Monday, November 28, 2016

Myanmar Adventures--Spring 2004

My 10 day tour of Myanmar, or Burma, begun after a short flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Yangon on Thai Air on March 8, 2004. The cost of the flight was $255 roundtrip. 

My plan was to use the Lonely Planet Myanmar Guide (LP) to figure out things to see, places to stay, and means of transportation.

My 10 day tour of Myanmar, or Burma, begun after a short flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Yangon on Thai Air on March 8, 2004. The cost of the flight was $255 roundtrip. 

I began with catching a  $4 taxi ride to one of the recommended LP hotels.  A fellow joined me in the taxi so I thought that they had shared taxis here.  It turned out that Mr. John was a travel agent who only identified himself after asking me what I had planned to see in Myanmar.  He then indicated that he owned the Golden Tours Travel agency and that for just $400 he could arrange a tour of where I wanted to go in Myanmar in a car with an English speaking driver who had recently graduated from the University of Yangon and spoke English. I countered with $350 and he agreed. I paid for my food and accommodations, and they would pay for the driver/guide, car and gas.  The guide/driver paid for his own accommodations and food.

Filling up along the way.

At the Golden Tours, I converted 2,000 Baht into 40,000 Kyats ($63USD) so I could pay for lodging, food, and trinkets. Mr. John then took me to the Yoma Hotel where I stayed for $14 for the night which included breakfast.  

I met my driver, Aung while having breakfast.  Mr. John was with him and we dropped Mr. John off at the airport on our way out of town so he could troll for more tourists like me.

Yangon, formerly called Rangoon, lies in the fertile delta country of central Myanmar about 18 miles from the Andaman Sea.  While in Yangon, I visited the Sule Paya. 

I toured the beautiful golden Shwedagon Paya, which is the most sacred of all Buddhist sites in the country.  This dome rises 320 feet.  Visitors must remove their shoes and socks and dress modestly to enter these and other sacred grounds throughout Myanmar.  People are seen bathing a Buddha in water in order to purify their thoughts and deeds while others visit other pavilions containing Buddha images, many festooned with flashing colored lights, and money.

We did a short tour of the temples and sights in Yangon before heading to Bago. Along the way, we stopped at the well kept WW II Tauk Kyant cemetery that contains the remains of 6, 374 British Commonwealth soldiers and a pillar memorial that contains the names of 25,000 soldiers who died but have no known graves.

In Bago, we visit the Kyaik Pun Paya, which consists of 4 one hundred foot high sitting Buddhas placed back to back.  

The Shwemawdaw Pagoda is the tallest one in Myanmar and you can see the remains of the spire which fell down in an earthquake in 1917, but never removed.  They say the both hair and tooth relics of the Buddha are enshrined here.

The Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha is also nearby and is about 55 meters long.  It was built by the Mon people in 994 and in the 1700s it was forgotten and overgrown by the jungle until 1881 when the British discovered it while building a railway.  It is now restored and protected under an iron pavilion.  It is surrounded by 108 auspicious characteristics of Buddha along with a collection of Nats.

Then we visit the Kha Khat Wain Kyaung monastery, which is one of the three largest monasteries in the country. Aung, my guide, explained that he was a monk here for about two years before he attended the university.  He said than most men become monks for a short time. The monks here are having their meals in relative silence.  

We joined the senior monk for a quiet lunch.  He had much more variety of food than the other monks.  He was the senior monk when Aung was a monk here.

Filling up your rice bowl takes on a whole new meaning with these monk cooks.

After an overnight in Taungoo, we visited the Shwemawdaw Paya,  Aung arranged for my stay at the Myanmar Beauty Guest House for $15.  Along the roads we saw all the forms of transportation, especially the trucks that were filled to overflowing with passengers.

The Shwemawdaw paya is laced with bamboo construction materials as they refurbish portions of the pagoda.

In one of the pavilions at the Shwemawdaw Paya, we came across a Nat spirit festival or nat pwe in progress.  The drums, gongs, and xylophones are being played at full volume while the two spirit mediums or nat-gadaws sing and perform special dances that invite specific nats to possess them.  Both of these nat-gadaws are men dressed as women.

We drove across a valley filled with rice fields, watermelon patches, and vegetable vendor stands along with restaurants that served huge lunches.

All around Taungoo we came to enormous lumberyards with huge teak logs that came out the nearby forests.  Here they use elephants to harvest the trees.  Along the road, we passed more ox carts than cars, bicycles and walkers. 

