Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Myanmar Tour Journal – May 2014


My Myanmar tour was scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California to complete my visits to all the countries in Asia.  The trip was a post-tour to a month long tour of Sri Lank, Maldives, India and Bangladesh.  Through Bangladesh I was traveling with a group but for Myanmar I went solo.
The journal starts with my leaving Bangladesh.

Friday, May, 02, 2014: Fly Kula Lumpur, Malaysia to Yangon, Myanmar and tour Yangon

My flight to Kula Lumpur on Malaysian Airlines was uneventful.  I had expected their aircraft and service to be better than what I experienced.  It was a ‘red eye’ flight departing Dhaka, Bangladesh at 01:00 and arriving at 06:30.  I had over three hours before my flight to Yangon.  I expected a better airport in Kula Lumpur but found a seat near the gate to nap.

The flight to Yangon was also on Malaysia Airlines and also was uneventful, departing Kula Lumpur just a few minutes late and arriving in Yangon ten minutes early.  They served a boxed lunch on the flight which was a tuna sandwich – more of a western meal than an Asian meal.  When I arrived there was a queue for ‘Visa on Arrival’ and one for Foreigners’ with visa.  I was the only one in the later queue and passed into baggage pick up before the bags were delivered.

Once I got my bag and exited the Customs area I was met by a pleasant looking man with my name on a sign.  He introduced himself as ‘Sing’ and we wheeled my bags to a Toyota sedan driven by ‘Win’.  Sing and Win were a very jovial pair.

As we left the airport parking lot we were greeted by a large sign saying: “Welcome to Myanmar - The Golden Land”.  The boulevard leaving the airport was six lanes wide with tall palm trees on both sides and all the cars were driving in their lanes.  It actually reminded me of driving in Newport Beach from the freeway to the mall.  I did notice that for the first time in a month I was riding in a vehicle that was on the right side of the road although the car’s steering wheel was also on the right side.  Win told me almost all the automobiles in Myanmar were used Japanese vehicles.  I noticed the taxis were almost all Toyota station wagons.  Often when they discharged a large number of customers the rear hatch would open and out would pile a group of young men.

The traffic stopped at red lights, they indicated their turns with blinkers and turned in an orderly fashion (So unlike India and Bangladesh).  I thought I was in Orange County until I got closer to the city center and then the traffic started to bog down but still stayed in their lanes and few used their horns.

Our first stop was in the city at the Travel Agency.  It took us about forty five minutes to get there from the airport.  Because of the banking sanctions imposed on Myanmar Advantage Travel was not able to pay the local travel agency (One Stop Travel & Tours) through normal channels and Cathy had given me the money to pass to Kyaw Khaing, the General Manager.  One Stop Travel’s office was on the third floor of a building in the Sanchaung Township area of Yangon.  Our first stop was at their office and when I had climbed the three flights of stairs they asked me to remove my shoes at the door.

I handed Kyaw the envelope from Advantage Travel and in return he handed me the airline tickets for my flights within Myanmar and the itinerary and hotel list.  We discussed an issue I had with another Yangon travel agency that had a website called: www.myanmarvisa.com.  I had sent them money several months back to obtain a visa thinking they were an official agency.  They had responded at first that they would provide a visa on arrival but at my trip departure approached they had not sent the form so at the last week I had to get a visa from the Washington DC Embassy.  They told me over the phone they would refund my money when I arrived.  Kyaw knew them and called them.  They had the money ready.

We left One Stop Travel’s offices and rode over to Myanmarvisa’s office.  It was also on the third floor in a similar building but they let me keep my shoes on as they processed the paperwork to provide me the money.

With the administrative items completed we rode to my assigned hotel.  All my paperwork had identifed the hotel as the Traders Hotel but Win drove me up to the entrance of the hotel the sign read:  Sule Shangri-La Hotel.  It was by then 13:40 and I checked in and got ready for an afternoon tour of the city.  I had a quick lunch in the hotel coffee shop and then met Sing for the tour.

The city was impressive compared to those of similar size in India and Bangladesh.  It was clean and neat with orderly traffic.  Our first stop was the local market at the ferry landing.  For the first time in a month I saw very large grapes and learned that Myanmar has a wine industry.

One of the things I noticed right away was the women and even children had a dash of a yellow make-up on their cheeks and some on their arms.  Sing told me that it was called Thanaka cream.  It’s a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark.  He said it had been used by Burmese women for over 2000 years.  It had a fragrant scent somewhat similar to sandalwood.  The creamy paste was applied to the face in attractive designs, the most common form being a circular patch on each cheek, sometimes made stripy with the fingers, or patterned in the shape of a leaf, often highlighting the bridge of the nose with it at the same time.  Thanaka cream provided a cooling sensation and provided protection from sunburn.  Some women think it helps to remove acne and promote smooth skin.

From the ferry land we rode to Chauk-Htat-Kyi, the reclining Buddha image, 216 feet long and 58 feet high.  Unlike so many other reclining Buddha images I have seen the skin on this one was white porcelain looking and just the robe was gold.

There were a hundred eight distinguishing marks on both soles of the Buhhda.  They represent the three worlds, 59 indicating the inanimate world (Okasaloka) 21 indicating the animate world (Sattaloka) and 28 indicating the world of the conditioned (Sankharaloka).

When we left the reclining Buddha we rode around the city and stopped at “The Lady’s House”.  Sing and Win did not mention Aung San Suu Kyi by name.  They refer to her as “The Lady” and did talk about how the country needs to change its constitution to allow for a female leader.  Her house had a high wall around it and an opening with small bars in the otherwise solid gate.  She was the chairperson of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) which won 59% of the national votes and 81% of the seats in Parliament but a military coup placed her under house arrest in Rangoon under martial law that allows for detention without charge or trial for three years.

At 17:00 we visited the main attraction in the country, the Shwedagon Pagoda.  Sing had deliberately delayed our visit in order for the floor of the pagoda would be cooler since I had to take my shoes off to ender.  It is a very large complex.  Sing led me on a counter clockwise path around main stupa.  He pointed out the eight stations where people were washing.  They represent each day of the week with Wednesday divided into AM and PM station.  People pray at the station that represents the day of the week they were born.  Sing looked up my day (Monday) in a book that many of the vendors around the stupa had.

The complex was so large that there were four pagodas in the complex: the Shwedagon; the Naungdawgyi; the Htidaw; and a replica of Shwedagon Pagoda in gold.  In addition there are 16 Buddha Images.

As we circled the main pagoda we ran into a big family celebration for a young boy who is entering the Monk novice program.  Young Buddhists serve a period around the age of ten as a novice.  Many serve again near the age of 20.  A few then go on to the life of a Monk.  The celebration we witnessed had a lot of picture taking with what looked like a professional photographer and parading the novice on the shoulders of his father.  The women in the family were dressed beautifully and posed many times.  They even included me in some of their pictures with the novice.

As the sun set we left the complex.  It had been a fun experience.  Next stop was the hotel, dinner and retire early since I had an early wake up in the morning.

