Heidi and I had reached our final stop of beautiful Myanmar - big city Mandalay.
As we were visiting one of the main central temple sites one day (where I happen to fall severely in love with the sunstallations^ -- look at that beauty!) we meet a local man who offered to take us around town on a bike tour the next day.
Said and done, the next day we meet up on said spot and said time to begin our day tour. But first: A stop for our guide to stock up on chewing tobacco. I decide to buy some for myself... Now that turned out to be totally throwing money in the lake, as the Swedes would say. I was excited to see whether my spit would turn red, but I never made it that far. I spat it out after a few seconds. I think I'll just stick to snus in the future.
We went to a beautiful Buddhist temple. Up steep hills. Then recovered with a coffee break on the temple grounds before cycling back to the city.
The next morning we were up before the sun. On the back of a motorbike we hung on for dear life behind a Burmese taxi driver that brought us out to the U Bien Bridge, only the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. We were hoping to see the monks crossover to collect alms as the sun rose, but nothing happened. It was a beautiful sight nonetheless. I love to experience any sunrise.
I remember when I took this photo., ever the fan of so-called sunffiti, I wanted to capture how the temple decor was creating decoration on its own. Suddenly fellow surrounding tourists turn their cameras the same direction, as if I were taking a photo of a crucial part of the temple that they simply had to have on their memory cards too. When in reality, it's just a shadow play.
Friday afternoon meant beer Mandalay and cigarettes, before going to see the comedy show of The Moustache Brothers. The original trio have made themselves known for their satirical critisism of the military regimen in the country. Their show has sent part of the group to jail, and now a days the remains of the group are only allowed to perform in front of foreigners, inside the garage of their family home.
One of the jokes I can recall is about having to go to the dentist in Thailand and it goes something like:
"Why don't you go to the dentist in your own country?"
"Because I'm not allowed to open my mouth!"
From Bagan we came to Myanmar's second largest lake - Inle. Cold and windy in the Burmese winter, we seeked shelter indoors; drinking avocado lassi's until our bellies ached and tap beer as the only women at the local pub.
The compulsory thing to do as a tourist is of course to cross the lake! The Burmese fishermen have a very special technique of using their feet to row.
We were floating by floating gardens... ... a range of handcraft workshops...
... a range of handcraft workshops...
... and some ladies rolling cigarettes; using a mix of tobacco, honey, tamarind, brown sugar, banana, alcohol, salt and aniseed. This lady we spoke to was très cool, posing in front of the camera with such a satisfied look on her face. Quality check.
The business card of our boat driver. This is my #1 thing I love about this continent --> "you will happy".
Another day we spent on land. We went cycling, passing small schools and wide fields of tiny suns as pictured above - and eventually ending up in a small village where we tried To hpu, the Burmese version of Tofu, made from chickpea flour rather than of soy beans. Delicious.
Coffee, guacamole and The World's Largest Cracker. Too big to fit into a standard instagram square.
And with these chillin' cows we say good bye Inle! < 3
Just as you think you've survived the worst of possible bus ride scenarios (I mean, by now we had covered the emergency diarrhea, the tyre-exploding in the middle of nowhere, the 26hrs full volume non-stop Lao karaoke and the top bunk in a Vietnamese over night bus) This one, from Yangon to Bagan, takes the prize.
I had actually read that the AC is sometimes an issue on the Burmese buses, but packing two double layered sweaters in the hand luggage seemed like over-doing it. I mean, we are in South East Asia after all. So I figured one sweater would do. Silly me. (At least that's better than a certain Finnish lady who entered the bus wearing a thin dress and a cardigan.)
So the bus starts rolling and quite immediately we realize that Oh dear, we should have brought more clothes. When the AC goes on, I don't think I have ever been so cold in my life. I mean, -30 in the Swedish winter seems humble in comparison to this. Sitting straight under the fan. The full speed fan. That is non-stoppable despite the "push the curtain inside it"-trick à la middle school bus trips. At the mid-way stop I manage to, via charades, ask the bus driver whether we can have "some things" (oh, you know, just half our packing) from our bags. Luckily, we can and we also have some warming Mohinga and comforting cigarettes at the roadside restaurant.
When we arrive in Bagan it's still pitch dark. We await dawn whilst having hot chocolate at the bus station. A local strikes up conversation and is later on kind enough to offer us a lift to our guesthouse. (This time we have used a landline phone to book in advance. Not making the same mistake as in Yangon!) Our room is yet not ready for check-in, so as the morning sun approaches, we climb up one of the many temple sites and watch hot air balloons lift from the ground with a bunch of strangers.
The days to follow we spend pedaling around on those sand covered roads on our no gear bikes (quite the work out I tell you!). It struck me how familiar it was. Or was, rather how familiar it smelt. It smelt just like a late summer's night in Sweden. Come to think of it, this was probably the freshest air we had been breathing for months.
Time was short when we were in Myanmar. Unfortunately. As we had read online before going the prices weren't really within the means of our budget, especially not after we both had decided to go to Australia on a Working Holiday. So we had a total of 12 days in the country, covering The Big 4 of the tourist essentials (Bagan, Yangon, Mandalay and Inle Lake.)
To clarify: In terms of accommodation; yes, Myanmar is a lot more expensive than your average SEA backpacker accommodation. However, I feel it evened out in terms of food and transportation prices. On average we spent about 15'000 kyat a day, and that includes all food, drinks, buses, bike rentals and the occasional (ok, quite a bit of) beer and cigarettes. 15'000 kyat is about 12 euros and you could definitely do it a lot cheaper than that.
After yet another sleepless night at Khaosan (all thanks to that live musician from across the street with his great variety of Oasis-songs) me and Heidi were on our way to Yangon, former capital of Myanmar.
I'm not gonna lie, the first hours upon arrival were rough. You know, as a combination no sleep, no caffeine, no food, no correct currency to purchase food/coffee and how it seemed that every bloody hostel was fully booked. I can't say we hadn't been warned. It was after all the peak of the season and after the tourist boom hit Myanmar a few years ago, Yangon actually have more tourists than they have room to host. This of course affects the room rates as well. For instance, you pay x10 as much as in Thailand for a standard that is a lot lower.
So after wandering about the city, from northern districts to southern, with our heavy backpacks pushing into our shoulders, we finally find a place that doesn't say "$60 per night" or "Yes we have room - but for family only" (What??). Now this place doesn't immediately show us the available room. In fact, they claim that they're fully booked. I think it's after the miserable expression on my face that they suddenly change their minds. "Well we do have one room...", one receptionist say dubiously. They bring us upstairs to a room with, how do I put this, very spartan furnishings. By spartan I mean there's like two or three very thin matrasses spread on the floor and a few cartoon boxes. To their suprise, I'm almost crying of joy. "We'll take it, we'll take it!". And so we end up paying $2 for the best night's sleep I had in a long time.
Despite the rough start - it only took a couple of hours (well, quarters of hours) in the country before I was completely hooked. In the taxi from the airport, driving past a man balancing a huge, like gianormous, bale of hay on his bike. This in combination with the mixture of both left and right-sided vehicles; a relic from when they decided to swap to right side traffic after their colonial days were over. This city is as much me as it can be, with the fading paint and buildings remaining from the colonial times in the midst of all this dirt. It's a fabulous mess. Not to mention the cuisine and how my cheeks are actually aching at the end of each day after returning all of the curious smiles that constantly greet us on the streets.
But my favourite part of Yangon is a given number one. Watching the sun set over their pride, the Shwedagon Padoga, was worth every single cent of the $8 spent. The colours were simply amazing. You know those fireworks over the castle when a Disney film begins? Well, it was like that, but in real life.