Who in Toungoo knows what a tourist is?

Toungoo Travel Blog

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Having breakfast at sunrise in Bago.

Our day starts at 5.30 am, because we want to be ready when the monks come to the hotel begging for food and money. Every day at six o’clock sharp they come by. And when I say sharp I méan sharp, because when we come walking out of the hotel at two minutes past six, they are already going around the corner into the main street of Bago, disappearing into the darkness. We follow them for a little while and even catch up, but they do not slow down for a second, and we give up when they walk onto the bridge that crosses the river. They’re walking very fast, I recon that’s because it’s still rather chilly and the monks are walking on bare feet. Unfortunately for the monks the teachings of the Buddha forbid begging with shoes on.

When the monks have gone into the twilight we go back to the hotel where breakfast is served at seven.

Sunrise on the Great Golden God Pagoda.
We go to the top floor again, evading the shoes and slippers of the staff at the beginning of every stairwell, who move around on bare feet. I take my camera with me, hoping that the sunrise will be as beautiful as it was yesterday. We are the only ones in the room, because it’s still well before seven. This gives us plenty of time to set up the camera and pick a good spot for taking some pictures. Little by little the others come in, making the wooden floor tremble when they walk by and take a seat. The breakfast is “same, same” again, but the sunrise isn’t half bad, colouring the sky behind the pagoda in the distance.

When we take our luggage outside so the driver and his helper can put them in the bus, we see some very young begging monks and an old lady who wouldn’t mind to get some money as well.

Trudy giving to begging child-monks.

We are on our way for about half an hour when we encounter some kind of a procession. They seem to be pilgrims, taking two statues to Bago. They bring along loud music, a boy performing something that’s somewhere between a dance and a certain kind of martial arts, and a beautifully decorated elephant. All the way in the back drives a truck filled with speakers, providing the necessary volume. In between are men in white and nicely dressed up ladies.

It is still before nine when we get to a school, where some members of our party want to donate goods which they have brought from Holland especially for this purpose.

A procession of pilgrims going to Bago on foot.
Unfortunately the headmaster isn’t in today and the other staff members aren’t allowed to accept gifts, so we have to move on with all the goods still in the bus.

At 9.45 am we pause for coffee in a small café next to the local barber. The café isn’t much, but the sweet and milky instant-all-in-one coffee is very much to my liking (although in Holland I always drink my coffee black without sugar). Someone says that the toilet in the back yard is worth a look and I go and check it out. It indeed is quite special, a small wooden shed with a hole in the floor, very much like the toilets on farms in Europe in the beginning of the 20th century. And it isn’t too clean either... When I’m back in the front of the café again, a boy arrives on a bicycle that has a very special feature: fully automated rim cleaners.

This friendly giant was part of the procession, too.
Two small animal hair brushes that sweep the rim when he paddles along. The boy enjoys the attention he gets very much and shows us every nut and bolt of his bike.

At noon we visit an orphanage run by the Salvation Army where our do-gooders can get rid of their gifts after all. We can have a look inside, but apart from some beds in the dorm there’s not much to see. The children of course are very friendly and the people who run the place are making us feel more than welcome. We stay for about fifteen minutes and then we move on to the restaurant where we have lunch. It’s a Chinese restaurant, where only Chinese people work and we are welcomed with Chinese hospitality. We are given a menu and after a while the waitress comes by, asking “What you want?” as short as possible. When the food is ready it is slammed on the table, accompanied by smile.

This beautiful lady could be easily overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the procession.
When I’ve finished my lunch I go to the back to wash my hands. On the right of the corridor is the kitchen, its door wide open, so I can see several cooks working over large steaming woks and four dogs on the floor waiting for their masters to spill some food. The fires underneath the woks are fuelled with rice husk, so it is obvious that practically nothing is discarded as useless in Burma. Plumbing, however, isn’t the best quality. The tap where I go to wash up is made of solid plastic and so are the water pipes. It’s all a bit wobbly, but it’ll do.

We drive for another hour after lunch, before getting to Toungoo. It’s a dusty place and the Amazing Hotel, where we will be spending the night, is located on a dirt road, some fifty metres off the main road.

The dentists, close to where we were having a coffee.
Our room is quite allright, but we’re not staying long, because we are going to try and find the open market that is said to be interesting. It’s very warm, but that won’t stop us. The map we got from Aart-Jan is 5 years old, hand drawn and not to scale, rendering it pretty much useless. We will not find the market, but we don’t mind at all. We notice that there are no tourists here whatsoever, making the rural town more interesting than previously expected. People make fun of Trudy because of her white feet and look at us with a look on their faces saying: “Please wave”. Which of course we do. In this town it is everyone looking at us, instead of the other way around. When walking through the village we see workers hoisting a lorry engine out of the back of a truck, people transporting all kinds of goods on bicycles and tricycles, and we also find the local garbage dump. Now we head for the bridge, but before we can cross the guard wants to know where we are going.
Some of the children in the orphanage. All of them sweet enough to put in a suitcase and take home.
My answer: “Just walking” satisfies him and we can go on. A small group of children is following us, trying to draw our attention. When we’ve taken some pictures of them (and shown them the result) they laugh their heads off and go back happily to where they came from. Now we can focus on not falling through the holes in the bridge, complete 25 centimetre wide boards are missing, so it is not unimaginable falling through or at least hurting oneself badly.

On the other side of the bridge is a monatery from which mantras sound, enhancing the authentic atmosphere of the moment. Here people look at us very seriously (very different than on the other side of the bridge), but when we give them a smile and their faces break open, showing an ear-to-ear smile. Others start shouting at us from bicycles, mopeds or from shops in the distance, but their English doesn’t reach any further than “Where you from?”.

The hoisting of a lorry engine drew quite a crowd.
Inspite of the lack of English I get invited to play Chinlon with the locals twice. Chinlon is the national sport of Burma and it is played with a ball made of reed. The players (up to six) stand in a circle and keep the ball in the air using only their feet, legs and head. It sounds much easier than it really is. It is a man’s game, so Trudy has to sit this one out.

Some small stalls are selling the beetle nut that people chew here. Of course it would be fun for them to sell one to me (and they try every time we walk by), but I’ve heard that it tastes very bitter and I don’t feel like have dark red teeth as well, so I refuse politely.

When we cross the bridge again two men are rowing a boat on the river, doing something that looks like fishing or setting out nets, but we can’t quite figure it out.

What an adventure, having your picture taken by a strange, almost two metre tall, white man...
The last stretch to the hotel we do by bicycle taxi, the man asks for 100 Kyats, but eventually we pay him 500, because it was a sandy and uphill ride and he really had to work for it. We can’t understand a word he is saying, but it is obvious that he wants to have his picture taken together with my wife. If that’s all we have to do to make him happy...

We take a well needed shower and after that we have dinner with Ton, Judith and Dolores. We hit the sack at 10.30 pm.

glennisnz says:
Great blogg, how I do wish I could go to Burma. It is my dream, but not very likely to happen. So pleased to have read about your experiances.
Posted on: Apr 13, 2008
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Toungoo
photo by: TrudyNRonnie