Well, after the past weeks of hard work and organisation I finally have been enjoying the sweet freedom of finishing the first semester. And in accordance with the tone of the past year it had to be adventurous and new! So I have been chilling, busing and biking around Myanmar for the last 4 days with another weeks to go.
Myanmar is my 6th new country of the year and 23rd country I have visited in my life and it is as unique and wonderful as I imagined! I am traveling with the one other student who is on exchange at NTU from Exeter, it’s been nice to have someone who understands what it’s like to be away from Exeter too.
Our first day was spent in Yangon which we felt like we covered the whole city in one day. It was interesting to get a feel for a busy and chaotic Asian city, especially coming from Singapore, but the smell of sewage and the lack of help from locals made it a little tiring and intimidating. We caught/ were pulled into a local bus to get from our hostel to downtown. The buses barely stop to let people on and off, and to know where the bus is heading involves understanding the loud Burmese men that hang out of the open doors shouting places as the speed by. We just looked foreign so they assumed we were going downtown (a correct assumption) and pulled us hurriedly on board. After experiencing driving chaos we reached the colonial centre, all the old buildings which were once grand and important are crumbling and have plants growing through them.
We quickly discovered nowhere accepts US dollars (contrary to what the Internet said) so trying to tackle exchange desk when no one speaks English was fun. A stop for lunch at The Ragoon Teahouse refuelled for sightseeing – delicious food but a little too classy for my hippy trousers! We quickly covered seeing the river, the duke pagoda, walked along to Chinatown, up to Bogyoke market, round the lake to see the golden boat and then up the big hill to the top of the Shwedagon Pagoda. A long, tiring day but worth it for the final views!
The end of day 1 also meant we commences our first night bus experience. Our route involved a 3 hour stop in the new capital Naypyidaw to see the 10 lane high ways built before the city had been developed so are completely empty. Despite the 3 hour stop over from 4-7 am and the 15 hours of buses I think it was worth the detour. The second bus was a much more local bus and consisted of the same pushing on and off that the local Yangon bus had but this lasted for 6 hours! It was it was great to see the local villages and the empty country but I’m looking forward to a “VIP” bus tonight. Safe to say we were happy to arrive in Bagan at 3pm on Saturday and we were completely exhausted!
It’s hard to condense the immensity of the last 2 days in Bagan, but it has mostly been about Pagodas. We visited Mount Popa, a very big hill with a monastery on which had incredible views and stopped on the way back to try some jaggery (basically sugar) palm wine and peanuts.
In the evening we rented E-bikes (scooters that max out at 35 km/h) to whizz around pagodas, and in search of a place to watch the sunset we made a wrong turn and ended up being guided by a friendly local to almost our private pagoda. Sometimes a wrong turn can give you opportunities you’d never expect. He then sat on the pagoda and showed us his water colour paintings of the view he had just given us the opportunity to enjoy, so I happily bought one as a memory before enjoying an amazing sunset!
Sunset is followed by sunrise and so after 5 hours sleep we headed back out to a pagoda to grab a space in the crowd at 5:30 am! Although we were fighting for space and surrounded by tourist whose photos were more important than enjoying the experience, it was incredible!!
The rest of the day has been filled with more pagodas, now it’s time to chill before our 9 hour night bus to Inle Lake.