The trips, especially those that lead away, are often more of the soul journey holidays, where emotions, sensations, feelings, which are often difficult to tell after you return. There are not enough pictures, the stories are not enough. As this trip was in Myanmar, a country almost isolated from the rest of the world, and yet or perhaps because it is charming, mystical, full of ideas and surprises.
So I write a short travelogue, which is personal, biased and certainly incomplete, of a journey in distant Burma. This is not a tour guide, but a series of memos, notes and tips for those who are thinking of doing the same thing, and maybe find useful the experiences of those in Burma, there has just been.
Mingalaba Burma. It's already been four months since I left on the kitchen table with my partner a guide and a note: Destination Myanmar. Do you want to be my partner? Thus began the history of our last trip in Southeast Asia, a low cost adventure. As we reach Myanmar, which is one hour from Bangkok, is another Asia which is much less chaotic and less glittering. In some respects less touristy, and maybe for this reason still true.
But we proceed with order. First of all, we do not rely too much on information from tour guides. In the last two years the country has had a touristic oriented breakthrough so as to have solved many of the barriers related to housing, communications, Internet connections and foreign exchange. The only recommendation is that the banknotes must be like new. If they are stained or wrinkled you cannot change even on the black market, which are often more convenient than banks.
Yangon is definitely an ideal first step in a journey of discovery of Burma. A starting step to start to acclimatize, to know the culture, to know the people. We arrive in Yangon at night. The airport is small and deserted. At the airport I expected to find a crowd of taxi drivers willing to fight each other to grab a run and instead everything is calm. We take a taxi to the Indian neighborhood where we stay in a hotel costing 1200 rupees with double bed, private bath, internet and breakfast. We drink a local beer, their national pride, and plan our day.
Unlike any other Asian country visited, there are no scooters around the city. Traffic is slow, with enveloping heat and the fatigue of the trip begins to be felt, but the desire for discovery is so strong that, I leave the backpack in the room, and head to the Shwedagon Paya. Needless to say, the main attraction of the city is the majestic Shwedagon Paya, a number of temples and pagodas almost in the city center. The legend says that within the zedi (the main stupa) are conserved strands of Buddha's hair and the top of the spire is adorned with a large diamond. As in all Buddhist temples, in the Pagoda you enter barefoot and turn around the zedi clockwise.
Kipling described it as a golden mystery, a gleaming wonder that burns in the sun. I describe it as a magical place where time stands still. I sit and observe life around me of devout monks, prayers, rituals and visitors. Someone approaches me driven by curiosity to inquire about my country of origin.
We stop to observe religious rites that are followed in several minor stupas, where the faithful give flowers to the sacred images and money to the monks. Alas, the sore point was the sensation of being in a religious company rather than a place of worship, perhaps because six ATMs are located at the entrances. Whereas all too many in Yangon has about 40.
We walk in the central area to visit local markets. Personally I love to observe the life of a city that we did not know. I like to follow with my eyes the people on the streets, visiting the places that they frequent regularly for everyday tasks, from shopping to relaxing. In a local bus we reach the Bogyoke Market, perhaps zei (market) the oldest of the city. We love to seek shelter among the food stalls, tissues and trunks of Tanaka, a tree-like sandalwood powder from which we get the traditional moisturizer. The tailor's stitch the longy, the typical skirt worn by men and women.
We literally lose in the chaotic Indian district. To move around the capital, the taxi is definitely the fastest and cheapest. Also here always ask the price before boarding the taxi because they do not have the meter. After a maximum of two days spent around Yangon, you will surely already made a very good idea of the city and life in Burma.
The Yangon Circle, the circular train that reaches the suburbs of the city, gives us an opportunity to see life in the suburbs as it allowed us to get on and off at will at the different stations, always using the same ticket (1 USD).
We leave by bus towards Golden Rock, the rock that defies the laws of gravity hovering over a cliff of Mount Kyaiktiyo. Legend has it that it is held in balance by a Buddha's hair. To get there, from Kinpun, we climb into the back of one of the crowded trucks at a cost of 1,500 kyat per person. It was raining but the journey of about one hour was really fun.
The rock is not accessible to women, who can stand by, while men pray along the golden leaves along the edges as a sign of devotion. The entrance fee is 300 rupees. After viewing the main town, it's time to head inside the country. We spend two days in Kinpun in a guesthouse, which cost us 500 rupees per night. The countryside is delicious. The location near the forest gave us the opportunity to see the largest butterfly ever seen.
