Mingalabar from Myanmar!

Feb 27, 2014 | by Neil

Hi everyone.

So it’s been a while since our last email so we thought it was about time we updated you on what we’ve been doing.

We arrived in Mandalay on Tuesday 18th February. Our journey from Bangkok was fine although our flight was delayed by 2 hours. Mandalay reminded us of Siem Reap in Cambodia from when we visited Angkor Wat in 2006; a city behind in the times with no skyscrapers but just starting to become more modernised. Our hotel, the Gold Yadanar, was in the South of the city next to a shopping mall; Diamond Plaza. The mall was nothing like those we love in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, very modest with lots of vacant shops and the shops that did exist were pretty lame. We explored this part of Mandalay on our first day and found a restaurant for dinner ‘Authentic Myanmar Cuisine’ but we were both disappointed with our meal. On our second day we planned an itinerary; Mandalay Hill, Kyauktawgyi Paya and Mandalay Palace. Mandalay Hill is a 760ft hill in the North of the city which you climb barefoot (due to all of the pagodas that you walk through on the way up). The were lots of buddha statues on the climb and at the top there were fantastic views of the city. The walkways to the top were all covered so we managed to escape the sun on the climb up & down. According to legend, Buddha and his disciple Ananda climbed Mandalay Hill and prophesied the building of a great city (which turned out to be Mandalay), hence all of the shrines and pagodas. Next we visited Kyauktawgyi Paya; a Buddhist temple containing a 26ft tall, 900 tonne marble Buddha carved from a single block of marble. It was a spectacle but we were a bit Buddha’d out by then. Next was Mandalay Palace; before 1885 the fortress walls enclosed a royal city where King Thidaw reigned. During World War 2 the royal city was entirely destroyed but the central palace and its surrounding buildings were rebuilt in the 1990s. It was pretty impressive but a shame that none of the original buildings had survived. We ate at a Taiwanese restaurant in the evening and then had a few drinks with the locals at a roadside bar. The Burmese people we have met have all been very friendly. Tourism is still very new to Myanmar so lots of people say “hello” as they pass you and some even stand next to you whilst their friend takes a photo! The next day we visited U Bein’s Bridge; the world’s longest teak footbridge which goes over Taungthaman Lake. It was beautiful and we got some great photos! Later that afternoon we flew to Bagan.

Bagan is a 26 square mile area 118 miles South from Mandalay. It is crammed with over 4,000 stupas, pagodas & temples dating back to the 12th century and it was amazing! We arrived on Thursday 20th February just after 6pm so we got a taxi to our hotel (Thiri Marlar) and found a lovely local restaurant (Silver House) for an early dinner before heading to bed. We hired a guide and taxi for our first full day & our guide showed us around a selection of his favourite stupas, pagodas & temples as well as telling us about their history and educating us on Buddhism along the way. It was a really interesting day and the sites really were amazing. The next day we hired e-bikes (like scooters) and went exploring more stupas, pagodas & temples down dirt tracks and sandy paths. Jimmy has driven bikes on previous holidays so he found it easy to use the e-bike, I on the other hand had great difficulty keeping it going in a straight line! By the end of the day I was much more confident though and I even beat Jim in a race back to our hotel. :) That evening we went out for dinner with some people we made friends with at our hotel and they even paid for the meal! Bagan really was a magical place and we’ll definitely visit again in the future. Next time we plan to do a hot-air balloon ride over the sites as a lot of people we met recommended it and said how spectacular it was. We best get saving now as it comes at a price; $350 per person! The following day (Sunday 23rd February) a taxi picked us up at 06:15 to take us to the airport for our flight to Ngapali.

Ngapali is Myanmar’s beach hot-spot with pristine white sands on the Bay of Bengal’s blue water. We are staying at the Silver Beach Hotel in a bungalow on the beach front (we’re facing the resorts gardens, still with views of the sea, rather than facing the sea directly as a sea-view bungalow was more than double the $95 per night we’re paying for our garden-view bungalow). It is paradise here with fantastic weather (it’s 35 degrees with not a cloud in the sky) and yummy seafood. There is only a slight breeze so it feels blisteringly hot and Jim & I have both got a little scorched and had to rest in the shade (most unlike me!) as well as buy some high factor sun cream. We are loving it here and are just relaxing, reading, eating (lots of seafood!) & drinking! There also really big waves so we’ve been surfing them back to shore a lot to cool down! There are women walking along the beach each day selling fresh fruit; on our first day we had a mango each, on Monday we shared a mango, pineapple and honey-dew melon and Tuesday we shared a papaya (the biggest one we’ve ever seen!) and a pineapple. Jim woke up unwell yesterday with suspected sunstroke so he had a day in bed. He’s feeling a bit better today so has been relaxing in the shade (he can’t face the sun yet). I was up in the night with a tight chest, excess saliva & difficulty swallowing and it’s continued today. We’re not sure what it is and now we’re both not feeling great but hey ho, at least we’re in paradise! We’ve got 2 more nights here before we fly to Yangon and we can’t believe we’ll be back in the UK on Wednesday! Boo!

Hope everyone’s well!

Lots of love, Neil & Jimmy xxx

p.s In Myanmar hello is mingalabar! Everyone says it to you and they always have a very cheery tone - such a nice word!