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Craig and Jeane’s Myanmar Trip Report 2007

Craig and Jeane’s Myanmar Trip Report 2007

Mar 5th, 2007, 01:24 PM
  #21  
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DAY 2

On to Bagan…We started our day at 5 AM with a room service breakfast that was included in the rate. Our driver arrived with Lillian at 5:30 for the drive to the airport for our 7 AM flight on Air Bagan. Upon arrival at the airport, the uniformed porters helped us with our bags while Lillian escorted us through the airline check-in. Others have complained about these porters who always seem to have their hand out for a tip. However, with the amount of luggage we had, I was grateful that they were there. I was resigned to part with a couple of dollars (or a couple thousand kyats) for their services before and after each flight. I also became accustomed to being fleeced with the excess baggage charge which ranged from $20 - $40 per flight depending on what we could negotiate. We paid no excess baggage charge at Suvarnabhumi or Heho airports but we did at the others. Security was pretty much the same as at all airports but there were no limits on liquids except for our JFK – BKK and BKK – JFK flights.

Once we were inside the terminal, we waited for our flight to be called. All of the airlines (Yangon Air, Air Mandalay, Myanmar Airways and Air Bagan) use the same terminal but Air Bagan was the only airline that had a sign that an agent held up with the airline name and flight number when it was time to board. Our flight of just over an hour left a few minutes late. The approach to Nyaung U was pretty amazing as we got our first view of the temples of Bagan.

At the airport we were greeted by our guide, Yeh-yeh who arranged to have our luggage retrieved. It took a while as all of the flights arrived at the same time. From the airport it was a 10 minute drive to the Aureum Palace Hotel and Resort. Yeh-yeh took our passports, hotel vouchers and airline tickets to get us checked in and to confirm our onward airline reservations. While the hotel staff was processing our reservation, Yeh-yeh sat down with me to discuss our itinerary. I showed him my list by area of sites we might want to visit that included several temples, the Nyaung U morning market and four lacquerware shops. I also indicated to him that we would like to visit at least one village and do a late afternoon or early morning horse cart ride while working around the next morning’s hot air balloon ride. Yeh-yeh was impressed that I had organized my list by area: Nyaung U, Old Bagan, Myinkaba village, New Bagan and the Central Plain. We decided on a tentative plan for the day and proceeded to finish checking in.

Jeane and I agreed to meet Yeh-yeh in 45 minutes back at the hotel’s open lobby once we had settled into our room. On the advice of another Fodorite we had upgraded from a one-story Jasmine Villa to a two-story Lotus Villa to afford us a better view of the sunset over the temples. It was excellent advice – the views from our 2nd floor deck were awesome. Our Lotus Villa had far more room than we needed but it was worth the extra $50/night for the view alone. The architecture and lighting throughout the resort were over-the-top. However, it seemed that there were some almost bizarre oversights:
*the flawless teakwood floors had layers of dust on them in low traffic areas,
*electrical wiring was exposed in places
*one of the lamps was plugged in by inserting bare stripped wires into the socket
*the rainwater showers didn’t work well because there was insufficient water pressure
*the lighting was great for mood-setting but lousy for reading or shaving (!)
*the bathroom amenities by the Jacuzzi (shampoo, etc.) were not labeled
All-in-all though it is still probably the nicest resort in Myanmar and for $235/night including breakfast, tax and service it was still quite a bargain.

Craig is offline  
Mar 5th, 2007, 01:26 PM
  #22  
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DAY 2 (continued)

