Trip report Burma/Myanmar

Old Aug 31st, 2006, 07:57 PM
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Trip report Burma/Myanmar

I need to preface this report with some organisational matters:
I decided (husband and brother agreed!??) that we would fly into Yangon, fly to Mandalay, boat to Bagan, fly to Heho (Inle Lake) and fly back to Yangon. This way we could spend as much time as possible in each of the places. On reflection it was the way to go although all of us agree it would have been better had we been able to spend one more day in Bagan – maybe next time.
Weather wise it was bloody hot!!! (This is coming from a West Aussie where summer temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees). Probably exacerbated by the high humidity. Travelling in the monsoon season meant that we were sometimes inundated but this did not limit us and we were able to see most of the sights we wanted to see.

I wanted to book and pay as much as I could beforehand so that we were not burdened with carrying a lot of cash. Using the information that Craig and other Fodorites provided I booked and paid our hotel accommodation in advance using credit card. The hotels we stayed at were
• Central Hotel in Yangon (I would have preferred Traders but brother wanted Central - I had to seem to give in to him on something didn’t I??)
• Mandalay – Mandalay Sedona
• Bagan – Bagan Hotel (I think this is a government hotel but Thiripsaya (?) and Bagan Thante were booked out!!
• Inle Lake – Lake View Resort

I used the sites that Craig recommended for booking accommodation: Precision Reservations and Direct Rooms and did not encounter any problems. Once bookings were confirmed and debited from the credit card they emailed me a hotel voucher. Make sure if you are going to do the same that you do not lose the copy as hotel receptionists request them.

I booked our flights with Air Mandalay on the internet. Unfortunately, we could not pay for these by credit card before hand. Air Mandalay organised for tickets to be delivered to us on arrival at our hotel. The flights were organised Yangon to Mandalay (90 minutes via Heho/Inle Lake), Bagan to Heho/Inle Lake (90 minutes via Mandalay) and Heho/Inle Lake to Yangon (Air Bagan 60 minutes). Altogether, it cost us per person US$209.00. We flew Air Bagan on the last leg rather than Air Mandalay because it was a direct flight back to Yangon.
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Old Aug 31st, 2006, 08:01 PM
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OK so here it is…..excuse the change in tense..and other grammatical errors…

Part One Yangon (first day), Mandalay and Pyin-Oo-Lwin

Overall, I have to say that it was the trip of a lifetime and for me personally, the sights we saw and the experiences we had in Myanmar were awe inspiring, poignant, humbling and enlightening on many levels…..I learnt a lot about my heritage and I appreciate that much more just how fortunate my life is.

After a two and a half hour trip from Singapore via Jetstar Asia we arrived in Yangon at 9.45am. Yangon airport is like a “pagoda on the outside and a barn inside.” We go through customs doing the right thing by declaring watches, gold coin and necklace and rings (I left my jade ring bought in Chiang Mai in 2000 in Singapore as a precaution). As it turns out it was all for nought as we are not questioned about anything we have bought on the way out of Myanmar.

After customs we stop off at the tourist office/stall where we grab about 4-5 free maps of Yangon restaurants, Yangon shopping, maps of the city and other places in Myanmar. This turns out to be a good move as we meet people later on who do not have these maps. We then asked if it is possible for them to organise a taxi to our hotel. It turns out that one of the staff wants to go into town so we join her for the fee of US$5.00.

Then it was out of the airport to be confronted by a large group of men wanting to carry our luggage to the taxi. Of course we did not have any kyats and so they get small change which turns out to be a couple of US$ and some Singapore $ - a sizable amount of money we discover later.

The journey to our hotel was very interesting. Yangon is a large, bustling and diverse city with some multi -storey buildings mixed with pagodas, various forms of transport – crowded buses, makeshift trucks, motorbikes and bicycles, lots of dogs wandering by the roadside, monks, and people carrying bamboo poles laden with assorted goods.

After fifty minutes we arrived at our hotel – the Central and hand in our hotel voucher. There is a girl from Air Mandalay waiting and within a short time we have all our internal air travel tickets -and she gives us some change in dollars – a good thing because we need from time to time to use small dollar notes. Within five minutes of our arrival the concierge asks us whether we want to change some money. At the time I think to myself, “Can he ask that so openly in the hotel lobby? Is it legal?” Well, as it turns out he can, and what is more, he arranges to exchange US dollars at a reasonable 1350 Kyats to the dollar rate.

