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Trip Report The Golden Land - Adventures in Myanmar

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The backstory.

Husband and I are 50 something Aussies who get to travel at least twice a year. We're trying to experience as much of the world as possible, including our own backyard. He's a great travelling companion, but I do ALL the planning and decision making. That's his choice, and so far it's worked pretty well.

In 2011 with a fair amount of trepidation i booked a river cruise on a Pandaw boat going down the mighty Mekong River from Siem Reap to Saigon. I say with trepidation, because we are not group tour types, and I had concerns about being stuck on a boat for 7 days. What if the people and excursions were horrible ? What if the food sucked ?

Anyway, figuring we could handle only 7 days, we bit the bullet, went, and had an excellent time. That was in March 2011.

When the Pandaw newsletter arrived in my inbox offering the "only once every two years" "See all of Myanmar, 600 miles from Yangon to Mandalay on the Irrawaddy River" I was sold.

We went in August 2013, during the rainy season, for a 14 night cruise. Again, it was excellent, and was a soft introduction to The Golden Land where infrastructure for tourists is struggling like crazy to keep up with demand.

Of course you don't see "all of Myanmar" but the slogan was catchy enough to spark my interest, we knew what to expect from Pandaw, love the Buddhist culture, and can bear (just) the humidity that prevails in most of SEAsia.
The Pandaw company is a great one to travel with, totally focused on the safety and comfort of their guests, and gives back to local communities via sponsorship of schools and medical clinics.

We had a fantastic trip, the best part being the amazing Burmese people.

In October 2013 we met two Burmese teachers who were sponsored by Rotary International to come to Australia to learn about teaching methods and improve their English skills.
They stayed at the house of a good friend who lives close by. Our trip was still very fresh in our minds, so we grabbed the opportunity to talk everything Myanmar, and shared numerous meals and day trips with these two wonderful ladies.
At some point they mentioned that they get few native English speakers to talk with their students, so pronunciation can be difficult to learn.

Our next holiday was to be to Thailand and Laos, 3 weeks in February 2014. I thought to myself, "Myanmar is close to Thailand, I can read aloud, maybe I can help". The plan became; three weeks in Thailand/Laos with husband, then nearly three weeks in Myanmar on my own. I haven't travelled solo since 1989, but I felt confident that I could handle arrangements, and had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do.

So, I boarded an Air Asia flight at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok on Feb 23 for the two hour flight to Yangon. It cost about AUD $62, including 20 kg checked luggage. I booked via the airline directly after checking Skyscanner for options. My luggage consisted of one small suitcase weighing about 12 kgs, but I'm a lightweight, and knew I couldn't lift it into an overhead bin.

The flight was easy, smooth, on time, and I cracked up when the flight attendant announced on landing "Thank you for frying with Air Asia".

More to follow.

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    Wonderful start - can't wait for more.

    I've never done the Pandaw cruise, though I was ready to book one in the early 1990s. Then ASSK asked people not to visit and the cruise was never booked. Even though I've been to Burma twice, I'd love to do their Chidwin cruise. Looking forward to your report.

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    Thanks for your encouragement YT and Kathie, your reports greatly assisted me with planning this trip.

    The logistics.

    Hotels were booked via either booking.com or Agoda (which seemed to have more options).
    While it would be smarter to have everything planned out and booked in advance, I wanted some flexibility. I was unsure what to expect at the two schools that were my primary reason for being in Myanmar.

    I booked one flight with a travel agent in Yangon, (YGN - MDL) on Golden Myanmar Airlines. It is a new airline with one plane, an Airbus A320. With only one aircraft, I figured they'd take good care of it. Cost was USD $60, including 20 kg checked luggage.

    I booked two further flights with an agent in Mandalay, one MDL - HEH, the second was HEH -YGN. The airline was Yadanarpon Airlines, also quite new. They fly turbo props, ATR 72 - 600, new, no sign of ashtrays in armrests. Indeed, the overhead signage has the usual seat belt indicator, but instead of a "no smoking" sign, there is a "no lap top and hand held phone" sign.
    They cost USD $78 and USD $100 respectively. These were booked only a few days before flying, and would be way cheaper if you plan and book ahead.

    I also booked a share taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin for USD $7 with this agent, more on that experience later.

    The accommodation I stayed at ranged from budget US$50 per night to splurge US$180.

    The following were good for me, taking into consideration that you get what you pay for. Breakfasts were included at all, there was always fruit, coffee and toast, which is all I really eat at breakfast, eggs and various Burmese specialties were also offered.

    In Yangon, Garden Home B & B - Bogyoke Aung San Museum Rd, Bahan township. It is just a few meters from Kandawgi Lake, a 15 minute $3 taxi ride to downtown, and, important for me, walking distance to the school. Shwedagon Pagoda is also an easy walk. Prices ranged from US$70 for a single room, to US$135 for a family room which sleeps 3. Very good wifi.

    In Mandalay, The Emporer Hotel, 74th street between 26th and 27th street. It is a few houses from 26th street which is the road that borders the moat around Mandalay Palace. Price was US$70 per night for a single room, which had two beds. The staff here were fantastic, the manager went out of his way several times to engage me, and plied me with local sweet tea which was delivered in plastic bags. He made a comment about solo travellers being different from couples, who had each other to talk to. Thank you Mg Naing Oo, I really did appreciate our chats.
    Very good wifi, although many times I called reception to "fix wifi". The first time after a blackout, I called and suggested "you may need to reboot the server".
    That was met with great confusion, "fix wifi" worked much better.

    In Nyaung Shwe (for Inle Lake), The Viewpoint Lodge and Fine Cuisines, Tak Nan Bridge and Canal. It is an easy walk into the main town of Nyanug Shwe, and built over water. The bungalows are Eco friendly, built from mud brick with timber frames, and have natural dye paint. They are styled with contemporary Burmese art and furnishings, have a small entry area, sitting room complete with Eco mini bar, and separate bedroom leading to a balcony overlooking the water and distant mountains. The food here was excellent. Price US$180 per night. Wifi was iffy, if it worked at all it was sloooow, although had a few bursts of brilliance usually early morning.

    I stayed at some other places, one booked via Airbnb, was just too far out of Yangon to be practical. A taxi took well over an hour from central Yangon, when I could find a taxi that would even go there. My bad for not researching the location, but I cut my losses and abandoned two prepaid $50 nights there.

    Another was Clover Hotel in Bahan township, they overbooked me, and sent me off to Clover City Centre for one night. Didn't like either Clovers at US $80 per night.

    In Pyin Oo Lwin, the Pyin Oo Lwin Hotel was US$120 per night, nice enough room, but overall pretty sterile. There were virtually no other guests, and wifi worked for about 8 minutes out of my 24 hours there. The only consolation here was hearing an American tour group in the distance, crashing their party, and enjoying a few hours talking to westerners.

    Next up, the schools.

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    Kathie, do you subscribe to the Pandaw newsletters ?

    I received one recently about new river cruises in Myanmar in out of the way places.
    Pandaw has built a small ship with a very shallow draft able to navigate the less visited rivers.

    Google Pandaw and I'm sure you'll find the company website.

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    Thanks so much for the introduction about Pandaw. Everything I have heard has been positive, but it is not marketed in the US much. I am looking forward to our short cruise.

    Eagar to hear more about your trip...sounds like a great experience! Had a similar encounter about native English speakers with a professor teaching college level students English for US business dealings in Japan.

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    The schools.

    I had two main goals for this trip to Myanmar.
    1) visit the two schools, one in Yangon, one in Mandalay, and spend time talking to the students to hopefully help their English language skills.
    2) visit Inle Lake, which we had missed last year due to time restraints (plus, I always seem to leave something for "next time")

    Goal number 2 was easily met. I'm not so sure about goal number 1.
    Maybe my reason for visiting got lost in translation with emails back and forth between me and my teacher friends. When I arrived the school year was coming to an end, and exams were in full swing. However, I did get to spend a lot of time talking to both students and teachers at each school, and like to think that everyone learnt a new word.

    The Thone Htet Kyaung Monastic School is in Yangon on the southern edge of Kandawgyi Lake. There are 60 students, mostly novice monks, perhaps 5 are regular children. As well as teaching the kids, the school also feeds the noviciates, with teachers taking it in turn to shop and cook. Most of the students were from other states of Myanmar, Northern Shan, Kachin and Chin states.
    The kids I talked to were eager to converse, wanted to know about me and Australia, and all had career aspirations. Football was a hot topic (we call it soccer here) about which I know nothing. They certainly had excellent ball skills, I watched them playing in the dirt of the school ground, using two bricks for goalposts.


    The Phaung Daw Oo Monastic Education High school is in Mandalay on 19th street, and has 6000 students !
    The campus is huge, many buildings have been donated by German, Japanese, English and Australian charitable organisations. As well as the regular students, they feed, clothe and educate hundreds of children orphaned by Cyclone Nargis.

    I met a German man, he was running the woodworking school where the students learn skills by building desks and benches for the classrooms. He had sold his woodworking business in Cologne several years ago with a view to retiring, figured he had more to offer, and has since built a number of shelters for disadvantaged women and children in underdeveloped countries in Africa and SE Asia. Inspiring guy, makes me wish I had some kind of tangible skill to offer.

    I met expat teachers, Americans working in remote Monastic schools in Kachin state, an Australian woman teaching music, and one of the co-ordinaters of the schools' training programs. The schools not only teach students, but also run programs to teach a standardised curricular to other teachers.
    In Yangon there were 25 teachers from Rahkine state, all undergoing this training, staying at the school, being fed by the school.

    The Venerable U Nayaka is a Buddhist monk of considerable vision and energy, he's the man behind this endeavor. He has devoted his life to the education of children from poor families. No fees are charged at the schools. Sadly, some families are too poor to allow their children the time to gain an education, so you will still be served lunch by a 12 year old.

    I saw graffiti on an underpass while on the circle train in Yangon "education is power" it said.
    More power to U Nayaka, I say.

    Next up, some of the other bits.

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    Other bits.