We started our tour with Yeh-yeh at the Nyaung U market. This was not a tourist market so it was a great way to take in some local color. Also in Nyaung U we stopped at Myint Handicraft & Lacquerware, specializing in antiques and toured the golden Shwezigon Pagoda. From there we went to Old Bagan to see Ananda, Bagan’s largest and most impressive temple. After that we needed a break from temples. Yeh-yeh suggested that the U Ba Nyein lacquerware shop would have the best demonstration of the lacquerware process and that we should go there next even though its quality was not the highest. We enjoyed the demonstration and checked out their shop while Yeh-yeh and our driver grabbed a late lunch. Our next stop was the Golden Cuckoo, the famous family-owned lacquerware shop in Myinkaba. We went directly to their back building where they keep all the good stuff. There were some truly amazing pieces but because of the predominantly earthy colors, nothing really appealed to us. From there we went to Maung Aung Myin, another high quality family-owned shop. Again, we headed straight for the back room and again we saw many fine pieces, almost all with earthy colors. Here we found a large bowl that was sort of shaped like a big top inscribed with the astrological signs of the days of the week. Although it had the earthy coloring, we thought it might make the perfect souvenir especially since it could be disassembled in order to take it home with us. We decided to “sleep on it” and come back the next day if we were ready to buy. That concluded our touring for the day. We discussed various dinner options with Yeh-yeh and decided that we would have the driver come by at 6:30 PM. We would choose between two places once we had seen them: Aroma2, an Indian restaurant and BBB restaurant, Yeh-yeh’s recommendation. We returned to our hotel to relax and watch a beautiful sunset.

Our driver showed up promptly. We stopped at Aroma2 but were not impressed enough to stay. BBB seemed to have the nicer atmosphere so we decided to give it a shot. It was ok, but not memorable. There was musical entertainment and a puppeteer which made it interesting. We returned to the hotel and went straight to bed in order to be ready for our 5:50 AM pick-up for the hot air balloon ride.

Next: Balloons over Bagan
Craig is offline  
Mar 5th, 2007, 01:53 PM
  #23  
 
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I'm enjoying your report and look forward to the rest. Like Bob, I found Yangon to be quite charming and found it to be a pretty nice city. I thought it was much nicer looking than many other Asian cities!
laurieco is offline  
Mar 5th, 2007, 01:59 PM
  #24  
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Laurie,
I realize that you have been to more out of the way places than we have...What other Asian cities are you referring to?
Craig
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Mar 5th, 2007, 02:49 PM
  #25  
 
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Craig, pretty much every large Asian city, including Bangkok and Hong Kong. I find most Asian cities to be really ugly on the surface and at first sight. I don't recall having that feeling about Yangon. I thought it was quite nice. Maybe it's changed or I'm just remembering the nice parts.
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Mar 5th, 2007, 03:52 PM
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Craig, I appreciate the level of detail you are providing in your report.

Keep it coming!
Kathie is online now  
Mar 5th, 2007, 04:34 PM
  #27  
 
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Craig,

Glad to hear that you enjoyed the Lotus Villa! In our room at the Aureum we had the same problems that you've described and did talk to the Scottish GM about it. He said that they were teething problems and they had planed to fix everything after the new year high season. I guess they didn't do it!

How was the temperature when you were there?

Cheers,




Hanuman is offline  
Mar 5th, 2007, 05:30 PM
  #28  
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Hanuman, Daytime temps were pleasant - 80's maybe. It was cooler at night but not cold. Very dry.
Craig is offline  
Mar 5th, 2007, 05:54 PM
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... and dusty - almost dessert like!
Hanuman is offline  
Mar 5th, 2007, 05:59 PM
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oops that's suppose to be "desert like" not dessert!
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Mar 5th, 2007, 07:38 PM
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loving the report...keep it coming...
rhkkmk is offline  
Mar 6th, 2007, 01:37 AM
  #32  
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DAY 3

We woke up early again for our morning balloon ride. The Balloons over Bagan WWII bus arrived on time. There was a slight chill in the air as the old rattling vehicle made the half hour trip to the field where we would take off. I was glad to have brought along my fleecy sweat shirt to keep warm. Jeane, of course had the heavy artillery – several layers of clothing as she gets cold easily. We had one stop along the way at Bagan Golf Club to pick up 4 more passengers.

Pastries, tea and coffee were waiting for us when we arrived. The lead pilot briefed us safety procedures for launching and landing. The sun had not yet risen as the 3 balloons were inflated with hot air. Shwezigon Pagoda on the opposite side of the open field was starting to come into view. Having already been assigned to our balloons, we were ready to go once they were fully inflated. Each balloon held 8 passengers plus a pilot. We were in the lead balloon. There was another couple in our balloon from NYC with whom we exchanged pleasantries. They were the only other Americans we saw on our entire trip.

