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World Travels 2


Tuesday 6/4/2016

After a panic running through the procedure securing the property, we eventually met up with the driver & car parked at the end of the lane who would ferry us to London.

A pleasant journey, the driver lived in Dousland so we enjoyed varied conversation throughout which made time swiftly pass.

We stopped just outside Yeovil at an eatery the driver often frequented. We enjoyed a home cooked meal in a comfortable clean environment.

Our planned night stop was the Premier Inn very near Heathrow, we arrived at 5pm.

After a hot deep bath we enjoyed a relaxed evening. The temperature in the room was too hot so we had to turn down the thermostat a few notches.

Wednesday/Thursday 7/4/2016

An early start saw us jump on a local bus armed with bus passes for the short ride to Heathrow Terminal 2. The bus was half full of commuters who seemed miserable & rightly so!

Checking through security was straight forward for Caroline but I was subjected to the usual scrutiny!

We had our breakfast before flying.

Our flight was a half hour late due to the plane overrunning the runway (good start).

The aircraft was a Jumbo Jet & was only half full.

We were spoiled throughout the flight by an efficient team of immaculately turned out Singapore lady flight assistants. We had two excellent meals on board before touching down in Singapore on time 5am.

The next flight to Yangon Myanmar left at 11am, to kill time we wandered around the numerous retail outlets.

Nearer to the time of take-off we made our way to the departure lounge where we saw a few more passengers with luggage tags like ours.

Our flight took off on time, however the flight path took us to Mandalay where we had to vacate the aeroplane & re-join it for the journey to Yangon.

In time we reached our destination & was greeted by our tour guide Kin Kin, we had no need to haul luggage, this was all taken care of by the staff. We were whisked away through the busy streets of Yangon to the hotel Chatrium were we were to stay for two nights. After settling in we met up with the rest of the group of fifteen at 6:30pm. Our evening meal was arranged to take place at a nearby restaurant & we enjoyed a meal alfresco.

We returned to the hotel at 8:30pm.

Whilst enjoying a beer we could hear sounds of a live band near the swimming pool area, eager to investigate we made our way out onto an upper level, in dim light or shall I say no light at all I descended two or three steps only to find out the last step was a 4’ deep ornamental pond! I climbed out of my watery grave & dripped more than usual on the edge of the pool. The consequences of this faux pas left our camera inoperable. I splashed my way through the hotel reception, on route we bumped into the hotel manager who seemed concerned about my predicament.

Back in our room I spent the next hour trying to dry out the camera without any effect.

Friday 8/4/2016

Awoke about 7:30am after a restful night.

We were spoilt for choice at the breakfast bar, such a wide selection of fare on display both European & Asian. We were waited on hand & foot.

At 8:30am we met up with the rest of our group & was ferried in the coach to the circular railway station where we jumped on an old diesel train. We mixed in with the locals enjoying the busy atmosphere. The old locomotive chugged on through Yangon until we eventually linked up with our coach once again.

We were driven to a local market where we enjoyed the sights sounds & smells of busy trade. As we progressed Kin Kin explained some of the unusual fruits & we were able to taste a few.

Being unused to roaming in a group I lagged behind a bit & before long realised I was alone!

Panic set in, every which way I turned no familiar faces, what was to be done, I had no means of contacting the group, didn’t know the name of the hotel or how to get to it & best of all no means of communicating with the population. As by chance I emerged from one of the market isles onto a main street & to my relief the coach was parked, Kin Kin (our guide) had gone off to find me, the driver telephoned her to say all was good.

It was coffee time so we made our way to a cafe & enjoyed a couple of cups of Burmese coffee with a very pleasant unique taste.

Refreshed we were driven to Bogyoke Aung San market where we spent a very enjoyable hour wandering around the many stalls.

Next on our agenda was lunch which we had at the Monsoon restaurant near the Sule Pagoda.

The afternoon started with a stroll part way around Kandawgyi Lake, the water was green with algae, on the north side of the lake was a restaurant with two enormous gold dragon heads.

