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Kinpun's main street - i.e. the bigger of the two

May 21

1:45 am we were woken up to excited voices. We were sleep dazed but knew something was wrong. Our bus was skidding as if on ice down the road slightly sideways going towards the ditch which in hind sight could have been a mountain cliff! The driver managed to keep us on the road as we not so gently bumped the cement edges. James and I had been clinging to each other, or I guess I was clinging to James terrified and he was making emergency plans for when the bus rolled, because it certainly felt like it was about to. It was a flat tire but we think it blew up not just fizzled out which left us skidding down the highway at full speed. While we sat getting it fixed I lost count at 25 full size busses that zoomed past. Iím glad we were alone during our skid. Regardless it was pretty scary.

We got into the crazy Yangon bus station at about 4 am and headed to the little office that sold tickets to Golden Rock. Thankfully the bus was ready and waiting and the guy let us on to sleep, which I did quite soundly (again with the help of handy ear plugs!)

Some girls who work much harder than us. I'm pretty sure I would quit any job as soon as they asked me to carry a pile of bricks on my head.

At 6 am ish our bus started off for the 5 hour ride to Golden Rock. Not sure what bad puke karma James has but a few minutes into the trip the guy on the plastic chair in the isle just behind him started to puke. As he leaned over his forehead ended up finding a nice soft resting spot Ė James arm. On the bright side he (we) had overcome that "if you see someone puke you start yourself" reflex so many people have. Itís just funny that I think almost all the buses so far that James had the aisle he got a puker.

We had to catch a transfer (local tuk-tuk) and on the 30 minute drive our driver had to stop several times and get out of the cab of his truck to lie on the ground, sniff fresh leaves and drink water. It was really weird, we had no idea what was going on with no one speaking English at all and after our wee hour bus scare I wasnít a big fan of bouncing down the road at full speed in the back of a tuk-tuk with a sick? Hung-over? Drunk Driver?

Monk chillin in the rain

In Kinpun we dropped our stuff in a pretty scuzzy guest house and went to catch a ride up the mountain. Lucky for me James didnít give me much of a hassle when I said Iíd rather grab the ride up rather than do the 4-5 hour hike Ė UP! After so much time on buses and so little sleep Iíd die. The ride up turned out to be a favourite. It was a small dump truck with a flatbed in back with slats of wood lined up for you to sit on, but so close together the person in front of you sat on your knees and you sat on the knees of the person behind you. Add in the kids on laps, bags and baskets full of everything and a ton of flowers for offerings and we were a bit tight. Going up there were 48, coming back 53. It was a bumpy, funny, cling to your neighbour roller coaster ride that lasted about 30 minutes. The guy's shifting wasnít so great (almost as bad as mine) and as he hit the wrong gear we lunged forward Ė stopped for about 10 seconds then all together lunged back. So funny to be part of. I unfortunately left my camera back at the guesthouse (great place for it!) and Jamesí was buried under his legs so we could only get a picture of another arriving as we were waiting for our ride back down.

Also funny, as we walked up to the waiting platform (it only goes if it has a minimum of 45 so the wait can be hours!) we sat down beside the girls we had met and hung around with in Yangon when we first arrived in Myanmar. We chatted and caught up while waiting then laughed our way up the mountain. About a 45 minute walk from the top all foreigners have to get out and walk the rest of the way. I have no idea why. It was fine even with the afternoon rain bursts. Luckily today it rained really hard for a few minutes, then stopped for a few, then rained again, and stoppedÖ..for most of our trip on the mountain top.

At the top we grudgingly paid our foreigner's $6 USD fee (to the government) and took a look around. To be honest I have to side with Adam, (a guy we met on the boat) itís basically a big rock painted gold on the side of a mountain. The view was amazing, the climb nice and the ride so much fun that it turned out to be a great day.



Luxury Dump Truck

One option, which we only saw a few asian men take advantage of, is to be carried up the last 45 min. of the hike up. Apparently they charge by the kilo.

About half way down in the truck the rain started again and like I mentioned it rains so hard the drops felt a bit like hail hitting me in the face. The monk in front of me opened a huge umbrella and covered a few of us once it really started. Dripping wet and hungry we headed to dinner with the girls. We were going to eat at their hotel's restaurant but seeing as though it was low season it wasnít open, actually not much was. We picked the cleanest looking of the three that were and had a not so great meal from one of the first cranky Burmese we had met (another being the hotel guy who kept insisting the bugs IN the bed were insects not bed bugs). Before heading back for a hot shower (we hoped) and dry clothes we arranged to meet up in Yangon the next night for dinner. We were all going to splurge on a decent Italian meal.













$0.25 worth of well used currency

Side Note: A warning for anyone going to Myanmar. There are no bank machines in the whole of Myanmar, and no one that we found took any credit cards so you have to take all that you plan on spending in crisp, new, large doninations of USD funds. They very carefully inspect any bill you try to use and quite often reject a few that you or I would think is fine. A guy we met had one rejected because it had a slight green tinge to it. We also heard of a guy who didn't know about this and had to leave early because he couldn't get them to take anymore of his US cash and he was running out. A few places take the actual US currency but you get dinged in exchange. The best thing to do it try to change as much as possible in Yangon at the market in the jewellery section, where they give you better rates on $100 bills than smaller ones. The reason being they don't trust their banks (for good reason) and their savings consist of US cash stashed away - so $100 bills store easier. The only problem with changing it all in Yangon is that you end up with a huge pile of Myanmar money, since the largest bill they have is worth about $1.25. You can exchange in other cities but you don't get as good of an exchange. To ensure the crispness of the bills we saw a group of hotel employees ironing bills one afternoon. The funny thing is that their bills are a mess, often taped together and tattered and torn to bits.



Susan waiting for the bus

May 22

We slept in, had the usual free eggs and white toast breakfast from our guesthouse and headed to the bus station to catch our 10:30 am bus back to Yangon. The day before when booking we could pick between two companies that had offices side by side at the tiny bus stop. We picked wrong. The Express left promptly at 10:30, was clean and air conditioned. Ours left at 11:15, was filthy and had no air which meant all the windows were wide open letting in all the wonderful exhaust, dust and dirt. Ah wellÖ..this was our last bus, only about a 5 hour trip and weíd been very lucky so far. As it turns out no one puked.

We checked into a more central guesthouse in Yangon than our first time here. The Motherland 2, where we stayed the first time, has a free airport shuttle but is a bit more expensive for the rooms and is too far from anything to make the free shuttle worth it. We dropped our bags and went in search of internet to get a few things booked and to let our parents know we were all good. I spoiled my dinner with ice-cream Ė it was nice to be back in a city.

We met the girls and walked to the restaurant and had a nice chat, decent food and I had more ice cream. HmmmmmÖ maybe Iím starting to figure out why James has lost 23 pounds since our Korean physical and Iíve only lost 7.



Shwedagon

May 23

We didnít have much left on our Yangon to see list. Really just the Shwedagon Paya and a visit to the market. The market ended up being closed Mondays so we decided to walk to the Paya and maybe just wander around a bit. The pagoda is pretty impressive and a must see. You can take an elevator up the back or walk up the steps in the front which is more interesting because it is lined with shops selling all sorts of handicrafts and temple offerings. Once up top I was pleasantly surprised. It was huge! Itís said Shwedagon Paya has been a defining image of Burmese identity for 2500 years and the Burmese revere it. Every good Buddhist in Myanmar tries to make at least one pilgrimage here in their lifetime. The golden top (very shiny in the sun!) is incrusted with more than 5000 diamonds and 2000 other stones. Itís said that once a diamond fell off (a big one) and the person who found it handed it in. Now thatís faith, considering how poor the country is. At the top there are temples of every shape and size and made glass and wood. Itís a very beautiful sight.

Shwedagon

Once down we decided to walk to the lake nearby that ended up being surrounded by a beautiful parkÖthat we saw from the sidewalk on the other side of the fence surrounding the park. They were charging foreigners $2.50 USD to go in. Yikes! For a walk around a lake? Walking around the park we ended up going past Kandawgyi Palace Hotel that we had booked and paid for last September but never got to use. It was a beautiful luxury teak hotel that had a lobby that most of the guest houses weíve been staying in could fit into whole. We also popped into a grocery store for a cold drink and James found Dill Pickle Pringles!!! The only place ever outside Canada Iíve ever seen Dill Pickle! As I type the second tube sits unopened calling my name.

It was turning out to be a pretty lazy day so we decided to walk to a restaurant expats love. It was crazy overpriced but had frozen margaritas on the menu so we stayed. What do I miss from home? My margarita blender! We enjoyed the walk home through the packed busy streets. It was about 10 pm and the streets were still packed as if it were mid-day. Food stalls with the tiny plastic tables and chairs filled with chatting people, families with hyper kids running around, miscellaneous tables set up selling books, sunglasses, lighters, wicker baskets, t-shirtsÖ..cabs, bikes, cats and soooo many stray dogs. With so much going on and me trying to take it all in Iím amazed Iím not neck deep in one of the side walk holes.



May 24

We got up early to get to the market that opens at 8 am so we could check out and catch a movie before our flight. Once at the market we realized that it might start to kinda open at 8 but really doesn't get going until almost 9:30. Yikes! So far the shopping has been small laquerware shops full of stuff you can get all over SEA, key holders with arms of sand paintings or misc masks and jewellery that look like it's all been imported from Thailand or China. This market in Yangon, Bogyoke Aung San Market, is said to be the place to get the good stuff. After hanging around and working up a good sweat while just standing in the shade we did get to do a good session. Jade, gems, and natural stones are plenty and supposedly all Myanmar natural materials and handmade. We picked up a few things and made it back in time for one last shower but as we were walking down the 3 flights of stairs my stomach suddenly started to turn. James figures it was an allergy to my backpack that I hadn't needed to carry for over 2 weeks because it was in storage. All I knew was that it came on fast and was violent. James asked for our room key back and I hid in our room while he went to check our flight status. By the time he got back I was a bit better but gutted because we'd missed the movie. I decided that my sore belly could use some ice cream!

About 3:30 we caught our cab to the airport for our flight to KL. I rolled down the window and tried to absorb all of Myanmar that I could one more time.

I am sitting in the Yangon airport as I write this and as if on cue itís 4 pm and raining pretty good outside which makes me smile. It rained almost every day about the same time and after a few days we adjusted our schedules to miss it and werenít bothered much by it. The same as the power outages (that happened every day and night every few hours) that we just got used to. The beaten up cab with the plastic vinyl coating inside of a palmed fringe beach that brought us to the airport, the buses older than me, the sidewalks with holes deeper than the LakeÖÖMyanmar may be rough around the edges but it makes up for it with itís beautiful sights and friendly people.

Iím a bit sad to go, excited to get to Borneo, but Iíve really enjoyed our time here. Iím glad we had a few extra days (lasts years trip only had 14 days planned in Myanmar) so we could have some down time and not so much pressure to move quickly, in a country that does not. Iíd say weíve seen all we wanted to and if we had more time itíd be to spend one more day in Bagan staring at the temples or maybe one more afternoon of riding bikes in the country side around Inle Lake.



Most memorable: The view from our room in Bagan. A serene day boating on Inle Lake. Evil beggar monkeys at Mount. Popa.Our walk over the U Beinís Bridge. The friendly, waving people of Myanmar.

Myanmar Travel Hints: Plan a few extra days for downtime. Spend less time in Yangon and more in Bagan or Lake Inle. Take the slow boat from Mandalay to Bagan. Ear plugs are a must for the buses that play music/tv at full blast day and night.

PS Ė The 2 hours 15 minutes while in the airport the power went out 3 times meaning the whole place was in darkness for about 30 seconds to a minute until the generator kicked on.




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