Apparently there are over 2,000 monuments in Bagan, in various states of repair/disrepair. Earthquakes have caused major damage, the most recent in August 2016. Some temples were closed due to the latest shakeup.
There are plenty of ‘must see’ monument lists but the two places I most enjoyed were not described in anything we read – it was more happy accident. Get your own transport, bring your headlamp and go for it. We travelled by mountain bike (A$4 per bike per day), small e-scooter ($10 from the hotel, but on the street $7) and large e-scooter ($10 on the street – and the most comfortable ride for this passenger). Taxis offer tours, but can’t get to many of the more interesting places – or you could also try horse and cart. Many of the roads are narrow, bumpy and sandy. You can’t hire motorbikes and we heard it was because foreigners were having too many accidents.
Favourite spot no.1 was the Wi-ni-do Group. We were looking at the stupas behind the main temple when a guy came out of a nearby dwelling and asked us if we wanted to look in the main building. Turns out he was the key holder, and gave us (and some other passing tourists) a look inside. It was remarkable – the interior paintings were extremely well preserved – and strictly no photographs allowed.
The second was building no. 1401. The staircase was unlocked and we climbed up onto the top for fantastic afternoon views of the area. No one else was around.
The Boat Tour is the thing at Inle Lake – and there are plenty of captains ready to broker a deal. Taking advice we decided on an early start, and an itinerary which began with the market for the day. As the guide books will tell you, Inle Lake has a 5 day market where the location rotates between villages. On the day we went it was Inthein, a longer boat journey of about 45mins to an hour. We left at 7.30am so were amongst the first at the market, after a lovely (and chilly) ride across the lake.
By the time we left two hours later, the place was teeming with tourists. The food market was excellent, and much less touristy than any we’ve seen. The adjoining tourist market had some lovely textiles, clothing, jewellery and trinkets, with keen but not aggressive sellers. We spent an hour at the market and an hour checking out Nyaung Ohak (pagoda ruins) and the Shwe Inn Thein Paya. Both were really picturesque and we could easily have spent longer in Inthein.
The rest of the day included visits to various craft workshops, the floating pagoda, and lunch on the lake. And we saw the foot-rowing fishermen of Inle Lake – real and those from central casting.
Due to a shaky Internet there has been no blogging of late – but hopefully now service has resumed. Back in Nyaungu Shwe we hired bikes – on the first day, some old rattlers which were fine for getting around town for the total princely sum of around A$2 for both. Our second day had us checking out something built for a longer journey. For around $15 from MMK we hired 2 mountain bikes, 2 helmets, a lock, 2 bottles of water, a map showing various routes and some advice on the best one ( a round trip including a boating section).
Getting from Bago to Nyaung Shwe (the main town for accessing Inle Lake, unless you want to pay big $$$ for a resort on the lake itself) was relatively easy. Taxi to Yangon $US35, flight to HeHo airport, taxi to Nyauang Shwe (25,000 kyat) plus US$10 for an Inle Zone entrance fee. We arrived at Zawgi Inn, settled in, then went for a look around town. We happened upon Ginki bar and restaurant, and had a good night drinking some local beer, enjoying dinner and listening to the live entertainment. ( We had asked the waiter what kind of music would be played – his response ‘ Foreign’. Which it was.) There was also the cutest pup hanging about…
Bago is described as an easy day trip from Yangon, but we decided to stay there for a couple of nights to more easily enjoy the sites on offer. A 10,000 kyat ( around $A10) Archeological Zone ticket gives you access, and lasts for three days. We checked out the Shwe Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha, Shwe gu lay Pagoda, Mahazedi Paya, Nuang Daw Gyi Mya Tha Luang Reclining Buddha, Kanbawzathadi Palace and the Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda. There were many more temples and places you could visit, but this was more than enough for a full day’s viewing. We hired a scooter from the hotel and M was fearless as usual in negotiating local traffic. I just hung on the back and gave the thumbs up sign to locals who appreciated M’s scootering skills.
As mentioned in the previous post, we stayed at the Kanbawza Hinthar Hotel which was very good mid-priced accommodation. They picked us up from the train and were very helpful with other transport needs (scooter, and taxi to Yangon airport). However, we happened to be staying there the week in February when the pagoda behind the hotel had 24 hour chanting pumping out of their speakers. Such is Asian life. For 2 nights it was ok – anymore and we might have been looking for somewhere else to stay. But it was well worth it as the sights of Bago were impressive, especially the mosaic work.
In Bago we stayed at the Kanbawza Hinthar Hotel. More about that (and the wonders of Bago) a bit later. On our last night we were told that because there weren’t many guests that we could select our breakfast as a full buffet would not be available. From the list offered I chose an omelette which was part of the American breakfast set. Our waiter was a little disconcerted that I only wanted part of the set and checked ‘JUST the omlette? No toast?’ When I said yes, he muttered ‘strange’ – which I thought was hilarious. From a country that eats noodle soup for breakfast (Mohinga, which is a great dish), likely he would think my usual breakfast of yoghurt and fruit downright weird. The full American set was omelette, toast, jam, butter, sautéed potatoes, chicken sausage and sliced tomato. The following morning I received (as expected) the full set – which made for a good photo. I have to say though that the omelette had my requested ingredients. And was very tasty.
Purchasing train tickets to travel from Mawlamyine to Bago involved three conversations with rail staff on three different days. On the afternoon we arrived in Mawlamyine, we checked that we could buy a ticket the following day, and were told that we could, but at the other counters on the other side of the station. The Mawlamyine station is quite impressive, clean marble floors and obviously no one allowed to hang about or sell anything from the front area of the station. The ticket office is split between windows for tickets for same day travel – on the right when you enter the station, while the other side sells tickets for future days.
While in Yangon we could buy a ticket three days before, this was not the case in Mawlamyine, despite the advice we received on the first day. The next morning we went to the correct counter, only to be told that we could only buy a ticket one day in advance and would have to come back the following morning. Which we did, and following our taxi driver’s advice went to the daily ticket counter, to be told we could buy a ticket, but from the other counter on the other side of the station. We duly walked across the shining marble once again, and yes, we were at the right counter, and we could buy a ticket! Wait, said the ticket seller. He then walked across to the marble foyer all the way to the daily tickets counter, and came back with the ticket book, so that he could write out our ticket for travel the following morning.
To buy a train ticket in Myanmar you have to go to the train station a couple of days before you want to travel (with your passport) and pay in cash for a hand written ticket. Or in the case of Mawlamyine, a day before. In Yangon we had our ‘upper’ ticket purchased and we had a great trip – leaving at 7.15am and arriving at 4.50pm. Thanks to Seat61 for so much info! The trip was worth it just to experience the passing parade of amazing food and snack choices available, many of which were offered from the heads of very poised snack merchants. Oh, and the scenery. More golden pagodas than you ever thought possible. Also farms, rice paddies, and water buffalo.
Back on the bike, one belonging to Uncharted Horizons . Our excellent guide Michael led us on the Wild West Tour. I love a boat trip and this half day tour promised three, as well as a ride in the country – so how could we say no? After checking out a local market and negotiating early morning traffic, we stopped at a teahouse for breakfast before heading to the port. The ride took us across the river from Yangon, through the countryside and various villages, with a couple of rest stops at a monastery and a roadside palm wine stall. It was somewhat quieter than the city, although a few of the pagodas we passed had chanting being broadcast across the paddocks – our guide said it was to prevent accidents – and in the villages, we passed a wedding being set up, and a couple of karaoke houses, that had the volume cranked up.