Mingalabar is a standard greeting that means “Good Luck to You” in Burmese. My friend Jim and I had a great time in Myanmar- the hands down winner for the country with the highest concentration of Buddhist temples per square mile- despite a few mishaps along the way.
You know that little ping of joy you feel when you see your luggage arrive on the baggage carousel? We’ll we didn’t feel it. Our bags were lost for almost 3 days and getting reunited witth them was not easy. Everyone always asks me how I manage in countries where I don’t speak the language and I answer that,with gestures and a couple of local phrases, I get along just fine. This time,not so much. It was a comedy of errors, misunderstandings, bad phone service,language barriers, a fairly undeveloped tourist infrastructure and the fact that we were changing towns and hotels faster than the airline baggage service could keep up
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Mandalay was to see the U Bein Bridge- I planned to go at sunset and then sunrise the next day. But because we spent so much time in the airport trying to file the missing luggage report we couldn’t get to the bridge in time for sunset, so we settled on seeing it from Mandalay Hill.
To get to the top you can either walk up about 500 steps through the dirty pagoda or drive up. When our cab driver dropped us off at the bottom, he apparently confused us for the type of people that want to step in piles of rooster poop in our bare feet (you cannot wear shoes or socks in any pagoda ever). Once we figured out the scoop, we had to track him down and get him to drive us up to the top. The sunset was nice, but the best part was all the lovely monks wandering around and practicing their English with the tourists.
The next morning, we headed out at sunrise to U Bein. Unfortunately, our guide thought I would want to be on top of the bridge rather than on the ground where the good photos happen, so I missed out again. That being said, we did make it down eventually and got some pretty good shots. It’s the longest teakwood bridge in the world and was built in 1850, really beautiful.
From there we went down to the jetty to take a boat ride up the Arewaddy (Irrawaddy) River to Mingun and the first of MANY pagodas (payas in Burmese) of the trip. I do love floating along Asian rivers, so it was a nice day, although there was not much water traffic which was kind of odd. Getting on and off the boat was interesting… you have to walk across long thin planks between other boats to get to your boat, and then again to get to the shore. One false move and you’re done for-arrgh!
Then it was into a van for a 4 hour drive through the countryside to Bagan. Along the way, we saw one of the MOST interesting things I’ve ever seen. Young monks-to-be on horseback on their way to join the Monastery. Half the village was in the procession and the other half was standing on the side of the road with us, snapping pics on their phones as the decorated ox carts,horses, virgins and dancers went by. It was freaking awesome! So lucky to have stumbled upon it.
It was kind of a let down when we got to Bagan. I’m not sure how we screwed up, but the hotel we booked was an ugly smelly empty tacky Chinese event venue about 40 minutes outside of town. We had to spend half of the next day finding new digs. Once we got settled and had a chance to explore, Bagan was just stunning. Plains full of gorgeous stupas dating from the 12<sup>th</sup> century everywhere. The travel books say the best way to see them is by bicycle or ebike. When I read that, I thought, “It’s a long hot ride around the plain of stupas, ebike is clearly the better choice”. What I didn’t know, was that “ebike” is Burmese for <u>fast heavy scary motorcycle</u>. Even though I’ve never driven a moto before in my life, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to do it in a small third world country. In a rural town. With no hospital. So it’s good that when I crashed (literally 20 seconds after I got on) all I ended up with was a nasty bruised wrist, wounded pride and no broken bones. Luckily (there’s always a bright side!) Jim can drive a moto, so I just rode on his. That really turned out to be the best plan as I could read the maps and navigate. Don’t get me started on the quality of maps- I had 3 of them and was constantly cross referencing them all to make sure we found best payas to climb for sunsets. Lots of tiny steep steps to the top, but the views were absolutely incredible.
Our luggage finally caught up with us in this town, so it was nice to have some clean clothes and, the most important thing of all- hair products! Yay! Oh, I almost forgot about the part where we almost ended up in a Burmese jail! When we went back to the horrible hotel to pick up the bags and were leaving, the staff was saying some stuff to us that we couldn’t really understand. The most I could make out was something like “room charges” so we told them we had prepaid on line and left in the taxi. About 10 minutes into the drive, the cab driver gets a phone call, stops on the side of the road and tells us “we’ve got a big problem”. It turns out that, after going through our emails and booking receipts, we didn’t pay on line, but were actually supposed to pay the hotel in cash on check out. It was like a bad dream, we just couldn’t leave that awful place! So we hunted down an ATM, turned around and went back to pay. By the look on the staff’s faces, it was clear they thought we were flat out criminals and I’m glad they didn’t call the cops on us. Sorry!!
