Lynn and George Meyer's Journey to Myanmar

  • 09 Mar 2018 2:56 AM | Anonymous member

    Day 6


    The flight to Mandalay was about 80 minutes. We were met and immediately taken to. Amarapoura, a previous capital. There is a very old pagoda that used to be covered with gold leaf. Due to weather conditions over the years this has been worn off from the windward side but there is some evidence of the gold on the side from which the wind and rain infrequently come from.


    We visited a monastery with lots of monks and novices. Buddhism pretty much requires all boys to spend some time as novices after age 6, I believe. The time could be as little as a week. Before age 6 kids can come but wear a white robe to distinguish them as pre-novices. They all arise around 4 AM , eat breakfast early and most head out to the environs to ask for food. They all return by 10 AM and line up for lunch, each bringing their food or money before going to the meal. This is quite a tourist attraction and many of us show up for the line up and procession into the dining area. Their last meal for the day begins at 10:30 AM. I do not know when they go to bed. The monastery receives those who want to study from all over, not just Myanmar.


    We then crossed the Irrewaddy River, bargained for goodies and took horse carts to an old pagoda that is flooded in the rainy season and the site of the old capital whose buildings were all removed and taken to Amarapoura when the capital moved there. Many of the women we met at the river bank mounted bicycles and followed us several Km to try to sell their wares. We returned to the river where we had lunch prior to returning to the Mandalay side of the river.


    After lunch we drove to Pwin-oo-Lwin , also known as Maymyo, and over 1000 meters above sea level where the Brits would relax during the hottest months. We visited old British era hotels being refurbished before arriving at our hotel where we each had our own private bungalow. The beds were on a stand and after getting down from them there were two more steps to the toilet.

  • 07 Mar 2018 7:35 AM | Anonymous member

    Bagan


    Winding down our Myanmar experience in Bagan, home for ~ 3000 pagodas and temples with a population of 80,000. The old city is a U.N. world heritage site and the new city has been built nearby to support the area.


    We were awakened by phone at 5 AM because our leader wanted to make certain we were ready for a 6:15 departure to the airport. Everyone else was early; she was 10 minutes late. We made it to the airport by the 7 AM show for an 8 AM departure. The visibility was awful all the way to Bagan with smoke and haze. After meeting our guide we came to our wonderful hotel, checked in and got unpacked before heading off to an NGO that works with local women to give them skills. The group spent about an hour buying lots of presents. We enjoyed lunch outdoors in a covered restaurant beside a channel of the Irrewaddy River. Because the group was exhausted we returned to the hotel for a 2 hour break before heading out to enjoy the sunset and dinner.


    Bagan is a major tourist attraction. At one time it had over 4000 pagodas and stupas. However Myanmar sits on two plates that make it a major earthquake center. There was a 6.8 quake in 1975 that apparently destroyed one half of the structures. About 1000 have been rebuilt. A more recent one in 2016 also did some damage but moat as bad as the '75 quake. Apparently all these structures were built by families to buy good karma for them, their families and ancestors. Some date back to at least the 11th Century C.E.


    I had a one hour Myanmar massage during the break for $20!


    There is a 180' tower that tourists use, especially at sunset. Elevators take you to the top so you can see the sun set. The haze is so bad at this time of year that we lost sight of the sun before it descended past the mountains. For those who are northern Californians, we were interested to see a group of hills standing nearby that reminded us of the Sutter Buttes.


    Dinner was fine at a tourist restaurant with a marionette show. We were home by 8:30 ready for bed. One member is getting up at 4:30 to make a sunrise balloon ride. Hope the visibility is better in the AM than in the PM. We will be off at 9:30 after she returns.

  • 06 Mar 2018 5:32 AM | Anonymous member

                                                          Day 5


    Buffet Breakfast at 8 with lots of choices, most quite good.


    Off at 9 to see the two main tourist attractions in Mandalay. The first was an old temple that had been covered with gold leaf but over the years, especially on the windward side, has lost most of its glitter. The next was a Buddhist shrine where pilgrims purchase a small thin gold leaf and place it on the Buddha statue. His body is getting thicker and thicker with all the gold being placed. The gold originates in Myanmar and is hammered by hand with 7 pound sledge hammers into thinner and thinner leaf.  


    We watched the gold leaf production followed by shopping. Yesterday was shopping day. Not only is gold produced but they also produce such gems as star sapphires, rubies, and jade! We also watched wood working.


