River, Road & Rail through Golden Myanmar

“Dear Emily, my only wish would be that you could make a trip over the great ocean. The land is golden and the people are so gracious and they have taught me so many things about kin and kindness. Hope it won’t be long until we see each other soon my dear. Love, Frasier.” ~ A postcard from Burma. 1st Feb, 1948.

As we took a journey through this magical faraway land in the east that is Myanmar, I came across this postcard at the fag end of my trip at a quaint modern cafe in Yangon. No other words could have beautifully described the land that is Myanmar.  Our “River, Roads & Rail” trip took us through the highlights of Myanmar covering Inle Lake, Bagan, Mandalay & Yangon. For this exciting adventure, we first went to Chiang Mai in Thailand and then crossed over the Burma by road. Exploring all modes of travel possible – be it via road, river cruise, lake boat ride or an overnight rail, we pieced together a picture of Myanmar, often distanced to us due to the military regime & the indigenous struggle for self-determination. What we experienced in the next 10 days was everything that Frasier said; the lands are indeed golden and people were so gracious! It was one hell of an unforgettable experience!

Here is a run down of a 11 day highlights of Myanmar:

Day 1 : Temple tours 

Upon arrival at lunch at Chiang Mai, the first pit stop was to gorge on lunch along with the famous local Chang beer.

As the sun started settling down, we did a self paced walking tour through the old part of the city, full of old gorgeous temples. The old city was walled and had its moat, the remains of which one can see till today! Wat Chedi Luang & Wat Phra Singh were the two notable temples of interest.

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Getting into the holiday mood with the famous Chang Beer
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Wat Phra Singh
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Wat Chedi Luang

Day 2: Traversing inland in Thailand.

We started the day by visiting the Wat Prathat Doi Suthep temple located on top of a hill called Doi Suthep which towers over the city. The temple is believed to have been founded in the 14th century. Once can either take the cable car or walk up app 300 steps to the temple top. The temple is richly decorated with gold leaf inlays and painted gold. There are many exquisite statues of Buddha including the golden Buddha and the Emerald Buddha.

In the afternoon we head out of the city onwards to Chiang Rai. The City scape soon gave way to picturesque paddy fields.  We stopped on the way to visit the very quirky Wat Rong Khun, or the ‘White Temple’. Made by an artist, the temple is pure white and glitters of the glass pieces covering the temple. The temple is based on Buddhism and is a modern take with art installations on the interpretations of Buddha’s teachings. It encourages the visitor to reflect on the Buddhist teachings that show the way to escape from the worldly temptations, desires and greed and focus on the mind.

Overnight at hotel in Chiang Rai.

DSC_5674

DSC_0206
Girls in local attire a Doi Suthep temple, Chiang Mai
DSC_0209
Selfie. Smile. Pout.
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Devotion
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Devotion

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Jade Buddha at Doi Suthep Temple, Chiang Mai
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Wat Rong Khun, or the ‘White Temple
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Architecture at the Wat Rong Khun, or the ‘White Temple

 

Day 3: The opium triangle and border orders.

First stop was the ‘Golden Triangle’, where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet at the confluence of two rivers – the Ruak River and the mighty Mekong. Occupying almost 100000 sq kms of mountainous area, this triangle is one of the notorious opium growing regions in the world. At the center of this triangle is the boundaries of these 3 countries where the two rivers meet. In olden times, opium was known as the black gold as gold was used to trade in opium and not money and hence it gets its name as the ‘Golden Triangle’.

From here, we went to the Thailand Myanmar border at Tachiliek. The border crossing was relatively easy and within no time we had crossed the border to have a sumptuous lunch. The condition of the roads deteriorated in Myanmar and it was a rocky drive to the airport where we took a flight to Heho. Post another bumpy ride late evening we arrived at Inle Lake.

Overnight at hotel in Nyaung Shwe town near Inle Lake

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
The golden triangle – opium belt of south asia at the confluence of Burma, Thailand & Laos

 

Day 4: Longtail boatride and fishermen on one leg.

I would rate this day as one of the best days in my entire trip to Burma. Hopping on to a motored long tail boat, the day was well spent gliding across the Inle lake and getting to see local village life.

