Travel

last day in yangon: fighting for the buddhas and the aung san museum

Friday, February 27:  After visiting Shwedagon Pagoda at dawn, I return to the hotel to have breakfast before I shower and go out for my second day in Yangon.  The older lady from South Carolina who is visiting Myanmar from Calcutta, where she lives with her pastor husband, is sitting on one side of me.  Another young couple I recognize is sitting on the other side, and at first I think it’s the Canadian couple from yesterday who went to the elephant reserve.  I know they look familiar anyway, so I ask how they enjoyed the elephant reserve.  They look at me curiously.  It turns out it is Molly and James, from New York and Tennessee respectively, from a slow cruise down the ayeyarwady river from mandalay to bagan.  They are teaching in Yunnan province in China and they had recommended that I stay at this hotel when we were on the boat ride. I can’t believe I got them confused with the other couple from yesterday’s breakfast!

Molly and James are leaving this afternoon on a direct flight from Yangon to Kunming.  I don’t know why I didn’t find that flight; I booked a flight for tomorrow to Mandalay with an overnight in Mandalay, and then a flight from Mandalay to Kunming the day after.  I could have saved myself a lot of jumping around if I had found the direct flight they found!

Oh well, what’s done is done!

I put some stuff together in my backpack to take to the Central Post Office on the Strand.  I figure I’ll send some of my purchases directly home to Virginia rather than sending them to China and then having to transport them back home in July. When I get to the post office, the postal worker takes every single thing out of my bag to inspect it.  She holds aside two Buddha figures I bought, shown below.  I bought them from vendors at Inle Lake who sell souvenirs to tourists.

The postal worker proceeds to tell me that figures of the Buddha are not supposed to be taken out of Myanmar and she asks if I’m Buddhist.  I tell her no but I’m drawn to Buddhist principles.  She asks why, then, do I want to take the Buddhas?  I say I like them for their serenity and as collector’s items.  I will put them in my home as reminders of my travels and the many Buddhas I’ve encountered.  She doesn’t seem to understand why anyone would do this.  She then tells me I need to obtain permission from the National Museum or the Department of Archeology, some such.  She writes the address in Burmese script and tells me to go there or I won’t be able to take the objects out of the country.

Buddha head and reclining Buddha

Buddha head and reclining Buddha

As I spent good money on these objects, I’m pretty outraged that now I’m told I might not be able to take them out of the country. I’m also annoyed that I have to waste my last day in Yangon searching out this place on the outskirts of the city, about 6km away on the other side of town.  With Yangon’s crazy traffic, it takes almost an hour to get to the place.  When I arrive, I sit in a shabby office while a woman inspects the two Buddhas.  First, she refuses to grant permission for the Buddha head because the back half of it has been cut away.  She tells me it needs to be three-dimensional.   When she tells me that they will NOT give permission for either Buddha, I complain that I spent good money on these.  I say they shouldn’t allow vendors to sell them to tourists if we’re not going to be allowed to take them home.  Finally, she goes to get the director.  She then asks me to wait 25 minutes while the officials finish their lunch meeting, as if I have all the time in the world. Before the director comes, she tells me to put the half-Buddha head into my bag, which seems her way of telling me just to take the head out of Myanmar without permission!

The director finally arrives and measures the reclining Buddha with her fingers at 7 inches.  She cuts a piece of string, lights a candle and melts wax onto a small piece of white cardboard to signify that the authorities deem it to be new and not an antique. She wraps the tag around the Buddha’s lower arm and completes a document granting permission for the reclining Buddha.  After this, another woman official comes in and signs and stamps the permission form, spelling out all the details of the Buddha. She photocopies my passport and writes everything carefully in a ledger.

All this while, I’m sitting at a big wooden table  in this disheveled office, papers and pamphlets piled on top like mountains.  This place seems like some shabby building in the middle of nowhere and the people working here don’t seem all that official at all!

Finally, after this ordeal is over, I schlep back to the main road with both Buddhas in my pack, where I catch a taxi.  By this time, it’s 2:00 and I’m starved.  I stop at Biriyani Restaurant for a lunch of Aloo something, breaded vegetables in tomato sauce served over rice.  This restaurant with bright pink walls is rather icy, its air-conditioning on full blast.  It takes forever to get my food.  I can only eat half of it because it’s a huge serving!

After lunch, I catch a taxi to the Bogyoke Aung San Museum, which really isn’t worth the trip.  It seems to be out in the middle of nowhere. This house was where General Aung San lived with his family, including his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, for two years before he was assassinated in July 1947.  His widow and the children stayed in the house until 1953, when their second son Lin drowned in a pond on the grounds.

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

The Colonial era villa, built in 1921, is listed on the Yangon City Heritage List.