Saturday, May, 03, 2014: Fly Yangon, Myanmar, to Bagan, Myanmar, and tour Bagan

It was a strange night.  It was my first night without a roommate for over a week.  I set my alarm for 03:00 on my smartphone but it had not auto changed to Burmese time and it rang at 02:00.  I reset the phone time and the alarm and slept for another hour.  I was obsessing again about my bags being overweight and had piled all the contents on the bed with an area for those things I needed to take and those things I could store for a week at the hotel.  I was able to reduce the big bag from 25.5kg (56lbs) to less than 40lbs.  Their published limit was 20kg (44lbs).  To do that I ended up with three small bags two of which I tied together.
I carried the three bags down to the lobby and delivered them of storage to the Bellman.  Then I returned to my room and wheeled my big bag and carry-on down to the lobby and checked out.  They handed me a breakfast to go which had a muffin, fruit, two boiled eggs, a tuna sandwich, yogurt and a croissant with butter and jam.  To drink they included a cardboard container of orange juice.

Win was waiting out front to drive me to the airport.  It took about forty minutes to arrive at the Domestic Terminal.  It was packed with people and luggage.  My bags were screened at the entrance and then I was faced with finding the correct check in counter.  Myanmar had eight small airlines.  I was flying Air Mandalay, but in addition they have:
  • ·         Air Myanmar
  • ·         Golden Myanmar Airlines
  • ·         Asian Wings Airways
  • ·         Air KBZ
  • ·         Air Bagan
  • ·         Yangon Airways Limited
  • ·         Myanma Airways

I found Air Mandalay to be at the end of the check in counters.  My bag was not weighed and I was issued a boarding pass with the luggage tag stapled to it.  The baggage handler affixed a sticker on my vest.  I then wheeled my carry on to the opposite end of the room.  Each check in counter had longs lines of people.  It was unbelievable how everybody was checked in.  At Security I didn’t have to take my laptop out and they wouldn’t let me put my vest which contained my cell phone, camera and other things to trigger an alarm in a bin.  I of course set off alarms when I walked through the x-ray and they wanded me down setting off a buzz on the wand as he passed over the pockets with the cell phone, camera and other things.  The Security agent felt the lumps and passed me on.  What a fiasco!

They did confiscate my water but my hotel breakfast box passed through.  The waiting room was packed and I found a seat next to a trash can and started to eat my breakfast.  In just a short time women came by to empty the trash.  The waiting room was full of people eating their boxed breakfast.  Since so many flights leave early in the day I guess all the hotels provide boxed breakfasts’.  All the flights used buses to carry their passengers to the planes.  The load speaker muffled the announcements so I had no idea when to board a bus.  When I finished my breakfast I went to the toilet and on my return I saw a man with an Air Mandalay sign and he saw the sticker on my vest and directed me to a line.  I recognized some of the passengers that had checked in after me so I figured I was in the right line and at the door they took half my boarding pass.
The aircraft was an ATR-42 and I had reduced the items in my carry on to fit in the ATR overhead.  I was surprised that it wouldn’t fit on the aircraft.  The overhead was not shaped like other ATRs I had flown on.  The alternate in the pass was to store the bag in the tail by the galley but the Flight Attendant insisted that I put it under the seat.  I was assigned the window seat and it wouldn’t fit.  The young lady sitting on the aisle offered to move to the window and store my bag under the aisle seat.  It fit and I put my day bag in the overhead.  I thanked the lady and struck up a conversation.  She was from the UK but living in Singapore and was traveling to Myanmar with her parents on vacation.  Her husband works for Accenture and they had previously worked in Beijing.

When we landed at Bagan we were bussed to the terminal and waited for our bags to be hand delivered from the aircraft.  Outside the Arrivals Hall there was a man with a sign with my name on it.  I introduced myself.  His name was U Bo Ni, a retired English teacher.  His English was not a clear as Spring’s but I generally understood him.  The driver was named Myo Myo and he drove a Toyota Sedan.  Before we left the terminal all Foreign Visitors have to pay an entrance fee of US$15 per person for five day visit to the Bagan Archaeological zone.  U Bo Ni paid my fee and we loaded up the Toyota and they drove me to The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate and checked me in.

The hotel had weak Wi-Fi, my room was large with a well-appointed bathroom.  The rooms were grouped in buildings set in a grove of palm trees.

I changed into sandals and hung up my vest and returned to the lobby to tour.  First I tried to call Judy.  It took nine times before I found a place in the lobby where the Wi-Fi signal was strong enough to enable Judy to catch every word I said.  When we completed the conversation I joined U Bo Ni and Myo Myo to start the tour of Bagan.

U Bo Ni handed me a map of the area described the city as follows:

Bagan (formerly Pagan) is an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Burma (Myanmar).  From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar.  During the kingdom's height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.
The Bagan Archaeological Zone is a main draw for the country's nascent tourism industry.  It is seen by many as equal in attraction to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
The religion of Bagan was fluid, syncretic and by later standards, unorthodox. It was largely a continuation of religious trends in the Pyu era where Theravada Buddhism co-existed with Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, various Hindu (Saivite, and Vaishana) schools as well as native animist (nat) traditions. While the royal patronage of Theravada Buddhism since the mid-11th century had enabled the Buddhist school to gradually gain primacy, other traditions continued to thrive throughout the Pagan period to degrees later unseen.
Bagan, is located in an active earthquake zone, and has suffered from many earthquakes over the ages, with over 400 recorded earthquakes between 1904 and 1975.  The last major earthquake came on 8 July 1975, reaching 8 MM in Bagan.  The quake damaged many temples, but 2,229 temples and pagodas remain.

We started out at 09:20 and the first stop was the Tharabar Gate which was once the main gate to the walled city of Bagan.  We rode by the Golden Palace and stopped at Thatbyinnyu Phaya, and climbed to the top where I had a commanding view of the whole area.  The climb was interesting since I had to remove my sandals and climb dirty bricks in the hot sun.  A couple of the Netherlands were just descending when we arrived and recommended that I take water up with me to cool my feet.  I found that it wasn’t as hot as my pool deck in California so I ignored their advice and climbed just behind U Bo Ni.  His secret was to circle at the first level to the shade side of the Stupa and climb the stairs on that side.  When we reached the top I found vendors up there selling pictures.  I was surprised because when we started the climb on the sunny side it appeared we would be the only ones on the structure.  There was also a German up there with a miniature drone with a camera and he was controlling it taking pictures of the area and a young lady next to him was receiving the pictures on her iPad.  The drone went out of control and they disappeared around the structure to recover it.  Another tourist up there was from Lebanon and we briefly chatted.  I asked him if they still use a lot of Dutch Boy Paint  in the Hezbollah area like I saw advertised when I was there in 2009.  He said they did and I told him about my father designing the logo and how they were owned by National Lead and had sort of disappeared from the US market.  He remarked that now Hezbollah is trying to poison them with lead paint.

We climbed down and I was surprised that my bare feet survived without pain.  The next stop was the Sula Ma Ni which was restored by a couple from the Netherlands.  No pictures allowed of their restoration.  From there we rode to Shwe Zi Con Pagoda the most magnificent gold pagoda in the complex.  It had many buildings associated with it.  One displayed the native animist (nat) figures.  Walking back to where we had entered I passed a bench with three Styrofoam containers of food.  U Bo Ni explained to me that at noon the food is placed on the bench for the Buddha.  Young boys or the birds eventually eat the food and as he was explaining this to me a young boy came up and took a roll from one of the containers and strolled off eating it.

