I decided to make one single post on entire 22 days stay in Myanmar with my impressions and traveling tips for those to plan to go.
After leaving my hosts place in Bangkok, I found myself onboard of taxi, taking me to Don Mueang airport. The taxi driver wasn’t too honest, and when I told him I didn’t want to take an expressway (which cost 60 extra BHT), started adding kms to the meter (within 10 seconds it would indicate that we drove one kilometer). But once I pointed on that, he stopped, or at least I didn’t realize he did some more. Even though, the fare was acceptable as for Friday afternoon.
Inside the airport they kept the temperature of around 12 degrees, and since our plane was delayed, I just wrapped myself up and waited patiently. In the meantime the girl from CS appeared, with whom I was exchanging messages prior to going to Myanmar, so we spent some time talking about her journeys (16 months on the road, and still some more to go).
We boarded and I took the seat next to the window, which I usually avoid, because I fell virtually squeezed in there with so little space, and cannot even flex the legs. But it was a very short flight, so I decided to give it a chance. The view of Bangkok was really pleasureable with architectural consistency you don’t see in many places. I have to say that after staying for a month in this city I really liked it.
Then the views were amazing, below are some pictures and a movie that I managed to capture.
The flight was in total 45 minutes, out of which 20 minutes took filling the immigration papers, another 10 for a meal (extra cost – 4,5 USD), and soon we started landing procedure.
On arrival it was all neat, the bags came out in very short time, and I found Red Label big bottle for 13 USD. Altought they declined accepting one of my notes (it had some minor stain on it), the other one they did, and I got 7 USD back in pristine crisp notes.
We exchanged some USD into Kyat’s (the exchange rate in the airport, was pretty fair, 846:1). I read that some years ago the official rate would be 7:1 and black market 700:1. That makes the difference.
As expected, the shuttle guy from the hotel was already waiting to pick us up in beaten up Toyota van. On our way to hotel I noticed that with right hand side traffic most of the vehicles had a steering wheel… also on the right side! Some had on the left, like Chevrolet Matiz taxi or Suzuki Wagon R+. Interesting.
We checked into the room, and I couldn’t help to notice that the rate has changed since I booked it 3 weeks ago. Then it was 20 USD, and now 23. 15 % in less than a month, is that a hyperinflation yet?
After checking in went with Jacky to grab something to eat. Just next to hotel found a nice restaurant, where the food was exposed in front of it in glass , so you just took as many sticks as wanted, put them into basket, and wait until they prepare it, they call it barbeque here. Pretty big portion cost us in total 5200 KT, which was roughly 6 USD. Beer included.
Since it was still early, we kept walking. On one point 11 YO boy approached us (he was with his family going to do some shopping). After asking how are you, he asked “are you happy in Myanmar?”. This truly makes you feel great, amazing hospitality and being proud of the country in the same time.
We kept on walking and I spotted a seller who had leaves, some white substance and something that looked like unground tea roots. He gave me some to try. It was the worst thing I ever came through in Asia, and almost made me say goodbye to the dinner. Later I learned it was called Cunha.
It was time to come back to hotel, hoping that I will get a good sleep, which I was short of last 3 days beacuse of parties.
Next day was a little adventurous. We had no plan except of going to Sule Pagoda and seeing the travel agent we met last evening in our hotel.
First we went to that agency, where we spent more than an hour of counter-productive time. We explained what we wanted, waited till they provide us with some informations, and then after waiting good hour we decided to come back after before they close, so they hopefully manage to make some reservations for us.
We went to Sule, and on our way we saw countless sellers of anything you would imagine possible. The stuff wasn’t the highest quality, to say it with euphemism. We went for some rice with chicken on our way, it was just okay for 1700 KT. When we reached the touristy Sule every couple of meters somebody would approach us and say out “money change”. The offered exchange rate was slightly better than in the airport, but not enough to tempt me to go change on the street. The whole situation on the street remainded me of Poland in early 90s’. Apart of that people were really friendly, some even approached us saying hello how are you, to shake hands then. Really nice.
We reached Pagoda and were the only white tourists around. Entrance was 2 USD each or 2500 KT. Of course we paid in USD. Walked around, but it was nothing breath taking. We came back to the agency, but they didn’t manage to do anything during those 3 hours. I had to explain with pointing on the notes and the map where we wanted to go and for how long. The clerks didn’t seem to understand, so I would slowly repeat in the simplest english. At least 5 times, until they came to understand and proceed.