Back to the coach & off through the traffic filled streets to Shwedagon Pagoda, well what an eye opener, the whole area was covered in gold leaf & gold paint. After leaving our footwear outside, we used an elevator to gain access to the second floor. On emerging from the lift we joined the many wandering pilgrims. There were young monks & nuns. Volunteers were busy keeping the area meticulously clean working as a team with brooms. Our guide had arranged for us to take part in a lighted candle ceremony, we all had a lighted candle with which we lit a line of some thirty oil lamps. We wandered around a little more enjoying the ambience of the complex.

Eventually we left at 6:45pm & were taken back to our hotel.

Dinner was had in house, I had fish & chips Caroline had chicken satay washed down with a beer. Loud music was coming from outside, we tried to join in but the venue was for ticket holders only.

Saturday 9/4/2016

Today was time to move on so an early start. We received a wakeup call at 5:30am left our luggage outside our room & went down to breakfast, after which we were able to use the hotel computer to log a few geocaches & send a message home to Andrew.

We eventually made our way to the coach. As we emerged from the hotel we were hit in the face with a hot blast from the morning sun.

The plan for today was to hop on an internal flight to Began, famous for thousands of Temples Pagodas & Stupa’s

On touchdown we were greeted by another coach which ferried us to a number of temples built in the tenth & eleventh centuries.

First site of interest was to be Bagan Pagoda. Most of the many temples in this area had suffered damage mainly to their tops by an earthquake in 1975, so most were in need of repair.

Originally the temples were constructed with large terracotta bricks held together by water buffalo skin, modern ones use cement; the surrounding area is mainly sandstone so building bricks had to be ferried down the Ayeyarwady river.

The next temple we visited was quite large, with a number of huge Buddha’s all made of gold painted teak, there were also smaller Buddha’s sat in small alcoves. In one passageway bats were clinging to the ceiling.

Next a drive to a lacquer workshop before lunch.

We arrived & were shown around; there were about twenty staff all busy with individual tasks producing many lacquered objects. The whole process is very long & time consuming. Lacquer is applied to either wood or bamboo, once the lacquer has dried any cracks have to be sealed & excess lacquer scraped off, there can be up to twenty layers of lacquer applied at different stages. Ladies were engraving intricate patterns which in time would be coloured in. The final product is stored for months before it is ready for the shops.

There was a retail outlet on site so we took the opportunity to browse, many beautiful objects all of which very expensive which reflected the amount of labour involved, we bought a small lacquered cup.

Lunch was taken at a very rural village, local people living in palm leaf houses & & oxen in the shade outside. Dusty tracks linked the dwellings.

We eventually arrived at a dinner table laid out under trees where we enjoyed a fine feast.

All go, the afternoon started with a visit to yet another temple after which a drive to our hotel which was made up of small bungalows set in green gardens.

Before our evening outing we had chance to enjoy a refreshing swim in the pool.

At about 6pm we were treated to pony & cart rides.

The evening was concluded with a visit to a very tall Stupa where we were to witness the sunset. Many visitors were climbing the many steep narrow steps to the top; there was a geocache half way up which we found on site.

Because of the amount of people we decided to photograph the sunset at ground level.

Next we were dragged back to the hotel to a well-deserved rest & bed.

Sunday 10/4/2016

We were awake early in order to leave at 8am. We enjoyed a buffet breakfast - many choices.

Spot on time we left for the drive to Mt.Popo, the countryside was sparsely populated. After an hour & a half we arrived to find the whole area was thronging with pilgrims. There is a shrine on the summit of the hill, to reach the top one has to climb a thousand or more steps most of which were under cover.

We started our climb passing at first many stalls.

We had to leave our footwear at the bottom so the whole climb had to be completed barefoot.

Eventually we made it to the top where we enjoyed all round panoramic views.

Towering above & to the west was an extinct volcano which has been renamed Mother Mountain.

On the summit we were asked many times to be included in photos, for whatever reason!

Descending is always harder than climbing so we carefully made our way down the thousand steps. At intervals volunteer cleaners were asking for payment.

Eventually we reached ground zero, where we were confronted by a troop of savaging makak monkeys; some had young ones clinging on.

Time for the drive back, stopping on the way for lunch in a local restaurant where we enjoyed a buffet meal consisting of curried meat & fish with fresh vegetables. The traditional puddings in Myanmar are all Palm sugar related.

