Myanmar (Burma) – Can it get any better???!!!

My, my, my Delilah (Myanmar)
Why, why, why Delilah (Myanmar)

So before they come to break down the door
Forgive me Delilah (Myanmar) I just couldn’t take it any more!!!!

Greetings my dear family!!!

Tom Jones knew what he was singing! Myanmar was so great, but I’m afraid that eventually will change to worse. We hope we will have a chance to go back before it does.

These week’s post covers 900 km from Bagan (point A) to Kalaw (point B – 7 h bus drive), from where we walked to Inle Lake (point C –  3 day 65 km walk), than Hisipaw (point D – 10 h bus drive) and to our final destination Mandalay (point E – 7 h of train and 2 h of bus ride).

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KALAW

Founded as a hill station by British civil servants fleeing the heat of the plains, Kalaw is a high-altitude mountain village: the air is cool, the atmosphere is calm, the streets are leafy and green, and the surrounding hills offer some of the best trekking in Myanmar.

And that is the only reason you come to Kalaw. For trekking! We recommend you to stay just one day in Kalaw. It’s just enough time to prepare everything necessary to start 1,2,3 or more days of amazing trekking and to walk around the town. We took 3 days – 65 km trekking with Sam´s Family trekking agency, which was recommended to us by several people. We were offered 2 alternatives – easy/hard way – but since both cost the same (36 $/person) and it´s just 5 km differences, I recommend you to take the hard one, since you have better views.

1st DAY

We started 1st day at 8 in the morning and we made in total 22 km – 9 h (2 h lunch break), of relatively easy trekking, through the jungle, fields and hills of Kalaw area. 6 of us (me, Maja, Argentinian & Israeli girl and Taiwanese guy) were guided by 2 young local guides. We had 2 stops the first day. Lunch break at mountain tribe village, where we rested for 2 h and ate amazing local dishes, prepared by one of our guide (at this point I knew there is also a gourmet trekking waiting for us :)). The other stop was to sleep in another tribal village, where we were hosted by a local family and once again ate amazing local food (BTW – all the food was carried by other guide, the whole way of trekking). Just to state – we slept like babies already at 9 🙂

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2nd DAY

Trekking on the 2nd day started at 6, once again with amazing home – made breakfast prepared by our girl guide (I wish I could remember her name). As on the 1st day, also on the 2nd one, we did more or less 22 km in 9 h (2 h lunch break) of trekking through rice fields, and several villages. Just a fact: My shoes gave me the day before so big blisters that I had to do last 15 of  65 km walk in flip – flops. Thank good we were not in real mountains  and thank buddha I had flip – flops with me :). I don’t need to repeat myself once again of how amazing dinner we had (this time with my small contribution). After the dinner we were invited to sit by the kitchen fire with the owner of the house and his family. We had a chance to try his home – made lemon – honey alcohol, we exchanged few new words (we thought him some Slovenian, Polish, Hebrew and Chinese and he thought us some of his tribe language). Once again we crashed like babies at 9.

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3rd DAY

The last day was supposed to be the easiest – 5 h – 11 km trekking , but since I had blisters and was wearing flip – flops, it was for me the hardest. The trekking finished at Inle Lake, where we said goodbye to our guides and headed with a boat to our guest house – oh yeah, our luggage was already waiting for us there.

So if you think about it – for 12 $ (9 eur) per day – you get; 7 meals, 2 guides, 2 nights with local tribes, drinking and laughing with them, luggage dropped at your next hotel, 45 min boat ride to your hotel and amazing views. What is there to think about it!!!!

BTW – both of us donated our shoes to the guides, for some reason got too small after 4 years of using them (still in perfect condition) and if you saw theirs (military all stars – look alike shoes) you would understand their gratitude.

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INLE LAKE

Inle Lake is Myanmar’s top five tourist attractions, which ensures that visitors come here in droves. The once-sleepy village of Nyaungshwe at the north end of the lake has grown into a bustling traveller centre, with dozens of guesthouses and hotels, a surfeit of restaurants serving pancakes and pasta, and a pleasantly relaxed traveller vibe. If Myanmar could be said to have a backpacker scene at all, it can be found here.

