From Mandalay, I took a small trip to visit Pyin U Lwin, a much cooler city in the northeast of Myanmar. This city was apparently the summer capital during the British Raj, and I can see why – whereas Yangon and Mandalay are blisteringly hot during the summer months, Pyin U Lwin is much cooler, much more comfortable.
Mandalay, the old capital of Myanmar, is pretty hot, but it doesn’t have the excruciatingly blistering heat of Bagan, so after spent a single day exploring Bagan in the searing heat, I escaped to Mandalay to explore the old capital.
After finishing my bike and boat exploration of Inle lake, I hopped on a bus to Bagan. Arriving around 10pm, the first thing I noticed was the overpowering heat. Even at 2am in the morning, the temperature hovered around 100 degrees. So lying in my bed, unable to sleep, I vowed to try and see all of Bagan in a single day, so that I could get out of this inferno.
After getting tired of getting endlessly sprayed with water in Yangon during the water festival, I hopped on a bus north to Inle Lake, one of the most scenic parts of Myanmar. I’ve heard it to be one of the best places to visit in Myanmar, and it did not disappoint – I enjoyed biking around and boating around Inle Lake and its accompanying city, Nyaung Shwe.
While I was in Yangon, I caught the tail end of Thingyan, the Burmese New year, which like the Thai New Year is celebrated with a huge water festival all throughout the country. Stores are closed, everyone goes home to visit family, and business grinds to a standstill as everyone washes away the burdens of last year and begins a new year afresh. And Yangon throws the best water fight of all of Southeast Asia – smaller than Thailand, less advanced than Thailand, but still the best.
Interestingly, this is the fourth New Year celebration I attended in four months:
– The western New Year at the Taipei 101 in Taiwan (Jan 1)
– The lunar / Vietnamese New year of Tet in Saigon, Vietnam (Jan 28 – Feb 5)
– The Thai New Year of Songkran in Bangkok, Thailand (April 13-15)
– The Burmese New Year of Thingyan in Yangon, Myanmar (April 13-16)
After getting quite tired of getting sprayed by water guns on every Bangkok street corner, I hopped on a plane and flew to Yangon (Rangoon), the capital of Myanmar. And I discovered, Yangon is a place like no other. Whereas other cities in Southeast Asia have their unique features, they all westernized to some degree, they all have the same convenience stores, the same big western brands, the same western dress. And then there’s Yangon.
Songkran, the Thai New Year! It’s a time of respecting your elders and washing away your sins from the past year. Or for most westerners (and most younger Thai folks), it’s known as the water festival, home to the biggest water fight in the world! There are actually a couple of countries that celebrate Songkran – Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, but Thailand’s is the biggest and most awesome.
From Bangkok, I took a bus (~3 hours) to Pattaya, a resort town a bit south of Bangkok known for its adult entertainment nightlife – go-go bars, beer bars, and whatnot. Why? The same reason why I visited Patpong and a ping pong show – because I’m curious to see what it’s like. I’ve heard a lot from fellow travelers about Pattaya – the lecherous old white men with young Thai girls, the go-go dancers, the decadence. And I wanted to see how much of it was true. But unfortunately, I found Pattaya to be massive disappointment.
From Vientiane, I crossed over the First Laos-Thai friendship bridge into Nong Khai, where I spent a day wandering around enjoying the sights before taking the sleeper train back to Bangkok. Which ended up being an unfortunate choice – if I had known that this would be so interesting, I would have stayed for another couple days, relaxing and enjoying the ambiance. But instead, I had to catch a night train to Bangkok. But Nong Khai was very nice while it lasted!
After spending some in decadently relaxing Vang Vieng, I ventured down to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Most capitals I have visited are thriving metropolises, but not so with Vientiane. I don’t know why, but it had an abandoned feel to it. There were people around, a good amount of activity, but the streets just seemed empty. I still don’t know why. It was just missing the hustle and bustle of most capital cities.