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Tourists aren’t allowed to take photos inside the museum but no matter; it is only sparsely furnished with, among other things, family photos, displays of his speeches and handwritten letters to his wife.

garden pathway at the Bogyoke Aung San Museum

garden pathway at the Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

By this time, I am exhausted and irritated that much of my day has been wasted.  Though I originally intended to see two more pagodas, I go straight back to the hotel, where I stay in my pajamas the rest of the night.  I am exhausted from the whole ordeal of the Buddhas; I’m tired of the city and generally travel-weary after having traveled all over China and Myanmar for 6 weeks.  I’m not even hungry, although I do have one Myanmar beer and a bag of chips in my room.

Tomorrow morning, I leave Yangon for Mandalay.

 

Categories: Agga Youth Hotel, Asia, Bogyoke Aung San Museum, Myanmar, Travel, Yangon | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

yangon: shwedagon paya

Friday, February 27:  This morning I get up before dawn; I’ve arranged to take a taxi to see the famous Shwedagon Pagoda at sunrise.  When I arrive, it’s already quite busy despite still being dark.

Shwedagon Pagoda before sunrise

Shwedagon Pagoda before sunrise

Even before sunrise, people are in the various shrines praying.

a shrine at Shwedagon Pagoda

a shrine at Shwedagon Pagoda

Around the base of the stupa, 12 planetary posts conform to the days of the week; locals pray at the station corresponding to the day they were born.  Wednesday is divided into births in the morning and births in the afternoon.

Friday corner

Wednesday morning corner

Wednesday afternoon (Rahu corner)

Wednesday afternoon (Rahu corner)

According to Sacred Destinations, legend has it that the Shwedagon Pagoda is 2,500 years old, but archaeologists estimate it was first built by the Mon sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries (i.e. during the Bagan period).

reclining Buddha

reclining Buddha

shrine at Shwedagon

shrine at Shwedagon

close up of the shrine

close up of the shrine

Buddhas

Buddhas

Buddha's hand

Buddha’s hand

The Shwedagon is referred to in Myanmar as “The crown of Burma.”  As Myanmar’s most revered shrine it is customary for families, mendicants and followers of the Buddha to make the pilgrimage to the Shwedagon in much the same way that Muslims feel compelled to visit the Kaaba at Mecca at least once in their lifetime (The Shwedagon Pagoda).

umbrellas atop Shwedagon Pagoda

umbrellas atop Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda is covered with hundreds of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds; the largest of which is a 72 carat diamond (Shwedagon Pagoda).  The pagoda is said to contain eight hairs of the Buddha along with other relics (The Schwedagon Pagoda).

Many monks and pilgrims are out this morning walking around the pagoda.

a monk walks clockwise around the pagoda

a monk walks clockwise around the pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

at Shwedagon Pagoda

at Shwedagon Pagoda

The Friday corner seems to be quite busy.

pilgrims

pilgrims

the Friday corner

the Friday corner

Every corner has a unique spot to be discovered.

I love the mirrored mosaics that seem to be a part of every temple in Myanmar.

mirror mosaics

mirror mosaics

Another Buddha

Another Buddha

purple halo

purple halo

Buddha

Buddha

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

monk in prayer

monk in prayer

another shrine

another shrine

golden Buddhas

golden Buddhas

mirror mosaics

mirror mosaics

large bell

large bell

mosaics

mosaics

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

monks

monks

I make a brief stop at the Htidaw Sacred Umbrella Pagoda.

I like the painted pagoda with scenes from Myanmar.

There are numerous shrines where devotees can stop to pay tribute to the Buddha.

more Buddhas

more Buddhas

monk at Shwedagon Pagoda

monk at Shwedagon Pagoda

According to Sacred Destinations, the main stupa is supported on a square plinth that stands 6.4m (20 feet) above the platform, setting it apart from the other stupas. On this raised platform are smaller stupas: large ones mark the four cardinal directions, medium ones mark the four corners, and 60 small ones run around the perimeter (Sacred Destinations: Shwedagon Pagoda (Yangon)).

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Because I was born on a Tuesday, I have a particular interest in the Tuesday corner.

Tuesday corner

Tuesday corner

Tuesday corner

Tuesday corner

Tuesday corner

Tuesday corner

It seems many people walk clockwise around the pagoda; I’m confused by those who walk counterclockwise.  I’m not sure of the significance.

pilgrims at Shwedagon Pagoda

pilgrims at Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda is the focus of religious as well as community activities – devotees bustle about and monks wash the statues, offer flowers, worship, and meditate.

pilgrims at Shwedagon Pagoda

pilgrims at Shwedagon Pagoda

pilgrims at Shwedagon Pagoda

pilgrims at Shwedagon Pagoda

After spending nearly two hours exploring all the nooks and crannies of this sprawling pagoda, I head back to the Agga Youth Hotel for some breakfast.

