Category Archives: Burma

PB Travels… Yangon 

Final stop in Burma – Yangon. And our mode of transport? Overnight train from Mandalay to Yangon.  I’m pretty comfortable with such sleeper trains and the ones in Burma are similar to those in India. So as long as you have a good support system (snacks galore, good company, strong thighs for hovering in the loo on a swaying train) you’re good to go. Thankfully I was was equipped on all fronts :).  Another reason to be thankful was that the train station was a lift away from the hotel – so we got there (via a supermarket stop) and found our berth for 4 with enough time to spare. 


The train ride itself (I will not mention the heat again – it was hot but that little rotating fan worked very hard), bumpiness aside, was a lot of fun. We spent the night eating, drinking, laughing hysterically – but I was glad to be off it in the morning. We got into Yangon at 8.30am (not 6am as informed), ready for a day of sightseeing. 

Where am I staying?

Hotel Panda, a fairly nondescript Yangon city hotel that is using the WWF logo as their own (is that allowed?). Big rooms, lots of space (for my laundry to be strewn about.. hahaha), good enough for one night before I leave the country.  

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor – low but a tired room. 
  • Bed: 7/10. After the bumpy train ride, the bed was very welcome!
  • Shower 7/10. Powerful and hot for long enough to wash me and my clothes. The water was tinged orange and had a rusty smell though. I’m still alive so it can’t have been that bad. 

What did I eat? 

Breakfast in the hotel was alright. Lots and lots and lots of options but not much for me – but what they had was good enough – tofu, vegetables and papaya, all washed down with a green tea. No pic. 

On another day we went to a typical Burmese tea house for breakfast. Lucky Seven is a popular chain, all staffed by young school boys (supported by the restaurant to stay in school). Lovely Chinese tea and a lemon soda to start. There was only one thing I was going to order off the expressive menu – yep. Aloo Puri. Again. Good choice. It was excellent – crispy, light, nice potato curry – perfect breakfast. This was such an excellent experience – I loved it! No other lunches for me – too hot to eat!

Dinners? Well, after our epic lunch in Mandalay to prep ourselves for the train ride, my ‘dinner’ consisted of nuts, local crisps, Oreos (coconut flavour – they were alright, but wouldn’t buy them again!). And local Mandalay rum with warm coke. The rum was cheaper than most of the food we bought! It was very pleasant and went down very very well! We also kept hydrated….as for the names of the water.. lol, very macho! 


Our final dinner in Yangon was at New Doreen where the menu made me chuckle. Lemon soda and a stellar tofu, spinach and pineapple (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) dish with rice. Most enjoyable, but not as much as reading the menu. 


What did I do?

While on the train? Not much other than eat and laugh and check out people at station stops. There wasn’t much sleeping, and before it got dark we did see a lovely sunset. We did have the local train lads popping in a few times to practice their English and get us cold water. Very entertaining!

In Yangon? We went to a couple of highlights for me in Burma. One was the Shwedagon Pagoda. Slap bang in the middle of city, it is a sprawling temple complex with lots of mini temples and stupas – all blingy, but this time, not a bad thing. I walked around taking in all the temples (there is a handy temple map) and even went to the onsite museum. Primarily because it was air conditioned but once I got there I was genuinely interested. My kind of museum – not too big, full of interesting stories about the Buddha, rooms of relics and mini stupas – very good. I also people watched for a long time. It was interesting to see how people used these temples – sleeping, chatting, praying, chanting, having picnics under the Buddha – very informal and relaxed. I really liked this place. 

The other place that was excellent was the reclining Buddha. Now everyone who goes to Wat Po in Thailand is impressed with the statue there. I thought that this was much better – less people for starters, and the Buddha’s feet were particular impressive. What I also loved were the little Buddha statues surrounding the big one – all holding various mudras. We are all the same!!!! The only thing that I wasn’t sure of was the effeminate face of the Buddha. Other than that – all very amazing. 


We also wentaround the city centre and were taken for an obligatory tourist stop – the Scott/Bogyoke Market. Was it worth it? Hell NO. Don’t go, unless you want to be be bored out of your mind seeing stall upon stall of the same jewellery, jade and wood carvings (made in China, of course). 

