A Travellerspoint blog

Cycling through the countryside


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large_5550_13590130636944.jpgAt the markets in Nyaung Shwe.
I had a leisurely day (or half-day) on the bike today. I read about the hot spring about 40 minutes away by bike. It seemed like a good way to while the day away.

The road there was a mix of sealed and unsealed. I had a nicer bike than the one in Bagan [Bagan-travel-guide-1314554] and it was equipped with gears. This was my first experience cycling on terrain, make that rough terrain. I bounced off the seat a few times going downhill over the stony surface. And I learnt that bike gears are numbered opposite to car gears; choose a small number to go up hill!

It was USD5 to enter the men’s swimming pool and USD8 for the co-ed small pools. I chose the former as I wanted to save money and I was the only customer anyway. The water was warm, not hot. I only stayed about 30 minutes and then cycled back.

I wasn’t disappointed as I hadn’t expected something like one of those amazing Korean (or Hungarian) spas. And it was a good way to kill half-a-day, which is what I wanted. I enjoyed cycling through the countryside more than the actual hot springs.

With the short winter daylight hours, there wasn’t much left to the day after a late lunch.

Over dinner I met this Italian guy who had become a Buddhist. I had a very interesting chat with him and had a quick revision on the differences between the Mahayana and Hinayana (Theravada) forms of Buddhism.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Heho Heho, away we go


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large_5550_1359012842932.jpgSightseeing boats on the river at Nyaung Shwe.
I woke at 05:30. As I left the hotel the monks were on their rounds collecting their food. The ride to Bagan Airport took about 15 minutes and the place was very quiet when I first arrived. It didn’t take long before busloads of older western tourists arrived.

There were heaps of flights coming and going about the same time. Our flight was delayed by about 30 minutes due to weather at Heho Airport (the gateway to Inle Lake).

It was great knowing that the 30 minute flight was instead of about 10 hours on a bus. Upon arrival, I shared a taxi to Nyaung Shwe [Nyaung-Shwe-travel-guide-1326677] with the retired Dutch couple whom I met on the boat from Mandalay [Mandalay-travel-guide-551987] to Bagan a few days back. That saved me a fair bit as it was a long ride (nearly an hour) and cost about USD30.

I had booked by phone a room at the Gold Star Hotel for the first night; they couldn’t take me on the second but could take me on the third. With a stroke of luck, they told me that they’ve had a cancellation and I can now stay for all three nights. Packing and moving is a real hassle when one wants to be out and about sightseeing.

Nyaung Shwe turned out to be a rather nice laid back town by the river (which feeds into Inle Lake). I spent the day chilling and enquiring about boat trips to the lake. I was advised not to go tomorrow but the day after when the markets are better; different villages have their market days rotating on a 5-day cycle.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Sunrise over Bagan


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large_5550_13590125163392.jpgWaiting in the dark for sunrise.
I set the alarm for 5am. It was an unusually warm morning; even in the lowlands including Yangon, it is normally quite cool. Despite that, it wasn’t warm enough to cycle in just a thin T-shirt. I felt apprehensive wearing my black raincoat cycling on the poorly-lit road from Nyaung U to get to Shwe San Daw pagoda over in Bagan [Bagan-travel-guide-1314554], which is highly recommended by locals for sunrise.

The 6km ride took about half hour. It was just after 6am when I arrived and climbed up to the highest possible point on the pagoda, joining a handful of others. More people came but I wouldn’t describe it as crowded.

The sky gradually lit up allowing us to see the distant temples where several balloons slowly became fully engorged. The balloons lifted off one-by-one hovering across the temples at rather different heights. I’d be asking for a refund, if I had been in that super-low one (that appeared to just clear the trees).

I quickly cycled back to drop my laundry off at the hotel reception. The per-piece price here is less than that in Mandalay [Mandalay-travel-guide-551987] (both at the my hotel there and on the street). There, I had resorted to hand-washing in the shower.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing; I’m continuing with my plan to only do half-days. I had found a traditional Myanmar massage place in town offering 1h treatments for USD6. Sadly, it was disappointing as I like it hard and strong. I could have done a better job myself but not on myself.

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Monkey wee, Money doo


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large_5550_13590120672598.jpgOur pickup truck to Mt Popa.
Seven of us had agreed to go to Mt Popa today. We had organised a small pickup truck to take us there and back at about USD1 more than the public transport rate of USD7 per head (see, I told you Myanmar wasn’t cheap ... that’s a lot of money for a 1h + 1h return journey).

