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Craig and Jeane’s Myanmar Trip Report 2007

Craig and Jeane’s Myanmar Trip Report 2007

Old Mar 8th, 2007, 02:07 PM
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Great report-- you're making me want to run right back to Inle lake.
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Old Mar 8th, 2007, 03:00 PM
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Thanks, Gloria - that means a lot coming from you - your responses to my posts and reports were a great help in planning my trip.
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Old Mar 9th, 2007, 02:08 AM
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Craig-keep it coming. Sounds great. How are your interactions with the Burmese people? How does this compare with your interactions in Thailand? 500 words or less.
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Old Mar 9th, 2007, 06:23 AM
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Andy, Our interactions with the Burmese people were generally good. They see very few westerners and even fewer Americans so they are rather inquisitive. The difference between the Thais and the Burmese is that a waiter in Bangkok will be courteous, smile, and generally bend over backwards for you while the Burmese do all of that plus go out of their way to strike up a genuine conversation with you.
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Old Mar 9th, 2007, 12:42 PM
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Thanks. It makes me want to go that much more.
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Old Mar 9th, 2007, 01:15 PM
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DAY 7 Sunday

We rose fairly early today so we had some time to wander down over to Khaung Dine to check out the activity at the 5-day market. The walk took a little longer than we had anticipated so we had to turn around almost as soon as we got there. However, it was interesting watching people going to the market with their wares and coming from the market with their purchases. It was also nice to get a little exercise in the cool morning air.

Today was our touristy day on Inle Lake. Joyce showed up promptly at 8 AM. We proceeded to walk all the way down to the dock and were actually pulling away on our boat before Jeane remembered that she needed a spare battery for her camera – the one she had was running low. So…we wound up leaving at 8:30 – no big deal. Our first destination was the 5-day market at In Dein Village. Along the way we passed the famous one-legged rowers, the fisherman with their conical nets and acres of floating gardens. The photography early in the morning was excellent. The water was dead calm as our comfortable motor boat cut through it. The market at In Dein was much more crowded with tourists than the others we had visited. However, we did get some interesting shots of a couple of barbers’ huts where locals were getting their hair cut. Hanging in the huts were those pictures of the various hairstyles that you see at barber shops all over the world. Beyond the market there is a bridge that leads to Shwe Inn Thein, a collection of ruined stupas. These fairly impressive ruins are somewhat similar to the restored stupas at Kakku, but there aren’t as many of them and the mystical atmosphere just doesn’t exist here. Beneath the bridge mothers were bathing their young children in the river, keeping a horde of photographers busy.

Joyce took us back to the boat via an alternate route away from all of the touristy commerce, a pleasant escape. Our next stops were the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda and the crafts villages: silversmith, weaving, and blacksmith. We also stopped to see the Padaung “long necked” women who are not native to Inle Lake but have a shop where they make colorful weavings. I have heard it referred to as kind of a “human zoo” but at least they ask you to buy something from them rather than charging an admission fee. Jeane took some photos here but I did not. She bought 3 of their colorful heavy cotton scarves which I gave as presents to my assistants at the office when I returned home. The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is interesting because it houses the 4 golden Buddha images that are ferried around the lake during the September-October lake festival. Jeane found some nice pieces at the silversmith – a couple of silver baskets and a silver necklace in a local style. We didn’t have enough cash on us to negotiate a purchase so we decided we would return on the next day. At the weaving village, Jeane was into taking photographs of the women who were working there. The lighting was not good and I’ve seen so many generic weaving demonstrations over the years that when Joyce asked me why I was just waiting, I told her I was bored – I hope she appreciated my honesty. At the blacksmith, Jeane bought a bell – she had told me before we left that she wanted to do this. I got some good photos here of their demonstration. I used the wash room there and right after I came out, Joyce offered me a rice cake. I told her I couldn’t accept right away – had to do the Purell first. She probably thinks we’re nuts but I prefered to play it safe.

