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Craig and Jeane’s Myanmar Trip Report 2007

Craig and Jeane’s Myanmar Trip Report 2007

Mar 6th, 2007, 05:51 PM
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 271

Why do people make comments like Merckxxx???

Maybe he's just jealous.

I'm loving your report and can't wait to hear about Inle Lake.

Keep it coming.
robmac is offline  
Mar 6th, 2007, 06:01 PM
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Very nice pictures of the procession Craig!

In hindsight do you think it's worthwhile or worth the expense to do the Myanmar trip with a cruise on the Road to Mandalay boat?
Hanuman is offline  
Mar 6th, 2007, 06:09 PM
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good thing M did not meet us in hartford for dinner or we would be captive to his description of J's wrap....

great pics and loving report as always...
rhkkmk is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 02:30 AM
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Hanuman - I can't comment on the Road to Mandalay cruise because I did not do it.

Lucy, Rob, Laurie and Bob - thanks for your supportive comments re: M.
Craig is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 02:35 AM
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Since the airport was only 10 minutes from our hotel, we did not have to rise as early as we had previously to catch our 8:05 AM flight to Heho and Inle Lake. The restaurant opens at 6 AM for breakfast so we did not have to make any special arrangements. Unfortunately, Jeane had gotten violently ill over night. It was a one-time occurrence which she described using the word “projectile”. She had not felt well at dinner but she did feel well enough the next morning to down two Azythromycin. She did not eat much for breakfast. I was concerned because we had a long day of flying, driving and touring ahead. There wasn’t much I could do about it other than to hope that the antibiotic would kick in and she would feel better. She thinks the cause of her illness was runny eggs in the omelet prepared for her for breakfast at the Aureum the day before.

Yeh-yeh and our driver arrived promptly at 6:55 AM. I should mention that in Bagan, we were using the same small generic white Toyota as we had in Yangon to get around. For the trips back and forth to the airport, Yeh-yeh sat in the front seat with on of our roller bags on his lap. The other bags were secured in the trunk with bungee cord. Yeh-yeh escorted us through check-in at the airport and told us to wait until we were called to go through security in the departure area. It was time for him to go. I had already given our driver a nice tip and I did the same for Yeh-yeh. I though he was a very good guide. However, Jeane told me later that she felt he paid much more attention to me than he did to her so he does not get my highest rating. In any case, I would recommend him to others. His Myanmar name is Ye Myint and Santa Maria actually booked him through the transportation company that provided our car and driver. I had asked him if he received a commission on our lacquerware purchase and he admitted that he did – he told me it was 2 or 3 percent. I really have no problem with that as he was very helpful in getting us from shop to shop. All three of the guides we had in Myanmar were freelance tour guides – i.e. none worked for Santa Maria. Yeh-yeh indicated to me that it is easy to request a specific guide when setting up a tour since there aren’t that many of them.

We didn’t wait to be called to go into the departure area. After we passed through security we realized that they ask you to wait because the departure area can get crowded with all of the flights leaving at once. Air Bagan had the same deal with the sign with the airline name and flight number but we did not board until about 15 minutes after our departure time. Our Yangon – Nyuang U Air Bagan flight had been on a jet. This flight was on a prop plane. It didn’t really make much of a difference. We were provided with a modest breakfast on all of the Air Bagan flights even though the flights were quite short. In spite of our late departure, we arrived at Heho airport pretty much on time. Heho airport is tiny – once you pass through the arrival gate you are outside. We were met by someone we thought was our guide – she took our baggage claim stubs and escorted us on a short walk to the parking lot. There we were greeted by our actual guide, Joyce. Porters arrived shortly with our bags and Joyce explained that they did get the message about making arrangements for our excess luggage. We had the same generic white Toyota but our largest bags would be traveling on a tour bus that was also headed to our hotel, the Inle Lake Resort. Since we missed the wash rooms on the way out of the airport building, Joyce pointed us toward a small building nearby where we could take care of business before our long ride. This was our first experience with squat toilets in Myanmar and it was not going to be our last. No problem – just keep the tissues and Purell handy.