    The trip ended up like this:

    Sunday Feb 23 arrive Yangon, stay 5 nights

    Friday Feb 28 fly to Mandalay, stay 4 nights

    Tuesday March 4 share taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin, stay 1 night

    Wednesday March 5 private taxi back to Mandalay, stay 1 night

    Thursday March 6 fly to Heho for Inle Lake, stay 5 nights

    Tuesday March 11 fly to Yangon, stay 2 nights

    Thursday March 13 fly to Singapore for 6 hour layover before overnight flight home to the Gold Coast, Australia.

    In Yangon.

    Apart from visits to the school, I spent a fair amount of time just walking around, although it is very hot, and footpaths, where they exist at all are likely broken. The crumbling colonial buildings are in various states of decrepitude, some still in use, others clearly abandoned. Very atmospheric, I try to imagine what it would have been like here in the early part of the twentieth century. Hard I reckon.

    There some lovely green spaces, families gather in the cooler early evening to watch children run around and burn off surplus energy.

    I get the hang of crossing a six lane road, one lane at a time. At least in Yangon there are no motorbikes zipping between lanes to catch the unwary. The local busses are crammed to the gills with people, sometimes even hanging on/out in the doorway.

    Took the Circle train, the ticket counter is on platform 7, you cross the tracks on a bitumen path to get there. Had to show passport, ticket cost $1 pristine USD. Note that a new, but previously folded note was rejected. The train did the full circle in 3 hours 20 minutes. It was slow going, but when it did pick up a bit of speed (maybe 30 kmh) it lurched alarmingly from side to side. I considered my options in case of derailment. Came up with none.

    The countryside is varied, rice paddies, banana plantations, many other crops like onions and sweet potato, small villages with bamboo and thatch houses all built above the ground. There was an interesting looking local market at the half way point, Danyingon. Many locals with bundles of produce got on or off here.

    I spent a day with two of the teachers, M is female, 23 yo, J is male, 27, both teach English. We visited Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda (thanks Esme travels) which is a stunningly decorated temple. Green mirror tiles line many surfaces, it's an octagonal shape, has some amazingly decorated shrines, and inside on the walls thousands of red plaster figures. There are only a few locals here going about their daily prayers.

    On to Botataung Pagoda, where the inside of the temple is completely gilded, and very bling. This is a big complex, we wander through some of the lesser halls, where there are Burmese people playing a game of sorts. A large revolving disk turns, it's about 3 meters in diameter. On it are about 10 silver bowls, each labelled with words like "lottery, health, children". You buy a plate of tiny folded ex banknotes, stand behind a metal barrier, and aim to score a direct hit into the bowl of your choice. Fun to watch the Burmese get so excited !

    Lunch was at a hole in the wall in Chinatown, food was good, cost for all of us about $11. Then we walked to Bogyoke Aung San market for a little shopping. I bought some old tribal leg warmers at Yoyomay (thanks Kathie) a few small woven purses for gifts, and some of the ubiquitous black velvet flip flops for me. The vendor at this stall didn't want to sell me the men's version (which have wider straps). With the help of my teacher friends, I convinced him that no one in Australia would know I was wearing men's slippers (that's what they call flip flops here). A bargain at $4.

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    Excuse me for cutting and pasting from emails sent home. Hopefully the following snippets will prove useful for others contemplating a trip to Myanmar. They will be in no particular order.
    Note that my Burmese teacher friends always referred to their country as Myanmar, rather than Burma.

    Share taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin.

    Well, that was an experience I really don't need to repeat. The cost was $7 or 7000kyat, a private taxi costs $35 or 35000 kyat, but I'll be getting one tomorrow back to Mandalay.

    The travel agent told me I would be sharing with 3 others, and the trip would take about 1.5 hrs.

    She didn't mention it might take 1.5 hours just to pick up the other 3 in Mandalay, or that a Fat Burmese Woman sitting next to me would encroach on my personal space rather than the man on the other side of the backseat. The FBW was picked up about 5 kms west from me, she then fired rapid directions to the driver, in Burmese of course, I had no clue.
    She proceeded to hoick and spit out the window. Mmmm, charming.

    We went to recycle town, some many kms away, think every house with some kind of garbage in the front yard, empty bottles, stacks of flattened cardboard boxes, and rolls of plastic bags. The bags are the PVC $2 shop variety at home, and yes, that's what we came for. Once the large roll of second hand cheap plastic was loaded we were off.

    So this is okay, just me and her, until we get to way over the other side of town for two more passengers. A big guy gets in the front seat, a smaller guy tries to open my door (which would have put me in the middle) so I say no, FBW now has the middle. All three are Burmese and promptly fall asleep. FBW must think the guy on the other side has rabies, she keeps a good 10 cm gap between her and him. Which means of course, she's practically on top of me.

    I was picked up at 9.00 am, we left Mandalay City at 10.30, and made Pyin oo Lwin at about 12.15. A good 1.5 hours - not !

    The car is a small station wagon, like a Datsun 120 Y. It's hot, really hot, no aircon, all windows down, and I'm sweating with her touching me. As we wind up into the hills, the road has many hairpin switchbacks, which makes the leaning even more encroaching. I start thinking about saying something. I have no idea if she understands English, but eventually I say, "how about you lean on him for a while" she gets the drift, and tries not to lean on me for the rest of the journey. Meanwhile my hair, usually parted on the left, is getting a serious combover to the right.

    We stop after 45 mins at a restaurant where FBW and the driver both order food. Alarmingly the driver also raises the bonnet and uses a hose to fill the radiator and cool the engine. It must be some kind of tradition here, a relatively new looking Suzuki Swift gets the same treatment.
    I hear a rooster crowing, there are two, and they are in the restaurant ! Pecking around for crumbs between tables.

    Whoever said Pyin oo Lwin is like Surrey is seriously delusional. The place is almost totally devoid of any charm. Many colonial era houses are being demolished to make way for ugly concrete McMansions, complete with razor wire fencing. While this hotel is quite nice, it is also way out of town, and I'll probably stay in tonight and sample their limited and for Myanmar expensive menu. When I checked in they said I was upgraded to a suite, my research indicated all were "suites", plus they gave me a package of free post cards - all of which have the hotel name and address over the top half of the card ! And, the wifi is totally crap, iPad couldn't even find the connection. The hotel blamed the government.

    I went into town by taxi for $5, he dropped me at the market which houses row after row of cheap Chinese manufactured rubbish. I wandered some more, trying to find anything of interest.

    A dog took particular exception to my presence, and followed me down this horrible broken street barking it's head off, very angry. Of course that set all the local dogs off, until a kind lady threw water at them. Note to self, carry water to chuck at rude dogs.

    Eventually I found a beer bar, very cold tap beer cost 60 cents, and had excellent wifi. The hotels excuse about the government restrictions is a thinly veiled attempt to conceal their own server issues. I might leave feedback.

    It's not all bad here, but nothing like I expected. Will never need to revisit.

    Next morning I walked about 15 minutes up the road to the botanical gardens. I paid $5 for the foreigners entrance fee, which included camera fee. The gardens are largely very pretty and well kept, although certain sections had dirt and dead trees. Signage is limited. I saw the saddest children's playground ever. There were 5 metal frames for two swings each, not one had a working seat. Similarly the see saw had missing seats. There was a climbing frame that looked usable, and a maze built with upright wooden posts, about a meter high, so only for very small children.

    My private taxi back to Mandalay costs only 20,500 kyat, fantastic new, clean and air conditioned car. The driver has some English, and asks if I'm in a hurry, or want to go safely ! Of course, safely is the answer. The scenery on this drive is of desolate mountains. It might be prettier after the rainy season, but now it is all dusty trees, dirt, and desperately poor villages.

    This time the trip does take 1.5 hours, and back at the Emperor Hotel I'm greeted like a long lost relative.

    A word on relatives. Terms like sister, mother, aunty are used freely here, there does not need to be any family connection. I came across this many times, perhaps the words are used more as a sign of respect or affection.

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    I found the condition of the sidewalks or lack of them in Yangon a serious detriment for me to enjoy looking at the buildings. I was constantly looking at my fee to ensure I didn't trip or step in a big hole.

    Your drive to Pyin OO Lwin is so funny -although I'm sure not so funny being in the midst of it. I hadn't expected much in POL so wasn't terribly disappointed. For us it was much cooler than Mandalay, so that was good. The hotel is soulless and we had the worse food there of anywhere. Only had a snack and breakfast. Had dinner out.

    Very much enjoying reading about a trip so very different than our typical on the tourists circuit. And yes, the brother, sister deal was always said. I figured it just meant a good friend in some instances or they told you that to make yu more comfortable? We heard it in Thailand too.

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    A day in Mandalay.

    Had plans to bolster booty today, but played the nice guy and let myself be taken to Mahamouni temple (the one with the gold leaf issues) yet again, instead of silk shopping in Amarapura.

    EiEi is a teacher at the school, who I'd met in Australia, with husband Muji and niece Sidi, they came for me at 9.00 am. Sidi is EiEi's brothers daughter, he was killed by a snake. She is painfully shy, and despite my attempts to engage her, we hardly spoke. She is only 16. They organised a driver for the day for $35 - I ended up giving him $40. The vehicle was an ancient left hand drive small Toyota ute, luckily I was granted the front seat, while the others sat on a mat on the tray back. The driver chewed betel (with the resultant spitting) throughout the duration of our 6 hour day.

    We started at Mandalay hill, guess what is there ? A temple ? Yep, you got it right. At least they had escalators, three really long ones, of course with bare feet. My guides felt the need to leave all our footwear in the truck, so lots of dirt and rocks to just even make it to the starting point thru the car park. I paid 1000 kyats for a camera permit and took some okay shots.

    The views over Mandalay are superb, (on a clear day, ours was hazy) and the gang pointed out places of interest like the prison !

    We walked down the usual arcade of shops selling crap, back to the car park and off to U Bein bridge. I should point out that it is about 36 degrees, humid and not my ideal walking around weather. It's not even driving around weather, no aircon, plastic seats, and a driver who while he was very good, found it necessary to beep beep every time we passed anything ! By anything I mean, motorbikes, pedestrians, other cars or crossroads. By about 11.00 am I wanted to dislocate his right thumb.

