Myanmar part 1; between Hpa An and Lake Inle (and other places)

Exchange rate during this trip: USD 1 = 1330 Kiats

I arrived in Yangon on Tuesday, jan 16th around 12 pm. I waited 30 min for Ludivine, a French girl I met through internet who also wanted to travel in Myanmar, but wanted to share the experience and costs with someone. We will travel together for the next 3 weeks.

We go for a walk around the neighborhood in Downtown Yangon. Ludi, who never traveled to Asia before is amazed by everything she sees.

We cross markets, especially the one on the 26th street, with food everywhere, even on the road. When cars or trucks need to pass, people leave way and the cars just go over the merchandise.

Around 4pm, we went to Shwedagon Pagoda, the most known pagoda in Yangon. We stayed there until down so we could admire the sunset and the lights. The golden Stupa can be seen from far away.

On the Wednesday morning, we walked along the river to see how local people live then headed to the train station for the circular train ride. It last around 3h and only costs 200 Kiats (USD 0,15). It had 39 stops and it is quite impressive! there is as much to see in the train than outside. People go on and off; the train barely stops at stations. Some sell watermelon slices, peanuts, oranges, tobacco. Around midway, the wagon became empty, but at the next stop, people were throwing big bags of leafs by the windows before climbing in. It is their way to mark their sit. Then they started sorting out all the vegetables they had. It was really crazy to witness. People were very friendly and smiling all the time. The ones selling things could barely pass by. The colors were beautiful and the atmosphere incredible. Then one stop before last, all the bags went the other way down and everyone went away as well. All is very well organized.

We ate at a local food center, full of Burmese for around 2 USD per person.

Back to the hotel to get our bags so we can catch a 5pm bus to Mawlamyine in the South East. Leaving the hotel at 3 :50, we thought we were good in time to get to the bus station, but because of traffic, we arrived there just on time and stressed!

6h30 later, we were in Mawlmyine. When you arrive late or too early in a new city, you are surrounded by many taxi drivers who want to take you to your hotel for a very expensive cost. It is very difficult to bargain and they can get quite aggressive. This is in the end what we didn’t like about Myanmar: the taxi drivers.

Thursday morning, we go visit the longest reclining Buddha in the world. 180 meters long. It is 22 km away from the city and costed us around 10 USD for the round trip.

The Buddha is still under construction and they are building a new one just in front of it… which seems a little weird since the 1st one isn’t even finished yet.

It is possible to visit the inside where the life of Buddha is represented with colorful real sized statues.

All around these big buddhas, are hundreds of small stupas, monks’ statues and big seated Buddhas. Paints are old and nothing seems to be really finished. Although time is not paying them respect, the whole thing is interesting and nice to visit.

We go back to Mawlmyine and visit Shampoo Island, 300 m away by boat from the shore. On this tiny island (200m long) live 6 female monks, many dogs and a school for very quiet little monks. The island is covered by plantation. It is very green and quiet; We loved it.

We spent the rest of the day visiting pagodas and enjoyed a beautiful sunset on top of one of them.

Friday morning, we took a boat to Hpa An … or better said, a large pirogue. It took us 4h. the landscape was really nice.

All the people on that boat are meeting again at the guest house. Especially French people. Apparently the Soe Brother II Guesthouse is really famous! And Myanmar is full of French tourists!

We only leave our bags there because we want to sleep in a Monastery that night. We took a moto taxi towards the Kyauk Kalap monastery and its very famous rock in the middle of an artificial lake.

We think, or better say, I think, we can sleep on top of it… if you are a bird, this is probably possible…When we get there, it became obvious I misread something somewhere… and we don’t have any room booked for the night. I’m very angry at myself for this. There is another monastery where you could sleep in, on top of a mountain, but since feb 2017 it is forbidden, since a French tourist committed suicide there.

We still decide to ask local people if it is possible to sleep here. They all seem surprised by our request but showed us a very large room (150m2), gave us a pillow and water and showed us the toilets.  We are very happy to have a place to stay that night!

After admiring the sunset, we got ready to have an early sleep. We slept on the floor. It is very uncomfortable and the floor was really hard…

At 3am, 100 Burmese people arrived with their big bags and got ready to sleep too. They were quite in shock to see us there! Apparently, they are pilgrims and they rest in monasteries along the way.

At 5 :20am, the monks start singing. Everyone gets up. The place with the washroom (a very big bath filled wit cold water) get filled up pretty fast, people throwing cold water at themselves and brushing their teeth. Men are on one side, the women on the other. All still wearing their cloth.

Ludi and I leave them at their morning routine and go out for the sunrise which is amazing.

We left a donation and got back to the hotel where a hot shower was waiting for us.

This night was a really incredible experience, and even though we didn’t sleep much, I would do it again. It was one of the best part of our trip.

