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 MYANMAR
    INFO and DIARY   2016

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Diary 1  2  3  4  5  6 

In an effort to be attached to a project dealing with Asian trees, I go for an expedition through the three countries involved. My first stop is Myanmar, and already in the planning period, it turned to be challenging. I can only obtain a visa for 28 days, I can not rent and drive a car alone, some areas are still closed to foreigners, and due to the state of the roads, it is not only a rather large country, but also slow to travel through, I am having an unexpected difficulty finding the right areas for my exploration. The temples, stupas and other ancient and religious sights, on the other hand, is scatted all over the place and well documented. I will have to follow the main roads, looking out for the nature and other wonders along the route.  I recon Cambodia will be rather easy and Taiwan is a walk in the park.

Some facts about the country. (Jump to diary)
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, used to be named Burma, covers 678.500 square kilometres, neighbouring Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, Thailand and the Bay of Bengal. The population is around 51,5 million of which 89% Buddhists, 4% Muslims, 4% Christians and the rest believe in tribal religions. With only 63 humans per square kilometre, there are room for a lot of nature. Most recently, it was a British colony, but gained its independents in 1948.
Humans (Homo erectus) have lived here at least 400.000 years ago, while Homo sapiens is dated to at least 13.000 years ago.

MONEY: The currency is Kyat (K). 1 Kyat = 0.0053 DKK = € 0.0007. 1 DKK = 187 Kyat. 1€ = 1393 Kyat

CLIMATE: It ought to be the dry time of year, and temperatures will be above 20C, except from the highlands in the east. It is considered the high tourist season in December and January. See more on the lover part of the Map-page.

 My backpack; 25 L, 4,0 Kg               .

ANIMALS and PLANTS: Due to the diverse climate and the slow economic growth, the biodiversity is large. Half the country is actually covered in forest. Teak, Acacia, Bamboo, Ironwood and Magnolia to name a few.
Here are a few tigers and leopards. In upper Myanmar, there are rhinoceros, wild buffalo, wild boars, deer, antelope and elephants. Smaller mammals are also numerous, ranging from gibbons and monkeys to flying foxes and tapirs. The abundance of birds is notable with over 800 species, including parrots, peafowl, pheasants, crows, herons, and paddybirds. Among reptile species there are crocodiles, geckos, cobras, Burmese pythons, and turtles.

A quarter of the weight could have been saved,
as the hotels had a great standard the entire tour.

DIARY
(Hoover over the photos, to enlarge them and see the text)

1/12 Despite the temperature only drop below zero during the nights, I don't feel bad about leaving Denmark: The five degrees during the days fail to amuse me. I have spend quite some time planning the entire tour, and all eight flights are starting and ending during the day hours. The longer ones span the night; perfect!
A bit of excitement occurs a day before I leave: There seems to be a a genocide going on in Myanmar's Rakhine region, causing 30.000 people to flee. Hours later, the story have gone from the media? Apparently, 28 rebels have been killed the recent days. I think, I save this part of the country for last.

I leave home at noon by train and reach Bangkok at seven on the 2. - by flight.

2/12  We had a good tail-wind, and gained one hour. Normally, that is a bit useless when you are in transit, but in Bangkok, it is vital! It turns out I have to go through immigration to obtain my boarding-card for Yangon. And back through custom, immigration, security and pass controls as well. Slightly annoying, considering they could have an office in the international area, like so many other companies.
Anyway, the extra hour previously obtained, is spend in what appears as endless lines, but eventually, I even get time to catch two sandwiches on the run.

Another flight at ten leads me to Yangon in a hour, and just before noon, I start exploring Myanmar. To reach my pre-booked hotel, I have to find a bus for Bago. The station for that bus is real close by - as the crow flies. Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of bridges in the area, and the Pazundaung Creek is a 30 meter vide river - and I'm not a crow. Time to be hustled by the local taxi drivers.
They are not that bad, but the first busoperatour is. They not only charge me 15.000 Kyat (app €10), but also claim their is the first one, leaving in six hours.

I explore the bus station - or a fraction of it. I think it is several square kilometres. I end up at another operator who can drive me towards Bago within half a hour, and for 3.000 K. I give the other ticket to a kid for him to sell, and jump aboard. I even get the front rove-window, but despite it is a beautiful tour through green villages, I dozes off. I might consider to take up the driver on his offer on betle nuts (Areca catechu), which he and the two small helpers chew constantly.
The traffic is pretty easy going, but is seems so strange: They have the steering wheel in the right side, but they also drive in the right side. And two "rights" do make a "wrong"! Especially when you leave the bus into a busy street. Here are rice tractors, new trucks, old lorries and numerous mopeds. A few cows are mixing-in, but is all flows quite smoothly.

