A Travellerspoint blog

Cruising down the Ayeyarwady


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large_5550_13590111272424.jpgHomes on the banks of the Ayeyarwady.
With a 0700 departure on the ferry, I got the hotel to order me a taxi for 0615. It turned up slightly late and there was a mild panic. To make matters worse, he took me to another deserted jetty which is used on some days of the week.

Fortunately we made it to the correct jetty in time. As we moved away from Mandalay [Mandalay-travel-guide-551987], the landscape was rather monotonous with brown waters of the Ayeyarwady flanked by sandy banks. The only bits of interests were the couple of times when we pulled up against the river bank to allow locals to sell us fruit and craft.

The 11h journey was very painless and much more comfortable than the shorter bus journey. Upon arrival, I was quickly approached by a rickshaw driver who whisked me to my pre-booked (by phone) accommodation in Nyaung U. He certainly had strong legs and lungs pedalling the both of us plus luggage.

I half-expected the Eden Motel in Nyaung U to not honour the phone booking as accommodation is very tight everywhere in Myanmar. To my surprise, they had something for me … first night in the dorm due to overbooking, then my single room as booked thereafter.

The 6-bed dorm on the rooftop was nice, and so were occupants. The shared bathroom was clean until the Europeans with different bathroom etiquette sullied it. They walk in-and-out of the wet shower-room with their sandy shoes. Bathroom flip-flops were provided for this purpose but I don’t think they understood what they were for.

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

Motorcycle Diary


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large_5550_13583470969338.jpgCovered climb up to Sagaing Hill.
Working half days

I woke at 7am after 11 hours sleep, to make up for the previous night’s interrupted sleep ... when my body woke me up for the AirAsia sale which I had forgotten about. Also, sleep without pseudoephedrine is so much better!

As Myanmar’s sights are largely temples and stupas, I had found myself getting very jaded during my first and very short visit. I decided that I would take it easy and do half-days. Hopefully this will also help me recover from this blasted flu virus (and congestion) which I’ve had for two weeks … and recover I must as diving in Sipadan awaits me in two weeks as well.

I had a light breakfast in bed of soya milk and pineapple mooncakes (yummy). I had stocked up on these as there are hardly any eateries open in my area for breakfast.large_5550_13583470971864.jpgI like the detail on the roofs of the walkway.

I ventured out for an early lunch at 11am. None of the eateries spoke English, but fortunately some spoke Chinese. This woman who spoke perfect Mandarin offered me a rice noodle soup, which she appeared to overcharge me for later at about USD1.20.

Outing to the south of Mandalay

My motorcycle taxi (which I had arranged last night) turned up on the dot at 12 midday. So it was pillion-bitch again, for the 40 minute ride to Sagaing Hill.

When I arrived, it looked like it was going to be a horrid climb to the top. I thought it would be good training for my upcoming Mt Kinabalu challenge. In actual fact it only took 10 minutes so it wasn’t actually a workout. I realised later that some people drove up.

Sagaing Hill seems to be several hills actually.large_5550_13583470958433.jpgThe Sagaing Hill area has many temples and stupas linked by covered and uncovered walkways.Scattered over these hills are various temples and stupas linked by covered and unconvered walkways. I wandered around the main temple and had a second lunch before making my way down. With my superficial interest in Buddhism, the other temples and stupas were just going to be “more of the same”.

I continued on the motorbike to Ubein’s bridge, supposedly the world’s longest teak bridge at around 1.3km. It was very scenic walking across it looking at people fishing, herding their ducks, washing, swimming and tending to their crops.

It got more scenic once I got on to the sandy banks as the sun came close to setting. It was very picturesque looking at the bridge with its reflection in the water.

I headed back after sunset, feeling more than ready for the cold shower (yes, it is winter). I felt rather dusty from being on a bike so much in the afternoon.

Golden Land for the Golden Years

So far, in both Mandalay and Yangon, most of the visitors I’ve seen are old and grey, from North America and UK/Europe. Myanmar calls itself the Golden Land, so I wonder if there is some appeal to people in their golden years.

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

Another unfinished beauty


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large_5550_13582445139534.jpgGold pounding is back-breaking. Imagine doing this for over 6 hours for just a small piece of gold?
Booking for next year

Having retired too early last night, I woke around 1am. I realised that this was also the first day of AirAsia’s latest zero-fare sale (shortest fights are zero-fare but longer flights are at tiny prices).

I managed to buy HKG-KUL-KCH-KUL-HKG for next Christmas for about NZD200 (11 hours flying) uninterrupted by powercuts that has plagued us before and after; it was a miracle! As I feel bad for missing out the current Kiwi summer, I didn’t want any bells, whistles, detours and sidetrips to next summer’s itinerary.

Having booked it, I had regrets. I felt that I hadn’t made the most of the sale … they had flights KCH-KUL-MEL for NZD250 inclusive of taxes. Or I could have gone to Beijing to connect to Harbin for the Ice Festival.

