From Inle we backtracked to the lowlands of the Ayeyarwady River. It took an entire day to travel down the winding, dusty roads to the central valley and find transportation north to Mandalay. A friendly pickup driver found seats for us in the front of his packed car. The trip, not even 100 km, took ages, as he was forever stopping to pick up and drop off passengers.
After staying a night in Mandalay we took a bus to Hsipaw in Shan State. This area shares much of the culture of neighboring Thailand and Laos. It is also famous for silver mining, rubies, smuggling, Chinese trade, opium and civil war. As tourists, however, the Myanmar government kept us well away from any of these places. A friend in Bangkok had raved about Namhsan, a tea-growing area up in the mountains. From Hsipaw it took us two days to get there. After waiting all morning for a jeep, we finally found a minibus that would talk us a little further up the road. It dropped us in a little town, hardly more than a few houses grown up around the road junction. We sat down under the arrow pointing to Namhsan and waited for transportation. Oxen-powered bullock carts trundled past. We ate some noodles from a roadside stand. Not a singe motor vehicle passed the entire afternoon. We drank some tea, wandered around town and wondered what to do next.
As evening approached we pulled the Frisbee out of our packs and decided to have some fun in the main open area of the village. We started by throwing the Frisbee between ourselves, laughing in exaggerated fun. Soon the whole village was watching intently as we tossed the strange flying disc back and forth. Most of the children were too shy to join in. When Eric threw the Frisbee to one man, who was a bit drunk from too much local moonshine, he managed to catch it with a flourish and toss it back, giving us a big, red, betel-nut smile. Now the others wanted to play as well. Soon all the children had formed a circle, throwing the Frisbee back and forth between themselves. We discreetly retired to the sidelines to watch the fun. When it became too dark to play, the children approached us and politely returned the Frisbee. We decided to leave it there as a gift.
Dinner was another bowl of noodles. Sipping from a bottle of sweet, cheap “Mandalay” rum, we sat in the only café in town watching satellite TV. Villagers of all ages, fascinated by the endless kung-fu movies and National Geographic specials, sat watching. No matter what language it was, the locals gaped at the screen, completely absorbed in the action.