While waiting to go, the Czech and I had some nice conversations about national stereotypes, eg. Germans are always early and Italians are always late. He bemoaned that there are no Czech stereotypes because not many people know where the Czech Republic is. Then he qualified that by saying that in some former Eastern bloc countries, Czech is still well-known for brands like Skoda, Bata etc.

It would have been far too rude for me to tell him that his country is now very famous for gay porn!

The journey to Mt Popa took about 90 minutes including a stop at a peanut-oil press operated by a white bullock.large_5550_13590120675121.jpgPeanut oil press.Mt Popa looked impressive and also looked difficult to climb up. In fact it was a breeze taking only 20 minutes up the crowded steps on which we walked barefooted, keeping an eye out for monkey wee and monkey doo. The place is infested with lots of monkeys; a number of people cleaning the stairs and ask for donations in return for their efforts.

There were shrines devoted to pre-Buddhist spirits and also to Buddha. My interest (lack thereof) in these is well-known from my earlier posts. So, I was back down to the pickup in just over an hour.

Five out of seven of us (myself included) were disappointed with Mt Popa; and I reckon the other two were being polite. I only have myself to blame for my disappointment; I think I had built it up too much. When I first saw it from a photo last year (from a friend Phil), I imagined it to be like the magnificent fortified mountain villages in rural Yemen.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing and organising (somewhat unsuccessfully) accommodation at Lake Inle.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

B is for Bagan


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large_5550_13590115683455.jpgThis is the third and latest wing of the Eden Motel; I slept soundly in the rooftop dorm.
I had an amazing night sleep in the cold enclosed rooftop dorm until the prayers kicked in around 0600. I had been warned about lots of chanting from 0400 but it either didn’t happen or I had slept through it.

After a simple but big breakfast, I rented a bicycle for less than USD2 for the day to explore the temples of Bagan [Bagan-travel-guide-1314554], setting off at 0900.

With so much time at hand on the boat yesterday, I had kinda read up about the various temples and the pick of the bunch. But I put all that aside and just started cycling, exploring and enjoying the scenery that was dotted with big stupas and clusters of small ones. In between these were scrubland, homes, stalls and the odd nice café.large_5550_13590115639587.jpgStupa at Bagan.

I dropped into various stupas and temples for a visit. At first, my feelings were “Wow, that’s beautiful” but with each passing visit, my enthusiasm waned and eventually got to “Yeah, whatever”.

To be honest, the stupas and temples don’t compare with Angkor Wat (Siem Reap) and Prambanan (Yogyakarta) in terms of the architecture or intricacy of patterns. Here, some are gilded, some are plastered white but many are just bare brick. B is for Bagan, B is for bricks.

At each temple, there were often souvenir and trinket sellers. I feel very guilty about not supporting them and the local economy (beyond hotel, food and transport). These vendors are a valid business but they just don’t sell anything I want (or want to carry).

Having already been a bit jaded with the Buddhist sights in Yangon [Yangon-travel-guide-1320501] and Mandalay, I’m surprised that I enjoyed exploring Bagan.large_5550_13590115643357.jpgTemples at Bagan.The highlight for me was being on a bicycle going through the countryside that was dotted with all these temples … more so than visiting the individual temples.

Largely, it was good pleasant cycling as the area is quite flat. The only annoyance was having to cycle on the sandy bits to get to some of the stupas, and having to dismount once in a while.

The journey back through a different road proved more tiring as it was a bit undulating. It was only when I got back around 1330 that I realised I had covered around 18km. And it hurts spending all that time on a bicycle seat; not used to having something hard like that between my legs.

Bagan is where I’m starting to enjoy myself again. It is cheaper, has a nice atmosphere (sans traffic chaos), great for meeting people (finally), and there’s a nice mix of local and touristy stuff. What a contrast to moments in non-central Mandalay where I could hardly find anything to eat or anyone to speak to.

Back at the hostel in the evening, I offered my private shower to my former dorm-mates as their shower wasn’t working. As it turned out, mine only had hot water and no cold. The Czech guy found the hot water far too hot and resorted to using the handheld bidet by the toilet as his shower. While it isn’t a nice thought, there’s perfectly nothing wrong.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

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