Just before the meal I went to watch the harvesting of the palm sugar which involved climbing the trees with the aid of homemade bamboo ladders, where the higher section is left tied to the tree for the next harvest which occurs twice a day.

One interesting use of the harvested Palm sugars is to distil it into alcohol; we had the opportunity to taste a little, very, very potent 40%.

Another product of this area is peanut oil, the manufacture of which is produced by grinding the peanuts using a donkey walking in a circle causing a mill to grind.

The day was now very hot & it was time to drive back to the hotel for a well earnedmaca rest.

Another trip had been planned for the evening to visit an old tery where a traditional Burmese tea had been laid out for us in the grounds. The snack consisted of banana cake, Madeira cake, Jaggery ( local Palm sugar sweets) all washed down with tea or coffee.

Kin Kin took us into the temple were there were a Buddah & old murals the colours were exquisite.

After tea we slowly drove back to the hotel over rough ground.

Back at the hotel most of our group stayed at the hotel whilst we had a wander around the few shops in the nearby village, where we purchased a post card & a couple of souvenirs one of which was a small brass figure depicting a Buddha & a fictional animal known as 'Garuda'. This charm is supposed to give good luck to anyone who was born on a Sunday (me). Coincidentally the girl serving was also born on a Sunday & the best of it all was today was Sunday, so it had to be bought.

Monday 11.04.16

Moving on today destination Mandalay. After an early wake-up call & breakfast we drove to the airport arriving at 8am. The flight took off on time at 8.30am. It seemed we had only just taken off when it was time to land. The view from above was interesting – the ground was very dry, most of the river courses were parched.

At Mandalay International Airport we were advised to visit the toilet – which most of the women did. On leaving the airport another coach was waiting to start the drive of 42kms, which would take 2hours due to traffic & road conditions. About two thirds of the way into the journey we stopped to visit a temple which was suggested by the coach driver. This temple had three huge python snakes in residence. Quite an experience to see such a spectacle! We were able to touch the reptiles – some people were very frightened. We found out later that the locals only fed them with bread & milk (no meat), the snakes were able to roam the temple at will.

Our journey continued which involved a zig zag climb to the top of a mountain range, at one point we had to stop to let the engine cool down, here we had chance to browse the local shops, most were selling vegetables & fresh fruit in contrast to Bagan.

Leaving here we carried on ever upwards stopping at a restaurant for lunch – a choice of chicken, fish & vegetable curry with rice & of course a couple of ice cold beers.

We eventually arrived at our next destination Pyin Oo Lwin – which was originally a British hill station – so much cooler here (or so our guide told us). The hotel was situated right next to the National Kandawgyl Botanical Gardens – a 400 acre site with much to see. We were able to enjoy a couple of hours exploring the gardens along with many Burmese tourists, as this was their New Year holiday.

Armed with a map we were able to wander freely, meet some of the locals, who inevitably wanted photos with us. We saw black swans on a sun blessed lake, at the centre of which was a temple with the usual gold decorations. We also visited a walk-in aviary & saw mostly ground nesting birds.

There was supposed to be an orchid garden which we tried to find unsuccessfully, however we did see a collection of petrified trees & a bamboo forest. We also encountered a couple of Takins – an animal that looked like a small bison – but belongs to the goat family.

At 5 0’clock we returned to the bus which then ferried us off to ride on horse & carts for a ride through busy streets to the old part of Pyin Oo Lwin, it was most enjoyable - the carts were colourfully decorated & had tops to shelter us from the sun.

Before our evening meal we both enjoyed a swim at the hotel in the covered swimming pool – very refreshing.

Our evening meal was taken in a nearby restaurant – al fresco – the building used to belong to the father of Aung San Suu’s.

Home to bed to look forward to another early start tomorrow 6am.

Tuesday 12.04.16

The water festival begins!

We were actually awake before the early morning call today! We dressed & left our luggage outside the room, then proceeded to the restaurant for breakfast. We were once again spoilt for choice.

Eventually we left the hotel at 7.30am to board a train for the journey to Lashio. We had time to look around the local market selling all manner of fresh vegetables. We were able to buy fresh garlic. There were many things on sale which were unfamiliar to us, including what we thought to be preserved eggs.

At the train station we watched locals loading heavy goods onto a train.

