With 3 of the guys from the meditation retreat, we made our way to Hsipaw. We had a lift from the Thabarwa bus to another junction and a local girl helped us grab a taxi into Pyin Oo Lwin. We were too late to catch the scenic train ride so we decided to go for the bus.
We went the wrong way of course avoiding expensive taxis that tried to charge us 45,000 kyat (possibly a mistake mixing the hundreds and thousands), we ended up in the city center. A kind man directed us back the way we had come but at least we had a mini tour of the town. What I liked were the old horse and buggies going around between the otherwise dusty traffic of pick-up trucks and motorbikes. We met a girl on the bus that had gone ti the botanical gardens there and she said it was like Disneyland of flowers – I guess we missed out!
5 hours on the bus brought us to Hsipaw around 8:30pm and we didn’t have to worry about finding a place because people from at least 4 or 5 hotels were gathered there with signs and brochures to recruit us!
Lonely Planet and some friends had recommended Mr. Charles but we ended up going for the cheaper option of $5/person at Nam Khae Mao (and the guy was really nice!). The guys got a shared 3 person room and because the single room was on a different floor, they gave me a double bed across the hall, same price! Life of luxury… except the shower was warmish, not so hot, but when we were used to bucketing water and sleeping on floos at Thabarwa, we were still experiencing a serious upgrade!
Local noodle soup for dinner for less than a dollar plus some weird milky eggy desert thing we go when Georgy asked fo honey.
Funnily enough, we all still woke up around 4am sans gong. Tom tom (or a similar name) came to chat with us in the morning and to serve breakfast and we got an idea of plans for the day. Trekking is popular in the area but with a shortage of time left on my visa with the other stops I wanted to do, I gave it a pass. Instead, we went on our own little day hike to a waterfull, passing by an old Indian cemetary and garbage dump behind it where a cute old man with no teeth chatted with us! We passed by a few huts on the way and besides bulls and bananas, I was impressed to see that one house had solar panels outside! Makes sense!
Stop number two for the day was a hot spring, which turned out to be a warm spring where the locals go to do their washing. After some villages and rice paddies and a rice noodle factory (so many noodles hanging everywhere!), we made it back and stopped at the first street stall that looked appetizing. Excellent choice – some kind of crepe wrap filled with coconut, another one with fried banana, some sort of veggie dumplings/empanadas, a veggie pancake… a sampling of each came to 400 kyat – or around 30 cents! The stall next door looked yummy too but we couldn’t eat any more.
Back to Hsipaw town center for fruit shakes from Mr. Shake (there was definitely a theme of Mr. – a guide called Mr. Bike, a book shop called Mr. Book, a restaurant called Mr. Food). At Mr. Shake we tried different combinations – the best was probably passion fruit, papaya, lemon, ginger and perhaps banana? I can’t actually remember the combo. The worst was avocado and coffee. Surprise surprise.
Really not too much else. There was another area with the old Shan Palace that is supposed to be really interesting but we were tired and so obviously decided to hike up Sunset Hill instead. Can’t miss a good sunset viewpoint! In total we guessed at least 15km in the day – not bad after a week of mostly sitting and meditating.
Dinner (of course I have to report on the food), we wandeeed for a while being indecisive and finally decided to get a variety of things from different street stalls so everyone was happy. My choice was more noodle soup and a local guy ordered something ahead of us so I asked for the same thing since it looked so good! Wow – sooooo spicy. I was sweating the entire time I ate and afterwards, but what is called Abu Shabu apparently a Rakhine dish, is amazing for colds! So since then, I have had it 2 or 3 more times. It might be my favorite. Dessert were some Shan cakes that were some kind of dense rice pancake with brown sugar (needed) which gets a so-so review, and another yummy cake that is made of some kind of grain maybe? Dinner and two desserts grand total = less than 1000 kyat. I am in food heaven.
The next day, Georgy and I woke up at the usual 4am but this time with a plan to go to the morning market! It starts around 3:30 and finishes around 7 or 8. Vendors lined the street with their products set out and candles to light their tables! Motorbikes loaded up with bags of goodies to take who-knows-where, and the scales they used were old school balances! We bought some fruit and tofu for the day’s journey (and extra breakfast).
Later we all caught the train from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin – 7 hours for 1,200 kyat. It goes pretty slow but amazingly bumpy and shaky and at every stop these talented women come to the windows or aboard to sell things from baskets balanced on their heads. I really don’t know how they do it. On that note, I have also seen girls balancing stacks of bricks on their heads around the building sites!
Anyway, after eating our way through the jouney and snapping pics of the bridge and the gorge under the bridge, we finally arrived in Pyin Oo Lwin again. We hopped in the back of a pick-up (unfortunately also carrying a motorbike) and along with a Canadian-Colombian couple (yay Spanish practice), we made our way to Mandalay – 1 hr 30 min journey at 1,500 kyat.
In Mandalay we parted ways with the boys going to the bus station to enjo another long journey and me to Royal Hotel near the Royal Palace. Fortunately they had a cheap single room free for juat $7. Dormitories aren’t so common here so elsewhere solo travel is proving to be a pain and more expensive (relatively) than planned. It is not so bad really but basically I would be paying half the price most of the time if I was with a travel buddy!
I am on a roll wih these updates, trying to catch up at least a bit more before leaving a 3-day hike tomorrow… let’s see if I can squeeze one more in… Mandalay adventures!