Sunday, March 7, 2010
An early morning flight back to Yangon for my last overnight in Myanmar. I would leave the next afternoon for home. Visited the Shwegadon Pagoda again with my guide Tu-tu (yes, this was her nickname!) at sunset. This time I had commentary that I didn't have when I visited on my own and learned a lot more. And as we rested a couple of times, I learned more about her. Being a tour guide in Myanmar is a good job. They all support their families and make enough to buy what they would call luxuries that we take for granted.
That's me at my birth sign scooping water over the image, elephant with tusks as I was born on a Wednesday in the morning. Had it been in the afternoon? Elephant w/out tusks.
The afternoon was so hot and unbearable that I took a short rest at my hotel to cool off.
Visited Sule Pagoda, 2,000 years old and located in a busy intersection. A mix of the past and present.
That evening I had pasta, only my second western meal in over a week. One should always stick with the local cuisine. The seafood pasta was fine, but I enjoyed my glass of wine more.
Bogyoke Market was closed and I was so disappointed. It has hundreds of stalls of clothes, food, handicrafts, jewelry...and was I going to miss this? Not on your life. My pick-up for my transfer to the airport was at 12pm so off I went via taxi in the morning for a quick stop on my own. I swear the taxi on my return to my hotel was either going to lose all its wheels and/or the exhaust was going to kill me. Luckily I'm here today to tell you all about it.
Then off I was to Bangkok. Arrived at 4pm and left the following morning at 7:30am. Since I was there for so little time with an EARLY wake up call, I stayed a the Novotel at the airport. Very convenient.
Time flies when you're having fun and time certainly flew. Much too quickly.
...so where to next????
What a beautiful place Bagan is and a favorite of mine. Visited a colorful morning market selling produce as well as tempting local wares. Ended up buying three pillow covers for $2 each. You have to bargain and it was strange because it was so cheap, you just want to hand over the cash. They're tough to haggle with, but I was happy with my $2 deal and bargaining skills. To ease the guilt when bargaining and buying, I made donations at each of the monasteries.
Rarely experienced by tourists is a novice monk procession --- what timing! Five children were being initiated this day and it was a huge procession. All children were all related and their families turned out in mass. It gave me goose bumps.
Some say Bagan is second to Ankor Wat in Cambodia, but I think not. There are over 4,000 concentrated in a small area. You can reach all by car or by bicycle which is popular. I wish I had an extra day to explore on my own on bike.
The scenery is breathtaking. The below photos do not need words...
The day ended with sunset on the river in my long boat. How peaceful and quiet...until a tanker chugged by, but that was OK.
After my Myanmar breakfast of coconut soup, papaya and toast I set off for my excursion to Amarapura, about 15km to visit Mahagandayon. It's a famous monastery where more than a thousand monks live and study. We arrived just in time for their last meal of the day which is taken at 10:45am. All monks rely on donations/sponsors for their meals either by going out in the village to fill their bowls with food from the villagers or sponsors. From time to time and more often than not, individuals donate money to buy enough food for a meal for a thousand monks. On this special day a Burmese citizen who was now living in Singapore sponsored the meal and his family was with him (x25). The most amazing thing is when my guide and I were leaving, they asked us to join them for a meal after the monks ate. Kind of hesitant to accept as their kitchen which we saw earlier was not sanitized and definitely would not get an "A" restaurant rating at home. I figured what the heck, its a monastery and Buddha would not let me get sick. I didn't.
How's this for a rice pot? The procession and meal is taken in silence.
We also stoped at 200 year old U Bein teak bridge built when Amarapura was the Royal capital.
After lunch we left for Inwa reached by a short long boat ride and spent the afternoon in the countryside and another stop at a monastery by horse cart (see below). It was a bumpy and dusty ride, but an enjoyable one.
All total, visited five monasteries today. All very different.
Since it was a day past a full moon, one of the monasteries brought out for viewing an ivory replica of a temple with rubies and diamonds at the top of its spire. Amazing. It was out in the open, with no security. It was priceless. See below.
Another monastery stop was with just one monk whose sole purpose was to teach the poor children of the village. The next for its architecture.
Girl selling flower garlands. I bought one for pennies, then gave it back to her when we left to resell it again to someone else.
Took an afternoon flight (a 30 minute one) to Bagan staying at the Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary hotel. My room had a view of the river and a nice patio to sit out and chill. The patio had a ceiling fan, so I didn't have to worry about mosquitoes eating me alive.
We arrived late due to a flight delay. Had a late dinner at the outdoor restaurant...a Myanmar meal. The presentation was very nice and too bad I forgot to take a picture.
Friday, March 5, 2010
A 30 minute flight and I arrived in Mandalay. No one was there to pick me up but luckily a guide from the same company was there for another couple. Since they didn't have a car for me, they hired and paid for a local taxi since I was on the verge of having a fit (remember Spain??). The taxi wasn't air cond and the dust and exhaust were the worse I would experience the whole 10 days I was there. My guide May and the station manager met me upon arrival at the hotel. Both were apologetic for the oversight and I decided I should practice patience...