However all was not lost. I found a cool little shop outside the market called Yangoods – full of quirky Burmese momentos, but most were made of leather – which I wasn’t going to buy. I did find some beautiful ceramic coasters – job done.  

So that is all of Burma done and dusted for me. Bagan and Inle Lake were amazing – but I would go back when it is cooler. You can layer up and get warmer, but when you’re baking and there is no way of cooling down you’re fried. Pun fully intended. So it won’t be country I will come back to, but really glad I visited it. 

PB Travels… Irrawaddy River and Mandalay

I would not recommend this part of this trip to anyone. The plan was to spend 2 days on the Irrawady to Mandalay. 2 reasons – our ‘cruise ship’ turned out to be a cargo boat, and secondly – it was BAKING HOT (yes, Burma has been hot). So yes, this might also be my fault – bad choice of trip and timing, but never again. So the tour company obviously tried to romanticise it by throwing in sentences like leisurely going up the Irrawady and sleeping on the upper deck underneath the stars. Far from. Check out the inside.. luxury! 

So the boat was pretty rubbish, but I did meet some travellers later who also did a cruise (on a much nicer boat – but different time of the year and they loved it.) One man’s poison..  The only redeeming factor? The food. We got to Mandalay to – thankfully – a decent hotel which helped enormously.

Where am I staying?

Hotel Marvel, on top of one of the main train stations in Mandalay.  The rooms were lovely and cool – both in choice of colour and temperature. Don’t ask me about walking distances to the nearest attractions – you’re having a laugh! 

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor? Zero, zilch, nada. 
  • Bed = 9/10. Perfect bed, perfect pillows – I slept like a baby, but that might be because of the lack of sleep the previous night. 
  • Shower= 10/10. Lovely hot water, amazing showers and lovely toiletries. Best one so far. 

What did I eat… On the boat

The food was proper home (well, boat) cooked food and it was so so delicious. Breakfast? Papaya, caramelised bananas (read: deep fried), toast, green tea and my PB. YUMMO.

Lunches were simple but stunningly good. And so much variety. Soup to start off with – looked like river water but tasted sensational. Full of vegetable goodness. I had tofu with bean sprouts, morning glory and this white bean mushy dhal kind of thing. With rice and a soy chilli sauce – whoa. Really really good, hearty and delicious. There was chicken and fish for the omnis. Dessert? These amazing sesame, peanut cookies which I could it!!!! I cleared the whole plate. Crumbly, nutty, moreish – we couldn’t stop eating them. 

The next day? Vermicelli and carrot soup (yummo) and veggie fried rice, jam packed with vegetables. I also got to try another Burmese dish – green tea leaf salad. On paper, just my kind of dish – green tea leaf, peanuts, garlic, chilli. Unfortunately everything was deep fried and it was one oily mess. I didn’t like it at all. 

Dinner was good, a green fest – rice with green beans, spinach and aubergine. The aubergine wasn’t as nice as the salad I had the other day – so left it alone. Not nice. I also tried the local beer – Myanmar – I needed something to cool down. Nice and light, but pretty sweet. 

What did I eat… In the hotel

Breakfast in the hotel was a massive carnivorous spread. They had a vegetarian section full of French toast and waffles and pancakes. But they also had cereal. Cornflakes. And bran flakes. And SOY MILK. And cashew nuts. And dried fruit. And I had two bowls. After all the rice and veggies for breakfast, having a simple bowl of cereal (in an air conditioned room) was pure bliss. It has definitely made me even more grateful! I also had green tea and fresh, supersweet papaya and watermelon. 


Now. I’m sure Mandalay is a nice city and there is a lot to eat, but in that heat, I wasn’t going anywhere. So the rest of my meals (thankfully I was only there for one night) were in the comfort of the hotel. Dinner – Thai green curry with rice. Creamy and spicy and luscious.

Lunch? A delicious tofu and veggie fry with rice – and a massive portion at that. Super delicious with a punchy chilli kick. That was good thing as out guide told us to fill up on lunch as it was likely we wouldn’t be able to eat the food that was available on the overnight train to Yangon. 

What did I do?

