- Myanmar: Frozen in Time (South-East)
- Myanmar: Washed in Sandstone and Sunshine (Bagan)
- Myanmar: Burmese Days (and it’s tragedies) (Far North-Myiktyina)
- Myanmar: Discovering a world apart (North-East)
I didn’t have a clue what the hell I was doing, because I didn’t plan anything (like usual). Instead of heading west to Bagan (from Mandalay) I headed east and the first spot a few hours away, on a local bus, was Pyin-oo-win. A quiet, little city, and a guesthouse for tourists that was clear and easy to find -and cheap.
There are two things worth checking here, outside of the daily routine of wandering locality.
A beautiful waterfall, hidden down a long bush path, that sits behind a small, golden pagoda (by no great surprise).
Two young girls met me, with ice boxes (without ice) in their hands and they guided me down a very easy and basic path. At the end they offered me some no-name makeshift cola drinks (I overpaid). After glaring at this waterfall a while, drinking my horrible, fake coke (and getting harassed by local tourists) the girls appeared and pulled my hand to follow them.
They dragged me up a few more side-tracks and to another waterfall, and a small gully. It was grown over and I wanted to go sit in one of the little pools. I fell, and scraped my back. The girls brought some leaves off a tree and rubbed them against my skin. It was hard not to be taken in by it all.
A curious, and very dark, long cave full of plastic characters telling stories of Buddha, exists just outside the village. This cave is something unreal, and seems to go one forever, but its absolutely chalked with figurines. From snakes to wise men, cheesy painting makes it hard to be mystic.
On my way back from the cave, I got kicked in the stomach. I was riding on the back of a motorbike taxi (set up by the guesthouse). The day before, after the falls, and wandering around I had some fantastic swamp greens (spinach), with a great, home-made hot and sour sauce. The problem was, I also tried a chicken’s foot.
I knew it was a bad idea but bit into it all the same. I spent a few hours after the motorbike taxi dropped me off, 24 hours after the chicken foot, puking into a bucket, and suffering headaches of mass proportion (alone -highly disagreeable).
Here I met my first travel mates, and my last. Two French-Israelis, together we wandered the very simple, and exquisitally dusty, old, forgotten village where a beautiful garden of old overgrown pagodas were not too far from the only guesthouse in the village. Also, on this evening, a local carnival started kicking up in full form. After the three of us napped a while on a smooth, rooved, prayer area outside the central temple, we took to this monstorous exhibition.
The lights, and stands, and local eyes were all suffering from a lack of support, morally and financially; still they were determined to party, and party they did. The sticky rice, from bamboo shafts was the thing that stood out most to me; a man, golden and sparkling cheeks, with red-dyed teeth and a group of young Buddhists holding plastic machine guns, as well.
The Ferris wheel was something unimaginable. Without a motor, they relied on a few teen-aged (or older) guys to climb on this historic, dinosaur era Ferris wheel and use their weight to get it spinning. The folks sitting in little carriages had no safety bars, and when the momentum caught, they spun, screaming, around three or four times. It was a sight like no other.
In Hsipaw we were after a ride to a little village we were told about by an older man, a French traveller from decades before. He told us about a place called Nam Son. He said it was beautiful, extraordinary and a place you will struggle to find existing unspoiled, still, in this part of the world -or anywhere else. Good enough for me! I’m in!
We came with the dream (and an incredibly long journey ahead to arrive) and there was also a tale that a three day walk existed from Hsipaw to Nam Son.
*Something Highly Recommended!
Walk the way from Hsipaw to Nam San. If I regret anything, anywhere I have been, there is always a slot that I missed out on, that was within my grasp and this unique area…. courting it on foot, would be an equally, if not greater feat than that which I persued around Inlay Lake.
In Hsipaw, again we got to visit some very simple little nooks. And with a few of them some very simple -but quite good- local dishes, including some different kinds of tofu that they’ve stirred up. Also, some overcooked rice, that is cooked into a solid block (I think) and then shaved into noodles with a cheese grater. Unfathomable.