On the way to the Inle Lake we stop at Bago for about six hours, where, we visit the main religious sites of the reclining Buddha Shwethalyaung (54 meters long and 16 meters tall); the Pagoda Shwemawdaw - where we realized that the 4 ports in the south is reserved for Burmese who do not pay the entrance, and even their companions, apparently; the Serpent Monastery in which he lives a python reincarnation of a century old monarch. Beautiful is the stop at the Monastery Kha Khat Kyang, the second cultural center of Burma.
We also make a quick visit to the cigar factory, where women with their hands fast roll up cigarettes with skill. We have a long journey to Inle Lake with buses are cramped and uncomfortable and transmit romantic films all night, where love always takes a lot of beating. Exciting!
We spend the night at the new capital Nay Pyi Taw, a city made of 4-lane roads, mammoth hotels, huge city islands with the play of lights.
We arrive in Nyaungshwe around 4 am, when women begin to heat the oil for frying the delicious pancakes. The entrance fee to the Inle Lake is 500 rupees.
Here everything revolves around tourism and finding a boat to visit the lake is really simple. We visit the gardens of floating tomatoes, market, church services, many monasteries including the one with jumping cats trained by monks in winter to defeat boredom.
Incredible are the Inhya fishermen who, skillfully guide the boat in balance with on one leg. From the windows of the houseboats women wait to be photographed in exchange for a few kyat, which will not use for them, but that probably they will give the owner who bring them. I do not deny the charm, the call to an ancestral culture.
The following days we spend on land. We rent bicycles and we venture around in search of the hot springs of Kaung Daing, which are nothing more than two super chic jacuzzis and a place for moneyed tourists. The tour gave us the opportunity to stop and eat the noodles with the most delicious peanuts in a simple kiosk on the street, where a curious innkeeper taught us some of the recipes of authentic Burmese street food.
Inle Lake has everything and you will not have difficulties of any kind. We were in the off season so the guest house, rather than keeping the rooms vacant allow some discount, and we sleep on the lake shore for 500 rupees per night with breakfast.
The guest house manager convinces us to head to the north, for the discovery of the tribal villages in Hsipaw. We take a bike and go aimlessly to discover the wild nature. After a while pagodas start looking alike, although here they take on a psychedelic universe as they are coated with colored lights.
We do not take a guide but we do manage a super detailed map, that understanding our situation is not short in giving us information. So we enter villages in Shan, through rice and corn fields. A tired and weary grandmother offers us the most delicious bananas ever! We reach the small spa of Karmspring Dam, waterfalls, and Little Bagan.
Among others we visit the Bamboo Buddha, preserved in a picturesque monastery complex of teak. We go up the hill and admire the sunset with the silent and solitary guardian monarch. We savor what the magic of Burma told in the books. We prolong the stay to attend an important religious festival, when a parade of carnival floats every year amongst all tribes of the region. A unique opportunity to see the parade in traditional clothes.
We just loved Hsipaw, which is less accustomed to tourists and has enabled us to establish sincere relationships.
We decide to reach Mandalay, the area of the Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill with its pagoda, passing through the Gokteik Viaduct. Definitely a good choice! The Gokteik Viaduct is the iron bridge and is one of the world's largest trusses. It was built in 1900 and can be reached from Hipsaw with 4/5 hours of travel on a decidedly dated train.
The track is in a remote region, the pace is extremely slow, the scenery is stunning. In the almost 700 meters long stretch, you can admire the view from a privileged point of view, in the height of over 100 meters above the ground. Mandalay is the last capital of the Kingdom of Burma and is known as a metropolis of Buddhism, meeting Tintin, a girl of Indian origin who accompanies me to explore the city and its surroundings.
We arrive at Maha Aungmye Bonzan monastery located near Inwa. It's a simple structure built of brick and stucco, but I am struck by the sense of intimacy that immediately involves me in a light and shadow, but above all because there are few to push us up to here. All the movements I make them using the local transport buses, trains and boats. This requires a little 'more time because the distances are long and the roads are not always paved, but the encounters that make traveling with the locals allow me to see glimpses of real life. After an initial curiosity suspect that express watching me with serious expressions give way to illuminating smiles and a desire to interact despite many not speaking English.
The night begins to fall, and we just have to arm ourselves with patience and check that the unexpected guest of the car (a mouse) do not take too much confidence but that's another story. We interrupt the journey in Pyin U Lwin, a town on the hill with an English colony flavor. The hotels for tourists are few and the low cost ones even less.
Pyin U Lwin is beautiful as the houses are built in a colonial style and is used mainly to move with the buggy. We visit the large botanical park that houses inside the orchid garden. For those who appreciate the Golf Club seems to be particularly popular.