Our last stop of the day was at the “Jumping Cat” monastery. Everyone calls it that so I have surrendered to the lowest common denominator in this case. When we arrived, the monks were just finishing up with the cats so we took a tour and Joyce convinced us to wait around until the next “act”. For what it’s worth, I got some good photos of the cats jumping through the monk’s hoop. The ride back was rougher than the ride out – the wind was driving the lake water into the boat. I should point out that we would not have survived the very intense sun (we were at high altitude and taking Doxycycline for malaria prevention) without SPF 30 sunscreen, hats and especially, the umbrellas supplied on the boat. The umbrellas were also useful in fending off the lake water splashing on us. Do not, I repeat, do not go out on the lake without sun protection.

We made arrangements with Joyce to meet the next morning at 8 AM for the all-day boat trip to Samka and the 5-day market there.

We asked that evening about doing a sunset canoe trip but it didn’t seem that the timing would work with our schedule. Even if it did, we would have to return to our hotel prior to the full sunset for safety reasons.
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Old Mar 9th, 2007, 01:48 PM
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DAY 8 Monday

We set out for Samka promptly at 8 AM. Samka (sometimes spelt Sankar or Samkar) is located on a reservoir connected by a long canal which runs from the southernmost tip of Inle Lake. It took about 3 hours to get there by boat from our hotel. We had to stop at Golden Island Cottages to pick up another conductor and to shell out $27 for the $6 pp Samka Zone and Pagoda entrance fee plus the $15 conductor fee. Like the fees for Kakku, these fees go to the Pao Collective. The area has only been open to foreigners since 2003. Joyce remained with us for the trip this time. On the way, she told us that she had been staying overnight in a guest house in Nyaung Shwe for the past 3 nights. With no car or driver and no public transportation, she could not return to her home in Taunggyi at night.

Our conductor’s name was Ou. She was Pao and wore the traditional costume. Ou’s English was not so good and it was tempting just to let Joyce do the talking. However, we felt it would be better to allow Ou to practice her English on us. The boat ride was very scenic and rural taking us past many pretty villages. Most of the villages had large wooden monasteries since they was the only venue for education before the government built schools in the area. Occasionally we would pass fishermen at very close range in the water up to their chests. It was a bit startling to suddenly see them like that.

When we arrived at the Samka, it was obvious that many had come to the 5-day market by boat. The market was fairly small and low-key. We wandered around for a short time and then headed down a dusty road into the village. We were glad we took the umbrellas from the boat with us as there was nothing to protect us from the sun. It had not been particularly chilly that morning when we set out and now it seemed like the hot season had definitely arrived. We walked around the village for a while, peaking inside a couple of ruined pagodas and checking out the local monastery. As we reached the end of the town at the edge of the water we saw several pagodas that had been submerged when the government built the reservoir. I had read somewhere that when the reservoir was built, a significant number of villagers were relocated.

From Samka, we crossed to the opposite side of the reservoir to Tharkong Pagoda. It was an attractive complex with a main pagoda, a small field of stupas and a temple containing a reclining Buddha statue surrounded by his followers – all worth a few snaps of the camera. From there, we walked past a school with a few young children playing outside. We had left our bags with the kids’ toys on the boat so we didn’t stay long. We continued on to another village where we the locals showed us how they made rice wine. Afterwards, we were served some samples. Apparently there are two grades: strong (40% alcohol) and very strong (60% alcohol). Joyce purchased a couple of pint bottles, saying they were for her husband and explaining that the quality of the product was much better here than at the market.

We walked down to the water where our boat driver was waiting for us. Our next stop was to a pottery-making village about ½ hour away. When we arrived there was a good-sized group of school children waiting for us almost as if they heard we were coming. Jeane and Joyce somehow convinced them all to stand together and wave for the camera. Afterwards I handed out all the pens that I had brought. The kids got pretty aggressive so I made a point of trying to give pens to the younger less pushy ones. The scene was quite a contrast to the organized and disciplined experience we had in Cambodia with Ponheary. In Myanmar, we were lucky to come in contact with school kids since the government technically prohibits foreigners from visiting schools at all. After a brief demonstration of how the village’s large pottery jars were made, we took a walk around. It was obvious that the jar-making business was not great as the village looked very poor. Understandably, the pottery jars are not popular with tourists because they are way too big and heavy to transport.

