I am writing this as I look out over the lotus flower and lily covered Inle lake.
The sun is not setting over the lake tonight as we had a late afternoon downpour, but sadly it is setting on my time in Myanmar, with just one night left in Yangon to look forward to. At first glance, Myanmar reminded me of many other Southeast Asian countries I have visited. But it has a unique, mysterious quality that doesn’t take long to shine through. From the ladies wearing Thanaka, a yellow sun cream derived from tree bark, to the men who wear the sarong-like longji and chew on the blood-red betel nut. Everywhere you look the horizon is dotted with golden Buddhist stupas. I cannot think of a country that has more religious monuments than Myanmar.
The people must be the friendliest I have met anywhere on my travels. My guide in Bagan 'Mr Oo', a real character, invited me to his home to meet his family and share tea and cakes with them. There was much animated discussion between himself and his grandson about English soccer (I contributed as best I could!). Everyone follows a team and the tea houses are all full with men laying small wagers bets and watching the matches.
My trip actually started in Bagan, a flat riverine plain dotted with more than 4,000 temples. Late in the afternoon, I climbed up the vertiginous steps on the outside of one of these temples to a platform for a spectacular 360 degree view of Bagan and regretted not bringing a wide angle lens with my camera. You need one to do capture the extraordinary beauty of all those temples bathed in the evening sunshine.
From Bagan, I flew to Mandalay and on to the hill town of Pyin Oo Lwin. The botanical gardens here were fantastic and it was a relief to escape the humidity of the Irrawaddy plains. I then boarded a train to Hsipaw, a charming town not far from the Chinese border from where you can trek to Shan and Chin villages. I was taken to a charming riverside settlement close to town for an insight into the ingenious cottage industries these tribal people have set up. I was also treated to a beautiful sunset over a valley of rice fields before flying back to Mandalay the following day.
The final leg of my journey took me via Heho to Lake Inle, but before reaching the lake I ventured north to explore Shwe Oo Min, a ‘natural cave pagoda with many gilded stupas and Buddhas, and the refreshing hill town of Kalaw. Inle was just a short drive away and the last two days here have been amazing, buzzing around the lake in a long tail boat, exploring local fishing villages and watching in awe as the local Intha fishermen simultaneously fish with a net and row the boat with their leg!
Myanmar is slowly opening up, ATMs can now be found in the main towns, but thankfully the country remains free of most western institutions. The quality of the hotels was also a welcome surprise, and there are more being built to meet the growing demand. Times are certainly changing in Myanmar…so time to visit!