Spot on time our train arrived, we were allocated seats in the upper class carriage. The train departed on time & we started our journey through the Shan Mountains.

We were all pre-warned to carry waterproofs in preparation for the onslaught of water that was to be thrown through the open windows at every station we passed through, we were like lambs to the slaughter however this caused great hilarity to all. The train travelled slowly through the countryside around hairpin bends & steep ascents & descents. The surrounding countryside seemed very productive, farmers were busy planting in the fields.

We crossed very, very slowly over the Gokteik Viaduct – some 318 feet high with a 2257 foot span. This viaduct was a spectacular sight – it's Myanmar’s longest bridge – time for many photo opportunities.

After the four hour journey we arrived at Lashio where the bus was waiting to take us to our lunch spot where we all enjoyed fried rice & cool beers.

The afternoon started with the ride back to Mandalay, negotiating the very twisty roads . In the built up areas we were subjected to water being thrown at the bus – we were all glad to be shielded .

By now we were all shattered after a busy day & early morning start, however just one more hill had been planned, Mandalay Hill which is 760 feet above sea level. Visitors would visit the summit by way of 1729 steps – nowadays however moving stairs take you to the top! Our first reaction was that it was very bling.

We were able to look down on Mandalay to see the size of the city & how far it has extended over time. Kin Kin told us that the prison which was once on the outskirts of the city, is now included in the city itself. We were in time able to see the sun setting.

After our descent we boarded the bus & were whisked off to our nearby hotel – a very plush establishment, on arrival we were offered fresh lemon squash & given our keys to our room. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing – phew!

Wednesday 13/04/16

A buffet type breakfast in house, again plenty of choice. The day proper started with a ride to the first temple of the day. Unfortunately as it was a holiday it was not open to visitors! Along the way the water festival was once again in full swing, we were bombarded from all directions. Our bus was hosed many times but we were able to keep dry!

Our second port of call was the Kuthadow Pagoda – the home of the world’s largest book – which is a collection of more than 700 marble slabs with the teachings of Buddha inscribed upon them.

Next stop was Mahamuni Pagoda home of one of the countries most revered Buddha images. Standing at the centre of the complex was a huge golden Buddha weighing in at 1.5ton – made of gold. Only male pilgrims were allowed to touch it – most were adding layers of thin gold leaf to the statue for good luck.

There were also huge bronze statues brought from Ankar Wat Cambodia. Legend has it that whoever had pain should just rub the area on the statues in that same area & the pain would get better!

Around the main courtyard were a selection of huge bells which were free to bong – also here was the largest gong in the country some 8' in diameter.

Time to move on this time we left for Ava, the former capital of Myanmar between the 14th & 18th centuries. We took a long tailed boat to cross to the other side of the small stream as the locals call it. On landing we were treated to a horse & cart ride around the old city which is now abandoned & used by farmers.

We enjoyed a pleasant ride of about two hours seeing rice being grown, beans, bananas, cabbage & a whole lot of other tasty vegetables. It goes without saying that we were to visit a good few temples along the way.

The first one had small dark corridors – which were very cool – at times bats would fly past us. The doorway in the centre had a wooden teak door 2’6” in width cut from a single piece of wood.

Next we visited a tower which was leaning slightly which our driver informed us was known as the leaning tower of Pisa. He had a little command of the English language & informed us that he was the third son & had two sisters also.

A very old temple next built in the 1800’s, in the corner of the yard grew a huge very old banyan tree.

In my opinion the next temple we were shown was the best we had seen so far. It was completely constructed of teak, huge 30ft. pillars supported the main structure, each pillar had a diameter of about 2ft. Amazing carvings festooned the inner sanctuary. One of the figures depicted Sunday’s child & was shown eating a dragon.

We eventually arrived back at the quay for the short boat ride back, where we enjoyed a very nice lunch washed down with a couple of beers. The afternoon started with a tour of the ancient city of Amarapura, here we visited a silk weaving workshop & were fascinated by the intricacies of the craft, two ladies worked like lightening.

Near here was the 200 year old wooden bridge made of teak – it has the world’s largest span of approximately 1.5km. We walked almost half way along & dropped down a flight of stairs to watch a flock of ducks being looked after by two men.

