Written by Ed Hahn on 24 Aug, 2006
In the hills above Pindaya there are a number of villages that are accessible only by foot. These villages are inhabited by the Palaung people, one of the 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar. In the recent past, many Palaung were in revolt against…Read More
In the hills above Pindaya there are a number of villages that are accessible only by foot. These villages are inhabited by the Palaung people, one of the 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar. In the recent past, many Palaung were in revolt against the government, but a 1991 agreement ended the uprising, if not the discontent. Some of the Palaung are still living in refugee camps in Thailand. Others have joined the Wa army and are still resisting the Military dictatorship.It is about a 2-hour hike up the hill to the first Palaung village. The road is a rutted dirt track. It might be possible to take an ATV up the hill, but I seriously doubt it. A tracked vehicle like a tank or a bulldozer might make it. You can also access Palaung villages from Kalaw. We were told by our guide, Tutu, that the trek from Kalaw was more difficult. Seeing that I had so much trouble on this climb, I can only thank the Nats (animist spirits) for guiding me to the track we did ascend.The first thing we noticed was women coming down the hill with baskets full of fruit, tobacco, embroidery, tea leaves, kindling, or other stuff. They were on their way to sell the contents in Pindaya and walking quickly, as if the hill didn’t even exist. We made our first stop at a tea trader’s house, where we were given a glass of hot tea and some locally grown mango fruit. While we were there, a couple women showed up to sell their tea. The owner of the house pays less than the market price and stores the tea until the price is right then sells it. The growers get their money right away and, according to Tutu, are very happy with the arrangement. In retrospect, I should have stopped right here, enjoyed the vistas and headed back to Pindaya, but I didn’t do the smart thing; instead, I continued up the hill. As we moved up the slope, we saw many tea bushes on the almost perpendicular hillsides. In one case, we watched the tea being harvested by an old man who had to be well into his 70s. This was very disheartening to me because, by this time, my knees were really hurting and I was also struggling to catch my breath. We also ran into an entire family of five that was on a pilgrimage to Mandalay. Tutu found out that they expected to take at least 3 days for the 500km journey riding pick-up trucks and busses. They would only spend 1 or 2 days at the temples, as they had almost no money, before heading back to Pindaya. They were all excited and eager to get going. I felt guilty from then on complaining about anything on our trip after seeing their dedication.With many short rest stops, we finally made it up to the 5,000-foot level and the first village. Some of the people in this village live in the traditional long houses, five or six families to a house. Some live in single family dwellings. We had some refreshments on the patio of one of the village’s leading citizens and watched a group of children playing outside a long house as their mother took her morning bath out of the communal water trough.Too soon, we had to move on. Because of my previous lagging and knee problems, we had to head back rather than visit another village. We walked through the village, which was situated on a long ridge, and then headed down.Going down was almost more of a test than going up. I was tired, my knees were sore, and my thigh muscles were not used to such a steep descent. As I was crawling down the hillside, I heard someone catching up with me very quickly, and I was shocked and somewhat embarrassed when a young girl about half my size with a big smile on her face went barreling past me carrying a load of firewood on her back that had to weigh around 50 to 70 pounds. If I could have, I would have given up, but pride or something kept me going and after a 5- to 6-hour round trip. We finally made it back to our hotel, where I collapsed for a half-hour before showering, drinking a couple liters of water and creakily getting myself into the car for the long drive to Inlé lake.My struggles make up the bad news. The good news is that, if you are in good shape, the trip is absolutely worthwhile. The vistas from the road are astounding. The people traveling on the track are interesting and friendly. The villages are also interesting, and I suspect that, if we had continued on, the further villages would have been even more interesting. I understand you can even overnight in one of the villages and head back the next day. Maybe that’s what we should have done.I highly recommend the experience, but caution you that being in okay shape will not cut it. Even my wife, Pam, struggled, and she’s in fantastic shape. She’s been fast walking for 2 hours every day for the last 20 years. Our guide, on the other hand, who’s in his 20s, had no problems, but then he lives here. Close