We continued on the Golden Island Cottages so we could drop off Ou. She was kind enough to pose for a picture before we left. Our last stop of the day was the silversmith village we had visited yesterday. As our boat passed into the complex, we were surprised to see several other family operations that we could have visited. Perhaps Joyce had chosen her favorite. Jeane and I found the 3 silver pieces she wanted to buy and we quickly settled on a price. They wrapped everything up nicely and then gave Jeane a pretty woven bag to carry it all. Jeane was very happy with the purchase. Incidentally, we had asked the previous day if there was any commission included in the price and were told that there was none.

Our day ended ½ hour later as we pulled up to the hotel dock. Check in time was 8 AM for our 9:20 flight so Joyce said she would meet us with the driver at 7 AM the next day.
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Old Mar 9th, 2007, 01:50 PM
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DAY 9 Tuesday

I awoke this morning feeling achy and when we went to breakfast I had no appetite – very unusual for me. I nibbled on some fruit and drank some orange juice but I could tell that I wasn’t 100%. We were ready to go when Joyce and the driver arrived. I was disappointed that it was a different driver since I had not tipped the first one but we did have a Toyota station wagon this time that could accommodate all of our bags. The ride to the airport was pleasant. Joyce asked for feedback on our tour and we told her all of the positive things (there were no negatives) that we could think of. She really was the best guide we have ever had. Like the others, Joyce is a free-lance guide. You can request her through Santa Maria or contact her directly: [email protected]. Her full Myanmar name is Nang Thein May.

When we arrived at the airport, Joyce explained that because it was also a military airport she could not help us check in. However, there would be someone at the airport that would assist us. Sure enough, along with the porters there was a lady to help us. At the terminal we stopped to use the wash room and when we came out, our bags were already being checked – with no excess baggage fee, by the way. Our jet left on time. There was a meal – a baloney sandwich which I ate even though I was still feeling achy.

We arrived in Yangon and didn’t understand that you are supposed to hand your baggage claim tickets to a porter for retrieval. We continued on to the arrivals area where Lillian was waiting for us. She explained the situation and arranged with a porter to pick up our bags. Shortly the porter returned saying that there were only 4, not the 5 bags that we checked. So Lillian went about trying to get a handle on the situation. Jeane went to sit down in the arrivals area. I went to the baggage claim area just in case the errant bag was there for me to identify. It was not there. I really wasn’t too concerned. There are so few flights in Myanmar that even with their primitive tracking systems it was bound to show up. Lillian just wanted to get confirmation that the airline people were doing everything they could to find the lost bag. After about an hour, we confirmed that the bag was not at Heho airport so it had to be somewhere else. Bottom line is that later in the day someone found out that their oh-so-reliable porter had accidentally grabbed an extra bag which was then returned to the airport, picked up by Santa Maria and returned to our hotel.