Inle Lake is a very beautiful area however, already becoming too touristic. 2-3 days is more than enough to do everything there’s to do around. We had plenty of time so we did a lot :). First thing, just after arrival, was a foot massage at one of local family massage houses – it ended to be full body massage. Amazing 1 h traditional – 6 $ – full body massage that we repeated as well the last day, was just so great :). Second day we took a boat tour around the lake which included visit to local market that moves every day to different village, seeing a few temples (sure we are in Myanmar) , cigar and boat factory, monastery and a shop with local products and local neck ring ladies (it would have converted into several shops more, if we didn’t stop the boat driver, so be specific about that, if you don’t like shopping). The last day we stopped at one of 2 vineyards in Myanmar – run buy a german investor – and got fashionably tipsy. Have to say that was surprised of the quality of the wine. If you are there – stop by, but bring something to kill fly – you will know what I mean once you’re there :). Next, still quite fashionably drunk (thanks to my Australian friend Emily) we took a 10 h bus drive to our next stop Hisipaw (thanks to wine, for once I managed to sleep the whole way :)).

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HSIPAW

Few foreigners who make it to Hsipaw, mostly arrive for hill-tribe treks that are easy to organise and handily short yet ‘unspoilt’. Hsipaw itself is small, yet enough historical and with just enough tourist infrastructure to be convenient, it still feels thoroughly genuine. Though architectural remnants are fairly limited, this was once a Shan royal city.

Since we were still blistered from Kalaw trekking, we took just half day hill-tribe trek. For sure the 2 -3 days ones are more recommended – well another excuse to go back :). We had a chance to share 5 h with very educated guide who shared many interesting stories and facts about Myanmar’s culture, politics, education and religion – be aware in Myanmar these are still very tabu things to talk, and in all 25 days, that was the only person who was prepared to share his thoughts on these topics.

A must in Hsipaw is also a visit of local shake place called “Mr. Shake”. It’s a 1 $ best fruit shake you can probably get in your life or at least in SE Asia – and trust me I had a lot of them.

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One of the reason that you come to Hsipaw, is also a famous 120 km long – 7 h (yes 7 h) – train ride to Pyin Oo Lwin. It takes you trough corn and rice fields and (once upon a time) the highest railway bridge – very impressive. There we took a 2 h pick-up ride to our last stop in Myanmar – Mandalay.

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MANDALAY

Mandalay is the second largest city in Burma (after Yangon), and a former capital of Myanmar. The city is the economic and religious hub of upper Myanmar and is centred around the Royal Palace. It has wide lanes filled with bicycles and motorcycles and is known for its cultural diversity. Half of Burma’s monks reside in Mandalay and the surrounding areas.

Although we stayed 3 nights in town I would say 2 nights is enough. Royal Palace, Mandalay Hill, the biggest book in the world, visit to few pagodas and temples can be done in 1 day. Since we had a couple of more we also hired a tuk tuk to go to nearby attractions: Sagaing Hills, Inwa and Amarapura (with its longest teak bridge in the world) and on the last day rented a bike and rode along the river, which was for both of us was the highlight of the city. Sitting in a local bar, that has most probably never seen a white person and singing “Gangam stile” with local children was a thing to see :).

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As I said, we had a flight from Mandalay to our next destination – short stop in Bangkok and then Sri Lanka –  so that is it about Myanmar.

What to say in the end about Myanmar?! I could go on and on and on how amazing people they have, architecture, food, nature… but just to spike you all – go and try, and see it for yourself before it changes!

Traditionally I will give some interesting facts and +/- about Myanmar…

Facts:

– 25 days in Myanmar

– traveled 3600 km

– 550 eur/person

– 10 different hotels

– aprox 75 km of trekking

– saw so many pagodas and temples than I don’t have to see any ever again 🙂

– the best haircut of my life

– just 1% of people with access to internet

– amazing new friends Gal, Andrea, Oliver, Emily, Verity …

– very good beers Myanmar & Mandalay

– they don’t change you dollars if they are not brand new

– women and children are putting sandal cream on their face as make-up

– the most buddhist country in the world

– everybody is chewing beetle nut (makes the teeth rotten and red)

– 2nd biggest producer of opium in the word (strange you don’t see any of it 🙂 )

TOP 5:

1. People

2. Bagan

3. Kalaw – Inle Lake trek

4. Shwedagon Pagoda & meditation with the buddhist monk

5. Hpa-An

NEGATIVE 5:

Besides dollar change issues there is nothing else we didn’t like.. it’s just such an amazing country!

Love

Maja & Andrej

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