While we walked around the city we saw the bus tickets for 10,900 KT (roughly 13 USD). The travel agent had them for 25 USD. And we still had to go far far away to reach the bus station (from the map it was around 15 km, but he said 20 miles). Also, there was no possibility according to him to book the seats in advance. On 15 hours ride, it looked risky, as you might land in last row next to the engine. Well, we only booked the hotel in Mandalay for 2 nights for 50 USD. + 20 USD as agency comission. Initially we were hesitant to get the bus ticket for double the price, but since it was saturday afternoon, and agencies tomorrow were closed, and we planned to go on Monday, we finally decided to overpay. But at that time (4.15 pm) he said the ticket office was closed. I told Jacky that we definitely need to book the ticket today. We took the luxurious new Toyota Crown as the taxi for bargained price of 3500 KT for both ways – and driver waits until we buy tickets on the station.
Arrived there, initial offer was 15000 KT, next 13000 + 1000 for transfer. Finally we reached the place with 13000 transfer included. But they only had last row in the bus. Some more phone calls, and we got prelast row, with reclining seats. Good enough. On our way back I shown the driver the map and pointed ocean pearl inn hotel (just 1 block from the taxi stop we got in). He drove us to some really third world country look like part of Yangon, which was a true contrast to next door luxury shopping mall called ocean, where he wanted to leave us. Only after showing him the address written in burmese he took us to correct place. All for the agreed price. Cool, so we had a ticket and hotel next to famous balloon festival booked already. Time to get some rest before hitting some party. After all it’s Saturday night!
We went out at 11 pm. Just regular in every other place. Not here though. The rock and roll bar/restaurant was already closing when we got there. Our guidebook didn’t put the hours, and taxi driver didn’t seem to understand english while we asked him if it was typical hour when the party finish in Myanmar. As was the rule in this country, what we found out later… A little disappointed came back to hotel.
Next day woke up and headed to famous Shwedagon Paya. Instead of taking taxi, we asked in the hotel which bus to take. The gave us number of the one that will take us there. Funny enough, the numbers were written in burmese, so we had no clue. Some busses passed and in the meantime we changed our money while buying a snack. We stopped one of the buses, saying out loud the name of the place we intended to go. Luckily, it was going there. We were said that to get to pagoda it takes 40 minutes, but the ticket selling guy indicated us after less than 20 that we were approaching our destination. Including 5 minutes stop on the way to make some minor repair on the bus.
The Stupa was really breath taking. We arrived in the midday, and it was all shining in the sun with splendor.
Paid the fee and started climbing the stairs. We felt kind of special, since didn’t notice more than a few other tourists during our walk around. After some time I decided to hire a local guide to make the visit meaningful. We went around and found somebody who looked like a guide with another foreigner standing next to him. I asked if we could join. Guide said something like:
“ok, 2 people for the price of one” but without mentioning how much.
Within next hour he took to the places we would never discover by ourselves, including the spot where 2 rubis on the top of the Stupa could be seen after sunset, all in different colors.
We went for lunch to the place recommended by our guide after the tour. It was delicious and worth half hour walking (altough we were told it was 10 minutes by walk). Same thing goes on in Berlin, if somebody answers “round the corner”, it means it is in walking distance, and might be two minutes as well as half an hour. I heard that in Philippines the time is even more flexible. 20 minutes can be the time of walking to nearest grocery shop, or travel by bus to most remote part of the country.
After lunch and chillin’ in nearby park, we came back to Shwedagon. To our surprise, amount of white tourist was now exceeding the number of local people. It was probably too hot for them to visit the place during the day.
When we were contemplating the Stupa, some local youngsters approached us and we started talking. Soon, all college friends from them joined. They were very curious about life abroad, and spoke enough english to understand basic concepts, so it was a pleasure speaking to them.
It seemed that they were coming to this Stupa quite often just to mingle with tourists. Inspiring in the country that was completely isolated for last 60+ years. Tired but happy we came back to hotel.
Next day we went to Botataung Pagoda, next to the port. It wasn’t that impressive but had some interesting parts. In Pagoda, where the first har sacred relic of Buddha was stored, the whole interior has been finished in gold. Every literally two meters somebody would approach us (in spite of the fact that we paid already the hefty entrance fee) and ask for money.
In another part, there was a “wheel of fortune”, in which you throw the money. In such a poor country. Paradoxical? But soon I learnt that burmese love gambling.
After leaving I decided to feel the vibe of old good colonial times, so we took the riksha to the next point of our destination. It was nice until the point where we melted in heavy traffic, including trucks and other big vehicles. But we made it to the destination, which was a bank. Unfortunately, they had a lunch break, and I needed to exchange some cash. I decided to try my luck with street money changers. Since I remember many tricks with such exchange in Poland shortly after transition from comunist into capitalist state, I was careful. We went into some street with no traffic, sat down and one of the guys gave me the money to count. It was correct. Next to us was sitting the policeman, and I was little afraid if that whole situation won’t put me into burmese jail. But decided to proceed anyway. I gave notes to Jacky and pulled out 100 dollar bill. Brand new in crisp condition. But they didn’t like the KB series it had, and said it would be lower exchange rate. But still little better than in the bank. Gave it back to me and I gave back the Kyats. He took the cash, and tried to implement the least sophisticated trick on earth. Rolled notes into half, and in second hand had some similar looking amount. But it was obvious that he wants to exchange it behind his back. Packed my USD back and tried luck couple of streets away. Boy basically tried to repeat the trick, but with some distraction included (look, there is police/bank officer coming, etc.) while I was counting the money. Then repeated that series of USD was not good, and the rest story was the same. I decided to wait until they open the bank, even though was running late for the bus. They didn’t have any problems with KB series there, and rapidly exchanged it.
