The old Capital of Myanmar, Yangon.

I arrived on the night bus into Yangon early in the morning, and like most buses in Asia it dropped me off on the outskirts of the City. You can then either take a taxi or get on one of the local buses for free, I was in no rush so chose the latter, this meant I could get a better feel for the City.

Yangon, or Rangoon, was the capital of Myanmar for a long time until the military moved the capital North to Naypyidaw. It’s still the central hub of the country however, and it’s a huge City located like many, on the banks of a river.

I arrived in central Yangon and found my little hostel with no problems. Unfortunately they didn’t have a room for me yet as it was still early. So I dropped my stuff, had a quick freshen up and went out to explore.

Myanmar was under British rule in the 1900s and I found a tour of some old colonial buildings that survived WW2. So I wandered around chatting to some locals and enjoying the sights and sounds of a big City again. Most of the colonial buildings are found around the downtown area. I think doing a tour would be great as you get to see inside some of these amazing old buildings.

Feeling hungry, I found a place selling these super tasty pancakes covered in sugar l, and continued my walk, not really knowing where I was headed. I passed the train station which I was going to get to later, then realised I was near a big park and lake called Bogyoke. As it was recommended in my lonely planet guide I thought I’d have a wander around it.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the nicest park, the lake was bright green from algae and there was a cool looking restaurant, but other than that there wasn’t much going on. I walked pretty much the whole way around the park before taking a taxi down to a little market area also called Bogyoke. This was your run of the mill market area, good if you want some souvenirs etc

I stopped off and had a pineapple shake, when the heavens opened up and it began to pour down. I finished my drink and took shelter at a nearby mall for a bit. It was the most modern place I had seen so far in Myanmar, but the rain wasn’t stopping so I jumped from shelter to shelter back towards my hostel, it was mid afternoon at this point and I was feeling pretty tired.

So I arrived back and had a little nap, went up to the rooftop to watch the sunset before heading back out for dinner. I’d read about a place called 999 Shan noodle and it was so worth it. Super cheap, super tasty, I couldn’t believe how good it was. After that I wandered around trying to find somewhere to watch the football, eventually finding a proper expat bar.

After a few beers and chatting to some fellow Arsenal fans I wandered back through the deserted streets of Yangon to my hotel. There wasn’t a great deal of sightseeing stuff that I could find to do but tomorrow I was going to hit up one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world!

A day on the lake in Inle, Myanmar.

So we were up super early today to explore the lake by boat. I think it was around 4am we were getting ready, the tour was through the amazing hostel I was at…the Song of Travel.

Ready for sunrise we set off down the river towards the lake, it was so calm and peaceful as we passed through the town. Once we entered the lake it wasn’t long before we spotted the traditional fisherman. Unfortunately they are posing for the money, as fishing techniques have moved on, but it was cool to see them.

Next up was breakfast! Sat on our little 5 man boat we tucked in as the sun rose, unfortunately it was really cloudy so the sunrise wasn’t the best. Though it was cool when the shafts of light started peaking down through over the mountains.

We were soon off again, the lake was beautiful and we could spot fishermen paddling with their one leg, so they had both hands free. Pretty ingenious!

Our first stop was at a traditional silver smith, where we were shown how they make silver and watched them make extremely detailed pieces of jewelry. It was interesting but I enjoyed the cats that were hanging about more than the shop at the end.

After this we travelled past some incredible floating gardens, with loads of tomatoes growing in all different colours. Then stopped at a ‘floating market’ that was actually all on land apart from a couple of boats trying to sell us souvenirs.

I enjoyed walked around and checking out the various produce and no one is very pushy in Myanmar which made the whole experience more relaxing.

As we left we also spotted a lady wearing traditional brass neck coils, the traditional clothing of the Kayan tribe. It was a good spot and she smiled and waved at us as we sped by.

Our next stop was the Shwe Inn Thein pagoda, this was near the small village of Indein and the journey there along these small waterways was amazing.

The little village we stopped by was cute and the old ruined Pagoda were amazing, you have to pay a fee to take photos, I thought I was templed out but wish I had done it now. You can rent longyi, the traditional cloth worn in Myanmar there too. I enjoyed hanging out by the bridge while some of the others wandered around.

