrived on the site, tables are organized so that we can have breakfast. Incredible, we eat … croissants! we are so hungry (at least I’m hungry) that we do not find them bad. There are two servers per table that can not do enough for their guests. A little further to the right another table is organized with the pilots of hot air balloons. Headlamp lit, they seem to prepare their way seriously.
I thought we’d already be in the air before the sun came up, but in fact we only took off at dawn, which disappointed me a bit, I must admit.
The pilots divide their tourists and we are entitled to a small debriefing on the safety rules.
Seeing the hot air balloons swell and sit up was impressive. Once ours is ready, we embark in the basket with our English driver, Nick, happy to get laid with us!
The takeoff is fast, he just magner two small controllers to control and play with gas and flame. It is hot to die, however, it must send flames inside the balloon to go up and down, and we are just below.
Here, after a few seconds, we are there, above the temples. The site is impressive, everything looks so tiny. We feast on this fantastic show. Seeing other hot air balloons all around makes the show even more beautiful.
My heart beats at an hour because it’s today that I decided to propose Quentin. I’ve been hiding my little box for a long time hoping he did not notice anything. I’m going for it. I give it to him. He looks happy but does not pick up what it is … I feel like he takes me for a bit with my little gifts. He’s having trouble opening it and I think he reads everything I’ve written quickly. When he opened the little box and smiled seeing the pictures he smiled and kissed me. I ask him then, ” you read? ”, He answers me no (disappointment but I suspected it actually), and suddenly he hastens to reread and finally understands … ” is this? do you want to marry me? ” … ” bin yes ”. I’m happy. We enjoy the rest of the trip.
The trip will end 45 minutes later. We are landing on the other side of the city. A new table was prepared to welcome us and to have another breakfast with this time some fruit, homemade cake (we will realize in another city that it was not a house actually …) and, from champagne (that’s cool, champagne at 8am)
Back at the hotel, it’s time for breakfast! so we resume another breakfast, the third of the morning, before taking a big nap (finally me only).
After which we decide to visit the main temples. We rent an e-bike (electric scooter). Quentin being a little scared (me too but I pretend to master … but he is not fooled) it’s me who takes orders. At first it is not obvious, the weight of two people makes the scooter difficult to handle. But hey, we get there!
The temples are beautiful; Quentin had made a selection (yes because I was really lazy to read everything on all the temples) of those that should not be missed.
It is stifling outside and the ground is hot. We have to take off our shoes before entering all the temples and sometimes we jump so much our feet are hot.
We meet monks in some, so it makes the show even more mystical.
After several hours of walking, the scooter begins to lose some energy. We do not worry too much … for the moment. Quentin would like to see the sunset in a tower. We are trying to go there. We are wrong on the way and we come across Belgians who tell us the temple where we are and a good place to see it, and that there will soon be a lot of people. We do not have much time but decide to go to the tower … bad idea! The path we think is good is sandy. It is therefore difficult for us to ride, especially as our scooter goes to two at a time … So we decide to go back and see the sunset at the top of the temple from which we came. The site has already been invaded by many tourists! we hurry up and find a place to wait. There are only young people of our age, many of whom are francophones. So it’s funny to listen to people’s conversations; some are quite pretentious. After 45min of waiting, the sun begins to set, we expect to see a great show with the view of these temples in front of us. And bin no! a cloud decides to stand in front of the sun at the wrong time! we do not wait for the end and decide to leave because we are afraid to drive the night with the scooter that starts to let go …
We put a lot of time to “move forward” … Quentin wanted to drive but he’s out of luck he can not pick up speed. At times I walk next to save a little energy. Our goal is to arrive at least to the main road so we can call our guest house from someone’s phone. Finally arrived on the main road, we decide to ask for help because we think we are not able to reach the hotel. Very nice puppet merchants want to help us and call the hotel for us. An employee should come to help us very quickly … in 5 minutes. Half an hour later, or 5 minutes Burmese later, here he is with a great scooter he tells us to take, he will return turtle on ours.
Arrived at the hotel, we must take a mini van to go to Pakokku and spend the night there. We spotted an inn in the guide and think of going there. We are about to leave, and say goodbye and thank you to the boss of the hotel but she tells us that she comes with us and she found us accommodation for the night. Well it’s cool, we like the policy of least effort so we do not flinch. Two of his employees are coming with us too. We went to Pakokku under escort. The journey is fast, it will only last 45 minutes. It’s dark outside, we can not see anything. On the other hand we pass on a bridge which was built hardly 6 years ago to facilitate the circulation, to save time, and to allow people to be able to reach the city without having to load everything on wobbly boats.
Arrived in Pakokku, the lady takes us to a hotel that her brother advised her (it smells like shit but we do not care a bit). She tells us that if we are not satisfied she will find us another (super nice of him!). She negotiates the room for 30000 kyt. She makes it clear to the manager of the hotel that we want to go to Mindat at the first hour tomorrow morning and that he should find us a means of transport. She leaves with her colleagues, leaving us her card and telling us not to hesitate to contact her if we need.
