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New Years holiday in Myanmar

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Good morning Myanmar. Sun coming up over Inle Lake

Traditional fishing in Inle lake.

Seemed very inefficient to me, but they keep doing it, so it must work somehow.

Resturant where we had lunch.

On stilts in the middle of the lake.

Floating garden in the middle of the lake growing tomatoes

Blacksmith shop

A typical Inle Lake house

Main drag of a village on the lake.

Our hotel room for New Year's Eve

Monastery close to Heho

Buddhist Monks in Bagan

In line for offerings

Some of the 2217 temples, pagodas, meditation

caves and monasteries.

Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan

Standard public transport in Bagan

Sulamani Temple (the tallest one in Bagan)

Local villager heading back to his village

following the full moon festival

One of MANY Buddha figures in Bagan.

Notice the nice paintings behind the Buddha.

Made some time almost 1000 years ago

The Løge family at sunset in Bagan

Sunset over the fields of Bagan

Our new friends from Bagan

Taxi number 52

3 Young novices making their daily rounds for offerings

Making peanut oil - Myanmar style

Mount Popa as seen from the resort

Our hotel on the river in Bagan

Ananda - The most beautiful temple in Bagan

70m reclinging Buddha in Yangon.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Shwedagon at night

  Updated 9th January 2007

DIFFERENT – That is the word I would use if someone asks me about how our trip to Myanmar was.

We saw sights there that we have not seen, nor do I think we will see, anywhere else.

To give out you an idea about the economy the highest denomination of bank-note is 1000 kyats (pronounced chats) which is about 1 US$. There are no credit cards accepted, no ATM (mini-banks) and the exchange rate seemed to be a bit random. Apparently it is supposed to be 6 kyats per US$, but that is completely ignored. If you go to the bank to exchange money you will get either 450 or 800 kyats per US$ (did not try, so relying on what I heard), but on the street (aka black-market) you can get 1200 in Yangon, dropping as you get to more rural areas, or in shops or hotels they will use somewhere between 1000 and 1200 kyats per US$. We mostly used US$, but got some local money to pay the constant flow of different people expecting tip or payment of some sort. Baggage handlers on the airports or hotels, beggars, horse-cart drivers, guides, drivers, boat-man and helper, monks, the guy who hands you the flash-light in the dark temples – non-stop tipping; a bit irritating. It is almost as bad as the post-card selling kids or all the souvenir sales people; nice stuff, but I don’t want or need any of it.

The week in Myanmar cost us US$2695 which included internal flights (they are EXPENSIVE) hotel, guide, driver, boat, boatman and various fees.

We arrived in Yangon International Airport on 30th December and headed straight for the domestic flight to Heho. There is a new nice airport in Yangon just about to open up, but we used the old airport which is one of the most primitive I have seen, ever, anywhere. Flight timings seemed to be a bit random, but eventually the plane took us on the 45 minute flight to Heho where we were met and took a one hour drive to Nyaung Shwe for getting on the long-tail boat to the hotel. The Hupin Hotel is really a LOT nicer than what you see on the internet site they host. Not a place you would go for a culinary and wine experience, but a unique place with the hotel rooms built on stilts in a bay on Inle Lake. New Years Eve was spent on the lake boating around to the different villages, markets, temples, pagodas and floating gardens. About 120,000 people mainly from the Shan and Intha tribes live in the area of which 70,000 or so actually live on the banks or in the villages on stilts in the middle of the lake. It is a unique lifestyle that I can not remember having even heard of anywhere else. The villages include bamboo and palm thatched roofs on stilts, canals with recessed land made from seaweed piled high and anchored to the lake bottom by planted bamboo poles.  This concept also applies to the floating garden.  Soil is then placed on top of the seaweed where the vegetables are planted.  The gardens are in rows as the farmers maneuver around them with teak canoes.  They row wrapping their leg around the oar and maintaining their balance with one foot on the canoe making it look effortless.  Some villages have no electricity, no running water but somehow, everyone has a purpose and they work together whether selling goods in the markets, weaving or farming.  Some lake villages are more prosperous than others due to the silver/goldsmiths.

There are 12 hotels on the lake for the tourists. Bamboo or wooden huts mainly making the hotels. It was the cold season when we were there, so it got down to about 10 degree Celsius at night, so it was pretty cold in those huts without any heating.

We were not sure whether we wanted to add to the exposition of the long-necked tribe women known as Padung.  Bianca was curious so we did go.  With our guide as translator we stayed with a 54 year old lady who told us that she relocated to the village from hers as it meant more prosperity for her people.  It was an easier life for her, sitting and weaving rather than the hardship as a minority in her village, they are only 2,000.  She started to wear half her rings at 12 (some start at 9) and the other half at 18.  By 25, she had to have a total of 25 rings total around her neck, under her knees and wrists. She sleeps with a big pillow to support her neck.  She said that it took her about a month to get used to the addition of the second half of her rings.  The eldest in their village is 70 years old.   I really felt for these women and did feel guilty for exploiting them however one cannot change culturally accepted practices and as their numbers dwindle I can only imagine that they will want to maintain their identity and continue these practices.

Next day we had a morning trip on the lake looking at a silk and lotus weaving factory, a black-smith and a cigar making shop before we had to go to the airport for the flight to Nguyan U for our stay in Bagan.

There are 2217 ancient religious in Bagan monuments spread out over the plains next to the Ayeyarwady river. We obviously did not see all of them, but managed to get in a bunch of them. Inside, around, on top of, in the morning, at sunset – all different sights. Bagan is on the UNESCO world heritage list of protected places. Different to Angkor Wat as the buildings are smaller, made of bricks and just sooooo many of them. Mostly built in 11th to 13th century when the Bagan area was the capital and about 2 million people lived there. It is now extremely undeveloped with ox-carts being the transportation for the villagers and horse-carts as the only available taxi-service.

The next day we drove to Mount Popa, about 50 km drive.  It took close to 2 hours to get there! What a fantastic place with a temple on top of a mountain and a good view of the surrounding area. We had lunch at Popa Mountain Resort, a nice place to disconnect from the world. It is owned by Frankie Chew a Singaporean that we met there. Good food and excellent vieews, but it took close to 90 minutes to get the meal.

The following day was spent seeing more temples, stupas and monasteries before our (delayed) flight to Yangon. We stayed at Traders and it was quite the change from the rural villages in Inle and Bagan. We went on a trip around town to look at the Strand Hotel, harbor and Scott’s market as well as some temples and stupas. In the afternoon we went to the Shwedagon pagoda. It is a MAJOR structure dating back 2500 years now reaching over 100m high and covered in gold plates and topped by a 72 carat diamond that we obviously cannot see from the ground, but there were pictures. It is said that there is more value in gold and precious stones on the Swedagon than in the vaults of the UK government bank. I cannot tell if that is true or not, but it was sure shinny and big. For dinner that night we went to Le Planteur, a restaurant run by a Swiss in Yangon; very nice atmosphere and food. We were warned that it was expensive as per Burma standards, but US$160 for dinner for 4 of us is not bad for that standard of restaurant.

If you want a trip like ours you can contact Tour Mandalay who will take care of the arrangements for you. I will have no hesitation on recommending them.

And please have a look at the faces of Myanmar page I made up. Really nice people in Myanmar.