Posts Tagged With: Asia

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.

 

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

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

the mingala market in nyaungshwe

Tuesday, February 24: After leaving the festival, I ride my bicycle several blocks to the Mingala Market.  The market is packed with locals every morning, when farmers and fishermen from the lake bring in fresh fish and produce from the floating gardens.

Lan Ma Taw St.

Lan Ma Taw St.

Today, Nyaungshwe happens to be hosting the five-day rotating market, so the Mingala market is swollen to double its normal size.

Mingala Market in Nyaungshwe

Mingala Market in Nyaungshwe

I love taking pictures at Asian markets, and this one is as colorful as they get.  I enjoy walking around watching the people and thinking it would be fun to live here and come here daily to buy fresh produce and fish. I could be so healthy!

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

motorbikes and bicycles

motorbikes and bicycles

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

Mingala Market

After leaving the market, I bicycle around the town, where eventually I end up along the canal.  A big crowd is here washing a giant Buddha.  It is something to behold!

Categories: Asia, Burma, Five-day rotating market, Inle Lake, Mingala Market, Myanmar, Nyaungshwe, Shan State, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

waking up to a pa-o tribe festival in nyaungshwe

Tuesday, February 24: This morning, following yesterday’s full day on Inle Lake topped off by the puppet show, I sleep in a bit.  When I wake up, I hear tinkling music outside my hotel room window.  After breakfast, I rent a bicycle so I can visit the Mingala Market; it just so happens that today is Nyaungshwe’s 5-day rotating market day.

me on my rental bike in Nyaungshwe

me on my rental bike in Nyaungshwe

Before I get very far, I hear a lot of hoopla in a sprawling field near my hotel.  Trucks are brimming with hundreds of Pa-O people, and the music I heard earlier from my hotel room is dancing in the air.  Later I’m told the Pa-O tribe visits different villages to wash the Buddhas in the canal and offer up umbrellas.

the festival

the festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-O Pagoda Festival

The Pa-O reside in the Hpa-an area of Kayin State and in the Thaton area of Mon State, as well as in the Taung Gyi area of Shan State, which is where Nyaungshwe and Inle Lake are. They are estimated to number about 700,000 (Inle Lake, Myanmar: Nationalities – Pa-O).

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-o Pagoda Festival

Pa-O Pagoda Festival

One can easily spot the Pa-O tribespeople who dress in black or dark blue clothes with colorful turban-like towels on their heads.

Pa-o people

Pa-O people

Pa-O people

Pa-O people

Pa-O people

Pa-O people

all decked out for the festival

all decked out for the festival

Pa-O festival

Pa-O festival

Pa-O festival

Pa-O festival

Pa-O festival

Pa-O festival

sleeping Pa-O person

sleeping Pa-O person

young Pa-O man

young Pa-O man

festive vehicles

festive vehicles

Pa-O festival

Pa-O festival

After wandering with my bicycle through this field of Pa-O festivities, I head to the Mingala Market.  It’s only later that I’m able to see the Pa-O washing a giant Buddha in the canal. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Festival, Inle Lake, Myanmar, Nyaungshwe, Pa-O tribe, Shan State, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

a sunrise cruise on the waters of inle lake

Monday, February 23:  Last night, I accidentally set my alarm for 5 P.M. for a sunrise boat ride on Inle Lake this morning.  Luckily, my husband texted me from the USA at 5:35 and woke me up, otherwise I would have slept right through my appointed meeting.  I rush to shower and gobble down breakfast and meet the guide just in time for my day-long boat ride on the lake.

Several fellow travelers had warned me that the early morning boat ride on the lake would be cold, so I bundle up in my blue Wal-Mart men’s jacket; I bought this jacket in China because I hadn’t brought any warm winter coats to Nanning and women’s clothes in China are too small for me.  I get as comfortable as possible in a long-tail motorboat, commonly used for tours and fishing on Inle Lake.  Luckily, the boat guide also has a blanket I can wrap around myself.  It is freezing and windy out on the lake at this early morning hour, despite temperatures that rise up to 90 degrees in the daytime.

heading out on the canal to Inle Lake at daybreak

heading out on the canal to Inle Lake at daybreak

We leave before sunrise, so I’m able to see the sun coming up slowly over the horizon.  The plan is to spend the whole day on the lake, visiting stilt-house villages, floating gardens, and Buddhist temples, as well as hopefully getting glimpses of the famous Intha people using their unique technique for leg rowing — in which one leg is wrapped around the paddle to drive the blade through the water in a snake-like motion.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

buildings along Inle Lake

buildings along Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

the boat cuts through the mist

the boat cuts through the mist

sunrise on Inle Lake

sunrise on Inle Lake

scenes along the wy

scenes along the wy

serenity

serenity

sunrise at Inle Lake

sunrise at Inle Lake

houses on stilts

houses on stilts

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

As we ply the waters, the golden sunlight washes over the waterways and stilt houses, giving the entire place an otherworldly aura.

shores of Inle Lake

shores of Inle Lake

sun reflection

sun reflection

Click any of the photos below for a full-size slide show.