    After a gigantic lunch at a very popular Thai style restaurant we drove to the Irrewaddy river for a 1 hour ride upriver to Mingun to view a stupa that is 50 meters high and was planned to be 150 meters high, all of brick. The work stopped in 1790 and, because Myanmar is crossed with several earthquake fault lines, it has become dangerous to enter. We then walked to another complex which a couple of us climbed. While there I met some Thai artists who were on an expedition led by allegedly the most famous landscape artist in Thailand, a man who lives in Chiang Rai. During  the boat ride back we got to see a beautiful sunset on the river. We then returned to the hotel to get ready for dinner at a special restaurant called A Taste of Mandalay with several members of the fledgling Friendship Force club of Mandalay. One member is making products to sell from discarded plastic bags. Others are members of the multi cultural women's group (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim) working with the kids "down by the river".


    Looks like an easy day on day 6 before an early go on the 27th for a 3 day visit to the Inle Lake area.


    I have not yet done day 6.


                                                  Day 7


    Early get up to drive to Mandalay airport for a 10:15 departure for Heho, the gateway to the Shan State. We were 80 + Km From Mandalay, another 40 to the airport with a brief stop at a jewelry store to pick up a resized ring for one of the group. We got there with lots of time to spare to enjoy the 23 minute flight to Heho. 


    The first visit was to the capital of Shan State, Taunggyi , where we stopped for lunch before visiting an orphanage run by an 88 year old woman whose grandparents started  it in 1905. We left lots of clothes and English teaching materials.


    The 45 minute drive to Nyaung Shwe took us to a wonderful hotel called Tanakha. Tanakha is a tree product that the Burmese, mostly women, put on their faces, supposedly to serve as sun protection. The GM is a Frenchman from Lille who has been here for 6 years. The hotel is owned by a Frenchman from Lorient In southern Bretagne. The owner's niece , also from Lorient, is also working here in the restaurant and bar. She does not speak much English. None of the Burmese workers speak French. The food here is outstanding and the service superb. Lynn went to the GM to ask about getting something for her cough. They had nothing in their medicine kit so they went downtown and got her some cough suppressant. There was no charge for this service or the medicine.


                                                       Day8

    Lynn had head congestion and a headache and elected not to go for the all day boat ride on Inle ( pronounced Inlay) Lake. We left in 2 long boats with loud Chinese-built one cylinder engines that must be cranked to start ( like old U.S. Cars) . The boats have shallow props and must draw only about a foot. Inle Lake is very shallow with deepest depth at about 5 meters. 


    Our hotel sits on a long canal that leads into the north side of the lake.  The General Manager is from Lille, France, and has been here for 6 years. A large part of the clientele are francophone. Breakfast included several different baked goods like croissants and baguettes. I asked  the GM why the bread was so good and he explained that a patisserie  chef came from France for 3 months to demonstrate to the workers how to make French pastries . Tomorrow will bring pain au chocolat.


    The first thing we visited was a village with houses on stilts all above water. Nearby were floating islands( only 5 countries have floating islands, Peru and Bolivia on Lake Titicaca, Myanmar, and 2 others. ) These floating islands take about 30 years of work to get them ready to function as tomato producing places.  They really do not float as they are pinned down with bamboo poles. Apparently this area is known for their tomatoes. They have been  removing area from the lake and the government is preventing further expansion. 


    We did a lot of shopping today on the lake.  I did not know you could make fiber from lotus stalks but it is considered special by the Burmese. An article made with lotus is 10 times more expensive than a similar article made of pure silk.


    Today was market day at this village ( every fifth day) so our co-travelers spent a lot of time negotiating for articles, mostly gold. We then had lunch; we all ate only fried rice as we have all been overeating.


    On the way back to our hotel we stopped to meet some women who put bronze rings around their necks as a sign of beauty, saw a fisherman fishing while rowing with an oar with his leg, and visited another monastery. We got home around 5 PM and are looking forward to another Asian dinner.


    We returned to Yangon and have spent the days mostly teaching English to kids from ages 10-15. Last night we toured the Shwedagon pagoda, the most famous in Yangon and the group lit 500 lanterns for friendship around the world.


    Tomorrow we head to Bagan for 3 days . They still have more pagodas than anywhere else in the world but the numbers are markedly fewer following a devastating earthquake a couple of years ago that destroyed hundreds, I am told.




