Weronika and her mom were looking forward for some beach-side rest and relaxation, and headed off to Ngwe Saung. There, they twiddled their towns on a quiet beach for a few days and recharged their batteries. I was craving to experience more of the city life of Yangon so I stayed behind. We will meet later at the Kyaiktiyo Golden Rock pagoda, affectionately dubbed by us as the yellow rock in a hat.
Due to a messy reservation book, my promised bed in the cozy and clean Okinawa Gueshouse was already occupied by some Germans. I found a welcome and cheap room at the nearby sketchy-looking Mahandoola Guesthouse, which the Lonely Plant succinctly describes as “It’s cheap.” It wasn’t nearly as bad as my imagination and first impression would have led me to believe. It is very centrally located right next to the Sule Paya pagoda, the staff is extremely nice and helpful, and the crowd of backpackers it attracts made for some very pleasant, if sometimes eccentric, company.
I wandered the city streets taking in the bustling mix of culture. I ate delicious Shan noodles, Indian samosas, fish soup, dried chili encrusted fish, local pasta made with rice noodles and Shan-style yellow pea tofu and fantastic fermented-tea leaf salad. The food is somewhat eccentric, the flavors quite rich and welcoming, the sanitary standard best not mentioned, and all dirt cheap and delicious. Unseasonal rain each afternoon stranded me in various places. One day I’ve spent about two hours sitting on a bale of cloth in the gigantic textile market, where Muslim traders peddled their wares and Burmese boys ran errands and did various tasks for “tips” of 100 or 200 kyat. I sat, smiling, and everyone smiled back, once in a while offering up the “what country you from?” I got to see fragments of Buddha’s teeth as well as an altar supposedly containing another one of Buddha’s hairs. The handicraft and gem market was a zoo, with everyone trying to sell marionettes, lacquer ware, wood carving, and various gems and jewelry to tourists. I went for a massage at a therapeutic massage and physiotherapy center, where a blind man with immensely powerful hands kneaded my muscles into pulp, an experience I physically felt for another three days.
The evenings were spent in the local restaurant and beer “hall” directly beneath the Mahandoola Guesthouse. The main residents were British Dan who was traveling with Italian Ramona (although everyone thought she was Spanish) and were really good company. There was also Kean, a fantastic bloke from Ireland, who regaled us with stories of his travels. A place like this also attracted a few strange ones. There was also the ever-present Irish couple of Jason and Christie, who never really left the place and drank whisky more or less all of the time. Jason was a good fellow, but each night, Christie ended drunk beyond belief, and often out of consciousness, getting carried off to her room. There was Will, who was had a very eccentric air about him, speaking slowly, as if his brain was fried. He claimed to be from California, but his accent and mannerism were quite un-west coast and no one believed him. Other people came and went and even though I was without my Weronika, it was never boring.
The last day Dan, Ramona and I had enough Yangon and decided to take a day trip out of town. We got the necessary travel permit and headed off to the town of Twante in the Ayeyarwady Delta. There, we walked the streets under the scorching sun, toured the very local market, and hired a trishaw driver to take us to the pottery village. We spent a few hours with him, and paid a visit to his home when he needed to eat a much needed lunch after cycling in the searing sun. We sat in the corner as he ate his lunch–we had already eaten and were not particularly hungry. Kids were looking at the three strange white folk and women came to show off their naked toddlers as we sat there in his tiny three by five meter one-room thatch “house” on stilts. We finished off the day in Twante by visiting the huge Shwesandaw Pagoda, which did not glitter as much as the Shwedagon in Yangon, but was still strangely huge in this small town.