Almost immediately we could tell that Joyce was special. She had one of those engaging smiles that could light up a room. Joyce gave us each a map and explained our itinerary and the timing for our day. We would head towards Aungban and stop at the 5-day market and then head to Pindaya for the caves. We would then retrace our steps, heading back to Heho to stop at the airline office to confirm our ongoing flights and then on to our hotel at Khaung Dine on Inle Lake.

In the Inle Lake area the markets rotate from town to town on a 5-day schedule. Santa Maria provided the schedule to me prior to our trip so I could plan our itinerary in advance. The first of these markets that we visited was at Aungban. It was quite interesting as there were very few Western tourists there. We had the opportunity to take some good photos of local tribes’ people in their native costumes. Joyce, a member of the Pao tribe herself, explained many in the tribe still wear their native costume of the black robe and colorful turban. She also explained that members of most of other tribes in the Shan state do not wear the native costumes.

Next: On to Pindaya

Craig is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 02:49 AM
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Great report so far Craig..I'm reliving our trip.

Where was the Aureum in relation to Old Bagan?

I agree about the colours in the laquerware shops. We bought a couple of cups and "jewellery" boxes for friends but like you many of the items not suitable for our "beach house".

Did you buy anything at the antique place? I am interested because a lot of the stuff was like my Grandparents furniture eg., black and gold laquerware.

Looking forward to hearing about Inle Lake.
albaaust is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 03:49 AM
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I forgot it was Femi who did the RTM.


Any thought on this?

Hanuman is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 05:22 AM
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I am really enjoying the post Craig. It brings back wonderful memories of Burma for us. We were there in 2002 amd plan to return some day. We really liked Yangon. It seemed so friendly and calm to us. We bought some beautiful wooden carvings and watercolous in Scott Market. We had a wonderful guide (Zaw from Diethelm Travel)who took us to some interesting spots there..an unforgettable glass blowing place down a very long lane and it was truly stepping back in time. My husband bought a lot of glass candies made by the women there and the more he bought (for pennies) the more the ladies laughed..it was so much fun.
We did the Irawaddy trip from Bagan to Mandalay on the Pandaw line. It was the highlight of the trip..just a charming boat, interesting people aboard and wonderful scenery along the riverbank. We had 2 stops in villages, one which made woven blankets and another where they made clay pots..once again stepping back in time.

Of course,we loved Bagan. It is a magical kind of place. We had another guide Toto (also through Diethelm) in Bagan who took us into a village celebration put on by one of the wealthy menn in town. A lot of young boys were heading off to the monastery ...they were dressed in white gowns and had loads of make up on. There were hundreds in a dining tent all celebrating..we were invited to join in but didn't like to intrude.
We have travelled extensively and have Burma in our top favourites..the people were so friendly, I can't wait to go back. We would like to do another section of the river some day.
norval is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 05:25 AM
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Alice, we did not buy anything at Myint Handicraft & Lacquerware, the antique place - just looked around, checking out the interesting old pieces they had for sale.
Craig is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 05:50 AM
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Your trip report is making me want to return to Burma! It really is a magical place.

I'm with Bob in liking Rangoon. Sure it's "dumpy" but it looks, feels and smells like the asia of my dreams -- the old asia. So many asian cities are beginning to feel simply like international big cities. Rangoon made me feel like I was truly in a different culture. It's not "pretty" but I still loved it.
glorialf is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 06:32 AM
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Alice, it seems I missed your question about the location of the Aureum Palace. It is not in Old Bagan - it is not far from the Bagan Golf Club in Nyaung U. It also right next to that new viewing tower that is a total blight on the landscape.
Craig is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 09:20 AM
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Craig: Sounds like Joyce was as great a guide as my Nan (also PaO). Not sure if it was just coincidence, but I enjoyed the company of female guides more. Can anyone else add to this?

Hanuman: I *Loved* the Road to Mandalay! I took the 11 night cruise and thought it provided excellent value for money. I never could figure out why the 11 night and the 4 night cruises cost the same.
In fact, I was so impressed with the RTM I'm looking into going on another cruise for my vacation next year. Prior to the RTM I had taken another cruise that made me swear 'no more', and so it took me 10 years to take the chance with the RTM.
Much as I enjoyed it, I'm not sure it's for everyone. I think more than a few would consider it over the top. On the other hand, without the cruise the time I was willing to spend in Burma would have been reduced by more than half.

