Backpacking through Myanmar [part 3 of 3]

In the same way part 2 ended, part 3 will begin; fishermen (at display). One in colour, and one silhouette.

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Inle Lake is one of the many must-sees of Myanmar; a great lake with magnificent “floating” settlements (on bamboo poles). Beautiful, really.

Small boats are the essential tool for the locals to get around here, as witnessed in the coming pictures.

Inle Lake

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Our first stop for the day was an open-spaced culture/festival/pseudo-temple place, whose entrance can be seen above. We sat down and our guide taught us about a special festival dish called “sticky rice”, which we also got to taste. Beside us, a drowsy cat enjoyed the warm sunlight that shone down at it through some cracks in the ceiling.

The multi-purpose temple was connected to a small, (but long) market by a tunnel of sorts, which we traversed to get to our transport, waiting on the other side. It made for a cool photo at least.

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Here is a picture of our guide and skipper for the day. Being a tour guide seemed to be a a high-status occupation here. She spoke understandable English, which made her stand out from the other guides we had (yeah, lol).

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While the houses are on poles, the wide-stretching gardens are certainly not. They float and can carry the weight of roughly a person per 5-10 meters (especially when they are small..). Below, three girls can be seen harvesting (not quite sure what exactly), while chatting and smiling happily.

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The roads are obviously water-ways:

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Nest stop was the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, a temple known for its “five small gilded images of Buddha, which have been covered in gold leaf to the point that their original forms cannot be seen“. Popular attraction. NB: males only as witnessed by the sign below! A fun aspect of the Burmese written language, is that it does not need spaces between words.

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Time had come to find some food, and we left for Grandma’s Kitchen. Maybe it’s her in the window, – who knows? The only thing we know for sure is that we got severe food poisoning, which kept us in bed the entire next day. Maybe grandma didn’t like us 😛

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The final stop for the day was the house where the guide lived. She first showed us the cigarette-making facility next-door, where several older woman (with extraordinary fingerspitzengefühl) cut, filled and rolled cigarettes at an insane pace! Then we got to try out the highly traditional facial make-up. “Now you become pretty, haha”, she told me after painting me with Thanaka. I am not so sure I would call it an improvement though haha..

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On our way home, the (morning?) fog were mostly gone and the slightly warmer afternoon light made for new photographic opportunities of the fishermen.

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As previously mentioned, the next day came and went without us ever leaving the hotel room out of fear of vomiting and/or something worse. A painful day. Moving on. The next morning, we had plans to explore the area by ourselves, and we started out carefully in the city centre.

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Later, we visited a vineyard where we ordered well-cooked food and drank “Aha” and “Power Peace” water. Very watery water. The best water.

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That was the last of the images from Inle Lake. The same evening, we travelled by bus down to Yangon; our final city to visit on this trip. It is a large city, and the most “city-like” city we had seen to date in Myanmar.

The first day were spent exploring by foot – and Jørgen got to know a local taxi driver quite well (transcription from video):
– [Jørgen] Do you have a wife?
– [Sjåfør ] Yes
– [Jørgen] What is her name?
– [Sjåfør ] Yes
– [Jørgen ]Do you have a kid?
– [Sjåfør ] Yes
– [Jørgen] What is his name?
– [Sjåfør ] Yes
– [Håkon] Jeg tror ikke du når helt igjennom til ham xD (ENG: I don’t think you quite get through to him xD)

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The next day, we were again ready for an excursion – this time to the Golden Rock! On our way there we came across a small village focused solely around (the many ways of)  preparing Cobra Head Fish for eating.

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To get to the Golden Rock, you get “loaded” on repurposed trucks that can drive “vertically” up the mountain side. This is really, really fun, and an experience you should not leave Myanmar without!

We unfortunately arrived at a time of reconstruction, and so the rock were covered up. Not quite sure why an actual rock would need cosmetic treatment, but hey, we got to drive the trucks!

Another bonus with the trip was the deeply interesting items for sale at the top of the mountain. Like a toy replica of RPG-7. I can almost hear the commercial “…spend some quality time with your kid, with this ultra-realistic rocket-propelled grenade launcher!!”. 

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We stayed the night in a bungalow near the foot of the mountain. The next morning, we got to see how rubber is made from a sticky white liquid that is harvested from trees. Then we drove off to get a fresh watermelon before entering some of  the largest pagodas in the country.

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Because we like trains just as much as Sheldon, we decided to try out the Burmese railways on our way back. That was a slow, but bumpy ride I can tell you. Glorious!

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In the evening we celebrated (and mourned) that the epic journey was coming to an end. The next day consisted mainly of transportation, so I leave you with one last image from a book store in Yangon – try to spot the easter egg!

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We had one day in Bangkok before departing separate ways. The most memorable image from this day is this mugshot taken at an escape-room establishment.

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….and this, this is a hotel. Not our hotel, but the hotel: Sky Bar at Lebua, State Tower (maybe known to some from Hangover 2).

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Martin & Jørgen, – thanks for a great journey; exploration of unknown territory (*cough*) with many intense moments, sunsets and stomach pain. Where to next??

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Backpacking through Myanmar [part 2 of 3]

Allow me to quickly pick up where I left off:

We rented bikes the following morning, and went out at the crack of dawn.

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After the marked, we headed out of the inner city and cruised by at least 5-10 (plus/minus 50) temples. (We even set foot in some of them – surprise, surprise!). Soon, we departed from our luxurious asphalt and let a dirt road show us the way to the countryside and the people living out their (calm?) lives there.

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As always (well, maybe), I asked for her permission to take a shot. She looked up, tilted her head to the side and it was clear she did not understand why on earth I would approach her, let alone talk to her while she did the laundry. So I pointed at my camera, we exchanged a smile and I called it an agreement.

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This little boy lived right across the slow-paced river and I guess he tried to figure out what we all where doing there. I cracked a smile, he didn’t, we left. Notice to self: I have to stop smiling awkwardly to everyone we meet. However, Jørgen clearly knows more than me about how to get people to smile back at him. To support this claim, I have a ton of evidence, like this one (and the next):

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All in all, we biked for nearly 20 kilometres that day. That called for taking the rest of the day off (you know, having a mini-vacation while busy “vacation-ing”). To accommodate this need, we found a splendid restaurant with a fantastic view of the river Irrawaddy. As the sun set, the sky went through a broad spectrum of warm colors, – and we, a broad spectrum of food. Delicious food.

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From Mandalay, we went south to Bagan by bus. The driver was, to put it mildly, an aggressive man when it came to honking, overtaking – AND – honking while overtaking (and, I kid you not, overtaking while honking). More times than I could count, vehicles in the opposite lane had to come to a complete stop because WE SURE AS HELL WASN’T GOING TO! His horn conveyed an important message, I’M BIGGER THAN YOU; HERE I COME, AND – THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. Jeez. BEEEP-de-BAAP-dii-BOOOP. No sleep for you, mister.

Our hotel was really nice, situated close to “Old Bagan”. It was not the first (nor the last) to proclaim free wifi access. However, as it turned out, the router, was not in any way connected to the internet (as a rule of thumb, this is always the case in Myanmar). A-okey though; we weren’t there to browse the web, but to explore, climb and wander through the semi-dessert, which was filled-to-the-brim with temples of all sizes.

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With (the superbly manly) means of transportation – an electrical scooter (that maxed out at 15-20 km/h), we tumbled into the wilderness head first. Among the many (monstrously) dangerous challenges we faced, perhaps Jørgen getting his front wheel stuck, spinning erratic in the sand, stood out as the most perilous. Or maybe when his battery pack started to decay… and we barely made it out alive… (#Picturesbelowunrelated #notreally)

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We came across a vantage point, a tower (kinda easy to spot). After 2000 steps or so, (just kidding, elevator #privilege) we experienced an amazing view. As can be seen in numerous pictures below, the landscape was mesmerizing, especially the way it slowly faded into the all-surrounding white haze.

We found some 10-20 Buddhist monks sleeping / relaxing at the top of the tower, in the shade. They found us interesting to look at, but not quite interesting enough to talk to 😛 

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Temples are excellent places to take a nap during the hottest part of the day. The 1-4 meter thick stone walls makes it nice and cool inside.

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After 3 days in Bagan, we returned to the road with destination Inle Lake. Time estimate: ~9-10 hours. It took 8 hours. How? They had calculated an average of at least one tire change. Real analysis folks.

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The mandatory suicide of one of the tires – to keep us on schedule – happened in the middle of absolutely nowhere. However, we had no problem with taking a break from the bus, and went out for a short stroll to stretch our legs and more importantly, empty our fluid containers.

3 Burmese men, patiently waiting:

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The next morning, we had a date with the at-most-3-meters-deep Inle Lake, a nice wooden boat – and a lovely, yet way to fancy dressed tour guide. She had by far the best English accent to date.

The morning mist made the first few hours on the lake magical. The water seemed to continue on and on, infinitely far in all directions. The two images below bring back some of that floaty feeling for me. Ah, what is better than a state-funded, culture-preserving fisherman-actor, showing off “the old ways” to the tourists, so that you, i.e. me, can snap a picture of him and his ancient, ineffective fish catching technique? Absolutely love it!

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Especially this one:

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Until next time, so long and thanks for all the fish!

Backpacking through Myanmar [part 1 of 3]

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I’ll give you 5 seconds to answer: What is the very first thing that comes to mind when you think about Myanmar? Let me guess – Aung San Suu Kyi, right? At least for me it was. When I got around to think about what I actually knew about this nation before travelling there, “not much” sums it up, I’m afraid..

Now, let’s take this from the beginning. My two childhood friends, Jørgen & Martin has got two parents (as one commonly does) with a slight taste (read: huge appetite) for the Pacific Ocean and all of its remote, tropical islands. So, last winter they left Oslo to spend a couple of months in paradise (look up Rarotonga – no, not on a physical map, …yes, use Google image search, … and yes, that is actually the place, …no, that is not photoshopped (you get the point now, I figure)). Accompanied in part by their children; these two young boys wanted to do a sweep across Asia, before returning home. A part of that exciting quest was exploration of Myanmar. I was invited along – and gladly accepted!

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Flight DY7205 from Oslo through Stockholm to Bangkok. Appropriately named “BANG-kok!”, a complete opposite to “The sound of Silence”. However, it felt strangely familiar, having been to some of the great, busy cities of India. A picture of traffic in two-three elevated “channels” feels appropriate:

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Flying to and from Myanmar is restricted to some chosen destinations, and for that reason, we used Thailand as a springboard to its neighbour in the west.

Here’s a portrait of Martin before we move on!

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We spent two days exploring, and amongst other things, joined in on a trip into the backwaters of the city; a web of interconnected canals – with “swarming” wildlife… at least a couple of laid-back lizards or two… (pictures to come!).

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I’d like to call the next picture “The river captain, and his wife”. Strangely, he is not the one doing the dishes at this one instance in time.
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There are no longer predators around that hunt the water monitors. Thus, with a steady supply of food available around-the-clock, they have become lazy and “fearless” of humans, and human activities. We could almost touch it, – that’s how close we could come.

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According to our guide, a lot of the traditional way of “slow(-er)” living is vanishing at an accelerating rate. This can perhaps be seen by the brand new buildings that are mixed in with the old canal-side houses.

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One thing you don’t escape (in Asia in general), are temples. Literally everywhere, and with an astonishing amount of gold and glitter. However, the golden tan doesn’t come naturally, someone has to paint them shiny…

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Back to the backwaters again!

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…where we found an orchid farm:

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…and an insane amount of fish (carp, I think), that was used to being fed white bread lol. When we started to feed them, the water literally turned into fish. H-Fish-O2. The battle was ON!

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Back in the city, this stray dog caught my attention between two parked, colourful buses.

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The air quality is plain awful, no surprise here. The drivers try to be cautious, and most use a facial mask.

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The next day, we swapped out Bangkok with Mandalay. It’s situated on the banks of Irrawaddy, in the heart of Myanmar. (This is a good time to hit play on Hans Zimmer’s masterpiece “Waters of Irrawaddy”, to really set the mood!). We got a small bungalow all to ourselves, – left our belongings there, and went outside. Our first impression of the people of Myanmar was that they were very friendly, polite – and by no means accustomed to tourists. This is of course a big plus, as it means not getting ripped off in taxis, restaurants and most stores.

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Jørgen and Martin posing in front of our accommodation. Award for being the easiest to recognise person, goes to Jørgen, for his exemplary orange shirt.

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The first image of this blogpost, was taken just outside our hotel at night time. Same night, some sort of festival were held in the streets, with loads of exotic food and fun activities, mostly for children.

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We got in touch with some locals – or more correctly, Jørgen spotted a guitar. They were nice, and we sang along. No english though. But guitar. Fun!

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We rented bikes the following morning, and went out at the crack of dawn. First stop was the local marked, were we got to try out a few tasty sweets and meet some of the people that worked there; which to our surprise was (almost) women only! Here are some of them:

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I leave you with the following image from the marked entrance, which I really like – may even go as far and say that I think it’s the best picture of this blogpost! Until next time (part 2), cheerio!

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