    Okay, U Bein bridge, we walked about 200 meters, I suggested a rest in the covered shady spot, and then thought "why am I doing this again ?" I've had enough of walking on unstable surfaces in the past few weeks, it's crowded, and so hot. Let's do lunch !

    I'm not sure if you remember the waterfront restaurants there, this time we ate at one, it had bamboo chairs, uncomfortable but a nice change from plastic. I let the guys order food, and said I would have stir fried noodles with vegetables. Unlike when I ate with Mas We in Yangon, this time everything but my noodles was to share, doh !

    A plate came with fried sweet corn fritters, fried gourd fritters and fried lake fish (which I didn't try). There was a plate of stuff described by EiEi as chilli, lime, lime and something else, I tried a pin head full and nearly self combusted. We each had dipping sauce (eye watering stuff) and those lucky guys had steamed rice, while I toyed with the noodles. I did get a large bottle of very cold Myanmar beer, thanks to EiEi, while they drank water. Total cost $7.50, I insisted on paying, and the nice lady packaged up my noodles for the guys to take away.

    There was a flurry of Burmese conversation between the restaurant owner and my gang, which I soon found out was about the four important temples in the area ...oh no. Yes, we visited all four, some of which are undergoing horrible renovation. Think ancient Angor Wat styles, being covered with concrete and plaster, painted brilliant white with gold paint highlights. The military junta threw out UNESCO a few years ago, they had been overseeing the work, now the government does it. It's a crying shame.

    At each temple all three of my mates prostrated to the Buddha. One temple was kind of nice, it had 306 Buddha images inside, and another 30 outside. We were the only visitors.

    Somehow the silk shopping plan changed to visiting Mahamouni temple - I don't think these guys get out in a car much, so I went along with it (sorry booty).

    I didn't go inside, said I was templed out, had seen it before, and would have a look at the stalls on the street. On the street I was asked eight times in 15 minutes if I wanted motorcycle taxi. I gave 100 kyat to a nun, then several other beggars appeared - only the nun I said. She later patted me on the shoulder when I was back at the area where the ute was parked.

    I'm tried an Indian vegetarian restaurant close by for dinner. The sign out the front says "Be kind to animals, don't eat them". The food was very good, dal, vege curry, rice and pappadums for about $5.

    This might sound like I didn't enjoy the day, my sarcasm does shine through. However, it was fun, my gang were great, Muji has pretty good English and explained many things, all in all it was very worthwhile.

    I'm very lucky to have EiEi and her family members to smooth the way.

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    YT, yes agree the walking was difficult.

    I forced myself to stop, and ensured I was rooted to the ground before looking up at the various buildings.
    I tried to enter a few, but was turned away by fierce guards. Perhaps they were government buildings, the signs were all in Burmese script, so I had no idea.

    This trip was very different from the usual tourist circuit, nonetheless very rewarding, and serendipitous that I was able to do it.

    Will post more in dribs and drabs.

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    I have a question about going barefoot at temples: if one was to carry a thin pair of flip flops to put on would that be acceptable? Or what about those disposable shoe covers that you see in hospitals? The bottom of my feet are extremely sensitive and I want to be prepared for walking through temples during my visit in November. I can't imagine going barefoot on a metal escalator.Sounds very dangerous.

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    Susiesan, I'm sorry, but barefoot means barefoot. I don't think any kind of foot covering will be acceptable. At some temples you are not even allowed to carry your flip flops.
    Feet and shoes are the lowest and dirtiest part of the body for Buddhists.

    I would work on toughening up those sensitive feet if I were you.

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    Agree. Signs even said no socks. There were people who constantly motioned to you to take off your shoes, socks and whatever else on your feet if they thought you were leaving them on. In most of the places we went, we walked on smooth surfaces.

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    A day trip to Mingun.

    I went to Mingun with EiEi, it's about a one hour boat trip up the Ayerwaddy from Mandalay.

    She came to the hotel as arranged at 8.30 am, only to say she had phoned her friend in Mingun, and that she couldn't take the foreigners boat. I questioned her about why, the reason being it cost 5000 kyat ($5.00), I offered to pay for her, so off we went. Jeez, I would have paid for her anyway.

    Taxi to boat jetty also cost 5000 kyat (the largest note they have here, that's why the stacks are so ginormous). On arrival, the ticket seller wanted to see my passport which was safely locked in my hotel room (how safe is another matter, first day I stuffed up the number, a staff member promptly appeared with a key). Anyway, I now remember the passport number after so many arrival and departure forms (would have just bluffed it anyway if I didn't) bought the tickets, and was impressed that the Burmese ticket man guessed me as Australian.

    I probably didn't need to do this trip after 14 days on the Ayerwaddy, (the highlight for many tourists being the boat trip) but one has to fill 5 days in Mandalay somehow, and Mingun was fun. All the more so for being with EiEi who has many friends there. There's some slightly impressive sights, read temples and pagodas, but what was really special was hanging in the cafés of two different friends of hers.
    At the second place they wouldn't even let me pay ! I had a beer too, and learnt the Burmese for "very cold beer please" which I've written down, and will continue to practise.

    We were served various fried things, if I'm gonna get sick, it will be tomorrow. Fried things were cooked some time ago, and handled literally by hand. The "things" included fava bean fritters, sweet corn fritters, tiny prawn fritters (think in millimeters, maybe 3mm) and bigger prawn fritters. I also had a coconut drink.

    I asked for, and was granted, a smiling photo of the lady cooking fritters over an open flame.

    We jumped back on board after stopping for chats with some other locals, who all made an effort to engage me. Im so lucky I got this opportunity to visit with a local.

    Chilling in my hotel room now, literally, after every room service they turn the temp down to 17.
    I turn it back up to 24. Wifi is again quite good here.

    I'm going to the school tomorrow, have instructions written in Burmese and will take a taxi. Eiei offered to have Muji pick me up on the motorbike, but I politely declined. I told them the story about my bike accident that resulted in two black eyes and gravel rash down both sides of body, arms and legs, I didn't divulge it was a push bike ! One thing I don't need is a motorbike accident, and I seriously don't have the desire for any more motorbikes ever.

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    Caroline,
    Your writing is terrific and you have a great sense of humor! Your sarcastic edge cracks me up, and I can relate -- I can only imagine similar thoughts going through my head, like riding in the taxi with the BFW.

    I'm truly impressed that you took the chance to get so off the tourist route. It may've been serendipity meeting the Burmese teachers at home, but you're the one who took the chance. I give you a lot of credit for doing that.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this up. It's fascinating!

    Paule

    Looking forward to more!

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    Still following along. I was also not impressed with Pyin U Lwin, though our driver did take us around to see the best-preserevd English houses. In a few years, it will all be McMansions.

    We thought the Mahamuni temple was very worthwhile, but then, we are temple fanatics and we went to Mrauk U the same trip , which is where the Mahamuni Buddha was stolen from.

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    Thanks Paule.

    Kathie, just a little clarification, these last few posts are cut and pastes from emails sent home to husband. I do enjoy visiting a certain number of temples, he has far less tolerance, so the slant is for him.
    Mahamuni would have been number 7 that day, I think my cut off might be 6. I have been to Mahamuni before, and agree it is very worthwhile. Although slightly annoyed that only men are allowed to anoint the Buddha, the only case of sexism I saw in Myanmar.

    More coming up.

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    A vagabond in Yangon

    I left my booking for Yangon so late that I had to settle on a room In a house listed via Airbnb. I had the directions written in Burmese script photographed and emailed to me by the owner. Should have been simple to locate it you might think, err no.

    The taxi driver from the airport, to his credit, made several phone calls, stopped and asked 3 different locals, and spent at least 20 minutes trying to find the mystery house. It turned out to be in the street behind the named street, this street didn't have a name.

    For anyone planning a trip to Yangon, taxis at the International Airport are easy. There is a counter inside the terminal near the moneychangers, with English speaking staff. You tell them where you are going, they tell you the price and give you a voucher (although you actually pay the driver), someone will lead you outside and whistle up the car. There are signs asking people to report back if the driver asks for more.

    So we pull into the bleak concrete front yard of a bleak three story concrete house.
    There are eight dogs lying around in bleak yard.
    My room is, well let's say spartan, to be nice. There's a single bed shoved in the corner, a lock on the door, two choices of lighting (none, or three brilliant flouros that put Shwedagon to shame), and a wet room style bathroom. Immediately outside my room are several desks, with PCs, paperwork, in and out trays, yes a real working office. The owner runs his business from here.

    Downstairs is a living room, completely devoid of any furniture. There's also a bar area just off the kitchen, with a round table and four chairs, this is where all the action happens. I took one look in the kitchen and wished I hadn't. There was a washing machine available too, one look at that convinced me to leave the clothes dirty.

    I head out to explore my new neighbourhood. This place is well out of downtown, I call it sticksville. I went out to find lunch, walked down an eight or six lane road (you know what I mean) and crossed with some locals. Attracted plenty of stares, and not many smiles. Went to the twelfth floor of Yangon Hotel to Yangon Seafood Restaurant, ordered stir fried noodles with chicken, "crazy white lady, why you no eat seafood", and a Myanmar beer. Large bottles only, slightly cooler than Kimberley cool, and logged on to their wifi which was pretty good (after they found someone with enough English to give me the password).
    The food was actually really good, if this hadn't been my first day in Yangon, I would have eaten the various salads and accompaniments that also appeared.

    Day 2.

    I'm frustrated with my inability to contact my teacher friend Mas We. She told me by email that her phone is broken, and had given me the number of a friends phone, which is switched off.
    Apparently she came by taxi to the house this morning, but was too scared to get out of the car. She was frightened by the dogs.
    After many attempts, we finally make contact by phone, I get one of the men here to write down the address of the school in Burmese script, rustle up a taxi, and off I go. I spend many hours talking to groups of boys, all novice monks in maroon coloured robes. They understand me a lot better than I understand some of them, but it's fun, if a little excruciating at times. You know, errr what am I gonna ask next, trying to keep some kind of flow going. I ask about their career aspirations, one doctor, several engineers, a teacher, and loads of professional footballers !

