Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday, February 10, 2017

back to yangon

Posted by Hippobean at 11:25 PM 0 comments
very small airport at bagan. every passenger just got a sticker from the airline they're flying and all open seating. yangon airways back to yangon. flight was packed and I've noticed the plane wasnt cleaned. Back to the panda hotel, 11th floor this time with a view of the shwegadon temple if I craned my neck and looked left. It was lighted up at night. We spent the whole afternoon shopping at the Scott's market, now named the bogyoke market. it's immense, with a central hall and tons of shops on the sides that turned into alleys and more buildings, but still smaller than the ones in siem reap. bought so much, i've run out of local currency here. Even bought a longhi that I didnt really planned to buy. Afterwards we walked to the Strand hotel and had drinks and pastries at the Sarkies bar. I've wanted a drink that had white wine, elderflower and lime. it was on the menu but they didnt have it. the staff tried very hard to please the guests but their standards were just not up to par. But the lemon tart which turned out to be a lemon meringue was super good. We walked around a bit to see what the Strand was like. very colonial decor, with dark wooden moulding on the walls, chandeliers and monochrome photos showing the colonial times in burma and the dignitaries that once frequented the 5 star hotel, no 2 in Myanmar. Took a peek at the grand restaurant. Quite old fashion. Irene said it used to be the ballroom. She was 10 years old when she lived in burma, in the colonial days.

our last dinner was at a restaurant just around the corner from the panda hotel. the menu was extensive and it included lotus root, boiled meat in banana leaf, all sorts of local greens I've never heard of, and of course, the usual curries and chinese rice and noodles. Very nice place and the food was excellent but a bit more expensive. I've ordered a ginger mint drink, a flat rice noodle with chicken and the lotus root and it cost me 12000 kyats, about 9usd, more than what I've been paying for dinners on this trip. but well worth it and still cheaper than what i had to pay at home. so it's goodbye vacation and back home to my problems. very reluctant to leave.

flight back home - had about 10000 kyats left and so i went on a shopping spree at the airport artisan shop. bought some mother of pearl forks and spoons set and 2 bamboo placemats. They were gorgeous. The flight back to singapore was pleasant enough having a window seat with just 1 person next to me. Spent the usual 3 hrs layover at changi and walked everywhere again and even bought a pack of beef jerky to surprise people back home. But both flights to HK and SFO were packed and they were long and uncomfortable, with the middle seat occupied. Finished reading the fate of ten and it was entertaining and kept me reading till the end.

My romantic notion of Myanmar was flamed by movies and books, and after the military government, the good old colonial days are now but a distant memory. Not quite up to the standards of its neighbours, the country nevertheless has its own charm. I probably didnt give it its proper attention due to my state of mind but I've enjoyed the stupas and temples, the noodles and curries and did my fair share of shopping. The romantic notion though would probably never dissipate. They kept telling me I should do Vietnam. Not sure if I can bear another southeast asian country with daily deet, heat and insects, but who knows.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Thursday, February 09, 2017

stupas everywhere - bagan

Posted by Hippobean at 4:36 PM 0 comments
although I enjoy boat trips, I'd have preferred a bus ride to bagan instead of an all day slow boat float on the irrawaddy. we had to get up extra early to get to the jetty so we can get good seats on the boat. We had assigned seats in the cabin but the open seating on the open deck would prove more enjoyable. And so we had to forego the 5 star breakfast at the marvel hotel. they gave us a breakfast box of boiled egg, croissant, a strange looking pastry and a banana instead. The boat ride was slow, boring and without entertainment. The included breakfast on the boat was just coffee/tea and 2 pieces of toast that were deep fried in greasy butter. for lunch we had a choice of fried rice or noodles. Both tasted awful. only some interesting town view at the beginning of the journey, some stupas, the mandalay and inwa bridges, otherwise, the views were of sandbars, some vegetation and very distant mountains. I was beginning to feel unwell, and being very hot on open deck, i went to the cabin to take a nap. By the latter part of the river journey, I was really feeling weak and sick and wanted nothing more than to get to our hotel in Bagan and rest.