Funny how fast things change in this country. In guide book published 3 months prior to my arrival it was written that under no circumstance should you exchange money in the bank or in the airport, because the rate was much better in the street.
Came back to hotel, packed and found ourselves on the mini truck going to the bus station. It was enormously crowded, and the driver was collecting further packages on the road. Third world country courier, but how efficient!
One hour later, 3 times head crash close calls
and some quarrals between drivers we were in the terminal. Warned that here buses tend to freeze you out, packed my jumper, jacked and thick blanket (which in total was half weight of my total luggage). Few hours later I found them very useful. It looked like temperature dropped to 15 degrees. But to my surprise when we stopped 7 hours later and got out of the bus temperature… didn’t change. It was freezing. And we weren’t even in mountains yet. On the news from hot air baloon festival where we were heading it was highlighted that temperature there was… 12 degrees.
We reached the destination 2 hours prior to expected time, so landed at 5 am instead of 7. Took a tuk-tuk after negotiating the price from 8000 to 3000 KT and went to our booked hotel. On our way we were made to pay the “town entrance fee” – 5 USD. The guard would wake up at 5.30 in the morning to collect it. We reached the hotel and to our huge disappointment were informed that our reservation has been canceled, because I didn’t confirm it yesterday. It was no way of doing it, since we were on the road, and in Burma phone sim cards are rare good worth the price of silver (used to be gold). After some research and finding that all hotels were fully booked (people would sleep on the roof, office, place where mops and buckets are kept and other strange places). We went to monastery, that was charging 5000 KT for the place on the floor. There were another 50 or so travellers there. Tried to take a nap, but amount of flies was incredible, and there were really annoying. We locked the backpacks with laptops documents and money in it in hope that nobody will try to steal it and went to book taxi to festival – I expected it to be Burma visit highlight. To reach the festival I rescheduled my asian trip (because I was going to visit Burma in January). Needless to say that my expectations were elevated.
Tired after the sleepless night we wandered around various tour agencies, to find ridiculously inflated prices for the service. Renting the car would be 60,000 KT (almost 80 USD) for the place located one hour of drive. Minivan was 84,000 KT (almost 100 USD), but it could acomodate 7 people, which made it little less painful for the wallet, but still extreme rip off. We had 3 hours remaining, during which we tried to book the bus to Mandalay leaving 2 days later. Not a single agency was able to do that, and we heard the mantra “all fully booked” over and over. Jacky was freaking out because of horrible acomodation and lack of tickets to leave the place. Nevertheless, we booked the boat for tomorrow, to make a maximum use of our stay.
At 4 pm we got into taxi and headed to Taunggyi festival. Once we arrived our van got surrounded by “sellers of foreigner entrance ” who were asking another 5000 KT per person to participate in festival. And of course everyone “had to” pay it, since they seemed to be in some sort of agreement with our driver, who counted the people onboard and were saying one more (person), one more to pay.
We finally could take part in the show. Whole place was packed, mostly with burmese people. We wandered around, waiting for the show to start. Next to the baloon place was the scene with some local pop artists performing. Funny thing is that every two songs there was a commercial break for whisky, that lasted good 3 minutes, all that in socialist state, which Burma was still two years ago.
Show finally started. I have to admit that the view of balloons was truly breath taking. One video is worth more than thousand words:
I came back to the scene. When going through the crowd many people would give me high five and all would yell “WHERE ARE YOU COME FROMM”. Later I would shake hand with everyone in the group. They would treat me like a rockstar. But it would only last for a few minutes, because it was impossible to communicate in english with those people, so the interaction was dead shortly after some mimical gestures.
Took some further walk, found a lady selling Tanaki, extract from teak wood that would cool down the face and protect it from the sun. It was also a traditional makeup, which together with clothes (longhi) creates the culture so unique and different from surrounding countries.
Later leaded by my innate curiosity reached another stall with looking like cut wood items. I was told by the women that was buying it that inside was sticky rice. She peeled it off and gave me some to try. Nice of her.
We came back to watch some ballons and soon headed to our 5 stars monastery with one bathroom for 50 + people.