There wasn’t much to do while cruising on the Irrawady. The scenery was dry, apart from a bridge or two or a temple or six. We literally sat around fanning ourselves trying to find a cool spot. The painful monotony was broken by meals and me reviewing my ankles – or should I say cankles. I have a decent pair of ankles if I say so myself but they had disappeared completely. What did I expect in that heat! I’ll spare you a picture of them. There was also virtually no wildlife around – though we did have a lot of luck playing spot the cow/buffalo/goat. 

The evening is was as it had cooled down, and I was looking forward to sleeping under a mosquito net under the stars. Sheets were crisp and clean, the bed, rather, mattress comfy. Sadly I didn’t take into account that some of my fellow passengers were snorers – serious ones at that.   If I share a room with snoring friends/families/partners they know what will happen to them it they snore – a sharp kick. But I couldn’t extend that gesture to my fellow travels. Lets just say it was a looooong night. 

We did disembark to go see a typical Burmese pottery village. This I loved – it was like stepping back in time. A real eye opener that made me feel even more grateful for what I have and the things I experience. 

We also nipped into Mingun – a town with a number of attractions. The second largest bell in the world at 90 tonnes, the stunningly mesmerising white wavy Mya Thein Tea pagoda, and my favourite – the unfinished pagoda. This was a spectacularly colossal structure – awe inspiring and mind boggling. It was built because of a case of mine will be bigger than yours – Kings I tell you. I absolutely loved this place – it was perfectly unfinished. 

The sunsets (top pic) and sunrises (bottom pic) were also spectacular – calming and peaceful and oh so beautiful. 

As for Mandalay, the thing worth seeing was the U Bein bridge – the longest teak bridge in the world. 1.7 km long with 6 rest houses at selected intervals. I didn’t do the whole stretch – too hot, yes, how ever did you guess?! But what I did do is steal ice from the drinks vendors on the bridge, stick it down my top, walk to a rest house and people watch. I could have sat there for the whole day.  So many interesting characters – rude boys checking out pretty girls, family days out, nuns, monks – loved it. 


So this has been another whinge post, and I think the combination of cooler weather and a nicer cruise boat would have made me think differently. Saying that I still enjoyed it – the pottery village, the unfinished pagoda and the U Bein bridge were highlights…

PB Travels… Bagan

The road to Bagan (forget Mandalay for now) was horrible. We were supposed to board a local express AIR CONDITIONED bus at 8am for our 8 hour journey (including 3 stops). We boarded. The AC did not come on. We were fobbed off for a while (even by our guide). But then it dawned on us.  NO AC.  For the whole journey. The whole way.  8 hours in 38 degrees c and not a trace of a breeze. 

OMG. Horrific. Looking back I’m not quite sure how I did it. Saying that though, at least I wasn’t on the more rustic local express!! Might have been cooler come to think of it.

A few things did make me chuckle… how many people had ginormous phones that they couldn’t even hold, and this sign – we are not usual people in Burma!!! 

Where am I staying?

Thazin Garden Hotel is a beautiful hotel. Set in lush grounds, the rooms were also very pretty. And there was AC so I spent about an hour lying comatose on the bed trying to cool down. And there was a pool. And the grounds were stunning. It actually reminded me of hotels in Goa. 

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor: non existent, I am pleased to report 
  • Bed: 6/10. Nice bed, horrible pillows 
  • Shower: 6/10. Decent enough to get me clean. 

What did I eat?

Breakfasts were in the hotel. The usual suspects – toast, eggs, but there was also a massive fruit plate, which was lush. And fresh fruit juice. Lusher.  I also had some fried rice. Fuel for the day, nothing more. The next day was better – beans on toast. And very Heinz-esqe tasting. I was a happy bunny. It is really the simple things I tell you. 

Lunches? By the poolside one day. The pool was just the right size, not deep though, but supercool. You might think ‘she can’t stop carrying on about the heat’. But as some of you, well, most of my close friends, know how unstable my temperature gauge and window are, I was pretty uncomfortable. 

Anyway. Lunch. CHIPS, like the chips of my childhood at PSC. Fat, crispy, soft, perfectly done. All I needed was a dodgy ketchup and an orange Fanta :).  I also ordered another Burmese speciality. Tomato Salad. Tomatoes, onions, peanuts, peanut sauce and chilli – YUMMY. Cooling, refreshing, peanutty. Delicious. A G&T completed the meal. Perfect. I was too hot to eat lunch on any of the other days.

