A Travellerspoint blog

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Seeking Authentic Travel in Myanmar

For nearly 50 years, the nation of Myanmar (also known as Burma) with its 55 million residents, was one of the most isolated on earth. Beginning in 1962, Myanmar's successive military government cut it off from the rest of the world, nationalized nearly every aspect of the country, overruled democratic elections, killed protesters, and jailed political opponents, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The brutal junta caught the attention of the world community, leading the United States and the European Union to impose economic sanctions and democracy activists at home and abroad to call for a boycott on tourism.

In the last two years, however, Myanmar has done a surprising about-face. Leaders have transferred power to a nominally civilian government and liberalized the economy at a fast pace. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited last November and praised the recently released Aung San Suu Kyi and the reformed government for their efforts in transitioning towards democracy. There is still a long way to go before the country is truly democratic, but things are definitely changing.

As I read the news coming out of Myanmar, I know what the pace of change means: I might not have another chance to experience the country's people, culture, and ancient temples before it becomes forever altered by the influx of tourists, western fast food chains, and the quest for modernization.

I hope you can join me as I visit:
Yangon - the former capital of Myanmar to see the massive Shwedagon Pagoda.
Bagan - the 11th century city by the Ayarwaddy River and its 2200 Buddhist temples.
Inle Lake - with its rural fishing villages surrounded by the Shan Hills.
Mandalay - Myanmar's cultural and religious center of Buddhism, and nearby Amarapura to see the longest teak bridge over Thaungthaman Lake.
Mingun - site of the largest unfinished brick stupa monument

And, after Myanmar:
Hong Kong - to experience the famous local cuisine, take a tram ride up Victoria Peak, and view the city skyline at night.
Guangzhou, China - to meet up with Ada, Lucas, and Allison as they celebrate Chinese New Year with her family, and... celebrate Allison's first birthday!

Posted by CirrusNine 08:24 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Planes, Payphones, and Fluffy Clouds

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Finally at my hotel in Yangon, Myanmar after 2 days of flying. Let’s back up and recap a few things.

The 15-hour flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong was as good as one could get in economy class, thanks to Singapore Airlines and their new Airbus A380 Super Jumbo Jet. The food was the best I’ve ever had on a plane, truly gourmet. Their Krisworld entertainment system has 244 recent Hollywood and foreign movies, a bunch of documentaries, music, and even a power outlet to run your laptop or margarita blender.

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Made friends with my seat neighbor, Penny – she and her husband are travel agents from Texas who managed to get a tour of the plane after all passengers de-boarded in Hong Kong, I joined them! The captain was happy to show off his new bird and took us down the plane’s front stairs that led to 12 suites with beds. The stewardess even folded one down so we could see how it works… very cool. Suites on this flight go for $13,000… yikes! We thanked the captain and headed out to the Hong Kong airport for a 2-hour layover.

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Stairs down to the first level suites

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Checking out the suites

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Saying goodbye to the captain

After the plane was cleaned, I re-boarded and continued on to Singapore. I was getting weary by this leg of the journey and felt sick whenever we hit turbulence. Was happy to be on the ground after landing at the Changi airport in Singapore. Wandered around and took some not-so-interesting pictures of: 1) a chair that was out of service, 2) a koi pond nature area, 3) a retrofitted AT&T pay phone – this is where we sent our old pay phones!

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Changi terminal

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Beware of the faulty chair

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This is where our old pay phones went...

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Rest area at Changi airport

The flight to Yangon was much better with a short flight time and a view of fluffy white clouds over Malaysia and Thailand. Breezed through immigration, picked up my luggage, and converted US Dollars into Myanmar Kyat, then walked to the domestic terminal to retrieve my tickets for future flights.

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Fluffy clouds over Malaysia

Hired a taxi to take me to the hotel. It was afternoon rush hour and downtown Yangon roads were busy. The locals are crazy drivers, just like India.

Ok, I’m wrapping this up. It’s time to get some sleep.

Good night.

I promise to take better pictures tomorrow.

Posted by CirrusNine 18:53 Archived in Myanmar Tagged airport san francisco yangon hong kong changi Comments (1)

Kyats

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Foreign currency is always interesting to me. Myanmar has the Kyat, pronounced "chat".

Myanmar Kyats have some wicked designs.

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Front of 200 Kyat note

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Back of 200 Kyat note

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Back of 5000 Kyat note

$1 will get you approximately 841 Kyats

Posted by CirrusNine 13:22 Archived in Myanmar Tagged currency notes kyats Comments (0)

Shwedagon Pagoda

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Mingalar ma-net-khin! - Good morning!

Short on time so I'm uploading photos without much background. These were taken at the Shwedagon Pagoda earlier today.

Enjoy!

