Chapter 32: Me and Myanmar, Part 2
Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
56Trip End Nov 2004
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Predictably I slept through most of Wednesday, and then set out to explore Nyaung U by foot. I found some great pizza at San Kabar Restaurant, and then proceeded to the nearest sight: the Shwezigan Paya. My longyi came in handy for touring the old stupa, and afterwards I walked down a dusty trail to the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy for a river-side stroll and some good photo-opps. The kids in the villages by the river were especially friendly, and they enjoyed listening to tunes on my i-Pod. For better or worse the songs that popped up were all old 80's classics, so the local kids have a warped idea of what's popular in America now... someone should ring up Ian McCulloch and let him know that there's a big demand for old Echo & the Bunnymen tunes in the under-priviledged youth sector of central Myanmar!
On Thursday I rented a bike and rode out (in the 95-degree heat) to the ruins of ancient Bagan. It was an incredible (but very sweaty) day of exploring Buddhist temples from 800 years ago. The whole plain has an eerie feel to it, as there are literally thousands of deserted ruins scattered around the dusty terrain
On the way back to the bike-rental shop, I stopped at a corner and watched a lizard running through the dead leaves... it turns out the lizard was being pursued by a long-nosed vine snake, which was of course very exciting (to me). As soon as I started snapping pictures, though, I realized how tough snakes have it in Myanmar. A local guy came up, grabbed the snake by the tail, and hurled it into the brush with a laugh. Some tourists told me that their pick-up truck stopped en-route to Bagan because there was a snake in the road, and that a guy jumped down from the truck to hack its head off. I guess it makes sense, since Myanmar has an incredibly high rate of death-by-snakebite, and the locals wear nothing for protection aside from a glorified tablecloth and flip-flops... but still, i was horrified, and vowed not to point out any more snakes to the people around me.
I spent Friday wandering around Nyaung U (it was too hot to rent a bike again), and I met up with Yoshi for lunch and dinner
This trip was somewhat less comfortable than the first, because I was inside the covered bed of the pick-up, and it was very hot and dusty and squashed inside. Plus the benches are hard and seated too low to let my legs relax naturally. Along the way we picked up an additional 20 passengers, 20 boxes, and 20 chickens (live and dead), which the made the journey all the more colourful. At least I had some amusement from the locals, who all wanted to try on my sunglasses
The Thazi-bound truck was much more fun than the last, because it was full of 20-something bashful girls who all wanted me to sit next to them, but who couldn't say much to me once I did. I picked up a few more Myamar words on the 20 minute ride, and endeared myself to everyone by sitting on the floor to make room for additional passengers. Thazi had been my (modest) goal for the day, so when I arrived at 2pm and found little to sustain my interest, I decided I'd try to get further along on the road to Inle Lake. I found an old guy with a pick-up packed full of boxes and baskets who was heading my way; he wanted 4,000 kyat to get to Kalaw, which was the cost of a bus ticket all the way from Bagan to Inle Lake
The journey through the mountanis from Thazi to Kalaw is supposed to take 3 hours. My pick-up took 6. Thankfully my high price meant I bought the front passenger seat - otherwise I would have been crammed into the bench behind the cab (which had no leg room). We drove for 45 minutes, and then stopped to let the truck cool down - a process which was apparently aided by opening up the hood and throwing buckets of water inside and then sitting around for 30 minutes. We repeated this procedure about 4 times, and eventually I resigned myself to ignoring my watch. At one stop, in the village of Yimnabin, there were a bunch of local kids who had never seen a digital camera before, so I had some fun letting them play and take pictures of each other. The scenery along the way was beautiful, but still dusty and arid, and the slash & burn agriculture fires looked very spooky & worrisome as we drove by them in the night. They looked just like forest fires, and with the mountains as dry as they were, I had no idea how the fires were kept in check!
We finally arrived in Kalaw at 10pm, and I checked into the Winner Hotel on the main street
As it turns out, Kalaw was excellent. It's an old British hill station - rather similar to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, except not as developed. I hung out with Morris, his Indonesion girlfriend Weny, and George, for another hour or so, and then slept well after promising to meet them the next night. On Sunday I walked - a lot. Since the temperature is much cooler in Kalaw than in the rest of Myanmar it was pretty easy to throw on a pack and go exploring by foot. I walked through the hills for hours, passing beautiful stupas & temples, huge old British colonial stone houses (who lives there now?!), and humble villages with friendly children shouting "hello!" as I passed by. It was an incredible place - beautiful and relaxing - and I wish I could have stayed longer. I guess I could have, but wanderlust got the better of me, so I booked a bus ticket to Inle Lake for Monday morning... and I think I'll finish up my Myanmar entries next time. 'Night!