Next day we repeated the routine of searching for the ticket. In one agency, literally next to monastery we were told that they had 2 bus tickets for the same day. It was a little problematic for us, since we had a hotel in Mandalay booked from 30th, so we would arrive 1 day too early. But it seemed better option than staying in this village for more time, beacuse the next bus that had seats available was leaving on 1st of December. We bought the tickets for the same day and went to agency where we booked the boat the day before. To our surprise, we were told that due to full moon the price doubled and now we had to pay 34,000 KT instead than yesterday agreed 17,000 KT. One more tourist rip off attempt. We spent another hour looking for the boat in another agencies, but they all had too high prices. In one of them we were offered boat with In Den visit included for 30,000 BHT. Of course we refused, saying that maximum we are going to pay is 25,000. But the boat man would follow us all the way down to the port saying: 28,000, ok? Of course not okay. When we started searching in port, he would say out loud something in burmese, so that nobody would give us a boat for less than 28,000 KT. I felt like kicking guys ass, but was one foreigner surrounded by many burmese.
We walked further, finally lost the tail, and kept browsing. One man from agency agreed to give us a boat for 24,000 KT, including In Den, which was a remote place with many stupas there. When we wanted to pay, he said that we pay after we come back. I insisted, but just heard “don’t worry, we ok with price”. Well, after previous experience I wasn’t sure about it. But finally we boarded. It was already after 9, and we had to back at 4 to catch the bus.
The boat trip was relaxing and interesting at the same time. Below is the video how it went.
We came back on time and hurried to call a hotel of which number we were given by some german girl we met yesterday on the festival. Unfortunately, the magic phrase “fully booked” was used again.
Of all people we met it seemed like 90 % tourists are germans, or at least german speaking. It was true until we arrived to the bus station, where I met four polish people. And another one on the bus, who approached me saying that he saw my name on the passengers list. He was planning to stay in Mandalay for 2 days, and had it all planned. We agreed to do stuff together.
The arrival was again earlier than scheduled, this time we arrived at 3 am instead of 6 am.
The guy from the classic hotel we had a phone reservation didn’t even bother to let us in. We went to another one, which was called ET. The rooms was 25 USD, pretty elevated price given that there was no aircon, the toilet seat was broken, and internet didn’t work most of the time. Frankly speaking this is the price to pay in developed countries for a decent room, not third world one. Obviously they were making a good business out of it, and were adding more rooms to be rented by even higher price. During my four days stay workers built the walls and installed bathrooms in three extra rooms, and the receptionist was already taking the reservation, for 30 USD per night.
Nevertheless we were lucky to find just anything where we could sleep, so couple of hours later we checked in, had the breakfast, which was as usual eggs and bananas, and went sightseeing.
In the temple in Mandalay hills, with the view all over the city. There was only one “skyscraper” (no more than 14 floors), but at least 3 golf ranges in the sight.
We met a family of myanmar tourists. They wanted to take a picture with every single one of us, and then with whole group. Very friendly, but lack of english made it unable to communicate as usual. We would meet them again during the day in other “tourist must see” places in Mandalay.
The next day I decided to do non-tourist stuff, and decided to walk around the city. The hotel was located nearby so called city center (because frankly I couldn’t tell where it start and finish). The place itself was extremely chaotic and dusty. It wasn’t due to vehicle fumes, rather never wiped roads covered with sand and omnipresent house construction leftovers. After literally 30 minutes I had enough, and came back to hotel. It was loathsome that almost everyone was spitting, grunting and coughing. It was probably the mix of air pollution and traditional myanmarense chewing gum, which makes your mouth red, as well as low level of health care.
When I came back to the room, in the building next window there was a guy who was grunting as if he was about to pass out. Literally every couple minutes the cough was shaking the windows. The rest of the day I dedicated to video editing, didn’t even feel tempted to explore Mandalay. Next day I got bored though and decided to move. I rented a bike and went to the riverside – so called harbor. I was hoping to find the boat that would take me to Bagan for less price than crazy 40 USD offered by IWT. They also offered the slow boat, which was 15 USD (in my guidebook from July it was 10), but it would only leave twice a week, and I didn’t feel like staying here another two days. The research wasn’t successful. Nobody, literally nobody including captains spoke any english, and on word Bagan they would point on the IWT boat.
While going along the river I found the dock, and guys were repairing the engine, putting out the cylinder with the bare hands.
Would come back to the bike, and found the gem market where I was told to go if I wanted to see some stones being cut and polished. People who were there had newest Samsung S III phones, which in this country is a good indicator of wealth. I would approach some stands where men were cutting stones. A few times by pure curiosity would asked for the price, but the stones weren’t for sale, as I would find out. In some places I was given a “fuck off” price of 5 digits USD. It was definitely not a touristy place, since I didn’t meet any, and also nobody was trying to sell me anything I would just walk around and take pictures undisturbed.