 Many of the women walking were carrying baskets and trays on their heads filled with goods.

Many of the homes were on stilts and had walls of woven mats.

When we got to Taungoo on the 9th, my guide arranged for me to stay at the Myanmar Beauty Guest House for $15.  I visited two Payas while staying there, and again had some big spread delicious meals.


We ended up driving along a hot, dusty drive that was under construction.  It looks like the men and women working on the road construction may have been conscripted to do this work.  Instead of a tar spreading truck, the workers would go over to a 55 gallon barrel of heated tar and dip their 5 gallon buckets with holes punched in the sides.  Once filled they would return to the road and drizzle the tar onto the dirt road converting it to a macadam road.  I was uncomfortable in my car because it had no A/C, but these people were out in the 100 degree weather working with this hot tar.  Since leaving Yangon, I have not seen any other Western travelers.

When we got to Inle Lake on the 10th, Aung arranged my stay at the Aung Minglar Hotel for $15.  I had A/C, hot showers and TV--one channel.  He also arranged a full day boat trip to explore Inle Lake for just $10.

At Inle Lake, early morning I met up with the boatman and learned that I was the only passenger.  I spent the day on a small motorboat touring the market, stilt villages, small factories and craft shops, and payas.  

Lakeside grocery store and restaurant

Commuting to School

Herding buffalos


Bronze Factory

Jewelry factory owner and child

The Intha people who live around the lake are famous for propelling their boats by standing on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar.  It enables the rower to see the floating vegetation and to spot fish.

Silk factory workers

Paper making

I visited some Karen women with their long neck necklaces and saw some Pa-O women bathing in the river before boarding their ferryboats for their ride home after a day at the market.

We went up a river through a number of coffer dams to another paya that had crookedy spires like in a Dr. Seuss book along with many tourists including some. This temple in the water is just before we head up the river.

Pa-O Tribe Folks

Buddha Footprint

On the return, we passed a number of fishermen with their conical fish nets and leg rowers rowing their families home after visiting the markets.

The following morning we visited the Pindaya Caves on the "road to Mandalay".  This cave contained more than 8,000 Buddhas along the several paths within the mountain that people had placed there over the past several centuries.  The Pindaya Caves are behind Aung, my driver/guide.

After leaving the Caves, we traveled over more rough, rocky, dirt roads that passed through several forest fires. Hot, hot, hot.

In Kyainkse, we stopped to watch a village ceremony that was sending off a number of boys to become monks.

Even the Nets join in the parade.

One of the soon to be monks.

We got into Mandalay late afternoon and checked into the Mann Myanmar Inn that was just around the corner from the world famous marionette show and Palace.  Again the cost of the hotel was just $15.  Mandalay Fort was near my hotel.

I visited the Mandalay Hill, toured some craft shops, and in the evening I saw the Mandalay Marionettes Show.  

Snake skins for sale

We visited a gold foil factory just before we went to the paya that contained the Mahamuni Buddha.  At the paya I applied gold leaf to the Buddha, which is a bronze Buddha that is about 13 feet tall covered with a 6-inch layer of gold leaf applied by men over the past few centuries. Women were not allowed to do this.

Flashing lights add a bit of pizazz to the Buddha.

Three bowls full

While in Mandalay, I had to go to the Central phone company to make a call home.  They have no internet service nor telephone service available to tourists except at these few central telephone offices.  The short call cost $27. Lots of tourists and monks cross the popular Bein Bridge.

The following day I had fun riding the ferryboat up to see the Mingun monuments and getting guide service from three young girls along with a prayer from a nun. For lunch, I went to one of the girl's Aunties place.  I bought sodas for the three girls, but I noticed that they did not open them.  I expect that they sold them back to Auntie.

Like all temples in Myanmar, you take your shoes and SOCKS off and walk barefoot through the temples.  This one was the roughest and toughest one to walk barefoot over this temple that was nearly in ruins.  An earthquake had caused significant damage to this temple.  

They should have foot washing concessions as people leave the temples.  I only saw one and that was at Mt. Popa.

You can see the earthquake caused cracks on either side of the white temple entrance that is tilted a bit.

Here is the view from the top with our ferryboat moored below.

The Hsinbyume Pagoda, built in 1816, was to depict the Buddhist mythological mountain called Meru and the seven concentric levels represent the seven mountain ranges leading up to Mount Meru.

The guides introduced me to this nun who offers me and others blessings as we visit this site.