Our hotel room was OK- nothing flash - but then we are not going to spend too much time in the room. It was clean and comfortable. It cost US$66 and it had separate toilet/bathroom, air-conditioning, mini bar and satellite TV and guess what we could get – CNN??? I am surprised – I thought if anything this might have been banned but it is not- the first of many myths that are dispelled.

After a quick cup of tea in our room (we always carry a jug with us) we decided to wander over to Boyoke Market and then later in the afternoon go to Swedagon Pagoda to enjoy a couple of hours there before sunset. The Market was a 5 minute walk down Boyoke St and across a footbridge to arrive on the first floor. There are numerous fabric shops and a traditional handicrafts shop selling cheap lacquer ware and other assorted souvenirs. Downstairs there are shops selling jewellery, ornate wooden handicrafts, artwork and clothes. Behind this façade facing the street is the main building which has more jewellery shops, clothing, fabric and assorted souvenir shops. Almost immediately, we find ourselves followed by young children and young mothers trying to sell postcards and lacquer ware. They are very persistent and my husband relents. I buy a back pack (US$8) and pink caftan top (US$7) to wear to the pagodas.

At 2pm (I thought it was 4pm –had not adjusted my watch) we caught a taxi outside the markets for Swedagon (2000 Kyats). We arrived at a gate, paid our US$15 for entry, took off our shoes and then proceeded into a lift where we were met by a young man who said he could act as a guide for us for US$10.00. We agreed to use his services. After walking along a short corridor we entered Swedagon which is so big and loaded with numerous gold stupas, Buddhas and other temple paraphernalia it is overwhelming. Our guide was Ok – not brilliant but we do learn that at each corner of the pagoda is a Buddha dedicated to a particular birth day and that people will go to their particular Buddha and pour water over its head for good luck. We of course adopted the custom. Again, we are followed by children this time a novice monk but he seems just interested in us, not our money although I notice later, some small girls dressed as monks begging. We are told that there are bogus monks who ask for money and they are often near tourist sites like Swedagon. We spend 4 hours at Swedagon just soaking in the splendour and relative lack of commerciality of the place. There are lots of ordinary Burmese praying, pouring water over the birth day Buddha or just simply sitting or eating.

Our guide gave us the name of an authentic Burmese restaurant and so we decided to catch a taxi there. Unfortunately, in the meantime there has been an enormous thunderstorm, the streets are overflowing with water and it is still raining. There are no taxis outside Swedagon so we go across the road and eventually an official looking gentleman negotiates a taxi for us. The taxi is rather decrepit (window handle falls out – holes in seats etc.) and the driver does not seem to understand English. After a circuitous route back and some reversing back along the street we have gone down twice he drops us at a corner which is filled with water. Yes he was lost and now we were!! It was dark, wet and all we had was a water sodden map.

After, some anxious moments and asking every second person to confirm where we were we eventually make it to the restaurant which does turn out to be very nice and clean. Total cost 10.000 kyat. Replenished with food and beer (no wine for me!) we gathered our courage back and decided we would do some walking to see Chinatown and Sule Pagoda. This turns out to be an exotic experience of sights and smells of street life – flowers, samoosas and other foods being fried in hot oil, people sitting together and eating their meal, and people selling large durian, various vegetables, fish, meat and assorted spices all oblivious to the mud!

After a longish walk we turned a corner and there was Sule! My brother then decided he was going to get a good photo and this was going to be from the middle median strip. He was very excited and walked very fast with me lagging behind. Next thing he was half way down a gaping hole too shocked and sore to swear!! One of the slabs over the storm drain was not secure and had tilted. Luckily, he did not break anything. A gentleman across the road came over to make sure he was OK. Within a minute he was asking whether we wanted to change money. You have to laugh!!

A little wiser and more carefully we made our way back to the hotel vowing to always have our torches with us.

We watched a bit of CNN and the continuing sad saga of Lebanon before preparing for the flight to Mandalay the next morning.