We went Speeding back through the little waterways towards the lake again, our next stop was to learn about lotus and cotton production. This was really interesting and we learnt a lot! A few people on the your bought some clothes from here too.

I was excited for our next stop, lunch! We were brought to a stilted village on the water and led into a room where we had some snacks and tea.

This feast they made for us was so tasty, I couldn’t have the fish but all the sides and salads tasted so fresh. I loved the green tomatoes grown on the lake. The food was soon devoured and we lay out for a rest, I even fell asleep for a moment.

Then the women who had cooked for us had us paddling them around the village in little wooden canoes. They were giggling at us trying to row the whole way, finally before we left this little guy posed for us.

I even saw a snake pop his head up out of the water as we rowed the little boats around! Our final stop was to see traditional cigars being made, I’m not much of a fan of cigars but I enjoyed trying the flavoured ones, especially banana and I liked that they made them with 100% natural ingredients.

We ended the trip going through big water plants and at the same bridge we had been on the day before. We didn’t stay long here and started the journey back to the hostel. This was one of my favourite parts as I enjoyed the views across the lake.

We finished the day with some amazing food, including tea leaf salad, and a few beers at a bar in the center of town. The next day it rained from morning till I got my night bus to Yangon, but the staff kept us we fed with evening snacks. The hostel and their staff were incredible and I would recommend everyone to stay there.

The inside scoop on Inle Lake, Myanmar.

So the bus was actually pretty nice, I managed to sleep almost the whole way and although it was annoying arriving at 4am, I decided to walk as there was no rush to check in. It wasn’t far and the only scary part was a big dog pack that I took a detour to avoid.

I arrived at the Song of Travel hostel. £8 a night and great reviews had led me to this place, plus the façade looks like a giant boom box. There was someone at reception who checked me in and let me use the ground floor bathroom and gave me a bed to lie down in till I did check in later.

I opted to pay 2000 kyat for a pancake breakfast when I woke up after a quick nap, and booked onto a boat tour around Inle for the next day. At breakfast I met a German guy who was doing a bike trip round the lake, I had thought about doing this so we agreed to meet in a couple of hours and then head out.

We managed to find another guy, Andy from Sheffield to bike with us, and after choosing from the free bikes provided by the hostel we were on our way. Stopping off at the local market, I got some deep fried tofu and a little bottle of garlic chilli sauce and a drink.

We went North first, past a cute little lake to a monastery, it wasn’t that great after seeing the ones in Mandalay and I’d probably give it a miss next time. So we were now headed South towards Inle lake, it’s a pretty easy bike ride, with just one hill that nearly killed me. Bearing in mind the last time I properly rode a bike was 3 years ago in Vietnam (that was all flat too) I didn’t do too badly, but not long after we got to the top of the hill we had a steep climb up to a pagoda with great views of the lake.

At this point the clouds above us suddenly opened up and it began to pour down. So we did the only sensible thing and waited it out with our snacks.

It soon cleared up, and we were back on our way, having a pretty good conversation as we rode on. Andy mapped our way and we found ourselves in the Tofu village. Where for 5000 kyat. (£2.50) we got a full tour of this guys traditional village.

It was pretty cool and the guy literally fed us the whole way around as we saw different ways to make tofu and some tasty Myanmar snacks. Finally we were back at his house to eat some fried tofu with a great chilli dip.

At that point the rain came back 10x worse and we had to wait a while before we could get the boat across the river. So we spent our time eating, and chatting with this guy about Myanmar life and Buddhism. It was really interesting, but the rain eventually stopped and we were on our way again. We put our bikes in the long wooden boat and settled in as we sped through small waterways, motor chugging away behind us.

Unfortunately it was still raining a little so the views of the lake were a bit obscured, but we saw fishermen paddling in their tradition manner, using their foot to steer so their arms are free to catch. We made it to the other side of the lake and walked our bikes along a wooden bridge to dry land.

Who knew Myanmar would have its own wineries?! Not me, but as we cycled back to the hostel it was there, up a steep hill and with views for the grapevines that spoke of Italy or France more than Southeast Asia.

