Tag Archives: Myanmar

Road to Mandalay…and Pyin Oo Lwin

After our days in Bagan, our next stop was Mandalay. We decided against taking another painful bus ride and preferred to get up at 5:30am to take the boat along the Irrawaddy River. We knew the boat ride would be long but at least it was a slow pace and you could walk around the boat. Turned out to be more pleasant than we thought, even though we only arrived in Mandalay at close to 8:00pm.

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Animal Farm, by George Orwell / Irrawaddy River

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Sunset at Irrawaddy River, Myanmar

We spent 2 days in Mandalay walking around the downtown area and getting ready for our next destination: Pyin Oo Lwin, a hill town 2hrs from Mandalay and the former summer retreat for the British in Burma. It was a winding way up the hill and, as soon as we arrived, we could already feel the mountain air and cool breeze of the area.

Our cute Royal Green hotel was well situated and very comfortable. We rent bikes to ride around the town and noticed the British colonial architecture that is still very much present. We stopped at the Candacraig Hotel, the oldest hotel in Myanmar and formerly the British Club. It is also where George Orwell (“Burmese Days”, “Animal Farm”) used to stay often. Unfortunately it seems that the hotel is quite abandoned but, if remodeled,  could certainly bring back its old charm.

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Candacraig Hotel, Pyin Oo Lwin

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the bike rider

The highlight of Pyin Oo Lwin was certainly the National Kandawgyi Gardens (formerly National Botanical Gardens) where we spent a fantastic sunny day walking around the gardens, appreciating its beautiful flowers and posing for pictures with the locals (our kids felt like rock stars as locals wanted to take pictures with them…). We left Pyin Oo Lwin wishing we could have stayed longer.

We headed back for our last 2 days in Mandalay certainly pleased that we visited Myanmar before the tourists and crowds start invading the country.

**Note to readers:  We are about 2 weeks behind in our posts and are working to get it updated to reflect our current location in Laos. Stay tuned!

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Sebastian and the girls

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National Kandawgyi Gardens

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National Kandawgyi Gardens

 

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Mandalay Hill

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Moto taxi in Mandalay

 

We Went To Bagan

I will start from the beginning in the overnight bus ride. We left Rangoon at 11pm and arrived in Bagan at about 5:30am. It was a brutal bus ride. Although not as bad as some other ones we have done. They kept the A.C. at full blast and it was really cold (especially our toes where the blanket could not go). When we arrived taxi drivers bombarded us asking if we need a taxi. After a little while my dad works up a deal with a taxi driver to drive us to the hotel. While we were driving to the hotel the taxi driver kept trying to persuade us to hire him to take us to the sunrise at a temple. After a lot of negotiating we finally went. We got some pretty good photos that you will see below. It was cool out and you have to climb three or four stories to get to the top of the temple. Once we climbed to the top, we noticed that everyone else had the same idea and it was really crowded with photographers waiting for the sunrise.

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When we got to the hotel we did not do much because we had to wait for the room to get ready. When it got ready we had 2 rooms. one was in another building and the other was in another (aka the nice building with nice rooms). We requested to have the rooms in the same hall or next door from each other. To make this paragraph short we ended up upgrading the room Louisa and I would have stayed in to a NICE room like mom and dads and ours was right in front of the pool!

We also rented 2 mopeds and rode around viewing temples around town. That was pretty much it that day. The next day we did a chill day because we were going Hot air ballooning. We went in the pool and had fun. We did have a really good dinner at an Italian restaurant which was a nice noodle break.

Finally time to hot air ballon! It is truly an amazing sight! We left early so we could be high in the air with the sunrise. It was awesome! And it was the first time we used the gopro/selfie pole. We got some awesome photos that you can see below. The balloon goes up and down a lot.

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Our balloon heating up!

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We are flying higher than these guys above a temple

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Balloons everywhere each sunrise

 

Shwedagon of Rangoon

For starters, I’m not a fan of the Yangon, Myanmar naming and prefer the old style of Rangoon, Burma. Part of it has to do with my inadequate language skills and the other reason is history. Did you know the name Burma comes from Portuguese? While that may be, much of the remaining colonial feel is all British as our first night happy hour beer was around the corner from our hotel at the posh Strand hotel.

