Our first impression of Myanmar isn’t really as good as we’ve expect it. Mandalay is very spread out, hot and hasn’t got much to offer to tourists if not for the Royal Palace, which is more impressive for the size of its surrounding garden and wall than not the palace itself; and the very famous hill with long roofed stairs, few confusing temples to pass through and, once on top, a beautiful 360° view of the city and its suburbs.
We even struggle finding somewhere to eat, the only positive thing is that we happen to be in a hotel owned by a Chinese during the Chinese’s full moon, so we are offered cakes and drinks. Despite this, Martin doesn’t want to take any selfie, he doesn’t like the city neither. To escape from the heat, we hire a taxi for a full day to take us to some ancient cities. In Sagaing, a big hill with hundred of Pagodas, we visit two well renewed temples; in Inwa we have a tour on a horse carrier through ruins and a timber Monastery; finally we stop in Amarapura to visit the well known U-Bein, a long wooden bridge that allows to link one side of the village with the other. We leave this big city and by shared taxi we go to Pyin Oo Lwin, we spend the afternoon wondering around the Botanic Royal Gardens where local villagers are surprised to see white people and want to take pictures with us, as if we were rare species. The different flower beds are very coloured and pretty and the climate is fresh and pleasant.
The next day we take a slow train to Hsipaw, crossing villages, different plantations and a long, tall bridge. We meet a Swiss couple with whom we will spend my birthday cycling to a waterfall, bathing in a river with children from the village and having a nice dinner in a riverside’s restaurant, no cake for candles to blow, but that’s fine, they would have been too many. The four of us then go with Kam, a young experienced guide, for two days trekking. We start walking up hill between many corn fields until we arrive in a Palaung tribe village where we stop for a brake and have a tea, further up, in a spot with an amazing view, we have a tasting tea leaf salad, a speciality of Myanmar. For lunch we eat rice with different vegetables: potatoes, mustard leaves, bamboo shoots, salad, lady fingers, eggplants and much more, the next three meals, dinner, breakfast and lunch are going to be similar, but always wonderfully good and in large portions. The afternoon we spend it walking in tea plantations owned by Shan tribe villages, where we see how they boil, cut and store the tea leaves for two years until they get sour before they sell it and where we also spend our night in a very comfortable home stay, we chat the whole evening about travelling and how things are different here from our home country while the light keeps on going and coming back and the house owners keep on restarting the television trying to watch a movie, at one point they give up. Early in the morning we wake up with pigeons landing on the metal roof making a lot of noise. After a filling breakfast we start hiking towards Kam’s village where his mother is waiting for us for lunch. Another hour walk and we jump on a tuk-tuk that takes us to a spectacular waterfall then back to our guest houses, we take a shower and say goodbye to Jasmine and Martin, who are continuing their world trip the other way around.
The night bus to Bagan isn’t really comfortable: seats are very small for our big bums, lights keep on turning on and off, local movies are shown with loud bad working speakers, people keep on spitting disgusting red saliva produced by the chewing of a mixture of leaves out of the window, we’ve seen this also in Sri Lanka, apparently it makes them feel high, as if they had cocaine. Despite all this the twelve hours drive go quite fast and we even manage to sleep a bit. We arrive at the hotel before 8 am and they let us check in straightaway, so we take advantage to have a rest and later in the day walk around New Bagan to organize ourselves for the next few days. In this large area there are more than three thousand Pagodas, Temples and Monasteries, few are interesting to visit, but better is to have a look at them all from a high point of view, the best way would have been by hot-air balloon, which we would have loved to, but this service is available only between October and March, so we climb up the highest buildings we can find, spotting the best ones from where we can enjoy sunrise and sunset. We wonder around this amazing place with the popular e-bike (electric motorbike) for two days.
On the way to Kalaw we see many tanks full of soldiers on the road, conflicts in this country aren’t really over yet, on our trekking we’ve learned from Kam that on the mountains in the north, armies are built from villagers of different ethnics that are fighting against the government to have their own independence. In kalaw we have the opportunity to attend the local market, which is on every fifth day, and the next day we start our hike with two girls travelling together, an English and an American, a Dutch couple and our guide Johnny. On the first day we walk through a jungle up to an amazing view point where we have a delicious Nepali lunch, then through tea plantations, orange trees, ginger and rice paddies we arrive to a Palaung tribe village where we spend the night in a home stay owned by a funny laughing lady. In the morning we walk another seven hours crossing many Pa’O tribe villages seeing beautiful patches of carrots, cabbages, potatoes, chillies and eggplants fields until we arrive at our next home stay, this time we are very lucky and even have a bucket shower, a “real” toilet and a bar where to drink a few beers before having a good sleep. The friendly owner waves at us telling us to come back again and we continue our hike downhill to arrive to our final destination, Inle Lake.
After lunch we take a small boat that takes us through the famous channels of the floating gardens, where they grow tomatoes, pumpkins and flowers, all of them looked after and finally picked from boats; then across the lake we see the everyday work of villagers, some of them fishing balanced on one leg on their boats, some dazing fishes with sticks, some collecting mud and seaweed for their gardens and some others bringing people from one village to another with boats filled with up to twenty two passengers, even though our guide just have told us that from next month the maximum of tourists per boat will be five, I guess rules are different for locals. Around this lake there’s a very enjoyable and relaxed atmosphere. Although the area is now very touristy, people still live the way they always did and don’t get disturbed by the many tourists taking picture of them. We spend our days relaxing and, after more than four months, we have a wine degustation, which was surprisingly very good, the Red Mountain Winery is situated on hills with a spectacular view over the lake, we really enjoy our time here.
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