Our next stop was the Htilo Minlo Temple.  We walked inside and viewed many gold Buddha images in various positions.  Very beautiful!  We then rode past an old Monastery and then it’s new replacement and stopped at a handicraft store.  I didn’t see anything worth purchasing so we rode on to the Queen Restaurant where we stopped for lunch.

It was a great lunch, a nice cold Myanmar Beer and a tuna salad made like I would have made it at home.  At the next table was a couple that ordered Pizza which looked good and next to them a talkative Taiwanese.  He told us he frequently travels to the area.  I think he was in the Import/Export business.
After lunch I returned to my hotel to rest out of the midday sun and start up again at 16:30 when the floors of the pagoda’s and temple’s will be more tolerable on bare feet.

Our first afternoon visit was to the Nanpaya Temple a Hindu temple.  It was not only unusual that it was a Hindu temple but it was built using mud mortar, stone, and brick that differed from the pagodas and temples common to Bagan.  It was very dark inside but on the walls and columns I could see carvings of Brahma, and other Hindu gods.  U Bo Ni pointed out that there were also many figures and symbols of the Mon within the temple.

We next stopped at the Mya Thit Sar lacquer ware handicraft work shop.  There I was given a demonstration on the manufacturer of lacquer and lacquer ware.  I was not aware the long time and detail carving that went into the production of large items of lacquer.  It made me more appreciative of the lacquer boxes I was given by my Vietnamese Air Force colleagues.

From the work shop we rode to Ananda Phaya, one of the largest and best preserved temples in Bagan.  It had a long entryway with vendors on both sides.  The main temple was square with an enterance in each of the cardinal directions.  There were two corridors, one for the common folk and one closer to the center area for Monks.  Facing each entrance was a giant Buddha carved from teak wood and coated in bronze.  We walked the corridor from one Buddha to the next.  One was under renovation and covered with bamboo scaffolding.  The giant Buddha images had a unique face that provided a different expression depending on the viewer’s distance from the image.  I can’t exactly describe it but it was startling how the expression changed as I moved back from a close view under the image.  It appeared to move from a frown to a happy face.

Outside in a separate building we visited the Shwe Chaw Tha Phaya which housed the Crowned Buddha image and two smaller images.  As we left the area we got caught up in the herding of cows and goats wandering home for the evening.  They appeared to be very thin.  The terrain in the area lacked grass.  It was very dry and dusty.  We then visited the Dhammayan Gyi Temple which was the largest although not as well preserved temples in Bagan.  It is massive in size and similar in layout to the Ananda Phaya.  U Bo Ni led me around the perimeter of the temple which I found very hard on my bear feet.  Walking inside the ancient structures was bad enough but to some extent the floors were swept but walking outside was brutal since the floors were uneven and filled with grit and not swept.. U Bo Ni wanted to show me the details of the buildings construction which had unusually large bricks linked together without mortar.  Thin glue was used to fasten the bricks together.  It must have been a heck of a project to construct such a large building in that fashion.

Our last stop was the Shwe San Taw Paya which was the most famous as the place in Bagan to watch the sunset.  It was located on a hill and the name means the Golden Hair Relics.  The sign stated:
The pagoda contains a series of five terraces, topped with a cylindrical stupa, which has a bejeweled umbrella.  One significant fact of the pagoda is the existence of the two umbrellas at the top of the pagoda and that made the pagoda unique.  It was 127ft high and stood on a platform making it 290ft high from the base.  Enshrined within the pagoda were four strands of sacred hair as well as eight other relies of Gautama Buddha.

There were great 360 degree views and with five levels to stand on it did not get overly crowded.  The steps were very steep and narrow making the climb and the decent very tricky.  There were busloads of tourists and from below I thought we were making a mistake to climb up but we found areas we could easily maneuver around.  The downside was the haze and low clouds blocked the sun set.  I was able to descend without any trouble and can say I was there and I experienced it although I didn’t get any good sunset photos.

I returned to the hotel and ate their Chinese Set Dinner.  It wasn’t what I expected and would not recommend it.  When I finished the lady that sat next to me on the flight from Yangon and her parents were sitting behind me and invited me to join them for a drink.  They were going to eat at a restaurant next door to the hotel and I endorsed their plan.  The parents were professors at Oxford and take their annual vacations to the exotic locations their daughter lives near.  It was an enjoyable conversation and a departure from the conversations I had been having with my traveling companions for the previous month.
I had another early wake up so I retired without writing in my journal.

Sunday, May, 04, 2014: Fly Bagan, Myanmar, to Mandalay, Myanmar and tour Mandalay

I woke to my alarm at 04:00, showered, shaved and packed for an early morning flight to Mandalay, Myanmar.  The restaurant was just setting up for breakfast and I was able to grab a quick tea, banana bread, and apple before hotel check out.  I was also able to call Judy on Vonage before boarding the car to the airport at 06:15.

There was a lot of activity by locals on the road as they were transporting goods to the market and going to work.  We followed one unbelievably overloaded truck with at least 15 people, a dozen sacks and half dozen baskets.  Every few minutes the truck would stop to let someone off or to pick up another passenger.  The trucks in Bagan differed from the trucks in Yangoon.  In Bagan they were actually Chinese farm tractors with homemade cabs and cargo beds.  The truck we were following had a roof over the bed and it must have had strong construction since the half dozen baskets and as many young men were riding on it.  The Chinese tractor engine is forward of the wheels and had no hood or other covering.

At the airport U Bo Ni handled the check in.  I had a sticker with the airline identifier attached to my shirt.  Each of the eight Myanmar airlines had a counter at the airport and it appeared they all had flights scheduled to depart near the same time.  I bid U Bo Ni farewell.  He had been a good guide although his “English” accented English was difficult for me to understand at times.

I sat in the waiting area which was full, waiting for my flight.  They called the flights in Burmese but an agent holding a sign with the airline logo and flight number on it would walk through the area when a flight was called.  My flight was on another ATR, actually a continuation of the flight I had taken from Yangon the day before.

The crowd in the waiting room was mostly going to Yangon so after two flights left for Yangon the room thinned out and there were just two flights to Mandalay to board.  My flight was called I started to the door wheeling my carry on when  I realized I didn’t have my day back pack, as I turned to go back to retrieve it a guide for a Japanese group picked it up and handed it to me.  I thanked him and walked across the ramp to the plane.  It was open seating and I sat in the rear.  My carry on had no trouble fitting in the overhead.  I concluded that the overheads in the middle of the ATR aircraft where the wing passes over the fuselage must be slightly smaller than forward and aft of the wing.

The flight departed ten minutes early and took only 25 minutes landing at 08:10 fifteen minutes early.  The Mandalay airport terminal was a lot larger than the one at Bagan.  Outside the Baggage Hall I spotted a tall thin man with my name on a sign.  He introduced himself as ‘Zaw’ in a British accent which meant I didn’t really understand him because of his pronunciation of ‘z’.  He also was feminine in his mannerisms, movements and speech which with the British accent made it difficult for me.  We wheeled my bags to a Toyota Hiace Super Custom Limited 6 passenger Van.  The driver went by the name ‘Se Thu’.
Zaw started the drive by giving me a description of Mandalay as the second-largest city and the last royal capital of Burma.  He said it was located 445 miles north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River, with a population of 953,000 and over a million in the region.  He explained that it was the economic hub of Upper Burma and considered the center of Burmese culture.

