This is the diary of a 17-day trip to Burma which lasted from 21 November 2012 and ended on 7 December 2012. In the party were Graham and Jane, Hugh and Jane, Bill and Mary.
It was organised by Stewart at Audley Travel (more...) who produced excellent travel documentation.
Click here for the itinerary and interactive maps. If you just want to see all the photos as a slide show click here.
|Wednesday, 21 November - Flight to Bangkok
Thursday, 22 November - Bangkok to Rangoon
Friday, 23 November - Rangoon
Saturday, 24 November - Rangoon to Heho
Sunday, 25 November - Inle Lake
Monday, 26 November - Tha Khauk Temple
Tuesday, 27 November - Inle to Mandalay
Wednesday, 28 November - Sagaing, Ava, and Amarapura
Thursday, 29 November - Cruise to Pagan
|Friday, 30 November - Pagan
Saturday, 1 December - Temples of Bagan
Sunday, 2 December - Flight to Rangoon
Monday, 3 December - Ngwe Saung
Tuesday, 4 December - Ngwe Saung
Wednesday, 5 December - Ngwe Saung
Thursday, 6 December - Return to Rangoon
Friday, 7 December - Flight to London via Bangkok
We have driven up to Bill and Mary's on Tuesday evening so had a wonderful meal of fruity chicken tagine washed down with copious amounts of red wine. We slept as well as we could as we were able to count the strikes of the clock on the hour for every hour until Bill turned off the striking at 4:55am. Jane and Hugh arrive at 8:15am and the taxi arrives at 8:55am. Unfortunately the taxi has room for four adults and all the luggage but not for six adults and all the luggage as ordered by Bill. Bill and Graham get into another taxi fifteen minutes later. We all meet up at the airport. Checking in for economy class is much quicker than for 'Royal Silk' class on Thai Airlines. Jane and Graham are mocked for they have to wait to check in. The plane takes off five minutes late and soars through the rain and clouds to the sunshine above.
We touch down in Bangkok at 6:15am and walk for miles to get the connecting flight for Rangoon (Yangon as it is now called). The A330 is full. We take off at 8am and land one hour later at 8:30am. Burma (or Myanmar as it is now called) time is six and half hours ahead of GMT (London time). We take a long time getting through passport control and getting our bags. We are met by a smiling girl called Aye Aye. We get in a minibus and are taken to the Savoy Hotel. Our room is on the first floor overlooking the swimming pool. It has wooden polished floors without rugs or carpets and lacquered furniture. It is very comfortable. It has free Wi-Fi. We have an early siesta and meet in reception at 1pm. We wander towards the Shwedagon Pagoda complex. There are a lot of cars which is surprising as we were expecting loads of scooters and motorbikes but these are banned in Rangoon. We take off our shoes to walk around the outskirts of the complex. We cannot find any beer as this is all a Buddhist area. It is very sultry and humid. We decide to walk through the gardens as a pleasant way to walk back to the hotel. There are very few exit gates from the park so we walk twice as far as we had expected. We return to the hotel and quench our thirsts on multiple beers consumed under the shade by the swimming pool. We retire for a siesta and meet at 6pm. We wander the streets looking for somewhere to eat and end up at the Friendship Restaurant opposite the hotel. We have a variety of Chinese style food which is all very tasty. We return to our rooms at 7:30pm.
We have breakfast at 7am - yoghurt, fruit juice, fruit, small omelettes, sausages and fried tomatoes washed down with coffee - a typical international breakfast. We meet Aye Aye at 8am and are driven to the Sule Pagoda. They drive on the right in Burma, the same side as the steering wheel is although there are some cars with left hand steering. The licence plates are of five different colours - black for the hoi polloi, red for people transporters, white for diplomats, blue for tourists and yellow for religious vehicles. We have yet to see a yellow one. The Sule Pagoda was the site of many political protests. We take off our shoes and walk around the pagoda in a clockwise fashion as is the custom. Gold foil is used to cover the pagoda. We don't purchase any sparrows which we could release to freedom once purchased but we reclaim our shoes. We clean our feet with wipes before putting on our sandals. We walk down the street and Aye Aye points out the colonial buildings. The buildings need a lot of TLC. Many of the locals wear yellow circular patches on their cheeks. These are thanaka made from ground sandalwood and provide UV protection. A Burmese telephone booth is a table upon which a couple of handsets rest. The telephones are connected the telephone network. They are manned by people from the Public Communications Office. We wander up the street by the British and Australian embassies and then walk into the opulent Strand Hotel where we admire the souvenirs and expensive art pictures. We get back into the minibus and are taken to the Botataung Pagoda which had been replaced after being bombed by the Japs in WWII. We take off our shoes and leave them in the shoe office. This pagoda is different from others in that you can walk inside the central building in a zigzag fashion. All except Bill walk with Aye Aye around the building viewing various relics. Many young Buddhist nuns dressed in pink robes pass