Welcome to our Blog page, where we tell a few stories about some of our travels around the world. With plenty of pictures and a short story of the good, the bad and anything else!

March 2020

Myanmar

YANGON

Crazy drivers where road lanes are a suggestion, honking one’s horn is as essential as the review mirrors in a car and tailgating is the normal mode of operating. The air is polluted not with the efforts of industry; but, rather that of leaf litter and rubbish burn off. You’ll see in the photo’s they aren’t quite clear - that is the smog. Yangon, like the country is filled with Pagoda’s. Everywhere you turn there is a pagoda or stupa or temple complex – what is the difference you may ask, well a stupa you can’t walk through, a pagoda is a multi-tiered tower and temple complex is an area with multiple shrines and pavilions for worshippers to sit and pray to the Buddha, these last two seemed to be used interchangeably for the one site. The most precious of pagoda’s is Shwedagon Pagoda, with the hti covered in gems of rubies and diamonds with a 76-carat diamond sitting on the very top!  Sule Pagoda which was in the city centre is surrounded by busy roads, shops and colonial style buildings. Gold is common in Myanmar in fact the country is rich in gems. These two are what most tourists go to see, whilst there are many, many more on offer if you so desire.

A cultural show and dinner at the Karaweik Palace on Kandawgyi Lake was an entertaining evening! We were surprised to find that locals come to this two-hour entertainment evening and as we discovered it’s more for the variety of good food than the cultural show. The emcee was a quietly spoken gentlemen who very politely introduced each act; but, with the terrible audio set up we couldn’t understand a word he was saying and therefore missed out on valuable information. The food was fantastic with plenty of options and it was fresh, so no concern about bacteria! A walk around the lake takes about an hour at a slow walk with photo stops.

The circular train is a great experience for those that want to see the locals both inside and outside of the carriage. It’s a three-hour slow journey on plastic seats, costing about 20 cents for a ticket. The only air conditioning is that provided is by open windows and doors and ceiling fans. I suggest going on the morning journey at 9:20am as it’s a very pleasant temperature and just starts to warm up at the end. You pass urban areas and countryside, even the airport; the entire journey is above ground so you don’t miss a thing. Vendors come aboard selling their wares and commuters lugging their daily purchases of water jars, groceries and cabinets also use this mode of transport.

Yangon Heritage Trust offer 2.5-hour walking tours of the city. They are a bit more expensive than what I have paid for in the past for European tours; but, the money is used towards advocacy for the protection of the city’s urban heritage and Europe is bloated with walking tour operators. The city sure does have some nice colonial style buildings some in disrepair due to the prevailing thought that they were part of a period of colonisation and who wants to remember that! The Rosewood Hotel is gorgeous, do yourself a favour, go inside and look around and look at the sorbets - delicious!

From city to village in one easy ten-minute ferry ride across the Yangon River, the village of Dala on a trishaw is a great way to get around. It was an educational tour as we learnt that the people in this village are mainly made up those that lost their homes to an earthquake many years ago and life is tough here. We visited a candle making workshop and a samosa pastry workshop, both family operated businesses.

For those that like secondhand books, go walk down 37th street between Mahan Bandula and Merchant Roads, guaranteed you’ll be there awhile. Don’t worry there are English books and plenty of them dating back to the early 19th century too.

Bogyoke Market is one market that is a site to see and experience. Yes, all the usual souvenir items are there: lacquered bowls & ornaments, scarfs, clothes, etc; but, there is a section dedicated to tailoring and another area dedicated to pharmaceuticals of all imaginable descriptions and that is just a small portion of this incredible market.

I would allow at least 3 days in Yangon and be prepared for smog and pagoda's. Enjoy!

                            

                                                                                    

   

                                                                            

                                                                      

                              

                              

                                                                                              

                                  

                                                                  

                                                                  

               


BAGAN

Just over an hours flight from Yangon, Bagan is a landscape crowded with Pagoda’s; built by anyone that can afford to pay for one. A short drive from the Bagan airport to a viewing platform which shows just how crowded it is. No wonder hot air ballooning is popular in this region the views would be breathtaking. But, the smoggy nature of the area makes it a hit and miss activity to do. Upon our arrival into Bagan we decided not to do this activity due to the smog and six days later the sky was clear. A cheaper and less intimidating; for those with a fear of heights, alternative is to go to Bagan Nyat Tower which has fantastic 360-degree views from the 13th & 3rd floors. And get up early in the morning and stand atop one of the many viewing platforms to see the hot air balloons take off and ride the morning breeze over the landscape – a peaceful sight.

                                 

                                 

                                 

        

  

A sunset horse and carriage ride throughout the pagodas of Bagan is a chance to get up close to them. And photographers can get some great photos. Warning, it is a very bumpy ride so those with back issues will want to consider carefully about doing it, if so, make sure you take the front seat. Another popular way of weaving around the great many pagodas is by electric moped, these are hired out very cheaply.