    This school is small, only 60 students, who all live here. There's a rectangular two story concrete building with an interesting carved wooden roof, temple style. It is a monastery after all. The classroom by day becomes a bedroom by night, with mats and mosquito nets. There are other buildings in the complex, a modern concrete three story one, which is the admin centre, and several bamboo and thatch roof classrooms.

    My friend displays the typical Burmese hospitality and feels the need to feed me. Shan noodles with chicken appear (a boy was sent out to fetch them from a street stall) oh dear, I'm torn, don't want to appear ungrateful, but I feel a salmonella coming on. I did eat some, but it was 11.00 am and I really wasn't that hungry. I was fine by the way.

    I took a taxi into downtown, heading for Sule Pagoda. The traffic is horrible, traffic light sequences are long, maybe 5 minutes at some intersections. So I spot the Traders Hotel, stop the taxi and go for a cool drink in the wonderfully air conditioned lobby. There is free wifi, very fast. I think they're playing some kind of joke on me when the tiny slip of paper with the wifi password is blank on both sides. Then the waitress cracks up as well, and gets me another slip.

    I got talking to a Burmese man who used to be a guard at the US Embassy. He proudly pulls up photos of himself in uniform on his phone.

    Eventually I leave the cool, heading into another onslaught of heat, dust, dirt and broken pavements. I walked for an hour or so, heading in the general direction of Chinatown. I missed by a few streets, and ended up in Muslim town.
    That was enough for me, it took several tries, but I eventually found a taxi willing to take me back to Sticksville. An hour and fifteen minutes later, through really painful traffic I pull up at bleak house, where the owner and his friends are about to jump in the car and visit Shwedagon. He invited me to join them, I know I should have gone, but was just too exhausted to consider more traffic.

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    Four different lodgings in four days.

    I knew I had to get out of Sticksville, and found 2 nights available at Clover Hotel via Agoda. Clover had been recommended to me by the school as being close and clean. I said my farewells to Sticksville, explained that the room was fine (which it was for $50, you can't expect a lot at that price in Myanmar) but the location was an issue for me.

    Arrived in the morning at Clover, only to have reception tell me they are overbooked, and had arranged a room for me at Clover City Centre for one night, the second night would be here. So, they provided a car and driver to take me to CCC. It is in 31 St, facing the back wall of Traders Hotel. With all the pfaffing around I missed school today. I did visit Bogyoke Aung San market for a look around, had some lunch at an upscale but local restaurant, where two young women were employed just to open the doors it seemed. I sat at the front near a large window, and people watched. There was a woman with child sat on the footpath, her hand outstretched. The child seemed well fed, and happily did childish things, however he wasn't wearing pants. I did give her a few hundred kyat when I left, hope she buys some nappies.

    Next day, and back to the original Clover, after a morning on the circle train.
    Okay, so this Clover is on the northern edge of Kandawgyi Lake, and an easy walk to school. I again spend a large part of the day at school, get fed lunch, this time a curry, butter chicken, very different from what I thought it would be. It was only luke warm, and again I fought the "will I get sick, don't want to be ungrateful" demon.
    I was fine.

    Tonight I have arranged to go out with Mas We and two other teachers, J and M, for dinner, my treat. The restaurant screams "Burmese fast food chain" but, is okay.
    Mas We, clever girl, gets the last available crab, so it's more chicken and noodles for me.

    By now I have booked a flight to Mandalay for Friday. I need to find accommodation for one more night in Yangon. Neither Clover has delighted me, I found them very sterile, no charm whatsoever, and the thing they call breakfast was a monstrosity.

    I was miffed that they wanted to charge me $95 for the next night. I'd paid $85 for the previous two, and endured the double booking saga with some grace. I argued my case, was offered a discount to $93, yes, a whole two dollars. That eventually got bargained down to $90, and yes, I know I shouldn't be trifling over such small amounts. There was a principle at stake here, they thought they had me over a barrel, said they were fully booked. I politely reserved my decision, said I would consider the offer, and check out by noon tomorrow, if unacceptable. Off to my room, and trusty friend, Agoda.

    So, Garden Home B & B it is, just two streets away I later find out, still walking distance to school, about the same price as Clover $80 US, and when I get there, very cute indeed.
    That I actually got here is also remarkable. I checked out of Clover, told the doorman where I was going, he seemed to understand. The same car and driver appeared, off we went. Some many miles, and after a few attempts to clarify exactly where we are going, I figure we're enroute to the airport. Somehow "Garden Home" had become just plain "home" like in Australia home.

    We turn around, more excruciating traffic, seriously this is the worst aspect of Yangon. Arriving at Garden Home, it takes the manager, three doormen and two receptionists to sort out the "who will pay the driver" dilemma. When I finally get my turn to speak, it becomes clear that there has been a misunderstanding, err, really !

    The driver wouldn't take any money from me, hope the Clover paid him.

    That's how I ended up with four different lodgings in four days. Certainly has enhanced my speed packing ability.

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    Wow - the traffic sounds just awful. In our two stays in Yangon it never took more than 20 minutes to get anywhere. I'll have to remember to allow for traffic next time I'm there.

    Very much enjoying your report.

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    A new neighbourhood to explore.

    I'm at Garden Home B&B. It's quaint, has a lovely bar cum restaurant with wooden furnishings, a small art gallery off in a wooden building to the side, and a moat around a grassed area with the largest gold fish I've ever seen. These fish are Koi I think, at least a foot long, and many different colours.

    The road is called Bogyoke Museum Rd, so naturally I figure there must be a museum somewhere nearby.

    The museum was the house of Bogyoke Aung San, where he lived for two years prior to his assassination in 1947. It's about 15 minutes walk, largely uphill. Entry cost 300 kyat (30 cents) no photos allowed inside. Lockers at the base of the path to the house are provided to store cameras (in my case, an iPhone). The house is a lovely example of colonial architecture, it has a turret going up three stories, (no visitor access) which apparently has views of Shwedagon, and fabulous wooden archways with fancy fretwork detail. There are balconies all around the second floor, again no access for visitors. I suspect that whatever maintenance is done, is not enough to ensure safety.

    The original beds (including where ASSK slept) are in place, along with every day items, including furniture, clothing, crockery and cutlery. He certainly didn't lead an opulent lifestyle. How I would love to see the house of a present day general to compare. Of course, that's not gonna happen, but I do imagine there's a vast difference.

    The area has many colonial wooden houses, mostly derelict and crumbling but stunning visually. I do understand that there is a cost involved in making one of these houses habitable, it's probably cheaper to bulldoze and start again. But, it's such a great pity that all these amazing insights into a bygone era will be lost.

    The area contrasts between concrete McMansions complete with layers of razor wire, fenced off and derelict colonial wooden houses, and bamboo and thatch huts.

    I'm out in the back blocks now, roads are dirt, can only imagine what this would be like during the rainy season. Very muddy I conclude.

    I have an early start tomorrow, a 6.15 am flight, they tell me I need to be at the airport by 4.45 am, need to allow 30 mins for the drive, so I set my phone to wake me at 3.50 am, ask the hotel to arrange taxi. Have an early night.

    Next thing I know, the room phone is ringing, it's 4.37 am, holy crap ! I throw on the clothes I'd laid out last night, chuck whatever I can see in my carryon bag, and bolt out the door. I vow to learn how to drive this new iPhone, which had been on silent.

    I check out, the hotel gives me a plastic bag with two cups, one coffee, one milk, I throw them together into one cup, climb into taxi, promptly spill the coffee mix over clean cream linen pants, double crap.

    There is actually plenty of time, it's still dark when I arrive at Yangon domestic terminal, no line at the Golden Myanmar Airlines check in counter. I think they tell you a much earlier time to be on the safe side.

    I get seat 15F on a full plane, and am rewarded with the most spectacular sunrise as we soar out of Yangon. A tiny brilliant red dot becomes a huge golden globe within seconds. I'm so lucky to be on the right side of the plane, with a window seat. So lucky to be in Myanmar really.

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    Okay, I'm in Mandalay. Posts are out of order here, I have previously spent the day with Eiei and family, and been to Mingun. I chilled for an hour or two, then went exploring. Popped into a local bar with Tiger beer signs plastered all over it. First response was "no beer" whattha ?..turns out they had Myanmar beer, just no Tiger, okay. My "birre ayay lay bebar "didn't work, bummer. What I did get was about 5 old women at a bus stop in front of me, one smoking a cheroot, who smiled like there was no tomorrow. Photo proof held.

    Next stop was a Thai restaurant, across the alley from last nights vegetarian Indian "be kind to animals, don't eat them" was the slogan. I looked at the shop on the ground floor, spied a laying down Buddha which was lovely. Asked the man if they shipped, yes ok was the answer, then the price, $1500, not kyats, US dollars....I passed.

    So I tried the "birre ayay lay bebar " again, and it worked ! The young woman immediately knew what I meant, and delivered a very cold Myanmar beer, joy of joys. I ordered a Penang chicken curry with potatoes and pumpkin, came with rice. Cost about $6.

    Back to hotel, where there's the usual outside area for staff who organise taxis etc,sitting under a flimsy cover. A man invites me to sit, and gives me his cup of tea. It's good, we chat about things in general, and they've noticed my contact with EiEi, ask how we met yada yada. Turns out that one man is a teacher of sorts at a local school, and has now invited me to visit the school. Priceless ! I might take him up on Wednesday when I return from Pyin oo Lwin.

    People in the area are starting to recognise me, I get loads of fantastic smiles. One thing I didn't notice on our previous visit was the public bathing areas, basically a concrete basin where people go to wash. I've refrained from photos, some respect is in order.

    We are so lucky to have been born in a western country with access to clean water, health care, and relative wealth. There's a blog by Esme travels that talks about the 1%, ......that's us.






    Sent from my iPad

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    Loving this, Caroline! Really, this s traveling, with a capital ''T'!

    Love your description of your interactions with the novice monks - and the adventures of the 4 lodgings is a great story.

    Your descriptions really evoke a feeling of the place -- thank you so much for writing this up!

    Paule

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    Thanks for the encouragement Paule, here's a bit more.

