Tag Archives: Burma

My 2010 Travels

My. 2010 went by bloody quickly, didn’t it? I can’t believe it’s already a year ago that I was waking up on New Year’s Day on the lovely peaceful island of Gili Air in Indonesia after a rather large night of dancing on the beach with my mates Simon & Katie from back home.

2010 wasn’t a bad year at all as far as travelling concerned, as I got to see more countries than any year apart from 2009 (which made up the bulk of my round the world trip). So here’s what I got up to…

Indonesia
Me & Jackie the Orang Utan
After spending the new year in Gili Air, I made a quick stop back in Bali (where annoyingly I had both an iPod and my new shorts stolen) before flying off to the other end of the archipelago to the huge island of Sumatra to spend a couple of days chilling out on the shores of Lake Toba and then trekking through the jungle to see Orang Utans in Bukit Lawang – which was an absolutely incredible experience, getting to see such beautiful creatures close up.

Malaysia
Petronas Towers
I had a quick stop off in Kuala Lumpur, giving me enough time to see the Petronas Towers, watch Avatar in 3D (and wish I hadn’t bothered), do a bit of shopping and stuff myself full of amazing Malaysian food. I had planned to spend more time there in February, but my planned visit coincided with Chinese New Year and everything was booked up. So I shall have to return another time to see all the things I want to see.

The Philippines
Malapascua Philippines beach acrobatics
The Philippines were never on my original travel itinerary but thanks to an amazingly cheap sale over at Air Asia I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss, and I am so glad I did – it was my favourite country of all the ones I visited in 2010. So many incredible experiences, from trekking through the stunning rice terraces of Batad, seeing the hanging coffins and incredible cave system of Sagada, seeing the best beaches of my life in Palawan, seeing the adorable little Tarsiers in Bohol, diving with Thresher Sharks in Malapascua, and best of all, swimming with whale sharks in Donsol, the absolute highlight of my entire round the world trip. Words cannot describe quite how incredible the experience of swimming just inches away from those beautiful creatures.

Singapore
Little India Singapore
February saw me spending a week in Singapore, eating more great food, doing a fair bit of shopping, catching up with my best mate from school, and taking a well-earned break from hectic travelling by watching lots of the winter Olympics. If I’m honest, I’d have to say Singapore was my least favourite country of all the ones I visited in my round the world trip, but it was worth visiting to see an old friend and to chill out.

Thailand
Injured in Thailand
I had planned to spend a bit longer in Thailand enjoying the beaches and doing some diving…but walking through a plate-glass window on my second day put paid to that, and I still have the scars to remind me. But I did get two separate visits to Bangkok, which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite cities in the world.

Burma / Myanmar
Bagan
The plus side of my accident was it meant I had to make new travel plans – and gave me time to fit in an extra country. The two weeks I spent in Burma were incredible – it was a real adventure from start to finish, I saw some amazing sights (the temples of Bagan are probably the most impressive ruins I have seen anywhere – I reckon even better than Angkor, Machu Picchu or Tikal), and spent time with the best group of fellow travellers I met all year.

Cambodia
Bayon, Angkor, Cambodia
March saw one final stop before heading home to England, but I had just enough time to see Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Angkor, before chilling out on an incredible private island off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Back Home
Glastonbury
I flew back to a bitterly cold and wet London on March 29th but was soon rewarded with three months off enjoying a beautiful spring of unemployment and plenty of time to explore bits of London I’d never seen before, and quickly remembered why I love this city so much. Elsewhere during the year I managed visits to Newcastle for a mate’s birthday, Edinburgh for the festival, Somerset for my sunniest and best ever Glastonbury festival, and Lyme Regis in Dorset for a wedding. But there was no way I was going to spend the rest of the year just in the UK…

Croatia
Dubrovnik panorama
I celebrated the end of my year of travels and unemployment with a week in Croatia in June, travelling down the gorgeous Dalmatian coastline, gorging myself on Italian food, narrowly avoiding being speared by sea urchins, and trying to escape the constant drone of vuvuzelas blasting out of all the football bars.