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Morning fog

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The Shwedagon pagoda is barely visible in the background

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Girl selling birds to let go (Buddhist act of freeing birds to gain spiritual merit) The white marks on her face is a cosmetic paste called Thanaka.

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Colonel Sanders' Turkish brother sittin' in his boxers, he wants to smack you with his stubby hand

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Posted by CirrusNine 00:43 Archived in Myanmar Tagged pagoda yangon shwedagon Comments (0)

Shwedagon Pagoda in the Evening

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A few more pictures of the Shwedagon Pagoda; sunset and evening shots.

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Flying to Bagan in the morning - possibly no internet service, so it may be a few days until the next entry.

Good night :)

Posted by CirrusNine 06:40 Archived in Myanmar Comments (2)

Temples of Bagan by the Irrawaddy River

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Good Morning,

Very slow internet here... no connection in Nyuang-U, so I'm catching up while at Inle Lake.

The past few days have been spectacular! On Saturday, I hired a boatman at the jetty for a ride on the Irrawaddy River for sunset pictures, then had Indian food in the town of Nyaung-U.

Sunday was even better with a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Bagan Archaeological Area. The Balloons over Bagan classic bus picked me up from my guesthouse at 6:00 am and brought me to the launch site a few minutes away. Passengers had tea and coffee while being briefed on the program and safety instructions. Our pilot, Alan, had us in the air, floating over the many temples of Bagan - with the sound of camera shutters clicking non-stop! Cooking fires added smoke to the air making for a dramatic sunrise. The sound of the hot air balloon burners caught the attention of the children on the ground, we waved to them and said "mingalabar" (hello)!

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Irrawaddy River Sunset

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Longboat Captain

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Filling the Hot Air Balloon

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Our Hot Air Balloon Pilot, Andy

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Ground Team

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Other Balloons

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Early morning over Bagan

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Sunrise view from 1000 feet up!

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In the Gondola (wide angle lens makes me look like Homer Simpson!)

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Smoke over Bagan

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Photo by remote camera

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Breakfast was waiting for us upon landing

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Champagne toast to a successful flight

Stay tuned for more...

Posted by CirrusNine 04:58 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bagan nyuang-u Comments (1)

It Just Keeps on Getting Better!

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On my balloon ride I met Kate from Sydney, Australia, who happens to be another photo enthusiast. We had lunch later that day and spent the next few days exploring the plains of Bagan from the ground. It was wonderful to be in the company of a fellow photographer, seeking out interesting subjects to capture.

At the Ananda Temple, we noticed a beautiful display of pictures for sale from the famous photographer, Maung Maung. Mr. Maung was visiting his shop and we struck up a conversation asking him about the locations of his pictures. Mr. Maung offered to take us around the next day for a private photo tour - as long as we didn't publish the locations of the temples we climbed since they are not open to the general public.

Giddy with excitement about the upcoming photo tour, we scurried off and finished our day by shooting sunset pictures from the Pya tha da Pagoda.

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Ananda Temple Buddha

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Children outside Ananda Temple

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Cow herder

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Sunset from Pya tha da

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Sunset slipping behind the mountains

Posted by CirrusNine 06:06 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bagan myanmar Comments (0)

A Day with Mr. Maung

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Mr. Maung picked us up at 5:30 the next morning and we headed out for sunrise pictures from an undisclosed location. This has been the best day in Myanmar (so far)! Travel & photography = happy. After a great sunrise, we moved on to several more locations. I took a lot of pictures... Here are a few of them.

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Before dawn

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Dawn

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Kate and Mr. Maung perched on a ledge

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Novice monks in Nyaung-U

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Good balance!

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The farmer's wife - East Pwa Saw village

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Wooden monastery

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Ox Cart

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Novice monk reading by candle light

Posted by CirrusNine 06:54 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bagan myanmar Comments (1)

Daily Life in Bagan

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Aside from the beautiful temples and sunsets, the people of Nyaung-U and Bagan go about their daily lives shopping, working, and raising families. Visiting markets is one of my favorite things to do while traveling, here you can see what the locals buy and eat.

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Market by The-ra-ba gate

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Market by The-ra-ba gate - posters for sale; even one of Justin Bieber...

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Shopping area by Shwezigon Paya

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Mani Sithu Market

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Seamstress at Mani Sithu Market

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Market by Tetthe Village

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Market by Tetthe Village - flowers

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Market by Tetthe Village - shallots

That's it for now... more tomorrow!

Good night ZZZZZzzzz....