    A little more Mandalay.

    I went to EiEi's school today, by taxi, air conditioned clean luxury car with a driver who spoke some English. It cost 4000 kyat. Interestingly, after lunch with E & M, it took some time, like 20 minutes, to find a pick up truck with plastic seats, no aircon, and which also cost 4000 kyat. That's Burma I guess.

    The school is huge, 6000 students, many orphans from cyclone Nargis live here, many teachers live here, many monks live here, I could go on. I have a photo of EiEi and Muji's room, it is built on the top floor of a three storey building, stand alone and maybe 2 meters by 5 meters. Put it this way, the double bed is against one wall, with maybe a 20 cm gap to the other wall. Being effectively the fourth story, and on the roof, it is hot as hell.

    There's almost a whole village within the school walls, including a row of vendors selling snacks and meals, and a shop for stationery and packaged food and drinks. There's a craft room with a number of old treadle style sewing machines where they turn out bags, water bottle holders and longyi in traditional fabrics. I meant to go back and buy some stuff here, but got sidetracked.

    I met the principal a monk named U Nayaka he has devoted his life to providing education, no fees are charged at this school or the one in Yangon. Rather unfortunately, my time with the Venerable U Nayaka was monopolised by an Australian woman from Melbourne who teaches music at the school. She wanted to know about the political situation in Oz.

    EiEi is 27, and comes from a small and very poor village near Bagan. She was sent here to continue her education, as there are no fees. She went through the "preparing for university" program here. To give back, she now teaches here. She is pretty well travelled for a Burmese woman. Apart from 5 weeks in Oz, she has spent 4 weeks in Germany, sponsored by teachers who volunteered at the school, and also some time in Thailand, again teaching.

    She and Muji plan to start a family soon, they have been saving for a couple of years to do so. There is no free health care here. From her interactions I saw with other children, she will make an excellent mother.

    After a few hours at the school, E and I hit the beauty salon ! She had her hair washed, very civilised method where you lie down on a flat bed with a downward slope to the basin. Looked much more comfortable than sitting up trying to fit your neck into those awful moulds. I got a pedicure.

    We met up with Muji and walked about 15 minutes through dirt streets to a local restaurant for lunch. Here there is a choice of tiny plastic stools at low tables, or bigger plastic chairs at higher tables. We take the latter. Lunch was many salads, a soup (where everyone used the same spoon to slurp it up) a chicken curry, and of course rice. The salads were really good, tea leaf, another mystery leaf said to be good for the stomach, fava beans, and cucumber and peanuts.

    Our waiter is 11 years old, his family can't afford for him not to be earning, so no school for him. An even younger boy is serving other tables. He stuffs up opening a bottle of beer, we get drenched. I thought he must have shook the bottle, E tells me he didn't know how to open it. So very young.

    Finished lunch, and I'm thinking - jeez I hope the back of my skirt is not showing some huge wet patch from sweating ! If it does, no one says anything, and E tells me she sweats in the plastic chairs too. Funny, the Burmese always appear to me to be cool, calm and collected. It's only the foreigners who look like they've just stepped out of an oven.

    Next up, last day in Mandalay.

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    Thanks YT, and yes, seeing the working children is tough. I like to think that one day they may have their own restaurant, or that maybe they are developing entrepreneurs.

    Last night in Mandalay.

    Well, tonight has been priceless. Eiei and Muji turned up at about 6.10 pm. I had been sitting outside in the small covered area with a man who turned out to be a taxi driver, and one of the hotel employees. As the various hotel employee ladies came out to sign off in a book, I explained to him "knock off time". He thought that was a real hoot, and shared the meaning with several others. He also asked me about other English words which he had written down in a book. I did my best, but he had one word I'd never heard before, Google helped, it is a very old word, no longer used, but I was able to explain what it meant, thanks to google and iPhone.

    He became our taxi to "Hot Pot City" where the food was good, Muji even had beer with me tonight. We sat upstairs, each place setting had it's own inbuilt burner, a ceramic hot plate. Soon saucepans of broth appeared, with myriad vegetables, finely sliced chicken, mounds of noodles, and little dishes of spicy bits. They kept on bringing the food until we pleaded with them to stop.

    As expected, EiEi had presents for me to carry home. They are wall hangings of Myanmar scenes on black velvet, Chinese manufactured I'm guessing.

    Back from dinner around 8.00 I say my good byes to E & M, and the manager Naing oo, of the hotel asks what time I'm leaving tomorrow, as he will be going home in about 30 minutes. I'm leaving very early at 6.15 am. Okay, I go up to room, then think, I should really go and talk to this guy who has been so welcoming. I go downstairs and sit outside with him, temperature is pleasant, the only downside is many mosquito bites, maybe 10 on back of legs.

    He somehow procures local tea, I see it arriving in small plastic bags, sweet and delicious. We talk for more than 30 minutes, about lots of things, including his sister in Australia. Sister is a word fairly loosely applied here, they could be no relation at all. At EiEi's school, someone asked if I was her mother, like I said, there doesn't need to be any family relationship to use any of the usual familial terms.

    EiEi and Muji are planning on starting a family soon, they said April or May, and talking to Naing oo I realise the cost of decent healthcare. He quoted something like 10,000 dollars not kyat, to ensure (as far as possible) a safe delivery. That's including ultrasounds at the appropriate intervals, and a midwife for the birth. Jeez, I had no idea that basic care could be so expensive, and my legs itch.

    I've told EiEi that I would like to help with that expense, and they do have a bank account. She tells me they have saved (probably for years) to meet the cost.

    Anyway, my time in Mandalay has been greatly enhanced by EiEi and Muji. Tomorrow off to Inle Lake.

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    To Inle Lake.

    Inle Lake, where I'm staying at a relatively expensive hotel, and enjoying the (relative) luxury.

    The flight was pretty good despite my misgivings and over analysing the Burmese air transport industry. It was a prop plane, ATR 72 - 600, but looked brand new, no ashtrays in seats to indicate a 20 year old plane. Cruising altitude of 11,500 feet allowed me to see the amazing rugged mountains, and shortly after soft drinks were served, the captain called for cabin crew to prepare for landing. I still can't figure out why a 20 minute flight might take somewhere between 8 and 11 hours by road.

    I had a private taxi organised to take me to my hotel for $25, the drive took about 45 mins. We stopped twice, once for the train, once for me to pay the $10 visitor fee to enter the Inle Lake area. Again, I tried to palm off the once folded US note, again it was rejected.

    Pristine notes people !

    There's a saying that goes something like "travelling in SE Asia is akin to playing diarrhoea roulette". I've been here nearly five weeks now, and my number has come up ! So, after an uneventful, and thankfully brief flight from Mandalay, I've spent most of the day in my waterfront suite. I did go out for a walk into town, but found the diesel fumes sickening, I very slowly made it back to my temporary home.

    This hotel, the View Point Lodge and Fine Cuisines (funny name, but that's what it's called) is situated on the main canal that leads to the lake. It is Eco minded, with bungalows built over the water from mud brick, with timber frames, and is decorated with natural paint. There is also an Eco minded mini bar, a large wooden box, with different compartments, some filled with ice. Never seen anything like it before.

    The manager is a young blonde woman from Switzerland, named Jenni. She introduced me to the Public Relations Manager, named Mitsu, he's a Golden Retriever ! He's the only friendly dog I've found in Myanmar. He's quite old with visible cataracts, but still managed to see (and try to steal) my snacks later. I don't know the Burmese word for sit, so tried English. It worked, sort of, he sat on my foot. He's a 25 kilo very hairy dog, he's in between me and the table, with me holding drink and snack out of reach, and balancing iPad on lap.
    Tail is wagging, dangerously close to wiping out anything left on the table.

    I hope to get out on the lake tomorrow. Will probably try to fit in the Jumping Cat Monastery (to balance out the domestic animal experience) although I've read that the cats no longer jump.

    Wifi here is a bit iffy, I have a theory that there is an inverse relationship between hotel cost and connectivity. So far, the theory is validated, with the exception being Traders Hotel in Yangon. Even very basic restaurants seemed to offer free wifi, most of it being quite fast, that is assuming you can find someone with enough English to give you the password.

    I found that iPhones are not common here, so if you give a waiter the phone to enter the password they sometimes have difficulty finding Caps or numbers. Eventually we would muddle through, I never once abandoned the wifi due to password difficulties. Boy, things are changing fast, it was only eight months ago here that I was tearing my hair out at the lack of wifi.

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    "I still can't figure out why a 20 minute flight might take somewhere between 8 and 11 hours by road." Remember your comment about the rugged terrain? And remember what the roads look like? That's why it takes so long by road! lol

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    Interesting observation on the wifi. Consistently had intermittent and slow wifi with Traders Hotel the exception. And everyone blamed it on the govt. In the hotels staff did seem familar with iPhones or figured it out. I was constantly handing off my iphone when I couldn't get connectivity.

    We had a nice lunch at your hotel. Wondered about the rooms.

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    Funny Kathie, you made me laugh anyway.

    YT, the rooms were lovely there. Wasn't it great to be in a place where you felt comfortable handing over your phone ? Not sure I would have done so in dodgy restaurants elsewhere in the world.

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    Yes, I can't think of anywhere else I have traveled where I felt so trusting of the people. They were all so delightful, friendly and open. I hope they can retain that as they become more exposed to the outside world.

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    Agree with you both, and let's hope the genuine, friendly and open character of most Burmese lasts for a while. I need to be planning the next trip, I've missed Hsipaw and Mrauk U (did I mention always seeming to "leave something for next time" )

    Cheers
    Caroline

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    Satoric - I'm taking a break from writing my trip report to read yours. You really make it come alive! Do visit Hsipaw. We enjoyed it a lot and barely scratched the surface of available activities. GT

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    Hi GT
    We're in a parallel universe on opposites sides of the world !
    As you stop writing to read my TR, I'm doing exactly the same, stopping to read yours.