Inle Lake (see more of Inle Lake hereis nestled in the Shan Plateau, surrounded by hills and home to the Intha people, as well as some Shan, Taungyo, Pa-o and Danu ethnicities. One of the most iconic features of Inle lake are the fishermen who have an unusual technique of rowing their boats using their feet. Wearing traditional wide trousers, shirts and conical hats, the fishermen have become an iconic sight at the lake. Carefully balancing themselves on one feet, they row the boats with their other leg wrapped around a paddle oar. They carry a huge conical net which they use to trap the fish and occasionally spear them through the opening on top of these nets. The locals are devout Buddhists who live in simple houses of wood and woven bamboo, raised above the lake water on stilts. Though the primary occupation is fishing, there are farmers as well who grow their produce on floating gardens made of grass and seaweed which is just so amazing to see.

First stop at the lake was visiting the Nga Hpe Kyaung monastery which is built from wood and has a large beautiful meditation hall. The monastery was known as the jumping cat monastery as the monks used to train the cats to jump through the hoops, a practice which has now been stopped.

Next up was the village of Ywama which hosts a floating market and a huge Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda which is considered to be a holy place of worship esp amongst the Shan tribes and has statues of the 5 buddhas. Women are not allowed inside the shrine.

Heading to Nampan Village which has wooden homes built on stilts.  We also visited some cottage industry workshops, admiring their talents for silk and cotton weaving, as well as the rolling of traditional Cheroots (Burmese cigars). Cheroots are really something and just one puff just sent me soaring!

Post lunch was a boatride to the Indein Village which is a massive complex of about 1,000 stupas of varying sizes, built between the 17th and 18th centuries.

Overnight at hotel in Nyaung Shwe town near Inle Lake

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Fishermen on Inle lake
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat,
Fishermen on Inle lake
DSC_5838
Fishermen on Inle lake
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Boating on Inle Lake
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Inle lake

 

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Cottage industry for textiles at Nampan Village, Inle Lake
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Cottage industry for Cheroots at Nampan Village, Inle Lake
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Locals at Nampan Village, Inle Lake
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Local at Indein Village, Inle Lake
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
1000 stupas at Indein Village, Inle Lake

Day 5: Bummer of a bumpy bus ride

Perhaps the worst day in Myanmar as the roads were in bad condition and it was an impossible 12 hr long bus ride from Nyaung Shwe to Bagan, originally meant to be an 8 hr drive. Though we took a public bus, the bus was great by all Asian standards, clean and airconditioned.

Overnight at hotel in Bagan

Day 6: 1000 years old and 2200 pagodas

Bagan is a standout highlight of any traveller’s trip to Myanmar. But what ones sees is not what one can capture in the pictures. The sheer magnificence and scale of the place is something that no camera can capture, leaving you really underwhelmed when you look at the trip memoirs. It is one of the world’s most sought after archaeological wonder as its vast plain is studded with thousands of 1,000-year-old temples and stupas. King Anawrahta founded the Bagan empire in AD 1044 with its capital in Bagan and massive temple construction began during this period in an act of making merit.  From the 11th – 13th century over 10,000 temples were constructed in Bagan, of which over 2,200 still remain. Some are restored and maintained well as part of conservation efforts while most are run over by dense vegetation.

To choose which ones of the ancient architecture to marvel is a tough task. We started with the Shwezigon temple. The Shwezigon Paya is one of the most significant religious structures in Buddhism and is considered to be the prototype for the later stupas. It was also the first pagoda to allow nats (good or evil spirits worshipped by people before Buddhism) within its walls. This unique integration of pre-Buddhist religious practices enabled Theravada Buddhism to flourish in the region.

Ananda Pagoda/ pahto/ paya is also one of the finest, largest and best-preserved temple in Old Bagan. With the contribution of the Indian government, the temple is restored and well preserved.

Post lunch we headed up to the Sulamani Temple which was built by King Narapatisithu in 1183. Climbing up the steep stairs to level and along with at least 500 more people on the temple roof, we caught a glorious sunset over the vast templed plains of Bagan.

