Sunday 31 March 2013

Le Noir

We have blown the budget today by going to see the Le Noir show at Marina Bay Sands.
We went for lunch beforehand in the Mall Foodcourt and just happened to sit on the next table to some of the performers who still had their make up on after the matinee performance.
During the show we realised that we saw the lady with a mohican who whizzed around on roller skates, the weird juggler and the guy who balanced on top of lots of wobbly tubes.
The best bits were the two ladies on the trapeze and the dancing.
It was a lot better than I make it sound, fortunately.

Saturday 30 March 2013

Pattaya to Singapore

Rather relieved to leave Pattaya for an early morning bus to Bangkok for our flight to Singapore.
We boarded the fancy air conditioned bus and I thought great, no more dodgy characters, but no, on to the bus got a flabby, topless, ancient, white man with a mottled suntan, bald head, and his shirt in his hand.
Not a good sight at 7am, or at any time of day for that matter.
Lost him at the airport and it's nice to be back in the normal world.

Friday 29 March 2013

Last day in Pattaya

Today is our last day in Pattaya and we are off to Singapore tomorrow.
We walked up to the Big Buddha on the top of the hill this morning which was full of Russian tourists. The Buddha was interesting and people were poking money in to his belly button.
Most of the younger tourists in Pattaya are Russian and for some reason, there are quite a few huge muscular men who look like WWF wrestlers hulking around topless in tight shorts and shirts split to the waist.
Last night when we went to an 'all you can eat restaurant' we ended up sat between two sets of Russian body builders.
I enjoyed my meal and had a small piece of steak, a couple of prawns, quite a pile of tasty salads and some lovely jacket potato.
However, the men behind me probably ate about 10 times as much as me (not joking) with huge plates of steak and fish and they were still eating after we paid and left. Note to restaurant owner - you could end up bankrupt quite soon.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Pattaya beach

I got an email from my friend Linda this morning with a picture of a snowman in her garden! I can't imagine how cold it is, because here we have the opposite problem. It is absolutely roasting and is very humid as well.
We walked to the beach this morning and it is almost deserted - everyone is sitting in the shade under the hundreds of umbrellas that line the top of the beach.
It is very strange though in that there are very few young tourists around, and even fewer western women. The place is full of older men, many shuffling along in socks and sandals, or string vests. They are also either a pasty white colour, or else tanned mahogany brown with lots of tattoos.
The town itself is mainly filled with five types of buildings, bars, tattoo shops, massage parlours,small market stalls and dentists.
Apparently the town is trying to make itself more family friendly and there are also some really big and modern malls with lots of high street shops and restaurants.
We are going back to the biggest one later to have some dinner and watch a film - GI Joe, I think.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Yangon to Pattaya - culture shock

Caught an early flight this morning to Bangkok and then a bus on to Pattaya. We were originally intending to meet up with Susan and Paul for a couple of days in Bangkok, but due to an administrative error (naming no names) they flew out this morning exactly at the same time as we arrived!
We therefore had to change our plans and find somewhere close to Bangkok that we had not visited before where we could spend a couple of days.
Pattaya it is, in a little Russian owned hotel near the seafront.
We arrived this afternoon, waited for the temperature to cool down a little, then set off to to see the Walking Street. We found ourselves a nice spot in a bar and watched the world go by. At first it was pretty quiet livened up by huge groups of Korean (I think) tourists following their guides around.
Suddenly exactly opposite us we noticed a strange, quite frightening looking cowboy sitting still like a statue. One of the guides went over to him and he got up, cracked his whip a few times and did some magic tricks, mainly with cigarettes. They were pretty popular and he collected quite a bit of cash.
Just down the street the girls were struggling to get punters in to their bar. I don't think it helped that someone had parked their mobility scooter right outside.
By 9pm it was getting busy, the girls were out along the whole street and dodgy looking men were thrusting menus with strange items on them under our noses.
We managed to resist and headed slowly back to our hotel.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Outside Aung San Suu Kyi's house

