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Trip Report Chiang Mai, Thailand and Myanmar

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Many thanks to all of you who provided us with recommendations and great advice during the lengthy planning process of our trip. I appreciate your help and expertise very much. Our journey to Chiang Mai and Myanmar was fabulous!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Friday, January 30

Our flights from Newark through Zurich (Swiss Air) to Bangkok and then to Chiang Mai (Thai Airways) were uneventful. We took a taxi to Le Meridien in CM, where we stayed for 4 nights. The (Starwood) hotel is in a very good location and is a lovely property. We were on the club floor and our room had a wonderful view of Doi Suthep. The club lounge is a nice, relaxing retreat for breakfast, afternoon tea, happy hour, etc. I must add that the baked goods at breakfast – croissants, pain au chocolat, almond- encrusted croissants – were absolutely superb, and this along with cappuccino made a lovely breakfast indeed (comparable to petit dejeuner in Paris recently). Of course, one could order from a menu as well, plus there were fruits, juices, cheeses, etc. on the buffet. Offerings at tea and happy hour were delicious and varied also. (BTW, we tried breakfast in the lobby level dining room one day, and since we greatly preferred the club floor breakfast, we never went back there again).

After unpacking, we took a tuk-tuk to the Old City to visit Wat Phra Singh, then walked to Wat Chedi Luang and walked all around the area. (Note that shoes must be removed to enter the wats; but do bring “temple socks”). Next we participated in “monk chat”, an informal opportunity to sit down and chat with monks about almost any topic that comes to mind, a unique and enjoyable activity. Then we took a short walk over to Wat Phant and 3 Kings Monument. After all that, we were quite tired, so we returned to the hotel by tuk-tuk (an activity in itself) for a bit of R & R. We enjoyed happy hour and a light meal, and then went to sleep early in order to try to recover from jet lag.

Saturday, January 31

This morn we tried breakfast in the main dining room area and we found that it was inferior to the club floor meal. We then walked along Tha Pae Road and shopped and browsed and spent a leisurely day. DH enjoyed a wonderful massage. We went to afternoon tea and relaxed. We walked to La Terrasse for dinner, (about a 10 minute walk from Le Meridien), where we had a delicious fish dinner. While we were dining, at least 20 people were turned away for that evening; so if interested, make a reservation in advance. Then we walked to the Night Market, very close to the hotel, where we bought some items.

Sunday, February 1

After a nice breakfast in the club lounge, we met Mr. Seart, our driver, in the lobby. He drove us to Doi Suthep, about 45 minutes. On the ride up the winding road, we gazed at the distant city. We climbed the 306 steps to the top, where we removed our shoes, to enter and explore the wat. It is one of the most impressive wats in the CM area. There are many brass bells chiming in the breeze and the brilliance of the glittering gold of the wat is impressive. We bought some brass bells (wind chimes) as souvenirs. Next, Mr. Seart drove us to Maesa Elephant Camp, where we saw the mahouts caring for the ellies, and we took a ride on an elephant. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at DK, a large bookstore, to buy some Thai activity books for our grandsons. Upon our return, we ate, rested, and DH went for another massage. I perched on the window seat in our room and admired the view of Doi Suthep. We then enjoyed afternoon tea and rested. After happy hour, we had dinner and went to the Sunday Night Market. Although this is somewhat famous, it was over-crowded to the point that it was a scary experience and I doubt that we would go there again.

Monday, February 2

After another delicious breakfast in the club lounge (incredibly yummy pain au chocolat, very light and flaky, filled with dense, dark chocolate), we hired a tuk-tuk driver for about 4 hours or so. We went to San Kamphaeng Road to shop and then to Charoen Rat Road, between the Nakorn and Nawarat Bridges, to stroll around. We went to Wat Karam. Next he drove us to the Old City where we visited Wat Chiang Man, the oldest monastery in CM. We also enjoyed strolling the various sois in the old city. Then he drove us to Lok Molee, just outside of the old wall, where we spent some time looking around. He returned us to the hotel, and we walked along the night market area and Tha Pae Road again. After a nice rest and tea-time, we packed, and then we took a tuk-tuk to The Good View, a lovely eatery located right on the Ping River, where we enjoyed good Thai cuisine and a “good view” – a perfect farewell dinner! We took a tuk-tuk back to the hotel and we strolled in the Night Bazaar area, next to Le Meridien.

