Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Inle Lake

Inle Lake is the last stop on the tourist route.  There are two options -- stay in town and visit the lake by boat or stay in a hotel on the lake.  We stayed on the lake (Myanmar Treasure Resort) in a bungalow that was suspended over the water.  It even had an outdoor shower.

Hotel rooms

We had another wonderful guide and saw some amazing things.*  Inle Lake is famous for:
  • Floating gardens  - crops grown on floating islands secured into the lake bottom by bamboo poles. See http://tinyurl.com/l28zdfv for more information and pictures.  
  • Fishing technique


  • Leg rowing





  • Shopping -- each village on the lake centers around one industry and the local market alternates between villages.  We visited the silversmith village and the textile village and bought things at each.  It was interesting to see how the textiles were made and we got very nice scarves.  I am not sure how authentic it all is but the shopping was good.



We spent New Years Eve and Susie's birthday at Inle Lake.  There was another mandatory dinner but this time it was well worth the money.  The best part was the pre-dinner carnival.  I won one game of chance and Susie won three times - including two games of skill.  There were even prizes.  The highlight was the New Year's Hot and Famous Fashion Show.  This involved cross-dressing by one male and one female employee from each hotel department (maintenance, housekeeping, kitchen, etc.).  The best part was that the entire staff got stop what they were doing to watch the fashion show.  Below is the program for the evening.  We had to skip the Spicy Disco Dances because we had to get up early to catch a flight back to Yangon.

    
*  We also saw some incredible pagodas and Buddhas.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Mandalay*

Lots of people skip Mandalay but I think it has a lot to offer, including some of the best food we had on our trip.  We had a fantastic guide who seemed to know exactly what we would find most interesting.  The sightseeing was more relaxed and I did not feel as overwhelmed.

Highlights -

  • A trip to a village with some amazing old pagodas
  • U Bein Bridge - the longest teak bridge in the world 
  • The teak Golden Palace Monastery. The carvings on the outside of the building are fantastic.  It was moved to its present location from the Golden Palace in 1878 and since the Golden Palace was destroyed during World War II, this is the only structure that remains.

Detail from the outside of the Golden Palace Monastery


  • Mahamuni Pagoda -- So much gold leaf has been applied to the statue**, the outline of the Buddha's body is hard to see.  We skipped the 4:30 am ceremonial face washing and teeth brushing. 
  • The world's biggest book (730 stone tablets)
  • Boat trip to Mingun to see the world's biggest bell and what would have been the world's biggest pagoda - it was never finished.  




Our guide, Aung, ringing the bell

Non-highlights -
  • The reconstructed Golden Palace, located in the middle of an army base.
  • The view from Mandalay hill
Shopping highlight - 
  • I found the demented baby puppet I had been searching for in Bagan.


*  Please be proud of me for resisting the temptation to call this post "The Road to Mandalay"
** Only men are allowed to apply gold leaf to the Buddha's image

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bagan Continued

I am afraid of roller coasters, Ferris wheels and small airplanes.  I don't like walking over wooden bridges and I have a difficult time using my step ladder.  I was dreading the four flights we had to take while we were in Myanmar because I knew the planes would be small prop planes.  

I was most terrified of our scheduled hot air balloon ride in Bagan.  Although I knew it would be an incredible experience, part of me wished they would lose my reservation so I could watch Susie take off and then go somewhere for coffee and croissants.

Like almost every day of our vacation we got up before dawn.  We took a beautiful restored old bus to the balloon ascension site (I think that's what it is called), drank some coffee and got a safety lecture.  I had been to a hot air balloon festival before but this was the first time I was actually going to be a passenger.  It was not easy getting into the basket and I didn't love our take-off. 

This is what I saw at the beginning of the balloon ride.




After only a couple of minutes I was feeling comfortable enough to actually stand up (it helped that I was right next to the pilot).



This is what I saw when I stood up.


What a great experience.  It was so quiet and the ride was so smooth that I stopped being scared almost immediately.  Seeing all those temples from above was magical.  And we got champagne at the end.

Cleaning up






Proof


Friday, January 10, 2014

Bagan

All I remember from my trip to Bagan in 1996 is a horse cart ride to visit a lot of temples, a day spent on the porch of my guesthouse due to what I thought was a bad stomach, and the long train and pickup truck ride it took to get there from Yangon.  I also remember having to walk a long way to the only hotel that had "international" telephones.

There are still a lot of temples and it is still hard to remember what each individual temple looks like, but things have changed.  We flew from Yangon to Bagan on a small prop plane and waited patiently as the luggage was carried by hand to the terminal.  Our guide was a devout Buddhist and he was very eager to show us each one of the 3000+ temples. 

Our Guide

 What is amazing about Bagan is not the individual temples but the fact that there are so many in such a spectacular setting (pictures to follow in another post). In between temple visits we managed a trip to the local market,  a sunset cruise on the Ayeyarwady River and a horse cart ride.

Our hotel was located on the river which made for some lovely outdoor dining. The location was about a mile away from restaurant row - no taxis so we had had to hire a car and driver for the night if we wanted to eat somewhere other than our hotel. (We had the same problem in Mandalay.)

These guys joined us for breakfast one morning.

We arranged to spend a third day in Bagan on our own and spent the day touring more temples and the towns of New and Old Bagan by bicycle.  It was a very relaxing day and a lot of fun.  I spent an additional hour riding from temple to temple looking for a puppet I had seen a million times on our first day there.   Of course when I was ready to buy one, they were nowhere to be found.  I broke the first rule of souvenir shopping -- when you see something you want, buy it immediately because there is no guarantee you will ever see it again.  

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