Our last full day in Myanmar today so we set off fairly early on the bus to Inya Lake which is about 10 kilometres north of our hotel. The lake is actually a reservoir that was built by the British in the 1880s, but is now very pretty with a walkway and topiary.
After enjoying a stroll we found a golf driving range where you hit the balls out in to the lake.
There were about 15 staff but only one other golfer and we hired a club, bought some balls and gave it a go. I can't believe how rubbish I was but Daz was pretty hot and the other golfer came over for a chat and to watch him drive. Pressure or what.
Afterwards we managed to find Aung Sang Suu Kyi's house, although it is not possible to visit - you just stand outside by the gate. It is not on any maps but we walked along University Avenue Road and recognised it from a photo on the Internet.
We then walked through quite a residential back street area and had a bit of fun waving to the locals. My longyi (skirt) didn't cause quite such a stir as it did in Mandalay, but amongst other encounters, we passed a bar where everyone waved and laughed really loudly, we met a gang of about six young monks who all giggled and smiled and an old lady who insisted on giving me a yellow rose!
Finally, we reached the massive reclining Buddha. He is about 66 metres long and lives in a sort of aircraft hanger. He has a lovely face and looks very happy. Lots of people were just sitting around on mats near him enjoying themselves.
His feet were particularly good as they had 108 distinguishing marks representing the three worlds. Sorry, can't explain it better than that.

Monday 25 March 2013

Sule Pagoda or Arnie's Last Stand?

Caught the bus from Inle Lake to Yangon last night. This was our longest journey in Myanmar and took 12 hours. Our bus was lovely with spacious seats, but it suffered from the same problem as all overnight buses in SE Asia - the aircon is set to below zero so it is impossible to keep warm. At least we are more used to the cold, but it was annoying as the temperature outside was over 30 degrees Celsius. On our last bus the local ladies next to us turned up in thick duffle coats and hats specially for the journey.
We set off just before 7pm, stopped for dinner break just before 8pm and then again just after midnight. I assumed that this must be the toilet stop so got to the conductor at the door. He said to me 'peeeeesssss only', I said 'fine where is the ladies? ' he looked startled and said it again and looking around I realised we were in the middle of nowhere and all the men were just lined up against a hedge. I was not pleased at this lack of facilities, but what can you do? Eventually got to a real 'lady toilet' at about 3.30am.
Arrived at our hotel about 8ish, dropped off our bags and went out for a quick wander where we were faced with a dilemma - do we go and see another pagoda or should we watch Arnold Schwarzennegar at the pictures? Both cultural in their own ways, we plumped for Arnie.
The film was in English with no subtitles and there was a man eating the crunchiest peanuts in the world nearby who only stopped to answer his mobile phone very loudly. However our seats were good - a passerby had told us which price to pay and where to sit - and the sound system excellent.
The plot had many believability issues and as Darren said 'I can't believe after all these years he has never learned to act'.

Sunday 24 March 2013

Pagoda city - In Dein Shwe

Our final day at Inle Lake and yet another boat trip with Soo Win. This time we cycled 12 kilometres to meet him at the village where he lives and had a quick look around the market. It got bit difficult at times as all of the stall roofs were too low so I had to walk at a constant stoop, and then there would be ropes across as well that were even lower.
The boat trip started well with us in the middle, Soo Win at the front and his brother in law at the back with the engine and propeller. We went down a sort of water street towards the open water of the lake and there are bamboo poles floating across the exit, maybe to act as a speed bump. The brother in law tried to take the pole too quickly and broke the propeller. Don't know what was said between them but they both had to get the oars out and paddle us back. We went past a group of men working on the roof of a house and they shouted 'bad driver' to us and they all burst out laughing.
Soo Win turned off into the village and paddled up to his house and we climbed up the wooden steps in to it. His wife and baby son were really shy but made us tea while at least half a dozen men, all sitting on their own canoes helped fix the boat. The whole of the village is built on stilts so there was no dry land anywhere. They even kept pigs in little raised pig sties.
Soon we were off again, this time with Soo Win driving and we motored down to the south end of the lake to see the pagodas at In Dein. They were up a long flight of steps and were deserted apart from two little old men selling candles and joss sticks to give to the Buddha. I bought a set, waited for ages while he blessed it and then popped it on a table where there were a few others.
Very hot day today, Daz caught the sun on the way back, even though he made use of the boat's umbrella. Once again enjoyed watching the busy activities on the water.
Cycled back to the hotel to wait for our bus, stopping off at a vineyard for a wine tasting. I even managed to buy some Cheddar cheese chopped into frilly slices to eat with it. I don't think there are many vineyards in Myanmar so this was a very lucky find. Wine not bad either.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Floating gardens, Inle Lake