us. We walk outside and into a long pavilion where Aye Aye tells how Buddha became enlightened. When we get back to the shoe place Bill is waiting for us. We clamber back into the minibus and visit the riverside of the Rangoon river. We visit the 70 metre Reclining Buddha which lies in a sort of hangar structure. It is about 50 years old and replaces one built in 1907. The donor of it requested that it have pink toenails. The soles of its feet have 108 Buddhist symbols. We return through Yangon and make our way to the edge of the Scott Market where we have lunch in the garden of the Zawngli House restaurant frequented by tourists. Some have fried noodles and the rest have power noodle soup washed down with beer. The soup is good when chilli sauce has been added. After lunch we wander around the millions of closely knit stores of the Scott Market. Nobody buys anything. We return to the minibus and are taken to a large algae-infested lake on which is sitting a large carved gold and red ceremonial barge used for weddings. On our walk to the boat we are invited into a guitar workshop where the owner explains to us the woods used to make his guitars most of which are exported to Japan and the USA. It takes three weeks to make a guitar and the owner would only tell us the price only if we were interested in buying one. After visiting the closed boat we are taken to the Shwedagon Pagoda complex, the largest in the world. We reach it by taking a lift from the shoe leaving station. At the top we walk to the pagoda area. We wander around clockwise and Aye Aye selects a spot from where we can view the sun setting on the pagoda. This will happen in about an hour's time. Crowds begin to gather. Monks climb part way up the one hundred metre high diamond topped pagoda. Are the monks going to perform an Icarus style flight? No they just walk around a gold path part way up the pagoda. The crowds continue to gather. The sun sets. The crowds disperse. We return to our hotel, change quickly and meet in the bar of the hotel where we drink beer. We cross the road and eat once more at the Friendship Restaurant. We have another good meal and afterwards have an ice cream at the nearby Ice Cream bar. We had checked with Aye Aye earlier that it was OK to eat ice cream. We retire to our rooms at 9pm.
We have breakfast at 8am and check out of our room. Aye Aye is a little late as she was held up by a car crash in front of her. We leave just after 9am for Yangon International Airport. We give out the air tickets which Aye Aye had given us last night. We show our passports and have a sticker stuck on our chests. We say goodbye to Aye Aye and go through security, a single conveyor belt and a gate. We find a seat. It is just after 10am. We had been warned that air flights are not kept to a schedule. There is no departure board. There are two departure gates. A loudspeaker announcement is made for each departure and a couple of men roam the departure lounge carrying their 'laser display' boards stating which flight is departing. We thought ours was to go at 11am. It left at 12:30. We board at the rear of the twin engined turboprop aircraft and make our way down to rows 6 and 5. Once we are airborne and the seat belt signs have been turned off we are served with soft drinks followed by half a sandwich, coffee and a very small custard filled profiterole. We land 70 minutes later at He Ho where a young lady greets us, checks our outward flights and takes us to our mini-bus where we are greeted by our guide Win, an ex Buddhist monk. We climb up a hill and down the other side of it. We come to a stop as a train crosses the road. It would have taken thirty hours to get to here from Rangoon as the train stops at every station and travels at a slow speed all the way. We travel towards Inlay Lake and then on to the Red Mountain Winery. We are now at the height of Snowdon. The land is fertile. Three crops of tomatoes are produced annually. Potatoes and rice are grown. At the winery 70 hectares of European vineyards are used to produce wine. The machinery comes from Italy. The winemaker is French. The bottles come from China. The oak barrels come from Hungary. The majority of the 150 workers come from Myanmar. We have a tasting of four wines, a Sauvignon Blanc, an Inle Rose, a Shiraz Tempranillo and a Late Harvest Muscat. Win drinks orange juice. We return to Win's home town of Nuang Shwe (Golden Banyan Tree) and board a narrow boat. In fact we get into two. Three in one and four in the other. We are sped across Lake Inle past some local leg rowing fishermen and end up 50 minutes later at the Golden Island Cottages. We are shown to our rooms over wooden bridges and walkways to our cottages on stilts. Mosquito nets adorn the beds. We have just missed the setting sun. We put on our anti mosquito clothing and sprays. The room has free Wi-Fi. We meet at the bar and drink beer and then sit at our table where we have several local dishes. Our waitress demonstrates various ways of folding napkins and then joins the rest of the staff to put on a traditional dance show. In one of the acts a man holds ten sticks with a fire on the end of each. In another a dancer performs the dance of a peacock with an elaborate umbrella structure wrapped around them. The show ends at 8:45pm and we retire to our rooms hoping for a bite-free night inside our mosquito net.
Breakfast at 8am is not as good as in Rangoon though omelettes are freshly made. The milk for the coffee is hot and sweetened. We meet Win at 9:30am and get into two motorised long boats similar to the ones which brought us to the hotel. We journey along the canals of the floating islands. These are water hyacinths upon which seaweed, mud and grass have been mixed. They are staked to the bed of the lake by bamboo poles. We pass boats harvesting the seaweed. The lake at its deepest is 4 metres. On the floating islands are grown tarot, tomatoes, gourds, cucumbers and flowers. We dock alongside the Jumping Cat Monastery and enjoy the bamboo carved thrones. We get back in the boats and are taken to a silversmith and goldsmith shops all on stilts amongst the floating islands. We visit another shop where some young women are weaving. These women wear coils of bronze around their necks. The heavy necklaces can weigh up to 8 kilograms and stay on all the time. We visit a temple where you can purchase gold leaf and, if you are male, you may stick it on one of the five miniature Buddha statues. The gold leaf is now four inches thick since the statues were placed in position in 1881. After leaving the temple Bill and Jane L return back to the hotel whilst the others are taken to the Golden Kite restaurant for lunch. Win rejoins the diners having taken the other two back to the hotel. We go down the lake to visit a silk weaving 'factory' followed by a lotus weaving 'factory'. The central stem of a lotus can be split and a thread-like substance is extracted which is rolled into thread. Looms with girls driving them produce the garments. They are paid by the length of fabric they produce - a couple of pounds a foot. We next visit a blacksmith where young men are making blades out of old car suspension springs. A younger man sits atop the fire working the bellows - two feather-rimmed plungers in tall metal tubes. Our last visit is to a cheroot 'factory' where girls are creating cheroots from the ingredients. We are invited to smoke one. The girls can earn about 1000 kyats (pronounced chats) for each 1000 cheroots they roll. We return to the hotel and have a siesta before joining in the bar at the corner of the dining room. We have stuffed fish, lentil soup, curried pork and mixed vegetables followed by creme caramel. A similar show to the previous night takes place but we retire to our rooms before it finishes.
We have breakfast and meet a Pa-O girl called Phyu Phyu (Pew Pew) who takes us in two boats to a market in the next village ten minutes away. We meet Win who has driven to the market on his motor bike. We wander around the market for an hour. The Burmese are much shorter than most of us and some of us bump our heads on low beams. There are many more locals than tourists. There are sections for fruit and vegetables, clothes, meat and fish (fresh and salted) and souvenirs. You can even buy petrol. Nothing is bought. We return to the boats and are driven southwards. After an hour we stop at a checkpoint. Phyu Phyu hands in the papers. If we had not got a Pa-O tribe member in our party we would not have been allowed to travel further. We continue for another hour. Much of the lake has been overgrown with water hyacinth so some of the navigable channels are only as wide as the boat. We arrive at the temple and wander around the 264 stupas some of which have been renovated by donations from Malaysian and Singaporean Buddhists. We walk from the temple along a dirt track to a place where rice wine is produced. Rice is steamed for seven hours. It is then spread on a table and yeast from China is added. The rice and yeast is placed in jars and left for seven days. It is then mixed with water and then distilled and bottled. We tried some of the 60 percent 'jungle juice'. We walk a little further to the restaurant and eat either pork or chicken with cashew nuts. It is very bland. Win eats at a different place and has pork and bamboo shoots. We cross the lake to the Western shore and moor at the village of Samrak. There is a sunken banyan tree nearby. We espy a solar panel and tell Win that we are surprised we have not seen more. Our words are overheard by a Buddhist monk who comes to the balcony of his house and says that his panel charges a battery and drives a television and lights in his house but he has the correct equipment. Other people in the village have tried to install solar panels but have not used the correct equipment. The monk has tried to educate the other villagers but they don't listen to him. We wander around the village which used to be a thriving city up until 1950 when warring factions caused it to decline. One of the temples we visit has a solid gold Buddha. We return to the boats and make our way back to the hotel. We drink at 6pm and eat chicken with cashew nuts at 6:30pm; almost as bland as at lunchtime. Our wonderful waitress brings us soya bean and chilli to spice up the food. Two of us try the Myanmar whisky at 1000 kyats a shot. It is not very strong and slightly sweet but at that price we are not complaining. A Coke costs 2000 kyats a Diet Coke 3000 kyats and a 640cl bottle of 5% beer costs 4000 kyats. The Coke is imported from Singapore. There is no show tonight so we retire early. The room rocks on its poles occasionally. It still rocks even if you are sober.
The ladies and Bill each have an hour long Japanese massage costing 8000 kyats. We are having a restful day. We vacate our rooms at 12:30pm.We have lunch on the balcony and at the end say goodbye to the Cisco Kid (the barman who claimed to come from San Francisco) and our very friendly waitress. Putin (for that is what the Cisco Kid called Bill) gives a tip to the barman. We climb aboard the two boats and are propelled to the town at the north end of the lake. We walk to Win's house. He lives with his father in the ground floor part of a bamboo house. His father has had a stroke and can use only his left hand. The neighbouring section of the house is home to a family of woven bamboo wall makers. We watch as they prepare the bamboo and weave it. We are driven to a teak monastery (i.e. one made entirely out of teak) where some students are taking a lesson. The monastery is on 194 stilts which used to be encased in glass mosaic tiles but they have nearly all fallen off. We drive to the airport against the flow of the traffic which is all going to Taungyi to participate in the full moon balloon festival which will take place tomorrow. The plane is only fifteen minutes late. The journey to Mandalay takes half an hour. On the flight we are served a soft drink and a boiled sweet. When we land at Mandalay International Airport (direct flights to Kunming and Bangkok) it is dark. A second Aye Aye meets us and we get into a minibus for the hour's journey to our hotel. We pass many stupas with fairy lights on them and the old palace with its 8km of wall all lit with flourescent tubing. We get to our hotel, the five-star Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel. Our rooms are on the sixth floor and there are only two slow lifts. Wi-Fi has to be paid for as we now have come to expect in the more expensive hotels. We don't pay. We meet in the bar at 8pm for a quiet drink but are soon drowned out by a band singing old pop song like "Imagine" and "Sealed with a Kiss". We go to the dining room and five of us gorge ourselves on the all you can eat $32 buffet. It is very good and should enable us to have a good night's sleep. There is a power cut as we are preparing for bed. It lasts a couple of minutes. How extraordinary for a five-star hotel!
Breakfast is like a cattle market with English being the predominant language spoken by the tourists. We meet Aye Aye at 8:30am and are taken to see the largest book in the world. It is housed around the stupa of Kuthodaw Paya. Each of its 730 pages consists of a large piece of marble inscribed in the Pali language with Buddhist scriptures. Each page is housed in a little stupa which are in three rows and surround the central large golden stupa. We are taken to a teak monastery which had been moved from the palace prior to the palace being bombed in WWII. It was orginally gilded. It has very intricate carvings. It had been the King's apartments. We next take a journey along the bank of the Irrawaddy River. It is the Full Moon festival today so everyone is on holiday and the children are collecting money. They do this by holding a rope across the road and walk up to the front of the minibus and stop it. Sometimes they get given a note. Some of the children are dressed as elephants, others as malformed people. We get to the new bridge over the river. It was built in 2007 and replaces a 1934 British built bridge. We climb up the Sagaing hill to visit a set of 45 Buddhas sitting in a man-made cave. There is a bunch of boys from a boarding school who all cry out to us and we respond in our best Burmese. Next we see a large number of schoolgirls and similar applause occurs. Later Aye Aye explained to Graham that he might have said 'hello donkey' mingaleba instead of mingalarbar to them which is why they laughed so loudly. We drive down the hill and up another one to have a good view over the river towards Mandalay which is enshrouded in a haze. Hugh's camera's battery has run out and he has no charger. We drive back down to the river and cross it using the old bridge. It has a narrow gauge railway track running between the two carriageways. We make our way to a sandy car park and walk down to a boat which takes us across the Small River to the island of Ava which was once a capital of Myanmar. We walk to the Small River restaurant to use their toilets and then decide to have lunch. Aye Aye eats with us - chicken and cashew nuts, sweet and sour chicken, steamed watercress and pineapple and chicken. We get into three rather old pony traps and clip clop down a dusty track to a leaning watch tower. It is leaning because it was struck by an earthquake in 1838. We climb back on our pony trap and are taken to the brick monastery, built in 1822, which now has a crack in one of its walls caused by the earthquake on 11 November, 17 days ago. We visit the large Bagaya Kyaung teak monastery, built in 1834, supported by 267 large teak columns all carefully smoothed. The tallest teak column is 18 metres high. We don't disturb the head monk who is asleep but visible to all. A couple are posing outside to have their pre-wedding photos taken. We make our way back to the Small River, cross it, and are taken to the U Bein Teak Bridge in Amarapura, another ancient capital. It was built in 1849 and is 1.2 km long. We get into a boat to watch the sunset. It is very beautiful. Most of the party take a short walk over the very crowded, fence-free bridge and watch the full moon rise. We are taken to a Burmese restaurant 'A Little Bit of Mandalay' where we eat a good set menu costing $100 for the six of us and use two taxis to drive us back to the hotel. Each taxi costs 5000 Kyats. Swimming is not possible because a fashion show is taking place around and over the swimming pool.
Once again some of us awake early to the wailing coming from a nearby monastery at 3:30am. Why can't Buddhists have alarm clocks? Jane L has a swim with Mary. We have breakfast but not outside today as the air conditioning is off and mosquitoes flood in. Bill has recharged Hugh's battery. We check out and, after Hugh has retrieved the trousers he has left in his room, we leave with Aye Aye at 9:30am. We stop at a bank to change dollars to kyats but it doesn't open till 10:30am. During the journey Aye Aye hands us a book of dates so we can check the days of the week we were born on. Jane and Mary were born on Mondays and the man they should marry should be born on a Friday. Fortunately it turns out that both Graham and Bill were born on a Friday. Jane W was born on a Tuesday and fortunately Hugh was born on a Wednesday. We are taken to the jetty which is on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River near where we were yesterday at Sagaing. We say goodbye to Aye Aye and the coach master as she calls him. We board the boat, exchange our shoes for slippers and go to the covered sun deck. The boat's manager explains to the assembled 48 passengers of the RV Paukan what the safety procedures are and what the timetable for the rest of the day is. We have coffee and go to our cabins to move our luggage inside. We return to the sun deck and the boat departs. The boat has free Wi-Fi - amazing. We visit the engine room. We have a pre-lunch beer and then have a buffet lunch at 1pm. After lunch we rest watching the river scenes until 4pm when we dock and walk around the village of Yandabo famous for making pots and where the peace treaty of the first Anglo-Burmese war was signed in February, 1826. In the village we are shown how the pots are made, decorated and fired. We return to the boat in time to watch the sun setting. The boat moors by the bank at Pakangyi. Some of us meet in the bar at 6:30pm and we all meet at 7pm for a welcome cocktail of rum and orange. The boat manager announces the timetable for tomorrow. The gong goes and we go downstairs to the dining room. We have a good meal centred on a butterfish steak which was very tasty.
Nobody slept well despite the boat being moored up against a bank. The engines start just before 6am and the boat moves off. We get up about 6:15am and go outside. As it is cloudy the sun rise is not observable. We have breakfast at 7am, put our bags outside our rooms by 8:30, pay the bar bill and leave a tip. We dock at 9am at Bagan or Pagan as it is sometimes called. This means moving towards the bank, banging a couple of posts into the mud and securing hawsers from the boat to the posts. A gangway is laid between the boat and the bank. Souvenir sellers amass. We espy our guide holding a placard reading "Mrs Mary Swanson & Party". We disembark and meet Mya Mya. We walk to the minibus and shortly afterwards our baggage is delivered by porters costing 500 kyats per bag. We are taken towards our hotel. We reach our hotel. Only our room is ready so all the luggage is piled into our room. We make our way to a bank to change some money but on the way we stop to visit a temple, one of 2000 in the area. Some of the party climbs up the stupa to admire the panoramic view. We then visit a reclining Buddha, 20 metres long lying inside a building all built in 1054AD. Kubla Khan ransacked Burma in the 13th century destroying many temples in the area. We return to the minibus and are taken to a bank in New Bagan. We wait several minutes as the dollars are changed into kyats. We are taken to a temple which has lots of intricate paintings around inside the base of the stupa. We then went for lunch where a lot of local food dishes are placed on the table. Because it is close to temples no beer can be served. Mya Mya sits with us and explains what all the dishes contain. We have the best Myanmar meal of our trip. We visit a lacquerware factory where Mya Mya explains the processes for making the lacquerware. We are surprised it starts off by building a woven cane base. Sometimes horse hair is used for the sides. The can is then coated in a resin and dried, up to ten layers of lacquer are then applied with each layer being rubbed down or a design scratched into it. Graham has a thumbnail gilded. Some goods are purchased. We drink free green tea and eat palm sugar lumps. We visit a monastic cave where one monk who died last year lived inside the cave without going outside from the age of 21 to 93. We meet the 82 year-old head monk and the second in command. We are driven to a village which has an ornate brick reservoir from which water is being collected mainly by women. Bill tries to carry water but manages only a few steps. We walk around the village with its bamboo and palm leaf constructed houses. We watch maze stalks being chopped up, children separating peanuts from its plant, admire new cart wheels, watch an elderly lady rolling cheroots made from maze leaves, palm bits and tobacco. We wander back to the bus and visit a five entrance temple. Some climb to the second floor and walk around it. Others watch. We return to our hotel, clean ourselves and eat outside. Some choose Malaysian noodles and prawn served in a hot pot. Mary has prawns and vermicelli. These dishes are all served with a fried egg on top. Graham waits patiently for his chicken curry. A young girl sings country songs whilst her father plays on a local instrument looking like a xylophone. The hot pots for two of the group are too spicy so a cheese sandwich is ordered. After the singing girl a puppet show takes place. About ten puppets and one puppeteer provide very pleasant entertainment. There is some bartering over the bill which results in $3.5 being saved. Graham gives the waitress the 600 kyats won from the beer tops. The Myanmar Beer company is running a marketing campaign and under a bottle top is a message in Myanmar script. Allegedly there is a free BMW to be won. 200 kyats is the most we have won. We agree to meet at 8am tomorrow morning.
We have the buffet breakfast outside under the spreading acacia trees and admire the crows as they steal a tourist's noodles. Jane is not well enough so stays in the room.
The others meet Mya Mya, dressed in a Shan style outfit, at 9am and are driven to visit a brickworks. They get the sand from the river and buy the clay which they mix with their feet. A man stands in a pit to be at the right height to mould the bricks. The bricks are laid in the sun for a week. When thirty thousand have been dried they are built into a kiln which is fired with wood. It takes seven days for the kiln to cool.
The bricks are sold at 40 kyats if you collect them or 45 kyats delivered.
Mya Mya pronounces 'soil' as 'swoll' so she is taught to say 'toy boy'.
We visit a market and Mya Mya points out all the vegetables, fruits and spices and differentiates between the farmed fish and the river fish. Some table mats are purchased.
We return to the hotel to see if Jane can join us. She can't. We visit a temple and then a wood carving shop.
Some wealthy monk from China has purchased the water buffalo, two horses and two statues of Buddha. We then visit a pottery market. Next we walk down the entrance to the Shwe Zi Gon pagoda. 48 monks take 30 minute stints at reciting from a Buddhist scripture over loudspeakers. This goes on non-stop for 10 days. There is no noise-abatement society in Myanmar. We walk around the pagoda and view the source of the noise. We walk through the festival market past the fire station, the volley ball court and the cane ball ring. Mya Mya points out all the stalls selling Chinese goods. We walk on to the Nation Restaurant, owned by Mya Mya's 78 year old father and run by her brother and three sisters. Mya Mya lives at the back of the restaurant. We can have beer - yippee.
We eat varieties of Chinese chicken dishes with coconut rice. After the meal we eat small circular wafer thin melt in the mouth tamarind disks. We say good bye to Mya Mya's family and are taken to a noodle 'factory'. The rice is ground and made into dough. The dough is put into a cylinder with a perforated disc at the bottom. A metal disc is placed in the top of the cylinder. A wooden plug is placed on top of the disc. A man turns a wheel and the plug pushes the rice out through the bottom of the cylinder and into a pot of boiling water. The noodles are taken out of the bowl and rinsed in fresh water and placed on a table.
They are delivered by motorbike at 5am the following morning and the next day's orders are obtained. Next we visit the 11th century temple of Anan Phaya where four 9.5-metre tall Buddhas can be seen. Each Buddha is made from a single piece of wood.
The corridors are full of sculptures and paintings.
The next temple we visit is very dark inside but has three holes in its roof which shine the light on to the single central Buddha. The dark walls are well decorated. Bats love the place.
We take photos of the tallest temple in the area and then visit the biggest.
The donor insisted that a needle could not be passed between each brick.
It is slightly pyramidal in shape. The last temple we visit is to enable us to admire the sunset. We climb up the brick lift and out on to the balcony. Clouds obscure the sun. Mya Mya is 34 years old and was born on a Thursday.
When a Burmese girl is asked out for a date she decides to accept if the boy was born on a compatible day of the week. In Myanmar all children are given a name determined by the day of the week they are born on. The sun goes down.
We descend the candlelit stairs and are returned to our hotel. On the return journey a couple of restaurants are pointed out to us. At the 6pm conference it is decided that we should eat at the hotel rather than outside.
We do eat and have a more pleasant meal than last night entertained by a musical act. We retire before the start of the puppet show.
We arise in time for breakfast at 6am. Jane is feeling much better. The others join us later. We all pile into the minibus with Mya Mya dressed in a smart 'New Generation' outfit. On the way to the airport we stop to take a photo of 5 hot-air balloons taking off for a trip over the temples. We also see a file of monks with alms bowls walking silently along the road. We arrive at the airport. We say goodbye to the driver and Mya Mya. After an hour's wait we walk out of Gate B on to the tarmac to climb up the stairs of the Fokker 100 twin jet plane. Seats are not allocated. We sit in the exit seats over the wing. A croissant, Danish pastry and piece of cake followed by coffee, coke and a boiled sweet are served. At 9:40am we land at Yangon International Airport. We put our hand luggage on a belt so it can be inspected and enter the arrival lounge but do not see a baggage carousel anywhere. We return to where we entered the airport building and wait for our luggage to be delivered to the door. We put the luggage on a trolley and move it to the conveyor belt where it and our hand luggage is scanned again. We are welcomed by an Indian-looking young man who shows us our minibus. We get into it and Jane shares the back seat with her luggage. Graham sits next to the driver, Bo Bo. We have no guide. We drive through flat countryside across the Yangon River and further on we cross the Irrawaddy River. We get stopped at an immigration checkpoint. We hand our passports to the driver and chat to the immigration officer. Hugh gives him a Kitchencraft ballpoint pen which makes him very happy. We do not consider we have bribed him. After another hour the driver fills up with diesel and we stop for lunch. We all have chicken fried rice and some of us have beer. We use the facilities which leave a lot to be desired. After another couple of hours we start to climb through denuded forests which are beginning to be replanted with rubber trees. After 6 hours and 15 minutes we arrive at the Aureum Palace Resort and Spa hotel which is on the beach. In reception are 16 disgruntled Jules Verne clients from the UK who were hoping to go to another resort. We were told in June that the resort they wanted to go to was out of bounds. We are shown to our rooms and within 45 minutes are all in the sea. It is very warm and uncrowded. There are only 22 people staying at the hotel. We get out of the sea, change, and meet in the bar. It's happy hour from 5:30pm till 7pm. After three bottles of beer we are told beer is not sold as buy one get one free. We change to spirits and cocktails. A shot of Myanmar whisky or rum is $1 a shot. Bill and Graham try both. We eat in the restaurant. Deep fried butterfish in sweet chilli sauce seems the most popular dish. When most of us have finished we wait for Bill to finish picking his way though his crab marsala. We arrange to meet for breakfast at about 8:30am.
It's been hot during the night despite the air-conditioning. We have breakfast outside under the palm trees and in front of the Bay of Bengal. At 9:30am we wander northwards to the end of the hotel and then from the beach up an alleyway to the road. It's paved in part by the hotel but then degenerates into a bumpy earthen track. We view the souvenirs and after an hour's walk a hat is purchased and Bill and Graham decide they'd like a beer to replenish the body fluids. We sit in a restaurant where the owner speaks little English. Eventually he obtains a pitcher of beer from another shop. Mary has some beer as it is not possible to get a Coke. The others have water. A saucer of chipped peanuts, as always, is put in front of us. We walk further southwards till we meet the road from Yangon and then make for the beach. Unfortunately we get shooed out of the monastery grounds by a monk and retrace our steps to find an alley way down to the beach. We come across a bunch of people pulling in a net from the sea. They have caught 6 inch long fish which they take out of the net and scatter the fish on the beach to dry them. We return along the beach to our hotel and eat the fruit supplied in our rooms for lunch. Some sleep. Some swim and sunbathe. Some read their books. Some chat. Some perform all options. At 5:45pm Jane and Graham go to the bar and have a couple of Pina Coladas in the Happy Hour. They ask reception for a ride to a restaurant in town. Two trickshaws arrive. These are bicycles with a double seat - back to back for two clients. We take two as we think we are too heavy for one. We arrive at the restaurant - Ngwe Hline Si - where the others are already sipping their beers. We have a very good sea food meal. Jane and Graham take one of the trickshaws they arrived in back to the hotel. The others walk. We retire early again.
Graham has stomach cramps so decides to do nothing today. Jane goes swimming and reads her book. Meanwhile the others hire bikes at 1000 kyats per day. They see a train of buffalo-hauled wagons crossing a shallow river in a scene reminiscent of a western and Bill visits a hilltop. They return at lunchtime. Jane joins the Whitelocks for lunch. Bill and Mary eat fruit for lunch. Graham drinks water. At 4pm, all except Jane W climb into the minibus and Bo Bo drives us south to the Central Hotel. Nobody knows why it is called the Central Hotel, maybe it's halfway between the beach and the road. The hotel is deserted except for a couple of staff. A manager at the hotel phones two boys who come with 5 life jackets. We follow the boys along a narrow track up a small hill and down to a lake. We clamber into a leaking skiff. One of the boys is armed with a bowl which he uses for baling out the boat whilst his chum is armed with a paddle. We tour the isolated lake and see kingfishers, ducks, and bee-eaters. We are all glad when the boat rams into the bank by a path at a different part of the lake from where we started. The baler can't keep up with the inflow of water. We walk back to the hotel, pay the boys and have a beer watching the sun set. Bo Bo drives us back to the hotel. Jane and Graham eat a light meal at the hotel whilst the others take the bikes back and eat at the Golden Myanmar.