Categories: Asia, Myanmar, Shwedagon Paya, Travel, Yangon | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

yangon city walk: colonial ruins & remnants, an open-air library, street vendors, a street celebration, a foot massage and a haircut

Thursday, February 26:  After having my light lunch at The Strand, I walk up Pansodan St., a street with monumental buildings that was, a century ago, a prime business address in Yangon.

Yangon's colonial buildings

Yangon’s colonial buildings

Myawaddy Bank

Myawaddy Bank

Lokanat Gallery Building

Lokanat Gallery Building

I turn down 37th St., brimming with street side bookstalls; it’s known as Yangon’s open-air library.  I love seeing all the colorful books stacked neatly on the shelves.

It seems every inch of sidewalk space is filled with vendors of every type.

Asparagus for sale

Asparagus for sale

I love the wrought iron balconies, their once bright colors fading and peeling.

faded glory

faded glory

the busy streets of Yangon

the busy streets of Yangon

YangonOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

YangonOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

food stalls

food stalls

I always love to look at newspapers in other countries and wonder what their headlines say.

newspapers

newspapers

treats on sticks

treats on sticks

fly swatting

fly swatting

colorful bicycle

colorful bicycle

food stall on the street

food stall on the street

another food stall

another food stall

cooking up the goods

cooking up the goods

street snacks

street snacks

another busy street

another busy street

colorful Yangon

colorful Yangon

napping in the heat

napping in the heat

faded glory

faded glory

sidewalk color

sidewalk color

unusual architecture

unusual architecture

colorful Yangon

colorful Yangon

a new building

a new building

I am now determined to visit the famous Bogyoke Aung San Market, also known as Scott Market, but it’s hot and a long walk; my feet are killing me.  I sit down on a plastic stool at this man’s lemonade cart and enjoy an ice-cold lemonade.

lemonade stand

lemonade stand

Scott Market serves both locals and tourists and sells cloth, gems, souvenirs, cosmetics, sewing supplies and cheap clothing.  At the market, I buy three more pairs of the cotton pants I’ve become so fond of.

I keep marching on, although by this time, I have blisters on my feet.

steeple

steeple

Yangon traffic

Yangon traffic

vendor's cart

vendor’s cart

Huwei

Huawei

more faded colonial architecture

more faded colonial architecture

I happen to come across a foot massage place, Sapel Foot Spa.  I get an hour-long foot massage, with back and shoulders included, for around $15.  I like my masseuse’s haircut so I take a picture of it and ask her to recommend a hair salon.  I head immediately to the recommended spot for a haircut because after 6 weeks of traveling, my hair has become quite shaggy.   I get a long shampoo and head massage which I think – and hope – will never end!  All of this plus the haircut for around $7.   Sadly, the haircut doesn’t look the same on me as it does on her. 😦

While I’m walking back to my hotel, I stumble across a street celebration of some kind.

I go back to my room to relax awhile then go out later to a place called Mr. Chef.  I get irritated because they don’t have anything I order: I ask for shrimp wontons, shrimp & cauliflower, a banana yogurt shake – all listed on the menu.  They are out of all of those!  I finally settle on an order of prawn spring rolls.

Mr. Chef

Mr. Chef

I’m exhausted after my day-long city walk in Yangon.  Tomorrow will be my last day in Yangon; I fly back to Mandalay on Saturday, where I’ll spend the night.  I’ll fly back to Kunming on Sunday, March 1, and then to Nanning on Monday, March 2. The end of my six-week holiday is fast approaching….

Categories: Asia, Burma, Myanmar, open-air library, Travel, Yangon | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

yangon city walk: city hall to the strand hotel

Thursday, February 26: After leaving Sule Paya, I head east where the sprawling bright white colonial City Hall, with its lavender and purple trim, covers an entire city block. It’s adorned with traditional Myanmar motifs such as peacocks, nagas (serpents), and three-tiered turrets.

Yangon's City Hall

Yangon’s City Hall

It’s quite an impressive building and is maintained perfectly, at least on the outside.

City Hall - Yangon

City Hall – Yangon

peacock adornment at Yangon's City Hall

peacock adornment at Yangon’s City Hall

a bus goes by Yangon's City Hall

a bus goes by Yangon’s City Hall

Yangon's City Hall

Yangon’s City Hall

Yangon's City Hall

Yangon’s City Hall

Yangon's City Hall

Yangon’s City Hall

Yangon's City Hall

Yangon’s City Hall

On the next corner further east is what is now Aya Bank, but was once Rowe & Co department store, known as “Harrods of the East,” according to Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma).

Ava Bank

Aya Bank

Ava Bank

Aya Bank

I can see Sule Paya in the middle of the city’s main traffic circle, with cars and buses whizzing around it.

Sule Paya in the middle of the traffic circle

Sule Paya in the middle of the traffic circle

local bus

local bus

Across the street from Aya Bank is Immanuel Baptist Church, originally build in 1830, and updated in 1885.