For 5000 kyat you got a 4 wine tasting, 2 white and 2 red. They were all drinkable but even my unrefined palate could tell they weren’t top class. However, it was a fun thing to do and the views including a great sunset made it well worth the visit.

It was a short ride back to the hostel, where after relaxing for a little while we met up on the rooftop, with the addition of Julia from Belgium. After a couple of beers we headed out for some great food at a Myanmar/Dim Sum place nearby. Julia and I were up early to take a boat tour of the lake and I was soon tucked up ready for more adventures.

Biking around Bagan.

So I woke up at 5am and started getting ready, looked outside and it was full on thick cloud. So I went back to bed for a bit and got up for a swim and breakfast at the hotel. No sunrise today!

I walked across the road and rented an electronic scooter, charged and ready to go for 6000 kyat for the full day till 9pm. I was a little worried at first but it was either this, cycle or walk, and I was excited to explore.

Off I sped on the main road through Bagan, and luckily there was hardly any traffic, and the roads are in pretty good shape. I headed up towards Old Bagan and the temples started coming thick and fast. I was given a map and you can download one from a keychain you get when you pay the Bagan archaeological fee.

However I decided to go rogue and try and be a full on explorer. So at some point I turned off down a dirt track towards some of the huge brown pagodas. I stopped off and made sure I remembered to turn the bike off so I wouldn’t run the battery down. I then wandered slowly through the pagodas, each one seemed to have a Buddha inside.

They were beautiful, old and it was a surreal experience finally being here after reading and hearing so much about it. There were pagodas of all sizes just on their own, but also bigger complexes with outer walls and doorways to explore. I definitely felt like Indiana Jones and was sure I would find some ancient treasure.

After taking some fun pics and probably being far too excited about it all I headed down the next dirt track I could see, the paths here are quite small and sandy but I found it pretty easy going. It was only when the sand got a bit deeper that the bike struggled and I learnt to avoid this pretty quickly.

I actually was looking for a pagoda that I could climb up to get some good views, and later there would be some random locals asking if they could take me to some, bit I heard that after the earthquake in …… A lot of the pagoda were shut as it’s too dangerous to climb them.

I continued on, stopping at ones I liked the look of, jumping on and off the bike as I pleased. Then I saw a huge temple near one of the places I had stopped, so I worked out which path seemed to lead there and headed over.

It turned out this was one of the more popular points of interest, called Dhammayan Gyi temple. You could go inside this one and go through huge corridors and small windows taking you in and out of the building. There were even a few shacks outside selling drinks and snacks.

After this I continued my exploration until about 1pm, realised I had been driving around for about 4 and a half hours so decided I would head back to Moon in New Bagan for lunch. This time I had a bright green mint and lime drink, and tried the traditional Myanmar tea leaf salad.

Now this salad is literally one of the tastiest things I have ever tried. Fermented tea leaves, tomatoes, onions, and a load of crunchy beans and nuts all covered in garlic and chilli. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted and I felt bad for the aubergine curry I had next. It still tasted good but nothing like the salad.

After cooling down a bit in the restaurant and chatting to a guy who worked there, I stopped off at a couple more pagoda but it was super hot by this point, so after driving around through Old Bagan and up to ….. I drove straight back to the hotel and chilled out for a couple of hours.

After sunrise had been a miss I was looking forward to the sunset, and went back out on my bike at around 5pm knowing sunset was just after 6pm. The guy in Moon restaurant had given me a couple of tips on where to go but as I drove up the main road out of New Bagan the sky was dark and flashes of lightning were visible on the horizon.

I passed one of the guaranteed spots pretty quickly but wanted to check out the others, this was a big mistake as I then struggled to find them, only managing to find some small banks that you can view the sunset from.

So I quickly headed back to the spot from earlier, just making it about ten minutes before sunset. Although it didn’t really matter as it was again a bit too cloudy for a decent one. It was cool seeing the lightning and rain in the distance, I soon realised it was heading my way and jumped on my bike, getting back just before the heavens opened.

So I ended the night with a drink and swim at the pool as lightning illuminated the night sky above me.

Mingun and the cracked pagoda.