Written by Ed Hahn on 27 Jun, 2006
The day we visited Mingun was a religious holiday which, in spite of the crowds, made the visit more interesting. Pam, my wife, and I took a fish-tail boat across the Ayeyarwaddy River to Mingun with Bruce, our guide. The trip takes about…Read More
The day we visited Mingun was a religious holiday which, in spite of the crowds, made the visit more interesting. Pam, my wife, and I took a fish-tail boat across the Ayeyarwaddy River to Mingun with Bruce, our guide. The trip takes about 45 minutes. It was a beautiful morning as it was still relatively cool. Our first stop was what was intended to be the world’s largest pagoda. Sometimes known as "King Bodawpaya's Folly" because it was to be so immense that there was no way it could be finished in his lifetime. Before we reached the zedi itself we looked at two incredibly huge stone Chinthes (lion guardians), near the river, that were partially destroyed in an 1838 earthquake. It must have been an incredibly strong quake because one of the Chinthes was tossed into the air landing on its side where it remains to this day. The paya itself was begun in 1790, when an army of thousands of slaves and prisoners started to erect the monument. Work stopped in 1819, when the king died. It was meant to be 150m high but only the first 50m (165 feet) were completed. To ascend to the flat top of the paya, one must climb barefoot up a stairway that can only be described as fallen rubble—the result of the same 1838 earthquake. Pam decided to climb it. I decided to have an iced tea and watch. She made it to the top but only with the help of others who were climbing with her. She said she almost fell at one point and was saved when a fellow climber grabbed her. I’m glad I didn’t try it.After Pam’s adventure, we walked to the site of the 90 ton Mingun Bell, which has an equally fascinating history. It was cast in 1808 to be hung in King Bodawpaya’s monument. The 1838 earthquake so weakened its supports that it was moved to its present location where it hangs just a few feet from the ground.It is about 4m high and has a 5m diameter at its lower lip. I actually crawled inside the bell and got some kids to hit it with a stick. It’s so massive, though, that the sound they made was very slight. It is reputed to be the world’s largest un-cracked bell, although, how it survived the earthquake is an unexplained wonder. Our next stop was what Bruce referred to as Myanmar’s Taj Mahal—the Hsinbyume pagoda. It was built by Prince Bagyidaw, in 1816 in memory of his senior wife, the Hsinbyume princess, who died unexpectedly. The Paya is meant to represent the Sulamani Paya which stands atop Mount Meru, the center of the universe in Buddhist cosmology. There are seven wavy terraces that represent the seven mountain ranges surrounding Mount Meru while representations of the five mythical monsters can be found in niches on each of the seven terraces. We were able to wander around the base of the paya but there were locked gates that kept us from ascending to all of the terraces, which was disappointing. It is a most beautiful monument and while not as impressive as the Taj Mahal, is beautiful in its own right.Since it was a holiday, the streets were crowded but we enjoyed walking down the main road of the town to get back to the docks while taking in the sights and sounds. There were many hawkers selling food, religious items, and souvenirs. We stopped at one stall and shared a Diet Coke while sitting in the shade of what I think was a banyan tree. We also bought some star fruit to munch on during the boat ride back across the river. I highly recommend visiting Mingun, not only because of the huge Paya but also to see the town and its people. The boat ride alone would make the trip worthwhile. Close
Written by Ed Hahn on 21 Jun, 2006
This was one of the most interesting stops we made during our whole trip to Myanmar. Not because of the attractions we saw but because of the rituals we were able to observe. Sagaing has an interesting history. In 1315 it was made the capitol…Read More
This was one of the most interesting stops we made during our whole trip to Myanmar. Not because of the attractions we saw but because of the rituals we were able to observe. Sagaing has an interesting history. In 1315 it was made the capitol of a Shan Kingdom after the fall of Bagan had thrown Central Myanmar into chaos. The capitol was moved across the river to Inwa (Ava) in 1364. It briefly regained its role as capitol from 1760 to 1764 before the capitol was moved to Inwa, then to Amarapura, back to Inwa, back to Amarapura before finally ending up in Mandalay. The people of that time evidently liked to move the capitol based on what the seers said.It is mostly known as a religious center and there are over 600 hundred pagodas, stupas, monasteries and nunneries in the area. Since we only had a half day we did not see nearly as many of the sites as we might have otherwise. The town was also full of pilgrims because this was a Holy day. We crossed the Ayeyarwaddy River on the Ava Bridge. The 16 span bridge was built by the British in the 1930s and is the only bridge in Myanmar that crosses the famous river. It is a beautiful bridge especially when viewed from Sagaing Hill. After a nice lunch at the Silver Inn restaurant overlooking the river, we ascended the hill.The topmost spot on the hill is the pavilion surrounding the Soon U Ponya Shin Paya, which was constructed in 1312. It is beautifully maintained and Pam and I were entranced with the 360° views. We also were fascinated to see images of the Buddha as a rabbit and as a frog. Our guide, Bruce, in his cynical way, pointed out that the frogs also serve as collection boxes. We also visited the Umin Thounzeh (30-caves). We found 30 identical Buddha images in a crescent shaped colonnade–very impressive. The hill has many covered walkways which lead from one religious site to another. I suspect just wandering these walkways would make for a fascinating adventure.We descended into the town which is interesting in its own right. We would have loved to wander around on a non-holiday. We did stop for a parade of very colorfully decorated horse-drawn carts filled with young women. Bruce explained that they were entering one of the nunneries that day and this was their last chance to let their hair down, so to speak, before they accepted their robes and shaved their heads. The women’s families followed in the dust of the carts. My camera picked this moment to malfunction so my photos of the entourage were streaked and unrecognizable.Bruce asked us if we wanted to see a rare religious ceremony in which the women of one of the nunneries present a delegation from one of the monasteries with the robes the monks will wear for the entire next year. It was evidently a big deal with many of the nunnery’s financial supporters in attendance. The Head of the monastery was also to make a speech. We readily agreed and headed for the nunnery which was up a hill just outside of town. When we arrived we were introduced to the Head Nun who was most friendly and explained through Bruce what was to happen. We watched from a small balcony next to the large ceremony room, which was full of nuns, patrons and a dozen monks sitting on a dais in the front of the room. We were the only tourists present and saw the whole ceremony. We didn’t understand everything that was going on and Bruce couldn’t fill us in as his talking would have been a distraction. Nevertheless, we were transfixed the entire ceremony. I was able to get a few photos when my camera decided to behave again. Maybe the improvement was a direct result of the atmosphere. The relationship of the nuns to the monks, that of complete subservience, was instructive and I think reflects the general Male–female relationships in Myanmar. I also saw how important people’s religion is to them at all levels of Myanmar society. Buddhism is such a gentle non-political religion that it is not surprising the generals running the country position themselves as devout Buddhists and also dare not cross any of the powerful clerics. This is not the repressive type of clerical power associated with Islam but one much more based on influence and piety. Most Buddhist monks, not all, of course, stay out of politics as, in their minds; politics has nothing to do with becoming enlightened. Even Bruce, the cynic, admitted on the ride back to Mandalay that the ceremony was impressive.Because of the religious holiday, children were out on the highway trying to stop vehicles so they could ask for money. They would actually tie a rope around a tree trunk and pull it tight as our car approached. We stopped a few times where the children were very young or had exceptional costumes. Elephants seemed to be the favorite, maybe because Buddha was born under the sign of the elephant. Most of the time, though, the driver accelerated and the kids loosened the rope at the last minute. If we had stopped for every group, we would have taken hours to get back to Mandalay.If you have the time and inclination, I would suggest you give Sagaing a full day and visit the Kaunghmudaw Pagoda, wander the walkways on Sagaing Hill and spend an hour or so just walking the streets of the town. Close
Written by alan_nesbit on 04 Feb, 2006
As far as I could tell, we were just about the only foreigners in Twante. We made an early start to take a ferry across the Yangon River, from where we took a ride in a bus/truck to our destination. As in Yangon, the number…Read More
As far as I could tell, we were just about the only foreigners in Twante. We made an early start to take a ferry across the Yangon River, from where we took a ride in a bus/truck to our destination. As in Yangon, the number of people who can take a bus is limited simply by the number who can hang on to the back when it’s full inside. Perhaps it’s just as well we had the best seats, in the front next to the driver. There wasn’t enough room for my legs, my head was pressed against the roof, and the door was held closed with a bit of cloth, but at least we had a seat each.
