"Terrys' Story" Myanmar (Burma) Travelogue by gabriellefox
Myanmar (Burma) Travel Guide: 4,462 reviews and 13,527 photos
Terry was the only Englishman on the trip. He has many very good Burmese friends and is married to a Burmese lady, who unfortunately did not accompany him on the trip.
His story intoduces you to many of the other people who shared our journey to Burma who are good friends of both himself and my mother. Pam, Oliver and their son Gary, I knew from childhood. I had met some of the others on social occaisions with my family but had not seen them for many years.
I really warmed to Terry. His enthusiasm for the country matched mine. Terry, Gary and myself were the only three from the group who had not experienced life in Burma at first hand. The rest had lived or worked in Burma for many years.
MYANMAR – take II, January 2001
Dropped off at Heathrow by Natalie and Liz. No sooner in to the door when Michael and Dawn found me, then waited with me in the queue to check in. Beryl and Bruce were about thirty people in front. Didn’t take as long as I expected to check in.
Found out we were now routed via Paris and Bangkok with a delay in Dhaka. Met Olly, Pam and son Gary (I’m likely to be sharing most of the time with Gary) then upstairs for a drink before going thro to departure. Introduced to Maureen.
Flight to Dhaka pretty tedious, plane was a very ancient DC10, c1975! and quite grotty. Dhaka transit lounge was diabolical and we had a six-hour wait here! Bit of a worry at first when the transit staff took all our passports and tickets to arrange transfer flight, apparently it’s standard practice here! Introduced myself to Linda, Maureen’s daughter and Dolly, Pam’s sister.
Eventually caught Thai Airline flight to Bangkok, much better aircraft, flew almost over Yangon en route. Total chaos at Bangkok – emigration wouldn’t allow Olly, Pam and Gary to board as their visas had run out the previous day due to some cock-up at the embassy when they were issued, and we were already pushed for time on the transfer. Eventually left Bruce with Olly etc. to sort out visas at embassy following day while I carried on with the others. Beryl pretty upset but we managed OK. Fun not over yet though – discovered when we landed at Yangon that Maureen and Linda’s luggage had been left at Bangkok!!
Auntie Pat, Zeng etc all at airport to welcome us – had some explaining to do re. Bruce! They escorted us to the Guest Care Hotel in Dhama Zedi Road as Zeng had made the arrangements. Comfortable but more basic than the Panorama but nice friendly atmosphere – staff are very friendly and obliging. Mine and Gary’s room was in the annex, very spacious room. Good views of the Shwedegon Pagoda and within walking distance. Phoned Liz to let her know we arrived safely.
Waited at hotel for most of morning for “John Henry”- he didn’t show. One of Olly’s relatives, Charmaine - daughter of his cousin turned, up but I explained situation and she said she would come back tomorrow. M &L’s luggage arrived mid morning and friends of B & B, Margot and Trevor arrived at about mid-day. Very nice friendly couple, in fact the whole group is very nice and we get on well together.
Went to visit Esther pm with Beryl to deliver goodies we had brought. Surprised but pleased to see us, but more explaining to do re Bruce and also Liz (had a quiet chat with Esther). Very hot so didn’t stay too long but saw Lorraine, Rebecca and Kevin. Kevin pleased with coins I gave him. Rebecca asked where Liz was – I told her to ask Esther to explain properly.
To Auntie Pat’s for dinner. I volunteered to meet Bruce at airport but Beryl didn’t want to go. Excellent meal again, as usual. Bruce rolled in at about 8.30 – Beryl pleased to see him!
First night sharing with Gary. We get on extremely well considering we’ve only just met.
Quiet morning around hotel. John and Laura arrived at 12.00, good to see them again. John was still larger than life. We all had lunch at the Guest Care and caught up on all the news. Spoke briefly to Laura about Liz situation – she couldn’t throw any light. There are 13 of us now all told in the party!
Went with Linda, Maureen, Gary etc to Shwedegon at about 4.00 – it’s starting to be less busy at this time. I’m still as impressed as I was on the first visit. In fact I saw more this time round as I had more time. Despite there still being quite a crowd there is still a feeling of peace all around.
Evening meal at “Top Choice” with B & B, J & L and Trevor and Margo, just round the corner from our hotel in Inya Road. Gary joined us later when on his walkabout from the hotel – he is totally fascinated with the whole “Burma” experience.
Shared a few tots of Gary’s Drambui back in our room – about 1.00 before we settled down.
Gary’s a bit hung over this morning; he had one more Drambui than I did! The whole group walked round to the Blazon store in Uwisaya Road this morning. We stopped for a beer in the bar next to the hotel on the way back. Certainly developing a taste for this Myanmar beer and, unusually for me, the “Coffeemix”!!
Had a takeaway lunch at the Guest Care (more beer!) then to Esther’s for the afternoon with B&B and J&L. They were all well pleased to see John.
I walked down to the Shwedegon when we got back to take some photographs of the “Chintez” guarding the entrance. They really are enormous when you get close up.
Dinner at Diane/Arthur’s place tonight – another excellent meal. Emailed home, Garry, Stuart and Alastair etc.
