Things to do and tips
Take the slowtrain to Yangon
Something you should really have done in Myanmar is taking a train trip, altough there are people who are not fans. After fishing, the traintrip has to be on of the very best things we have done in Burma. This trip we will remember for ever. You can go from Shwe Nyaung (close to Nyaungshwe) to Yangon. It takes a half hour to go there by taxi or tuktuk. Take some water and something to eat with you. On the stations in between you can buy some but for the first stretch of the trip it can be handy to have some. A blanket will keep you warm.
On the station the stationchef will note the data from your pasport like they always do when traveling in Myanmar.This is a government thing.
The railway administration inside the offiche is a funny sight.
Take the upperclass for better seats. It is incredible cheap altough for some locals a huge amount of money and not affordable. The wagons of the lower classes appear to bounce up and down much more then the upperclass.
The train leaves 8am from Nyaungshwe to Thazi and from there you can go many directions It depence on where you want to go. If you want to go to Yangon, first you travel to the transfer station in Thazi. This takes about 12 hours. The train is driving very slowly but that is exactly the charm of it, i think. If you take a sprint outside the train you can easily keep up. You can not in any way compare the trains with those from the west. This train, buildt in the 1900's bounces in all direction. From left to right and up and down. Only when the train stops at stations you sit still for a moment. Because of the slow speed of the train it's not annoying that you are moving all the time (click to see video). You get assigned seats, but it does not matter where you sit. Check the metal window whether it's secure. Sometimes the heavy window is falling down because the lock fails and that could be getting a problem when you hang with your arm outside the train. Use a string or tie wraps to secure! Take tie wraps with you on holiday, this will become handy many times.
Sometimes, if the train drives upwards a mountain, do not fear if the train stops before it reaches the top of the mountain and goes backwards down hill again. This means that the train has not created enough speed to make it up the mountain. The train will go backwards and then try again with greater speed :)
You will pass many different, beautiful and amazing landscapes. Many times you have the feeling that you're not on planet earth. It is so intens beautiful that you could almost cry. On the way the train stops many times on stations. Each time it is a hive of activity. People loading goods in and out. People running along the platform try to sell some food or flowers and other stuf and everyone helps each other to be in time before the train leaves again.
If you see a woman whining while running to load her goods, just give her a hand. She will appreciate this very much. Do not shame yourself when local men on the station are laughing at you.
The train leaves when it's time, waiting until the people are ready with loading seems not an option. Strong men carrying heavy sacks of white coals and other heavy things. I counted 50 pieces of coals in one bag and it toke 4 guys to lift the bag on the shoulder of one man. Deep respect i felt for these people. (click to see video).
Each station where you stop, the people looked different. At one station people had very beautiful faces and at the next station the people had all rough faces.
At one station the focus lied on flowers, at the other station the focus lied on vegetables or fruit. The differences are great, it's a feast for your eyes. When the train stops you can go out. Go out and walk around and enjoy the surrounding. You can buy a coffee and sit down for a bit. When the trainwhistle blows it's time to go. Don't panic, you have enough time to get on the train. However the machinist will not wait for locals and leave when it's time, as a tourist you will have not that problem. They'll wait for you to come on the train. The coffee lady will pour your coffee into a plastic bag and with a straw you can finish your coffee on the train.
Up the mountains the sights are getting more incredible. Beautiful tropical forests pas by. Between the dense jungle you see an occasional walking path. The train goes very slow now and while hanging out of the window you can pick some beautiful flowers.
In the train a man called Santos came to me to have a talk. He was the medicine man of his village and three other villages around. It was a very interesting man and we had a nice conversation. He told me that he was a hunter when he was young. Santos hunted mountaincoats in the forest. One day he met a tiger but nothing happend due to willpower, Santod said. Santos explains that with willpower it is possible to communicate with the beasts. When he was standig there, eye in eye with a huge tiger nothing happend. The tiger went one way and Santos went the other way. Santos willpower wasn't as great as the blind monk who lived in a cave close to the village accompanied by 4 venomous snakes for more then 20 years. This monk has great willpower and the monk was never been bitten by the snakes.
Santos told me that if we come next time we should come to his village. He offered us a place to sleep and he would show us the jungle. That is a great offer and next time we will get out of the train in the mountains to stay for a while. Santos told us, go into the village and just call my name.
