Location: Mt Kyaikityo, Myanmar
Another early start but it was a beautiful morning, bright red sunrise and of course. light traffic at 6am. Our guide Sun and driver Win met us at the hotel at 6am and off we set on our 211 km, 4 hour drive to the Mon State, to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda at 1100m asl. Our first stop was at the chutukkk ? War memorial, the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery for nearly 6,400 fallen CW soldiers, mainly from Britain but also Frontier states like India and Pakistan who fought the Japanese here during the 2nd WW. It was a beautiful, peaceful memorial, well kept, 35 km from central Yangon. As we didnt know we were stopping off here we hadnt done any research on where the NZ section was. We soon reached the highway, built around 10 years ago by the military and goes all the way to Mandalay. There are toll booths, but the road although ok is not up to international highway standard. Anyway it was easy driving, flat and surrounding farmland, rice fields and later on huge plots of rubber plantations, pomelo orchards and cashews. The pomelos are in season and are plentiful at roadside markets; cashews are harvested in March. At the start of the motorway we stopped at a huge local tea house, rather like a road stop in the US or England, and has a breakfast of noodles and re before setting off again. We drove towards the mountains, through several small market towns, basic and busy,and crossed the Sittdoun River, one of the four large Burmese rivers, before arriving at the tourist town of Rathi Taung about 1.5 km at the base of the mountain. We walked up a platform and hopped into a high sided truck, six passengers per seat, six rows, so pretty much squashed in like sardines and off we set on a kamikaze ride up the hill, around steep hairpin bends, up, up a 45 minute ride through thick bush.
At the top the village is situated along a ridge line and we walked to the check point to get tickets, take off our shoes and walk to the golden rock. We stopped en route for a photo opportunity and then at the rock, which is perched precariously on a ledge and stands out very golden against the blue sky, men put on gold leaf. Women arent allowed to touch the rock. I still had a small packet of gold leaf from 31 years ago, it was pretty brittle but Leslie managed to get enough to put on the rock. There were several pilgrims around the area, many overnight here as this is one of the four most sacred pagodas In Myanmar, so people camped outside under shade in order to stick it out for a long break. Quite a scene and the rock is pretty impressive.
After our viewing we started back towards the entrance but we took a different route through local covered markets, under cover, but on stairways, so we were either climbing up steep, steep steps, or descending and then up again. It took quite a while, it was a really strenuous climb, it plenty of locals to chat to and they werent that interested in selling stuff to us.
Location: Yangon, Myanmar
We arrived back in Yangon Sunday afternoon and checked into the Park Royal for our gratis night on APT.
We had done a recce to the railway station on Sunday afternoon so set off there for our 400 kyat (40 cent) four hour trip on the circular line. This is a three hour journey, fourth class non airconditioned train ride around the outer suburbs of Yangon. As the track is being replaced in some parts we had some rather long waits. But it was a good cross-section of daily life at all the train stops, people getting on and off, vendors selling everything from drinks to fruit. A moving feast of humanity and for many the train is a life line to get into the city for work or moving market vegetables around, lugging loads of goods on to and off the train. A very colourful experience for us. Life adjacent to the tracks was very basic, dirty, more squatter living than houses, more like existing. Its hard work but nothing else is on offer.
The traffic in Yangon is relentless. A city built by the British for 600,000, now with nearly 7 million inhabitants and some military General deciding to ban motorcycles makes a recipe for almost 24 hour gridlock and long commutes, overcrowded buses, thousands of cheap taxis. Yangon wouldnt be my favourite city, it has some rundown splendour and some nicer parts for the well to do. It certainly hasnt too much charm.
It was hot when we got back off our train ride, so we walked around the corner for a European priced toasted sandwich and iced coffee and then a quiet afternoon before setting out by taxi for another Buddha- this time a reclining one 66m in length (Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha temple, with the most revered reclining buddah images in the country but alas he was under renovation, completely covered with bamboo!) We then continued with our taxi to a sunset at the Shewdgon Pagoda. Lovely to see the sun setting and the lights come onto the gold stupas illuminating them to a rich gold. Lots of tourists and locals and monks. Bhuddism is a way of life and it is embraced by around 95% of the population.
From here we took another taxi to downtown Yangon to a restaurant called Burma Bistro which is a fairly recent addition to the eating scene and probably a great hit with expatriates. The restaurant had been completely and tastefully renovated in an early colonial style, the food was nice, Asian fusion, so we are glad than Zaw, our Inle Lake guide had recommended this to us
Location: Yangon, Myanmar
We departed from Inle Lake this morning, leaving the very pleasant Sanctum Resort at 8.15am. The lake was misty, also surrounding Shan hills, and the atmosphere was chilly. But a nice day followed. We drove just over an back the same route as three days before to Heho airport. Roads a little quieter today being Sunday but people still out working the rice fields and other crops, plus the usual road side actiivity.
