Category Archives: 2017 – Asia

Back to Mandalay & Bye Bye Burma

The Road to Mandalay (and it was the road not railroad this time)

We left Bagan on 30th January at about 11.00am. We had booked an air conditioned coach through our hotel. What arrived was a minibus and the air conditioning was opening the windows. The thought came to mind “ever been had”. We picked up more people until we were full. This is going to be great for 6 hours or more. What a relief it was when we pulled up into the bus station where we transferred to a “proper” air conditioned bus. Phew.  We settled into our seats and off we went. We didn’t take the direct route as along the way we picked up various locals who sat on stools in the aisle or the cushion beside the driver.  Hence why it takes 6 hours!

The journey was an interesting one.  At one stage the Road finished and suddenly we are on a dusty river bed for a short way and then back onto the tar mac road. Guess they’ve not got around to building the bridge yet.  Just under an hour in and we have to cross a single track rail road across a bridge. Was I glad to reach the other side. The main road most of the way  was basically one truck wide, with a dusty hard shoulder which is the only way to overtake. And I thought Ian’s driving was scary aaahhh!!

After a short pit stop we eventually reached Mandalay. We can only assume the driver had arrived too early as he drove very slow (he’d been driving like a bat out of hell up until this point) and went around in a circle covering the same area twice before we arrived at the bus station.  We then transferred to a Songthaew where we taken back to our hotel. This door to door service cost us £12 for the two of us.

Last sights of Mandalay

Our flight to Chiang Mai wasn’t until 6pm so we thought we’d take in some more of the sights. We were down to our last cash, (33,350 kyat – approx £22). We took a walk and flagged a taxi and Ian got him to agree (it was touch and go) to take us around the sights including up to Mandalay Hill, back to the hotel (to collect the luggage) and then to the airport, which was over a four hour period.

First stop was the Atumashi monastery which was rebuilt in 1990 using concrete as much of the original building mysteriously burned down in 1890 when it was being used by British troops as a barracks.

Next was  the Shwenandaw Monastery.  This is a teak building which was originally part of the Royal Palace.  The exterior and interior of the monastery is decorated with intricate wood carvings.  Inside there is a large sign saying “Ladies must not enter” this refers to the central area where the main Bhudda image sits, only men may worship.

Then the World’s largest book is in the grounds of the Kuthodaw Pagoda.  We wandered round looking for the book and it took us a while to realise that the structures actually housed the pages.  The book has 730 leaves and 1460 pages set in stone. Each stone tablet has its own roof and precious gem on top in a small cave-like structure.

Followed by the Sandamuni Pagoda – My celebrity status returned again today. A young girl suddenly sprung up beside me, I thought she wanted me to take a picture for her but no she wanted a selfie with me. Before I knew it there were half a dozen of them wanting to all be in the picture. I didn’t know which phone to look at. On this occasion they weren’t interested in the Film Star (aka Ian). They didn’t know it was his birthday.

We then went to the top of  Mandalay Hill.  We were glad we had a taxi as it was along steep road to the top.  The views were amazing

Kyaukthawgyi Pagoda.  No I haven’t shrunk the statue is enormous.

Boys become Men  – While we travelling around we came across a procession. The taxi driver explained that when boys become men (do they ever really stop being boys) that they have a ceremony in celebration. The boys all had beards and moustaches painted in their faces. The girls and women were all dressed up in traditional costumes. All with load music playing.

 

We had quite a whirlwind tour and crammed a lot on your last day.

Bye Bye Burma

We have thoroughly enjoyed Myanmar. It is fairly new to “foreigners” and it’s been great exploring. The people are really friendly in all the places we have been.  We have ridden down small roads (roads are really sandy paths which must be a nightmare when it does rain) with wooden houses where the children play football and as well as hello we heard “lovely jubbly” from one little boy. One young girl at a temple selling postcards said “hello, BBC”. This was the same girl who someone had given her a pound coin (stupid really as she’s not selling postcards for the fun of it) and she wanted to know what it was worth, approx 1500 kyat. She needed the money she said so we did an exchange with her.

I guess if you asked what would you remember most about Myanmar it would be temples and Bhuddist monks. We have traveled by train, boat, bus and Songthaew and in fields of crops where there is nothing but perhaps the odd hut you will see the gold of a temple.

 

 

 

The Temples of Bagan

River Cruise on Irawaddy River

Early rise on Saturday 28th January at 5.30 am as we have to be ready for the taxat 6.00 am to take us to the ferry for a 10 hour river cruise up to Bagan. This was nice and leisurely and lots of sunshine of course.  Ian was in his element as we were by water.