We were very happy to have the chance to include CM in our itinerary on our way to Myanmar! (When we went to Bangkok, 2 years ago, we did not have ample time for CM too). We thought that CM was a charming, walkable city, and there was plenty to do and see. We enjoyed our stay at Le Meridien very much, and of course it was a plus to miss some harsh days of winter in the northeast U.S.
Stay tuned for Myanmar….

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    Enjoying your report and reading about Chiang Mai, which we visited last year. We, too, enjoyed the Monk Chat with a lovely young monk at Wat Chedi Luang. And I agree with you about the Sunday Market -- it was sooooo crowded that it really wasn't that much fun to wander.

    Wish we were there right now! This winter is worse than last year's!

    Looking forward to more.

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    Yangon, Myanmar

    Tuesday, February 3

    After our last delicious breakfast in the club lounge, we checked out and took a taxi (200 baht) to the airport. DH had inadvertently packed his Swiss army knife in his carry-on! At security, when it was confiscated, he went back to the airport post office. They packed it in a small cardboard box and labeled it with his name. Then he went back to the check-in counter, and the agent actually checked this small box in (as a piece of luggage) and it was shipped through with baggage on our flight. We collected it at baggage claim upon arrival. We just marveled at this “user-friendly” service, a good surprise. We flew on Thai Airways to BKK (about 1 hour) and then Thai Airways to Yangon, Myanmar (about 1 hour). The time difference is ½ hour earlier in Myanmar, BTW.

    We brought U.S. currency with us, pristine, new bills (as suggested by Fodorites), and upon arrival in Yangon, we changed $300 to kyats.

    We had arranged our travel plans with Myanmar Shalom, working with Sammy Samuels. I highly recommend Sammy, as he was efficient, reliable, and always promptly answered my many emails. Our guide, Mr. Jojo, and our driver, Mr. Hey, met us at the airport, as promised, a welcome sight indeed. They drove us, in a late model Nissan, to the Summit Parkview Hotel, and we checked in to a deluxe pagoda view room. Then we visited Scott Market, since on our scheduled return to Yangon on our final day, the market would be closed due to a national holiday, Union Day. As we wanted to meet Sammy, we next went to the 150 year old synagogue, where his father, Moses, is caretaker. (We met Moses too). It is located downtown on a street with many paint stores. This synagogue is a beautiful, hidden gem, and we were delighted to actually meet Sammy, after so many months of corresponding and planning this journey. The very next day Sammy was scheduled to leave for Israel; so this was our only opportunity to make this meeting happen. At last, we visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, the world’s oldest pagoda. We admired its grand, golden beauty, all illuminated around sunset and early evening. There were many people there, some praying. One must remove shoes prior to entering. We returned to our hotel, had dinner, and we appreciated the stunning view of the Pagoda from our room.

    Bagan, Myanmar

    Wednesday, February 4

    After an early breakfast in the hotel, our Yangon driver and our guide drove us to the airport, (20 minute ride), for our early morning flight to Bagan, (1 hour, 20 minutes flight). Our 4 flights within Myanmar were on Mann Yadanarpon Airline, which is 1 or 2 years old. The 2 planes which they fly are new, and the crew is extremely courteous and friendly. Our Bagan guide, Aungl, and our driver, Tutu, met us at the airport. We drove along Bagan-Nyaung-U Road, the main road through Bagan, which boasts more than 2,000 stupas and pagodas, built in the 11th and 12th centuries, situated along both sides of the road. The view is simply breathtaking. No matter which way you turn, you are gazing at some of these amazing structures, which remain of the 10,000 or so which were built centuries ago. I never tired of this unique sight. Amongst many others, we visited Shwezigon Pagoda, covered with gold. We climbed to the top of Bulethe, a treacherous climb, for a beautiful view. When Aungl initially suggested the climb, I actually thought he was out of his mind – but, yes, it was worth it!

    It was time to check into the Tharabar Gate Hotel, thankfully. This is a lovely retreat ,a pretty property with plenty of trees and grassy areas, pool, and nice breakfast. We stayed in #208, close to reception area and eatery (thanks to recommendations of Fodorites). We really liked this hotel. We enjoyed a break for poolside lunch and R & R, and then we met Aungl at 3pm in the lobby area. We went to the beautiful Ananda Temple, which our guide called the masterpiece of all. Here there are four 31 foot tall Buddhas. In the very late afternoon, we climbed Temple Shwe Son Daw for a view of the beautiful sunset, taking place at about 5:45 pm. My, are the sunsets special in a setting like this!