We had a good day but by the time we arrived back at the hotel we declined to venture out for dinner opting for a quiet evening in. Well I say quiet at 20.30 hrs whilst writing the journal the hotel shook with an earth tremor. In a panic we dressed & took essentials, opting not to use the lift, taking heed of a notice stating not to be used in an earthquake! We used the emergency exit. By the time we reached the reception the shaking had stopped, the counter staff told us not to worry – good of them to say this!

We appeared to both sleep quite well after our experience.

Thursday 14.04.16

Another early start which by now we were getting used to. Bags were out by 6.15am & we were ready to leave at 6.45am.

A bus ride to Mandalay airport where we boarded a plane for our short flight to Helo.

The water festival was still in full swing.

We were not able to keep to our itinerary as planned, because many of the sites of interest were closed, however we did stop at a winery for a wine tasting session – very nice indeed some of our group bought a few bottles to take on.

Next we drove on a little further & stopped at a the very fanciful Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery, it was carved out of teak & was well used by local pilgrims. Here we watched a cat with 10 kittens.

Time to move on to Nyaung Shwe where we all enjoyed a rather nice lunch above a canal, we were able to watch the long tailed boats taking people here there & everywhere. The canal itself was very low awaiting the rains which were due at any time, hence when it became our turn to take a boat we had to use a jetty further down river due the low water level.

In our boat were two other customers. Our planned destination was a resort some 10km distant on the far side of Inle Lake. Our boatman manoeuvred his way through the floating gardens on the way. The resort consisted of individual bungalows each in the shape of a boat. There was also a couple of restaurants & a swimming pool here.

We unpacked quickly & went out to use the facilities. Afterwards Ian went to join in the water festival & returned to the room rather wet & bedraggled.

We had a talk with Andrew & heard that Jacob had passed his driving test!

Our evening meal was a pizza eaten in a restaurant owned by our resort across the road, the sound of crickets filled the air. Very nice indeed.

Friday 15/04/16

Yet another early start.

The breakfast area this morning was very busy due to many holiday visitors to the complex.

The first adventure of the day was to take a long-tailed boat to the south side of the lake. It all went smoothly & we were taken through water gardens tended by the locals in their dugout boats, we cruised between stilted dwellings, the inhabitants of which were busy with day to day chores.

This morning the whole lake seemed to be alive with long tailed boats speeding up & down ferrying tourists, consequently we passed many & waved as we passed, this seemed the natural thing to do.

Along the way we happened on a small group of fishermen busy working with their dugouts, laying out nets – these fishermen have the skill to row the boat with one leg whilst pulling in their nets. We passed the well tended gardens with gourds, beans & purple hyacinths growing. We motored through more stilted villages, with shops & dwellings some 10ft above the water surface.

The first sightseeing stop of the day was a monastery which once had boasted preforming cats which jumped through hoops – but this tradition has now been stopped due to the chief monk dying, we only saw a couple of sedate cats & a good few carved ones.

Next on our list was a cheroot factory we were able to watch three ladies expertly rolling cigarettes, some of which were flavoured.

Back to the boats & on to a silk weaving workshop where they were tie dyeing bundles of silk for weaving later, it was fascinating to see all the weaving tools.

Off again this time we visited another weaving shop where we watched the very unusual technique of extracting fibres from lotus stems – these when dry would be woven into yarn. The resulting material felt very soft but understandably very expensive.

We stopped for lunch at the Golden Kite restaurant, we had fish, (which arrived whole) chicken, fresh vegetables, desert was a rather nice chocolate pancake.

Bellies full we started the 45mins journey back to our resort where we all gathered in reception to hear we had yet another excursion planned at 3pm.

We took advantage of the rest bite to have a swim – we were the only ones.

At the designated time we rendezvoused in reception to find a coach ready to ferry us the half hour drive south to yet another massive collection of stupa’s (Incheon). From Nyaung Ohak, the nearby village, a covered stairway climbs the hill leading to Shwelun Thein Pays – a complex of 1054 weather beaten zedi (stupas) – most constructed in the 17th century. Some of the zedi leaned at crazy angles whilst others had been reconstructed – we preferred the untouched ones.

Our return to the coach was via a pleasant stroll through communities & alongside a watercourse – local folk were washing clothes & themselves. Back at the bus we were treated to water festival revellers but we were able to hit back if somewhat feebly.

