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Trip Report Myanmar for 18 nights and it was wonderful

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Thanks to everyone for all your help in planning our amazing trip to Burma/Myanmar. I will attach some excerpts from my Travel blog but give Foderites a few of the pricing and other details here.

We used Santa Maria Travel based in Yangon and booked our hotels/flights/boat to Bagan and two day trips and a couple of transfers. We sent a deposit to their bank in Thailand and the balance paid in cash upon arrival in Yangon. It all went off without a hitch.
I found that their prices on tours were more than double what we could get on our own, so if a nice vehicle is not needed (ie a boat tour) then just book on your own upon arrival.
Here is the itinerary that we had

Cathay Pacific from Vancouver to Bangkok on Dec 27. Overnight in Bangkok.

Yangon Hotel: December 30, 31, and Jan 01. Thamada . We had a triple room (3 single beds) $47 per night for 3 including breakfast. The hotel was okay, not great. The breakfast was one of the worse that we had (boring). The hotel next store, the Park Royal was great and we ate there, used their internet (for a fee) and on the last day paid $10US to use their pool and gym for the day. We could walk to Scott market from our hotel so the location was okay.

Mandalay Hotel: Hotel Queen Mandalay. Jan 2, 3, 4. We had two rooms everywhere else as most hotels could not do three beds. A double was $30 per night and they had a nice breakfast buffet. We found the hotel was new and modern but they did not know how to clean properly and will be run down very quickly because of lack of maintenance
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Bagan Princess Hotel. Jan 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 We really liked this hotel. Our room was beside the pool, a very large and clean room and the staff were great. $35 per night. A substantial breakfast included and good food in the restaurant as well as close to many other good restaurants.

Princess Garden Hotel in Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake) Jan 10, 11, 12, 13. We loved this hotel too. A great pool, a more than substantial breakfast and free bicycles. We had a little bungalow overlooking farmland and it was very quiet. The owner was so helpful with planning our daytrips around market days etc and treated you as though you were in a five star hotel. $35 double.

Back to Thamada hotel in Yangon for Jan 14 and 15. Off to southern Thailand for the next 8 nights.


Day trips.
Amarapura /Inwa full day (from Mandalay) booked with Santa Maria was $75. We had to pay for our boat trip to Ava (1000 Kyat each) horse cart in Ava for 3 persons 7000 kyat and the boat at UBien Bridge was 4000 Kyat. The entrance fee for all the Mandalay attractions including Ava was $10 USD.

Tip: Try to leave earlier to avoid arriving everywhere the same time as the tour busses.

We arranged our own day trip to Mingun on a boat for the three of us and it cost $40 for the day. You can do a tour in the morning for less, but then you are there with lot of tourists

Bagan: Horse carts were 18,000 kyat for the day with pretty much all of the drivers. You can do point to point or half days, but we found hiring for the full day the best as it is not easy to find one when you need them and you just end up spending the same amount any how

Tip: we had three different drivers. MinThu misunderstood an email and thought that I cancelled one of my days with him, so after waiting around and not being able to reach him we hired another driver. He spoke English, but just dropped us off at temples and then just took us to the next. Min Thu would come in with us, explain everything and give us history and understanding of what we were looking at. He also took us to places off the beaten track. Make sure you get a driver who will also be a guide if you can.

Inle Lake : Our hotel found us a boatman to take us to SanKar for the day $50. (Santa Maria quoted $120 ) We were on the water for 11 hours in total. We also had to pay our PaO Guide ($10USD) and entrance fees( $5)

We hired the same boat without the guide the second day to see other sites on the water (weaving, silversmith, floating gardens) and the cost was $20 from 8:30A until 1PM.

Kakku : We booked with Santa Maria and had a large very comfortable van, all day trip, $155. We also had to pay a PaO guide $10 and entrance fees of $3 each. He took us to other places on the way that we wanted to see as well.

Transportation:
We booked Air Asia to Yangon from Bangkok $188 return
Flight on KBZ from Yangon to Mandalay $101
Shwe Keinnery Boat from Mandalay to Bagan $38
Flight on KBZ from Bagan to Inle (He Ho) $69
HeHo to Yangon on KBZ $94.

Money :
We took enough US Cash to pay the balance of our bill with Santa Maria and then $1000 more. I spent $700 of that. The exchange rate in Yangon and Bagan seemed to be the same, around 790-800 K to the dollar. Inle Lake and Mandalay were less. You did get more for $100 bills than smaller ones. You only need $US for fees and they are usually $5 or $10. Take a few $1 bills as well. I spent around $150 on gifts and souvenirs. You can change at the banks now, a few of them are doing it, but we never managed to do that and used the airport or money changers.

Food:
I am a vegetarian and can’t eat anything deep fried. EVERYTHING in Burma is deep fried. Well almost everything. The food was not great in my opinion. There were a few exceptions of course but compared to Thailand and Laos I did not enjoy the food as much. It was certainly affordable however.

Weather :
We found it very pleasant. Yes it was hot but not oppressive. Yangon was the hottest but it did cool down at night. Around 30 degrees.
We never saw rain during the day.
Inle Lake was very cold in the morning. We layered for the boat trips. We wore a t shirt, then a fleece and then a windbreaker. They provide blankets on the boat too. As the day progressed you would peel off layers and then you need a good hat and sunscreen for the afternoon.
I found it very dusty and the exhaust from the motorcycles and makeshift vehicles was very bad. Bring a scarf or something to cover your nose and mouth when travelling by horsecart or open vehicle. I had purchased a surgical mask type when I was in Laos last year which worked really well.

Shopping:
In Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan women would want to trade their goods for lipstick, mascara and any kind of makeup. I am not one who believes in giving things to people because I feel that it encourages begging, but to trade goods is a different matter. We did not have any extra unfortunately. There were not a lot of goods that I felt that I had to have and I found the prices a bit high compared to say Laos. The lacquerware was exquisite. They had different prices for different quality. I bought a few wooden items, a basket that is reported to be 100 years old, and we also brought back some of the amazing little candies, Tamarind Flake, that you get after a meal in most resteruants. They are so good. We found the silk items to be very expensive although lovely. My friend bought some gorgeous jade jewelry in Inle Lake.

Funny enough some of the nicest things that I found were in the gift shop at the Strand hotel in Yangon.

Here are some notes from my travel blog:

Yangon.
Our flight from Bangkok was delayed a few hours but we finally arrived in Yangon at 7PM and checked into our hotel for the next three nights. Our travel agent, Zaw, that I have been emailing back and forth for the past few months arrived and we paid him the balance of our amount owing and he presented us with all of our vouchers. I read in Lonely Planet that they could not get ‘Time’ magazine in Myanmar so I put a number of back issues in my suitcase. I gave a few to Zaw and he informed me that they now sell them here as well but they are very expensive. He appreciated them none the less. We then walked to a restaurant for a bite to eat and bought Zaw and his friend a couple of beers and then we had a early night.

Our first day in Myanmar was very eventful. We had breakfast in our hotel and then walked to change our money to kyat. In the past month things have changed in Myanmar so much it is amazing. You can now change money at one of the Government Banks which you could never do before. We had our many crisp perfect $100 bills in our money belt and make our way to the bank that Zaw had told us about last night. After walking a few blocks we decided to go to the police station to get directions. They were very polite and helpful, drawing us a little map and we set on our way. A young boy of around 8 came up and wanted us to buy some postcards. We told him we didn’t have any cash as were going to the bank and could he direct us. Mistake number one. He said….money exchange over here. We said ‘no, we want the bank’. Yes, it is this way.

