29.03.2008 - 06.04.2008 27 °C
We took an internet hiatus from emailing. It was not our choice but email and internet is very hard to come by, the further you are from a large city in Burma. We tried one day but only managed to get one email and it took one hour. (Even as we type this, email and most of other websites, yahoo, gmail, and msn, etc are "unavailable")
We just finished a week in the beautiful town of Pyin Oo Lwin in the hills outside of Mandalay. This was a very special stop for us as Ted's father, Don was born and raised here!
We wanted to share some of our most memorable stories from the little town...so here is our Top Ten most memorable stories and anecdotes (in no particular order!):
1. The Weather, Flowers and Strawberries - This is the reason that most locals come to spend their holidays in Pyin Oo Lwin (POL). It is at least 6 degrees cooler than the lowlands and the trees, flowers and forests are amazing! It also means that there are more hills and that was good for the cycling legs! The wild and wonderful strawberries are everywhere and are really good. I had a lot of trouble with transporting them as they were so delicate that every time I got them home they were juice! We had a great time visiting the Shan Market everyday to pick up all our favourite fruits (watermelon, papaya, oranges and apples are in season) and veggies (for our picnic!)
2. The People - It's a small town - what can I say? The people were always very curious about us but as soon as we smiled they did too! We especially enjoyed our "haunts" - the places in our "neighbourhood" that we frequented (ie., tea shop, beer stand and all of the shops and houses we walked by each day). We met many colourful characters including the gentleman who now owns the old Fisher house, the boys that always served us wonderful samosas and tea in the morning and a golfer named Joseph. He met us on our walk home one day and visited with us while he was heading to the golf course. We saw him several times after and he invited us to his house. One day we met him again and he took us to his house to visit his family! It was a delightful visit and his children and grandchildren loved our digital camera. We also met a friendly guy who saw that we were lost when we were heading to a hillside pagoda. He told us it was on his way and he rode with us - visiting the whole time! He was 66 years old and still rides a bike everyday!
3. Tea Shops, samosas and sweets - We found a little tea shop in the middle of town and that became one of our favourite haunts. They would always bring out a plate of samosas and that hooked us in! The young boys thought we were funny and were very good humoured. Many times we thought we were asking for regular Myanmar tea and instead we got tea with condensed milk. We tried so hard to learn how to say it properly but to no avail we always got tea with milk (not that we were complaining - it was awesome!). Burfi and indian sweet meats are tops here too!
4. Restaurants and bills - This was by far one of the most bewildering things that we have encountered in Burma. Most restaurants (food centres, tea shops etc) do not have prices on their english menus. Most of the time locals don't use a menu so I guess the menus are for foreigners. The funny part is that we decided awhile ago to not ask the price of an item because many times were were pleasantly surprised at how little it cost. However, the interesting part is that the price of the bill seems to vary significantly! We ate at a great little Indian restaurant and when we asked for the bill, we watched the whole family (staff) confer for many minutes trying to figure out how much to charge us! Sometimes were were pleasantly surprised and sometimes we were stunned! One time the bill came back reading: "lunch = 3600" - that is it - no breakdown or anything. Can't really barter with that can you? We finally agreed that if the restaurant had a door and a menu that had many pages, we should ask the prices!
5. 43 Beers - We took a share taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin on Ted's Birthday (March 29th) and we shared it with a couple from Ireland. When we got to town we met up with them in the market and we decided to go for an afternoon beer. We found a Beer Station that had draft Myanmar Beer (only 0.50$) and we started to visit and drink. We hadn't drunk with the Irish yet and found them to be good and eager drinkers! The boys at the Beer station were a bit stunned by the request for "four more" all of the time. Finally we realized that we should eat something as we had been sitting, drinking beer and eating lehpet (a snack) for 6 hours! When the tab came it said that we had 43 beers! We couldn't argue with them (none of us could count at that point) so we thanked them! We stumbled through town looking for food and singing happy birthday to Ted.
6. The Gaaris - How could any list of memorable things about Pyin Oo Lwin without mentioning the horse drawn carriages that are all over town. This was an awesome way to get off your feet for awhile and watch the world go by!
7. The Kandawgi Gardens - Another must see in this town. The gardens are famous and are just out of town. We had heard that the entrance fee was $2 (as quoted in the Lonely Planet) but we have learned that inflation and other things have drastically changed prices since that book was published. Instead it was $5 per foreigner plus $1 for your camera! That pretty much blew our budget - so it was a good thing we brought our own picnic lunch into the park! Don't get me wrong, we loved the park and especially loved the swans, takins and all of the incredible flora! We took a small break at a bench along a path in the swamp garden and a family walked by. The man stopped and asked us if he "could snap our picture"! We laughed, wondering what he and his family thought of us sitting in a swamp! Welcome Canadian swamp people!
8. Our Hotel - We splurged and stayed at the wonderful Royal Parkview Hotel. We had great service and we were glad to get our daily delivery of fruit and complimentary water! It took us several days to realize that all we have to do is ask and they will help! For instance, one morning we were having our "American Breakfast" - white toast and eggs and wishing that we could have something more regional. All of a sudden the table next to us received Mohinga! We were stunned. We asked the front desk if there was the possibility to have that and she said yes, and produced a long menu of local Burmese and Indian favourites. She told us that we just have to order the night before! The same thing happened shortly after when we were getting ready to watch the movie "Poseiden" (It gets very dark - and sometimes no power and most places close early in Burma so we watch movies before bed) and the channel goes blank (this frequently happens - channels change a lot!) so we call reception and they say "of course, we'll get it back for you!" - Burma is truly fascinating and mind-boggling!
9. Tofu! - Yes, tofu made the list! You might wonder why - it's a funny story! Ted's dad, Don has heard about the wonderful Shan Tofu of Pyin Oo Lwin. He wanted us to find it and learn how to make it. He gave us instructions to visit a local restaurant to learn the secrets of the Tofu business so that we could return to Canada and turn it into a million dollar empire! It's a good idea but that restaurant doesn't serve or make tofu! We did manage to find a Tofu Maker (through our hotel). He spent an hour with us showing us how to make dried strips of Shan Tofu (made of yellow beans or lentils). It was fascinating and a lot of fun....we didn't try as we were scared to wreck some of this delicate tofu!
10. Cycling - No Top ten is complete without our favourite mode of transportation! Pyin Oo Lwin is very spread out so the best way to see it is on bike. We rented "staff" bikes at our hotel almost every day. The bikes were always of varying degrees of "working". We biked down to the Pwe Kauk Falls one day and Ted had to use his "Flintstone" breaks to make it down safely. At the end of the very steep doiwnhill, he used a Runaway Lane into someone's yard a few feet before running into the Ticket Desk barricade at the entrance of the falls! One another occasion, Ted rode a bike where he continually bumped his knees on the handle bars!
So there we go! The Top Ten! We loved our trip to Pyin Oo Lwin and continually are learning more about the country, bartering and ourselves! Sorry to all of you who we would love to email but we are having a lot of problems with our Yahoo! Tomorrow we are off to Inle Lake! - should be a blast!