After trekking to from Kalaw to Inle Lake we were a bit lazy when we got there. Our guesthouse in Inle Lake was one of my favorites of the whole trip. It was called Zawgi Inn and the whole place looked like a garden when you entered. Each place had its own separate bungalow with front porch. For breakfast, they gave you so much food! They gave you fruit and an omelette and pancake. The first morning at Inle we caught up on the internet and slept in for awhile. It was nice to just sit around a bit and relax after trekking for three days.
In the early afternoon, we borrowed bikes from our guesthouse and rode them around town and then out to the vineyard nearby. I can’t say that Myanmar is known for their wine, but we decided to check it out anyway because it was supposed to have really great views. We were not disappointed. The vineyard was stunning! In one direction it looked out over the mountains and in the other was the lake.
Nate and I first started out in their tasting room and for $5 you could try 4 different wines. The view was fantastic, but the wine was just alright. Everyone we had talked to had told us that the wine was terrible and tasted like vinegar. I wouldn’t go that far. I thought some of them were pretty good, but they would not be able to compete with places like Chile and Argentina. We took our time tasting each of the four slowly and just enjoying.
After, we headed over the restaurant that they had because it was a better view over the lake and it was going to be a better view for sunset. We bought and shared a bottle of wine and a cheese platter and waited for the sunset. For awhile, we were some of the only ones there, but the place really filled in around the sunset. After the sun set behind the mountains, we quickly rushed out so that we could ride our bikes home before dark. I was a slightly tipsy, which made riding a bit harder on the way back.
After we got back, we changed and then walked to find some dinner. I had found an Indian restaurant online and we headed there because we had loved all of the Indian food we had had so far. This place was very good, even though the service we really slow. At the winery, we had run into the group that we had dinner with the previous night and they told us that the hostel in town called Ostello Bello was having a St. Patricks Day party that night. So, we headed there afterwards to get some drinks. We didn’t see anyone we knew and it was a chill occasion, but they did have cheap drinks so we stayed for one drink and then left.
The following day was equally as lazy. Since we had already had the boat tour with our trek, we opted not to do another boat tour, which is the usual activity here. Instead, we biked around town. First, we went to sign up for a cooking class at Bamboo Delight. On the way to the vineyard the day before we had stopped in here to ask about volunteering opportunities. We had heard that they used their profits from the cooking school to have a free school for the local children to learn English. We wanted to teach English for the day, but unfortunately it was a weekend. So, we decided to take their cooking class instead to support the cause.
It turned out that we were the only ones taking the class that night which was really fun! Nate and I each got our own menu of food that we were going to make and then we got to work. I made green beans with a peanut sauce, tea leaf salad, and a lemongrass chicken. Nate made vegetable dumplings, banana leaf salad, and beef masala. The food was easy to make because someone else has prepped it for you and told you what to do the whole time. Also, it would difficult to make some of these dishes again because it would be hard to find the ingredients outside of Myanmar.
Yet, the whole experience was really fun and our teacher was great. He even showed me around the school and explained how the English school worked. I got to meet some of the students who were hanging around and practiced some English with them.
Right before dinner the power went out in the town, so they brought out candles. So, Nate and I even got a candle lit dinner which was really nice. The food was amazing! They even wrapped up the extra to take with us. All in all it was an amazing experience.
Our final activity in Lake Inle was the puppet show. I had seen this advertised on trip advisor and I thought it would be fun. Puppeteering is a dying art in Myanmar, but it used to be a big part of their culture. The man that performed was from a long line of puppeteers, but his children had no intention of keeping the tradition alive.
It was in a small room and there were only 6 of us there for the show. It lasted about 30 minutes and it had an tape that explained in English all of the dances. Then, he would perform with one puppet a dance. After, he would do the same with a different puppet. He did dances of women, men, demons, and even a puppet juggling. It was a really good time and I am glad to support this art form. He sells puppets as well, but I thought they were a bit creepy.
The following morning we woke up, had a leisurely breakfast, and then went to the bus stop in a town nearby to catch our bus to Nay Pyi Taw. Nay Pyi Taw is the capital of Myanmar, but it is a very new city built by the military government about 5 years ago. It was definitely built under the pretext of “build it and the people will come.” Well, they didn’t come. It seems mainly government officials and military lived there and the rest of the city was so empty!
Everything was very spread out and the city was organized in a way where they had themed areas. For example, all of the hotels had to be in hotel district 1 or hotel district 2. Yet, all of the hotel districts were far away from the bus station, train station, and restaurants. Taxis are not in abundance and are really expensive, so it was really hard to get around. There is very little public transportation.
We arrived in the city after dark and first tried to secure a taxi to our hotel. They were trying to charge us a lot for a ride and so finally we took two motorbike taxis for $4 each to our hotel. What we failed to realize was how spread how the city was. Additionally, we had not communicated clearly that our hotel was in district 2 and not district 1. So, we ended up on these motorbikes for 30 minutes on really empty highways getting more and more nervous about where they were taking us. My abs and legs hurt so much from having my heavy bag on my bag and trying to stay upright.
Finally, we reach our hotel called the Myat Thinzar Hotel, which was really nice. They had a restaurant on the premises so we grabbed a quick bite to eat before we passed out. Before we went to bed, we arranged to rent a motorbike for the following day, which again was more expensive than anywhere else, but it was completely worth it.