We were really surprised by the kindness of the people we met in Bagan. As long as it lasts!
From Pakokku to Mindat
The van comes to pick us up in front of the hotel half an hour late; it will be complete and we will be the only tourists in it.
The manager of the hotel seemed a bit embarrassed during the wait and called the van driver several times. He was trying to talk to us, I must say that I asked him tons of questions (to change). He will gaggle some understandable answers in his approximate English.
We are in the back, right on the wheel. We thought to sleep a little … well no! the van has shock absorbers really rotten !!! we spend our time jumping at every hollow and every bump. It is therefore impossible for us to close our eyes for 5 minutes … There is at least one advantage despite fatigue: we can admire the landscape (even the eyes half closed).
We pass in Pakokku; it looks like it’s a pretty big city. There are several temples, markets and all kinds of shops.
The road we take is very beautiful. We see people working their land under a blazing sun, buffaloes pulling carts to plow the fields, we pass through small lively villages and then we take winding roads in the mountains.
We will only make one stop to eat and put our brain back to the place! We buy green bananas (we thought it was the same we had eaten the other days). I very much want to eat rice, so we sit in the restaurant where other travelers are sitting. The lady next to us is served heaps of dishes, it is said that she must have a hungry wolf! The waitress takes our order; she asks me to come and choose the coffee. I’m here and she tells me (we’ll understand later) not to eat the bananas we just bought because they are not good, and eat his, which are yellow and she tries to put in my hands for 5 minutes … I turn to Quentin to tell him but, seeing his head, I quickly understand that he tasted them and that indeed, they are not good … we eat so the Yellow bananas from the waitress who is laughing. We are the only tourists so a little attraction of the day.
I would like to order some white rice but I ended up asking for rice with chicken. It’s not one, but at least ten dishes that are served to us! we taste everything. Most are good. I reject myself on the broth that I liked the most and there I realize that there were visitors in the dish and that in fact it looks like it’s a broth of ants … I do not finish it so not … and Quentin either.
We take the road and our bottoms would suffer another two hours before arriving at destination.
On the road we see people breaking rocks to be able to tarmac the road which is muddy. They work in horrible conditions, under the dust and under the stifling heat.
We arrive at Mindat around half-past twelve. We had not booked accommodation but Quentin had spotted a guest house on a blog. We decide to go there, with a little luck we will have a room for the night.
People in the street are laughing at us: two whites loaded like mules, who do not really know which way to go.
Mindat seems to us like what we could call “village-street”, with green mountains all around.
We arrive at the guest house Se Naing, after asking different people, one of whom told us how to pronounce it well. We are lucky we can stay two nights! We have a room and share the toilet and the shower (one piece). Right next to our room there is a small recess where tourists discuss with their future guide the next day. This small recess is decorated with … paintings and statues of Jesus. It’s very kitsch!
We walk in the city. Well, it does not break three legs to a duck … on the spot I regret a little. Then, we see what we came for: women with tattooed faces. There are many. They are all over the age of 50, the government having banned this practice. Hence our arrival in Chin Mountain. It gives me a little smile. By cons, photo level I dare not ask, I feel like stealing a little from her, and being a bit like a zoo. It makes me very uncomfortable.
At the end of our walk we hear some music. We decide to go take a look. Many people are gathered at the corner of the street, the cars are stopped, and in the distance we see young people dancing to the sounds of drums. They have knives that they hold firmly and seem to make figures with. We get closer, a man comes towards us and makes a sign as if someone is sleeping. I did not realize right away that he meant we were attending a funeral ceremony. In front of me the widow was crying on her husband’s coffin, a wooden coffin. Her face was tattooed, like some of the women who accompanied her in her grief. The dancers continued to stir the air with their knives. People seemed intrigued by our presence. Not feeling in our place we decided to return to the guest house.
The lady who runs the hotel (again!) Calls us a guide for our next day trek. She knows one that is much cheaper than the one whose ad is hanging in its entrance (this is strange at once). We meet him shortly after in our little salon ” made in Jesus ”. He is young and stammering English too. We “negotiate” a hike in the mountains for $ 30 each.
The next day we leave for several hours of hiking in Chin Mountain with our kind guide, Joseph (not very Burmese like name …). He is not very tall, the complexion is very dark, dressed in kawé, jeans and sandals. Joseph learned English in India, and dreams of moving to Singapore to study and work. He will explain that it is very difficult for him to obtain a visa without having a job offer. He too had the right to answer fifty questions …
The mountains are beautiful; the forest surrounds us, we hear insects and unknown birds.