  • 06 Mar 2018 5:30 AM | Anonymous member

    The flight from Tokyo to Yangon was scheduled for 8 hours but took 7 1/4!hours with ANA in a 767 with non reclining seats. During the flight to Yangon in the day it was not such a big deal but the flight back will be overnight . The flight path was not a straight line but wiggled south of China, seemingly avoiding China airspace- not sure if that is a constant or not. We are 2 1/2 time zones West of Japan!


    We arrived in Yangon around 1615. It took about an hour to get through immigration and customs. One bag had red tape on it since it was loaded with medical supplies but after 2 inspectors casually looked at the contents we were passed through. We left Tokyo when the high was around 50 degrees . The temperature on arrival in Yangon was about 90 degrees, but did not seem that hot.


    The 45 minute rush hour taxi ride cost $ 10 . Although the Brits were here for many years, they drive on the right but many of the cabs are Japanese hand-me-downs with the steering wheel on the right. Gas stations are selling their cheapest gas for about 50 cents a liter ( about $2 a gallon.)


    Yangon is the original name for this city that used to be the capital of Burma/Myanmar but the Brits changed it to Rangoon. It was changed back several years ago.


    There are a lot of old  seemingly unoccupied  buildings I guess from pre WW2 times that have become surrounded by overgrown by trees, shrubs, etc. 


    The classic dress for men and women is a long skirt-like garment called a longyi. Few people wear shorts and those that do have shorts that look more like pedal pushers. Dress code for the pagodas requires that the knees not be showing, no cleavage, and bare feet are a requirement.


    The Panorama  hotel is in the business district. Our room is U.S. Sized with a king bed which is quite comfortable. There is no safe in the room but safe lockers are behind the reception desk. We went to dinner at a health food restaurant near the hotel. I had chicken soup and fried rice. The fried rice was nothing like what we used to get in Thailand. Lynn had a salmon dish. Both were quite good. Instead of serving us water we received a reddish clear liquid they said was beetroot juice. We also shared a chocolate/ banana smoothie which was tasty.


    After dinner we walked to the Sule pagoda, paid the obligatory $3 per person to get in. Hopefully we will be able to append a photo to this. Most have heard about the Rohingya problem in southwest Myanmar. This is soused to be a religious issue between the native Buddhist Burmese and the Muslim Rohingya. In our walk we passed through a neighborhood predominantly Muslim but we saw no antipathy toward them in the streets.


    The streets around the hotel are safe personally but the traffic is dangerous. In Vietnam you could start walking and the traffic would steer around you but crossing the street , even with the green pedestrian walk blinking you are still at risk for those cars turning. There are few morcycles/motorbikes  in Yangon.


                                                                      Day 2


    Good weather; hot and muggy, high temp in the 90's


    I think our malaria prophylaxis is making us sick. So we will try to take our pills at bedtime. Yangon and Mandalay have no malaria but Pagan and Inle lake are considered low but real risk.


    After breakfast I headed to a tour place that offers a 4 hour guided bike tour on the south side of the Yangon River. We will do that tomorrow afternoon.


    When Lynn started to feel better we headed toward Shwedagon pagoda, about 2 miles away, detouring through the Aung San market to look at cotton fabric and gems ( apparently there is a lot of Jade mined here as well as rubies). Some amazing prices. We walked an extra 15 minutes to get lunch. Lynn had chicken with cashews and I had pad Thai . With 2 cokes the bill came to ~ $10. 


    We spent about an hour in the temple complex   before taking the public bus back to the market to finish the walk back to the hotel.


    We will head out to dinner in another hour or so. We are looking to go to the second best restaurant in town recommended by Trip Advisor if we can find it. It has been established to train poor people about the Food and Beverage profession so the personnel all work the front and back. Unfortunately the restaurant was fully booked so we went to a restaurant on the 20th floor of a building near our hotel with great views of the city including both pagoda complexes. Food was ok with watered down drinks but worth the view. ( ate there a few days later with excellent food!)


    Probably due to the British influence there are lots of churches of different denominations in Yangon. We again noted lots of people who are Muslim in this town with no problems that we could note as casual observers. Saw at least one mosque and one Hindu temple in the area


    The town is pretty busy in the day but activity really seems to pick up in the evenings with lots of outdoor eating places- but not what we would consider restaurants. Lots of sellers on the street wrapping betel nut  in green leaves with a white paste. I have not seen many women chewing this stuff but lots of men do ( when we lived in Thailand this was an almost exclusive habit of women). We often see drivers waiting for a light to change leaning out of their car to spit this reddish stuff into the street.