From the bike seat city looked slightly better than from walking man perspective. Probably because I didn’t notice all the trash and was concentrated more on the road and if someone in the car isn’t going to kill me. But again the dust and pollution made me so tired, that when I reached the restaurant, I ordered the whole sweet and sour fish along with a big beer, and was the happiest man on the planet. I decided to ride some more, and found a bar with spirulina beer. I thought it was somehow related to famous spirulina food, but it was just a brand. But I liked it more than ordinary Tiger or Myanmar beer. It was also cheaper – 500 KT for a glass.
I reached the palace wall, and found the nice bench to make a little siesta. Two little girls who were playing badminton came to me and wanted me to play with them. Since they were probably no more than 7 years old, it wasn’t really the game, but it was another example how open is most of myanmar people toward foreigners. Shortly I came back to lay on the bench, and soon after that some guy approached me. He said that he is staying next door, had a shop and wanted to show me something. I politely said that I would come later, since now was my siesta time. But 15 minutes later other guy came saying that “his friend is waiting for me”. I was a little tipsy after those beers and laying in the sun, and decided to give it a try. Instead of the shop, I was led to the restaurant on the other side of the street, where the previous guy was sipping a drink. I sat with them. I sat with them and off we went. They turned out to be a musician and a supervisor of the factory producing power inverters. We spent a few hours barely talking (again their english was very limited, but at least it was some basic conversation). We were drinking some pink drink with very little bubbles which tasted like soda, which I was told was a traditional myanmar drink. They would order a delicious salad to share, which was tomatoes and roasted peanuts. The time was going on, conversation was more and more stall, so I made up that my bus leaves at 5, so in around 30 minutes I have to come back to my hotel. When I was asked where it was, the supervisor guy told me that his factory was very close to it. We talked some more and it was time to fly. He wanted to show me his office, so we went together on my bike. I would be introduced to his boss, who was very polite, but had a “wtf is going on” look on his face. We didn’t stay long, and came back to hotel, where said goodbye. I was very tired and my eyes were all red. It took less than 10 minutes to fall asleep. I woke up 4 hours later, just before 10 pm. Went out to seek for a place for dinner, but literally every restaurant was shut already. Went around, but only thing I found was podroby in some street stall, and coconut pie. I decided to go for coconut and some vegetarian rolls. Better than nothing.
Came back and fell asleep again, since tomorrow my bus was leaving at 8.30 am, and still had to check out and get to the station, which wasn’t too close.
The bus was pink and chinese, but apart of it the trip was nice. Aircon was working just fine, stereo sound was astonishingly loud, to the point in which I decided to use earplugs. There were some myanmar soap opera movies being played.
Behind me was seating a couple. When the bus stopped we started talking about how early it is to have a lunch (11 am). Long story short, we decided to look together for the hotel in Bagan.
Once there took the carriage that took us to hotel mentioned in my guide book. They were charging fifty dollars for double room. So far it seemed that everything just mentioned there in terms of restuarants and accomodation was immediately going up with price twice or three times. We went to another place called Large Goled Pot and shared 3 people room for 30 USD. Reasonable, but still hell of expensive. You could say the boom was coming, since lots of hotels were adding rooms or constructing whole new buildings, the profit was so huge.
After unpacking and showering we rented bikes and went for temple trip.
My bike looked like it was in British colonization era. Brand name was Robin Hood, every single part was made in England, and it even had a front wheel anti turn lock, just like motorbikes!Thought to buy it, repair the details and ship to Europe to later sell to some hipster kid in Holland came through my head.
The trip itself was nice, altough I’m not a big fan of archeology and all that ancient stuff, I have to admit that some parts were impressive, especially if we imagine how it looked like in its greatest years.
We finished up in the river (or rather lake) shore, where I shot the best sunset ever:
sunset full movie
Rest of the evening we passed in bar drinking one beer after another. Robin has a tuning shop in Montreal, so we talked uncounted hours about tuned Nissans and tuning culture in Canada. Worthy knowledge, which makes me want come back to racing, sooner than later.
