Travel Advice Myanmar

Three days later we were on our way back to Rangoon. We spent a night at the President Hotel, now the Thamada and also much tarted up. Again we took the Mandalay train north, this time getting off at Thazi a connecting place for transport en route to Inle Lake. We stayed in Nyaungshwe, the closest village to the lake, and went puttering around this large body of placid water in a motorised canoe. The lake is known for its leg rowers who stand at the back of their canoes and row with one leg wrapped around a single oar.

We saw Pagan’s famous temples and took the train back to Rangoon where we stayed at the Kandaggi Hotel formerly the British Rowing Club, transformed into a guesthouse on Lake Kandawgyi. Another charmingly ramshackle, rambling old place, delightfully full of character, it looked over the lake to the golden splendour of the Shwedagon Pagoda. It has also gone up in the world and is now the super swish Kandawgyi Palace.

Leaving the country this time, having learned from our previous experience, we arrived at the airport ridiculously early.

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The third time I visited Burma, a year later, I was travelling alone. Still allowed only a week’s visa, I fitted it in on my way to a month in Nepal. After a night at the Strand I took a ferry across the Yangon River to Syriam, now called Thanlyin. Once a major seaport, it was an interesting place to wander about in.

Then it was a sleeper on the train to Thazi to collect a bus to Kalaw, another former British hill station. Most travellers go to Kalaw because it is a base for treks into the surrounding mountains, but I just investigated the town and its markets where traders come down from hill villages to sell their goods.

One day I went by local transport to a village market some miles away and had to wait a long time at a wayside stop to return, standing under a bamboo shelter with a group of women. A young American man arrived and after a short while began agitating about the delay, and being a bit of a pain. When the bemo arrived, I spoke for the first time and he said in surprise, ‘Oh, I thought you were Burmese, you were so quiet. ’ I was dressed much the same as the local women in a long skirt and over blouse so I suppose this was a reasonable assumption. I climbed into the back of the small covered truck with the women and we sat facing each other in two rows. The boy got up on the roof with a couple of men. Before long we were stopped by soldiers at a road block. I realised then that I should have had a permit to travel into these hills and I began to worry. But when the soldiers looked into the back of the truck, all the women gently swayed forward just a little, like a breeze passing over a wheat field, enough to hide me. Then everyone pointed to the roof. The last I saw of the American boy he was standing in the road yelling at the soldiers.

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