On our way we meet lots of villagers. Our guide takes us to a traditional bamboo house. We are lucky enough to talk to an old gentleman who lets us contemplate his place of life. Joseph tells us that, in general, a whole family lives in the same house, and that it may happen that sons sleep with their mother, and fathers with their daughter. On the spot (and even afterwards) we find it a little unreal and horrible … do you realize if you sleep with your father or your mother? We also learn that girls can start getting married and have children around the age of 14, and that in this part of Burma, men are considered superior to women, but that is starting to change.
A few minutes later a pretty old lady with a tattooed face enters the house. This is one of the gentleman’s two wives. Men are supposed to have only one woman, but this one seems like a little lucky guy. She is very friendly and tells us that her tattoos were made to follow the tradition in her village. We stay together for a moment and then she gives me the right to take a picture, but she wants to wear her traditional clothes and jewelry. I’m really happy, I take pretty pictures. We give them 1000 kyt, it’s not much in the end but for them it’s huge; they look happy. The visit continues to another family. Our guide asks if we can take the grandma to the pipe in photo. She accepts, but she too wants to change.
A family member is very happy and wants to show us his traditional outfit with his knife and crossbow. Quentin and our guide have fun wearing these clothes (especially the guide because Quentin looks super stuck in clothes …). We all laugh together; the first granny finds us also to laugh. At first I do not feel that they see many tourists go hiking. We have a good time and then go back to walk. We meet many children who smile at us, laugh, say hello and goodbye jumping and shouting with joy (” tata !!! ” … if only my niece did the same!). We stop to have a latte at a smiling lady’s house; his children are happy and play with us. She looks young, and has her last baby on her back. The two other kids seem to be two years old and are very happy to have a little animation.
The road continues, our guide discusses with the people of the other villages while we observe their place of life and the landscapes. The end of our road will be in front of a waterfall, then we will turn back towards Mindat.
On the return we will stop in a school perched on a slope, in front of the house where we had a snack. We enter a class where a girl, who seems to be our age, tries to teach English to a small group of children. The children are a little shy, we try to speak to them in English. There were three classes, girls and boys were mixed. Joseph will tell us on the road that teachers change every day and that in fact they do not really speak English but try to teach the children a few sentences. The little ones learn the fundamentals of mathematics, economics, etc. Here again we have a good time with the villagers. The return will be a little more difficult … we had forgotten that we would have to do a bit of climbing. So our legs pull a little on the return but hey, it made us a little sport!
Back at the guest house we leave our guide, and we thank him warmly. We really loved this time spent in different villages and the opportunity to interact with people.
We meet a French couple. They seem to be retired. We recommend the restaurants where we go back for dinner at night. They look very nice.
Quentin will order are fried rice chilli pepper, and me, noodles! The couple arrives and greets us. On leaving we wish them a good trip, but gradually we end up spending a good half hour sitting at the table time discussing trips and adventures. It was a very nice meeting, and with Quentin we had the same thing: that we would be a couple like them, fighters and open-minded, later. We return to the guest house to curtain our bags and try to sleep before the long day that awaits us the next day.
Mindat was a beautiful human experience. We are happy to have taken the time to come and discover these traditions that are disappearing. I wonder what will happen to this place when women with tattooed faces have all disappeared. The village seems to begin to understand the importance of this tourism and offers well-priced accommodation. They may have to face difficulties in the future as they continue. I think even if there are no more women tattooed, the trip is still worth it to meet his smiling people and the green landscapes of the Chin mountains.
On the way to the Inle Lake
This day will be long!
Our first van is 30min late … until then no surprises; We will leave Mindat at 8am. We fear the road … we cross our fingers not to be in the back. This time we will be lucky! The driver looks a little crazy and has a screen next to his seat on which pass Burmese super clip. They stop several times to drop off and pick up people on the road. But finally the trip will be much less chaotic than the first one: fewer twists, a little shorter, more comfortable.
We arrive in Pakokku, but not in the bus terminal that we would have hoped. A young Burmese who does not speak English, but only knows the key words: Bagan-price bus, offers us a motorcycle ride to the place where we can take a bus, van or other to Bagan. We accept for 2000kyt (which in the end will be per person). Once arrived in front of the small stand in a dusty alley, we realize that we have forgotten the table we had bought in Bagan in the van. I try to explain to the boy that I would like to pick him up before the van leaves. I set out with him while Quentin keeps our stuff and buys bus tickets. Two minutes after taking the road, he stops in front of a shop; he thought I wanted to buy a handbag! But fortunately he quickly understood and we take the road again. Two minutes later he spots the van … but in the other direction! we try to sneak between vans, vans and scooters. We managed to challenge the driver and recover the table. Once again, we were lucky!
We have to wait an hour for the Van Bagan / Nuang U, which will be a van. In the meantime I will see if I can find us to eat. I find myself in a super fruit market. I do not go very far for fear of losing myself. I bring back some fruits and … cake! yes, I am in need of sugar. I’m going to find Quentin reading on his bamboo bench.