Checked in and had over an hour to wait before our flight south. Good views of the farmland below and as we got closer to the delta and the mountains disappeared and we caught up with the Irrawaddy again.
Said our farewells to Barbara and Jeff at the national terminal and caught a taxi into the city with Zaw, our guide, who left us at the Park Royal Hotel. We are here for one night only before going off to do our own thing.
This is the quietest day we have had so far. And it is much hotter down here, we met Barbara and went for a wander around 3.30pm to do a recce to the train station for tomorrows trip. Crossing the roads are manic, why do they have pedestrian crossings one wonders? So we didnt stay out long, and weve sussed out a Shan noodle house for dinner tonight - which was close to the hotel and very good, cheap food - before early to bed.
Location: Inle Lake, Myanmar
Another nice day for our final sightseeing day on the lake and surrounds. We started our tour with a ride through lotus flowers on our way to a local market.
Brass coils on women from Padang tribe
Women of the tribe are well known for wearing neck rings, brass coils that are placed around the neck, appearing to lengthen it.
Girls first start to wear rings when they are around 5 years old. Over the years, the coil is replaced by a longer one and more turns are added. The weight of the brass pushes the collar bone down and compresses the rib cage. The neck itself is not lengthened; the appearance of a stretched neck is created by the deformation of the clavical. The coil, once on, is seldom removed, as the coiling and uncoiling is a lengthy procedure. It is usually only removed to be replaced by a new or longer coil which eventually can weigh up to 20 lbs.
One legged fishing technique on Inle Lake
The local fishermen have a curious and unique rowing style, which consists of standing on one leg on the extreme of the boat and wrapping their other leg around the the oar. This gives them good vision into the lake. There are many reeds and plants in the lake and by sitting and rowing they cant see so standing gives a better view and also frees their hands to place the net while still propelling the boat. The lake is about 10ft deep. The fishermen trap the fish by throwing the cone-shape net into the water, pressing on it with their feet so that the net sinks to the bottom where the fish are. Then, with the cone sank and the fish trapped, they spear from above through the hole at the top of the cone.
This type of fishing is now a dying breed, in fact the man we saw was brought along specially by Zaw so we could have an iconic photo opportunity, which was appreciated by us all.
Indein is a small village West of Inle Lake. We reached the village, meaning shallow lake, by boat through the Inn Thein creek, a long narrow canal with plenty of interest alongside, fishermen, women washing, and many small boats carrying tourists to this popular area.
Indein village had a lively market. The Pa-Oh people live in the surrounding hills and with Zaw translating we spoke at length to an old women who has been out collecting wood. She told us she was 72,a real photo opportunity for us.
The village is best known for its many ancient pagodas in many shapes and sizes and in various states of preservation. While some have been restored, others are in their original crumbling state and have plants and trees growing out of them.
From Nyaung Ohak we took a climb leading to the second group of pagodas named Shwe Inn Thein, located on top of a hill where there was a pagoda and guess what, shoes off again! We didn't get the great views we thought looking down over all of the stupas, but it was nice anyway. A covered walkway lead up to the pagodas and was lined with stalls, and we used this way to descent. Business was pretty slow but they didnt bother us. The more persistent sellers were the young girls back down by the river where we had lunch, all very keen to sell us scarves, they were like bees round a honey pot. We wee recommended to have the pizza, Italian style we were guaranteed. Quite a long way short of Italian pizza but still enjoyable.
The Indein site supposedly dates back to the Indian emperor Ashoka who sent out monks from India. There are over 800 stupas here.
The hti, a top element shaped like an ornamental umbrella is missing at many of the unrestored stupas. A number of stupas have been restored by donors and there were inscriptions showing this.
After lunch we went back by boat to the main lake, stopping to visit the Padang women (described above) on the way, plus a paper making and paper parasol making demonstration. Then back to the hotel for our final evening.
Location: Inle Lake, Myanmar
Wednesday 31 October
Our last day spent in Yangon sightseeing. The traffic in this city is horrendous, no motorbikes allowed so grid-locked traffic. We did the walking tour of the old city, around the Strand (Post office, Strand Hotel, British Embassy, old bank buildings. Such a shame to see everything so run down and almost derelict, no maintenance ever on the fine old buildings since they were erected by the British in the late 1800s. The British set up the city for 600,000 people so with over 7 million now it is well and truly bursting at the seams. But an interesting walk around also past the Sule Pagoda, town hall and large British built park, ending at the beautiful Catholic Cathedral before taking the bus back to the boat.
Our final afternoon was spent packing and relaxing before a nice farewell dinner.
Inle Lake 2 November
We arrived by air yesterday, Thursday 1 November. Said our farewells and departed the ship at 1045 for our bus ride to the domestic airport, departed 1245 for our one hour flight to Heho. We are at 1000 m asl but the hour and a half bus ride, with a stop en route for a late lunch, took us down to Inle Lake at 300 m asl. There are around 200,000 Shan people living in this region. The Lake and surrounding farmland is a large part of their lives as it offers farming (sugar cane, plus factory, potatoes, corn) markets and tourism.
