Travel Diary Burma: Inle Lake to Yangon

Luckily enough Ryan felt better the next day and we were able to explore Inle Lake. We got some bikes from the shop next door and started to ride west. We have heard of some hot springs, which would be worth a visit. As it was stinky hot we couldn’t imagine this being a good idea, but thought to give it a go. The springs turned out to be a spa with a $10 entry, so we skipped it and took a boat to the other side of the lake. We had a lovely lunch with a Danish couple we had met twice previously.

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Enjoying the boat ride

Afterwards we stopped at a winery on top of the hills and had a great wine tasting for $2. The wine was surprisingly good and the scenery was beautiful, but Ryan didn’t feel 100% well, so we went back to the hotel for some more washing for me and another nap for him.

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Wine tasting

For the next day we had booked a boat for exploring the lake a bit more. We meet our guide early in the morning and started the tour. It was a bit foggy and cold at the start, but seeing the scenery on the lake was beautiful. The local fishermen were already out trying to make a catch. They are famous for rowing with their legs while fishing. They also use a technique slapping a big stick on the water, so that the fish swims up in their nets.

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Fishermen getting ready for work

Our first stop was a local handicraft market were we purchased some Christmas presents, before visiting some more villages surrounding the lake. We visited silver shops, weaving companies, cigar factories and lots more. It was a bit annoying that they expect you to buy something everywhere but we still got some nice souvenirs to decent prices.

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The main attraction is just seeing how life is happening in and around Inle Lake. People washing, driving their boats, bringing kids to school and do their gardening.
We had a lovely lunch on the lake and visited some more Pagodas and monasteries. Our highlight was definitely the sunset on the lake. We met a traditional fishermen and he posed for some pictures with his gear while the sun slowly went down over the mountains. A great ending to our last full day at Inle Lake.

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We had the bus booked for the next afternoon and did some more cycling till after lunch.
We got picked up at 6pm for our 12 hour ride back to Yangon. The bus was surprisingly comfortable with big soft seats that declined quit well, pillows and blankets. Fortunately they turned off the TV at 11 and we all got some sleep. I have heard horrible stories about bus trips in Burma. It was scary to get up the mountains and drive them down in the pitch dark with trucks coming up the whole way, but still doable.

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Thank God we got our room in Yangon at 6am and could  have another nap before running around Yangon for some last-minute shopping.

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Burma was great and we loved every second of our trip. If you plan to go, do it now. There are still not that many tourists and you can enjoy some authenticity.
Now the bags are packed again and we are ready for our next destination… Cambodia.

So you want to Volunteer? A how-to guide for volunteering in Thailand

Our time at Baan Dada has been one of the highlights on our trip and is highly recommended. Giving something back to the less privileged is a great part of travelling and will show you the real Country (in our case Thailand) you stay in. Nevertheless, there are several factors to consider before you start volunteering. During our three-week stay we had two volunteers leaving after three days as they couldn’t cope with the circumstances. This doesn’t just make it difficult for the organization, but especially for the children you want to help.

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Hard work is a part of volunteering

 Volunteering is not a holiday

This is not a five-star hotel. You sweat, you stink, your back will hurt and the only available shower may be a bucket. You are in a different country, so there may just be a squatting toilet (and NEVER flush the toilet paper, it belongs in a separate bin). We were lucky to have a western toilet, but there was no flush, so you had to use the bucket.

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Toilet and shower for your time being at the orphanage

At the start we had a warm shower, but there were problems with the water connection, so the last two weeks we had to shower with cold water straight out of a bucket. On some days there wasn’t even running water at all at the volunteer house.
The volunteer room was basic with a thin matt (my back hated me for a week), a fan and a mosquito net. No luxuries but doable for the time being. There were bugs and mosquitos everywhere, one of the reason why one volunteer left early.
Obviously you get traditional food, in our case vegetarian Thai food which we loved. Eating rice three times a day became a little bit too much for me in the end and I bought some corn flakes at the local seven eleven 20 minutes away and some milk.

