3. Myanmar (Yangon, Bagan, and Inle Lake)
Date: Sept 7 - 11
Cost: $164 (Jetstar)
Day 1 (Singapore -> Yangon -> Bagan): As soon as we arrived in Yangon (capital of Myanmar), we took a taxi to Shwedagon Pagoda. It is an ancient Buddhist pagoda built in the 14th century… covered in gold and surrounded by smaller prayer rooms all over the complex. The place was a maze with so many areas/buddhas for different prayer purposes. It was a beautiful temple though… While walking through the temple, all the locals just stared at us, some were smiles and others were just blank stares. It wasn’t very comfortable but I guess that’s what you get when you are an misplaced kind of Myanmarian looking Asian with 5 white Europeans. I forgot to mention that before entering the pagoda we all had to take our shoes and socks off at the entrance. We also got scammed into getting a tour guide…it was nice having him tell us what all the temples/buddhas symbolized and were used for but I honestly just did my own thing and wondered around taking pictures and exploring each room. One interesting thing I noticed about Myanmar was that all the men/boys wear these skirts/pants made out of a big sheet of cloth rather than regular trousers or shorts. Also, there are monks everywhere! BUddhism is obviously the national religion and it’s practiced everywhere by everyone. Its presence is very apparent and loud. After the pagoda, we went searching for the bus ticketing place where we could get a night bus ticket to Bagan. After circling the area that we got dropped off at, we found the little stand where some lady was selling bus tickets. Zan, Ivan, Maurits, Hannah and I booked a seat on the night bus for $15 USD/ticket. After that, we decided to check out another pagoda right in front of the bus ticket booth, Sule Pagoda. A quick walk around the pagoda was all that was needed because it was so similar to the other pagoda. What we were more worried about was eating!! We found a Burmese restaurant to go to in our handy dandy Lonely Planet book. At the restaurant, we ended up getting a variety of curries and side dishes and just shared it all with rice and soup. The dining style reminded me a lot of the way Koreans dined with 밥, 국물 and 반찬. The food was pretty spectacular considering we had no idea what Burmese food was… yummy. After dinner, we walked around gathering snacks for our long bus ride to Bagan. Soon enough we all got into a large taxi van to get to the bus terminal which was way up north from where we were. In the taxi with us was this random Russian/German couple who were all over each other the entire trip to the terminal. Seriously get a room! The girl was kissing the guy wherever she could and the guy was making animal noises in her ear and urgh it was disgusting, awkward, and just a weird situation to be in a car with for like a good hour. I felt especially bad for Maurits who had to sit next to them haha. Interestingly, we found out that these two travelers didn’t even know each other that well… probably a one night hookup turned into whatever this was. As soon as we reached the terminal we got prepared to board when Ivan realized that he had left his mini ipad in the taxi. Yeah… I know “no chance you’re getting that back.” Surprisingly enough, the taxi driver was nice enough to turn around and meet the bus to return Ivan his ipad.. how freaking lucky is he?!?! Bus ride was pretty bad… freezing bus and seats weren’t comfortable. It was crazy but the bus was filled to capacity… meaning that people were even sitting in the aisle on plastic chairs. I have never experienced something like that. After 9-10 hours, we arrived in Bagan around 4am? Grabbed a horse-carriage - yeah i know haha - to Winner Guest House where Finn, Milan, and Sami were staying (they had come a few days before all of us).
Day 2 (Bagan -> Inle Lake): As soon as we got to the guesthouse, the guys told us to grab a bike so that we could bike to a nearby temple to watch the sunrise. Sadly, my bike riding kills were not up to par and I struggled a ot getting to the pagoda haha. But hey I have to give myself some props for making it there despite the dark, dirt roads, and not having ridden a bike in like at least 7 years. Anyways, we climbed up the pagoda and watched the sunrise. Unfortunately, the sunrise wasn’t as beautiful as we had hoped because it was so foggy/cloudy out. Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel to grab breakfast and planned the rest of the day. Ultimately, Hannah and I decided that we would do Bagan in one day and head to Inle Lake with Milan and Finn that night.
