Kachin state – Hopin, Indawgyi and Bhamo

I promised some time ago to write and share with you the outstanding Kachin trip report. Here it is.
In June I spent 3 weeks traveling to Shwebo, Indawgyi lake, Katha, Bhamo, Monywa, Pakokku and Mindat.

Shwebo is a charming town with a nice lake nearby. I just rented a bike and was successfully getting lost
mingling with locals. I rented a motorbike taxi (Kyaw Soe was arranged by a hotel and I it was a good choice. He speaks some English as well and helped me to buy a train ticket) as well and went to Halin. Shwebon Yadana Archeological Zone (5 USD) with skeletons is not really worth a visit unless you are a passionate.

From Shwebo I took an evening train to Naba to go further to Hopin and Indawgyi lake. The day before my departure we went to check on options and the officer told me that it is better to take a later train (10.30 pm, USD 6 ordinary, USD12 – first, USD16 – upper) if I travel alone. It was double the price of the earlier one (08.30 pm). There was this funny sentence on the wall in one of the rooms in Shwebo railway station “I will be always sure” which sounded like a good joke taking into account how unreliable trains in Myanmar are. When I was buying a ticket it turned out that actually a better train for a single female traveler would be the earlier one. I decided to go on a later one and bought an ordinary class ticket. I promised myself not to do that again as it was the most crowded compartment I had ever experienced in Myanmar. When we entered Kachin state there was police control and they behaved in a really unfriendly way – I wasn’t brave enough to take pictures when they demanded that some of guys get undressed. They sniffed cigarette boxes and searched through chosen luggage.

I wanted to take a pickup but local boys said there is no pickup and wanted to take me there by motorbike for 12 000. When I found pickup price of motor taxi melted to 8000 – double the price of pickup. Nobody wanted to take on their car though. Somebody arranged for an immigration officer to come and he copied details from my passport, then called to check if he can let me go further, called another guy who came and did the same and the procedure happened once more. I was tired after a few long hours on the train when I hardly slept and wanted to cry when I saw the last car leaving but they told me not to worry. After they were done with all the paper work, one of the guy told me to take a sit on his motorbike. I thought we were going to Hopin but he told me we would catch a car. This is what happened. I managed to buy some tea leaves salad on the way as I didn’t manage to have breakfast but I lost it one of first bumps on a car. As well, I was not able to take a nap.

When I finally got to Hopin, InDawMaHar guesthouse owner/ manager called somewhere to ask if he can accept me. He was totally unprepared to host anybody else as there were 11 police officers in his guesthouse already. He just relocated one of them and gave me the room. The room was 7000 and no option to negotiate. I stayed two nights and was badly bitten by bedbugs (my first time ever). They have electricity between 7.15 and 9.15 in the evening. Then the whole village is bloody dark. Though it was not an easy part of y travel I would strongly recommend it to those more adventurous. I rented a bike and went to the pagoda which was an awesome experience. Well, actually it looks better from a distance.

I waited for a pickup to Naba for some 3 hours and heard 3 different versions from locals: “the car will be within an hour”, “today there will be a car but it is not sure when”, “today there will be no car”. There was a car and it broke down a few times after we fried our bodies on the sun. I decided to change to a train which was to be 1 hour late but after an hour I was told I needed to wait one more and then still one more hour.

From Naba I took a shared taxi to Katha (around midnight) and there was just only one guesthouse that could accept foreigners and had free beds. I no longer remember the name of it but the staff was not friendly at all. I changed it to Ayarwady Guesthouse after two days when they had a free room. It was better located, just by the jetty, and staff was more helpful. Ferries to Bhamo ran twice a week and I was glad I could stay there a bit longer. Though the paper edition of “lonely Planet” doesn’t recommend visiting Orwell’s house, I went there and was treated with tea and tea leaves salad by 3 women – grandmother, mother and a daughter. I practiced English with the youngest one and it was a really good meeting. Don’t be put off and try to spend some time with them. They seemed to enjoy being visited by tourists. My favorite tea house there is Eden Café with super friendly staff. As they noticed I liked Myanmar music, they brought me pendrive to copy it to my disc 🙂

Katha – Bhamo part was pretty exciting. I got on board around 10 pm (planned departure 8 pm, ticket was USD 5) and felt something was wrong… After a while it turned out I travelled with soldiers and probably that’s why I was upgraded to so called loom which I share with some 15 people. It has fans and is far more comfortable than ordinary class. In the morning I was invited by soldiers to have with them mohinga when we stopped in one of ports which was pretty cool as some of them spoke English. They couldn’t understand why I wanted to go to Kachin state and advised me to be careful there.
As it was my first time on the ferry in Myanmar, I was taking a lot of pictures. A man to whom I was talking wrote me an advice not to take pictures of the ferry – “Don’t shoot inside. Shoot jungle and water. Police on the boat”. After a while another man approached us. It turned out he was a policeman. He wasn’t interested in my pictures though.

As well, on the ferry from Katha to Bhamo, I saw elephants. I asked the Burmese if they were wild. My small dictionary didn’t contain this word so I asked if the elephants help people to work and are kept at the household. The answer was “No, the elephants belong to the government”. I didn’t investigate more on that…

In Bhamo I decided to stay in Friendship hotel and it was most luxurious (backpackers’ standard J) place during my whole journey. There was TV in a room and a great buffet breakfast. Very good value for money (USD 10). I rented a bike there and spent two days visiting the surrounding area. I wanted to see the bridge but just saw small part of it as it was damaged by rain a week before. I was told they rebuild bridge every year after rainy season. I took a ferry back to Mandalay and it took us 38 hours to reach the city. Again, I was upgraded when one o policemen saw me being squeezed among locals in ordinary class. I said it was fine and showed him a ticket to confirm it was my decision to stay there but he insisted on my moving to loom.

I really enjoyed both Indawgyi and the cruise and feel that it was enough time spent in each of the places. An additional advantage was no foreigners on the way which made me feel like an explorer… 🙂

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