Immanuel Baptist Church

Immanuel Baptist Church

inside Immanuel Baptist Church

inside Immanuel Baptist Church

I walk into the Mahabandoola Garden to check out the Independence Monument and enjoy the view of City Hall across the green grass.  The Independence Monument is a 165 ft white obelisk that looks vaguely like the Washington Monument.  It’s guarded by two circles of chinthe (a half-lion, half dragon deity).

Mahabandoola Garden has gone by several names since it was laid out by the British in 1868. First called Fytche Square after the chief commissioner at the time, it was later named Victoria Park, to commemorate the queen.  Her statue has now been replaced by Independence Monument.  After Independence, the park was renamed to honor a Burmese hero who died in action in the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824.

Independence Monument at Mahabandoola Garden

Independence Monument at Mahabandoola Garden

view of City Hall from Mahabandoola Garden

view of City Hall from Mahabandoola Garden

view of City Hall from Mahabandoola Garden

a chinthe’s view of City Hall from Mahabandoola Garden

At the southern end of the garden is the Queen Anne-style High Court with its bell clock tower.

the High Court

the High Court

me in Mahabandoola Garden with City Hall behind

me in Mahabandoola Garden with City Hall behind

a monk in Mahabandoola Garden

a monk in Mahabandoola Garden

Sule Paya from Mahabandoola Garden

Sule Paya from Mahabandoola Garden

I continue my walk toward the Strand that runs along Yangon River.

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Yangon architecture

Yangon architecture

Myawaddy Bank

colonial architecture of Yangon

colonial architecture of Yangon

I can see the majestic but faded Yangon Region Court on the corner of Strand Rd. and Pansodan Street.  One of Yangon’s oldest masonry buildings, it dates from around 1900. Apparently bomb damage from WWII is still visible on the Bank St side of the building, but I don’t see that today.

Myawaddy Bank

Region Court

Crossing over a pedestrian bridge leading to the waterfront, I can see Yangon’s traffic swirling and buzzing beneath me.

view of Strand Road from a footbridge

view of Strand Road from a footbridge

traffic on Strand Road

traffic on Strand Road

Myawaddy Bank

Yangon’s Region Court

Myawaddy Bank

the Region Court

The Strand Hotel

The Strand Hotel

As it’s around noon and I’m hot, tired and hungry, I decide to stop for a light lunch at the Victorian-style Strand Hotel, listed on the Yangon City Heritage List.  This 1901 hotel hosted luminaries such as Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell and W. Somerset Maugham in its early years.  It was run by the famous Sarkies brothers, who owned Raffles in Singapore and the Eastern and Oriental in Penang.  The Australian Embassy is now housed in an annex.  During WWII, the Japanese took over the running of the Strand, renaming it the Yamato Hotel, and using it briefly to house Japanese troops. During a dark stretch of Burmese history, from 1962-1989, the Strand was owned and managed by the Burmese government.  After three years of renovations, the Strand reopened in luxurious glory in 1993. (Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma))

As it’s very hot today in Yangon, I’m happy to sit inside for a while in air-conditioning.  It’s worth every penny of the $26 it costs me for a Camembert, walnut and toast salad, accompanied by a Perrier and fresh papaya juice.

Camambert, walnut and toast salad for lunch

Camambert, walnut and toast salad for lunch

inside the Strand Hotel

inside the Strand Hotel

Inside the Strand Hotel

Inside the Strand Hotel

Leaving the fabulous Strand, and feeling refreshed, I continue my walk up Pansodan Street towards 37th Street’s open air library.

Categories: Asia, Aya Bank, Burma, City Hall, High Court, Immanuel Baptist Church, Independence Monument, Mahabandoola Garden, Myanmar, Myawaddy Bank, Strand Hotel, Strand Road, Sule Paya, Travel, Yangon | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

city walk: yangon’s colonial treasures {vendors aplenty & sule paya}

Thursday, February 26:  Today is Mike’s 61st birthday, so before I even get out of bed on this, my first day in Yangon, I text him back and forth several times to send him good wishes.

I go to breakfast on the 8th floor of Agga Youth Hotel.  First, I meet an older lady from South Carolina who is visiting Myanmar from Calcutta, where she lives with her pastor husband.  She has the day ahead of her without her spouse; he has meetings to attend all day.  She says she will stay in the hotel all day.  I can’t imagine being afraid to go out and explore a new city alone.  I used to be like that years ago, before I figured out that all you have to do is put one foot in front of another, and a whole world opens up before you!

I also talk at length with another couple from Toronto, Canada.  The girl is wearing the cutest tank top with a colorful elephant on it; she got it in Thailand, but I make a note to keep an eye out for something similar on my last couple of days here.  They are heading today to an elephant park that’s 2 hours away from Yangon.