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If you give it a go, you will get a great reward

 Be proactive

Some of the volunteers were bored during their time at the orphanage. The kids went to school over the day and there wasn’t a lot to do (in their eyes). Don’t expect anyone to hold your hand guiding you along. This is about what is best for the children, not you. Try to find a task yourself. There is always something to do, especially labour work. Welding, building new toys, painting, office work, the list is endless. If you have a special skill, use it. I work in PR so I created a media kit for donations. If you are good at IT help with the website and so on.
If you cant find anything to do, ask the volunteer coordinator. They will find a job for you.

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Working, working, working

 Consider how long you stay

At Baan Dada you have to stay for at least a week. We were there for three and considered that a short amount. It is hard to change anything in 21 days, but seven seems even harder. It takes the kids a week to get used to you and it will take you a week to get used to your new environment. After a week you know the schedule and get used to teaching English. Try to stay as long as possible to get the best out of your experience. It is definitely worth it.

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Fun with other volunteers

 I hope the above tips will help you and wont scare you off. Volunteering is a great experience  which will change your point of view completely.

Travel Diary Burma: Kalaw to Inle Lake

After dropping our bag we left the hotel to find Sams Trekking. After doing some research he seemed to be the most recommended person for the three-day trekking tour. Sam has a little stop on the main road and invited us in. He is well in his 70s and has been an eager hiker himself in the past. Now he is just running the family business and let other people do the trekking. He recommended us two different treks, one passing five villages on the way, but therefore a bit more advanced, the other one seeing more landscape and being a bit easier. We went with the second option and teamed up with three girls from Belgium and one Dutch lady. Perfect.

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Let’s get started

Our trip started at nine o’clock the next day and we meet our guide Kutschi at Sam’s restaurant. We dropped our bags there as they would be transported to Inle Lake and started our hike with a little backpack for the next three days.

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Beautiful lunch view

Kutschi was great, his English was good and he had lots of great stories to tell along the way. We enjoyed some beautiful landscape and exhausting climbing through the rainforest, but it was an overall enjoyable experience. The great thing with Sam’s is, that he is doing a trek no other group does, so it was just us till lunchtime. We had a great lunch with a beautiful view and meet lots of traditionally dressed locals on the way.

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A traditional local lady

We spend our first night in a traditional village without power and running water. It gets really cold at night and I was lucky to have my warm fleece with me. We had our own cook and enjoyed some awesome homemade dishes by candlelight. We were all tired and hoping to go to bed, but Kutchi had one more thing planned. As it was the end of rainy season the local monastery celebrated the festival of lights. We all went up the mountain and got a candle in our hand. We then had to walk around the monastery with all the other locals. It was a great experience to walk around the foggy pagoda with an old monk watching us from above.

DSC_0975 After a cold night sleeping on the floor with several blankets we enjoyed a home-made breakfast with avocado salsa, toast, eggs and sweets. Ready for day two and more remote villages, rice fields and beautiful views. We met locals farming their land which is full with corn, tea, chilli and rice. Each village farms on one rice field together and the whole community shares the food. We saw cow carriages, people farming their land without machineries and traditional colorful clothes. The scenery seemed to change every half an hour.

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First night

We spend the second night in a nother village and had the opportunity to talk to the owner of the house we stayed in after dinner. She was a lovely lady in her 50s answering all our questions about village life and Burma. A unique experience.

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Our group

After a warmer night we had an awesome pancake breakfast and started the last leg of our tour. It was a bit it foggy at the start but the sun came trough shortly. We visited a local school watching the kids doing their morning prayers and went on with our walk. It was all downhill to Inle Lake from there. Unfortunately Ryan got sick along the way and had to throw up twice. Poor guy didn’t enjoy the last day at all. Kutchi was lovely and massaged his back and carried his backpack for the rest of the day.

