Myanmar is my new love: Arrival to Hpa-An

The border cross and the Passport control on my way from Thailand to Myanmar was smooth. I had a bit of trouble finding a cheap tuktuk to get there, but on the way I managed to pass by a huge market in Mae Sot where the already habitual frogs, snakes and others were among rats in cages, bunnies, live small turtles and clothes, meats and everything you can think of in a market. Once the border was crossed, the group in the bus of the previous night was around. I didn’t specially like them and had little or no intentions to get together with them, but most of us ended in the same bus that was going to Yangon and Hpa An, which was my destination. I paid whatever I had to pay, a bit resigned as I couldn’t bargain a bit and I was feeling like this tout would scam me, but everything was just fine. The bus journey was a bit long for the distance covered but we arrived to the bus station, way off out of town. It was hard to find a tuktuk, they seemed like they didn’t want to work. And then I arrived to my guest house to find out that I was in Soe Brothers but my reservation was for Soe Brothers II. A taxi motorbike would sort that out, although every time I take one I feel like I am going to fall from the bike because of the weight of my backpack.

Nothing of this bothered me much and it was quickly forgotten when I went for a stroll around the town. First, I passed by a market. I was astonished by the kindness of the people that looked at me quite curious. First thing I did was buying mosquito repellent. I don’t need to get Dengue Fever for a second time. I was ravenous and I found some women selling some strange pudding and decided to give it a go. We couldn’t understand each other, but that was not a problem and I managed to get a few delicious pieces of a kind of rice pudding or coconut thing. The closer I was getting to town, the better the scene was: people was smiling, smiling me back, looking at me and I found out that everybody started saying ‘mingalaba’ which means hello. I started doing the same. I arrived to check my first pagoda of many to come. But first I needed food, real food. I decided on a simple place with a nice family working inside. It took some time but I got some noodles quite oily. Well, the food is not a highlight. But little kids were around and one of them, who seemed to be related with the family in the restaurant, came inside and said hello, talked to me and blew me a kiss. I was delighted with the authenticity of this Burmese people! I kept going around pagodas, markets and streets, enjoying the warmness I could feel already. There is no such a feeling as this one, and I had been missing it too much.

When I decided to get back to the hotel, I felt something strange right behind me…I turned around to find a woman running after me to catch me…and ask me where I was from! She was so interested she crossed the road running after me! She also asked me if I could speak her language and she seemed a bit disappointed when I said I wasn’t able to. I would come across this woman again a day after and we were both so happy to see each other!

With that amazing feeling I went to sleep, not without getting lost on the way home and walk in a circle somehow! The street was completely dark, the lights were not on and everything was extremely safe despite of it.  All I could think of is: “I love you already, Myanmar, and I don’t know you”.

Next day I woke up, searched a few things, took it easy and changed guest houses, to sleep in a cheaper place that wasn’t available for my first day. Although, not for that night. Because I was climbing Mount Zwegabin and staying in the monastery that was up there to sleep. Before leaving, I met Gabriel, an Israeli guy that also spoke Spanish and great guy I shared the experience with. It took 2 and half hours to climb the Mount, with several stops on the way. Maybe more than I initially thought. But we made it! On the way we kept meeting lots of people going up and down, mainly locals that kept saying “mingalaba”. At the top, Ienjoyed to views from the top, walked around the pagoda, read a bit and saw the sunset. There were a few other travellers staying there like us and sharing a dormitory. What I found was more than what I was expecting to be a monastery, honestly! It was quite simple but more than enough, way much more. I went to sleep quite early, not without sharing a dinner with other travellers in the “restaurant” that a family living up there was running. The food was surprisingly ok. Not good, not bad; what made it the best food I have had so far.

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Views from Mount Zwegabin

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Sunset from the monastery at Mount Zwgabin. I could do a million of these!

 

I knew a tough day was expecting me the day after, but never imagined how tough! The monks woke me up at 4am with their “chants”, prayers on the speakers or whatever that was. They repeated it at 5am. And by 5,45 I got up to catch the sunset, although it wasn’t really impressive since it was a bit cloudy. By 7am I thought it was time to get down so I had time to catch a tuk-tuk, have breakfast in town and get to the guest house at 8.30 am, the time the tour I booked was starting at. Somebody (the guy at the guest house) told me it takes 30 minutes for the way down and 30 minutes for the way back on the road. Lies, all lies. It took an hour to get down! We even had to make a stop in the middle of the way because the way down was also tough (especially after the effort it took the day before to get to the top). When we got there, people started arriving to the place, but nobody seemed to be leaving. This meaning: there were no tuk-tuks and no way back. In the situation, I just answered to Gabriel in a very natural way that I can’t believe: Well, we’ll hitch-hike. And we started doing it on our way to the main road. The first car didn’t stop. The second, although I thought it wouldn’t either because the driver was shaking his head as he saw us, stopped. Niiiice, I thought! It was a pick up and we just jumped in the back of it. It was full of tools and everything was oily. The ride started and we were almost flying out of it. But it was great because it was the only thing we had and on top of everything: it was free. The man asked us to take 5 minutes for something he has to do. Of course, how not to, you are making us the favour! And he went in some “road” until he reached an aerial, put some petrol in some engine, made it work and got us back to Hpa-An. By then, it was already 8.25 and I run to a shop to get some biscuits so I could eat something before getting in to a tuk-tuk that was already there for the tour. Oh, and I washed my hands, because…I was full of dirt, but my hands were completely black.

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Buddhist Cave

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Pagodas, pagodas everywhere!

That’s how I started a tour around all the caves around Hpa-An. All of them had been turned to Buddhist Temples and you have to walk them barefoot. Which meant my feet ended up like my hands had been before. I had a great time and although my group was a bit old, they were super nice and were pretty cool. When we got to the last cave, I thought I could not take any more: my legs were killing me. But when I arrived to the guest house I fond Gabriel there, who had rented a bike for the day and when I proposed him to go to a tea house to have something to eat he had a better counter offer: Let’s go to the Bat Cave, the only one that had been left today. And I could not say otherwise than yes. We rushed our way to this place and when we got off the bike we started running to the cave because we were about to miss the bats coming out the cave during the sunset. I fell on the way, I suppose my legs where shouting at me for a break and couldn’t really take a run as well. The result was a blue elbow, scratches and a few wounds here and there in the arm and an ego down the floor. I picked up whatever was left of my pride and took it with me to see thousands and thousands of bats coming out a cave.

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Yes, those black dots are bats and they go to some place to come back to this cave before morning time!

By the time I was back to the guest house, I didn’t care my bed was something similar to a mattress on the floor or that it was full of bugs, I took a shower that were like two, because dust and dirt didn’t stop coming out (which made me feel back in India, funnily) and I went for food with a couple of guys I was sharing “dorm”. I was actually sleeping right between them and our feet might or might not have touched during the night, so I was glad we went for dinner first!

I woke up next day to take my bus veeery early in the morning to Yangon. I am getting used to the change of lifestyle here: Wake up with the sun and watch all the sunsets you can!

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