Burma is wonderful!

Old Dec 25th, 2010, 08:57 AM
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Burma is wonderful!

We have been home from Burma for about a week now & just wanted to start a post that will ulitmately become a trip report!! We had an amazing time. It is a beautiful country & the people are amongst the friendliest we have ever encountered as a population. We had been a little concerned prior to our trip that it may not happen as the elections were just a couple of weeks prior to us going & we did not know what their effect may be so we were watching things closely. We were ready to go to another destination at the very last minute. Then ASSK was released just before we got there. Anyone who spoke to us about this was so very happy at this event!

Our itinerary
1 night Yangon
3 nights Mandaly
4 nights Bagan
1 night Kalaw
5 nights Inle
1 night Yangon
1 night Sittwe
3 nights Mrauk O
1 night Yangon

The itinerary suited us perfectly! We used Santa Maria to do some in country bookings. Actually ended up having them book all the hotels because it was just easier! They also booked our internal flights & did a great job when the announcement came out whilst we were there that Yangon airways was to stop operations & our flight from Inle to Yangon was with them. They got us scheduled on another airline on the same day before we had even had the chance to ask them about it. The drivers we had them arrange for us all arrived on time or early & did a great job. Would definately use Santa Maria again.

In Bagan we contacted Kathie's horse cart driver Min Thu. We ended up spending 3 1/2 days with him & it was awsome. He is a lovely person & did a great job understanding the types of things we like to see. Thank you Kathie!

Need to stop for now. Will posssibly not have much time to get back to a report for a week or so but will happily answer any questions anyone has in the mean time.

Happy & safe holidays to everyone.
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Old Dec 25th, 2010, 09:14 AM
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Oh, Jules, I'm so glad you loved Burma! And I'm delighted you had a good time with Min Thu. I'll look forward to your report.

You went to some places that are on our list for next trip, Mrauk U, in particular. I can't wait to hear all about it!
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Old Dec 25th, 2010, 08:13 PM
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Waiting with great anticipation!!!
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Old Dec 25th, 2010, 08:30 PM
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So glad you had a good time - looking forward to all the details.
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Old Dec 26th, 2010, 09:32 AM
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Me, too!!
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Old Dec 26th, 2010, 06:28 PM
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We really loved it too. Am looking forward to hearing more about your trip - it sounds amazing!
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Old Dec 26th, 2010, 06:43 PM
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Patty don't you go soon? I am afraid I won't get much written before you go so if you have any questions fire away. We are going to be out of town & out of internet for a few days later this week. I think you are interested in photography which we are too. Won't tell you how may photos we took!!!
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Old Dec 27th, 2010, 09:02 PM
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Yes, Jules, we leave Jan. 24th! Since you're interested in photography, I do have a couple of questions. Did you take a tripod? Monopod? If you did, any problems taking it aboard planes? Any not-to-miss places for us? Any problems recharging your camera batteries? Thanks.
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Old Dec 28th, 2010, 06:37 AM
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Patty we took a monopod. No probs with it except we did not use it except maybe onece! We had no probs recharging batteries but we do have spares & we charged when we had the chance. As for not to miss places...I am not sure of your itin but just take it all in especially the little things. Got to go to work now!
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Old Dec 28th, 2010, 09:38 PM
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Thanks, Jules. The tripod/monopod question is a big one for me.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 03:00 PM
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Arrangements: As mentioned previously we used Santa Maria in Yangon to arrange some things for us. In the end We had them book all our hotels as they were getting better rates than I was & I was having trouble communicating with some of the hotels.

They booked our internal flights & our Ballons over Bagan tickets. They also arranged cars for us as we drove between some stops rather than fly just because we wanted the oportunity to see a bit more of the countryside as we traveled.

Santa Maria did a great job & would not hesitate to use them again. They shone when Yangon Airways stopped flying with very little notice & they were working on new flights for us before we had ever had a chance to talk to them about it. (Apparently travel agencies all over Burma were in a big tiz trying to sort things out when that Y angon Airways news came out as you can well imagine!!)

