Alanna and I were lucky enough to badger our bosses into letting us go to Myanmar and try it out ready for our Rickshaw Ramblers. There couldn’t have been a more exciting time to visit, as we arrived just after democracy had finally prevailed, and so we found a sense of hope hanging in the air (or was that just the incense burning?).
Christmas on Inle Lake
We spent a couple of days trekking from the small town of Kalaw to Inle Lake through flowing hills and chilli fields. The lake is not only one of Myanmar’s beautiful natural sights, but it’s also fringed by a watery world of stilt-house villages and floating gardens where you can get a unique glimpse of local life.
Our local guide Bone Pyi Lwin spoke English very well and knew just how to show us the sights while keeping us well away from any tourist traps. We witnessed the famous fishermen who row their boats by wrapping their leg around the oar, keeping their hands free for casting their nets. It was also wonderful to watch the people tend to the floating gardens—small beds floating in the water covered with ripe tomatoes and other vegetables. Seeing the sunset from the lake truly topped it all off.
While rowing our small wooden boat amongst the stilted villages we worked up quite an appetite, and since it was Christmas day we had our minds set on a little feast. Our bowls of delicious shan noodles may not quite have been a Turkey roast dinner, but they sure made for a very tasty finish to an amazing day.
Cycling in Bagan
Since we wanted to save time and pack in as many places as we could, and because we didn’t mind a little adventure, we decided to take an overnight bus to Bagan. While day buses or private transfers are clearly more comfortable, it was fun to take an overnight bus and travel as the locals do. Our experience was certainly a bit different, as we were joined on our bus by two young convicts handcuffed together! (Though we need not worry, as they were accompanied by two armed police!)
After we got off our coach/police-transport and arrived in Bagan, we immediately hired some bicycles and set off to see the sunrise at the Shwesandaw Pagoda. It was a truly breath-taking spectacle, made even more impressive by a back drop of over twenty hot air balloons floating around a skyline of temple peaks arising from the morning mist.
The beauty of getting bikes and going it alone was that we could discover Bagan our own way. We climbed atop what felt like our very own temples and seemingly were the only ones there.
We twice used one of the temples as our own private viewing platform to watch the sunset. Even after two days at Bagan we still hadn’t had our fill, though it was sadly time to move on. Though not before we had witnessed, for the first time in our lives, not one but three shooting stars. Sigh…
Local flavours in Yangon
Yangon was a true taste sensation starting with mohinga with the locals – a rice noodle and fish soup breakfast. While Burmese curries are very tasty, the strong Indian influence in Yangon meant a welcome change to the spices, and we could gorge ourselves silly on delicious Indian street food including samusa thoke (samosas with curry), massala dosa’s and lassis.
We had a ride in a very unusual bicycle rickshaw to the temple of Botataung Paya, followed by cocktails at the famous colonial-era Strand Hotel. Obviously, everyone visits the gleaming golden Shwegadon Pagoda when they’re in Yangon and we were no exception, though our local guide took us one step further and had our fortunes read after we were done exploring the temple complex. Apparently I’m just coming out of 4 months of bad luck!
Making new friends
One of the great joys of travelling in Myanmar for me was to immerse in a different culture. We often felt like celebrities, with the locals all wanting to touch our skin and take photos of us to remember the milky white/red sweaty tourists. I always love trying out local languages, though the friendly smiling locals made this an exceptional experience here. Saying the Burmese greeting of “mingalabar” would typically be met by friendly faces, often covered in thanaka (a cosmetic paste made from bark of the thana tree). While chatting with the local tribespeople in the fields when trekking, or on the 3-hour circle line train in Yangon, we could practice some more advanced phrases from the Lonely Planet which was so much fun.
After Yangon, the city of Malmwyine was a real treat as we followed the footsteps of Rudyard Kipling, mixing with the Buddhist monks in the walkways of seemingly endless temples. As we sat high above the town and overlooking the river it felt both calming and uplifting, and I don’t think I will ever forget it.