I was up early again today, knowing that my bus to Bagan was booked for 2pm I deliberated on what to do. I went down for a breakfast of noodles and fruit and spoke to the reception for help. I wanted to know if I could make it to Mingun, an area North of Mandalay, and back by 2pm.

Luckily for me if I left in the next ten minutes I could make the 9am boat up the river, so with the help of the hostel staff I was racing there in the back of a tuk tuk.

After sitting around from 8:45 the boat was acually ready to leave for 9am so myself and 4 other tourists walked a very unsteady plank of wood up to the boat and we sped off up river. The journey took around an hour and it was great, I spent it bird watching and looking for river dolphins, unfortunately I didn’t see any of the latter.

Once you arrive in Mingun you pay a small tourist fee, and decide if you want to walk around yourself or let a local latch on to you and take you around with the expectancy of a tip at the end.

A young guy latched on to me and I let him take me around as he promised me some thanaka paste. It’s a traditional paste made from a tree, they rub the bark onto a flat stone with some water to create it. Then apply it to areas at risk of sun damage.

Thanaka’d up the first sight was the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, a huge unfinished pagoda, first the king who was building it died, then it was hit by several earthquakes. It’s very impressive even unfinished and it’s cool seeing the huge cracks going down through it.

Next up is the Mingun bell, the second largest in the world and the largest uncracked bell. I got to stand in it and listen to people striking it with a huge piece of wood before I had a go myself.

The 3rd sight is the white pagoda, almost blinding to the eye in the sunlight. Hsinbyume pagoda is striking with its wavy design and golden pagoda at the summit. I wandered around here in awe.

I stopped for a drink as it was getting pretty hot at this point and chatted to my guide. Then we went to see a small pagoda with some interesting Buddha inside. One was made completely from one teak tree, another was stone and another made from metal. It was nice but probably not a must see.

The huge traditional boat just outside was pretty cool, again being carved from one huge tree. The last stop were the huge lion sculptures that are now missing their heads. I thought they looked more like elephants but was assured they were lions. At this point I went my seperate way from the guide, giving him 5000 for his troubles. He started asking for US dollars and I think was a bit disappointed I didn’t have any.

I spent the next hour wandering around checking out all the fried goods and trinkets lining the main street. Then it was back on the boat and back to Mandalay. I took a motorbike taxi back to the hostel with 30 minutes to spare till my bus.

Then it was a 6 hour, 96 Mile journey of stopping every 10-15 minutes to let people on and off. Even when I thought the little mini bus was full they pulled out plastic stools for more people to sit on. I was super excited to get going to Bagan, it’s probably the main reason people head to Myanmar.

I arrived at the station around 7:30pm and had to take an expensive taxi -12,000 kyat into New Bagan where I was staying. There are 3 areas you can choose from, the others being Old Bagan and Nyaung-U. It’s pretty same same with anywhere you stay as they kind of surround the main temple area. You have to pay 25,000 kyat for a 3 day pass to the Bagan area. About £12 which I didn’t mind at all if it allows them to keep the temple complex in good shape.

I checked in and immediately headed to a vegetarian place I had heard of called Moon (Be kind to animals) it was a 15 minutes walk from the hotel and I saw my first pagoda in the darkness just off the main road. The food at Moon was amazing, I had a tea leaf curry with rice, it tasted so fresh and garlicky. I couldn’t wait to try more on the menu.

Heading back I was up early (again) to rent an E-bike, am electric motor bike at 5am to go see the sunrise from one of the pagoda.

Exploring the ancient Cities of Myanmar.

Today I was up super early, I got everything ready the night before including a shower so I could get up 15 minutes before Min Min was picking me up. This was still 4:30am but I was excited enough to not feel too tired, Min Min was waiting for me outside and off we went towards U Bein Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in the world. It’s located south of Mandalay and is a popular spot for sunrise and sunset.

On the way we stopped at a pagoda where the monks were washing the face of Buddha, people arrived to pray and attach gold leaf to the body of the Buddha. It was a nice little start to the day.

