Latest Posts

Myanmar: Myitkyina Morning Market

One of the nice things about Myitkyina is its compactness. You can walk a lot of places, and see even more with the help of a bicyle. There are plenty of motorbike taxis if you prefer to be taken places.

The wet market is where fresh produce is sold in the early morning. It’s split into separate areas, and there is plenty of sighs and smells. Some of the produce comes in by small boat, and if you walk through to the back of the market you can watch boats crossing the calm waters of the Irrawaddy.

20160325 Myitkyina-9842

I find it very difficult to take photographs of people in markets. I’m always aware they are busy selling their produce, and probably don’t want a lens pointed in their face. In Kengtung I hadn’t taken any market photos at all, which was a shame as it’s the most interesting market I’ve ever been to due to the many different ethnic groups there. I wondered if i was thinking about it too much, so decided this was the time to give it a go.

Inside the market is very dark, so photography is tricky. I cranked up the ISO to 1600, and then to 2000. I probably should have pushed it higher, although my wide aperture lens helped to keep adequate shutters speeds. With the odd exception where i could grab a sneaky shot, i asked if i could photograph. One lady was obviously too shy, but other than that i was given the green light. Most people just carried on working, without interacting with the camera. I noticed that they would be a little uncomfortable if you took too many photos, so if i didn’t get the shot within a couple of frames i would stop shooting and thank them.

20160325 Myitkyina market-9855

20160325 Myitkyina market-9856

I’m not sure if i’ve described this earlier, but the ladies in Myanmar use a traditional cosmetic named Thanakha, which is to protect their skin and for beauty purpose. Thanakha is made from roots and timber of the Thanakha tree, and is worn by most women and some children. Even though it was very dark in the market, the ladies still tended to wear a good covering of  Thanakha, as can be seen in the photos.

20160325 Myitkyina market-9867

20160325 Myitkyina market-9877

20160325 Myitkyina market-9888

20160325 Myitkyina market-9902

20160325 Myitkyina market-9908

20160325 Myitkyina market-9918

20160325 Myitkyina market-9925

20160325 Myitkyina market-9927

20160325 Myitkyina market-9928

20160325 Myitkyina market-9930

20160325 Myitkyina market-9937

Myanmar: Myitkyina First Impressions

The plan was to have look around Myitkyina, and then spend a few days taking boats down the Irrawaddy River back to Mandalay. I needed to return to Mandalay to catch the first of my flights home. However,  I felt time was not on my side and, considering i’ve had some pretty special river journeys previously, I decided to spend my last few days of holiday in Myitkyina to relax.

Myitkyina is as far north as a foreigner is allowed in Myanmar without obtaining special permits. It is the capital city of Kachin State, and the northernmost river port in Myanmar. Myitkyina actually means “near the big river” in Burmese,  and the Irradaddy runs very close to the centre of town. Myitkyina is definitely a place to go to experience Myanmar’s multiculturalism including a mix of  Kachin, Shan, Bamar peoples, and some Chinese and Indians. Even though it doesn’t have a wealth of sights, i’m sure there would be enough to keep me happy.

With the exception of an occasional NGO worker, you don’t see many foreigners in town. You feel rather special as you wander the markets and eat at the restaurants overlooking the river. My first day was spend doing only that, as i recovered from the 24 hour train journey that brought me into town early that morning. The photos below show the Hindu temple, and the street market.

20160324 Myitkyina-0713

20160324 Myitkyina-0721

I took a couple of beers at the fantastic ‘River View’ restaurant and beer bar and decided i would get some early morning photographs in the covered market the next day.

Myanmar: The YMCA [Myitkyina]

For a budget traveller who is not fussy then the YMCA is a good choice, but it’s certainly not for everyone.  I arrived before dawn and had no booking, but someone was kind enough to let me check in.

  • The rooms are clean enough
  • You can rent a bicycle from them
  • The staff are lovely
  • They can arrange motorbike hire (very expensive at K40,000 per day)
  • It’s cheap!

I took a US$10 room with shared bathroom.  Note that the YMCA does not have hot water bathrooms, but toilets are western style.

As well as providing simple but affordable rooms for travellers, the YMCA plays an active role in community development. Myitkyina’s YMCA provides the chance to meet everyday people working to make communities stronger. When you stay there, you can smile as your money spent goes towards furthering a worthy cause.

The YMCA also has tourist information on what areas are accessible – see below – and also provide a map, which is handy to find your way around town on the first day – click the thumbnail for the large version.

20160324 YMCA info-0755

Myanmar: Mandalay to Myitkyina by train

This journey definitely deserves a post to itself. The previous evening had been spent drinking with river-workers in a local bar, so i was feeling a touch groggy as I made my way to the train station to take the 05:15am train from Mandalay to Myitkyina. I’d bought my ticket the previous day and already scoped out where the train left from, so i was able to board half-asleep. I was questioning my decision to travel third class for a journey that is scheduled for 24 hours but is known to frequently take longer.

