So on Saturday morning, we set off on a two hour drive to Pyin Oo Lwin. This had not been in my original plans, but Moe Moe had suggested that we could do my intinerery in two days and that we leave us time to go up into the hills outside Mandalay to see the colonial town of Pyin Oo Lwin,which had been constructed by the British in 1896 and used as both a getaway from the Mandalay heat as well as a summer capital for the British administration. I thought it might be fun to see some of the old colonial buildings so I agreed to change up my plans, although it had meant for a VERY long previous day.
We made the drive past a number of villages before we began the drive up into the mountains over a series of switchbacks that were paved in spots and gravelled in others spots. The nice thing was that the road was split for the most part so we were not constantly staring at oncoming traffic. The bad part? The road was filled was truckers hauling exports to China so these crazy drivers were weaving in and out of traffic. Fortunately, my driver was an expert at maneuvering out of the way of these wackos as well as maneuvering out of the way of the endless parade of motorcyclists weaving in and out of traffic.
Now I haven’t talked a lot about the motorcyclists, but you see everything under the sun on those things. Three, four, five people, no problem. Kids sitting at the front holding on to steering wheels, babies in mothers’ arms. Crates of food and housewares. And on and on. The one thing I had never seen and hope never to see again: a father driving the motorcycle while his maybe four year old daughter STOOD behind him. Yes, you read that right. Even Moe Moe and my driver let out a gasp. I was glad to see there was some level of safety concern here.
About an hour into the drive, we pulled off the road, drove down a dusty little road to reach the Anisakan waterfalls. The area consisted of a beautiful gorge surround by a number of small falls and one massive waterfall. The view down to the falls was spectacular and one of the prettiest sites I had seen in Myanmar. Simply beautiful.
After our visit to the falls, we got back in the car for the remaining 30 minute trip to Pyin Oo Lwin. Once in the town, our first stop was the local market. We wandered around what was clearly a local market. There were people everywhere purchasing their produce, meats and home goods for the day. Moe Moe and I bought some oranges, tried some local pastries (a couple I liked, a couple not so much), bought some sesame treats and some nutty/salty snack and called it good.
We wandered around the streets until we found the Purcell Tower that was built by the Brits in 1836. The clock chimed right on the button at 11:00 a.m. They say the sound was intended to mimic Big Ben. I don’t know about that, but the sound was very impressive.
After watching life pass us by and hearing the call to prayer (yes there was a mosque just down the street as well as some Hindi temples), my driver picked us up and we headed off to Pwe Kauk Falls, a series of small falls and pools in the middle of a thicket of trees.
The falls were packed with locals, and in particular, young people, who took great pleasure in posing with friends with the falls as a backdrop. Now the falls were OK, but paled in comparison to the falls we had seen earlier. Quite frankly, after seeing the Anisakan falls, there was really no need to see these falls, except for the pleasure of watching kids laughing, playing and generally enjoying themselves.
Our last stop before lunch was … you guessed it … a temple. It was a slight drive outside of the main town center and as we drove I told Moe Moe no way, but she said I would really enjoy this one. Uh that would be a big fat no. There was nothing remarkable, pretty or enjoyable about the Maha Aung Mye Bon Thar Pagoda. In addition, just as we arrived it began to rain buckets. We had to remove our shoes, walk on the wet pavement to the wet marble steps, up the wet marble steps and into the pagoda. There was apparently some story involving the Buddah that resides in the temple being moved to China and then being regifted back. Quite frankly I was so wet that I didn’t pay close attention.
We stood under a cover and waited for the rain to subside, but it didn’t so we made a dash back to the car with shoes in hand. Fortunately, I had a couple of the little hand wipes with me to dry off my legs and feet. The temple was clearly not worth the effort. I told Moe Moe I was putting my foot down and insisted that we not visit any more temples. She assured me we were done so with that we headed back into town for lunch. And low and behold, no only had it not rained in town, it was actually sunny. Maybe Buddah was punishing me for my bad attitude about the temple.
We reached the lovely little restaurant in the grove of trees and I promptly ordered watermelon juice and a bowl of chicken ball and vegetable soup. I love the soups in this country. The meal was really, really tasty and perfectly hit the spot.
After lunch was over, we hired a carriage (like the Queen rides in with a covered top and open windows) for 8,000 kyat for a ride around the town to see the colonial buildings. The carriage was incredibly tiny with barely enough room for Moe Moe and me to sit. In fact, my outer knee and Moe Moe’s outer knee actually were touching. Nevertheless, the carriage ride turned out to be a great idea. I got to see a lot of the colonial buildings in a far better way than driving around in a car.
We passed old homes and impressive (albeit rather decaying) mansions, a hospital, two churches and on and on. This Brits were busy little builders. Most of the buildings dated to the 1920s and if you didn’t know any better you would swear you were in England. We eventually stopped at Candacraig Hotel, a former British Club that was used as hotel. A long driveway led to a magnificent colonial structure complete with turrets. The building was closed as it is in the process of renovation (although you couldn’t tell there were any renos going on). Nevertheless, you could peer in the windows and see the grand staircase, a beautiful fireplace and what must have been a splendid dining room. The building had a tennis court and was surrounded by spectacular gardens. It must have been something in its day.
Now as I wandered around, a couple wandered up the driveway. We had passed them in the carriage on the way up. I said hello and did not get a response from either one of them. Huh. Maybe they don’t speak English. As I was standing peering in one of the rooms, I pointed to the window and said the staircase and fireplace are fabulous. Take a look. Still nothing. It was like I was invisible. OK. See ya.
