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We had a client – Ann Stone travel to Burma in February – as you can see she REALLY enjoyed it.

Yangon – East Hotel is central – opposite the Traders.  Taxi drivers have not heard of the East but all know Traders.  Walking distance to Scotts market (huge) and there’s a nice bar on the way back, not far from the bridge that goes over the main road, on the same side as the market.   Sule Pagoda is just down the road – can be seen from certain hotel windows.  The bathrooms are a bit of a challenge for those sharing with a stranger.  There’s no conventional bathroom, but the loo is behind a wall.    Had the most comfortable beds – proper mattresses rather than a slab of foam.  

Schwedagon Pagoda is absolutely fab – return on the last night around 5.00 pm to see it illuminated.  Bit like Disneyland but don’t miss it.    

We drove past Aung San Suu Kyi’s house on the way to the airport for the flight to Heho.   The film version in The Lady was very faithful to the original.  New $75m US Embassy just down the road. 

Inle Lake (town ofNyaung Shwe) – you stay at the Hu Pin hotel near the river at the top of the lake rather than on the lake but it’s very convenient.  Short walk to the jetty to take the boats on the next 2 days trips.   The lake trips are very good but you need a jacket or fleece first thing as it’s a bit chilly speeding along.   Plenty of cottage industries to visit and buy stuff at – very good value.    Probably the most basic hotel you stay at.  Plenty of restaurants to choose from – group meal at the hotel restaurant across the road. Hu Pin has got the town sewn up – there’s not a lot they don’t run.   Internet at Comet not far up the road – less than 50p for half an hour and the connection was OK -Mandalay is better.   There are others too.   Get up early and nip out at 7.00 am to see the monks collecting their alms – they come past the hotel.  There isn’t the mad scramble for photos as there is in Luang Prabang. 

Kalaw – No train trip from NS to Aung Ban – taken over by the military.  We met the military on it at Kalaw station later.   Immaculate green uniforms + leather flip flops.   Young men who were happy to converse and practice their English. 

Green Haven.     There’s a hot water problem here and certainly no room to swing cats in the rooms.  The wet room on the other hand is huge – if only it had lashings of hot water.  Best food all trip at the Seven Sisters restaurant and a waitress who speaks excellent English.   Again the hotel is out of town but Myou organises the bus to take you in for dinner and bring you all back.  You then choose which of several restaurants you want to eat at.   Beware stupid teenagers – 4 of whom ride together on a small motorbike.  One crashed into our group of 6 in the dark – it could have been very nasty.  

The walk is quite a challenge for some as it’s a continuous incline up to get to the village.  The mountain goats in the group stride on ahead.   Why is it those who need the most rest at a stopping point get the least?  Never worked that one out!   The local guide is a sweetie – he comes back with a motor bike to pick up the stragglers so if you fancy a pillion ride, hang back a bit.    (I got a bit lost at Indein on day 4 so flagged down a local for a ride on the back of his motorbike. It’s amazing what you can achieve with sign language and the odd word in English.  He probably thought I was barmy but what did I care – I got a ride instead of having to walk because I’d taken a wrong turn).  

Mandalay – very nice hotel -AyarwaddyRiver – on the river, quite a distance from the city.  Taxi required if you want to sample any LP recommended City restaurants. There’s also a nice riverside one not too far from the hotel but be generous with the insect repellent – lots of biting things about.    Very good free internet at this hotel – it worked – only place it did. 

The boat trip from Mandalayto Bagan is very restful and long 09.00 till 18.00.   The boat is just for tourists – not a local in sight.   The river is not particularly busy so take a good book to read and top up the tan.   Myou took us an hour before the boat left to grab the comfortable streets.  Beware soot from the funnel at the back until it warms up and gets going.   Lunch was freshly cooked vegt soup followed by butterfish (excellent not a bone in sight) and chicken with rice.  Forget the boxed lunch bit in the trip notes. 

Amarapura – no time to visit cottage industries here disappointingly but the sampans out to the middle of the bridge is a good way to arrive – great Kodak opportunities along the underside of the bridge which you don’t see if you just walk along it.  

Bagan is great – pagodas everywhere you look and not really like Angkor Wat.   The horse carts are quite bumpy so ask the driver to stop for photos.  This is a really fab hotel (the Amazing Bagan Resort) – lovely swimming pool and grounds. 

As to Burma – really quite unspoilt as far as tourists go.  The children are still polite and do not ask for pens.  Myou took us shopping for stationery prior to our school visit and one couple bought a football which made a nice change.   Very few beggars although the hawkers became gradually more aggressive as the tourist stops progressed.  Burmans understand you don’t hold your hand out but offer a service for their very reasonable level of remuneration.   

So many asked where we were from and were genuinely pleased that the English are visiting.  I had a very convoluted conversation with a local guide who said they understood why we were visiting and that they were very grateful for the support of the English.  No names were mentioned but he knew why we were all visiting now.   The people are a joy, so friendly and anxious to please but in a nice way.   Many of the cars are ancient, certainly some of the taxis are probably death traps but they are all clean on the outside despite the dust.   They drive on the right but most are also right hand drive and there is a noticeable absence of horn tooting.   No tuk tuks that we are familiar with – they are large with 2 long seats in the back that seat 8 sideways in total.   Go now before the country is overrun.  The French and Italians seem to visit in great numbers and now the Chinese are prolific tourists of course.  We found the NLD office in Bagan – clearly allowed to function without interference and all are very hopeful that they may get seats in the 1 April elections when about 47 are available out of a total in excess of 300.   It would be a very small gesture if the Generals allow it to happen.

 It is I think a country to go back to -MountPoppaand Kaitiyko (not spelt correctly) beckon (the latter is a particularly adventurous journey to arrive at the top). 

Beware all pagoda/stupa/monastery visits are in bare feet – no socks allowed.   The surfaces are in general cool and smooth but concrete steps can be a challenge. 

The trip is nicely varied – city, lake, river, country on boats, large buses and planes.    Good food, the sun shone every day, not a cloud in the sky (February trip).   Well done Explore – a good package and a chance to visit a country that is really special.    No machinery on farms or for road building.  Instead lots of young girls earning $5/6 per day laying 3 lots of size graded stones on the road, topped off with bitumen.       The only machinery is a road roller used at the end.