Inle Lake and Our Trip to Mr Min’s Cookery School, Myanmar.

Well that was an interesting flight!

Yangon to Heho…

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After a few hours delay in a lovelydomestic airport lounge, we were finally airborne on what can only be described as a rather shoddy 1970 propeller plane and stuck together with bits of tape and carpeted walls as soundproofing.

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So we think we have seats together, C & D but as it turns out there was no B or E. Instead Steve gets to sit next to a very skinny white person who says nothing the whole flight and just nibbles the ham off the top of a strange tasting bread bun that is our free in flight meal. Deb on the other hand gets a rather portly older bloke who spends his time ogling scantily clad women on his phone, invading her space bubble and making the worst chewing, grunting and coughing sounds whilst eating until he’s asleep then he’s snoring. Oh, I didn’t mention that he takes a call on his mobile as we taxi down the runway.. AND not forgetting reads a paper that takes both seats.

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Then we land, PHEW. Where’s our lift? Due to the delays the hotel rearranged the taxi for later. 3 hours later than after we arrive? Luckily the airport staff help us and call the hotel and within 10 minutes we are on route.

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Steve had concerns over the 2 star hotel Debs had booked but we arrive to a super little place about 15 mins walk from town. Hotel Brillant was appropriately named and a brilliant place to stay. It was valentines days on the day we arrived, a lovely start to our stay.

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You could even borrow free bicycles to cycle to town and a bus would drive you down to the village in the evening and collect you later. Much much better than the photos on the website and there was a small traditional shan restaurant just over the road where we had a couple of good meals.

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Next day we spend walking to town and going to a cool local market where we pick up some traditional masks and Deb grabs some amazingly priced silk fabric. Myanmar local markets are nothing like the others we have been too. Real hand made tools, reed products, betel leaves and fish so fresh it is still wiggling whilst being chopped up!

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We find a local cafe and go super safe with cans of coke and straws. So many tourists get ill here that we are on constant safety watch wiping everything as we go, super hand washing as the money is so so dirty. Right down to hand sanitising the phone and camera every so often with cotton buds.

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Off out tonight to watch a film made by an ex monk all about how the monks of the area live. If you find yourself in Lake Inle, the film shown at a restaurant/art gallery called French Touch is free and a great way to learn about a local monks life. We get the lift down by the hotel and after the film finishes our car doesn’t arrive so we have to wander back whilst trying to evade the wild dogs and just as we get close to the hotel a car stops and says hotel brilliant? Better late than never?

Time to head to bed and be up bright and early for our cooking class at Mr Min’s.

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Our lift arrives on time and it’s off to the market to go buy the ingredients. Fresh food in abundance due to the banks of the lake. We ask loads of questions about the foods we don’t recognise.

Then off on a boat to speed along to our class in one of the floating villages. AMAZING!!

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The setting was fabulous and we even go and ride around the local village. No tourists here!

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May and Yin help us produce 10 local shan dishes. Everything from

Sticky rice crackers
Tufo crackers
Spring onion tempura
Vegetable soup
Chicken curry
Fish curry
Tealeaf salad.. Just the best!
Green tomatoe salad
Potatoe rice
Fried broccoli
Shan tofu curry
Snow pea salad
Avocado salad

It’s such a shame that in just two years the water has become unusable and many boats now have engines. Where they used to run on solar power they now have electricity. Who knows how this will look in 5 years time. Hopefully not like Cambodia and Bangkok.

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The guys did a great job and we cooked up a treat to eat on the amazing decking and chatted about everything from floating garden construction to real life living in Myanmar as a local. Once we were all finished we got a floating village tour through the local village in a little wooden canoe. Trying to watch Deb wobble her way in was quite a site to behold and Steve really loved his new hat!

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Eventually we had to return to the main land but not until we had managed to secure a day out on the lake with May’s brother in law in his boat.

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No dinner tonight as we were well and truly stuffed full and had to have an early night ready for the boat in the morning. Deb had made her own itinerary to ensure we got to do what we wanted and not the usual tourist/boatman commission stops and again do things in the opposite order to all the standard tour operators so we get more time by ourselves.

Live Happy

Debs and Steve

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Yes, We Finally Get Ourselves to Yangon!

After the interconnecting flight from Hue to Ho Chi Minh City then reclaim of bags to recheck back in to get to Bangkok we arrive at our hotel.

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Really nice place and only £25 per person per night with a lovely roof top pool, bar and good location.

It’s just a couple of nights before to make sure we made our connecting flight to Myanmar. We spend the next day in the markets exploring the biggest wholesale/retail market in Asia. Strangest place, you can’t try anything on, not even just pop it over the top of your clothes and there are no refunds. Needless to say we didn’t buy anything.

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What we also didn’t realise was that it was Makha Bucha Day. This meant that on this Saturday night in Bangkok that no one could serve alcohol, so no roof top bar for us. After going out we return to our room to raid the minibar of the sad 2 cans of beer and end up paying nearly £10.00!