Norval: Thanks for reminding me of the glass blowing factory in Yangon. As it was at the very start of my trip, I was worried about the weight and fragility of glass, and so bought only 2 tiny figurines. Perhaps if it was at the end of my trip I would have been willing to take the chance on more items.
Femi is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 09:45 AM
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we loved the glasslowing place....we have a number of items from there...
rhkkmk is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 09:49 AM
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We visited the Nagar Glass Factory when we returned to Yangon at the end of our trip - we didn't see anything we wanted to buy but thought the setting was very pleasant. Their glass products are used in many of the restaurants and hotels in town, including the Savoy.
Craig is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 12:59 PM
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DAY 5 (continued)

Joyce purchased some small oranges at the market and shared them with Jeane and I as we drove towards Pindaya. We really enjoyed these little oranges which seemed to be available everywhere we went in Myanmar. Interestingly, some had many, many seeds and others had none. All were very easy to peel and separate. I am not sure of the exact travel time but it was at least ½ hour to Aungban and another 45 minutes to Pindaya on a very bumpy road. Along the way we passed some young boys that were hopping on and off several oxen. I asked Jeane if she wanted to get a photo. Ordinarily she would have already asked our guide to stop the car but I think Jeane was still a bit under-the-weather. Eventually we turned around but by the time we got there, a big tour bus had stopped and several people were out taking photos of the kids and the oxen. Unfortunately, they were also giving the boys candies for posing, a big no-no because good dental hygiene is not practiced in the area. We also took some photos but gave the boys pens – they didn’t seem to appreciate them as much as the candy.

At Pindaya, we paid a $3pp entrance fee and a small camera fee in kyats for the caves. Back in Bagan, we had changed $110 into kyats at 1200 to the dollar. Our moneychanger was a shopkeeper that Yeh-yeh knew. I think there was a commission involved which is probably why we didn’t get a better exchange rate. This was more than enough currency for our entire trip. Since we received only 1000 kyat notes, we had quite a wad of cash. The kyats came in handy for tips, very small purchases and a couple of dinners. At the Pindaya caves we were expecting something similar to what we saw last year at Pak Ou caves near Luang Prabang, Laos. However, this was different. For one thing, there is a big elevator that takes you to the entrance of the caves. Like Pak Ou there are thousands of Buddha images in the caves but much of the Pindaya complex is illuminated with florescent lighting. Also, most of the Buddha images are covered in gold and have small plaques below them listing the names and nationalities of their donors. Lonely Planet describes the scene as “kitschy”, a characterization that is pretty apropos. We meandered around for quite a while. We even took the time to crawl into one of the smaller “meditation” caves.

Right near the caves is a small umbrella and textured paper-making operation. There was a woman showing how the textured paper is made and a craftsman using a lathe to make the workings for the umbrellas. Joyce asked us to look around the shop while she and her driver went off to grab a quick lunch. There really wasn’t much to see in the shop other than a few umbrellas. It was good that Joyce and the driver returned after a short time. As we were getting in the car, Jeane asked if any of the textured paper was for sale. I told her I saw a big pile of it in the shop. She went back in and we waited while she purchased several sheets to take home.

After leaving Pindaya, we retraced our route through Aungban. We passed the entrance to Heho airport and headed into Heho town to the Air Bagan office where Joyce confirmed our flight to Yangon. As we drove along, Joyce told us about her family. Her husband is also a tour guide who works out of the Pao-owned Golden Island Cottages. Joyce also told us that she also tutors students in English part-time. They have both been taking courses at the local college. Her husband is currently studying archeology. They have two teenage daughters (who apparently think they are adults but don’t act that way). Joyce also has two sisters, one of whom lives with them in the family complex and is responsible for cooking for everyone. Joyce’s 81-year old mother lives in the complex as well. The family made its living at one time by growing tobacco used in cheroots. Jeane and I also shared with Joyce a bit about our families and what we do for a living.

