Elephant, water sources and foggy mountains: 48hrs in Taungoo.
The Taungoo area in the north-east of the Bago area is an eventful area. Chalets, the foggy hills and warm fountains of Kayin State and Taungoo, the historical water city, are all surrounded by a land that is one of Myanmar's best-kept touristic mysteries. As the tension between the Myanmar Army and the Karen National Union in Thandaung Gyi has cooled, the area is developing into one of the country's most unspoiled and unspoilt ecotourism spars.
Yet little is known about what Taungoo and its surroundings have to offer. And yet. We started our two day trip in Taungoo at Yangon Central Railway Terminal (Gandawin - 0973088006; K4600, three departures a day for five hour; a 6pm 3rd class coach). Taungoo's position on the new Yangon-Mandalay Hwy connects it with all north-south-busses.
Punctually to the sundown we arrived the Myanmar Beauty Guesthouse II (097840404040402) on the balc. A 10-minute bike tour to the Mother House Restuarant for a meal of ducks and mushrooms. The next morning we began with a Palace-like morning in Myanmar Beauty, which combined an exceptional party of more than 15 small dishes with various kinds of snack, cake and fruits.
We had a picnic, rinsed with freshly boiled coffees from near Thandaung Gyi and a little more of our passions juices, and after our dinner we went to the Kayin State Highlands ($60 for the whole days, organized by Myanmar Beauty). One of the highlights of any journey to the area is the climb to the top of Naw Bu Baw Hill, an incredibly scenic cliff with a clear view on a clear northbound to Shan State, eastbound to Thailand and westbound to downtown Myanmar.
It is the site of the legendary tragedy behind Naw Bu Baw, a Kayin princeess who was killed in combat after her husband's death. It is a holy place of worship for the Kayinans and a place of sanctuary for religious groups from all over the world. Stop at the local residents' long known sources of muscular and articular pain (near the 16-mile mark ) before taking a short swim in Pathi Stream in the administration city of Thandaung Lay (13 miles).
There is a great locals place, Shwe Pathi - run by a Chinese Karen friendliness team - makes roasted paddy and a delicious wild boar special. On the way back to Taungoo you will find a lot of things like tea, gum, espresso, betelnut, maple and more. On our return we made an excursion to the old town of Taungoo, which includes the sparkling Shwe San Daw Pagoda, which was constructed in the sixteenth centuary to worship four hair of Buddha, which the Taungoo king Bayint Naung won.
We had another delicious 6am in Myanmar Beauty and headed to the Bago Hills to attend an elegant campsite belonging to the Save the elephant foundation. SEF Myanmar's work is not only to help wild animals and enhance public policies on wildlife and the natural habitat, but also to educate the mahout ( "elephant keepers") family and the rural communities in the area.
Following a brief stay in a SEF sponsored college, we headed with our guide to a small source where a few of our wild animals took a dip. Even in high seasons, this campsite - 20 leagues from the new motorway - still sees only a few foreigners per wk.
On our return to the base we had a delicious meal with curried chickens, omelett and roasted morningshine, cooked by a kind native people. During the two hours trip back to Taungoo through the wonderful Bago Joma we only woke up to see a small sanctuary devoted to the native Kayin Mountains natives.
The Save the Elephant Foundation (Ko Zin; 094949453180) was fortunate enough to organize our trip, with part of the income from our trip going to the organization's various activities. The Myanmar Beauty Guesthouse also organizes daily trips for about $90/person (0978404040402), which include air-conditioned transport, nationwide parking fee, an English language guidebook and a tasty luncheon with paddy, curry and almonds.
Following a shower and a last set of sunsets in Myanmar Beauty, we returned to the wallet-city of Taungoo for a concluding supper at the Stellar Restaurant (near the railway terminal; 09 5424845), where a stewed pig and fungus meal, shrimp carpura and lychees juices were well made. It is easy to arrange this collection with one of the English speakers at the JJ offices in Yangon (K18,000 to Kalaw; 09420736154), who will arrange with the coach drivers arriving shortly before 22:00 at the Taungoo motorway-bout.
However, you must buy your ticket in advance from an agents or at the JJ Yangon offices, as there is no agents in Taungoo yet. The city is preparing to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Taungoo dynasty - a empire that united a large part of Myanmar and was founded in the fourteenth and fifteenth century.
Featuring traditional foods and crafts fairs, sports contests, dance and culture parades, the three-day event provides the ideal opportunity to spend a few get-togethers in one of Myanmar's best-kept mysteries.