I had actually planned to travel Myanmar right at the beginning of my trip. Uncertainties about the needed budget and the accomodation situation (it was high season back then) eventually kept me from going. But I could never really get it out of my mind. The things I had read and the stories I heard from fellow travelers who had been there just made me more and more curious. At one point I thought that I had to go and from then on it all went pretty quickly. I booked my tickets, arranged my visa in Kuala Lumpur and got a big stash of clean and crisp dollar bills. I was excited and was expecting a country very different from all the other places I have visited and with hopefully less tourism. At that point I didn’t know that my expectation would be more than exceeded. Continue reading
Myanmar / Burma
Inle Lake was my last stop in Myanmar before returning to Yangon and then heading back to Bangkok. It’s on Myanmar’s main tourist trail and probably every Myanmar tourist stops here at one point. Hence my expectations were a little ambivalent – for no reason as I would find out later. I arrived via yet another night bus from Mandalay. And for some reason the night buses in Myanmar always arrive at the most ridiculous times. In this case it wasn’t much different and I was dropped off at a junction a few kilometers away from Inle Lake at about 4.30 in the morning. Transport into the town of Nyaungshwe, where most of the accommodation is located, wasn’t a problem however and I arrived safely at my guesthouse. Since I had only two full days, My plan was to get a few hours of sleep and then go explore the lake and its surroundings. Continue reading
After almost a week in and around Hsipaw in the North East of Myanmar, I was headed for Inle Lake in the heart of the Shan State. Myanmar’s second largest lake is home to a great variety of ethnicities who mostly live in simple houses on stilts made of wood and bamboo. The majority of them are self sufficient farmers. In order to trade and exchange goods, Inle Lake features a traditional market which is held daily but the locations rotates through five different sites. I took a boat to one of the bigger markets, a little bit further South than most of the other ones. It was incredible. The locals, dressed in their traditional garments, gathered from all around to offer their goods and produce or to shop for what they needed. It was a pleasant hustle and bustle without too many tourists present. At one point I was just silently standing in the middle, observing what was going around me when I spotted this beautiful lady. She was sitting on the ground, having her produce, I think it was peanuts and herbs, spread out on a blanket in front of her. With my few words of Burmese I asked if I could take a picture of her and luckily she didn’t refuse. She seemed to be far away for a moment – far away from the market and its hectic bustle. I wonder where she was …
After our two day trek through the Shan Highlands, Aris and I wanted to explore some more of this scenic and relatively untouched region of Myanmar. On our way back to Hsipaw, we had passed a small village which seemed very nice and interesting. Our plan was to make it back there, till having to figure out how to, and spend the night. Not sure how to exactly get there and not knowing if we could actually stay, we packed our bags, charged our camera batteries and set off for what would be one of the best experiences of my entire trip.
I thought this one would be nice for Christmas although it has been taken quiet some time before. Aris and I did that two day trek up in Hsipaw when we discovered a small, picturesque village on our way back. Since we were with a group, we couldn’t stop there for too long. Hence decided to go back to the village the day after and spend the night there. We had nothing arranged, just packed our bags, rented a motorbike to get up the first stretch and then hoped to find our way back to the village and of course to find a place to sleep. The latter was easier than expected and turned to be one of the most unique experiences of my whole journey. We were greeted by a group of monks who invited us into their monastery and offered us a place to sleep in their main hall. During that night, we joked with the novices, showed the pictures we took in the village during the day and had some midnight snacks and tea. There was no electricity and just some blankets to sleep on. But with all the candles illuminating the big hall, it was very special and, once again, a truly magical and unforgettable moment. More on that whole side-trip in the upcoming post.
Until then, I wish all of you, wherever in the world you are right now, a merry Christmas and a relaxed time with your friends and families.
The days in Mandalay passed quickly and it was time to move on, to get out of the city and explore some more remote regions. I wanted to head Northwest to a small village named Hsipaw in the Shan Highlands. A few people I met on the way mentioned that the area offered some great trekking along scenic trails to touristically still unspoiled minority villages. It sounded better than trekking down at Kalaw, close to Inle Lake, which was already supposed to be well frequented by tourists. The only challenge was getting to Hsipaw. I decided to take the old train which was built by the English empire in order to secure their colonial control. Rated one of the world’s top train rides, I was up for a rocky adventure. Continue reading
After Mandalay I took the 11 hour “Dancing Train” to the little mountain town of Hsipaw. The place was said to be great for trekking and less crowded than other trekking destination more south of Mandalay. It was a bit out of the way but I guess that’s what it takes to venture a little bit off the beaten track.
In Hsipaw I joined a group for a two day trek through the mountains of the Shan State including an overnight stay in one of the traditional villages up there. There are two things that can make or break an organized trek like that: The people in the group and the guide. We couldn’t have been more lucky in terms of the latter. Our guide was Sandi, an older man from nearby Namshan. He was a happy and funny guy who spoke good English and enjoyed to practice English pop songs and teach his group Burmese. He was super friendly and made the trek a great experience. In the picture you can see him during our first break on day one. It was early but so hot already, hence the shirt off. I don’t even remember if the coke was cold at all but could surely go as a Coca Cola commercial…
After having explored the amazing temples of Bagan, I was bound for Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city. Mandalay is the economical hub of upper Myanmar and considered the center of Burmese culture. There are several ways from Bagan to Mandalay nowadays, buses, boats and even domestic flights. I originally planned on taking the boat upriver but the irregular boat schedule collided with my own schedule. I decided to take the bus which would only take about 5 hours and was actually the cheapest option. With a lot of things to do in and out of the city, I was looking forward to a few exciting days in the city. Continue reading
I was out on a day trip with one of the many motorbike riders offering their services in Mandalay. Since the legal situation of renting yourself in Myanmar is still not clear, going with one of these guys seemed like a good idea. We had left Mandalay City and made it across the Ayeyarwady River over to the city of Sagaing. Sagaing is one of the main Buddhist centers of Myanmar and one of the three ancient cities of the area. Sagaing Hill and its surrounding are home of about 600 stupas and monasteries, 100 meditation centers and more than 6.000 monks and nuns.
I had climbed the steep stairs up the hill where the majestic Soon Oo Ponya Shin Pagoda is located. From up there the surrounding views were marvelous. With a cool breeze going and a blues sky dotted with white clouds, it was so nice and serene. There were only a handful of tourists who had also made it up the hill and it was quiet and relaxed.
Mandalay is hot, dusty and busy but yet so charming and authentic. The city itself is very interesting with a lot of things to do and explore. But the true highlights are just outside the city. More on that will follow soon …
I was bound for Bagan, a place of mystery, magic and many rumors. A place that ranks among the world’s finest cultural heritage sites such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Machu Pichu in Peru. From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city also known as Pagan, was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day. A must see for every Myanmar tourist, I just hoped that it would not bee to crowded. After a long overnight bus ride I arrived before dawn. Still half asleep, I stumbled out of the bus to board a horse cart into town. My adventure was about to begin. Continue reading