We ended up with all this young men around 20 trying to exchange our money. Now up until a couple of months ago the black market was the only way to exchange your cash. You can not get the Kyat outside of the country and bank cards don’t work for foreigners and only high end hotels will take credit cards for a huge premium. The boys tell us that it is Saturday and the bank is closed, but they will give us 820 Kyat per US dollar. We are intrigued as the bank rate is only 790. Mistake number two. We agree to each exchange $100 USD for 82000 Kyat. We went behind a metal sign and they took each of us and we felt swarmed. They talked and moved so fast we really didn’t have time to think. They showed a stack of money that was bundled into 8- 1,000 bills. He counted it and it was like a card trick because he would turn the stack over and then count again. I took it and counted but he was in my face and saying it was 82000 Kyat, all is fine. The same thing was happening to Lana and Jane. So we each hand over one crisp new $100 bill. We caught a cab to the train station and counted our money again when we were there. We couldn’t believe it. They ripped us off for around $36 each. Only one bundle had 10 bills, the rest were 5. They were such great con artists. Lesson learned. It was becoming a very expensive day!

We bought a $1 ticket on the ‘circle train’ which does a three hour loop around Yangon. The train was very basic. Very basic. No glass on the windows, wooden seats and very old. There was only one other tourist family on the train and we were quite the entertainment for everyone. It was a slow trip out of the city and interesting to see the landscape go from large city to more rural and farming areas. Half way through the trip we stopped at a small town where there was a large local market where people from the city go to do their daily shopping. All of a sudden our quiet little train was overrun with locals getting on with huge bags and baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables. There was no room to move. People were passing Jane huge bags of vegetables to pull into the train through her window. The train was completely full with every square inch of floor taken up by either people or produce. If someone needed to get off or get to another part of the car they needed to climb over the huge bags of lettuce, eggplant, bananas, and lots of greenery that I did not recognize. At each stop vendors would get on with large plates on their heads with food for sale. It was an amazing thing to be able to be a part of. We interacted with so many of them even though almost no one spoke English.

A lot of the older people chew ‘beetle nut’ which is a nut that gives you a bit of a high and turns your mouth red. They are constantly spitting out the red juice and it eventually rots out their teeth. Not a very attractive habit. Most people wear ‘longhis’ which are like sarongs but tied a lot more elaborately. The men also wear them with either a shirt or long sleeve dress shirt on the top. I think it must be a lot cooler than pants. A lot of both men and women also put a white paste on their cheeks to keep from getting sunburned. Some will have a design painted on with this magic paste. There were young men getting on and off the train with trays of the paste and paintbrushes to sell to anyone who was interested.
Everyone here is so helpful and friendly (except our con artists from this morning). After the train ride we were extremely hot and thirsty so made our way to this modern 20 story building that had a restaurant on the top floor with an amazing view of the city. The Shwedagon Paya or Pagoda was in the distance. This is the most revered place in the world for the Buddhists. It is breathtaking. We make our way over to the pagoda and hire a guide for an hour who tells us a lot about the spectacular place we are at. It is all made of gold and glowing in the sun. We spent the next few hours there in amazement. It is one of the most beautiful places we have been.

We were sitting looking at the pagoda in the evening light and a man came and stated to talk to us. We discussed how the country is changing and learned a fair amount about Myanmar from him. His English was excellent. He very kindly drove us to a supermarket so we could pick up some items for dinner in our room.

New Years Eve. We were planning to go out to celebrate tonight but too tired to do so. Home by 7:30PM for a quiet evening but were woken at midnight to hear and watch the many firework displays going on around Yangon.

Today we took a cab down to the river area and went into the ‘Strand Hotel’. In its day it must have been a very grand hotel indeed. Built by the British in 1901 when they occupied Burma it is reminiscent of the Empress or such type of hotel. We wandered through some amazing gift shops to get an idea of what there is to buy in Myanmar. We found our way down to the river front but couldn’t find a place to walk along the river so headed back towards town. There are very few tourists here so we turn a lot of heads. They are all so friendly and we said ‘Happy new year’ to everyone which was returned with a smile.

Yangon must have been a very beautiful city at one point but it is very run down now. The buildings and roads have not been kept up. Our hotel which would be considered 3 star here, is large and clean but in need of updating for sure. I pulled the tap to turn on the shower and it came off in my hand. The springs on each of our beds are sticking out and not that comfy. We are on the sixth floor and Jane has us walking up and down instead of taking the elevator. The sidewalks are what is the most amazing and you take your life in your hands when you walk on them. Huge parts are missing and you can very easily turn an ankle or break a leg. We do see evidence of the sidewalks being repaired and buildings being updated. This year Myanmar expects to see one million tourists which is far greater than any other year. The new government in power is giving the people a little bit of hope and tourists are feeling like they can come visit now. We also notice items from home which is surprising as we thought that the trade here was sanctioned.

In the afternoon we went to ‘Scott Market’ (also known as Bogyoke Aung San Market,) to escape the heat. It is around 32 degrees but I don’t find it as oppressive as other countries. There is a bit of a breeze sometimes which helps but it is a busy noisy and dirty city with lots of smog so the heat is felt more. The market takes up a few city blocks and you can buy almost anything you want there, except clothes are too small, even for Jane. Jane bought a few gifts and we met a man who exchanged some more US money for us. We told him of our money changing adventure yesterday and he said “I am old man, you are old ladies, I will not cheat you”. And he didn’t.

The taxis and most of the vehicles here are Toyota Corollas or similar, vintage 1982 or there abouts. They have to pay $10,000 USD for these rust buckets. The doors barley work, our driver last night was sitting in a lawn chair instead of his drivers seat and there are no seat belts. The busses , which are packed to the rafters, are around 1930 vintage.

Mandalay.
It was before 5AM when we arrived at the Yangon airport and a young man directed to sit in the waiting room. He came back to fetch us when our airline check in was open but there didn’t seem to any resemblance to a line up. There were people all over the place with bags and boxes and agents putting random bags on the scales. Our helpful friend got us checked in, our luggage weighed and tagged and then walked us over to security and immigration. The security was very lax, we didn’t even have to get rid of our water. We had a green and yellow sticker put on our shirts and sat and waited. There were people with many different colored stickers on their shirts all waiting too. When it was close to 6AM we saw other people with a green and yellow sticker go to the boarding gate, so we followed them. There was never an announcement or sign that we saw; you just had to pay attention to the stickers.

We were met by our pre arranged transfer upon arrival in Mandalay. There was quite the excitement at the airport with people milling about and taking photos. We thought it may have been for us (ha ha), but there was a very famous rock band on the plane with us. A bunch of guys from Yangon with really long hair and the band was called Iron Cross . Our driver was quite star struck. I went over to one of the band members and asked where they were playing tonight, but it was quite a few hours out of Mandalay.

Our drive in was wonderful, the landscape very lush and green with so many vegetable and fruit stands on the sides of the road. We stopped at one to get some papaya the size of footballs, avocados and lime. The produce is all fresh and organic. Mandalay reminds me a bit of India with the 18 seater busses going by with 50 people crammed in, some on the roof, others hanging from the sides and lots of baskets and bags of goods on there as well. There were a lot of motorcycles here as well, which we didn’t see in Yangon. Oxen or horses pulling little wagons with families inside and all their produce.

We arrived in Mandalay city and once again it is a very big noisy dusty place. Our hotel is new apparently only 2 years old. We don’t believe it, It is already looking very warn and not well maintained. The area is not great, although I don’t know if any area of Mandalay is that great. We are just not that thrilled with the big cities. We went to our room to rest for a while and then decided to catch a cab down to the jetty and hire a boat to Mingun.

The area on the edge of the Irrawady river is home to the very poor, fishermen most likely. Homes made of bamboo on stilts with very meager belongings inside. Children as young as 2 running up to us asking for pens, money, what ever. The smell was less than pleasant. It reminded me of being at TonLeSap lake in Cambodia. There are many boats tied together, large wooden boats that have seen better days. Some were to take out tourists and others were for people to live on and still more for fishing. A young man comes up from the boats and we negotiate a price. You can do a tour in the morning but it is now 1PM and we would rather hire our own boat anyhow. We should have insisted on seeing the boat first in hindsight. There wasn’t any kind of a pier.

