Monthly Archives: February 2017

Hsipaw to Bagan, Myanmar

The Train


Today we get to take the famous train ride from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin! There is a bridge the train crosses that was built in 1901, I think, by the British that everyone is crazy about. Also, it is an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the scenery. I have had a little previous knowledge of how the ride may be because of an episode I saw on Anthony Bourdain and the little city train stint I took in Yangon. I was looking forward to the ride!


Sabine, Helen, and I decided to pay a $1 more to spring for Upper Class with all the other travelers. Instead of Upper Class, they should just name the two cars, Foreigner Class. There were no locals in these two cars that I saw at all. It made it tempting to go around and give locals each a $1 to treat themselves to cushioned seats.

An interesting feature of the train was that the windows were all wide open. So if I decided to put my arm or head out at the wrong time, I probably would have had it chopped off because there were times the wall of a cave or branch of a tree was no more than a foot away from the train. Often tree branches would scraps against the train and I’d get the occasional twig slap in the face or arm. One more fun part of the ride was that the train rocked from left to right the whole way. It sort of felt like I was on a boat for 6ish hours.

Something that is very common in Myanmar is controlled burning. At one point on the ride, just around the time I was dosing off from literally being rocked to sleep, I suddenly felt intense heat on my face and arm. I opened my eyes to see a wall of flames come through the window of my seat and burs of fire rolled into the car. The guy in front of me got burned a little and I sat back down on a bur that ended up burning a hole in my shorts. Felt like my ass was on fire!! After everyone stomped out the flames and made sure their gear was ok, we sat back down and continued enjoying the ride while occasionally watching little mice scurry around our feet and under our seats, eating crumbs of food people dropped on the floor.

After we got to Pyin Oo Lwin, we chilled out in our hotel and later went out for street food. The town was pretty relaxed and Sabine and I had a couple beers later at the hotel. It was one of the coldest nights in Myanmar that I had experienced and we all bundled up for bed to try and keep warm. The next morning we got on a day bus to Bagan.


So yes, I have already visited Bagan with my three German companions, from the first week of my travels in Myanmar. But, I found the experience with Helen and Sabine different. Different because of the uniqueness of the experiences different people can experience together and we just ended up going to many places I had not gone to the previous time.

When we got into town, I was waiting for the bus to be stopped to pay the Foreigner Tax, but the bus never got stopped. I then expected to pay it at the hotel, but they did not inquire if we had paid the tax or not. So, we just didn’t say anything, checked in, and went out to get some food. The original plan was to get an e-bike (which looks like a scooter) and go see the sunset. The problem was that the e-bikes were pretty much rented out everywhere. So we rented peddle bicycles, which I was not really excited about, and then we went to get some food. The food took forever to arrive and sunset was getting closer and closer. The girls pretty much gave up on seeing it and Sabine decided to book another night at a different hostel. Helen and I were not ready to make a decision on staying another night at this point, but regardless on if we were all staying or not, I did not want the girls to miss a sunset. So, my food came out and I scarfed the plate down in a few minutes while Helen went for the check. When we were all paid up, we started the bike ride to the closest temple we could come to. Luckily, one was not that far and we peddled our way as close as we could until we hit thick sand. Helen tossed her bike to the ground and started running. I then threw mine down with hers, locked them quickly, and ran after Helen and Sabine. We got to the temple and climbed up pretty much just in the nick of time to catch a decent sunset.

IMG_5109.JPGWhen that was all over, we headed back into Old Bagan, inquired about hot air balloon rides. I was not planning to take a balloon up for sunrise, but Sabine and Helen had their heart set on it. Unfortunately, balloons were booked out for the next weeks. Being the busy season, this was a little expected. Because the night was still young, we went and found a bar with Happy Hour and ordered a round of mojitos.. The mojitos were amazing and we only added to the fun by playing that Heads Up game again.

The next day we got up before sunrise to go chase down a temple that supposedly was great and had few tourists. After driving around on our e-bikes with no luck, we decided to to the main touristy temple I had gone to with Sandra and company. It may not have been the place we were trying for, but if we had continued our wild goose chase in the dark, we would have missed the sunrise.


After some breakfast and a nap, we headed out to see some temples and then check out the other hostel. Helen and I ended up booking a night at the same place as Sabine in New Bagan. This place had much more of a backpacker community feel to it. We checked in and then headed off to see more temples that the hostel staff said were pretty nice and remote. Most of the places we went to I had not visited with Sandra, so it was nice not having a repeat. We also, up to this point, had not been asked about the Foreigner Tax, so we decided to avoid places that asked for the tax ticket and the Foreigner Police.

After bouncing around from temple to temple, we finally found one we liked for sunset and stayed up on top. We were the only three people on this temple and the view of the other temples was pretty nice, thanks to Sabine’s persistence on finding the suggested remote location. I personally would not have gone looking for one of these remote spots and ultimately was glad we did. It was a lot of fun off-roading on the scooters.