our garden hotel was very nice, but full of mosquitoes. the staff even came daily to spray our rooms and bathrooms. i skipped dinner that night and the breakfast the following morning and dinner that night also. We visited 4 temples this morning, the first one, the Thit Sarwadi with good views of the entire place filled with stupas everywhere. In fact, there were a few stupas even in our hotel. stupas were mingled with houses, restaurants and shops. So many one could not possible see and photograph them all. the Ananda temple had murals inside that depicted the Buddha, lotus and flowers and standing buddhas, each facing a cardinal direction. After the stupas visit, I went back to the hotel to nurse my tummy cramps and rest. for some strange reason, I just felt all my energy sapped away, very tired and sleepy.

the next morning we visited 2 more temples the myinkaba gubyaukgyi that had murals on the interior walls, and the Manuha which had giant very upset looking buddhas. The murals in gubyaukgyi were quite interesting but I prefer frescoes and the european painted monasteries, probably because I was raised catholic. They did not allow photography inside the temples with murals but tour guides were allowed to shine torches on them. go figure! It also contained standing buddhas showing the 4 different mudras (hand positions). manuha, our last visited temple, contained gigantic stern looking buddhas with enormous chests and a reclining 'dead' buddha, built by kind manuba to represent his displeasure of captivity. This one was a cave style temple and very small, one could hardly walk there but the buddha statues were oversized with puffing chests, and super long slender fingers. quite interesting. This was the one I liked best.

skipping the lacquer shop, I returned to the hotel for a massage and to relax while some went to mount popa. I intentionally skipped popa because the reviews said there were aggressive monkeys everywhere and one had to walk the 700 so steps barefoot. Stepping on monkey droppings and urine barefoot while being attacked by stupid monkeys didnt sound too appetizing to me. The ones who went didnt expressed any particular enthusiasm when they returned. So I've gathered the view atop wasnt all that spectacular (mostly hazy again I guess) and not really worth the hassle.

While waiting for my soup at the pool side restaurant, I thought of perhaps renting a bike to leisurely tour the stupas on my own. then I've heard a crash. 1 from the group who rented a motorbike, crashed into a flowerpot, broke it and cut her lip, even before she set out from the hotel garden. The hotel staff rushed to the scene but they were more concerned about the flowerpot than the guest's injuries. The hotel tried to make her pay for the bike damages and for the broken pot. They've settled on paying the bike damages only. Wasnt buddha's teaching concerned more about people than material things? So much for motorbike rides.

Bagan photos:

Monday, February 06, 2017

Monday, February 06, 2017

romantic mandalay, not

Posted by Hippobean at 10:49 PM 0 comments
is it just the romantic in me? the name mandalay conjured up a dream of romance, a far east place with exotic food, smells and words, a pair of enticing pale eyes and lips that mumurred unattainable promises. I was smitten. the real mandalay was full of dust, noise, motorbikes, cars and human congestion. a big city with highrises, neon lights, long boulevards, concrete and glass, broken sidewalks, dirty streets and side streets faintly illuminated. our hotel was located above the train station. the whistling incoming trains kept one awake at night. riffraffs and backpackers on the station platforms. pigeons (she hates pigeons!) galore flying outside the hotel room and balconies covered in pigeon droppings and even dead pigeons hanging from the AC units. but inside the hotel, it was simple grandeur. marvelous reception, beautifully appointed rooms, large clean bathrooms filled with amenities and proper shower stalls with curtains. Breakfasts were superb. asian station with dim sum and european stations with bacon. and the view from the restaurant terrace was nothing short of glorious, buildings and mountains. the hotel was called marvel and what a marvel it was.

the sutaung paya pagoda on mandalay hill had a touch of feminism. pink tiles on the wall and arches. I quite liked it. It should offer grand views of the city below but myanmar seemed to have a permanent haze, probably due to the vehicles exhaust, so everywhere we looked, it was hazy and smoggy. The shwenandaw monastery had teak carvings on every inch of the exterior walls and roofs, and it was quite impressive. next, the kuthodaw pagoda contained the entire buddhist scripture in 729 marble slabs, the biggest book in the world. the mya nan san kyaw royal palace was enclosed in a square red brick fort that covered 2 miles with a moat. the palace reminded me of the one in kyoto. I've climbed the spiral staircase of the red tower and I could see the entire palace compound from the tower top. our last stop for the morning was the Mahamuni paya, the city's holiest temple. it contained a buddha statue that grew over time due to the people paying respects by adding gold leafs to the image. quite a fat and distorted looking buddha it had become. however, women were not allowed to go in to the sanctuary, so I just tried to get as close as possible for a photo. They all came out blurry. In the courtyard, there were bronze Khmer statues stolen from angkor wat in cambodia as war loot in the 15th century. One 2 headed elephant, a bronze lion and 2 warriors that once stood guard in Angkor are believed to have healing qualities and people rubbed the statue's tummy, knees and arms in hope to cure their ailments in their corresponding body parts. I've rubbed the tummy, knees and forehead of the statue. I still got headaches and tummy aches.

