flag GB Travelogue Myanmar/Burma november 2012

 

Introduction

 

Optimism is running high in Myanmar. After several decades under the military rule, Myanmar is now undertaking a series of political reforms. Signs of democracy have recently emerged. Hundreds of political prisoners have been set free. Myanmar’s media has received more freedom, although it is still controlled by the government. Myanmar’s most prominent opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is released from house arrest after 15 years. Suu Kyi has since re-entered the political scene and participated with her party: National League for Democracy (NLD ) in the by-elections held for part of the parliament on 1 April 2012.

 

Aung San Suu Kyi has thereby won a parliamentary seat. She is today working closely with the government in ensuring that more reforms will be materialised. People have come to believe that, with democratic reforms, their lives might be about to change for the better.

 

Subsequently, the opposition also called for a stop for tourists to boycott the country and promotes small-scale tourism. "Use Your Liberty to Promote Ours" the opposition says.

 

That is why we found it justified to plan a trip to Myanmar (Burma). A long cherished wish came to be fulfilled.

 

Route week 1: Yangon • Taungoo • Pyay • Bagan • Mandalay
Route week 2: Mandalay • Kalaw • Inle Lake • Mandalay
Route week 3: Mandalay • Hsipaw • Kyauk Me • Pyin Oo Lwin • Mandalay • Yangon
Route week 4: Yangon • Maung Shwe Lay • Lintha Village Ngapali • Yangon

 

When reading the travel report:

 

When reading the travelogue: click a picture and it will be increased. If you see a link, like: Khiri Travel: click on the link and it will be opened. When referring to a map of Myanmar/Burma, the map can be accessed by clicking on the link Map of Myanmar. The clips (images with an arrow) that are included are HD recordings. The clips can be viewed in a separate window that automatically opens when you click on the image with the arrow.

 

English is not our native language, so we apologize in advance for translation- spelling- and grammar errors.

 

Part 1 - From Yangon to Bagan

 

Day 0 – Monday, October 29, 2012

 

Our trip is organized by Namasté. A Dutch travel agency specialized in organizing customized tours. A co-worker from Namaste called us today. He informs us about the actual situation in the western part of Myanmar (Sittwe and environment, part of our trip). the situation in this area worsens amid continued violence. We agree to visit the local agency in Yangoon as soon as we arrive to see if a change in plans is needed

 

Day 1 – Tuesday, 30 October 2012

 

Early in the morning we leave for our daughter Marjon and her life companion Bram in Akersloot. Marjon will take us to the airport. There is a lot of traffic on the road

 

At Schiphol we say goodbye. There is no direct flight from Amsterdam to Yangon. We will have a transfer in Singapore. We fly with Singapore Airlines; a very good airline. We have up to 7 kg overweight baggage, but fortunately the people of the airport don’t mind. The toys such as bouncing balls and the hotel soaps that we carry with us as presents, make our suitcases extra heavy. We also carry wine in cartons in our suitcase, because we understand that wine is difficult to get in Burma.

 

Behind customs at Schiphol we visit the duty free shops and a restaurant. Always fun to observe all the sleeping, working, shopping and hurried people from all over the world. We go to the gate. As one of the last - because we are not disabled, we don't travel with small children, we are no seniors and we do not travel business class - we are allowed to enter the plane.

 

Once the plane is lined up on the runway, the pilots apply power. You hear the roar of the jet engines spool up. The plane spins up to speed and you are pulled back in your chair. During takeoff we enjoy the feel of acceleration. That is our "WOW" moment. The plane is climbing steeply! Beside us sits a man who appears to be a little sick. He has a bag full of pills on his lap. Close to us are two empty seats. The man spots them and leaves to sit there. Very comfortably! We now have 3 seats for the two of us. Very nice, because it will be a long flight!

 

The service on board is great. Very friendly staff. We get a nice hot lunch with a sandwich (toast and cheese) and even an ice cream as dessert! We drink some wine and try to sleep.

 

Day 2 –Wednesday, October 31, 2012

 

After Schagen, Akersloot, Schiphol Airport and a short 3 hour wait we fly in 12.5 hours to Singapore. In Singapore we have to wait for another 2 hours before leaving to Yangon. The flight duration to Yangon is 2 hours and 50 minutes. Quite a long journey! But everything goes smoothly. We have arranged our visa in the Netherlands, so customs formalities in Yangon (map) don’t take long.