    Love your style, ( and YTs), now be a good lad and get back to your report !
    Caroline

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    Email from Pandaw


    Paul Strachan recalls “I first went up the Le Myo river to visit the monuments of Mrauk U in 1986 and they were so amazed to see a foreigner they asked me to sign the visitor’s book. I returned in 1993 and was asked to sign the visitor’s book once again on the same page as seven years before. The monuments apart this was one of the best river journeys I ever made and nothing could get you closer to the people and their very different culture here.”
    Not many pages in the vistors book have been turned since then, as Mrauk-U has been impossibly difficult to get to and accommodation challenging. You can only go by river and there is little accommodation available so offering a Pandaw expedition makes a lot of sense.



    Mrauk-U is a temple city that once was capital of an important kingdom that served as a buffer between India and Burma. In the eighteenth century it was absorbed by conquest into the Burmese Empire and its most powerful Buddha carried across the mountains to be enshrined in the Mahamuni temple of Mandalay. Mrauk-U was described by missionaries and was a cosmopolitan center of high culture. The king surrounded himself with Japanese samurai bodyguards and Portugese mercenaries provided him with artillery. Maurice Collis’s Land of the Great Image, encapsulates this period greater than any other work.
    Today there is an enormous amount to see with several important temples as art historically important as the other great Buddhist sites in South East Asia, ranking alongside Pagan, Angkor or Borobadur in importance. Of great interest are the sculpture galleries in the Shitthaung temple, carved in a Guptan Indian style and visual evidence of this extraordinary culture that stood at a geographical cross roads between South-East Asia and South Asia.




    There is a lot more to see than just the monuments at Mrauk U: Sittwe or Akyab as it was known and where you will fly into is a delightful port city with well-preserved colonial buildings. Perhaps one of the last intact colonial cities left in Burma as the Chinese have yet to get here. We will explore the Kaladan river go up to Kyauktaw with its important shrine and take speed boat trips up the Le Myo River to explore the tattoo people country. The Arakan is very lost in time and far more backward and poor than the Irrawaddy valley, which can both charm and shock. It is a very different culture and language and given the proximity of India there are Indian influences all around, particularly in the local cuisine. Though there have been recent troubles between Buddhists and Muslims we will not pass through any of the affected areas.



    It is now quite easy to fly into Sittwe from Rangoon with daily flights. We plan a weekly cruise departing every Friday on the sixteen cabin Katha Pandaw starting November 2015. This enables passengers to combine the Arakan with our other weekly cruises that will connect with it – for example the Chindwin or Bhamo and to be announced very soon the Salween from Moulmein to Hpa-an and Beyond.





    www.pandaw.com | www.pandawcharity.com
    Pandaw River Expeditions, all rights reserved 2014

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    Out on the Lake

    As I headed to breakfast this morning I stopped at reception to enquire about joining a tour. There are a few interesting sounding ones in the hotels guide, however prices start at $200 for 1-4 persons, $50 each after that. Being only 1 person, and not wanting to pay $200, I was hoping to join others. At the time, a young French woman was checking out, counting out her stacks of 5000 kyat notes.

    I'm not sure if reception understood me, decided to wait until the Swiss manager was around. Later at breakfast in the dining room, the French woman approaches me, to tell me about Phyu Phyu. PP lives in a bamboo hut, a little ways down the main road to town, does massages, and can arrange tours. Young Frenchwoman says she has excellent English, and is supporting her two young sons and elderly parents.

    So, this is good, I wander down the road, find the hut of PP. We agree a price $43, for a full day with boat/driver and her services as a guide. She asked me to wait while she took the two young boys to her mother, I had some coffee across the road. I choose where to go, and not go, she is very flexible and we had such a lovely day. I went out with her again on the next day as well. If you're looking for her hut, it is next door to a large two storey bright blue steel shed in Yone Gyi Rd. She takes the signage down when she's out touring, so try again later if the hut is not obvious.

    We visited the silk and lotus weaving workshop, very interesting, with a large range of items for sale. PP offered to negotiate a good price for anything I might want. I did buy a Shan style wraparound skirt, but didn't feel the need to negotiate downwards from $14. PP bought an embroidered bag for her mobile phone, and there was some serious negotiations going on over that ! At least six women were involved, and every one cracked up when PPs phone rang inside the new bag, while sitting on the counter. I also got a priceless photo of an old woman spinning lotus, smiling like she really enjoyed her job.

    Next up was the cheroot workshop. I have seen this process before, but was happy to sit for 15 mins, watch the women working, and try to smoke a small sweet cheroot, cough, gag, cough, cough.
    I bought a circular lacquerware container (complete with 22 cheroots - jeez, what am I gonna do with them ?) I guess they'll become entertainment for me when the occasional smoker comes to visit our back deck.

    We motored through smaller canals, where they have bamboo "speed humps". Strategically placed poles are floating just under the surface, which means the driver has to lift the propeller out of the water, so must slow down. Ingenious.

    We pulled up at a wharf next to a restaurant, climbed up stairs and over a rickety wooden and bamboo bridge to cross the canal. Here there is a rather nice pagoda, the name of which is somewhere on my dining room table with the other 100 pieces of paper, entry tickets, business cards, boarding passes and the general detritus of travel.

    We had lunch at this restaurant, again, food was great, again, I didn't eat it all. Some soup, vegetable tempura, and noodles. Cost about $4, worth it to sit up high and watch the action on the canal below.
    PP took the leftovers in a takeaway container for her family.

    Off to Jumping Cat Monastery, where there's a boat full of Burmese people just leaving. Today was part of a three day holiday (we call them long weekends) so there were many Burmese out enjoying a break. These people greeted me like I was a famous super model, I can assure you I'm not, but the camaraderie and kidding around was superb.
    No cats to speak of, some stunning Buddha images, and fabulous teak posts.

    I know a lot of people find being out on the lake very relaxing. Maybe I've been spoilt by a large Pandaw where you don't really hear the engine. I found the long tail boats to be noise pollution in the extreme, I was conscious of windburn, sunburn, and OMG don't drop the iPhone. Perhaps earbuds with some tunes from the phone would have helped, that's what PP did once we were underway. I'll qualify that by her saying she would answer any questions I might have, to just ask anytime.

    I really did enjoy the day, but didn't feel the need to head back out on the water.

    Next up, other places around Inle Lake.

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    sartoric,

    Thank you for doing your trip report. Sounds like a real experience! I am loving it.

    Your comments are helping me to again realize we need to simply pick a few things that really sound appealing and then just enjoy the experience...sights sounds and the people! Those are always the best trips for us.

    I do want to go to the silk and lotus weaving workshop on the lake. I love any thing to do with textiles. Is the only one workshop of that type?

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    Did you only go to workshops or did you go to InDien as well? It sound alike you found the perfect arrangement for you to get out on the lake.

    Thanks for the info about the new Pandaw cruise. No doubt it will be more comfortable than our boat to/from Mrauk U. You may have read of the infamous "rain of insects" lol. There is a very nice place to stay in Mrauk U, with lovely little village houses and wonderful food. It is called the Mrauk U (or OO) Princess and is owned by the man who owns the Princess at Inle, in conjunction with locals in Mrauk U.

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    Cwn, I'm not sure, but guess there would be more than one workshop. Your hotel will know. And, I'm still trying to figure out Flickr so I can post those photos for you.

    Kathie, in the spirit of "leaving something for next time" I didn't go to Indein. I know I will be back (with husband next time) after establishing such great relationships with the teachers and schools. It's a bit of a long story, but DH and I are seriously considering selling up in Oz, and moving to Thailand. Myanmar will then be very close......

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    I have never seen lotus weaving before seeing it at Inle Lake. I found it fascinating. Would have loved to have had someone do some negotiating for me. I didn't buy anything cause what I liked was just too expensive.
    I generally hate noise pollution, but for some reason it didn't bother me too much on the lake. I think I was intrigued by the whole scene. And those speed bumps were great...fun to go zipping over them.

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    sartoric, A move to Thailand? How wonderful. We've dreamed of that as well, but it isn't in the near future.

    cwn, I believe there is just one silk and lotus weaving workshop on the lake. I have the name of it somewhere... it might be in our photos. I'm on vacation in Kauai right now, so don't have my usual resources at my fingertips.

    Yestravel, I also found the lotus weaving absolutely fascinating. I'm guessing this may be the only place that weaves with lotus fiber. I've never seen it anywhere else in all of my visits to SE Asia. I bought a couple of pieces... I was probably fortunate that I had forgotten to replenish my cash supply that morning.

    Loving these reports of Burma!

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    What was your silk/lotus weaving workshop like YT ? I'm wondering now if there are many workshops, all with prices somehow commensurate to the cost of the "tour" to get there. I didn't find prices too excessive, but given I'm solo and have to actually carry whatever I buy, my buying was limited.

    I left a description of the physical aspects of the building on cwns thread "what places to see in Burma", my reply was dated 15 March. Would be interested to hear about your impressions of the silk place (lotus and cotton bonus).
    Maybe Kathie could chime in, or anyone else ?

    I'm interested to find out about this kind of "industry workshop".
    I got an impression that not a lot of actual weaving work was done, unless a foreigner was present.

    The visit was still informative and fun.
    They CAN weave (even if they don't weave very much). I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the selection of skirts, scarves, longyis and a load of other things was extensive and reasonable.

    Would be great to read about your thoughts on this...

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    Things like names do come in handy. The business card indicates my visit was to Shwe Pyae Shun Hand Weaving Centre. Lotus, silk cotton. U Myint Zaw + Daw Mi Mi Khaling, East Quarter Inpawkhone. Inlay Lake, it goes on.

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    Interesting point about which factory you are taken to. We were staying at a relatively high end place and went with their boatman. Like Kathie, I assumed there was only one workshop, but the one you went to does sound different from where we were. We were in the village of In Phaw Khone when we saw the lotus silk weaving "factory." This village is mentioned in Lonely Planet for its weaving & is the village where you also went. Unfortunately we don't have the name of the exact place. It was off to the right when you came off the main lake into the canals. It was relatively large. I believe that the women working were not doing it for tourists. It was quite a production and they were all busily weaving when we arrived and left. We were walked thru it and shown the various fabrics which were in different sections of the workrooms. The person taking us thru spoke excellent English and was very informative. I love textiles and really enjoyed the visit to the factory. We were the only tourist there. The store was separate from the factory and you went thru a walkway to get there. Along the walkway they had fabric strung up which was very colorful & swaying in the breeze. The items made with lotus & silk which is what I was interested in since I had never seen that were close to $100USD. They were plain colored with no pattern or design. The cotton and silk items were reasonably priced I thought. I can understand the higher cost with items with lotus.
    Kathie - we had that happen to us in Luang Prabang. I would have bought so much, but we had very little cash with us and were terribly limited in what we could buy that day. Oh well...