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Next morning we treat ourselves to the luxury of a hotel buffet breakfast and over stuff on western food to the point we both feel like we are going to explode, then off to the airport to depart to Yangon.

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Nikki our daughter is ready and waiting to greet us in arrivals in a lovely new airport and getting through immigration with our e-visa was a breeze! The immigration officers were just so pleasant too. We head off in a random taxi with a space saver wheel and a driver chewing away at a betel leaf and spitting red saliva out the window.
Betel is a leaf that a lot of people chew. When you chew it your mouth goes red and produces lots of saliva, it’s got something in it that keeps you awake. Taxi drivers all seem to use it and you can see the big red spit spats all over the pavements.

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We spend the evening at the Green Elephant eating a couple of delicious currys, coconut rice, lentil rice and soya crackers.

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Next day Nikki is at work and we go and explore the Shwedagon Pagoda. We flag a taxi and for a sum of £1.20 we are dropped off at the north entrance. This pagoda is huge, you have to take your shoes off at the entrance and put them in a bag or pay for a locker, luckily we had a bag! It’s not cheap to get in currently $5 each but so worth it. You learn so much about the place and the Myanmar way of life. They even have 8 days in a week, Wednesday becomes Wednesday AM until 18:00 then it’s PM until midnight.

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After a very hot few hours we then go and meet Nikki at the international school she works in and have a look around before wandering off into rush hour for a Burmese cooking course that was recommended to us.

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We walk around and eventually find a rather spurious tower block in what we thought was an”interesting” area, ask some locals if we are in the right location and then up in a very dodgy lift to the 12th floor. Eventually we find the flat which has an amazing view of the Shwedagon Pagoda. The moral of the story, never judge a book by it’s cover!

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We spend the evening being shown a select of meals to cook and learning about how life has changed in the last 17 years in Yangon. We sit around a table in the kitchen trying them all. In true standard fashion Steve scoffs the lot, smiling away and Deb has to pick through and force it down. Deb really is not an Asian food fan and it may even seem to now have turned into a bit of a food phobia.

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Deep fried anything from spider, sparrow to chicken head is fine, put a bowl of mixed up noodle floating in liquid and Deb really can’t do it!

Time to get to bed ready for an early start to get ourselves over to Inle Lake.

Live Happy
Debs and Steve

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Hue and What to Do

We choose to take a car and drive on route to Hue and make a day of it. You can get there various ways.

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Train – Cheap and slow and you miss the views and stopping where you fancy.
Bus – Misses most of the beautiful pass and bay and to be frank,  we had them pass us along some of the route. They drive fast with no care, like they have a death wish. The poor motorbikes get pushed off the road into the dirt all the time and the bus will play with the traffic, not slowing down until you do to let them through. Then 5 mins later they are at the side of the road having broken down or over heated and all the passengers are sweating in the heat.
Motorbike – For the mentally insane westerner who wants the standard right of passage leg scar and knee injury. 😉

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After you pass the mass development of jumbo sized new resort hotels being built on the beach front pretty much all the way from Hoi An to Danang the 1st stop is a place called Marble Mountains. It looks just like 5 pieces of rock poking out from the earth and not much to see but as soon as you get on them you see why people like them and also why during the Vietnam war they built a hospital in them. It was right next to the US army base hidden in plain site and never found! The views are great and you could spend half a day here easily, exploring the temples, tunnels and caves inside. We were so glad it wasn’t raining as you would really struggle to get about as the marble is slippy enough in the dry.

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Then we took the slow road to Hue to be able to go through the Hải Vân Pass as seen on Top Gear. The views are lovely on the day we drove although it can be extremely foggy sometimes.

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Final stop is Lang Co Bay, apparently one of the 30 best bays in the world?

We arrive at our hotel, Hue Villa Hotel which is part of a tourism training college teaching the young how to run hotels and part funded by Luxembourg. Rooms are big and it’s a cheap place to stay as long as you don’t eat there as the food was expensive.

We spend the evening watching the sunset over perfume river and the dragon boats shuffling tourists back and forth.

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Next day we bake ourselves in the sun whilst looking around the imperial city. It’s currently being restored as it was, as you can most probably guess, bombed by the Americans in the war!

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It’s an impressive place and the restored parts are beautiful. Deb finally runs out of memory cards which gives us a good opportunity to look through our photos and realise just how much we have seen and done and just how quickly it has gone by. Can’t believe we will be on our way home soon.
This starts the whole, what are we going to do conversations again and then on to what destinations we fancy next?

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The sun is still shining so we book a car and driver for the afternoon for £15 and head off to the tomb of Khan Dinh. It’s a pretty stunning place but again, if you look at how poor the people were verses the tomb it’s pretty sad. It was know as the place you never return from when it was being built and so many died in it’s making. The imperial king also put the taxes of the village up by 30% just to pay for it!

