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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16 January – Mum’s birthday!

As our place was fab, we were able to Skype home to Mum to say happy birthday from the comfort of our room/suite, which was nice to do!
In the afternoon we hired bikes, better ones than last time and cheaper, and cycled out to the sunset point, which fortunately was situated in a vineyard!

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Cycling out there was fabulous, lots of smiling, waving and cheering with the locals, avoiding pot holes and other random animals on the road. Cycling up the hill to the vineyard was hard work, I got off and walked, Mr Ventoux managed it without getting off his trusty steed. I staggered up to the vineyard, desperate for a drink and a lie down. We got a drink, well, several in fact as we had a tasting menu. The results of which are below:

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Savignon blanc was grassy, with overtones of grapefruit, quite dry and a little short on the finish.
Rose was astringent with a slight strawberry flavour.
Cabernet savignon was fruity, dark fruit flavours and smokey with plenty of tannins.
Late harvest was apricot on the nose with a sweet fruit finish!

We had a bottle of late harvest white, accompanied by a cheese and bread, photo below!! You will be amazed to know that the cheese did not induce cheese face in Guy, not even a tingle.

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A quick cycle down the hill and back into town, we got waylaid by another cocktail bar, they seem to be the new thing nowadays, and I had a lychee Martini which included 5 lychees on a stick, and Guy had a mojito, it was quite special!

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As we are still avoiding local food we had wood fired pizza and French fried for tea, delicious (with a slightly guilty feeling).

15 January – all day on a bus…..

You know when you are told your bus will arrive at 2.30 or 3pm at your destination, no problem. However, due to past experiences you are both a little sceptical and are putting bets on will we arrive at 4.10 or 4.30, so when you rock up at 5.30 after an unscheduled stoppage/breakdown, neither of you are surprised. Although as I chose 4.30 I did technically win that bet.
The breakdown was exciting, lots of Burmese men under and seemingly in the engine of the bus, lots of European men mumbling and muttering about carburetors and brake parts…….
Arrival at inle lake was greeted with the usual government official telling us we had to buy a ticket, in dollars. Then tens of taxi and rickshaw drivers asking if we wanted a ride, a rickshaw driver volunteered to cycle us and our luggage to our hotel, he didn’t look the cyclist type – no bulging thighs / calves – but he managed to get us to the hotel on a ramshacked old bike with no sweating or wheezing.
Our hotel was fabulous, massive room, bamboo decoration and it had a fridge in the room!! As we had just found out that the beer we had been drinking, Myanmar beer, was funded by the government we decided to do a taste test of the rest of the local brews, and some Thai ones!
We had a meal in a local place, which I don’t think had many tourists as they gave us free fruit, canapes(!), tomato salad, and thought it hilarious when we wanted to try the local whisky and rum, which we had shots of in half pint glasses for 30p each!
We slept well that night in our massive room with massive bed.

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14 January – Cycling again!

Today we decided to get back on our bikes, however these bikes were very different to our bikes! But the basics of 2 wheels and a frame managed to get us around. No gears, no carbon frames, no fancy frills, barely any brakes, proper back to basics!

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It was by far the best experience so far, we waved, laughed, yelled Ming Lah Bah (hello) to anyone and everyone who passed or looked at us, lorries full of people, sat on bags of god knows what, stared, but as soon as we smiled and said Ming Lah Bah they all grinned and waved back at us pair of nutters. We had fun with the hawkers and kids, taught a couple of the kids some new expressions……see you later alligator, manana banana, laters potatoes!

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It was surprising how big some of the small inclines were on the bikes, and we saw a sign saying beware of a steep decline and stopped to get off and check the gradient as brakes we sketchy!

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Oh, and we saw a few more temples!

Lunch was vegetarian! And delicious!

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Afternoon was spent by the pool with a beer and sore legs and derrière!

We have a bus journey tomorrow, the hotel have said they will pick up at 7.30am and arrive at 2pm, we have biscuits, water, fruit and some patience packed for tomorrow!

13 January – Bagan temples……lots of them!

We had a marvellous nights sleep, in our separate beds, which had a mattress that wasn’t worn through, with no karaoke bars or pigeons to disturb us…… ooooh, the luxuries of travelling!
We had breakfast included, which was a Myanmar breakfast or Western breakkie. Mayanmar was sticky black rice, chickpeas, sesame seeds, there was also the option of cold noodles (seems to be available for any meal) and the accompaniment was chilli with dried fish bashed into it. I decided to stick the western cakes and fruit after trying and not particularly liking the local option.

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Then we arranged for a horse and cart to take us around the temples for the day. It was a lovely way to see the temples, slow and plodding, and we met many a hawker who would follow us around, show us a view point then we would go to their shop and buy something from them, we are slowly getting overloaded with tat, which maybe passed onto lucky family and friends on our return. But by buying this tat we are putting money back into the local economy, and not the government, so our consciences are clear!
The scenery is stunning, it is the sheer number of temples that is breathtaking, some do have great frescos, beautiful carvings, are simply massive and filled with simply massive Buddha’s, but it is the landscape which is so special, Guy took a few (!) photos for you all to enjoy!

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We had a Myanmar lunch, which again has the overpowering addition of fish to every dish, whether meat or vegetable based. I even had a can of coke to wash it down, it was that unenjoyable!