There is a lot of activity on the river. On the barges we passed there are two guys each side at the bow (front to those of you who are non sailors lol)  with long sticks which are marked, dipping them in the water checking the depth.   There are a lot of sandbanks in the river. Reminiscent of the Thames.  The boat we were on did go aground at one stage, even though it only draws 1.4 meters. We meandered from side to side of the river following the channel.

We arrived in Bagan and disembarked onto long wooden planks to get ashore. Then up a really sandy stoney slope and then steps to the taxis.  This is the first time I wished I hadn’t had a suitcase! We managed to negotiate a taxi fare and shared with a Scottish couple to keep the price down which was 8000 kyat per couple (approx £5). He wanted twice that to start with. Ian’s frugal side is coming out now we are retirees and he drives a hard bargain. We arrived at the hotel about 30 minutes later which looked lovely and it was. A bit noisy though as we were on a main road.

The Bagan Temples

Sunday 29th January we decided to hire bikes to go off exploring the temples, approx 2000 of them in the area. Unfortunately the area suffered an earthquake in August 2016 and received lots of damage. It was 8 on the ritcher scale. We hired bikes from the reception that we thought were push bikes that were electrically assisted. They were electric bikes but more like a moped with a crash helmet. Now those who know me well will know there is no way I’m getting on one of these. Despite Ian trying to convince me that it was the same as an electrically assisted pushbike but without the peddles I was not convinced and was not getting on it. So we had the standard pushbike.

It was amazing to ride around sand track roads (well most were paths rather than roads) and see so many temples and pagodas.

We visited one of the larger temples and saw a line of about 30 novice monks (ranging from 7 – 12/13 in age) going in. Buddhist monks are a normal sight walking around, many with their mobile phones in hand.    The reason for so many is that every man is expected to serve as a monk twice in his life: once as a novice and once as an ordained monk. After that time he returns to a normal life.   The link below gives some interesting information about the monks in Myanmar.

http://factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Myanmar/sub5_5c/entry-3035.html

My photos don’t do the temples justice this is a picture I found on the web that gives a better idea of them.

bagan-temples

We also paid a visit to another royal palace, “Bagan Thirzayayabyumi Golden Palace”.  This is a reconstruction of King Anawrahata’s, the first king of Myanmar (reigned 1044-77), palace. He introduced his people to Theravada Buddhism.

x-img_1782-resting-after-bike-ride-bagan-29-1-17

 

We stopped at a local restaurant before having a relaxing evening (well needed after cycling).   Monday we are off back to Mandalay on an air conditioned coach for 6/7 hours for one night before leaving Myanmar for our flight to Chiangmai.

ian-the-filmstar

The Film Star

Ian is now looking like a film star wearing his sunglasses all the time (no celebrity status hasn’t gone to his head) regardless of whether it’s sunny as he’s managed to lose his glasses.  So will have to visit an optician once we visit Hanoi, Vietnam, which could be a challenge!

U-Bein Bridge, Myanmar Food & the Mandalay Palace

26th & 27th January 2017

Having had such a long journey the day before we decided to chill out by the pool which we had all to ourselves. The pool was very inviting but freezing.

Early evening and we decided to go to the U-Bein Bridge, which is about a 20 minute taxi drive away and is the longest and oldest (built around 1850) teak bridge in the world. It is three quarters of a mile long and crosses the Taung Tha Man Lake. We arrived just after sunset. We meant to get there before but lost track of time so that was that.

 

A big tourist trap and it was packed, lots of coaches bringing people there. We walked along underneath the bridge to the middle part, obviously where there was no water to this part, and had a local beer watching across as the orange of the sun sat on the horizon. When we took a walk back across the bridge most people had gone.

Ian asked the taxi driver, to take us to a restaurant that wasn’t too far from our hotel so we could walk back. He dropped us at a typical Myanmar restaurant. We sat down and within five minutes our table was filled with little dishes of food, salad and also rice. We ordered some pork and chicken to go with it. It appeared that it was a restaurant that the whole family was involved in, grandmothers, mothers, daughters and granddaughters and one grandson, you had to have some sympathy surrounded by all those women! While we ate they sat and watched us! It was like being at the zoo but we were the ones in the cage. They were really friendly and really wanted to impress. Ian took their photo and they were so chuffed.