I know my pre-booked hotel is located five kilometres before the busstation in Bago, and I just spot it by incidence.
It is a bit awkward; despite I paid Cityhotels.com for two nights at Amara Bago Gold Hotel in October, the hotel have never heard of me or Cityhotels. At least, they have a spare room. I treat myself with a quick shower, before I head into the city of Bago.
The first target is 82 meter long Reclining Buddha of Naung Daw Gyi Mya Tha Luaung. It replaced an ancient statue in 2002, and it actually real well made. The details and proportions fare from as bad as they are most times are.

Again, I try to find some tea, tjai or alike, but the lack of common languish make it quite challenging. One time, I think I got the road directions for Yangong, a kinky offer and a dish of hot food for sure. Then again, despite I am in, what I though was the hotspot for tourists, and it ought to be the high-season, I have not seen a white face since the airport, and only two on the rather empty plane.

 The sun is sinking quickly, despite is just have passed four, and I head further out through the fields in the edge of town. Out here, the huge Mahazedi Paya stupa is found. It have stairs almost to the top, and is a great sight. It was originally constructed in 1560 by King Bayinnaung, it was destroyed during the 1757 sacking of Bago. An 1860 attempt to rebuild it was unsuccessful and the great earthquake of 1930 levelled it, after which it remained a ruin. This current reconstruction was completed in 1982, and is perfectly maintained.
Along its sides are more, small temples found, but despite it is only five in the afternoon, the sun have vanished in a low mist., and my photos suffers drastically.

In the pond surrounding one of the temples; I spot some soft shelled turtle, and earlier I spotted some geckos. Just when I jump of the moped-taxi, I spot a single frog. Besides from that, I have only seen a few birds - and loads of pigeons.
The moped brought me part of the way home to the hotel, but I get him to stop in front of a Chinese restaurant. At first, I have to realise the printed "I am a vegetarian" translated into Burmese, with their funny circle-letters, does not work. When I think I finally get them to understand I don't want meat, it just means I don't get anything! Finally, I end up with a delicious Nasi goreng - fried rice without meat. I might look at four weeks with Mie and Nasi goreng!

As I sit and work around nine, I feel the urge for a nice cup of tea. I walk several kilometres along the main road, but only manages to find tiny stands with noodles and larger bars with beer. It seems like tea is a unknown concept around here! Well, it has been a long day anyway. I fiddles with the photos and alike, until I call it a day at ten.

3/12 I open one eye at six, and it seems like the sun is already up. Next time I open both eyes, it is half pass eight, and I hurry out to enjoy the hotel's breakfast before exploring the remaining Bago. 
I catch two tuck-tucks, offering public transport for short distances. A short walk through the interesting outskirts of Bago, and I find the Shwethalyaung Reclining Buddha quite close to the huge Naung Daw Gyi Mya Tha Luaung I saw yesterday.
This one is only 60 metres long, but just as well made. It does date back a thousand years, but have been restores (from scratch) several times.
My mean reason for returning is the souvenir shops I spotted from outside yesterday. The flank the huge stairs towards the temple. Despite I still fail to find any pale faces (not that I'm trying), it seems like the locals are eager to by stuff as well. I find a small mahogany pagoda, which could become my Myanmar souvenir. Here are quite some nice wood carvings, other handicraft and a lot of plastic.
Here, like everywhere else I have been in Myanmar, most kids and women have their cheeks covered in a white or yellowish substance. I have not figured what it is, but I have seen something like it somewhere else, and it was cooling yoghurt. The kids sometimes have quite some painting all over their faces. Making a photo of it have so fare failed. Later, I later learn; it is fine grinded wood, and the branches are sold everywhere.

Right outside the area is a rather large market with fish, vegetables and ... stuff. I walk slowly through it, and manages to be aloud to make some photos of the stands and people. Then I head back and into the central Bago. Another marked, this time more with manufactured products, but just as interesting. Everything from handmade iron to plastic. And everywhere, prepared food and freshly rolled betel nut packets with leaf and limestone.
I find a large restaurant serving tea - and get a cup of coffee.. I'm desperate enough to drink it.
The Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda can be seen from fare way; this 130 meter golden stupa towers all other buildings. It is really impressing, and the many temples around it are as well. I do the loop around it, and sit and suck-in the atmosphere in the shadows.

