Amarapura

sunset at u bein bridge

Monday, February 16:  After my horrible experience in Ava, I’m happy to be back with Meemo again.  He takes me back to Amarapura, where we started our day this morning, and he parks the car near U Bein Bridge.  I find this colorful boat pulled up on the shore.

Boat at U Bein Bridge

Boat at U Bein Bridge

Meemo has instructed me to walk across U Bein Bridge, but now that I see the boats, I wonder if I should instead take one to watch the sunset.  I always love to be on a boat, but in the distance I can see the impossibly long bridge and I feel like I should walk on the bridge.

Boatman at U Bein Bridge

Boatman at U Bein Bridge

U Bein Bridge is a 165-year-old bridge that spans the shallow Taungthaman Lake; it is known as the world’s longest teak footbridge at over 1.2km in length.  I guess if you add enough modifiers to a thing, it can be the longest or the best of whatever it is.  Apparently the bridge is supported by 1086 poles, only some of which have been replaced by concrete supports.

Construction on the bridge began in 1849 when the capital of Ava Kingdom moved to Amarapura, and the bridge is named after the mayor who had it built.  It was built from wood reclaimed from the former royal palace in Inwa.

Beneath the bridge, seasonal vegetable gardens splay out along the shore.  People are sitting under an umbrella beside a little hut in the middle of the fields.

hut in the grasslands along the shore of Taungthaman Lake

hut in the grasslands along the shore of Taungthaman Lake

Tourists are getting situated in their boats for the best sunset views.

Boats in Taungthaman Lake

Boats in Taungthaman Lake

It’s the dry season now in Myanmar, so the lake is very low and the bridge seems very high.  It has no railings on it, so I feel I should pay attention so I don’t go toppling off.

U Bein Bridge

U Bein Bridge

All the boats are lined up parallel with the bridge.  The sun will set on the opposite side of the bridge, so they will see the sun set behind the bridge.

Boats in Taungthaman Lake

Boats in Taungthaman Lake

There is a lone gnarled tree on the west side of the bridge that makes the landscape look like a post-apocalyptic scene.

Taungthaman Lake at sunset

Taungthaman Lake at sunset

Boats in Taungthaman Lake

Boats in Taungthaman Lake

Boats lined up to view the sunset at U Bein Bridge

Boats lined up to view the sunset at U Bein Bridge

The bridge seems to go on forever.

U Bein Bridge

U Bein Bridge

About halfway across, you can climb down off the bridge and walk to the shore amidst the farmland.

On the shore of Taungthaman Lake

On the shore of Taungthaman Lake

There on the shore, we can get a close up view of the boats.

Boats lined up for the sunset

Boats lined up for the sunset

And standing on the shore, we can see the sun start to drop behind the bridge.

U Bein Bridge as the sun sets

U Bein Bridge as the sun sets

Sunset at U Bein Bridge

Sunset at U Bein Bridge

Boats and U Bein Bridge at sunset

Boats and U Bein Bridge at sunset

U Bein Bridge

U Bein Bridge

Sunset at U Bein Bridge

Sunset at U Bein Bridge

I love these colorful boats and the reflections in the water.  Now that I’ve walked across, I regret that I didn’t take the boat ride.

Boats at Taungthaman Lake

Boats at Taungthaman Lake

U Bein Bridge

U Bein Bridge

U Bein Bridge

U Bein Bridge

As soon as the sun sinks below the horizon, the boats disperse and head back to the western shore.

All the boats head for shore

All the boats head for shore

As is common in many scenic places, a bride and groom are having their photos taken on the western shore, beside the gnarly tree.  Some boaters are busily taking pictures of the couple, while I take pictures of all of them.

People in a boat at Taungthaman Lake take photos of a wedding party on the shore

People in a boat at Taungthaman Lake take photos of a wedding party on the shore

As I retrace my steps back to the western shore, I can look down and see the cafe hut where many people are having drinks to watch the sunset.