Celebrities at the Grand Palace, Mandalay

The following day we needed to go and get our tickets for the Shwekeinnery Ferry that would take us to Bagan on Saturday. We bought these from the tourist office at the train station, ($40 each) which we walked past as we hadn’t realised it was under a hotel as it was dark when we arrived the previous day.  Ian said it was only about a 25/30 minute walk, but like those “only take ten minutes” jobs it took much longer.  It’s hot but not so humid here.  We got our tickets and then walked onto the palace wandering about the back streets  where we came across a European restaurant. So had a cool drink and said “we will back” which we were having  a nice chicken in sauce with veggies. It was nice to have something that wasn’t curry, stir fry, rice or noodles.

We walked on to go to the Mandalay Palace and enter via  the South entrance to discover that this wasn’t accessible to “foreigners”. There is quite a lot of reference to foreigners. The East entrance was another half an hour or more walk. So off we went.  We paid our money and into the grounds of the palace we went.  A notice for Foreigners, keep to the road, not allowed to go off main road and only take photos in the Palace area. As we walked down to the Palace the Military Band started to play. The Palace and its grounds are enormous inside a great wall and is surrounded by a big moat.

We wandered around the Palace which has a vast number of buildings. Now being a blonde bird and a ginger geezer we stand out like sore thumbs. So there was a large group of school children who were fascinated by us and all called out hi, hello, waving at us. One little group started shaking my hand, crikey I then had a queue. So this was our celebrity status. It was weird.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Road ( well rail road) to Mandalay 15 hours and more!

The alarm went off at 5 am this morning (Wednesday 25th January) for our trip to Mandalay. The hotel provided us with a breakfast box and off we went to Yangon central rail station for our 6 am train.  Upper class no less, lots of leg room, wide reclining seat, foot rest and window, what more could you want. The train has a constant flow of people selling food, water and beer!  It was very hot and the only way to get respite from this was to stand by the open doors which were on each side of the carriages.  We managed to find a supermarket in Yangon before we left, which are rare, and bought Pringles, crackers and cheese slices for our journey. We took pity on a young girl travelling on her own who welcomed our cheese and crackers. A glass of red wine and we’d have been in our element but you can’t have everything!

                     Our carriage                                                                  Leg room

Most of the journey is through rural countryside. Paddy fields to start with and then crops with water buffalo,  oxen and goats.The train travelled, on average 33 miles mph, and going up slight hills slowed it down to 22 mph. It sounds like a steam train and if you are feeling a bit tired it will rock you to sleep as it swings from side to side only to be disturbed regularly by the whistle of the train to warn not just people but animals alongside of the train approaching.  It certainly made its departure known from Yangon.At each of the stations we stopped at along the way, no matter how big or small, there was always lots of noise with the sounds of the locals shouting to one another and a new lot of people boarding the train to sell. There is continuous activity.

As we neared Mandalay it’s now dark, really dark as the carriage lights keep going out. Finally 20 minutes until our arrival got ready in preparation for getting off.  Thankfully nearly there, our naivety  again, 5 minutes later we stop and here we sat listening to someone chanting for the next 30 minutes. TORTURE after being on this train for nearly 15 hours! We began to wonder if we would ever get there!  We eventually arrived at 9.30pm. Then got a taxi driver who didn’t know where the hotel was.  Eventually arrived at the hotel where the reception looked very blankly at us. To our relief they found our  booking. We got to the hotel and decided that dinner would be our cheese slices and crackers and a beer from the mini bar (this is a first) as we were too tired to do anything else.

Had a great nights sleep and woke to the sound of the locals going about their business, radios playing and of course the bibbing of hooters. They are constant here in Myanmar and in Bangkok, must be part of the driving test. Interestingly they drive on the right here but have right hand drive cars.

 

 

Yangon, Myanmar

We arrived in Yangon on Sunday 22nd January after a short 80 minute flight.  We were both surprised how green it was and clean although we later discovered this is not the case in most parts.  We are staying at the Clover Hotel, which is OK, the plus is the view from the hotel restaurant of the top of the Shwedagon Pagoda, more on this later.

 

After breakfast, at which Ian decided to eat what the locals do,  egg, bacon and chicken sausage in egg fried rice (I stuck to the egg on toast) we took a taxi to the Central Train Station to buy our ticket to Mandalay on Wednesday.  The advanced booking office is on the other side and it looks like you are walking through a farm yard.  There are various counters and we went to the first lane to be told that it is lane 7 we need to go to.  The office behind the counters is one office.  We arrived at lane 7 to be greeted by the same guy who now let us buy our tickets who obviously walked quicker than us. A bit like some comedy sketch. The train journey is 15 hours and the cost was 9,300 Kyats each which is about £6.00, that’s upper class too!