After breakfast, Hugh, Graham, Bill and Mary walk down the street (it's a dirt track with shacks at the side) to the bicycle shop where Hugh and Graham hire bikes. Bill and Mary go for a walk. The others stay at the hotel. The cyclists go south to the hotel we went to yesterday. We pass many derelict hotels and mainly empty hotels. The whole place is not exactly buzzing with tourists. The road is pretty flat all the way which is good as the bikes have no gears but they do have a bell, brakes and a bike stand. On the way back we stop at a hotel for some liquid refreshment. Graham has a beer and he wins a bottle of beer. In the bottle tops of Myanmar Beer it says 'Thank you very much', 'You have won 200 kyats', or 'You have won a bottle of beer'. A bottle of beer was won at the Golden Myanmar last night. The 19-year old manager makes a valiant effort to engage us in conversation. He tells us that the sailing sports of the 2013 SEA Games will take place on the sea outside the hotel. We cycle back to the hotel and go for a swim. Whilst the others have a fruit lunch Jane and Graham have soup in the hotel followed by a siesta. Whilst Bill and Mary cycle off for a massage in the town Jane has a more expensive massage at the hotel's spa. She thoroughly enjoyed it. We take photos of the sunset. At six o'clock we congregate in the bar. Hugh wins a bottle of beer but the hotel won't pay up. They say we can exchange the bottle top in Yangon. A bottle of 640ml beer is $4 including tax and 10% service. Bill and Mary take the bicycles back. Hugh and Jane walk to the Ngwe Hline Si restaurant. Graham and Jane risk their lives again and take two trickshaws. At the restaurant another bottle of beer is won. Graham, Jane and Mary share a deep fried grouper fish costing 8000 kyats. It is magnificent. We all return to the hotel on trickshaws. Jane and Graham have the same drivers as they have waited whilst their passengers feasted. Bill and Graham have a nightcap in the bar and try hard to teach some English to the two young barmen. A rum and coke costs $3. The Mandalay rum costs $1. Coke is imported from Singapore and Thailand and costs $2. By the way the mosquito nets on our bed here differ from those on the Inle Lake. The bed is a four poster bed and the nets hang from each of the posts and cover the top above the bed.
We arise early and pack. We are the first to have breakfast. Bo Bo picks us up at 8am. The hotel claims Hugh has a bill to pay and after some fine negotiating skills Hugh leaves head high and no bill to pay. The first part of the journey is along a narrow winding roller coaster of what looks like an old teak forest being replanted as a rubber plantation. The teak has been sold to China. After an hour we stop at a local Myanmar petrol station - a rack of bottles - but there is none for the minibus. We ask to go to the lacquerware market at Pathein and on the outskirts of the city Bo Bo fills up with diesel. We breathe a sigh of relief. We are dropped off at a market but no one finds any lacquerware.. Jane finds two cane balls for the grandsons to play the native game of chinlon (more...). The journey continues along the flood plains of the Irrawaddy delta. Rice is the main crop. It is drying on large plastic sheets by the side of the road. Once dried, it's put in sacks than piled high and wide on to a small truck. The houses on the other side of the canals which run by the road are reached by flimsy one bamboo-wide bridges. More money buys you a wider bridge. After another hour and just before the bridge over the Irrawaddy we stop for lunch. Beer is consumed by some but no kyats are won. Some have fried rice and chicken. Others have vermicelli and chicken. All are served soup which even Bo Bo does not touch. However Bill has two bowls. We have cabbage and chilli to mix in with the rice and vermicelli. We end with a banana each. On the outskirts of Yangon we come to a grinding halt where a flyover is being built. Policemen are not controlling the traffic though they appear to be trying. It takes more than 30 minutes to get through. We arrive back at the Savoy Hotel and are greeted like long lost friends. Some have a swim but the water is cold. Others walk to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. We meet in the bar at six and after a couple of beers cross the road to the familiar Friendship Restaurant where we renew acquaintances with the waiter we had the last time we were here. We have a good meal and retire.
We try to have breakfast at 6:30am but not everything is ready. We leave at 7:15am. Aye Aye greets us effusively and Bo Bo is ready to take us to the airport. We stop at Aung San Suu Kyi's home in University Road. It is a walled property with razor wire on top of the wall. She is not in to greet us. At the airport we say goodbye to Bo Bo and Aye Aye. Our plane leaves 30 minutes late. We have breakfast on board and at Bangkok we race to get to gate E10 which is miles away. Travelling with Graham and Jane in Business Class are three young men who have been refurbishing the British Embassy for the last month. They say it's been very hot and they have not had chance see outside of Yangon. Our plane leaves at about 1:30pm. About half and hour later we have our main meal. Graham reads his book and Jane edits the photos - all 3000 of them from all except Jane W who has had a click-free holiday. We land at Heathrow at 6:54pm and wait for our two taxis to arrive. During the flight the temperature has dropped from 36C to 6C but it is not snowing. On arrival at Bill and Mary's, Graham decides he's not driving home as he has been up for more than 19 hours and has not had much sleep. We drink some of Bill's wine and watch slide shows of Hugh's, Jane's and Mary's photos. There aren't enough hours left to watch Bill's so we retire. After much debate we decide to leave the aircon as it is, that is, non-existent and very cold.
We have had a wonderful holiday and are likely to visit Burma again. Here are some points to note.
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