We arrived in Mandalay after another long windy bus journey, where yet again the locals didn't travel well. Feeling a little ruffled we headed out into the city in search of lunch, we didn't get much further than a couple of blocks, where we found a Chinese restaurant. We got chatting to some of the local guides there and before we knew it the day had gone in offers of the local Mandalay rum, and snacks of deep fried locusts a delicacy at this time of year. Having become firm friends we were invited to spend the next couple of days at the home village of Kyaume for the Pagoda festival.
We has been told that no other foreigners had been to the village before we arrived,but hadn't really believed it, but it turned out it was true. The village was in the rural countryside, where we stayed with family friends of theirs and even got given the main bedroom to sleep in, we were bowled over by the kindness and generosity we experienced during our stay.
At 4am we were woken by the amplified sounds of music and singing coming from all over the village, intermingled with the numerous cockerels and the pig sleeping next to us. It was time for the village to get up and start preparing the feast for the monastery.
Once everyone was up we headed out to swim at the lake, a flooded wood on the edge of the village, in true Burmese style we did this fully clothed, slithering through the thick mud to get in. Showered off with buckets from the well, we headed back to change for the festival, all the men wearing their best longyi.
The village elders invited us into the monastery to take breakfast, we had curry, rice, and tea leaf salad, but were warned not to eat too much as we would be eating a lot more later on. Then it was time for the donations, Tim got given a monk's bowl and proceeded to collect donations of food from the many assembled villagers much to the amusement of the locals.
The rest of the day was spent visiting and catching up with his old friends in the village, everyone hosted a sort of open house, were we ate tea leaf salads, sweets, fruit, noodles or curry, so full we could barely move, we hadn't heeded the early warning enough! We played with goats, saw vintage old British bicycles and water pumps, and got to drink more of the local palm wine.
In Mandalay we decided to see a few of the sights opting to travel by bicycle rickshaw, though we must have been too much for him together as the chain came off and got irretrievably jammed and ended up walking the rest of the way!
For our final journey in Myanmar we headed north by train to visit the botanical gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin and then onto Kyaukme via the dramatic Gokteik viaduct where the train slowed to a crawl to cross the narrow rails.
Kyaukme was a small town surrounded by hills often used as a good base for trekking into the nearby villages, but we had run out of time and spent a day exploring the town, and temples and getting invited (dragged) into a local wedding.
It was time to return to Mandalay and say a sad farewell to Myanmar, which had won over our hearts, challenged us and reaffirmed our love for travelling in less developed countries.