Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pyin Oo Lwin

Pyin Oo Lwin was established as a hill resort by the British in 1896, to provide a much needed escape from the sun.  Not that it isn't still sunny here, but the higher altitude of the place offers some respite, so it is cooler than other places.  There are still a number of old colonial buildings around, though they are a little dilapidated now, and there are still some old boarding schools that the British would send their children to, and which are now used as military academies.

We were bush camping in an area used for the annual hot air balloon festival, and as we arrived into town we were greeted by the tourist police.  They wanted a photo.  So we all piled off the truck for them to take their snap and then carried on to the camp area.

But we weren't alone.  As well as our usual escort, we had now picked up a ten man police escort, which was as going to be guarding us during our night of camping.

 I'm not sure whether the purpose was to keep an eye on us or, as they said, for our protection.  During our time in Myanmar the only thing we encountered from people was curiosity and friendliness, so it seems doubtful that we were in any danger, and the only likely risk would have been that we attracted a crowd of onlookers.  As it was, we had our escorts taking photos of us putting up our tents!

The site itself was nothing special, but it did have a great view across the hill to the monastery. I did poke my head out of the tent around sunrise, but decided it wasn't worth getting up for and got a bit more sleep instead.

In the morning, we headed into town to take a wander around the market.  As well as an incredible array of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables, and the slightly dodgy looking meat and dried fish, there were some interesting looking things that we weren't sure what they were.

We took a fairly confident guess at the crystallised fruits and decided to check this out and buy some melon.  It was very good.

We were less confident about a slimy looking ball of brown stuff - which turned out to be bean curd - and we were intrigued about some beautifully arranged leaves.

We asked Myo about these and it turns out they are the Betel leaf, which is used to make the Betel nut packages that many of the men and some of the women chew.

He took us along to a stall to show us how the Betel nut is prepared.  They take a Betel leaf and spread on some lime wash (a supposedly edible version of what they use to lime wash houses), then add bits of Betel nut, tobacco leaf, tobacco juice and, if you wish, some bits of coconut.

Then the leaf is folded into a little package, which you chew on, spitting out the bright red juices, which you can see staining the pavements across the country.  Later in the trip Duncan tried the Betel nut; he wasn't impressed.

After the market, we passed by the old Purcell Tower that has mixed reports of when and why it was made, but the most likely seems to be that the clock was made in the UK in 1934 by Gillette and Johnson, to commemorate King George V's silver jubilee which was in 1935. It reportedly has the same chimes as Big Ben, but we weren't there long enough to hear whether that is true.

We decided not to take up the option of the little horse and carts, as the ponies didn't look that well cared for, so we didn't want to encourage their use.  Instead we just took the truck to our next stop of the National Kandawgyi Gardens.

Because of its climate, Pyin Oo Lwin is a good place for growing fruits and flowers, so the gardens here are something they take pride in.  The British influence is evident in the design, if not in the types of planting.

As well as seeing some toucans and peacocks, many beautiful orchids and a good lookout view across the city, we also discovered an animal that none of us had ever heard of before, and that sadly is heading towards extinction.

It is called a takin, and it looks a bit like a cross between a donkey and a small cow. They were quite friendly, especially when the keeper gave us a bunch of little bananas to feed to them.

Our final stop was at a Chinese temple.  some of our group had probably had enough of these when they were in China. Before we joined, but it was still a bit of a novelty to us.

One thing we quickly noticed was the difference in the Buddha image.  This wasn't the usual tall and slim Buddha, but instead a short, bald, rotund and immensely happy figure.  In fact he is not Buddha at all, but rather he is Budai.  Budai was a Chinese Chan monk in the 10th century AD. His image is used as a sign of contentment, and it us supposed to be lucky to rub his stomach.

There is a link to Buddha though, as some believe he may have been an just incarnation of Maitreya, who is a future Buddha yet to arrive.

One fun aspect to this temple, for those of you who remember the old programme Monkey, which had Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy protecting a monk on his journeys, was that they had sculptures of these characters. Obviously they were representing the original folklore, rather than the TV programme, but that isn't important.

From there we went for some late lunch at a restaurant that looked entirely too fancy for a truckload of 'still unwashed from a night of camping' scruffs like us, and then set off for Mandalay.

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