They lay a very narrow plank from the edge of the bank to the closest boat.
Are you kidding me?
Then two young men stand at either end with a bamboo pole in their hands. This is the makeshift handrail, and it worked. We climbed across three large wooden boats and ended up on the worst of the lot. Directed up some rickety steps we sat on wooden lawn chairs under a tarp roof for our journey down the river.

It was wonderful. There were many little huts and farms at the edge of the river, people fishing, washing, and working near the edge. There are many golden temples dotting the hills all over Mandalay. The journey took an hour to the small village of Mingun. In front of us is this huge brown hill that is the base of a temple that was going to be built, but the king died in the early 1800s before it was finished. It would have been the largest in the world.

As the boat is pulling close to shore we see a wooden cart pulled by two oxen racing towards the boat. I joked and said ‘here’s our ride’ and the older man in the cart pulls up and says ‘Taxi?” As tempting as it was we decided to walk. We were accosted by many women trying to sell us things, paintings, fans, jewelry and hats. We did buy these very dorky bamboo hats but it really helped keep the sun from frying our brains. It was very hot. The women would ask us for lipstick and perfume and makeup. It was very hard to take after a while. You want to help them but it encourages begging. They would follow us for a few blocks trying to either sell or get items from us, but we just kept smiling and saying ‘no thank you’. There are also young men that come up and want to practice their English and say they are going to school to be a tour guide. Can they please practice on you, you don’t need to pay but you know that they still expect something. The village was a typical rural Myanmar village and we visited some Buddhist temples and monasteries. The largest uncracked bell in the world is at this site which weighs 90 tons. It was a great afternoon and we had another early night. What a bunch of party animals we are.

Ko was our driver again today and we had a very full day in store for us. We headed out of Mandalay at 8:30AM and our first stop was a little shop where they made some incredible embroidery and marionette puppets, antiques and interesting objects for sale. The artists were there creating these works or art in front of us. We always think that these items are made by machine but artists like these spend hours on them and probably get paid very little. Two young men dressed Lana up as some kind of Myanmar princess.

Next stop was a silk weaving shop where we saw men and women making beautiful silk scarves and fabrics. Of course the silk store is attached so that we can buy some of these amazing fabrics but we found the prices quite high and the tour bus had just arrived with a bunch of German and Swiss tourists. We spent the day trying to stay ahead of all the tour buses, we were all on the same circuit.

Next stop was the monastery to see the monks eat lunch. There were more than 1000 monks lining up to have their lunch and then eat in silence. The young novices, some around 5 years old, wear white robes while the older ones wear burgundy, unlike in Laos where they wore orange and saffron. Unfortunately it was an absolute zoo with so many tourists. We took a few pictures and then wanted to high tail it to the next stop before the rest of them got there.

Sagaing Hill was home to a large Paya (Pagoda) and offered a fantastic view of the surrounding area. The Pagoda in Yangon has spoiled us for any other I think and although they are beautiful with the gold glistening in the sun they just don’t measure up.

Ava was the next destination on our circuit. This is a small village on an island so our driver dropped us at a dock and we took the ten minute ride across the river. There were very few tourists there at this time as they were probably making a lunch stop. Horses pulling carts lined both sides of the dirt road waiting to show us this quiet and peaceful island. I got to sit up front with the driver; Lana was a bit nervous because the driver had not gotten in yet so I told her that I was driving. The journey was fascinating and so beautiful and relaxed. There was one place where we came upon a scene in front of us with women working in a rice paddy with the ruins behind them. Breathtaking. Our ride was quite bumpy and jostled us around a lot however. We got off quite a bit to take photos and wander around the many ruins and payas on the island. It really reminded me of some of the ruins at Angkor Wat except that there was hardly anyone there, it was fantastic. We could have spent the entire afternoon here but not on the horse cart. We found bicycles for rent which would have been a wonderful way to spend a leisurely afternoon.

Our last stop for today was U Bien Bridge in Amarapura. This bridge is a teak wooden foot bridge that spans 1300 yards over the Taungthaman Lake. Over 200 years old this is the worlds longest teak bridge. 2500 locals walk across this bridge morning and night to and from the village on the other side. The bridge is curved to withstand the wind and is the most photographed spot in Myanmar. We walked across part way and then came down some stairs to be met by our boat driver for the evening. He rowed around the lake and we saw many fisherman up to their waist in the water, as it is not a deep lake, fishing for small red fish like a Grouper.

We get into position along with some other boats to witness the bridge at sunset. Such a peaceful sight with lots of monks and locals travelling across the bridge with their bicycles and purchases on their heads.

A perfect end to the day.

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    Our last day in Mandalay was Independence Day and we had wanted to go to the museums but being a holiday they were closed. We really didn’t have much of a plan as we had done most of the main attractions here already. We grabbed a cab to the Imperial Palace which was a walled city within Mandalay. It served as a home to two Burmese Kings, one of which built the palace in 1857. The British forces seized the city in 1885 and sent the King to a house prison in India and then used the palace for their British Club. It is now controlled by the Burmese military (government).

    There is a 230 foot wide moat around the huge brick walls that are 2 miles each way protecting the palace.
    We were dropped off at the entrance and directed by military men which way to go. When they were out of sight I quickly took a picture of a sign on the moat wall.
    "TATMADAW AND THE PEOPLE COOPERATE AND CRUSH ALL THOSE HARMING THE UNION"
    I turned around to see a man with a large machine gun was standing beside me. I felt sick. How stupid was I. But what a sign! We saw a small sign right after that stating where and what we could take pictures of. This wasn’t on the list.

    Lana said he didn’t notice and we kept walking. There was a two mile walk to the palace and residences (barracks) were lining both sides of the street. There was such a military presence and feeling of oppression somehow. I think I was just really rattled.

    Men with motor bikes and tri shaws ( bicycles with seats on the side) asked us if we wanted a ride to the palace, it was too far to walk. “no thank you, we like to walk”. It was only 10AM and quite cool so a pleasure to do some walking.

    It was almost deserted. A lot of people don’t come here because it is military, we originally were not going to come either but did in the end. The buildings were huge and sparse.

    There were some young monks there, around 20 years old, with a group of women. They came and asked us if they could have their picture with us. This happened three times at this site and a couple of times yesterday. The shoe on the other foot, we are usually taking pictures of the monks. You wonder what they tell their friends when they show the pictures. Best not to know.

    Trying to hail a cab here is not that easy. Two men with tri shaws asked if we wanted a ride somewhere and so we said yes as it would be a great adventure. I was on one and Lana and Jane on the other. They must have had incredibly strong legs and thank god Mandalay is mostly flat. They took us down some of the back streets which was great, a lot quieter and we saw some different areas of the city.

    They took us to an old wooden Monastery that had beautiful intricate wooden carvings all through it. It was very ornate and beautiful.

    Our two drivers took us to a few more sites and then we asked about a gold leaf factory to see how they make the gold leaf that goes on the Buddha’s and the shrines. They said it was close, but we ended up going all the way across town in heavy traffic at times.

    Going through the intersections here , especially in a trishaw, was an adventure. There are very few traffic lights and even if you do see them they don’t seem to matter much anyhow. It’s a dance. You just go and everyone just seems to weave in and out until you get to the other side.

    By the time we got to the gold leaf factory we were done with the trishaw. My lungs were full of exhaust and our bodies felt covered in dust and dirt. We paid them and went into watch these young men swing heavy sledgehammers to flatten small pieces of gold onto bamboo paper.

    The first round is ½ hour of hammering. Then 3 hours more to get it to the thin film that is known as gold leaf. Back breaking work. Mandalay does all the gold leaf for all the temples in Myanmar and there are over 70 factories like this here in the city.

    We were starving. I have had a really tough time here finding something to eat. Being a vegetarian is always a challenge for me, but Myanmar is by far the worst place for me so far. Everything is with meat or seafood and if you are able to find a vegetable dish it is made with fish sauce. All the food is deep fried. You are hard pressed to find any dish that is not fried . Myanmar is not known for it’s food. I have been eating a lot of almonds fruit and protein bars since arriving.

