It’s been awhile.
Three and a half months of full-on overland travel in SE Asia, followed by my mother’s unexpected partial hip replacement surgery in Bangkok, followed by extensive preparations for our next sailing passage (#IndianOcean2018) have kept me away.
But now with land travel behind us, Mom safely home and recovering well, and the crew of Amandla again under sail, I finally have the time to share some SE Asia Land Travel stories.
Let’s Start With Myanmar.
In August, the crew of Amandla spent twenty-five days touring the Shan and Kayin States of Myanmar as well as the Mandalay and Yangon Regions.
Rather than repeat all of the wonderful things that have already been said about the place, the focus of this post is to express my gratitude (channeling you Janis) for those who turned a great travel experience into an exceptional one.
The Man in Seat Sixty One
I have never actually met Mark Smith, but he quickly became our tour guide of choice, not only for Myanmar but also for all of SE Asia. Second only to my love of sailing is my love of train travel. I was hooked from the moment that I discovered Mark’s incredibly informative website ‘The Man in Seat Sixty-One’ (seat61.com).
Mark’s primary aim is to ‘INSPIRE people to do something more rewarding with their travel opportunities that schlepping to an airport, getting on a soulless airliner, and missing all the world has to offer’.
I used Mark’s insights extensively to plan our land trip, sometimes visiting places we’d never even thought of just for the transportation experience. And Myanmar was no exception.
All of our travel was overland, predominantly by train, with a few buses, mini-vans, tuk-tuks, thrown in where rail was not an option.
Riding Myanmar’s railway was like taking a step back in time, with the open windows allowing for a refreshing breeze, awesome views and an endless stream of hawkers selling a variety of goodies at each station and underway.
Our two favorite routes?
1) The train from Mandalay to Shwenyaung (for Inle Lake) with an overnight stay at the very affordable ‘Wonderful Guest House’ In Thazi. We were transported to and from the guesthouse in Thazi via horse-drawn carriage through a town that sees little tourism. The innkeepers prepared a delicious breakfast and lunch for us to take on the train to Shwenyaung. All this for the cost of a couple of lattes at Starbucks.
2) The train from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw across the Goteik Viaduct. We liked the trip so much we opted to take the return back with a few days break in between relaxing at Kumudra Hill, an inexpensive but comfortable resort that serves up delicious homemade pasta.
We were introduced to Kyaw Kyaw, owner of Unique Innlay, through our hotel in Nyuang Shwe and were so impressed with him after our first day visiting Inle Lake that we signed up for two additional days of touring.
He treated us to a mix of known highlights and off-the-beaten-track adventures, including the best meal we had in Myanmar at a local, tourist-free family home on the water.
Kyaw Kyaw also had an immense patience for my obsession with fisherman and the floating gardens and had an eye for positioning me for photographs.
While we had to work around the inclement weather in the offseason, the sun did manage to peek out at times.
You can reach Kyaw Kyaw (pronounced Jo Jo) at +95 (0) 9428327671, via email at email@example.com and on Facebook at unique.innlay. We recommended him to friends whose visit followed ours and they also gave him glowing reviews.
The Win Family
The first day that we were in Bagan, we opted to familiarize ourselves with the place by hiring a private tour guide with a car. We needn’t have bothered.
Our guide managed to familiarize us with the most touristed places at a relatively usurious rate. We enjoyed the rest of our time in Bagan traveling off-the-beaten-track via e-bike at a fraction of the cost.
On our last day out, while visiting Thaikgyi Pagoda, we met Daw Aye Sander Win. She showed us around the family Pagoda and asked if we would like to visit her village.
There was something in her welcoming smile that made me agree and I am so glad we did.
She lives in a village of craftsmen that create beautiful lacquerware for which Bagan is famous.
She and her husband U Mg Win invited us into their home, introduced us to their family, and then gave us a two-hour tour of the village.
As we were leaving, Daw Aye Sander gave me a lovely, personal parting gift of Thanaka, a fragrant cosmetic paste made from ground bark that is used widely in Myanmar to beautify the appearance, cool and smooth the skin, and protect from sunburn.
If you’d like to visit the Win Family at their village, contact U Mg Win or Daw Aye Sandar Win at +95(0)9425086445 or +95(0)9967391093. Or find your way to Thaikgyi Pagoda near Manuha Temple where I’m sure they’ll find you.
While passing through Mandalay on our way to Inle Lake, we hired Zin Gyi to drive us to the U Bein Bridge. He was so knowledgeable about the Mandalay Region that we hired him again when we returned to Mandalay on our way toward Bagan.
Next stop …Laos
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