The following day we set out on our motorbike and our first stop was the defense services museum. This was a really interesting place, but also slightly creepy. You can tell they have spent millions of dollars on this gorgeous property with displays on tanks, planes, and even submarines outside. Then, on the inside are these huge halls of exhibits. They had sections for the air force, army, and navy which outlined military achievements. The awkward part is the way they described how to military has stopped all of the resistance movements combined with the fact that we were the only people in the entire museum. Also, in a country with limited air-conditioning, all of these large rooms were air-conditioned.
In each of the rooms we were escorted around by a military officer which was helpful sometimes when we could asked questions, but it felt like we were being chaperoned. We made out way through the 4 different air force rooms and then walked over the the army section. As we were walking up the steps to enter, we saw many vehicles entering the complex full of military. There were so many trucks!
We stood at the entrance and they were waving, so we waved to each of the vehicles as they entered. They all then got off the trucks and started walking into the museums. Evidently it was like a field trip for the cadets in the military and police force. They were all gawking at us as they walked up and I am unsure if a lot of them have seen a white person before. We were speculating that a lot of them are from small villages and then live isolated on military bases, so they may not have seen many tourists. As they walked up, we ended up taking pictures and selfies with probably 200 of them. I have never felt more like a celebrity in my life.
Then, we entered the army portion of the museum and found the part with the history of Myanmar, which was fascinating. It was different this time because the museum was full and people were staring at us the entire time. We were asked for many more selfies and a guy even gave me a silver ring. Nate joked that I was now married. All in all it was a really interesting experience.
Uppatasanti Pagoda during the day and at night
After the war museum, we headed to Uppatasanti Pagoda, which was a replica of the really famous pagoda in Yangon called Shwedagon Pagoda. Yet, they made it 10 cm shorter to still give reverence to the other famous pagoda. It was really beautiful! We didn’t want to pay to go in, so we just drove around the outside. Nearby there was also a huge reflection pool with a Buddha in the center and stands around the outside. We couldn’t figure out what this could be, but I took an amazing picture where kids were jumping down the stairs at the exact moment that I was taking a panorama.
We continued to drive around the city and it was just so creepy how the city was so empty. We were the only ones driving on these massive four lane highways. The medians were perfectly manicured and they had many traffic circles with gorgeous flower structures in the center. In front of their parliament building we found a 20 lane highway (10 lanes in each direction!). Who builds a 20 lane highway? Especially when there were probably 20 cars on the road total.
We also drove around the housing district because we had head that they housed government officials in them. The bizarre part of this was that depending on they department you worked for in the government, you had a different color house. So for example, everyone who worked for the department of agriculture would live in a green house.
We stopped by a local market and walked around to see the types of things that they were selling. I don’t think tourists visit the local markets there very often because they were really surprised to see us.
Finally, we headed to the water fountain garden. It was a small fee to enter, but the park was gorgeous and there were so many locals around. A lot of they were bathing in the fountains and it seemed like it was a family outing. We saw a whole area where they had a water fountain show with music and lights. Later when we returned to the same spot after dark, they had changed it to spray water straight up and were projecting music videos on it.
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at yet another Indian restaurant (we can’t get enough) and had diner. It was a little pricier, but the food was delicious!
The following morning we woke up early and headed to the train station to catch a train down to Yangon. We wanted to take the train to have a bit more time in the countryside before heading to our final city. It was a really chill and enjoyable ride down.
Once we arrived in Yangon, we took the local train to our guesthouse and checked in. After, we walked around the streets to find some food. We ended up in Chinatown and ate at a restaurant on their “bar street.” It was a busy street and each of the places was more like a bar than a restaurant.
We had looked at things to do in Yangon and nothing really interested us. So, the following morning we woke up, walked across the street to the movie theater, and saw the new King Kong movie in 3D for about $5. It was really good! Then, we just went on a walk toward the Shwedagon Pagoda to see where we ended up. We found a shopping mall and had a nice local lunch. We found a park right near the pagoda and rested there for awhile. We even found a tree that hung out over the water and had a nice little photo shoot.
Next, we walked to another park that had a crazy wood bridge out over the lake. The wood bridge was in such disrepair that we were nervous every step that we would fall through. In the park was a restaurant, so we sat outside and shared a beer.
Since it was now dark, we walked toward the Pagoda and we took pictures of it lit up. There was also another temple nearby that was very pretty.
The famous Shwedagon Pagoda
Finally, we had some dinner and walked back. On the way back we bought a bottle of wine with our remaining money and asked our guesthouse if we could drink it on the roof where we had breakfast.They went above and beyond and set up a little candlelit setting with wine glasses, snacks, and a candle. It was truly lovely and a great way to spend our last night together.
The following morning we woke up so early to get to the airport on time. Nate was headed to Kuala Lumpur and then Sri Lanka and I was headed home. Our flights left within 30 minutes of each other which was really convenient. Unfortunately, there were 2 international terminals and we were in different terminals.
It was really had to say goodbye to him because we had done most of our Southeast Asia travels together. I feel really blessed that I was able to meet him and spend the amount of time that I did. It made traveling much easier and fun and it was nice to have someone to share all of my experiences with. I will miss him a lot on the rest of my journey and sincerely hope that we meet again.