 

Our driver Aung Win is already waiting for us at the airport with his old red Nissan. Aung Win will be the driver/guide in our first week in Myanmar. First he takes us to the office of Khiri travel. Khiri travel is the local agency of our tour in Myanmar. We will have a meeting with Edwin Briels, a Dutchman, who is the General Manager of Khiri in Myanmar.

 

We are kindly welcomed, and discuss our itinerary. If we wish, we can still go to Sittwe and Mrauk U. The permits required are available, but there is a curfew in the area and the villages outside the larger cities we so badly want to visit are not accessible. So we decide that it is wiser to change plans. We discuss the alternatives, and Khiri Tavel adjusts a new itinerary.

 

After our visit to the office of Khiri Travel we go to our hotel. Our hotel is the East hotel. A good hotel. Centrally located with comfortable rooms with good working air conditioning. We rest for an hour, before leaving for the town and the market.

 

Yangon is more modern than we had imagined. The main roads in Yangon are good. Clear traffic lights. It is striking that there are no mopeds on the road. It appears that the mopeds - so typical for other Asian cities - are banned in Yangon by the military regime.

The market is nice, colourful and crowded. All kinds of dried and fresh fish, vegetable we don’t see in Europe, herbs, noodles. The chickens are sold alive and then beheaded on the spot in front of our eyes ...

 

After our visit to the market we leave for the Sule pagoda at the end of the street where our hotel is situated. At a stall at the door we are scammed. It is suggested that we pay the entrance fee there, but the official entrance is a little further, therefore we have to pay twice. A wise lesson; never be too naive. But okay: the pagoda is very nice and there is lots to see.

 

It is hot, we are tired of the trip and we will be back in Yangon, so after our visit to the Sule pagoda and a nice coffee stop, we leave for our hotel. The hotel is cool and they have delicious fried rice for diner.

 

Day 3 – Thursday, 1 November 2012

 

We get up on time and enjoy breakfast at the hotel. Aung Win is already waiting for us in front of the hotel. At 8 p.m. we leave. Today we will drive to Toungoo (map).

 

Toungoo is a trading post of the Karen ethnic group. The town is visited by few tourists and is primarily a transit point on the way to the north. Our route to Toungoo is interesting. Lots to see and do.

 

First stop of the day is a visit to a huge Buddha statue in the temple of Pegu / Bago.

 

Along the road a lot of people are working in the fields; with or without their buffaloes. We see a ducks guardian crossing the road followed by a lot of ducks. We are told that the ducks are kept for the eggs rather than for meat. On the roadside many local workshops where for example bamboo chairs - very popular here - are made. The opium trade still seems to be very vivid in Burma, but all out of sight in controlled areas. The people talk about secret places.

 

Most of the public transport in Burma is crammed with people. Many people have even found a place on the roof of the car/bus, on top of all kinds of luggage. We drive for a while behind a car, loaded with pigs. It is awful to see how the pigs are piled on top of each other. Even the curl in the pigtail is disappeared. Again and again we see the same truck. A long day for the pigs .... probably their last!

 

There are a lot of teak trees harvested in the area. The English previously harvested the trees too, but they did it with a plan. After cutting down some trees the planted new trees and left the area to recover. Now, large forests are ruthlessly cut down leaving big empty spots and erosion on the hills. Only the government benefits from the revenue of the wood. The people of this area get nothing. The wood is nearly all exported to China and India. Win Aung explains that the new government has announced that they will stop cutting the forests after 2014. But, he notes, at that time there will be hardly any teak tree left.

 

We make a relaxing coffee stop at a rustic lake and at noon we have lunch with curry, rice and vegetables in a small road restaurant.

 

We also drive along railway crossings. The crossings are not totally ignored as in India, but there are still a lot of people passing closed trees while the train - using it’s whistle - is approaching. The trains you see here are often old disused trains from China. The influence of China is big in Burma.

At 3.45 p.m. we arrive in Toungoo. The Amazing Kaytuhotel is reasonable.

 

We take a walk in the surroundings of the hotel. There is not much to do in town. We have a drink and have diner in a restaurant just outside the city center, not far from the hotel. Jan-Arend orders noodles with a big glass of beer and Ingrid rice/chicken/vegetables with a bottle of water. Total "damage" 5 euros! We will not get bankrupt in Burma.

 

Day 4 – Friday, November 2, 2012

 

Today we penetrate deeper into Myanmar. At 8 am we begin a long journey to Pyay (map).

 

The route takes us through the undiscovered low mountains of Bago Yoma. A beautiful route through dense teak forests, but we also see many bare patches where all teak trees are felled. That is a sad sight.