We arranged to meet our boat driver again today for a morning journey around the lake.
I liked the floating gardens best, and they are out in the middle of the lake, far away from land. They rise and fall with the water level and there is also a whole village that is built on stilts where the people who tend the gardens live.
On our approach, the first thing we saw were men collecting water weeds from out on the lake and piling it in to their boats. It looked extremely heavy and once their boat was full they paddled back to the gardens. They use one of their legs wrapped around the oar to paddle and it looks very strange, but effective.
We followed them down little water alleyways where the water weeds are piled up and clamped in place with bamboo poles. They end up as floating mats that are about a metre wide but really long.
We passed a field full of ladies, each sitting in their own little boat, planting tomato plants along the rows. They grow most of the tomatoes that are eaten in Myanmar here and it is a fantastic system as their roots are always in water so they don't need constant manual watering.
They also grow massive gourds, cabbages, beans and lots of other things that I didn't recognise.
Afterwards we sat in a restaurant eating tomato and potato salads. They were both excellent, but unbelievably heavy on the onions.
Ps, the Internet here is very slow and the electricity often cuts out. Yesterday, my blog kept getting uploaded and it looks as if the pictures didn't arrive. If anyone reads this, can you send a comment and let me know if this blog looks okay please.

Friday 22 March 2013

Mandalay to Inle Lake part two

We got our taxi as planned yesterday and our driver was true to his word- telling lots of jokes. They were either very crude or had the same punchline, which was that the President had no brain! He said people were allowed to criticize the Government now, (not sure how true this is) but that he had spent three months in prison for it in the past.
He took us to see one of the most popular sights in Mandalay, which is called the U Bein bridge. It is a teak bridge that spans two kilometres across a lake and was right near our bus station. It was also sunset when we got there and very crowded, with both western tourists and locals.
It appears that very few tourists travel independently as we hardly ever see any and there were no others on our bus last night. They appear to congregate at the same few things at the same time, sunrise and sunset being key times. We never see sunrise and due to a few disappointing attempts at viewing sunsets in designated places, we don't go out of our way for these either.
The U Bein bridge was a worry to me. It was very rickety, swayed and creaked, had no handrails, was about 15 feet in the air and only about eight feet wide. Worst of all, it is the dry season so the lake is very low and a lot of the water had dried up so the bridge just spanned soil for a lot of the way. It was alright though.
Afterwards, our driver took us to the bus station and yet again we arrived too early at our destination. This time it was 4am, the hotel security guard left us to sleep on a sofa next to reception and the main stairs. We woke to a lot of noise and the staff were all working and cleaning and guests were heading out on early trips. I think they might have politely left us there all day.
We have come about 200 miles to Inle Lake and have just been out on bicycles to explore it. I was worried that the water might be really low here too.
However, we got to a little village next to the lake and a boatman took us across and it was beautiful. Everything I had hoped it would be yesterday and a lot more.
There was a deserted wooden jetty - not a bridge as the lake is really wide - but almost identical to U Bein apart from that. We also saw local people just getting on with their lives. Brilliant.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Mandalay to Inle Lake

Another overnighter coming up as we couldn't find a day bus and we also don't have a hotel booked.
Darren was up early for a run around the nine kilometre block before it got too hot.
I hid a bit of a lazy start then out on the road.
We were trying to negotiate for a taxi to take us later to a nearby bridge that is supposed to be good at sunset and then on to our bus stop.
The taxi drivers outside the hotel seem to have a price cartel and aren't very friendly and on our walk another driver stopped to chat to us. Apparently he has just finished his maths degree and has lots of funny stories to tell us, so we are taking him instead. A bit worried how we are going to get out of the hotel and in to his car, without being chased down the street, but we will sort that out later.
Just spending a long lunch eating interesting salads and enjoying rather large rum sours.
Hoping that tonights bus arrives at a more suitable time tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Hot, dusty, and busy day in Mandalay

Set off this morning on another walking tour of Mandalay, with the goal of carrying out a few errands and visiting a temple.
Darren suggested we take a shortcut and cross the moat around the Palace and out the other side. We walked over the bridge and two soldiers sitting at a checkpoint stood up. One pointed quite a big gun towards us and the other waved to show we were not going to be allowed through. We quickly changed our plan and retraced our steps.
It took us quite a while to find the Post Office, then the railway station and finally the market.
By then it was getting hot and the Maha Myat Muni Temple was quite a long way away, so we jumped on a half empty bus to get there.
The Temple is very popular and has a golden Buddha in a little room. Only men are allowed in to the room and there is a cctv camera so that the ladies sitting outside can see what is going on.
Daz went in and got a few photos but I sulked a bit at the injustice and didn't watch the telly.
Anyway, he said that all that was happening was that the male visitors were sticking gold leaf pieces on to the Bhudda. I saw some photos and there has been so much gold leaf added over the years that he is a lot bigger now than he used to be.
The Temple Monks also wash his face every morning at 4am and lots of tourists come to see this.
Probably the best bit of the day was the trip back on the bus. It was completely packed and was full of smiling ladies, one of whom gave me her seat while Darren stood with the cool boys on the back step all of the way back.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Largest book in the world

