Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Whirlwind tour of Yangon: The Shwedagon, Sule Paya, and a Walking Tour of Colonial Yangon

The Alamanda Hotel was a pleasant place to stay, and but for some of the problems I will mention in a bit, this could have been a five-star stay.  The room was reasonable large, with a sitting area I front of the area with the large bed, which had mosquito netting available.  The room was reached by walking on a footpath through a shady garden, and there was a sitting area outside our door with a bench, two chairs and a table (however, we were too busy sightseeing to use that).  The place had an almost bucolic feel, and at night we heard the birds calling, nit at all like being in the city.  There was one bird call that I had never heard before, a sort of whooping whistle; when I played a recording to the hotel clerk in the morning, she identified it as the coco bird,

Hotel Room, Alamanda Hotel, Yangon

Hotel Room, Alamanda Hotel, Yangon

Walkway from Hotel Room, Alamanda Hotel, Yangon

Sitting area outside Hotel Room, Alamanda Hotel, Yangon

Our final day at Inle Lake

We were up in plenty of time to catch the sunrise this morning

Sunrise over Inle Lake

Sunrise over Inle Lake

Sunrise over Inle Lake

Although this was the day for us to head to the airport in early afternoon to fly to Yangon, we decided to spending try a visit to the market-of-the day, being held in the nearby village of Nam Pad.  And what a difference; this was a huge market!  We arrived shortly after 9 AM and boats were jamming the harbor between two spits of land that appeared to have been reclaimed b§y dumping dirt out into the lake. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A full day touring at Inle Lake

We were rudely awakened at around 6 AM by blaring, amplified religious Chinese-type music coming from someplace close by (presumably, the Phaung Daw Oo pagoda we had seen the afternoon before) – a good reason to have worn earplugs perhaps.  We moseyed out for breakfast a bit after 7.  The breakfast was a buffet, with many different selections but largely lots of very similar things.  There was an omelet and fried egg station (the omelets were OK), several different flavors of bunny bread with some sort of red jelly and a nice, not-too-sweet marmalade; some rolls including the same poorly made croissants we have seen before in Myanmar (a roll in the shape of croissant); white and fired rice and some uninspiring stir-fry type dishes; there was not much in the way of fresh fruits (bananas and tangerines), but perhaps that was a reflection of the limited supply available at local markets; and some sliced meats and cheeses.  There were crepes (called pancakes) which were pretty much the best solid food.  Unfortunately, the hotel leaves the covers off the hot dishes in between guests helping themselves, so all of the food is stone cold.

I had had trouble getting reliable wi-fi access from our room; enough to look at some web sites, but not close to enough to get access to my VPN back at the office to check email, or to post to this blog.  I had to agree with the comments of a guest with whom I discussed this – we weren’t there for the wi-fi, but for the fabulous surroundings.  And I don’t doubt that it is difficult to get reliable Internet service in the middle of a big lake.  But don’t advertise having wi-fi if you can't provide that service to your guests on a reliable basis!

After breakfast, we took off in the boat with Kyauk toward Inthein, where the daily market was being held.  As we headed off, there was still a mist sitting on the lake.

The trip began across the southern part of the lake, and through a village,

Our trip to Inle Lake

We had breakfast at Kumudara Hotel, then took a cab to the airport because, when reservation was reconfirmed, the airline said we had to be at the airport 90 minutes before the flight.  What joke!  There we no reason at all to be early, and once checked in and through security, we had to wait in a waiting room without any amenities waiting for our flight to be called.  And wait, and wait; flight after flight was called, and the scheduled time for takeoff passed; still it was other flights being called, with no announcements explaining why our flight was delayed or when we might expect to board.   When it was over an hour after our scheduled departure, a knot of frustrated passengers surrounded the person with the walkie-talkie who was announcing the flights, some saying that they would use a different airline.  Finally, she said that our flight would be next.  So, we piled onto busses to be taken out to the propeller plane that would take us on what was announced to be a 35 minute flight to Heho Airport, the closest one to Inle Lake – except it wasn’t.  We spotted the landing strip about 35 minutes after getting into the air, but then we circled for at least a half an hour before landing.  It was hard to understand why – there was not a cloud in the sky!

Finally we were on the ground, and our bags were wheeled up – by hand – to the baggage claim area; meanwhile, we made contact with a women holding a sign saying “Mr. Paul”: she was the emissary whom the hotel had sent to get us to the hotel.  Except – she wasn’t.  Her only job was to connect us with the driver of the van that took us on the hour-long ride from Heho to Nyaung Shwe, a town at the northern end of Inle Lake.  The roads were heavily used by trucks, share-vans that were used by locals for transportation ot their persons and their goods

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Visiting Mt. Popa, seeing temples with murals, and learning about life in villages near Bagan

As carefully as one might plan a vacation (and I spoent a great deal of time on travel planning), some of what you get out of it turns on luck -- good luck or bad luck.  On our second day in Bagan, we had a stroke of good luck.

We had seen so many temples in the space of eight hours on our first day of touring in Bagan that we asked our guide, Thin Zar Soe, for a change of pace; we accepted her suggestion that we drive away from Bagan itself to walk up to the shrine atop Mt. Popa, and that we learn a little bit about village live in the area.  We did ask to have the opportunity to visit three more temples that I had read about in guidebooks – one of them, Sulamani Pahto, can not currently be visited as a result of damage from the past summer’s earthquake, but she was happy to build two other temples with wall paintings into our itinerary for the day.   I asked Thin about the palm sugar bars that we had had at lunch the day before, and the tamarind bits (which she said were called tamarind flakes) that had ended our meal the night before at the River Front restaurant.  She assured me that a chance to pick up some of these to share with my office colleagues when we got back home would be on the day’s agenda.

We began by driving off toward Mt. Popa, but we had a surprise waiting for us along the way — villagers were parading along the side of the road for the “nomination ceremony” for some of the children of the village!

We got out of the car to wait for the parade to reach us while Thin explained what we were seeing: today the villagers would be parading with their children around the village, but the next morning, they would take the honored children to the local monastery for their first time living with the monks.  On this occasion, it would be only for a few days; when they got older, the boys, at least, would all be expected to become monks for period of at least a few months.  Thin assured us that it would be perfectly fine to take photographs of what we were about to see.

Chingchai told us later that Thai Buddhists don’t engage in the novitiation ceremony, although, like all Thereveda Buddhists, older boys are expected to become monks for at least a few months; novitiation is exclusively a tradition in Myanmar.  It is generally done for children at some time between the age of 8 and 18; usually it happens when children have more free time, such as during the summer holidays.  But at least today was Friday, so their several days living with the monks would begin on the weekend and so they would miss less school.

At last the parade began to move again: first boys showing the national Buddhist flag


Then older girls from the village

Touring the Temples of New Bagan, Old Bagan, and in between

This is a placeholder for the post that I will write once I have fully digested the day and our photos

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A day touring in Lop Buri

For our final day in Thailand, Dan and Chingchai drove us out to Lop Buri.  Although there has been a Thai settlement in this location for longer than almost any other current city, and was a center of Mon civilization as early as the sixth century AD, it gained particular prominence when two Thai kings – King Narai in the 17th Centuty and King Rama IV in the 19th century made it the capital of Thailand.  On the way, we noted this brightly painted bus


and, in the distance, a huge golden seated monk in a posture normally seen for a Buddha