Nicaragua
Volcan Telica, Leon, Nicaragua
My final trip of the year took me to Nicaragua, which was the perfect two-week holiday spot – I spent a bit of time on both Pacific and Caribbean coasts, climbed up four volcanoes, explored the stunning cities of Leon & Granada, and drank far too much delicious Flor de Caña rum.

You can see my favourite photos from my 2010 travels here. And here’s a map showing all the places I went to:

Not a bad year at all. Nine countries, Nine world heritage sites, nineteen islands, five national parks, and nearly four months of travel in total.

So what does 2011 have in store for travels? Hopefully I’ll be skiing in Switzerland in February, and I’m currently considering my first ever trip to Africa with a possible trip to Madagascar in April. I’m also thinking of spending next Christmas doing a bit of hiking in Patagonia. Other than that I’m sure I’ll find time to fit in some mini breaks in Europe too. I might even finally get round to blogging about Nicaragua and the rest of Croatia.

Happy New Year to anyone still reading, and I hope you all have lots of exciting travels in 2011.

Impressions of Burma

It’s funny think that if I hadn’t walked through a glass door and ended up in hospital I might never have made it to Burma. But doing just that put paid to my plans to spend some time diving on the Andaman Coast, and finally made my mind up to book a flight to Yangon.

Yangon by night

Yangon by night

It’s probably worth saying straight off that for a long time I had been a supporter of the tourism boycott (that interestingly seems to have a far higher profile in the UK than in many other countries), but in the last year I’ve had numerous conversations with other travellers that had started me questioning my stance – and finally this year a friend of mine from back home who knows far more about Burma than anyone else I know talked me into it.

Ultimately the thing that swayed me was the argument that the boycott is damaging the people far more than it is the government (who don’t suffer that much at all thanks to being propped up with cash from lots of Asian governments like China). Sanctions mean that Burma gets way less development aid (about a quarter of the amount per capita) than near neighbours such as Bangladesh, Laos & Cambodia. Visiting as an independent tourist offers a way to give money directly to people running private businesses (incidentally the Lonely Planet is pretty helpful at advising you on how to minimise the amount of cash you spend that goes to the government), and we made a real effort to spread our cash around rather than spend it all in the same place. Furthermore, it was interesting to see quite how much people were willing to open up when talking one to one, about their views of the government – and it seems that the vast majority want tourists to come and see for themselves how the junta keeps the people poor and repressed.

I’m so glad I did make the decision to go, as the country was one of the highlights of the whole year of travelling. It was certainly the most intense experience of the whole year, with some amazing highs interspersed with some of the more challenging bits of the whole trip – most notably the rather terrible bus journeys and food that was often even worse (and had us leaping for joy at the sight of this restaurant in Nyaungshwe, by Inle Lake):

Inle Pancake Kingdom

The best pancakes in Burma

There were times too when the poverty became hard to bear – between the five of us, we tried to spread our money round as much as possible to help as many people as possible – but you have to acknowledge you can’t help everyone – which led to a sadly farcical situation in Inwa, where we decided we’d rather sight-see on foot, and spent the afternoon being followed around by a horse and cart driver desperately trying to persuade us to use his services (and being told repeatedly no). We ended up trying to escape him by taking short cuts across fields, but every time we thought we’d got away he’d turn up again.

No escape

No escape

Luckily though the highs easily outweighed the lows. I’ve already written about how Yangon is one of my favourite cities in Asia, on how Bagan really deserves to rival Angkor Wat in terms of global fame, and on the wonders of trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake.

Bridge over Inle Lake

Bridge over Inle Lake

But there were plenty of other highlights too. Inle Lake itself is absolutely stunning. It’s edges dissolve into a series of floating vegetable gardens and houses on stilts, so it’s hard to see where land ends and lake begins. Even better is taking a boat out early in the morning to explore the area – at that time of day on a clear day even the sky and the lake seem to blur into one.