We then visited the city, but there is nothing much to see except smiling kids. Hpa An is not known for its city, but rather its surrounding that we will do the next day.

On Sunday, we leave with 5 other tourists on a tuk tuk to visit the caves and landscapes around. It costs us 5000 Kiats (around 3 USD) + some entrance fees.

The sceneries are just incredibly beautiful with rice field, palm trees and blue sky.

Our favorite cave is Sadan. The cave itself is not that great, but at the end, you arrive on a lake where pirogues await you. Local tourists and foreigners can rent them and ride on the lake, under the cave then back to the entrance of the cave, following a stream along green fields. My favorite part of Myanmar so far.

Our bus for Kalaw leaves at 7pm. We just got time for a shower at the hotel and leave with our 2 new friends, Lou and Mika from Annecy.

At 9am on Monday, we got to Kalaw, on the East part of the country. It is in the mountains (1300 m height) so quite cold.

Following advices from several blogs, we book a trek with Sam’s family. The trek goes from Kalaw to the Lake Inle. This trek is one of the most famous thing to do in Myanmar and most of them depart from Kalaw, so the city is filled with tourists. Coming from the south, we were not used to it.

Ludi choses a 3 days trek and 2 nights while Lou, Mika and I chose a 2 days trek with 1 night in a village. I fear my feet are not going to enjoy that part of the trip, so I’d rather play it safe than sorry. We decide to go for a private guide so we don’t slow a whole group. The trek cost us 45.000 each (USD 33), all-inclusive except the water.

We leave at 8am on the Tuesday. We start with a 40 min tuk tuk drive. Our guide, Nwelly is 21, single and her English is good. She loves that none of us are married with no kids. She gets lots of pressure from her family and would love our way of life.

This is in reality not a trek, but a hike. We walk 18 km the first day and 16 the following one. Which was enough for us anyway. It is dry season so the landscapes are not as beautiful as expected as the rice fields are dry. It reminds us about South of France sceneries. We cross many villages and red chili fields. It is beautiful but we are a bit disappointed as we really expected a lot more. And the first day, many people we meet were not smiling at all. I think they see way too many tourists and are tired of it. Also, some get money out of this tourism and some not, which could lead to jealousy. For everyperson who sleep at the place, a faily get 1500 Kiats (USD1). This doesn’t seems a lot, but Burmese villagers are really poor and for them, it could represent lots of money.

Our guide cook us lunch and dinner. She is a really good cook! We have avocado salad, fried rice, many cooked veggies, noodles etc.

We slept in a village, in the house with local people. We were lucky, our house was in bricks. All trekkers don’t have that luck and sleep in bamboo houses where the cold is difficult to handle at night.

Even though our house is in bricks, it is very cold. The windows are not properly shuts. There is of course no shower, just a big bucket of cold water behind some bamboo.

But I managed to sleep pretty good as they gave us some fat blankets.

Woke up at 6 :30am and we left at 7 :30 after a generous breakfast with fruits, pancakes and tea.

With the morning light and the mist, the sceneries are beautiful. But as we walk, it all fades away and after 3h, we just want to arrive. And I know a have a very fat blister on the side of my foot…

We ate at the lake at 1pm then a pirogue took us to Shwe Nyaung, at the North of the lake, where most of the hotels are. It took us around 1h to get there.

After all, this was the best part of the trek!

The hot shower at the hotel was bliss! and my feet are indeed full of blisters.

We finish the day with a massage. It is strong and sometimes painful but we need it and the cost is very low (7.000 kiats)

On Thursday, the 3 of us leave for a day on the lake. We leave at 7 :30am as our plan is to get to Saga lake, all the way South. It is so cold we are completely frozen with the wind… the lake is at 880 m height.

There is not much to visit there but the boat ride is incredible. We visit a pagoda, a rice distillery, a Burmese cat sanctuary and just enjoy our ride as the sun goes up and warm us up. It takes 3h to get to the Saga lake. The ride being so long, it is expensive, but since we are 3, it’s only USD15 per person.

When we are back, Ludi is waiting for us at the hotel. She really enjoyed her 3 days’ trek and could have walked more than the 60 km she already did. I’m impressed!

Friday Jan 26th, Lou is sick with an insolation from the boat. Ludi went on the lake with some French people from her trek. Mika and I decide to explore the village a little and relax.

Saturday, Lou is still not feeling too good, Mika starts to be sick and my blisters are still killing me.

We nevertheless rent a boat as we really want to visit Lin Dien, a village with a famous pagoda a little further away. there are hundreds of stupas around the main one. Some old and some new. The whole place is beautiful.

Helas, we have to admit that after this, we are all not feeling too good so we head back to the hotel without having done as much as we wanted. We did go through the water gardens and a market though.

Our bus to Bagan leaves at 8pm. Mika is really sick and Lou is now feeling better.

To read the second part of the trip, click Here

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