We come across several Inle Lake fishermen; when we approach them, the boat guide turns down the engine of the long-tail motorboat so as not to scare away the fisherman’s intended catch.

fisherman

fisherman

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

sunrise, fishermen and birds

We head first to the five-day rotating market which is today at Khaung Daing Village, on the northwest end of the lake.  At the market, locals bring in fresh fish and produce from the floating gardens.

heading down a waterway to the market

heading down a waterway to the market

In Inle Lake’s famous floating gardens, Intha farmers grow flowers, tomatoes, squash, and other fruit and vegetables on long wooden trellises supported on floating mats of vegetation.  It’s hard to get a good view at lake level, but I’ve seen pictures of views from the hot air balloons that are fabulous.  Sadly, the hot air balloon prices are exorbitant, over $500, so I pass on this trip.  When I took a hot air balloon ride in Turkey, it was about 180 euros for one hour.

floating gardens of Inle Lake

floating gardens of Inle Lake

floating gardens

floating gardens

gateway

gateway

floating gardens at sunrise

floating gardens at sunrise

morning light

morning light

waterways of Inle Lake

waterways of Inle Lake

floating gardens

floating gardens

motor boating through the waterways

motor boating through the waterways

There are also Buddhist temples along the way.

Buddhist temple

Buddhist temple

After about an hour ride, we dock at this spot near Khaung Daing; I will walk from here to the market.

reflections

reflections

parking

parking

parking lot

parking lot

I walk inland to the market, not knowing what a colorful and lively experience it will turn out to be. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Five-day rotating market, Inle Lake, Khaung Daing, Myanmar, Nyaungshwe, Shan State | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

a bicycle ride to red mountain estate vineyards & winery

Sunday, February 22:  After leaving the Nigyawdayan Stupa, I pedal up the main two lane highway along the northeast side of Inle Lake.  I don’t have any views of the lake at this point; I’m on my way to the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery and I enjoy the breeze on this warm day and the views of the mountains and farmland.

on the road to Red Mountain Winery

on the road to Red Mountain Winery

on the road to Red Mountain Winery

on the road to Red Mountain Winery

I’m not exactly sure where I’m going and it seems quite a long ride out into the middle of nowhere.  Finally, I come upon a road veering to the left with a sign for the winery.  It looks like I’m going to reach my destination after all!

the end is in sight!

the end is in sight!

I can see the winery up on a hill quite a way ahead, and I pedal hard to climb the hill, passing by some homes along the way.

through the neighborhood

through the neighborhood

house outside of Nyaungshwe

house outside of Nyaungshwe

The Red Mountain Estate was started in 2002.  The estate was chosen for its special micro-climate, cool nights and sunny days during the fruit cycle.  The goal was to produce high quality wines 100% made in Myanmar and supervised by French and Australian experts.  The vineyard is planted with red varieties such as Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Carignan, and Malbec.  White varieties are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin and Colombard.  All vines were imported from France, Spain and Israel, according to a pamphlet from the winery.

I continue up the hill on my bicycle, keeping the winery in sight.

farms and mountains

farms and mountains

The hill gets quite steep as I approach the winery, and I see some people have left bicycles at the bottom of the hill.  I follow suit and lock up my bike beside the others.

vineyards at Red Mountain Winery

vineyards at Red Mountain Winery

Red Mountain Winery

Red Mountain Winery

up the steps to Red Mountain Winery

up the steps to Red Mountain Winery

After walking up to the winery, I go inside, where it’s quite crowded and noisy.  I order a flight of wines and ask for it to be served on the terrace.  It’s a lot quieter, though quite hot, outside.  It has a lazy and relaxed atmosphere.

I sit and enjoy the view and my wine flight.  Since I’m on my own, I take some selfies; they’re from some strange angles. 🙂  Here I enjoy my wine, although I’m a little jealous of the people who are here with friends.  Though most of the time I don’t mind traveling alone, there are times like these when I wish I had a friend along.

Cheers!

Cheers!

my view

my view

tourists relaxing at the winery

tourists relaxing at the winery

happy in Myanmar

happy in Myanmar

I do ask the waiter to take a picture of me, so I do get one decent photo.  I’m feeling pretty good after drinking the whole flight!

me at Red Mountain Estate Winery

me at Red Mountain Estate Winery

After finishing my flight of wines, I also order a glass of Shiraz-Tempranillo accompanied by toast with cheese; it is simply white bread cut into triangles with sliced cheese cut into triangles.  Nothing to write home about, especially after that wonderful pancake I had at Pancake Kingdom.

By this time, I’m feeling pretty relaxed. 🙂  I wander around the vineyard taking some pictures, then walk back down the hill to where I left my bicycle.

vineyards

vineyards

vineyards

vineyards

leaving the vineyard

leaving the vineyard

I unlock my bicycle, take some parting shots of the winery, and hop back on for the long ride back to town.

parting views

parting views

I stop at several spots along the way that are particularly bucolic.

fields along the way

fields along the way

pastoral view

pastoral view

stupa

stupa

pastoral view

pastoral view

construction

construction

When I finally get back to town, I make a stop at Yadana Man Aung Paya, where I find a nice surprise!

Categories: Asia, Myanmar, Nyaungshwe, Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery, Shan State | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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