We drove out of the City and into the countryside, arriving at U Bridge at around 6am. It was so quiet and only 2 other tourists around, unfortunately it was also really cloudy so I wouldn’t get a good sunrise. I still loved walking along the bridge and taking with the locals, I even found a little chameleon friend.

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Once I had walked to one side and back it was on to the next part of the tour, the ancient Cities. We stopped at a huge broken pagoda, destroyed by an earthquake, I had the freedom to explore the whole place, and I had it all to myself. After about 20 minutes or so I was ready for breakfast, with Min Min waiting just across the road from me.

Breakfast was a traditional Myanmar dish consisting of thick cold noodles with egg and a chilli, garlic peanut sauce. It was delicious and came with a banana plant soup. I ate it so fast the lady serving in the little covered shack was asking if I needed more! Even the little side dish of bean sprouts with a slice of lime tasted really good.

Once breakfast was finished it was back on the bike to continue onwards. We now headed to Innwa, one of the ancient Cities of Myanmar. The bike journey was so cool, passing by old temples, banana tree groves and rice paddies. We passed the old ancient walls of the City and really went off road.

The main place to see is a huge stone temple that you can explore, with a white and gold pagoda adjacent to it. I really enjoyed this place, it was a beautiful building and again I wandered around without seeing anyone else.

After I had been on my little adventure around the area, we continued to an old tower that had also been damaged by earthquakes, we didn’t linger here as you’re not able to climb it so no exploring!

The next stop was a small partly damaged pagoda with some cool Buddhas and great views of people working in the rice fields. This place was so peaceful, with villagers going about their morning duties and the scent of incense filling the air.

Our last stop in the Southern area of Mandalay was an old wooden monastery. I believe it’s used to teach children, but I couldn’t see anyone around, just a few squirrels and some dogs guarding the steps up, so I didn’t dare to climb them.

Next on the agenda was Sagaing hill, to get there we drove back up towards Mandalay before crossing the river over the …. bridge. Min Min stopped for me to take some pictures of the Irrawaddy river up close, then we started to ascend the hill.

Again I had to get off at the steepest part but it was definitely worth it as we reached the top and I took a short uphill walk to reach Soon U Ponya Shin pagoda, I hadn’t done any research on this so it was a great bonus. The bright blue curve of the temple along with all the Buddha inside was amazing. Plus the view of you walked a little further up over the whole river delta was spectacular.

We drove back down and stopped at one more pagoda, a controversial one that the government had painted gold against the community wishes. This one was good but I was a bit pagoda’d out at that point. We continued our drive and stopped for tea at a little teahouse while we waited to go to the next temple.

This next one was really cool, mainly because we got to watch the monks there chant and ring their bells before queueing up for food from one of the nearby villages. There was a lot of ceremony involved and it felt great to be able to watch it. They eat lunch at 11:30 and that’s their last meal for the day.

It was a long drive back into Mandalay but interesting to watch day to day life and the locals would always wave and smile when they saw me going past as a westerner.

Arriving back in Mandalay Min Min wanted to show me one last point of interest, Shwe In Bin monastery. I’m so glad he did as it was a beautiful wooden building with lots of intricate design. Monks walked peacefully about and I probably spent more time there than in some of the others places due to its beauty.

I was soon back at the hostel and ready to relax after being out for over 8 hours it cost me 20000 kyat for the whole day with Min Min, including food and drinks, he was so great and explained a lot about Myanmar life. I chilled out till the early evening coolness and had a wander around the hostel area. I don’t know if I was just in the wrong place but it felt like there wasn’t really much in the way of shops/restaurants or bars in Mandalay.

That evening I walked up the night market which wasn’t great, before finding a little restaurant on the street called Shan Ma Ma. It was similar to the night before, you ordered your main dish then got some sides and soup to go along with it. After explaining I only ate vegetables I was soon tucking into we great food again.

Suddenly the whole street went dark and I realised it was a power cut. My second of the holiday. Luckily the restaurant had a back up generator so I finished my meal with a beer before walking back some very dark streets and I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Made it to Mandalay

I was awake early and spent breakfast making last minute plans for Mandalay. Don Mueang airport in Bangkok doesn’t have public transport access with BTS etc but you can get the metro half way and continue on bus.