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Then we are off to the abandoned water park down the road to pay a villager 70p who is making himself an extra bit of cash on the side to let you through the gate. This place was opened back in 2004 although not complete and closed in 2006, for a reason no one is quite sure of. Up until 2014 there were plans to turn it into an eco holiday park but this has since failed. The park is now just in decay and a cool place to visit since the crocodiles have been re-homed.

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The scariest thing is that you can walk up to the top of the dragons head and look over the edge. Some have even climbed on to the top of the head. The place only has a few people wandering around. Mainly younger bloggers/vloggers trying to be super cool. No health and safety here, sure it won’t be long until some crazy vlogger or blogger falls off and then the access stairs will get smashed up to stop you going up.

The night is spent on the riverbank watching the locals cooking up spurious bowls of stuff on stalls under a bridge and trying to sell some rather tatty souvenirs to the over dreamy tourists.

Then it’s off to have maybe the second best curry Deb has ever had at Shiva-Shakti Indian Restaurant complete with the locally brewed beer.

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Over night the rain arrives and the power come and goes, just as well we are packing up and moving on to Bangkok to catch our flight over to Myanmar.

Live Happy
Debs and Steve

P.S. This is what happens when you have a Korean wanting to help take your photos and shows you how to pose!

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Hoi An, City of Lanterns.

We arrive in Hoi An in the rain and decide to get the umbrellas out and go for a wander. 5 mins later we are back as it turns into an absolute down pour.

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The rain doesn’t stop so it’s dinner in the hotel and an early night with the hope for a better day tomorrow.

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Next day the rain has subsided but the clouds still look dark, so we go to explore and find a place to sit and people watch.

We have arrived in the middle of the lunar new year celebrations so the 2017 light festival is in full flow. The river is lit by big dragons and other creatures and there is a stage with a singer, who sounded a bit like Asian Lulu and seemed to be stuck on a continuous loop. You could also find stalls with games like coconut shies and target shooting.

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Hoi An is well known for it’s lanterns. We missed the one night a month that they turn the lights off and everything is lit by lanterns, but we’d imagine this must be so nice.

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For the price of about 30p you can buy a little floating lantern  with a candle in it from the old ladies then you can float it down the river. As it floats off be prepared for the eco friendly recycling as the women collect them down stream put fresh candles in and then off to market they go for resell.

It’s a pretty village just full of colourful lanterns, more coffee shops than you will ever need, some lovely local markets and so many places to eat. Then the rain comes again and an umbrella isn’t going to save us this time so we duck into the clothes market. The stall holders are happy to have a captive audience. There are also many tailors here but most are not real tailors.

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They all sell similar designs and are just windows to the same factory who makes them. If you really want to get clothes made here you will need to check out tripadvisor for reviews. Deb liked the idea of having something made but being a seamstress, looking at quality and price soon put her off. Fabric is very very over priced and costs of making it just too expensive for what you get. The shop keepers get 10/10 for persistence. One guy was particularly persuasive and had about 4 sets of people on the go. Unfortunately it seems to be the younger set that get suckered in and end up not being able to say no. The chatter on the street is full of people comparing what they paid and people concerned they have wasted money buying something they will never wear. Meanwhile Deb and Steve were content with the $1 t-shirts from Cambodia that surprisingly washed up really well.
Rain stopped and we make a swift escape, back to the hotel ready for a spruce up and to discover Hoi An at night.

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Hoi An at night is really pretty. All the bars and streets light up with lanterns and reflect on the water, it’s a beautiful site. We can now see why it seems to be everyone’s favourite place in Vietnam. We did the usual, wandered up and down looking to choose a place to have a cheap drink and then wander around again unable to decide.

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We walk to the end of the bars and find a nice stop on a roof terrace called Purple Rain. This place is NOT recommended! Yes, we have been watching ourselves in Vietnam to avoid scams only to nearly get done but a western run bar! Everywhere you go everyone is working hard to provide a good clean service, open kitchen so you can see your food being cooked and until now we hadn’t even given it a thought that they always open your beer bottles at the table, until that day that they don’t! Our beer came not only already open but in a beer cooler, nice touch we thought. Steve has a taste and said this is not Saigon beer? We pull the bottle out and it has no labels. When challenged the waiter laughs with one of those, yes you caught us moments, the owner does the, I told you not to take beer from there and we don’t pay for the beer and wave goodbye.

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Next day, time to go find a Banh Mi. Everyone raves about them and there is a shop in Hoi An that are supposed to do the best one ever! Off we trott, you won’t miss it they said, you will see the queue. We find the queue, see that it’s only 70p if you sit in to eat it, find a table and beat the queues. Not sure what was in the baguettes but they tasted ok.

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Finally on the last day in Hoi An the sun comes out and we get to see the place looking beautiful. Amazing just how different it looks.

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Time to pack and off we go again. This time by car to Hue.

Live Happy
Debs and Steve

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