The first stop was the market, where we wandered around the stalls looking at the fruit and vegetables laid out in baskets on the ground, dried fish, and tethered poultry. We had been "adopted" when we arrived by a couple of young men with trishaws, who proved to be very friendly and helpful guides for the day, as far as their English would allow them.
Firstly, our trishaw drivers took us from the market to the potteries for which the town is known. They’re not like any pottery I’ve ever seen before, with the potters squatting on the rough mud floor of huts made with wooden frames and palm leaves. Our final destination was the Shwesandaw Paya. It’s not as grand as Shwedagon but an impressive structure to find in a small, dusty town.
The only things we trusted to eat in Twante were bananas. Drinking the tea we were offered was enough of a challenge--the cracked, grubby teacups didn’t inspire confidence.
And so back to Yangon. Our trishaw drivers arranged for us to be taken back in a small boat, two of us and a driver. Compared with other options, it was expensive, US$6 each, but it was a good way to watch life on the river.
Written by seethesun on 14 Oct, 2005
My fascination with Myanmar can be traced back to my days as a secondary school student, studying its historical ties with the British Empire, when its name was still Burma. No other country in Asia enthralled me as much as Myanmar. This was partly fuelled…Read More
My fascination with Myanmar can be traced back to my days as a secondary school student, studying its historical ties with the British Empire, when its name was still Burma. No other country in Asia enthralled me as much as Myanmar. This was partly fuelled by its hermit stance in the world map and so little of it being reported in our daily news. And, as I grew up, the fascination grew deeper. Having read Amitav Ghosh’s highly acclaimed novel "Glass Palace," I felt I couldn’t postpone my plans for visiting Myanmar. Never a fan of group tours, we initially tried to organize our own trip there, but Myanmar is not exactly a very friendly country for single travelers. We were met with roadblocks at every juncture. At the same time, one of the local travel agents was organizing its maiden tour to Yangon and gave away steep discounts. We thought, well, the end justifies the means. Myanmar has a population of 42 million and Yangon is home to 4 million people. The city itself seems to have trapped in a time warp. Decaying colonial buildings with a bad need of paint lined the roads and buses and cars that looked like a donation from WWII and overloaded tuk-tuks with people hanging precariously outside it formed our first impressions of Yangon. Just as our bus was approaching Nikko Hotel, we saw a line of school children walking back to their mud houses with decapitated zing roofs. Once upon a time, Myanmar was one of the richest countries in Asia, having the largest repository of precious stones in the world. During her glorious days, Rangoon was the most important port for ships plying between the Andaman Sea and South China Sea. Burma is a resource-rich country that suffers from government controls, inefficient economic policies, and abject rural poverty. The junta took steps in the early 1990s to liberalize the economy after decades of failure under the "Burmese Way to Socialism," but those efforts have since stalled and some of the liberalization measures have been rescinded. Burma has been unable to achieve monetary or fiscal stability, resulting in an economy that suffers from serious macroeconomic imbalances, including inflation and multiple official exchange rates that overvalue the Burmese kyat (CIA Factbook)Nevertheless, Yangon is rich with beautiful people who are ever ready to smile, and golden pagodas of temples peak in between colonial buildings and tree-lined boulevards. In this journal, I will try to give an account of what I saw, but I run into the danger of romanticizing things, as Myanmar is, after all, a very special place for me. The Lonely Planet guidebook and activists warn prospective travelers to weigh the pros and cons of visiting Myanmar before going. They claim that tourism dollars are channeled directly to the junta for more repressive activities. The way I look at it is, if this is true, from your shopping at the local markets or having meals at a local non-government run restaurant, at least some of our tourism money can benefit the locals directly. But, if you believe that you should not compromise your political ideals, then it is best not to visit Myanmar.Quick Tips and Suggestions
A visa is a must to enter Myanmar, and the government is very sticky about this. We found that applying through a reputed travel agent cuts off a lot of hassles. Myanmar currency is the kyat (pronounced chi-at), which is approximately 950 kyat to $1. Though hotels may have slightly more expensive rates, it’s still the better choice. Black markets are aplenty and the locals are only too keen to have your dollars. Credit cards are acceptable only at international hotels and shopping malls. It’s best to bring sufficient cash with you. Though it’s always more fun to explore destinations on your way, Myanmar is one country where joining a group tour with an English-speaking guide will be more rewarding. The best time to visit is during the months of October to February, when it is supposed to be cooler. Our trip was in June – smack in the middle of the hottest and wettest month. Local Myanmar cuisine is heavily influenced by Malay, Indian, and Chinese cooking. Expect a lot of curries and stir-fry’s in your meals. Do not drink straight from the tap, even at the hotel. Only drink bottled water. We had lots of charcoal pills on standby, and they were put to good use.
