Trip Start Sep 21, 2007
Trip End Apr 10, 2009

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Friday, February 1, 2008

 Mingalaba everybody!

I am in Mandalay in Myanmar right now and I even found an internet place. The connection is very on and off (as is the electricity supply in Myanmar) but apart from this new entry I also managed to actually upload quite a few pictures, to support the entry.

The last entry was from Kunming in China, a bit more than a week ago and not all that far away, but it does feel way further, both in distance as in time.

My last night in Kunming is not a night a will easily forget, although I wish I would. I went to bed a little past midnight and slept a few hours until three drunk Australians barged into the room, talking loudly. After a while I told them to shut up, which they did. About an hour after that, one Australian girl sleeping in the bunk bed above vomited down, but was aiming pretty well, so luckily none of the vomit landed on me or my belongings. She started cleaning it straight away. But the most disgusting thing happened about ten minutes after that, when I - not yet quite asleep - heard a noise behind me, which turned out to be a guy unbuttoning his trousers, ready to piss on me! I shouted: "What the f*ck are you doing?" and pushed him violently back to het lower bunk bed, where he pissed all over himself and dozed off, drunk as he was. I went straight to the night guards and demanded that this guy was going to be removed from the dorm room. The guy woke up and didn't want to leave, but I stood my ground and after an hour or so and countless curse words thrown at me by this drunk guy (also Australian), he was persuaded to leave the room and sleep in the common room, as all beds in the hostel were taken. I didn't sleep much after that if you might imagine.
The bus the next morning to the Chinese border town of Ruili turned out to be a sleeper bus, and yes, I did sleep quite a bit on this 13 hour journey. Late at night I arrived at Ruili, found myself a hotel and went straight to bed.

There's not much to do or see in Ruili itself, so I cycled around for a bit, for example to the Myanmar border amongst other destinations around Ruili. The next day I found myself at this border again, this time going across with my tour group, meaning just my guide Htun and me. The Chinese border was easy, and because of Htun, so was the Myanmar border. The first difference I noticed was the scale of the border post buildings: the Chinese being enormous, the Myanmar being a very small building less measuring less than 10 square meters, with a border officer dressed in his jogging suit. Very casual indeed. The tour included a taxi with driver to take me and Htun all the way to Lashio. We filled up the gas, not at a petrol station, but at a small shack where they poured the gas from bottles straight into the tank. The drive to Lashio was relaxing - I had the front seat - and even the four checkpoints were not much of a hassle. A funny thing about driving in Myanmar is that although the majority of the cars here have their steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle, they also drive on the right side of the road: rather tricky while overtaking. In Lashio I said goodbye to my guide and driver. I waited here a few hours for the bus to Hsipaw. Quite late did I arrive in Hsipaw, where the bus driver dropped me off at a guesthouse, where I found a room and went to sleep almost straight away (there was no electricity after 22h30 anyway, when the hotel shuts down the generator).

Hsipaw is a great little village and I walked around a lot. I met a local 18 year old boy who could speak a little English while walking and walked with him through some Shan villages. I also was invited into his humble home and met his family and has fresh mango and tamarind. It was (and is) very easy in Hsipaw (or Myanmar for that matter) to make a lot of nice pictures. Just before sunset I walked to a hill to watch a great sunset.

The next day I took the train in which I travelled first class to Pyin U Lwin. Not that first class is something fancy (not at all actually), I think the difference is merely the fact that you get a reserved seat. The train ride itself was quite uneventful except for the moment we crossed the Gokteik Viaduct, at the time of construction more than a hundred years ago, the second highest railway bridge in the world. The train crosses the viaduct very, very carefully. I checked into a hotel that late afternoon and didn't do much after that. The same goes for the next day, because it rained the whole day.
The second day in Pyin U Lwin I went to the Kandawgyi Gardens, started in 1915 by British botanists. I quite liked the gardens and I pretty much had the place to myself, itself being part of the fun. I walked around for a few hours and then hurried back to downtown with a cute little horse wagon, the means of local transportation here. I then took a shared taxi to Mandalay where I arrived late in the afternoon, and where I am still now.

The first day In Mandalay I walked to and visited the famous temples at the base of Mandalay Hill, which are truly beautiful. I spent quite a few hours here, just wandering around. I also visited the rebuilt Mandalay Palace, which was rebuilt by forced labour about 10 years ago, which makes them far less attractive, and yes, you can question if I should've visited it at all. After that I walked back to Mandalay Hill and walked all the way up (under a covered walkway - very common here in Myanmar) to the top. Here I met a local Burmese guy who is a musician in a locale troupe. He invited me to attend a local pwe where he would be playing tonight. The sunset wasn't all that spectacular (especially compared to the one in Hsipaw). Later that night I joined the musician to the pwe. Because it was quite far just outside Mandalay, I hired a mini taxi to bring me there and back. The pwe was quite an interesting mix of dance, acting, singing and stand-up comedians, but all in Burmese of course. After about two and a half hours I went back to my hotel and bed.

The next day I hired a bicycle and cycled to Amarapura, which has the famous U Bein Bridge, with 1.2 kilometers the longest teak bridge in the world. I must add that I also don't know any other long teak bridges. But to be honest, the bridge was quite impressive. After Amarapura I cycled in the direction of Sagaing, which has over 500 stupas. I crossed one of the two bridges here (one very old, one very new) over the mighty Ayeyarwady River to Sagaing. I cycled to Sagaing Hill and visited one of the temples on top, with great views of the surrounding area with all its stupas and the Ayeyarwady River. Then I decided to go back to Mandalay. All in all I cycled about 50 kilometers.

Because of some sore spots because of the cycling yesterday I decided to take it a bit easy the following day and took the ferry to Mingun (about an hour upstream on the Ayeyarwady River). The main site here is the enormous ruined brick base of the Mingun Temple, which was never finished and severed major earthquake damage and is very quite photogenic nowadays. Another site is a beautiful white round paya (stupa), which features the front page of my Lonely Planet. On this trip I also met and talked to an older Dutch couple who had travelled around the world for about 11 years (!) and were doing a short (a few months) trip right now.

Yesterday I did another cycling trip, this time first to Paleik, where there is a temple with three pythons sleeping around a Buddha statue. Every day at 11 o'clock these pythons are gently washed and people can have their pictures taken with them. Quite an odd site. After the washing ceremony I visited some more ruined payas in Paleik and continued my trip to Inwa, along a very quiet road, which became a dirt road after a while. I asked around, but I was still going in the right direction. Just before Inwa a saw an enormous ruin, covered in weed and cracks all over, but I don't know the name or function of this building. After that I followed the old city walls of Inwa for a while and went to the Bagaya Kyaung, a wooden temple in the middle of rice fields. Soon after I decided that I was tired enough and continued back to my hotel. I took a ferry to Sagaing and from there I cycled all the way back to Mandalay via Amarapura in one go. I was pretty tired when I came back and I guess I'd cycled about 60 kilometers that day.

Today I didn't do much at all, except reading (I finished The Kite Runner - what a great and sad story that is) and writing this entry for example. In a few days I'll go to Bagan, one of the wonders of the world, so I am quite excited!

This is probably my longest entry so far, so I'll stop now. The next one is probably going to be from Yangon, or if not, Bangkok.

Everybody take care!

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