Myanmar

Mount Kyaiktiyo our final stop in Myanmar

Mount Kyaiktiyo famous for the Golden rock perched on the side of a cliff. One of the three most sacred sights in Myamnar. It is believed that a piece of hair from a Budda is beneath it.

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We decided to check ourselves into a rather nice resort for one night which wasnt too far from Kyaiktiyo, providing a lovely ininfity pool with views across the mountains it was nice to relax and do nothing for an afternoon.

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The following day we planned to visit Mount Kyaiktiyo, which seemed straight forward catching a local truck to the town costing around 500 kyat each. Although we were short of money and needed to visit the town before. We were happy enough to walk around 2 km to the nearest bank with our backpacks but two local scooter taxis offered to take us there free of charge as they didnt want us to walk in the heat.

After taking a local truck crowded with locals we reach the township of Kyaiktiyo, where we had the option to catch a massive truck to the top or face a 5 hour climb to the summit. We opted for the truck, compact in with a group of monks surrounded us, we were rushing through the jungle at an alarming speed, it truely felt like a rollarcoaster. One highlight of this trip.

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There is a entrance fee of 6,000 kyat each which was quite a lot really, we spent around 1 hour wandering at the top, with many street food stalls and little shops to keep your eyes busy. Many locals had set up a little base camp with picnic blankets and lots of food for the day. The golden rock was pretty impressive especially seeing it balancing on the summit. Although It was very hot at the top with very limited shade.

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Personally I thought it was quite a pricy experience especailly if your on a budget, we managaed to resell our tickets for half the price as they were valid for two days. But met some friendly and smiley monks.

We hopped onto a Airconditioned bus, very disppointing as there was no aircon but a very humid and hot bus back to Yangon.

We spent out last night in a hostel, within walking distance to the airport perfect for our connecting flight to Bangkok, this was very clean hostel, friendly staff and provided a breakfast.

In conclusion our month in Myanmar the land of smile, it was one increible experience, I found the people so friendly and willing to help you, despite being such a poor and undeveloped country the people of this country really made it special.

 

 

 

Myanmar

MT ZWEKABIN sleeping in a monastery

After spending 3 days around Inle Lake we decided to head further south to Hpa An situated in the Karen state. Our plan was to trek up a 723m mountain where a monastery laid at the top where you can stay over night for a small donation and enjoy the magnificent views.

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So from Inle lake we experienced our first decent coach, a VIP night bus, which took us further south around 13 hours. There is no direct bus so we had a stop in Bago, from where we transferred to another bus which was extremely crowded with locals and so hot. After 6 hours we had made it too our next place with such relief.

Checking into our accommodation the Soe brothers two, which was basic but had the best wifi yet. We decided to rent a scooter for 24 hours which cost around 6,000 kyat, 4.50 dollars from Good luck Motorbike rental because they had a reputation and also stored our backpacks for free whilst we visited Mt Zwekabin.

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Local children playing beside the water

From the township we travelled around 20km, although relying on locals with simple directions isnt always wise, as we found ourselves many times in the opposite direction.

Finally reaching our destination we paid a small fee to store the bike in a secure area for the night within the grounds and started the trek around midday. This wasnt the intitial plan as the heat was extreme. The combination of 35 degrees and a wet humidity was brutal. Passing many locals just wearing flip flops and their tradtional dress I was amazed.

The climb up was gradual and parts are in the shade which helped us a little. The only shop providing refreshments is close to the top and definitely good for refilling on liquids. There are two routes to the top. We took the more steeper route but found it wasnt to difficult and managed to reach the top in just over two hours.

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Arriving just after 3 pm it was quite quiet and we were actually quite lucky given one out of two private twin rooms. I was completely open minded what to expect and didnt think we would have the luxury of a western toilet and shower right next to us. As the time passed slowly more tourists came to the top checking in for the night and setting up for the sunset.

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The views were absolutely breathtaking, seeing for many miles across Myanmar. Watching the sunset was beautiful and so clear it was one of the best we had experienced. It was also well timed with the supermoon. This is a very big occasion for the burmese culture, having really big parties which seemed they went on for around 24 hours.

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They have a small vegetarian restaurant at the top where they served a very tasty but simple dish for dinner, for 2000 kyat per person.