Inle Lake fisherman Burma

The unique rowing style of the Inle Lake fishermen

Meanwhile around Mandalay it’s easy to spend a day stopping off at the former capitals of Inwa (with its rather amazing leaning tower), Sagaing (and its many temples on a hill overlooking the mighty River Irrawaddy) & Amarapura (with the rather incredible U Bein’s Bridge, at 1.2km long, the longest teak bridge in the world).

The leaning tower of Inwa

The leaning tower of Inwa

In terms of natural beauty and historic interest, the places I visited in Burma rival anything else I saw in Asia, and all with way fewer tourists than in most neighbouring countries (and all still pretty cheap too). Even better is the fact that in many ways its traditional culture is better preserved than many countries in the region. For a start, it’s the only Asian country I’ve been to where people still stick to traditional dress, with the clear majority of men & women preferring the skirt-like longyi over trousers. Equally distinctive is the use of thanaka, a creamy paste derived from a sandalwood-like tree, and which most women and children use on their faces and arms as a natural sunblock.

Sunset over U Bein's bridge

Sunset over the beautiful U Bein's bridge

Best of all though, yet again were the people. From the moment we arrived at Yangon airport to the moment we left, we were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people we met everywhere. Everyone says mingala ba (hello) in the street, people regularly stop just to have a chat, and people go out of their way to be helpful, and even when times got a little bit stressful people were always there to help cheer us up. People constantly surprised us with their reactions, like the woman from Inle Pancake kingdom who chased us down the road to try to return the money we’d left as a tip (she thought we’d accidentally overpaid). It’s a great tribute to the people that they manage to remain so friendly and upbeat despite the best efforts of the government, and I hope one day soon that they get to escape from military rule.

You can see all of my photos of Buma here.

Next (and final) stop: Cambodia

Bagan: Nearly as many punctures as temples

With over 4,400 temples in a space the size of Manhattan, the biggest problem you face is deciding where to start. Especially when you’re still recovering from a dreadful bus journey.Bagan Temple

Our bus from Inle Lake was ‘only’ supposed to take 12 hours, but it started to go wrong from the start. Our taxi dropped us off at the road junction at 4am, only for us to sit there shivering for an hour by the side of the road while we waited for the bus to turn up. If it wasn’t for the nearby hot donut stand I think I may have cried. Eventually, though, it turned up, and we began the long, slow winding journey down through the mountains. Progress was glacially slow, as we seemed to stop EVERYWHERE to pick people up – and this on a bus so small that each seat only sat one and a half people, meaning we had to take in turns to be the one with one bum cheek balancing on the seat and the other hanging off into the aisle. Although at least this was balanced out by the ability to stretch one leg out – for the leg room was minute, and not helped by the fact that the area under the seats was stuffed with luggage.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we then ended up stranded in Kalaw for about three hours with a damaged axle. It all got a bit much for Sam who decided to run down the road to try to by a plane ticket to Bagan instead. I was on the verge of cracking as well, when eventually they fixed it and we were back on our way. And in the end we were only 5 hours late – that’s 17 hours stuck on a bus, and without doubt the worst journey in over 11 months of travelling.Bagan Temple

With such a nightmare behind us, it was an easy decision to spend the next day on a tour rather than under our own steam, so we hired a couple of horse & carts, and spent the day being driven around the major temples.

As we drove down the main road from Nyaung U towards Old Bagan, it soon began to become apparent quite how many temples there are in the area – they are literally everywhere. The site is on a wide, flat plan in the bend of a river. It’s a very dry region, so it has an almost desert like feel, with smaller bushes and trees rather than being thickly forested – and one of the benefits of this is that its easy to appreciate quite how big the site is and quite how many temples there are stretching away as far as the eye can see in every direction.