I managed to fall asleep despite my discontent, then pulled myself out of bed at 7am.large_5550_13582445146137.jpgGold pounding is back-breaking. Imagine doing this for over 6 hours for just a small piece of gold?I got breakfast on the roadside and found the gold-pounding area where men pound tiny slivers of gold into larger bits of gold-leaf (after more than 6 hours). It is truly back-breaking work.

Unfinished beauty at Mingun [Mingun-travel-guide-553403]

My heart was set on going to Mingun this morning. I know taxis are expensive in Mandalay [Mandalay-travel-guide-551987], but I didn’t know they were like hens teeth. Just as I was going to say “I hate this place”, the motorcycle taxis found me. I'm too scared to cycle in Mandalay's traffic conditions.

Within minutes I pillion-bitch on my way to the jetty for the 9am boat to Mingun (an hour away upriver). Boarding was interesting.large_5550_13582445141703.jpgBoats on the Ayeyarwady River.Makeshift planks were placed from the land to the first boat and in between each boat to get to our actual boat. For each plank, two men hold a bamboo to serve as a railing for us to hold on to :-)

On the 1h boat ride to Mingun, my tummy rumbled and I suddenly needed to “go”. Fortunately there was a toilet of sorts on the boat which consisted of an open-top three-sided cubicle with a gunnysack curtain on the fourth side. The floor was plank with a large gap in the middle which allowed waste to drop into the river. Nice clean toilet actually!

Mingun’s centrepiece is a ginormous base for a stupa that was never completed (started in 1789). I can’t even imagine how big the completed stupa would have been (supposedly 150m). The site had other temples and the world’s second largest bell.

I returned to Mandalay about 2pm and organised my onward travel to Bagan [Bagan-travel-guide-1314554] for two days time. Tomorrow should be a full day so I chose to do nothing else for the rest of today. I’m going to skip Mandalay Hill … I don’t believe in going up a hill that I can’t see due to the smog.

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

Cruel joke?


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large_5550_13582442655762.jpgThe countryside between Heho and Mandalay is very red.
Would you do this to a friend?

I have been chatting to this Israeli guy staying at the hotel. He seems to be in Yangon [Yangon-travel-guide-1320501] indefinitely, waiting for his friend to come from Bangkok at a date that hasn’t been confirmed.

He knows nothing about Myanmar or Yangon. He hasn’t even heard of Shwedagon Pagoda or the famous parts of the country. Apparently he just got a visa to come over to join his friend (who hasn’t turned up yet).

Could this be some cruel joke? Does he know that there are no international ATMs in the country? He could run out of money soon!

On the road to Mandalay [Mandalay-travel-guide-551987]

I haven’t read a book since school, so I don’t know what Rudyard Kipling was on about in his book “On the Road to Mandalay” (or “Kim” when I was recently in Lahore).large_5550_13582442678999.jpgMandalay Palace at dusk with the moat in the foreground.

But I’m going any way. My flight had been rescheduled by a couple of hours (notified at ticketing) plus a stop in Heho introduced. This meant the early afternoon arrival into Mandalay became late afternoon. It rendered the day rather useless but on the plus side, I had an extremely relaxed morning.

I shared a car with an Aussie couple from Mandalay airport into the city which was a long ride. I had tried calling various hotels in the city but they were all full, so I went along with the Aussie’s choice.

It was nice enough; I got a single room for USD20 with shared bathroom (cold water and squat toilet) plus excellent wifi; remember Myanmar is not a value destination. It turned out to be 30 minutes walk from the centre and not backpacker friendly (eg. daytrips etc). I guess the alternative was to door-knock the various hotels in the centre … I think I got the lesser of the two evils.

I did a quick walkaround of the city centre after dropping my luggage. It was chaotic with traffic, especially motorcycles. The smog was terrible; the nearby Mandalay Hill wasn’t visible. I don’t think I like this place.

After a quick dinner of paratha, I retired for an early night. I wonder why I should feel tired so early.

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

Havana of SE Asia


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large_5550_13580656443499.jpgMonks going on their rounds to collect alms in the morning.
There was an early-morning feel when I stepped out of the hotel after breakfast at 0830. Businesses and stalls were just starting to open up and the air was still very cool in the shade.

Walking to the Botataung Pagoda, it becomes apparent that Yangon [Yangon-travel-guide-1320501] is the Havana of SE Asia when it comes to grand but crumbling old buildings. Only some, eg. the Strand Hotel have been lovingly restored to an immaculate condition.

At the Botataung Pagoda, I walked past the foreigner ticketing counter (intentionally this time). This Pagoda has a hollow base which can be entered. It was a gilded labyrinth filled with many Buddha statues. The centrepiece is a relic of Buddha’s hair. Next to the main pagoda was a small housing containing relics of his teeth (a few small chips).

I walked to the market which was closed yesterday. A nice two-storey block served as the frontage to several warehouse-sized buildings which house many jewellers and fabric stores.

Myanmar is famous for gems and jade and they jewellers must get a lot of interest from Chinese customers. Walking around, some of them speak perfect Mandarin.

There wasn't much else I wanted to see (in terms of actual sights) so I rested and spent the evening walking around absorbing the atmosphere of Yangon. The street markets set up around 4pm and seem to pack up around 8pm. Not much happens after 9pm, which is fine by me!

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

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