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Hpa An and Yangoon

April 5, 2012

Monday 2nd April boat to Hpa An

We decided to go from Mawlamyine to Hpa An by boat with 4 other tourists from our hotel, as the local boat had stopped running a few months before.

The jetty where we took the boat had a lot of charm.

Mawlamyine jetty

Here was the boat we took.

our boat

There were Céline and Bader from France, also travelling for a long time who have a cool blog if you want to read more travel stories. Their blog is pretty cool and they wrote an excellent article about Burma political context and their travel adventures in Yangoon, here for the French readers:

http://around-zworld.com/yangoon-ancienne-capitale/

There was Bastien, a French guy who had spent some weeks in South Africa and was for a month in Burma before resuming his studies. And there was Mike, the Scottish guy Michael had done the visa with, and that we had seen already again on the bus from Bagan to Kalaw.

The boat ride took 3h30 and was not that interesting to me. After a day on a great river full of local life from Battambang to Siem Reap in Cambodia, 2 days on the Mekong going from Northern Thailand to Luang Prabang in Laos, and 4 days up and down the Nam Ou in Laos, and one day from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc in Vietnam…I have to admit I was now a spoiled kid with high expectations about the scenery!

The landscape was disappointingly flat for most parts of the trip.

flat landscape

We still saw a few fishermen and some children bathing there and waving to us when we passed them.

children bathing

At the end were a few cliffs before to reach Hpa An.

cliffs

We arrived at noon in Hpa An. Got a pick-up to one of the few hotels welcoming foreigners, checked in, and went for some lunch together. After that, Bastien went to rent and ride a motorbike for the first time. Céline and Bader took a bus to Yangoon as they didn’t have much time left in Burma. As for Mike, Michael and me, we first walked around this small city. I really liked it and found it had a lot of charm.

Hpa An streets

We spent some time at the market, discovering a few new weird stuff. I tried one which was really bitter, and as for the rest, no idea what it is or how you eat it, don’t ask me!

market

We went to see the sunset from a Paya close to the river called Shweyinhmyaw Paya.

Shweyinhmyaw Paya

The sunset was as usual in Burma…The sun getting really red, in a foggy dusty cloud caused probably by the heat and the deforestation. And it disappeared as usual way too early in the clouds.

sunset

We stayed a bit there though, looking from the top the life going on close to the river.

view over the river

After that, we watched Mike playing the bagpipe in the street, in front of our hotel, fully dressed in his Scottish clothes.

Mike playing backpipe

It was impressive and beautiful. Most Burmese stopped their activity to watch and listen to him. I felt really moved by the power of this music.

people watching

The bagpipe is really an incredible instrument, so intense and loud sounds come from it, recreating the atmosphere of Scotland. He was playing really good and for quite a while. His idea of bringing something from your country and sharing it with people that cannot afford to go travel outside is really brilliant.

Then we went for some dinner with Mike, Bastien and another French guy who had been on the road for 3 years, with some time settled down in Australia, and was going back to France one week later.

Tuesday 3rd April Hpa An

Here was the view of the street we had from the terrasse of our hotel.

view from hotel

We went for some late breakfast. While Bastien, Mike and the other French guy rented some motorbikes to go explore the surroundings, we went around the market with Michael, and I gave my pant to repair. I have been travelling so far with a leggings and 2 black cotton pants only, bought for 2 pounds in charity shops in London, and keeping them alive in order to travel only with these has become a personal challenge! Here was the hole ahah.

hole in pant

Once the hole repaired, we boarded a local pick-up to go to see the Saddar cave in a nearby villag called Eindu. While waiting for this pick-up to get a bit more full in order to leave, we bought some local crepes in the street for lunch that were really delicious.

crepes

It was fun to take a local pickup again, people hopping on and off all the time.

local bus

We got to the village and went with 2 motorbike drivers to the cave. On the way to there, we got completely soaked as children had a lot of fun throwing baskets of water to us! It seems that they had decided to start the Water Festival a bit earlier, or maybe they knew we were going to miss it as it will take place from 13th to 17th April and wanted to give us a glimpse of it.

The cave was really wide and beautiful with some paya and sculptures in the first part.