Dinners? So after the epic bus ride, we went out for dinner to a local shack and I ordered veggie curry with coconut rice. As soon as the food arrived, I looked at it (it looked very nice) and instantly became nauseous.  Too much heat.. I had to walk away, run to my air conditioned room and collapse. I woke up the next morning feeling much better. 

Final Bagan dinner in the hotel. Too hot and lazy to go anywhere, we sat in the hotel grounds under a lit stupa. Definitely one of the nicest places I’ve had dinner. What was for dinner? “Tomatoes cooked the local way with vegetables”. Hmmm. Intriguing.  Menu description. I was thinking a ratatouille. I even asked if that it what it was – yes madam. Yes. I got a bowl of tomato sauce and raw vegetables for dipping – more tomato, cucumber, lettuce, herbs and about 5 potent chillies. Served with rice. 

I mixed everything up and it tasted pretty good. Those tomatoes were so super sweet and tangy and delicious, I absolutely loved eating this. 

What did I do?

I saw multiple stupas and temples. Dhammayangi Temple, Sulamani Temple, Paya Thone Zu temple, Ananda Paya… To be honest I was so hot to keep track of each of the places, but I will say they were all stunning. There is old Bagan and new Bagan. Old Bagan is where majority of the stupas are. I absolutely loved this place. A refreshing change after all the gilded gold stupas, these were made of brick – untouched, unassuming and grand. 

We went to a number of temples and drove around all the stupas, it was excellent. One of the temples we went to had massive statues of the Buddha. Depending on the angle, the same Buddha could be serious or grinning.  There was a blingy temple, so OTT that it actually looked really good. 


We also went to the five level temple for the sunset. Really steep stairs going up and down, but there was a handrail that was used by virtually everyone. Other downside? There were loads of people there for the same reason -‘so it was pretty packed. Everyone was huddling on the top most level – I decided to stay on level 4. Good decision, and the views stunning. The guys above me said it got too busy up there and it was more about jostling for a spot rather then enjoying the view. 

Even just walking around the stupas stumbling across villages was brilliant for people watching. I love taking photos of people and this was definitely the place for that. I know we touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of temples and stupas in Bagan, but my oh my. What a beautiful place. Really breathtaking. I’d come back when it is freezing cold and do a hot air balloon ride… An absolute must see – please add it to your list if you haven’t yet been. 

PB Travels… Inle Lake

Ok. Let me be honest with you. My first impressions of Burma were not favourable. First of all, the temperature shot up by about 8 degrees – from a bearable 28/29 degrees c to a stifling 36/37 degrees. Combine that with a bus with air conditioning just for show and NO cool air/breeze, sheesh. I was not happy!

Border crossing from Thailand to Burma was effortless. I came in at Tachiliek and yes. You can use an e-visa here, despite all the conflicting info you read on the internet. I went to the embassy in London which wasn’t a problem for me, but other people in the group I’ve joined had to send theirs off at additional cost and worry. You don’t have to!

We made our way to the airport near the border. Airport? Well think of your standard bus station in rural India – that was the airport. No cooling facility, (naturally) heated metal seats and very very grubby. The service on the flight with Yangon Airways was very good, and so was the food for those who experienced both. Everyone got 2 cakes and coffee/tea – I  couldn’t eat the cakes, so no food for me. 

The plane was filthy as hell though – I promptly feel asleep once in my seat and didn’t wake up until we landed. Maybe that is why the flight was good 🤣. We finally got to our hotel in Nyang Shwe – the gateway to Inle Lake. 

Where am I staying?

Hupin Hotel, a road away from the main street and market, a 10 minute walk from the pier to Inle Lake and that is all I can tell you. 

The hotel itself was not bad at all. I forgot to take a picture of my bedroom. It was bright, spacious and airy.  Ratings?

  • Grubbiness Factor: low, just a bit tired in places. 
  • Bed: 7/10. Nice hard bed but soft pillows for me. 
  • Shower: 9/10. Powerful, rain shower and really nice toiletries. Whoo!