The next stop was to Nyaung Shwe, the town closest to Inle Lake. I loved this little place- very walkable, lots of good restaurant choices and, like all of Asia, cheap massages!! After walking a mile up to the top of a volcano in Bagan, my calves were screaming, so I went for the foot massage. Asian masseuses are famous for their strong hands, but mine must have been trying out for the Foot Massage Olympics. No matter how many times I asked her not to grind her thumbs with 1000 psi of pressure into my leg bones, she wouldn’t let up. If the fun you have on vacation is directly related to the number of bruises you end up with, I must have had a fantastic time!
The big draw of this area is Inle Lake – the fishermen are famous for rowing their boat with one leg and the floating villages are the prettiest I’ve ever seen. There’s one village that is half on land and half floating, and there’s a long boardwalk between the two. We happened to be there when the school (on land) let out and the kids all gathered at the end of the boardwalk to catch the school bus/boat. The lady boat drivers would paddle up in the dugouts, load up the kids and float them home! Our last stop was Yangon (formerly Rangoon), which was not my favorite city. The roads are 3 or 4 lanes, the traffic is pretty bad and there is no way to get to the other side other than making a mad dash through the middle of it all. The British built some beautiful colonial buildings in the downtown area, but they’ve almost all fallen into decay, so the whole place looks like a haunted house. One of the buildings, The Strand, has been gutted and completely remodeled into a fancy hotel. We went there for high tea and completely embarrassed ourselves by ordering one tea each, when it’s supposed to be for two. The little sandwiches were yummy, but there was no way I could eat all the tiny pastries. Too bad we couldn’t stay there, the rooms were around $550/night!
On Sunday we took a day trip to Bago, about 40km NE of Yangon. Along the way, we stopped at a beautiful cemetery for WW1 and WW2 soldiers of the British, Burmese and Indian armies. We boo hooed our way through the place reading the heartbreaking inscriptions on the gravestones. On a lighter note, the cemetery doubles as a hangout for local teenagers- they get all dressed up and take photos of each other- adorable!! A few times during the trip we were asked to be in their photos-apparently old white people are interesting?
I read in my guidebook that the payas of Bago (a very sacred and historic city) were like a carnival, but I really didn’t understand what that meant until I got there. All the payas we visited on the trip were full of tacky souvenir sellers (think plastic Buddhas with flashing neon halos), but Bago takes it one step further. There are actually carnival games to raise money for the pagoda- you don’t win prizes but try to throw your money into the moving bowls- my favorite was the little “monk go round”, kind of like a merry go round but with toy monks, seriously!!
The biggest attraction in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is really beautiful (and clean!), but to be honest, I was kind of pagoda-ed out by then, so it wasn’t as awe inspiring as I had hoped.
All in all, it was a great trip. With the exception of the thieving cab drivers, everyone was friendly and tried to be helpful. So helpful that when Jim had a piece of gum he was trying to get rid of and asked where he could throw it, 3 people immediately held out their hands for him to put it in!
Now I’m back in Siem Reap and headed off to school in a bit. Looking forward to my next adventure when Aida and Jose come to visit and we check out Hong Kong!!
U Bein Bridge
Monk to be
Inle Lake Fisherman
Local ladies near Inle Lake
Giant Lions at Mandalay Hill Pagoda
Mandalay Hill at Sunset
This is not toast
An ethnic tribal lady
Monks to be in the procession
Oh so beautiful!
The Littlest Monk to Be
More of the monk procession
Hello? yes, I&#39;m a bit busy now/
How do I look?
Sunset over Bagan
I love this photo
Monk on vacation
Sunset in Bagan
Let sleeping dogs lie
YUM YUM YUM
On the road to Mt. Popa
Inle Lake fisherman
Floating village house
Gotta wash the buffalo
Look at hims face!!
Lion at Indein
Along the river
At the Jumping Cat Monestary
Inle Lake fisherman
Jim on the boardwalk
School bus boat
Me on a Yangon street
Local restaurant Yangon
Photo shoot at the cemetary
Me and a teenager at the cemetary
Monk go Round
Boys waiting to play the carnival game
Asleep on the job
Another carnival game
Washing buddha at the temple
Another teenage photoshoot!
Me at the Kings Palace
Hanging with my new friend at the Snake Monastery
Me at Schwedagon
Monk reading a newspaper