The train set off promptly, and I made myself as comfortable as I could on the hard plastic bench to enjoy the ride out of Mandalay as daylight approached. I had the bench seat and the one opposite to myself, so I could stretch out and watch the passing rural scenes through the window. The window itself is wide open, i.e. the glass is raised up, which I was thankful for as third class does not have fans to move the air around inside the carriage.

The scenery is generally rural scenes that probably haven’t changed in centuries. Farm labour is mostly carried out without modern machinery, with oxen pulling wooden ploughs and carts.

20160323 Train Myitkyina-9768

20160323 Train Myitkyina-9790

Food vendors walk through the aisles – and also outside near to stations – selling a variety of meals, snacks, and drinks. You certainly do not need to pack food for this journey.

20160323 Train Myitkyina-9786

We’d been travelling a few hours when the train stopped at a town with a very full platform. New passengers rushed into the carriages, and sacks of rice and baskets of vegetables were passed through the open windows to be stored under seats, between seats, and in the aisle. Suddenly the carriage was not sleepy, but full with chatter and laughter. I received a lot of smiles and nods, and food was offered to me as the train set off once again. You can never say the people of Myanmar do not make you feel welcome.

20160323 Train Mandalay-0672

20160323 Train Myitkyina-9804

I looked at my GPS occasionally to see where we were, and noticed the train’s speed ranged from approximately 35kph to around 50kph. We appeared to be making good progress. When approaching the higher speeds, the carriages would start to sway violently from side to side, requiring the driver to slow down again. It’s also the bumpiest train journey I’ve ever been on, and there were times when passengers were momentarily airborne, before returning to their seats with a bump. The two children sat nearby had a great time, and thought it very funny to be sliding and jumping around with the movement of the carriage.

20160323 Train Myitkyina-9782

20160323 Train Myitkyina-9793

To relieve the boredom I gave my compact camera to the children to take photos. They loved this and we had a lot of fun as they photographed me and each other. The parents were really happy to see their kids having fun with the foreigner, and filmed us for a while on their smartphone. After this, the children lost a lot of their shyness, and sat next to me occasionally to peer out of the window.

20160323 Train Mandalay-0659

Rubbish generated on the train is disposed of by throwing it out of the window. The lady opposite helpfully explained this to me, stating that I do not need to keep rubbish under my seat, but simply throw it outside. It’s quite bizarre to watch adults teaching their children to through plastic bags into the environment. The sides of the tracks are littered with various plastic and polythene receptacles, which increases in density with proximity to stations.

At stations we would often wait for a train coming the other way, and end up ‘parked’ alongside. It gave good opportunity to look and smile at the people on-board.

20160323 Train Mandalay-0679

20160323 Train Myitkyina-9771

As the journey progressed, the trips to the toilet – which is just a hole in the floor – were faced with greater reluctance. With the rocking carriage, it was quite difficult to use with accuracy, and the odours were getting rather unbearable. The fact there was no running water did not help matters. I was very glad my seat was exactly in the middle of the carriage, and only infrequently did the odour reach me there.

20160323 Train Mandalay-0673

20160323 Train Myitkyina-9810

As darkness fell, so did the temperatures. I opened my bag to retrieve clothes to stay warm. The family who I sat with were very organised, and set out sleeping mats with blankets for their children. I was getting aches and pains from the cramped sitting position and the hard plastic seat. I knew that the cold temperatures and bouncing train were not going to help me get to sleep. We pulled into Nebo in darkness (many towns have no electricity other than generators and so lighting is very limited). I wondered if there would be any food vendors. I needn’t have worried as dozens of women, balancing plates filled with food and lamps or candles, looked for sales through the carriage windows.

It was very chilly indeed when the train pulled into Myitkyina at around 5am. Remarkably, the train was not late. I wandered out of the station in darkness to find my GPS did not have the street map for Myitkyina loaded. A motorbike taxi driver asked me if I wanted to go to the YMCA and quoted K1000 as the fare. I knew the YMCA had cheap rooms so jumped on. The ride lasted around 1 minute, as it turns out the YMCA is just a around the corner.

Would I recommend taking the train from Mandalay to Myitkyina? Well, there are other options available including bus (foreigners are now permitted), boat, and airplane. The bus journey may be a little quicker, but will surely be less enjoyable than a crazy train-ride. The boat journey is much better to do on the return, when you travel with the current, and flying is convenient but you will have no great memories. If you can take a little sleep deprivation and use an unpleasant smelling toilet then I really recommend travelling third class on the overnight train.

A couple of tips for your journey:

  • Buy the train ticket before your day of travel. You can then brave the early morning knowing your seat is secure and don’t risk delays at the ticket office.
  • Consider taking a cushion if travelling third class, as you will suffer many hours on a hard bench seat (second and first class seats are more comfortable)
  • Take a blanket or warm clothing for the night-time
  • Look around for an immigration desk when you arrive at the Myitkyina train station. If there is one, I missed it, which led to a small problem when leaving Myitkyina a few days later, which i will detail in a later post.
  • Book your accommodation beforehand, and consider asking if you can check in early. I was lucky that someone at the YMCA let me in and gave me a room in the early hours of the morning.