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Going home after work

We arrived at Inle Lake around lunch time and had one last lunch together. It was then time to board our boat and get to the other side of the lake. It took us an hour and we got the first expressions of Inle Lake, a unique water world. People are growing their vegetables as growing fields on the middle of the lake and houses are built in and around it.

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Getting rice

Once we arrived it was time to say goodbye to our group, collect our bags and make our way to our hotel. As Ryan was sick I just picked the first accommodation so that the poor guy was able to have a sleep.

Travel Diary: Trips in Burma

Exploring cities and sights on a backpacker budget is of course the best option, but often you have to book some tours as well to enjoy and experience the country you are in.
Below are my recommendations for each city we have visited on our trip trough Burma. We often negotiated the price, but were always happy with what we paid. I probably could have paid less at some place, but I felt that the below prices are fair for what we received. We just did some sightseeing in Yangon. If not stated otherwise, all prices are payable in local currency.

 Kyaiktio

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Enjoy the Golden Rock

Return ticket to the Golden Rock $5 pp
Entry to the Golden Rock $6 

Bago

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One of the impressive Pagodas in Bago

Scooter trip around town $20 for two
This was for a four-hour scooter trip including two guides. They were driving us around town and we didn’t have to pay any further entries at the sights as they got us into back exits. They also stored our luggage at the bus stop office and transported it back to the train station. They approached us at the bus stop.

 Mandalay

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Get a bike and start exploring the city

Bike hire $1 pp for the whole day, can be organised everywhere around town
Boat trip to Bagan $40 pp
This included breakfast with different pastries, bread and banana and lunch (fried rice or noodles). You can book your tickets at your hotel, but it is cheaper to book them straight at the wharf.

 Bagan

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Exploring Bagan with a horse

Entry to Bagan is $10 (in US notes) and has to be paid by each tourist
Bike hire $1.50 pp for the whole day, ask your guest house
Horse carridge $18 from 9 am till sunset, ask your guest house
Your guide will ride you around old Bagan till sunset and drop you off at your hotel

 Kalaw !!!Highlight!!!

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Our friendly hosts

Three day hike $36 pp
This included guide, accompanying chef, food, accommodation, luggage transport and boat over Inle Lake. We booked with Sam’ Trekking Guide. He has a shop on the main road.

 Inle Lake

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Beautiful sunset at Inle Lake

Entry to Inle Lake $15 (in US Notes), has to be paid by each tourist
Bike hire $1.5 pp for the whole day, can be booked everywhere in town
Boat hire $23 for two
We had a boat from 8 am till sunset and stopped at all the important sights on the way. We visited handicraft markets, craft shops, different pagodas, temples and monasteries  Highlight is the sunset, so be sure to ask for it when you book your tour. Ask your hotel, one of the many agencies or a fisherman directly.

Travel Diary Burma: Bagan to Kalaw

I was really excited to finally arrive in Bagan. I knew that the following leg of our trip Bagan-Kalaw-Inle Lake would be the highlight of our time in Burma.
We arrived without any accommodation and got approached by one of the drivers at the landing stop. He drove us to one of the hotels, which was spacious and clean and we booked our room for the next three days.

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It was already 5 o clock but we decided to rent some bikes and try to see the sunset on top of one of the Pagodas. We couldn’t find the right spot and just stopped at one of the 4000 ones. A lovely local girl helped us to find a good spot and we enjoyed the breathtaking view of the surrounding temples in the light of the slowly sinking sun. A beautiful start to our trip.

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For the next days we had our bikes again and cycled from Pagoda to Pagoda in beautiful sunshine. The weather was hot and humid, but no reason for complains after rainy Mandalay.

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We had a map and lonely planet ready, but it was just to hard trying to find the right Pagodas, so we just dropped that plan and stopped wherever we liked. It was a great day and we got some amazing views over the temples. Wer climbed some of the Pagodas and each time were amazed how they have build these temples thousands of years ago without any machinery.