Mandalay: We were up early to catch the Air Mandalay flight to Mandalay at 9.00am. Breakfast buffet first - Some fatty bacon with not much meat, eggs, fried rice, orange cordial – not very appetising. There was a large table of Burmese people near us who were with World Vision.
The hotel staff organised a taxi for us to get to the airport. Cost: 7,500 kyat- we give him 8,000 kyat. At the domestic airport we were once again met by a barrage of young men eager to carry our luggage and manage them to be put in the baggage area. This time we are ready with 500 kyats each. The airport area is quite small –we are ushered into a waiting area which is lined with plastic chairs and a coloured Air Mandalay sticker was placed on our chests. We later discover this is so the hostesses know which place we are going to get off. The plane is going to Mandalay via Heho. After a short wait we board the plane. It is a jet propelled plane with rows of four seats, two seats on either side of the central passage. It was free seating. We are given a refreshing tissue, glass of water or soft drink and later a snack bun. The plane takes 60 minutes to Heho, 10 minutes stop and then another 30 minutes to Mandalay. It seems to me that the pilot has dreams of being a racing driver as his takeoffs are very short and when we arrive at each destination he doesn’t slow down before he turns to face the airport. It was all very efficient.

Mandalay Airport is a new complex and there were very few airport staff to be seen. It does not appear to have any shops at all – just an empty shell. No people to help with luggage (this is a relief!) not even too many taxis. When we go outside we find most other people on the plane have already gone and it seems all the taxis. This is when we discover that not every taxi has permission to carry foreigners –only blue taxis. Eventually, we negotiated a taxi to take us to our hotel for US$15.The airport it turns out is a very long way out of the city which explains the lack of willing “porters” and taxis.

The Sedona Hotel is a very nice hotel- a 4/5 star. It has a pool, gym, massage area, bar with pool table, internet access (you can email and receive emails provided it is to the hotel website) a shop, Italian restaurant and buffet in the dining room at night. It also accepts credit card! We are given a triple room facing Mandalay Hill. The view is very nice. The room itself is quite large and all the facilities you would expect. No CNN but BBC on the TV!!
The hotel does not appear to have many people staying – mainly French and Spanish tourists.

After getting settled we decided that we would walk into the centre of the city and do a bit of exploration. This turns out to be a bit ambitious as it is very hot and muggy and a lot further than what we anticipated. The maps we have are not to scale!! After numerous enquiries from trishaw drivers we go with Tod and his little blue taxi (2 stroke- a bit like a Tuk Tuk). Tod takes us to the Japan Cyber internet café to send some emails to let everyone know we are safe. It takes forever and all we have are hotmail addresses for our kids so it is not very fulfilling).Afterwards, Tod takes us to Mahamuni pagoda and its golden Buddha- cast around 1st or 5th AD and covered in 15 cm layer of gold. This experience is a bit unsettling for me. It has been raining heavily and there are a lot of young, naked boys out enjoying the rain. They are orphans and there are a lot of beggars sitting very solemnly in the pagoda surrounds. One woman with blue eyes haunts me – this could be one of my relatives I think! A monk who wants to practise his English takes up with my brother and elaborates about the pagoda and the children who shelter in the pagoda. He doesn’t want money just conversation. That night we walked to the Green Elephant and have a rather nice meal for about US$10 each. We discover we can send an email through the hotel so we try once more to send an email to our normal email addresses and hope that the family has a look at it and send a response back.

Breakfast at the Sedona is a bit like the breakfast at a 4/5 star in Thailand- rice porridge, a variety of Asian style snack like food (chicken sausages etc),cold meat and salads, fresh fruit, toast, scrambled eggs, omelette made to order. The next day is spent first of all at Mandalay Hill. Tod’s taxi cannot go the full distance so we catch a taxi/van half way up along with the local people. This is the best part – actually joining in with them on a rather hair raising, hair pin breakneck journey up the hill. The 360 degree view is spectacular and the pagoda is a shimmering, mirror fantasy with voluptuous golden Buddhas smiling down. On our way down we stop at another small pagoda and watch a game of cane-ball being played in one of the backyards. Tod takes us to see some pounding of gold leaf and to a shop which specialises in carving white marble. I buy a white marble Buddha. Tod also takes us to some Anglo-Burmese people who may be able to help us find our relatives. They are obviously “Anglo” as they are all over six feet tall (in a country where the average height of males is five feet four) and quite fair – three of them have blue eyes. They take us to another family who are able to give us the address of my mother’s nieces. Tod recommends a restaurant for dinner and we agree that he will take us later that night. We go back to the hotel and have a relaxing swim and drink. The restaurant is a total failure. Although it is quite crowded with Burmese customers my husband smells something he doesn’t like (Durian maybe) and when we start eating my brother feels even worse and only has a few mouthfuls. This is a pity as we are given a range of soups and accompaniments along with the meals we order. Tod is waiting outside and suggests we go to the Moustache Brothers show which starts at 8.30pm. The jokes are a bit corny but I do learn a little about the Burmese costumes and some of the Burmese dances. I buy a puppet (US$20) which they appear to be very excited about. I cannot tell you whether it was cheaper here than elsewhere but since coming home I am glad I bought one.

