I was off to Myanmar and already the way to there was quite an adventure! I flew over Sydney to Bangkok. I couldn´t sleep so I watched three movies (IT, Rio2 and Boston Strong), did some planning for Myanmar and worked on my blog. About 15 hours later I touched down in Bangkok and took a cab to the RefillNow Hostel which is only 30 km away. It took me about 40 minutes. The driver wanted to have 400 THB, but I insisted that he turned on the meter and ended up paying only 260 THB instead. The RefillNow is a cool place, very clean, comfortable beds, you get a towel and there is a nice pool, a nice restaurant and very friendly staff. But there are no walls and doors, only curtains. So basically one floor is one big room. I took a shower and went to the restaurant downstairs for dinner. Of course this is a lot more expensive than eating on the street, but I was way too tired to bother with running around searching for food that day. The food was very nice
and shortly after I went to bed. Around 5 am a thunderstorm started, it was really loud and rained cats and dogs. Very unusual for this time of year! It was still going on when I got up at 7 am. I got ready and went downstairs to order a cab to get to the airport. I was flying from the Don Mueang Airport, the older of the two airports in Bangkok. This airport didn´t have a connection to the airport link or any other public transport. They were building it, but it was not done yet. Due to the thunderstorm the streets were flooded in addition to the already usual crazy rush hour traffic. Waiting time for a cab was at least one hour, there was no possibility to get an Uber either, so I was stuck. After a while the owner of the hostel offered me to bring me to the closest Skytrain station. I would need to take that for a few stations to Phaya Thai, then change to an MRT train and from the final station (Mo Chit) take a cab for the last leg to the airport. Complicated, but it was my only chance. He even drew me a plan. In this traffic it took already half an hour to get to the station, but it was raining so hard that walking was no option. It took me 4 attempts and about 40 minutes until I finally managed to get on one of those overcrowded trains.
I arrived at the airport 30 minutes before my flight was supposed to leave at 11:10 am. I didn´t have much hope to still get on the plane, but I walked to the check in anyway and just tried. They still let me through, yeah! At the check in I faced the next problem though. They wanted to see my visa for Myanmar. I had it on my phone, but they only accepted a printed version. Great! Nobody nowadays needs this paper stuff anymore, grrrr! It took me ages to connect to the airport WiFi and they gave me the wrong email address twice until I finally got the right one and could sent my visa to the airline for them to print it. I finally got my boarding pass and had to run over the airport, through security to my gate where I arrived 7 minutes before the scheduled departure time. They were a bit late and had just started with the boarding. I couldn´t believe how lucky I got to make it on this flight!!!
We touched down in Mandalay almost punctual. It was really nice and sunny and not as humid as in most other South East Asian countries – a very pleasant climate! After getting some cash and a local SIM card I organized transportation. I got a shared van for 4000 Kyat (~2,45€) instead of a taxi for 15000. The traffic in Myanmar is quite confusing. They drive on the right side, but they still have many left traffic cars and especially buses. They had changed from left to right traffic in 1996, but it is still pretty mixed up. So in most buses you have to exit and enter in the middle of the street since the doors are on the wrong side. It took a while to adapt to that chaos. Generally the traffic was a lot more easygoing than in other Asian countries I have visited so far though. I was also surprised at how clean it was and in what good state the streets there were. The Four Rivers Hostel was the first stop, lucky me. The hostel was clean and the beds were comfortable, but it was rather sterile, had no proper common room and was a bit far outside. I didn´t like it too much. After settling in I went out to explore a little bit. I met a Dutch girl in the reception area who had also just arrived and she joined me. Marit and I walked into the city center, over a market, to the clock tower, had dinner in a local restaurant and walked back.
