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start reading from the beginning – Myanmar 1: Yangon
Mindat and the nearby Nat Ma Taung national park were next on our bucket list. To be honest it was quite hard to find a way to get there though. It took us a few hours to find a minivan going into that direction. Luckily we managed to get a ride in the end. Unfortunately, we had to get to Pakkoku first, a small town about 40 minutes from Bagan. To our surprise the guy we bought the bus tickets from offered to take us because he had to go into that direction that day anyway. So, a few hours later, John and I were being picked up by that nice man and his family. We jumped into the back of his pick up and drove off, happy to finally be leaving Bagan after 5 long days. The food poisoning was still taking its tall on John and I wasn’t super fit either but there was just no point in staying for much longer, our visas were running out in less than 10 days already and we still had some stuff to see.
In Pakkoku we patiently waited next to some bags of rice for our bus. After almost 2 hours it finally arrived and once more, we kind of secured our luggage on top of the old vehicle before squeezing in. During the whole 8 hour drive I couldn’t move because I had a bag of rice underneath my legs. Another crazy drive up the mountains was ahead of us.
To our left and right was absolutely nothing to secure us from not falling down the mountain in the curves or when overtaking trucks in an insane manner on the narrow sand streets. Of course, there was no aircon in our minivan and the windows were open, allowing all the dust and sand to come in.
On our way we saw a lot of road construction. But totally different from what we knew from back home. Literally in the middle of nowhere, hours away from the next village, some tents (well, more like a big piece of plastic which was hold into the air by some sticks) were showing up. There, families with little babies and toddlers were living and working. No electricity, no water. All the work had to be done by hand. Some bigger rocks were made smaller with a pickaxe by women. Other women were then bringing the gravel to wherever it was needed. Carrying the heavy baskets on their heads while having a baby in the arms or on their back. The men were in charge of boiling the tar. In flipflops! They also carried the hot mixture in buckets on their heads. Absolute madness. And kids were playing everywhere while trucks were passing and a 50-meter drop was waiting on the other side. Every time I think of my time in Myanmar now, I think of seeing this. And it was actually not only once but many times all across the mountains. I’ve got so much respect for all the women and men working in that environment.
We only got to our guesthouse late that evening. It was dark outside already and the hotel owner, an older woman, just showed us to our cosy room on the third floor where we fell asleep within minutes. When we woke up the next morning, the view was absolutely astonishing. The sun was going up over the mountains and our hotel was located right at the edge of a cliff giving us an insane view over the valley. The climate was incredible compared to the places we had spent the last week or so – fresh in the mornings (I mean, we were about 2000 meters high) and warm during the day. The air was super clean for once. No dust, no pollution.
John was still feeling sick and decided to stay in bed while I was heading down to the kitchen for breakfast. The hotel owner and her daughter prepared coffee, cut fresh Avocados which were delicious and has also fried some eggs. For the first time in days I could actually enjoy eating again which felt great. After that I decided to head to the market to get some fresh fruits and cereals for John and of course to have a look around. No matter where I went people were staring at me. Before coming to Mindat I had already read that less than 100 tourists a year make it to this small town and I guess that was the reason for that. However, everybody was smiling politely and kids were trying to have a chat with me asking me questions they had learned in school, absolutely adorable.
To the left and right of the main street were lots of shops selling clothing and food. When I finally got to the market, I realised straight away that there was a big difference to the once I had seen before: most animals were still alive. Little piglets and lots of chicken were hold in small cages and kids tried to play with them. A familiar smell was also all around: dried fish. No matter where in Myanmar we went this was to be found. Often, the fish was just put onto the roof of the house into the sun all day or onto a blanket right next to the street.
Next to the traditional market was a bright red hall that looked very modern. In there I found more market stalls. Each vendor had a small space to himself and it looked quite modern compared to what I had seen before in Myanmar. I bought some bananas, apples, peanut butter, oats and instant noodles and headed home. John was quite happy about the oats. Finally, something other than bread he could eat. In the afternoon I tried to find a little café I had rea about online. After missing the right street twice, I found it and was surprised about the modern, super hip looks of it. The two guys working there were also speaking English quite fluently and were telling me some stories about their village while I was enjoying the best coffee I had had in weeks! Hornbill Café should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list.
In the evening John and I were sitting down on the balcony surrounding our room to watch the sunset together while drinking the tea the lovely lady from the hotel had prepared for us.
The next morning I was heading out for a walk again. Another reason that brought us to this village was to see the women living here that got their faces tattooed. A tradition which now is against the law. To my surprise the old ladies with face tattoos were everywhere. A unique beauty one has to witness for himself. The origins of these techniques are somewhat lost in the mists of time but were probably to hide the beauty of the young girls and protect them so they would not be kidnapped by Burmese kings or other tribes. Another thing that I found surprising that most of the women here were smoking. And we are not talking usual cigarettes but ginormous pipes. Some even invited me to join them. I didn’t smoke but we were all having a good time laughing even though we didn’t understand each other. A crazy day for sure!
In the evening John and I were heading to the highest point in town to watch the sunset and make a plan for the next few days. It was pretty clear that both of us weren’t feeling well enough to hike around the mountains for a few days. So, heavy hearted, we decided to directly take a bus to Ngapali Beach. Even though we would have loved to visit a few small villages around and stop in Kanpetlet for another night or two, there was really no point in doing so.
The next morning, we booked our bus tickets to Ngapali Beach or more like tried to. It seemed like we were the first people ever having this idea. Luckily, we found a guy speaking English after a while that could help us. The only way to get to Ngapali Beach was a 35 hour drive. First we had to get back to Pakkoku, from there to Pyay and then take the bus the next morning to get to our destination. Well, we didn`t really have a choice and booked the trip for the next morning.
TO DO IN MINDAT
Hiking: The reason the few tourists are coming to Mindat is to explore Nat Ma Taung National Park and the traditional villages located inside. Pretty much all hotels can help you organize a guide that will take you there. You can spend a whole week hiking or just do day trips, it`s really up to you. However, you should really hire a guide. Most people in the villages don’t even speak Burmese, only their dialect. So, even if you get there, there is no way you can communicate with the locals. A translator is absolutely necessary in my eyes.
Coffee: Visit Hornbill Café! Freshly made coffee from local coffee beans – do I have to say any more?
HOW TO GET THERE AND AROUND
Getting there can be quite a struggle. However, minivans are leaving every morning except Sundays from Pakkoku, a town near Bagan. Make sure you book your ticket in time though.
To get around Nat Ma Taung you most likely have to hire a guide. There is the possibility to rent a motorbike but it is super expensive compared to other places in Myanmar. You might as well just get someone to drive you.
WHERE TO STAY
We were staying at Monica Guesthouse and were super happy with it. The room was cosy with two comfortable beds, a small table and a bathroom. The view was amazing and there was a balcony surrounding the whole third floor which was great for watching the sunrise and sunset. Breakfast is included and better than in most other places we stayed at.
GOOD TO KNOW
There is no such thing as an ATM in Mindat. Even though there is some sort of bank located inside a shop, we didn’t manage to get any cash there. Make sure you bring enough, costs for guides and hotels are quite high in the little town and everything has to be paid in cash.
Book everything in advance. There are not many choices when it comes to hotels and buses.