A little cafe for sunset-watching

A little cafe for sunset-watching

There’s a pretty white pagoda on the shore in the midst of green fields.

pagoda along the shore of Taungthaman Lake

pagoda along the shore of Taungthaman Lake

By the time I make it back, all the boats are moored for the night and the tourists have all left.

boats at Taungthaman Lake

boats at Taungthaman Lake

boats at Taungthaman Lake

boats at Taungthaman Lake

boats at U Bein Bridge

boats at U Bein Bridge

Meemo drives me back to Mandalay, where I take a bit of a rest before I walk several blocks to Thani Thai Restaurant, recommended by a woman at the hotel.  I have a delicious meal of Pad Thai with prawns and dried shrimp, along with two Myanmar beers.  As my hotel doesn’t have very good wi-fi, I linger awhile over my meal and beers and use the wi-fi to check emails and post some Instagram pictures.

Pad Thai with prawns and dried shrimps

Pad Thai with prawns and dried shrimps

Tomorrow, I’m going on another tour with Meemo and I’m letting him arrange it all.  Who knows what will happen next?

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Categories: Amarapura, Burma, Mandalay, Myanmar, Taungthaman Lake, Thani Thai Restaurant, Travel, U Bein Bridge | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments

a silk weaving factory, a buddhist academy & sagaing hill

Monday, February 16:  After watching the monks eat their lunch at Maha Ganayon Monastery, my driver takes me to the Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory.  When I was at the monastery, I saw a couple of elegant girls wearing beautiful scarves, and being the scarf fanatic I am, I wondered if they got them here in Myanmar.  When I arrive at the Silk Weaving Factory, I see the girls are here as well, and I can’t help but ask them where they got their scarves.  They tell me they’re Russian but they got their scarves in Barcelona.  Of course!  Where else?  I love Barcelona and I got myself some amazing things while I was there, but the chance of me finding something similar here in Myanmar, I think, is slim.

I walk around the silk weaving factory, admiring the workers’ concentration and dedication to their craft.

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

I am always attracted to textiles in my travels, and usually when I buy anything, it is some kind of textile, whether a scarf, clothing or a bag.

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Spools of thread at the Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

Spools of thread at the Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory

After watching the weavers for a while, I wander into the shop, where I find the Russian girls trying on some gorgeous scarves.  Of course, these are the kinds of girls who can make anything look good, being tall, thin, young and elegant.  Luckily the scarves aren’t all silk; I often prefer the cotton ones to the silk.  Of course, the girls are very stylish, and though I only have a modicum of style, I do always try to be stylish in my way, in a bohemian casual sort of way.  Ha!  I’m certainly not into name brand styles like Gucci, etc, and I never have been. What I do love are ethnically patterned tops and scarves and even pants, as you’ll soon find out when I confess to my shopping sprees in Myanmar.

The girls tell me they bought their scarves in Barcelona for about 3-4 euros, not as much as the 7-8 dollars they’re asking in this shop.  I think they buy one or two scarves each, beautiful ones at that.  I myself can’t help myself and I buy three for $40.  I already have a huge scarf collection at home, but I can never turn down a new one. Scarves enable me to collect textiles — colors, patterns and textures — for a small sum.  And they spruce up any outfit. 🙂

We leave the silk factory and head to Sagaing Hill, 20 km southwest of Mandalay on the opposite bank of the Ayeyarwady River.  Two parallel bridges link Sagaing and Amarapura, the 1934 Ava Bridge, partially demolished in 1942 to stop advancing Japanese soldiers in WWII.  It was repaired in 1954.  The new Sagaing Bridge was built in 2005 (Lonely Planet Myanmar).  We drive over the new bridge.

Sagaing has an uncountable number of white and gold stupas dotting the green hills.  Though once the capital of an independent Shan kingdom, from 1315, its significance shifted from being political to spiritual.  Today, thousands of monks and nuns call Sagaing home and many Myanmar Buddhists come here to meditate and pray.

