Kalaw and around

On next morning after freezing night we moved to Golden Kalaw Inn, where we got a pleasant room on second floor with veranda for 8 dollar, very good breakfast was included too.

Kalaw we saw as a small and nice town without crowds of locals and traffic jams. It is very popular to do the trek from Kalaw to Inle lake (about 60 km), or just walk around for a trekking day. Every place in town can provide an information and guide. Prices start from USD 10 per day per person, depends on how many people in a group. We did not want to have any experience with local guides and we got a plan to do trek by our own. But, we was so unprepared: we had no warm cloth, no tent or sleeping bag, no even compass, nothing! We had not even maps, the only one hand drawing map in our hotel.

For shopping we had to wait market day, it happened every five days, the rest days it holding in some other villages. After we made the pictures of all maps we could find around, we went to day trek to View Point restaurant. The do some kind of test-drive of our abilities.

It was very pleasant to trek there. We very fast finished the one part from Kalaw to View Point, where we rest a bit. The way back we took another another trail, and got lost. There are a lot of villages around and a lot of foot trails too. We lost for a about 10-15 km and realized this only at 6 pm. Hopefully we came back by night time. The plan to go trek to Inle Lake had crushed, but seems it was the right decision.

There is very good restaurant in Kalaw — Sam`s restaurant, where good is delicious and cheap. It is a family business and all of the family members are pleased to visitors, wonderful carries with complimentary deserts, yummy. Opposite the road there is Everest kitchen, restaurant of Nepali food. The prices are high, the food is not so testy, and no Nepali steaks.

All together we spent around 5 days in Kalaw, mostly because we liked this place very much.

The long way to Kalaw

Last evening in Kinpun we met a Russian traveler who told us, that he came to Kinpun from Bago by local pick-up (like songteuw in Thailand). He paid 2000 kiat for all trip.

In next morning we easily found local pick-up on the bus stand. The driver asked 4000 at the beginning, but finally he agreed for 2500 kiat from Kinpun to Bago.

Bago is very disty and noisy city. Just arrived we decided to leave as soon as possible to Kalaw. On the main road we bought two tickets in local travel agency for 12500 kiat for AC bus. The bus departure from bus station, where we went by motorbike.

After 20 minutes waiting on bus station we start packing our lagguage to the bus. The driver was ready to departure, and I got a brilliant idea to ask him where this bus is going to. He said that bus is going to Bagan, and he have no idea that we are going to Kalaw. We abandoned the bus and quickly went to the travel agency.

– Why you do not want to go to Bagan? – the Burmese guy looked very surprised — every tourist have to visit this place, it is beautiful and interesting, common! Otherwise you can go by this bus to Meiktila, where you can easily find a pick-up to Kalaw!

He gave us some more ideas and possibilities how to go to Kalaw, but none of them was about go to Kalaw directly.

We was so disappointed and angry, so we will never aver use any of tourist services in Myanmar again.

We have been lucky at that time, after 30 minutes came the bus from Yangon going to Taungiev with stop in Kalaw, with two available sits for us.

From Bago we was driving a few hours, and landscape was similar all the time — dusty, dry dessert. In a one moment we saw beautiful and bright (at was already evening time). Welcome to the new capital of Myanmar – Naypyidaw. Gorgeous buildings, best quality roads with electric lights(!), five-star hotels, and construction everywhere. This is the city of the Future of Myanmar.

We arrived to Kalaw in 3 a.m. Deadly frozen, the aircon in the bus worked full power and all night. In Kalaw was even colder. Ilocated in North of Myanmar in elevation 1320 meter above sea level, Kalaw have cool temperature in february, especially at nights. We had no ides about that and carried with us only tinny t-shirts. Knocked to Golden Lilly Guest House and asked only one question «Do you have blankets in your room», we finally went to bed.

Following pilgrims – magnificient Golden Rock

The first Burmese guy we talk was a taxi driver from Yangon airport. He gave as a lot of advises what to do and where to go in Myanmar. He advised us to go to Golden Rock as well.