Money: You need to take US$ cash & the notes need to be in pristine condition. Take a bit more money than you anticipate needing. Never assume you will be able to use a credit card.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 03:15 PM
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Jules, I am awaiting your trip report. I really want to hear about Mrauk U. How does it compare with Bagan?
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 03:21 PM
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Kathie I promise I will get there!!!
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 03:23 PM
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YANGON November 21st 2010 We arrived in Yangon from Singapore at about 920am so we had most of the day left ahead of us. Arrival formalities were very easy. Had arranged for Santa Maria to send a car to pick us up which was waiting for us. We have decided we like to have someone waiting for us when we arrive somewhere after a long flight it is so smooth!

The driver took us to our hotel The Park Royal. Which was good. Worked well for us. The driver than took us to a place to change money. Scotts market was closed so he took us to a store in another hotels shopping archade. Got a rate of 860 which was what we were expecting.

Headed out to see some sites. Reclining Buddah, Pagoda with Buddah relics. Also just took in the feel of Yangon the old colonial areas & then the areas that are reminisent of some Indian cities with dozens of stores/schools offering computer classes etc. Then there are brand new sparkleing department stores! The city has an air of crumbling colonialism & you cannot but know you are in a very Buddist country with temples/pagodas/monks everywhere you look.

Had lunch at a place called “Feel Myanmar” A noisy bustling place filled with about a dozen tourists & all the rest locals. The food was good a tasty Chicken curry, rice, soup & they give you a kind of coconut soup for dessert. All for 3000K for 2 of us.

That evening we were in for a real treat. Headed to Shwedagon Paya about 4pm. This day was one of the full moon festival days. The place was crowded with locals. At sunset they started lighting litterally thousands of candles around the base of the golden dome. It was absoultely stunning & created an incredible atmosphere as the whole place glowed in candle light. I confess to not ever realising this was happening on the day we would arrive. The only light the candles for this full moon so only once a year. We felt so incredibly lucky to have timed this so well without even trying! We spent a few hours there walking around the dome & just taking in the glow of it all. Very peaceful despite being so busy which sounds strange but that is how it felt. I would encourage anyone who is going to be in Yangon around this time to find out when the candles are going to be lit.

The next morning we flew to Mandalay. An early flight so we left the hotel by 5am. On the drive to the airport we saw lots of locals out exersicing in the pre dawn cool. The flight actually left 30minutes early. I guess everyone was checked in so off we went! We landed in Mandalay at about 720am.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 04:05 PM
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MANDALAY: Mandalay airport is a good solid hours drive from the city. I had heard that it could be difficult to find a taxi so arranged a driver to pick us up. The airport is quiet & we could not find our driver. My hubby went to look around while I stood in the arrivals area. Within seconds a tour guide came up to me & asked who was meant to meeting us. She then pulls out her phone & makes a call & finds our diver who comes running into the terminal so sorry to have not been there. This tour guides help is just a small example of how any of them would be willing to just step in help you even though you are not their client & had not actually asked them for any help.

Checked into our hotel Mandalay City Hotel which is right in the middle of the city. Then went our walking. It was hot! Mandaly is a sprawling city & the traffic feels a lot more “crazy” than in Yangon. There are thousands of motor scooters buzzing around. The driver from the airport told us traffic gets worse every year as now there are cheap Chinese motor scooters available so more people can afford them. I rememner driving past 2 girls on a scooter as the friend on the back chatted her friend driving had this look of total happiness on her face. Her eyes were smiling so brightly.

We walked around the city side streets just taking in the life in the tea houses which are always a hive of activity. Walked around the edge of the palace & stopped for lunch at Koh’s Kitchen a Thai place. Yummie food & lovely air con!! At this point we felt we were flagging still suffering from the international flights. Decided to go back for a rest but also decided to find a car & driver to take us out that afternoon as we feared we would sleep the rest of the day away!

Headed out about 230 to U-bien bridge. This turned out to be one of our favorite locations in Mandalay. It is a lovely peaceful spot despite there being quite a few people around. In late afternoon the bridge is the route taken by locals back to their homes so you really can just find a quiet spot & watch life go by. School children on bikes on the way home, monks, fishermen….The light on the bridge in late afternoon is stunning. The teak poles glow orange. This visit we chose to just wander across the bridge to the village on the other side & then walk up through the village.