The road is narrow and only recently paved.There is almost no tourism in this area. It is a very nice trip.

 

At approximately 10 a.m. we drink coffee in a local coffee house on the side of the road. Everywhere you see houses build of woven bamboo boards on piles. Small and simple houses.

 

There is clearly more wind in this mountain area. Here, the air conditioning in the car can be switched off and the windows can be opened.

 

During our second stop we visit a village of the Karen ethnic group. We walk into the village. We see people in traditional costumes. The houses are built on bamboo piles above the ground. This makes the houses cooler inside. Small bamboo stairs lead to the living room. Much livestock - like oxen, pigs and chickens with little ones - roam around and under the houses. Fun.

 

In one of the houses we visit a woman who is weaving. As always there are a lot of children walking around us curiously following every step we take. Quite often the little ones put it to a roar as soon as they see us; we are but strange creatures for them! A boy proudly shows how well he can handle his catapult. He shoots some small clay balls at a target. The boys often have/use a catapult here and play all sorts of games with it. They make the clay balls themselves. The boy tells us that he already shot/lost some 200 clay balls today!!

As we sit down to order some food we see a man reaching for a toothpick that is pricked in a bamboo woven wall. He uses the toothpick and puts it back into a general jar of toothpicks on the table... brrr luckily we have our own toothpicks with us!!

 

We spot many different trees, shrubs and parasite plants that proliferate around the trees and branches. It's like a jungle. A man collects roots of orchid plants in the forest. He sells them to the Chinese, who, they say, buy EVERYTHING.

 

People are training elephants in the forest and we have some beautiful views on the landscape. We stop near a river where children have al lot of fun jumping from bamboo rafts into the water.

 

The people in Burma use a lot Thanaka on their face. They grind Thanaka bark with a sprinkle of water on a stone slab. It provides a kind of clay like substance that is especially lubricated on the cheekbones. It should be a good protection against the sun, should be good for the skin, and it gives the people a light skin tone, an ideal of beauty here.

 

People are smiling at us with wide open mouths with red crumbling teeth. A lot of people chew on betel nuts. An addiction. Betel is very bitter in taste. It is therefore always combined with other herbs or spices such as chewing tobacco, cloves, cardamom or kava kava. The stuff is also mixed with quicklime. The lime enhances the exciting and euphoric effect because the fabric arecoline with slaked lime is converted into the active substance arecaidine. The whole is wrapped in the sheet of the Betel pepper shrub (or another plant, which contains an essential oil). We hear that the contents of the packet has changed over the years. It gets stronger and stronger. The extensive use of betel is increasingly causing oral cancer.

 

The farmers return to their home on oxcarts in the afternoon. At that time we arrive at the Lucky Dragon Hotel in Pyay. The Lucky Dragon appears to be a nice hotel with a swimming pool, small apartments, a terrace and free wifi facilities in the room.  

 

Day 5 –Saturday, November 3, 2012

 

8 a.m.: departure from the hotel. Today we will drive to Bagan. We are only at a few kilometres distance from the hotel when we discover a Party hall along the road where it is very busy. It turns out that a wedding is in progress. We stop and are welcomed as guests of honor. Very special. Folksy environment with plastic chairs and tables, a cup with hot water with a bag of Nescafe, a piece of cake and very loud music. We are introduced to the family. The bride is in white, with a lot white foundation on her face. The groom is also in white. A lovely couple.

 

The wedding gifts and donations are collected outside the hall. Every donation is administrated in a ledger. A whole list of names and amounts. The average amount for a gift is 1 Euro. We give a donation for the new wedded couple and drive on.

 

Our next stop is at a gathering place of oxcarts. The carts arrive from the fields in a long line all loaded with harvested crops. Mostly corn but also some sugar cane. The squeaky carts with big wheels are unloaded. It buzzes with activity

 

As we continue our journey it doesn't take long before the next special event demands our attention. We witness a morning meal procession. A long line of mostly young monks walk along the side of the street. They stop at places where people donate rice. We will encounter many more mendicant monks during our trip trough Myanmar.

 

We make a lunch stop but we don't have much appetite so we want to keep it simple. Jan-Arend asks if they have some bread. Well, they do. Jan-Arend gets 3 slices white bread floating in milk ... yeah!

 

A woman near the restaurant prepares Thanaka for Ingrid and smears it gently on her face.

 

We walk to a bus stop and watch a bus arrive loaded with people. The driver smells of alcohol. The passengers are elated and they all want to have their picture taken. Hawkers provide food, snacks and drinks. Often these busses are a cross between a bus and a truck. A lot of baggage and people in the car stick to a loop that hangs in the back. But a lot of people are also sitting on the roof of the bus surrounded with again a lot of baggage

In an almost uninhabited area we pass some huge university buildings. We hear that the regime deliberately situates the university far from a big city centre to make it easier to control critical students with their attention-grabbing demonstrations!

 

The roads are in poor condition so we can’t drive fast but thanks to the skills of Win who is an excellent driver we enjoy a comfortable and diversified ride in the old but well maintained Nissan. Win is a gallant driver. When other road users commit a blunder, he only pulls his eyebrow a little as a sign of serious irritation!

 

Road workers in Myanmar are very lucky people according to Aung Win because they have a good job. That might be truth, but they also have a very hard and dangerous job! We see them work under extreme circumstances without any protection, even on barefoot. They distribute tar over the road with a watering heated up over a small fire in a ripped open barrel.

 

As we approach Bagan we encounter some peanut farmers driving home with their harvest piled high on a oxen wagon.

 

Today we drove from 8 am -5 pm, but still it was a good day and we have seen a lot. Our hotel in Bagan is in New Bagan (map). It is a good hotel. The Kaday Aung Hotel. Good room with a nice terrace in front of the room. We hear thunder in the distance but no rain. We have diner in a small Italian restaurant near the Hotel. Cheap and tasty!

 

Day 6 – Sunday, 4 November 2012

 

We enjoy a buffet breakfast outside in the garden of the hotel. After breakfast we drive to Old Bagan.

 

First we visit the local market. Always fun and very busy. Many beautiful baskets and wooden boxes with different varieties of rice. Neatly arranged rows of leaves, some very big bloody fish, decomposed chickens, herbs, honeycombs with flies, etc.

 

At one of the fabric stalls Ingrid orders to make her a nice blue jacket. It will be delivered at the hotel this evening.

 

After our visit at the market we make a long walk in a landscape full of stupas, pagodas and temples. Between the 9th-13th century, Bagan was the capital of the kingdom of Pagan. The first kingdom that united different regions in Burma. In its heyday the plain of Bagan was covered with more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries. Nowadays over 2200 temples and pagodas are still remaining. A few you can visit/enter. Very special. We have a conversation with two student monks who learn English. They are eager to practice the language with us.

Many tourists visit the plain on a bicycle. It's very hot!

 

We visit a vegetarian restaurant where we order lassi and pancake. Yummy! Just a nice cooling down before going back to the hotel. The sky is not clear when Jan-Arend goes swimming in the pool at the hotel.

 

At 4:30 pm Aung Win is back at the hotel to pick us up for a visit at a stupa in Old Bagan from where we can witness the sunset. For protection reasons a lot of stupas are closed for visiting in the tourist season. That is why there are only a limited number of stupa's for a lot of tourists to climb to see the sunset. But we are not bothered by the other folks. We have our tripod, enjoy the unique view, and make some photographs and films. Among the stupas are a lot of dust clouds caused by the herds of cattle who return back to the village with their shepherds.

Dag 7 – Monday, 5 November 2012

 

Today we have a quiet day.

 

During the morning we stay near the hotel. Jan-Arend goes hiking. Near the hotel are a few stupas but otherwise New Bagan is not so interesting. Ingrid stays at the hotel journaling. For lunch we score a pancake.

 

At 3.30 pm Aung Win collects us by car to drive to a spot by the river where the two of us embark on a big boat. Today we will experience the sunset over the stupas from the water. Despite the fact that there are some clouds the trip on the boat is really beautiful and a great relaxing and romantic experience.


 

Back at the hotel Jan-Arend finds out that he has a fever: 38.8 degrees. With some aspirins the fever is attacked, and we pack our suitcases for the next morning and go for diner.

 

Day 8 –Tuesday, 6 November 2012

 

Today we get up at 5.30 a.m. and have breakfast at 6 a.m! We leave early because we want to say a last farewell to Bagan. We stop at a stuppa. On top of the stuppa we enjoy the most beautiful sunrise on the plains you can imagine. The view is breathtaking, The light is like gold. Very clear views. We see many balloons in the sky! We have thought of a balloon flight but the price tag of $ 350 (p.p.) stopped us.

 


In Part 2: Bagan via Heho and Kalaw to Inle Lake