Monday, April 3, 2017

Myanmar moments--UPDATED

For February's mid-term break we dashed to Myanmar with my dear old friend S. With only a week, we planned to make just one major foray outside the capital, to the former British capital of Mawlaminye (Moulmein to the Brits). This post has been updated to add  photos taken by Susan Ritz. You can tell which are hers because they are just sooooo much better than ours!

First, an evening in Yangon with a visit to the must-see, highly revered golden temple of Shwedagon. According to some, it dates from 588 BC,though archaeologists put it  "between the 6th and 10th centuries AD". It has been damaged by a number of earthquakes.  The current 322 foot chedi dates from 1769.

Since the 1400s it has been the custom to apply gold leaf to the structure, and as a result it simply glows, especially at night.
Appropriate attire required; Tom had been told his long shorts would be OK but at the temple he is told to acquire a longyi (cloth sewn into a cylinder).  Tricky business, tying it.  Tutorial#1 here.

And modeling it, pre-sunset. Sorry, few pix and this blurry one--we had a camera issue, entirely due to user incompetence...

Below, Burmese dinner at our suburban area hotel. YUM

We were surprised to learn that Burma has the third largest population of Baptists in the world, after the US and, wait for it..., India.  People are so nice – polite, gracious.  How long will it take to inure them to the tourist onslaught? We may mean well but we make such a large footprint.

We found our 2011 Lonely Planet to be way out of date, on the use of US dollars, formerly recommended, now not, on cell phones, formerly a status symbol for the rich, but now everyone has them, and of course on some of the recommended restaurants which have suffered “the Lonely Planet effect” and gone soulless, expensive and frequented mainly by tour bus travelers. We had no trouble finding other options throughout our stay.  Look at this food!

In a Yangon restaurant, The Lady's portrait--unlike Thailand where the King's portrait is everywhere, this is not common in Burma.

The next day we went to Bago,  a former capital of the Mon dynasty, about an hour and a half drive from Yangon. Bago is loaded with religious sites.  Driving there we had our first full experience of Burmese transport. Driving is on the right (US style), mainly in right hand drive cars (UK style)! YIKES. Traffic flow was changed overnight by General Ne Win in 1970.  I guess people are used to it.  It makes passing on a two lane road quite exciting, as you can't see around the vehicle you are passing until you are way out in the oncoming lane.

On the way to Bago we stopped at the Taukkyan War Cemetery--a large memorial for the 27,000 WWII Allied soldiers who died.  Over 6000 are buried here, and tablets list names of others who died whose bodies were not found.  There were many Indians and Nepali soldiers and we were surprised to see African names as well, and many Moslems.

Here is a monument to East Africans

And West Africans

And one of the Unknowns

Entering Bago
left hand drive car on right hand drive road

Lots of temple visiting there   

old and new pillars--teak!

 [Our] photos are thanks to these guys jury-rigging a memory card for us!
carved pole--teak?

Longyi abandonded for the moment...

Devotees praying at a section of a temple that fell over in a 1930 earthquake

rebuilding that section

Fab lunch!

Learning about the place

Hmm, how would this design look in our house?

 Our driver took us to a temple where several hundred people were gathered to give alms to the resident monks as they passed by on their way to take their daily meal

More help for T as we watched the monks


Off to Mawlamyine, the former British capital known as Moulmein. It's only a distance of 300 km (less than 200 miles) but we opt to take one of the twice weekly prop plane flights and avoid a long bus ride. The Yangon airport is quite modern.  Fancy a meal?
I'll have OJ with that, please
Arrival in Mawlamyine

We made it!
Had a great hotel right on the river, well placed to watch river traffic and the gorgeous sunsets.

A ridge of hills runs behind the town and is lined with stupas/pagodas/temples.  This driver/vehicle took us up to the first and largest, Mahamuni Paya temple complex.

Be sure to take off your feet before entering
view from the ridge

 Lovely details inside the temples

 S investigates an area outside
 with cat figures

and she asked these men to pose

And moi

Many temples along the ridge
ceiling detail

one of the walkways from one temple to another

The temples are spread along the ridge, perhaps a mile long
Hard work keeping the dragons in check
and making restorations after earthquakes

Another of the walkways between temples along the ridge

Tree shrine :-)

T and friend

T and another friend

View over the ridge.  See the covered steps leading up to the temple?

Back down in the town of Mawlamyine:

Oh, pearls, did you say?

food glorious food

Myanmar is the local beer

ferry to the other side of the river

Now U here--good to know

Are you sure?

Getting ready for sunset diners, at an outdoor food court

Look at the choices!
sunset diner


University of Mawlamyine

well we did some of that today
Bling's in fashion everywhere

Night market seller

Next day we took a boat up the river to HpaAn, capital of the Karen (AKA Kayin) State.  At around four hours, including two temple stops, it gave great views of the countryside.  Small, basic villages of simple houses, with golden stupas on the hills above them.

We stopped at one of the villages
a Karen village along the river
And visited a temple there

On to HpaAn, which was much larger than we expected.  A pleasant, bustling town just 175 km/100 miles from Mae Sot, an important border town in Thailand, it has the feel of a frontier town.

From our hotel window!

on the hotel roof

Too much wifi around anyway

From HpaAn we did a day trip to a lake temple and a large cave.
First stop the lake, with another stupa balanced atop a pinnacle of rock in the middle.  The man-made lake is unfortunately almost dry, but the site still impresses.
one of the temples on the site

Shop near the lake temple

Longyi abandoned, T puts his "legs on" to enter the temple
Karen country

On to the cave, Saddar Cave--very large and full of Buddha statues.

You remove your shoes, as it's a holy site, and walk all the way through the cave and out the other side, next to a river.  The shore is lined with boats to take you back to the entrance, for a fee.  It sounded good to us, so ....

The ride was nice, passing under a rock ledge and then through paddy fields.  Saw these dugout canoes along the way
Alas, the boat ride did not in fact take us to the entrance of the cave. There was a considerable shoes.  We had pooh-poohed a group of Germans for wearing their shoes in the cave, but now we envied them on the hot path


The next day we headed back to Yangon, opting to hire a car so we could stop at an important site on the way: Mt. Kyaiktiyo, the golden balancing rock in Mon State.

Getting to the famous site requires either an 4 - 6 hour hike straight uphill, or riding an open sided, bench-lined truck sardine style along with about 100 other souls.

We later came to appreciate that life insurance was included in the ticket. It was a truly hair-raising experience, enhanced by our driver's daring along the treacherous single lane road.  He just flew around hairpin turn after hairpin turn up the steep, narrow road, overtaking another vehicle at the one spot wide enough to consider such a thing.  Perhaps he was fond of this drink:
They are building a cable car up to the top.  A much more sensible way to go. 
Here it is!  Covered in layers of gold leaf, and reportedly sitting atop a hair of the Buddha, placed so that it would never blow away.

Back we went down the mountain, thankfully with a driver who seemed to place a greater value on human life.

On to Yangon. Seen enroute

Alas, no time to stop and check out the Goldfish Shoe and Slipper store.

In Yangon, we are struck by how many more people wear western clothes than outside the city.  We thought 90% of everyone, men and women, outside Yangon wear longyi, whereas there it seemed more like 60%. So interesting, the process of opening to homogeneous world culture.

Last Burmese dinner!
At the Yangon airport, you can even travel to Mother Earth

No comments: