He says, she says – Myanmar

15 February – 27 February 13 days

Places visited: Yangon, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Began, Mandalay

Most favourite place:
Charlie: My favourite place was probably Inle Lake, there was a certain charm about it and the authenticity is still intact. There is an uprising in tourism there, but it seems to be slowly progressing which means the time to visit is now!
Lisa: Bagan was really amazing, we got to see so many amazing sunrises and sunsets there and the scenery was really beautiful.

Least favourite place:
Charlie: For me this is Mandalay. The city itself has nothing wrong with it, we managed to go see the local sights, but aside from venturing outside of the city, theres not tonnes to see.
Lisa: Same as above.

Most favourite dish:
Charlie: This is a tough one, not because there was loads I liked, but because I don’t know what it was called! The tea leaf salad was good and all of the food provided by the hiking company too but I don’t know the names!
Lisa: I didn’t really love the food in Myanmar, I think the only local dish I really enjoyed was the noodle soups they make.

Best experience:
Charlie: The trekking for sure! I loved it all and it was made even better by the boat tour around Inle Lake at the end. We got to see so much of the untouched countryside and village communities by hiking through them.
Lisa: The trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake was 100% my favourite experience in this country, if not on the trip. Not only did we get to see some beautiful views but staying with local families in their villages was so authentic and unlike anything I have ever done before.

Worst experience:
Charlie: The worst thing is hard to choose. The night buses weren’t amazing but they were a lot better than some others we have taken. I think the worst thing was Lisa being sick but thats hardly the countries fault.
Lisa: Getting ill in Inle Lake wasn’t great but if I had to pick something else it would have been our bus ride to Mandalay where about 20 locals got on our bus chewing the red tobacco stuff that makes them spit lots, they were spitting into plastic bags the whole journey and it was pretty disgusting.

Something you will miss:
Charlie: I’ll miss the chilled out local vibes we came across, people just living their lives and not living in the tourist industry the same way other countries we’ve been to do.
Lisa: The people were really lovely but I think I will miss the authenticity that comes with travelling Myanmar. Everywhere we went we got to see the daily life of the locals before tourism gets in the way.

Something you won’t miss:
Charlie: I won’t miss the arguing in price with people. It was very similar with India, in the way that the merchant will add 40% to the price just to haggle it down and get a bigger profit.
Lisa: The red tobacco chewing, which was the same in India. I just find the chewing and spitting of it really disgusting and the streets are stained from it.

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Our final stop in Mandalay

After our last sunrise in Bagan we headed to the hotel to pack our bags and get ready for our bus. We had booked a ‘minibus’ to take us the 5 hours to Mandalay. The first issue we had was the bus, it wasn’t what we were used to as far as a minibus went. It was a very old smaller version of the night buses, but when I say small, there was almost no leg room. I guess they aren’t lying by calling it a minibus, it really just should only be used for transporting small children. The next issue with this bus was the religious chant they then played through the bus for close to an hour before turning on the TV and playing some Burmese Karaoke. The journey felt long and throughout it started filling up more and more with locals. I don’t mind the locals getting on our buses however these ones were all chewing the leaf covered red tobacco, the one you have to continually spit with so when I saw the driver passing around plastic ‘spit bags’ I just put my head down and tried to sleep through the rest of the way. Finally as we got closer to Mandalay we got off the bus and were shown our taxi that would take us to our hotel. The driver opened the boot, put all our bags in and then advised that we would all need to fit into one car. Julia being the smallest was then placed in the boot with our luggage whilst the rest of us squashed in the back seat. Luckily the journey wasn’t too far.
16904608_10154199386761176_6547435355554644638_oFor our first day in Mandalay we spent most of our time walking around and exploring the city. Whilst walking around we came across the most confusing (for us) local eye test sign.16905013_10154199386301176_5147047558094645978_o We went up to Mandalay hill and visited another pagoda.17039188_10154199387691176_519706293008290843_oThere were a lovely group of nuns who were more than happy for us to take their photo, they even spent a minute or two fixing themselves up for it.16903581_10154199387111176_555657655961569128_oAfterwards we had lunch at a restaurant before heading to U-Beign bridge for sunset. The bridge was really busy and quite scary to walk over as it didn’t feel as stable as it was. You could also see the ground as you were walking across the wooden planks. 16991723_10154199836461176_5701087000840008844_o16992535_10154199892746176_7384913067388025053_oThe next day and for our final day in Myanmar we headed out of the city to visit some waterfalls. Our first stop was the jade market which was selling more larger stones than handicraft work. It was still very interesting to see and we got to see the machines they use in production to cut the stones.

The first waterfall we visited was Aniskan falls which was lovely but quite a trek to get to. We got dropped off at the top of the hill where we had to walk down for about 45 minutes over unsteady and steep ground. We spent a little while there soaking our feet in the ice cold pools before building up the courage to walk all the way back up. The walk up is tough and we honestly thought there would be some kind of jeep or car that could take you up for a fee, but there wasn’t. They did however have hammocks on wood where women would put the wood on their shoulders and carry someone in the hammock up to the top. We originally thought a woman had hurt herself when we saw it but we later found out this was the only service provided and one none of us would feel comfortable using. 17097163_10154200098041176_878957932788682301_oOur next waterfall was called Dee Doke and we had read online it wasn’t visited by many tourists. We arrived and had another hike to get to the falls, luckily not as bad as the previous one. The pools were filled with locals playing and hanging out which was really cool. We all jumped in and had a little swim before things got a little uncomfortable as 3 of us girls were in our bikinis and a few of the local men were enjoying looking at us a little too much. We put our sarongs on and dried off before heading back.17097239_10154201347116176_1550985829428861529_oWe didn’t really love Mandalay, it was just another big city to us. We really enjoyed our trip out of the city though, getting to see a different type of landscape and nature to that which we saw on our trek.

Sunrise to sunset in Bagan

The bus ride to Bagan took around 6 hours and if the road conditions were better, it would have been quite a comfortable journey. The ‘VIP’ overnight buses in Myanmar are actually quite spacious. On this particular journey we had a tv in the back of the seat and they even stopped at a restaurant for our dinner which was included in the price! Sadly due to the roads being so bad, its almost certain you are in for quite a bumpy ride.

Arriving at 3.45am ahead of schedule was kind of annoying as we didn’t get as much sleep as we thought we would have. We were dropped outside of town and therefore were forced to pay quite an overpriced fare to get a taxi to the hotel. We drove up to the ticketing gate where tourist have to pay a fee (25,000 Kyats / £14) to enter Bagan, this ticket then gives you access to all the pagodas and temples which isn’t too bad considering there is around 2000 of them.

Our hotel were kind enough to let us check in early, so we dumped our bags off in the room and decided whilst we were up we may as well enjoy our first sunrise here. There was a pagoda 3kms away we had been told was good to watch from so we headed out in the dark, walking quite quickly to ensure we got there in plenty of time. The fun but also annoying thing about Bagan is that some of the pagodas have a ‘key master’ who locks them at night and opens them in the morning. This means that you need to find a sunrise pagoda that will be open. The first one we tried was locked but luckily the next one we found didn’t have a gate. The staircases in the pagodas are very narrow and small meaning those who don’t like confined spaces (like me) will not enjoy going up or down them. Luckily sunrise was approaching so we didn’t have time to waste, also the staircases were full of mozzies so I had no other choice once I was inside and just ran up as quickly as I could. The sunrise was really nice but what was really amazing was that when the hot air balloons were up, they came right over the top of us, making for some pretty great pictures.17038574_10155212829569994_4897714241080400021_oThe hot air balloon rides in Bagan are famous and the season runs until March so we were lucky to here at the time. We found out it costs $380 per person!!! We also felt that we wanted the view with the balloons, which you obviously wouldn’t get if you were up there. 16991968_10154198912756176_4121071201033575209_o17016851_10154197597456176_2204713242663922862_oAfter sunrise we headed out for breakfast with everyone before heading back to our hotels for a rest. I still wasn’t feeling 100% and was still struggling to eat a bit so I was happy to have a rest.

That afternoon we headed out with Heike and Julia to get a snack, the walk to the restaurant almost made me faint and I was feeling quite bad again as I hadn’t been able to eat properly. I decided to go back to the hotel with some food so I could eat in the aircon as the heat wasn’t helping me. I managed to eat most of my dinner and watch a couple of shark documentaries before falling asleep at 8pm. Charlie had gone out with the others to watch the sunset and then get some dinner.17016994_10154197698916176_645629017390190087_o17039069_10154197698861176_7393355467633041613_oThe next morning we woke up for another sunrise. Still not 100% I was very happy that today we were all hiring e-bikes to drive ourselves around the pagodas on. We headed out to a pagoda much further away to get a different view of the sunrise and the balloons. As usual there was a cramped mozzie infested tunnel to climb up but luckily the sunrise was worth it. The balloons were further from us today but still came along either side of the pagoda we were on and we were really happy with the recommendations we had been given.17016114_10154199224061176_7510423973062273003_o16991974_10154198912196176_8820783653511435634_o16836622_10154199178291176_2263939940057434845_oSome of the pagodas were known to get really crowded at sunrise but so far we had managed to escape the big crowds. We went back to the hotel for a little rest and to get our e-bikes battery recharged. After the mid day sun had settled a little we were back out exploring, annoyingly the shop had given us a different e-bike which didn’t have much charge on it and we didn’t realise until we were out so Charlie and I had to turn back to go get the battery changed. Luckily we did as on the way home our bikes battery was almost dead and we were pretty much rolling there (sometimes at as little as 5km per hour). We ended up missing one or two of the pagodas we wanted to see because of this but managed to get ourselves to the sunset pagoda in time to meet the others.16991558_10154199184581176_5690989643330815843_o17016932_10154199184776176_2057979346080650796_oWe had one more morning in Bagan and whilst I didn’t want to get up for sunrise again, Charlie was very good to convince me that we may as well while we were here. We walked again this time hoping to find another one close by. We tried a few with no luck / no sign of the key master and we were about to go back to the one we knew from the first morning before we could see some small figures on the top of one nearby. We headed there, climbed up and found a spot just in time for sunrise. The sunrise was probably the least impressive of the 3 due to the balloons being so far away but the sunrise itself was still very beautiful. It was interesting to see that every day the sunrise changed and the balloons went in different directions, which was why getting up each morning was worth it.16836355_10154197698101176_8650856206020230692_o

Local life in Inle Lake

After we arrived in Inle Lake and had our lunch we were put into long tail type boats for a 1.5 hour tour around the lake. It was so beautiful with so many stilted villages whose whole life source revolves around this one lake, they even grow their crops in floating gardens.16836169_10154192888796176_5121157985097830234_oWe stopped at a few huts where we were shown how locals make handicrafts, some of the items there were so beautiful but we didn’t have space to carry them.16819397_10154190566366176_3155559772892517083_oWe got to go past the famous Inle Lake fisherman who stand at the end of their boat and steer there boat with one oar using just one leg so they have their hands free to drop and lift their fishing baskets on the go. It was very impressive to watch and amazing that they are still using this style of fishing.16992248_10154197300111176_619860197191811107_o17016797_10154196599671176_6888174268391536903_oAfter our 65km 3 day trek we were looking forward to having a quiet afternoon. We had a nice long shower each and did some laundry – both very much required. Unfortunately later on in the evening I started to feel unwell and knew I was going to be in for a pretty rough night. Not sure what was wrong but having been up most of the night and still not feeling great we decided to have another chilled out day. Charlie went out later in the evening to meet the others at a winery nearby. He hired a bike and rode there and was surprised to see Ooh Ooh had stayed in Inle Lake and extra day to see everyone. Charlie said the wine was pretty bad but the sunset was really nice.16904872_10154188124121176_852357600398505344_o16904979_10154188125871176_8757194014690368774_oAfter riding home in the dark Charlie went out to get some dinner and came back with some french fries for me. I managed to eat some of them but still had no appetite, Charlie managed to finish them off, which may have been his plan all along.

Our last day I was feeling quite exhausted but knew I had to eat. We also had a long wait until we were getting picked up for our overnight bus. We found a nice little French cafe that had real coffee and home made bread. I didn’t feel as though I could stomach local food yet and I quite fancied a baguette with jam so we settled in there. This worked out well for Charlie too as he was able to get bacon and eggs! We ran into a couple of other people from the trek and Julia and Heike met us there too. We all sat around for a couple hours relaxing before we all headed off to get our night buses. Charlie and I then walked around for ages trying to locate a chemist so I could get some anti nausea tablets, not only was the chemist a little hard to find but I wasn’t entirely confident with what I was given due to quite a significant language barrier. The lady knew what nausea was but couldn’t tell me how to take them or how many to take at a time. A sheet of tablets only cost 300 kyats which is the equivalent to 25 pence so I bought them anyway thinking I could hopefully google the instructions. Luckily I could and they were exactly what I needed.

The 6 of us, being Charlie, Heike, Julia, Deandra, Luigi and myself had decided to continue our Myanmar travels as a group. Not only did we all enjoy each others company but it saved us money with transport and activities. We all got on an overnight bus to Bagan, ready for a lot of early morning sunrises and to explore some of the many pagodas there.

Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake

Our 9 hour night bus journey wasn’t as comfortable as we had hoped. The bus itself was comfortable and even provided snacks, a blanket and had a toilet. Sadly the driver was a bit of a maniac and the roads were quite bumpy so the quality of sleep we got was not too good. We arrived in Kalaw at 4am and had until 8am to wait around for the trekking office to open. The only thing open was an open air tea shop which wouldn’t have been bad in the day but the evenings in Kalaw get down to 10 degrees so we all sat around freezing whilst drinking hot tea for 4 hours.

Finally we went to the trekking office and after a long winded hour and a half of sorting out 35 tourists into 3 groups we had been assigned a group of 11 and a guide. In our group was the 6 of us who had travelled to Yangon plus another 5 people who were either travelling together or solo. A big mix of Australians, Germans, a Brazilian girl a Polish girl, a guy from Colombia and Charlie. Our guide was a 19 year old girl from Inle Lake called Ooh Ooh. For 40,000 kyats each (around £23.50) we had our guide, 2 nights accommodation, 7 meals, a boat tour of Inle Lake on our arrival as well as our big bags transported to our hotels. 

The trek to Inle Lake would take 3 days and cover 65km of hills. We set off at 9.30am for a mostly uphill walk through ‘jungle’. It was lovely but the jungle wasn’t the jungle we imagined, it was more of a forest. We made it to the viewpoint where we were given time for a rest and lunch. The view was amazing and we got to eat right on the end of it. We were given nepalese style bread with traditional Burmese Tea Leaf salad, non traditional avocado salad and lots of fruit. Our guide was a young 19 year old called Ooh Ooh who never seemed to get tired, whilst we all struggled uphill, she would just be powering on up front.17015774_10154197299251176_5648007295460664436_oWe continued to walk for another couple hours before having a tea break in a local village in one of the villages house. He was retired and he and his wife looked after their grandson during the day whilst in kids were at work in the fields. The little boy was so cute and kept blowing us all kisses. We also found out that most of the people in these rural villages have their own language and there are around 500 different languages in Myanmar. This means that the villages are left alone but also that they cannot really leave their village as they do not know the Burmese language.16825850_10154181175091176_6018532197525194254_oWe then continued walking until dark where we passed by local villages, rice paddies and plenty more amazing views.
trek-3We arrived at the village we would be sleeping in and were greeted by a lovely family who were preparing our dinner. The house was basic, as expected, with a shed squat toilet and thin mattresses lined up in the upstairs room with warm blankets for us to sleep on. The dinner was amazing and very filling consisting of a soup starter followed by lots of different dishes to have with rice. We were all so exhausted when we finished eating and were in bed by 9pm.

We woke up after a surprisingly good sleep to breakfast prepared by the family again. We ate, got ourselves ready for the day at set off by 8.30am. Ooh Ooh had told us today would consist of a lot of walking up and down and up and down and that it would be easy. It is amazing what she finds easy, whilst it wasn’t too hard the ups were quite steep still but not as steep as the day before.trek-6We stopped at a small tea shop for a break before heading off and continuing until lunch. We walked through paddies where we stopped where a family of 6 were working and Ooh Ooh translated as they explained what they were doing. They were ginger famers and they gave us lots of free ginger to make tea out of later. The male also told Ooh Ooh that he thought Charlie looked like a football player. We continued up to the village we were to have lunch in and were given a nice break out of the hot sun for an hour or so where a cheeky puppy chewed up one of Ooh Oohs socks. She didn’t want anyones spare socks so she continued the rest of the day and the next day with only one sock!