A moped brings me out to the Snake Temple. A five meter, real fat Python have its place in  the corner, and seems to enjoy the calm life. The driver insist on showing me a few other sights on the way back to the bus station, and we passes the Royal Audience Hall; The Golden Palace. Quite impressive, but not really in my interest. It have been restored several times since 1553, and some of the massive teak stoles are still here. Next to it is the Bumble Bee Throne Hall, less impressive, although the restoring of the wooden carvings are interesting.

We spend the next hour or so, fumbling around for the bus station - or at least a bus heading down by the southern main-road. I recon I have gotten sun enough for one day, but the bus-stop seems to be illusive. Finally, he find one lady who call another. Then we drive back through town once again, and I get a ticket for The Golden Rock. "The bus leaves within 5-7 minutes". That will give around two hours to see that stone: Perfect! I see no reason to spend another half day in Bago, and especially not yet one night.
The woman who sold me the ticket follow me to the other side of the road, and wait with me. Many busses passes bye, and when she, after 45 minutes time, flag one down, I'm bounced. "Next bus will be here soon".
Not soon enough, I think, and when it finally stops, it is just long enough to tell her, I must follow. Up on a moped, and back through town. We end at the lady who phoned the other one! At two, I get a seat in the middle row, and we head south. Folding seats are mounted to provide additional 25% seating. Quite clever, except when people want to get off.

We crosses a huge, completely flat plain with rice patches. They are just in the middle of the harvest season. Some with hand, some with machines. Here are many huge, white Indian oxen and quite some water buffalos. Small rural villages and huge rivers divides the land.
Later, small hills raises, and the vegetation turns into bushes and trees. Here are a few fruit plantations, but it is mainly rubber trees. As the time goes, I realises I won't make it to The Golden Rock today. The bus terminates 25 kilometres from it, and I reach the bigger town of Kyaikhtioe at five, in the dusk. A bright young man spots my pale face, and offers me a 10.000 K room. I have a look at the steamy box, and agree - mainly because I haven't seen any other accommodations around town, and it is getting darker.
I drop the bag and head out in the trading-street. It is a bit to dark to make good photos, but interesting. Some shops have orchids, mainly the usual Phalaenopsis, but also a few others. I find the river, which are crossed by numerous bridges. Each lead to a narrow house with a restaurant in the front, then a sleeping area for local guests along the path, the owners home and showers and a kitchen in the back. Five metres wide, 60 deep. This town does not thrive on foreigner tourists, but local Buddhist pilgrims, and the Golden Rock is a big thing! Men are aloud to walk out to it, and add their gold leaf.
On the way back, I get a small dish of Mie Goreng - fried noodles. Back at the hotel, I borrow the managers office and start working. While I sit here, several pale people passes bye. I must have found the hot-spot for these odd creatures...
In an effort to postpone the cold shower, I head down the street to find a nice cup of tea. After quite some walking, one restaurant/bar claim they actually have it. It turns out to be an instant-bag with milk and sugar and a hint of something that at least is not coffee or cacao. Exactly what is it can only be determined by the text on the bag: Royal Myanmar Teamix. I wouldn't have guessed. I see no other pales ones on my evening stroll. Personally, I'm turning quite red on the forehead and neck. That is what moped-driving does to you!
Forces myself into the icy water at ten, and call it a day. They must store this water real deep in the ground to keep it that crispy!

4/12 The room is the perfect temperature, pitch dark and silence, and the bed good. Unfortunately, a bad combination of no lunch, a real small dinner and perhaps a hint of jet-lag keep me bright awake until after three. Never the less, I get up at half pas six in an effort to accomplish the task of the day: See the Golden Rock and get to Mawlamyaing before dark. That take I reach the 10.00 or 12.10 bus - they say.
I get lucky, and the hotel serve breakfast before seven. Just some toasts and jam, a fried egg and a banana. The latter give me the fist botanical experience this day; it contain three black seeds, around five millimetres each. Rare to see, as most bananas are treploide and thereby sterile. The Morning Chinese Tea is a hot liquid with some undefined taste.

I find the right bus-station and on the dot of 7.00, I role out on the last seat on a lorry with around 50 pilgrims onboard, towards the Golden Rock. The 25 kilometre road leads into and not least; up through the mountains. The total assent is from twelve meters to 1025, and the driver have missed a carrier as a racing-driver.
The serpentinening road leads through a few rubber plantations, some teak and mahogany trees. Different bananas are seen on the slopes, and I even spot a few staghorn-ferns and orchids. I would love to walk a part of this road, but the amount of racing-lorries prevent me - and I can't hitch-hike along the road.
I can only make a few desperate shoots along the road as we go.