After breakfast, I move to room 306-307, a triple room, because when I woke this morning I had no water at all, and when the water finally did come on, it was cold. This new room is more acceptable than the first room, but most rooms seem to be interior rooms with no windows that feel very claustrophobic.  After breakfast, I take a shower in my new room, but the water is still cold.  I’m afraid I’ll have to move rooms again, but I notice there’s a button to turn on the water heater.  I turn it on, hoping this will solve the problem tomorrow.

At 10 a.m., I begin a self-guided walking tour of Colonial Yangon.  I’m following the City Walk from Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma).  From the hotel, my first planned stop is Sule Paya, but I walk down a lot of streets busy with commerce before I get there.  I’ve never seen streets with so many vendors packed onto the sidewalks.  They’re grouped together by products; in one area are all tools and machine parts, in another are old-fashioned sewing machines and sewing accoutrements.  Food vendors are of course interspersed among the other vendors.

Yangon gate

Yangon gate

signage in the city

signage in the city

One of the reasons I’m interested in downtown Yangon, formerly Rangoon, is for its colonial architecture.  Many of the buildings today, after years of neglect, are crumbling and dilapidated, but I can still see some of the city’s former glory.

dilapidated colonial architecture

dilapidated colonial architecture

I pass by a temple that looks similar to temples I’ve visited during my time in China.

Buddhist temple

Buddhist temple

dragon

dragon

I love the sewing machine street with the fancy old-fashioned sewing machines.

sewing machine heaven

sewing machine heaven

classics

classics

sewing machines of the past

sewing machines of the past

sewing machines for sale

sewing machines for sale

yarns

yarns

more yarns

more yarns

Food vendors abound on the streets of Yangon.

fruits and vegetables

fruits and vegetables

I love the colorful buildings, even in their disheveled state.

Yangon streets

Yangon streets

a local vendor

a local vendor

Yangon streets

Yangon streets

food cart

food cart

Finally, I arrive at Sule Paya.  This 2,000 year old golden temple sits in the middle of the city’s primary traffic circle.  I have to go into an underground tunnel to get to it.

Sule Paya

Sule Paya

inside Sule Paya

inside Sule Paya

characters of Sule Paya

characters of Sule Paya

another figure at Sule Paya

another figure at Sule Paya

I buy some prayer cards, written in Burmese, and then send them up in a small golden karaweik (royal barge in the shape of a mythical bird) to a shrine higher up  the stupa.  It’s like sending my prayers to heaven.

Fortunes at Sule Paya

Fortunes at Sule Paya

sending up my fortunes to the heavens

sending up my fortunes to the heavens

The central stupa, known as Kyaik Athok, is translated from the Mon language and means “the stupa where a Sacred Hair Relic is enshrined” (Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma)).  This gilded zedi’s octagonal shape continues right up to the bell and inverted bowl.

Sule Paya

Sule Paya

Sule Paya

Sule Paya

Buddha at Sule Paya

Buddha at Sule Paya

Fancy shrine at Sule Paya

Fancy shrine at Sule Paya

faces

faces

teak ceiling

teak ceiling

Buddha at Sule Paya

Buddha at Sule Paya

Buddha at Sule Paya

Buddha at Sule Paya

After seeing all I can see at this stupa, I continue following my walking tour.  Next stop: City Hall.

Categories: Agga Youth Hotel, Asia, Myanmar, Sule Paya, Travel, Yangon | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

pindaya: buddhas in the thousands at shwe oo min natural cave pagoda

Wednesday, February 25:  We arrive at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda at 11:00 a.m. My driver deposits me at the bottom and I follow the long walkway up the limestone ridge. I can see views of Pone Taloke Lake and the town below.

The approach to Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda

The approach to Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda

The giant spider at the entrance hints at the outrageous sights I’ll encounter inside the cave.

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

archer

archer

giant spider

giant spider

view from Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

view from Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

walkway to the pagoda

walkway to the pagoda

view from Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya - Pone Taloke Lake

view from Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya – Pone Taloke Lake

view on walkway to Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

view on walkway to Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

view of Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

view of Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

After climbing the steps, I take a lift to avoid the last 130 steps.

Inside the cave, I encounter Buddha figures in staggering numbers.   At last count, the caves showcased 8,094 Buddha statues.  Some were left centuries ago by Myanmar pilgrims and others were installed more recently by international Buddhist organizations in lands as far away as the Netherlands, the USA, and Singapore.  (Lonely Planet Myanmar, July 2014 edition)

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Of course, the many Buddhas need a plethora of offerings from the faithful pilgrims who visit today in steady streams.  New pilgrims deposit new images and mediate in the cave’s grottoes and chambers carved naturally into the walls.

offerings for the thousands of Buddhas

offerings for the thousands of Buddhas

The Buddhas come in all flavors: alabaster, teak, cement, marble, brick and lacquer.

Buddha at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddha at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Elephant Mooring Post

Elephant Mooring Post

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a Buddha sit-in

The caves are packed with so many Buddhas that it’s difficult to move around.  Everywhere you look, eyes are staring at you.