We then decided to take a ride on the Yangon circular train which gives you an insight to Yangon and how some of the people live.  We couldn’t quite believe that a ticket for a 3 hour trip was just 200 Kyats, 13 pence, yes you did read that correctly!

There are many traders that get on and off the train selling various things including water, sweetcorn, vegetables,peanuts and it went on.  This is one of those places where some of the women balance their wares on a tray on their head, great posture and balance.  The journey was quite an eye opener, I think there are going to be quite a lot of those during this trip.

Along the railway tracks seems to be home for the poorer people.  The piles of rubbish everywhere is a shock.  Once we got further out we passed paddy fields alongside lots of buildings not just in open fields, where people were up to their waists in water.  There was lots of activity as each of the stations, some didn’t even look like stations, people cooking food on the platforms.

Yangon circular train - one station Jan 17.JPG

This picture was one of the stations.  One family who boarded at this station looked like they had bought up half the market, with big sacks of vegetables.  A student sat with us for a while as he wanted to practice his English.  We managed to communicate a little with him.

We arrived back at Yangoon central station where the train stopped at its final destination.  Ian and I looked at each other wondering how long we had to wait for it to move along so we could get off at a platform.  How green we were.  It wasn’t going anywhere, so we followed the locals who climbed down the steps onto the track side, back up the steps of the next train along side the track, through the train carriage and finally down the steps to the platform.

We later visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is an amazing  sight and it’s hard to grasp the enormity of  it and the area around it without seeing it.   In addition to the Pagoda there is a complex of Buddha shrines.  The photos only show a small part of it. Standing close to 110 metres, the umbrella or crown called “hti” is tipped with 4,351 diamonds and 2,317 rubies.  The very top, the diamond bud called “sein bu” is tipped with a 72 carat diamond.  It is covered with hundreds of gold plates.

 

Ian showed his feminine side in a skirt to cover his knobbly knees!

My GoPro really came into its own with the wide angled lens. Thanks guys at JLT.

Tuesday 24th January, we had a lazy day.  Attempted to take a walk around Inya Lake which proved more difficult as there were parts of it that couldn’t be accessed.  We did make it to the Yangon Sailing Club though although they wouldn’t let us in as we weren’t members. Ian’s RYA didn’t do the trick of getting us access either.  We are going to see how many sailing clubs we can visit on our travels now and when we are on the boat.

Boats in Bangkok

 

We were all set up to do some culture but what we didn’t know was that the Grand Palace and Wat Arun were both closed on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st January in respect of the King who had died quite recently.  We only found this out when attempting to get on the ferry.

So we decided instead to take a trip around the canals on a long tailed boat.  These boats go through a lock.  There are four of us rafted alongside each other, us in the middle.  “Who do you think is going to go through first?” I ask.  As soon as the lock gate was just high enough to get through we were under it.  Bit of deja vu  me thinks!  This is one of Ian’s tricks.  Ironic!  The canals around the city is whole world away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.  Saw a couple of monitor lizards, one sunning himself on a jetty.

There are lots of food stalls to choose from in Chinatown but passing by one I was drawn to the prawns cooking.  This place was R & L Seafood.  So we took our seats on the side of the street, taking in all the fumes of the traffic and had a lovely curry and stir fry.  We enjoyed it so much so we went back the following evening.

seafood-meal-bangkok-jan-2017-2

So our time in Bangkok, at least for now, has come to an end, so we’ve now travelled to Yangon, Myanmar (aka Burma) a short flight away.  Made the most of the flight as our next mode of transport, in a few days time, will be a long ride on an “express” train.  The express journey time is 15 hours, not sure where the express comes into it!

 

 

Asia – here we come!

So, I’ve been told (by he who thinks he is in charge) we should be free spirits and only book a hotel for the first few days.  Well to get entry into Myanmar (aka Burma) you have to have a  flight out of the country so this means we need to decide what we want to do while we are there.  SO, we have our itinerary sorted and booked for the first 16 days.

18th Jan – Arrive Bangkok

22nd Jan – Fly to the capital city Yangon, Burma

25th Jan – Train to Mandalay (I’ve got my cushion as it’s 15 hours!)

28th Jan – Ferry on the Irawaddy River to Bagan to see more temples

30th Jan – Back to Magndalay on the locals train (hm not sure about this, but could be interesting or something like that)

31st Jan – Fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand