Saturday 11/12/2016 - Homalin

Today was the last day of our Chindwin River Cruise. We would arrive at our destination port of Homalin. We would explore town in the morning, go back to the ship for lunch, and then head to the airport to fly to Yangon. We would have tomorrow at leisure in Yangon before taking a red-eye flight home.

We made sure that everything was packed, and headed to breakfast. We enjoyed a noodle dish containing hot peppers, and we also had bananas, coffee, and juice. We would miss these delicious breakfasts in the cool morning air.

We passed some rafts transporting large quantities of bamboo. The raft itself was made from bamboo, as was a little A-frame shelter. Although it looked incredibly romantic to float down the river with a bamboo harvest, we felt quite humbled as we watched them from the extreme comfort of our boat.

We had a nice chat with Sandro after breakfast as we covered the final miles to Homalin. We had enjoyed our time together and would miss him. He is very knowledgeable and friendly, and has a great sense of humor.

We arrived in Homalin, and pulled up next to a set of stone steps. Some women selling food at the bottom of the steps greeted us happily. This is a larger town than the villages we had visited, however it is less of a destination now than it had been when the river was the only transport route in this area.

We disembarked for our final shore excursion. There are three streets parallel to the river where there are many small shops. We stopped at one where I bought an embroidered longyi which is quite different than the other three I had previously purchased. The woman from whom I bought it has two daughters also working in the shop, and we chatted with them.

Craig and I wandered through the streets, saying mingalaba to people and browsing in shops. There were a wide variety of shops, from pharmacies to clothing stores to large hardware stores selling motors, propellors, and generators. There were computer shops and moped stores. We saw solar panels and battery arrays for sale. The further back from the river, the smaller the shops became. As we walked around, we tried to stick to the shade because the sun was scorching.

We saw a shop selling baseball caps. One was bright orange and said "Boston." Alright, Boston representing in Myanmar! In smaller print, it said "Since 1932." Huh?

We went into a little book and stationery store. The proprietor took a selfie with us and her daughter. They seemed delighted that foreigners had entered their little local shop. We browsed the book selection. We were intrigued by the English-Burmese medical dictionaries and the English-Burmese computer dictionary (it takes many Burmese characters to explain Linux, apparently!)

We passed by a very nice Buddhist temple. Craig said that he was tempted to go inside to say a prayer of thanks for overall good health on the trip. But since we didn't have a local guide, we kept walking past the ornate, cheerful building.

We walked up a perpendicular street. People seemed surprised to see foreigners so "far" from the river, but they were amazingly friendly. Wow, was it hot!

We passed one house where a woman was standing in her open-air living room. We said mingalaba to her and she came out to greet us. She gestured for us to come inside, and we finally had enough time to accept one of these hospitable inviitations.

We took off our shoes and followed her into the house. We sat on sturdy red wooden seating. She called to a young woman and little girl who were on the phone in a bedroom, and they immediately came out to greet us. Their house was very nice, with overhead fans, a gorgeous teak staircase, and large family photographs on the walls.

The young woman disapppeared and came back with two glass mugs and two cold cans of Shark energy drink. She poured it for us and it was quite refreshing in the morning heat. Craig and I toasted (chokwa) and clinked glasses. The family smiled approvingly. This was actually the first time Craig has ever had an energy drink.

The husband then apppeared and joined our little party. The young girl was able to tell us her name when we asked, but didn't understand enough English to tell us how old she was. But we all still managed to communicate using a combination of simple words and hand gestures. We explained that we had come up the Chindwin River from Monywa on a boat over the past week.

I was disappointed that I had nothing on hand to give to them. I didn't even have my photos from home to show them. I had carried that photo book all over the country, never having a chance to share it with any locals. Today would be the perfect opportunity, but I had packed it in my luggage since we were flying back to Yangon this afternoon. Oh well!

I gestured to an old photograph of a handsome young man on the wall, and the patriarch confirmed that it was him. The proud parents had also displayed the graduation photos of the young woman. This is what we love about traveling - meeting people on the other side of the world and reinforcing that we are all the same. Relating to one another on a human level, despite variations in language, religion, etc. Celebrating our common humanity.

Soon it was time to head back to the boat, so we thanked the family profusely and said goodbye. We were so touched by their friendliness and hospitality!

A few doors down from their house was the National League for Democracy office of Homalin. It was closed, but we walked over to it for a photograph.

Craig was feeling so energized and confident after our impromptu house visit (maybe it had something to do with that energy drink) that he walked right into the temple to say that prayer of thanks after all. We were the only people there. The altar was framed by gilded scrollwork, but the Buddha statues were partially obscured by metal grates. Craig kneeled and said a prayer. A little boy whom we had greeted earlier came inside. When he saw Craig praying, he gestured to a statue and said, "Buddha." We saw the common motif of Nat statues carrying a heavy bronze bell on a pole. Next to it was a ceremonial drum.

On our walk back to the boat, we saw the telltale spires of a mosque peeking above the other buildings. We walked a block to admire its architecture: tiled minarets topped with a metal crescent moon and star.

We passed a small store which sold cell phones. Three women were standing outside chatting. One had very light skin and henna-dyed hair, but her features were obviously Burmese. She was affected by albinism. She was incredibly friendly to us, and we can't help but wonder if it is because she sees a bit of herself in our skin and hair coloration. Unlike in some countries, we are told that albino people are not really stigmatized or persecuted here. People view it that the person has been reincarnated as "white".

We meandered back to the boat, running into the young girl from our host family, who hopped onto a cute purple motorscooter and gave us a big wave. We wondered if she was on her way to the store to replenish the family's supply of Shark energy drink.

We saw two boys playing cane ball like hackeysack. A little girl in a doorway had an Aung San Suu Kyi T-shirt. I showed her my bag with the Lady's picture on it. She didn't get the connection until her parents pointed out what shirt she was wearing. Then she gave big smile.

We boarded the boat, and the chef had prepared two types of pizza on home made crust for our last lunch onboard. It was delicious. All of the food had been first class on this journey.

We had put our checked luggage out into the hallway for pick-up at 2 o'clock. At 2:30 p.m., we said goodbye to the crew and thanked them for their impeccable service. We disembarked in Homalin to go to the airport. We took two mini buses. Ours had no air conditioning, so even though it was a relatively short drive, we were sweltering.

The airport was a very small building. Its electrical generator only turns on 30 minutes prior to a flight landing, so not only was there no air conditioning in the departure area, the fans weren't running either. They opened the doors and we were able to step outside near the airstrip to get some air. A little boy was riding a motorized bike on the runway, so we knew no plane was expected any time soon.

Luckily, Sandro had brought some bottles of water for us, because there was no food or drink for sale here. So at least we were able to rehydrate. We noticed a sticker on the wall with wide-eyed anime characters with what appeared to be yellow flowers protruding from their mouths. We asked Sandro about it, and he said that it is part of a campaign to combat gossip, which has become quite a problem with the arrival of social media in Myanmar.

The flight was scheduled for 4:25 p.m., but we heard that it had been late leaving Yangon. It still had to stop in Mandalay before arriving here in Homalin. There was no ETA for the plane's arrival. It didn't matter to us, except for the discomfort of the hot departure area.

Sandro asked if anyone wanted to walk across the street to a tea shop to pass the time. Most of the group took him up on the offer for the change of scenery. We knew that if we went, we would constantly be worried about getting back. If we stayed in the terminal, we would at least know what was going on. So we stayed behind with everyone's hand luggage.

4:25 came and went, and we heard that the revised ETA was 6 p.m. At one point, the airport staff came in to the gate and started speaking in Burmese, apparently asking everyone to exit and queue for passport control and security check. Our passports had already been checked, but we didn't know the language so we just did what everyone else did. We got in line, had our passports stamped, and were then brought into small cubicles where people hand-checked the contents of our carry-ons. They stamped our baggage tags after we passed inspection. We then went back to our seats at the gate, confident that the flight must be imminent.

The group came back from the tea shop. It was getting dark, inside and out. The airport doesn't have landing lights; flights usually land during daylight hours. A group of cars and motorcycles assembled on the tarmac to offer their headlights to illuminate the runway. Once again, this seemed hopeful (and resourceful). There were no lights in the gate area, and as the last vestiges of daylight disappeared, people were using their cell phones to illuminate the pitch blackness.

The group was very nervous, but we were happy to just go with the flow rather than speculate about the situation. We knew that we would be taken care of, and there was nothing we could do.

