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Travel Diary #36: 8-13 November 2016, Last week in Myanmar

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Entry #36 of our travel diary. Our last week in Myanmar, we feel sad to leave this amazing country.

8-10 November 2016 – Rice fields, Buddhist caves and karst limestones in Hpa-an 

Ilze

When we arrived I didn’t like the place at all. It was very hot. The streets seemed chaotic as the cars, motorbikes and rickshaws tried to find their way. We didn’t make any prior booking, we just read about a friendly backpackers’ place. So, we headed there amidst with another tourists. And it was fully booked. We walked down the street and stopped at the next place. We took a look at the room first, and I secretly prayed for Luis not to say: Fine for me. In the past he called me ‘picky’ and thus I don’t want to keep this ‘title’. The room was tiny and very dodgy, not to say more. We continued down the street. Fully booked – was the answer in the next hotel. What’s going on? We continued to the next guest house, which finally had a room for us. This dark room, with a tiny window close to the ceiling was slightly better than ‘the dodgy one’, so we stayed. Nevertheless, the following two days we were fighting the mosquitoes and cockroaches, jumping in the bed to reach the ceiling with the insect-killing spray in hand. In the evening we struggled to find dining options. Overall, not a good first impression of the town of Hpa-an.

Next day we did what all tourists do when they come here: we took a scooter and drove several kilometres outside the town. And as we drove farther the scenery turned out picturesque. ‘The speciality’ of this place is numberless temple-like caves in the surrounding mountains with Buddha statues inside. No doubt, it is quite a unique sight. For me, however, the most beautiful was the entire landscape. The hills mount over the paddy fields like backs of huge elephants. Once we climbed on top of such an ‘elephant back’, overcoming steep stairs, the view was sublime.

The panorama was stunning! So many shades of green. So many hills and a river like a snake crossing all of it. Overall, it was a great day spent driving a scooter through mud-roads, crossing rice fields and small villages.

Asia, Burma, Hpa-an, Myanmar, travel diary
Kyauk Kalap monastery island, Hpa-an
Asia, Burma, Hpa-an, Myanmar, travel diary
Garden of 1000 Buddhas, Hpa-an
Asia, Burma, Hpa-an, Myanmar, travel diary
Ilze and young monks at the swimming pool, Hpa-an

Luis

The cliché phrase “the journey is more important than the destination” does not really apply to our trip from Inle Lake to Hpa-an. A night bus through mountain and bumpy roads that prevented us from any sleeping; a transfer to another bus at 4am; 2h waiting time in polluted Bago; Another 5h bus with an awful selection of loud Burmese pop songs on TV. When we arrived to Hpa-an I was more a zombie than a person. We found a cheap guesthouse, had a bit of food, and slept the whole afternoon. That’s when we woke up that we noticed that we’re staying in a shithole. Awfully hot and humid, the place is infested with mosquitoes. We blasted the room with bug spray but they kept appearing. The bathroom was even worse and in 2min in there I killed 4 of those nasties and saw another 4 or 5. Cheap place but easily one of the worst we stayed in our whole trip. I was so upset that I proposed we leave one day before initially planned.

Hpa-an is a small village of little interest, but the countryside around is gorgeous. We rented a scooter and drove the whole day. We visited caves with buddhist motifs, rice fields, pagodas, viewpoints on the top of karst limestones. It reminded me of Ninh Binh in the north of Vietnam. Beautiful day in the countryside, despite the very hot weather.

Next day we left by boat. It was a small long boat that sits around 15 people. It is a slow trip, passing close to small villages where kids come to the shore to greet us. At some point the crew got stressed and told us to cover. A passing storm just hit us and for around 10min we felt like in one of those movies where someone gets lost in the stormy sea. The storm passed and we continued down the river. It was a pleasant trip, ways better than taking another bus.

Asia, Burma, Hpa-an, Myanmar, travel diary
Pagoda on top of Kaw Ka Thaung cave, Hpa-an
Asia, Burma, Hpa-an, Myanmar, travel diary
Bamboo bridge on top of hill, Hpa-an
Asia, Burma, Hpa-an, Myanmar, travel diary
Inside Saddan Cave, Hpa-an

11-12 November 2016 – Splurging in Mawlamyine

Ilze

As we walked in the streets of Mawlamyine town I wondered what is the reason for tourists to visit it. Of course, as in any Burmese city there are a couple of golden pagodas, some quite big and impressive. But I guess it is more of an atmospheric place with British legacy left behind in the shape of colonial buildings and churches. We saw some churches that made us wonder about the style of architecture. We both were surprised seeing such a green place which by any means is not oriented to tourists. We didn’t see a single souvenir shop and only a couple of tourists were around the guesthouses we passed.

As for us, we booked the nicest hotel in the outskirts of the town just to cure our moral wounds from the previous ‘dump’ as well as to relax and gather our strength for the next travels.

Asia, Burma, Mawlamyine, Myanmar, travel diary
Cathedral, Mawlamyine
Asia, Burma, Mawlamyine, Myanmar, travel diary
Ilze on the streets of Mawlamyine

Luis

Mawlamyine (previously named Moulmein) was for some time the capital of British Burma. It is a pleasant sleepy city, full of colonial buildings in the middle of green vegetation. I found it very atmospheric and different from the rest of Myanmar.

After the crappy hotel in Hpa-an, we needed a bit of splurge. We found that at Hotel Queen Jamadevi, a family-run hotel located in the outskirts of the city. The staff was friendly, the room large and comfortable, the food delicious. It was a bit more expensive but we needed a treat. This was our last stop in Myanmar, and we wanted a bit of rest, just chill-out and recover for next steps. This was the perfect place for that.

Asia, Burma, Mawlamyine, Myanmar, travel diary
Panoramic view of Mawlamyine

13 November 2016 – Train to Yangon, last day in Myanmar

This was our 3rd try to take a train in Myanmar, and we finally succeeded. The first time the train was full, second time it was delayed due to landslide. This time everything was as planned. Everyone in Myanmar tried to dissuade us from using the train. It is slow, unreliable, bumpy, hot and noisy. But we love trains. The way the landscape passes in front of us, the regular noise from the engine, the people coming in and out to sell all kinds of food. It is magical, the best place to daydream, relax and mentally plan the next steps.

The train took 10h to cover the 300km between Mawlamyine and Yangon (yes, it is that slow), and even in upper class there is no AC, just small fans and open windows. It gets very hot and sweaty. It bumps all the time. The landscape outside is beautiful, and it crosses small villages and some big rivers over metal bridges. And is there nicer sunset that the one you get from a moving train? I doubt it.

We went full circle and after 25 days in Myanmar, we arrived to Yangon. We stayed in the same place as before, the Motherland Inn 2. Another one of those places where we feel at home because of the friendly staff. Tomorrow we leave Myanmar. The country surpassed all expectations and we are very happy with our trip in here.

Asia, Burma, Myanmar, train trip, travel diary
Food sellers on the train to Yangon
Asia, Burma, Myanmar, train trip, travel diary
Monk snapping a photo on the train to Yangon
Asia, Burma, Myanmar, sunset, train trip, travel diary
Sunset on the train to Yangon

This post is part of our on-going weekly travel diary. You can read previous posts in our Travel Diary page.

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