I wandered around the gardens and back down the long driveway. Moe Moe and our carriage driver were talking back and forth. What’s up Moe Moe? Moe Moe relayed that the couple up the driveway wanted a ride in the carriage to our final stop: the National Kandawgyi Gardens. Huh?? Seriously? First, the guy had to have been at least 6’2″ and the gal my height. Moe Moe and I could barely fit in the carriage. How were we to possibly fit two more people? Second, these two jackasses had just dissed me. Third, they hadn’t even asked me and instead simply asked my driver who was in no position to say no because I am sure he was hoping for more fare.
I shook my head. Sorry, but no. The carriage is not big enough for four. There were plenty of carriages about a half mile back down the hill and they could go hire one of those. As Moe Moe and I climbed in the carriage, the guy and girl came back and the driver shook his head. The guy immediately looked at me and with a French accent said “No? Why not?” I wanted to say “Dude you and your wife/girlfriend were just rude to me and I have no desire to share a cramped carriage with you.” Instead I simply said. “I’m really sorry, but the carriage is very small. In fact our knees are touching with two in the carriage. There is no way four could fit.”
Apparently my explanation wasn’t sufficient so he came over and took a look for himself. We could fit he insisted. “No I don’t think so.” Not only did I not want to spend any more time in the presence of this arrogant French twenty something twit, but I did not want to spend 30 minutes in a cramped, hot carriage that I had paid to ride in. If there had been more room, I probably would have said OK, despite the guy being a rude butt head. But the answer was no.
As we pulled away, I heard the guy distinctly say “Typical American pig tourist bitch”. Huh?? Without missing a beat, I leaned out the carriage and yelled at him “Hey Frenchy. I was born in Canada you jackass, and if we hadn’t saved your bacon in Normandy you’d be speaking German”. I am sure he yelled something in French that I couldn’t make out, but I didn’t care at that point. What a horses ass. First time I have ever, in all my travels, had a confrontation with another tourist. Typical it would be a Frenchman. The incident reminded me why I have only visited France once and have no plans to ever visit there again. The arrogance is simply beyond compare. In fact, I go out of my way in travels to avoid Charles de Gaul Airport.
In the mean time, Moe Moe is looking at me wondering what the hack just happened. Her English is not that good so she didn’t understand what he said to me. I told her I was sorry if I offended or embarrassed her, but explained that the guy had said a very, very derogatory comment about me, and I was setting the record straight. I don’t think she knew what to make of the whole situation.
However, as we clopped along, I began to laugh. These two refused to speak to me, told the driver they wanted a ride without even asking me and then pitched a hissy fit when things didn’t go their way. Then like children they resorted to name calling. Good riddance.
The remainder of the ride was lovely as we meandered past more old homes, an old school and pretty little gardens finally ending up at the National Kandawgyi Gardens. The gardens turned out to be everything they were billed to be. Beautiful manicured grounds, lovely botanical gardens, little ponds with bridges and pagodas all around and pathways in every direction. The place was very popular for family picnics and given the warm weather they were out in force. There was even a band playing some local music.
We wandered down path after path through bamboo gardens, past overhanging trees and flowers and over to see the takin, which the best I can describe looks like a a cross between a water buffalo, hippo and an elephant. One of the takin came over to us and we fed it bananas through the wire fence. Cute little devil.
After we fed our friendly takin, we wandered into old building that housed the remnants of petrified wood and bones that were believed to be 5,000 or more years old. It was fascinating to see.
We began to wander back towards the main area of the gardens, but took a detour through an aviary that housed a number of tropical looking birds that were only too happy to be fed nuts and the like. As we made our way out of the aviary, the walking path took us in two different directions, but Moe Moe wanted to take a short cut across a dirt path. The path was very slick as it was covered in wet leaves. As we walked, Moe Moe told me to be careful. Unfortunately, I did not take her advice and minutes later while I was watching some kids, slipped and my legs went flying out in front of me. I landed right on my ass. Ouch. Fortunately, it happened so quickly I did not have time to tense up so with nothing broken and nothing particularly sore (other than my pride), I got up, hands filthy from bracing my fall, and headed back to the car.
Poor Moe Moe. She felt horrible, but I kept telling her it was not her fault. It was all me. That didn’t seem to satisfy her as she continued to apologize for the entire first half hour of our ride back to Mandalay.
We made one stop on the way to use the bathroom at a restaurant and heard yet another heartbreaking story involving a child. As we walked back towards the car, Moe Moe was talking to a young child who could not have been more than eight or nine (maybe ten). (Moe Moe said she was 12, but I found it hard to believe). The little girl had the most beautiful smile and kept saying hello to me. Cutest little thing. I came to find out that she was an orphan and her aunt sent her to live with a friend of hers so that she could work in the friend’s restaurant as a server. Huh? She’s between eight and ten. What about school? No school. Moe Moe gave her some kyat for showing us the bathroom (which the little girl did not want to take) and we said goodbye. Ugh. Just brutal.
The trip back down the mountain seemed to go faster than the trip up the mountain. We were back in Mandalay by 5:00. Once at my hotel, I spent an hour having a hot stone massage (turned out to be spectacular by the way), ate a little chicken masala with naan bread and then it was bedtime. Tomorrow I was taking the 10 hour ferry trip to Bagan.