    I found a vegetarian Indian restaurant in Lonley Planet and we headed there. We all agreed it was fantastic food and the woman who ran it spoke perfect English and had a great sense of humor. Finally, I was so Happy!! We got some samosas to go for our boat trip tomorrow.

    Hailing a cab was impossible. We walked a few blocks and were approached by some young men on motorcycles to see if we wanted a ride. We hesitated but then realized we didn’t have many options. These are another form of taxis here. We each hop on the back of a motorbike, no helmets, and take off to our hotel. They were great drivers and drove a reasonable speed. Actually I find that all the drivers are good and don’t use excessive speed which is quite different from other Asian countries I have been in. It was wonderful, we loved it. You could see so much more and way better than the tri shaw. Until we got to the main street for a few blocks and then we were very uncomfortable without helmets. But we arrived safe and sound.


    In the evening we headed to the night market to get some things for our boat trip to Bagan. It was a local market, not catering to tourists at all and really not much of anything of interest for us. I love the t shirts with English sayings that really don’t make any sense. We did end up finding a Tupperware like container for our papaya which the hotel kitchen cut up for us. I also found some reading glasses which you can never have to many of at this age.

    On to Bagan!

    The boat was a large wooden vessel with lawn chairs on two levels, half of which were covered with a roof and the other half in the sun. We arrived fairly early and were able to eek out our spot where we wanted to be for the next 10 hours. Upon arrival in our taxi three small, 50 something women came up and asked if they could carry our bags to the boat. Seeing as how the boat was down around 40 stairs and then a mud bank we said sure. This is probably their only means of income too so we are happy to pay them. They put our 50 lb bags on their heads with ease and meet us on the boat.

    There were only tourists on this boat and it had an area inside downstairs with airline type seats that were in dire need of repair, and a little resteraunt. But we had assembled a great selection of things for our lunch. Aw crap! We left the bag in the taxi.

    The boat finally left at 8AM, we arrived far too early, and it was quickly apparent that where we were sitting was going to have a diesel smell the entire way. It appeared that most of the seats were in the diesel smell area. The front of the boat had the freshest air so we moved there, put our feet up played cards and read our books and listened to our music for most of the day. It was great to have such a relaxing day with no dust or dirt and not much noise. The scenery was very serene, small villages at the edge of the river, many boats carrying goods, some with massive trucks and excavators.

    We saw a few dredging machines as the water is very shallow in places and continuously shifts. A few times one of the crew would go to the front of the boat with a long bamboo pole with markings and put it in the water and call out numbers in Burmese to the captain to tell him how deep the water was. We must have had a flat bottom boat because the water was only about a meter deep in some places. The river snaked all the way to Bagan . We stopped at one place a few meters from shore and these women waded into the water with bunches of bananas on their heads wanting to sell them. Jane ran down to the first floor and the women very skillfully threw the bananas to Jane and she in turn threw some money to her. Yeah we can eat!!

    The boat has passengers from all over the world and many of them are so well travelled. It was interesting to talk to a lot of them and get ideas of excursions and places to visit. Two hours out of Bagan we notice that the boat is heading for shore. Right to shore. We are sitting at the front of the boat reading and the boat is not slowing down. We think it is going to be a BC Ferry crash docking! (ha ha) It bangs into the dirt bank and it was softer than most ferry landings.
    We had a crew change here of the captain and one other member. Interesting way to dock.

    We arrived in Bagan on time at 6PM. We already see so many ancient temples that are close to the shore. One of them is so close to the edge it looks as though it will end up in the river before long. The sides of the banks are eroding into the river.

    Once again our bags on carried on the heads of young men this time up the hill to the waiting taxis. We negotiate a fare and start our drive to the hotel. Our young taxi driver is very brave and talks politics with us. He tells us how he hates the government, and that they do trade with China of al l natural resources but instead of helping their poor country men they line their own pockets. He was also saying that the teachers are very lazy and the education system is terrible and that they don’t have any hospitals. He feels that the new government, elected last spring, is just the same thing with a different face. The cost of taking taxis here is very expensive and it is partly because the cost of fuel is pretty much the same as we pay in Canada and their wages here are minimal. He was saying that they make their own gas though and even sell it to the Chinese. Not sure how they make their own gas but they do.

    We are reading in the paper of all the changes that are happening here and it is amazing how fast things are happening. We were surprised that our hotel turned on the BBC World news , and apparently you can change money at a few different banks now. The internet is not censored it seems as I can get on Yahoo, Google, Facebook and everything. Times are a changing in Myanmar.

    Our hotel in Bagan is gorgeous. We are taking turns having our own room as three in a room is a challenge here, so I have my own for the next five nights. It is a huge modern clean (for Myanmar) room on the edge of the pool. There are lots of resteraunts serving vegetarian food here too so I am a happy person.

    We had arranged a horse cart driver for the next two days but he did not show up this morning. The internet here is very temperamental so I couldn’t check my emails back and forth to him so we just hired another horse cart driver to take us to the temples. One would sit in front beside the driver and the other two in the back. Sounds romantic and fun doesn’t it, a horse cart in Bagan going to visit all the temples. Not. It was very bumpy and uncomfortable and only the person in front had a really good view.

    There are thousands of temples in a very small area, it is breathtaking. There are the golden pagodas, one of which we went to first. Again, it was nice but we are getting pagodaed out already. We met two German women there who said that they have pagodaitis. Seen one you have seen a thousand. But the rest were the Cambodian type. Clustered together in fields, some small some huge. A few of them looked like castles. Our guide said that there are now 4,000 but before the earthquake in 1975 there were 4 million. We are not sure about that number but suffice to say there were a lot more and a large number of them ended up in the river because of the earthquake. They were built by wealthy families, each one would have their own temple.

    One of things that we don’t appreciate here I’m afraid is all the people trying to sell us things. We arrive at a major pagoda and find sellers with their shops on either side of the walkway on the way in. When we arrived at one these three ladies practically accosted us getting out of the cart and were very insistent that we look at their shops. It is hard to get away from them. If you show any interest at all they follow you until you either get almost rude or buy it. One mask I was looking at started at 35,000 Kyat and I ended up getting it for 10,000 but I am not even sure I really wanted it……

    In front of one we saw some ladies and children selling what looked like small pieces of wood, so we went and asked what they were for. They showed us how the end of the wood is ground on a small platform with water and then the little girls put some of the yellow paste on our cheeks and noses. This is the paste that everyone wears on their faces. We had no idea that it came from a tree. I bought a small pack of it and then we started taking pictures and joking around with them. This little girl had a small package of it in a plastic bag and was holding it in front of me. I kept saying,’ no thank you I just bought one’. She kept insisting and so I opened my pack to show her that I already had one and realized that she had not given it to me yet and was trying to get me to take it. They are so honest.

    The women all try to trade their goods for lipstick, mascara or perfume. I wish I had brought some with me to trade for their goods. Our hotel clerk was telling us that the people here are so poor. The hotel staff only work in the winter as do the horse cart drivers. The summer is so hot here, 42 degrees, that tourism is down so much they lose their jobs and have to farm or do something else. We try to buy from different vendors if we do buy and try to spread it around.

    There are young children selling postcards at every temple. We have bought a number of them, even though we may not use them, but it is a good way to give them a little bit of money without them having to beg. One little boy of 8 was selling a group of postcards that he had made. They were all colored drawings and so sweet. I asked how much they were and he said 1,000, which is what the regular postcards cost ( 10 for $1.25). I gave him the 1,000 and took the postcards and his picture and he was jumping around he was so happy. It may have been his first sale of his own art but he sure was excited.