                                                        Day 3


    Our day three, according to our schedule was free all day so we scheduled a half day , 30 km , 4 hour bike tour. Unfortunately there had been a follow up e-mail telling us the day was full with teaching students at a hospitality school across the Yangon River on Dala one of the 50 plus townships making up Yangon. Apparently we missed a wonderful experience.


    We wandered down to the river , slowly strolling to get to our bike meeting place at 12:30 P M. We had a nice lunch and I tried to navigate to the bike place but urged right instead of left and got us lost. With help we did get to the bike place on time. There was one other in the group a guy who works at the Huntington Memorial library in San Marino, CA.


    The first several blocks were very dangerous winding our way to the ferry which was to take us to Dala. We had previously remarked that we had seen few motorbikes/cycles in Yangon. Apparently they are not allowed on the main streets of Yangon; they are prominent in the Dala township, however. Large crowds go back and forth across the river on the ferry ( no bridges yet but one is planned). Once we got off the ferry we had to walk our bikes through the crowds to a place open enough to mount. Just after David, our guide, and Lynn mounted and started to head off I tried to mount my bike. They then stopped for a motorbike before I got any momentum and I lost my balance and elected to fall to my left rather than to hit Lynn . I received a large (6cmx6 cm) road rash and hit my left hip. I was able to continue on. The traffic was minor in Dala but after a snack we spent 5 minutes on a main road before being ferried to an island for the remainder of the excursion. With about an hour to go Lynn got exhausted but was able to finish ok. Our guide decided that we were too dangerous to return to the bike shop so after crossing the river again, put us in a taxi to our hotel. 


    The ride was interesting. The kinds do not get to see foreigners very often and all

    came out to say hello and high five us on the island. The main roads on the island were high above the ground, ? 6-8 feet, presumably to allow travel during the monsoon. They were generally well maintained except for one very muddy area where they were replacing a bridge.


                                                       Day 4:


    Due to jet leg we awoke at 4:30 AM which was good because we had to take transportation to the airport to fly to Mandalay at 7 AM. The flight was 1 hour 20 min in an ATR-72 a jet prop built by a French/Italian consortium and apparently is a popular short haul plane around the world. It was amazingly quiet. The Mandalay airport is ~ 40 km from the city of 1.5 million so we toured all day before arriving at our hotel at 7 PM! Exhausted would be an understatement.


    Our first visit was to a monastery in Amarapoura, where they train young monks. Apparently Mandalay is the religious center for Burmese Buddhism and all boys are expected to get some trading. Young apprentices come for a week beginning at age 10, though there are younger ones around, pre apprentices. They arise at 4:30 AM eat breakfast, have instruction and then , apparently, go around town with food containers for food donations. They all return around  10 AM in order to line up for their other meal if the day at 10:30 AM. This is a big tourist attraction watching them March in for their meal.


    We next headed to the river where we left our bus and took a boat across the river to be transported by horse cart for a couple of hours to view the old king's palace near Ava. We were mobbed by women selling jewelry, wooden Buddhas , paintings, metal, old coins etc. they do not relent and are almost as annoying as some of the Chinese in tourist areas in China. After walking around an old monastery( always without shoes or socks)( watch out for nails sticking up) we took the buggy back to the river where we were treated to an enormous lunch before returning to our bus ( again surrounded by women asking us to make them happy by buying their wares.)


    Mandalay has the second most pagodas in Myanmar, after Pagan. We took our transport up the Sagai hill to get a view of the area from the top of the hill. The weather was clear but the atmosphere was hazy up to about 18,000 feet . Our guide says it is not pollution but the months of dry weather this time of year with lots of dust in the air. The conditions reminded us of Chiangmai when we visited it in March 1968. We were told then it was due to burning of rice straw. I suspect it is a combination of these causes.


    The last event was sunset looking through an old bridge that reminded me a bit of the activity around sunset at Key West. It has become such an event that everyone comes to enjoy it.


    I have solved the malaria prophylaxis issue by taking my pill at bedtime. Lynn has deferred for a while. There is NO malaria risk in Yangon or Mandalay but a small risk at Inle Lake and Bagan. 


    Breakfast with our group (day 5) in an hour before heading out for another day of sightseeing. There are only 6 in our group of English teachers, including one German guy with an Australian/German accent( he lived in Sydney for a year). 



     


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