Admiring the pastel colours of the sky whilst the monks prayed. It’s definitely rated as one increible moment in my life.

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We woke early the following day around 4am to see the sunrise. The beautiful colours of the sky whilst above the clouds were stunning. We also got very close to monkeys, which live on the mountain. They are fed by the monks leftovers. It was very entertaining seeing them eating the rice and other scraps.

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The trek down was much quicker and very peaceful. We started the descent just after 6 am and were at the bottom within 45 minutes. Our scooter needed to be back around 830 am, giving us some  to get down and travel back.

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Cruising along the roads early in the morning was very quiet. I think all the people were having a lay in cause of the longest party night.
After returning our scooter and collecting our backpacks we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at a local bakery and waited for our bus to leave.

Our short time in Hpa An was definately one of my favourite moments in Myanmar, although it was an intense climb with the heat. It is one place I would recommend if ever visiting this country as its definately far off the main tourist loop of Mandalay, Inle lake and Bagan.

One Life changing experience.

Myanmar

Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake

After a very long over night bus from Hsipaw to Kalaw, we made it in the early hours of the morning to kalaw. Wandering the streets with our backpacks searching for our accommodation, it was really blissful, no noise from the general hustle and bustle of the streets in Myanmar.

We had decided to wander around searching for the best trekking company after checking in, already with some knowledge of recommended companies:

We decided to sign up with eversmile treking, with a good history we felt confident that 40,000 kyat each (31 dollars) , for 2 nights accommodation in locals homes, 3 meals a day and a boat trip at the end along with transporting our luggage to our hotel it was definitely cheaper than the regular travel.

The next morning we were overwhelmed with the amount of people set to do this trek, I know in recent years it has become one of the must dos in Myanmar. The organisation was a little random, as one member of staff just counted a bunch of us and said your are one group. So a group of eleven and our guide Moe Moe, we set off straight away. It was a nice mix of people from across the world, four of us from the UK, three spanish, one female from Argentina, one aussie girl, markus the only german which made him happy and one guy from the Czech Republic.

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The first day we hiked out of the town Kalaw , across rice fields, through forest and over some river crossings. This involved us taking our shoes off, due to the recent rain it made various parts quite muddy and slippy.

Our lunch stop was enjoyed along a moutain side, with increible views into a valley of the Shan state. Lunch was an indian cusine which was yum, nan bread, pumpkin chutney, avocado salad and fresh fruit all home made.

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After a nice stop we continued along a muddy track which offered beautiful views, passing many locals, full of smiles and hellos, we came to our first village. They were building a new school here and we had been advised to bring school materials for the students, honestly they were extremely excited recieving pencils.

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Part of day one we hiked along one of the rail lines, with a constant fear of a train coming I had a back up plan where to leap just in case. The weather was very kind to us during the day, still farely hot, we were glad it wasnt raining.

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Arriving at our place for the night it was already very dark, only 6pm but felt like it could of been midnight, we set up camp in a basic building where a mat and blanket was offered to us.

Markus and I got first dips on the shower, a hut outside, with a huge basen of cold water and a tinned bowl to wash ourselves. Nothing could of felt more refreshing.
Dinner was amazing, and very generous with many dishes to choose from, it was impossible to leave the table feeling hungry.

Waking around 615pm the next morning, after a rough night sleep, even though all going to sleep early, we had a lovely breakfast of pancakes and fruit before we set off early.

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The track was extremely muddy from all the rain, gaining around 1/2 kg of mud on our shoes, the tempertaure was already rising well, despite only being 8 am in the morning.

It was set to be another lovely sunny day, passing colourful landscapes, which reminded me of the English countryside. All in high spirits, even the ones with blisters, it was nice how well we had bonded as a group. Our guide Moe Moe, was funny, informative, helpful with a great knowlege of the area and his english was very good.

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With a few tea stops on route, and another lovely lunch enjoyed in a locals home. We all had a nice break here not wanting to continue but to enjoy a little nap.

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This track offers rewarding views over the shan state, lovely lush green landscapes with mountain’s in the background, the terrain is mixed, but often harder due when slippy and muddy from rain.

Our second night was spent in a little bamboo hut shared all together. We were fornunate to have a little shop next to us selling, snacks, fizzy drinks and even some local rum.

