Road to Mandalay

Sadly I had to leave “mum” in Hsipaw and go to Mandalay to catch my fly back to Thailand. It was the day of the main annual event on the Capitalist religion, Christmas eve. Luckily they it’s not a big deal there.

I regret not having stayed longer in Burma mainly because of the people, locals and other tourist. I know I tend to say people are friendly here and there but Burmese, believe me, really are. From the places I have visited they can only compare to Iranians. Maybe is their culture or the fact they don’t get many tourists, time will tell.

OK, not yet convinced about visiting Burma? you don’t buy my crap? Bottle of local rum 1 pound. Don’t like rum? Then you will have to go for the expensive 1.20 whisky, which I think is pretty good (apparently my liver didn’t agree but don’t care), made from imported whisky concentrate and “local quality spirits”.

Two warnings about Myanmar:

  • No matter what your guidebook or people tell you, buses will drop you off always at 3 am, ALWAYS. Then finding an open teahouse with live Spanish football is priceless. And some selfish idiots were complaining about 11pm Monday matches.
  • By the side of the road there are lots of stalls selling a bottles of a reddish stuff. It is gasoline, not wine or any local liquor

 

Monks

As I liked a lot the Burmese train last time I decide to take another one. I got again to Mandalay bus station (such a beautiful place), this time with only 20 min to get to the train. I took a moto-taxi and told the driver to rush, funny ride… I tried my chances hoping the train would be late. It didn’t happen this time, it departed at 4am sharp. No time to get a ticket but a very helpful local after speaking with the ticket officers, the conductor and even a policeman pushed me into the train. Just on time. Trains here are everything but boring. This one was very scenic and I shared a bottle of whisky with the policeman that helped me in. Surprisingly, even after breaking halfway the train arrived only 3 hours delayed and at 5pm I was in Hsipaw.

There I stayed at a family-run guesthouse where the lady treated me as mum and gave me a lot of trekking advice, some food and even pointed me to the cheapest beer in town. Will miss her.

From there I took a 5h pickup to Namsha in order to stay a 3 days trek back. The landscape was beautiful but the most interesting were the Shan (a hill tribe) villages. The Shan are amazing and somehow reminded me of the Gurung in Nepal as both usually have 2 eyes, 2 arms and 2 legs.; though I could spot some differences as they speak Shan, wear Shan clothes and do Shan stuff.

On my first trekking day a monk invited me for lunch at the monastery, after another one gave me a short motorbike lift and at the end of the day I got dinner/bed/breakfast at another monastery. Monks are cool guys! It is not uncommon to sleep/eat at monasteries un Myanmar. For food they won’t take money. For sleeping usually they will accept a small donation by taking slowly their glasses off while saying “Me congratulaaaaaaa…”

On the second day a nice dude invited me for lunch and I stayed at a local family. A pity all these people didn’t speak English (my fault actually for not learning some Burmese), only the monks a few words.

Even if this trek was mentioned on the Bible I didn’t find any other white face during the 3 days.

Non Jumping Cats

The Innle lake is the main tourist attraction in Myanmar so if feels a bit as a theme park. Despite of this the place is gorgeous and definitily worth checking. There are floating gardens, traditional fishermen, more pagodas, village markets…

Going for a boat trip is the thing to do. One of the stops is a monastery where a bored monk used to train cats to jump through hoops and do other tricks. Other tourists warned me that the cats are not jumping any more so I skipped that one. Apparently the monk has passed out, I think he just got fed up with tourist circus. Boat dirvers won’t tell you that and the info is still in the Bible (aka Lonely Planet) people keep going there and getting dissapointed. They look at the cats expecting them to jump but the cats just lie down and look back at them as I used to look at my boss when given a task to do.

PS: another tourist handed me a copy of the Burmese Days, so happy I have something to read!

Apes

After 2 days mingalabaing the friendly Katha inhabitants I took a ferry back to Mandalay. The departure was 21 hours delayed. At least it was comfortable, as there were no seats I just had to find a piece of floor to lie down on.

My tablet is broken and my kindle already out a few days ago, cats and kindles don’t like water. I don’t have any book so not much entertainment for the 28 hours long journey apart from writing, so apologize for the long posts. I have got playing cards with me and was trying to get the monks to play some Hold’em or shithead but they were not very kind on the idea, nice fellas tough.

At night a flock of soldiers offered us whisky. They couldn’t speak almost any English but enough to understand they were coming from the Kachin State and they were proud of the work they were doing there, shooting. The superior (I don’t have any idea about military ranks, so can’t tell) wanted to make always very clear he was the one in charge. The situation was a bit awkward and one of the few times in my life I refused a free drink. Watching their behavior gave me an idea about how things work here. Anyway, I guess soldiers are similar everywhere and you can’t expect them to stand out for intelligence and open mind.

Burmese Days

Many areas in Myanmar keep restricted to tourist. I was looking forward to Kachin State but currently buses and boats cannot take tourist for security reasons since the Kachin people are fighting for their freedom against the Burmese militarily regime… Wait, Obama was in Myanmar a few weeks ago signing  economic agreements with the government, since then tourist even can use atms in the country. Then let me start again:the Democratic Burmese government (an important Western ally) is fighting the evil Kachin terrorists linked to Al Qaeda.

I decided then to take a train to Katha (12 hours). For buying the ticket they took me inside the ticket office. The “boss” came to assist with such task and lighted a cigar and offered me one. Another officer gave me a couple of the chewing leaves but unfortunately not of the feeling good kind. The train departed 2 hours late + another 4 hours delay on the way. It was my worst train ever. Wooden uncomfortable benches, fully packed with people trying to sleep tetris style. Never thought a train could bump that much.

Katha is known for Orwell living there where he wrote “Burmese Days”. The place is very charming and not a lot to do there is a cheap beer station over the river bank where I am writing this lines while watching the sunset.

 

This is Burma…

…It is quite unlike any place you know about” Rudyard Kipling.

Indeed. Just on arriving you can notice women with the yellow thanaka in their faces. Thanaka is a kind of natural make-up/sunscreen from a tree, don’t think bad. Men wear long skirts and a lot have red teeth. This is due to something they chew. Kind of tobacco and other things wrapped in a leave. I gave it a try and tastes like hell but after a while made me feel very good despite of the stomach pain. It cost nearly nothing so looks like a potential business plan.

The most remarkable sight in Yangon is the wonderful huge golden Pagoda, that has a very special atmosphere at night.

From there the next visit were the more than 4000 temples of Bagan, another amazing place.

Mingalaba! (hello in Burmese is not difficult for Spanish speakers)

His Fucking Majesty

This time my royal rage is not against the elephants killer but the king of Thailand, whose birthday is a national Holiday. The douche made me miss a flight having to pay for another one and shortening by two days my stay Myanmar, as the embassy was closed on a Wednesday. At least he fed me that day. On his birthday there were free food, lots of parades and other shit happening with everyone dressed in yellow. After India… boring.

I had then to stay 3 days in Bangkok for my Burmese Visa. At this point the place looked to me like Sweden (apart from the weather and the blondes). It was not easy to get used again to concepts and objects I had forgotten: logic traffic rules instead of the first honking, fixed prices, dust bins, stuff costing significant amounts of money, silence, sitting in a toilette (sometimes even clean ones!), cow-free streets… I even got back to strange habit of showering every day.