The van arrives and we leave for Bagan. The road is nice; it’s nice to see what we missed on the way since we had traveled at night.
We are dropped off in the street of the hotel where we stayed. We decide to go there; with a little luck we can take a shower and brush our teeth. After a few minutes of walking loaded with our big bags, in full dodger, we arrive at the hotel and the chief welcomes us with a big smile.
We ask her if she can arrange the trip to Inle Lake. Of course yes ! and on top of that we can take a shower! What luxury. We are super happy. After doing our small business we decide to go in search of gifts and postcards. We will take a tour in the tourist street of Nuang U. We find our happiness. We decide to stop for a drink in a bar and we return to the guest house, Quentin Pompelup …
19h, we leave for the night bus. The bus is super kitsch! We have the bottom of the bus for us, so with a little luck we can sleep a little! Case to follow …
Arrival at Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe)
Well, not really slept in fact … always been scared to have an accident … but the point is that we have arrived!
It is past 6am; outside it is wet and the sky is gray in Nyaung Shwe. We are a little afraid that the weather is bad. Rousers are already there waiting for tourists. For this batch they are lucky, there are almost only tourists whose majority are French. We try to avoid two young people who wanted to embed themselves with us and that we find a little uninteresting … Quentin shows the address of a guest house to one of the taxi drivers. He brings us there for some kyats.
We are lucky they have room and it is not expensive! The guest house is friendly and the staff speaks good English.
Since we can not have breakfast at home we take it in the small restaurant opposite. The two women who hold him are very kind. They try to stammer a few words in French … I find that a bit of a shame. Today we want to take the time, rest. The manager of the guest house recommends a small village at the edge of the lake inle accessible to one hour of cycling. We decide to go there. It is really super hot. The landscapes are superb; the green mountains surround us. People smile at us and greet us. We meet a lot of tourists, also by bike.
I do not really like to see all these tourists, and see that the Burmese are trying to learn French words to be able to coax us. I find that the place loses a lot of charm and it disappoints me a little in a sense.
We walk an hour in full sun. Two young people on a scooter tell us where the floating village is, hoping to sell us a boat trip.
We park our bikes. There is a bridge that we borrow. On each side of the bridge are floating houses surrounded by greenery. People can only access it by boat. We meet many motor boats and ladies who paddle with their hands and their legs. Arrived at the end of the bridge one of them who had spotted us offers a ballad for 3000 kyt around the village. We accept. It’s really nice as a place, and peaceful. At times we hear the engines of the boats, otherwise only the sound of water and birds. The lake perfectly reflects every house, every flower, every thing on its surface; it’s beautiful.
After drinking a coke in a small floating restaurant we take the road again. Quentin wants to go see a pagoda in the mountains. It’s too hot, I’m really lazy. We go there anyway. We suffer, we must climb. Not being crazy about the handlebars, we walk next to our bikes.
On our way we meet several people, all smiling and polite. There is also a pretty pagoda with golden peaks. The road seems long so the climb is difficult. We arrive at an intersection with a sign indicating that there is a monastery. Quentin had read that we should have a nice view of the lake. We decided to go because we thought the pagoda would only offer a view of the forest.
The monastery is pretty. We meet many monks, most of them are children. We end up falling on the pagoda we thought in the forest. The view of the lake is not so spectacular that the guide said because of the vegetation. But we are still happy to have been able to stroll in a monastery.
We leave for the hotel. The return was faster than the go! After giving all our dirty laundry in a small shop, we decide to walk around the city. We breathe dust because of the vehicles. There are a few shops and a lot of hotels and restaurants. We meet a lot of tourists, three quarters of whom are French.
We end up finding the market where we wanted to go. It is a market with small stands to the left to eat grilled fish and meat. In the middle there are some souvenir stands. It’s super nice. We decide to eat there, and we did well because it was very good.
The day ends with a big bowl of popcorn sold by a little gentleman next to our hotel.
The alarm clock is a little hard this morning because we were surprised at night by music. It’s New Year’s Eve tonight!
After a good breakfast, our guide for the day meets us at the hotel to take us to his boat. It is a long wooden boat with an engine.
We embark and we are gone for a great day.
The weather is cloudy for one or two hours, then the sun will burn your skin all the rest of the day.
We cross several small floating villages. We will stop in each, to see markets, pagodas and factories of cigars, silver or lotus tissue.
We will meet many fishermen on our way. Our guide is super nice and always arranges so that I can make pretty pictures. The fishermen are not stupid, they play the big game with their net balancing on the end of their boat because they know very well that generous tourists will give them a small ticket (I am part of it …).
After this beautiful day we decide to go back to dinner at the market next to the hotel to see what is happening for the new year. There are many people, but we manage to return to the stand of the day. There is a scene on which dancers and musicians from the surrounding villages perform. We meet young people dressed in their traditional clothes, which colors the market and makes the atmosphere even more cheerful.