When we left the airport, we saw that Santa Maria had provided another vehicle to transport our extra bags to the hotel. We arrived at the Savoy and Lillian helped us to get checked in. We told her that we would need 45 minutes to get settled but I came down a little sooner to review the itinerary for the rest of the day – mostly shopping. Our first stop was right across the street from the hotel, the Royal Rose. Jeane saw some little purses that would be perfect to buy for her niece but Lillian for some reason thought we could do better elsewhere. So we left. I was beginning to feel that Lillian and I were not on the same page. She could not answer direct questions. She was often vague in telling us where we were heading next. I didn’t know if it was a gender thing (it was not), a cultural thing (I don’t think so), a conflict of interests (maybe), lack of experience (probably) or a combination. In any case, I signaled to Jeane about my frustration with Lillian. Jeane, at that point was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Our next stop was the Elephant House Factory and the showroom. If you love rattan, this is your place. They had a vast inventory, not just rattan, compared to any place else in Myanmar...but it was just not our style. It didn’t help that the power was out when we were there so there was no illumination. The Nagar Glass Factory was next. We enjoyed the demonstration, the personality of the owner and the pleasant setting but again the glass products just weren’t our style. I was hoping to pick up something for my assistants at work but just did not see anything that was appropriate – at least nothing that compared to the Benjarong china pieces from Thailand that I brought them last year. We decided to pass on the gem museum. I was still feeling achy and the heat of the day wasn’t helping. Lillian said that the driver needed to break for lunch and could we stop at Lady Luck (a tourist souvenir shop known to pay big commissions to guides) while he had lunch? We said ok but first we headed to Augustine’s, a dumpy antique place recommended in Treasures and Pleasures. We spent less than 5 minutes there. Lady Luck actually had some napkin rings that Jeane liked. It was one of those places where the sales people follow you around though and don’t even give you a chance to think – it drove Jeane nuts – I’m surprised that she bought anything.

We headed to the diplomatic area where all of the art galleries were located. We felt that the cubist oil painting we saw in the gallery in the Strand arcade was perfect but wanted to see other local art work for comparison. We went to three places: Art and Deco (which wasn’t an art gallery at all – and the crafts there were hugely overpriced compared to prices at Lady Luck), the Inya Gallery of Art (many interesting paintings) and New Treasure Art Gallery (the best of the lot). If we had not fallen for the painting at the Strand arcade first, we definitely would have bought something at New Treasure. This was a huge gallery representing many good local artists – we saw several paintings that we liked. After that we told Lillian we wanted to go to the Strand. Fortunately when we arrived, the painting we wanted was still there. There was no room for negotiation for our $350 3’ X 2’ Cubist-style painting. However we insisted that it be rolled in a cardboard tube and delivered to our hotel. The price was competitive with similar paintings we had seen elsewhere that day.

When we got back to the hotel, we decided to order room service – Jeane ordered a hamburger and I ordered lasagna – they both were fine. My appetite had returned temporarily but I went straight to bed, hoping to feel less achy by morning.
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Old Mar 9th, 2007, 08:18 PM
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great report...looking forward to the end in bkk...
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 02:53 AM
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Day 10 Wednesday

I woke up after 10 hours of sleep and still felt lousy. We had ordered room service for 6 AM because we were to get an early start on our day trip to Twante in order to catch the public ferry back. Again, I didn’t feel much like eating. With Jeane’s encouragement, I decided to give the Azythromycin a try. I popped two pills and hoped for the best. I knew that it would be another bumpy ride today so I suggested to Jeane that she go to Twante on her own with Lillian while I rested at the hotel. After reviewing the day’s itinerary with me, Jeane agreed.

After Jeane left the hotel with Lillian and the driver, I put on some shorts and headed down to the pool with a book. The Savoy pool is surrounded by the hotel building so there is plenty of shade. It was warm but comfortable that morning. There were a few people relaxing and having their breakfast by the pool. I regretted that our early departures necessitated having breakfast in our room every day because the setting by the pool was quite pleasant. After reading for a couple of hours, I decided I needed a change of venue and headed back to our suite. I read some more but got tired of it and decided to check out the internet. We had attempted to use the internet one night at the Aureum Palace but it “wasn’t working” so this would be my first time on-line since we arrived in Myanmar. The Savoy supposedly charges something like $4/hour to use their one computer. However, nothing was on our bill when we checked out. The internet service was on the slow side, but not bad really. I use Comcast for e-mail and there was no problem receiving and sending. There was an e-mail from the Peninsula Bangkok asking me to confirm our arrival the next day so it was good that I had checked. I e-mailed family at home to let them know we were still ok and did a quick post on our Bangkok thread on Fodor’s.