Soon after 6 o'clock, the cars and motorcycles disappeared, and with them our hopes to get to Yangon tonight. Word had come through that the pilot had decided to turn back to Mandalay; it was too dangerous for him to attempt to land in the dark here at Homalin's tiny airport. We weren't getting out of Homalin tonight. Maybe not even tomorrow...the next scheduled flight was Monday.

Luckily for us, the next batch of boat passengers had been on that flight, and were now stuck in Mandalay. This meant that our beloved Zawgi Pandaw was available tonight, which would give us a comfortable place to sleep. So we piled back into the mini buses and headed back to the river.

Craig and I greeted the crew cheerfully upon arrival. Win was already hard at work trying to figure out logistics to try to minimize the impact on people's international flights. He asked everyone to check in with him and inform him of their flight schedules so that he could address each person's needs individually.

We had an extra full day in Yangon before flying home, so if the flight somehow went on Sunday (though not originally scheduled), we would be ok. But if we had to wait until Monday, we would need to rebook our international flights home.

Pandaw offered an open bar that night, including imported alcohol, to try to lessen the blow. This was above and beyond, especially since the canceled flight was by no means their fault. Craig and I stuck to the drinks which had been free all along, Myanmar beer for Craig and pineapple juice with light rum for me. On his last beer of the cruise, Craig actually won (another) prize in the pull-tab promotion. Over the week, he had won 2 free beers, and 2200 kyat, all of which he gave to the crew.

The chefs sprung into action and prepared a lovely meal:
  • glass noodle soup
  • peanut salad
  • green tea salad
  • silver fish
  • cashew pork
  • mushrooms
  • greens
  • rice
  • vegetables
Before dinner was finished, Win had received word that a special flight had been scheduled for tomorrow morning, and we should be back to Yangon by noon. This meant that the vast majority of passengers would not have to rebook flights. It was a relief to know that it was all taken care of, and that we could all rest easy tonight.

People had been teasing Htet that he hadn't prepared a special happy hour cocktail tonight. When it came time for dessert, we were served a brownie floating in a milky fruit cocktail in a margarita glass. "This is tonight's cocktail! Hee hee!" he giggled. The dessert was garnished with a pirouline-style cookie. Eda posed for a photo with it at her lips, pretending that it was a cheroot (local corn husk cigar). Many laughs ensued. Everyone seemed to be feeling a bit punchy now that our transportation had been settled. We were all so relieved.

After chatting, we went to bed for our second last night on the boat. We were in our same cabin (#104), but they had rearranged the beds so that instead of one large bed, there were two twin beds, for the next occupants. Our only slight regret was that if we had known we would not be leaving today, we would have liked to have spent more time exploring Homalin. The people were incredibly friendly, and we had passed some lovely parks and pagodas on our drive to the airport. Apparently there are also nearby villages which specialiZe in basket weaving. There is always so much to see and so little time. It was hard to believe that our journey was now drawing to a close.

Farmer plowing fertile fields on the riverbank with bulls

Farmer plowing fertile fields on the riverbank with bulls

Craig and Sandro

Craig and Sandro



Shopkeeper and daughter in a bookshop. They took a selfie with us

Shopkeeper and daughter in a bookshop who asked us for a selfie

Lovely family who invited us into their home

Lovely family who invited us into their home

Saying goodbye to our host family

Saying goodbye to our host family

Entering the Buddhist temple

Entering the Buddhist temple to give thanks

Tiny airport terminal

Tiny airport terminal in Homalin

Little boy rides his motorized bike on the tarmac

Little boy rides his motorized bike on the tarmac

Arriving back at the RV Zawgi Pandaw

Arriving back at the Zawgi Pandaw

Eda pretends her cookie is a cheroot (corn husk cigar)

Eda pretends her cookie is a cheroot (corn husk cigar)

Delicious and beautiful meals we enjoyed on the Zawgi Pandaw

Delicious and beautiful meals we enjoyed on the Zawgi Pandaw

See more pictures from this day

Previous Day Trip Overview

Back to Craig and Steph's Vacations
Next day

Read our guest book   Guest book Sign our guest book
Please send any questions or comments to
All photographs and text copyright 1996-Present except where noted.