The next morning we start a second long day on the lake towards Samkare.
The landscapes are different, we see much more mountains and we cross only a few floating villages. I took new pictures of fishermen to enlarge my collection …
On the way there are many aquatic plants and water lilies; it’s very pretty, it gives a slightly wilder atmosphere to the lake. Halfway our guide tells us that there is a problem on the road, that it would be blocked and that we might not be able to go to Samkare. We are a little disappointed, but do not lose hope. We note that boats can not circulate because there are many aquatic plants that block the path under a bridge. Fishermen try to clear them from the passage while tourists watch them from the top of the bridge. We decided to go for a drink in the meantime, telling us that it would be quickly cleared. There is a small bar with some Burmese, we sit there to wait. About thirty minutes later the boats begin to recirculate; we redirect to ours and take the road all happy.
The road is still beautiful. We will stop in front of a beautiful pagoda with many pointed stupas. A good hour later we will arrive in Samkare. It is much smaller than we imagined but it is beautiful! The stupas are partly immersed in the lake which leaves a perfect reflection. We walk a little; there is also a monastery. We will end the visit to the restaurant just in front of the stupas where Burmese curry was delicious.
The way back will be just as nice. We will stop first in a small house where the family sells pottery. The lady gives us a demonstration and Quentin feels compelled to buy a little trinket. We will then see a whiskey distillery. It was very interesting to see how they made whiskey from rice. Quentin, however, was not very convinced by the quality of the drink.
The return route will appear a little longer because we will no longer stop, which will allow us to rest a little.
Destination Loikaw and its « girafes women»
The awakening was a little brutal. I have not recovered enough from my lack of sleep in the past days; but I could still sleep that night. The taxi came to pick us up on time to take us to the bus stop located 20min from the hotel. The manager of the hotel had written on a piece of paper the name of the person, a woman still, in charge of the small business.
The little shop is in the middle of a busy intersection. It mixes the sounds of scooters, trucks, vans, people who make the road, passersby, and whistles of the policeman trying to somehow traffic.
The little lady will pay us little attention. So that an hour and a half after our arrival we will not be able to get into the van with the other couple of young tourists because we did not have a ticket. We will wait for the next one. She looks like a real business woman: small size, round black glasses on her little nose, little smiling and a little dry pet. Behind her little green desk in wood she greets her customers and answers two phones, which keep ringing.
She will apologize for her mistake, for not having considered us more than that and tells us, after we have paid her the 20000 kyt we will ride in the next van, saying … now. But we are mentally preparing for another long wait. Case to follow!
It is well over an hour after the van arrives. It is planned to accommodate fifteen people but the driver will manage to add a few more people, which will decrease some comfort!
The road to Loikaw is beautiful! We cross several small villages in which we can see women dressed differently. It seems that in this corner of the country they wear an orange scarf and black as a headdress. At each stop of the van to collect passengers in the villages, many women rush around the van to sell crisps, fruits, sugar canes and other food to passengers. It’s pretty funny to see. Some will be tempted, so that the van will become less spacious.
The road is winding and sometimes uncertain but the driver seems to control his vehicle. We will see many peasants cultivating their fields, harvesting rice, as well as many people breaking stones and paving road parcels. We will also see the mountains, which are very beautiful and green.
The trip will last 6 hours. We will be the last passengers to be dropped off. The van stops picking up a girl at the bus depot and then takes us to the hotel that Quentin had spotted on the guide.
Arrived at the hotel, the girl who is mounted in our van accompanies me to see if we can have a room for the night. She is small, very thin, with little black glasses, pretty cute. The manager of the hotel, who does not smile at all and is not really nice, tells us that it’s good for tonight but that he only has one room with shared shower and toilet. We accept because not too much choice and especially because it’s really cheap. I ask the girl if she can ask him if it is possible to arrange a tour to see giraffe women. He does not seem to care. The girl then tells me that she can do it and be our guide, if we want a guide. The rates she offers me are correct. So we give him an appointment the next morning.
After leaving our stuff we decide to take a tour of the city to find food. The hotel is super creepy and not very clean so we think of changing places the other nights.
On the road to the main street we come across a Buddhist temple perched on top of a small mountain in the city. It’s super pretty; we are thinking of going there the next day.
Night is falling, we do not see much and people are driving like crazy. After several minutes of walking we arrive in the main axis of the city. There are some small restaurants and lots of clothing stores. Nothing very exciting. The guide spoke of a great restaurant where we could taste the best curry of the city … hum … once before the dish we regretted this choice. It was greasy and all the side dishes were too pungent for me. I could only eat the rice.
We walk quietly in the dark and try to sleep a little.
The girl arrives with her driver right on time: it is 7am. We are excited, even though the sky is very overcast. She does not speak English very well but it’s really nice to have been able to find someone because, as this state has only recently opened, few tourists go there and there is not much – something planned to help them.