After enjoying the Hill we went around the corner to see what is billed as 'The largest book in the world'.
The Kuthodaw Pagoda is where the teachings of the Buddha are inscribed on 1,774 marble slabs. Each slab is set in an individual pagoda and they are individually numbered in rows all around a large gold central pagoda.
It was really quiet and all we could hear was the tinkling of little bells on the top of each pagoda.
We couldn't see all of the site from ground level but we could see an open plan building part way up the side of Mandalay Hill (see picture three) that we had not reached on our earlier walk up it. We left the Kuthodaw Pagoda and headed back through a different entrance up the Hill and tried to find the building we could see from amongst the Book Pagodas.
Success! To make things even better, the views from this practically deserted building were much better than from the official route and I got a great aerial view of the 'book'.

Entertaining the Mandalayans at their Hill!

I decided to wear my new skirt this morning so that I would blend in nicely as all of the local ladies wear longhi's every day. I thought it looked okay and so we set off from our hotel to Mandalay Hill which is famous for the views over Mandalay at sunset.
On the way we noticed more people smiling and waving than usual, but it got much more noticeable on the walk up the many hundreds of steps to the top.
The ladies in particular stared at my outfit, some shouted out unknown comments or started chatting loudly to their friends about me. Others started laughing and waving, and a couple said I looked beautiful!
One old man was walking up as we walked down and I saw him start looking at my feet then gradually up as high as my hat and he just looked completely astonished, then burst out laughing!
I realise I don't blend too well as I am about a foot taller than them, but it made for a funny morning.
My only regret is that Darren should have bought one as well as I think that then we would have stopped the traffic.
There are very few foreigners here, in fact until we went for lunch we saw only two others today, one who was staying at our hotel and another that we sat next to in a restaurant in Bagan. I have to assume that most don't try the local fashions.
The Hill was good, but most of the time the walkways were covered to keep out the sun and when we got to the top it was too high to see much of the city. Maybe we should go back at sunset.

Monday 18 March 2013

Arriving at Mandalay

Caught the 8am bus from Bagan this morning. It was a very interesting journey that took about six hours. We passed through villages where they still use cows to plough fields, pull carts and to turn wheels to grind peanuts into flour.
It is the dry season at the moment and the road crossed dry riverbeds at high speed, stopping suddenly and loudly with frequent honks on the horn to pick up passengers at short notice.
We arrived at the bus station in Mandalay which also appeared to be doubling up as a rubbish tip.
After a bit of a good natured argument with a taxi driver as to how far it was to our hotel, we got in an unbelievably dusty car and set off for our hotel.
I booked the hotel in advance and chose one right next to a gigantic square surrounded by water in the centre of town that houses the Royal Palace.
It is about four kilometres square with a 700 metre wide moat all around it.
The Royal Palace is behind the ramparts, but I don't know if it takes up the whole area. It also says on Wikitravel that it was rebuilt in 1995 using forced labour so locals might prefer it if we did not visit it.
I will find out more tomorrow, but in the meantime, it is very beautiful at sunset.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Signing off from Bagan

I thought I had finished for the day, but on our way out for dinner we decided to go to the pagoda opposite our hotel.
The setting was amazing as it had four enormous corridors that were about 100 metres long in each direction and they all led to a courtyard with a massive golden pagoda in it.
It was very intricate and ornate and the Shwedagon Pagoda that we saw in Yangon is apparently modelled on it.
It was almost sunset and there were quite a few young monks about feeding the pigeons with sweetcorn.
A lot of the locals were just sitting around having a nice time with their friends and one cheeky old lady called Darren over. She was smoking the biggest cigar I had ever seen.
She wanted him to pay to take a photo of her smoking it, which he did. He is posting it on his twitter account, so I won't show it here. Anyway, I shouldn't really encourage smoking or begging on this blog , even if it is by a naughty pensioner.

Cycling up a thirst

Today is our last day in Bagan as we are off to Mandalay tomorrow.
We have loved cycling every day we have been here and have upped the mileage daily. Today we went  along quite frightening main roads for a few miles and then turned off on to an almost deserted road with amazing pagodas along it. After a couple of hours we came across a small village with a cafe so we stopped for cold drinks.
I have never shared a cafe with a friendly white cow before, but I would definitely do it again. She sat at one end and we were at the other. If you look closely you can see Darren's silhouette on the right.
The last photo is the view from the bar next door to our hotel where we sat watching the sun go down and the locals pass by.
Actual distance covered today according to Darren's fancy gadget - 28 kilometres.