Last evening in Myanmar

From Bagan to Yangon we took a nice air condition bus and arrived to Yangon at 4 a.m. on Highway bus station. From bus station we took a city bus N 43 and arrived to Sule Pagoda within sunrise.

That time we decided to stay in Myanmar Motherland Inn 2, which was highly recommended to us by Belgium traveler we met in Kalaw.
This cheap hostel has two amenities: free shuttle bus to airport and buffet breakfast. The stuff also nice and helpful, but cheap room very small and hot in this time of year.

The last evening in Myanmar we spent drinking Myanmar beer and watching local families on the Yangon streets.

Bagan and it`s 4000 temples

From Mandalay we planned to go to Bagan. Thanks to Indian lady from hotel we and two other travelers took a local city pick-up to go to bus station, Instead pay $ 5-7 for taxi we paid 300 kiat per person. On bus stand we found only one bus going to Bagan.

In Bagan we chose in New Park guest house where we rent a room for 10 dollars with breakfast. Actually it was not a room, but a bungalow with nice porches.

Bagan is a ancient capital of Burmese empire, and famous around the world for it`s 4000 temples 3-13 centuries A.D.

The area with temples and nobody can tell you how Bagan is big. Temples and pagodas are everywhere. We spent there about 6 days cycling around the temples and we could not see all of them.

Exploring the temples by bicycle was very fun and interesting. The temples of Angkor Wat still the most monumental temples, but Bagan archaeological site has something special too. Ancient painting inside the temples are still possible to view, some of them has been restored, but some not.

The other good thing about Bagan temples, that they are too crowded, so it give you a chance to enjoy this relics with pleasure.

Mandalay and jade market

Mandalay was not attractive to us as a city with temples or palaces. We came there for shopping.

It is not a big secret, that Myanmar is a kind of citadel for black gems market. In every tourist place somebody will try to sell you a “real ruby” for a “very good price” and every souvenir shop have special stand with sparkling small things there. But prices usually are not very good and quality of stones is very poor on this tourist shops. We went to shopping to local jade market.

The Jade Market located far away from center of Mandalay. First what we saw, when we came to place where market should be, was rows of locals working on a big machines.

That is how Burmese polish the gems.

Near the entrance to the market there is a big sign saying that foreigner should pay 1 dollar for entrance ticket. Seems that market is not very popular with tourists. Nobody was interested of us and we came through this sign with no payment.

Inside the market there are lines with seller and buyers. Some of them trading jewelery small gems, but some selling huge stones.

Locals was so busy with trade, that even did not pay any attention for two foreigners walking around. But for us the main point was a purchase.

We stopped near one stand, owned by Mongolian family. The owner showed us some gems and asked a nice price. In Moscow I worked as a jewelery photographer and watched a lot of brilliants and rubies. So I`m knowledgeable a bit how to check the stones and have some ideas about prices.

We chose zircons, sapphires and spinel. Jade we bought from Burmese lady, with hard bargain we got half price, what she asked from the beginning.

We was so happy about the treasure we got, and about the money we paid.

Hsipaw to Mandalay by train

From Hsipaw we decided to take a train to see Gokteik railway viaduk and get new experience. Ticket to «Upper Class» cost 9 dollars, the ordinary cost 6. The difference is not so big — same train, same comfort (upper class has no aicondition and even fan). But the good thing is that it is allowed only passengers with ticket to upper class.

The train left Hsipaw train station at 8:30 a.m. Half hour later, in the middle of colorful fields we stopped with big noise of breaks.

– Wheel on the ground — withour any worries said Burmese lady sitting opposite.

And she was right, the wheel was on the ground and it took about 1 hour to put it back. Seems the situation like this is normal for this place, because everybody was ok about that.

The whole trip was about this Gokteik railway viaduk, marvelously constructed under deep and huge canyon.

We arrived to Mandalay in the middle of the night, the whole trip took about 14 hours.
From Hsipaw we tried to book a room in Royal Guest House, but the hotel was full. The only hotel we could find in the middle of the night was Sabai Phyu Hotel. The room are not so cheap, from 8 dollars, but very old and duty.

Vanilla sunset in Hsipaw

Our next destination was Hsipaw town. To go there we took a bus to Mandalay. For 10 dollars it was super-mega bus with air condition, large sits, free water and David Copperfield show!

Due to Myanmar tradition, the bus arrived to Mandalay at a night time. The other problem was bus station. Mandalay have few highway bus stations and all of the, located few kilometers from each other. The bus to Hsipaw will departure in 6 a.m. from the one bus station, but we arrive to another at 5 a.m. Taxis were offered for 5-7 dollars but it was very expensive for us. One local guy agreed to drive us by his motorbike for 1500 kiat.

The tickets from Mandalay to Hsipaw cost us 6000 per person and the trip took 6,5 hours.

To be honest we did not like Hsipaw so much, Kalaw was much interesting and quite. The hills around Hsipaw are also popular for trekking and hiking. We done some small treks to hot spring and through some villages, they was very good.

Vanilla sunset in Hsipaw:

Inle lake and floating life of Intha tribal villages

To go to Nuangshwe we spent about 20 minutes waiting for a pick-up on stand on the main road. Pick up was full of locals, carrying the passengers on roof is a not a big deal for Myanmar. The local price is 1500 kiat per person (as one Burmese old man told me), but the driver asked at the beginning incredible high price. But as usual he agreed for 2000 kiat per person.

We did not like Nuangshwe. It is not so agly town, but Kalaw was much quieter and nicer. In Bright Hotel we got a nice room with veranda for 10 dollar and it was the cheapest we could find around. There are few nice places in the town, serving good local and European food, but prices are high. Nuangshwe have dozens of pancake cafe – that was very good.

Full day trip with private boat cost us 13 dollars, it can be cheaper if we will share the boat with other travelers. Inle Lake itself is not so big, but the area with Intha tribal villages who living on lake is huge. The rice is ground on the fields around and irrigate with canals from lake. All other vegetable locals are growing on the water — on float bamboo rafts covered with dirt and lake weed The villages are also located on the water, bamboo huts based on few piles.

The boat is necessary for every family and Inle lake famous worldwide because of how the local fishermen operate with boat. They row the boat by foot only.

In Yawama village we arrived just on time — it was a market day (the dame 5 day system as was in Kalaw). Market isself was not authentic — a lot of tourists and a lot of souvenir vendors. They start doing their jobs just you showing up in a canal, floating sellers trying to attack your boat and will no let you go until you buy some silver jewelery for 2 dollars.

We liked the trip around the lake very much, especially Indein village with not restored stupas, where you can feel yourself treasure hunter or great traveler.

In Nuangshwe we met a Lithuanian couple we met before in Kalaw. They finished 3 days trek from Kalaw to Inle and were a bit disappointed by guide, it was a 18 years old girl, barely speaks English, but the trek was very interesting for them.

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 :(.