From Sule Pagoda we took a local bus N 43 to Highway bus station, which is 7 kilometers from center of Yangon. On bus station we found only one company who had buses to Kinpun, the base camp of mountain Kyaiktiyo, where the Golden Rock is located.

The ticket cost us 6000 kiat per person, the locals pay two times less. We tried to find another opportunities, but we was not lucky. The bus was local type, very old with tree rows of chairs, without air condition and any kind of comfort.

Kinpun is a small village, indeed it the basement for travelers and pilgrims going to Kyaiktiyo. Kinpun has only two option for budget accommodation: Sea Sar and Pann Myo Thu. We were staying in last one, where we got a room with cooler for 7 dollars even with breakfast.

From Kinpun to summit of mountain Kyaiktiyo only trucks are allowed to drive. Cars, pick-ups and even motorbikes are prohibited. The siting place on th truck cost 1000 kiat (with 60 people occupancy), the chair in a driver cabin cost 2500 kiat. It is possible to do all way up by foot, it takes usually from 4-6 hours.

Foreigners have to by a ticket on summit, near the enter to main relic, USD 6 per each, plus 2 for camera.

Golden Rock it a boulder colored with gold with small stupa on top. The boulder is delicately balanced on the edge of a cliff at the top of Mt. Kyaiktiyo. Like Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Golden Rock is one of most sacred Buddhist sites in Mynmar.

For the trail to go down to Kinpun we had to ask locals, there is no any sign from the main road. We were trekking for about 3 hours. It was pretty nice and interesting, because the train passes thought small villages and views are beautiful.

Money change in Yagon, scam and fun

In Yangon, first of all we were need to change our dollars to local currency. Manager in hotel offered 995 kiat (local call it jat) for a one dollar. Willing to get as much jats as possible, we went to streets.

– Change money? – Burmese guy smiling with mounts full of betel
– Maybe, how much is for 100 dollar?
– 1000 jat for one dollar and everybody happy.
– No, give us 1300 for one – we start to bargain.
– Oh, no possible, maximum I can do is 1020.

In a minute we have been surround by locals, after 10 minutes the guy agreed to 1150 jat for one dollar.

The bigger bill is 1000 jat, Burmese guy professionally start count 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and last note he folded in two to fasten ten thousand. After 50,000 he start count very fast, when he finished he turn wad of notes with folded pieces to us and count to ten.

– Here is 100000 — and bloody red smile again.

The wad of notes had looked very thin to be a hundred thousands:

– No, the wad is too small, you are trying to cheat us. Take out all folded notes and lets start again.

Burmese guy smiled again, we was enjoying the fun as well and even had no plans to take USD 100 from the pocket, until we get the full amount.

The guy gave me big wad of money and asked me to count. I count 80 thousands and he gave twenty more, finally we got a hundred thousands, the wad of notes was much bigger than before.

The Burmese guy gave me 1500 jat more and said «done». Maybe he though that it is too hot for us to calculate 100×1150.

– Hey friend, you trying to cheat me again! Take your 1500 back and give me 15000!
– ok, ok, ok

Good, finally we had whole amount in our hands. Dima took out from his pocket 100 dollars and gave it to the guy. Another one (there were dozens of them while we were making fun) took the bill and said:

– Bad note, no change.

The note was very good, and we finally tired. Dima gave all jats back to the guy, and we were ready to leave. In next second we heard:

– ok, ok I believe you and will change you this bill.

At a same time another wad of notes, not the one that we had counted, showed up from the back of the guy and tried to moved to Dima`s hands.
With saying “thanks” to guys, we put our 100 dollars back and leave.

It was really fun, but we could not get any jats and had no money even for drinking water. Walked about 500 meter and we met old Burmese man without stupid smile, that offered us to change dollars

– If you want change without cheat, the rate is 1050 jats for one dollar.

Ps: later we met a couple from Switzerland, they lost 88,000 jat changing USD 300 :(.

Yangon on foot

Today we had a plan to go to Shwedagon Pagon. All trip for about 2 km we made by foot and got some kind of city-tour.