Went with Linda and Gary to an exhibition of National Dress at the National Museum in Pyay (Prome) Road. Well worth the effort, Liz would have enjoyed it. Costumes ranged from the basic to very ornate ceremonial and wedding outfits. The three of us had lunch at “Top Choice” – hot and sour chicken very tasty.
Went to Pansodan Street about 4.00 to order new spectacles – no sign of Richard but managed OK with girl who served me. They promised to have sunglasses ready for 5.30 Friday. Albert’s daughter came in while I was there so went next door to the Panorama and had a beer with the old boy. He told me Richard had died suddenly last year from cancer!
My stomach was feeling a bit queasy so decided not to eat tonight. Took Gary and Linda later to see traders in Fraser Street. We were a bit late so not too many left but managed to buy myself a brown belt. Taxied back to Shwedegon. Very impressive in the floodlights, then strolled back to the hotel. I think Linda was a bit concerned because it was getting late and there were hardly any people about but we made it safely.
Sat up talking in reception well into the early hours – Maureen came down about 2.15am and berated us all – probably because we hadn’t asked her to join in!!
Certainly packed a lot of activity into today.
Leisurely morning then to Esther’s for lunch – cooked by Cindy and Lorraine. Beryl not too good so she rested at the hotel.
We’re off to Mandalay by train over night so had to pack both for the trip and what was to be left behind in storage. Maureen and Linda decided to go by Leo coach express, as they didn’t fancy the train. I left before the others and went to pick up my specs. Not only were the sunglasses ready but both the other pairs as well. Not bad service – three pairs of specs ordered and complete inside 24 hours!
Met up with the others at the station, crowded with people – very reminiscent of film scenes of India. Couldn’t make any sense of the coach numbering. We were booked onto coach no. 3 which happened to be between 7 & 8! Every thing was extremely old – from the 60s/70s – including our seats when we eventually found them. Still they were reclining, at least mine was, and reasonably comfortable.
THE FUN WAS ABOUT TO BEGIN!
We pulled out of Yangon station dead on time at 6.30pm but seemed to take forever before we cleared the outskirts of the city. (We actually went through a station just ½ mile from Esther’s house). So far so good but as soon as the train began to speed up it started to rock and roll like a bucking bronco and as the night closed in became colder and colder, no wonder the locals had all boarded with blankets. Our party were soon scrabbling about in our bags to find whatever we could to try to keep warm. There was absolutely no chance of sleep, except for Olly and Pam who seemed oblivious to it all! Using the toilet was another experience, trying to brace oneself against the walls and aim at the bowl was an art in itself – and how the ladies managed to stay on the seat I’ll never know!
It was soon obvious why we were so cold: the “concertina” connection between each carriage had rotted away years ago and in addition the doors between each carriage were missing! So in effect we were trapped in a long wind tunnel or to put it another way the air conditioning was on full blast with no means of switching it off. The only time it warmed up was when we stopped at a station and with only four stops on a 400-mile journey that wasn’t often. To be fair it did become warmer and indeed quite pleasant after the sun came up at about 6.45pm.
The sunrise at 6.45 was quite a sight and the local people were already on the move and working in the fields. We passed through some attractive trackside villages and could see some impressive monasteries built on top of nearby hills. It was about this time that various vendors appeared wending up and down the aisle selling food, drinks, fruit, cigarettes etc, etc. there’s something you don’t see on our trains at home. Approaching the outskirts of Mandalay we were travelling quite slowly, with many of the houses very close to the track. Also there were many children alongside waiting for unwanted goodies from the journey to be thrown to them, sweets, crisps, water etc, obviously a long standing tradition which we joined in.
Finally arrived at Mandalay station at 9.30am – 15 hours after departure and very little sleep. Zeng’s friend Aung Naing Oo was at the station to meet us with a very smart air-con coach. Just a short journey to the Royal City Hotel and who should we see having her second breakfast of the day in the restaurant next door – Linda! Looking very refreshed and not at all as if she’d just completed a 15-hour journey. Apparently they had arrived at 7.30am after a comparatively relaxing and uneventful trip – certainly when compared with ours. The hotel was clean and comfortable, except that Gary and me were booked into a double bed. Luckily John and Laura were just opposite with twin beds, so we did a quick swap – John still owes me for that!!
Went to Burmese restaurant XXXX, same as last trip for lunch. Meal OK, but only lukewarm as before. Coach trip PM out over the Irrawaddy via Sagaing Bridge, then back via U Bein wooden foot bridge over the lake. The water level was much lower than on the last visit. One of the two young girls I photographed last time was there again, only now she’s pregnant. She only looks about 11 or 12 – so sad.
Linda and I went for a boat ride on the lake, there was only one other boat out and with the water dead calm the feeling of peace, and tranquillity was almost tangible. It was a shame to have to land again; still we did get some good shots of the sunset and bought some pictures from a local artist. These were produced to order in about five minutes flat using some kind of lacquer, one or two brushes, and an old razor blade!
Some of us went out later, after a rest to find something to eat. No chance – everything in Mandalay seems to close at 8.30. All we finished up with was a variety of paratas after about an hour of walking around, down some dark back street. Still it had been a good day and we did manage to get a sidecar ride back to the hotel. There’s another experience; those things are lethal in daylight leave alone in pitch-blackness.