Posted by CirrusNine 07:48 Archived in Myanmar Tagged market bagan myanmar nyaung-u Comments (0)

The Mysterious Dhammayangyi Pahto

sunny 87 °F

Dhammayangyi Pahto is one of the largest temples on the Bagan Central Plain. This 12th century temple is infamous for its mysterious bricked-up inner passage ways and cruel history. It's said that King Narathu built the temple to atone for his sins: he smothered his father and brother to death and executed one of his wives, an Indian princess, for practicing Hindu rituals. It is also said that Narathu had strict instructions to build his brick temple with such fine tolerances, a pin should not fit between joints; workers that failed to construct to his desires, had their arms chopped off.
After Narathu was assassinated in 1170, the inner temple was packed with rubble and bricked up. The local people still hold on to Dhammayangyi's creepy past and have avoided any excavating.

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Dhammayangyi Pahto

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Dhammayangyi Pahto Entrance

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Outer corridors

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Intersection

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Window

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Dhammayangyi Buddha

Posted by CirrusNine 05:20 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bagan myanmar Comments (0)

Random Pictures from Bagan

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Here are some random images captured from Bagan and Nyaung-U.

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Posted by CirrusNine 06:30 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bagan myanmar Comments (0)

Inle Lake

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After a short flight from Bagan to HeHo, followed by a drive to the small town of Nyaung Shwe, I settled into my new home. The following morning I hired a boat to see Inle Lake, the 5-day rotating market at Maing Thauk, a few craft shops, and Nampan village.

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Fishing boat on Inle Lake

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People from the surrounding hills make the trek to the Maing Thauk market.

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It was at this moment that I felt the farthest I have been from life back home. It was surreal to be walking down a dirt road watching the early morning sun filter through the trees, casting its warmth upon these wonderful people heading to the market.

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Vendors from various hilltribes sell their goods at the market

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Posted by CirrusNine 18:50 Archived in Myanmar Tagged lake myanmar inle Comments (0)

Inle Lake - South End

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Inle Lake is 13.5 miles long and 7 miles wide, but it seems much larger when boating from village to village. The average depth is about 6 feet with the first three very clear, and the last three covered with water plants.

The population consists predominantly of Intha, with a mix of other Shan, Taungyo, Pa-O (Taungthu), Danu, Kayah, Danaw and Bamar ethnicities. Most are devout Buddhists, and live in simple houses of wood and woven bamboo on stilts; they are largely self-sufficient farmers.

Boats the the primary means of transportation - each family has a boat or two.

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Elementary School

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Posted by CirrusNine 18:52 Archived in Myanmar Tagged lake myanmar inle Comments (0)

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

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I met Bruce and Silas while having breakfast at the hotel on Friday and joined them for a walk to the Shwe Youngwe Kyaung teak monastery a few miles north of Nyaung Shwe. The trip was nice as we walked down a tree-lined road, passing scenic marsh areas with rice paddies and garlic fields.

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Bruce and Silas from New York

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The monastery was full of activity with novice monks and elders preparing for mid-morning prayers.

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There's a small pagoda next to the monastery with beautiful interior halls, it has hundreds of Buddha statues in small niches along the walls.

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Posted by CirrusNine 18:55 Archived in Myanmar Tagged lake myanmar inle Comments (0)

Local Food

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I was excited to be going to a region known for its good food. Myanmar has not let me down! The food here is heavily influenced by Thailand, China and India.

At the forefront of Burmese cuisine is the famous dish of mohinga - a bowl of rice noodles covered in a fish-based soup and covered in deep fried fritters. A side of freshly cut spring onions, garlic, and a slice of lime is included. A majority of Burmese have mohinga for breakfast.

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Mohinga - it looks disgusting, but tastes really good

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Deep fried fritters that go on top of mohinga

Another popular item is Shan noodle soup. Mine came with pork, cabbage, mushrooms and cauliflower

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Shan noodle soup

The Burmese are also famous for their curries. Some are a bit oily; the oil comes out of the ingredients from cooking and also keeps the lower layer of curry fresh, and bugs out.

Burmese curry chicken with rice
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Green papaya salad is a favorite in this region. Made from shredded unripe papaya, lime, hot chili, fish sauce, palm sugar and served topped with cabbage, sliced tomatoes, peanuts, and chili flakes. Yummy!

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Green papaya salad

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Stuffed veggie chapati

Veggie spring rolls from the Amazing Nyaung Shwe hotel restaurant. The sunset view over the canal was priceless.
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Nyaung Shwe night market food vendors - This outdoor BBQ stall has an array of interesting things on a stick that you put in a basket and hand to the cook who BBQs them on a nearby grill. A tasty and cheap way to experience the local food.

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Stuffed tofu, an unidentified fish thing, pork, and chicken

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Indian chicken tikka masala with fake chapati (instead of whole wheat flour chapati, I got a Mexican tortilla... interesting)

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Indian thali - wasn't so good

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Fish and chips!

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Kratingdaeng - The original Red Bull from Thailand. Sickly sweet and syrupy, not fizzy like the popular version.

On my way back to Yangon. Will upload more this evening!

Posted by CirrusNine 19:38 Archived in Myanmar Tagged food myanmar Comments (2)

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