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    Thanks sartoric, yestravel and Kathie for all the information!!!..It is great!

    Our agent knows that the silk weaving stop and a stop at Indein are the priorities for us. Those speed bumps sound ingenious. I will check with the hotel before we get out on the lake and be sure the boatman knows where we want to go.

    sartoric, added the shop name to my list. Kathie had a silk shop in the Mandalay area in her report that I have already given to Shalom. Yes, I found your post and made a note. Thanks!

    I envy your interaction with the teachers and the students. I am a retired teacher and always love any chance to visit with the school children and their teachers.

    Loving the report and all the detail.

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    sartoric, your description of the physical aspects of the weaving workshop was what we experienced at the workshop. They were actively weaving while we were there. I wondered how much they sold and if there were off-site weaving places that also fed their goods into the store on the lake, but I don't know the answer to that. When we went to Inle (2009), that was the only weaving workshop on the lake. That may have changed.

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    Maybe I was there during a tea break. It seemed like women jumped on to the looms as I approached, wove a few rows, then wandered off. The shop area was not separate to the factory/workshop area as described by YT above. You may be right about other factories feeding into the shop.

    Perhaps cwn can investigate for us ?

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    Tripping around Nyaung Shwe with Phyu Phyu.

    I've made a partial effort at sorting the mess on the dining table. The name of the temple from yesterday is Phaung Daw Oo Paya. A famous festival is held each October wherein the five ancient Buddha images are paraded around by a kind of dragon boat. Its March, I'm either six months too early, or too late.

    I had lined up another day with Phyu Phyu (pronounced as in Pepe Le Pew).

    We had talked yesterday about some mild trekking and village visits.
    She asked me whether I wanted a car or tuk tuk. I opted for the tuk tuk, which would cost 30,000 kyat, regretted it briefly while hanging on for dear life as the driver roared down the road out of town, but he got calmer, all was well.

    PPs niece accompanied us. She is 15, shy, and while I suspect was along for this ride to improve her English, she wasn't confident enough to speak with me.

    Before leaving the hut, PP had placed a plastic sack in the back of the tuk tuk. I asked what was in the sack, she said didn't know the English word, and would show me later.

    We wound up into some hills to arrive at a cave temple. The monk allowed PP to use his torch, and I was chuffed that I had remembered to bring my tiny LED key ring torch. It was such a help when it lay in the suitcase back at the hotel, while I negotiated the broken footpaths of Yangon at night.

    From the other side of the cave, there was a view over farming land to a small village. Sugar cane is now finished, onions (red shallots) are replacing the cane.

    So, the plastic sack gets opened, two large live turtles lay inside ! The explanation was "not much water in streams in Nyaung Shwe, people there might eat them, more water here, and the local people won't eat them". Fair enough, it later transpired that today was PPs birthday, I reckon she was doing her good deed for the day.

    We visited another cave temple, then stopped at a Pa O village, where all the houses except one were made from bamboo and thatch. The exception was concrete, and belonged to the "rich guy". The village was very neat and tidy, lots of kids held up by mothers waving at me. I saw a man chopping sugar cane leaves and leftovers to feed to cattle. He was using an ingenious home made device, which allowed him to use his foot to chop the leaves. Myanmar is full of ingenious home made devices, not surprising really.

    From here we made a stop at Red Mountain Winery. I didn't do the tour of the production area, having been to many wineries before (hic).

    I sampled the tasting platter, $2 for samples of 4 wines, and not a small taste, more like half a small glass of each. The late harvest was okay, I'm still not sold on many wines from anywhere in SE Asia.

    The tuk tuk ride is now a breeze though.

    On to a wooden monastery, where there is an old folks home. Smiling old women invite me in to sit and chat. There's also an orphanage here, so they have both ends of the age spectrum covered. I watch a man making bricks, jeez that's hard work by hand.

    PP wants to stop at the market to buy fruit and flowers for the monastery, she will be visiting later to honour her birthday. The flowers are amazing, she buys three bunches of beautiful pink roses for $2.

    We are back at her hut, I pay the tuk tuk driver and he roars off.

    I still can't figure this out, PP refuses to accept any money from me for her time today. Is it because it's her birthday ?, did I tip too well yesterday ? Is it because the niece joined us ? I don't know, maybe I never will, but she then topped that off with a present for me, a hand carved wooden turtle. This is from someone who yesterday packaged up my left over food for her family.

    I don't know what to say, except thank you.

    To follow, some thoughts on travelling solo, and the wrap up.

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    Rule No1 in Asia: Footpaths are poor, everywhere. Rule No2 in Asia: Streetlights are poor, everywhere.

    Solution to Rule No1: walk on the street, not the footpath, day or night.

    Solution to Rule No2: Carry a powerful torch if walking at night.

    It's very expensive to get repatriated with a broken ankle if you trip down an open monnie drain, so make sure you have travel/health insurance.

    In most underdeveloped parts of SEA, such as Burma, Cambodia, Laos and pretty much anywhere else in Indochina, the footpaths are unreliable and basically unsafe.

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    MareeS55

    The torch comment was a gentle dig at myself for not having it on my person when it would have been useful.
    Your broad generalisations about Asia aren't very helpful. Singapore and Japan for example don't comply with your "rules".

    Your suggestion to avoid "rule No 1" is downright dangerous on a six or eight lane major road in Yangon. The injuries sustained from being hit by an overloaded bus or truck would be far worse than a broken ankle.

    I always have travel insurance.

    What is "an open monnie drain" ? Google can't tell me, perhaps you can.

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    Forget the 6 or 8 lane road, the small roads were also dangerous with the motorcycles trying to hug the edge of the roadway and cars zipping by. I also agree that the broken sidewalks were much worse in Burma then other places I have been to in SEAsia.

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    Last day in Inle Lake.

    I decided to have an easy day, I'd been offered to go with PPs family to the "new cave" I passed on that to just have down time. My time in Myanmar has been exhilarating, but exhausting. The heat doesn't help.

    Nyaung Shwe is small and easy to navigate.
    Places to try for snacks and drinks include Inlay Palace, it's in Yone Gyi Rd and painted bright yellow and lime green, so you can't miss it. There's a rooftop area which is reached by climbing up strategically placed vertical tree trunks, complete with stencilled foot prints, also bright yellow and lime green. I had spring rolls here, they were fresh, home made, and very good. Another place is the Butterfly Cafe, this one is bright orange, and just off Yone Gyi Rd. The onion pancake was tasty and filling. I tried Indra Indian Food as well, way further down the same road. Very friendly owner and his sister is the cook, delicious vege curry, with soup, chapati and numerous side dishes for about $2.50.

    I was making my way back to my hotel, and passing PPs place where a man was negotiating a massage for his partner who was in a wheelchair. I commented "good choice" only to have him explain that PP had said her skills were so good that the chair would be irrelevant. He planned on selling it to the highest bidder while his wife got the massage. Funny.

    I whispered to PP if she'd like the fruit basket from my room, "yes, all of it" was the reply. Went back to hotel, placed two bowls of fruit in a plastic bag (kicked myself for rejecting the third bowl the housekeepers tried to deliver yesterday) and walked back to her hut. Her two young boys dived on the apples, then thanked me in perfect English. I snuck some cash in too, she needs it more than I do.

    I have an early night in preparation of the 8.55 am flight back to Yangon tomorrow.

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    Thanks Paule, YT, and Kathie for the continued encouragement.

    Solo travel, for me, the first time since 1989.

    I think there's a diverse range of readers of this forum, some purely for travel specifics, some for a travel story, and some for a large grey area in between.

    Fodors has been entertaining me during the quiet solo times of the past few weeks. I too enjoy reading the fabulous tales of other peoples travels. It helps me to choose, where next, when next ?

    I did bust in on a few conversations with real people while solo at Inle. The Austrian backpackers made me laugh when they told me about the tourist T-shirts in Vienna. They have the famous kangaroo road sign, with a line through it and NOT printed below. I often had to clarify Australia, not Austria, and didn't realise it happened the other way around.

    One couple asked if I was travelling alone, and invited me to join them. We had a great conversation over the next hour or so, two teachers from Sydney embarking on a one year trip around the world. I was able to put them in touch with the school in Mandalay, and later got an email from them saying how much they enjoyed that visit. I note this experience for when I'm next travelling with DH, and will at least ask people sitting alone if they're up for a chat.

    There were other groups that I joined in on, always asking first, and focussing the conversation on where they had been, what they had done. This was quite a learning curve for me, but really not so hard.

    I take my hat off to the many that regularly travel by themselves.

    Next up, the final two days in Yangon, the final wrap.

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    I really admire you for going at it solo. It's something I really haven't done and wonder how or even if I would go on my own to someplace like SEAsia. Your TR has been so much fun to read and so interesting. I always enjoy meeting people as we travel, both locals and other tourists. It never occurred to me to seek out solo travelers but in the future I will do that.
    I think there is a diverse group on these boards reflecting many ways to travel and I find them all interesting in their own way. I often read for entertainment or to hear another perspective of some place I have been. Or I read seeking travel specifics for a trip I am planning or thinking about going on. These boards are a fantastic resource and I appreciate those that take the time to report and answer inquiries. Hard to imagine traveling without travel boards.
    We're finishing up our last two days in Yangon also. How long were you in Myanmar?

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    I was there for 18 days, and agree it is usually fun to talk travel with people we meet along the way.
    I thought the solo travel would be easy, perhaps I wasn't quite prepared for some of the isolating aspects.