When we came back to hotel, the sight of the sky was delightful. I couldn’t hesitate to take some pictures:
I already had a whole plan for remaining time. Go and see Golden rock, and then for 5 days chill on the beach, doing nothing. I went to Golden Rock, Kyaiktyio on 7th of December. Took overnight bus to Yangon, and then switched to another and at 10am pretty tired came to the place. The bus got surrounded by boys handing in hotels cards. I followed one of them to Sea Sar – the one mentioned in guide book to have cheap rooms looking like crime scene, but other to be ok. My room was pretty okay, not the cheapest though. But guidebook didn’t mention anywhere that it is literally on the bus station and next to Pagoda. As the result, I came there at 10am, for half an hour (just enough to check in and pay), they started praying from Pagoda by loudspeakers. In that time I was already into changing the hotel, but was too tired to take any action. With ear plugs I managed to sleep maybe half an hour, got dressed and went to eat. Nearest thing was Sea Sar restaurant. Quite expensive, and given the quality which was horrible one of the worst value during my whole travel. The meat tasted like made 3 days ago, same with vegetables. The only ok thing was rice. I left half of the meal and went to the truck station, that was nearby. Waited until the truck gets fully packed, and we went uphill. On our way were several stations where we would stop only to be able to make a donation or buy coconut water or coke. Thus it took us an hour to reach the top, altough the driver was taking corners like crazy. I left in the middle station and hiked. It wasn’t very hot neither humid, but I was sweating like crazy, so steep was the climb. With only one break I reached the top in good hour and half. In guide book was listed about 45 minutes, but I can’t see doing it, unless you are preaparing to marathon or something similar. While on the top I saw the praised view. The book would describe it as
“The gravity-defying golden rock Kyaiktiyois one of Myanmar’s most enigmatic and intriguing sights”.
Well, for me it was just a nice view, but definitely nothing special. You can as well see the pictures, no need to see it on site, seriously. After an hour of wandering around I backed down. On the way I saw boys playing local version of volleyball, mainly with their heads.
I spent there more time watching game than so called main attraction.
I also filmed the nice sunset.
Made it barely for the last truck, leaving at 6 pm (but then it would stop couple hundred meters further and waited 20 minutes). When I finally came down it was time to eat. I randomly tried another restaurant, but this one was even worse than other. I ordered sea food, which wasn’t cheap (3000 KT), and the thing they brought was remainding me with its hardness the worst beefs. Refused to eat such a thing, since it was probably unfrozen and freezed again at least couple of times, and went to another. Ordered the rice with chicken, the dish that almost can’t gone wrong.
Again, it was barely edible, so I went half hungry to hotel. Something was definitely wrong with this whole Kyaiktiyo. In hotel I managed to connect to internet from Pagoda, first stable connection since I left Yangon. Had fun with a whisky and some random older english guy who sat next to me.
Later relocated to my room and finished watching the Devil advocate movie. Great thing, loved the way the actors actors played, especially Keanu Revees and Al Pacino.
I was thinking that will sleep at least until 5 am, since it is the time Monks wake up, and it seemed a big deal here for them to inform everyone around that they are awake via speakers.
It was THREE IN THE MORNING, when I got woken up by truck station speakers. They put the speakers on maximum volume at 3 am! Really pissed off went to search for another hotel to be able to recover at least some hours of sleep. It seemed like whole village got awake with lots of myanmar tourists/ pilgrims coming. Just as it was normal to wake up at 3 am for them, nobody looked sleepy, the streets and restaurants were full. So was another hotel, but I sat at the reception with my laptop, where was the electricity (which aparently didn’t work in Sea Sar) and less noise than there.
There were moments when I really wanted to pay another 100 USD (like Taunggyi and then Mandalay) and reschedule my flight to Thailand for earlier date. Here I was feeling like I totally should not stay in Myanmar more than 10 days. Long enough to get the charm of interaction with people grasping for contact with foreigners, and short enough not to get pissed off with many things else.
I didn’t manage to sleep anymore after coming back at 5 am, so had my breakfast, and just chilled in the sun until the checkout. Hotel was supposed to organize the motorbike taxi to the station for 2000 KT, and indeed somebody came to pick me up 20 minutes after 10 am. Few hundred meters later I had to switch the bikes, because the rider refused to proceed. Next one had no idea how to ride, so we almost felt 3 times in 5 minutes in heavy traffic. I said that now I drive. He refused pointing toward front and saying that there are a lot of taxis.
So I walked, and reached some hotel. On the way riders had trouble understanding the basic sentence “train station”. Their lack of the most basic language competence was overwhelming. In front of the hotel they personnel told me that the ride will cost 5000 KT. Rip off tourist again. I almost caught another bike and he agreed to ride for 2000, but the wallet shouted something in their language and the rider suddenly changed into 4000 KT. This time I really felt like beating the wallet. I decided to leave the luggage in the shade and think about the situation. Option was to come back to the village center and wait for the bus, that given the circumstances could never arrive, walk 11 kilometers, which was not doable in 1,5 hours I had left until the train leaves, or try luck with other riders, hopefully one of them will understand the phrase “train station”, will know where that is and will not try to rip me off too much. Sounds like impossible trinity, but 20 minutes later I was sat in the back of the bike, for agreed fare 3000 KT. I was impressed with this guys skills on riding the bike. This was definitely the highlight of that place, thrill factor – 5/5.