They were built over a period of hundreds of years, with each successive ruler wanting to leave his mark in a different way, meaning that the temples are in a variety of styles, shapes, and sizes, from tiny to gobsmackingly large. Some of the them have fantastic beautifully painted interiors. Others have huge stone buddhas in varying positions. Many have massively thick walls and are dark and mysterious inside. Others allow streams of natural light pouring in from different doorways. Here and there you come across ones that are still being repaired after a devastating earthquake in 1975. Bagan Temple

Best of all are the ones that allow you up onto the roof, from where you can really appreciate the scale of Bagan. Our cart driver clearly knew what he was doing though – for he saved the best til last. Just before taking us home, he took us to a small temple just outside the city walls. From there we climbed to the roof – and were rewarded with the best view we’d had to date, with all the biggest temples lined up around us. I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the biggest and best ruins in the world in the past – Teotihuacan, Machu Picchu, Borobodur, Tikal, Ephesus – and none of them even come close to matching the scale of Bagan. Utterly breathtaking.Bagan Temples

Feeling refreshed after an easy day being driven around, and a good night’s sleep, we decided that for the next day we’d take a more strenuous option, and hire some bikes to get a bit more off the beaten track.

This turned out to be the worst decision of the trip so far (yes, even worse than eating in bus station in Yangon). For getting off the beaten track meant getting off the roads, to see the temples of the central plain. It started to go wrong almost immediately as we soon found ourselves cycling into thick sand that made peddling impossible, so our progress was slowed as we kept having to stop, then push the bikes for a bit, then get back on, and then off again….Bagan Temple

As if that wasn’t bad enough, things soon started to get worse. One by one, we all succumbed to punctures. First one wheel, then the other, until all five of us had two flat tires. The culprit? The whole area was growing with thorny bushes, leaving vicious, 2cm long thorns everywhere. The combination of flat tyres and thick sand made riding impossible, so we were forced to push on, getting more and more dehydrated. Things soon got even worse, when am cycled over a branch and had some thorns whipped across his leg – producing quite a lot of blood. Consulting the map we realised we were still quite some distance from roads in every direction, and with steadily dipping morale we pressed on, abandoning plans to see certain temples in favour of the most direct route back.

Just as we were about to collapse, we turned a corner…and found the first people we’d come across all day, at a remote temple in the middle of nowhere. We were delighted to find they had a little shack selling cold drinks. And even more so to find they could actually repair our punctures – it turned out that each bike had dozens, and in the end it took five of them a good hour to fix, while we cooled off.

Refreshed and revived, with working bikes again, we were delighted to find from there on in, that the dirt road was wide, smooth, and clear of thorns – and the rest of the day passed by like a dream, stopping every hundred metres or so for yet another stunning temple. There really is nowhere quite like it in the world.

Bagan Temple Gang

The Burma Gang: Sam, Frankie, Andrew & Tony

Two days was enough however – as after that we were truly templed out, and I was beginning to worry whether or not visiting Angkor at in a week’s time would really be a good idea….

You can see all my photos of Bagan here.

Hiking to Inle Lake

Nice as Kalaw was, we weren’t really there to see the town. No, we’d put up with the nightmare bus journey so that we could hike through the hills to Inle Lake, stopping off at various hill-tribe villages along the way.

We’d originally planned to do a three-day hike, but after the little attack of food poisoning that had hit half of our party, we decided it was probably safer to stick to two days. There was still no sign of Tony, who we’d had to leave behind half way to Kalaw, but in his place we were joined by the lovely Nieves from Spain, who I’d spent a lovely couple of weeks with in Indonesia before Christmas, and who happened to arrive in Kalaw the same day as us (backpacking really makes the world feel like a small place).

Sam and Frankie were a bit worried that the hike would be a bit much of an effort as they were still recovering from illness, but luckily we were dealing more with gentle rolling hills than great big mountains, and being slightly higher up, it wasn’t even too hot – perfect hiking weather. It was beautiful right from the start – a wonderfully unspoilt pre-industrial landscape of rolling hills and fields still being farmed by hand, using buffalo-drawn carts in place of anything mechanical.

