A Week In Myanmar

I went to Myanmar because of Aung San Suu Kyi. I really admired her. Of course, I didn’t get to see her but having the chance to visit the country and seeing the progress she had made to her country was a joy. She was also admired by her citizens too.

I contacted an expat in Myanmar who kindly took me around Yangon on my first day there. Her husband was working there and was offered an expat package with a car and a driver. I asked her if it was still dangerous to travel around Myanmar. She said not really but her husband’s company still gave them all these expat benefits. Her husband must have held a very senior position then. I didn’t ask.

It was very hot in Myanmar so touring around the capital city in an air conditioned car was very pleasant. I felt a bit uneasy first but she said she always hosted her friends in Yangon this way so it was absolutely fine. Her driver was also a very nice person. He didn’t say much but he was doing his duties very well. He sure knew where to take me.

Several years after this trip, I was given an opportunity to volunteer in Myanmar but something happened to that NGO so in the end, I didn’t go. A few years later, I volunteered in Cambodia. Considering the current situation in Myanmar, I don’t know when I’ll be able to volunteer there.

The house of Aung San Suu Kyi. The driver was also a fan of Aung San Suu Kyi. When I said that I liked her, he was pleased.
A pink elephant in a zoo in Yangon
My new friend took me to a restaurant for a snack – fried shrimps with some nuts. It was delicious.
The restaurant was by this lake.

It actually took a while to travel from one place to another, not because the places were far away but because the traffic was very congested. After Aung San Suu Kyi started ruling the country, she brought many changes. One of them was to build more roads including highways. With more roads, people living in the villages could travel easily to the capital city to trade their goods. The intention was good but the villagers were too eager to go to the capital city so the roads became very busy. A 10-minute trip could now become a 30-minute trip. Drivers became grumpy. They could only wait in their cars. New roads were supposed to help the citizens but they now became an inconvenience. Back then, I thought to myself, Myanmar still had a long way to go before they could progress further. They needed skilled people to help them design good infrastructure, they needed good town planning and village development (maybe playing some town planning computer games may help? :P). As I always say, changes take time. Now that their government is controlled by the military force, I really don’t know how much longer they need to implement all these changes. I searched on Google as I started writing this blog and found that they are attempting to develop a digital currency. Going digital is considered as ‘hard ware’ but the ‘soft ware’ is the people. They need to train their own citizens. It’s not just the ‘hard skills’ but also the ‘soft skills’ like communication, problem solving skills. Solving a problem with a short term solution is not a real solution. It’s like some people invented a battery that can last for 100 years. That is just postponing the problem, not really solving the problem. 100 years later, that generation will curse us for inventing this kind of thing. It’s like us now criticizing those who invented cars centuries ago.

A market in Yangon. If you know Chinese, you will see some signs written in Chinese. I believe Chinese emigrated to Myanmar long time ago. Jade was one of the popular souvenirs sold here, other than the traditional Burmese dresses that Aung San Suu Kyi wore.
St. Mary’s Cathedral in Yangon

My new friend could only take me around on my first day which was good enough for me. She gave me many tips about travelling in the capital city like what I needed to do before I entered into the temples and all the other etiquettes, like taking off my shoes and socks (yes, socks as well) before going into the temples. She even dropped me off at Shwedagon Pagoda, the famous golden temple in Myanmar, in the evening. That was the best time to go to the pagoda. If you go there during the day, you will miss the lights at the temple. Check out the photos below.

I don’t know how to do photoshop. The sky and the temple were like this when I took this photo. I know, everything looks so fake in this photo.
Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda
Does it need to have so much gold?! πŸ˜€
Another golden temple inside Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda
Another temple inside Shwedagon Pagoda
Take a closer look at the columns inside the golden temple.
The jewel at the top of this pagoda changed colours every now and then.

So, that was Day 1 in Myanmar – Yangon within 1 day.


Day 2 – Mandalay

Actually, no. I spent the second day on the bus travelling from Yangon to Mandalay but for simplicity, I just put it this way. πŸ™‚

Mandalay Palace and the moat that surrounded it. I remember it was so hot that I was melting as I walked towards the palace. But this year, 2022, Europe is no better than Southeast Asia.
Inside Mandalay Palace. The design reminds me of the architecture I saw in Beijing and Bhutan.
This is so me. πŸ™‚ I like to take pics like this. πŸ™‚
If you take a closer look at the design, it looks a bit like the Māori design.
It was so clean and beautiful!
A tower inside the palace
Spiral stairs. Guess what I was thinking? πŸ™‚
Before I reached the spiral stairs, I checked out other places in the palace first. This one was again golden.
This one really looked like the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Mandalay Palace from the top of the spiral stairs
Mandalay Palace. I liked this place.
Audience Hall in Mandalay Palace. Every piece of wood looked very new.
Look at the moon!!! I had never taken a picture of a moon like this! I can see the shadows on the moon! Well done! πŸ™‚

Day 3 – From Mandalay to Bagan

I took the advice from the staff at the motel I stayed at on day 1 and took a ferry instead of a bus which gave me a different kind of experience.

View from the ferry. It looked a bit hazy because of the pollution. It was hot as well. Was it a pleasant journey? Well, if you don’t stay outside, it was. But as a traveller, you want to take photos so…
A white temple
A golden temple on the hill
A golden Buddha
As our ferry approached the pier, we started to see some local villagers.

Day 4 – Bagan

Did I wake up early in the morning to take a hot air balloon tour? No.

Did I wake up early in the morning to take photos of the hot air balloon? Neither. You can find those postcards easily. Instead, I walked around the town and checked out some temples.