Buddhas in the cave

Buddhas in the cave

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

serpent overhang

serpent overhang

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

the Pindaya caves

the Pindaya caves

intricate Buddha

intricate Buddha

Buddha and subjects

Buddha and subjects

more Buddhas

more Buddhas

monsters

monsters

teeth!

teeth!

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

MAZE ??

MAZE ??

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

After visiting the cave, we head to the open-air Golden Moon Restaurant for lunch.

Menu at the Golden Moon Restaurant

Menu at the Golden Moon Restaurant

view from the Golden Moon

view from the Golden Moon

The Golden Moon Restaurant

The Golden Moon Restaurant

diners at the Golden Moon Restaurant

diners at the Golden Moon Restaurant

Here I eat a delicious lunch of potato curry with rice, accompanied by papaya juice.  I top it off with a can of Myanmar beer, which, to no surprise, will cause me to ask the driver to make another stop along the road so I can pee again!

potato curry with rice

potato curry with rice

a truck full of locals

a truck full of locals

I get to Heho airport at 2:30, way too early for my 5:00 flight.  I have to sit around an hour before I can even check my bag.

waiting at Heho Airport

waiting at Heho Airport

When I’m finally able to check my bag, the woman at Immigration asks to see my passport. She writes the number in a ledger!  I’m not at all surprised that there is no computer system; Myanmar seems to exist in a time warp, frozen in the 1950s.

I sit in the waiting room for a long time.  I use the bathroom twice, thinking it is the ladies’ room.  The third time, I scrutinize the picture on the door and realize I’ve been using the men’s room!  I can’t find a trash can anywhere in the airport, so I leave my debris (a water bottle and Snickers wrapper) inside the stall of the men’s room.

I love how at Heho (and Bagan) airports, the planes fly right up to the door.  A young man grabs a whiteboard sign listing the airline and flight.  He runs to the gate (or door) with the sign, shouting out the name of the flight. Passengers line up, walk out to the tarmac, and climb a ladder up to the plane.  The flight attendants quickly close the door and we immediately take off down the runway!

Heho Airport

Heho Airport

Flying to Yangon

Flying to Yangon

My arrival in Yangon is not much more sophisticated.  We get off on the tarmac and the luggage is simply loaded directly into the arrivals hall.  There is no luggage carousel.  I find an air-conditioned taxi service for 9,000 kyat ($9).  It takes about an hour to arrive at Agga Youth Hotel on No. 86, 12th St.

At the hotel, a short Russian guy is arguing with the staff because they apparently lost some of his laundry.  He tells me he packs light and only has a few clothes with him and now they’ve lost them!

I check into room 202 which is very small and unimpressive, despite the fact that this hotel was highly recommended by several people along my journey.  I settle grumpily into the room, exhausted from my long day, and as I’m too tired to go out, I eat a bag of Oishi Ribbed Cracklings in Chicken Curry Flavor and drink a bottle of water. I’m eaten alive by mosquitoes all night. 😦

I already miss Bagan and Inle Lake.

Categories: Agga Youth Hotel, Asia, Burma, Golden Moon Restaurant, Heho Airport, Myanmar, Pindaya, Shan State, Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Travel, Yangon | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

leaving inle lake: a brief stop in nyaungshwe at shwe yaunghwe kyaung

Wednesday, February 25:  This is a sad morning, as I leave the Inle Lake area at 9 a.m. for Yangon, my final destination in Myanmar. My plane actually doesn’t depart Heho airport until 5:00 p.m., but I’ve arranged a driver to take me to Pindaya for the day and then directly to the airport.

On the way out of Nyaungshwe, the driver stops at what is considered the most photographed monastery in Nyaungshwe: Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung.  With its ancient teak ordination hall, or thein, and its oval windows offering a peek at the novice monks, it’s quite charming.

entrance to Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

entrance to Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

I pay the driver 55,000 kyat (around $55) to take me for the entire day.

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

a monk at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

a monk at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

little monks at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

little monks at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

monks & cats

monks & cats

Buddha at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

Buddha at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

monks studying

monks studying

monks in sunlight ovals

monks in sunlight ovals

monks in the doorway

monks in the doorway

Buddha at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

Buddha at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

the oval windows of Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

the oval windows of Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

After walking around this ancient monastery, I get in the car with the driver.   The hotel has estimated it will take 2 1/2 hours to get to Pindaya, and then 1 1/2 hours from Pindaya to Heho Airport.  It actually only takes two hours to get to Pindaya, and we pass Heho Airport after the first hour, meaning it will take only 1 hour to get back to Heho.  On our drive, we pass through one of the most densely farmed areas in Myanmar, with a patchwork of dried fields and red clay.  We pass an umbrella-making factory and a cattle market.  There isn’t that much to see on the drive.  For some reason, the driver’s steering wheel is on the right and in Myanmar, cars drive on the right; this makes it hard for the driver to see around cars in front of him to pass. During the long drive, where there seem to be no facilities whatsoever, I have to ask the driver to pull over at one point so I can pee behind a tree.  It’s pretty embarrassing because a few cars drive by, and the tree isn’t big enough that it totally hides me.  Oh well, this is life in the 3rd world.   I’m sure people do this all the time out here in the middle of nowhere.