The next day is the big adventure to Maymyo or Pywin U Lwin to try to follow my parent’s footsteps and perhaps connect with some relatives. We have organised through the hotel an air-conditioned blue numbered plate (for foreigners) taxi/car and driver for the day. This costs us US$50. The drive on the main Mandalay- Lashio road to Maymyo is very interesting- hairpin bends, hand drawn carts, bicycles, crowded buses, fully laden cars and trucks both ways (smuggling goods between China/Burma), people by the road selling bootleg petrol in jerry cans, roadside markets, occasional pagodas, rice fields, bullocks, eucalyptus trees (“shades” of Aus) and an informative driver. He tells us that the Chinese are moving into Mandalay in a big way.

Maymyo is a dusty town with wide streets and it appears, not a Westerner in sight. We head first to the places our parents went to school and the hospital where my mother worked. The buildings are all still there but a little worse for wear. We discover the house my father grew up in is now a small hotel and end up having afternoon tea there. The receptionist is very nice and helps us locating various places we want to see. We give her a woman’s magazine we have brought. It is obvious from the conversation we have had with her she also needs a decent pair of reading glasses so we ask her to choose a pair from the twenty or so we have brought with us. We spend some time at the markets as we want to buy something that we can take home and say to my mother, “this came from your hometown”. My brother buys two bronze Chinthas, a hand woven blanket, some lungis and a Shan bag. I buy a couple of bronze gnats. I really like the market as it an authentic market for the local population – it is not geared for tourists. We are not harassed for anything in the time we are there. We do catch up with relatives and exchange gifts and take lots of photographs. Mum is going to be pleased. We arrive back in Mandalay quite late and have a fabulous international buffet at the hotel for $12.00. I can even have a glass of French red wine for US$6.00!!

The next day we have organised with Tod for US$20 that he will take us to Sagaing, Amaputra and U Bein Bridge. The drive to Sagaing takes about and hour. Sagaing was once the capital of the Shan Kingdom and is now a major Buddhist centre. You have to cross the Sagaing Bridge and pay US$3.00 to see the various pagodas and other sites dotted throughout Sagaing and Mingun. Tod drops us off at two lion gate while we climb the 350 steps up to Sagaing Hill. It is extremely hot so we have to stop at various intervals at what appear to be viewing platforms. The views are magnificent and we take lots and lots of photos. Once we get to the top there is again a shimmering, golden stupa and inside a number of Buddhas. It is well worth the climb. Tod then takes us to U Bein Bridge. This is the bridge I think my mother might have used to cross when she and her family tried to flee Burma during WW2 but I could be wrong. It is a 1.2 km bridge with over a thousand teak poles and all wood decking. There are the usual stalls selling various souvenirs. We appear to be the only foreigners. My husband buys a wooden wall plaque. There are five “rest houses” along the bridge. At these, women sell cigarettes, water and snacks (they look like a Burmese version of chips) I stay in the middle of the bridge soaking in the atmosphere while my husband and brother cross to the other side and take a boat back. I believe that they took pity on the boatman who had laboriously paddled his way across so he could pick them up on the way back.(2,500 kyats).They also have in tow a girl who has followed them the whole way trying to sell them some bracelets. We give her some money. I can’t tell you much about Amaputra. It looked interesting but we were so hot we decided that we would forgo a visit. If there is one place that I would like to go back to it is back to Sagaing.
On the way back Tod drops us off at Zeigyo markets. This is a huge warehouse which is filled to the brim with lots of stalls selling fabrics, clothing, and Burmese arts and crafts quite claustrophobic really given how hot it was. It was an experience – I have never seen so many tightly packed stalls anywhere else. Brother and husband buy some shirts, I buy a shan bag. We then headed home to a swim, the Green Elephant again and an evening glass of red wine back at the hotel ready for the very early morning boat ride to Bagan.
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Old Aug 31st, 2006, 08:49 PM
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great report..keep it coming

i bet craig will be jumping up and down as he reads this....in anticipation of his trip
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Old Aug 31st, 2006, 08:58 PM
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great report....lots of great info, more more!
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Old Aug 31st, 2006, 10:57 PM
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Fantastic report. Full of useful information.I will print it off for future reference.
Looking forward to the next episode.

Gill.
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Old Aug 31st, 2006, 10:59 PM
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Thanks for the encouragement..BTW couple of spelling errors
Bogyoke Street
Shwedagon Pagoda
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Old Sep 1st, 2006, 02:33 AM
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Your attention to detail makes the report come alive. You make Myanmar seem enchanting. Keep it coming. That Craig is very helpful for a Yankee fan.
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Old Sep 1st, 2006, 07:45 AM
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Albaaust, Just wanted to acknowledge your report and thank you for posting. We have a long holiday weekend here in the USA and I am leaving on a trip shortly that will keep me away from my computer until Monday. I look forward to reading your report its entirety (assuming you have finished it) when I get back.
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Old Sep 1st, 2006, 07:47 AM
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I hope this does provide a little more information for Craig as he was a great help but having just re read hope it is not too much of a marathon..

Hope he gets to read it as it appears some people are having problems accessing the site.

BTW another spelling error: Amarapura

Do any of you have any questions so far?
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Old Sep 1st, 2006, 05:24 PM
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Thanks so much for the great report. Love the detail. Can't wait for more.
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Old Sep 1st, 2006, 07:39 PM
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aloha albaaust,

could you share alittle information about
your mums family connection to burma?
was she born there?
were you able to communicate with your relatives?
any major problems while travelling?

this is a great travel report...cant
wait for the next edition

kai
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Old Sep 2nd, 2006, 08:40 AM
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Kai- my mother was born in Maymyo (Pyin U Lwin) my father in Mandalay but he spent most of his childhood in Maymyo.Both my parents considered themselves as British/Anglo Burmese.

My father's family was quite wealthy as you can infer from the fact that his house is now a hotel.When WW2 broke out my father joined the British army wheras my mother was still an adolescent. Her family tried to escape into India but they were caught and brought back to Maymyo where they remained as prisoners of war until the end of WW2.After the war my father went to England and then Australia. My mother followed a couple of years after.They were able to migrate to Australia in the 50s because they had British passports(at that time Australia had what was known as the "White Australia Policy").

My father and mother were the lucky ones which has been confirmed well and truly having now been to Burma and come into contact with "Anglos" in Burma and relatives left behind.

My mother lost contact with her elder sister and her children I think mainly because the mail into and out of Burma was/is pretty eratic and screened quite rigidly.

Our contact with relatives on this visit I have to say was pretty distressing because even though they have reasonable degrees (law, education) they are still living on the poverty line.

On another tack....
We had absolutely no problems while travelling. Apart from a small delay with the departure of a plane in Heho everything went smoothly.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2006, 08:42 AM
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I'll try and post the Bagan bit tomorrow..stay tuned...
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Old Sep 4th, 2006, 01:23 AM
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I have organised through the hotel the booking of the boat and pick up taxi. The boat ticket costs US$18. We are up at 5am to catch the boat which leaves at 6am. The Sedona gives us a box breakfast but I also have brought some boxed orange juice and some muesli bars that I brought from Australia. The juice in particular goes down well later in the day. The boat’s passengers are mainly foreigners (French, Spanish and a sprinkling of Americans) but there are a few Burmese. We are allocated some seats which are reasonably comfortable but as soon as the boat takes off everyone leaves to find a spot on the upper decks. This is where most people spend most of the trip as the scenes beside the river are constantly changing: rice fields, farmers working in the fields with their bullocks, villages, houses on stilts, pagodas, bridges and ordinary people going about their normal lives. Indeed, there is much to keep you interested and for a person who gets travel sick it is very pleasant and the time goes by quickly. The weather is absolutely beautiful but it does get hot and the steel decks are pretty sizzling to walk on with bare feet. The boat has a restaurant on board but we stick to the food we have brought with us. There are two very quick stops not enough time to get off or for anyone to get on board. One is where women sell various small cotton blankets. There are a frantic couple of minutes of bargaining and I buy one for about US$2. The girl I buy the blanket from also indicates if she could have a squirt of perfume. I don’t have any but in the frenetic minute or so am able to grab a toothbrush and shampoo that I have sequestered from the hotel and manage to pass it to her. She likes it!! The boat trip is certainly one of the highlights for us!