    We were able to climb (gingerly) to the top of a few of the temples and get an amazing panoramic view of the countryside. Our cart driver took us to where they make laquerware. Most laquerware is made here in Bagan and the process, for good quality, will take up to 6 months for each piece. It is quite fascinating and gives a whole new appreciation for it. Did you know that the base is made from either bamboo or teak and some are bamboo and horsehair. Then there are up to 7 layers of laquer put on top of that. Laquer is from a tree, like a rubber tree, and looks like tar. Then these young girls carve pictures into the piece and it will then be dyed. They get paid $2.50 per day for this and they are amazing artists.

    We went back for lunch and a swim before continuing on to see a couple more temples and then climbed to the top of the biggest one to witness the sunset. It was straight up, no handrails and quite high. Coming down was worse. The view was spectacular but the sunset just so so. We love Bagan. There are very few cars and motorbikes compared to the last two places we were in.

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    Jane and Lana were up early and did a hot air balloon ride over Bagan this morning and said it was fantastic. Seeing the thousands of temples from the air would have been magical. I had just done one in Laos last year so opted out. We met for breakfast afterwards at 9AM and they were still flying with the excitement of it all.

    The horse cart driver that I had originally booked came at 9:30AM. We had a communication problem about yesterday which is such a shame as he was incredible. He spent the day taking us to various temples but came inside with us and explained everything in detail and gave us so much information about the people the history and the temples. He is such a gentle and kind young man of around 25 years old. He graduated with a BA in Economics but can’t find a job here for his training. His knowledge of Bagan and the temples was incredible though. It makes such a difference to be with a guide who can explain what you are looking at and how to put it all into perspective.

    80 percent of the temples were destroyed in the 1975 earthquake and UNESCO came in to try to restore a lot of them but after a short time they were told to leave by the Myanmar Government. It is amazing that this is not a world heritage site, but the government will not co operate with UNESCO in any way. Our guide, Min Thu, showed us the temples that did get restored and the old and new parts of them. There were photos of what they looked like before the restoration to compare. It was fascinating. He took us to a number of temples where we were the only ones there, off the beaten track

    There is a full moon tomorrow and a festival at one of the larger temples. Thousands of people have come into Bagan for the weekend for this festival. They came mostly by oxen and cart and have set up tent cities all over the town. Bus loads of kids are pulling in and having a great time already. These buses have the inside full to the brim with passengers and then 20 or more young men sitting on the roof singing and dancing. We see large dump trucks full of people too.

    The monastaries and temples are full of these campers and it is such a treat for us to be here during this time. Large pots of rice and vegetables are cooking over open fires in the midst of 50 to 100 per group. The amazing thing is that they are all looking at us. They most likely come from villages that don’t get tourists. We went into one old monastery and there must have been over 100 people from a village camped out there. There was a woman about my age smoking a cheroot which looks like a cigar, and I asked if I could see it which she obliged. I then asked if I could take her picture which is fine as well, then another woman who was 82 came out and we exchanged smiles and she said I could take her picture as well. I showed them the pictures on the camera which they thought was very funny and then I went off into the monastery so that Min Thu could explain things to us about the architecture. When we came out the older woman came up and wanted to give me a bowl of peanuts. I said that one or two would be fine but she insisted I take the entire bowl. It was so sweet. We were like the pied piper, all of the people came out and were looking at us and smiling and curious. One boy came over and found a snake related to a viper but non poisionous that was about 6 feet long wrapped around his shoulders to show us. We had interactions with these villagers all afternoon as they were set up all over Old Bagan. It was wonderful.

    Bagan is divided into three parts. Most of the temples are in Old Bagan. The government kicked all the people out of Old Bagan and made them pack up and move to New Bagan in the 90s so as to put hotels in the Old Bagan area for tourists. There is also another little town as part of the three which is Nyaung U.

    We broke for lunch at ‘Moon’ Vegetarian restaurant which was also written up in Lonely planet. The food was amazing. We each got a dish to share, the best meal yet. The kitchen was a little dirt hovel, best not to look inside, but the food was so delicious. We sat at an outdoor table with a trellis of bougainvillea over our heads. The owner came over and sat with us for a bit and told us about his business and how the tourism has gone up and down over the last few years because of the government and tourists not coming because of them and then the cyclone of 2008 didn’t help tourism. Last year after Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and the new leader of government was elected the tourism has gone way up. He is hoping that tourism will continue to rise. We have heard that Myanmar is the number one place to go for 2012.

    We complimented him on his wonderful food and I told him I had been a vegetarian for 32 years and trying to convert Lana and Jane. Fat chance. Jane will eat anything!

    He came back to our table later and gave me a ‘Moon Restaurant ‘ t shirt and Jane and Lana a cool wooden bottle opener. What a wonderful surprise.

    Min Thu was coming back at 2:30 so we had a few minutes to wander around and explore. This was a hopping area as it is right beside the Ananda Temple where the festival is taking place. It is also an area where they are selling large pots and planters and there were hundreds of them all lined up in rows.

    We toured more temples in the afternoon a little different as these had paintings inside from the 11th century. It is just incredible that these paintings are still here after all these years. Some have been restored but many are the original and in colors of red blue green and yellow.

    Our last stop was a money changer in the black market. The further you get from Yangon the lower the exchange rate apparently. There was a woman inside a laquerware shop and we sat down on wooden couches to do our transaction. It is all in the open , we hand over 3 brand new 100 US Dollar bills and she goes to the back of the shop and unlocks a door. She returns with a large package of money and counts out three bundles of 78,000 Kyat in 1000 bills. We all recount the money and Lana was short 8,000 so asked the woman if she would please count it again. She did and realized her mistake so gave Lana another 8,000. I am convinced it was an honest mistake, I don’t know how she counted the money anyhow as she had two people talking to her and asking her questions the entire time she was counting. We leave with our huge wad of bills and head home. People wander around here with wads of money in their hands all the time and no one worries about being robbed or any problems because of it. Someone once told me that you could walk around Myanmar with money taped to your clothes and no one would try to take any of it and I believe that would be true.

    Day 3.
    We are in front of our hotel at 7:30AM to hail a cab or horse cart to get to the Ananda Temple by 8AM. There is a steady procession of people on foot, motorcycle and large busses heading that way as well. There are thousands of them, it looks like a pilgrimage. We are finally able to get a taxi and reach the temple just before 8. We heard that there was going to be Alms given to the monks today. I had thought that it would be like it was in Laos where people lined up and put food in the Monks bowls. This was quite different and on a much grander scale.

    There was an L shaped platform about 5 feet high and probably 50 feet in one part and 100 feet long on the other. They were filled with offerings from local people. Bowls of peanuts, bananas, rice,and different foods as well as money. There were thousands of people there and it was so interesting to see the different villagers. They were all smiling at us and saying hello and giggling. Out of the crowd comes this old woman towards us laughing out loud, cackling really, and looking at us and just laughing and laughing. We thought,’ is she the town crazy woman?’ Then we recognized her as the woman who gave us the peanuts yesterday and she was just so happy to see us. What a great moment.

    A monk is chanting over the loudspeaker for the next hour or so and Lana figured out that monks from each village would line up all together and the monk would be chanting the name of their village or monastery . Each monk would get some food and an envelope. When they were finished they would go to another area and all sit together and compare and sort out their loot. It was like Christmas. We watched this older monk on his own open his envelope and there we some bills inside, I am not sure how many Kyat there was but he had this huge smile on his face

    We watched this well dressed man handing out crisp new bills to each of the monks as they passed by. I nodded to him and gestured how wonderful that was. The woman with him called me over and handed me a big stack of bills and told me to give two to each monk that passed by. A very special moment for me for sure. The couple was from Mandalay and probably done well for themselves so giving back. It was so generous of them to share their moment with me too.

    A number of young monks came up to us with US dollars and asked if we would change them for them. We gladly exchanged US for Kyat. They would not be able to exchange them most likely.

