23 January – last day in Burma

Well, the final day in Burma, it does seem much longer than 2 weeks we have been here. The big ticket (that means another $8 to the military government) here is Shwe Dagon Paya, a massive gold pagoda with 82 other buildings around, built on a hill containing 8 of Buddha’s hairs. BTW, we are now enlightened as to why Buddhists have shaved heads, there seems to be a lot of Buddhist stupas and sites that are built on his hair, he can’t have had much left on his head after gifting it out everywhere.
We took the easy option of getting a betel nut chewing taxi driver to take us there. This guy obviously cared about his car in that he spat his betel nut, not out the car window and therefore streaking the side of his taxi like most of the drivers do here, but by opening the car door whenever we stopped, which was pretty permenantly as downtown Rangoon is usually at a standstill in the daytime, and spitting on the road.
The pagoda is magnificent, we took the lift to the top, and were dazzled by the splendour of the sight. Guy spent the next 2 hours taking photos, I dutifully followed him around.

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Spot the 2 sparrows playing on the reliefs.

We then walked back downtown, despite many taxi drivers worried about our ability to actually walk and shouting ‘Taxi! You want taxi?!’ every 2 mins. We had a bit of street food, and wandered through a market, photos below!

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After a well earned(!) rest in the room we treated ourselves to afternoon tea at The Strand, well why wouldn’t you? It was fabulous…!  Guy had the Burmese version, I had the classic.

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We then wandered through to the bar for a Gin and tonic, but there was no tonic! This country is in a mess!! A glass of white wine for me and for guy a beer and about 15 mossie bites.

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We headed back to the streets with a more reasonably priced beer and had a blog writing session, watching office workers go home, street stalls being dismantled and put away for the night and Italian tourists setting up their own chairs and tables in our restaurant, across the road using the tables from the betel nut seller’s equipment!

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Once the blogs were finished we thought a light snack would be in order for tea. About this time a large rat dashed across the road, into the gutter our side of the road, past the Italian tourist next to me. The rat was slightly unnerved by now and ran into a brush, knocking it over and disappeared down the side of our restaurant. This was then followed up by a small mouse who seemed to be lost and darting in and out of the gutter/road. We decided to move upstairs to eat our food of tom yum soup with cold rice, and not the eel in soil bowl or the chicken’s overy hot plate!

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22 January – Rangoon

Packed, checked out and moved to a nicer hotel, we bumped into the Brits we had shared a bottle of wine with in Nyaungshwe. Headed to the train station to try the circular train through Rangoon and its suburbs.

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The train was dilapidated and the floor was covered in peanut shells and cabbage leaves but as usual in Burma the locals were very friendly. We trundled through stations and chatted to a lad called Moses watching the scenery float past. Scenery of mainly rubbish and shacks of poor folk. In fact nothing much was happening until we pulled into a station and a sack of cabbages flew through the open window. Chaos began. Suddenly a whole market of veg began to stream into the carriage with sellers shouting and screaming and hauling huge heavy baskets of green produce onto the train. After a minute of mayhem, the sellers, who were all small thin girls, sat gossiping and shouting across the din of a surreal commuter train. Opposite us, for the rest of the journey sat a middle aged trader who took handfuls of his mornings purchase and carefully created eye pleasing bundles of neatly trimmed broccoli with Zen like devotion ignoring the scene around him.

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We were so engrossed we missed our stop for the tourist sights and ended back where we started at Yangon main station. Ditching the sights we headed for another market and after duck soup had a rest in the room.

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After dark and when mossie time was over we had a tiger beer in a local beer station and decided to head a bit out of town to an expat bar. We’ve been away for 53 days and the allure of a pub finally got the better of us. The trek was further than we thought and the streets were badly lit and we were about to give up when we finally came across the 50th street bar. We entered to find brick walls, old tin adverts, rugby on the TV, pitchers of beer and happy hour. We hurried to a table and a pitcher of beer was fetched and we were told that it was pizza night. Pepperoni was ordered.

We chatted about friends and family, we reminisced, made plans and had a great time. We look forward to sharing nights like that with you all soon.

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20 Jan – Rangoon (Yangon)

On the third attempt, the bus finally dropped us off at Rangoon bus station only a 40 minute taxi ride from downtown Rangoon and our bed for the day/night. We checked in at 8am and were told the room would be ready at 1pm and there was an issue with the online booking price. After the recent illness and overnight bus, morale in team Roberts was low with a high grumpiness factor. We dropped the bags and wandered the streets getting some local donuts for brekkie and munched on them while walking through a market taking in the sights of open sewers, wriggling fish on tarpaulins, raw meat with flies on and scabby dogs chewing their fleas.

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Returning in better spirits, we waited in the common room taking advantage of the dial up speed WiFi when the receptionist told us there was a room we could have now and we had been upgraded to having a window as well. A morning siesta followed.

Kept awake by the light from the window, we got up and decided to explore. The lonely planet guide recommended a biriyani restaurant (British Colonial legacy) so we headed there for lunch and for a first meal in a while. The vegetable biriyani was delicious but not the mutton one I had ordered.

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Stomach twitching, we continued to wander in the searing midday sun, lips dry and nose assaulted by drains, fried stuff, fish sauce and drains. I have to admit that the senses were a bit overloaded and I realised that I probably was still suffering from both ends syndrome and wasn’t exactly enamoured with Rangoon. Only later did we realise that we had been wandering around Chinatown which is never the most sanitised area. We headed back for an afternoon siesta.