We arrive around 3pm to a set of steps and to a crowd of anxious young men eager to carry our cases to the waiting taxis. I am glad that I have organised for our hotel to pick us up. (US$5). Also waiting are a couple of officials who are checking passports and collecting US$10 from each person for the ticket to see the sites of Bagan. They refuse to accept US$20 from one of the passengers because it is crumpled. It is the first time I actually hear some raised voices and it is not from the Burmese. Do make sure that you check that all your US dollars are crisp, not torn and do not have any writing on them. The Gracious Myanmar Tour site has more information on what is accepted and not accepted.

We arrive at the Bagan Hotel in Old Bagan which has a very Burmese feel to it. I am still not sure if it was a government hotel or not. How can you tell? It is right on the river and has a small pagoda in the grounds. We are given an air conditioned junior suite. This is the largest room of all the hotels we stay at. One day they cover our beds with flowers. They don’t do all the beds though my brother feels left out : ( They have a pool, bar area. They also have internet but brother later discovers they have not sorted their messages in terms of when they are received-no wonder we have trouble accessing our email.

We decide to do some exploring straightaway and try and catch a sunset at one of the pagodas. Outside our hotel there is a bicycle hire so we hire three bikes for the hour 1500kyats and immediately have two guides (two young boys) with us. We cycle past Ananda and Thatbyinnyu. (We’ll leave them for the next day when we have more time). They take us to another temple (I think Shwegugyi Temple) that is very close and we are able to climb it. We are the only foreigners and the view of Thatbyinnyu and Ananda directly behind with the sun setting is quite surreal and superb. We take lots of photos and yes, I have to say they are good!!
Unfortunately we are pestered by young women and children who it seems have converged to the same spot and are all adept at engaging you in conversation, shadowing you and then trying to sell you postcards, sand paintings, various ornaments, gems or coasters made of lacquer ware. The coasters by the way, become a very inexpensive gift when we get home and I wish I had bought more. One little girl who appears to be about three years old is very enchanting, dances her way up the steps, knows all about the temple and is able to tell us in English but, nonetheless, is intent on selling postcards. We purchase some items but this only serves to encourage others. It is quite distressing in terms of the poverty but it makes it very difficult to appreciate the temple as much as we would have liked.

We head back to the hotel and the pool where we meet a fellow traveller who gives us the name of a driver with a horse and cart to use the next day. Husband and brother negotiate a price for a day with the driver when he comes to pick up our fellow traveller. That night we have dinner at the Sarabha II which is very nice but because we get there at 8.30pm we are the only patrons so we don’t spend a lot of time luxuriating over the meal.

Breakfast is beside the river very Burmese. No cereal fresh fruit, toast, jam, cordial for juice, rice porridge, something that looks like beans, banana pancakes, sticky rice and honey. We agree on an itinerary with Myo Myo Myo (number 33) that includes visiting the better known pagodas (Ananda, Dhamma Yangyi Temple, Thatbyinnyu) but also a visit to the antique arts and crafts shop, Golden Cuckoo Lacquer ware and the local monastery for US$15. We also decide that we will break the day up and take a break in the middle of the afternoon because it is again blisteringly hot. This is a sensible decision I think.

Myo Myo takes us to Ananda Temple first which has undergone quite a bit of restoration since my husband visited in 1976. There is an entrance which has the usual stalls of various Burmese antiquities, silver and wooden ornaments. We have an absolutely wonderful time as it seems as if we are all by ourselves- not a bit like St Peters in Rome! The 10 metre golden Buddhas (There are four in the standing position) are awesome. Next stop Dhamma Yangyi Temple the biggest temple in Bagan with its interesting inner corridors, lots of puzzling sealed chambers, huge ornate wooden doors and of course large Buddhas. We are also able to climb impossibly steep, narrow steps and perch on minute platforms to peer through small windows. Where else in the world would you be able to do this all by yourself? After passing some smaller pagodas we get to the tallest pagoda Thatbyinnyu. Climbing is banned to preserve the temple.
Myo Myo then takes us to the local monastery which he has nominated would be a good place to leave the remaining reading glasses we have brought with us. He also needs new glasses and has chosen a pair which he very quickly puts in a compartment in his cart. The head monk seems quite delighted with the glasses and poses for some photographs and offers to shows us around the monastery. Nat Taung Kyaung Monastery is a very old decaying wooden structure with intricate ornate carvings and is well worth the visit.

Our last stop for the morning is the Shwe War Thein Handicrafts Shop Antique shop which has lots of old lacquerware (similar to what my parents brought out of Burma), various wooden ornaments, puppets and old gems, beads and assorted old jewellery. Brother buys a carved stone jar US$20, husband a wooden ChintheUS$10 and I buy two bronze wind chimes (with each one engraved with a symbol representing a birth day) US$15 then home. I lie down but not my husband and brother. They decide they will hire bikes (in the middle of the day??) and go and explore by themselves. It turns out to be a bit of a highlight for them as two village girls adopt them and take them along the river and to other deserted pagoda/temples. They have torches with them and take them up darkened steps to terraces from which they had splendid views. They also are given extended commentaries about some of the smaller pagodas. In the meantime, I’m refreshed (in an air-conditioned room). They return a couple of hours later drenched with sweat and sunburnt but ecstatic about all they have seen!!

Myo Myo picks us up at 4pm (it was still quite warm) and heads towards the Golden Cuckoo Lacquer ware shop where we are shown the painstaking steps taken in creating top quality lacquerware. This is actually very interesting ; I have been to a lacquer ware show house in Chiang Mai but this place was up a notch or two on that. The owner takes us through each step (18 in all) required to produce top quality laquerware and it is quite obvious that what is produced at this place is certainly high quality and more robust than other wares we have seen. We buy some small cups, plates and (expensive) jewellery boxes (US$65) which the owner has engraved with the cuckoo emblem. Hopefully, the gift my brother has so carefully chosen will impress his wife when he gets back home.

Myo Myo then takes us through Myinkaba Village to glimpse a little of traditional village life and then to Shwesandaw Pagoda to take some photographs at sunset. Next to the pagoda is Shinbinthalyaung Cave which houses a giant 18 metres reclining Buddha. The interesting thing about this monument is that unless you knew it was there or you had a sharp eye out you would miss it. There is neither a sign nor when we were there a queue outside. Not me I could see this small door in this long building and so that was the first stop!! It is not lit in any way so you will need to have a pretty good flash on your cameras to get a good picture!

Climbing to the top terraces of Shwesandaw Pagoda is a bit like climbing a ladder. The steps are barely 10cm wide, 40 cm step up and there are quite a few. Our guess about 150-200 steps. There is a rail that you can use. The views across Bagan are stunning so take the plunge. Again, we were very lucky : clear weather, beautiful sunset and awesome views! The visual and sensory pleasures of this environment are powerful but it’s not long before the deep spirituality that pervades this place captures your thoughts.

That night we hired a taxi and, on the recommendation of a fellow traveller we had met earlier, made the decision to travel to Nyaung U and have a meal at the Aroma restaurant. Cost for taxi about US$5. He dropped us there and picked us up an hour and a half later. The Aroma is an Indian restaurant and you sit outside. The meal was absolutely superb! We had the usual fish dish (husband always orders fish), lamb curry, a vegetable dish and brother usually orders something with crab or prawns plus 3 Myanmar beers and a lemonade for me (no wine : ( ). (Husband and brother have decided they prefer Myanmar to Mandalay). Besides our main meals we were given parathas, a selection of various pickles and condiments and bananas for dessert. (US$12). Heartily recommend the restaurant. A brilliant finish to a wonderful day!!

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Old Sep 4th, 2006, 11:46 AM
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This is great - I printed it out at my hotel and read it on the plane back from Chicago today. I will post some questions shortly. Looking forward to hearing about Inle Lake...
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Old Sep 4th, 2006, 01:12 PM
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This is fantastic. When I finally get around to posting our trip report, it won't come close to this!
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 01:20 PM
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Waiting for more...
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 06:31 PM
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I, too, this is a GREAT report! This is high on my list of places to go . . . one of the problems is how to get there from Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Thank you for posting (you are an excellent story teller).

Sandy (in Denton)
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 06:55 PM
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We fly into Burma tomorrow so this has been a great help, even though this will be our second trip.
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 07:30 PM
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Thank you, albaaust, for sharing such an informative report on a less-traveled country!

I am curious: did you make all travel arrangments and reservations on your own, or did you use Gracious Myanmar?

Once again, thanks for sharing. My own vacation plans for next spring will include Myanmar, so I will certainly benefit from your report!
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