What did I eat? 

Breakfasts were included in the hotel, eggs, pancakes, sausages, fried rice, banana bread. Nothing for me so I had the standard – banana and PB on toast. Didn’t take a pic of that. But what I did take a pic of was the breakfast that awaited me the next day. When the manager found out that I couldn’t eat much, she offered to bring me a home made breakfast. LOOK! 

Bearing in mind I haven’t had Indian food for about three weeks – this was a welcome sight. Roti! Puri! Aloo! Oh man. I had all those puris, one roti and most of the aloo. I was in heaven. I even took the rest of the food for the bus ride later that day. Thank you Hupin Hotel Manager! 

Lunch? One day – a simple one in the airport – a room with green plastic chairs and garish stuffed toys. I ordered a sprite – and I’m not a soda drinker, but I needed something to combat the heat and lack of air conditioning. I ordered mixed vegetables – which were loaded with pepper, not a bad thing in my book. Delicious, although I would have liked to have a bucket of ice at this point. To eat but preferably to sit in. 

We had lunch on the lake one day, and I was told by my guide that the eggplant salad is a speciality of Burma. I decided to dive in and order it. What arrived (along with my lime soda), was a seemingly simple and squishy plate of food. But my word. Aubergine is back on the menu! Loaded with fresh onion, fresh green chillies and a killer sauce, it hit the spot. Oh, and a snack of fried bean curd with a soy chilli dipping sauce also went down very well. 

Dinners? Hupin Restaurant, a 2 minute walk from the hotel – I couldn’t manage walking more in that heat. Thankfully the food was stunningly good.  I had the same stuff – tofu with veggies, fresh chillies and steaming rice. Proper Chinese food and it was excellent. Soft tofu, tangy, hot sauce (no MSG), crunchy veggies = bliss. 

The waiter was so so lovely, he even got me my own veggie soup when he found out I couldn’t eat the complimentary chicken soup. That soup might not look like much but is was so full of flavour. YUM! So recommend this place for the food and also because of the Bollywood movie playing in the TV screens 😬. 

What did I do?

I got hot and stayed hot. Other than roasting and sweating, we got on a long tail boat that took us across Inle Lake. Stunning scenery and we came across these fishermen of the lake, putting on a show for us.  




We made our way to a market that is held every 5 days – and this was a wonderful experience.  As you have now gathered, markets are a highlight for me. This one was still so raw and organic and full of so many interesting things – food, flowers, pots, mild intoxicants. And the people. Super friendly and curious, always up for a sign language conversation. After  walking around I ordered yet another sprite from the local market caff and people watched. Loved loved loved it.  

We then embarked, still on our boats (thank the Lord for brollys and cool breezes), on checking out the local craft action. I’ve seen silk weaving enough times, but what amazed me this time, and I’ve never seen it before, is thread made out of the stem of the lotus plant. Amazing to watch. The stuff produced is a really labour of love, and very expensive. I’m talking $90 USD for a thin long scarf. 


The other thing that I hadn’t seen before was cheroot making. Girls with beautifully manicured nails expertly rolling up cheroots, with a lining of newspaper and a corn husk filter. They also had them in different flavours – star anise, rum and banana – they all smelt pretty horrible.. whatever floats your boat I say. 


Next? A pagoda with 5 mini Buddha statues. Or they were once – you can’t see them anymore as people have plastered them with gold leaf. So although this was a temple and there were lots of locals, there were also lots of tourists – which meant someone decided it was a good idea to charge 500 kyats if you wanted to take photos. I decided not to pay – on principle – not with all the postcards and posters on sale all over the temple. I was also not impressed that women can’t get near the Buddha statues. Don’t appreciate any culture/religion that imposes such restrictions. 😤

Finally, another highlight. Even more so because the weather had cooled down so much and it was raining. Whoooo! The floating gardens of Inle Lake. Sweet potato,  chillies, and 60% of the region’s tomatoes are grown here. No pesticides, grown on the mud dredged from the lake, it was a very impressive sight! 


Inle Lake is very beautiful – it is really like a mini city and there is enough going on so there is something for everyone. The first taste of Burma – so far so good. Onward to Bagan, via public bus.