Boat trip to underwater pagoda (35,000 kyat): not so much an underwater pagoda but a beautiful one nonetheless. All nine of us boarded a cute little boat near the edge of the village and headed off to a pagoda further out. Originally we thought it was going to be a pagoda in a cave … only accessible by boat but we were wrong. Once we got there, we realized that it was just a regular pagoda just way off the main strip of pagodas back near town. In one part of the temple, there were a million bats just chilling on the ceiling - scary stuff. I saw a few bats fly out and did not attempt to go into the room full of them. Inside the main part of the pagoda, there was a passage way that led to a secret passageway that supposedly led to Inle Lake.. that is if someone was willing to crawl for some crazy # of km in a dark little hole
Temple Run: After the boat ride, Finn, Milan, and Sami led us to a few pagodas that they really liked. It was really incredible seeing them in person in the light. I couldn’t believe how many there were all over Bagan. Supposedly there used to be around 5000? But then there was an earthquake and a lot of them got destroyed.
Lunch @ Weatherspoon: After an awesome photoshoot at the pagodas, we biked into town to grab lunch at a local restaurant. Weatherspoon is apparently some bar in the UK … so Hannah and Sami were pretty excited about it. The owner actually lived in Bristol for about 2 years. Anywho, lunch was very yummy.. tomato salad, ginger salad, chicken vermicelli, bomb pineapple juice, and the Myanmar Mule! At the end of our lunch, we all wrote a little message on the restaurant wall where a lot other backpackers had written messages and bid farewell to our favorite Bagan restaurant.
Temple Run #2 (Bike Rental -1500 kyat) : Since Hannah and I were leaving for Inle Lake that night, we decided to go on our own and explore a few more temples before departing Bagan. Only problem was that we couldn’t tell the temples apart and roamed around aimlessly haha. Nevertheless, we successfully explored a few really cool temples and even bought some paintings along the way.
Bus Ride (11,000 kyat): JJ bus, which was the VIP bus that Finn and MIlan had taken to Bagan didn’t go to Inle so we had to take a really bad bus (once again for me and Hannah). 27 person bus vs. 55 person bus. PAINFUL!
Day 3: Inle Lake: 9 hours of a hot and cramped bus ride later… arrived at Inle Lake early in the morning. We picked a random guesthouse to go to, May Guest House, and knocked out for a few hours before exploring Inle Lake. One thing about traveling is that you need to make the most of your day (especially if it is a short trip like the one Hannah and I were taking). After a quick breakfast, we headed out to take a boat tour of the lake. As we drove through the water, it was so surprising to see what we saw. First of all, the view was breathtaking. The mountain/hilltops went on for days and clouds outlined the sky and overlapped the mountains like a painting. We were also blessed with nice weather which made everything 10x better. The air was crisp and breezy and the sun was so bright that we had to make sure to sunscreen like no other. As we glided across the lake, we saw houses built on stilts on the lake… I was amazed to see that communities of people were living on water. We saw fishermen balancing on the edge of their boats throwing fish nets, spearing fish, or paddling with their legs. It was incredible. Even further down, we saw young children also paddling their own boats. Some young boys were even fishing. Other women and girls could be seen sitting on a rock or a deck washing clothes or taking baths. everything was so beautiful, so simple and natural. To be honest, I felt like I was watching scenes from Pocahontas or like Mulan hahahh. My favorite thing to see was the children. It made me so happy to see so many happy/smiling children. Now onto the boat tour:
Silversmith: basically a huge display room full of handmade goods and people working on the goods as well.I bought a ring for $14.
Lunch/Pagoda: had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant called Ngwe Zin Yaw. Afterwards, we visited a pagoda right across from the restaurant.
Tobacco/Cigar-Making: little house were people were packing all-natural nicotine-free cigars by hand. there were two girls - age 15 - who were packing alongside 4 other older women.
Silk: second to last stop was silk-making… a larger building with levels of machines for weaving silk. watched a lady pull silk threads out of a lotus stem which was pretty cool.
Monastery: final stop on the boat ride… beautiful statues of Buddha were inside. Huge statues made up of gold and gems. It was a beautiful monastery… took some incredible pictures there because they had an amazing view of the landscape at one end of the temple.
After a long day of boating, we went to dinner at a restaurant called Seagull. Talk about a perfect ending to a perfect day. Dinner was on point. The company was great. I swear life couldn’t get any better.
Day 4 (Inle —> Yangon): Last day at Inle Lake. It’s been a long post so I will summarize our last day. We took the boat out again and this time went to a pagoda in a new section of the lake. Afterwards, we finished off our boat tour visiting the “long-neck people.” By the time we returned, it was time for Hannah and I to head to the bus terminal for our night bus back to Yangon for our flight back to Singapore. This time around Hannah and I took a VIP bus…hehe luxury.
Day 5 (Yangon): arrived in Yangon around 6AM and taxied straight to the airport. It was a whirlwind of a trip because Hannah and I only had 4 days to everything but it all worked out for the best… a great trip!