We make a stop on the far side of the river to take some pictures of the green hills with the stupas.  Wouldn’t you know it, the Russian girls are here as well.  I run into them throughout the rest of the day, and we laugh every time we see each other as we’re obviously on the same tour circuit.

View of Sagaing

View of Sagaing

Pagoda on the way to Sagaing

Pagoda on the way to Sagaing

another temple on the way to Sagaing

another temple on the way to Sagaing

Meemo first takes me to the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy, set up in 1994 to educate the brightest young monks.

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

The centerpiece of the academy is “a Sanchi-style hemispherical stupa, gilded and embossed with dharma-wheel patterns (Lonely Planet Myanmar).”  It’s quite beautiful and well-maintained, as is the sprawling campus where the monks live and study.

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Prayer cushions at Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Prayer cushions at Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

courtyard at Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

courtyard at Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

Our next stop is U Min Thone Sae Pagoda, also known as Umin Thounzeh.  It’s quite a long walk up a steep hill, with hundreds of steps flanked by souvenir shops all the way.  Near the top of the hill, as is typically the case all through Myanmar, I must leave my flip-flops and proceed barefooted.  Luckily, there are no monkeys leaving their droppings all over this pagoda.

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Umin Thounzeh is famous for its crescent-shaped building, housing 45 Buddha images seated in a curved column around the perimeter. Thirty entrances are designed to create the impression of caves, therefore the name Umin Thounzeh, which literally means 30 Caves.

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

After climbing all the way to the top, I start making my way back down the multitudes of steps.  I get almost to the bottom when one of the ladies points to my feet.  “Shoes!” she says.  I look down, and sure enough I’m still barefooted!  I left my flip-flops all the way at the top.  This is only the first of many flip-flop incidents I will have in Myanmar.  I turn around and climb all the way back up to the top, find my flip-flops and make my way down.  Back at the bottom I buy a necklace and a bracelet made of the seeds that fall from the surrounding trees.  The set costs me about $4.

Our next stop is Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya, also known as “early offering shrine,” is the most important temple on the southern end of Sagaing Hill.

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

View from U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

View from Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

View of Sagaing Hill from U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

View of Sagaing Hill from Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

View from U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

View from Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

U Min Thone Sae Pagoda

Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

Paintings for sale at Swan Oo Pon Nya Shin Pagoda

Paintings for sale at Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya

After leaving Sooon U Pon Nya Shin Pagoda, we head for a small riverside restaurant for lunch.  On the way, we pass by another random temple which I find quite pretty.

a random pretty temple on the way to Ava

a random pretty temple on the way to Ava

At the open-air local Myanmar restaurant, I order chicken with vegetables and rice.  It’s good but nothing special.  After lunch, I’m getting on a small boat to take a horse-drawn carriage through Ava, a four-time royal capital in Myanmar.

Categories: Amarapura, Asia, Mandalay, Myanmar, Pon Nya Shin Paya, Sagaing, Sitagu International Buddhist Academy, Soon U Pon Nya Shin Paya, Swan Oo Pon Nya Shin Pagoda, Thein Nyo Silk Weaving Factory, Travel, U Min Thone Sae Pagoda, Umin Thounzeh | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

pagodas at amarapura & the monks at maha ganayon kyaung

Monday, February 16: Today, I hire a driver named Meemo for 35,000 kyat, or around $35, for the entire day.  He drives me to Amarapura, meaning “City of Immortality;” it was the royal capital in Myanmar for less than 70 years, beginning from 1783. In February 1857, King Mindon began building Mandalay as his new capital city, as per a prophecy.  With the royal treasury depleted by the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, Mindon dismantled the palace buildings of Amarapura, moving the pieces by elephant to build the new capital in Mandalay.  The city walls were pulled down for use as building material for roads and railways.

