On the Road to Mandalay

Build Bridges, not Walls

Day 42: After crossing Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand by land, we decide to fly into Myanmar. It takes us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to fly from Bangkok to Yangon with AirAsia. As we arranged our visa beforehand, the arrival and immigration process is smooth and quick and soon enough we are in a taxi on our way to our hostel in Yangon. At the hostel, we meet with Mary and Luke who got there a few hours before we did. We check-in and decide to explore the city. The receptionist recommends us to jump on the Yangon Circular Train at the Lanmadaw Train station to get a great first glimpse of this beautiful country. For us, it is already hard figuring out the entrance to the small train station but trying to actually figure out which track our train is stopping at is like a real gamble. Luckily there are only two tracks. Tracks as in some overgrown pavements next to the railroad, without any signage or direction. A train is approaching and we take our chances. We get on the train and pray for the best. Unfortunately, we soon realize we are on a different route which takes us a bit out of the city. Nonetheless, this train ride is really interesting as well with locals passing by and try to sell food. At the end of the line of this route we get off at a bigger train station and figure out the next train back leaves in about an hour. Upon arrival back at the hostel, we reunite with Alice, a feisty girl from the Netherlands who we met in the Ko Phi Phi Islands. She just arrived in Yangon as well with her travel buddy Thomas from the UK and decide to join our group for our travels through Myanmar. With the six of us, we go for dinner and have some beers in the lobby before calling it a night.

Day 43: Our second day in Myanmar starts with breakfast at the hostel followed by a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda. This famous Golden Pagoda is thé tourist attraction during your visit to Yangon and if we may believe the locals, this place holds eight strands of hair of Buddha which makes this place even more sacred and famous. It is another tropical day in Myanmar and it is just getting hotter with the minute. Wearing a Longyi (sort of garment to cover your legs worn by men and women) doesn’t help. The white marble floor is getting painful to walk on with your bare feet but luckily they have this sort of rug where you can walk on to prevent them from burning. The clock strikes twelve and like a bunch of overheated cinderellas, we leave the Pagoda as we have an evening bus to our next stop to catch, Bagan.

Travel Tip: Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda first thing in the morning or/and in the evening after sunset when it is not so hot and not too crowded.

Day 44: Somewhere in the middle of our overnight bus journey from Yangon to Bagan the bus stops. The driver announces we will be here for an hour to get the chance to eat something and stretch our legs. Perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the squatty toilets. At the break of dawn, we reach the outskirts of Bagan. Our bus stops at a checkpoint where all tourists are required to pay a Tourist Entry Fee of 25000 Kyat (about 18 USD). Once we arrive in the village we quickly find a taxi to bring us to our hotel for the (next) night. We are all quite tired and can check-in early but we also feel like we should take advantage of our precious travel time and negotiate with the taxi driver to bring us to the Bagan Plains where we can find those numerous temples and pagodas. Mary and Luke opt for a beauty sleep while the rest of the group decides to push through. The taxi driver brings us a few miles further where we climb a temple to take in the first hour of the day. Unfortunately, the morning started cloudily but the views around us are phenomenal nonetheless. Everywhere you look around you, you see beautiful structures. We return to the hotel for some breakfast and rent some E-bikes to cover some ground on the Bagan Plains. We go from one temple to the other. It is another hot day in Myanmar so an E-bike comes in handy with these temperatures. Around noon we feel the exhaustion and lack of sleep kick in and decide to return to the hotel and try to rest up by the pool for a few hours. The resting is shortlived and we soon play like a bunch of sleep-deprived sea otters in the refreshing pool, not leaving a moment to waste in this land of the Golden Pagodas. Once the sun starts to get ready for bed we jump on our e-bikes and set course for the Bagan plains again for another glimpse and on our way there Seba gets stuck in the mud and we lose half of the group. Two other tourists help us out and suggest to join them to a nearby temple that is not too well known. Since we are running out of time and lost the group already we decide to give it a shot and arrive at this beautiful temple with only a handful of other sunset seekers. We make it right on time for the sunset and the views are spectacular. This sunset must be one of the most special ones I have seen so far. The serenity, the ancient buildings in combination with the beautiful nature is perfect bliss. Two hours later we are all reunited at a restaurant nearby and share our experiences over dinner while drinking beers and playing cards.

IMG_1395

Day 47: I wake up and see the first light of the day through the window. The rest of our group is still sleeping or finally fell asleep now that I finally stopped snoring. I am sure the alcohol we consumed last night did not help. I fiddle myself out of my sleeping bag, put on my sweater and shoes, and walk outside. Last evening the six of us arrived in this little mountain town. This was our overnight stop on our two-day motorbike adventure around Kyuakme with our local guide Roy who our friend Courtney (who we met in Malaysia) recommended. I walk over to a little viewpoint and take in the gloomy and lush surroundings. I have absolutely no idea where I am. All I know is that I am in this little mountain town where half of the village has fled. A bell tolls eerily in the distance. This must be the most adventurous part of the trip so far and I feel like I keep pushing my comfort zone which is a great part of this journey. Seba joins me until breakfast is ready. Shortly after we depart for the drive back to Kyuakme. Along the way, we pass steep muddy slopes, temple ruins, picturesque little mountain villages, and even visit a little local school where a bunch of kids greet us, filled with curiosity. An unforgettable experience!

Day 48: After our breakfast with Roy in the local bakery we say our farewell and thank him again for a great time in the Shan State. We buy our train tickets and embark on a westbound train. Not too much later we cross the Goke Hteik Bridge. On the road to Mandalay, we decide to split up. Mary, Luke, Seba, and I get off the train in Pyin Oo Lwin to catch an overnight bus to Inle Lake. Alice and Thomas decide to extend their stay in Myanmar and detach from our group and keep chugging along direction Mandalay.

Day 49: We arrive once again in the early hours of the day at our newest destination, Inle Lake. Yet again, we are subject to a Tourist Entry Fee of 12500 Kyat. Not too much later we arrive at our hotel for the night but the exhaustion of the last couple nights on the bus and heat got the best of me and I am bedbound like a true Sleeping Beauty. No kisses were collected that day.

Day 50: I am doing a lot better this morning and ready to join a motorboat tour on Inle Lake. The tour feels like a typical tourist excursion with several stops that are planned along the way where they try to sell you local products like knives, jewellery, umbrellas,… you will also witness the infamous photo opportunity of those fishermen who throw their fishing nets in the lake. In the evening we get on another overnight bus back to Yangon. As you probably have figured out by now, these overnight buses are very common here in Myanmar, but they are generally quite comfortable. Just don’t forget to bring a warm hoodie onboard as they tend to turn on the A/C to the max. 

Day 52: We set our alarms early on our last morning in Myanmar as we have a flight to catch. We fly back together to Bangkok where our two turtle doves Mary and Luke bid each other farewell. Luke, Seba and I catch our connecting flight to our next country on the list, Cambodia.

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