| Yangon, Golden Rock, Lake Inle,
Continued from Part
Hotel, Yangon, $18/night
with a few clouds; no rain
(CC 414 NC 01 network)
In Myanmar the cars drive on the
right, which is surprising considering that in India, Thailand and
cars drive on the left side and Myanmar was a British colony. Unlike
Myanmar doesn't use the British flat pin plug. They use the same plugs
as in Thailand (round European + flat parallel). Maybe Myanmar decided
to throw away everything British after independence.
In the morning after the breakfast
we explain the driver that somebody offered us a driver+car for two
for $400. Some discussion and we agree on $500 (instead of $550). Maybe
we should have bargained harder, but this driver makes a good
(good personality, fluent in English, six years' experience doing these
tours and overall good knowledge of Myanmar). Also this driver is a
company - the money we pay goes straight to him and not to an
(as was the case with the $400 offer - we spoke with a guy, but
else would have been our driver).
Anyway, we start our tour of Yangon
by visiting again the Shwedagon
at 9am until 10am. At the ticket counter they tell us we can't reuse
tickets (ticket lady yesterday at 5pm told us we could still use the
until today 2pm). But they let us go through and I take many
The next stop is the Irrawaddy
river quay - a hot, smelly and dirty place where we spend only a
minutes. We then drive across the town and see some colonial era
hotel) etc.). The army headquarter is in a very interesting old
but you are not allowed to take a photo of it.
According to the driver there is
only malaria in the extreme south and north of Myanmar.
Then the driver brings us to the Botataung
pagoda, where there are some relics of Buddha (his hair). After we
drive to the royal lakes and visit the Karaweik
stone boat, a concrete copy of a royal barge which now houses a
Impressive building in a nice setting.
The last stop is the reclining
Buddha, an impressive statue built in 1966. Then we have lunch in a
local Burmese restaurant. After lunch we sign the agreement with the
and pay the $250 cash advance (we use a mix of US $ and FEC).
By the way, the exchange rate of
the US$ is 1000 Kyat, while FECs get 900 Kyat/FEC. The dollar rate in
is 900-950 Kyat according to the driver.
After we drive to the National Museum
(entry ticket $5/person). However photography is not allowed, so we
it and drive to the Bogyoke market. We send the driver back home and
across the market. There is a mix of traditional and modern shops and
jewellery shops. Nearby there is a modern shopping complex.
It's about 3pm, we are tired, I'm
a bit sunburnt, so we take a taxi back to the hotel (1500 Kyat).
In the evening there is a blackout
in the hotel. At 7pm we have a dinner in a Thai restaurant, the Sabai
in the same Dhamma
where our hotel is (100 m away). The restaurant is relatively elegant
compared to what you can get in Yangon) and the service is good. Food
ok. Two noodle soups with chicken and shrimp, two fresh fruit juices
two desserts total 3840 Kyat (US $3.84).
After dinner we take a taxi to the
Hotel Central, as I noticed that in that area there are some shops and
some nightlife. The taxi ride costs 1500 Kyat - in Malaysia we would
paid the same price for a trip like this, but there we would have had a
decent taxi (Proton Saga) with A/C - here all taxis are run-down
old cars without A/C. The local taxi drivers must be making good money.
The Hotel Central is near the Bogyoke
market. In this area there are several higher class hotels (maybe
class), shops and shopping complexes and many local cinemas with Indian
movies (tickets cost 100-150 Kyat). Since the shops are closed we take
a taxi to Chinatown. Shirley's legs are cramped and she'd like to have
some massage. While she is getting massaged (1500 Kyat for 45 minutes,
but we give the guy 2500 Kyat because he worked so hard for 45
I walk around the food stalls and buy a pack of peanut cookies (peanuts
bound together by something sweet) for 100 Kyat. Then I spot a stall
sells sugar cane juice. Hygienic conditions are... whatever they are,
since I'm constipated it can't hurt if I catch the opposite
The sugar cane juice costs 100 Kyat
- practically nothing and I wonder how people manage to make a living
of selling sugar cane juice. Our driver told us that government workers
make $10/month. He is pocketing $500 on this 13 days trip - deduct all
costs (car rent $225/month, petrol, food and lodging for 13 days) and
still ends up making a multiple of a government worker. Myanmar looks
a country with huge social disparities.
