Sunday 12 October 2014

More Stuppas, Pagodas and Buddhas in Myanmar (and wine)

Our last update was in Pyin U Lwin, where we boarded the train to Hsipaw. It was pretty busy at the train station, with all the locals waiting for it and also some tourists who wanted to do the same as we. Once on the train, we noticed that it is slightly different from the trains back home, well, the train was ok (good seats and lot's of space) but the track is rather bumpy. This sounds a bit strange since a train ride is usually not bumpy as a road, but this was! The train moves quite slowly through the hills around Pyin U Lwin, the coaches of the train shake from left to right and sometimes it feels like a roller coaster when train drops over some uneven parts of the track... So there is a reason why the train is slow and it takes 6 hours to Hsipaw. But after about 3 hours, we stopped at Gokteik where we had a great view to the viaduct over an about 111m deep canyon, definitely worth to see it! After it, the train continues through the hilly areas and you can pick up some food every now and then when the train stops at a station.

Train station
Posing local
Viaduct (no pictures allowed!)
Getting lunch at a stop
Once we arrived in Hsipaw, we got a lift to our accommodation where we planned our next days. The area around is a nice place with small villages, rivers and waterfalls, so we hired bicycles and explored it a little. But you have to be careful with the directions and maps given by the locals since they sometimes are not as accurate as you might expect, so we got lost some times on the road, but there is always somebody to help, finding the main road again. We visited 2 nice waterfalls (both with a short hike) and we also visited a place called little Bagan due to some old clustered stupas. Hsipaw is also known as a good place for longer hikes but it was too warm for us so we decided not to do any longer hikes into the hills, we rather spend another day on the bicycle to drive around and had nice drinks at Mrs. Popcorns garden (everyone goes there once!).

Waterfall in Hsipaw
Hiding Buffalo
Little Bagan
Mini Monks
The last highlight was the visit of the Shan Palace in Hsipaw, which is an old british style manor house. This was the place where the last Shan prince lived with his wife (from Austria) and their daughters until he got arrested by the military in the 1960's (and most likely killed as well). The house itself is not very spectacular, but the wife of the last prince's nephews, takes a lot of time to explain all the historical connections and pictures in the house. Very friendly and interesting!

Shan Palace
So after this morning stop, we had to wait for our night bus down to Inle lake. If you want to travel by bus in Myanmar, make sure that you have some warm cloth with you (yes, it's 35 degrees outside but the temperature in the bus can drop to 14 degrees!). Instead of changing the air-con, they actually distribute blankets to the people as well :-) so, we had a freezing trip to the Inle lake which took a bit longer than expected, since the bus driver did not know the way (we had to turn several times on the way). But finally, a bit stiff from the night, we were at Inle lake.

View to Inle Lake
So, what to do here? We had a hotel which features the only pool in Nyaungshwe (8km away from the lake) which was very nice to have. Besides this, it's a good place for hiring bicycles to explore the area (left side of the lake, right side of the lake) so pretty relaxed. And even better, just about 4 km out of town, there is a winery (Red Mountain Estate) which is producing fairly good wine (and which has a superb view into the valley).

Our Pool
Red Mountain Estate View
But one of the main attractions is Inle lake itself, with the local villages surrounding it. Since it was around full moon, we were even able to visit a festival that takes place in October where they bring some holy statues out of a pagoda and transport them on a boat to all the villages around the lake with a biiiig ceremony and lot's of boats (tourists and locals). Some of them use the traditional "one leg rowing technique" to move the ship forward. It's very colourful and interesting to see, but it starts early in the morning. After the early start, we visited some of the villages (some are very touristy, others are nicer to spend some time) and there are the unavoidable stops at all the local manufacturing places (silk and lotus weaving, cigarettes, silver jewellery, ...).

Ceremony at Inle Lake
One leg rowing
Ship with the statues
iMonk? taking pictures
The silver place was one of the better ones since we could see how the melt the silver right in the shop!
We also stopped at the pagoda where they take the statues from (except for the smallest one that has to stay at home!) and it's funny to see it, since it has no buddha shape any more at all due to all the gold leaves donated to it... it looks more like a golden snow man (somewhat). Also worth a visit was the stop in Inthein, where the host about 1'000 little pagodas on a small hill (and yes, there is about as many shops to buy souvenirs as well!).

Golden buddha statue
Inthein pagodas
Local village
river shopping
So, we spent one day on pleasant day on Inle lake, with lot's of different impressions.
We expected to take another freezing night bus to get back to Yangon, but fortunately, there is now a day bus as well which we prefered to take, so we could stay one extra day in Nyaungshwe (which means another stop at the winery!) before we left for Yangon. The ride was equally cold, but the bus was equipped like an air plane with tv screens in every seat, so we could watch some movies in the mean time.

Traditional fishermen
Monestary in Nyaungshwe
Back in Yangon, we had one major task to do: visiting the biggest pagoda in Myanmar, the Shwedagon paya. It sits on a hill not far from the city centre and it is a massive construction, surrounded with many small temples, pagodas and other holy things so it's an really impressive site (and full of people as well). So, we spent some time there before we changed the location for some night pictures of the pagoda (impressive as well) and we went for dinner at "Sharky's" which is run by a guy that worked 20 years in Switzerland (the desserts were just perfect! And there was good, real bread as well). After dinner, we went back to Shwedagon paya again, which was a good decision since it looks different in the night and it's less busy in the night.

Shwedagon at day
Shwedagon at dawn
Shwedagon at night
Buddhas at Shwedagon
This was the last stop in Myanmar and we took once more a plane to KL, where we stay in the same hotel as the last times, but this time in a "theme room" which is very pleasant. Now, there is just some days left in KL (shopping, what else?) before we hop on the biggest passenger plane A380 for our flight back (upper deck seat)!

Flight to KL
Theme room

Some more impressions:

Waiting for the train
Gokteik Viaduct
Waterfall in Hsipaw
Waiting Buffalo
Lunch in Hispaw
Traditional fisherman
Souvenir sellers on Inle Lake
Local drug store
Lotus leaves
Monestary in Nyaungshwe
Monestary in Nyaungshwe
Buddha in Nyaungshwe