We take a pick up to reach the bus station and we are again enchanted by the kindness of the people of Burma. With us, in the chest, a bunch of old people shared sweets and massages with Tiger Balm. Also in Mandalay, taxis are the most recommended. Taxis are very small, quaint old Japanese taxi-vans with two-stroke ramshackled engines.
We complete Mandalay in a hurry. I must be honest that now we really want to reach Bagan. We stop only for a few hours, sufficient to visit the Mahamuni Pagoda, the gold leaf shops. We do a nice tour on foot getting lost among the chaotic crowd. We see Amapura and U Bein's Bridge. In the afternoon visit the bridge, without the charm of the sunset and monks. And the days available to us were finishing.
Reachable by air and with a nice cruise along the Ayeyarwady River starting from Mandalay (Mandalay is 650 km north of Yangon, to get to Mandalay the most practical way is by air (about $ 90 each way), the train is rather inconvenient, to say the least. I have noticed that many tourists fly from Yangon to Mandalay, then go by ship from Mandalay to Bagan ($ 16) and then get back from Bagan to Yangon (about $ 90 each way) through air. The Bagan airport is called Nyaung U and is located about 6 km from the archaeological area.
The next morning we arrive in Bagan, the ultimate goal. The archaeological centre of Bagan is a level of about ten kilometers by ten kilometers, within which there are more than 4000 temples, of all sizes from the temples to pagodas. Definitely one of the places not to be missed when visiting Burma, as well as the bike ride through the trails that connect the various temples, which should be discovered through getting lost in the more than 40 square miles of temples, by going out of the tourist tracks, and waiting for the sunset from above the tallest buildings.
The silhouettes of hundreds of temples connected by an extensive network of trails and paths ideal for cycling emerge elegant in all their glory. From the top of Ananda temple we admire the sunset. In the words of Terzani: And as if some magic had stopped in the moment this valley past of his greatness.
It is possible to fly over the site in a balloon, even though our stay in the very inclement weather has not allowed it. The beautiful views along the river and intoxicating liquor made from the tree of toddy, a grape which is a bit too alcoholic for my standards. At Bagan we tasted the famous spirulina beer prepared from the homonymous algae that seems to have an anti-aging effect.
And under pouring rains we also visit the Mount Popa, an extinct volcano, which is now a national park. We reach by taking one of the many pick up vans departing from near the bus station, and then climb on top of the foot so as not to disturb the 37 spiritual guardians of good and evil, so sacred to the people of Burma.
Another place that exudes the same charm is located in the south-eastern Myanmar, as well as hosting the famous Golden Rock (at Kyaiktiyo) offers the wonders of the landscape a little wrought by tourism. It is Gaung Se Kyun, the so-called Shampoo Island. This picturesque island located at the outskirts of Mawlamyine reached by train passing through a higher rail network I've ever seen. It owes its name to the fact that during the period of Ava, was taken from a spring water used for the ceremony washing hair of the king. The peaceful atmosphere of this place is such, I have not encountered anywhere else.
Myanmar offers the traveler also beach resorts of respect from the landscape point of view. To conclude my trip, I chose to visit Ngapali Beach, located on the Bay of Bengal, north-west of Yangon. We easily reached from Yangon by air at a cost of about $ 65 each way. The airport is called Thandwe and is located about 4km from the beach.
The best time, from the climate point of view to stay in Ngapali Beach is from October to March. A beautiful beach of more than 3 km, which offers a choice of five star resort hotels plus some guest houses. Here too, the price of a room varies depending on the choice, but they range from 8 to 120 US dollars per night. As for me, I opted for a bungalow accommodation on the beach with all amenities spending 2500 rupees a night. You do not need to shell out the maximum to get a service and a high standard accommodation. A totally seafood dinner in a typical restaurant in Ngapali cost up to 300 rupees.
Ngapali offers us a period of rest after the inevitable travel fatigue resulting from the above movements. We end the holiday in Yangon. Gyzube Burma.
25 days is too short to be able to understand Myanmar deeply. We will have to return.
The choice is very wide. Expect to pay from $ 15 per day for a small but clean hotel, up to $ 150 a day, five-star hotel.
Hotels are almost never filled, the influx of tourists is quite low so you can decide which hotel to stay overnight after visiting someone in person, when you arrive in Yangon. A taxi from the airport to the center of the capital cost about four dollars. Journey time: about 25 minutes. This amount should always be treated before boarding the taxi, always possible to avoid unpleasant surprises.
The city is quite extensive, and the hotels are distributed in a very wide-ranging. Council to consult a guide before arriving in Yangon, and be led into your hotel. In case it was not what you expected, you just go out on the street and head to another hotel that is more in line with your tastes and your budget.
For entry you need a visa which can be obtained from the embassy representative in your country, or Bangkok at the Embassy of Burma.