Meemo first takes me to some nameless pagodas in Amarapura.  They surely do have names, names known only to the locals.  As they’re not really on the tourist circuit, Memo doesn’t introduce me to them by name but merely lets me explore as he accompanies me.  I find them quite beautiful and, happily, deserted.  Only some monks are here, sweeping up leaves and cleaning the grounds.

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Buddha in Pagoda in Amarapura

Buddha in Pagoda in Amarapura

monks sweeping leaves at a pagoda in Amarapura

monks sweeping leaves at a pagoda in Amarapura

monks at work

monks at work

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

An outdoor Buddha

An outdoor Buddha

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Pagoda in Amarapura

Afterwards, we go to Taung Min Gyi Pagoda, where the big Buddha there is being repaired amidst columns of glittering mirrors and tiles.

Buddha under repair at Taung Min Gyi Pagoda

Buddha under repair at Taung Min Gyi Pagoda

Taung Min Gyi Pagoda

Taung Min Gyi Pagoda

Taung Min Gyi Pagoda

Taung Min Gyi Pagoda

We head to Maha Ganayon Kyaung, a sprawling monastery where over a thousand monks queue up every day around 10:30 a.m. to collect lunch in stoneware rice bowls.  Meemo tells me where to stand for a good view and leaves me with the crowd of tourists lining the street, all snapping away at the young monks collecting their only meal of the day.

Mahaganayon Monastery

Maha Ganayon Monastery

According to Myanmar Travel: Mandalay: Amarapura:  This magnificient monastery, founded in 1914, is one of the largest monasteries in Mandalay.  At times there are more than 3,000 monks living and studying here. At 10:30 every morning, hundreds of monks wait in long queues for their Swan (meals). At the same time, hordes of tourists stand watching and photographing them.

Mahaganayon Monastery

Maha Ganayon Monastery

Monk at Mahaganayon Monastery

Monk at Maha Ganayon Monastery

Monks collecting alms

Monks collecting lunch

You can see the tourists lining the sidewalks.  It feels intrusive to me to be here taking pictures of these monks going about their daily business.  However, this is one of the tourist spots and if the monastery didn’t want to allow tourists, I’m sure they wouldn’t.  Maybe they benefit by donations of some sort.

Monks in line for lunch

Monks in line for lunch

1,000 monks

1,000 monks

Monks in line for their daily lunch

Monks in line for their daily lunch

young monks

young monks

novice monks

novice monks

monks collecting their only meal of the day

monks collecting their only meal of the day

monks in line

monks in line

Mahaganayon Monastery

Maha Ganayon Monastery

Mahaganayon Monastery

Maha Ganayon Monastery

the littlest monks

the littlest monks

monks at Mahaganayon Monastery

monks at Maha Ganayon Monastery

Mahaganayon Monastery

Mahaganayon Monastery

stone tablets at Mahaganayon Monastery

stone tablets at Maha Ganayon Monastery

The monks disappear into a dining hall, where they happily eat their meal.  There is no privacy for the poor young monks, as the tourists are standing all around the building, gawking and trying to capture pictures of them through the open doors and windows.

dining hall for the monks

dining hall for the monks

Inside, around the perimeter of the dining hall, the donors for today’s lunch walk contemplatively around, heads bowed and hands together in prayer.

the monks eat their lunch

the monks eat their lunch

Outside, poor Burmese mothers sit with their children, hoping for donations (for photos) from tourists. I give this woman some kyat, knowing the struggle that many Burmese people have eking out a living.

Burmese mother and her children

Burmese mother and her children

As I’m leaving, I find this stray monk walking quickly to collect his meal, obviously running a little late.

a straggler monk heading to lunch

a straggler monk heading to lunch

After we leave the monastery, we head to a silk-weaving factory and then to Sagaing.  I’m amazed by how many monks I’ve already seen in Mandalay, and I’ve been here less than 24 hours.

Categories: Amarapura, Asia, Burma, Mahaganayon Kyaung, Myanmar, Taung Min Gyi Pagoda | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

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