The Road to Mandalay

Day 335, Wed 8 Jan

Mandalay - view of the old Palace wallA rather rubbish, but free, breakfast at the hotel, and off in the taxi for our flight to Mandalay. Unusually, despite our early arrival, the plane was actually on time, and rather posh – a Middle Eastern airline – and we had exactly enough time to watch Despicable Me 2, hooray!

As our hotel was a mere 2 blocks from the drop-off point from the free Air Asia shuttle, we managed to check in and get out in time to walk the – rather longer than anticipated – road to Mandalay Hill for a rather lovely sunset.

Yes, what looked like a short walk was a rather long trek… beautiful sunset & view from the top through. There are beautiful, huge moated city walls with nothing inside them but an army camp & rather crap concrete replicated of the palace… courtesy of the American air force again!

Inwa - Bagaya Monastery (2)Day 336, Thurs 9 Jan

Booked a taxi with the obliging Mr Winn to drive us around Sagaing Hill, Amarapura & Inwa today – U Beins bridge at sunset and the horse and wagon drive to the teak monastery in Inwa were especially fabulous – it is good to know that there are still temples that wow us :-)

U Bein's Bridge (2)Then off to a very nice dinner at Super 81, and an absolutely terrible Moustache Brothers show. It WAS educational, I definitely do not know enough about the human rights violations in Burma, and one of the brothers, Par Par Lay, had been arrested and then passed away in jail as a result of lead in the prison water supply, but I sadly cannot say anything positive about the performance :-(

 

 

Sagaing Hill (1)Great day – saw lots of beautiful sights – in particular U Bein’s bridge & Sagaing hill. T loved trundling around Inwa in the back of a horse & cart! The teak monastery was absolutely beautiful & you could feel the history emanating off of it.

U Bein's Bridge (16)I was glad to support the Moustache Brothers but it’s just a tourist con now… you’d see a better performance in a kindergarten show.  Donate the ticket price to Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

 

 

Day 337, Fri 10 Jan

We decided to visit the sights in town today, the undisputed highlight of which was the stunning Golden Palace Monastery, made of wood and still with traces of the gilding that previously covered the entire building inside; the carvings were phenomenal. And we finally managed to take a Mandalay - Shwe Nandaw Kyaung (11)trishaw – it was bloody slow and we felt so sorry for the driver that we gave him extra money anyway , but it was both fun AND a new way of travelling :-).

Got back around 4 and did some last minute shopping for the train journey to Thazi at 5pm tonight, and next train at 5am to Lake Inle tomorrow – yuck, yuck, yuck.

The Golden palace… probably the 9th wonder of the world – absolutely beautiful. The history, carving, guilding… all added up to a wonderful building. The fact that this used to be King Mindon’s palace that was originally in Inwa, then taken down & re-assembled – once in the moated city, & then moved again when he died, to its current location – is itself quite impressive. It makes you wonder what the city would have looked like. Unfortunately I think the Brits may have been involved in the looting of the city during the days of the Empire before it was finally destroyed in WWii.Mandalay by trishaw (2)

Great old train to Thazi – the springs were so shot that we basically bounced our way there… :-)

Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma) – Jan ’14

Day 338, Sat 11 Jan

Up at 3:30, when we were delighted to find, that despite paying extra for a room with bathroom, there was no water; not the best start. The train was not too bad, however, obviously the seat springs went some time ago, but there was some pretty scenery and I had a great (guilty pleasure) book!

P1530049Arrived in Yaungshwe at 3pm and Keir immediately snared a taxi driver to take us to our guesthouse in Nyaung Shwe, about 30 minutes away. Frankly I was eager to eat something healthy, get some coffee and some juice, after rather disgustingly eating an entire box of Pringles on the train. Unfortunately the combined issues of not being able to find Google translate for Burmese, and meat generally featuring in most local cuisine, meant that I was not ready to risk whatever they were selling at the train stations en route…

We wandered, we ate, and we sampled the local wine, which was actually not bad; we may have to nip to the local winery tomorrow…

P1530254No water; no the best start to the day at 0330! My, how T was happy!

Great rickety train ride through the country.  Beautiful scenery, although the seats are a bit threadbare, with switchbacks up the mountain side before a long slow descent down to Nyaung Shwe… about 10 hrs in all… glad to get off & head for some food in the end.

