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Asia » Burma » Yangon Region
November 7th 2012
Published: November 18th 2012
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Shwedagon PagodaShwedagon PagodaShwedagon Pagoda

It is stunning
This latest entry requires that we first set the scene for you. It is October of 2007 and we are standing in our hotel room in Kuala Lumpur with backpacks all but ready to head downstairs to jump into a cab to take us to the airport. For the past few days there had been unrest and rumblings in Myanmar. Rising petrol prices and general unrest was afoot. The night before on the television we see small riots and police hostility toward the monks on the television. We are keenly interested in the reports the BBC is providing regarding the unrest in a country we are going to visit in a few short hours.



When we awoke that morning, we had an uncertain feeling about flying into Myanmar. And now there we were ……. standing in our hotel room trying to make a decision about whether it is smart to continue on with our plan. After a short discussion we decide to cancel. No sense heading into trouble and uncertainty. Fortunately as it would turn out, we made the correct decision as some three hours later a Japanese photographer was killed and the Internet was shut down by the ruling junta. Access to this country was severely limited for ten days. We would have gotten to Yangon and been stuck in the middle of riots. Not how you want to spend your holiday dollar.



We vowed to go there and five years later we have finally made it to Myanmar or Burma, whatever you want to call it!



Why have this continuing urge? Before we left on our voyage in 2007, we were fortunate to make the acquaintance of a couple who were on an around the world trip a year earlier. We were following their trip and dreaming of following in their footsteps. We had talked about quitting work to travel for years but needed the extra push. Following them through Travelblog sealed it for us and we sold the house, put things in storage and took off for 10 months. We’ve had no regrets and we thank Cori and Emmanuel as they contributed to us making this fabulous decision!





Check out their Burma blogs if you like.

Buddhas, Pagodas and Monks!!

Photos of Myanmar





And now for our impressions……….Our friend Michael from Seattle
Michael, Merry & DaveMichael, Merry & DaveMichael, Merry & Dave

Fine time touring Burma
decided to join us for this leg of our trip. He has a wicked sense of humor and we are happy to be traveling with him. Actually Michael is a citizen of the world who works to feed his travel habit and lives in Seattle, Paris and Bali part of the year. A fine traveling companion.





A bit of banking business



We’d been told to change money in town instead of the airport so we headed off to a bank in Yangon. Dave and Michael disappeared into the bank…… what an experience! The line was long and it was moving slow. It was Saturday and of the six banks exchanging money in this one building, only one was open. Piles of money sat on the counter, both kyat and American dollars strung together. No internal controls were apparent.



At one point two young girls walked out of the bank with a bag of bills so heavy it required both of them to hold one strap of the bag. It was amazing to us that someone would walk around with that kind of cash. Buddhists are honest people so we assume they were not worried about theft.



A reminder…. Bring cash…crisp, new bills with no markings on them. Larger bills such as $50 and $100 USD bring a little higher exchange rate. We are told there are no ATMs and the only place we have found that will take credit is an occasional jewelry store. We found this out while shopping for Burmese rubies. No, we have not bought any yet. Yet, may be the key word.





Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda



If you came to Burma and only saw the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, it would not be a wasted trip! The photos will demonstrate why we feel this way. It is an amazing Pagoda and has so many Buddhas that we started calling it the Buddhapaluzza…



Travel tip: Go to this site in the afternoon so you can see it in daylight but stay long enough to see it at night. Sunset in early November is about 5:45 PM. The entire compound lights up and provides and entirely different ambiance. Well worth the effort.



We had a special treat on the day we were there. As we were heading over to see it a thunderstorm moved in and they skies opened up with a flood of rain. As we arrived it had stopped raining but the clouds looked ominous and we continued to hear the rumbling of thunder. We were cracking jokes about being safe walking barefoot on wet marble because all the buildings were tall and would act like lightening rods. At one point we felt like we were living in a scene from the movie Ghostbusters where the storm clouds surrounded the temple and the thunder roared. The clouds improved the photos and when the sun came back out we had a small rainbow and the sun glistened on the wet Pagoda. In this case all that glittered was gold. It was an amazing sight.