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This area we got to see many locals passing us in the evening with there herds of cows and some stopping to allow the animals to have a bath in a little pond.

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During the night we experienced non stop rain and were woken to heavy rain, this day was not going to be easy, with four of our group pulled out for various reasons the rest of us prepared ourselves with waterproofs and trekked on.

The rain made it a little more challenging and often felt very cold. Many vehicles passed us filled with tourists, who had given up the trek and opted to get to Inle by car. Our group remained strong and optimistic to finish the trek by foot.

The last part of the the trek was very difficult. Climbing and stepping over slippy rocks, majority of the group fell on their bum.

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Group photo on the final day

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Going through the jungle it was very humid and so many insects it was not pleasant and we avoided stopping. I was constantly paranoid of snakes, especailly after Moe Moe told me they liked the rocks which we were passing.

After many hours going constant down hill, the lake was in sight, I never felt so happy.

Two and half days of trekking we had reached Inle, so thankful it has finally stopped raining we enjoyed lunch at a restaurant before setting off on a boat across Inle lake. A very brief goodbye to our guide he was really great.

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The boat ride was a great experience but very noisy , a private boat trip can cost around 200 dollars so it was great that it was included in the trip.

Passing mountains either side of us and green vegatation which I believe they grow all sorts in it took around an hour to reach the main town along the lake.

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Myanmar

Hsipaw train journey

Rated as one of the best train journies in the world. We boarded the 100 year old train at Pwin oo lwin station early in the morning, paying 2750 kyat each for one way to take us to Hsipaw.

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This is for the upper class seats, which to be honest paying a little extra few cents its totally worth it unless a bumpy ride on a wooden seat for 8 hours is your thing.
I had read a view blogs and reviews on this journey, that is described as an artifact from a museum, this couldnt of been more accurate. Literally it had not been updated since it first was lauched in the early 1900s. Cobwebs, rusty foot rests, and fans which looked like they hadn’t been used in decades.

 

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Setting off the train pulled us along very slowly, completely open windows so you admire the true beauty of the scenary whilst getting some lovely shots without the relfection of yourself.

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I found the experience really amazing, getting over the noise of the train screaching on the tracks. My enthusiasm for the beauty of the Shan-state countryside was easy. Passing small towns, rice fields, farmers ploughing there land and the lush green countryside was incredible.

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We stopped several times, around 30 minutes at a time, giving us a chance to stretch our legs, and enjoy some snacks and local food beside the railway.

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The toilet situation was literally a pipe straight down, reminded me of the trains back in Italy. My advise holding your breathe is recommend as it does have a strong, unpleasant smell.

The best part was crossing the Gok Teik Viaduct, which was the largest of its time. For the best views I would recommend getting a seat on the left side as the train turns slightly whilst on the viaduct giving you a awesome shot.

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The estimated time arriving into Hsipaw can completely vary. We arrived around 1 hour later than expected and the day after we witnessed it arriving over 2 hours later. So its not reliable with the time. But it still worth the experience.

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Hsipaw is definately one of my favourite places in Myanmar. The scenary is just so beautiful and its so worthwhile doing a half day trek through shan villages and up into the moutains. Compared to other bigger towns or cities in this country, Hsipaw was a good size with all the local conviences.

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A visit to Mrs Popcorn Cafe was lovely. A nice quiet place to eat, which is a bit away from the main road. A great selection of tradional local dishes to several worldwide dishes which she has learned from tourist.

 

 

 

Myanmar

Bagan the home of pagodas and temples

After several days spent in Yangon, we headed north to Bagan, this was one place I was excited to explore and to watch the sun setting over the sea of pagodas that are spread across this area.

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After a 10 hour bus jounrey we arrived in Bagan, checking into our accommation, we were informed they had been overbooked and to our luck we had been upgraded for the night with no further charge.  We headed straight out afterwards to find some dinner, this wasnt much effort.

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In bagan I found it was definately more a haven for tourists, with so many resturants and tourist offices, for hiring scooters, booking tours especially for hot air ballon trips that are spread across the town.

We decided to spend 3 days in Bagan, which I believe is ideal if you really want to explore the many temples. Hiring a scooter sets you back around 6,000 kyats for a day 4.50US$. This is definately the best way to see the area, having the freedom to stop and explore.

