The journey, Taung Yo and Ruby Mountain
Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
80Trip End Apr 08, 2006
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The first hour and a half were uncomfortable for me as I sat squashed in the back corner with no room. The mountainous scenery looked interesting, but I had to resort to closing my eyes to overcome a headache. After breaking for lunch at a small dusty town 30km from Hsipaw I decided to climb onto the roof with Guy and brave the bumpy road. The scenery was dry bushland for 45 minutes or so until we descended down a hill to the Dokhtawady river. However after signing in at a military checkpoint the scenery was just spectacular. It took us about 5 hours to cover the 45km between the junction town and Namhsan. The road, which was in appalling condition, wound its way up the side of huge mountains, giving Guy and I a superb view over the vast valley and mountains on the other side. Words just don't do the view any justice, nor the looks we got from the children on the side of the road, which were of shock and bewilderment at the sight of foreigners.
We stopped at one point to fix a flat tyre but otherwise the trip was relatively hassle free until we bumped on into Namhsan at around 6pm. Tun Tun showed us to our homestay and there we met our host Maysie, a middle aged lady who spoke fantastic English which she'd learnt over 40 years earlier. She now taught it to local schoolchildren, whilst at the same time making intrepid travellers as ourselves feel completely at home. After a long chat we grabbed some dinner at one of the only restaurants in town and then retired to get some rest before heading off on a full day trek to Taung Yo the following morning.
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We rose reasonably early, and after each of us tipped a few buckets of warm water over our heads in place of a shower we grabbed a quick breakfast and began our trek to the monastery at Taung Yo. From the very beginning the walk was interesting. Not only was the small town of Namhsan incredibly different from anything I'd seen, with narrow streets gradually winding their way up hill between two storey wooden houses, but literally everyone was happy to see us! I don't think I've ever seen so many smiling villagers in my life! It was really wonderful to see.
Over the course of the next few hours we wound our way up the paths connecting the numerous villages in the mountains. The scenery was really spectacular, perhaps more so than that I'd seen in northern Laos, and for the most part we could see not only Namhsan behind us, but the pagoda at Taung Yo atop the highest visible mountain. We made it there around lunch time, and the view was yet again amazing, with numerous stupas, sitting buddhas and even a replica of Kyaikhtiyo's Golden rock dotting the hillsides.
After getting our fix from the incredible scenery we entered one of the monk's quarters (yet another with a cat) for a lunch of rice and broad beans. The food certainly wasn't anything to write home about, but when there's no choice what can you do?! We then went for a look at the largest buddha in the vicinity before retracing our steps back to Namhsan. Unfortunately we couldn't complete a circuit due to the presence of the Shan state army.
About half way down two novice monks carrying some vegetables accompanied us, until finally heading off when we took a little detour to see some stupas all lined up and glowing white and gold in the last hour of sunlight. We stopped a few more times before Namhsan, to rest at a small shop home to a funny little boy and his mum, and at a monastery that offered some great photo opportunities of some novice monks.
Upon arriving back at Maysie's we were told about Loi San, or Ruby mountain. Apparently it was more spectacular that Taung Yo, and missing it would mean we hadn't really seen Namhsan. Guy suggested we make for sunrise (meaning a 3:30am wakeup) so Susan, Tun Tun and I reluctantly agreed, hoping it was worth the effort.
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The bumpy ride to Loi San began at about 4:25am after some trouble starting our antique jeep, however the ride up the mountain wasn't too bad. Our driver didn't seem to know which gears to use, resulting in us stalling on some hairpin bends on two occasions! Once atop the mountain some of the resident nuns invited us into their monastery for coffee, and soon after we went out the pagoda to watch a magnificent sunrise. We spent about half an hour wandering around the top of the mountain in the dawn light marvelling at the spectacular vast valley below. The only sound was that of the birds and cowbells so it was a really sublime scene.
After a huge breakfast prepared by the nuns we went for a short walk around the top of the mountain to take in the view, say hello to the locals and visit some stupas. At around 11:15am we made for Namhsan, although the ride was much longer and more uncomfortable than in the dark. In the light we could see just how dangerous the road was, and later on as it deteriorated Susan and I bounced around in the back in a fit of hysterics. It was crazy! We had a look at a pagoda on the way back to Namhsan, where we decided we would spend the rest of the day relaxing, allowing Guy to recover from a fever he'd developed.
The people of Namhsan were some of the most warm and friendly I'd met anywhere in the world. My time there, and all of Burma for that matter had far exceeded anything I expected (which wasn't much) and I knew, even with eleven days to go in the country, that I'd never forget my time there.