We chilled a bit on the roof terrace and then I went to bed. I enjoyed the next morning with the free breakfast on the roof terrace and some journal writing then I packed up and checked out, moving to Ostello Bello – a hostel that a woman on the plane had recommended to me. It was a bit more expensive, but so much nicer! Then I set off to explore the city with Marit. We went to the Mandalay Royal Palace where we had to pay 10000 Kyat (~6€). You get a card for the Mandalay Archaeological Zone which includes 5 sites. Don´t throw that one away otherwise you have to pay 10000 every time you get to one of these places. Also bring a passport; you have to leave that at the entrance before entering. The palace was not in use as an actual palace anymore, rather a museum, but the huge area within the walls around the palace was a military base. This was also the reason for the high security there. Inside you could rent bikes, unfortunately only as a local though. As a foreigner you could only get a motorbike with a driver, so we decided to walk.
After we had a look around the huge palace area we had a great and cheap lunch within the palace walls and then took a cab to Mandalay Hill. The entry fee there was only 1000 Kyat.
At the foot of the hill we explored a few more temples. At the Kuthodaw Pagoda I got some Thanaka on my cheeks. The locals use that as sun screen and beauty product. It is supposed to be very good for the skin a s well.
In Myanmar it is forbidden for foreigners to drive a motorbike, so you always have to get a bike with a driver. We did this in order to get to the U-Bein Bridge where we watched the sunset and had a beer. The U-Bein bridge is the oldest and longest Teak wood bridge in the world. You can also get on a boat for sunset, but this is pretty expensive.
Back at the hostel we made use of the happy hour at the Ostello Bello roof top bar and then went for dinner at Marie-Min – a really nice vegetarian restaurant close bye. The breakfast at Ostello Bello was quite nice. I handed in my laundry. It is rather expensive in Myanmar since they usually charge by piece not by kilogram. At 8:30 the Three Ancient City Tour started. I had booked that in the hostel the night before. Since we were too many people they got two mini vans and two guides and we took off in two different groups. We stopped at the Mahamuni Buddha Image where man can put gold leaves on the Buddha. Women are not allowed to get to the Buddha.
From there we visited some wood carving
and could watch the monks queue up for lunch in the Mahagandaryon Monastery. We also saw how they prepare the food.
Some hand weaving and a short stop at the Irrawaddy Bridge where we took pictures of the Sagain Hill where we went next.
You have a really nice view from up there and the temple is nice too.
We visited an orphanage
and had dinner at some local restaurant close bye before using the small ferry to cross the river to Innwa. Supposedly Innwa is a horse cart town with no cars or motorbikes. It is not true though; there are quite a lot of vehicles with a motor there too. The horse cart drivers are pretty obtrusive and annoying and try to convince you to take a cart for a lot of money since it is too far to walk. We all decided to rather walk, since we have been sitting in the van so much already and to save money. One of the drivers drove next to us for half an hour until he finally gave up. It took us about two hours to walk to and visit all the places we wanted to see (so exactly the amount of time we got to explore Innwa). We had seen the watch tower, the Bagaya Monastery, Yadane Stme Pagoda, Maha Aung Myae Bobzan,… Two of the places we visited in Innwa were also part of this Mandalay Archaeolocial Zone.
When we were back we learned that there had been a horrible accident with a horse cart that day due to a drunken driver ended up with several broken legs and arms for the passengers. So I guess walking was the better choice anyway! We took the ferry back and drove to the U-Bein Bridge for sunset
and back to the hostel. My day bag finally broke completely and I also managed to destroy my sandals on this trip by twisting my ankle at the bridge. In the evening I took part in the trivia quiz on the roof terrace of the hostel. The next day I slept in and had a chill and admin day including a nice one hour Thai massage at the Sabai Spa for 9000 Kyat (~5,5€) and a visit to the night market with Ferran – a Spanish guy from the hostel.
Then I settled for my last night in Mandalay.
My first impression of Myanmar (former Burma) was a great one. The climate is nice and the people are soooo friendly and helpful. Even when they hardly speak any English, with a smile and a Mingalaba (hello) on your lips, you get very far and they really try to help however they can. It is not so touristy yet, so still very pristine and I really hope that this country and its people will manage to keep up this charm! Since especially China and other states are very interested to have proper roads and sea access through Myanmar there is a lot going on. The development in this country is rapid.