As we reach the summit with The Golden Rock, the area turned out to be huge but still very crowded. I thought I was here early, but around 25.000 have made it before me- or more likely; spend the night here. A special fee for foreigners, and as I sign in, I see am the third today. 
The walk through the masses and the food stands and souvenir shops are intense, but at least I'm a head higher than every one else. I am surprised to see the amount of fried doves in a holy place like this! And other meat courses for that matter. I know Buddhists are not supposed to kill any thing, but  they relaying on Christians and Muslims to do their dirty job, like that can be right. Then again, some of the monks make selfies of them and their family while others smoke. That said, most of them are begging.
I reach a shelf from which I get a great view of the rather huge boulder with a stupa on the top. It is truly golden, and the sun is perfect. Men line up to add their small leaf-gold on the boulder, while the women watch from a distance. Despite the amount of monks and a few praying areas, it is more the atmosphere of a theme-park on a Sunday. And I guess the crowds is a result of the Sunday after all.
Some make a living carrying suitcases and food up the mountain, some even people in chairs.

After a hour, I have seen it all, and I guess every one have a photo of me. Selfies, families or portrait. Some do it discrete, some ask with a goofy laugh or smile. I can't tell if it is my moustache or height  - or general odd appearance? Anyway, I do get a lot of feedback on my 35 centimetre moustache.
 I start fighting my way back to the lorry stands.  I start standing in line to one of the many ramps, and even find one with shadow, which I think my neck will appreciate. But the scares lorries are already full, when they finish backing-up to the ramp. The next one, I catch in the run. They turn out to have different destinations, and by pure luck, I get the right one.
As no surprise, I misses the ten o'clock bus. Despite I ask a lot of times for another bus, I am being ping-ponged from one end of the town, to the other. Finally a guy with a walkie-talkie show me to a stand, and find me a connection to Mawlamyaing.

Despite it is half an hour to take-off, I'm asked to sit in the bus. I grab a bottle of water and some local caramel with nuts before entering. Then I start working on the diary, and then a chat with two Irish fellow-travellers. Strangely enough, they are going the other way? The bus leave at twelve, but after a short ride, I'm kicked off at a bus-stand in another small town. Five minutes later, I'm shown to a bus going the other way, and get a seat in the front of a real cold bus.
We drive through bush land with rubber plantations, small villages and over huge rivers. I spot a few orchids, and a lot of pagodas on the hill-tops. I fight the urge to power-nap - but not real successfully.
At three, we reach the bus station of Mawlamyaing, and ten minutes later, I have found a moped to bring me over the mountain range down to to the river and booked in to a nice hotel. It is located at the river side, right between the old town and the colonial quarter. It is called the Breeze, and due to it have been painted with oil-paint real recently, you can smell in in the entire area!

I sign in under two Danes, ditch the bag and head out into the town. Mawlamyaing is an old town, and besides from it buildings, I am looking forward to explore the river's side. That excitement disappears fast. It is a knee deep mangrove clay, covered in the city's trash. Here are some interesting plants, but I don't dare to jump down to them.
The colonial town is not as interesting as I thought, although here are some good motives. A big loop along the river, the shopping street and some of the back-streets. As it is Sunday, most shops are closed.
The fifth restaurant claim they serve tea. It taste like the hippo-house smells, but both are fermented, so it make sense, and with the pre-added milk and sugar, it make some sort of substitute.

After the colonial part, the old town seems like the Arabic quarter. Here are several big Mosques and men dresses accordantly. Where the river meets another huge river, I find tea which almost taste like tea, in a Arabic coffeehouse. As the sun descents behind the river front, I try to capture some of the old houses in the main street.
The huge new market as well at the old one is closed, but they will most likely be open in the morning. Besides from that, it seems like Mawlamyaing only offers some traditional sights - and the Island of Hair Washing. I guess this is just a one-night-town after all.
On the way back, a textile shop lures me in. I need some light cloth to form a sort of bandana to protect my forehead and neck. The nice people end up giving it to me for free!
Here are, as every where in Myanmar I have seen so far, quite some dogs. A bit scrappy, but not that bad, and all friendly. I had expected cats; Birmans, but I don't seen a single.

Back at the hotel, I sketch down some of the day's impressions before I head out to get a dissent supper. Besides from the nearby fancy restaurants, it looked like they were starting up a huge food night market along the river.
Next to a massive TV screen with football; Myanmar - Thailand, numerous stands offers food. Mainly based on meat, but I find some delicious vegetarian as well.

