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Published: November 23rd 2012
Burma has really captured our attention. We’ve spent 16 nights and 17 days exploring and feel like we have seen a good bit of the country. We are told it has grown leaps and bounds politically, with the country starting to move away from 50 years of strict military rule. This may be reflected in the recent visit by President Obama and earlier in the year by Hillary Clinton, sure signs that things are changing.
Life has also changed for the people, albeit slowly, but if you come for a visit soon you will still have the pleasure of experiencing a nation and culture that is relatively untouched by the outside world. The people of Burma are friendly and have a good sense of humor. We feel you will get to see a raw and unspoiled community. There are few places like this left in the world.
Many of the ways of doing things three and four hundred years ago are still done the same way by the people in the countryside. This is still a largely agrarian society. But tourism is now viewed as a moneymaker and the country will change sooner than you
A cool monk
happy to chat & pose
realize. We met a Belgium gentleman who has a Burmese wife and he chatted with us concerning the changes he had seen in the last twenty years. He tells us the Burmese are hard working and don’t ask for a hand out. They used to be content earning one bag of rice but now they realize they need two bags and are attempting to learn how to earn that. They are currently looking for a better life. They want people to teach them, they are not asking for people to do it for them.
The surrounding countries of Laos, Thailand, India, China and Bangladesh have influenced Burma over the years. Many people from these nations have immigrated to Burma over the course of past centuries and it is evident when looking at the faces of locals when traveling to villages. Mandalay
The drive to Mandalay from Inle saw us cross over the mountains headed directly west although the destination was northwest. We could have taken a more direct route, but were told the roads were quite bad. Easy decision on our part. Although it extended the drive by a few hours, it saved us a
lot of bouncing.
Mandalay is the second largest city in Burma and also home to some 400,000 monks. That is a serious amount of monks in our opinion and you see them everywhere outside of the business part of the city. Monasteries are privately funded and there are literally dozens of them. Mandalay offers a variety of Buddhist temples, shrines, pagodas and religious sites.
In one part of the city, we witnessed the monks queuing for their daily meals. The line was hundreds deep and the tourists lined up to take their picture as they patiently waited for their daily bread (actually rice, but somehow that sounded better). Each day volunteers prepare the meal for the monks and the amount of food readied is fairly stunning in scope.
A monks morning: we were told their morning routine is to wake at 5AM, clean up and go to studies and meditation, at 10am they clean up and get in line for their one meal of the day. As we pointed it is a fascinating ritual to observe as they patiently wait in the queue until all 2000 were ready. At 1030am they
what hats for all
are allowed to go through the line to get the one meal for the day. It was fascinating to watch. After this meal they go back to their studies.
While in Mandalay, we also found a fairly nice European-style restaurant, which served good red wine and decent food. We made this our nightly stop three nights running. After so many nights in Asia, we are beginning to crave western or European food, so this was a nice respite. Shelter from the Asian cuisine storm. We can only eat so much rice. It is not part of our daily diet, so the culinary change was a welcome site indeed. The U Pein Bridge was another fabulous sight to take in.
It is a very famous old bridge in Amarapura City that is about a mile long. The idea is to show up before sunset and cross the bridge, which is mostly made of teak wood, then have a boat row you back across to take in the sunset from the water level with the bridge in the background. It was a treat and another special moment to remember.
Pictures perhaps won’t do it justice, but
it was memorable nonetheless. A must do if you are coming to Mandalay.
Another day trip involved taking a riverboat over to a community that offered just a few more pagodas where we saw older temples, including one built by the king in the earlier part of the 19th
century which was never completed and also had huge cracks in it from a massive quake in the 1830’s. It was several hundred feet tall and you could climb to the top if interested….we were not. We visited this temple the day after the earthquakes and they had a team of government officials out measuring to see if the cracks had gotten any larger. One of the gold pagodas had some damage at the top.
We visited a temple and shrine dedicated to a monk who memorized some 16,000 pages of scripture and recited it back in 1954, which landed him in the Guinness Book of Records. Impressive when most of us can’t remember what we had for breakfast. They refer to him as the intelligent monk.