At 11:00, we arrive at our destination, the famous Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, a massive limestone cave brimming with thousands of gilded Buddha statues.

Categories: Asia, Burma, Heho Airport, Myanmar, Nyaungshwe, Pindaya, Shan State, Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

return from inthein, dinner at everest nepali, and a full-body massage :-)

Tuesday, February 24:  We push off from Inthein near 4:00 and begin our hour-plus-long ride back through the canals and villages and eventually across Inle Lake back to Nyaungshwe.

Taking off from Inthein

Taking off from Inthein

The ride back through the canals is at full-throttle, past interesting foliage, huts, and ladies bathing in the water.  We zoom under a huge variety of footbridges.

We find our first signs of civilization back in the villages, which reveal glimpses into the locals’ daily lives.

houses on the shore

houses on the shore

local boy wading

local boy wading

and the boat goes on

and the boat goes on

pagoda

pagoda

a lone man

a lone man

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buildings along the shore

buildings along the shore

maybe a hotel?

maybe a hotel?

blue roof

blue roof

gardens of Inle Lake

gardens of Inle Lake

floating gardens of Inle Lake

floating gardens of Inle Lake

floating gardens

floating gardens

multi-tiered pagoda

multi-tiered pagoda

fishermen

fishermen

going through the villages

going through the villages

village homes

village homes

village homes

village homes

village transport

village transport

village homes

village homes

village life

village life

canals

canals

locals plying the waters

locals plying the waters

local people

local people

I love watching the small families paddling through the canal-streets of the villages in the waning sunlight.

Leaving the villages, we’re back in the midst of the floating gardens, quite pretty as the sun sinks on the horizon.

the floating gardens

the floating gardens

the floating gardens

the floating gardens

the floating gardens

the floating gardens

life in the floating gardens

life in the floating gardens

the floating gardens

the floating gardens

Traffic on the canals seems to be picking up.  It must be rush hour; time to get home for dinner after a hard day’s work on the lake.

local boy paddling

local boy paddling

the floating gardens

the floating gardens

the floating gardens

the floating gardens

Finally we’re back in the middle of the lake, where we can see the fishermen taking advantage of the last hours of daylight.

fishermen on the lake

fishermen on the lake

evening on Inle Lake

evening on Inle Lake

casting nets

casting nets

evening fisherman

evening fisherman

We also pass a number of long-tailed boats filled with tourists.  I wonder where they’re going.  Maybe to one of the fancier hotels on the lake.

tourist boat

tourist boat

Back in Nyaungshwe, I go to dinner at Everest Nepali Restaurant.  It’s very quiet tonight.   I can tell the tourist season in Myanmar is winding down.

Everest Nepali Restaurant

Everest Nepali Restaurant

I have a delicious meal of Paneer Curry, rice, and chapati, with chick peas and pumpkin accompaniments.  Of course, I enjoy a Myanmar beer too. 🙂  All of this for 5,500 kyat, or $5.50.

paneer curry, rice, chapati, chick peas and pumpkin accompaniments

paneer curry, rice, chapati, chick peas and pumpkin accompaniments

As I walk back to my hotel, I pass the pagoda I visited a couple of days ago.

pagoda in Nyaungshwe

pagoda in Nyaungshwe

I also find Lavender Spa & Beauty Center where I drop in for a one-hour Aromatic Therapy full body massage for 15,000 kyat (or around $15).  I’ve had a bad cough since the day I rode the motorbike in Bagan; the cough was brought on by breathing in the dust kicked up by the bike. I still have the cough and a sore throat at this point, so the massage feels wonderfully therapeutic.  I’m nearing the end of my 6-week trip through China and Myanmar, and I think I’m beginning to be worn down by it all.  No matter how I feel, though, I’m still managing to enjoy it all! 🙂

Lavender Spa & Beauty Center

Lavender Spa & Beauty Center

Lavender Spa & Beauty Center

Lavender Spa & Beauty Center

Tomorrow, I’ll be flying to Yangon, but first I’ll visit Pindaya, a most unusual cave. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Everest Nepali Food, Inle Lake, Intha people, Inthein, Lavender Spa & Beauty Center, Myanmar, Nyaungshwe, Shan State, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

the ruined stupas and pagodas of inthein: nyaung ohak & shwe inn thein paya

Tuesday, February 24:  At about 2:30, we finally arrive at Inthein, after our 8km-long cruise through the jungle-like Inn Thein Creek, a narrow canal.  My boat driver drops me without giving much direction, so I’m not exactly sure where to go or what I’m supposed to be looking for.  After wandering aimlessly for a bit, I fall into line with some Australian tourists.  We first stumble upon a group of crumbling stupas, much like those found at the Angkor temples in Cambodia.