    We toured the temple a bit and then headed towards a spot to have some tea. It was so crowded, crazy really. It was like a Harley Davidson convention with all the motorcycles except that they weren’t Harley Davidson bikes, they were small 100 cc or there abouts. Lots of young men on motorcycles and being very wreckless and we felt things were really heating up. We had planned on coming back tonight to see the dancing and full moon festivities but had second thoughts as there will be a lot of these young men drinking too much and the crowds were just too unpleasant.

    We decided to go back to our hotel and had a wonderfully relaxing afternoon swimming, sunning reading and playing cards. I even fell asleep for a bit of a nap. I went for a pedicure and it is great to have clean feet, for a few minutes anyhow.

    For dinner we tried a resteraunt in the other direction from our hotel and were pleasantly surprised to be entertained by some local music and some marionettes. The five men working the puppets were so talented and the evening was a wonderful surprise. I ordered a mystery vegetable dish and ate something that was super hot, some kind of jalapeno or something. My throat and mouth was on fire and it was so painful. I couldn’t believe it! Lana went and got me a little package of sugar and I put it in my mouth to melt. Amazing, the fire was gone. I had never heard of that before.

    Another early night again.

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    It sounds like you had a wonderful trip. I'm so sorry you atarted out by getting ripped off by black market money changers in Yangon. I'm so impressed by how honest the Burmese people are, those (mostly Indian) moneychangers at the market are the one exception. It's great to be able to now use the official bank-owned exchanges.

    I can really identify with your feelings about getting a pedicure - walking in the ruined temples barefooted is so hard on the feet!

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    Bagan Day 4.

    How can each day be so fantastic?! Our last day in Bagan was just as wonderful as the first. We were going to ride bikes today but the traffic in the morning was still pretty busy with all the villagers leaving to go back to their home.

    We found a horse cart and driver out front so decided to hire him for the day. What a great choice as he was just perfect. We headed north this time and went to a little market and wandered around for about an hour. We picked up some books and pens and pencils to drop off at a local school, more on that later.

    When we were in the localfood part it was great, no one was bothering us because they figured we wouldn’t buy anything anyhow. We did get some little shelled peanuts to bring home and some tamarind candies, both of which are served free when ever you go to a restaurant and we just love them. Then we hit the tourist stuff. I was getting overwhelmed with all these women yelling and holding things up in front of us. I held up my hands and just said a firm ‘NO’ and they backed off a bit.

    We bought a couple of souvenirs and then this woman came and wrapped a longhi (long skirt) around Lana and then put a blouse on her. They just came up and dressed her. I said it looked nice, which it did, so they started to dress me too. Before I knew it was in a silk blouse and long skirt in that blue color that I love. I almost felt violated it happened so fast. But we ended up buying them…….how does this happen? They are so dam good!! Jane was smart and just walked away.

    We made our way back to our horse cart and off to the post office to buy stamps. You can only buy stamps and mail letters at the post office and they are only open Monday to Friday 9-5 so it has been a challenge to get them. I want to send some to my 93 year old father in law. We went down some peaceful back roads and saw more of village life here.

    It is so much quieter here today than yesterday. Unfortunately at least five young men died here last night in traffic accidents on the main road. All motorcycles. There were lots of fights as well so glad that we stayed in.

    We made our way back to our hotel slowly and had a couple of hours to relax read and swim. Our driver picked us up again at 2PM and we made our way to a little village primary school that our driver Min Thu yesterday suggested we might want to visit.

    Our driver came in with us which was great and told the teacher what we wanted to do and then we were sent to the head of the school (principal) and talked to her. Primary schools, up to grade 8, are free of charge. We were only allowed to go to a village school however. High school and university cost money.

    She brought us to a grade 6 class and between her and our driver explained to the teacher what we wanted to do. They were all for it so I brought out a game that I had bought at home and one that I had used when I taught English in Laos last year. It is a Bingo game with pictures of things like Dog, Cat, Shirt, Tree etc.
    There were 39 kids in the class all crammed together. They were looking at us wide eyed with curiosity as to what these strange women were going to do in their classroom.

    We handed out one bingo card and chips for each two children. I briefly explained the game but they caught on right away. I called out the English words and Lana and Jane went around to help the children with the words that were less familiar to them. It started out very calm and controlled but as they got closer to filling their cards it got very exciting. The recess bell went but no one moved. Children from other classes came and were hanging in through the windows watching and shouting out to the children when they saw that they had one of the pictures on their card of what I was calling out.

    Each group would fill their card and put their hand up and be so excited, but like in Laos it didn’t matter much if they were first or not, they were just excited to finish. We had a blast. Our driver was having so much fun too, walking around and helping the kids with the game. We left the game with the principal and then went across the school yard to the grade one class. We handed out some exercise books and pencils but didn’t have enough. We gave the rest pens but they are not able to use pens until a higher grade unfortunately. We couldn’t leave without giving each child something however. We had such a great time and our driver was grinning from ear to ear.

    Back to the money changer. We decided to get more money here as we would need some in the next few days anyhow and we heard that the exchange rate in Inle Lake is not as good. Funny how the exchange rate differs by what city you are in.

    Then it was time for a coffee so we went to a really nice hotel to sit by the pool and have an amazing cup of coffee. I haven’t been drinking coffee but indulged anyhow and it was wonderful. We decided that we like our hotel better and ours is $250 a night less too.

    I used the free internet and computer there to try and work on my blog, I had it on a memory stick. I work on it at night in my room on my little net book. The internet here was a little better than our hotel. I got most of it on and then the internet went out. It is so frustrating to go on the internet here. You have to refresh every two minutes. You need a lot of patience that is for sure. Pictures here were very hard to download. Inle Lake may be better, but I am not holding my breath. I really didn’t expect to have internet at all in Myanmar so it is all a bonus anyhow.

    By now it was 4:30PM and getting close to sunset so we went to a temple that we were at yesterday and climbed to the top to see the sunset from there. Lana and I are both afraid of heights and get vertigo, but doing really well here on these narrow steep stairs up to the top of the temples without hand rails or anything.

    This temple had a lot less people on it, the view was not as good but we were very happy to be there. We met two couples from England, a single guy from Cologne, and two women from France so had a chance to talk and joke with each of them.

    As we headed back to the area around the temple where the festival was last night we passed the place that was bumper to bumper with ox carts and tents. It was now empty of people and all evidence of them being there was gone too. They cleaned everything up, burnt what refuse they had and left it as they found it.

    Our last dinner in Bagan was back at the ‘Moon’ restaurant and we ordered exactly what we had yesterday and it did not disappoint. The full moon was overhead, the night was quiet and gorgeous. What more could you ask for?

    INLE LAKE
    We flew from Bagan to HeHo airport and arrived at 9AM. Our drive in from the airport took just under an hour down the main road which was just over one lane wide. On either side of the road was a creek with homes on stilts and people working in the very fertile looking red soil on the other side of the creek.

    We are staying in hotel that is on the outskirts of a small town. Our home for the next four nights is a bamboo bungalow overlooking fields of bamboo and sugarcane. There is a lovely pool and we are welcomed with a very much appreciated cold drink whenever we return. The hotel is only two years old and the man and woman who own it have immense pride and you feel as though you are in a five star hotel. We discuss what we are going to do for the next few days and he helped us organize our trips to take advantage of local markets and events.

    What’s that noise? Oh it is silence. AHHHH. No motorcycles or honking horns 24/7.

    We hop on the bicycles that are provided and explore the small town. The roads are very rough and bumpy but we manage. Lana has not been on a bike since she was 10 and did extremely well. Feeling a bit more oriented we head back to the hotel to laze around the pool for the rest of the afternoon and yet again another early night.

    At 6AM we head to the top floor of the reception area for our included breakfast. The hotel only had 8 rooms but we are the only ones there at this time of the morning. He feeds us a large plate of sweet papaya and watermelon, thin crepe like pancakes (to die for) toast and egg juice and tea. We insist that this is far too much food and please give us less tomorrow. It was a wonderful start to the day however.

