Day 6 – 8: Rewinding back to British colonial life
I arrived in Mandalay at 4am after a bus ride that turned out to be longer than expected and receiving some much unwanted attention from a local man for the last 4 hours of the journey however I think I won that battle because after he kept leaning on me, there was nothing a sneaky elbow in the back or kidney couldn’t fix to keep him from sleeping on that bus.
I was able to get a free hotel bed due to some brilliant people which I was able to get some sleep for a couple of hours before I made my journey to Pyin Oo Lwin (POL), I left my hotel at 10am to hitch hike via a pick up to POL. This was easy enough and the journey which is only an hour long took a bit longer because as all my transport journeys in Myanmar, the drivers have to stop for a 30 minute lunch break.
I arrive in POL at my hotel Nan Miang, which is situated amongst some old British Indian colonial buildings and like most the town still has its appeal along with the heavy presence of Indian Burmese people. I chose this hotel because a friend of mine Elle is helping manage the place however the place is very decent to stay in as well and with big open space, you can really feel relaxed here.
This is about as exciting as my story goes until day 8 as I fell ill with the flu from only I can think is a combination of things and with some strepsils, water and flu tablets in hand, I have past the worst of it and am on the mend.
On day 8 I feel a bit more human and decide to get out and see POL plus head to waterfalls to have a swim and continue to relax. These water falls are a must visit however be warned that the walk down and up is steep. I got this warning so I stocked up on water (1x bottle), my thongs and a German waterfall enthusiast (probably not), we headed off to hitch hike to the entrance of the waterfalls which we were told is only 5kms away from the hotel and would have been fine if our ride hadn’t dropped us at the wrong entrance, pointed us in the wrong direction where we walked about 2.5kms to only find out the hard way.
Lucky enough, when we turned around to walk back, there was a local man outside about to drive away in his luxury Land Rover willing to give us a lift…. We didn’t hesitate. I didn’t get his name but he was very helpful plus I found out that while he currently lives in the USA, he has a hotel in Myitkyina and he was from the Kachin state, so obviously I had something to talk to him about.
We arrived at the waterfall and headed down to find a little hidden paradise with some cold water but brilliant when we needed to cool off. I only stay there for 2 hours as I need to head back to buy a train ticket but I know I am not going to enjoy this climb as I have have the cardiovascular system of a 5 year old so I have to stop every 10 minutes for a break (I am blaming the illness and not that I am unfit) but as I finally reach the top after an hour looking like I have only just exited the water, I hitch hike back to the train station to get the common response of no. They proceed to tell me the ticket office is only open 4-6pm and I need to come back….. It’s just after 2pm.
The rest of the afternoon is filled with going back to the train station via an awesome English speaking motor bike taxi man called Osama and proud rock n roll Muslim, a walk through the market with friends, dinner and drinks back at the hotel.
Day 9 – 11: POL to Hsipaw and back
One of the main reasons people head to POL is to take the train to Hsipaw, which for a long time while I was in Bagan, was told it is the best train ride in the country and they were not lying. The train took off about 8:30 out of the station and while it is much longer than a bus, it only costs k2750 to experience the ride. Words can’t justify this ride so I can only offer pictures (the one at the top is from it). The train also stops many times and you can get off to stretch your legs and I wasn’t worried because before it leaves it gives a loud toot of the horn, but also being a Diesel engine, it’s a slow mover to start.
I arrived in Hsipaw just after a large downfall of rain and was greeted by my hotel to give me a free transfer. This was nice of them so I didn’t have to walk through the mud however when I arrived at the hotel, I realised I had accidentally booked a more expensive room than their guesthouse so I got a little luxury for the 2 nights.
I spent the rest of that day and the next discovering Hsipaw. There isn’t much in this town and I realised it is more of a base to start trekking tours but I did see more Pagodas (yay!) and my last sunset for the country at Sunset Hill which was a nice little 2km bike ride to the base of the ‘hill’. I say it like ‘hill’, because I have come to realise that Burmese people have to understand the difference between a hill and a mountain. Every time I get told hill, it’s a long step climb but every time it’s a mountain, it’s just an easy walk.
I headed back to POL via bus this time and took the 5:30am service. I was told it would take 6 hours but my driver was excellent and we managed it in 3. I was able to check in early, so had a little nap and went to the botanical gardens. It’s one of the main reasons people come to POL where it was nice to just stroll around. They have a open bird aviary and to my surprise a couple of cheeky monkeys running and swinging their way around inside. All the walking had made me hungry, so on the way back, I stopped into an Indian restaurant called The Taj that I was hoping I could find a butter chicken curry and thank you to POL and its British-Indian heritage, they had it and made it perfectly, I paid just over k10,000 but this time, every kyat was worth it.