The lakeside village of Inthein

The lakeside village of Inthein

The Nyaung Ohak stupas are smothered in greenery, but we can still spy some ornate stucco carvings of animals, devas (types of non-human beings who share the godlike characteristics of being more powerful, longer-lived, and, in general, happier than humans), and chinthe (lion-like creatures that are often seen at the entrances of pagodas and temples in southeast Asia).  Nyaung Ohak translates to “group of banyan trees,” according to Renown Travel.

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Buddha at Nyaung Ohak

Buddha at Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

detail at Nyaung Ohak

detail at Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

tree growing out of Nyaung Ohak

tree growing out of Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

Nyaung Ohak

I make a restroom stop at this cinderblock building with a corrugated metal roof.  From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but it’s actually quite civilized and upscale.  Inside it has full (& clean) Western toilets with bidets!  This is a rare thing to find in most of Asia.  Myanmar never ceases to surprise me.

stylish toilets

stylish toilets

I climb up what seems like an endless (700m) covered walkway.  The local vendors are lounging about with their souvenirs.  There isn’t much business today and many of them are napping.

covered stairway to Shwe Inn Thein Paya

covered stairway to Shwe Inn Thein Paya

At the top of the covered stairway, I find Shwe Inn Thein Paya, a complex of 1,054 weather-beaten zedi (stupas).  Most of them were constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries, according to Lonely Planet Myanmar.

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

I am awestruck by this place with all of its stoic and leaning and ruined zedi.

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

chicken figure (?) Shwe Inn Thein Paya

chicken figure (?) Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Buddha at Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Buddha at Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

the glowing Shwe Inn Thein Paya

the glowing Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

Shwe Inn Thein Paya

On my return down the long walkway, I buy a few things from the souvenir stalls:  an enamel tray, cotton pants, a royal blue striped scarf, an enamel jewelry box and a Buddha head.  When I try to buy the Buddha head for 15,000 kyat, one corner of my bill is ripped and the vendor doesn’t want to take it.  I am willing to walk away from the sale, so, after much hemming and hawing, she goes ahead and takes my money. Little do I know how much trouble this Buddha head will cause me later.

By nearly 4:00, I’m back at the creek and ready to board my boat.

back to the boat

back to the boat

ready to board

ready to board

Back on the creek again, we begin our long journey back to Nyaungshwe.

 

Categories: Asia, Burma, Inthein, Myanmar, Nyaung Ohak, Shan State, Shwe Inn Thein Paya, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

a boat ride to inthein: inle lake scenes and intha fishermen

Tuesday, February 24:  At 1:00, after a busy morning in Nyaungshwe, I hire another long-tail boat to take me to Inthein.  To get there, we head south from Nyaungshwe, through the middle of Inle Lake, then into a narrow foliage-choked canal on the southwest corner of the lake.

me back in the long-tail boat

me back in the long-tail boat

In the wide part of the lake, my boat driver, who is kind and noble, takes me up close to some of the famous Intha fishermen who are famous for their technique of leg-rowing — in which one leg is wrapped around the paddle to move the blade through the water in a figure-8 motion.  Getting close to the fishermen makes for some interesting iconic photos.

Intha fisherman on Inle Lake

Intha fisherman on Inle Lake

locals on Inle Lake

locals on Inle Lake

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

Intha fisherman

fisherman on Inle Lake

fisherman on Inle Lake

flock of birds

flock of birds

along the route

along the route

villages on the way to Inthein

villages on the way to Inthein

villages along the route

villages along the route

more floating gardens

more floating gardens

As we enter the canal, we are surrounded once again by the floating gardens and the stilt-house villages.

villages near Inthein

villages near Inthein

We even pass a congregation of golden stupas along the way.

shoreline stupas

shoreline stupas

houses along the route

houses along the route

villages on the way to Inthein

villages on the way to Inthein

local homes

local homes

local houses

local houses

lakeshore homes

lakeshore homes

Welcome

“Warmly Welcome”

We pass under numerous little footbridges along the way.

bridges along the canal

bridges along the canal

Much of the time, we are in the wild, with jungle-like tropical foliage on each side of the winding canal.  Lonely Planet Myanmar describes the trip as having an Apocolypse Now ambience; I’ve even heard the trip compared to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This might be the case on a cloudy day, but today, it’s sunny and warm and utterly delightful.

going under a bridge

going under a bridge

Myanmar Beer

Myanmar Beer

At about 2:30, after an hour and half in the boat, we arrive at a number of ruined stupas, where I get out of the boat to explore and come back with a bag full of souvenirs! 🙂

 

Categories: Asia, Inle Lake, Intha people, Inthein, Myanmar, Shan State, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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