We are staying at the Sanctum Inlay Resort close to Nyaung Shwe township, a beautifully appointed resort, with large rooms, quite luxurious. We tried local wines last night from the Aythaya Vineyard - not bad - and ate at the restaurant. The evening temperature is much cooler up here.
Friday 2 November, we set off at 0900 in local boats, five per boat which suited our group. Coolish this morning but the day soon warmed up and was easy to navigate the Lake. There were several fishing boats out, as well as men pulling up large clumps of green seaweed which they put down as a growing base on the lake. This area is famous for tomatoes, all grown hydroponically around the lakeside. There were several hectares of tomatoes grown this way.
We explored the northern part today, with visits to the Phaung Daw Oo pagoda and the Nga Kyaung Monastery. We had a yummy local lunch at the Inthar Heritage restaurant, which also has a Burmese cat sanctuary. Next we visited a lotus silk weaving factory, a fascinating and different concept from silkworm silk weaving. We were interested in the local boats that work the fish traps, move goods and people including tourists around so we stopped at a local boat building yard to see manufacturing in progress. It was a bit like racing around Venice, lots of waterways, everyone lives in stilt houses in floating villages, and no one chews betel nut here. Its quite a different sightseeing experience to life along the Irrawaddy.
We arrived back at the hotel around 4pm after exploring the lake and floating villages. We have seen several tourists also today, though the locals say numbers are down. Perhaps that makes the market stall sellers more aggressive? The weather was nice and the lake calm and by afternoon we had a better view of the surrounding Shan Mountains. Watching the women cut the long lotus stems and extract the long very strong fibrous shoots to be spun into silk was fascinating. We thought, oh just another silk workshop, but this method is entirely different though the spinning process is the same. The looms all looked very old but apparently they are around 25 years old and I would say it takes a lot of skill to weave on them, plus time consuming to set up the warp threads to begin weaving. The fishing boats are around US$1000 each, made from teak. All work here is time consuming and manual, very little mechanisation.
We ate at the hotel again last night. Nights are cool too.
Location: Yangon, Myanmar
We had an interesting two days in Yangon, and will be going back for a few more days to explore so our APT recce was about eight. The weather was warm, even by early morning.
It was a good cruise into the old capital city, lots of water activity and ferry services and a few river cruise ships tied up. The British put good and well constructed infrastructure into the port area and beyond, but with no maintenance for over a century the city is looking decidedly shabby and very run down. The city was originally laid out for 600,000 inhabitants and now houses over 5 million. One of the earlier Generals had a rush of blood to his head and banned motorcycles. Consequently movement around the city is by bus or car and that means a congested and gridlocked city. On our first afternoon we went to the old Scott market where we were given an hour to browse and shop stalls. Oh dear, the electricity was off so it was dark and hot. Most stall owners seemed to have jade and gold and rubies which we didnt want. So after an hours w seeing we went back to the boat by bus.
The next morning we opted for the city walking tour which was around the famous Strand. We started at the central Post Oddice and probably did a grid walk of round 2-3 km. The once glorious old buildings are now eye run down, derelict looking, badly in need a huge makeovers. Its sas to see the years of neglect by the military governments especially as they take 40 per cent of the annual budget for their own Vote. All the inner city housing blocks looked condemned but are all inhabited.
This down trodden area quickly gives way to slightly more affluence and space around The town hall area and area surrounding park and Sule pagoda. A large Baptist Church is also in this square.
Location: To Yangon, Myanmar
We are nearly at Yangon.
Weve been cruising through the delta for a couple of days since Danuphyu, the surrounding land is very flat and green as this is the rice growing area of Myanmar. So there is a lot of farming activity adjacent to the boat. We passed under two very long bridges before docking right alongside a shanty village in Maubin. From our cabin window we can see the Burmese local version of light industry- no OSH or union rules here. The weather continues to stay fine and warm for us though noticeably more humid down here. Our daily temperatures are around 32 degrees, so not unbearably hot.
Went for a short walk around the markets and local life at Maubin, before sailing down into the large city of Yangon, over 6 million people, the river now is very wide and busy with small taxi boats, large container ships and wharves.
At 3 pm we set off by bus to visit Scott's Market which has been in existence since the British days. The power was off and it was incredibly stuffy and hot, and most of the shops were selling gold and rubies which we didn't want, so we strolled outside for half an hour before meeting up and returning to the ship.
Our second to last night on board, sad as this has been a wonderful experience, such gracious and tenacious people we've met along the way. We had our final dinner tonight at the specialty restaurant, the second week of Luke Nguyen's Burmese menu, which was followed by a disco night in the lounge which we went to for a short while only.