I also change $100 in a nearby hotel
at the rate of 1000 Kyat/$ and get a huge and heavy pack of bills
denomination is 1000 Kyat). Today a black market trader offered us a
of 1010 Kyat/$ - I tried to negotiate a better rate, but he just
go up. At 1010 Kyat/$ it's simply not worth going through all the
to change the money with a black market money changer.
After the massage we simply head
back to the hotel. Tomorrow we leave Yangon for Bago and the Golden
Yangon -> Bago ->
Sea Sar Hotel,
Kin Pun Camp, $15/night (big double room with A/C, two beds, bath with
hot shower; no TV)
with a few clouds; no rain
No GSM coverage
We manage to leave the hotel at 8:55am
and make a first stop at a shop where Tint, our driver, buys water and
other drinks and refuels the car. Refueling is done with canisters, as
the shop has no petrol pump. Later the driver tells us that the petrol
he bought is black market petrol which costs 1600 Kyat per gallon, i.e.
356 Kyat/liter. In the government owned petrol stations the petrol
200 Kyat/gallon, i.e. 44 Kyat/liter (but you can only buy two
at this subsidised price). By the way, petrol in Myanmar is of lower
(88 octanes, vs. 95 or 98 octanes in Germany).
Tint just got married yesterday.
We ask how much a flat in Yangon costs and the answer is that the rent
for a flat with two bedrooms is 8000 Kyat/month ($8 per month) - a
price. It seems that the Kyat is severely undervalued.
We briefly stop at the Taukkyan
war cemetery at 10am to take some shots. Here there are graves of
soldiers fallen in World War II. After a few minutes we leave. It is
getting hot, as the sun is strong, so we switch on the A/C.
We finally reach the toll motorway.
Not much of a motorway
but in a better state than most other roads in Myanmar. Our top speed
about 100 Km/h. We are driving towards Bago, to visit the pagodas.
At 10:50am we reach the first of
Bago's pagodas, the Kyaikpun pagoda,
also known as the Four Faces pagoda, as there are four Buddha statues
towards north, south, east and west. The ticket costs $10/person and
can use it to see all pagodas in Bago. I wonder who in the end pockets
We then visit the very fotogenic Mahazedi
pagoda, the Shwethalyuang
Buddha statue (55m long, quite impressive), a place where they
Pagoda (1m higher than Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda) and another pagoda
stopping for lunch. Lunch takes place in a Chinese restaurant and we
just $4 for the three of us.
It's 2pm and we have to rush to
the next place, Kyaiktiyo, where we want to visit the Golden Rock
We are actually short of time as it takes 2-3 h to reach Kyaiktiyo and
from there one and a half hours to reach the pagoda (45 min by truck
45 min by foot).
The road between Bago and Kyaiktiyo
is in a terrible state and we progress very slowly. I wonder why the
government doesn't repair the roads. Lack of money, lack of will or
? I might add that in Myanmar it's as if we went back in time to 30
ago. Men are still wearing the Burmese sarong (longji), cars in the
are very old, many people still live in leaf houses, lots of ox carts
and the infrastructure is in a terrible state (as if nobody cared).
now and then there are road works, but the technology employed is
Salaries in Myanmar are incredibly
low - 10000 Kyat ($10) per month for a government worker. I remember
seen an ad in a schoolbook over 20 years ago, which wanted to
the exploitation of 3rd world countries by showing a picture of a
black woman from a Caribbean country titled "For just one dollar this
will happily work for a full day". Well, this is the year 2002 and
in Myanmar happily work for 30 cents/day (300 Kyat).
At about 4:30pm we finally reach
Kyaiktiyo - too late to continue to the Golden Rock pagoda. We'll do
tomorrow. We spend the night in the Sea Sar hotel - $15 for a double
with A/C and bath. The room is ok, but nothing special.
