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Beyond Inle Lake, Pa’O land

After two days exploring Inle Lake on a boat, we were ready to venture inland. On our third day in Nyaungshwe, we rented bikes and rode them into the countryside. It was lush and beautiful, and a great way to observe life beyond the tourist spots. The highlight was our lunch at the Bamboo Hut, an amazing local restaurant we had been recommended. While I slacked on their porch, looking at the surrounding fields and fruit trees (which they use for their ultra-fresh dishes), Elena joined the owners in the kitchen for an impromptu cooking class, and prepared us the most delicious fish ever.

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On our final day in the Inle region, we wanted to visit Kakku, the sacred site of the Pa’O people. We hired a car with driver in town, and headed very early toward the city of Taunggyi, the capital of the Shan state. We had to stop there to pick up a Pa’O guide, mandatory to visit their territory. Our guide ended up being a 19 year old college student named Kam, a shy and funny girl who we liked immediately. All the guides are dressed up in traditional Pa’O clothes (black and blue multi-layer suits and colorful turbans), speak good English and are quite knowledgeable. After about 2.5 hours in the car, driving through rice and soy fields, we reached Kakku.

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The tranquility of Inle Lake

Inle Lake is one of those very special places, of which there are few left on Earth. Local life is simple, slow and pleasant, light and color are strangely unique. In some sense, it is the essence of Myanmar. We arrived to Nyaungshwe, the town on the northeast of the lake and its logistical base, in the middle of the night, via a 9 hour bus from Bagan. After sleeping in the whole morning (most guesthouses will let you check in at 4 am for free), we ate some delicious curry and walked around the market area. We were planning on chilling, but found ourselves at Talk Nan bridge, where most boat tours depart… and couldn’t resist booking a ride to the village of Inthein.

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Exploring the temples of Bagan on a bike

Bagan, with its more than 3,000 Buddhist temples from the 11-12th centuries, is one of the most amazing places I’ve been to. We arrived late in the afternoon, due to a torturous yet fun train ride form Yangon, and decided to stay in the village of Nyang U, where most backpackers’ hotels and restaurants are located. After finding a good accommodation (Blazing Hotel, $25 for a double with AC) and eating the most delicious meal ever (Weather Spoon), we set to check out the nearby temples by foot. With little day light left and intermittent rain, we at least had time to visit the golden Shwezigon Pagoda, a couple random temples in the Nyang U area, and play tag-o-war with some local kids. It was a good introduction to the archaeological site, enough to get us excited for the days ahead.

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From Yangon to Bagan by train

Bagan, the most famous archaeological site of Myanmar can be reached by a 1 hour flight from Yangon… or by an 18+ hour tortuous train ride. That’s the transportation we chose, to save some money and get a broader perspective on the country. The train was departing every day at 4pm, and we got our tickets in advance, at the basic booking office diagonally opposite from the Shangri La Hotel.

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What to see in Yangon, the gate to Myanmar

Yangon, until recently, the capital of Myanmar, can easily be visited in 1 day. Our itinerary started at the furthest north sites, the Chaukhtatgyi and Ngahtatgyyi pagodas, with their respective giant Bhuddas, one reclining and one seating. It was a great experience to observe local people, who are extremely devoted. Very early on in our time in Myanmar, we noticed that the country was for the most part, untouched by tourism. We barely saw a couple of foreigners each day, and locals were unspoiled, smiley and dressed in traditional style (e.g. longyi skirts for men), many with their faces painted with yellow dye (thanaka).

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