Day 339, Sun 12 Jan

P1530002Rented bikes today and somehow managed to cycle around 26km! Fortunately it is pretty flat, and, I am relieved to note, the traffic here is not nearly as bad as that in Vietnam! We took a little boat across from the Hupin hotel (some nice views) and decided we had better stop for immediate refreshments when we spotted a sign for the Inle Heart View – cocktails & cooking lessons – halfway along the west-side. And what a gem this little place was, we both had lovely cocktails, free Jasmine tea and pickled green tea with deep-fried tofu, while admiring the stunning views of the lake and the sugar cane fields waving in the breeze. Nice.

P1530105Of course, we also had to stop for a wine tasting about 15 minutes later when we saw the Red Mountain vineyard, lucky we had taken some ballast on board! Not a bad sunset there either, though we hurried home pretty sharpish so as not to have to cycle in the dark; my night vision is not the best…

Dinner at Sin Yaw tonight, another Trip Advisor recommendation – great fish curry, and some wonderful ginger & mint tea!

Beautiful cycle around the lake through the countryside. The highlight was the end though; first ‘Inle heart Hotel’ had great views & lovely cocktails, then the vineyard capped it with better views & a wine tasting menu… we wobbled home!

Day 340, Mon 13 Jan

P1530057We decided to rent a boat for a trip around the lake and various villages today, $20 for 2 of us for 10 hours; not bad!

It was absolutely freezing on the lake at 7:45, but luckily our boatman had provided blankets and we sat in our little wooden chairs watching the local people boat around produce, go fishing, and leg row their boats – something to see there!

P1530147After a disappointingly fruitless search for sweet bamboo sticky rice at the market, we saw Blacksmiths, silk weavers, boat builders, silversmiths and umbrella makers – while it was very interesting to see people actually making things, even I started to get a bit shopped out after a while… the products looked good, but really $15, for a bamboo lacquered box that I could buy back home for less? My shopping will have to wait for another day!

P1530335No jumping cats at the famed monastery, sadly, they seemed more like jumpy cats to me, but perhaps having hundreds of tourists tramping around your home ground on a daily basis, is not so relaxing for them. (they sat on my lap quite happily… :-) )

P1530413We then motored out to the middle of the lake for a beautiful sunset and headed home for a pre-prandial shower

Lovely day motoring around the lake; the usual touristy stops to try & sell us something but it was interesting seeing blacksmithing, silver-smithing, weaving & boat building being done in a very medieval way… real artistry.  The lake was lovely, particularly as the light changed through-out the day… sunset was glorious across the lake & what a great value trip.

Lake Inle, Myanmar – Jan ’14

Day 341, Tue 14 Jan

Bagan temples (59)Caught the flight from ‘He Ho’ airport (what a name!) near lake Inle to Bagan.

By the time we’d got there & checked in, just time to head off to dinner; at one of the restaurants that T had researched of course! V nice & cocktails after at another bar… we wobbled home!

Got to Bagan, bought our train tickets to Yangon for a couple of days time and went off to try the highly recommended Weather Spoons (no relation to the chain), not bad, I had a fantastic ginger salad – this may be a new favourite :-)

Day 342, Wed 15 Jan

Bagan - electric bikeRented an electric bike (eBike) today & headed off into the plains. All was going well, with a few Temples & stupas under our belt, when T got a puncture! :-(

What was interesting was that she didn’t know how long she’d had it for… & the tyre was completely flat!

By the time they came & sorted the bike out we’d hung around for an hour or so. Still, off we headed again & had a wonderful afternoon visiting ruined temple after temple.  We selected one for sunset; up a vertical climb… my how I loved it! Whilst I clung, & I do mean clung, to the temple T was Bagan Temples (38)harassed by lots of little kids trying to sell us stuff.  The romantic sunset we’d envisaged whilst drinking a bottle of wine remained a thought as the bottle stayed firmly in the rucksack & we fled back down the vertical face of the temple.  Well, when I say fled, for that read gingerly picked my way back down like an old woman!

 

The drive back at dusk was interesting with T now doing the impression of an old woman as she drove so slowly that cyclists were overtaking us!

