From Vancouver we headed to Victoria on Vancouver Island. By lucky accident we found out that it’s better to book a spot on the ferry rather than just turn up. We were early and nearly made it onto the ferry prior to ours, missing out by about 6 or 7 cars. But we didn’t have long to wait to get from Tsawwassen terminal to Swartz Bay. It was a lovely crossing and then an easy drive to get to Victoria.
Our chosen hotel happened to be across the road from Phra Ram Park. Usually a peaceful place, according to the blogosphere, on our arrival it was alive with a large event crew setting up for a big event. Our BnB proprietor told us that a huge muay thai championship was being held on the Friday (we arrived Wednesday night), and was quite relieved when we said we would be checking out by 10.30 am on Friday – as he needed our room for the Mayor, who would be officiating at the ceremony.
As we were within walking distance of a number of historic sites (some of which M and I are lucky enough to have seen about six years ago) we headed off on Thursday morning to check out some places. After lunch we rested in the air conditioning – then did a late afternoon boat tour, ending with dinner at the fabulous night market. We enjoyed our two nights in Ayutthaya, but I have to say for ancient temples, Sukhothai and Si Satchanali were my preferred locations. And on Friday when we left for Bangkok (taxi door to door – 1400 baht) it pelted with rain about 30 minutes into the journey. I hope the mayor didn’t get wet.
We caught the MGRG ‘express’ from Bagan to Mandalay (12 hours). This involved walking down a sand dune in the middle of the night (ok, 5am, but it was very dark) and then shuffling along a narrow plank to get on board. Once there, however, it was a very comfortable and enjoyable ride. Breakfast and lunch provided, and two! flushing toilets. Luxury.
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).
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.