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

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