Sagaing

a slow cruise down the ayeyarwady river from mandalay to bagan

Wednesday, February 18:  I get up at the crack of dawn to go to the jetty in Mandalay, where I’m to take the N Maikha Shwe Keinnery ferry down the Ayeyarwady River to Bagan.  It’s supposed to be a 10-hour trip.  I should have remembered that from when I booked it ahead of time online for $40, but for some reason I’m confused this morning and am expecting a 5-hour trip!

The Korean guy, Peel, who I met yesterday at breakfast, shares a taxi with me; he gets dropped off first at one jetty and then I get dropped 5 minutes later at another.  The approach to the boat is a steep dusty embankment and I wonder how on earth I’ll get my suitcase onto the boat.  A porter appears to save the day and asks for 1,000 kyat, or $1, to carry the suitcase onto the boat. He hoists it over his head and walks across a rickety gangplank to the boat, with me following.

It’s dark when I board at 6:30 a.m., and my seat is at the very front.  I’m one of the first to board, so I get to watch all the European tourists, mainly German and French, get settled.  I hear some American women complaining about the sum they had to pay their porter to carry their suitcases on board.  The porter is apparently asking for more money than they think they should pay.  I paid mine 1,000, which I assume is the asking price, so I’m surprised they’re complaining.

Here’s my view as we get underway at 7:00 a.m.

N Maikha Shwe Keinnery Boat

N Maikha Shwe Keinnery Boat

As the ferry pulls away from the jetty, we can see the sun rising over the river.

Sunrise on the Ayeyarwady

Sunrise on the Ayeyarwady

Taking off down the river

Taking off down the river

Once we’re underway one of the boat crew announces that we can go up to the dining area for breakfast.  I already ate some of the boxed breakfast provided by my hotel,  but of course I have to take advantage of the breakfast provided on the boat trip.  It turns out to be a hard-boiled egg, a piece of toast, and a cup of coffee.  After I eat, I go outside to the upper deck to watch the scenery go by.

boats on the Ayeyarwady

boats on the Ayeyarwady

It isn’t long before we’re passing by Sagaing Hill, where I went on Monday.  It’s 7:35, but here we slow down as the boatmen use poles to push the boat along the river.  The river is obviously very shallow here.  I hope we don’t run aground!

passing by Mingun

passing by Sagaing Hill

passing Mingun

passing Sagaing

Mingun

Sagaing

colorful boat

colorful boat

Another ferry approaches us from behind; it seems to be moving faster than we are.  They soon pass us by.  I wonder if Peel is on that boat.

another ferry comes up behind us

another ferry comes up behind us

pagodas and Buddhas

pagodas and Buddhas

Boat on the Ayeyarwady

Boat on the Ayeyarwady

We cruise under the Sagaing Bridge, and then the Ava Bridge in short order.  By this time, I’ve moved from the seat in the enclosed lower level of the boat to the top deck, where I can watch life in Myanmar go by.

Bridge over the river

Sagaing Bridge

I love this kind of slow leisurely travel.  I always love to travel by boat — not in a big cruise ship, which doesn’t appeal to me at all, but in small locally owned ferries or boats of any kind.

passing under the bridge

passing under Sagaing Bridge

all hands on deck!

all hands on deck!

passing under another bridge

passing under Ava Bridge

ferry in our wake

ferry in our wake

The landscape bordering the river is flat and the air is hazy.  There really isn’t much to see but sandy shores or miles of uninhabited land.  I do love looking at the colorful fishing boats, houseboats and commercial barges and tugboats.

colorful boats on the river

colorful boats on the river

boats all lined up

boats all lined up

green boats

green boats

tugboat & barge

tugboat & barge

I love watching the fishermen or the people cruising down the river in boats, or boat crewmen doing their jobs.

boatman

boatman

sandy beaches

sandy beaches

the flat land along the river

the flat land along the river

sandy beach along the Ayeyarwady

sandy beach along the Ayeyarwady

a boat brimming with people

a boat brimming with people

Apparently, Burmese fishermen erect temporary houses when the water levels are low, which they are in February.  When the water levels rise, they’ll move their houses to higher land along the river.

riverfront homes

riverfront homes

more riverfront huts

more riverfront huts

flat shoreline

flat shoreline

We even see some livestock grazing along the riverbank.

livestock

livestock

It’s a long, lazy day on the boat, but I’m enjoying every minute.  I’m able to talk to a number of fellow travelers.  We sit in bamboo lounge chairs and watch the river go by and chat about our travels. I meet James and Molly, a couple who are teaching in Yunnan province.  James is from Nashville, Tennessee, and Molly is from New York.   They have only been dating a short while as they met when they came to China and they don’t even teach in the same town.  This is their first trip together.  We share a lot of stories of our travels and our lives.

Molly also recommends the Agga Youth Hotel in Yangon.  The Germans and Shaun and Sarah had all recommended it when we went to Mingun together, and I booked it when I was in Mandalay.  This place must be really great because everyone is recommending it.

barge in the Ayeyarwady

barge in the Ayeyarwady

barge

barge

I also meet another guy, John, who has been in Beijing for 8 years.  He’s trying to start an entertainment company.  It’s when I’m talking to him, nearly 5 hours into our trip, that I say “We should be arriving in Bagan soon.”  He says, “But the boat ride is 10 hours.  We still have a long way to go.”  I’m surprised, but then it dawns on me that I do remember something about this.  Later I consult my Lonely Planet Myanmar and find the ferry ride is in fact 10 hours!

riverfront village

riverfront village

tugboat and barge

tugboat and barge

As it gets hot in the afternoon, I go downstairs where it’s cool to read a while.  I’ve brought along The Crazed by Ha Jin, which is good, but not nearly as engaging as his book Waiting, which I adored.  I also read in Lonely Planet Myanmar about what I’ll be seeing in Bagan.

under another bridge

under another bridge

boats and bridge

boats and bridge

The sun starts to sink in the sky.  I’ve been on this boat from sunrise to sunset and I’ve loved every minute of it. It reminds me of ancient journeys I’ve read about or seen in movies.  I feel like I’ve stepped back in time by 50 or even 100 years.  The journey is nostalgic, unhurried, relaxing.  Sometimes I think we rush through things too quickly and don’t really savor moments like these.

sunset on the Ayeyarwady

sunset on the Ayeyarwady

fellow travelers

fellow travelers

sunset on the Ayeyarwady

sunset on the Ayeyarwady

the sun sets on the river

the sun sets on the river

sunset and boaters

sunset and boaters

sunset on the river near Bagan

sunset on the river near Bagan

sunset as we approach Bagan

sunset as we approach Bagan

We can finally see the shoreline at Bagan, with some of its pagodas and temples.

first glimpse of the shore of Bagan

first glimpse of the shore of Bagan

Finally, after what it turns out is closer to a 12-hour journey, we dock at the jetty in Bagan.

coming in to the Bagan jetty

coming in to the Bagan jetty

At the jetty are a lot of taxis waiting for the tourists to disembark.  I find a driver to take me to the Floral Breeze Hotel for 15,000 kyat.  I settle in and head outside to the courtyard, where I have a dinner of potato and pumpkin curry for 9,000 kyat. It’s the perfect ending to a perfect day. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Ava Bridge, Ayeyarwady River, Bagan, Burma, Irrawaddy River, Mandalay, Myanmar, N Maikha Shwe Keinnery Boat, Sagaing, Sagaing Bridge, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 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

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