The local landscape

The real highlight of the hike though was stopping in the villages – these routes still don’t see a lot of tourists, and so we were greeted nervously by the villagers in many cases – although when it turned out our guide could also speak various different local languages in addition to his native tongue, it opened a few more doors and helped the villagers to relax in our presence, and had them asking as many questions about us as we did about them. I felt a little bit sorry for the young children though – in almost every case they burst out crying and ran away as soon as they saw us. Not the best reaction in the world!

Pa-O Villagers

Pa-O Villagers

Unfortunately we had a slightly disruptive effect in another village just before lunch – we happened to turn up on the day of a village festival. As we came round the corner, we saw most of the village on their knees at the entrance of a large hut, celebrating the festival. I’m guessing it must have all been a bit dull for the kids, as these ones came running after us as they were fascinated in us (and our cameras in particular). They insisted on posing for photo after photo (and absolutely loving the results). It was all great fun but I do feel a bit bad for disrupting the village festival. Whoops.

Local celebrities

Soon after that we were invited into another family’s home, where we had tea (and where the matriarch of the house quizzed the three boys about whether we were single or not and would we like to marry her daughters or niece?!). That’s certainly the first time I’ve ever been proposed to.

After a long first day we finally made it to our night stop – where we’d be staying on the floor of a teak monastery. Meeting (and chatting) to the rather deaf Abbott was a rather interesting experience, and yet again we had more fun with some of the local village kids who came round to see who the visitors were.

Pleased to see us

Day two of the walk was much easier – as we headed mostly downhill from the village towards the lake (although we were also slightly nervous about the fact our guide warned us we’d need to look out for poisonous snakes escaping from the controlled burning that farmers were doing just a short distance from the path!).

Water Buffalo

The walk was a magnificent experience – the villagers we met are mostly still living a very traditional lifestyle, and were wonderfully friendly to us. I’d love to go back again though at the end of the rainy season (rather than at the end of the dry season, which is when we there), as I bet the landscape looks even better lush and green, rather than the dusty brown we got to see.

Possibly best of all though was the fact that we’d made it two whole days without major incident!

You can see all of my photos of the trek here.

Only just making it to Kalaw

We packed so much into our first day in Yangon that we decided to change our plans and head straight for the hills the following day – on our first night bus of the trip. Tempting as it would have been to fly, I’d done a fair bit too much of that of late (well, Indonesia & the Philippines being island nations gave me an excuse to be nice and lazy) and so I had no choice but to go for the 17 hour bus – the longest single bus journey I’d taken since Argentina, and I had a sneaky suspicion that Burmese buses wouldn’t quite be up Latin American levels of luxury.

With such a long journey ahead of us, we stopped off to refuel at the bus station. Experienced travellers will already have spotted our mistake there and then – bus stations around the world are hardly noted for their gourmet cuisine, and this one was no exception. Filled up with rather unpleasantly greasy chicken and vegetable curries, we got on the bus and settled in for the long journey north.

Burmese bus station food

The offending meal. The dish in the far left hand corner of the table was memorably described as 'cow's arse soup' by Tony. It may have been his downfall.

The plains north of Yangon are some of the flattest, dullest landscape I have encountered on any bus journey yet on this trip, but I wasn’t complaining, as flat = quick, and anyway, we were kept quite entertained by Burmese pop videos (best of which: a Burmese cover of Britney Spears’ Womanizer) and some rather slapstick comedy.

Soon enough we were to be introduced to one of the unbreakable rules of Burmese bus travel: they must stop every three hours on the dot so that the locals can all have a full meal. As everyone piled out and enthusiastically tucked in, we decided to abstain, which was probably a good move, as it was soon after getting on our way again that the troubles began. Tony started to feel very ill indeed, and after a couple of unscheduled stops, eventually had to be to be let off the bus – and ended up being dropped in the new national capital of Naypyidaw (it turned out to be quite an interesting experience for him – they don’t get to see many tourists, especially american ones!).