        

Ananda Temple is a beautiful 12th century temple complex with a rich coloured interior. There are quite a few temples that you can enter and stroll around. Modest dress is required by everyone in all pagoda’s and temples, which means knees covered and shoulders covered.

         

A visit to the local market that sells everything - food, meats, clothing, laundry items, medicines, ornaments, etc is a great experience. The stalls are crammed together, built on stilts, and have awnings made of any material the stall owner can get their hands on. In the heat of the day this is quite pleasant and the sun is blocked; but, after a while you can feel the lack of air flow.

            


We visited a lacquer factory which was a fascinating education in how to create intricate items. A lengthy process (approx. 12months) which can be affected by the weather. Products made from either bamboo or bamboo & horse tail hair they are coated 12 times both inside and 12 times outside giving a sturdy 24 layers of lacquer coating, which is deemed safe for use for food and beverage and unbreakable. No glues are used and should be handwashed only. There was also a couple of people working with gold leaf on bracelets and jewellery boxes.

                                  


Visiting one of the many sugar shops in Bagan is also quite educational to learn how they make palm sugar confectionary, alcoholic beverages, there are also ladies making mobiles out of the palm fonds.

                                           

        

Just over an hour’s drive from Bagan is Mount Popa National Park and Mont Popa Monastery, it’s a hefty walk up to the top with over 800 steps and the top stairs are narrower and steeper. Along this winding staircase are monkey’s and plenty of them, don’t let my photo here deceive you they are all over the mountain. We were warned that they are opportunists and will snatch at anything. Well sure enough one of our ladies had her sunglasses ripped off her face, amazingly she wasn’t scratched and our local guide did manage to get them back by trading her water bottle for them; but, that was only out of pure luck the monkey dropped them, I’m sure he would have taken both items if he could have held them. It was hard to capture the inside of the temple and there wasn’t much to see, the worthwhile effort in climbing the stairs (and there is no lift) is the vista views.

                                                        

                                               

                                               

                  

There are so many Pagoda’s here, it will surely give you your fill of temples. I would allow 3 full days in Bagan as this will then allow you to site see outside of the town area.


Mandalay

A bustling city along the banks of the Irrawaddy River in the centre of the country and is the last capital before it fell into British hands in 1885.

Across the Irrawaddy from Mandalay there is a town called Min Kun and home to the Unfinished Pagoda of which the base took over 42 years to build, It was an amazing site to walk around. A short walk away there is a shrine to the Buddhist monk that recited all 729 scriptures of the Buddha and once in Mandalay it’s worthwhile going to see, The World’s Largest Book where all 729 scriptures are etched into tablets and housed in 729 little pagoda’s surrounding Kuthodaw Pagoda. Further on is Mya Thein Tan Pagoda, a pretty pagoda affectionately known as the ‘wedding cake’ pagoda due to its colour and architecture. It was made by a husband whose wife had died not long after giving birth to their child.

                                  

                             

                                               

The Golden Palace Monastery (Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung), once formed part of the palace complex of Amarapura prior to being reconstructed as a monastery, it’s still possible to see the gold gilding that once covered the interior of the building. For the male gender, a visit to Mahamuni Pagoda would be worthwhile as you can buy a small packet of gold leaf and lay it onto the Buddha image. A visit to a gold leaf workshop is quite educational to learn the process of creating gold leaf, watching the young men pound the gold gave me back ache!

                  

                                        

                                                                                                     

Only one street in Mandalay carves the Buddha images from marble for the entire country. A walk down this street should be done with caution for those with chest and lung issues, as there is no OH&S adhered to here, fine marble dust permeates the air. Some vendors not only sell the images; but, also other images and even sell small trinkets.

                                                                       

                                                                                         

Silk weaving is popular in Mandalay and a visit to one of the factories should feature in your itinerary, great products to be found in these buildings. The factory we visited have designs so intricate that the weavers complete only 5 centimetres per day.

                         

U-Bein Bridge may have photogenic qualities to it; but, those photo’s hide all manner of ugliness. The water is green with algae and looks stagnant, thankfully it didn’t smell. There is rubbish floating on the river, though not bad it does spoil the amenity of the lake. There is no official parking area away from the Bridge, so you must angle your photo’s so that you avoid having a car park scene. We were fortunate enough to have sparkling wine and nibbles as we watched the sun set and we stayed until the sun hit the horizon, whereas, one boat departed the ‘gathering’ area well before the sun was even close to the horizon.

                                                                          

                              

Myanansankyaw, The Mandalay Royal Palace the setting for some many factual and fictional dramas is quite the ghost town now-a-days. It is possible to walk through the complex but there is nothing to see and therefore, best seen from a distance. For good views of Mandalay go to Sutaungpyai Pagoda a stunning pagoda decorated in bright coloured mosaic and tiles.

                                                

                               

                                                        

I would allow at least 3 days in Mandalay to enjoy all that it has and the surrounding towns like Amarapura and Min Kun.

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