Best way to get around:
I can’t give many tips here as we traveled in a group in the luxury of air-conditioned bus and the comfort of having everything arranged. One thing - no matter how desperate you are, don’t tempt fate by hopping onto their local buses or tuk-tuks. As a matter of fact, Myanmar does not have personal insurance.
Written by Richard Cain on 04 Oct, 2004
Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is a city of four million people, but a bit of a contradiction. It sprawls over a large area, but the centre is quite compact. In places it is polluted and cramped, in others broad leafy boulevards provide space. The main streets…Read More
Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is a city of four million people, but a bit of a contradiction. It sprawls over a large area, but the centre is quite compact. In places it is polluted and cramped, in others broad leafy boulevards provide space. The main streets in the centre are laid out in a grid system containing many neglected British colonial buildings, from the grand Post Office to less grand shop fronts. The main roads are usually busy with plenty of smoke-belching buses, but also a significant proportion of new cars, horns honking constantly. However, there are quiet lanes nearby with old, five-storey apartment blocks reflecting their colonial heritage with names such as Godwin Mansions. Although many roads have changed names, there is still Strand Road containing the famous Strand Hotel, contemporary of Raffles, and you will still see faded street signs for the likes of Fraser Street.
The centre reminded me of India, not surprising since the British brought many Indians here - in 1930, half of Yangon's population was Indian. It is much less now but there is still the legacy of Indian restaurants and tea shops. The other striking thing about Yangon is not so surprising - the presence of a number of golden zedis - often placed within busy intersections. The most notable one of course is the Schwedagon Paya - the most sacred Buddhist site in the country and a magnet for locals and tourists alike. Built on a small hill to the north of the city, its golden form can be seen shining from some distance. There are four covered walkways going up the small hill, each packed with small stalls selling religious artifacts. But when you emerge into the light, you are immediately dazzled not just by the 100m tall zedi, but also an assortment of smaller zedis, temples, shrines, statues and pavilions that cluster around its base. A truly majestic place. Called dagobas in Sri Lanka, chedis in Thailand, stupas in India, they are essentially large, bell-shaped structures found at the centre of Buddhist temples.
Bagan is quite simply one of the most amazing sites in South East Asia. Rivaling, but quite different from, Angkor Wat. Where Angkor Wat has a number of very different temples spread wide, Pagan has a more compact, but somehow much more serene feel to it. A number of them attract worshippers, so they are still revered and not just tourist attractions like Angkor.
As you will see from the photos, Bagan is a small plain literally strewn with temples of all different shapes and sizes. Cycling past (the best way to get around) and exploring them you can appreciate them individually - the huge glorious temples soaring towards the sky and the small graceful zedis almost engulfed by the undergrowth. However, upon climbing one of the temple towers, you can then take in the entire scene - temples spreading wide in all directions. Simply amazing. A very special place - especially at sunset when these magnificent buildings take on the warm glow of the dying sun.