Passing fancies and the smoking battery



One of the interesting things about driving (or in this case, being driven) is that traffic is on the right side of the road. This is truly unique because: a) this is a former British colony where they drive on the left side of the road and b) almost all the cars
Cooling our batteryCooling our batteryCooling our battery

Believe it or not, this worked
are Japanese, which means that the steering wheel is on the right. Now it appears that the local drivers have adapted well to this. However, this presents some challenges when you are on the highway and want to pass the vehicle in front of you. If you can’t really take the proverbial peek at oncoming traffic, this gives us pause for thought….



On our way to TaungNgu, we stopped to take a few pictures of the locals with their ox carts and the like. Upon stopping, we were confronted with a rather pungent smell, which upon reflection did not smell organic as we originally thought. Our driver Mia Mia did some investigation and determined that the van’s battery was smoking. Not a particularly good scenario. He pulled the battery, filled it with bottled water (good thing we had plenty) and cooled it with some more water. Placed back in its compartment, the van started up on the first crank and off we went. We were only 15 miles or so from our destination, but there was less than an hour’s daylight left. We felt pretty lucky as we checked into Mother’s House Hotel and promptly found some adult beverages.

Fortunately our fears of walking to town…in the dark…did not come true. Yippy.



Before this trip is over we drove miles and miles and miles on Burmese country roads and highways. The majority of Myanmar travelers fly from major city to major city. We had seen the backside of Burma as we have driven through and stopped in many a small village. This gave us a better flavor of the way of life of the Burmese and also bounced us around quite a bit in the van, but well worth the effort.



A new capital city



In 2007 the capital city moved from Yangon to Naypytaw. The good news is this required them to build a new highway between the two cities. Not only is this good for government officials but tourist benefit also. It is a very nice road.



From our perspective the problem with the new capital is that is seems very artificial. We are told that only government officials and the military live in this town. It looks as if you have driven into a Florida suburb with new McMansions. The roads
Come hiking with usCome hiking with usCome hiking with us

It was hot & humid
are wide and the roundabouts are decorated with beautiful flowers and statutes. This is not at all reminiscent of how the average citizen of Myanmar lives.



A few random thoughts



As you can imagine we have seen a few pagodas and Buddhas. Myanmar has an amazing number of both. They are beautiful and brilliant. We have seen two extremely large reclining Buddha’s that might be as large or larger than the one we saw in Bangkok. We don’t use the term “extremely large” lightly. The Buddhas are more than 70 meters long (over 200 feet). We imagine one could spend a lifetime visiting such shrines in Burma and not see all of them. As you drive the countryside or mountain roads you will see many.



We’ve taken most of our meals in small local restaurants and there are no tourists to be found. The local food is good and very inexpensive. Often a meal for the three of us is under $10. One night we went to a fancy restaurant in Yangon and the meal was under $20. A Myanmar beer cost $2 and is large (550ml) in size.



The countryside is beautiful. The homes are small grass and teak buildings for the most part surrounded by rice fields. Harvest season is upon us so the fields are filled with hard working people armed with sickles bringing in the crop. We stopped to take photos and they were singing as they worked. They stopped smiled and waved. The people of Burma are incredibly kind and friendly.



The mountain roads are a bit wider than in Nepal and in much better condition. Sorry we keep comparing all roads to Nepal but we had never seen highways in such dilapidated and dangerous condition. The mountains here are more like hills in some of the countries we have recently visited. We have actually enjoyed riding on some straight highways.



This is the first time we have had fresh mandarin oranges. We bought several bags of them at the market. What a delight!



Burmese Buddhist Festivals



There are many festivals this time of year in Burma. We were able to glimpse a portion of the Nat festival in one of the temples we visited. They had a band playing music and the local women were dressed in colorful clothing dancing around to chase away the evil spirits according to our guide. It was quite a frenetic sight to behold. Lots of banging on percussion instruments and some locals almost screaming whilst singing. Quite noisy and seemingly out of place as it was held in a temple. It appeared that it drew a fair amount of interest from the locals and was reasonably well attended.





