A trip down the Irrawaddy River – Part 6 – Burmese Days in Katha, the final leg to Mandalay

On February 19th, we three Chris’s woke up in our guesthouse by the water in Katha, ready for another day of potential adventures. The Chris who had cycled with me outside Bhammo decided to take off on his bicycle for a 70km ride to another town after breakfast, so we said our goodbyes and wished him well. The other Austrian Chris spent the day walking around town with me before we caught a boat to continue our journey downriver.

At one point, we walked past a primary school during recess – as soon as one child spotted two caucasians walking nearby, he sounded the alarm and they all rushed to line the fence to say hello. This photo does no justice to the situation with which we were faced: hundreds of children lining this fence all the way along, giggling and screaming and wanting to shake our hands and say hello:

We also passed the local prison, which is one of the buildings apparently mentioned in George Orwell’s book, Burmese Days, which he wrote while he was stationed in Katha:

After a walk through the market looking for a cap to protect my head against the sun, we stopped for tea with some older gentlemen, one of whom spoke a little English from his schoolboy days. This is one of his circle of friends, who spoke no English but was really friendly and photogenic:

After spending the day walking around town, eating, and drinking tea, we headed to the ferry ticket office and bought tickets for the 3 day boat ride down the Irrawaddy to Mandalay. I splurged on a cabin room ($50 for 3 days), and Austrian Chris paid for a deck space ($7 for 3 days, sleeping on the outside deck with your own sleeping bag, etc). I spent a lot of time with him out there, but whenever I got really tired or if the bugs were attacking, I headed to my cabin to sleep or relax in privacy.

This little boy had terrific eyes which I couldn’t quite capture with my camera. His parents were really friendly too:

Three typical views from the boat:

One nice surprise on this trip was seeing, on two separate occasions, the nearly extinct Irrawaddy River Dolphin. In recent years, locals have been taught not to harm this rare small dolphin, which they call a big fish, but their numbers are still ridiculously low. This photo is a bit spotty as it’s enlarged from a shot taken at a fair distance:

At one stop, we were able to disembark on wooden planks to buy some food from these local cooks:

A couple more typical views from the boat:

One interesting thing I had never seen until I spent time in Burma are these big logjams floating downriver with people living on them. These are not the floating villages that you find on lakes in other parts of Burma and the world, but a means of transporting timber downriver. Still, they have a number of people on each one, small shacks, and sometimes livestock on board:

At one point on our journey downriver, we slowed down at what seemed to be an arbitrary point along the riverbank and the skipper ‘crashed’ the corner of the ferry into the land. I got up to see what had happened and realised he had done it on purpose, to let a few people off with their stuff:

As we approached Mandalay on the final day of our three day trip from Katha on this ferry, we passed the famed Mingun Paya, which would have stood over 150 metres high if it had been completed. Note the massive crack running down close to the left side, from an 1838 earthquake:

Pulling into Mandalay, people were drying laundry on the cement riverbank:

And this is what I looked like after roughly 5 weeks of not shaving, with my new cap and glasses to protect against the sun – yikes!

We pulled into Mandalay on February 21st around 1pm. I spent the day walking around town again, using the internet, and trying to find a bookstore selling English books. That evening I caught a small overnight bus from Mandalay to Bagan, arriving there in the early morning. Bagan is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been – as such, in a couple of days I’ll be posting 42 photos from my day and a half stay there…

Mandalay to Myitkyina: Views from the train

On February 14th, I caught a 20 hour train from Mandalay to Myitkyina, in Kachin State, Burma. I took a bunch of photos from my window; here are a few of the things I saw:

As we passed through one particular stretch, I really felt like the landscape was something out of a dinosaur movie, except with power lines and occasional homes and temples dotting the landscape:

I had 3 people sharing my sleeping car and luckily none of them snored – a rarity on public transit in Burma.

A few more random shots I got from the moving train as we headed northward:

Lesson of this post: if you like to take in a good view and enjoy a long train ride (or flight), always choose the window seat.

Hsipaw back to Mandalay

On February 13th, I headed to the train station with the three Canadians with whom I’d been trekking. We caught a train together to Mandalay, which took a long time, but was good for a few photo opportunities and some conversation.

There were LOTS of pineapples for sale at the train station.

We stopped every once in a while at different stations, which sometimes make for good photo opportunities, like these kids playing with an old rail truck:

Crossing the Gokteik Viaduct again, we leaned out and took more photos like this one:

Even the locals get up to stare out the windows as we pass over the viaduct:

At one point, we locked Luke out of the train for a bit:

And later we had ice cream at another station. It wasn’t too tasty, but it looked nice!

We arrived fairly late in Mandalay, headed to the Nylon Hotel, and in the morning I got up nice and early to buy a ticket and catch a train north to Myitkyina. My room in Mandalay was on the roof, and this is what I saw when I woke up and looked way down to the street:

I left Mandalay at noon, and took loads of photos from the train, which will be posted in a couple days.

Mandalay, Burma

On February 3rd, I headed from Yangon to Mandalay by bus. First I had to take a truck to the bus station outside town:

Then I had to wait a couple hours at the bus station. I bought some snacks from a vendor, and was amused by the “big, big bite-size pieces” I ate.

I got minor food poisoning on the overnight bus (the first time I’ve had food poisoning of any type in a developing country – previously I’ve only had food poisoning in the UK and New Zealand). So I spent the morning sleeping it off, and in the afternoon felt fine and went for a walk about town. Sadly, I don’t think this beer is particularly legitimate…

The Burmese government is really just a military dictatorship, and they have these hilarious/ridiculous signs in many places. ‘Tatmadaw’ means the Burmese military.

One of many gates on the Mandalay Palace wall, complete with moat:

Another one:

Looking up at Mandalay Hill, a 7km walk from my hostel just before sunset:

Looking down from the steps leading up Mandalay Hill, you can see hundreds of small stupas in rows:

I met a Buddhist monk at the top of the hill and chatted with him a bit to help him practice his English. I also let him play with my dSLR camera.

We took a ‘ghost’ photo just for fun too, with a bit of blur to keep his face non-identifiable:

The next day I caught a pickup truck out of town, because I wanted to eat some strawberries… more on that in the next post.