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We set low expectations for Burma believing that accommodations would be subpar, technology (school) a haphazard risk, and full board tourist gouging. Doesn’t sound like much fun but Leticia has been determined to visit Burma so we go. We consolidated our backpacks by only taking 2 for the trip and leaving 2 in storage at the airport – brilliant idea and so nice to travel light!

Our flight was on Air Asia which our dear friend, Ed de Chant (retired United Airlines pilot), has been adamant about us not flying any Asian airlines due to poor pilot training. Sorry Ed but we had slim pickings to choose from in getting to Burma. However, we do warn everyone traveling in Asia to abide by Ed’s words of wisdom; the accidents are not a result of plane problems (Boeing or Airbus) but pilot error. Fly with more experienced pilots and airlines.

 

We arrive safely in Rangoon to an impressive airport – to give you a comparison, nicer and cleaner than Rio – and we easily arrange taxi as well as our bus ride to Bagan which is a good thing because tickets were nearly sold out!

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Daily newspaper prep

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Buddhists, Shoppers, and Synagogue

 

Second impression is our hotel, Aung Tha Pyay, which I dare you to say 10 times fast! Not as bad as I would have imagined and moving in the right direction. For instance, there is a stocked bar in the refrigerator and a flat screen tv to watch Bollywood movies and football. And for the ladies, a Western toilet and hot water shower is always welcome. We requested a family room which we got for 3 people…they looked at us and yes, a family room in Asia is for 1 child, not 2! Doh! Less than 10 minutes later a new bed was added with sheets and everything. Consistent service throughout our stay speaks to the great job that management has done in training and this is a reflection of what you see around much of Rangoon.

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Neon sign at the Shwedagon Pagoda!

 

The two highlights of our stay in Rangoon were pagoda Shwedagon and the food. The pagoda is very large and you walk up quite a few steps to reach it. It’s considered one of the oldest in the world (est. 2,600 years) and claims to have some of the Buddha’s hairs which drives many a follower to visit. The main golden dome dominates the skyline of the city and it’s very impressive. As you walk around it, there are a number of smaller temples and monuments including a prayer spot for each day of the week. Since I was born on a Sunday, I went to Sunday and performed the ritual of pouring water on the Buddha six times while making a wish; if the kids stay in school, I have no fear that my wish will come true! Shwedagon is my favorite temple of all the religious spots we have visited.

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Dining in Rangoon left us both happily full and impressed with the quality of our meals and service. We covered both low to high end: 999 Noodles which is a 2nd generation dive establishment that serves great local Burmese food for a grand total of $11. We spent the same amount on 2 rounds of beers at the Strand Hotel which was just as rewarding for its historic significance. We escaped the city by visiting Rangoon Tea House which sits on the second floor of a busy street; however, you wouldn’t know it thanks to the jazz music and large open space that immediately calms you. They serve traditional tea faring food which includes Crab Rangoon, Bao and Samosas along with Burmese minced meat with spices on a piece of Naan. Ohhh, we ate to our hearts content and Leticia had the largest coconut water I’ve ever seen. We expected to have a low key dinner after the lunch fest but…that changed quickly at Gekko, a Japanese/Korean trendy spot near our hotel. Leti went in with the plans to order a Miso soup and share some edamame. But when the rest of us ordered Korean BBQ ribs and fried chicken along with some spicy string beans, well, everyone indulged! Dessert was a nice mix of creme brulee with passion fruit poured on top. Fortunately, the walk home was short and we rolled into bed.

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The stories of Burma will continue and we shared some wonderful life experiences including ballooning over Bagan at sunrise but I’ll let the rest of the family share that with you. One final message is that the people of Burma are really kind. I had many experiences of simply talking to locals because they are curious about us and others where a local would help us simply because they wanted to.

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Green noodles w fish eggs – Yum!

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Bicycle taxi