    We returned to the Tharabar Gate and got ready for dinner at Be Kind to Animals the Moon, a casual, little vegetarian restaurant (recommended by Fodorites), a stone’s throw from our hotel.

    Thursday, February 5

    After a lovely breakfast in the hotel’s outdoor eatery, we met Aungl at 9:00 am in the lobby area. We were very lucky this morn, as Aungl announced to us that there was a procession in a nearby village for novice monks, who are about 8 or 9 years old. He told us that this takes place in each village maybe once a year! The young boys were dressed in their colorful finery and they were riding on horses in a procession to a monastery to begin their stay there. Their parents were also marching along, all dressed up in their finest clothes too. The novice monks were treated with such care and the atmosphere of this event was special. Aungl kept telling us that the villagers were very happy that we were there, that it was good karma. Another day, off to a very good start…. Another touch of good luck, next we went to a wedding celebration, where we met the bride and groom. It seems that weddings here take place early in the morning, for many hours, and there are maybe 1,000 guests. Of course the atmosphere was quite festive, and the hosts were very welcoming. Again, Aungl told us that we certainly represented good karma as the newlyweds began their new life together….

    Now for the scheduled activities of the day. We drove out to a village where we saw peanut oil being made in a primitive way (by hand), a bamboo demonstration, cigar production, a silver workshop, visited a home and typical kitchen, and DH chopped some millet using a foot operated device. In this village, we bought some of their handmade bamboo items (gifts) and a handcrafted silver “jumping fish” pendant. Of course we visited some stupas! Next up was our mid-day break, and we had lunch at Star Beam. It’s located in the same area as Be Kind to Animals the Moon. We really enjoyed our local butterfish, fresh veggies, and rice, and delicious homemade bread. We then had time to rest!

    Later in the afternoon, we rode in a horse cart, exploring still other ancient stupas, a different and fun perspective. We climbed to the top of one for a beautiful panoramic view. Our guide and driver drove us to the jetty for a private cruise in a wooden boat on the Irrawaddy River to the Shwezigon Pagoda. We relaxed and admired a spectacular sunset!
    We returned to the Tharabar Gate Hotel to get ready for dinner at Sarabhah II, also nearby. We enjoyed a marionette show during dinner.

    Friday, February 6

    After another nice breakfast at the hotel, we met Aungl at 9:00 am in the lobby area. We then went to the continuation of the ceremony for novice monks, which was a very large party and meal for 1,000 guests! This was such an impressive happening and it is an unforgettable memory.

    We went to a busy market which was very colorful, displaying produce, textiles, etc. I bought a longhi! After I selected an interesting, locally-made fabric, the lady whisked it off to a nearby “seamstress”, who stitched it up on her sewing machine, and it quickly became a longhi. This was done while we waited, maybe 10 minutes or so. I enjoyed wearing it one evening. We checked out the Bagan Archeological Museum, housed in a surprisingly magnificent new building, which has a collection of Buddhas, frescoes, etc. The building alone was impressive.

    Next we had a very welcome mid-day break for lunch (again at Star Beam, love that place) and R & R. Feeling refreshed, we went to Nan Phaya, built in the 11th and 12th centuries, which has sandstone carvings on the outside. Next we went to Gubuak Gyi, built in 1113 A.D., which has the best-preserved frescoes inside (according to Aungl). Aungl illuminated the decorative work of each featured structure with a flashlight, as he gave us detailed explanations. We returned to the hotel, and we later dined at Sarabhah I. We had to pack prior to retiring for the night, as we would depart next morning.

    We both really loved Bagan! It is certainly a most unusual visual experience. We greatly enjoyed exploring the numerous stupas and pagodas, by car, pony cart, and foot. It was interesting to visit villages and to learn about the lifestyle and local products, and it surely was a real treat to share in the traditional novice monk procession and wedding party, both unforgettable insights into the culture of this beautiful country. Of course, the sunset views, from atop a pagoda or aboard a boat on the Irrawaddy, are magnificent sights. Bagan is a special place.

    Stay tuned for Mandalay….