An other man i talked to, i forget his name, started to talk about the Chinese miners in the mountains. They are destroying nature rapidly. In the search of Jade, Gems and Gold they destroy everything. A lot of chemicals are careless dropped into nature. The Chinese don't care and the local people get sick by the toxic stuf. The government of Myanmar allows this and filling their pockets with a lot of money paid by the miners. The local people are hoping on political change so the polution comes to a end. Everyone in Myanmar, exept the "criminal" profiteers, are hoping for change. What's new in this sick world? The problems they have, we have also. We hope for the best for this lovely people.
If you want to go to Yangon with the slowtrain it will take 30 hours in perfect conditions. If something breaks it takes much longer. If you have the time my advice would be to stay in the slowtrain. In Thazi we toke the "fast" train. It goes faster but the train also moves faster. Drinking coffee is an art. Eating is very hard to do and sleeping is almost impossible. Another 9 hours with a little stops in between makes thistrip a die hard journey. There is a restaurant in the train. People will come to your seat to ask you for a reservation for food. Skip the reservation. Just walk down the train and go to the restaurant and sit. If you order food at your seat you will get a plate on your lap and that's not so handy eating :) Before you order food, bargain about the price. If you order food without knowing the price they will swindle and you pay much more. Complain after will give no results. You'll have to pay.
If you want to drink a beer after midnite, order a little stack before. There were in our case, plainclothes police on board. They'll not allow you to buy after midnite. They will tell you this in a unfriendly way. Some salesman who are walking the train offer you to buy some on a stop. But in our case, if you give them money, they'll get out the train to buy some and you will never see them again. But keep in mind, these scams happens very rarely in Myanmar. This was the only situation we get scammed. In Myanmar there are increased penalties for betraying tourists. Everywhere you'll see government signs like this:
Ofcourse the people of Myanmar have to behave perfectly in front of tourists. Otherwise the tourists maybe stay away from Myanmar and the government looses a big income to fill their filthy pockets....
Nothing is what it seems, think twice.
Then after a sleepless night were you did more headbanging then on a death metal concert you come broken in Yangon. Do not rush when getting of the train. Drink some coffee somewhere and let the trip sink in. Best is to arrange some hotel a few days before. That makes it easy. Jump a taxi and go to your place to stay.
Yadana Man Aung Pagoda
Not a really big market but very enjoyfull. Here you can watch the local fish species en buy some tastefull fruits. Nice handycrafts you can find here also.
The Market is a 5-day market. Women from various hill tribes come to sell their home crafts, products, fruits and vegetables in this market. Nyaung Shwe market is in the middle of town. This is the town’s permanent, daily market, open from morning to late afternoon.
Open from 6 to 18hrs
The government has banned motorcycles for tourists. Only local people can use motorbikes.
This is unfortunate, because with a motorbike you can explorer a a much larger area.
For the environment it has been a very good decision.
The pressure on the environment is already quite large by growing tourism.
The traditional boats are exchanged for boats with polluting engines and waste processing still a big problem.
Since the village is situated between mountains, a smog problem will not happen quick due to the banned motorbikes.
Nature with a load less is always good. So take the ban on motorcycles for granted.
Then there is another option in terms of private transport, the bike.
You can rent them everywwhere. Not expensive and reasonable bikes.
Now you can explorer Nyaungshwe.
Since it is a small village, you will not get lost quickly. Just follow the roads.
For me to go to Inle Lake with bike was difficult. People told me to bike to the lake from the west side of the channel. I get stuck half way. I don't know if there are other roads, but if there are, it will take hours. Just ask around to know for sure. If you rent a bike ask a phone number. When you have a flat tire, you can call for a pickup. If you want to explore the mountains, best you can do is taking a taxi.
In the village there are a few very nice pagodas, there is a school and a hospital. Also you can find a bamboo plantation. Visit the wooden monestry Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung. This one is really beautiful.
If you bike to the east you'll find the Myauk Htet Eain Gu Monastry.
This very special place is magical. There are caves where monks are living. In a small cave is living a very friendly old monk. He'll come to meet you and warmly welcome you. He will invite you in his cave and make some delicious tea for you with some cookies and nuts.
Inside the big cave there are many buddhas. Everywhere you look you'll see one. A rickety ladder takes you down into the cave to a wonder world. Be carefull for snakes :)