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Pyin Oo Lwin and Lovely Kandawgyi Gardens

After some instructions from the front desk staff, we set out to find the bus to Pyin Oo Lwin. We walked down to 82nd street and 27th to find pick-up trucks with wooden bench seats, not quite what we imagined when we pictured a bus ride to the next city. We chatted with those drivers and the shared taxi drivers before we went back to the hotel to see if there was a legitimate bus station we'd somehow missed. This was Mandalay after all. They confirmed those were the two options or we could book a taxi with them for 7,000 kyat, higher than the 4,500 we'd been offered at the 'bus station'. I was not in good spirits by the end of the discussions and told the woman at the front desk frankly that she shouldn't be calling them buses when they were trucks. I should have handled it better, but it was frustrating to get misinformation when there wasn't decent enough wifi to do research.

We walked back to the station, passing more expensive taxis and a pick up keen on boarding us asap. The 4,500 driver was waiting and took us right away. He made a few stops to make phone calls and to pick up two other customers plus cargo. The road was quite windy and bumpy, making us quite grateful that we paid for the car instead of wooden seats. We managed to arrive in only an hour and a half. Our driver also pointed out the town amenities, market, and hospital as we drove in. There was a neat historic druggist shop. Our driver dropped off at the guesthouse we requested too which saved some time.

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Grace 1, our guesthouse, had a nice outdoor seating area, big rooms and warm blankets. After turning our room into a laundromat, we rented a couple of bikes and set off to the gardens for the afternoon.

Finding appealing vegetarian food was no easy task. If they had anything, it was a side dish and the tea shops unfortunately weren't serving food anymore. We found one place where I could order a very light tomato salad and Ryan had egg fried rice. We biked on past quaint horse drawn carriages and a lake.

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The Kandawgyi Gardens had a $5 admission and 5pm closing time for the staffed exhibits. As we entered the park, small colourful flower beds lined both sides of the road. Soon we entered the area with the bright flower displays and a bridge leading to pagoda island. White and black swans swam around and occasionally lounged on the shore. We kept walking the lakeside to see the orchid and butterfly gardens.

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The orchids were beautiful in purples, oranges and light white with colourful centres. They continued to decorate the trellised walkway leading to the museum. Inside thousands of butterflies were on display from bright blue South Americans to the big moths you could find in Indonesia. Most of the butterflies were native to Myanmar. They were white and brown, some resembling leaves and other had more colour. Some of the exhibits were organized in a way that made a symbol or a letter. The bugs with pincers and giant moths were a bit unsettling especially if you were to see them in the wild. The rest of the orchid garden wasn't really in bloom.

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We backtracked to the aviary to see pheasants, peacocks, parrots, cockatiel and even a great hornbill. He came to snatch corn cobs from other visitors and we got a great view of his bill. It was bright and extended over his head with a flat section. The bird even swished as it flew back into the trees. Ryan spotted a gibbon off in the distance behind the fence, too speedy to photograph. There was a cute dog in the grass as well.

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Crossing the lake again, we made the fossil and wood museum our next stop. We passed the floral display that spelled out Pyin Oo Lwin in vibrant colours and the rock garden.

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The fossil museum had many ancient teeth, some skulls and tusks from prehistoric animals. Some of the tusks were as long as I was.

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The petrified wood was described as far superior to any other in the world. We couldn't help but chuckle about the very proud nationalistic sentiments. They had polished most of the wood so it looked very smooth. Although the texture and colour appeared to be wood, to the touch it felt like stone since it had been preserved that way.

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We crossed the teak plot, a bit unsure which trees were actually the teak ones. We hadn't seen them up close before, just once they'd been converted to table form. Then, we made our way over to the Takin enclosure. It was quite zoo-like and the animals stayed as far back as possible. They were hairy brown creatures with small horns which came from the goat and antelope family.

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The orchard was a bit disappointing since we were out of season. The creton garden was alright. We continued through pine forest until we found an ice cream vendor closing up shop. They still served us taro and strawberry ice cream which was quite tasty.