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    Mandalay, Myanmar

    Saturday, February 7

    After breakfast at our hotel, we were driven to the airport for our 8:45 am flight to Mandalay, which was only 25 minutes. Our guide, Sei, and our driver, Thun met us at the airport in Mandalay. First we went to Bagaya Monastery (built in 1603) in Amarapura and we saw countless stacks of ancient palm leaf writings. Then we went to Waso Monastery where there was a wedding taking place and we also saw many monks receiving lunch. Next we visited a bronze workshop, mainly making buddhas. Then we went to Mahamuni Pagoda, originally built in 1784 and reconstructed in brick in 1884. Here there is a gold Buddha covered with 12 tons of gold. We went to Zegyo Market, oldest and largest market in Mandalay, located dead center of town (according to Sei) and about a block from our hotel. I had another longhi made there. We then went to Golden Palace Monastery, famous for its intricate wood carvings. Next we went to see “the world’s largest book”, Kuthodaw Pagoda, built in 1860. It features 729 marble slabs carved on the fronts and backs with Buddhist scripture, creating “1458 marble pages”. Lastly, we went up to the top of Mandalay Hill to see the gilded pagoda and look-out to the city. We took the escalators down, thankfully. We had dinner at Mann, a small, local eatery located very near to our hotel. We stayed at Mandalay City Hotel.

    Sunday, February 8

    After breakfast in our hotel, we met Sei in the lobby at 8:30 am. We took a private local boat up the Irrawaddy River to Mingun, about a 45 minute ride. On the beach here, we bought some folding straw hats, which came in very handy during the rest of the trip (especially on sunny Inle Lake). We visited the Mingun Bell, the world’s largest working bell, and the unfinished Mingun Paya , which was intended to be the world’s largest pagoda but was damaged by an earthquake and thus unfinished. We also saw Hisnbyume Pagoda, a beautiful white-washed temple. We returned by boat and had a little rest at our hotel. We then went by ferry, about a 5 minute ride, to Ava (Inwa), followed by a horse-cart ride to visit some monasteries and remains of a royal palace. Next we went to Sagaing, where we visited a nunnery and we watched some young nuns preparing their food for the next day. We also went to Amarapura to see a silk weaving factory and then to the 200 year old U Bein Bridge. This is the world’s longest teak bridge. Here we enjoyed a lovely sunset. (U Bein Bridge has uneven floor boards and no guard rails at all. It is crowded and appears unsafe to us). We returned to the hotel and then had dinner at Mann .

    Inle Lake, Myanmar

    Monday, February 9

    After breakfast, we met Sei in the lobby to go to the airport for our flight to Heho Airport (Inle Lake). First we took a 30 minute flight to Bagan, followed by a 30 minute flight to Heho. Our guide, Than, and our driver met us at the airport. We drove about 45 minutes to Nyuang Shwe, where we briefly visited Mingala Market. Than knew just where to find a “seamstress with a sewing machine” there, to alter my 2 longhis. (Fortunately, I had tried them on in one of our hotels and discovered that they were too big, and I knew that no one at home would have a clue as to how to tackle this project)! I made sure to have them accessible in my carry-on that morning. After this pretty quick but important stop, we boarded a boat at the jetty to transfer to the Inle Resort and Spa. The boats are long, narrow wooden boats run by an outboard motor, and guided by an able boatman. Our boat “captain” for our stay at Inle was Ar Phoo. Now the real fun and adventure was about to begin! It was about a 30 minute ride to the resort and we checked in to our royal lake side villa, very spacious and comfortable. The Inle Resort is a lovely property situated in a leafy setting at the north end of the lake; it has many pretty teak walkways and vantage points from which to sit and watch dramatic sunsets over the lake. After check-in, we departed by boat of course and had lunch with Than at Golden Moon, a restaurant “floating on the lake” at Ywama village. The setting was ideal and the food was good. Since many of the people living here are farmers (and also fishermen), we quickly learned that the veggies were delicious, fresh, and abundant. We had stir-fried veggies, rice, and cashews. We spent the afternoon passing floating markets and gardens and houses built on stilts and watching life on the lake, very pleasant. We were impressed by a farmers village which “specialized” in various types of tomatoes. Of course each day we marveled at the sight of the unique and graceful leg-rowers, who wrap one leg around their paddle and row in this manner, in order to keep their hands free to use for fishing. We visited Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, one of the most holy religious sites in Shan State. We visited the long neck tribal women and watched traditional weaving. We really enjoyed being on the water and observing the local way of life. We returned to Inle Resort and had dinner in their comfortable teak dining room.