    Our boat man met us in the lobby at 6:30A and we walk for 10 minutes to the boat jetty. A long tail boat with three wooden chairs is waiting for us. We are bundled up with four layers of clothing and he also has a blanket for us as it is very cold. Within ten minutes we see many fishermen on the lake who are the one leg rowers. They stand on the bow of flat wooden dugout canoes with perfect balance and agility. They wrap one foot around the oar and row the boat with their leg. This leaves one hand free to work the nets. It is amazing to watch.

    Women and men were dragging nets in shallow water for shrimp and well as fishing for fish. We travel south on the lake and all the tourists in boats are passing us going north. This makes us very happy. Our trip will take three hours just to get there so not many tourists go to this area of the lake. We need to pick up a Pa O guide. TunTun is from a local tribe and we need to pay an entrance fee and also for his services for the day to go to this area. He is a lovely young man of 20 something and his English is excellent as well as his sense of humor. The lake is like glass and as we pass the many villages with homes on stilts they reflect in the water and the light is amazing. As we turn off onto smaller waterways we see that this part of the lake is green with water lilies and we are going though of path of only about three feet in width with the lilies on either side. We take turns with other boats coming towards us as the opening is so narrow. There are some boats like ours, small dugout canoes and larger long wooden boats carrying many goods to other parts of the lake.

    There are so many fishermen on the lake and most will wave and smile if we wave at them. The children especially love to wave and say hello to us. There are little villages of homes on stilts at various parts of the lake. To visit your neighbor you would have to take a boat as they are all separated by water. Under most of the homes are areas where they have minnows and when they are big enough they release them into the lake so that they keep their fish supply up. Men and women walk to the bottom of their stairs to use the washing machine, dishwasher and bath or more accurately the lake. The lake water looks very clean and is used for everything. The women wear a sarong and bathe on the stairs with their sarong on, just soaping it down. The men do the same in their longhis.

    As we travel south we watch the landscape change from jungle like vegetation to where the lake is sandwiched between two large hills on either side and looks very much like Kamloops or part of the interior of B.C.

    We arrive at San Kar, which is on another large lake connected by the narrow waterway that we have just arrived one. This is a manmade lake as the government flooded the area in 1990 when they built a dam. There are some temples that are partially under water because of this and some are in the middle of the lake. The town that used to be there had to move as it is now flooded. We got out of the boat and started to walk through the village. I had to use the toilet (of course you did as my kids would say), so Tun Tun asked a local family if I could use the one in their home as they were all out sitting on the deck. They directed me to the out house at the back of the house which did the job. I wanted to show my appreciation and had some kazoos in my pack so gave the three children each a kazoo and showed them how to use them. We had a bit of fun with that .

    Ten minutes of walking and we came upon a local market which only happens once a week and why our hotel owner suggested we go here today. We were the only tourists. Shan tribe people come from all over the area to sell trade and buy their goods here. The men and woman wear either red or orange cloths wrapped around their heads as a headdress and wear black clothing. We bought some produce and some wild rice from the mountains which we will take home. There was a woman making beetle nut packages which was very interesting. They put flavorings in the leaves to give it different tastes. Apparently it is like a strong caffine and the drivers chew it to keep awake. Tun Tun showed us many plants and spices for sale . They use every part of a plant or tree either for food, medicine, decoration or furniture. Nothing goes to waste. The only garbage you see is that evil plastic which is polluting the entire planet.

    There were very old ruins from the 5th century all overgrown and crumbling. Walking through this and other villages we saw how they make pottery by turning the wheel with their foot, and rice wine at the distillery where Jane and Lana tried the local moonshine. Another weaving place on the lake explained how they make fabric out of lotus flowers. They use 800 stalks to make one scarf. The prices are very high because of the length of time it takes to make them but they are beautiful.

    Some of the lilies are in bloom and a bright fushia pink color. According to our guide someone introduced the water lilies here a number of years ago and like our broom it has taken over. We were going through a small area off the lake and got stuck. The engine on these boats are designed so as to go on the top of the water or deeper so as not to get tangled in the weeds. We got into an area of too many plants and the boat stopped. In no time the water lilies surrounded us and wedged us in. It was like a horror movie “attack of the water lilies”. Our driver and guide had to work the boat for at least a ½ hour to free it, rocking it, trying to push it with the paddles and moving it. They could not go into the lake as the water lilies were too thick. We did get a little nervous as they were rocking it quite a bit and walking on the edges of the boat, we would lean the other way to counter balance but it felt like the boat might tip over. It would be easy to drown as you wouldn’t be able to find your way to the surface.

    We did escape of course and continued on our journey. As the day wore on we peeled off layers of clothing and put on our hats and applied sunscreen. It was only around 25 degrees but felt warmer and it was very dusty walking around the villages. We only saw two other tourists the entire day which was wonderful.

    A restaurant in the middle of the lake was where we had lunch and it was okay, not fantastic but did the trick.

    We said goodbye to Tun Tun back at the hotel he works at and continued on for another hour back to our little town. We see many more fisherman and watch the sun go down turning the sky a beautiful red color. We had been on the water for 11 long but amazing hours. Our boatman did not speak any English but was very perceptive of our needs, slowing down for us to take pictures whenever he saw the camera come up and sometimes he just knew that we would want to take a picture of something before we did.

    Our entire day cost $50 in total but we tipped both of them very handsomely for a very memorable day.

    Day 3. The same driver took us onto the lake for a ½ day tour. The three of us were moving a little slower today and never went out on the boat until 8:30AM. We did not have a guide today as we were not going as far down the lake and did not require one. The lake had a very thick fog for the first hour but then the sun came through and it was another gorgeous day.

    The lake is so blue and once again like a mirror. Our stops today included a silversmith where we watched them make silver jewelry. Everything is done by hand and without any machinery but the jewelry was very expensive. Next stop was an umbrella making factory. We told the driver no, we did not want to go but he pulled up anyhow and we are glad that he did.

    The factory was run by a family from the Shan Tribe and there were some ladies there with the long necks. Two older women and two young girls. At first I was torn, do I take pictures as this encourages putting these women on display for the tourists to gawk at? In the end we couldn’t help it. I talked to the younger girls, asked them if it hurt and they said no. They start when they are 14 and stop adding rings when they are 19. They have a total of 20 rings and it does not elongate your neck but push down on your shoulder blades to give the illusion of a longer neck, or giraffe neck as they are sometimes known as. They also have gold bands around their calves.

    This tradition was started years ago because the prince of Myanmar at the time would travel the country and kidnap all the beautiful women for himself. The elders of the tribe decided to make their women less attractive to the prince by making the girls ugly with these rings. The tradition still continnues today and the girls told us that they do so willingly in their village.

    These women come down from their village and according to the shop keeper are paid by the shop and do some weaving there as well as attract the tourists who will spend money on their goods. We did give each of them some money for taking their pictures which they gladly accepted. Our guide says that they work there because they need a job, just like everyone else, and do this willingly.

    Another temple was on the agenda. We are pretty much templed out. As we get off the boat we see miles of vendors on either side of the road selling souveniers and food stuffs. We run the gauntlet to the ruins at the top of the hill. But we didn’t get away. All of us ended up buying some goods, helping to stimulate the economy here. These folks were not very aggressive though so it was a pleasure to look.

    There are 1000 ruins here all very close together and in a great state of disrepair. They are made of brick and many have missing statues or heads of statues and lots of greenery growing on and around them. There is evidence of some restoration and even some newer ones being built.

    I stopped to change the memory card in my camera and put my things on the ground, spilling out a few items in my back pack. Before I know it a bull has made his way over to check out what I had dropped and ate my banana. I am trying to pick up my things, Jane and Lana are just laughing and not helping at all, the bull is pushing me out of the way with his horns and looks as though he is going after my wallet!! I quickly grab everything and move them to a shelf on one of the ruins. Thanks Jane and Lana! That could have been a disaster.