We had to get back to Kyaukme (or nearby in a smaller village) in order to get a little truck that would take us up to the top. I debated walking but chickened out sourly, after my friends bailed -time constraints. I’m ashamed to say, but at that time I didn’t have the same grit perhaps. In any event we had to wait one night, and instead of sitting around I took a broken bicycle from our guesthouse (for free) out of the village a while.
I was told about a waterfall so I went out to explore. On the way, I met a family, and a man of about 35 or so years old; they offered me some food. After refusing, he offered to take me to find a waterfall (without speaking English, but with simple hand gestures). He took me into this very, very forested area where we dug into the bush, thick and strong, passing big spiders and crossing rice paddies. We arrived to not one waterfall, but three -one very long (in the distance)- and a small cave with a small Buddha ornament! What a spot!
This man stopped to shave some mushrooms off a log, and let me swim in the little jungle falls at my own will. The place was so grown over. And somewhere else, surely, the man would have pushed me to pay him; this man (and every other man I met here) was happy to go for the stroll -or so it seemed to me.
*Those that did kind things, I wanted to return the favor with a little money or some food. It was never accepted, but once, with a man we called ‘Papa’ who walked with us for 3 hours, and after accepted a bottle of whiskey, he!
This gentility, without some mandatory traditional sequence; this simplicity stole my heart and I didn’t want to leave. And in Nam Son it only continued!
The High Plateau of Nam Son
A very simple village, but, if you look out, there are all kinds of little villages existing along very long, winding roads, through a whole lot of open, high hillside and rice terraces.
* I mentioned before to find an object sticking out from the landscape and walk towards it. I’ll say that again, just to remind you (the reader).
It felt like I could continue walking for days, and days (if it wasn’t for the government). Food wasn’t an issue, as everyone I passed offered me what little they had (I refused most of it). Everywhere I walked for two days, was just incredible with hosting of a unique kind. I’d not arrived in the Philippines yet, so I had nothing, nothing to compare. But, it just felt so incredible to be accepted into ‘the family’. The warmth was something so unique. Existence, simply existing -or at least that’s how it felt.
One woman, who spoke a bit of English, being a maid to a British family decades before, offered me some Pepsi. Where did she get this Pepsi? And how did she pay for it, I wondered. She’d been saving it for a special occasion? And I was the special occasion in this particular situation?
There were two flat beds on the floor, simple mattresses. She offered me one, while her, her husband and two children would share the other. Of course I made my way out, but loved the company-and the screaming baby at my ghostly face!
There was no way I was taking a bed, while I had my guesthouse but a few hours walking from there. The guesthouse was only 2 bucks at the time, so I wasn’t exactly put out -nor did I want to put them out. Everywhere I walked people danced with me or paused to shake hands or bow. Maybe yes, I was being treated specially, but I am sure this is just local custom whether I was White-Western or Latin-American or Ghana-African. I am sure it wouldn’t matter if I dropped in from Mars.
It was hard to leave this place and the government wouldn’t let us continue to Lashio or any further east. It was even harder to leave as we took a bus down to Mandalay and it broke down twice.
Basically, this place stole my heart, yes, and the journey was a long one, still. But that experience made it that much more inexorably into my spirit years later.
Instead of enjoying a week, free to roam, I got two days, because our little truck from Kyaukme took 12 hours (120 km) after it broke down twice! We stayed in a little house, and ate instant noodles at 3 a.m, while we waited for our little truck to be repaired (the first was oil spilling out the base of the truck, secondly, a tire and axle problem). We arrived early in the morning half a day after we’d left. And it took another half day more to get back there, as the bus broke down two more times!
My fairest and truest and well-fought memories, I cannot express how much gratitude I have for all the great hosts and folks I met all over Myanmar. Good Luck to you all! And your fore-runner Suu Kyi. I hope you guys can keep it simple, yet keep yourselves fed and smiling. So much love from this end, thank you.