There are lots of fishermen in the lake submerged so that all that is above the water is from their noses up. The are perfectly still & then whoop they pull out a fish! There are also lots of duck hearders which are a treat to watch. Hearding ducks is definitely an art! Water buffallo were also being hearded back to their homes as evening fell.

This was the first of 4 visits we would end up making to the bridge over the next few days! An early morning vistit had the lake shrouded in mist & gave it a very magical air. We took a boat ride out on the lake at sunset the following 2 nights. As I said the light is just spectacular at this time.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 04:09 PM
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Ah! Loving your report!
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 04:22 PM
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Wonderful! Looking forward to more. Thanks so much for your report.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 04:46 PM
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Thank you so much for the encouragement.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 04:48 PM
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Other things we did in Mandalay. Visited the 3 ancient capitals of Amarapura, Ava & Sangaing.

Amarapura is where U Bein bridge is. There is also a large monastery here that at 1100 each morning the monks file out to eat their main meal & the tourists gather. It is a little weird to me as there are lots of tourists. The meal is usually donated by a group of some sort. On the day we went it was a Thai group that was on a religoius trip to Burma. The monks file out of their buildings & gather on the main lane & with alm bowls in had walk slowly to the dining area. One thing I noticed was that prior to the monks coming out the tourists were standing around chatting & laughing etc & as the monks started their walk the place fell silent. You could almost hear the bere feet of the monks hitting the ground as they walked. I obviously have no idea if this happens every day but it was very interesting. Some tourists headed straight to the dining room to take photos of the monks eating. We felt weird doing that so just wandered around to a quiet courtyard area & watched as the monks finished up & went back to the rest of their daily tasks.

Ava. You get a small boat across the river & then get a horse cart to get around the area. This horse cart was not very comfortable as you sat on wooden benches as you bounced along! Went out to an old teak monastery which was lovely. The smell of the oiled wood in the heat is intoxicating. There was no one else here except a few monks so we enjoyed just wandering around. There were very few tourists at Ava when we were there . We past a couple of horse carts going in the opposite direction or we arrived at a site as others left. It felt very remote. There are some temple ruins that have a definate feel of Cambodian ruins.

Sagaing is on the opposite side of the river (Ayeyarwady) to Ava. It is set on a hill & has hundreds of stupas & monasteries & nunneries. It is forested & feels cool & yet tropical. The people walking the roads seem to be all monks or nuns in their pink robes. The view from the top of the hill gives you a good perspective on the number of supas around & is also great for getting your bearings on the relationship between Sagaing, Ava the river & Mandalay itself.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 04:51 PM
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Mingun is about a one hour boat trip up the Ayeyarwady from Mandalay. We had a small “private” boat to take us up there. You get to see some good river life as you go. I have read reports of people not liking Mingun because it is a tourist trap & you get hammered by touts as soon as you get off the boat. The was fortunatley not our experience. When we arrived we headed in a slightly different direction to most people & we ended up having a peaceful visit with no hassels. The huge base of the unfinished pagoda with the impressive cracks left after an earthquake is quite simply huge! You can only imagine how big this would have been had it actually been finished. The Mingun bell is a 90 tonne bell that is apparently the largest uncracked bell in the world. There was a child there who was quite physically & mentally disabled. It seemed his job was to use a piece of wood to ring the bell for visitors. As we walked up he was sitting to one side. Saw us & jumped up with his wood. He then donged the bell & then just laughed hard as the sound rang out. The child was probably about 14-16yrs old & this really seemed to be his job. He was well fed & did not appear to live on the streets. I thought that in so many poor countries you would see this child in a bad way begging on the streets.

Hsinbyume Paya is a pagoda that is starkly white washed. Its whitness is accentuated in the bright sunlight. Surrounding the base of the pagoda are 7 levels of terraces that are shaped like hundreds of humps of the loch ness monster. It makes the whole thing look like an elaborate cake! The whitness of course relfects the sun & it is hot climbing the steps & looking around. I found myself taking refuge in spots of shade to take it all in.

One day in Mandaly we had a driver take us somewhere for lunch. Have no idea of the name of the place or anything but it was good! It was an open fronted store & busy. We were the only foriegners in there & the locals were more business people at lunch & some families. Ordered fish curry & it came with about 5 different plates of sides. Have no idea what most of them were but there was bamboo, lentils & others. It was very good food & tasty.
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