    From here we continue to a place on the water where they make cheroots, or Myanmar cigars. They add anise or other flavors to the tobacco. I don’t know anyone who smokes any more so we didn’t buy any. On the way back we went through some floating gardens where they grow miles of tomatoes beans and flowers as well as other vegetables. They are on trellis’ in the water and quite ingenious. They get plenty of sun and you never have to water them.

    Our afternoon was spent around the pool reading our books. Lana and I stayed up past 10:30 tonight! Wo Hoo…

    Day 4. Another huge breakfast and we start off on our journey north with our hired driver and the fancy tourist van that transported us in complete comfort for the day.
    We drove an hour or so north passing small villages and towns along the way. There was a government military base, all walled with barbed wire, that seemed to go on for miles and miles. Inside were homes for all the military and their families in the Shan state, which is where we are.

    The town of Taunggyi is at the top of the mountain and we are so surprised at how big it was, over 300,000 in population, and it was so clean and fairly modern. The cars are newer and in better shape, the roads and sidewalks in good repair and it seems to be a much more prosperous town. When the British occupied Burma they would come up here because it is so much cooler. We stopped at a local market and it was very different from the others we had been to. Everything was clean, well presented and fresh. The fish was so fresh it was still flapping around. Really, they were lying there still alive.

    We picked up a 50 kilo bag of rice and our driver put it into the van for us. We had wanted to go to another school in Inle Lake but our hotel owner said that it would be difficult to do here and suggested one of the three orphanages in Taunggyi that he supports.

    The one we chose was run by three older sisters who never married and two of the sisters have died so only one left to run things. It was started by her grandmother so now third generation and they currently have 200 children there from the age of 2 and up. There were only the pre schoolers there in the morning so we left the rice and decided to come back after our trip to Kakku

    Again we had to pay a fee and pick up a Pa O guide for the trip to Kakku. The fee is $3 each and the guide is $10 for the day. His name is long so he said to call him Mr. A. He is around 40 years old and very warm and friendly with a great sense of humor. On the drive, south now, he tells us a lot of information about the Pa O people and the area.

    It appears to be an area rich in agriculture, the road is one lane paved, but with major pot holes, and bright orange red soil on either side. He says the soil is not good for growing things as it is rich in iron, but none the less the fields are green and lush with many crops growing. We see groups of four or more women with their large conical bamboo hats squatting in the fields tending to the garlic and other crops. We can imagine that they spend the day chatting and perhaps gossiping while they work. There are rolling hills of green fields and everything is neat and tidy. You can tell that they take great pride in their homes and surroundings. We get out to walk a bit, we need to move around after sitting so long, and find that the temperature is much cooler up here.

    Mr A took us to his village and we walked down a path to the pagoda (temple). Each town and village has to have a pagoda and a monastery as all the boys have to do a stint as a monk. A lot of our guides and drivers only lasted a couple of weeks because the monks only eat twice a day, breakfast and lunch, and as boys they got too hungry. Each of them had joined around age 10 but came home after a couple of weeks. The minimum requirement is one week but you can stay as long as you like. The pagoda is large and in great shape with more being built. There are small bells at the top and the wind was blowing so the sound of the bells tinkling was very magical. All the carvings are done by hand and we watch as one young man is cutting away some wet cement to create some very ornate decorations on a newly built pagoda.

    Beside the pagoda was another temple and we were invited inside to sit and have tea with the head monk and another monk. Neither spoke English but it was a wonderful opportunity none the less.
    Next stop Kakku. This a group of 2,278 temples and we only saw one other tourist there which was great. They are all very close together and all have bells on top which were ringing because there was a wonderful breeze. It was so peaceful and quiet except for the sound of the bells. Mr. A said that sometimes tourists come and the wind does not blow which is a disappointment to them, but we are very blessed as it is a windy day. The temples were built in 3 BC by a king in India and then more and more thereafter.

    They are in very good condition because they were not discovered by the Western world until 1990. Because there weren’t any real roads here the British and Japanese never found them during their occupation. The carvings were incredible and we loved this place, different from the others that we have been to.

    In Myanmar everything is made by hand, there is no machinery for much of anything which keeps everyone working. One machine could put 10 people out of a job and they want to keep it that way. If you build a house the foundation is all dug by shovel and carvings and printing all by hand. Driving back we saw where they were working on the road and there was about a 15 foot area and a man running with a square bucket with holes in the bottom full of hot tar, tarring the road.
    We say goodbye to Mr. A and then head to the market again to buy some books. The woman who runs the orphanage was saying how expensive it is to send the kids to school and keep up with new exercise books and pens etc. Jane and I went into a stationary store and bargain with the shop keepers for exercise books for different grade levels. In the end they gave us a couple of extra packages and we were able to buy 120 exercise books for the kids at the orphanage.

    When we arrived back there was a man around our age from Belgium who had come with gifts and what we suspect was a healthy donation from his friends. One of his good friends is a dentist and he comes once or twice a year to do dentistry there.
    We are shown to a building at the back of the main one, which our hotel owner built for them, and she calls some of the children to come inside. We had around 35 children from age 3 to 16 and played a Bingo Numbers game. Again we had a lot of fun as did they.

    Our driver was right in there with us and he was having fun too. This orphanage was so well run, the kids were clean and happy and the woman running it was very loving and kind to all. She says she never turns away a child and is the only one who will take babies or kids with disabilities. She follows the Christian faith. I would love to help out more but it is impossible to send money here, you would have to bring it in personally.

    Our drive back is around an hour and a half and take the opportunity to talk to our driver to find out more about Myanmar. He was saying the taxes in Myanmar are so expensive for vehicles and people opening shops, all going to the military. The van we were driving in cost over $250,000 after the price and all the taxes were paid. It was probably a $60,000 van at home.

    We spend our last night in Inle Lake at a terrible restaurant unfortunately. The food at our hotel is the only great food we have had here. Now we are back to Yangon for our last days in Myanmar. What a wonderful trip, each area having its own charm

    What I loved about Myanmar:

    The people were wonderful. We never heard a cross word or met anyone who was not helpful. Everyone was completely genuine and wanted to help us at all times.

    A smile was always returned with a smile and a wave.
    The sights, the temples, the ruins and the lake. The scenery was breathtaking.

    We learned so much about the history and the people of Myanmar

    We felt safe at all times and well taken care of.

    What seems like chaos when you arrive you quickly realize that it is a dance and it all works.

    WHAT I DID NOT LIKE ABOUT MYANMAR

    The noise, the smog the smoke from the constant burning and the dust

    We preferred the countryside to the cities, not liking Mandalay or Yangon.

    Whenever we told someone at a restaurant or hotel that we were from Canada they would put on Justin Beiber songs.

    The fact that the country is rich in natural resources such as oil, precious gems and minerals, but the Government (Military) sells them all to the Chinese and does not share any of the wealth with the people of Myanmar.

    That the people can not speak out without fear of going to jail.

    In summary we had an amazing time in Myanmar and it did not dissapoint at all. Thanks for reading.

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    Yes Kathie I was very surprised to get ripped off. I didn't think they would risk it for one thing. We learned however that anytime we felt swarmed, either by sellers or anyone, to just walk away.

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    I enjoyed your trip report. Things have changed so much since I was there in 2005. I'm anxious to return and your details are appreciated.Thanks for taking the time to share!

    When I went through the market with the Shan ladies, they invited me to sit down and eat with them! In spite of languaage differences, they are so warm and inviting. It is a magical place to me.

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    Glad to hear that you enjoyed your trip. We did also. Since I don't have much patience, I didn't even try to use the internet so I missed your message regarding meeting in Mandalay. Sorry, as it would have been nice. Perhaps we brushed shoulders in Bagan if you were the Canadian woman who greeted Min Thu at one of the pagoda markets on Jan.8??

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    Glyn
    THat is funny. It was my friend, she said she saw MinThu at the market with some other people and I missed him. Isnt he a sweetheart? We are so sorry we had a communication problem for our first day. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

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