Bagan - Iza Gawna Pagoda (1)Oh, how easy it is for Keir to take the piss out of me, Lets bear in mind that I cannot drive and have never experienced a puncture, I thought it was the sand when I nearly crashed into a passing bus… didn’t figure the bike tyre was flat! However, I can say that climbing up a temple was not a major achievement for me, in fact I also climbed up the bamboo scaffolding to another temple that Keir was too chicken to try :-)

And I want to add that my journey back was partially in the dark (my night vision is deplorable) and I had been clicked by a stupid driver who had nearly run me off the road. Of course when we were overtaken by a couple of pedal cyclists, I did have to concede that I may not have been going at optimum velocity…

 

Day 343, Thu 16 Jan

Bagan temples (63)Grabbed another eBike for the day – this time just the one with T on the back. Bit more unsteady with the extra weight (bum, did I just say that; she’ll kill me!) if you know what I mean… when we hit sand T took the easy option & walked.  But a lovely day visiting the ruins between Nyaung U & Old Bagan. Stunning views, ruins & enough time for food & a shower before hopping on the overnight sleeper train to Yangon.

Bagan temples (16)T had hung onto the bottle of vino we had left over from Bagan & we happily consumed this as the countryside bounced by & the sun majestically set… fantastic!

Amazingly there are still a few temples to see – I think they said almost 4,000! I rode on the back of Keir’s back today, time being of the essence ;), and my, was I uncomfortable – no springs on the back and a very low seat. I could barely move when we took the bike back, fortunately a restorative G&T and some nice dinner sorted me out enough to get the train!

The train was interesting. First Class in about 1930 and not very well maintained, but we had our own mini-carriage with a private, though still not very pleasant smelling, loo, drank our slightly warm white wine and bounced along like Zebedee – I was feeling slightly sick, but the views and the sunset were cool.

Bagan, Myanmar – Jan ’14

Day 344, Fri 17 Jan

Yangon - Shwedagon Paya (16)Awoke bumping along through beautiful Burmese countryside – almost felt like days of the Raj looking out over neat fields segregated by rows of palm trees (not sure if these are indigenous or imported in days of the Empire…

Left T sleeping whilst I opened up the sliding window & let the day in… there really is nothing better than just trundling along on a rickety train whilst watching the world go by with a good book in your hand… apart from having a G&T in the other!

Dumped the gear off at our Hostel – Aung Si – & headed out to see the No.1 sight of Yangon (Rangoon in old money!) – Shwedagon Paya. What a disappointment that was… felt like a Myanmar version of Disney up there.  There was no view at sunset – just nice reflected light on the giant stupa.  If I was to recommend anything I’d say photograph it at a distance in the daylight & then again at night-time when it’s lit up… don’t bother getting all up close & personal – it’s not worth it.  The same can’t be said of Chaukhtatgyi Paya – a giant concrete reclining Buddha. It was so disappointing that we didn’t even bother with the other concrete monstrosity of Ngahtatgyi Paya.

Still, a nice, cheap meal on the way home followed by some expensive alcoholic drinks… where T wouldn’t let me sit anywhere near the TV screen… a reply of the Gooners v Aston Villa was on… harsh I say! L

Epic 17 hour journey over, we finally arrived in Yangon for some much needed breakfast and a wander to the few sights we had listed for Yangon. Shwedagon Pagoda was nice enough, but we really had seen it all before, and as Keir said, the ‘fabulous’ sunset there seemed indded to be fable…

Day 345, Sat 18 Jan

A gentle day meandering around Yangon looking at markets (my what fun!) & Stupas (Sule & Botataung Paya). The last two weren’t exactly that impressive. Got to say that we could have given Yangon a miss; not very historic & not a lot going for it.

Late flight to Kuala Lumpur – country number 32!

Markets? I don’t remember that…

Yangon, Myanmar – Jan ’14

Hué and Cry

Day 326, Mon 30th Dec

P1510685It turns out the train ticket office is mere metres away from our hostel, so we sorted all of our Vietnamese train tickets and then took an afternoon tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, where the Viet Cong hid out, and struck from, during the war. The (enlarged) tunnels were interesting to see, but the tour was dull and formulaic – Keir said it would have been better to get the old men who had been involved to take the tours – and I am sure their stories would have made the place come alive. The video afterwards kept referring to ‘hero American killers’ – so no toning it down there! I am not sure if there were any of our US brethren present, if so, they kept it to themselves…

The tunnels were interesting, if only in the ingenuity of fellow man & woman in how to maim & kill each other using simple tools. Crawling around the tunnels, which had been enlarged for westerners, was enlightening; made me think that the Yanks who used to volunteer to go down them to search out VC were even braver than I thought.

It was, not surprisingly, very one sided propaganda; you wouldn’t have thought that the Yanks were fighting alongside southern Vietnamese troops.  Just very sad all the loss….