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With over 3,000 temples, its situated on the banks of the Irrawaddy river, some of them date back to the 10th century, although due to a recent earthquake, there is damage to a few of them.

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Our first day we literally visited so many of temples and some of golden pagodas, we were really overwhelmed with how incredible they were. With many markets surrounding the bigger and popular pagodas, we were approached on many occasions with things which the locals wanted to sell to us.

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The locals however were so friendly and smiley, even enjoyed a nice conversation with a local burmese family, who created sand paintings as a living, a very competitve business as we saw so many whilst in this area.

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They use the sand from the banks of the Irrawaddy river. I was surpised how good their english was, mostly learnt from the tourists. As we found many locals
only spend a couple of years in education due to the costs.

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Watching the sunset across Bagan was on my bucket list, so witnessing this was just an increible moment for myself. Although I found we were met by every tourist on one pagoda, we still managed to get a good spot.

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Our accommation Shwe Nadi Guest house, was situated in a good spot, amongst many shops and resturants, with friendly and helpful staff, that included a good breakfast. I would recommend this place, its also ideal if your on a budget.

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Early morning routine for the monks in Bagan.

Whilst in bagan we decided to get up at 430am to see the sunrise, riding through the streets in pitch black was an experience, but many other tourists were doing the same thing. Climbing up one of the temples was a little scary for myself, especially in flip flops, but once at a higher level I could see why. Wintessing the darkness disppear into light was relieving, however our experience was quite disappointing as it was very cloudy and overcast so the sunrise was less impressive.

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Baganhouse Lacquerware shop is also a place worth visiting, learning about the process of how things are made from bamboo from the workers themselves was so interesting. The showroom is made quite stylish, with a mix of cheap and expensive lacquerware, we were welcomed with a cup of green tea and seasame cookies which were a hit, I also brought a pretty designed bracelet which was only 2 dollars.

I found most places prefer you to pay in the local currency, as a tip paying in dollars it will always be more expensive.

Bagan is a beautiful town, and definately my favoutite place so far in Myanmar.

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Myanmar

Yangon and its ramshackle charms.

Myanmer is a country still unknown to many in the western world, the first few days we spent in the formly known city Rangoon but today it is called Yangon. From the moment we landed we were utterly amazed by the chaos whilst driving to our accomoadation. This being our first experience in Asia and it was definately a culture shock.

We were hit immediately by the wet humidity, so cruising through the city in a aircon taxi was pure bliss. We decided to stay three nights in a cute guest house called Little Bamboo Place. It is situated 7km outside of the main centre, but the taxis are so cheap. We paid 3500-4000 Kyat which is around 2,70US$.

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General day to day street markets in Yangon

After nearly 15 hours of traveling through different time zones, a good sleep was needed.

We caught a taxi in the evening to the centre and it was so busy, our eyes were constantly focusing on all the cars, people and little stores and sheds. The buildings were such a mix of newly builds to dirty shacks. People were walking on the road as a pathway is a rare sight to see. Constant horns beeping not caring about the road system.

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We decided to stop in the main street where many markets were laid out and the smell of the street food was incredible. This is the best place for a good selection of Street food and resturants from Western to Asian style food.

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Exploring Yangon, over three days you will not be bored, we visited the beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda also known as the Golden Dagon Pagoda, gleaming in gold and decorated with diamonds, its one of the Buddhisms most sacred sites, being a tourist you pay a entrance fee of 8,000 kyat per person, but easy is worth it and situated in the heart of the city.

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The Bogyoke market is a great place to find many local crafts from the Burmese culture, half a day could easy be spent wandering around the cobble streets whilst finding some good bargains.

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Eating local burmese food in the markets.

During our stay we often got chatting with other travelers, even spent a day exploring the city with another couple and enjoyed a resturant to ourselves whilst with a french/english family.

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The Reclining Buddha Kyauk htat Gyi

The past few days spent in Yangon, we found the people so friendly and welcoming, greeting us and often wanting to make conversation and wanted to take their photo with us. Never once did we fell unsafe in this city.

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Definately a city I would recommend visiting to open your eyes to the culture, and never feel bored.