This Mingun Bell has frequently been identified as the largest bell in the world.  It does not have a clapper, but instead is rung by striking the outer edge.  

Here is the first Buddha statute that features glasses that some say worshippers with poor eyesight come to pray for improved vision.  There is another statute in Pyay where the Buddha wears huge spectacles.

This standing Buddha is depicting the granting of blessings or charity with the right hand facing down and out.

On March 14th, we headed for Mt. Popa  on more dusty, narrow, bumpy roads and the weather was 102 degrees.  On this day, I really regretted not asking for an A/C car.

I was joined by scores of monkeys on my walk to Mt. Popa, the home of all 37 nats which are worshipped here.  On my way up, barefoot since it was a temple, I continued to get "helpful" guides showing me the sights at these various temples as well as their souvenir shops.

Mt. Popa is well known for the worship of Nats in conjunction with Buddhism. Nats are divided between the 37 Great Nats who are spirits worshipped in Myanmar.  Almost all of these Nats were human beings who met violent deaths.  Their statutes are all located here as well as some located at other temples and pagodas.  Families often designate one or two of these Nats to venerate in their homes.  They remind me of the saints found in the Catholic religion---many of those saints also suffered violent deaths.


After returning to the car, we stopped along the road at a coconut juice stand for some ice cold coconut juice along with some coconut brandy.  We watched the fellow climb up the palm trees to retrieve the coconuts.  We stopped again for some refreshing sugar cane juice as a way to beat the heat.

When we got into Bagan just before sunset, I had indicated to Aung that I wanted to stay at Thante Hotel in old Bagan, but Aung suggested I first check out his recommended hotel, the Aung Minglar Hotel which was just $13 per night.  It was really nice with A/C, TV with BBC and Singapore channels, plus it was just across the street from the Shwezigon Paya where I came across these young monks and one wanta be.

In Bagan I was surprised to see that there were hundreds of stupas as far as I could see and many of them were in good condition or had been restored.  Since the Shwezigon Paya was across from where I was staying, I could see the monks on their way to collect alms from the villagers.  

The following morning I rented a bicycle to explore some of the thousands of payas and small temples.  Along the way, my tire started to go flat near the GI Restaurant.  While my tire was being repaired, I had a HUGE lunch of mutton, eggs, fried chicken, roasted chicken, pork, beef, beans, eggplant, potatoes, relishes, pickled radishes, and dessert of grapes and sugared beans for just $1.50.  My tire repair cost just 32 cents.

This sheep herder was taking a smoke break from work by puffing on this giant cheroot and catching the ashes in the coconut bowl so as not to set the dry grasses on fire.

While exploring some of the temples, I again received the "services" from some "guides" who described what I was seeing.  Some of these kids were adept at delivering their tourist spiel in  English, German, Spanish and even Japanese.  The makeup on their faces is for sun protection as well as a bit decorative.

This group of "guides" really lathered on the sunscreen.

This is the better preserved temple called Ananda which was filled with some pretty big golden Buddhas.

Worshippers used the gold foil to brighten up these two Buddhas.

Mimaluang Pagoda

We went out just before sunset with the idea of getting some great sunset pictures among the payas, but with so much smoke in the area from all of the forest fires in the area, the sun just disappeared in the smog of smoke.

We left early in the morning, but the temperatures on these dusty roads soon approached 104 degrees with 108 degrees inside the car.  We again went through lots of forest fires and smoke as we headed to Pyay where I got a room for $12 at the Sweet Golden Motel.  The A/C could hardly keep up with the heat outside.  

I visited the Shwesandaw Paya as well as the enormous seated Buddha figure known as Sehtatgyi Paya nearby which dominates the city landscape.  

On the 17th we stopped by the paya where the statue was wearing large spectacles on our last road day before returning to Yangon. 

With my return to Yangon I gave Aung a $35 tip along with my LP Myanmar guidebook which he had poured over during our entire journey.

After checking into the Yona Hotel and taking the third shower of the day, I reserved for a dinner and dance performance at the government run Karaweik Palace.

I invited Aung and his wife and daughter to join me on my last night in Myanmar to the Karaweik Palace performance.

On the morning of the 18th I took my Thai Air flight back to Bangkok thus ending my Myanmar adventure.

Trip Cost
For 10 days in Myanmar, the lodging costs were $142 or $14 per night, food costs were $81 or $8 per day, and travel costs were $580 which included $350 for the 10 day guided car tour and $175 for the air fare.  The total Myanmar cost was $803 for a daily cost of  $80.

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