We arrived In Hpa an after a utterly horrendous four hour journey in a pick up that randomly kept stopping, ending the cool breeze and leaving you drenched in sweat. Tobias fell asleep on the driver which at first I found amusing but then reassessed as pretty dangerous so pulled him in the opposite direction.
Hpa an is a small town surrounded by stunning countryside. Limestone karsts of the halong bay variety, tropical rain forest and bright green rice paddies.
It was obvious from word go that they don't have a lot of tourists in hpa an. Everyone was smiling, shouting minglar ba (hello) and waving. The burmese are super friendly and genuinely interested in us, so quick to smile and be helpful. Absolutely delightful.
We rented a motorbike and travelled south out of town through the jungle clad karsts to Saddan Cave, translated as the gates of hell. People wanted to show us their babies and take our photos, i guess because there are so few foreigners visiting these sites that they consider so important to their cultural heritage. There are Buddhas and bats in the cave and you walk deeper and deeper in the dark for what seemed to me to be half an hour but was probably less, with no shoes on as it's a sacred site. The glaring sun welcomed me on the other side, and we took a boat, aka a piece of wood paddled by a burmese dude, all the way around the cave, through rice paddy irrigation channels. Words cannot do justice to how beautiful it is, such vivid colours, rural quiet, slow paced life. Later we went to a lake, which was basically a glorified swimming pool. The photo taking reached fever pitch with the locals. Once one of them has plucked up the courage to ask for a snap, the rest want one as well.
The next day we took a boat from hpa an downriver to the city of Mawlamyine. The four hour boat journey was so amazingly beautiful, just the two of us and the driver bailing out water from the back. Hundreds of gold payas rest along side the shores of the river, hidden at the top of karsts and later in the tropical banana and coconut trees. People living on the side of the river came down the banks to wave. The farmers and the fishermen have a good stare.
Mawlamyine is all colonial shabiness and gold payas. A nice town where they seem a little more used to western tourists and where there are visibly more Muslims than I've seen anywhere else in myanmar. And my lord, is it hot. 35 degrees, 80% humidity. But keep those knees and shoulders covered ladies! Suffice to say after trekking up hill to see the pagoda over looking the city, I was less than fresh. On the way back down we watched some child monks playing football, cheering them on with the international language of football that even a philistine like me is well versed in.
One of the tough things to witness here is the amount of kids they have working in restaurants. At first I thought it was because they are family businesses, but no. It's just kids working instead of going to school. The government only pays for school up to about ten years old and after that, you're on your own. Even if you give them 40 cent tip their eyes light up. Breaks my heart a bit.
Tonight we're getting yet another night bus to Dawei from where we travel to the myeik archipelago and then to the very south of burma and cross the border into Thailand.
I'm back in the UK in two weeks people. How time flies when you're having fun :)
bridgette hallam Love all your descriptions about Burma.It helps so much for us at home to appreciate your fabulous experiences! Caves of hell sound loathsome, it is good that you are ready to participate and hopefully emerge unscathed. Time has certainly gone by at apace and we all look forward so much to seeing our lovely granddaughter Nanny and grampsbr
Bernadette Your experiences in Myanmar sound amazing Ray. It's great that you have had the chance to explore places off the tourist track and meet the locals though I was sad to read about the working children. The countryside sounds so beautiful and I can really picture it thanks to your excellent descriptions. Enjoy your final two weeks. You've packed am incredible amount of adventures into a short time! Looking forward very much to seeing you soon. Mum x
Jonathan What a brilliant narrative to what is an essentially challenging experience. Makes us feel like we're living it with you. Well up to the standards set for travelling blogs by Big Sis, and little Bro. Can't wait to see you again, Love Dad X