We had read so many things about Myanmar in the guide books and after a few weeks travelling through, its safe to say, the guide books need a little updating. Firstly, they say there are no ATMs. There are, definitely in all of the main towns as well as popping up in the smaller ones. One thing that was correct was you will be charged $5USD every time you get money out, so try and get as much as possible every time. Unfortunately, the one ATM in the airport only issued a maximum of 20,000 kyats, the equivalent of $20USD. So we were charged 25% on top. The guide books did say Myanmar was expensive.
They got that wrong too. After five minutes chatting to Simon, the owner of the fantastic Backpacker Myanmar in Yangon, we discovered we had over budgeted. Everywhere we had read – online and on blogs – we had never seen anything about overnight buses and it seemed the way to get from town to town was flying, or at times when it connected, rail. He said the buses were fine, and unless we were time poor, we should skip the flights as they are too expensive. We just need to book them from the town were leaving. With that advice, we headed out onto the, now monsoon and drenched streets of Yangon.
Within metres of walking, we had a feeling we would like this place. All the people would smile at you, there was no one yelling Tuk Tuk! Tuk Tuk!. And the smells from the street stalls were tempting us the more and more we walked. Again, we read the food was not great, lots of preserved fish and not much to it. We passed a stall selling a form of soup with Samosas. Somosas did not really seem local, but as it does border India, we thought local enough. We grabbed a seat on the ridiculously small stools and ordered a bowl. Wow! It was up there with the tastiest dish on our whole trip. The samosa is a samosa, nothing extravagant but included in the soup as crunchy texture it was great. The star was the soup though. The flavours were incredible. Sweet, salty, sour and spicy. Not usually a fan of mint other than on a shoulder of lamb, it worked really well in this. Taste buds tingling, we headed further along the street towards Bogyoge Aung San market. It’s closed on a Monday so we had to check it out today.
The east side of the market in the outer building housed a great antique store and some other shops selling artwork, fabric, the most important of all – hairbands – for Sarah. We wandered thought the rest of the market filled with fabric, jewellery, mass produced artwork and a lot of souvenirs. Not overly interested an any of that, we wandered through being distracted by the food. Ladies yelling out to us, trying to tempt us with their papaya salad. On their table, piles of the vegetables were being shredded for the daily trade. We skipped it and instead found a lovely lady on her own selling fish balls and a tofu snack. She offered us a try and we liked it so bought a bag. The tofu was okay, but the fish balls with a small salad was delicious and with a very large kick of spice. With the chilli sweats, we wandered back towards the hostel via Sule Pagoda, where we occupied a small bar for the rest of the afternoon, as it had the fastest internet in our trip to upload photos to this blog. We read there was limited, if any, wifi in Burma. They were wrong again.
After a good nights rest in our little capsule, we headed on out to Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the most important Pagoda’s in Myanmar. We were liking the country even more. After being harassed in Northern India by swarms of men at their most important monuments, it was a relief to wander amongst the people as they worshipped, ate food as a family or slept in the shade. The monks were smiling and when a little old monk wandered by, he gladly stood for a photo before walking away, not wanting anything in return. As the sun beat down, we decided it best to head back to the hostel, grab a bowl of food from the street cart below and pack our bags for our overnight bus to Inle Lake.
Although Simon said the buses were fine, we still were uncertain. After our recent bus journeys in Nepal (of which two buses have since crashed over the cliff edge) so we had some trepidation. We shared a car to the bus stop out of town, and dropped the girl at her bus first. We saw it, and thought, wow. That is the fanciest bus we have ever seen. I wonder how much her ticket cost? Ours won’t be like that. But it was. For £10 each, we had a bus like we had never seen before. The rows of wide leather seats, free water, free toothbrushes and toothpaste, free blankets and free biscuits. The flight was going to cost us £360