Back at the hotel, I check emails, and to my deep grief, I learn my real good friend and boss have died suddenly. I can't really grasp it at present! This will un-doubtfully turn into another sleepless night!
I then realises, I most likely have lost my work as well. The knowledge he had was unique in the world, and the only one who could replace him, has retired. Should I head back home right away, or can I continue travelling, till I run out of places? That didn't help me sleeping... Neither do the usual, way too thick pillow, nor the lack of madras and short bed in general.

5/12 Despite I only sleep for 3-4 hours, I head out to see the new as well as the old markets just as they opens. They are both real big, and given the time, I guess one can find most here - except for a cup of tea. Well, at least I got a cup of warm water with some sort of taste at my breakfast, enjoyed at the riverside.
I spend a hour and a half at the markets, before I collect my bag from the hotel. A moped bring me up to the busstation, and as no surprise, I missed the seven o'clock bus, and the seven in the evening does not sound that appealing. Further more, it seems like it is impossible to do the direct line up north. I have to go almost back to Yangon and then head north.
The country does continue further south in a narrow stretch of land, but I skip that part. I failed to find anything of interest, and it takes a special permit. Actually, from five offices and the local community.

Within ten minutes, I am seated in a bus heading back towards Kyaiklo, and even to Pegu, I learn on the way that Pegu is also spelled Bago and pronounced with an A in the end. How hard can it be? Oh-yes, all signs are only with their special letters.
It is a 350 kilometre drive in an air-condition bus (windows can't be opened), but without the air-condition. I get the usual front seat, which is in the sun. But I refuses to pull the blanks for: I want to see Myanmar, even if it is from a speeding bus.
A 20 minutes break in a unknown town last a hour, but it gives me time to explore it, and calling an apple; lunch. Well, not that much is new, but a small child and a young goat make a great motive. I'm glad I easily can bring my little bag, just to be sure it won't leave with the bus and not me.
As I reach Bago outside a ticket office, located in a restaurant, I try to get further north. The first bigger town haven no hotels, I told, and the entire way is a ten hour drive from seven in the evening. I'm not that desperate, and if I'm asked to return to Denmark, I rather stay close to Yangon anyway.
Then there is one morning bus at 9;30, but so be it. Even at 25.000 K! I get a lift by moped to the recommended hotel, drop the bag and head out. The hotel is still $8, but in local money, the price keep rising? But I get my own toilet with seat and paper and even a geyser water heater - time will show if it works.

Just around the corner, I find a small market with local  products. As everywhere else, the people are so friendly and smiling, but they are not that keen on having their photos taken. I do get permission, but they do look away, most of the times.
Fish, meat, vegetables, flowers, fish-waste, fruits and everything in-between. I even find a cup of tea-ish substance, but with the amount of condensed milk, it taste great.
I crosses the big river several times, and it seems like it is the city's dump-site. Despite that, people are washing and fishing in it just the same.
A local sewing-shop fixes my newly invented sun protection. The piece of cloth I got yesterday get the edges folded, and a short elastic added. I look a bit like a Farrow, but it protect the forehead and the neck, and fit into a matchbox.
I try to get a cup of tea in another place, but despite four people actually say "tea", I end up with a cup of coffee. I bounces it, and get a cut of the "hippo-water". Not that bad with enough condensed milk in, after all.

On the other side of the river and railroad, I find another marked. Quite bigger, but at the same time starting to close down. The sun vanish behind the buildings before five, and at six, it is pitch black. I head back to the only tempting restaurant I have seen, and get a great dinner and even tea along, without asking! All served from the sidewalk counter.
Back at the hotel, I start writing emails to sort out the gab my former friend and boss left in the world, and my life in general. Luckily, it seems like I can continue my travelling, and only contributing by emails. It make it so much easier to make others do the actually work...
I work till late, realizing I won't be able to fall a sleep anyway. The room is located on the side of the hotel, but the mainroad is still only fifteen metres away, and they sure love their horns! A short walk in the premises reveals the lack of cooperation from an ATM. It does count the money three times, but it seems like I have been too greedy: It is out of sufficient founding.  Considering how much both they and my own bank charge for each withdraw, I like to get the full packet.
The evening is spend sorting out my future, the photos of the day, writing the diary and making a slideshow from the south-eastern part of Myanmar. It passes midnight before I head to bed, but I can't sleep anyway...

This was the end of the southern part for me. Now, the journey continues up the eastern border towards north - in Diary 2

Photos   Map & Plan   Diary 1  2  3  4  5  6