|After some tasty breakfast at the guesthouse, we found out that all rooms were booked up for the night. The owner of our guesthouse, Dr. Htun, made a quick phone call to a sister guesthouse a few blocks away, and got us a room for the night. We hung out with Dr. Htun, who was interested in learning how to pronounce my name, 'Agnieszka' - he found out about it from my passport. We chatted about things Myanmar. Afterwards, we headed back to our room to pack up our stuff, and put together our bikes (still in bike boxes at the time). We were ready to go, with bikes loaded by 11:30am. The other guesthouse was not far away. They were expecting us when we arrived. It lacked the feel of the Haven Inn, and the staff wasn't as friendly or intriguing to talk to, but Dr. Htun was a mere 3 blocks away.
The most important order of the day was to find bus tickets to Mandalay, as we were hoping to leave asap. We headed out shortly after checking into the second guesthouse. It was scorching hot outside, and we were determined to get there on foot - not an easy task with hundreds of trishaw drivers seeking business. In their defense, they are infinitely more polite, and respectful than tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand. The road we turned on from there was busy with people. Many hawkers. Tonnes of diiferent quick eats to choose from, including several choices we haven't seen before (some looked like cheese, but we never inquired). We also passed several betel stands, where you can get a variety of different betel concoctions to go, tailored to your particular taste. There are tonnes of signs of betel chewing on the streets, as people spit the red, juicy excess on the ground as they go by. There are quite a few old, colonial style buildings, undoubtedly left over from the British era. Most of them are unkempt, but still look rather beautiful, especially when you are walking amongst the beautiful Burmese people on the streets below. The men and women are very beautiful. Women proudly wear their Thanakha, in various designs on their faces. Many have very long hair adorning their delicate features. Men wear their logyis, and often adjust them while walking, and while sitting as to not reveal too much. I took a few photos of people. They didn't seem to mind much after I asked them permission, although they were a bit camera shy. There are many manual sugar cane machines on the streets, as well as several places selling shaved ice treats - the ice is shaved by moving it past a fixed blade. There are also people selling various items, such as books, shoes and combs to name a few. We passed a palm reader, some street-side manicurists (one woman had 2 guys working on her hands at the same time), and a guy who had his ear worked on in a strange way. We passed many old movie posters painted on the sides of buildings - titles such as "Mr. India" and "Octopussy" to name a few. There were a few stands set up with phones. I guess locals can scarcely afford to have them at home, and there are no payphones. Very few cell phones as well - only for the obscenely rich, by local standards.
We had a hard time finding the place, as there are very few street signs, but after asking several people we managed to get there eventually. It was absolutely scorching hot. Must have been in the high 30s C. As soon as we got there, we were immediately chatted up by a guy, with a rather dodgy looking setup. He had quite a nervous energy about him. He quoted us 11 or 16 thousand Kyat, and showed us photos of two types of buses. We were in no hurry to make a decision on the spot, and walked away stating we needed to get something to drink first. He looked at as a man who knows he just lost a sale. He then tried in vain to sell us some Kyat at 1400 to a dollar US as we were walking away. Our next stop was another bus operator office. The guy immediately got on a phone, and notified us that tomorrow was all booked. He was going to charge us 11000Kyat, and was sort of pressuring us to make a decision before he got off the phone. We told him we couldn't spare another day, and headed for the next bus booking place. It was the one after that that had what we needed. We booked two seats on a bus to Inle Lake, leaving tomorrow at 12:30pm. We got good feelings out of the lady selling the tickets, and at 11000Kyat we didn't feel over-charged. Before heading back we spend a few minutes hanging out at a gym where a hacky-sac competition was taking place. Two teams of 8 were on the floor at the same time, each with a referee and two judges keeping score. We couldn't figure out the rules, but it seemed as though the style mattered for at least some of the score. The players ranged in age from really old to very young, and they were all quite good, with really awesome moves. They were wearing shorts, high socks and special, very thin shoes. People seemed to be quite into it. All men players, and all men in the audience except for one woman who left as soon as we sat down near her. I wasn't asked to leave, so I assume women are allowed to watch. They were using a hollow rattan ball, about the size of a large grapefruit. It was really neat to watch everyone get into it.
On the way back we stopped for some Myanmar beers, at 400Kyat per glass. They were quite good, and the little pub we had them at had friendly staff, and betel spit buckets at each table. We were definitely a curiosity, and most of the patrons stared quite blatantly, but we are pretty much used to it by now. We stopped later for some coffee on the way. Yangon has many cafes with little kid tables and chairs spilling onto the streets. The furniture is literally for kids, and it looks really cute. We chatted to a guy from Mt. Popa area who was in Yangon for a visit. He was sitting at a table next to us with his 10-yo son, his wife and her sister. They were curious about our marital status, age and other things. We could tell that it was the two women that wanted to know. He looked at our map with us and we asked him a few questions about roads. His answers were not very helpful, but we learned that the road from Hsipaw to Namsham is probably ok. We both got the feeling that he was a government official of some sort. He was well spoken and had an air of proudness about him, but than again we could be completely wrong. He convinced Myles to invest in a longyi, as its cool and cottony.
Myanmar feels like it is 25 years behind.
Tomorrow we brave the traffic of Yangon to make our way to the distant bus station, where we hope to stick two bicycles in the luggage compartment without killing them. If that goes well, we are in for a 16hour bus ride to Inle Lake.