On our return to the resort we had a couple of hours rest & a relaxing soak in a large sunken bath before venturing out to return to the restaurant we frequented last night.

Saturday 16/04/16

No wakeup call today so we enjoyed a lay in – we had decided to opt out of the optional excursion as it involved five hours of travelling. After a leisurely breakfast we arranged for a boat to take us to Nyaung Shwa on the far north side of Inle Lake. We went with two others from our group (Margaret & Jenny from Ilfracombe) – the trip took about 40mins – stopping for a photo-call with a fishermen – using the old way of fishing.

At our destination we said farewell to the other two & set off to find the market. The water festival was still in progress! The market was very interesting, plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers & dry goods. We bought some tea, turmeric & peanuts.

Next we set off to try & find the Ywa Twit Monastery – where there was supposedly a geocache. Instead of keeping to the road we walked on small tracks between houses – all very close to each other – one would have to be friendly with the neighbours!

Eventually we arrived at the Monastery & & were shown upstairs to meet the chief monk. We spent about 45mins or more listening to him & looking at all his photos which had been sent to him from all over the world by previous visitors. We were offered a plate of rather nice bananas. He had a very good sense of humour & command of the English language. Before we left he insisted on a “selfie”. What a character – he was known phoneticly with the name Mr.Earring he was 76 years old & had been a monk for 56 of them.

We were sorry to leave this fabulous spot but eventually we had to. We made our way back to the village – unable to avoid the water festival – we arrived back rather wet! As we neared the centre we stopped for a much needed drink.

At the boat quay we were able to quickly negotiate a ride back to the hotel.

We both had a shower & were able to relax for a couple of hours before having a curry for our evening meal. An early night was on the cards after an exhausting but enjoyable day.

Sunday 17/04/16 New Years Day

Fly back to Yangon today so an early flight time of 8.30am had been arranged. Breakfast in house with the usual vast selection - by now we were sticking to our familiar English fare.

At the airport everything went like clockwork – however the security checks were almost nil!

The flight was to last 1hr. 5mins, we were treated to a snack during the journey. The plane as usual with all internal flights was propeller driven.

On arrival in Yangon a bus was waiting to ferry us to downtown where our guide gave us a tour, making us aware of many ex-colonial buildings. We stopped en’route to visit a park in memory to Myanmars independence, near here was a large Christian Church.

We used an overhead walkway from which we had views of the Yangon River in the distance. Whilst here a tram passed under the walkway.

We eventually returned to the hotel which we stayed in on the first night here- Hotel Chatrium on the Royal Lake.

I had decided to make the staff aware of the fall into the ornamental pond on the first visit.

Dinner had been organised at a five star colonial hotel called The Strand, this hotel had been refurbished not so long ago.

We enjoyed a rather lavish meal. On the menu was a choice of beef or giant prawn, cauliflower soup & a chocolate brownie with ice cream (mind you this was not how they described it!). The shock came when we had to pay £14.00 for two glasses of wine!

Monday 18/4/2016

After a good night’s sleep we decided that last night’s evenings meal was a little too overpowering for us, so we opted for a more regular breakfast.

Our flight to Singapore was due to leave Yangon airport at 3pm, so this gave us the morning to ourselves & decided to take a stroll around the nearby Royal Lake. The morning sun was almost unbearable. Along the way we spotted a few black headed blue beaked finches.

Eventually we came to rest at a pier & sat awhile in the company of a few elderly people accompanied by their Grandchildren. In Asia the family unit is very strong & is very important in their culture.

We set off back to the hotel after which took 10-15min.

On arrival we took advantage of a last luxury wash & brush up.

Eventually we gathered in the hotel reception in preparation for the drive to the airport, we left at 2pm.

We took off at 4pm. pretty much on time. A 2hour flight saw us touch down at Singapore 6pm.

The transit procedure went to plan & we were soon on our way to London Heathrow which would take 13hrs.!!!

The night dragged, on, I managed to while away the time by watching three movies.

Touch down at Heathrow 5:10am. After the arrival formalities we were greeted by the driver who would drive us home to the door, we shared the ride with Margi & Jenny who were making their way to Ilfracombe.

Home at last 12:30pm.