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We stayed in Nyaungshwe, the cheaper area and had some great Burmese food. After dinner we wanted to go to sleep, which unfortunately didn’t happen for me that night. As soon as I closed my eyes I heard loud praying over microphone outside. It went on for the whole night and even earplugs and music on top couldn’t overpower it.
The next day we found out that there was a Buddhist festival going on and there would be praying for the next three days 24 hours nonstop. Great!

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Nevertheless, our trip through Bagan continued. We had a horse carriage booked which picked us up in the early morning to show us around Old Bagan. We felt like being in the past riding on a carriage trough this beautiful old landscape. Our transport was quit comfortable, but slow, but it was a nice experience to see it from a horse´s perspective and our guide´s English was all right. We chatted about Burmese life and he showed us some beautiful temples.

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In the afternoon we slowly got bored. Of course, the Pagodas were still beautiful, but after 30 you start get the point of it.
Nevertheless we enjoyed another beautiful sunset over Bagan, a great end to our three-day stay.

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For the next day we had our bus booked to Kalaw, a little mountain village famous for its three-day hike to Inle Lake. Even though Kalaw is just 200 kms away  from Bagan it took us seven hours to arrive. At 4pm we were finally there and had just one mission: Getting a room and a spot on Sam´s Trekking Tour for the next day.

Travel Diary Burma: Where to stay

When we started our trip we planned to stay in double bedrooms with aircon and our own bathroom all the way. I had all hotels we wanted to stay in planned out and as most of them don’t have websites we decided to call them once in Burma. Nevertheless, the first three didn’t answer our calls and we decided to be spontaneous and book them once we arrive in town. This seemed to be a good option as we got approached in most places and where able to have a look at the rooms. If you plan to visit in high season, you may want to book ahead as we have heard that some travellers had some issues.
We also opted for some non bathroom options as they where lots cheaper. All hotels come with a breakfast containing of toast, jam and butter, fruit, eggs and coffee or tea. Prices are for two people

Yangon

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Ocean Pearl Inn from outside

Ocean Pearl Inn II (Aung Si Guest House) www.oceanpearlinn.com
$25
This was the only hotel we had booked before our trip. Rooms are clean, it has a bathroom which was big and the cleanest I have seen on our trip, wifi was reliable, aircon worked and location is on the main street of Yangon. The owners are also really helpful. It comes with a free airport pick up which was great as it takes nearly an hour to get into town. One of our more expensive picks, but a great start to the trip.

Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock)

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Pann Myo Thu Inn: Small and a bit smelly

Pann Myo Thu Inn, phone 60285
$14
We got approached at the bus stop and this hotel seemed to be a good option. For this price you get a fan and private bathroom with a cold shower, which was all right. Room was seriously small and started to smell like paint once it started to rain. Not our favorite but ok for one night. There is no wifi in any hotes, but you have reception at the bus stop

Mandalay

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Outside area of the Royal Guesthouse

Royal Guesthouse, phone 31400
$17
We got a nice big three bedroom for the two us with fan and a  shared hot shower which was nice after a rainy day. It is located close to the Grand Palace. Don’t buy your tickets here as they seem to be $5 more than everywhere else. Also ask for a recite once you have paid as they tried to charge us twice. Wifi was good.

Bagan !!! Our Favourite!!!

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Big rooms at The View Point Guest House

View Point Guest House 06161070
$14
This place was awesome. We got a massive three bedroom with aircon and shared  bathroom, which wasn’t the cleanest but ok. The downstairs sitting area is beautiful and the girls running this place are amazing. Wifi may drop out from time to time, but this seems to be a general problem in Bagan. They also rent out bikes ($1,5 per day) and escooters ($8 per day)

Kalaw

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Nice view at the Golden Lily

Golden Lily Guest House, phone 50108
$7
Golden Lily doesn’t have the best reputation under travellers, but for that price it was a real bargain. They try to up sell you on their hiking trips and badmouth their competition, but the room was nice. We didn’t had a fan or aircon, but a thick blanket as it gets cold at night. The bathrooms could need some work and the showers just have warm water in the morning. The balcony has a beautiful view over the mountains. Breakfast was labeled as Indian breakfast, but just contained of an old banana, an egg and a small piece of flat bread. The promised wifi didn’t exist. Good for one night.