Toward the end of my hour on line, Jeane appeared and said “I’ve been looking for you”. I was surprised that she had returned so early – it was about 1:30 pm or so. She said that Lillian wanted to know if and when we wanted to go to dinner. I was starting to feel a little better so I thought it would be ok to make plans. Since I was in the middle of sending an e-mail, I asked her to go up to the room and grab my itinerary which would have the name of a restaurant. When she returned, I found the name of the restaurant – Monsoon and asked her to go to the front desk and have them call to see if we could get an early 6 PM reservation. 6 PM was no problem and since I was done with the computer, I arranged with Lillian to have the driver pick us up at about 5:40 PM. Since Lillian was not coming to the restaurant that evening, I asked her if we would see her the next morning for the drive to the airport. She hemmed and hawed and finally decided that she would be there.

After Lillian departed, I asked Jeane how her day went. She expressed frustration with Lillian. The reason they had returned so early is that there was no ferry from Twante at noon. Jeane thought Lillian knew this but hadn’t bothered to share it with her. They had visited a pottery village and Lillian had offered to take Jeane on our tour of the main pagoda in Twante. At this point in the trip, Jeane had seen enough pagodas and did not need to see another – Lillian understood. They stopped at the local market. Jeane said she felt that Lillian rushed her through it instead of permitting her to browse. So, it wasn’t just me that was frustrated with Lillian. As I was planning the trip with Santa Maria, we had debated on what to do with this “extra” day in Yangon – I thought that the 2-hour trip from Twante on the public ferry would be a highlight, an opportunity to view life along the river. Unfortunately for Jeane, it was not to be. Since the return to Yangon took only an hour, Lillian offered to take Jeane to Bogyoke (Scott) Market. I indicated earlier on this thread that Jeane didn’t find much of interest there. If I had to plan the trip all over again I don’t know what I would do with the extra day. By flying to Yangon from Heho one day and on to Bangkok the next we would feel rushed, even though we would have enjoyed another day in Bangkok. In any case, Jeane thought I got the better part of the deal by staying at the hotel. She suggested that I might have used my not feeling well as an excuse to remain behind – I didn’t disagree with her.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon repacking and getting ready to return to Bangkok. Our driver arrived promptly at 5:40 for our dinner out. I highly recommend the Monsoon restaurant. It is a pleasant little venue in the old part of town. Although we ordered Burmese food, the menu had something for everyone: Vietnamese, Thai, European, etc. Everything we ate was delicious. Our waiter was very friendly and we were able to speak with him at length. The restaurant is only a couple of years old and owned by a tour operator in Yangon. The customers are 98% westerners. It should not be surprising that Monsoon attracts lots of tour groups during high season since it’s owned by a tour operator. Because of our early reservation, we had the place pretty much to ourselves though.
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 03:00 AM
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The next morning I no longer felt achy and was hungry for our room service breakfast. Lillian, our driver and the extra vehicle for our luggage were at the hotel at 8 AM so we could arrive at the airport 1-1/2 hours ahead of our 10:05 flight to Bangkok. Lillian told us that she was not allowed inside the terminal but that she would wait for ½ hour to make sure we were on our way. Although Lillian had been difficult as a tour guide, she had really bailed us out a couple of times: helping us recover the lost bag and making arrangements to transport our extra luggage. Because of that, I gave her a pretty good tip – nothing that would compare with what I gave Joyce but an acknowledgement of the things she did for us just the same. The lines inside the terminal were long. An official looking man gestured to us that we should move into a much shorter line that was assigned to tour group leaders. Jeane whispered to me that he was probably looking for a tip. I said that if this saved us some time here, he just might get one. I don’t know how much time we really saved as the tour group leaders in front of us had to check in many, many passengers. However, we did seem to get checked in faster than the people who had previously been waiting in line in front of us. At check-in, we were fleeced for another $15 in excess baggage fees and the $10pp departure tax, but otherwise it went smoothly. I gave the official man a dollar – he asked for more but that was all he was going to get. Passport control was quick and painless. Our flight left on time and we were on our way “home” to Bangkok.