Hiking near Kalaw



Outside Kalaw we headed with our guide Htun and a local guide named Uzo to hike to a mountain viewpoint. We were told it was about 2 ½ hours to the viewpoint and just under 3 hours to return to town. It was a lovely and challenging hike through the valley’s and then up the mountains passing fields of fruits and vegetables. We watched the locals in the field harvesting tea and rice. The soil in this area is rich and many things are grown to include bananas, guava, papaya, watermelons, oranges, cotton, rice, tea, and even canola.



We had the pleasure of hiking through two mountain villages. In the first one we were able to stop and listen to lessons being taught in a local school. The children seem to be mesmerized by their teacher.



Uzo, our guide seemed to know everyone in all of the villages. He passed out candy to the children and took us into a local home to watch them steaming the tealeaves. In the front yard the tea was drying and then it moves into the house to be steamed.

We had tea in the other village with the local who wore interesting clothing and seemed content drinking tea and smoking cigars.



Our climb to the viewpoint was slower than we would have liked but it was an AMAZING view well worth the trek. Lunch was served at the top. As we neared the top of the mountain MJ was experiencing a health problem related to the masala she had eaten the night before. This issue required her to get back to town sooner than later so arrangements were made for motorcycles to pick us up and get us back to the hotel. Our friend Michael continued the hike with our guides and Dave and MJ awaited the arrival of the motorbikes, and waited and waited.



When they arrived they were covered in mud, which gave one pause but we wanted to get down the hill quicker than the three-hour hike so off we went. What we didn’t know is the road less traveled back to town included several miles of driving through mud, ruts and two to three foot deep ruts. We quickly understood why the motorcycles and drivers were covered in mud. The next section of road was pretty rocky but all and all an uneventful trip down the mountain. Honestly after seeing the trail we were supposed to hike we were a bit content that we rode down rather than walking. Things happen for a reason. Hats off to our motorcycle drivers who were fantastic.



This country is enchanting and our next blog will tell you more.



Places we stayed:

The Clover Hotel- Yangon

Mother’s House Hotel- TaungNgu

Dream Villa Hotel- Kalaw

Restaurant- check out the 7 Sisters restaurant = top notch (Kalaw)


Additional photos below
Photos: 59, Displayed: 31


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Lovely ladies leaving workLovely ladies leaving work
Lovely ladies leaving work

a long day on the farm


18th November 2012

Burma
Really enjoyed your blog, even more than usual since we will be in Burma in February. Everything I've heard about Burma is good and judging from you comments you agree. Your photos are great and reflect the flavor of the country. Can't wait for your next offering.
18th November 2012

Burma in February
We knew you were heading that way soon and you will love it. Burma is raw and unspoiled. It is special because it has not been over run by tourist yet. The people really want to learn how to make a success of things. Inle Lake and Bagan were my favorites and very special places. Can't wait to hear your thoughts.
18th November 2012

Ohh....so tempting....
Myanmar is one of those places that I have always wanted to visit. I have no excuse really, living so close to this travellers paradise as I do. But the one thing that has now really swung it for me, is that they drive on the correct side of the road......Deep resounding joy ;) Dave, please give us some feedback on the Burmese beer....that kind of knowledge is crucial before I start booking tickets and making plans :)
19th November 2012

Burmese Beer
The brew found in Burma is your basic lager. They sell the famous Tiger of course, but also have Myanmar Beer and Dagon. I always prefer the 550ml bottles. As of now, they are quite reasonably priced at about 3 to 3.50 USD each. Hope this assists your travel making plans.....Dave.
18th November 2012

At last!
I've been waiting for this entry with bated breath. Glad to see y'all are all right and that you have some company in your travels. Pictures are spectacular as always. Can't wait for part deux.
18th November 2012