 Inle Lake

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Lucky Bright Hotel´s nice upstairs area

Lucky Bright Hotel http://www.luckybrighthotel.com/contact.html 
$25
Ryan was ill when we arrived here, so we took one of the closest hotels to the pier. The room was nice with a fan and private bathroom and breakfast came with an additional pancake and a nice upstairs sitting area. Wifi was not very good.

 

Travel Diary Burma: Mandalay to Bagan

As mentioned beforehand, we didn’t arrived in the best condition in Mandalay. I was tired and grumpy and the weather didn’t help to light up my mood. The cab driver wanted $6 dollar for the short trip to our preferred hotel, so we decided to walk trough the rain. Completely soaked we arrived and where lucky enough to get a room. We dumped our luggage, got the rain coats out and started exploring Mandalay.
I wasn’t to impressed by the city, but bad weather and a lack of sleep can make the most beautiful place dumb and boring.

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View from Mandalay Hill

 

It is pretty easy to get around town as all the streets are labeled in numbers. You normally have to pay $10 for a ticket covering the main sights of the city, but no one approached us. We visited some monestries, Buddha statues and pagodas and decided to have an early night hoping for better weather. The first hot shower since Yangon felt like heaven after being completely wet.

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Entry to Mandalay Hill

We where lucky the next day as it was overcast, but no rain, so we decided to get some bikes and explore the surroundings of Mandalay. Riding a bike was an adventure itself. The city has nearly one million inhabitants, but just a handful of traffic lights. We just decided to do it as the locals do and ride whenever a motorcycle or car on our street drove. Lucky enough we survived the ride and it was a lot of fun.

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Monks lining up for lunch

It took us around 45 min (and a lot of asking around) before we arrived in Amarapura, the city of Immortality. We visited the Gamayon Kyaung Monestry, famous for its 10.30 lunch. Hundreds of monks are lining up to be served food, their last meal of the day.

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Beautiful U Nein´s Bridge

Afterwards we went to the famous U Bein´s Bridge, with 1.2 kms the world´s longest teak bridge and an impressive 200 years old. Sadly, you get hassled by people trying to sell you souvenirs all the way. Still a beautiful sight and definitely worth the ride.

We returned to Mandalay and rode around the river, ready to buy our tickets for the boat to Bagan the next morning. As the weather still wasn’t perfect we wondered if it would be worth the money as the bus was a lot cheaper and quicker, but decided to give it a go as we have just heard good things about it.

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Get a bike and explore the city

As the weather was still holding up, we cycled around the Palace to Mandalay Hill, a 45 minute barefoot hike up the hill trough temples and pagodas. We had a great view over the city and just got lucky as it started to rain the moment we arrived on top. Thank God the walk is covered and we returned back to our bikes and to the hotel.
We spend the night at the Skydeck bar, the only proper bar in town on a two storey house. We were the only customers and enjoyed $2 cocktails and a not spectacular view over the city. Going out in Mandalay is defintley not on top of my list, but we still had a great night.

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Our ship to Bagan

As our boat left at 630 am we went to bed early once again packing our bags. Our hotel arranged our pick up after a long discussion about our bill. We paid when we arrived, but didn’t ask for a recite. Lesson learned! Luckily we didn’t had to pay again in the end and were able to start the next leg of our trip.

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Beautiful scenery along the way

The weather was beautiful that morning and our boat was nice with a comfortable outside sitting area. We enjoyed a nice breakfast on board, beautiful landscapes and pagodas and I was able to catch up on some sleep. After nine hours we finally arrived in Bagan