Most noteworthy sights are outside the city of Mandalay. It was a holiday (Full moon) so traffic wasn't as bad as it could be. Everything worth seeing is a short and/or a long drive or boat ride away.
Stayed at the Sedona Hotel with a magnificent view of Mandalay Hill and the Palace from my patio. Unfortunately, mosquitoes prevented me from sitting outside on my patio to enjoy the view. It didn't bother me as it was too hot and dusty anyway. A picture window in my bathroom and bedroom gave me the same view sans mosquitoes AND it was cooler!
After checking in, I was off to Mingun by boat upriver visiting the Mingun Bell, the world's largest as well as the Mingun Paya. Monks in pink are women.
Followed by the Shwe Inbin and Golden Palace Monasteries.
After lunch we were off to the Kuthodaw Pagoda that houses the world's largest book. It's all written on marble "pages" of about 4' high and there are 1,458 pages . Yes, today was Guiness Book of World Records day! A stop at a tapestry shop was interesting but they bugged me so much to buy, I refused.
The day ended with an excursion up Mandalay Hill to see the sunset. The sunset was a nice one, but what a unique experience with monks. They go to Mandalay Hill not to see the sunset but to practice their English by talking to all the tourists who are there for the sunset. I had a conversation with a monk who was 19 years old from a monastery at the foot of the hill. He comes from a family of 7.
Had dinner at the hotel. By now, my third night and for each day that followed, I'd find myself explaining where I came from, what I was, why I was traveling alone, etc. by both locals and tourists. I should have charged each time I was asked!
The local dentist office at the local market. Markets rotate weekly at 5 different locations on or along the lake.
They look like small stones, but they are rich in iron. Women purchase and eat them for their daily dose. I'll stick to iron pills, thank you!
The lumber yard of Inle Lake on market day. Each village has their specialty. Bamboo, fish, vegetables, basket weavers, etc.
Seamstress using a manual Singer sewing machine. It costs .20 to sew a longhi (wrap skirt) after paying less than $2 for 2 meters of fabric.
We have traffic jams, they have long boat jams. We had to boat jump on foot until we got close enough to land. My gym membership pays off!
Ethnic woman from a neighboring village in her typical black dress and colorful head scarf.
...And I have so many more colorful and interesting photos!
First stop was Pindaya Caves after a short flight. It was a 2 hour drive from the airport on a small, dusty & bumpy road. Pindaya Caves - houses over 4,000 Buddha images. You can "sponsor" one of your own so there were Buddhas of every size. I soon learned that people can "sponsor" just about anything. Monestary meals for monks, temple upkeep, etc.
My hotel, Inle Lake View Resort was incredible! A remote paradise with only about 34 rooms. The staff were absolutely outstanding and genuine. Loved my room with a view of the lake. The food was delicious and they have their own organic garden growing lettuce and vegetables. A one hour foot massage set me back $20.
Arrived Yangon at 2pm on Tuesday, Feb. 23rd from LAX via Bangkok. No scheduled program -- time to recuperate. I had to get used to to no credit cards accepted, no ATM's and US currency in crisp, new bills only. If you can't find new US bills, they're all being hoarded in Myanmar. Thank goodness I had new bills. If not, you're sunk.
By 4pm I was ready to explore on my own. I could see the Shwedagon Pagoda from my hotel. See the photo of Shwedogon on m previous post. This was a trip of pagodas, temples, monasteries, monks and Buddhas statues/images -- they were all beautiful and I never tired of them.
Shwedagon Pagoda was a 15 minute walk from my hotel. The most stressful part about going off on my own in this new city/country for the first time? Crossing the busy street! I got there safely w/out being hit by a motorbike after almost giving up.
Got back just in time for "happy hour" and tried a Myanmar beer. Tasted great after all that heat and dust! Never had dinner that night. Crashed early after my shower.
My hotel bill? $1 for my beer!
So much for blogging during my trip. Internet access was non-existent for the majority of my travels. I thought I'd be lucky because my hotel at my first stop in Yangon offered free wi-fi or a computer available. I tried Hotmail, Yahoo and my blog...Access Denied. Found out later that the government shuts down the internet every so often as was the case on this day. The government monitors internet users on a regular basis.
All my flights went without a hitch. A couple of delays. A forgotten transfer in Mandalay by the tour operator. All manageable.
The weather was nice and sunny. Did I say hot, too? Actually, it wasn't as unbearable as I had expected. The sun was strong and I had to buy sunscreen, which I had forgotten. It's the dry season and it's very dusty during this time of year. I must have breathed in and eaten a pound of dust during my stay. The rains will come soon and clear the skies.
I took over 400 pictures and I tried my video option on my camera. I'll send you a link to view all 400 of them if you're interested. Otherwise, here's a brief snapshot of my incredible trip to Myanmar.