Took Gary very early, with Maureen and Dolly to Mandalay Hill to see the view. Quite misty, but typically Asian with trees, stupor’s and buildings emerging eerily through it.
Off on the coach to Maymyo after breakfast. The mists took a while to clear so the views going up the mountain were not as good as before. I developed a very severe headache (the only one of the whole trip) so not feeling that good. We stopped off at the Botanical gardens for a nice relaxing stroll. It was really hot by now which affected Beryl. Gary was entertained to some sixties singing by a group of students and John picked up three Chinese girls. When we got back to where Beryl was resting she had joined a local family picnic.
Had lunch at the Indian restaurant, excellent meal as last time then off to Peik Chin Myaung falls and caves. Much less water over the falls this time but didn’t stop Bruce from impersonating Indiana Jones on a fallen log.
Stopped off at Pwe Kauk falls on the outskirts of Mandalay - not so impressive but much more accessible and have been developed into a local tourist attraction. There was a very rickety wooden/rope bridge which Bruce did not like one bit, and they had the cheek to charge a toll!
Found out on our return to Mandalay that our proposed trip to Shwegu via the Irrawaddy could not go ahead as gold had been found in the area and therefore no “foreigners” were allowed in. Very disappointing, especially for Bruce as Shwegu was his mother’s home village. I decided to go to Inle Lake instead with Gary, Linda and Maureen.
Aung Naing Oo had arranged a trip to Mingun, across the Irrawaddy, for us to replace Schegoo. We left the hotel in a cavalcade of “blue cabs” to the water front then on a “dhow” type ferry across to Mingun. The boat trip was really good – took about 45 minutes on a diagonal route. Fascinating to see how the people live by from the river – we passed many small villages en route and all sorts of other craft, some fishing, carrying a variety of goods, ferries that the locals use (Mingun is only accessible from the river) and including a huge bamboo raft. This was being towed by a small boat whilst on the raft was a shelter where the boatman’s family lived. The raft was on it’s way down river from further upstream for the bamboo to be delivered to a trader, a journey which can take several weeks, hence the shelter and family “outing”.
Mingun itself is virtually a tourist attraction, having a part built pagoda and the second largest bell in the world – a lot of tourist stalls here and some hassle from the locals to buy plus young boys trying to make a few kyats by acting as guides. If the pagoda had been completed it would have been the largest ever but King XXXX ran out of money before he could get it finished. Even as it is, at about a third of its proposed height, it totally dominates the bank of the river from miles around. Perhaps it is as well it was never finished for there is pronounced earthquake damage from the XXX century and the completed structure may not have survived anyway. Still, quite a breathtaking sight. We all had our first bullock cart ride here, which was different, slow and dusty but enjoyable nevertheless.
Had a quick beer, yes another one, in a bar on the river bank then back to Mandalay on our boat – The Seagull. Saw the original “London Eye” on the way back, or least the Mandalay version! Had an excellent Burmese lunch at Pakokku Daw Lay May, a restaurant Aung Naing Oo took us to in 73rd Street. The owner was very accommodating and put us in their family room, as our party was so many.
Visited Zegyo market later in the afternoon and bought myself a lounghi. Made this trip by sidecar, a life threatening experience if ever there was one. We were a bit late for the covered market, still there was plenty going on outside, hustle and bustle everywhere.
Excellent day today, probably the best so far.
Time for the party to split up for a few days. Myself, Gary, Linda and Maureen are on our way to Inle Lake; Trevor and Margo are flying back to Yangon and the others are going back to Yangon by private hire bus. Aung Naing Oo has arranged a car and driver, who turns out to be very good, for our trip. The seating is a bit tight in the back but Gary, Linda and me decide to rotate amongst ourselves and leave Maureen to her own devices in the front. We set out on the road back towards Yangon but turn off after about an hour, just south of San Thin Lwin, onto a cross country route which takes us high into the mountains, up over 5000 ft above sea level at one time. It is very picturesque up here and also very remote – other people are few and far between.
Stopped for lunch at a small village in the middle of nowhere but food was poor. Pretty local schoolhouse – children all immaculate as usual. Stopped later in the afternoon for “Coffeemix” in Kalaw. This is another hill town similar to Maymyo but we didn’t have time to explore.
Just before we reached Inle the taxi driver took us to a some hot springs which have been developed into an hotel complex (the development is ongoing but pretty low key and slow). We all hired lounghis and towels, including our driver, and spent a very relaxing half-hour in the natural warm waters. Ladies and Gentlemen segregated I might add! It was certainly an excellent way to relax and unwind after the best part of 9 hours on the road. Half an hour later and we were ensconced in the Hotel November at Nyaung Schwe on the edge of Inle Lake, or at least at the head of the canal. Hotel is very basic but OK for a couple of nights. We are almost the only guests. The staff are almost too attentive – we can’t move without one of them appearing! Out for meal but not particularly good - unless we are all just tired from the journey. The whole town closed down at about 9.00pm. TO BE CONTINUED……….
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