 After lunch we got to walk past a 13th century pagoda which was really cool as it was so old and reminded me of the Angkor Wat temples. I also had some Haribo sweets/lollies in my bag and gave some to Ooh Ooh who had never tried them before. She loved them so I said I would save some more for tomorrow.trek-1We continued to walk until dark again but this time we got to walk along one of the train tracks, the trains here are so slow that if one was to come we would have plenty of time to move off the track but Ooh Ooh had timed it just right and as soon as we got off the tracks onto the next path the train went by. We also walked passed another village where Charlie, Heiki and I got chased by a water buffalo up hill. We escaped and had a rest at the top admiring the view. We continued to walk along little paths until we reached one of Ooh Oohs favourite views. We stayed there for a brief moment before being rushed up the hill towards to village we would be sleeping in to see the sunset.trek-7The sunset was really pretty and the view was one of my favourites on the trip. We also got to see all the villages coming back from their days work. We arrived to the village and met the next family we would stay with. We had a nice meal and they made a fire for us to sit around. The amount of stars in the sky was so pretty and it was so clear you could make out the milky way. It was such an amazing day to see how local villages live and we felt lucky to see its authenticity before tourism and technology changes it.trek-10We woke up and had a typical Burmese style breakfast of potato and rice which had really nice flavours for something so simple. Ooh Ooh put some Thanaka on all of us which is a burmese paste that they wear as protection from the sun.
trek-8trek-9
We then headed off for our last day of trekking, all feeling a little sad that this experience was coming to an end. We walked through more villages where we got to see the local primary school and watch locals make bamboo baskets. trek-4We had a tea stop where Ooh Ooh bought some of the local red chewing tobacco that they wrap in leaves with different spices. Charlie tried one but said it wasn’t very nice. We continued to walk down all day finally arriving at lunch in a bamboo stilted restaurant serving home made food on the lake.

The whole trekking experience was amazing and we are both so glad we decided to do it. We met some amazing travellers and got an authentic insight into the culture here that we don’t feel we would have got otherwise.trek-14

Getting our first taste of Myanmar in Yangon

After an early 4am wake up we arrived at Don Muang airport for our flight to Myanmar. The terminal was definitely the coldest we had ever been in and Charlie had only worn shorts and a t-shirt. The flight was only 2 hours but we were so tired we slept the whole way. On arrival we were greeted with a long immigration line but a smooth process at the desk. We got our money out at an atm before splitting a taxi with 2 others to downtown Yangon. We were staying in the chinatown district which was full of plenty of street stalls and really old buildings. Luckily we were able to check into our hostel (She Yo Vintage) straight away so we had a little rest before heading out to explore.
yangon-3We decided to walk to the Shwedagon Pagoda which was a 2-3km walk. We figured it would give us a better chance to see some of the city than we would have in a taxi. The walk wasn’t too bad and we passed lots of busy areas and some quieter poorer streets.yangon-2It reminded us of a mix of India and Cambodia. The buildings were quite run down and the streets were not in the best condition which surprised us as we thought the city would be better built up. You can instantly see that this place has been barely touched by tourism and is just locals going about their day to day business which we loved.
yangonOnce we got closer to the Pagoda the roads did get better and things looked a bit better looked after. We arrived at the entrance and were directed up an escalator to the main site. I was wearing leggings but they were too tight and not appropriate dress code so I was given a lime green wrap around skirt with these strange apples on it…great! Obviously not my usual colour choice and knowing there were plenty of other options she could have given me with much nicer patterns, I decided to call it the skirt of shame. Served me right  for not dressing appropriately, although this was the first site on our whole trip that didn’t accept long leggings.
yangon-5When we were let through the amount of gold temples/pagodas was very impressive.
yangon-4There were so many locals visiting to pray as it is one of the most important religious sites in Myanmar. There were lots of monks, one in particular wanted to know where we were from and some cheeky monks were even climbing the pagoda.yangon-6We waited there for sunset but it wasn’t a great one was we were not up high enough to really see it so we decided to walk back to the hostel. On our walk back we were met by a lovely local girl who wanted to practice her English as she walked home. We got back to the hostel, had some food, a beer and an early night.

Our hostel had some great people staying in it and we all decided to head on a night bus together to Kalaw for some trekking. I initially only wanted to go there for a 1 day trek as I didn’t think i would be able to do a 3 day one however Charlie, along with the others convinced me to do it. We had a sleep in and caught up with some small tasks before heading to the bus stop with the others. Annoyingly our hostel organised our taxi an hour and a half too early so we were sat at a mosquito infested bus stop for over an hour waiting for our bus to depart.