Birthday celebrations on the way to Kalaw

The remaining 80% put on a brave face for Frankie's birthday


Our second three hourly stop was at midnight, where, despite the loss of one fifth of our party, we managed a beer to celebrate Frankie’s birthday, before reluctantly heading back on the bus before it wound up into the mountains.

It soon became apparent that the food poisoning hadn’t just hit Tony, for soon enough Andrew and I started to hear groans from am & Frankie in the row behind us. I was worried we wouldn’t make it at all, but luckily, the building of a new road meant that it didn’t take 17 hours after all – but 12, and the bus dropped us off in Kalaw at 3am. By this time Sam and Frankie could barely speak, and only just made it to the hotel. Fortunately a very understanding owner showed us straight to our rooms and allowed us to delay check-in til the morning.

As always, I was very grateful for my iron stomach – and continued to be later that day, as our first meal in Kalaw turned out to be as greasy and flavourless as the one in the Yangon bus station. Burmese food was rapidly becoming the one thing we didn’t like about the country.

Kalaw Paya, Burma

Lovely Paya in the middle of Kalaw


The town itself was lovely, with a beautifully tiled Paya right in the centre, and another collection of golden Payas outside a cave full of Buddhas just outside the town, that all made for a lovely afternoon of walking around the town – well, lovely enough until we realised that Frankie’s birthday, already ruined by food poisoning, had plunged to even lower depths by losing her camera.

We soon fanned out round town to head to everywhere we’d been all day, and in the end it turned up – outside the Buddha cave. We headed back to the hotel to celebrate, with Sam & Frankie beginning to feel better (although still no sign of Tony), and it really felt like maybe our luck was beginning to turn – especially as the staff at the hotel insisted on buying us some food to help us celebrate. We were, understandably, rather wary, but the dish we ended up with, a salad of fermented tea leaves with nuts, garlic and chilli, turned out to be the nicest Asian salad I’ve ever had (and began to redeem Burmese food somewhat)

We had an early start planned again for the next day, so we soon headed to bed for an early night. Just three days in, and Burma was already turning out to be the most intense experience of my travels so far.

How to do Yangon in a day

Getting up at 4am is never the best way to start the day, but at least I was able to comfort myself with the knowledge that it was just going to be a ‘travel day’ – I planned to spend most of the day chilling out in Yangon, perhaps exploring a little bit of the city near to the hotel, with the serious business of sightseeing left to the following day after catching up with some sleep. Or so I’d thought – it all ended up far more hectic (and a lot more fun)

I travelled to Bangkok airport with Sam (an Englishman I’d met at the Burmese embassy a few days before, and subsequently bonded with over a nightmare adventure wandering around Bangkok trying to find suitable clean and unmarked US dollars to take to notoriously fussy Burma) and Frankie (a German who happened to be in the same hostel). A slight flight delay saw the three of us chatting to two Americans, Andrew & Tony, and so when we finally arrived in Burma, the five of us decided to head to a hostel together – the wonderful Motherland 2. Seriously, if you’re a backpacker planning a Burmese visit, this is totally the best place to start – they’ll come and pick you up from the airport (for free), give you loads of tips on what to do in the city and round the country, advice on getting the best exchange rates and book all your onward travel for you too.

Colonial building, yangon, myanmar

Faded colonial grandeur


After checking in, showering and changing, it was about 11am and the five of us decided it was time to head out for a little wander around town. The first thing that struck me was that Yangon is a gorgeous little city. There are loads of colonial-era buildings still standing, and the centre is much more low-rise than most in Asia (I’ve only really felt the same atmosphere in Lao cities), giving it a much more human scale and charm that I’ve really missed since leaving Latin America.

