Central Myanmar we’re coming!
Our ten days meditation retreat is over and it’s been intense. Our last week before our visa expires is planned for travelling from Yangon to Mandalay and with the train to Lashio, the end of the railway.
It’s a bus and taxi ride after leaving the monastery to reach the main bus station in Yangon. There is a night bus leaving at 7:00 PM and arriving at 5:00 AM the next morning. That’s perfect. Surprisingly we get seats in the first row. Usually they are reserved for monks and other important persons. So tonight we’re VIP’s.
The night feels long for me. Somehow I cannot sleep and spend the whole time watching a soils course while Helen is sleeping. At least a good opportunity to learn more about soil 🙂
We arrive at 4:30 AM in Mandalay and take a taxi to the Hotel. The concierge is so kind. He let us check in several hours earlier and we even can enjoy the upcoming breakfast. The room is clean and comfy. After the breakfast we buy a train ticket to Lashio. The rest of the day we just relax. Tomorrow our train is leaving at 4:00 AM, so a short night again.
At 2:45 AM we get a wake up call. Still half sleeping we get our stuff together and walk to the train station. We booked upper class, which means we have a spacious and upholstered seat. The lower class has just a wooden bench. A bit uncomfortable for a day long journey.
On time we’re leaving the train station in direction of Pyin Oo Lwin, the next city. Slowly the train is rolling along the tracks. Sometimes you can walk beside it without a problem…..bad shape of the tracks. The train leans heavily from one side to the other. One of the highlights is the Goteik Viaduct (Wikipedia). A 102 meters high metal bridge opened on the 01.01.1900.
There is a portuguese couple sitting next to us. Fred and Rita are lovely people. Fred and I descent in a intense discussion about Buddhism and Permaculture. We share a lot of same views. The time is passing by quite fast. They leave the train in Hsipaw, one stop before our destination. After 12 hours in the train it’s still 5 hours more to go.
Slowly all the shaking and the smoke of several fires along the track is making us feel quite exhausted. We get through the last hours with watching tv shows on our notebook. Around 8:30 PM we reach Lashio and happily check in in a Hotel near the center.
Next morning we start to browse the local market in search for a simple outdoor knife for me. We cannot find one, but we find a lot of interesting other things. The market is huge, the biggest I saw so far. You can get nearly everything in this narrow aisles packed with booths. With a delicious cup of milk tea we conclude this worthwhile morning.
A Shan (local tribe) cave temple at the edges of the town sounds interesting and we want to visit it. After a short lunch break we leave our hotel again and search for a taxi. At the next crossing we run into a driver relaxing in the back of his taxi. With a written note from the hotel I try to explain him where we want to go and he nods, like he understood, but no he didn’t. Instead of bringing us to the temple he provides us an amazing tour through the whole city. We visit different temples. He always shows us around. We meet a kind Buddhist monk living in Canada and a lot of people want to take a picture with us. At dusk he finally brings us to a bus agency so that we can buy our ticket back to Hsipaw for the next day. With a well deserved tip we wish our driver a wonderful night and finish our day with a needed shower.
Our bus to Hsipaw is leaving at 10:00 AM. After only two hours we reach this small touristy town. The train took 4.5 hours 😉 for the same way. This time I’m searching a hotel on site and we make a great deal. A new hotel, just opened one month ago, has a soft opening offer. We get the best value for the price ever.
There is one must see in Hsipaw for us. It is a Shan Palace in the north of the town. A Shan prince lived there with his austrian princess before he disappeared during the military puch 1962. His niece is still living there and invites people to her home to share the story of her family and the prince. We learn a lot and are very thankful for all her effort. An amazing and passionate woman.
Next destination is Pyin Oo Lyin. We need to get up early. This time the bus is leaving at 5:00 AM. Already at 8:00 AM we are in this beautiful colonial town. It was occupied by the british because of the cool climate here at around 1000 meter above sea level. Our hotel (Hotel Rich) is near a nice lake and in good shape. It offers free bicycles and I directly use in the afternoon to visit the National Kandawgyi Gardens, a huge botanical garden while Helen is just taking a break.
Directly after the ticket booth in the garden I run into a swimming pool. Awesome to sink into cool water after weeks of hot and humid weather. I browse around the area. Most impressive for me is the display of petrified wood. Beside that the bamboo fields, the orchard and the big view tower are the highlights.
The next day we take the bikes and drive around the city. Believe it or not but even in Myanmar there is Jehovah’s Witnesses with Watchtower magazines. They’re quite big in Germany. A friendly local sitting in front of his house starts a conversation with us, soon talking about the bible. We still don’t get it, but after he offers us the magazine we realize his commitment with Jehovah. So unexpected to meet them here in Myanmar.
Feeling a little lazy we keep the trip short. The anglican church on the way back to our hotel is our last sight for today. For dinner we visit “The Taj”. Following the Wikitravel article it’s meant to be one of the best Indian restaurants in whole Myanmar and yes it is absolutely delicious and offers a high standard atmosphere. We just feel a bit uncomfortable with all that high standard and luxury.
After a recreational long sleep and a relaxing morning we start for our way back to Mandalay with a small local truck. They drop us near the Hotel and on the way we meet Emma and Andy again. They also stayed at Sinhtauk Beach where we came in contact with each other. It is a cheerful hello and we have lunch together. A tasty slurry tofu dish with rice noodles. They tell us a lot about their last weeks and their future plans. Great stuff! Hopefully we will see them again in Europe.
Because there is not much we want to do in Mandalay we stay the afternoon in our room and sleep early.
A highlight of the hotel we staying in is the breakfast. It is a big buffet with a great selection of food. We are completely overwhelmed and excited. We are not used to these variety anymore. We take the time to enjoy it as much as possible.
An airport taxi picks us up afterwards to drop us at the airport. We have to wait some hours before the plane departs. Time to say goodbye to this country of lovely people, great landscapes, golden pagodas, oily food and sometimes a lot of smoke.
The flight to Bangkok starts with a great sunset decorated with incredible cloud formations. We even see flashes in some of the thunderstorm clouds. It’s like being on a different planet. Great!
It’s gonna be just a short stopover in Thailand before we are on our way to India again. Helen is heading to Dharamshala/Himachal Pradesh. Perhaps for some of you the name might sound familiar because of it’s significance as the Dalai Lama’s residence and headquarter of the Central Tibetan administration. I will be around 700 km south-east at the Himalayan Farm Project, so it’s gonna be 4 weeks of solo travelling before we meet in New Dehli again.
Looking forward to immerge into India’s contrasts again!