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Waking we noticed a TV and put it on to watch School of Rock. Jack Black at his finest IMHO (one for Rob). We set out again and visited a city transformed. Darkness had settled and we strolled around neon lit bustling streets full of vendors selling food, sunglasses, phones, textiles, condoms and fruit. It was enthralling and exciting and completely different from our first impression. Noddle soup for tea and back to bed for the third and final time.

21 January – Rangoon

Today we had a day trip arranged to see more stupas, monastries and pagodas in Bago a two hour drive away…….when in Asia do as the Asians do!
Our hotel had arranged a driver, in actual fact they have got a cab from the street for us! The driver, Mad Dog McRae, seemed a little clueless as to where all the sights were, but after a few enquiries and us directing him we made it to all the locations. The highlight was a visit to a buddhist monastery to see the monks have lunch.

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We watched sunset from the 20th floor of a tower block with an expensive beer and a dry chocolate brownie.

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19 Jan – Lake & Overnight bus

Things had quietened down so we finally took our lake tour, the reason we had travelled to Nyaungshwe in the first place (we only knew of the vineyard when we arrived). First stop was a fascinating local market where we watched a mobile blacksmith mend locals farming tools.

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Then we passed through floating gardens where the locals grow tomatoes, cauliflowers, watercress, beans and cucumbers.

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Next was a textile factory, then a silversmith and a cheroot factory before a pagoda and a monastery where cats jump through hoops. The cats were unfortunately on a break when we arrived.

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The trip was a bit craft market heavy but passing through the villages was fascinating.

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Back at the hotel we patiently waited for our overnight bus to Rangoon. We left at 7pm with an estimated arrival of 7am. We were both tired from extensive bathroom visits the day before and a little nervous of the extended time without a nearby toilet. The staff of the hotel came out to wave us off and we thanked them for the rehydration salts and ginger tea they had fed us with no charge.

18 Jan – Nyaungshwe D&V

We woke up in the expectation of a boat ride round the beautiful Inle lake that we had briefly crossed the day before, but “both ends” was back in town so plans were shelved. As we were downgrading to a cheaper room, I packed and moved us and the patient transferred beds. Then I treated myself to lunch in a posh restaurant taking the opportunity to have Burmese food. Only four hours later my expensive food reappeared as “both ends” had kindly shared the bug. Bed at 5pm.

Here’s a lovely photo of seagulls

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17 January – Nyaung Shwe bike ride

Breakfast at Minglarbar inn is a good one, we have a fried pastry product to start – good to soak up the wine and cocktails from the night before – then a pancake, then omelette or scrambled eggs, bowl of fruit, toast, jam and a cup of tea or coffee with a small glass of squash. All coffee and tea is in individual sachets, and you rehydrate them with the hot water that is on your table in a Thermos flask, unless you are me and you want a green tea and it comes in a half pint mug, just like the shots of whisky and rum! Burmese tea is a bit like builders tea but with evaporated milk.

Today’s plan was to follow the cycling route on the back of the hotel map for a 22km bike ride, that includes hot springs, boat trip, and vineyard…..again! So we set off on our excellent bikes, down the main road waving and smiling!

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We quickly got to the end of the tarmaced road and were on sandy, rocky paths, it was just like off roading! We followed that for about 9 km, and met a few other tourists doing the same thing, thankfully Guy’s competitive side kicked in and we were the ones in the lead, no one overtook us!! As we were cycling along we were still not immune to hawkers, a local on a motor bike rode up besides a speeding Guy and started with the usual question ‘where you from?’ He ended up saying he had a mate who had a boat and would could take us across the river for the market price of 8000 Kyats. That is the lovely thing here, everything is set price, even the taxis with no meters, so you never feel that you are being ripped off India style. Well, part from the fact the government make you pay tourist price (5 times local price) for everything!

So we rocked up at the natural spa, sweating, needing a scub down! The place was lovely, 3 pools of varying heat, the hottest was bearable for about 2 mins! We got there early, so had the place almost to ourselves. By the end of it we had go to know a couple of isrealies who lived in USA, and a Japanese guy, who was no doubt horrified at the cleanliness levels of the spa (it was a thin bug consommé), and like us, was remembering the Japanese onsens where the men bathe naked with a flannel on their heads. Swimsuits on we managed to clean and scrub up, have a chilled beer in the spa and get back on our bikes.

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We were immediately picked up by a boatman who led us to the his boat, and handed us over to 2 young lads to ferry across the lake. We navigated our way through the water hyacinths, rubbish, and peoples houses for a boat ride across the lake. It was beautiful, as the photos below show.

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We had a walk off the jetty, then another few km cycle to the vineyard, where we passed everyone that we had met that morning or in the last few days in Inle, it is a real circuit, so you keep seeing the same people around.

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We stopped for a sugar drink / shandy and then made it to the vinyard, hooray! Bottle of red was duelly ordered and drunk. And we were just contemplating the cycle ride down hill when we got talking to 3 English people, 2 of which we had already met in Mandalay! Well, it would be rude to just walk off, so we chatted away, had another bottle of red to share with them and feeling quite pissed freewheeled down the hill after sunset, obviously with no bike lights on or helmets, as is the norm here.

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We made it back into town and tried out another cocktail bar, it served decent cocktails thank goodness.

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We then wobbled off down the steet, I only cycled into one person, to go to a dim sum restaurant that we had been told about.  Again we met people we had seen biking and vineyarding today, and had some delicious dim sum, a couple more beers for the road! We made it home with no further incidents, or drinks!!!

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