Today was a full day of travel as we left Myanmar and headed to Vietnam. We jumped ship (the Paukan 2007) at about 7:30am at the bridges near Sagaing. We would’ve been cutting things too fine with our early flights to wait until docking in Mandalay at 9am (which somehow slipped under the radar of 2 seasoned travel organisers and their travel agent!). But the impromptu problem solving by our guide on board was very impressive and even a bit exciting, the way he arranged for a boat to meet us and we hopped overboard and headed off on an adventure completely different to the other passengers. We were, however, very disappointed not to have seen anything of the fine city of Mandalay, but maybe next time.
The last minute organisation of the morning was indeed efficient and thorough, and there was a driver to meet our fishing boat as we walked our flimsy gangplank to shore, grateful for strong-armed fishermen to hoist our bags above their heads and carry them nimbly to the van. Even one of their wives was eager to help, and she was stronger than she looked!
Our driver and guide were a little disappointed that they had so little time to show us around, as we were eager not to be late for our flights. They obviously know more about Myanmar aviation punctuality than us, because we really could’ve added one or two more things to our morning before fronting up at the terminal. We were taken to the top of Sagaing Hill, an important religious site, with Soon U Ponya Shin Paya in all its shimmering glory at the top. Looking down on the lush hillside, peppered with more golden spires winking at us in the morning light through the mist was breathtaking – especially without the crowds that would descend on the temple within another half an hour.
Our other minor detour on the way to the airport was U Bein’s Bridge, the world’s longest teak footbridge. This 1.2km curving stretch of weathered teak is quite regal in the dry season, with its poles raising the bridge high above the water level – in the wet season, apparently the gentle waves lap just under the floor boards.
After our short relationship with our new guide and driver had ended, we had quite a long wait for our flight to Yangon. Got to love the job of maintaining an online travel diary for the world to see – there is never a dull moment in an airport lounge when trying to keep our adventures up to date!
On landing safely in Yangon, we were met with the familiar face of our original Yangon driver – a very handsome man, with a gigantic smile full of pristine white teeth. He knew we had a couple of hours to kill between flights, so rescued us from more tedious airport time by taking us to a local restaurant with truly outstanding food. The western loos even had a sign on the back of the door with a drawing asking people not to stand on their new toilet seat (obviously some are more comfortable squatting than sitting, I guess!).
After our meal we popped in to see two ‘white’ elephants in a small sanctuary a few minutes from the airport. They were really more a pinky grey, but obviously not the usual elephant colour. They made me a little sad actually, as they seemed to be doing a lot of swaying and ear flapping. I really hope that was just because workmen were banging about fixing their enclosure…
Yangon International Airport was an interesting place – very new, very empty and very grubby. People need to learn that mopping a floor that still has debris on it, is never going to get clean! Hanoi airport was another long wait (paying for a pre-approval visa online was a waste of time and money, really – it didn’t expedite things one jot!), and the luggage arrived an hour after the flight landed…maybe they knew how long visa processing would take and were trying to time it right? We fell in to bed at 12:30am!
Our travel agent on the Myanmar section of this trip was Kyaw Khaing at One Stop Myanmar. He handled all of our internal flights, transfers and tours. We were very impressed with his efficiency, helpfulness, excellent advice, friendliness and price!