The city was founded as the location of the royal capital at the foot of Mandalay Hill to fulfill a prophecy on the founding of a Buddhist city at the base of Mandalay Hill.  He moved the capital from Amarapura south of the current city.

Amarapura was the first destination on the morning tour.  I was surprised as we left the airport to enter a concrete dual lane highway.  Zaw explained it was a toll road expressway that links Mandalay to Yangon.  I was impressed at first and then discovered that either the road sunk after the concrete was poured or they had a poor design because every culvert and bridge was slightly higher than the road leading up to it creating a series of speed bumps.

Another thing I noticed was the temperature was cooler than the previous day.  Zaw explained that a thunder storm had rolled through the night before and just as he was telling me that we passed a billboard destroyed by the storm.

We turned off the expressway to enter a dual highway with trees and gully between toward Amarapura.  On the more rural road we encountered more local traffic, Tuk Tuks, motor bikes, bicycles (2 and 3 wheelers) and cattle, only a few cars, vans, no city busses and a few tourist buses.  The city buses were pickup truck with cover and open sides and no tail gate.  I also saw a number of horse drawn carriages.  Whereas in Bagan they seemed to cater to the tourists in Amarapura they were used more by the locals than tourists.
When we arrived in Amarapura we stopped near the Pagoda at the end of the 1.2 km U Bein Bridge, believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world.  It was constructed in 1850 to cross Taungthaman Lake and links Amarapura to a Monk Monastery on the other side of the lake.  Zaw and I walked across the bridge.  The lake was low and in the dry marsh areas fisherman has erected shacks and several restaurants had been established.  Some of the land was being farmed with cattle, sheep and goats grazing.  When we crossed over the water area we saw fisherman trolling the lake and a flock of ducks.  A long boat ferries people across the lake that didn’t want to walk the bridge.  On the bridge there were a number of covered areas, some with stairs down to the marsh.  In the covered areas vendors were selling various items including dried fish, craps, and an interesting item: jewelry and hand bags made from watermelon seeds.  Several of the restaurants had sugar cane presses producing a sugar water drink that was then sold by the vendors on the bridge.

I noticed that there were areas where the teak wood was deteriorating and concrete structures had been installed.  Zaw pointed out a high level mark on one of the covered areas and told me the lake floods during the rainy season and on several years it has risen higher than the bridge.

After strolling to the other end we turned around and walked back to Amarapura and the van.  A five minutes away we stopped at a weaving center where they demonstrated the intricate art of weaving and displayed their products for me to buy.  I guess this was Zaw’s test to see if I was a shopper.

He then led me to the Mahamlini Pagoda where at the entrance I observed a group of artisans engraving on plaques and then filling the engraving with a fine string of beads.  A few feet away was a young lady applying gold leaf on a plaque.  It was fascinating to watch how quickly she applied each leaf.  The hallway leading into the pagoda was lined on both sides with vendors selling gold plaques, Buddha and Nat images.  In the center of the pagoda was a large sitting Buddha image that Monks were applying gold leaf on.  We walked around the pagoda and came upon a room with three large bronze figures.
A brief history of the large bronze figures states:

The Large Bronze Figures were brought to Myanmar from Thailand by King Baylnaung Kyaw Htin Nawra Hta I, 1563 A.D. when he gained a victory over the enemy in Thailand.
From the historical records of world’s researchers, we learn that these Bronze Figures were originally the great Angkor Wat Buddhist Temple in Cambodia.  After the downfall and destruction of Hanthawady (Myanmar) in 1598 when the Thai King Byan aril attacked Tougoo in 1599, The Rakhine king fought from the Myanmar side.  In that war, the Thai king was defeated.  As a result of this, these large Bronze Figures were regained.  As he owed a debt of graditude to the Rakhine king, the king of Tourgoo presented the Rakhine king with various treasures including the large Bronze Figures.  In 1784, during the reign of King Bodawphaya, the Crown Prince brought back the great Mahn Muni Image on his victorious march from Dinyawady in Ranhine.  Along with the Maha Muni Image, the prince also brought back to Myanmar kingdom those Bronze Figures as spoils of war.  That is why we see them here today.  The Large Bronze are:
(A)   The Elephant Statue which has three heads named “Ayeyarwan” in Myanmar.
(B)   Lion Statue which is called “Rargaslha”
(C)   The Man Bronze Statue which has eight feet high and the other Man Statue seven feet high.  These figures are called “DevanaT” statues in Myanmar.
People believe that when anyone who suffer from the pain and disease and if the one prays and brushes the Figures with the related parts, the pain and disease will leave.

We left the pagoda and rode into the center of the city and stopped at the Gold Leaf Workshop where I was given a demonstration on the production of gold leaf.  They start with a gold nugget and cut it into six pieces.  Next they increase the size of each piece by beating it for 30 minutes, then beat it again for 30 minutes, and then beat it again for 5 hours.  In addition to the beating of the gold, special bamboo paper is developed and the gold leaf is affixed to the bamboo in small square packets.

At 11:25 we stopped for lunch at the ‘Unique Myanmar Restaurant’ where I had bottle of Myanmar beer and their set menu as follows:

  • 1.       Tofu Cracker appetizer with soy sauce in a dish with garlic and small green chili peppers pieces
  • 2.       Myanmar Tangy Soup with Fish
  • 3.       Tomatoes Salad (green tomatoes)
  • 4.       Pork Curry
  • 5.       Potatoes with Bamboo Shoots
  • 6.       Stir Fried Mixed Vegetables
  • 7.       Steamed Rice
  • 8.       Fried Banana with Honey
  • 9.       Tea

It was a delicious meal, a lot for lunch but I found each item to my liking.  Following lunch we finally arrived at the Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel where I checked in to rest until we started to tour again at 15:30.  It was a modern hotel and my room was large but I had to use an extension cord from the hall to get power to the head of the bed for my CPAP machine.  I had a beautiful view of Mandalay Hill from my window.  I was able to set up my laptop and try to catch up on my journal.  Every day in Myanmar had been busy visiting a lot of different sites.  Especially, Began, and even though they built in a couple hours siesta each day it was difficult to document every site.

At 15:30 I met Zaw in the lobby and we rode a short distance to the entrance of the Mandalay Royal Palace.  The palace grounds are surrounded by a high wall and a moat.  It was still an active Army garrison and we had to get a special pass to cross a draw bridge and enter the compound.  Inside the walls we passed Army quarters and stores and then arrived at the actual palace.  It was a very large building with white marble stairs leading to the Mye Nan Audience Hall which had both a left and a right room.

Conferences held in the hall were attended by those of sufficient rank followers of Sawbwagyi, Chiefs of the highest of five cleases of government servants, Thai prince, persons of wealth and members of five classes of government servants, as well as a class of governors and magistrates in charge of Mon, Shan and Yodaya (Thai) towns.

We walked through the halls to the ‘Great Audience Hall’.

Situated at the west end of the connecting passage was the great spire with a seven-tiered roof called the Mye-Nan Pyathat.  In the center of the building stood the great Lion Throne which was supported by sculptured statues of Lions.  It was wholly made of Yamanay wood.  Of all the thrones in the eight throne rooms, it was the largest, the highest and the grandest.
The name Mye Nan was derived from the fact that the platform on which the throne was situated was built on a mound of soils collected from great Buddhist cities of India such as Varanasi, Vesali and Sarvasti.  On MyanmarNew Year and the beginning and the end of Buddhist lent, the King and Queen would receive their subjects and accept their offerings with great pomp and ceremony in the hall.