I reached the station just in time, got ticket for 3 USD in ordinary salon and waited for the train to come. It wasn’t much late, just 20 minutes or so. It was funny situation. On my ticket was written which salon I should come to, but somebody pointed on upper class, regardless of what my ticket was saying. So I boarded there, and soon the ticket control person came, looked at my ticket and pointed on next salon.There were at least 5 controllers, all in official black trousers, and sleeveless white shirts. I was supposed to change in the next station, which was cool, because I would have oportunity to compare if it made sense to pay double for upper class (6 USD fare). But once we stopped and I got my stuff to move, the controller pointed on the seat and said “please stay”. So nice. For the rest of the journey I stayed in the upper class. In the course I ordered from the walking restaurant chicken with rice (the only dish within last 20 hours, not counting 1 scrambled egg for breakfast), and was given a piece of water melon from the ticket guy (who was travelling with his family). Later I decided to help the conversation with some whisky, but he just put it from the glass to the bottle and mixed with lots of water. It stayed there for the rest of the ride. The landscape was changing into more and more rural, and it was getting hotter, since I was on the sunny side of the salon.
The whole situation, train knocking on the rails and plenty (I could stretch my legs!) of space gave me the feeling of the real travelling freedom. I seldom take trains, but have a feeling that I should do more often.
Arrived in Moulmain just after sunset, and was approached by some guys offering the ride. The guidebook said that there is a cheap hotel area, and the ride should cost 1000 BHT. The guy on the bike kept repeating the question which hotel I stay in, and 10 times I told him to take me to cheap guest house. Later he said that he was muslim, and that I was beautiful. It seemed like guesthouse he took me to was giving comission to riders for bringing tourists into, since everybody I met later stayed in there, but it wasn’t good.
Room without window and next to power generator was 10 USD, but I was indifferent and just wanted to leave my stuff, go to eat and then sleep. Meantime I learned that the nearest beach is 70 kilometers away, and if I want to go there later than 7 am, have to switch transport means 3 times. Whatever it takes, I kept going. Went to the restaurant recommended by hotel, but once I sat at the table, zezowaty waiter came and after 1 minute of his trying hard to speak in english I understood that it had reservation so I couldn’t have a meal. Went to another place, and grabbed the beer on the way. I saw that they had a barbecue similar to my Yangon favorite. Ordered quite a lot of food, and feeling lonely sat with a couple. Contrary to all my previous travels, where I would avoid shallow conversation with tourists, here I was grasping for some communication that would involve more than hello where are you come fromm and okay okay. In the course of conversation, after I expressed all my feelings about the place, they said “you picked the wrong country”. How correct they were!
I ordered a beer, since the one I brought was almost over, but owner said he doesn’t sell it, since he is muslim. Looks like I got into muslim town in buddhism country. At 7 pm the town seemed to be completely asleep, with most lights off, except of restaurants (all two in hotel nearby area).
As if it couldn’t get any worse, it did. Again, everyone woke up at 5 am making enough noise to wake up sleeping bear, then the diesel generator was turned on – lots of fun. I went to breakfast, which consisted of 2 tosts, teaspoon (literally!) of jam and some butter. They even skipped the egg. I went to take a shower, but water was warm just at the beginning. After some minutes, it got boiling hot. And it couldn’t be helped. Surprisingly, water from the tap was same hot.
This whole Myanmar melancholical silent and quiet attitude started getting me into depression.
I decided to seek for the beach regardless of anything. Left hotel and at 10 and at eleven boarded on local bus. It took 3 hours to drive 60 kilometers, since it was stopping when anybody on the road wanted to go on it. Bus also broke once, but it was nothing serious and 15 minutes later we kept going.
Aware of the cost I was told for the taxi bike (at least 3000 KT), I was decided to walk if they don’t go down to 2000. But I played it cool first asking how far is the place, then aloud wondering if it wouldn’t be better to walk there (I wasn’t bullshitting, it was atm the secondary plan), and finally asked for the price indicating that I am low in KT (I had maybe 40000 remaining, and was sure there is no place to exchange USD in Set Sei).
The taxi guy asked me 1500. Without bargaining I got on the bike and 15 minutes later reached the place. There was only one hotel, with stinking bedsheets and towels, as well as ants invasion on the floor a few times during my stay. Was asked 25 USD per night, but when I told I would consider staying for 3 nights, I was given a “discount” to 20. And in the process of bargaining 4th night would be 10 USD. The couple that arrived 2 days later was given initial price of 20 USD, so obviously multipricing was widely used in the place. And the staff didn’t even bother to make any kind of breakfast for guests as I would learn the following days.
The beach itself wasn’t spectacular, but not bad either, it had more restaurants than visitors and was generally totally peace and quiet. But at least was the beach, with the sun, sand and small waves.
I was totally alone in the hotel, and again everyone else I would meet proved not to speak english. It was becoming a little annoying when every fourth person I passed by would asked me “where are you come fromm”, and almost nobody would know such a country as Poland, mixing it with Holland. Regardless of understanding, later they would walk away, because wouldn’t be able to say anything more.