I have spent the remaining time in POL just resting up and not doing much, trying to have a bit of quiet before I start moving regularly again until I get to Italy, however in this time, a military officer did give me a ride back from town for free without me asking which must of looked a little weird for locals. I am off to Nay Pyi Taw on the 18th, the country’s capital that is very artificial and quiet and wonderful for many weird reasons
Day 13-14: The wonderful world of Nay Pyi Taw
I arrived at my bus station at 9:15am for a 10am departure to a bigger and very spacious bus for what they said was a 4 hour journey, but I should have suspected something was going on. Everything started fine except by the time we did the rounds picking everyone up we didn’t really get going until 10:30 and we headed down the mountain range, passed Mandalay and onto the main expressway until about 2 hours later when the bus turned off and took the back road…. Then started stopping every 5 minutes. This is the point that my 4 hour journey turned into 9. In Nay Pyi Taw (NPT) there are 2 bus stations and I got off at the northern one after I was told yes, this is it but obviously they didn’t understand me as I found this out once I got to my hotel (The Golden Lake) via a motorbike taxi in the rain and not being able to find the hotel as the taxi didn’t even know it existed (at least he does now).
As you know I’m now at my hotel and the lady at reception was fantastic and was really helpful but what I was warned about NPT is everything is away from anything and considering by the time I got to my room and it was late plus dark, the nearest restaurant was 20 minutes by taxi away, I decided to eat at the hotel. Another expensive meal for simple food but I didn’t have much choice, at least this time I knew the price.
The morning came round and l had a few hours until my bus left for Yangon so I hired a motorbike for 2 hours and went to look at the 2 things in NPT that I wanted to see, the highway and the main pagoda. The highway is well known as it has 20 lanes and originally built for the expansion of people to the city and country but it never came and to this day is a massive open road that hardly gets used. I got to the highway first and it was exactly how I had imagined it, empty. I rode around on it for a while zig zagging around and got a few photos lying in the middle where the photos were taken by policemen because they had nothing to do except get a photo with me after they had taken my photo.
The pagoda was next and I was told when I got to the car park that there were elephants around today I headed up to the one of the entrances where a lady proceeded to tell me l couldn’t put my thongs in my bag and carry myself, that I should buy a flower wreath for Bhudda as an offering but didn’t understand when I said I don’t worship him, then it happened, another lady stopped me and said I have to wear a longi (this is a skirt looking thing all the men in Myanmar wear) as my knees would be showing. I had managed to avoid wearing one the whole time in Myanmar until the second last day. The pagoda a was huge and seemed like there were more boxes and people asking for donations instead of actually praying and the elephants, well l couldn’t get close to them but they had some white elephants. White elephants are considered rare and in scriptures of Bhudda, very sacred.
I went back to my hotel, packed up and went to the bus station where this time the bus actually took as long as they said.
I have now left the country and my time in Myanmar has come to an end. I honestly won’t be going back for a while as some people loved it and for me it really is a beautiful country yet, it still has a lot of growing to do. I do highly recommend people to check the country out but I have spent long enough there now to want to go back any time soon.
My next spot to stay is Certaldo in Tuscany, Italy but I have a couple of nights in London (where I currently post this), a few nights in Marrakesh and 2 nights in Milan on the way through.
Important information that might help you along the way:
– Pick ups from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin are easy to get if you head to the corner of 77th and 34th street however if you stand anywhere on 77th and look for the trucks filled with cargo and people, you should find one without any problems.
– Never ask for a taxi through your hotel, the taxi drivers (not the hotel), will charge stupid amounts of money. The guy I asked originally wanted k8000 for a 2km journey. Walk on the street and find it cheaper.
– Most motorbike taxis in POL are k1000 to anywhere so don’t be to worried if you get lost, but you probably won’t.
– Mr Osama (the rock n roll Muslim) can organise anything for you from guides, bicycles, car, motorbike and horse rental. Give him a call at any of these numbers. 09-256495957, 09-796391504, 09-970797720
– Niang Miang for me is the place to stay. Good pricing at $8/9 beds which are comfortable, nice quiet atmosphere but still able to have a beer and talk while listening to music. It’s not far out of town, but a quick bicycle ride (which you can borrow for free) and you are there.
– Pre purchasing your train ticket isn’t usually necessary (maybe in high season it changes) so don’t worry about getting it a day before. I only did it because I wasn’t sure and while in Bagan, my recommendation was to always buy the day before to save disappointment.
– Nay Pyi Taw is only good for 1 night, I wouldn’t recommend unless you wanted to waste a lot of money