Sitting on the throne were models of King Mindon and Chief Queen Satkyardavi.  The Queen was sitting to the Kings right side.  She should have been sitting on the King’s left but Zaw told me that King Mindon was having affairs with sisters.  He married one and had her sister sit on his right.  His wife was furious and left him with her sister.

From the throne we left the main palace and entered a building containing the Hall of Victory.

It was a gilded building.  Its shape was taken from the Zaydawun Monastery of Lord Buddha.  The building was called the Zaydawun Saung because conferences and consultations on important matters were usually held in the room with a view to overcome the various dangers and threats to the kingdom.  A cula type throne supported by carving of “Hamsa” bird with an octagonal seat and known as the Hamsa Throne stood in the front part of the building.  In addition to diplomatic meetings, was also used for supplication of religious matters to the clergy.  Since the building was originally constructed as a replica of Lord Buddha’s Monastery, at Sarvasti, the shrines and images, worshipped and venerated by successive kings were also enshrined in the building.  In two smaller rooms on each side of the back part of the building were kept religious manuscripts and the king would often rest and read in the rooms.

We walked by the Treasury building.  It was built with an inner room on a raised floor and strong inner walls.  At one time it stored priceless gems and gold implements.  And then we came upon the Central Palace which was located in the center of the ‘Palace City’.

One of the “Palace City’ buildings had been set up as a museum.  We toured the museum which contained models of kings, queens, princes, generals and ministers in their formal dress.  It was very impressive.  Leaving the museum we crossed the ‘City’ and exited the palace.  We then rode outside the walls and across the moat to Shwe Nandaw Kyaung (Golden Palace Monastery).  The building was originally part of the palace complex of Amarapura and was shifted to Mandalay to become the royal apartment of King Mindon.  It was in the building that King Mindon died.  After his death his heir King Thibaw had the building dismantled and with the materials from the building built the monastery.  The monastery is famous because it was the only palace building that survived World War II destruction of the Royal Palace.  The building had elaborate carvings on the interior and exterior.  The ceiling was covered with gold leaf.  The pillars inside the main room were covered with gold leaf with figures attached.

Across the road from the complex was the gate to State Pariyatti Sasana University Mandalay where Zaw attended and took his English training.  One word that I had great difficulty understanding was his pronunciation of palace.  As many of the sites we visited were associated with the Royal Palace I never understood where he was taking me until I arrived and saw a sign for the site.

From the Gold Palace Monastery we rode to the Kuthodaw Pagoda.  It was built by King Mindon similar to the Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan and is 188 feet high.  It is known for containing the world’s largest book which is the text from the ‘Pitaka’, the entire Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism.  The text was inscribed on both sides of marble slabs attached to 729 small stupa’s called ‘Kyauksa Gu’.  Each one is white and neatly laid out in rows as you enter the covered corridor to the pagoda.  They were arranged in neat rows within three enclosures, 42 in the first, 168 in the middle and 519 in the third. One more stands at the southeast corner of the first enclosure making it 730, and that stone record how it all came into being.  Thirty four rest houses are in the area where you can often see families having a picnic.

Between the rows of stone-inscription stupas grow mature star flower trees that emanate a jasmine-like fragrance to the entire complex.  We passed one tree believed to be 250 years old, its low spreading boughs propped up by supports.  The walk up the corridor was breath taking as with the beauty starting with the massive carved teak wood doors and the neat rows of the ‘Kyauksa Gus’.  The floor was shinny marble and very clean.  At the end of the corridor there was a Plexiglas enclosed model of the Kyauksa Gu layout with a guide to where to find the chapters of the Pitaka.

Within the pagoda there were several beautiful Buddha images, all in the sitting position.  One was all gold plated while the others had the beautiful white porcelain faces often found on Buddha images.
The sun was starting to set so we left the pagoda and rode up Mandalay Hill.  It was a winding, hair pin curved road.  At the top we entered a building to take a series of escalators to the Su Taung Pyai Pagoda on the very top of the hill.  It was a beautiful pagoda with glass mirror mosaics, a large terrace area with commanding views of the city below.  I could see my hotel and the Royal Palace very clearly.  Two ex-classmates of Zaw’s were up there and peppered me with questions about my travels.  Zaw was talking with another guide when he was told that a tourist had lost $1,000.  The guides were shocked because thefts rarely happen in Buddha areas and especially in pagodas.  As the story developed it turned out it wasn’t money but rather an art work purchased for $1,000 in a package he laid down as he took pictures of the scenery.  The theft was reported to a Security Guard and the guides were relieved when the Security Guide reported that someone had turned the package into a Security Post.

As I was taking pictures, a Thai couple next to me was taking pictures of each other trying to catch the setting sun in the background.  I offered to take a picture of both of them and afterwards we engaged in conversation.  He was the Governor of a state in Thailand.  I didn’t ask him about the uprisings that were taking place in Bangkok.

My luck changed and the usual low row of clouds on the horizon preventing me from getting a good picture of the sunset was not present.  I was able to take pictures until the sun disappeared over the far off mountain range.  Happy seeing the sun set, the crowd started to exit.  Zaw told me the escalator reverses direction every night at 17:30 so we were able to take it down rather than walk the 1,700 steps to the parking lot.  The parking lot was full of pickup truck busses.  Each truck sat 8 to 10 people on side benches and as many as they could cram into the middle.

My tour of Mandalay was over and Zaw dropped me at the hotel.  I ate a sandwich for dinner and retired early without writing in my journal.  I had another early morning wake up.

Monday, May, 05, 2014: Fly Mandalay, Myanmar to Heho, Myanmar and tour Nyaungshwe, Myanmar

I arose at 04:30 to shower and pack.  At 06:00 I had a quick breakfast and called Judy on Vonage.  Se Thu, my driver was already waiting and as soon as I hung up from Judy we left the hotel to go to the airport.
The ride through the city provided some interesting sights of the people going to work.  The pickup trucks that served as buses were overloaded with people and goods.  The motorbikes were also overloaded with goods and in some cases three or four people from what looked like a family loaded on a motorbike.  I was impressed by the clean streets when I arrived in the country and noticed that women were sweeping the streets in the early morning.

Part of the drive to the airport was on the toll road to Yangon.  I had been impressed when I first encountered it the day before but as we were riding in silence I noticed that the culverts and bridges were higher than the roadway so either the ground had sunk or it was poor construction.  The result was every culvert or bridge we rode over was like encountering a speed bump.  We reached the airport a few minutes after 07:00.

Check in was quick.  The flight had open seating and my bags were not weighed.  Security was also quick and I sat in an air conditioned gate area.  All the many airlines in Myanmar seem to have similar schedules and depart ten to twenty minutes from each other.  When I checked in they affixed a sticker on my shirt which identified my airline and destination.  Flights are called by an agent holding up a sign with the airline, flight number and destination.

When my flight was called I got up and grabbed my carry on and started to the gate without my day pack.  A guide from a Japanese group reminded me that it was still at my seat.  I retrieved the bag and thanked him.  I had seen him on my previous flights and at previous sites.  On the aircraft he sat next to me.  His name was Thein Tun and he was licensed to perform English and Japanese tours.  We had a nice chat on the short flight to Heho.

We arrived at 09:00 and I was met by a young lady who took my ticket for the next day and confirmed my flight.  She then led me out of the building and handed me over to Bolo who would be my tour guide in the Inle Lake area.

Bolo started out by giving me the following background on the area.  I would be staying in a resort that backed up to Inle Lake and we would access the resort by long boat.  The lake was the second largest in Myanmar and is relatively shallow with an average depth of 7 feet.  The brochure he gave me stated the following:
Although the lake is not large, it contains a number of endemic species. Over twenty species of snails and nine species of fish are found nowhere else in the world. Some of these, like the silver-blue scaleless Sawbwa barb, the crossbanded dwarf danio, and the Lake Inle danio, are of minor commercial importance for the aquarium trade.  It hosts approximately 20,000 brown and black head migratory seagulls in November, December and January.

The largest city in the area was Nyaung Shwa about an hour’s drive from the airport.  It was the tourist hub for visiting Inle Lake and served as the marina for the numerous long boats that carry tourists into the lake.  One day a week was market day and Bolo told me I was lucky that I arrived on that day.  We rode along a shady tree lined divided roadway dodging cattle and bicyclist until we entered the town which was not very big.  It had a wide main street with taxi cabs lined neatly on one side.  They were Tuk Tuks with extended beds in the back with side benches.  We used to call them ‘Bhat busses’ when I visited Bangkok in the 1970s.  Past the taxis was a long row of motorbikes and motor cycles neatly parked facing the sidewalk at an angle.

Bolo had is get off the bus by the market.  It was atypical market and I got a kick out of one stand that was selling Red Delicious apples with a 4015 USA sticker on them.  I guess Red Delicious apples are one thing that was not grown in Myanmar.  One thing that was a little different was the fish that was for sale were still alive.

Exiting the market I watched as the customer’s loaded their purchases onto various vehicles.  The trishaw bicycles were a tricky one since the side car faced in both directions.  The puzzle was to secure the goods in the front seat where the cyclist could watch them but the passenger had to sit in the rear facing seat or vice versa.  There seemed to be not consistency among the customer’s using trishaws.  I saw it both ways.  The motor bikes also had different loadings.  Some placed the package in front of the driver others placed the package between the driver and the passenger.  After watching that going on for a few minutes the traffic had a break and we were able to cross the street and board our van.  We rode up a side street and I noticed the local variation of the farm truck differed from Mandalay and Bagan.  In this area many of the trucks with the same Chinese engines as the other cities had no cabs but still had a steering wheel.  In China they drive the tractors with the same engine using long handle bars like a rototiller.

The side street ended at a canal with a row of long boats tied perpendicular to the canal wall.  They had no fixed seats but rather small folding deck chairs with cushions.  Bolo pointed to one that had a sign affixed on the bow for One Stop Travel and Tours.  The boat Captain maneuvered the boat to a dock where my bags were loaded and I got in and sat in the chair at mid ship.

We then started cruising down the canal encountering other boats of tourists traveling in both directions.  Some of the boats were carrying cargo and traveling at a higher speed causing a plume of water in their rear.  The water was mud colored and yet we saw woman and men washing clothes and young boys swimming in it.  When we left the town area with the concrete walls along the canal we entered a wider channel with houses on stills on both sides of the channel for a short distance and then there was just high grass on either side of the channel.  We turned up a side channel and stopped at a dock to board the ‘river pilot’ to paddle us to the resort.  We had to shut off the noisy engine and the ‘river pilot’ paddled us using one leg wrapped around the oar like the fisherman did on the lake.  It was an amazing feat of balance and leg strength as he was balanced on the side of the boat.  On top of that he wore flip flops the whole time.  I was very impressed.

The resort was very picturesque with a-frame buildings and cabins.  I had t walk a bit past a lily covered pond to the registration building and then a rather long walk from there to my cabin on the edge of the cove.  The cabin bedroom was very large and it had a porch.  The bathroom was in three sections with an outdoor shower, an indoor shower and tub and then the area with the toilet and sinks.  Once my bags were delivered and I found an electrical outlet for my CPAP machine, I returned to the dock to start a tour of the lake.
The lake had a lot of floating clumps of grass and a lot of fisherman.  The water surface was smooth as glass except when motorized longboats went by.  It was tranquil looking with the many fishermen quietly dropping or retrieving their nets while slowly paddling with one leg.  The balance on a foot square platform on the very bow of the boat and make it look so easy and graceful as they work their nets.

We had been cruising the lake for about forty minutes when it started to rain.  Bolo handed me an umbrella.  It was pink with pictures of Justin Bieber on it.  I didn’t pay too much attention to the pictures as I was still trying to take pictures of the scenery that we passed.  The rain squall passed quickly and we docked for lunch at the Golden Kite.  It was renowned for its Italian food.  I was given a tour of the kitchen with a stone fire oven, pasta making machine and a row of ingredients from Italy.  I met the chef who told me that he had been schooled in Italy and that an Italian woman had set up the operation at the Golden Kite and send him authentic Italian spices and pasta ingredients.  Of course I had to order a Margarita pizza.  It was delicious.  My Japanese guide friend from the flight was there with his clients and came over to say hello and have his picture taken with me.

At 13:50 we started out to cruise the lake again and a rain squall passed through again but we stopped in ten minutes at the Ko Than Hlaing Silk and Lotus Weaving factory. I knew about silk production and weaving but it was the first time I had seen lotus tread produced.  It was amazing to see this woman cut the lotus stem just enough to pull the two pieces apart and roll the fine tread between the two into a string than could be used in weaving.  I was taken on a tour of the facility including the dye area and then we left to cruise a few minutes to the Sae Khaung – Blacksmith shop.  There they demonstrated how they take metal like automobile springs and forge them into knives and farm implements.

Our next stop was the Nampan boat builders.  I found it fascinating how the fashioned a boat out of teakwood and caulk it with a black lacquer mix.  I noticed the platform on the bow of the fishing boats had a coating of a sand like surface which I guess helps the fisherman to keep his footing in wet weather.  One of the boats in the shop was built to hold 100 paddlers.  It was used in races between the villages.
From the boat builder we cruised to the cigar making & fishing net factory.  The young lady making the cigars by hand was amazing at how quickly she made each one.  Compared to the production I witnessed in Cuba it was impressive.  The cigar shop also sold Myanmar wine.  Bolo then demonstrated fishing net production.

After the demonstration we boarded the boat and cruised to the Phaung Daw Dp Paya pagoda.  The channel in front of the pagoda was nicely stoned with a dock to off load visitors.  The pagoda complex had a large plaza.  It was an unusual pagoda because it didn’t have a large Buddha image.  The central altar of the pagoda had five medium size lumps of gold.  The lumps were at one time were wood images of Buddha.  Over the hundreds of years gold leaf covered the images to the extent that the details of Buddha likeness had disappeared.  Every year the images are carried in a barge around the lake.  In 1965 the boat overturned spilling the images in the lake.  Four of the images were immediately recovered but the fifth one could not be found.  When the four images were returned to the pagoda the fifth one was found on the altar.  The unexplained miracle had made the five images special.

