Nov 17, 2015

Touring Myanmar

With the meditation retreat canceled, we had 10 days unexpectedly free to be tourists around the country. With only a 28 day visa, this actually turned out to be a huge blessing. It wasn't until we got to Yangon and started discussing where to go next and what to do that we realized how much we actually wanted to see the country beyond the inside of a meditation center. In just 5 of those 10 days that we'd have been locked up without looking at or speaking with another person, we:
Explored Yangon,
Tried to take a train to Bagan,
Were turned away from the train to Bagan,
Took a train to Inle Lake,
Visited 2 vineyards,
and had decided to come back to Myanmar again.

One might assume that pulling into the Yangon railway station without any plans in the city or knowing where we'd be sleeping that night would be stressful for us, but that person would be more like Elizabeth and Nick 9 months ago than today. In truth, since leaving Australia we can count on one hand the number of days that we entered a city with a reservation for a place to stay.

We found a hostel online and commenced a search for how to fill our 10 new-found days.

The original Pegu Club, famous gentleman's club from the 1800s and inspiration for the cocktail of the same name. It belongs to the dogs now, also mosquitoes that don't care you've literally just spayed on repellent

A speakeasy that's not a mass of abandoned buildings: the Blind Tiger. Nick ordered a Pegu Club in homage

A permanent and very famous fixture in Yangon, cemented to the dock, but traveling through time with its nightly "dinner and a show" performances of traditional dances and shows.

Myanmar is also famous for its street food. Most tourists probably wouldn't opt for the pig brain purchased off the side of a highway, but most tourists are not Nick.

An enjoyable time in Yangon was followed by a desire to see Bagan, land of a thousand temples. Bagan is a famous area in Myanmar, and Nick and I bent ourselves toward it as our next stop. A quick search on told us that the daily train would leave mid afternoon, and we showed up at the station to purchase our sleeper seats.

As quick aside, a shoutout to them as the most amazing website for train travel in foreign countries, countries like Indonesia, Myanmar especially. With Indonesia and Myanmar you're lucky to be able to find whether a train route even exists on any in-country websites, and are most likely to find that timetable information online consists of a badly translated version of "go the the station to find out the current timetable." Seat 61 has timetables, prices, and class information on trains in virtually every country.

Crowding around the station window (people in Myanmar don't love queuing) approximately an hour before our train was to leave, we learned through multiple attendant's broken English that the train to Bagan was going to be at least 9 hours late and quite possibly more. They would not sell us a ticket until the approximated 9 hours from now (11pm), when they would have a better idea of exactly how delayed it was likely to be. Relatively certain that this meant we would arrive back at 11 only to be told that the train was canceled or in something equally certain to strand us at a train station late into the night, we quickly changed plans. Bagan could wait, we would make our way up toward Mandalay from the East instead, hitting the popular Inle Lake.

Re-inserting ourselves into the crowd, we were able to successfully purchase sleeper car tickets leaving in just a couple hours. Our first train with a sleeper car!

We ordered dinner on the train, Nick chose "Fried Sparrow," those are 4 whole birds. Tiny, but whole. We didn't love the sparrow, but it was fun to try

Changed trains at sunrise

And were treated to some lovely views for the rest of the day

Inle Lake was a lovely area, full of more tourists than we had seen in a while, not since leaving Koh Tao, Thailand a few weeks prior. In the more Southern areas of Myanmar we'd seen basically no foreigners and in Yangon we'd met some, but they were mostly doing business here. Inle Lake, apparently, is where they were all hiding.

We took a boat tour around the lake, which I recommend to everyone who visits the area. It's kind of "the thing" in the area.