Day 327, Tue 31st Dec

Up at the crack of dawn for our train to Phan Thiet, nearly disastrous as we had to leave appallingly early and had been locked in by the hostel owner – fortunately our attempt to escape woke said owner who let us out – hooray! Then in a Vinasol taxi – which I think had an ok meter – to the station and on the train to meet Efrain and Dina again!

I enjoyed some very enlightening conversations with a couple of old men on the train about Ho Chi Minh, freedom of speech and Vietnam’s special brand of communism while Keir slept, who knew that a train ride could be so educational! Reached Mui Ne at about 11:30, both knackered and hungry and not really ready to engage in the kite surfing that Efrain had planned; I had to have a nap in our lovely room instead:-).

Cocktails on the balcony with Efra and Dina, then a quick shower and off for some great seafood; with unexpected, and not so great, durian sauce on the side – at least I have tried it now – very weird flavour, very, very bad smell! And then the Dragon bar (I think) with Dina’s cousin and her boyfriend for some GREAT mango daiquiris and some dancing to ABBA with lots of Russians – and not just the ones we had brought with us :-)

Unfortunately I was still shattered, plus worse for wear after the evening’s wine + rum combination, and started to fall asleep around 2:30. Keir gallantly took me home. Oh dear…

The train to Phan Thiet was meant to be along a beautiful stretch of coast & countryside… so beautiful that I slept most of the way- Doh!

Fantastic to meet up with Efrain & Dina, plus her cousin & boyfriend. Had a nice evening (although in a very Russian manner) before I had to escort the young Miss T home from too many cocktails… about 2 cocktails I think it was! How the mighty have fallen! :-)

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam – Jan ’14

Day 328, Wed 1 Jan

Ah, the glories of having to get up and travel on New Year’s Day. Luckily the hangover is not too bad, I am just tired… a rather expensive triple taxi ride, train and plane later, we got to Hoi An around 9pm – I am not convinced the Mailinh taxi’s are ok either, we shared the cab with a German couple that we happened to meet at the airport and paid 260,000 dong for half the fare, yet the trip back was only 280k for the two of us! Is every taxi driver in Vietnam a crook?

Yes, very dodgy taxis but just glad to get there… this part of the trip was planned as a bit of a rollercoaster – 4 places in about 8 days!

Day 329, Thurs 2 Jan

Hoi An (1)     Hoi An is a lovely little town and I really wish we had longer here, the sights, on the other hand, are not that inspiring. Perhaps if we had not been to China they would have been great, but all of the houses and temples were so tiny that there was not so much to look at, the charm was in the wandering around.

Hoi An (24)We bumped into the nice German couple from last night’s taxi – Kerstin & Elmer – lucky, as we had not quite gotten to swap details – and went out to dinner at The Little Menu Restaurant. It was our third choice, but the green tea crème brûlée was worth a visit alone. On the down side, they clearly eat very early here; we were last in the restaurant and then managed to be last in our post-prandial bar too :-)

My Son (25)Lot’s of beautiful old houses converted gracefully into shops, restaurants or bars… T was very much at home. The river meanders slowly by so we had drinks & watched it go by, browsed & found a bookshop for T to swap some books. Luckily met up with Kerstin & Elmer, & T’s choice of restaurant was again spot on.

Managed to get a morning trip in to My Son – the old Cham capital. Some beautiful carvings but not a lot left after American bombing in the war; in hindsight we’d have probably given this a miss.

 

Hoi An, Vietnam – Jan ’14

 

Day 330, Fri 3 Jan

Hue - The Citadel (32)    …and we are off again, this time to Hué. Honestly, every time I let Keir plan a country we seem to go even faster than usual!

Our hotel here was incredible, $8.99 a night for a double room with bathroom and the most phenomenal service I can remember. We were met at the train station, put into a pre-paid cab, greeted by the manager at the start of the alley in which the hotel is situated, and our bags were whisked to our room while we were given complimentary fruit and a welcome drink. When we reached our room, we had rose petals on our bed. What a find!

Hue - Thien Mu Pagoda (1)Yes, as T said – hotel was a little faded but 5 star service – absolutely fabulous! Managed to get out & about & see the Citadel & what’s left of the ancient moated city & palaces of the Ngung Emperors – the Vietnam war destroyed a lot of it unfortunately.