    To think that I didn't know about Fodors or any other internet resource just a few years ago makes me cringe. While we've had fantastic trips using guide books to source information and ideas, the real and personal advice from this forum has proved to be invaluable. I make special mention of your TR to Thailand and Laos YT, that made me turn the trip around to go downriver, rather than up the Mekong.

    I need to go back to India now, and try all the havellis and quaint BnBs that I've read about since our 2012 trip.

    So many places, so little time !

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    Yes, I think the isolation would be tough esp for a long trip. We were there 18 days also.
    I pick up great little tips from these boards as well as where to go and what to see or whether I want to go some place or see something, and the answers to all the nitty gritty questions is invaluable.

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    Back in Yangon, and back at Garden Home BnB.

    I'm getting lazy now Fodors people, below are some cut and pastes from emails sent home. I need to get back to normal life, although revisiting my trip through this report has been a joy ( distractive joy though).

    Email 1
    This evening, got taxi to school to meet the gang, we walk to a hot pot place which is as large as those huge Singapore food halls. I had invited Andrea to join us, and it was interesting to hear about what the schools are doing, but limited interaction with the others a bit.
    Why did I think hot pot was a good idea ? I end up downwind of the roaring jet flame, I'm already very hot, and then the food comes, masses of it, many undiscernible bits of the like of fish balls, eek, I barely eat at all. At one stage I went a bit weird, all hot and clammy, thinking I need a bathroom or a bucket. Fortunately that passed. I paid for the meal, $36, and the guys took the remains home in a plastic bag for the novices.

    Note for Fodors, Andrea is coming to the end of a 2 year Volunteering Australia opportunity. She has been assisting the Monastic schools with formulating curricular, and putting in place measurements to assess the performance of the many Monastic schools. She tells me she is paid a basic living allowance, but you need a certain amount of self funding to do something like this. Hats off to Andrea.

    Email 2
    Well I fly out tomorrow, and I'm currently as organised as I can be. Just repacked, and figure there's some room left so a bit more shopping is in order.

    Today I went out with Jon and Momo, I do know their correct names, but that will do for now. I think Mas We was disappointed that she couldn't join us, she had to prepare meals for the twenty teachers from Rahkine state that are training at the school. She gave me a beautiful silk longyi this morning (like I need another one) and Momo snuck in a present at Bogyoke market, which she presented to me in the cab on way home.

    Now I have to go out and buy presents for them. Quizzed reception, there is a mall about 20 mins away, so will taxi there when it gets a bit cooler. The Bogyoke Aung San market closes at 5.00, but the mall is open until 8.00.

    Jon and Momo were delightful to spend the day with, we left the school at about 9.30 and got back at 3.30. We went first to a pagoda that I had read about on Fodors, all mosaic tiles in mirror and green, very pretty. We then went to Botataung Pagoda, that's the one near the jetty where Pandaw was. It was actually very good inside, loads of gold, very interesting angles and not that many tourists, I saw maybe 4.

    I then suggested lunch at China town. Well, did that cause a stir, difficult to explain that it was an area, not a specific restaurant. Eventually we got there.

    Momo felt the need to grab my arm in an iron grip every time we crossed a street, and again the personal space issue arose. She would sit in the middle of the back seat of various taxis, Jon in the front, me squeezed into the side of the back seat. That's just the way it is here.

    We had lunch, me very little, and it was really Burmese Chinese, took a lot of time to decide on the dishes. Fried pork bits, I persuaded them to forgo pork liver, Chinese greens with oyster sauce, noodles (again) and rice. All good, and about $11.

    We then walked to Bogyoke Aung San market, where I found the ethnographic textile shop I had read about. I finally got the Shan state leg warmers I have wanted for a while, boy are they going to be unique in Oz.

    I could see Jon was being shopped out, but of course he was too polite to say anything. We taxied back to the school. Every taxi represented a challenge for J & M, they knew what it should cost, however, the driver has seen the foreigner. In many cases, not all, we walked away to find another cab. I seriously couldn't have cared less about the 1 or 2 dollar difference, but it mattered to J & M.

    Mas We is coming to see me at 7.00 am tomorrow here at the Hotel. I will have to get presents now for her and the others.

    Before I left for Mandalay, I asked her to think about what I could buy for the novices here in Yangon. She told me yesterday that buying a special meal would be best. She will buy the ingredients and cook it for them. I plan to leave $50, which is probably enough for 5 special meals.

    Feeling good about my time in Myanmar.

    Email 3.
    Man, have I had a wild time tonight. I got a taxi to the Dagon Mall for 2000 kyat. It reminded me of the shopping malls in Bangkok. No ethnic Burmese stuff, just brand names like Giordano and lots of mass produced Chinese crap. Still, I was on a mission.

    I bought a t shirt for Jon, hope he likes it, a shirt for Mas We, and a scarf for Momo, plus she is interested in coins, so will give her one each of the Australian coins I have, in a small leather purse I bought at DMK in Bangkok. I also got some sweets, they can share those.

    So I was freaking about having enough Burmese currency for the taxi tomorrow, and went next door to Dagon Mall 2, and changed US$50. After that, walking back to Dagon 1, I decide to sit and have a break on this concrete block thingy. Bugger me, a young woman starts talking to me. She asked if I remember her, errr no. She works in the travel agency in Yangon where I bought my flight to Mandalay more than two weeks ago. She didn't even serve me, just remembered me - do I have obvious green horns or something growing out of my forehead ? What's the chances of that in a city of 10 million people ?

    She wanted to stay in touch, asked if I was on Facebook, and put her contact details in my phone. She also invited me to the place across the road where they have the best hot chocolate, mmm, clearly doesn't know my predilection for beer. She was meeting a friend there, I politely declined, explaining I had more shopping to do.

    So back into mall 1 I go. After a very short time, I think, what am I doing here. It's all crap, I looked at handbags, thought geez, you can only use one at a time, there was nothing remotely Burmese, so I skedaddled.

    Out to taxi rank, map in hand. First guy, after much explaining wants 3500 kyat, I say I got here for 2000, and walk away. I can't believe I'm doing this over essentially $1.50. But, I am. The next guy wants 4000 kyat, no way matey. I go back through the mall entrance area, and approach another taxi who suggests I go over the road. I do that, and I'm in the hot chocolate place area, so go into the cafe to look for my travel agent, didn't find her, she may have been upstairs, I wasn't gonna go that far !

    So back outside, another rank. The first guy I approach (map in hand) ums and ahhs, then suddenly a woman with perfect English asks if she can help. Long story short (you'll get the full version on Friday) is that her, her boyfriend and I share a taxi back to my hotel (I pay only 2000 kyat, whew, glad I saved that $1.50) and with overtones of the Chiang Mai affair, I'm getting a bit paranoid through unfamiliar streets, with no idea where we are.
    I shouldn't have been worried, they even invited me to join them for dinner, I declined, thinking you can't push a good thing too far, and I was beat. I have her business card, she teaches tour guides, is fluent in French, English and Burmese.

    It's been wonderful Mark, I can't believe that just a few days ago I was thinking that there is no reason to ever come back to Myanmar.
    There is of course a very good reason, one that we identified on the Pandaw trip, the people.

    Okay, for clarification to the Fodors readers, the statement about "no reason to ever come back" was made when I was in Inle Lake, feeling really quite sick and isolated.

    I had an allergic reaction to something, dreadful itching everywhere, and five bites in an arch at the top of my right leg. The management were sympathetic, arranged for all linen to be changed, as I googled bed bugs on their PC. In hindsight, I don't think it was bedbugs, some antihistamines from the local chemist soon stopped the itching, and all is good now.

    A few last recommendations for Yangon.

    Monsoon Restauarant, 85/87 Theinbyu Rd, Botataung. Food here was excellent, with Burmese, Thai, Laos and Cambodian choices. Very cool atmosphere with colonial architecture and stunning portraits on the walls of tribal people.

    A few doors down, and up some very steep stairs is Pomelo, a fair trade type organisation where the owner will patiently tell you about different weaving methods and how they are reviving some of the nearly lost tribal arts. Some very cute papier mâché animals here, she tells me they pack well, I'm trying to downsize and only buy a few beaded bracelets as gifts.

    The next morning the taxi ride to airport was so much fun, tried to get pictures of the crammed busses, crammed pick ups and crammed cars. I saw eight in a small sedan, in Mandalay six on a motorbike.

    Yangon international airport, I'm at the cafe, where a guy is preparing salads. He has a plastic glove on the hand holding the scissors, the hand holding the food he's cutting is ungloved. That's Myanmar for you, it's a country struggling to adopt western food safety practises.

    Go sooner, rather than later. You will be rewarded with amazing sights, temples, and friendly, sincere people untouched by western culture.

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    Thanks Kathie, yes, an amazing trip, and I will definitely be back.

    Happy to share with this forum. It is only fair after the wealth of information I've gleaned here.

    Happy travels to all.....

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    Wonderful trip report. Thank you for sharing your adventures.
    Right now, we are in Yangon. We will be going to Inle Lake on the 25th of March, so we are grateful for your insight.

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    Caroline,
    Loved this report but especially enjoyed reading about the wonderful connection you made with the people you met. It made your trip come very much alive for me.
    Thanks for writing it up. I know how much energy it takes and appreciate it!
    Paule

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    What a fantastic report. I was thinking, that considering we enjoyed Kerala so much (haven't gotten to it in my trip report yet, but we really did enjoy it) that we might be able to deal with something further east...

    My daughter teaches ESL in Durham Public Schools (in North Carolina, US, not Durham UK) and we planned to have some stuff to share when we visited a school in rural Rajasthan. It was one of the best experiences of our entire trip. Connections with "real" people are essential. Our recent trip was way more high-end than we expected, and we really did need to go out on our own to make sure we had some of those experiences.

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    Thanks for all your kind comments, it was a fantastic trip.

    Shoofly, look up Phyu Phyu when you're in Inle Lake. The cost for a day with her and boat/driver was $33 not $43 as I stated earlier. Please say hi from Caroline. Enjoy Myanmar, jeez I bet it's hot in Yangon now, I had an email from my teacher friend yesterday, saying it gets hotter each day !

    Cheers
    Caroline

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