The night we got home from diving we met up with Simon and Paula (Gav’s brother and sister in law) to do a little travelling around Myanmar. One of the hassles of living in Yangon is that flying anywhere except Bangkok means one or two connections and many hours in transit. Flying home from Indonesia was a 3 airplane all-day affair and we didn’t get in until after 10pm. Simon and Paula had arrived a few hours earlier so we had arranged for a taxi to pick them up and take them to our house, where they would meet out cleaner and be let in. We were a little worried about all the moving pieces that had to work out for this to be successful, but were so relieved to land in Yangon to a picture of Nell snuggling Simon on the sofa. Our first visitors! Nell was clearly more excited to see them than she was to see us which made Gav pout.
We spent the next day doing a little exploring around Yangon. They went on our dog walk by the lake with us, on a little walking tour downtown and to a couple of our favourite restaurants. Then early the next morning we all flew off to Bagan, the ancient temple complex of Myanmar. Honestly, I was expecting to be slightly underwhelmed after visiting Angkor Wat, but Bagan was amazing! On the day we arrived, we just explored an area inside some old city walls called Old Bagan. It was small enough to cover on foot and right next to our hotel, but we couldn’t really get a feel for how many temples there were or how big an area it covered. On our second morning we took a balloon ride at dawn. It was astonishing to see the temples from the air and to get an idea of the vastness of the site! Of course it costs a fortune, but I highly recommend it if you are planning a visit. You need to book months in advance to be guaranteed a spot, but the benefit of that is you have some time to get over the shock of the cost and by the time you go for the ride the credit card bill is only a dim memory! Also you get a champagne breakfast at the end.
One of the days we explored the temples on ebikes, which was a complete hoot. These bikes were more powerful than the ones that Gav and I rented in Cambodia (and slightly less dorky looking) but still were more mobility scooter than Harley. It was great to just putter along and stop when we felt like it. Lots of the smaller temples had no one else there and you could really pretend you were the only ones around. Unlike Angkor Wat, Bagan is still an active religious site so we saw mostly Burmese visitors, many who were praying at the temples. This also meant that you had to remove your shoes outside of each temple and then walk around the very dusty site. I think my feet are still dirty. Gav’s certainly are.
Hardcore Biker Gang
The best value thing we did the whole trip was to organise a boat to take us out on the river at sunset. We went to enquire about it and were told that it cost 5000 Kyat each (£2.50) for the regular boat or 15000 Kyat total to hire a private boat. I do not understand the economics of that, but we hired the private boat and it was such a hoot. You could bring your own drinks and snacks were included-what a bargain!
We spent New Year’e Eve in Bagan, which turned out to be a bit of a debacle. The hotel was advertising a buffet and disco which sounded horrific, so we booked for dinner at a restaurant in town. We actually had the hotel do it and organise a taxi, which is why it was a little surprising to be told that the party was….compulsory. And there was a table booked for the 4 of us. And the lady at the front desk was very offended when I said that we actually wanted to go out for dinner. It turns out that the party was included in our room rate and she begged us to at least come for welcome drinks and appetisers. We gave in when she promised us the band (who spent the afternoon warming up and were so loud I wanted to complain to the front desk like 70 year old) would not be performing then. We had out welcome drinks, went to dinner (which was it’s own disaster as the service was so very slow and the bottle of wine we got was corked, but they didn’t believe us despite the fact that the colour of the liquid was not at all wine coloured) and came back about 11:15. We were promised free champagne at midnight so I thought we could hang around listening to the awful band (which sounded better with a bottle of non-corked wine in us), have a toast, and high-tail it to bed. But then I spotted it–our table! It was right in a prime location, with two bottles of wine and party hats sitting temptingly on it. So we plopped down, someone ran over with a corkscrew, and we waited for midnight. According to my phone, midnight came and went while the band was playing “The Final Countdown” (flashback to NYE Paris 2005…) but at 12:03 the band leader said, it’s time for the countdown! And then proceeded to yell 1! 2! 3! What? They counted UP to 10 and then yelled Happy New Year. It was weird.
From Bagan, we flew to Inle Lake where we stayed at the nicest hotel I will probably ever stay at. Back in April when Paula and I were doing research, we found it and decided it was worth the sort-of-expensive price we were getting on an Expedia type site. I thought I would try my luck directly on the hotel site and got back such a ridiculously low rate that after I completed our reservation I emailed to hotel to re-confirm. I think there may have been some sort of temporary glitch in their system, but hey it all worked out so I am not going to complain. The staff are amazingly nice and helpful as well, so the Sanctum Inle is a great place even though it is not out over the lake like a lot of the competitors. At the lake you hire boat drivers to take you around to see the sights and experience life on the lake. The communities there live and work in buildings built on stilts that keep everything dry and people get around in small dug-out canoes that are rowed traditionally from the back with the oar powered by your leg! When a European is trying to get into these boats, about 4 people run over to help stabilise everything and make you get in one at a time, very gingerly, and then sit in the bottom. When the Burmese get in, they just sort of hop on nimbly and no one has any trouble balancing, even when it is just one person standing at the back and rowing with one of his legs. Unbelievable!
There’s a temple near Inle in a place called Kakku which has over 2000 stupas in a very small area. We visited one morning and it is really mind-blowing and worth the 80 minute drive. Each one is different and they have all been restored in the past 15 or so years.
There is also a vineyard in Inle Lake. That’s right folks, Burmese wine! We actually had had some earlier in the trip so thought it would be a hoot to visit for a wine tasting. The tasting room and restaurant have beautiful views and we highly recommend the Rose-it’s not on the tasting flight but we took a chance and were impressed.
After 4 days in Inle, sadly it was time to go back to Yangon and finish our Christmas vacation. So sad! The worst part was that the weather in Bagan and Inle was perfect. Cool crisp evenings and warm dry days. We landed in Yangon and it was back to sweats-ville. It’s nice to know that there are places in Myanmar with a better climate, maybe I can escape up there for a weekend every once in a while!
Simon and Paula then left for Ngapoli beach on the coast while we went back to school, but they returned Friday just in time to have come rooftop cocktails downtown and then head off to the airport to return to London. Nell is depressed. We are sad too. It was fun to explore a little more of this country we live in and to show people around. S&P have floated the idea of doing a guest blog post about it all, so let’s pile on the peer pressure.
Oh, one last thing. Ei Mou Mou update: The live trap did not cut it, and by the time we got back from Indonesia Ei Mou Mou was getting increasingly bold. He ate part of a wardrobe, he ate part of a kitchen cabinet, he ate some of my long-sleeved shirts and then pooped in them. I don’t know why I own long sleeved shirts anymore, but still. Our cleaner offered to graduate to more aggressive means of dealing with the situation and we said fine. Gav had asked for her to text us photos if she caught him in the live trap so he could see how cute old Ei Mou Mou was (?????) and one morning we got about 3 photos of an ex Ei Mou Mou in some kind of sticky trap. Thanks for the explicit visual. I will spare you, gentle reader. So ends the Ei Mou Mou saga. I hope. I wish you would have been dumb enough for the live trap, but RIP Ei Mou Mou. I hope you didn’t tell any of your friends and relatives about the cushy house you found with the 2 suckers and useless dog!