In the evening after dinner we walk
through the night
You won't believe it, but in this market there are several shops
wooden replicas of machetes, guns, machine guns, grenade and rocket
launcher. On many of these replicas they write "U.S.A." in addition
to the local Burmese script. Are these things toys for children or do
in Myanmar really put wooden grenade launchers into their living rooms
? Possibly they are toys, although the wooden machine gun is huge and
(later the driver confirms that these are toys).
Kyaiktiyo (Kin Pun camp) -> Toungoo
Hotel, 5 km out of Tounguoo, $15/night (small double with A/C, bath,
shower; A/C is too cold and can't be adjusted; good breakfast included
- unfortunately flies are all over the fruits so we can't eat them)
with a few clouds; no rain
No GSM coverage
This is the schedule we had set with
the driver three days ago:
||Yangon -> Bago -> Golden Rock
||5h by car
||Golden Rock -> Toungoo
||7h by car
||Toungoo -> Inle Lake
||7-8h by car
||Inle -> Mandalay (Pindaya)
||7-8h by car
||Mandalay (Sagaing, Amarapura,
||Mandalay city and Mingun
||Mandalay -> Bagan (Mt. Popa)
||5-6h by car
||Bagan -> Pyay
||7-8h by car
||Pyay - Yangon
||5h by car
||Hotel -> Airport
||43-47h by car
Now it appears that this schedule
is a bit too ambitious, as driving on Myanmar roads is very tiring.
of holes and
shaking, slow progress. It must be tiring for the driver too, but I
he needs the money. The big problem is the huge distance between Yangon
and Mandalay, which requires two days in each direction by car. Using
several internal flights however
would have cost more, as we would have had to organise taxis and
all over Myanmar. A good idea would have been just
to fly between Yangon and Mandalay (a return ticket) and to hire a
in Mandalay, to do Mandalay, the area around Mandalay, Bagan and Inle
With this option we would have done Bago as a daily tour from Yangon
is interesting with all its pagodas) and we would have skipped the
Rock. Skipping the Golden Rock pagoda is actually a good idea, as there
is just one attraction there and it takes forever to go and come back
hours by bus + 1:30h for walking up and down again).
This morning we take the 8:40am
truck from Kin Pun camp to the 'base camp' of the Kyaiktiyo
pagoda. We have to take a truck, as the road is very steep and our
car is not powerful enough. This (small) truck carries 40 people,
like sardines on its back. At 9:20am we reach the base camp and
rush up the mountain (Shirley is not with us as she is too tired). In
minutes we reach the top, where the pagoda and the Golden
Rock are. If we didn't rush so much, we would have needed maybe 1h
to get up. Suddenly it becomes clear that doing Bago and Golden Rock in
one day, starting from Yangon, is not feasible. At least 11-12h
bus and truck + 2-3h to visit Bago + 3h to climb up and visit the
rock = a total of 16-18h. You'd have to leave at 6am and would be back
At 10:50am we go down again and
reach the base camp around 11:10am and ... there is no truck to take us
back. Well, there are lots of trucks, but they are all empty and will
leave when they fill up. It looks like a long waiting time. Renting a
truck to go down costs 10000 Kyat - quite expensive. I'm a bit unhappy
about the situation, because what's the point of hiring a driver + car,
when then you are still forced to wait for buses? We wait some more
and when the truck is partly full, I pay 4000 Kyat to make it leave.
We are back at the base camp at
12:30pm and leave at 1:30pm after a brief lunch in the Sea Sar
This place is not good - the day before they served us a soup with ants
and today they charge us 3700 Kyat for bad food (yesterday we paid 3840
Kyat for three people in a much nicer restaurant with much better food
It then takes us full seven hours
to reach Toungoo - no fun on such bad roads, although the scenery
is beautiful - rice fields with water buffaloes and small villages with
coconut palms every now and then. Lots of ox
carts by the way - Myanmar is a quite unmodern country. Head here
you want to see how SE Asia looked 30 years ago.
