Pyin Oo Lwin and beyond… part 2
Pyin Oo Lwin, January 31 – February 9, 2015
Yes, it was freezing in Pyin Oo Lwin, but we were kept warm at our guest house by massive quantities of velour blankets! Billed as the only guest house in Myanmar with mud huts and run by the very affable Patrick, we slept in a round mud room with attached bath that had gallons of piping hot water (resembled a steam room most mornings!).
Patrick provided us with Japanese bikes that got us around town in style and to our favorite coffee shop, Barista Khine. So small we missed it the first time out, it’s an open-sided stand next to a monastery, with no electricity and no fancy machines. Just a charcoal fire, an enormous water kettle, French presses, and a hand-frother for the milk. We sat at rickety metal tables on plastic stools and loved every drop. All for about $2 for both of us; and, yes, it is on TripAdvisor!
We caught up with Auntie Winnie, who organized the project’s first photo workshop here back in 2010 and Thet Naung Lwin, who took that workshop and is now working as a photographer and videographer. Auntie Winnie was busy teaching at a private school and organizing food for the 28 road workers that were re-paving her street after a 40 year wait! This is one of the joys of this project; seeing what and how old friends are doing.
We are at Pan Taw Win restaurant because they have pretty good wi-fi and coffee.
Winnie and Thet Naung are very proud of their town and always have something they want us to see. This time it was an almost-open hotel and restaurant called The View at Aniskahn waterfall.
Of course we came at sunset!
Teens and cell phones ……..
‘Something light?’, was offered….and accepted.
Mandalay and Taungee, February 9-10, 2015
After 9 days in Pyin Oo Lwin, we said good-bye to our students, exchanged emails, and headed down to Mandalay with Ma Mu Mu, who organized the workshop and whom we worked with last year in Yangon. She was determined that we would visit her home town of Taunggyi, capital of Shan State, on our way to Inle Lake, and so had arranged for a van to drive us from Mandalay to Taunggyi ( 8 hours). For some reason that remains unclear, we were to do this drive at night and take a short-cut over the mountains. Taunggyi lies on a plateau at the top of a mountain.
In Mandalay we went to the Christian Fellowship Center to rest and wait for the van that was to pick us up at 5:30. As soon as we drove in, Nat and I looked at each other and said, ‘We know this place!’ We had done a training there in 2009. The director, Mu Mu Han, greeted us with open arms, and proudly presented her two children. The center serves as a gathering spot for university students so we got a nice surprise when one of our students from that earlier workshop turned up. He graduated from university and has a job at a graphic design company, where he gets to use a camera!
We went for lepeye, Burmese tea, while waiting.
Our van and driver arrived and we honked our way out of Mandalay during rush hour. There are lots of shiny new big gas stations here and lots of new cars to use them. We stopped at one and were greeted by about 6 people, offering us tiny cups of black coffee and ice-cold bottled water. ‘How long have you been open?’ ‘One month,’ was the answer. And so we hurtled on as the 4 lane divided highway became a two lane road and then a one lane road. There were a couple of check-points, as we were near Meitkila, where there has been recent fighting, but no one asked to see our papers, and one guy gave us oranges. The short-cut up the mountain proved to be a road in various stages of being built: some paving, lots of dirt tracks, piles of rocks, many hair-pin turns with sheer drops on one side, and to make things interesting, quite a few trucks carrying produce to market in Mandalay. Fortunately, our driver was terrific. We did wonder about the name on the van, though! Nat later googled it and found out it’s a driving school.
At 2 am we rolled into Taunggyi and were welcomed by Mu Mu’s relatives who had made up beds with piles of blankets for us and best of all, hot water bottles! We were so cold and tired that we fell into bed without taking off coats or scarves.
Here’s a short video clip of a nambyia/bebyio seller at 7:30 am outside our door:
After a hearty breakfast of Shan fried tofu, noodles, and lepeye, Mu Mu took us around her city.
And then there was lunch, with the best petacho (dumplings) ever!
After visiting some of Mu Mu’s relatives in a nearby village, it was time for us to drive to Inle Lake and 4 days of R & R. After an hour’s drive, we arrived at the Brilliant Hotel, about 2 km outside of Nyaung Shwe, on the northeast side of the lake. The hotel was indeed brilliant, providing us with bikes, fresh fruit every afternoon, electric kettle, and, best of all, warmer weather!
Inle lake is 22 km long, in the middle of Burma. Unfortunately, it is slowly choking on massive amounts of water hyacinth.
t is home to the ‘one-legged’ paddle fishermen. They have two legs, but use one to paddle their long shallow draft boats, while they toss their nets with two hands! Beautiful to watch, along with many other tourists…We did the day long boat trip with Maung Soe, starting out at 8 am by taking his daughters home to his village and then visiting jewellry, lotus weaving, cheroot and boat-making, knife and bell-making workshops. Lunch was at a restaurant perched on stilts where the beer was cold and the fried fish crisp. Arrived back in Nyaung Shwe at 6 pm, tired and happy.
One evening we set out at 5 pm to cycle to a near-by winery (yes, a winery!) for a wine-tasting and sunset-viewing. Of course the winery, being named Red Mountain Winery, was on top of said mountain. Really a big hill, but nevertheless, there was some huffing, puffing, and walking involved. We were told to park the bikes half-way up the hill. The place was crowded so we shared a table with a young British couple, now living in France, and discovered that Mark had spent time in Halifax at the Royal Yacht Club as a crew member. We talked, drank, ate, drank, talked…. suddenly realized that it was 7 pm, and there were no patrons left. Only the patient and polite staff waiting for foreigners to go home. Nat and I had our super bright headlights from MEC, but Katie and Mark had nothing. The Brilliant Hotel had given us two dim lights, so armed and semi-lit, we rode the pitch black twisty bumpy 3 km back to town. By the time we arrived we were completely sober!
Next day we biked out of town along a narrow tree shaded road down the west side of the laketowards the hot springs and beyond. We were looking to catch a boat across the middle of the lake and cycle back up the east side.
Arriving at the hot springs, we stopped for a drink of water and were greeted by three young men who wanted to know, ‘Where you go?’ We said we were looking for the boat landing to go across the lake. ‘Just 5 minutes down the road,’ they said. Off we went looking for some indication of a turn-off to a pier or landing, when suddenly two of our new friends zipped by on their motor-bike, saying , ‘ This way!’. Sure enough in 5 minutes we turned left down a dirt track and there was a canal with a boat. We asked how much, the answer was reasonable, and so our bikes were loaded into the boat, we clambered aboard and off we went. 45 minutes later, we clambered up onto a very long wooden pier and walked to terra firma.
The road up the west side of the lake was not as shady as the east side, which necessitated several rest stops. One of which was at an empty temple.
Back in Nyaung Shwe we headed for a cold beer and a visit to Nat’s temple. This is a slightly shabby temple dedicated to the 57 Burmese nats, or spirits, that live in trees, fields, just about anywhere.
Did we mention that we ate well? Because it’s a touris area, there are plenty of coffee joints, pizza places, as well as Burmese and Indian restaurants.
And so after 4 days, we piled into a taxi with a kamikaze driver for the hour long drive to He Ho Airport and a flight to Mandalay, then Bangkok, and finally, home in Mae Sot.
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