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Trip Report TRIP REPORT JAN 2014

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First, I want to thank all you here on this blog for your excellent and valuable advice. I could not have had a successful trip without you all.

One of the things I was most anxious about my to travel was making reservations with a startup company travel company named OWAY. It turned out they were spot on and delivered 100%. I use them because I could charge all my hotel room and internal travel on my credit card. I was nervous and to use them but after I heard a report on NPR I gained confidence in their legitimacy. They have an office in California and in Rangoon. (I'm not sure but the company I'm just relieved they were legitimate.)

The 23 hour flight waas hell, nothing new to report there. I immediately changed money at the airport -- a very smart idea because they have automatic counting machines for accuracy and I got a delicious rate.

I satayed at the East Hotel in central Rangoon. The only positive thing about the vastly overpriced accommodation was its central locale. It is across the street from Trader's, otherwise it was ordinary or below average in every way. I truly enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the city and took walking routes to see all the magnificent colonial buildings. I love the street theater and sidewalk Opera. It was marvelous. I also did all my shopping, souvenir and otherwise, at Scott market. It had everything from three dollars recyclable nylon totesn to 300 year old buddah statues I purchased. I also stated in the former capital upon my return from Bagan. I stayed at Classique Inn in the suburbs; lovely place and the environs were leafy quiet, and well-heeled. Of cyou canourse, nothing was walkable but it was a lovely relief from the Hubble bubble noisy downtown. I recommend staying in both locales.

I took an hour and 15 minute flight to Bagan and met my prearranged guide Min Thu. He was the best thing that I planned about my trip. Yes, his prices are premium but you get what you pay for. Having booked 7 days, as I am a temple junkie, he had itinerary ready and a detailed itinerary. We started immediately and off the beaten path to some of the smaller temples. Mostly we avoided the gargantuan tour buses and forged our own path. As he is also a licensed tour guide explained the meaning of each mural and toward the end of my trip I was intimately acquainted with each stage of the Buddha's life. As the gods would have it, his nephew was being prepped for a novice monk and I witnessed a mile long procession with oxen, music and elaborately dressed participants. Min, busy with family events, I struck out on my own and rented an electric bicycle. The combination of tour guide and a lone adventurer, on a too small electric bike, was perfect for me. You truly could get lost among the ruins and forge your own path. The bikes are worth it as there are only eight dollars a day and they give you temporary freedom. I stayed at the Bagan Thande. Rooms are meh but the river view amazing; New Bagan is an arm pit

The next day, Min's brother took me to mount Popa, the mountain monastery. In this case the destination was a disappointment as the monastery/temple is tacky but the sweaty journey up the thousand plus stairs is the fun exhausting part. Also, hold on to your bananas as the monkeys are vivacious and little thieves. At the bottom of the staircase we happened on a celebration which turned into an exorcism as the participants were possessed by NAT spirits which is truly wondrous and reminded me of Pentecostal ministers and their snake charming congregations in Alabama; truly, small world.

Min arrange for me to take a private boat up the river at sunset for $25. Our destination was a cave temple but that was just the sideshow. The sunset was truly the star. It was magnificent drinking a beer and watching the sun sink in the west. Won't soon forget it. Of course, you have to take off your shoes in the temples as they were holy places but I was confused as merchants spread their trinkets at the foot of the Buddha as we walk past people playing; a dichotomy that could not be easily explained. Having cut my foot on the first day touring I devised a ingenius plan of masking taping the bottom of my feet for protection while still honoring the holiness of the temples. Some of the larger temples of spotless but the smaller ones are full of glass, sharp stones and bat poop; I was glad to avoid the bat poop!

The two biggest problems in BAGAN are plastic bags and termites. The termites are eating away the murals and obliterating their existence. Let us hope democracy takes firm hold and conservation truly begins where it is needed. The other dilemma is plastic bags. They are everywhere. They hang on every tree. They litter every temple. The locals burn them and breathe in the noxious fumes. Let us hope recycling takes hold and China stops building plastic bag plants in their backyard they call Myanmar. The people are generally warm and charming. They are loving and affectionate to the children and only offer a smile. I never felt unsafe and usually welcome. However, the trinket selling is incessant but part of the package. Finally, cart and horse buggies are coming to an end in Bagan. Horses are phenomenally expensive and the electric bicycles are taking over- get there before this happens.

Thank you for the advice of bringing new and crisp currency into the country. Otherwise you're stuck with crinkled dollar bills no one will touch. I counted 17 ATMs in Rangoon and nine in Bagan. They are everywhere. I imagine in two years Starbucks will arrive. Of course, that will mark the beginning of the end era please get there before any more changes as they are already happening there is still an authenticity if you seek it.

RECAP:

• OWAY travel is legitimate and you can prepay everything on your credit card.
Prearranged for the tour guide named MIN THU. He made my trip!
Bring a lot of masking tape. There so many unforeseen uses.
Bring crisp, new clean money. (I changed $200 and that was great for spending money) vendors prefer American dollars for purchasing.
• Pack half as much and double the cash.
• LONELY PLANET IS USELESS! It's so outdated it's silly. USE THIS FORUM INSTEAD for pertinent info.

SAFE TRAVELS!!

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