Toungoo -> Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake)
Aung Min Galar
Hotel, Nyaung Shwe, Tel. 081-24188, $15/night (big double room with
bath with hot shower, two beds, TV, fridge, lot of furniture; good
spotless blue sky; no rain
No GSM coverage
Basically we spend the whole day
in the car driving from Toungoo to the Inle lake. We leave after
at 9am and arrive in the hotel at the Inle lake 12 hours later at
The driver had said that from Toungoo it would take us 7-8 hours to
the Inle lake, but his estimate was far too optimistic. I wonder if he
underestimated on purpose the driving times to improve his chances to
us the trip. In any case it's no fun spending a big part of the holiday
in a car (especially on such terrible roads). The alternative to a car
have been flying from Yangon to Inle Lake, from Inle lake to Mandalay,
from Mandalay to Bagan and in Bagan take the train or a bus back to
But at least with the car the money goes straight into the pockets of
Leaving Toungoo at 9am, we drive
past Yedashe, Lewe and Yamethin and reach Kalaw at 7 something pm. The scenery
initially consists of villages, towns and rice fields. The more we
to the north the environment gets drier and at a certain point it looks
as if we were in the African savanna - only lions and zebras are
Lots of people conducting ox carts. On the way we make a brief stop at
an interesting cattle
In Kalaw we have dinner at the Thirigayha
restaurant (good dinner for the three of us for 3000 Kyat). The driver
then continues to the Inle lake and brings us to the Aung Mingalar
which he chose for us. The room is fine and good value, even if I would
have liked to see some other hotels before making up my mind.
The trip from Toungoo to Nyaung
Shwe (Inle lake) takes 12 hours, in spite of the fact that the driver
as fast as possible, blasting through villages at 80-90 km/h and
a top speed of 110 km/h (you should see in what sorry state the roads
Myanmar are). The road which
up the mountains from the plains is especially bad.
Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake)
Aung Min Galar
Hotel, Nyaung Shwe, $15/night
spotless blue sky; no rain; very cold in the morning, evening and at
No GSM coverage
Today we wake up with 15°C in
the room. I wish the A/C unit could be turned into a heater. At 1000 m
above sea level the nights get very cold. After breakfast Tint (our
brings us to a boatsman who for $10 will do a boat tour on Inle lake
us (later in the evening we find out that the price for a boat trip
other operators is $8). According to the boatsman there is a fee of $3
per person to visit the lake - which we pay to the boatsman. The boat
is kind of a Thai long tail boat without the long tail.
Starting at 9:30am, our first stop
is at a village of long
neck people - great photo opportunity for a fee of $6. My guess is
that these long neck ladies make a living by posing for the tourists.
metal rings they wear along the neck are very heavy, by the way.
We then cross the lake to Ywama
(beautiful peaceful lake
with wonderful colours - I end up taking over 230 photos today) and
a stop at a souvenir shop owned by a friend of the boatsman. On the
day we end up visiting a total of five or six shops with various
(paper umbrellas, goldsmith, silk weavery etc.) and around these shops
there are boats with people trying to sell you souvenirs.
After a stop in a nearby village
we visit the Phaung
U pagoda - nice but not too impressive. We then have lunch in the
of the Golden Island Cottages resort in Nam Pan. This is a hotel in a
scenic setting, where the rooms are all in traditional style huts on
lake. It looks like a higher class place and indeed the service is very
good - we are welcomed by a band playing local music when we arrive -
the food is bad. The fried rice is burnt and there is a big black
in my chicken with cashewnuts. I send back the chicken and they don't
us for this dish. Good service, but they need to improve their food.
We spend the rest of the day visiting
shops, local villages, doing a tour on our own with a canoe ($2 for one
hour) and around 4:30pm we visit the jumping
cat pagoda (monks there have trained cats to jump high).
Our dinner is at the Golden Kite
restaurant (near Nan Da Wunn hotel, Young
Gyi Road). The best restaurant we have found so far in Myanmar -
traditional Burmese dishes, but good western food and packed with
We fill our stomachs with excellent tagliatelle and fresh strawberry
after so much fasting and a diet of cookies.