in the afternoon, we crossed the Irrawaddy upstream to Mingum to see the unfinished stupa. it would have been the world's largest stupa if finished but king bodawpaya died before it was completed, thus all further construction had ceased. Even unfinished, it looked enormous. together with it, 2 giant lions stood in front, now with their tops broken and missing. Only the lions butts remained. But the huge 90 tonne bell that was cast to be hung in the finished stupa was completed and on display. now considered the largest bell in the world. One could crawl inside it. before returning downstream to mandalay, we've visited the mya thein tan stupa, all white that looked like a wedding cake. each successive layer was curved to resemble the waves of the sea, a symbol of mandalay. even the longhis here have waves in the designs. On our way back downstream, we witnessed a magnificent sunset, the sun red and round and we had it all to ourselves.

the next day we've visited a gold leaf factory and we each got a piece of gold leaf on our faces and a bit of tanaka powder. We all looked very funny. in myanmar, the people, mostly women, apply the tanaka powder (pounded ground paste from the thanaka bark) to their faces for sunscreen, and they all looked funny with white yellowish rectangular spots on their foreheads and both cheeks. at the factory, I bought a small lacquer jewelry box decorated by gold leaf for Mom. then we made a stop at a local tapestry and puppet shop. all tapestries were woven with shiny beads, not my liking. And i'm scared of puppets so I didnt buy anything there. but the puppet costumes were very intricate and beautiful. We've noticed the girls sewing the tapestries under weak florescent lighting but wore no glasses. they must have real good eyesight but will probably lose them when they get old. Just like in Cambodia, we saw workers polishing buddha statues in stone factories and made a stop to photograph them.

then the highlight of the trip when we came to the ancient capital of Inwa. I specifically selected this trip because it included a visit to inwa. We crossed the small river and horse drawn carts along dusty bumpy dirt roads brought us first to the bagaya kyaung monastery with enormous teakwood foundation pillars. not too interesting to me. Then to the real reason why I came to myanmar, the manu ok kaung monastery. yes the one I saw online with yellow stucco that caught my eye and imprisoned my heart. It was brilliant in the afternoon sun. just like in angkor wat, I forgot to bring the stuffy for a photo. left small leo at the hotel to enjoy the room and he was furious, and being a stuffy, didnt talk to me for 2 days. wasnt given enough time to really admire and appreciate the building, i just ran around to look and photograph, and then did a quick tour inside the building. was very happy.

Right before sunset we drove to Amarapura to catch the sunset over the U Bein teakwood footbridge. I've walked a ways on the bridge until the first island. The place was packed with tourists, shops and cafes. the sunset was nice but all the people and tour buses just put me off. Not impressed. The teak bridge itself wasnt all that impressive.

Mandalay photos:

Inwa photos:

Friday, February 03, 2017

Friday, February 03, 2017

hilltop colonial station

Posted by Hippobean at 7:37 PM 0 comments
a freezing morning brought us to the train station. true to it's reputation, the train came in half an hour late. We were in the upper class with sofa seats. 2nd class was called ordinary class. plastic seats. narrow gauge english trains and tracks. rather slow. the scenery wasnt extraordinary spectacular but nonetheless I've always loved riding trains. kalaw, the colonial hilltop station town, was busy because it was Friday market day. I had a sweet delicious chai with condensed milk and bought a piece of pound cake at the local bakery. We stayed at the green haven hotel in a beautiful colonial style building. the rooms were all rustic wood, quaintly decorated but very small. the bathroom though was still a wet room. Even though this time it had a shower curtain, it didnt go all the way down to the floor, so when I showered, even the toilet got all wet. But it did have a rainshower head. We've noticed all the hotel services were done by girls. they even carried our heavy luggage to the rooms. Flowers everywhere, no traffic noise, a very tranquil place. Really loved it. the reception building had a veranda complete with rattan chairs and tables. the morning tea and coffee were served in silver pots. in the cool breezy afternoons, we had tea and biscuits and pretended we were british overlords living in colonial style. The hotel was located inside the military compound with a golf course and the shwe u min cave pagoda next to it. Girls were only caddies at the golf course while all the golfers were men. We've walked to the bamboo pagoda and along the way we had nice views of the entire hilltop station and many 2 stories modern western houses. must be the wealthy part of town or remnants of the colonial days. The morning easy trek took us through Kalaw tribal heartland, rural countryside with marvelous views of the mountains, hamlets and the valley with rice fields and local plantations, farms with water buffalos, and pine forests. We've visited a local children school and saw a new building foundation and a water fountain donated by Explore. We felt fairly proud. We've donated more money. We've made a stop at the Lu Pyi village to sample their local famous green tea and tried out the local attire and longhis. After the trek we just enjoyed the peaceful tranquility of the colonial hotel and I let my newly washed hair dry in the warm afternoon sun while catching up on my reading of the fate of ten, the I am number four series. colonial, what a life!

Kalaw area photos:

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Wednesday, February 01, 2017


Posted by Hippobean at 11:01 PM 0 comments
Our first stop was at a Shan paper making shop on our way to our hotel. They first pounded the paste from the tree bark for many hours until softened. Then they poured it over a sift and lowered it to water and added flower petals. Once softened and raised, it had to dry for 3 days. Out came a thin sheet of raw paper with flowers embedded. very pretty. the paper was used in books, cards, bookmarks, lamp shades and parasols. I had my eyes on the parasols the minute I've walked into the shop. Bought a small green one. They were great for lamp shades. exquisitely beautiful.

inle - the mornings and evenings were cold and the mid days were extremely hot. So it was layers time. The rooms at the hotel were very small but with adequate amenities. The bathrooms were all wet rooms so when you shower, the entire room was wet. We stayed in the Nyaung shwe town so we had to boat to Inle lake every morning and return in the late afternoon. the long boats sat 4 people plus the driver at the back. The diesel engine was very loud and one could not but wondered what the fumes would do to the environment. but it's their way to make a living. Every morning we started at a channel and then out on the lake, we began to see fishermen fishing, standing on the stern on one leg with the other leg wrapped around the oar of their boat. some tourist boats literally stopped in front of the fishing boats to photograph the fishermen. many long boats with tourists shared the lake with the local fishermen. inle lake was very long but not too wide, with mountains and hills surrounding it. houses on stilts, some with floating gardens, tourist hotels, stupas and pagodas lined both banks. I've really enjoyed the boat rides. although they were loud, cold and windy, sitting on them, you were only inches from the water which was quite clear in the middle of the lake, and the views were simply spectacular. the In Dein pagoda complex, the hill with a thousand stupas, reminded me of the bayon in siem reap, except here were the stupas and in cambodia, it was the faces. But i quite enjoyed them. It's still early in the trip and I wasnt totally stupa out yet. Life on the lake was mesmerizing. while touristy on the lake, cruising the channels offered a bit of inside view of how real life was on the lake. poor houses on stilts, wooden plank bridges, small motor boats. weaving and cheroot making were their main industries and we visited both. I've tried a tamarind flavor cheroot. quite strong but didnt like it much. Inle was the only place that the lotus fibers were woven into scarves and shawls so I had to buy some scarves. We've also visited a silversmith shop to see how they make silver jewelry. i bought a necklace with a very unusual design. On the second day, I had a massage at aqua lilies, 2 blocks from our hotel, for only 17000 kyats, about 12USD. they even washed my feet in warm ginger water. the curry and noodle dinners at the lotus restaurant were most satisfying. they only cost 7000 kyats, about 5USD, including the papaya or lime juice. evening walks back to the hotel were illuminated by our own torches. my hitech one flashed green. I've quite enjoyed inle lake. possibly the best part of the trip.

Inle Lake photos:

In Dein, hill with a thousand stupas photos:


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