The next day I decided to take it easy by staying in and writing my blog. I wasn’t feeling to well. I could not breath, mostly because I think I just breathed in too much dust from the day of riding. The three of us did join a boat tour out onto the river to see sunset, which was pretty cool. I originally wasn’t in the mood for it, but glad I did it.


IMG_5205.JPGAfter the little booze cruise, we went out to dinner with a whole bunch of people from the boat ride and then sat back and enjoyed a number of cocktails at the hostel.


The highlight of my night was striking up a conversation with another traveler from Switzerland. We ended up staying up well past bar close drinking, telling stories, and just enjoying each others company. I particularly enjoyed hearing about her travels to Central America. I have been thinking about extending my trip there and the way she talked about the food and life of the people there has intrigued my interest in traveling to this region. Unfortunately, time ended our conversation and that morning I had to get up to catch an early morning bus with Helen and Sabine at around 4 or 5 AM to the capital city, Naypyitaw. Hopefully we stay in touch and our paths cross again. Sometimes when those brief encounters begin and end so quickly, there is a feeling like the conversation got cut off and was left unfinished.

Next stop, Naypytaw.

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Naypyitaw & The Golden Rock, Myanmar


After the night of drinking, conversation, and just staying up much later than I had originally planned, 4AM came way too quickly. I took a shower after I got back to my room and maybe snuck in an hour of sleep before we had to meet up with an open covered bus/truck. It looked like we were the first pickup, so we got to freeze our butts off for about an hour as the driver went from stop to stop loading more and more passengers. We were the only non-Burmese on the shuttle which was a pretty good indicator we would probably not meet any other travelers along the way. I was right too because it would be at least two days before running into another backpacker.

The bus ride was pretty comfortable and we just chilled out as we made our way to this strange city others have talked about. As the bus made its way into town, we only noticed a little bit of the grandness the capital was supposed to have.

When we got to the bus stop, Helen and I were planning to head to the Golden Rock and Sabine to the West coast beaches. But, Sabine decided to stick with us a little longer. We booked our night bus tickets to the Golden Rock, and then found a driver to take us around the capital for a little private tour. Now, the capital is pretty expensive and thankfully we were not staying there the night. There really is nothing going on there anyways. The “new” capital area reminded me of the overkill you may find in old Communist countries, in terms of infrastructure and grand buildings. The road leading to the Parliament buildings consisted of 10-lane roads going in both directions, with no traffic. We were able to get a photo in from the closest possible point. As it was, our photo taking seemed to piss of the guard.


Before this picture, we had just come from the Uppatasanti Pagoda. This nearly the same size at the pagoda in Yagon, the only difference was that this place was even more guarded and there were hardly any people there. We basically had the place to ourselves. Across the street they even had some White Elephants that I personally felt were not being taken care of very well. Made us a bit sad.



After the pagoda and parliament attempt, we stopped at the Gem Museum which was not really worth going to and the Naypyitaw Water Fountain Park. Not sure how old the place was, but it felt like something out of Eastern Europe, again from a more Communist era. We also had an entire family run us down to take a number of family photos. I’m guessing we are in a picture frame on a table or mantel in their home now!

That pretty much summed up Naypytaw. There was a lot of new infrastructure put into place to make the new capital and knowbody lives there. It’s simmular to the ghost cities that are talked about in China. Now off fora crappy night bus ride!

The Golden Rock

We arrived around 7AM to the place we decided to stay. Fortunately, the resort allowed us to check in and we were able to get some much needed sleep. After waking up from our slumber, we got some lunch and made plans to head to the Golden Rock. We ended up getting there by motorbike. I road with one driver while the two girls squished on the back of the other bike.

At the base of the mountain, there are these trucks designed to fit as many people as possible in to then cruise up a very windee road. It felt like a rollercoaster at times. The Golden Rock was something I wanted to see because for the Burmese it is a pilgrimage site. There are people who help those who have traveled long distances to carry their things up to the site and men with chair stretchers to carry up the elderly or immobile. Many people stay the night and watch the sunset and sunrise. For the three of us, we had to leave before the last transport down by 6 PM.



The next day I would leave the girls and head back to Yangon to catch a flight to Phuket for a few days to see a couple people I know that teach there. Then I’ll head to Korea for my final two weeks of living there. Lots of emotions going on, but I know all will work out.


The last two weeks were amazing and I had such a good time traveling with Helen and Sabine. I truly wish I could have continued on with them, but our time had to come to an end at some point. Hopefully I’ll catch up with them down the road in another part of the world. One things for sure, we will be enjoying each others continued travel on Facebook!!


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Gina Gorny

Traveling the World One Location at a Time