Southern circuit – Mawlamyine to Yangoon

So we run away from the monastery and now what? Our time in Myanmar was close to the end, but we had another 3 days to fill. We spent the first night in Mawlamyine – base camp for the monastery – but there was absolutely nothing to do, so we left the following morning.

We went on a 4h boat trip to Hpa An. The trip was not as marvelous as we were told by the ticket seller, but it was better than another local bus. The ride was slow, but pleasant. The scenery that Lonely Planet describes as stunning wasn’t anything extraordinary, just a regular river bank I’d say – only by the end of the trip we passed next to a few interesting rock formations – but the ride was enjoyable nevertheless.

Hpa-An itself turned out to be a nice spot. It seemed off the beaten track, but at the same time had enough tourist infrastructure to make foreigners feel welcome. It was a little town on the river, living its own life, not looking to impress anyone. Especially not with rubbish covering its river bank. When we got off the boat, we had to walk through piles of plastic to get on the street. Yet as long as we looked ahead, not down, we could see Hpa An’s beautiful surroundings, palms and karsts. It’s major attractions were in fact outside of town. We were considering joining a day tour, but the list of places in the itinerary consisted of caves and pagodas only. We have seen so many of both that we weren’t overly excited to see more. We enjoyed the town for one afternoon and we left the following day.

At 7am we got on a pick-up truck that took us on a 4h ride to Kinpun – Golden Rock’s base-camp. Wooden benches on that pick-up flattened our bums a little, but at least it was an airy ride.

Golden Rock is one of the most important places of worship in Myanmar. It’s a pagoda built next to a rock that hangs above beautiful valley. It looks like it’s going to roll down any minute and has been that way for thousands of years. The Burmese see it as a miracle and make pilgrimages to the rock in their thousands.

There were two ways of getting to the rock. One was on foot 11km uphill, another one on a back of a truck. We went for the second option. Ale wasn’t feeling well that day – he had some raw vegetables the night before that made his stomach go wild. We thought getting on the truck would be getter for him, but we didn’t know that we were getting on a roller-coaster ride. The car was a small delivery truck with wooden benches installed on the back. I counted over 40 people squeezed on seats suitable for 20 people. I think they packed us so tight so that nobody would fall out on turns. The driver was driving like crazy, speeding up and down the hill. At some point he was going so fast over the hill that people started to scream. That luna-park ride made Ale’s stomach go mad and we couldn’t stay long.

The place had a unique atmosphere. It had it’s commercial face, as any religious Mecca, but the air of strong faith was prevailing. Monks prayed next to lay people, Burmese mingled with foreigners. Apparently miracles happened at that rock and looking at those people pray, it was obvious that they believed their questions would be answered.
Ale’s prayers for better stomach weren’t fulfilled and when we got back down we went to a doctor who gave him an impressive collection of pills.

The day after he felt better and we got a bus to Yangoon and spent there a day strolling around Shwedagon Pagoda’s magnificent gardens and catching a circular train around Yangoon’s suburbs. The day after our Burmese adventure came to an end. We caught a flight back to Bangkok and then three days later back to Europe.

It was time to go home.

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