You can read about the Bangkok portion of our trip (2 days before and 2 days after) on the following thread:

http://tinyurl.com/2h76pv

All-in-all, our Myanmar trip was one of the best travel experiences we have ever had. Jeane says it was certainly our most exotic trip. There are only a couple of things I would have planned differently if we had to do it again. We would have skipped two of the day trips – Mt. Popa from Bagan and Twante from Yangon. Instead we would have preferred to just relax and hang out at our hotel on those days. With all of the flights and getting up early, we could definitely have used some more down time. Hopefully others can learn from our experiences.
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 05:46 AM
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a great report thanks for sharing it with us all...

can't wait for the in person shake down...
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 11:22 AM
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Craig,

Thank you for sharing and taking the time to post this awesome report. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip.

What was the best or most memorable thing you bought or brought from this trip?

I like the style in which you travel and hope to emulate it in our future trip to Myanmar.

Aloha!
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 01:46 PM
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Hello Craig,
I also enjoyed your trip report. I love all of your detail. Why did you decide to go to Burma, over all the other places in the world? How do you compare it to your other trips, like India? Where would you like to go next?
Thanks!
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 02:05 PM
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Thanks for your report, Craig. As I got to the end of your report, I could hear your frustration with the guide. I have to say that it would drive me crazy to have a guide with me every day. One of the things I love most is wandering around a new city. And if it's vacation, it seems only fair to have some late mornings with leisurely breakfasts.
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 03:28 PM
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HT - its hard to spend a lot of money in Myanmar. One thing we purchased that I didn't mention was a teak wood harp that looks like an alligator. It really makes a statement. The strings are strung from the tail to the back. It has a BIG mouth with many intricately carved teeth. Jeane wanted a harp and most of those we saw were cheap ones. Apparently, most come from Mandalay but we did not go there. She was fortunate to discover this one on display at the Savoy - it was selling for $75 so we bought it. It is about 1-1/2 feet high and 1-1/2 feet long.

Cookie - we have been concentrating on SE Asia for the last several years and Myanmar seemed like the next logical place to go. Our impression of Myanmar was that it was like a combination of Bali and India. It was definitely one of our favorite places to visit. As for where to next? - the list is long: China, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Galapagos Islands/Machu Picchu, India (Varanasi, Goa, Kerala and more of Rajasthan), etc. etc. etc....

Kathi, our trip would not have been anything near what it was with out our guides. Although Lillian, our guide in Yangon was a bit of a pain, she earned her keep in solving a couple of significant problems for us. In Bagan we never would have seen the Buddhist procession, especially from the vantage point we had, without the assistance of our guide. And in Inle Lake, our experiences with Joyce and her family were unparalleled. If not for her, Jeane's birthday would have been just another day.
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 05:14 PM
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Craig..I'm glad that you found Burma an exotic travel experience.
Was there anything that surprised you despite the research you did?

On another tack...it sounds like there were a lot of tourists around when you were there.Where were the tour groups from?
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 05:47 PM
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Craig - really enjoyed your trip report. Loved all the details. Myanmar is definitely on my list (along with some of the places on your list!). So much to see! Thank for sharing.
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Old Mar 11th, 2007, 01:36 AM
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Alice, No really big surprises other than the impromptu birthday celebration for Jeane. The roads were actually better than I expected and Yangon was a bit of a disappointment.

Although we try to avoid tour groups whenever possible we did see a few, especially around Inle Lake. It seemed that most of them were from Italy and Germany. Joyce told us before we left her at Inle Lake that her next engagement was with a group of 20 people from Israel.
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Old Mar 11th, 2007, 03:05 AM
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Craig it has been really interesting reading your trip report because you did so many different and interesting things from us especially at Inle Lake.It makes us want to go back there which we were not intending to do.

Did you end up buying any jewellery?I know that you were thinking of buying a ruby ring.

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