We walked around the pagoda seeing women embroider blouses with beads.  Bolo then took me over to a shed that contained the barge that was used in the annual parade of the images.  It was impressive with a lot of gold leaf and the bow had a large duck head.  We then left the five story pagoda and boarded our boat.
From Phaung Daw Dp Paya we cruised through floating gardens one of the areas the people it the area are proud of.  I saw rows of tomatoes.  They even had a man in a boat spraying the plants against insects.  Past the floating garden we stopped at the Nga Phe Monastery.  It was known as the ‘Jumping Cat Monastery’ because monks had trained cats to jump through hoops.  Unfortunately they were not performing when we arrived.  We did walk around the monastery and saw its several sitting Buddha images.  It was our last site to visit for the day and we started the cruise back to the resort.  On the glassy surface water it was a pleasant ride.

I took some pictures of some beautiful cloud formations and then a fierce storm hit.  It was sudden and the wind increased creating foot high white capped waves.  The boat started to rock and the boat Captain become concerned, actually I learned later he was scared, and beached the boat on an island of floating grass.  The Captain climbed up to the bow and crawled into a small space to shelter himself from the fierce rain and wind.  I had the pink umbrella and I had to hold it tight to try to protect me from the driving rain.  It was then with nothing else to see I stared at the umbrella with its dozens of pictures of Justin Bieber.  For over thirty minutes I sat there staring at the pictures wondering when the wind and rain would let up.  Finley Bolo convinced the Captain to return to the helm and start the engine and back away from the grass island and continue to the resort.

By the time we reached the ‘river pilots’ house the rain had stopped and the lake surface was as smooth as glass again.  It had been an hour since the rain started.  I was soaking wet and when I reached my cabin I emptied my pockets and shed my clothes in the outdoor shower.  I washed all the clothes and myself, rung the clothes out and hung them up to dry.
At 19:00 I walked to the restaurant wearing my bathing suit and a t-shirt.  The dining room was just opening and I was the first patron.  I ordered a tuna sandwich and tried to finish before the resort guests, many dressed like they were on a cruise ship arrived.  A few did arrive just as I was leaving.  It had been one heck of an experience.

Returning to my room I spread the contents of my pockets and wallet on the counter and hoped they would dry overnight.  I was too exhausted to write in my journal and went to bed early.

Tuesday, May, 06, 2014: Tour Indein, Myanmar and then fly Heho, Myanmar to Yangon

I woke before my alarm and took a shower and packed.  Most of my items dried and I used the hair dryer to finish things that were still a little damp.  Breakfast started at 06:30 but there were only a couple of people eating when I arrived.  They served a set meal on the outside deck facing the lake.  I noticed they had cute little metal figures on the deck railing.  I was particularly impressed with a figure of two boys playing rattan ball (similar to volley ball but the players have to use their feet to kick the ball over the net).  It was clever with the net and the ball.  Other figures included dancers and fishermen and fisherwomen.

After breakfast I checked out paying for the dinner the night before.  Bolo showed up at 08:30 and we departed to cross the lake to the village of Indein.  It took over an hour to cross the lake and navigate canals to reach the village.  We left the boat and walked to the village.  Along the way we walked past a Nursery School.  It was fun to see the little kids playing just like kids do all over the world.  They had a swing set and a see saw plus some other play things in their yard.  The village has no government provided electricity and homes have to use solar power or generators.  Just as Bolo was telling me about the electricity I passed a young girl talking on a cell phone and then a barbershop with music playing so I think the village has plenty of electric generators.  There was also a satellite TV antenna on a number of buildings.

We walked among cows and their version of Chinese engine trucks to the Shwe Inn Dain Pagoda.  Along the way we passed a day care center with pre-school kids playing on a homemade swing set.  I guess kids love to swing in any country.  We first entered the Nyaung Oak Monastery, a rather run down wooden building.  Outside the Monastery we walked among small ancient stupas, many with trees growing through them, similar to the Angkor Wat area in Cambodia.  We then entered a very long covered walkway designed for festival processions now, lined with vendors until we reached the entrance to the Shwe Inn Dain Pagoda.

A brief history of the pagoda was posted near the entrance to the walkway.

The pagoda lies near the Inn Dain Khome village which is on the western back of Inlay Lake, Nyaung Shwe Township in Shan State.  According to the stone inscription, it is known that a small original stupa donated by King Siri Dhamma Sawka (273-232 BC) was encased in the present pagoda.
There is one brick stairway on each side on the western part.  The eastern stairway in the longest one (200’ x 12.5’) owing to the successive renovation.  The groups of stupas exist in the entrance of the eastern stairway.  According to the inventory of monuments in 1999, it is listed altogether (1054) pagodas.  The different types of traditional architectural designs, art and craft work created between 14th century AD and 18th century AD can be seen in these pagodas.  Moreover, the mural paintings can be studied in two temples.

Near the entrance we walked among the stupas.  There is a moratorium on Buddhist building new stupas so instead they can refurbish an existing stupa to achieve the same result of eternal life.  So among the 1054 stupas were many that had been refurbished.  The individual that refurbishes the stupa places a plaque at the base of the stupa with their name.

We had to take our shoes off to enter the pagoda and I found it a little funny that inside the building there was a motorcycle parked.  I guess you can ride in but can’t walk in with shoes on.  Anyway the pagoda contain several very beautiful sitting gold Buddha images, a standing gold Buddha image and a gold duck image.  Close to the pagoda entrance were many of the finely refurbished stupas.  One area had two rows of a dozen similarly designed stupas with fresh gold paint.  It was very impressive.

We left the pagoda and walked back down the long walkway and turned to take a path through the woods to the Indein Weir dam.  Along the path we past woman selling cloth and some were just setting up their tables.  Several had their children with them.  A more permanent structure was under construction with concrete blocks and teak wood beams.

Just past the dam we entered an area with several restaurants and although it was only 10:45 Bolo said we should have lunch.  There was a group of young girls their faces brightly painted in different designs with Thanaka cream.  They were very cute and wanted me to purchase a colorful scarf.

The restaurant Bolo picked the local Golden Kite which was owned by the same Italian restaurant we had eaten in the day before on the lake.  I had enjoyed the pizza the day before so I ordered one again.  It was called the Tony Pizza (Tomato Sauce+Mozzarella+Pesto Sauce+Permesan Cheese).  Again it was delicious.  As we were eating 6 young boys were skinny dipping in the channel and when we finished they helped maneuver out boat to a dock where we could board.  They real had fun helping with the maneuvering.

We started out to cross the lake.  About thirty minutes in our journey we stopped at the Mya Hin Tha Special Fish Silver Smith Work Shop & Show Room.  There I was given a demonstration on the fine art of silver and their specialty of fashioning a silver fish that can be used as ear rings, a pin or hung on a chain.
Next door we visited a long neck woman.  Women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe are well known for wearing neck rings, brass coils around their necks to appear to stretch their necks when in fact the weight of the brass pushes the collar bone down and compresses the rib cage.  The neck itself is not lengthened; the appearance of a stretched neck is created by the deformation of the clavicle.  There is no known reason for the tradition which starts when the woman is five years old.  Some think it was started to make the woman less desirable to concurring tribes others think it is a turn on for the men in the Kayan Lahwi tribe.  Anyway it was interesting to see but felt painful.  The oldest woman was weaving but there were two young ladies selling handicrafts wearing the brass coils.

Our next stop was at the Shwe Thit Sar Umbrella, Shan Paper Bamboo Hat Center.  There I was given a demonstration on the art of making paper from mulberry tree bark.  The bark is pounded into wet mush and spread on a screen where it is dried in the sun to form a sheet of paper.  The paper is used in printing and in making umbrellas and hats.

That was our last site to visit on the lake.  We then cruised back through the floating gardens and up the lake to Nyaung Shwe.  It took about an hour to cruise up the lake and we docked in the township and transfer my luggage to the car for the ride to the airport.

Bolo had one more site for me to visit.  It was the Shweyanpyay Monastery just outside the township.  That monastery had novices reading the Buddha scripture.  Most of the other monasteries I had visited were void of monks or novices.

The drive to the airport was quicker than the ride from the airport.  It tooks us only forty five minutes and I was handed off to the young lady that had greeted me on my arrival.  Bolo was not allowed to enter the terminal.  She checked me in and as I waited for the plane to arrive I read a local English language paper the reported a 5.6 magnitude earthquake had hit not far from the lake at the same time we were caught in the violent storm.  It may have contributed to the high waves.

My flight to Yangon took off about twenty five minutes late and had to land at Mandalay in route.  They made up the time at Mandalay and I arrived in Yangon close to the scheduled time of 18:20.  Win was there to greet me and take me to the hotel.

I knew the room layout and was able to get good night’s sleep.

Wednesday, May, 07, 2014: Tour Yangon, Myanmar and the fly Yangon, Myanmar to Bangkok, Thailand

I woke at 05:30 and went to breakfast at 06:30.   After breakfast I returned to my room and packed.  At 08:00 I met Sing in the lobby to take me on a tour of Yangon.
The first stop on the tour was at the Ferry Terminal we had visited on my arrival in Yangon only this time Sing purchased a ticket for us to take the ferry across the bay to the Dala.  The ferry was packed and we sat upstairs.  I was on the side between openings which restricted my full view.  Although the ferry took less than twenty minutes it was full of vendors working the crowd to sell all sorts of things.  The food vendors I could understand.  But I wondered in my mind why someone would buy a hat while taking a twenty minute ferry ride but the hat vendor sold several just in my immediate area.

The Fala Ferry Terminal area was a hustle bustle place with a lot of taxis, shops and vendors.  Sing arranged for us to take a Trishaw around the area.  The side seat was slightly narrow for my body so they piled up pillows so I was sitting above the side rails.  That also meant I was prone to slide off the seat but I held on to prevent that from happening.  I felt sorry for the poor young man named Longyi having to pedal my weight.  We cycled around the streets of the area stopping at one point next to a water pump and lily covered pond.  Sing explained that the area has no sweet water so the pond is a catchment for rain.  The water shortage is so acute that the days and hours are restricted to use the pump.  The people from the city donate water for the Dala inhabitants.  The homes we saw on our ride were pretty run down.  It was a sharp contrast to the homes in the city and even in Bagan, Mandalay and Nyaung Shwe.  The main street was concrete and the side streets was packed dirt.  I saw several very little kids with Thanaka cream on their cheeks.  It was very interesting to see such young kids with makeup.

When we returned to the Ferry Terminal the area had thinned out but the ferry back to the city was just as crowded and the same vendors were working the passengers and making sales.  We had only been on the island a little over an hour.

We found Win parked next to the terminal in the Yacht Club parking lot next door.  Our next stop was the Bogyoke Mall also referred to as Scotts Market.  It had existed for decades and was reminiscent of many of the shopping centers to early Hong Kong.  It had sections selling everything under the sun.  The first area we entered was cameras and then electronics followed by watches.  Next it was jewelry, gold and silver.  We then entered the clothing area and finally the food area.  On our return to find the van we encountered sidewalk vendors sell handicrafts.

Our next stop was the National Museum.  They didn’t allow photographs.  The brochures describing the museum described the museum as follows.  It was a five story building with 14 galleries divided into Culture and Historic Periods.  The Culture galleries included:

  • ·         Burmese Epigraphy and Calligraphy
  • ·         Burmese Traditional Folk Art
  • ·         Burmese Performing Arts
  • ·         Burmese Art Gallery 1
  • ·         Burmese Art Gallery 2
  • ·         Buddha Images
  • ·         Ethnic Cultures

The Historic galleries included:
  • ·         Natural History
  • ·         Prehistoric Period and Protohistoric Period
  • ·         Burmese Historic Period
  • ·         Royal Regalia
  • ·         Lion Throne
  • ·         Yadanabon Period
  • ·         Ancient Ornaments

As interesting as it was it replicated in pictures and models a lot of what I had seen in Bagan and Mandalay so my tour of the museum didn’t take that long.  It was then noon and Sing stopped for lunch at the Khaing Khaing Kyaw Myanmar Restaurant.  I wasn’t hungry and figured I would be served a meal on my afternoon flight so I had just one of their fruit smoothies.

My visit to Myanmar came to an end.  It had been a whirlwind tour with a lot of memorable sites and experiences.

Check in at the airport for Thai Airlines was a breeze since there was no one in the Star Alliance Gold line.  Security and Passport Control had no lines and I waited for my flight in the Star Alliance Lounge.  IT had very weak Wi-Fi and I couldn’t connect to Vonage to call Judy.

My flight was on an A-300-600 aircraft and took off just fifteen minutes late.  They served a very interesting lunch of a shrimp salad with raisins and pieces of apple, coconut cake, wine and a juice box.  It took less than two hours to fly to Bangkok.  They parked the aircraft on the edge of the ramp and we had to take a bus to the International Arrivals terminal.  The bus ride took about ten minutes.  It appeared that we toured the whole airport complex before finally arriving at the terminal.

I had to fill out an arrivals form.  I don’t understand why the forms had not been passed out on the plane, but the Immigration lines were short and then I had a long walk to the other end of the Arrivals hall to the carousel with my bag.  Once I passed Customs the walk to the exit where the Novotel bus parked was not long and I was soon in the hotel.  When I arrived in my assigned room I had a letter on my desk inviting me to an art show that was to take place in the lobby.

I went down to attend the art show.  It was a young French painter, Thribaud Tchertchain that uses black spray paint to crate large impressionistic black on white pictures of people on large (6x4ft) canvas.  He had 17 paintings on display.  He called the show “Blackwhite By Tchertchian”.  I met Thribaud and we had a long conversation, first about my daughter Robin’s new job as Chief Auction Officer, North America for Auctionata, then about my father’s history as an artist and finally about my travel.  I also had long conversations with the Manager of the Art Gallery in the hotel that sold the art on display.  They had an open bar and great finger food so I saved on not having to go to dinner.  It was an interesting diversion from the thirty seven days I had been on the road.

When I returned to my room I was concerned about carrying all my luggage to Laos so I went back down to the lobby stores and purchased a small bag which I then filled with items I didn’t think I would need in Laos.
The hotel had good Wi-Fi for a fee but since I was a Novotel Frequent Guest they provided 12 hours of free connect.  There was assign on the desk apologizing for charging and blamed it on the airport which they connect through to the Internet.

I was able to call Judy and to pay my May bills online and clean up some of my email backlog.  I retired at 22:00.

Myanmar had been a very interesting experience.  There was so much to the country; I would like to return to visit other areas.  I was then on to visit Laos.

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