The mountains are calling, and I must go.
In even the most beautiful places, one inevitably finds themselves slowly growing accustomed to what was once a source of immaculate awe. I still remember my first ride from the Mandalay airport back in July 2017, fawning over every small white or gold pagoda that dotted the forested landscape. It was all so new, and it was all so beautiful.
But, time moves on, and after living here for 7 months the things around town have normalized quite a bit. It’s no longer like something out of a movie to see monks walking around. It’s expected to see pagodas around the city. I’ve done the big attractions like Kathudaw and U Bein Bridge. That isn’t to say I don’t still find them beautiful and endearing, because I do, but it is what it is.
That being the case, I decided that I need to regain my sense of adventure and explore this wonderful country more. Five weeks will see me hitting three spots I’ve been wanting to hit in Myanmar, and one in Thailand. This past weekend was Pyin Oo Lwin, a beautiful mountain town about an hour and a half outside of Mandalay, and I couldn’t have asked for a more refreshing, invigorating weekend away with a great group of people.
While the four of us, my friends Andrew and Chika, my girlfriend Kate, and I, initially planned this outing as a quick day journey to get some fresh strawberries from the myriad of fruit farms, it eventually grew into a weekend get away. We left right after work on Friday, and, in a pleasant twist of expectations, found that the majority of the drive there was freshly paved and an easy drive. It was nice to bundle up as the temperatures changed inversely with our elevation, and I felt soft tingles of Wisconsin as I put on my third layer.
Friday evening was a great start to the weekend. Tired from a long day’s work and with sore keisters from the bumpy drive up we decided to grab some grub and chill in the hotel with a few big bottles of brews.
When drinks are as cheap as they are here, it’s economical just to buy a case of tall boys. They were meant to get us through the whole weekend, but they… didn’t.
The next morning came early and with promises of beautiful scenery, and, SPOILER ALERT, the day delivered.
After a breakfast of eggs, noodles, various pastries, and more, the crew headed out to a little area with a little waterfall and a market. The area was definitely a bit touristy, but we were the only Westerners there and I had three or four people ask to take a selfie with me since we’re so few and far between. The shops were full of strawberries, which were fantastic; fresh honey, which was delectable; and walls upon walls of locally made wine, which was actually pretty gross.
Despite my earlier claims that pagodas have started to all blend together a bit for me, on our way out from the small nature area we were drawn to a massive roadside temple. It ended up being one of the more impressive structures I saw in town. The scale and detail of places like this truly are stunning, and, despite not being a religious person, it’s hard not to feel a humbling tug when standing in a place like this among others that so dedicatedly are.
As lunch time rolled around we decided to hit up December Farms, which, in contrast to the titular month, was fully operational in February. The food was nice, the scenery even more so. Sitting under the umbrella eating and walking around the grounds, it was easy to forget any stress that may have been lingering and enjoy a moment as close to picturesque as I’ve enjoyed in quite some time.
Not wanting to lose our momentum, the next stop was the Pyin Oo Lwin Botanical Gardens. I won’t say too much, just enjoy the pictures. It was a nice stroll, including a walk-in aviary full of the beauties below.
Dinner was Indian food at The Taj, where we enjoyed a quiet sunset and some great curries and naan. It was almost eerily quiet, in fact, due to our group being the only one in the fairly sizable restaurant. No other people and no ambient music meant hushed tones to match the muted reds and oranges of the sun setting over the trees and lake nearby. Quiet, that is, until by pure happenstance a group of four of my 10th grade students walked in. What are the odds?
Despite the drive to Pyin Oo Lwin being a relatively leisurely hour and a half, we decided to take the long way home. At the very start of our trek back we saw a pagoda that was still under construction, but we were still able to walk through.
A slightly intimidating three hour drive through steep, narrow, gravel roads, the path winds through beautiful mountains engulfing us with some of the best views I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, pictures just don’t do the scale justice, and I wasn’t able to snap shots while I was driving.
When riding through the mountains, humbled by the scale of their massive seas of green, it was hard not to remember a quote from one of my favorite books.
And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.
–The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Until the next adventure, which, fortunately, is only a few days away.