From Heho it was a relatively easy 1 hour drive to the hotel. Along the way we had to stop and pay a $3 pp Inle Zone entrance fee. (At Nyuang U airport we also had to pay a $10 pp Bagan Archeological Zone fee.) We arrived at the Inle Lake View Resort in the late afternoon. Joyce took our passports and helped us check in. She told us that the tour bus with our large bags hadn’t arrived yet. We agreed to meet the next day at 8:30 AM for our day trip to Taunggyi and Kakku. After Joyce departed, we settled into our room as best we could and explored the resort grounds for a while. Our bags didn’t show up until 8 PM – I felt sorry for the tour group that had been on that same bus for over 10 hours.

The Inle Lake View Resort is a nice place – not 5-star, but quite comfortable. There is no a/c or heat and although it is generally not needed, it was a little chilly on our first morning. The location has its advantages and disadvantages compared to resorts like the Inle Princess on the other side of the lake. The advantage is that you do not need to take a boat from Nyaung Shwe to get to the resort, saving about an hour each way to and from the airport. The disadvantage is that you can’t see the sunset from the resort (but you can see the sunrise). We had a very spacious Junior Suite room on the 2nd (top) floor with a nice sized deck. We did have a couple of complaints about the room – (1) The shower water pressure was very, very weak (2) The king-sized mattress on our bed was on a platform that extended out 2 feet on the left and right sides – when I would return to the bed in the middle of the night, I would bang my shins on the platform while trying to get in – I managed to do this 3 times and still have visible cuts and bruises to show for it.

Jeane’s appetite had returned somewhat so we decided to have an early dinner. The food is pretty good but dinners can be an expensive proposition here if you are not careful. There are Shan, Myanmar, Indian and Thai set menus at $15 and a couple of western menus at $30. On the first night we each ordered a $15 set menu and it turned out to be way too much food. The next 3 nights, Jeane would order soup or an appetizer a la carte. Then I would order a $15 set menu and we would split it. The restaurant charges an extra $5 to split portions. We had to convince the restaurant staff that it was ok to bring out everything at once (the way people normally eat Asian food) rather than in several long drawn out separate courses (the way the restaurant’s mostly European clientele prefer). It took the well-intentioned staff until our last night to figure this out. For drinks, Jeane would order water and I would order beer. At most Myanmar restaurants there is a selection of 3 beers – all lagers: two local beers, Myanmar Beer and Mandalay Beer plus Tiger Beer from Singapore. All taste pretty much the same. Personally I prefer ales to lagers but there were no ales to be found in Myanmar. Our average restaurant tab at Inle Lake View Resort was $30/night for the two of us. On three of our four nights at the resort, the best tables in the restaurant were all reserved for tour groups. Bruno, the General Manager explained to me that it was strictly an economic decision – the tour companies were paying $50 per person for the privilege of having their clients dine in his restaurant. Most of these tour groups would stay at Inle Lake only one or two nights.

Next: Taunggyi and Kakku
Craig is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 02:38 PM
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Great report....brings back many good memories of our trip there.

Agree with your comments about Yangon.....it was the least favorite part of our trip. But we did love the Savoy and found some interesting small oil paintings for a few dollars at Scotts Market. We found Schwedegon so interesting that we went back again after dinner (so convenient to do if you stay at the Savoy) and it was a whole different experience than being there at sunset. All the tourists were gone and it was filled with locals performing various rituals. The bizarre part of it was the illumination of multicolored lights around many of the Buddhas after dark. Sort of a Vegas meets Buddhism effect.

I actually found the boat ride required to get to the Inle Princess where we stayed, to be one of the highlights. The ride from Nyaung Schwe was only about 35 minutes. Gliding up to the resort dock just as the sun was going down and the air was getting chilly, to be greeted by the hotel staff with hot towels and tea, was quite magical. As we watched our boat depart back into the sunset, we truly felt as though we had been dropped off in another world.

Looking forward to more of your report.
Lindsey is offline  
Mar 7th, 2007, 07:07 PM
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Craig - Your trip report is a delight. I get to relive my wonderful time in Myanmar 2005. It is truly the most enchanting, unique, beguiling place I've ever been.

Love your pictures of the procession. You must have been 'living right' (real southern 'bible belt' expression - probably unknown to you northerners) to be priviledged to be there - and - in the best spot.

Looking forward to the rest and thanks for taking the time to share.
wintersp is offline  
Mar 8th, 2007, 02:53 AM
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DAY 6 Saturday – Jeane’s Birthday

I started the day by wishing Jeane a “happy birthday” and giving her a card, a small gift and a hug. Next was a full breakfast that was included in our $135 nightly hotel rate. The breakfasts start with a pastry basket, a choice of juices and coffee or tea. Eggs are then cooked to order with a choice of bacon, chicken sausage, toast, cheese slices and fruit. The breakfasts were pretty good and service was prompt. Every morning there was a sort mid-‘90’s style alternative rock playing on the restaurant music system. It was fairly enjoyable to listen to and the restaurant staff would sing along occasionally. I couldn’t identify any of the tunes or understand the lyrics so I asked our waitperson what we were listening to – he said it was “local music” – I guess rap and hip-hop haven’t reached Myanmar yet.

After breakfast we took a walk down to the boat dock just to get a little exercise. When we returned, Joyce had already arrived – ½ hour early. She told us to take our time – she would wait. When we were ready to go, Joyce gave us another map and laid out the plan for the day. We had a one hour drive to Taunggyi where we would visit the Central Market and pick up our “conductor” for the 1-1/2 hour drive to Kakku. Joyce explained that she would stay behind in Taunggyi as it was her home town. She would not be needed for the Kakku trip since the conductor happened to be her niece. As we set out, Joyce encouraged us to stop the car at any time to take photos. Before long, we came upon a family living by the side of the road in a bamboo and thatched roof shack. There were two mothers who were most likely sisters, 4 children and an older woman (grandma?) smoking a cheroot. The driver stopped the car and Joyce asked the mothers if we could take a photo. The family was very cooperative as we snapped away. We had brought along some gifts for the Burmese children – we gave a toy car to each of the boys and roll-on body glitter to each of the girls. We said je-su-beh’ (thank you in Burmese) to the mothers and went on our way. As we were driving off, Joyce explained that this family lived where they did because they worked on the roads in the area.

The Taunggyi Central Market is open every day. It is on the 5 day market circuit also but the 5 day market was not operating on the day we were there. Taunggyi has a population of well over 100,000 people so the large and colorful Central Market was bustling. We walked around with Joyce as she pointed out various foods and things that were available for sale, the most memorable of which was a container full of dead ants which were presumably being sold for snacking. Joyce told us that the ants are killed by drowning them. We also witnessed a chicken being eviscerated and separated into pieces very efficiently so that it was completely ready to cook for its purchaser’s next meal – Burmese fast food. We saw fish for sale – some live and flopping all over the place, some not – some from the lake and some from the sea 200 miles away. Most of the food was being sold outside the main building. When we went inside, we came upon a huge selection of silks and cottons. Jeane said she was in “fabric heaven” and wished she had come with a shopping list of her requirements. She did find a pink cotton fabric with multi-colored stripes that she thought could be made into a spring suit. The 2-1/2 yard purchase cost only a few thousand kyats.

From the market we went to the Golden Island Cottages’ Taunggyi office to meet our conductor for the tour to Kakku. Our conductor’s name was Shwee. She was a very pleasant young lady who spoke excellent English. Shwee wore the black Pao native costume. It must have been quite warm for her when we were walking around in the hot sun. Before we set off we paid our $3pp zone fee and $5 conductor fee. The $11 in fees goes to the Pao Collective and comes as a result of recent negotiations between the Myanmar government and the Pao people to open up Kakku to outsiders. Foreigners have only been allowed in the area for the past couple of years. The 1-1/2 hour drive on a fairly good road took us past about a dozen villages. It was very scenic but since most all of the villagers were out working in the fields the photo opportunities were lacking. Kakku is a small village whose main attraction is a field of over 2000 small stupas neatly laid out in rows. When we arrived, we were the only ones there. The atmosphere was one of the most magical of our trip as we walked amongst the stupas. The sun was high overhead lighting up a clear blue sky. The bells atop each of the stupas rang softly in the light breeze. It was so peaceful, almost spiritual. Local legend says that the stupas are over 2000 years old but recent archeological studies date the stupas back to the 18th century. There has been some restoration in recent years and paved walkways were built to make the stupas more accessible. Unfortunately the walkways somewhat detract from the authenticity of the site. Two larger temples worth seeing are at the rear of the site. There is an open-air restaurant nearby that overlooks the stupa field. We did not eat there but we were able to use the washrooms and take some photos that provide a good overview of the site.

Next: A birthday surprise
Craig is offline  
Mar 8th, 2007, 05:48 AM
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loving the report
rhkkmk is offline  
Mar 8th, 2007, 01:10 PM
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DAY 6 (continued)

The 1-1/2 hour drive back to Taunggyi was pleasant but uneventful. Joyce had invited us to her home to meet her family so she and our driver met us at the Golden Island Cottages office. The family complex was only about 5 minutes away and when we arrived, we were led to Joyce’s family’s living quarters on the second floor of one of the buildings. We removed our shoes and headed up stairs leading to a living room with a sofa on one side and a Buddhist shrine (found in every Buddhist home) on the other. We sat for a while talking and then Joyce had to leave to go do something. While we were waiting we took some photos of the shrine.

Joyce suddenly appeared again with a big candle-covered birthday cake in her hands followed by members of her family and some of their friends with veritable feast of sandwiches, fruit, pastries, coffee and tea. They put everything down on the table in front of us and proceeded to sing a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday”. Jeane had the biggest smile on her face. This was a BIG surprise – I had mentioned in passing yesterday that Jeane had a birthday and Joyce had obviously picked up on it. Jeane cut the cake into about 14 pieces so everyone could enjoy some. The family encouraged us to enjoy some of the other food as well. We truly felt like honored guests.

After we had had our fill, Joyce encouraged the group to practice their English with us. It was a bit of a challenge but we managed – they wanted to hear about America and we were interested in what they were studying in school and what they were doing or wanted to do for a living. After exchanging information for about 20 minutes, we headed downstairs. I noticed that this was where the kitchen was located. Somehow the topic came up with Joyce’s sister (who does all of the cooking for the family) about how often we shop for food – Joyce’s sister said she shopped twice a day. I said I only shopped once a week and had to explain about the advantages of owning a refrigerator…

Joyce took us to the building on the opposite side of the alley where she had a classroom and does her tutoring. A few of the others followed. On a table was a well-worn book from the USA designed for teaching English. Jeane started reading through some of the examples it gave about American customs – things like our weddings, a typical school day etc. That really got the conversation going with those who wanted to practice their English as we were able to talk about our similarities and our differences. We talked for another 20 minutes. Finally, it was time to go. On the way out, we were introduced to Joyce’s mother – very good looking for someone in her 80’s. We could see that Joyce had her mother’s eyes.

It was a one hour ride back to the hotel but we had passed the Aythaya Winery as we arrived in Taunggyi that morning so the plan was to stop in for a tasting before heading back. The Ayathaya Winery has only been producing for a couple of years. Vines from France, Germany, Spain and Italy were planted there about 8 years ago. It cost $5 to taste three wines, a white (sauvignon blanc), a rosé (moscato) and a red (shiraz/cabernet sauvignon). The white was the best of the lot. The red had such a strong smoky taste that I wondered whether there were ashes mixed in with the soil. The wines were selling for $8-9/bottle. The vineyard was rather pretty so I snapped a couple of photos on the way out. Not many people can say they have tasted wine from Myanmar.

On the ride back we waved as we passed the family by the side of the road. Right near our hotel is a small village – Khaung Dine. Joyce said that it was on the 5-day market circuit and that tomorrow would be a market day. We arrived at the hotel and agreed to meet the next day at 8 AM in the lobby for our first boat trip on Inle Lake.
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