Archives for January 2014

Yangon Sights and Sounds – Chinatown

We arrived late at night in Yangon and we had the next whole day in Yangon to explore until we took the plan the following day very early in the morning to Bagan. We found that Yangon is comprised of several ethnic areas including a chinatown. While taking video of the sights and sounds, we noticed three men working to try to start what looked to be a leaf blower. But since it was a street congested with people and street markets it was puzzling how they could blow leaves. We found out quickly that this device was actually a fumigation machine and they were set to gas the sewers to kill some sort of critters. However, as the street filled up with the gas, many others got the experience too.

sewer fumigation in Yangon

sewer fumigation in Yangon

Thatbyinnyu Temple

This is a view of the Thatbyinnyu Temple from the doorway of the Nathlaung Kyaung Temple. Nathlaung Kyaung was apparently built in the 10th or 11th century and is one of the few hindu temples in the area.  Thatbyinnyu is relatively new being completed in the mid 12th century.

Thatbyinnyu Temple through the doorway of the Nathlaung Kyaung Temple

Thatbyinnyu Temple through the doorway of the Nathlaung Kyaung Temple

As luck would have it, the moon just happened to be in the right place to view next to the spire through narrow holes in the Nathlaung Kyaung wall.  And there were birds too.

Thatbyinnyu temple

Thatbyinnyu temple

Bagan – Shwezigon Paya

This was one of the larger and most well maintained payas in the area and is close to the Nyaung Oo end of the archeological zone close to our hotel.

Shwezigon Paya

Shwezigon Paya

Shwezigon Paya

Shwezigon Paya

Shwezigon framed

Shwezigon framed

This is a reflection of the Paya in water pooled in one of the original drilled surveying holes in the rock. (Thanks to Logan for the picture composition idea!)

Shwezigon reflection

Shwezigon reflection

Old Bagan – Tharabar Gate Shrine Keeper

This man’s job was to mind the shrines at the gate of the city wall of Old Bagan.  I’m not sure what that entailed but I would imagine it is to keep them clean and harvest the offerings that are left there daily. (also spelled Tharabha Gate on maps)

Smoking Shrine Keeper

Smoking Shrine Keeper

 

One of the pair of guardian "nats" for the gate of Old Bagan's city wall.

One of the pair of guardian “nats” for the gate of Old Bagan’s city wall.

 

Tharabar Gate "nat" or guardian.  Known together as "Lords of the High Mountain"

Tharabar Gate “nat” or guardian. Known together as “Lords of the High Mountain”

 

U Bein Bridge – Mandalay, Myanmar

The U Bein Bridge is just outside of Mandalay on a marshy lake.  The bridge was built in 1850 out of teakwood reclaimed from the royal palace.  We planned to catch the bridge at sunset after climbing the steps of Mandalay hill.  Fortunately the walk down was faster than going up since we were running out of time to get over to the bridge.  And of course, I forgot my tripod back at the hotel so we had to take a detour to stop to get it.  Fortunately, our timing was just right and captured a series of sunset shots.  After the sun went down, we decided to walk across.  It was fortunate that Logan had his LED light handy so we could make our way partway since there were missing planks and holes that we would have missed in the dark.  As you can see, the drop down would be substantial.

U Bein Bridge

 

 

Inle Lake

Inle Lake is on a plateau at about 2,900ft and is surrounded by a several small villages, including Nyaungshwe where we stayed at the May Guesthouse.  It also has villages built right on the marshy lake.  We rented a boat and spent most of the afternoon exploring the lake.  This series of photos shows both their traditional culture as well as their dependence on tourism.  Many of their activities are based on the tradition of fishing, leg rowing and floating gardens which likely has been constant for hundreds of years.  Tourism mixes in a series of workshops producing items such as lotus and silk weaving to cheroot leaf cigars.  Overall, we had a great tour of the lake.  And although we usually try to avoid tourist spots, it was fascinating nonetheless.  Including the hand full of Padaung “long neck” women weaving in one of the workshops.  These women stretch their necks by using brass rings.

Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery This all teak monastery, on the way to Nyaungshwe was built in the early 19th century. Young monks known as “novices” live here and were studying when we arrived.

Shwe Yan Pyay Monk This monk, at 88 years old, eats only one meal a day of rice.

 

Shan girl at market - near Inle Lake

Shan girl at market – near Inle Lake

 

Inle Lake village building

Inle Lake village building

 

Inle Lake - boat meeting

Inle Lake – boat meeting

 

Padaung woman

Padaung woman

 

Padaung Girl

Padaung Girl

 

Padaung weaver

Padaung weaver

 

Inle Lake - leg rower

Inle Lake – leg rower

 

Inle Lake - 1 down

Inle Lake – 1 down

Inle Lake - fisherman

Inle Lake – fisherman

Inle Lake - spearing

Inle Lake – spearing

Inle Lake - traditional net

Inle Lake – traditional net

 

 

 

 

 

Myanmar Accomodations

Considering this was just a father and son trip, our expectations for accommodations weren’t particularly high.  We just wanted places clean and centrally located.  And a big plus was to have someone who spoke English working at the hotel.  It turns out that with Myanmar recent opening, their hospitality industry is just evolving, thus they have limited options with hotels.  Although there are a few high end resort style hotels, their pricing can be as high as US$300/night which is extremely high compared to Thailand, the neighboring country.  Most that I researched were backpacker type hotels (with the exception of the Thante in Nyaung Oo).  Due to the laws of supply and demand, the increasing flow of tourists have even driven these prices up too.

Our agenda was as follows:

Wed, January 8th, depart LAX for Yangon on Korean Air 18 11:00am via Korea with an arrival at 10:30PM in Yangon.
By the way, don’t believe the signs in the immigration line, we staying in the “foreigners” line while others hopped the line for the shorter “diplomat” and “citizen” lines.  The authorities didn’t seem to mind.
The taxi prices seem to be fixed at 12,000 kyat (about US$12) to central Yangon where we stayed at the May Shan hotel.  (although I was able to talk him down to 10,000, I ended up tipping him to the original 12,000 price.  Don’t ask my why I do that…
The May Shan hotel was a good choice since it is located next to the Sule Pagoda which is one of the central roundabouts in the city and all taxis knew this landmark.  We rented the room that overlooked the street/pagoda as we wanted to be able to take some pictures from the room.  The room was small but adequate and was clean.  There was a distinct limitation of power outlets however so traveling with a power-strip may be handy next time.  The bathroom was a typical combo shower/toilet room that seems to be common amongst this level of hotel.  The hotel did have a generator although we didn’t experience an outage on that day. This was the only hotel on our trip that accepted credit cards and was able to be reserved through Agoda.com.  The hotel had wifi and contrary to many connections in the country, the Internet had enough bandwidth to support a Facetime video call!  The hotel personnel were very nice and accommodating and even retrieved our tickets from the Air Mandalay office while were out sightseeing.  The manager was a nice lady named Thein Thein.

May Shan Hotel - next to Sule Pagoda

May Shan Hotel – next to Sule Pagoda

May Shan Hotel

May Shan Hotel

May Shan
115-117 Sule Paya Road
Kyauktada Township
Yangon
+95 1 252 986
www.mayshan.com

The price for a room is between US$60 and US$90 through Agoda.com

On Saturday, January 11th we travelled from Yangon to Bagan on Air Mandalay flight 6T 401 leaving at 6:20am and arriving at 7:40am.  

Through the research and connecting with those knowledgable about Myanmar, I made a new friend in Bagan who happens to run a nice hotel! This was the nicest hotel on our trip as it consisted of a series of bungalows, pool, restaurant and bakery.  This hotel has a website where one can reserve rooms, however, it is not by credit card transaction so be prepared to carry cash for checkin time.  This hotel is in Nyaung Oo which is only a few minutes from the airport and at the start of the archeological zone on the Shwezigon Paya end.

