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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.