Day 331, Sat 4 Jan

One day in Hué, and the train tonight, so we decided we would visit the Pagoda & the Citadel by cyclo – a sort of one person sized chair, into which two people can squeeze, with a cyclist at the back – in the morning followed by Hue - Tomb of Khai Dinh (20)a tour of the Royal tombs in the afternoon. A slight ‘mistake’ by the tour agency meant our guide showed up half an hour early while we were eating and in the ensuing attempt to make it right we were each popped on to the back of a moto taxi and whizzed out to join the tour – a result as we missed the dull bus journey and had the rather more ‘exhilarating’ motorbike ride instead. Fab!

The tombs were really interesting, completely different architecturally and fascinating to visit, Hue - Tomb of Minh Mang (1)we could have done with a little longer at the last, and best (for us, anyway) tomb, Khai Dinh, but were unexpectedly switched to a different tour involving a boat trip home – not actually that great due to the miserable weather, but I had actually fancied this trip, just

Hue - Tomb of Tu Duc (12)

Pot calling kettle…

baulked at the cost. The upshot was that we got the best of both worlds for the lowest tour price available – result. All this and then we caught an overnight train to Hanoi :-)

A very productive day… before we then got on another night train. :-(

Hue, Vietnam – Jan ’14

Day 332, Sun 5 Jan

Woke up in Hanoi after an epic sleep and a pleasant chat with Brett (Australian) & Robi (French), we seem to do pretty well with our train cabin sharers! The traffic here seems even worse than Saigon, at least in the old quarter – it is virtually impossible to cross the road without serious life risk and one can rarely walk on the pavement due to it being used as a moto parking zone; insanity…

Hanoi - One Pillar Pagoda (2)After a lovely breakfast in the Ladybird restaurant we went for an afternoon constitutional to check out some of the 36 streets, each of which houses a particular trade. Then off to the water puppet show – odd, but good, I especially liked the fire-breathing dragons swimming around the stage – and dinner.

Walking the streets was fun; T is not that aware of the traffic around her… so had some near misses! Loved the fact that each street had a different trade – particularly liked watching the ironmongers/ blacksmiths & the guys making ‘tin’ boxes & the like – as per the cabinets you find in bathrooms. The water-puppet show was cool… the water pool was the stage & all the puppets appeared out from it with the puppeteers behind a curtain – they even had fire-breathing dragons – Gerry Anderson eat your heart out!

One rant – every m*ther-f*cker around me Hanoi - Water Puppets (3)was taking pictures – if you weren’t blinded by flashes then all you could see were the screens of phones & cameras held up in the air to get a better angle for the video.  If you did this in London you’d be thrown out… quite rightly! Where’s my sawn-off when I need it!

Day 333, Mon 6 Jan

Well, today was going to be Halong Bay day, but as the weather reports are inconsistent and it would involve an 8 hour return trip for 4 hours on a boat in Hanoi - Temple of Literature (10)possible rain, we decided to bin it and see some more sights instead – the highlight of which was the 11th century Temple of Literature – somehow Keir’s usually unfailing sense of direction does not work in Hanoi, so we also spent much of the day walking in the wrong direction…

We also had some very bad news this evening, when Keir’s grandfather, Tom, passed away.

The temple was a highlight – it’s actually a university (established in 10 something – before the battle of Hastings!) where the Vietnamese would come to do their final administrative & poetry exams.  The emperor initially actually presided over the final exams – very impressive!  So when Harold was getting one in the eye & William was busy subjugating the Saxons, destroying their history & building his castles, the Vietnamese were passing exams in poetry & the like!

Hanoi - Temple of Literature (7)The day finished badly with the news of my Grandfather; he’s been poorly for a while but been struggling on. It’s hard not to be there with the rest of my family to support them & I seem never to be in the right place when any of my grandparents have passed away….

Hanoi, Vietnam – Jan ’14

Day 334, Tues 7 Jan

Despite ambitious plans to the contrary, we managed to merely to check out and have breakfast before having to catch the airport shuttle for our flight back to Bangkok. Well, I guess I did start reviewing my CV at least, just didn’t get very far with it…

Sadly, the hotel I had chosen in Bangkok – due to the need to take another flight from a different airport tomorrow – was in the middle of nowhere, thus leaving me with no chance to go to the night market (one of the better ones) and little option but to have dinner in the local ladyboy bar – it was ok, but flouncing and hair tossing featured more heavily than table service; at least the sort we were after :-)

Not a lot to say – hotel was nice but in a crap part of town.