24 Jan – Burma to Bangkok

We flew out at the reasonable time of 11.20, so after a lie-in we caught a cab to the airport, the best way to get nostalgic. As we crawled passed Rangoon’s old colonial buildings which have faded and become dilapidated we watched the chaotic street scenes which pass for everyday life. It reminded us both of Hanoi and Bangkok 15 years ago. Smelly, dirty mayhem but bursting with life. So much is going on its hard to take in and it makes your senses tingle. We were both excited about moving on but sad to be leaving Burma. The food wasn’t the finest we have tasted and food is an important part of our travels, but the country was special to us because of the people. We have never been anywhere where the locals are so friendly, hospitable and quick to smile. Shopkeepers welcomed us like the prodigal son, guesthouse owners cared for us when we were ill and hawkers said we didn’t have to buy from them they just wanted to chat. A truly amazing population especially considering how they are unfairly governed by the military as their democratic vote was ignored.

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Burma isn’t that easy to get around. Its a big country (about the size of UK and France combined) the roads are appalling – on a par with India. Areas are completely off limits because of tribal / drug / warlord issues. Journeys are long and suffer from bonus time breaks due to creaking infrastructure. Buses and ferries are charged in US dollars and some goes back to the generals. The capital of the country is not on the tourist trail and not even mentioned in the guide book. Whilst we were there the BBC news reported on an 11 day course the British army were giving to Burmese generals to teach them how to live in a democracy and take orders from politicians which shows you how far they have to go. 

As we checked into Yangon International Airport, a power cut killed all the computer systems, but the check in desk had a piece of A4 with our names on so we were able to board, guess they are used to it. We arrived at Bangkok and after a taxi, the tube, the airport rail link and another taxi we got to our hotel. The room was trendy and compact so we wandered out and explored a new area. It went dark and after the obligatory Magnum from seven eleven we decided to go to a Thai BBQ for tea. Nervous as to what to do (us and 150ish Thais) and with a bit of a language barrier we dived in head first and before you can say “unidentifiable burnt flesh” we were barbecuing strange meats at our table fire. As these things always turnout we had a great time.

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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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