She tells us that there are lakes to see and a cave. We are happy to see everything and have the day.
First step, what she will call the Umbrella Lake. Well … it was a little naze: a water tank with water lilies … we pretended to find it awesome.
Second step: the lakes. There are seven lakes in the forest but two are accessible with the car … again a disappointment. Again nothing fufu. I still found them pretty, there was mist and suddenly the trees were reflected perfectly. It gave a rather mystical atmosphere instead. Quentin did not find that pretty (he’ll tell me the next day … what a liar!).
We hoped that the third step would be to go to the village of Panpet. Unfortunately, the taxi driver called several people who confirmed that it was impossible unless they had a special visa! Huge disappointment ! We traveled especially to go there. We would have had to ask Loikaw for an authorization, and three days later we would have had the documents to enter the village. It seemed strange to us because in the blogs we had read, people never talked about it. But the girl confirmed to us that it was the case now and that she had already gone there without this visa. This is something to check for future travelers. The driver tells us that we will see giraffe women anyway. We pretend to be happy but deep inside we are really very disappointed.
Near another lake (artificial), some women sell longyis and scads. We are getting closer and they happen to be giraffe women. Through the guide we try to communicate a little. I buy them a longyi to offer and I ask them if I can take a picture of them. To my surprise they accept without asking anything in exchange! So I’m really pleased especially with the lake and mountains in the background is very pretty.
We go to a street where there are two small “shops” also held by women giraffes. Again they are very nice and let themselves be photographed without asking anything … well we will still spend a lot of money in memories … One of them wants me to get dressed with their traditional clothes. It’s pretty funny. There are necklaces on a table, they are really heavy. It’s amazing to be able to hold in your hands what they have to wear all their life around their necks.
Fourth stage, the Paya Taung Kwe which sits above a mountain. The view from above is pretty and allows us to see what’s around Loikaw. The temple is partly dug into the rock; it’s quite original.
After this pleasant meeting we leave for us fifth stage: the cave to the spirits. After asking for confirmation that we do not have the jitters of spirits, we head to this cave. It is in the mountains, the road is very pretty. To access it we have to do some sport, it is high perched. We go there all four and will be breathless and sweaty once at the top. There is one of the monks and a temple upstairs, we are so used to seeing everywhere that it will not surprise us. It is equipped with flashlights that we leave to explore this cave. It’s nice ; we go barefoot in the dark, cross bats, fail to fall on the wet and clay soil, then, after several meters fall on some sort of coffins. The driver explains that the pyramid-shaped ones contained kings. If we understood correctly, years ago, people came to be “buried” in this cave or burn, hence the name of cave of spirits.
The last stage will be a kind of small park with re-enactments of Loikaw’s flagship monuments. It’s cute and not very interesting.
Having lost hope of going to villages, we decide to leave Loikaw the same day. The guide and the driver make a few phone calls and tell us that there is a bus leaving at 2:30 in the afternoon. The end of the visit will therefore end at the bus terminal. We thank the girl and wait for the departure. It’s really hot. We are trying to prepare psychologically for the 19h bus to Yangon waiting for us.
It’s time. We have good places, we can extend our legs! This time I was able to sleep. The bus stopped several times to pick up passengers, and take pee breaks. The trip will be shorter than expected: 15h; and will not be so terrible.
It is 5:30 in the morning when we arrive in Yangon. I had trouble waking up, I’m exhausted. We had to do 21h of van and bus in just 48h.
Barely out of the bus that racoleurs are there to ask us where is our hotel. Arriving two days early compared to our program … we had not planned anything. So we decided to go to the one we had booked for the last two nights.
Arrived at the hotel, which is located in a small street, we surprise the young man at the reception finishing his night on a deckchair in front of the computer. We are embarrassed to have to wake him up … we are lucky we can stay there all four nights! But, the room is not ready, we can not check in. Quentin prepares a little program while I fall asleep on a chair. I’m exhausted.
We decide to take the circular train to the south of the city for breakfast and start sightseeing. To be honest I have no motivation and I would have preferred to be somewhere else than Yangon. But with life done, we go to the train station. We take disgusting streets where the odors of dirt mix with the smell of food and perfumes of flowers and fruit vendors. People have their breakfast in the street in bouisbouis. Most of them eat fried rice or vermicelli. The buildings are unhealthy, I wonder how people can stay in it, it’s pretty sad.
We arrive at the train station. When people arrive, they rush; it is crowded. Normal, we take the same as that of the workers! I have trouble breathing. People feel sweat and little air flows. I do not feel good. I can not wait for our arrival.
Eight stops of suffering later, still with zero energy, we continue our way to a place spotted by Quentin to have breakfast. We will never find this place. I want nothing, I’m grumpy. We go to the first place we meet, Quentin will take a marinated beef dish with spicy rice, while I fall asleep on the table. We will return to the hotel immediately after, Quentin having had pity on me.