Paya inside Saddar Cave

After the paya thing was a path getting deeper inside the cave. Sadly, we actually completely missed the point by not going enough far into it. We learned in the evenings from the guys that we could have exited from another entry and seen much more of it than what we did! Oh well…

We had some early dinner with the guys and took a bus at 6pm heading normally to Golden Rock. It was supposed to take roughly four hours to get there. However…our bus driver forgot us! We arrived in Yangoon at 2am instead! We didn’t mind too much, and took it for a sign that everything happens for a reason, so nevermind, no Golden Rock for us then. We took a taxi to the hotel where we had stayed previously, got a room, and I went to bed while Michael took the opportunity for watching the soccer game broadcasted on the hotel’s tv.

Wednesday 4th April Yangoon

We had a good sleep in the morning and went to Bogyoke Ang San market in the afternoon, a covered market full of tourists shops selling lots of souvenirs. We were astonished to see so many tourists there actually. Here they were! 🙂

Bogyoke Market

After the market, we walked a bit to get a taxi to a park near the Schwedagon Paya. We ran into a jovial Burmese woman who started chatting with us and we invited her to join us to the park. At the park was the lake with the Schwedagon in the background and a beautiful hotel-boat of quite an impressive size on the lake.

lake

The Burmese woman took us to a restaurant place near the water. We spent a nice evening having a few drinks and chatting with her. She had been a tour guide for tourists and a teacher for a few years and had interesting stories to share. We went back later with her, the taxi dropping us first then taking her home.

Thursday 5th April Yangoon

For our last day in Burma, we didn’t do much. We packed, then walked a bit around the street for a last stroll on the streets of Yangoon. The really rich life buzz on the street was going on as usual.

street life

We saw some last little girls monks going around receiving offerings.

little monks girls

We packed, went a bit on the slow internet, checked out at noon. Got some fried corn from the street for lunch, delicious corn as the previous days.

corn

Then we took a taxi around 1pm to the airport. Although our plane was at 6.50pm, we were just happy to leave the heat and go. We had started being tired of Burma since a few days and looking forward to get out!

At the airport, was an older monk who had taken some children monk to the airport, it was their first time coming there and were looking around with curiosity.

monks at the airport

We just killed time having some last drinks and simply enjoying the air conditioning! We ran into Mike later as he had a flight to Bangkok at 6pm, and I had a chance at that moment to “interview” him for half an hour about his day attending Ang San Suu Kyi meeting in Lashio and get 3 pictures from him he had taken there.

And here we were finally, in the plane, off to Kuala Lumpur! Youhouuuu!

FINAL WORDS

My final words about Burma would be that I really really loved the people, who are incredibly friendly, saying Mingalaba all the time, and honest (which was for me a huge change after the sneaky Vietnamese always trying to rip you off and not often smiling…). You really rarely have to bargain in Burma, they just tell you immediately the right local price. The way the dress with their longyis, and the thanakha they put on their face definitely differentiates them also from the other countries. Burma is also the most magic place from a spiritual point of view, because of all its payas everywhere. And there are still a few places left where I enjoyed its authenticity, like the garlic village and riverside of Mandalay, the slow boat going to the Ogre island from Moulmein. And it is definitely a special country at the date of today, with no ATMS, expensive SIM card so still all these phone booths in the street that people use, and such a slow internet. And a lot of places to explore still not really open to tourists, like the beautiful mountains of xxx in the North, the xxxx, that are places you either need special permits to see, and sometimes require to fly there and out with expensive hotels and guides to pay while there, places we didn’t explore. At the same time…a country had never made me feel so sorry and sad and cry for it as Burma did. Seeing this burning going on in Hsipaw and this massive deforestation going on all over the country made me really really sad. It was exciting to be in the country during the votes for seats of the Parliament and to see how things are changing, how people can now freely say which party they support, and how popular Ang San Suu Kyi is. I really hope she gets elected in 2015 as a prime minister, who knows, and that things go forward, not backwards.

Now…I have only spent a month there…not enough to know a country as huge as Burma, that’s definitely sure. Here is just my humble feel about this month I spent there, and I may have listed a few clichés here. Ideally…you would always need more time anyway to grasp a country, wherever you go, but you can’t!

And now…off to Malaysia!

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