The menus were in english, so I enjoyed my daily meals for less than 10 USD total and the rest of the time was either swimming, lying in the rubber tube, taking sunbath or simply sleeping. No internet in whole village, so I was glad to have some movies and ebooks to read in the evening. Next two days were the same, and it wasn’t bad at all. I guess my mom would like it – empty beach with nobody around, water that was very warm (probably close to 30 degrees) and option of pretty good fish served as meals. The only weird thing was that a bottle of beer cost equvalent of whole meal, and it was the same price in every restaurant and stall. So I was drinking coconut water and sugar cane juice instead.
On my third day the english couple arrived, and it was finally someone to talk to. We went all crazy on the tubes, got some beers and enjoyed the sunset seen from the tubes, then I talked long hours with Joe about lots of stuff, mostly pleasures of travelling in Asia. He had some experience on the subject, since his first steps in Thailand were taken 10 years ago, when it was almost unknown country for tourists, and dedicated a few months a year ever since to visit places.
They were leaving next day at 6 am to Hpa An, and I decided to go as well.
Packed my stuff, paid dearly for the taxi to the bus station (over twice the distance I covered last time, and with just enough KT for the bus reached the stall. The bus cost 6000 (much less than I expected), but the price had its reason. When the bus came, the trunk was all stinking with gasoline which was leaking from broken canisters, and I almost refused to put my backpack. Though the guy got some cover, and put backpack on it. Even after that, I was sure that my backpack will be stinking with the gas, no matter the cover. The backrest would reach more or less half of my back, without a chance to lay my head, and the whole bus was trembling and stinking with mentioned gasoline. But we made it to Yangon at 2 am without any interruptions, so it was at least reliable. As always the crowd of taxi drivers would surround me offering their services, and I got them all down. I had to develop the plan. Initially I wanted to go to the airport, and try to rebook my ticket for the day earlier, so I would only spend 14 hours there, without coming back to Yangon, which didn’t really appeal to me. So we went to the airport, regardless the driver saying it was closed until 5 am. I understood it like you cannot enter the terminal, but there will be some sort of waiting room. However, when we arrived the fence around the airport was shut, with armed guards at the gates. The perspective of waiting at least 2 hours at the sidewalk wasn’t attractive, so we went back to Yangon. The driver was a funny guy who spoke reasonable english. His work experience covered working on the ships, and his thoughts about many things in Myanmar were similar to mine, and there was one word he used frequently – bullshit. In his opinion the burmese government was very wise controlling all the important branches of economy. The surprising example was that all discos shut down at midnight, with one only exception in Yangon. The J&J disco is open till 3 am, and it’s because owner is a distant member of familys’ oficial, who happen to be in charge of ministry that is controlling the night clubs (hope you get the idea).
That owner pays oficial 20 % of profits, and oficial doesn’t see the law breaking. Simple and clever.
In the hostel there were no more spaces in dorms, so I decided to wait on the plastic chair ouside (it was almost 4 am). At 8 am I learned that still there wasn’t any place, so I went to the hotel on the other side. Initially the receptionist stated that they have only one room for 10 USD (which was aparently being rented by the guy who was there first). I refused to pay 15 dollars for another. After few minutes they found another room (without window) they decided to rent for 10. It was stinking with mould from the bathroom, but at least the bedsheets looked clean. Took it and went around the town. On my way found the market that was wholeselling the food. Found there red color bananas, which tasted a bit more acid than ordinary yellow ones, and were really good. In spite of not eating for last 20 hours (except of some crackers) I didn’t feel too hungry, in some part perhaps due to being tired. On my way I run into the Mohinga place, where I met the burmese guy living in Australia. While I was eating, he gave me whole introduction on the process of making this soup with vegetables (such as garlic, onion, paprica, ginger, lemongrass) fish, and rice noodles. It seemed truly labor intensive, and the soup tasted excellent. I headed back to hotel to get some sleep.
Later I investigated how to get to the airport by bus, and was helped by some woman who as well spoke some english. I have to admit that during my 4 days in Yangon I met more english speakers than during the rest of my journey.
It seems like good place for tourists above 60 years old. This truly is a country for old people, with all that archeology, history and zero nightlife. It wakes up at 5 am, and offers zero thrill or fun factor (except of motorbike ride). It would probably be somehow better if you are willing to pay hefty for organized tours with tourguide who gives you insider informations on the country. The pricing we were given in the agency (not mentioned in any guidebook, thus probably cheaper) was 2500 USD for 3 weeks of travelling in Myanmar, so together with minor spendings (10 dollars for archeological zone here, 6 for entering the town there) visa and flight 3 weeks would close in more or less 3500 USD.
I’m not discouraging anybody from coming here, but for me this country was a total misunderstanding, and I was more than happy to come back to Thailand.