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