The tour of the surroundings of Mandalay turned out to be rather good. It got me to a nunnery, where we saw pink-clad shaven-headed women queue for lunch. We also took in a Buddhist university, and various temples some with bad steps and good views, care of an excellent guide whom we shared with the Greek chap (whom I originally took to be French). Statutory visits to craft shops weren’t too bad and I positvely enjoyed the visit to the silversmiths doing embossed work not unlike that of ancient Rome. It was also good to see oil drums being turned into the begging bowls for Buddhist monks. Excellent recycling.
The end of the trip was best, when we visited the longest wooden bridge in the world as the sun set across the lake. Very atmospheric, especially when a green snake slithered past.
The next day amigo took me on a songtheow to the Mandalay Hill
. Nightmare climb. Prodded in stomach by monk. When we asked if it would be possible to get a taxi down, one less than sympathetic woman said No :’Foreigner have bad aura’. It was 1000 Myanmar kyat to take photo at top - no way! So my snaps were from the level below.
We took the overnight bus to Bagan
and ended up at the Eden Motel
where Amigo had stayed 7 years before. Unsurprisingly, they still remembered him. Yet another Amigo performance in the morning because there was no hot water for his shower. Two trips to reception to complain. Two promises it would be ready in 15 mins. So we were late for the guy who was due to pick us up for our tour which Amigo arranged so that we could see sunrise. I hate being late.
Horse trap tour of Bagan, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Burma, was better than I expected. The gentle trotting of the horse in the pre-dawn dark under the stars was rather beautiful.. And the sunrise which we witnessed from a pagoda terrace was enhanced by the hot air balloons gliding into the horizon. There was a cornucopia of magnificent ruins, a cross between Angkor Wat and Sukkothai. Would like to have stayed longer, but I was with a guy who insisted that you could do Angkor Wat in a day.
My opinion of Amigo rocketed when he tracked down the parents of a man he helped with the cost of cancer treatment seven years ago. And even more when the man himself arrived. I had thought that Amigo had been the victim of a scam But it turned out to be genuine. As far as I could tell.
Overnight bus to Kalaw
, a former British hill station. Arrived at 2 am. Amigo bumped into a touting tour guide who took as to the Golden Kalaw Inn.
The following morning, found that the Greek guy from Yangon was in the room next door.
The guest house had character. Still sported wartime bullet holes, but not sure whether from the British or Japanese. Shame it’s about to be demolished when its replacement is finished.
The trek from Kalaw to lake Inle was a mixed experience.. Beautiful scenery and friendly local people. Kept encountering a French group on the first day, all rather jolie. A bad time on the first evening when the Guide got lost In the dark and the rain. I kept sliding and falling in the rain and mud. Helped by Amigo and Araki from Saitama in Japan. The guide left us while went to get help.. I thought he’d given up and abandoned us. But there were eventualy lights in the distance and we were rescued and taken to the first nights accommodation, where the guide later said he was robbed as he slept.
The next day.. Beautiful vistas and wonderful local costumes. Nice salad lunch time made from fermented tea leaves. Ate sesame seeds straight from the flower and chilis from the plant. But the rain and my tumbles in the mud continued. So was delighted when the guide suggested I got a ride on a local motorbike halfway through the third day. Best ride I ever had. Clinging to Chelsea football club shirt. Lovely break by the waterside near Inle Lake with a Myanmar beer. Araki from Saitama arrived first. Had also taken motorbike. Finally Amigo and Guide arrived, by which time all the regular boats has left. Guide phoned for another one, operated by a couple of chancers. Engine broke down in the middle of the lake. Darkness fell. Amigo shouted out for rescue which finally happened and we clambered onto another boat.
Arrived at the decidedly unwelcoming Gypsy guest house where Araki, Amigo and I shared a cramped room. Bumped into the Greek guy yet again at breakfast.
Mooched around the lakeside town then overnight bus to Yangon where we hung around the bus station waiting for the rush hour to quell. had a bad encounter with the Asian-style toilet. We got a cheap ride on an old Japanese bus into town. Recovered some sleep during the day, then wandered about in the evening trying some delicious street food, except Amigo thinks the cure for the fungal infection on my arm includes avoiding alcohol and animal fats. Which I should do anyway, but peeved he wouldn’t let me try the rare local goat’s cheese which he’d found in the market. The slightly tight t-shirts which he also bought would be a better incentive to lose weight.
We spent two nights at the Okinawa guest house
. Better than presaged by the Greek guy and TripAdvisor reviews. Staff coped well with Amigo’s confrontational demandingness. Except they gave him wrong times for the circular railway departure. Amigo not happy. but deserved methinks Half naked beggar boys on the platform touched the snacks we were eating. Good try!
Trip cost one dollar each, more than the locals pay. Staff took good pains to ensure the foreigners caught the right train and were herded into the right compartment. The trip around Yangon was fascinating, if only to see people stoically coping with rising floodwaters.
Amigo and I had another argument in the afternoon which resulted in my decision to visit Vietnam alone next month.. I think we really need this break from each other. Booked my flight to Hanoi from BKK for 15 November. Hoping to stay at the Nova Hôtel with John and Jan Knight, old friends from Sheffield.