I had a chat with one of the staff at the motel and I asked her about the little stage that they had in their restaurant. She told me it was for the traditional puppet show. She also said she could arrange one show especially for me tonight. Wow! That was so kind of her. But she said she needed to check with her boss.

Locals at the market
It was very common to see local people wearing some powder on their faces. The powder was actually natural sunscreen from these barks. The trees are called Thanaka.
I stayed at another motel in Bagan and booked a carriage through them for the whole day. πŸ˜€ It was a fun experience. πŸ™‚
It was quite early in the morning so I didn’t see many people around.
The temples reminded me of Cambodia.
Another temple at the site. The temples were all scattered around.
The ceiling of one of the temples. It badly needed restoration. To enter into the temples, I needed to take off my shoes and socks.
All Buddhas I saw inside this temple looked down on the floor but there wasn’t anything on the floor.
Temples sitting on a grassland
Some other temples on the grassland
An aerial view of one of the temples
A golden Buddha in one of the temples
The entrance of another temple. There were so many temples.
A window of one of the temples. It looked a bit western.
My carriage and my ‘driver’
Carving on the walls of the temples. Very similar to Angkor Wat.
Another temple
I wonder if that generation was related to Mayan or if they knew of the Mayan culture. They looked a bit similar. How about the pyramids in Egypt? All of these designs were like this – broad at the bottom, pointed at the top. Some temples in Angkor Wat were like this too.
I could have just photoshopped some hot air balloons here but like I said, I don’t know how to use photoshop.
Another temple
Bare feet. But the floor shone!
Beautiful craftsmanship
The exterior of another temple
Entrance of another temple
Golden Buddha. There were 3 of them. Each one of them posed differently.
This golden Buddha had both hands up.
This one had both hands down.
Another temple
Another temple
Inside the temple, I found many wall paintings. The colours could still be seen.
A sleeping Buddha
I like the shape of this tree.
The silhouette of the temples looked nice.
Back in town, I walked up a little hill and saw some farmers working. The silhouette of the farmers looked like a painting.
At the top of the hill, I saw this pagoda.
Sunset in Bagan
When I went back to the motel, the staff said, ‘you’re finally back! We had been waiting for you. The show will start now. This is especially arranged for you.’ So, I sat down and ordered some food and enjoyed the show.
The puppet could do so many tricks.
The little stage in the restaurant
Another puppet
The puppet even played with fire.

Day 5 – Inle Lake

You may have seen some postcards where a fisherman poses on his boat while holding a big round net. That’s where you can find him. Inle Lake is a lake, apparently. Along the river, you can see wooden stilt houses, like the ones I saw in Chiloe in Chile except that they look very Asian. Actually, I should use Tai O in Hong Kong as a comparison. That’s more appropriate. The stilt houses along Inle Lake do look like those in Tai O.

Inle Lake is also called Nyaungshwe Township or just Nyaungshwe.

When I arrived there, I met a group of tourists at a tour company. They were asking about boat tours which I was also interested in. I understood the conversations between the tourists and the staff because they were speaking in English but I didn’t understand what the tourists said among themselves. The staff said their boat would only depart if the number of people reached the minimum. I forgot what the minimum was. While the tourists were discussing among themselves in their own language, I interrupted and asked if I could join them. Problem solved. The boat now had enough people. Puzzled solved too. It turned out they were from China and the reason why I couldn’t understand them was because they were speaking in Yunnanese, a dialect spoken in Yunnan. I was very shocked. The dialect sounded so different from Mandarin.

Let’s take a look at what Inle Lake offered when I was there back in 2013. πŸ™‚

That was the kind of boat I was on. It was apparently for tourists.
Tai O! πŸ˜€
That’s the guy! The Chinese travellers on my boat gave him some money afterwards. I asked them why. One of them said, ‘he’s just a performer so we need to pay him tips.’ I was quite surprised. I didn’t know that.
Some of the stilt houses were different from the others.

Just as we were cruising along the lake, something happened. πŸ™‚

What’s this? It must be a festival. Yes, it was the October festival, not the German one. πŸ™‚ It was the Phaung Daw Oo festival.
This one looked a bit like the one I saw in Cambodia years later – a very long boat.

It looked like a boat parade.

These two boats looked beautiful!
Look at the elaborate design!
This one looked nice too.
Another unique one
I really liked this one.
This reminded me of the dragon boat race. But these people stood and used their arms and feet to paddle.
Our boat stopped at an island and we spent sometime there.
We were walking behind the local women.
A white temple

We didn’t stay on that island for too long. It was getting cloudy as well.

We went back to our boat and continued with our journey.
This one looked like a nice restaurant or a guesthouse.
The locals were weaving. This was probably what Jim Thompson saw when he went to Thailand. He then decided to go into the silk business. Jim Thompson is now a famous brand internationally and most people think Thai silk is the best when in fact, the silk and the skills are very similar in the countries along the Mekong River. OK, this was Inle Lake, not Mekong River, but I believe the skills of these workers were very similar too. The main difference is the design. Jim Thompson did have a good taste and his design was good and that continued decades after his disappearance or death.
They felt very smooth.
We visited another workshop along Inle Lake. This one produced cigars?
This one looks quite cute.
A big temple on an island
They let us take photos.
A traditional umbrella workshop
We went into a temple.
We saw paintings of Buddha’s stories on the walls of the temple. This one reminded me of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet.
The rain was coming.
We went back to the town centre and I went to the green market to have a look.
Salty fish sold at the market
The next day, before I went back to Yangon, I walked around and found this beatiful place.

So, that was the end of my slightly longer than one week trip in Myanmar and also my last trip in 2013.

Guess where I’d go next in 2014?

Stay tuned. πŸ™‚

11 – 19 October, 2013

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