The sun was just starting to rise as Ian our pilot guided our balloon to a successful lift-off. Shwezigon’s golden stupa started to gleam in the distance. The winds were light that day as we drifted over Old Bagan following the course of the distant Irrawaddy River toward New Bagan and the central plain. The scene was quite surreal – temples poking through the misty smoke on the ground, children waving as we all yelled “hellooo, mingala-ba!” Words can not do this experience justice. Jeane and I alternated between calmly soaking up the view and snapping photos like crazy. We ended up with some great shots. Jeane even got a couple of our pilot in action – I will post these on our photo web site later. Ian was able to navigate the balloon right over his home – he waved to his household staff as we passed by. The ride lasted about an hour and 15 minutes – longer than usual since the wind was so calm. We landed in a field near Dhammayazika Pagoda. The champagne was already waiting for us. Ian handed out our certificates and we were able to chat with him for a while. He’s a registered pilot from Bristol, England who lives in Myanmar during the ballooning season. When the season ends March 31st he will head back to Europe where he will tour on a ballooning circuit there.

We had two stops along the way before we arrived at our hotel at about 9:15. Yeh-yeh was scheduled to meet us at 9:30 but we hadn’t yet had breakfast. We dropped off our stuff in the room. As we headed to the restaurant I saw Yeh-yeh who had already arrived and let him know that we would be getting off to a later start than planned. The buffet breakfasts at the open-air Aureum Palace restaurant are as good as you can find anywhere. The resort was not at all full so there were only one or two other couples in the restaurant at any given time.

We spent the rest of the morning and the early afternoon with Yeh-yeh and our driver. We visited Dhammayazika, Manuha and Nan temples and perhaps one other. Along the way we wandered through a very interesting farming village. We also visited a bamboo village where we watched the craftspeople put together bamboo walls for local homes. Our last stop was at Maung Aung Myin where we purchased our lacquerware bowl – I think it was $60 or $70, a bargain for a 14-layer piece.

We headed back to the hotel for a mid afternoon break. At about 5 PM, Yeh-yeh returned to the hotel with our driver. The plan was for us to do a 45-minute horse-cart ride through Old Bagan to Shwe San Daw Pagoda for the sunset and then be driven to Sunset Garden, a riverside restaurant that Yeh-yeh recommended for dinner. It was a good plan. 45 minutes was the perfect amount of time for the horse-cart ride – enough time to wander amongst the temples and enjoy the quiet of the late afternoon. I expected that Shwe San Daw would be crowded and it was, for good reason. We staked our claim to a spot way up high, facing the river and the sunset. We were not disappointed – we shot some great photos from there. Dinner at Sunset Garden was fine, but again not memorable. The restaurant is a big tourist stop at lunch time but for dinner it was just a nice quiet outdoor venue by the river – a pleasant place to end the day.

Coming up next: Salay and Mt. Popa
Craig is offline  
Mar 6th, 2007, 05:18 AM
  #33  
 
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Craig,

I am really enjoying your report. The balloon ride sound magical.

robmac is offline  
Mar 6th, 2007, 12:28 PM
  #34  
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DAY 4

Our last full day in Bagan started with a nice surprise. Yeh-yeh had asked us the night before if we would like to observe a Buddhist procession prior to driving out to Salay and Mt. Popa. We of course said we’d love to and we agreed to meet Yeh-yeh and our driver at 8:30 AM. It was great to “sleep in” for once and have breakfast at a fairly normal time. In Myanmar, processions are sponsored by the parents of novices-to-be, kind of an initiation ceremony. The whole town participates with all of the local girls dressing up in traditional costumes and many others playing various roles. The procession was to be held in Old Bagan and as we arrived, we could see that things were already under way with a colorful parade heading down the road in front of us. Yeh-yeh indicated that we hadn’t missed a thing and proceeded to ask around about the parade route so that we could locate ourselves in a favorable place to take photos. Yeh-yeh took us to a road a couple of blocks away and we waited for the procession to arrive. Well, we really lucked out – as it happens, the novices’ parents had hired a videographer to record the event and he was stationed with his assistant right next to us. So not only were we in the perfect place to take photos but the assistant was asking the participants to stop and pose for the video camera as they passed by. Since we were right there with him, the participants were posing for us as well. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, I just posted some preliminary photos of this possession on our photo website:

http://craigandjeane.photosite.com/Album4/

We didn’t set out for Salay and Mt. Popa until 9:45. The drive to Salay was about 1-1/2 hours over a very bumpy road. At Salay, there was an interesting wooden monastery built in the late 1800’s and not much else. From there, it was another 1-1/2 hours over another very bumpy road to Mt. Popa. We had been advised on a couple of occasions not to bother climbing Mt. Popa and I explained to Yeh-yeh that “because of my bad back” climbing up 777 stairs while barefoot would not be a good idea (I did not mention my aversion to stepping in the monkey poop which is apparently everywhere). I had suggested we drive up to Mt. Popa Resort and check out the view from there instead. I’m not sure Yeh-yeh liked that idea but he went along – maybe he thought he would get in trouble with the ancestral spirit (the Nat) that is said to reside on Mt. Popa. In any case, we did visit the tacky display of 37 mannequin-like Nats at the entrance to the stairs at the bottom of the mountain and enjoyed the wonderful views at the Mt. Popa Resort. From the resort it was another 1-1/2 hours over a slightly better road back to our hotel. Jeane and I decided that if we were able to do it all over again, we would not include this day trip on our itinerary.

Since we would be rising fairly early the next day, we enjoyed a very pleasant but not very memorable dinner at the Aureum palace restaurant.

Coming up next: Inle Lake
Craig is offline  
Mar 6th, 2007, 02:04 PM
  #35  
 
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Welcome back Craig!

I'm also reliving my trip by reading about yours.

I have to agree with lauieco and rhkkmk in that I really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Yangon. I liked it a lot more than I did Mandalay.

I had a laugh remembering the problems people had loading my luggage, and it was just me! The cars would visibly sag lower, and lower with each piece that was loaded. Can't imagine the cars holding double that!

I also wanted to agree with something else rhkkmk said, it was a bit of a shock to realise that although the local people were pleased to see tourist, they don't seem to be losing sleep over the lack of western tourists (compared to the volume their neighbors receive).

Does anyone know if other Asian countries have the same debate? I was surprised by the number of Korean visitors and residents.

Write on!
Femi is offline  
Mar 6th, 2007, 02:09 PM
  #36  
 
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What was all the baggage for? It is hard to imagine going to a tropical country with all that luggage - were you travelling with Brian & Mila Mulroney by chance? and $235 for a hotel in Burma? That's like 1 Million anywhere else. How could it be so expensive? I ws just in Sumatra 16 days & even w/extra airfares & gifts, spent uner $1000. - & that's 16 days.
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Mar 6th, 2007, 02:28 PM
  #37  
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Merckxxx - what can I say? We had a lot of baggage because we're high-maintenance, we buy a lot of stuff and we carry a lot of photo equipment. The $235 was for a villa the size of some people's homes in the USA and if you're so concerned about how much people spend or carry, maybe you should hang out more often on Lonely Planet's Thorntree rather than here.
Craig is offline  
Mar 6th, 2007, 03:15 PM
  #38  
 
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Craig, great report, and you don't have to apologize for your luggage or how much you spend on a hotel, especially to the likes of merckxxx.
laurieco is offline  
Mar 6th, 2007, 03:33 PM
  #39  
 
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Wonderful photos -- love the dancing man with umbrella, everything ! Isn't it amazing to look at your photos after a trip -- I find most of my trips so awash in detail it takes coming home to really start to "see" what you've "seen". Thanks for posting those !
jenskar is offline  
Mar 6th, 2007, 05:48 PM
  #40  
 
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So what's your point, Merkxxx? Was your trip better because you spent less?

Good grief, or WGAFS! Everyone travels, works, lives at different levels. I'm glad you're happy with your travel style and ven more glad the Craig is happy with his, and shares his trip reports as well.

I don't remember seeing your Sumatra report....

And I agree, Craig, no apologies necessary. And you know I love your travel style, as I copied it so closely in India!!
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