And now for the final leg of our trip…
From Mt Kyaiktiyo we travelled to Hpa-an… in the back of a pick-up truck. This is the main form of transport locals use and was actually not too bad although my butt was awfully sore at the end of the 4 hours! Hpa-an was absolutely beautiful and a lot of fun. It sits beneath Mt Zwegabin and is surrounded by huge limestone karsts which are riddled with caves. The caves were absolutely incredible – Sadden cave was definitely the most impressive with its cathedral sized caverns, huge stalactites and crystals and thousands upon thousands of bats. The fact you needed a torch to find your way through plus the nice boat ride through the second cave and back to the beginning made it even cooler. We also got to feed some macaque monkeys a banana which was both a bit scary and hilarious!
The highlight of the day however was the random festival we came across after lunch. We’re still not entirely sure what it was for as our guide said something about monks but the drunk local we were chatting to said something about the militia – whatever it was it was insane! They were sending up hot air balloons with long tails into the sky, then a few guys was shooting at the balloons with M16s (and sometimes just shooting the sky for the hell of it), there was loud music and hundreds of people and everyone was drunk… it was awesome!
From Hpa-an we travelled back to Yangon and stayed the night in a rather dingy $12 room (all the other hotels were full) then we flew to Sittwe and the following day took the 7 hour public ferry to Mrauk U. These 2 days of travel are the only way to get to isolated Mrauk U as a foreigner because all the surrounding roads are off limits! Although the ferry looked like it was going to sink at the dock (imagine those overloaded ferries you here about sinking off Bangladesh), it wasn’t actually too bad and with our $1 upgrade to a reclining bamboo chair (living large!) it was quite comfortable.
During our first day in Mrauk U we walked around exploring the temples in the ‘north block’ with our torch. Unfortunately for me the first temple we visited had a snakeskin sitting just inside the entrance… safe to say I was petrified for the rest of our time inside that temple. The second temple wasn’t much better – it was even darker and much bigger and as we went to walk through a passageway to a lighter area I froze as I saw the two snake tails hanging from the roof… then they moved… Safe to say I was shaking just a little bit by then!
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful snake-wise (thankfully) and we enjoyed looking at all the very impressive stone temples in the eastern and southern areas the day after. We hired mountain bikes for our second day as some of the temples were further out of town. It was fun dodging the potholes and seeing all of the children in the outer villages – we even had 4 children run around 200m to see us. They reached us and just stood there giggling, I don’t think they really knew what to do! We gave them a biscuit each which they then tried to share with us as we weren’t holding one, then they waited to make sure every child had a biscuit before anybody started eating. I can imagine most Australian children would have shoved it in their mouth then requested another one straight away…
We decided to bring our flight back to Yangon forward by 2 days as although it was a really nice, peaceful little town there wasn’t much to do. It was a bit of a debacle finding someone who spoke enough English to understand what we wanted however after trying a few places we rode down to the most expensive hotel and the staff there were extremely nice and changed our flight over the phone. However from there it just went downhill… There was a festival on up-river which meant the normal ferry wasn’t running so our “helpful” hotel manager organised what we assumed was a private boat (due to the cost) to get us back to Sittwe. Well our $40 private boat turned out to a private-sized boat that we shared with 50 other locals by sitting on the wooden floor squished in a space probably comfortable for a 3 year old child. We were not impressed! We ended up standing for 5 of the 6 hour boat ride as there simply wasn’t enough room. We then got back to Sittwe where the only decent budget hotel had decided to increase its price to $35 a night (it wasn’t even worth the $30 it used to be) – overall it was definitely the worst day of our travels so far. The actual experience wasn’t that bad, it was the cost that made us really angry!
After being abused by some drunk man at 11 in the morning and being ripped off multiple times we summarised that Sittwe was a huge hole and we wanted to get out as soon as possible. Thankfully our flight change had been processed properly and we flew back to Yangon that afternoon.
We had three days left in Yangon so decided to spend our first day shopping at the market where we bought a few small souvenirs and presents. We had planned to do the rest of our sightseeing the next day however we must have eaten a dodgy lunch as we got really sick! So for our second day we just relaxed in our small hotel room then finished off our sightseeing on our final day, before flying out to Bangkok.
Even though we found ourselves with a fair amount of spare time in Myanmar, it was a really great experience and a really gorgeous, friendly country (except for Sittwe…). Next stop – Nepal!