After we rest a little, we leave on a mop. I’m really not excited about this city, it disgusts me and I find it without charm. We take a taxi to go and nibble in a rather expensive cafe, but it allows women who work there to have double the monthly salary, which is huge. It is mainly for expatriates and tourists. On leaving, the rain starts to fall really hard and will not stop for a while. We go along the lake; he is not pretty. We continue our journey in the rain and finish wet. We are looking for a French-run restaurant that allows young people to learn about the hospitality industry. We would like to dine here one evening before departure. After a good hour of walking in the pouring rain, we will eventually find it. The place looks lovely, but we just book a table for the Saturday to allow us to discover the place in due time.
We take the road again. The sky is really against us, we are soaked to the bone! There is a pizzeria around the corner that seems to make pizzas over a wood fire. We decide to stop there. We are not hungry but we let ourselves be tempted, in addition there is internet! This pizzeria looks a little chicos, the prices are close to the French prices but they are really very good. It seems that only European and Asian tourists come to eat there. Two engulfed pizzas and some what’s app later we leave and try to find a cab for the return. It’s difficult in the dark and people do not really understand where we want to go, so they do not look too much and let us down. But, in the pizzeria I had a revelation! I downloaded the offline map of Yangon. I show it to a driver and explain where we are and where we want to go. It’s really surprising to see people discovering GPS … We will end up coming back, tomorrow seems like a long day. Quentin warned me, we will walk!
The next day I get up in a better mood. I could sleep! We will visit the south of the city, which looks pretty huge, and take the circular train. The streets seem to me less disgusting than the day before, I notice many things that I had not seen the day before. Facades with faded colors but with a certain cachet, markets, colors, and other smells. I am really in a better mood!
We arrive at the station. I look at people. We are the only tourists. People are crossing the road without fear. There are well-dressed people smiling at us, monks, an old man who is struggling to change his ways but no one seems to want to help; he will comfort himself with a cigar while waiting for his train.
The train arrives, and this time it is not crowded. I sit a few minutes on the steps to look fresh on the face and I sit on a bench. There are people who come to sell fruits and tobacco. Some will be tempted.
After eight stations we arrive at Aung Sung Market. This is not at all what I expected: in fact it is a covered market very well maintained. There are a lot of jewelry sellers. There are a lot of gems here and suddenly it’s a bit of the thing to bring back from the market. But it looks much too much like a tourist trap and everything is overpriced; we do not know what is true or not. That gets us drunk a bit, we decide to leave.
There is a market at 26th Street. We spotted it in a blog. We decide to go there by curiosity. It’s a food market. People jostle each other, screaming in all directions. There are fruits, vegetables, fresh fish, dried fish. It is very colorful and very fragrant. We go back to the end.
We continue the visits. We will visit temples, buildings and cross all kinds of streets whose buildings will be dilapidated with remains and mixtures of colors. We were able to find some really nice places on the road and hidden, including shops and cafes.
At noon we wish to have lunch in a Japanese restaurant of the guide but we will never find it. We will find another. We hesitated to enter and finally we were not disappointed; it was succulent! In the evening we will eat in a century old wooden building and renovated. The place is very beautiful but extremely noisy because of the rich Asian tourists.
Finally the day was not so terrible, I even had a lot of fun strolling through the alleyways.
he next day we decide to go to Bago, a small town full of temples, two hours by bus from Yangon. Quentin did not give in to my quirks to get up later. We will leave at about eight o’clock from the hotel. After negotiating a 4000 kyt taxi we take the road to an unknown bus station. We thought the road would be fast but we will spend an hour in the taxi!
Just out of the taxi, a Burmese wearing a dark longyi and a white shirt shouts “Bago Bago!” So in less than two we are in the little red bus. Other people will come in. We do not know when he leaves, we keep patience. The bus starts, then stops a few meters further. Waiting. We will leave a few minutes later. This little game will last about thirty minutes. The bus will stop several times on the road to pick up people in unlikely places and to let them out. In the cities we cross sellers will enter the bus to sell us fruit and fried foods.
The Burmese asks us where we are going, but we do not know. Quentin had spotted a hotel where we could rent bikes. The driver does not understand anything and does not know where it is. We will go down in the street, in a lively place. We will not even have to look for a man to come up with bikes and scooters. It’s stiflingly hot. I suggest Quentin rent a scooter instead of a bike. The streets are full of people who drive motorcycles, vans, vans, cars and buses, like crazy … not very reassuring all that! I’m going with the guy doing scooter tests in the next street, quieter, while Quentin is still chatting with the girls on a bench. The guy makes us photocopies of a rough map of the city, it’s very nice. I go back to Quentin and leave.
There are plenty of temples of giant Buddhas to see.