Myanmar has intermittent internet
Every place we stayed said they had internet. Ha! They may have had it but it rarely worked. When it did work it could be for only a few minutes before it went down. It was impossible to download photos. The government or someone....blocks many web sites. A lovely country but we are happy to be back in civilization.
18th November 2012

Great pictures!
Wow, I am following along with your travels and enjoying it all! Can't wait to see what is next. MM
18th November 2012

Burma was beautiful
We have longed to see Burma as we knew it lacked tourist. It is a special place of raw and unspoiled beauty.
18th November 2012

Sounds Like a Great Place
We have also planned for a long time to visit but wanted to wait until the regime calmed down a little. It looks like a beautiful country and the things our Burmese friends tell us about their country are borne out by your post.
18th November 2012

Things are calm now and I would go soon.
Burma is raw and unspoiled at this point. A few tourist but not many. We recommend you go in the next year or so if you can. Not that we think they can build an infrastructure quickly but you never know. They have plenty of people to do the work and are eager to earn a better way of life. Everyone was so wonderful. You would enjoy this country.
19th November 2012

very tempting...
the food looks better here :)
19th November 2012

Yes, we had some good food
Burma has a variety of influence from neighboring nations so you can find me things you will love to try.
19th November 2012

You two were the best travel partners I ever hit the road with! This was definitely an \'off the beaten path\' adventure. The only thing you missed in Yangon by leaving a day before me was watching me fall in the 2\' deep hole next to Sharky\'s while looking for the hospital to buy more Cipro. You also missed watching Air Force 1 land on the tarmac in Yangon and see Obama walk down the steps and red carpet shaking hands with dignitaries.
19th November 2012

Very, very cool that you got to see Obama land!
As much as we would have enjoyed that we were ready to get to KL. Glad you made the trip to Burma with us. We had a great time. Looking forward to your next blog.
19th November 2012

such beauty
love all the colors! I guess you missed the President's visit?
19th November 2012

Hello Lydia,
Yes, we asked him to arrive after we left so we would not need to deal with all the commotion. Ha ha. All is well.
19th November 2012

Hello from Cow town
I was wondering when I was going to see another blog from you two, and where it was going to be from. Good to see you two are still moving forward. Its Thanksgiving week here (in case you forgot) so we are expecting a house-full of family and friends. Frying four turkeys on Friday (we do friday because it allows others to celebrate with extended families on Thursday, and we don't care what day we eat). The Bucks are undeated and playing the team from up north on Saturday. Its our bowl game, so its should be a real war (probation and all). Weathers pretty good for this time of year (hi 20's at nite, but 50's & 60's during the day). Stay safe my friend. Keep the blogs coming. Oh, and by the way, loved your blogs and comments on Nepal. Sounded like just the place to reccommend to your worse enemy! LOL! Tom
20th November 2012

Beautiful colours
Loved reading your blog on Burma, yet another place we have on our list... it almost made it for the next trip.. it still might make it! The colours in the photos are so beautiful, each one really stood out and made for a great lunchtime getaway!
20th November 2012

We recommend going soon
We will publish another blog from there today. It is raw and unspoiled at this point but with recent interest we think we will start going in larger numbers. At this point they don't have enough rooms and infrastructure to handle much more so go soon if you can.
20th November 2012

We continue to follow along and wish we were there with you!
20th November 2012

Hello Anne and Bill,
Glad you are with us in spirit and wish you could be here. Hopefully, we can travel together some place soon. That would be great!
20th November 2012

Hello Anne and Bill,
Glad you are with us in spirit and wish you could be here. Hopefully, we can travel together some place soon. That would be great!
20th November 2012

Hello Anne and Bill,
Glad you are with us in spirit and wish you could be here. Hopefully, we can travel together some place soon. That would be great!
21st November 2012

I think Dave would rock a ponytail :)
Commenting on both blogs sitting here insanely jealous :) Thanks for the lovely insight into Burma...and I do think Dave would excellent with a long silver ponytail ;) REALLY looking forward to the next blog!
21st November 2012

He was tired of that fly away look
It was time for a trim

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