We saw local fishermen

Labeled for reuse by Paul Arps on Flickr:
The 5 Buddha statues at Paung Daw Oo temple on the lake. These statues were originally images of the Buddha, but have been covered in so much gold leaf by male worshipers. Women are not allowed to touch them

The barge used to annually take 4 of the 5 images around the lake. 1 image always remains within the temple

Additionally on the tour we were taken to see a silver jewelry making shop, a floating market, a knife making shop, a weaving factory, a restaurant, a boat maker, a temple, and a floating garden. All of this was actually on/in the lake. At one point our boat was going through a village where everyone's front porch had steps down into the water. These villagers had small, nearly flat boats with which they would get around. For some reason there was also a motorbike on someone's porch. No idea why or how, as we were no where near land, and the only boats we'd seen around were small canoes.

The floating garden, producer of thousands of tomatoes, supplying a large amount of the surrounding area. When we stepped foot onto it, our feet sank down 6 inches into the lakewater.

A bike ride around the area showed us some beautiful sites and some ruins

And ended at a beautiful vineyard offering tastings and a supply of surprisingly delicious wine

A second vineyard lay 20 km out of town and we decided to stop there on our way out of the lake area and toward our final charity destination...

Stay tuned for our final blog post under the heading of the charity campaign!

Nov 10, 2015

Meditation Disappointment

We made it to Mandalay!!
We are currently calculating our kilometer total and catching up on posts
Stay tuned for the details of this last leg of our adventure

We took a bit of a break while my parents met up with us in Thailand :)

As Nick and I stood on the train platform, tickets purchased, the sky began to lighten into a dull blue. Our train scooped us up and trundled into the sunrise. I have seen a few of these illusive sunrises now, and I maintain that sunset is where it's at. One can gallop romantically off into the sunset, but with sunrise I'm convinced that the closest to romance one can achieve is a galumph.

On this particularly early morning we were leaving behind the city of Dawei, Myanmar. Dawei was lovely, as Kawthoung and Myeik had been. Myanmar was so lovely it was exceeding my expectations, admittedly it wasn't hard as I had pretty much no idea what to expect and had made very few expectations. Dawei was my favorite of the first 3 cities. There was good food, we went on a beautiful bike ride, and everything aside from the hotel was super cheap. (Hotels in Myanmar are expensive!!)

Apparently fruity drinks come with raw eggs in them in Kawthoung. Also white bread

Myeik was the largest of the 3 first cities

Beautiful Dawei, also Elizabeth's fingertip because art

Beautiful scenery for biking

We hit biking rush hour with all the kids getting out of school

Now we were on our first train ride, and enjoying the amazing scenery between cat naps. This train was 24 hours and would bring us to Yangon in the early morning before our designated meeting time at the meditation center at noon. Even the early hour and the fact that there were no sleeper cars on the train couldn't dampen my excitement, we were on our way!! We made it across the restricted roads and didn't have to turn back and miss the meditation retreat to go back to Thailand!

We're on our waaaaay

A particularly bumpy section of track jostled us awake around midnight. I began re-positioning myself, ("maybe if I crouch down in my seat a bit I won't get thrown bodily into the air on the next bump") when Nick gently nudged my arm and wordlessly handed me his phone. An email shown starkly at me from the lit screen, an email from the meditation center. I read it once, uncomprehending. Was it more explicit directions for our arrival at their Yangon office in 12 hours? I rubbed my sleep filled eyes and tried again.

Dear Meditators,
We are very sorry to tell you about cancellation of the 10-day course
which will be held on 05th October, 2015 at Dhamma Nidhi Vipassana
Center, Inntakaw, Bago.
It will be cancelled due to having some difficulties.
Please see at <- a website with their schedule on it, the next meditation happening almost 2 months away. Visas are good for 28 days.
with regret,
Dhamma Service Team

That doesn't seem right. No, that can't be right. No, not now that we're this close! I looked over at Nick, blearily horrified. If I was still in doubt of what I read, his face solidified the truth. We weren't barreling toward our meditation anymore, just arriving at 6 AM in a random city.

While we would later reconcile the loss by deciding to return to Myanmar later and try again (at a different center), for the moment we were both feeling a bitter disappointment.