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The only thing that we hadn't seen was the Nam Myint Tower, at least not from up close. We crossed our fingers that we could still get a nice view of the surrounding area from the winding wooden staircase after five pm. Sure enough we got a stunning view of the lake and countryside hills, even with the city in the distance. A bride was finishing up a photo session at the very top.

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After a bumpy bike ride back to town where the sun thankfully hadn't set just yet, we headed to the market for supper. We didn't have much luck there for meals, but found cheap coconut pastries and fried dough before we had supper at Ruby restaurant. It was like a fancy Asian diner. I had Yunnan fried rice and Ryan had some Kung Pao chicken.

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Posted by Sarah.M 18:03 Archived in Myanmar Tagged gardens tower black fossil orchid wood butterfly swan petrified pyin_oo_lwin hornbill kandawgyi takin nam_myint Comments (0)

Caves and Safaris

semi-overcast

This morning, monkeys were gathered up by the bathrooms, jumping around from branch to branch. They were the first animal we spotted before our next wildlife tour. We hopped back in the longboat to see the same type of hornbill we'd seen at night. It had a black body, white chest, plus a long tail and beak. When they flew, they had an orange/yellow stripe across their wingspan and their wings made considerable noise. We also saw the bright blue kingfisher.
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For breakfast, we had banana pancakes plus another banana on the side for good measure. We lounged around until the 10 am checkout then took off in the longboat for our second cave adventure. It took an hour's voyage on the uncomfortable wooden plank boat seats to reach the next platform.

The hike took an hour or so, steeper than yesterday. We went up with a local ranger and Two. Two showed us a large tree with air roots that climbed other trees before strangling them to take their place. It was their invasive way of reaching the sunlight. More cicada mounds were along the path along with their shells and some spiders.

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This cave was big but the tour wouldn't be as extensive as yesterday's. The cave held high levels of carbon monoxide and it could be dangerous to stay down there more than a few dozen minutes. As we explored, we found the critters here were bigger: the bats, spiders and crickets.

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We walked down to the cave on a sometimes slippery path. There was a rocket-shaped stalagmite that Two joked about. We had to scale around a rock wall, and at the end Two shouted out about a two meter long snake we could see. It was lightly coloured and moved slowly enough at a distance from us. We went in a bit further to see spiders and crickets. Finally, we visited the large guano-scented bat cave with thousands of black critters just hanging out.

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We trekked back down, begging the rain Gods to make our path less challenging by staying at bay. It worked and we walked the final path across a big fallen floating log and over the random boards and rocks, hoping not to slip. We had a lunch of fried rice and egg plus creatively cut pineapple and watermelon where the peel was the eco-friendly tray.

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Back at the mainland pier, our luggage waited for us in the back of a van. We thanked Two and got dropped off at a nearby bus station. Tickets to Surat Thani were 150 baht. I ran into the nearby Big C grocery store to cool off with their A/C and pick up snacks: panda cookies, croissants, M&Ms and goldfish knock-off crackers I always used to buy.

Once arrived in Surat Thani, we turned down pushy tour agents offers, found our own way to the pier and saved no money on the tickets. Sometimes we learned, people could be honest in sales. We sat at the waterfront pier area near a lively market selling clothes, household items and food. We managed to find food and drinks at a nearby restaurant stall. Ryan got to try satays, I had some big fried noodles and we both had EST Thai cola.

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We had pancakes for dessert, small but tasty, made by a lady watching a football match intently with a few other vendors, and by 10pm it was time to board the overnight boat to Koh Tao. Stepping inside it looked more like a dorm than a boat with dozens of big bunk beds everywhere. At least they had toilets with toilet paper and soap, a rare find out here. Since we were travelling together, Ryan and I got the slightly larger than a single shared bunk mattress.

Posted by Sarah.M 15:39 Archived in Thailand Tagged lake cave safari snake khao_sok hornbill Comments (0)

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