Only on second day we realized that there are no motorbikes in the city, all traffic consist of cars, jeeps, trucks and buses. Some of trucks and cars came from different times and countries, and some are hand made by local engineers.
The same difference with an architecture — old colonial buildings, mostly used as government buildings and surround with barbed wire; empty highrise condominiums, the tenants left them after Burma was banned by US; colorful low-rise residential buildings, completely occupied with locals; luxury private houses with gardens (also surround by barbed wire). But no one mendicant shack. A lot of new buildings and a lot of construction.

All pedestrian walks occupied with endless market, for sale: fruits, jeans, viagra, rubies, newspapers, some strange and huge devices, dvd, glasses, etc.

Betel stalls located with distance 50 meter from each other, the roller men works with rubber gloves.

With every 50 meters located stalls with pots of drinking water, nobody selling this water, but everybody can drink it.

Thais with proud telling the stories, that they had such a tradition (in Nan province they still trying to keep it alive). Cosy pots with drinking water spread of all around Myanmar, even on Inle lake we saw bamboo piles with ceramic pots.

Both, men and women wear skirts, longyi or sarong. Young boys and girls sometimes mix modern t-shirt with Metallica pictures with traditional longyi — looks very funny.

Women and children wear special powder on their faces and arms, the powder traditionally getting from some local tree. Sometimes they make funny ornaments with this powder on their faces, looks very funny and very pretty.

Like every city in South-East Asia, Yangon full of open air street cafes and eatery places. Pretty small table, couple of stools, pot of green tea and small cups. We ordered local carry with rice, the boy brought the food in a second with extra plates of salad, soup, fresh and preserved vegetables. It cost nothing (600 kiat per person) and taste was wonderful.

Chinese New Year 2010

After three years in Thailand we finally could catch the celebration in Bangkok China Town on Yaowarat Rd and we wish to share our experience of Chinese New Year Celebration.

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It was very interesting to observe how locals do preparation to the main celebration. Two or three days before main date (14 of February) all Chinese places, like shops, restaurants and travel agencies, was cleaned. All family members were cleaning inside the shop, washing signs, streets and around. At the same time China Town was very busy, it was great shopping time. Most of the locals were buying presents, fruits, cloth and some religious staff. Fruits was bought as an offering and as a presents for friends and relatives. The funny thing, that pumpkin was extremely popular as a present too, so nice small decorative pumpkin, we could not stay out of madness and bought one.

Early in the morning February 13 locals started with fireworks, generous offerings to temples and spiritual houses and burning false money and some old stuff.

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The main celebration began at 6 pm February 14, the same date as St. Valentines Day. Yaowarat road and some places around were closed for transport and extremely quickly filled with crowd: Chinese, Thais, foreigners, a lot of people and many were wearing red. Together with red Chinese lights whole China Town colored with red — it was spectacular.

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As always Thai and Chinese celebrations share cultural performances with the market. Socks and glasses, t-shirt and plastic dragons, towels, slippers, funny key-holders and of course food. Food is everywhere, delicious food, different and surprising…

Near the main stage, where the cultural and historical performances was shown, few booths with Chinese entertainments were organized: Chinese chess game, Chinese tea ceremonial, Chines dresses and etc.

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Walking by the Yaowarat road was complicated during to huge crowd, the situation went even worse when The Princes showed up. She was doing some kind of shopping/inspection in China Town, and moving from place to place. The security closed the road every time, and the crowd got stuck few times. Unfortunately it was prohibited to take pictures of The Princes, as one police guy told us. One time she was inspected the travel agency just nearby the place we got stuck with the crowd, so we can take a glimpse. We were surprised how she was looking — very ordinary, simple t-shirt (red of course), gray hair and zero make-up. Locals were very happy seeing the Princes celebrated Chinese New Year with them, we was happy that they were happy.

The celebration was continued on February 15 and even 16. Locals were visiting each other and doing presents. The sign on our favorite Chinese restaurant shows that they will start to operate tomorrow (17.02).

So, Happy Chinese New Year to all of you!!!