We try to find ourselves on the map. We are not too bad at first. Driving the scooter here is a real experience! it’s stressful but as I love it I go for it! We will find on the road a temple abandoned, not described in the guide. It is a shame because it is by far the most beautiful that I could see. Well everything is relative … he was really abandoned and squatted by people. But there was a special atmosphere and you could guess the colors on the walls. I found cala very beautiful, we had to stay half an hour to take photos.
We take the road but we get lost, and it starts to have too much traffic. We decide to refuel and go back to Yangon. We return the scooter and go up the street a little. We do not know which bus to take but we understood that by staying still at the side of the road all the buses will stop to ask us to go up. Five minutes later, our bus arrives. We take seats right behind the driver to avoid the odors of people. These places are not comfortable at all.
Back on Yangon we decide to take the circular train to go to eat in an Indian restaurant. No one is able to tell us how to get there, so we will use our google maps magic and go on foot. Finally arrived, people do not understand what stop we want to go. Four people will try to understand. One of them will jabber the platform: number 3. Okay … except that the numbers are written in Burmese … We cross the tracks and ask young people, we are on the right one, but the train will arrive only in an hour . No problem ! thanks to the technology we watch an episode of Sherlock on my phone. Ten minutes later, the resort is plunged into total darkness. Big power outage. The station is lit with people’s cell phones.
Trains pass and give a little light. Some vendors light up with candles. It feels like being in a big squat it’s funny. An episode of Sherlock later our train arrives, on time! It is almost empty. Same scenario: people slumped on the benches, street vendors, people watching their phone. We have about 14 stations, but they are not all written in English. We will only go down an hour later, at the right time.
The restaurant is big, people wear charlottes on their hair. The place is clean. We must order and pay before going to sit. There is a good smell of biryani. The dishes look super good; they are super good!
The belly well filled we call a taxi. Again, thank you google maps. This taxi driver speaks English well so I take the opportunity to ask him a lot of questions. I first thank him for calling me ” Madam ” because all the other drivers, as well as the people in the street, will call me ” Sir ”, which makes me doubt my femininity … He laughs and tells us that people do not speak English because it does not interest them and that since the army is in power the education system is mediocre; This is all the more unfortunate as the country is opening up and many tourists are going to disembark. He will tell us that people can not visit their country because it is too expensive for them, and going to Thailand is cheaper! We will learn that people are spitting constantly because of banana leaves stuffed with tobacco and spices that they chew; that Burma is cheaper than before and that people are happy to see tourists, that there are people who are really very rich and that they like to show it by buying very big cars, and that people, like us, were obsessed with mobile phones and having to have the last of the last. I ask him since when they have internet, he tells me that they have only wifi for two years and that the internet is not yet in top shape, but they will arrive one day. I told him that soon he should have a GPS in his car and that it will change his life!
After this beautiful meeting we arrive at the hotel.
After a loooong sleep and a few hours of glandouille, we go out. We have the big pagoda to see!
We walk quietly in temples to see Buddhas in all directions, shapes and colors.
Going to the famous pagoda, Shwedagon Pagoda, we cross a large market where we see people molding and painting statues of Buddhas.
The site for the pagoda is huge. To access it we have to take several stairs. The roof of the hall is carved precious wood, it is very pretty. Looking at it we almost forget that we are dripping with sweat …
Arrived at the top, hundreds of tourists walk in front of golden, white, wooded stupas. The pagoda dominates the site in its center. It is very nice although most of the stupas are under renovation. We will fade gently around and appreciate the place, then we will wait for the sunset to come to blush the pagoda.
In the evening we dine in this famous restaurant created by a French chef. The restaurant is in a beautiful house tastefully decorated. The young apprentices are very nice and we can see that they are doing their best. On the map is written that they have selected young people who come from very poor background to give them a chance in life. We love this idea of being able to help them. The meal is good and refined.
We return without much difficulty to our hotel to store our stuff and buckle our bags, because tomorrow is the return.
Myanmar is a country that is definitely worth a visit. We had very nice meetings throughout our trip and especially, we could see what it was to travel by doing everything, or almost, at the last minute. I think it was an excellent preparation for our world tour!
We have seen places still unknown to tourists and we are very happy to have been able to meet some mountain minorities. For me, my best memory will be Mindat and his women with tattooed faces. People were smiling on all sides, the kids were running after us and greeting us until we disappeared from their field of vision, and all this intriguing tattoo culture made me want to come back to explore this lost state in mountains.
We have seen that more and more tourists are interested in this country, especially French. At Inle Lake I was a little shocked by the mentality of locals: wanting to seduce tourists at all costs. I think the place lost some of its charm.
We hope to return one day to visit the north and south of the country which are not yet tourist. But I think that, given the speed with which the country is changing, we risk crossing the world in these areas. The country is growing rapidly since it’s opening, people have understood how it works and everyone is trying to get their share of the pie. Hopefully the Burmese government will get things done before it’s too late and there are too many disparities between social classes. To be continued!