Thante Hotel - Nyaung Oo

Thante Hotel – Nyaung Oo

Thante Hotel
Myo Ma Quarter
Nyaung Oo
+95 61 60315, +95 61 61116
http://www.thantenyu.com/

The accommodations were great at this hotel and the staff friendly.  And the room rate includes a great buffet breakfast.

Through my friend at the Thante hotel, we did arrange for an English speaking guide for one day named Sai.  He was a great guide who knew when to rattle off historical facts and when to let us simply take pictures.  I highly recommend this guide!

On Monday, January 13th, we travelled from Bagan to Mandalay on Air Mandalay flight 6T 401 leaving at 7:55am arriving at 8:25am

There, we took the long taxi ride from the Mandalay airport into town.  At this airport, the taxi hawkers were particularly aggressive with their sales pitches. However, in the end, the pricing was pretty much fixed as well.  I believe this was around 12,000kyat too.  And considering the distance, it is a bargain.  The trip takes at least an hour.  We stayed at the Nylon hotel which again catered to backpackers.  This hotel only takes reservations three days in advance of your stay so remember to set a reminder to call otherwise you may find yourself without a room.IMG_2414

Nylon Hotel

Nylon Hotel

Nylon Hotel
Corner of 83rd and 25th St.
Mandalay
+95 233 460

On Tuesday, January 14th we travelled from Mandalay to Heho (Inle Lake’s closest airport) on Air Mandalay flight 6T 402 leaving 7:55am arriving at 8:25am

We arranged for a guide to meet us there.  The drive from Heho to Inle Lake is about an hour although we stopped at a few places for sightseeing including a 100 year old wooden monastery.  At Inle Lake we stayed in the May Guesthouse.  It appears guesthouses are somewhat of a bed and breakfast.  This guesthouse had nice grounds, friendly staff, a good breakfast and a generator (we did lose power for a period one night).  However, the walls between the rooms are paper thin so bring earplugs if you want to get some sleep.  The shower in our room was particularly difficult to adjust so one either has a scalding or freezing shower.  All in all, it was fine for the price which was 28,000 kyats/night.  This hotel can be reserved through email but they won’t hold your reservation if you don’t call them three days in advance to confirm.

IMG_2468

May Guesthouse
85 Myawady Rd.
Nyaungshwe
+95 81 209 417
mayguesthouse@gmail.com

 

Myanmar Adventure – January 2014

My son has recently been interested in traveling abroad to experience the world a bit before he starts his working life after college.  My wife and I agreed that for his 19th birthday, we’d give him the gift of this experience.  Having travelled extensively for work, I wanted to choose a destination that that I have never visited so we could discover together.  For several years, I’ve been interested in Myanmar as it was so mysterious and closed off from the world.  I also had followed the story of Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle with the government and her house arrest for almost 15 years.  So my son agreed that this would be a very adventurous choice.

We had about a week and a half to fit this trip in considering my work schedule, patient wife and daughter and my son’s impending return to his college campus after Winter break.  As soon as we decided to take this trip,  I immediately booked the round trip tickets to Yangon for January 8th through 17th and spent the months between the August and January planning the details.  While I’ve experienced planning the logistics of travel in many parts of the world including Asia, the process for Myanmar was a bit more challenging.  Since they are so recently opened to the world, reliable information is very sparse on the Internet.  Once I did have the information in hand for hotels and internal flights, confirming was difficult as very few companies accept credit card transactions.  I was up to the challenge and certainly was satisfied as we boarded the plane that the planning was as good as it could get.  In an effort to provide current information for others that may be searching, I’ll include as many details as I can remember to make the next visitors’ task easier.

Inle Lake - traditional net

Inle Lake – traditional net