Leaving Yangon behind, we looked forward to experiencing some of the Shan State countryside, a very different experience from a large, busy city. It was quite exciting to look down and see our first farms.
These small farms and ploughed fields looked good to us after the big city.
As we flew lower towards Heho, the patchwork of farms became more obvious and it was also obvious how farms are set up around small villages. There are no houses on farms. Farmers live in communities.
A large monastery complex below reminded us just how important Buddhism is throughout the country.
Now that we have landed in Heho and are waiting for our bags, it’s probably a good time to have a look at a map of this large, stretched out country and realise just what a small part of it we were actually able to visit. The country covers an area of 677,000 square kms (261,228 square miles). At its widest point it’s 936 kms (581 miles) from east to west and at its longest, 2,051 kms (1,275 miles) from north to south. To the north, east and west there are mountain ranges that form a giant ‘horseshoe’ around the flat lands of the Chindwin, Ayeyarwaddy and Sittaung River valleys. It’s in those fertile valleys of agricultural land that most of the population is concentrated.
Our total journey of fourteen days took us first to Yangon; then a flight to Heho (near Taunggyi in the blue coloured Shan State) where we explored 47 kms north west to Pindaya (not marked) and 36 miles south to Inle Lake; another flight took us to Mandalay (at the top of the buff coloured state) followed by an 80km cruise down the river to Bagan and back again. That’s a very small part of a big country; there is so much more to explore. But most of this fascinating country is still not open to tourists, partly because of ethnic problems in various districts but mainly because of the state of roads and the lack of suitable tourist hotels and eating places.
So,for now, let’s enjoy what we were able to see and experience – and what we did see, we really enjoyed.
When we plan a road journey in Australia, and in many other countries, we tend to check out Google maps and have some faith in the times given for the length of a journey. That is not a good idea here. The journey length to Pindaya from Heho airport is 47 kms. The time Google gives is 44 minutes! NOT SO! 120 minutes is closer to the mark… and that’s without stopping along the way to take photos of farming activities, or visit a toilet, or have a snack, or visit a market. We did none of those things as we were already late for lunch in Pindaya.
The following photos were taken from the bus as we bounced our way over a rutted, narrow dirt road. As David had the window seat, they are mostly his photos with a few of mine taken through the front window. So, settle in and enjoy the scenery, places and people we saw along the way.
Amazingly, one of the first things we saw, was a plantation of Eucalyptus. Is there anywhere in the world that doesn’t have the good old Australian gum tree somewhere in its landscape? A reminder of home!
It’s likely that these women had finished their hoeing for the day and were heading on the long walk back to their village to have lunch and do jobs at home. It’s best to work in the morning in this hot humid climate.
Umbrellas are a very important part of a farmer’s kit here – both for shade and for rain. These are lacquered to make them shower proof. We would visit the local umbrella makers next day to watch how they are made.
Farmers here use water buffalo and oxen to do much of the work on the farm. Each farmer and his animal become a team, good mates that rely on each other. The animals are well cared for and, we were told, farmers rarely eat beef because of this special relationship. The farmer’s umbrella stands at the ready in the field!
A variety of crops are grown in the area but the most productive here are cabbages and cauliflowers.
We had arrived at harvest time for both cauliflowers and cabbages. We saw the farmers working together to harvest the crops. The bamboo baskets are filled and then transferred to a wooden wheeled cart. This one is waiting for another load.
When full, the cart is hitched to an oxen and taken to one of the various pick up points along the road. There, the farmers await a truck which comes along to collect all of the vegetables to take the crop to market.
Each village group of farmers who work together decide on the price they want for the crop. That’s the price they ask of the ‘middle man’ on the truck and, if he agrees, the crop is loaded onto the trucks to be taken to the markets in the bigger towns and cities. It seems to be a fair system.
After emptying the carts, the farmer’s can take a bit of a breather. But there are lots more vegetables to pick!
Finally we arrived at the delightfully rustic ‘Green Tea Restaurant’ beside the lake in the village of Pindaya. We felt sure that cabbage and / or cauliflower would feature on the menu! But, it seems, the locals are so sick of the sight of this two vegetables by the end of a day of harvest, that they gladly send them all off to market! I was glad, too. They are not my favourites!
The food, our first delicious Shan meal, and the setting, on the verandah beside a lovely lake, were perfect – until the heavens opened and heavy rain began to fall. The verandah is not quite the place to be in rain. Fortunately, there were plenty of other tables to move to.
As the rain lifted, we could once more see the view of golden stupas and pagodas across the other side of the lake from the restaurant. Our hotel was over there somewhere too. It was time to be reunited with our bags!
We had been warned that our accommodation in Pindaya would be ‘comfortable but far from elaborate’. To us, the Inle Inn Hotel was delightful. We ‘d been travelling through a gentle time warp all day and this was more than we had expected. I’m sure the farmers didn’t have such comforts as we had. Many of them didn’t even have electricity let alone hot and cold running water, showers, and a comfy bed – and a flower garden at the door. We were astonished when we heard some of our group grumbling about the rooms. Where were we? Why travel to such destinations if you expect the same luxuries you may have at home?
This was our bedroom – larger than some farmer’s cottages! It was lined with teak and traditional bamboo weavings and the decoration was a piece of local weaving hung over a hand carved railing. Real Burma.
Marionette puppets are a favourite with Burmese people and are often used as room decorations.
The bed looked inviting for a bit of a ‘nana nap’ after a long day of travelling; and David had booked in for a massage; but we hadn’t finished our exploring just yet. The rain was clearing and time was getting away on us to fit in a visit to the famous Pindaya Caves, home to over 8,000 Buddhas. So we ventured back out to walk through the garden and back to the waiting bus.
Frangipani line the garden path along with many plants familiar to those who live in the tropics.
After the rain, there were drops of water to enhance the flowers like this lovely orchid.
A beautiful flower but with rather nasty spines along the stem.
And for those who could not possibly do without their fix of TV every day, there was even satellite coverage! To me that was pretty amazing, not that we even turned our TV on. There was too much else to do!
While we waited for the bus to take us on the short trip up a steep hill to the Pindaya Caves, we noticed the hotel sign – not done with a stencil, but each one hand painted. This graphic design represented the famous boat rowers on Inle Lake – we’d see them in reality next day. But now, we were off to the caves and I’ll write about that amazing experience in our next journal entry.
Jennie and David
Photography © DY and JT of jtdytravels