I decided I’d stick with a taxi as I wouldn’t have to worry about time and it wasn’t too expensive, 340 Baht in the end.

The airport itself has quite a few restaurants and shops etc and it wasn’t long until I was boarded and ready for the next adventure.

As we were descending into Mandalay the clouds dispersed and I got my first glimpse of Myanmar. I couldn’t wait to start exploring, once I was through immigration (I ordered my E-Visa a few weeks back and had my printed confirmation letter, just make sure you go through the official government site) I jumped in a shared taxi for 5000 kyat or £2.50 and an hour and a half later I was at my hotel.

Downtown@mandalay was a pleasant surprise, I was in an 8 bed dormitory with air con. The showers were excellent, breakfast was great and the staff were very helpful. When I arrived a local was outside with a motorbike and offered to take me around. I realised the only way to get around Mandalay was by bike/tuktuk or taxi so once I was checked in I dropped my bags off and met Min Min. Min Min agreed to take me to Mandalay palace for 3000 kyat.

I jumped on the back and we sped off, following the walls and moat of the palace ground to the entrance. Here I paid 10000 kyat for the entrance fee, this includes 5 more places you can visit. Min Min said he would wait for me while I walked to the palace past the walls.

The palace itself is a model of the ancient Mandalay palace, it’s pretty nice to wander around and there’s a small museum with some artefacts inside. The highlight has got to the the tower, you can climb up to the top and it affords you views of the whole palace grounds and surrounding area.

I walked back along the road to the palace walls where Min Min was waiting for me. I asked to see the nearby pagodas and off we went, with no price agreed it made me a little nervous. The first monastery we arrived at was Shwenandaw monastery, the building is amazing and completely made of teak wood.

I wandered around admiring the carvings before we went to our next stop, the …. Pagoda which was a 15 second drive up from. Shwenandaw. This huge pagoda was very pretty with big golden arch ways, the inside is pretty plain with a Buddha and some tall columns to hold the roof up.

Our next stop was one I had been really excited about before my trip. Kuthodaw pagoda is famous for having the largest book in the world. Each page is carved in stone and held inside a small stone temple.

It’s so pretty to wander about between the little white buildings and the actual pagoda is a huge golden topped building. They even have a mini model of the site so to can really appreciate the scale of the place.

The next pagoda wasn’t as impressive, a golden stupa and a Buddha to pray to. I did enjoy the view that you got over the Kuthodaw pagoda though.

Finally it was time to head up Mandalay hill, I had read that the sunset from up here was out of this world and I couldn’t wait to check it out. You can walk to the top but after showing me the entrance to the hill, Min Min sped off up the road to drive us.

Unfortunately he didn’t bank on having a big westerner on the bike, I had to get off a couple of times and walk the steepest parts. Min Min even asked me how much I weighed! We arrived at the top with my ego slightly dented.

At the top you have to walk up a couple of flights of stairs, the first level has lovely windows looking out over Mandalay and the Irrawaddy river. This was a spot I definitely would visit all the time if I lived there. The tiling around the windows was beautiful, and it seemed very peaceful.

The next lot of steps takes you to the pagoda at the top, this has an incredible viewpoint, you can see the the whole of Mandalay up to the mountains in the distance.

It’s truly a stunning experience up there, I felt bad that Min Min was waiting for me but I could’ve spent so much longer enjoying the views. 3 Burmese men in their early 20s came over to chat so they could improve their English. I really enjoyed this moment as I got to know a bit more about Myanmar life.

Once I was done Min Min drove me back into the main City and asked if I was hungry. I hadn’t thought about it but realised I could eat and eat and eat. So he took me to a very local restaurant down a small alleyway.

Here we sat with many locals and the Burmese ladies working there started bringing all this amazing food out. You got your main curry dish, then about 4 or 5 side dishes and rice. It was all so tasty, I’ve been vegetarian for a few months now and unfortunately they brought out pork. I didn’t have the heart to say no so I ate a couple of pieces before filling up on rice and vegetables.

I was pretty tired at this point, especially when Min Min said he would take me out the next day from 5am! So he dropped me back at the hostel where I was soon sound asleep.