25.10.2014 - 01.11.2014 33 °C
October 2014. Myanmar (Burma)
Arrival into Yangon. Another big, crazy, chaotic Asian city – fantastic. The taxi driver emptied us into the bustling street a hundred yards from the hotel leaving us to scramble over the road avoiding scooters, carts, bikes and pedestrians dragging our bags behind us. The Grand 21st Downtown hotel offered relative peace and our room was very pleasant. Above us on the 9th floor the bar offered views across the city.
We set off into the city, lacking any real purpose or direction other than to eventually find a place to eat. Via markets, old colonial buildings in various states of disrepair, a large park with music blazing far too loudly, a huge golden pagoda, a small parade of what looked like transvestites and walking past street vendors trying to tempt us with animal innards on sticks we eventually ended up in 19th Street. Here café and restaurant BBQs spilled into the cobbled streets surrounded by grand old buildings wobbling uncertainly above.
We bumped into friends from work and enjoyed the cheap BBQ food and a few Myanmar beers.
Yangon to Bagan and Myanmar’s temple district. We were here for 2 days and 2 nights including sunrise on the day of departure. Checking into the Zfreeti hotel around 9.30am we dumped our stuff and immediately hired a couple of electric bikes from the rental place outside. It was reasonably difficult remaining upright, although the bikes were so small there wouldn't have been too far to fall.
Anyhow, we vaguely got the hang of it after a while and were able instead to concentrate on the temples and stupas. Thousands cover a relatively small area. It was absolutely stunning. The temples and stupas themselves were similar in design but some we could climb and others had delicate differences inside. But it was the sheer abundance that was incredible – and apparently there used to be so many more…
We climbed one temple along with everyone else who happened to be in Bagan that day and watched the sunset. The following evening we selected a less popular hang-out for sunset. On each occasion it was stunning. The sunrise was equally beautiful, up the top of a third temple, albeit in the company of an unbelievably loud family nearby that were all evidently completely deaf but hadn’t yet transitioned into the use of sign language as a means of communication and still relied upon shouting.
We ate at the Half Moon Café for lunch twice – it was great and then there was a row of restaurants near the hotel where we wandered for dinner. We ate at Spice Restaurant and ‘A little piece of Bagan’. The food on each occasion was simple and pretty good, mostly consisting of oily curries.
An early morning flight to Inle Lake. We opted to stay on the lake itself and caught a cab to the jetty whereupon a local lad appointed himself our official tour guide for the next few days. He arranged for boat transport to our hotel and various tours and taxi rides after that. To be fair to him, it was all very organized and good value.
We stayed at the hotel the first day and read books and relaxed and watched the sun lazily sink from the blue sky and dip below the horizon beyond the lake. The local fishermen and various others in boats were oblivious to the orange skies and puttered back and forth. We sat on the jetty and enjoyed the scenery, thinking that pretty much only the appearance of a herd of elephants could improve it – and then, lo and behold… Only joking!
The next day our tour guide took us around some of the villages dotted around the lake on what was supposed to be a three-hour tour but which turned into nine hours! Our fault – it was just so beautiful. Stilted houses formed framed waterways in which locals paraded their goods. We stopped at blacksmiths, silversmiths, a restaurant, weavers, temples, tourist stalls and much more. At each place everyone was so pleased to see us (even though we rarely bought anything) and everywhere the scenery was stunning: think Venice, but hundreds of years ago and made out of wood. How our driver knew his way around the narrow short-cuts and never-ending rows of stilted buildings, I don’t know (well, I suppose I do – he grew up there and, like many other people knows the maze-like interconnecting waterway system like the back of his hand).
The penultimate stop on the tour landed us in a little village that was, by chance, celebrating its annual festival of food donation. We first came across a procession of monks collecting alms and we followed them back up through an old pillared cloister with archways of flowers above us and each side families gathered cooking food and sitting in smoke-filled spaces on mats chatting. At the end of the kilometer long cloister we arrived at hundreds upon hundreds of old stupas side by side, some crumbling to bits others newer and all staring out across the valley. It was stunning and unexpected. We stayed ages admiring the craftsmanship and their extraordinary abundance.
We spent so long there our final stop at ‘Retired Jumping Cats Monastery’ (I kid you not) had to be abandoned due to fading light and the fact we had a long trip across the lake back to the hotel and then to our new place at the north end of the lake (La Maison). One wonders why the cats stopped jumping, and indeed, whether they were ever better jumpers than any other cat in their prime. It can only be assumed that the monks had a fair bit of time to kill in between religious readings and chanting practice and felt their precious time was best served teaching the stray cats how to leap. In any case, we didn’t go and so never found out...
The next day, on dry land we hired bicycles and rode around to the north west of the lake to the hot springs. Then, we crossed in a boat past fishermen holding nets and clasping paddles somehow by their legs and feet and thrusting themselves forward using said body parts in an action that would take me many lifetimes to master. Then up high to Forest Monastery for views over the lake and finally further along to Red Mountain Winery which served a local Sav Blanc that was surprisingly good.
Back to La Maison for good eats…