And then there were the earthquakes…..three of them at least. The first one hit as
we were just about to board the elevator from the fifth floor to the ground floor for breakfast. We both have been in just a couple quakes in our lifetime, but make no mistake this was a sizeable one.
Watching things sway through the window next to the elevator gives you quick pause and we quickly retreated the other direction and took the stairs. As we passed the door to Michael’s room we noticed it was not closed all the way so we closed it and continued on. Once outside the building we found our friend Michael waiting in the parking lot for us. We learned he was in the shower when the quake hit. It is a very disorienting experience and with a great deal of humor he shared his decision making process of run, no put on clothes, run, no put on clothes! We laughed until we cried. At this point we had our own story to share. MJ has decided to iron a blouse that morning (she does not iron often so we wondered if this may have caused the quake)…anyway the front desk had hassled her about borrowing an iron. They finally gave
They hiked as far as they could. Farewell.
in but said she had to return it immediately. We were on the way to return the iron and ironing board when the quake hit. She looked crazy running down the five flights of stairs with these items in her grasp. Dave says to leave it and she says they said she had to return it immediately. People do the strangest things when the building shakes.
Shaken, but not stirred, we ate breakfast and set out for the day’s adventures.
We went up into the hills and looked over Mandalay from the temples. Upon returning for a brief rest in the afternoon, another one struck and we headed downstairs once again. Michael is very fast and he always gets outside before us. Another one took place about one in the morning while we were in bed, but fortunately, that was the last one we encountered. All in all the final count was 6.8, 5.8 and 5.6.
Michael swears there was another one at 10pm but we cannot find verification on this one. He and one Asian gentleman ran outside for that one. The next day Michael was very tired from all
of his escapes to the parking lot.
One evening after a fine meal at the European restaurant that we had adopted we headed into a neighborhood to explore the night market and watch cane ball. This is more of a show than sport but is very, very popular and the participants are viewed as celebrities. These guys should play soccer because they are fast on their feet and the hand, foot; eye coordination is a spectacular to watch. They are similar to acrobats. In a somewhat tiny circle backed by musicians playing loud local music and an announcer, they batted the ball with their feet. They are almost like the Harlem Globetrotters doing their half-court routine at times. If the crowd liked a particularly good kick or move, they would pass money forward and it would be literally pinned to the back of a player’s shirt. Very festive and different.
Many street vendors were also hawking everything they could. There was a street magician as well. You could even purchase fried grasshoppers for a snack……no thanks. Bagan
Needless to say, we were quite eager to depart Mandalay and
left earlier that morning than planned, looking to put some distance between us and the shaky ground of northern Burma. Our driver and guide actually slept in the van, as they did not want anything to do with a shaking building.
We drove to Bagan, which is south and west and is the home of several thousand older temples and pagodas.
These are in our opinion, the real pagodas and temples. Most were built in the 11th
century of sandstone and are grouped together in and around the city. They come in many sizes and designs with a general reddish hue to them. At night many have lights that allow them to be seen in the distance from various places within Bagan. Impressive edifices considering their age. We visited about a dozen of the more interesting and prominent ones over period of two days.
Bagan affords lovers of ancient temples and pagodas a chance to really get their fill. As a matter of fact, it is really the only reason for coming to this city. Unless you absolutely go crazy over temples, about two days of touring should allow
you to really get a good feeling of the place and the history.
While here one of the restaurants offered a cultural night so we were able to listen to some local music and view some dancing. It was lovely viewing the lighted pagodas in the background. The finally of the evening was the elephant dance. A unique bit of Burmese culture.
A boat ride on the Ayerawaddy River completed our visit in Bagan and then it was time to head back to Yangon, where we would catch a flight to Kuala Lumpur to continue our journey.
In summary we have experienced some beautiful scenery, visited many religious sites and met some amazing people. We believe there is not a country on earth with as many pagodas so come prepared to look at small ones, large ones, old ones, new ones, gold ones, and finally sandstone --and look you will until you are saturated! Happy travels! Places we stayed:
The Mandalay Hotel- Mandalay
Kaday Aung Hotel – Bagan Go to the Amata Restaurant & Spa
Guest Care Hotel- Yangon
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