Unsurprisingly enough there are way fewer white faces on the streets of Yangon compared to Thailand, so we definitely stood out. But it became apparent straight away that this was going to be a very friendly country – armed with the one word of Burmese we’d picked up at the hotel (Mingalaba) we set about saying hello to everyone we passed and got plenty of amused smiles and Mingalabas in return.

Sule Paya, Yangon, Burma

Temple in a roundabout


As we approached our first major sight – the Sule Paya, a huge golden-domed temple in the middle of a roundabout at the heart of town – we had our first proper interaction with a local. We were stopped by an elderly monk (who looked remarkably like Yoda) who told us all about the Paya and then proudly displayed his world knowledge by giving us each a fact on finding out where we were all from (Chicago – Al Capone!; Germany – Angela Merkel!; London – John Terry! (yes, still no escaping the football even in Burma).

The monk was entertaining enough – but I’m not sure anything could quite have prepared us for our next meeting with a Burmese. Heading away from the Sule Paya, we were soon ambushed by a little old lady by the name of Ethel. Daw Ethel (who by her own admission talks a lot of blah blah blah) insisted we join her for tea, and so the five of us were soon perched on little stools by the side of the road, sharing tea and listening to a whole series of very entertaining monologues on subjects ranging from life in the city, to her childhood, and tips on travelling round the country. Ultimately she was trying to sell herself as a guide around the country – but lovely (and hysterical) as she was, the five of us all agreed that the blah blah blah would have left the five of us unable to get a word in edgeways for the rest of the trip so we regretfully declined, after buying her lunch for her time. (On a side note – I’d love to team her up with equally lovely-but-bonkersCynthia from Mexico and see what happened).

Yangonn, Myanmar

Quite a character


After wandering around admiring all the historic architecture, next stop was the market, to change some money on the black market (essential, as the official exchange rate is terrible). This required a trip to the main market, and wandering around asking various people about exhange rates, and then disappearing down an alleyway to do the deal – which involved tediously counting my way through hundreds of 1000 kyat notes to check I wasn’t being short-changed. As it turned out, my usual terrible currency luck continued – when we were there, the exchange rate was the worst its been in aaaages – although despite that, it still left me in the uncomfortable position of wandering around with three huge bricks of notes inside my rucksack.

We’d covered a fair bit of ground on foot by this point, so we were all starving. In typically adventurous tourist style, we shunned Burmese food and headed straight out for a curry at one of the numerous Indian restaurants in town (our subsequent experiences were to show that may not have been a bad move…). Suitably refuelled, we soon found ourselves abandoning our previous plans to head back to the hostel, and instead made our way up to the city’s highlight, the spectacular Shwedagon Paya.

Shwedagon Paya, Yangon, Burma

Day....

Words really can’t quite do justice to it – it sits on top of a hill, dominating the city, and is pretty enormous. It’s reached by four different staircases on each side, and as we reached the top we were pretty blown away by the scale of it, with dozens of spires and domes, all encrusted in gold, and packed with local families and monks paying their respects. We hung around for a couple of hours, soaking up the atmosphere and trying to take it all in, and then admiring the changing colours as the sun set. Quite remarkable.

Shwedagon Paya, Yangon, Burma

...and night

Of course by now it was dark and any thoughts of heading back went out of the window, and so we all hopped in a cab (five of us was a bit of a tight squeeze) and headed for a bar – which, being sunday night, was almost entirely empty, although predictably enough was showing a Spurs game. Regardless, we had a few drinks before piling into a bus back into town for a final few drinks at a street corner beer station by the Sule Paya, and then walking home through deserted straights to make it to bed around midnight.

Packed into a Yangon Taxi

Packed in a taxi

So my planned quiet start to my fortnight in Burma ended up being a 20 hour sightseeing marathon. But what a way to start – exploring a fascinating city on foot, meeting wonderful locals, seeing some great sights, and having a great time bonding with the four people who I was to end up spending the next two weeks with.

You can see all of my photos of Yangon here. Next stop – heading up to the hills (by way of a rather dramatic bus ride).