Overnight at hotel in Bagan

Shwezigon Paya

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Shwezigon Paya
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Sunset over Bagan
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Sunset over Bagan

 

Day 6: Irrawaddy river cruise, gluttony and an astronomy lesson under the starry skies

This was another highlight of our trip to Myanmar, spending a night on an open boat under the starry skies. We boarded a small boat and leisurely cruised along Burma’s most famous river, the Irrawaddy. We stopped along the way at a village called Yandabo, a small settlement known for its intricate potteries. We had some of our best meals in Myanmar on the boat whose chef made simple yet delectable food including mouthwatering soups, vegetable curries and rice. Upon nightfall, the boat moored in middle of nowhere and the clear skies paved way to see the milky way.  What made it more interesting was that one of the gentlemen on the boat travelling with us happened to be an astronomy enthusiast. Armed with a strong pointer and a small set of telescopic binoculars, he gave us a lesson in astronomy, pointing out many stars, constellations and also the Andromeda galaxy. What fun!

The boat prepped up for night with comfortable mattress and mosquito nets drawn up on the deck. It was a basic but rewarding experience to sleep under the stars.

Overnight Cruise from Bagan to Mandalay

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Pottery making at Yandobo Village, along the Irrawaddy
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Pottery making at Yandobo Village, along the Irrawaddy
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Pottery making at Yandobo Village, along the Irrawaddy
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Sunset over the Irrawaddy River
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Sunrise over Irrawaddy, through the mosquito nets

 

Day 7 – Largest pagoda of the world or not!

The boat continued upstream to arrive at Mingun village. There are the ruins of the unfinished Mingun Pahtodawgyi which would have been the largest pagoda in the world had it been completed. The pagoda’s construction was started by King Bodawpaya in 18th century and the work stopped post his death a few years later. We also saw the Mingun bell, a giant 90 tonne structure.  A short walk away was the majestic Hsinbyume Pagoda or the white temple modelled on the Mount Meru.

We arrived in Mandalay late evening and decided to relax the on the rooftop bar of the hotel, knocking back a few drinks and soaking in the sights and sounds of Mandalay.

Overnight at hotel in Mandalay

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Hsinbyume Pagoda , Mingun

 

Day 8: Strangers, cheap whiskey and New Years’ with people

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Making gold leaves

on a train.

Exploring the city of Mandalay began with a trip to the Mandalay Palace, the last royal palace of Myanmar. The walled teakwood palace with moats was built by King Mindon in 1857. The heavy bombing during world war -2 had destroyed large parts of the palace and the restoration work was done in 90s where cement and modern materials were used to re-build the palace.

Next stop was the Shwenandaw Monastery or the Golden Palace monastery, an extremely beautiful erstwhile palace built with teakwood and intricate carvings that adorn its walls and roof. The original palace was located in Amarapura and King Thibaw Min had the entire palace moved to Mandalay and was part of the King’s royal apartments. Certainly, a must see in Mandalay!

Closeby was the Kuthodaw Pagoda, a buddhist stupa that houses the world’s largest book. In the grounds of the pagoda, there are are 729 kyauksa gu or stone-inscribed temples, each of which has a marble slab inscribed on both sides with the pages of the religious book of Theravada Buddhism called Tipitika.

Afternoon was spent observing the process of making gold leaves at a workshop. After all gold leaf is the national obsession and object of devotion to dedicate to the temples

Later in the evening, we boarded express train to Yangon. We stocked up on beer, cheap whiskey and snacks as it was the New Year’s Eve. We shared the compartment with some Britishers. Soon we were chatting, drunk on whiskey, laughing our guts out and creating general ruckus on the train. After all it was New Year’s!

Overnight train from Mandalay to Yangon

DSC_6754
Shwenandaw Monastery or the Golden Palace monastery, Mandalay
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Making gold leaves
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Making gold leaves
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Drinking cheap whiskey on new year’s eve on a train from Mandalay to Yangon

Day 9:  Colonial Yangon and barrel aged cocktails 

Upon alighting the station in the morning, we headed directly for breakfast at a local tea shop called Lucky 7. Tea shops are the way of life in Myanmar where locals get their daily breakfast before heading out for work or hang out with friends and family. This tea shop had lot of Indian influence and we had a sumptuous meal of parathas, puris and aloo curry after which we headed back to get check into the hotel.

Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar, is bustling city with a heady mix of old & new, mixing its well-preserved colonial architecture with its new modern high-rises. Yangon has the most number of colonial buildings in south asia and is also known as the ‘Garden city of the East’ due to the many parks and gardens that dot the city.

Yangon’s exploration started with an orientation walking tour of the city to view the city’s rich colonial architecture. A walk through this part of town could be easily mistaken for a walk in south Mumbai for such were the similarities in the colonial buildings!

Next up was the visit to the most revered buddhist temple, the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, or the Great Dagon Pagoda or the Golden Pagoda as the gold gilded stupa shines bright in Yangon’s skyline. The pagoda is estimated to be more than 200 years old and is believed to contain the relics of 4 buddhas and hence many buddhists across the world flock to pay a visit this holy site.

The day ended with kicking back up our feet and enjoying delicious barrel aged cocktails at the Sarkies Bar in the iconic Strand hotel. It is a must visit place in Yangon!

Overnight at hotel in Yangon.

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Shwedagon Pagoda
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Sarkies bar at Strand Hotel & the delicious barrel aged cocktails!

Day 10: More tea houses and barrel aged cocktails

We loved the colonial Yangon so much that we headed back there for another walking tour through this part of the city. Meandering through the streets and alleys of colonial Yangon, I stopped at a few old book shops and picked up a classic book set in Burma by George Orwell, Burmese Days.

The modern quaint cafe – Rangoon tea house is an eclectic fusion of traditional & modern sensibilities. The cafe is adorned with a huge postcard that summarises the Burma experience. The tea leaf salad is a must have!

We then moved on to visit the Chaukhtatgyi Buddha temple which houses one the the largest revered reclining buddha images measuring more than 200ft in length.

The evening bought us another opportunity for a photowalk through south Yangon through the Anawrahta road where we I did some street photography and clicked the locals going about their daily life. – see more here.

After sun down we hit the Sarkies bar at Strand hotel again for some more delicious barrel aged cocktails.

#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Rangoon Tea house – the tea leaf salad is a must have!
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
The famous Burma Postcard at Rangoon Tea house
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burmav
Chaukhtatgyi Buddha temple, Yangon
#myanmar, #travel, #travelphotography, #streets, #streetphotography, #guesswhatsonhismind, #culture, #yangon
Will she like these yellow flowers?
#myanmar, #travel, #travelphotography, #streets, #streetphotography, #guesswhatsonhismind, #culture, #yangon
When will I fly to Bangkok?

 

Day 11: Delicious lunch and bidding byes

Since it was our last day in Yangon, it had to be well spent eating!  We headed up to the Inya lake where we had a sumptuous lunch overlooking the lake and its gorgeous views at the Le Planteur Restaurant & Bar. Owned by a French couple, it is an old colonial bungalow converted into a  plush restaurant.

MJBM3962
View of the lake from the Le Planteur Restuarant on Inya Lake, Yangon
#travel, #travelphotography, #inlelake, #myanmar, #culture, #nature, #tribes, #fishermen, #explore, #offbeat, #culture, #people, #places, #burma
Le Planteur Restuarant on Inya Lake, Yangon

 

As the trip came to an end, I struggled hard to summarise the experience that was Myanmar. Was it was magical or real? Was it engaging or disenchanting? Was I thrilled or underwhelmed? I couldn’t find the words to describe this journey. I was then reminded of the wall of the Rangoon Tea House which had a huge “Postcard from Burma” painted on it. It could not have been any more truer of the land so beautifully described by the writer.

“Dear Emily, my only wish would be that you could make a trip over the great ocean. The land is golden and the people are so gracious and they have taught me so many things about kin and kindness. Hope it won’t be long until we see each other soon my dear. Love, Frasier.” ~ A postcard from Burma. 1st Feb, 1948.

 Hope to be back soon!

Your feedback is important. Let me know here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s