The final destination of our boat ride was Bhamo, a small town that was a major port along the ferry’s route and the northern most stop accessible in the winter.
The boat pulled in to the town’s lower port (the waters were too shallow for the closer port) around mid morning, a day after it was due. We adjusted our itinerary so that we had that and the next day in Bhamo. The morning after an early bus ride was scheduled to our next stop, Myitkyina (pronounced something like “Micheena”, the capital of Kachin State.
I’m so very glad that we got a bit more time in Bhamo. Although Lonely Planet dedicated less than a half page to the sights, it did say of Bhamo that “For most people…(it) is just a staging post on the river journey to Myitkyina or Mandalay, but it’s an attractive town…” I totally fell in love with the peaceful but vibrant place.
Like the boat ride, I could probably write on and on about everything I loved about Bhamo, but I will try to limit myself to sharing just some of the highlights.
A note on the accommodation
If you ever happen to find yourself in Bhamo, I can highly recommend staying at the Friendship Hotel. Though a different breed from the Classique (that is, a budget hotel), it was pure luxury after the boat cabin.
The room was spacious and clean, the staff was friendly and helpful, the breakfast spread was huge and generous. The service included a lot of thoughtful touches like free news papers (fascinating!) in the lobby, soap, combs and even sewing kits in the room (a first since we’ve been on the road) and a generous take-along bagged breakfast the morning we had to catch be bus before the breakfast buffet was open. The lobby also had a crazy fountain with two beautiful gold fish that I got a real kick out of.
Our room in the Friendship Hotel
There are no official statistics on population in Myanmar, so I have no idea how big Bhamo is. It’s a good size compared to the villages we visited from the boat, but it felt relatively small and rural. There were a number of broader, paved roads, but most of the streets were at least partially or all dirt, which made the place feel a bit dusty at times, but never dirty. (Compared to Indian towns of a similar size, it felt (and smelled) really clean (although in India’s defense it was much cooler in Bhamo than the places we’d been in India).) During the day the sun washed the town with a warm light; everything seemed saturated in golden tones as was that much more beautiful for it.
Sights and experiences
In Bhamo I discovered the beauty of traditional Burmese homes. None of the photos I took did any of them justice so I won’t post any. Just know that most of the time they were gorgeous. 🙂 Often raised on wooden stilts (this serves multiple purposes – protection against flooding, keeping out (at least some) unwanted animals in the main living space, creating a storage space for tools or live stock under the house), the houses are made of walls of simple but elegant interlacing bamboo slats, with thatched or corrugated iron roofs, small windows, open doors.
I did snap a shot of the bamboo walls being made at a street-side workshop (taken from the back of the horse cart so it’s not the best photo) You can see the types of walls they are making in the building in the background.
One thing I didn’t photograph but that was amazing was the night market. Apparently there is a sort of wholesalers produce market that gets going late at night till early in the morning, where shopkeepers and restaurants can pick up their goods for the next day. It takes place on one of the streets, and everything is lit by mostly candles and some flashlights – no streetlights in most of Bhamo. We went to look the first evening – amazing and gorgeous to see.
Elmer and Ohmar were in Bhamo with us. We met up both our nights for dinner, which was great because Ohmar could do the ordering for us at the restaurants we went to. 🙂 The places we ate were simple but the food was great at both. The first night we ate Burmese, the second a local version of Indian (That was great – tasting those spices again brought me right back to India. 🙂 The restaurant was quirky too – full of animals. Fish, parrots, cats, even one rabbit that hopped between the tables!).
The Burmese style of eating is to order lots of different things and then everyone at the table just eats everything. You don’t get your own plate; you just dig in with your fork or spoon to the communal dish. It was a great way for us to try all sorts of yummy things. Ohmar indulged my tastes and ordered lots of different vegetable dishes and I was in veggie heaven. 🙂
Pagodas outside of town
We got a ride in a horse drawn carriage to see a few pagodas that were outside of town. The ride itself plus the pagodas and surrounding farmlands were all just breath taking. Our cart driver was a totally friendly, slightly nuts older man who spoke only very little English but did a lot of talking and laughing with us nonetheless. Really a cool guy. 🙂
The pagodas were really incredible to see but what I couldn’t tear myself away from was the vista of rice paddies with the hills rising on the distant horizon. One of those moments when you have to work to take in that the incredible beauty you are seeing is really real and actually in front of you. I’ve attached a panorama photo – click for a larger view.
Our horse cart driver
Details from some of the different pagodas
This was the first silver pagoda we saw on the trip – beautiful, especially in contrast to the dark wood of the surrounding structures.
The beautiful view
Here is my panorama shot – hope you can see it ok (you may need to click on it?)
We stumbled upon an indoor market that was just a feast for the senses. Everything was so colorful and gorgeous or at least interesting to look at. Tons of vegetables and fish/fish-based products I had never seen before in my life. Lots of lovely women working at the stands who got as much amusement out of us as we did from the market.
Various fish products
Bits and pieces
Some more pics of things I just like, in no particular order. 🙂
We saw these beautiful bamboo balls everywhere we went, but these were the first I noticed that were painted to resemble footballs (soccer balls). They were used for all sorts of sport from street soccer to volleyball.
Children investigating a store that sold movies
Friendly young mother and her daughter
Girls walking home under another one of those huge, incredible trees
Outside a large stupa in the middle of town
Trishaw driver, trishaw. Notice the license plate. 🙂
Bike repair/chop shop
Back page of the official English newspaper in Myanmar. Incredible!
A typical Burmese taxi – a bed with benches and two wheels affixed to a bike
On the horse cart ride back from the pagodas
Our driver let me photograph his traditional Burmese tattoos