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A few more temples and we then were taken to a quiet temple to watch the sunset, it was quiet for about half and hour, then evey man and his kid decided to join is, perilously perched up steep stairs to the top. To complete the blissful feeling a helicopter seemed to fly around for about 20 mins over the whole site, marvellous!

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A quick trot back to the hotel and we found ourselves in the strange position of needing to find a tourist place to eat as the local food wasn’t doing it for us, so a plate of thai rice later I was happy, and at least I didn’t resort to pizza like the French person next to us!

12 January – boat ride to Bagan

We had a decision to make whether to take the 2 day local boat to Bagan and all of our $25 would go to the government or take the 7 hour boat journey and all our $40 goes to a local boat company. We stuck to the easy option, and at 6am had our betel nut driver pick us up to take us to the boat jetty. Unfortunately he took us to the wrong one first, but we had plenty of time so it wasn’t a problem.  The Bible, Lonely Planet, recommended getting a different company to ours, as most were unreliable, but our hotel had booked it for us so we didn’t have much choice. Just before we left, the other company’s boat sped put the jetty and off into the sunrise. That was the last we saw of it.
We got underway about 15 mins late, not bad really, and saw the sunrise over the water and stupa covered hills, nice, nice.

We ambled along, slowly, and had our first near miss with the bottom of the river bed, the captain, who was wearing a Man U tracksuit top, seemed unperturbed. The rest of the day was spent either ambling along the Ayerwaddy River or stuck on a sand bank on the bottom of the river with the driver trying to wiggle our way out of the mess he had driven us into, or driven into the river bank (I think mooring is too nice a word for it!) to ‘wait for the mist to clear’. The free breakfast was a boiled egg, dry toast, marg and a banana. The lunch was cold noodles at £1.50 a plate, and it was minging! As we had both, stupidly, believed our hotel when they said we would arrive at 2pm we hadn’t thought to take loads of biscuits, fruit or water, and were running seriously low on cash as we had assumed we would only need to pay for a taxi the other end. Therefore we had a quiet day onboard, I read most of A Prayer For Owen Meany (which if any of you haven’t read it, has the funniest childhood nativity scenes in it) Guy was attempting another Dostoevsky.
We finally docked at 10pm only 8 hours late, got into a taxi, had to pay the entrance fee to Began before we could go anywhere, thankfully we were first in that queue so we were in our hotel by 10.30pm, half an hour after the beer garden had closed.

11 January -Day trip to outer Mandalay

Another day, another night of little sleep due to the karaoke bar that seemed to be next to our window, and a pigeon that was actually nesting on our window sill and the bed which had no foam left in it!
We had arranged for taxi to go to see sights just outside of Mandalay – as listed in the lonely planet. We had a new driver arranged for today as we didn’t really want to take our chances with the same one that left us stranded last night. So our drivers (!) today turned up, with red eyes and teeth to match, clutching parcels of betel nut, and a car that was ram shackled, which was comforting. And off we bounced, past everyone in cafes, having breakfast wearing in all their clothes and hats, scarves, as it was chilly, about 16 degrees.
The drive out of Mandalay was interesting. We drove down Buddha carving street, which was covered in white marble dust, it was everywhere, on the pavements, people, trees, and there were a lot of buddhas in various stages of being carved, with the occasional elephant for a bit of variety.
We then took a dual carriageway out of town, however this was still being built in various places so every so often we were veering to the other side of the road as there was no road our side. Myanmar is also unique in that they drive right hand drive cars on the right hand side of the road. Which is quite odd when you are not used to it.
Our first sight was Sagaing, a hillside with hundreds of stupas all over it, and another steep climb to the top to see a stunning view, although the mist doesn’t do it justice in photos, it is a unique view with hundreds of stupas dotted all over the hillside and covered pathways linking them all.

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We climbed back down the hill, only to find our car had buggered off again! We were stunned, however a few minutes later the red teethed pair turned up, full of smiles and apologies! We smiled and were polite too!
They then dropped us off at a small boat crossing, to go to Inwa, where you hire a horse and cart and are driven around to a teak monestry which looked like the ones in Japan, another stupa and more Burmese temples. At the stupa I was followed around by a persistent young hawker, he couldn’t have been much older than Meg, 6. He was adamant that I needed some fake jade jewellery, I resisted, however he was coerced into taking photos of me, guy and some Myanmar students who were extremely excited to talk to us, they were studying English, chemistry and maths at university and had holidays to travel and see their country.

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Then it was off to see the worlds longest teak bridge, at 1.2km it seemed much, much longer when traversing it, it was ricketty and had a fair few holes in, we bought a packet of chicken curry crisps the other side and walked back, carefully, helping a small boy over the bridge on his bike which was laden with about 20kg of cooked, uncovered, rice.

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It was still pretty early, so we stopped off at a massive golden Buddha, that only men are allowed to touch! It was weird seeing such sexism, but at least I could see it from a distance, and on one of the numerous TV screens around the monestary!

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Just one more teak monestary to see, which was quiet, no tourists and impressive and we were back home for dinner.
We lucked out on dinner, we had seen a place that had English writing so thought we might be able to choose a meal, it was also near to an Islamic mosque, and the menu looked the same as the night before, so we chose the same, mutton meatballs, also a biriyani. It was delicious, same as before we got loads of cold dishes and pickles, and our curry and biriyani was tepid, but the chapatis were fresh off the hotplate and the whole meals was very north Indian in taste. We have made a mental note to always eat near mosques!

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