    Tuesday, February 10

    After breakfast at the hotel, we met Than and our boatman, Phoo, at the hotel dock at 8:30 am. We began our day on the lake with a visit to the lively market, which rotates its location every 5 days. The hill tribe people come to buy produce and other assorted goods they need, dressed in their traditional outfits. Next we went to Sankar village, where we saw the school, 300 year old stupas, tumeric being ground and dried, and the monastery and large dining room there. Then we went to Thayarkone village and we watched rice liquor production, the old-fashioned way. We had lunch there with Than. Then we went to Thakaung Pagoda and wandered around among the many beautiful stupas. We enjoyed the scenic boat ride back to the hotel, maneuvering through narrow waterways. We had dinner back at the hotel.

    Wednesday, February 11

    After breakfast, we met Than and Phoo at the hotel dock at 8:45 am. We set out to spend some enjoyable and relaxing time on the lake photographing the leg-rowers. Then we went to a lotus weaving workshop at Inpaw Khone village, a very interesting process to watch. Next we went to Nampan village and admired the know-how of the teak wood canoe carvers and saw a local cheroot (cigar) factory. We lunched with Than at Mr. Toe, again enjoying delicious local veggies, rice, and cashews. After lunch, we went to Indein village and explored its area of many ancient stupas and its pagoda. Last stop was Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery, the oldest monastery at Inle Lake. It used to be the “jumping cat monastery”; now the resident cats just hang around. We boated past floating gardens and islands near the monastery. Upon our return to the hotel, we watched one last beautiful sunset from the lovely deck, situated at an ideal vantage point on the water’s edge. We had a nice dinner at the hotel.

    A tip from our excellent guide at the onset of our visit to Inle Lake: **Wear a lightweight long-sleeved shirt for protection from the sun and wind on the lake at all times.** (We also wore hats – remember the folding hats which we bought in Mandalay)? Plus dress in layers, as it is chilly in the morning on the water. We wore long pants too. The boats are equipped with umbrellas to use to block the spray from the water on the return trip in the evening. That said, believe me - it is quite pleasant out on the lake!

    We both felt that Inle Lake was a very special and unique place! Each day on the lake brought new experiences and surprises; so we definitely have unforgettable memories. The countless farmers work very hard, and they seem to produce a plentiful harvest of a large variety of crops. The iconic leg-rower fishermen are so graceful and one could watch them endlessly…. The people here seem genuinely happy with their life and they seem proud of their beautiful land. We were delighted to be able to spend time here with these fine people; they made us feel welcome at all times.

    Yangon, Myanmar

    Thursday, February 12

    After breakfast at hotel, we checked out and met Than and Phoo at the hotel dock for our final “cruise” on Inle Lake back to Nyuang Shwe. We met our driver for the 45 minute drive to Heho airport for our flight to Yangon. The flight was 1 hour. Soe, our guide, met us at the airport. He insisted on taking us to see a few (what he said were unusual) white elephants that were located near the airport. Then we checked in to the Summit Parkview Hotel again, for our final night. After a short rest, the driver took us to the main train station in Yangon, British and Burmese architecture, for a ride on the circular train. What an unusual experience riding with the locals, some peddling fruits carried on top of their heads! We passed by contrasting neighborhoods – urban areas, then huts, etc.! Next we toured the downtown area to see the historic post office building, the Strand Hotel, etc. We went to Independence Monument and Mahabandoola Park, which was hopping because it was Union Day, a national holiday. Then we visited Royal Lake Park and admired the view of Shwedagon Pagoda and the Royal Barge. We returned to the hotel and had dinner at My Garden, located near the hotel. We certainly enjoyed our final views of the illuminated Shwedagon Pagoda from our room on our last evening in Myanmar.

    Friday, February 13

    After breakfast at hotel, we later met Soe and our driver in the lobby at 12:00 pm, and we went to the international airport for our Thai Airways flight to BKK (1 hour). We later flew Thai Airways to Munich, and then we took a United flight to EWR, an uneventful trip home.

    Our journey to Myanmar was filled with special experiences. At this time, it is an unspoiled land inhabited by gracious and happy people. It was truly a priceless adventure for both of us….

    Recommended Reading:

    Elephant Company by Vicki Constantine Croke
    From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe
    Burmese Days by George Orwell *(DH actually bought this book from a child selling souvenirs)
    Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan
    Travel and Leisure Magazine, Dec.2014 “This is Myanmar’s Moment”, p.154

    Recommended Movie:

    The Lady - the story of Aung San Suu Kyi

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