Sunday, April 30, 2017

Taking the Train from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw

April 30, 2017
Hsipaw, Myanmar

All Aboard the Hsipaw (not so) Express!
Day two of our hill station trip (day one link) promised to be more sedentary, yet no less eventful, as we would be spending most of our day on the train.  Our taxi took us to the train station early so as to ensure that we got our pick of seats.  In my haste, I forgot to turn in our hotel room key at check-out. Our innkeeper called our taxi driver on his cell phone moments before we arrived at the station. I asked him if he could take it back. He agreed, and seemed confused when I gave him a tip for doing so, as I'm sure he'd have gladly taken it back anyway.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Heading to the Hills - Pyin Oo Lwin

April 29, 2017
Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar

Pyin Oo Lwin Gardens
Mandalay had been scorchingly hot, so, like those soft British colonialists before us, we decided to increase our altitude and head for the hill station towns of Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw to the northeast of the city.  Both are reachable by train from Mandalay.  The train from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin, however departs at 4am, and takes four hours to work its way up the mountain, versus 1½ hours by car.  The second leg goes from POL to Hsipaw, crossing the Goktiek Viaduct; we definitely wanted to do this section by train and it is a six-hour journey by itself.  Unsurprisingly, we opted to travel to POL by car, spend the night there, and take the train the following morning to Hsipaw.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Arrival in Mandalay

April 27, 2017
Mandalay, Myanmar

Bagan King Hotel Lobby
We arrived at the Bagan King Hotel in Mandalay at around 4 am, after taking the night bus from Nyaung Shwe in the Inle Lake area.  It was already (or more accurately, still) quite warm and muggy outside even at that early hour and we were exhausted after the bumpy ride. The night desk clerk at our modern, mid-sized, boutique hotel bumbled through our reservation a bit but eventually got us registered, informing us that the restaurant in the hotel would be open at 6 am and our room would be available at around 10 am. We sat down in the in interesting-and-ornate-yet-uncomfortable chairs in the too warm, un-air-conditioned lobby to wait.  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

On and Around Inle Lake

April 26, 2017
Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar

Villagers paddling their way through a stilted village
We booked four nights at The Viewpoint Lodge so that we could spend plenty of time on the water and not feel rushed. On our excursion out to one of the nearby vineyards, we overheard other (much younger) travelers who did not share our opinion, wondering what to do after you've taken "the boat ride."

Well, for one, ride a bike out to one of the nearby vineyards.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Day on Inle Lake

April 23, 2017
Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar (Inle Lake region)

Cruising Inle Lake
We woke up feeling slightly better again, and made it to breakfast.  A beautiful breakfast display was delivered to our table shortly after we sat down.  They brought out a tray shaped like one of the local, flat, Inle fishing boats, topped with a variety of recognizable and “new to us” foods.  Additionally, we got a lovely basket of clearly locally-baked breads, including delicious croissants.  I’m pretty sure this is a Swiss-owned property, so of course they have tasty croissants.  And the coffee – a super bold Arabica grown in the nearby mountains – the best I’ve had in Asia so far.  If I was feeling 100%, I would have had more than the two cups that I drank.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Riding the Struggle (Mini)Bus to Inle Lake

April 22, 2017
Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar

The food-born illness that we've been tip-toeing around finally caught up with us. Yesterday started benignly enough.  Scott woke up early to watch the sun rise before heading for a hike up the hill on the southern border of town - traveling alone, as Caroline was already not feeling 100%.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cooling Off in the Mountains of Myanmar - A Day in Kalaw

April 20, 2017
Kalaw, Myanmar

Someone helping Buddha stay warm in the cave temple of Shwe Oo Min
Per our hotel front desk’s suggestion, we walked to see the bamboo temple (but never found it) and the “small" cave temple Shwe Oo Min. It seemed quite substantial to us, with its winding pathways and multiple entrances/caves. Between the “Disco Temple,” bamboo temple, and cave, this town has a bit of a roadside attraction feel. Caroline says no more temples until Angkor Wat, as she's beyond templed out. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Ancient Temples of Bagan

April 18, 2017
New Bagan, Myanmar

Looking east from the top of Shwesandaw Pagoda
The cover photo of the Lonely Planet Myanmar, amongst other travel guides, pictures a hot air balloon floating over an endless landscape of ancient temple ruins at sunrise. The grandeur, mystery, and other-world-ness coaxing travelers to come explore. Few travelers who come to Myanmar, who aren't just visiting the big cities of Yangon and/or Mandalay, miss out on Bagan.  So it was obviously a requisite stop on our tour.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Shwedagon and the Start of Thingyan

April 13, 2017
Yangon, Myanmar

Diving right into the Thingyan water festival
Today was the first day of Thingyan, the Buddhist New Year celebration in Myanmar. It's also known as the water festival, since a major part of the celebration is "throwing water" on each other, symbolizing washing away the past year's bad, and starting with a clean slate. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Exotic, Friendly Yangon

April 12, 2017
Yangon, Myanmar

Buyers waiting for their made-to-order leaf-wrapped betel nut packets, outside of the Thein Gyi Zay market
Yangon - first impressions:
Everyone looks so different. From Thai people, from each other, and definitely from us.  The variety of cultural mix was evident the first time we walked out the door. India, China, Southeast Asia – it’s all there, everywhere we looked.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Travel Planning in Chiang Mai

April 10, 2017
Chiang Mai, Thailand

The moat and wall that wrap all the way around Chiang Mai
We passed a pleasant and relatively uneventful week in Chiang Mai after returning from our road trip to the Golden Triangle in northern Thailand.  Much of our mental energy this week was spent planning.  We had our Myanmar trip to think about, our time in Thailand after our return from Myanmar, and a quick visit to see the Sajans, our friends in Shanghai, to coordinate.