Kalaw is located in Shan State, which in turn constitutes nearly a quarter of the area of Myanmar. Half of the people in Shan State are ethnic Shan, the remainder Burmese, and other ethnic minorities. Because of its elevation most of the state is unsuitable for rice growing, but very suitable for poppy and, therefore, opium cultivation. It is in these areas that the Shan Rebel Army and Chinese opium warlords operate. Having said that, Kalaw itself is safe (at least I thought so). At 1,300m, it is pleasantly cool and an excellent place to go hiking amid pine forests, bamboo groves, and generally rugged mountain scenery. And that is why I went. Interestingly, Kalaw itself has a mixture of ethnicities including Nepalis - Gurkhas retired from British Military Service and a few of them have opened excellent curry houses.
Along with another traveller, I got in touch with a local guide and we went for a very pleasant 3-day hike into the mountains. We stayed in ethnic villages (Palaung and Pa-O tribes) and were lucky enough to happen upon a traditional wedding. One house we stayed at we shared with a wandering witch doctor, who dispensed his wisdom to a number of villagers who had come to consult him about various ailments. Another night we stayed at a monastery. It was interesting to note that these people used to cultivate opium, but had now successfully converted to other crops - in one case to mandarin oranges, which were absolutely delicious. A fuller description along with loads of photos of my trip and of others around the region can be found on my website: Wanderings Asia
Written by jemery on 31 Dec, 2002
This was a rough ride on the road to Mandalay.
To a serious rail enthusiast, Mandalay was obvious: an oft written-about destination in an exotic land, reachable by an overnight train that would let me avoid both an airline ticket and a hotel room. The schedule…Read More
This was a rough ride on the road to Mandalay.
To a serious rail enthusiast, Mandalay was obvious: an oft written-about destination in an exotic land, reachable by an overnight train that would let me avoid both an airline ticket and a hotel room. The schedule -- more than 14 hours to cover just 400 miles -- should have warned me that this wouldn’t be the most modern of trains. Still, I asked the travel agency to reserve private sleeping accommodations and, when they said they’d reserved the "best available compartment," I went for it.
OOPS! The "best available compartment" was the only two-bunk room in a car where all others slept four-to-a-room; on vinyl-covered benches one above the other. "Private accommodation" meant that I’d be sharing the room with my guide, rather than a total stranger.
The guide, a nine-year professional, offered to accept a reclining seat in the "upper class" coach and, because there might be no food service on the train, found an American-style deli counter with sandwiches massive enough to sustain us for the night. I bought a liter of surprisingly good wine, which he and I shared in my compartment as we rocked and rolled northward before he retired to his coach.
We were on rough, narrow-gauge track; a later daytime inspection of the line confirmed that it was, indeed, an unusually light rail, under-maintained. That said, the evening at this point was pleasant. Riding through the darkness with the room lights off and my elbow perched on the sill of an open window was incredibly relaxing despite the bouncing. Until I realized that (1) the bedding I’d expected was not coming around and (2) it was getting really cold. Foolishly forgetting how far north we were going, I’d left my winter clothes behind.
To be fair, my guide told me that the Yangon-Mandalay trip by road was probably just as rough as the rail journey. Given the privacy of a compartment and a reasonably soft bunk to lie on, I would probably have been quite comfortable had I the foresight to bring warm clothing. I’m sure I’d have gotten more sleep on the train than on my 14.5 hour flight to Asia from the US. The train was about two hours late into Mandalay, but there WAS coffee to be had in the morning.
Pubic toilets are always a concern in Southeast Asia. My car had two: one Asian style, one Western. Surprisingly, the Asian style was the cleaner; probably because it allowed a greater margin of error on a rocking train. The Western toilet had both seat and paper -- amenities found lacking in some Western countries I’ve visited. Ignore the freeloaders sleeping on the floor outside.
I did save money. My rail/sleeper fare was about US$33. One-way return airfare and a quality hotel room cost $190. Since I had an unused return rail ticket, the guide enjoyed MY private compartment going home.
Photographing railroad facilities is forbidden in Myanmar. So, I’m sharing photos of our pre-departure city tour.
Written by Eleven Shadows on 14 Nov, 2000
After a delicious meal of slightly spicy Shan State style noodles at Inle Inn, we took off on a 13.5 mile hike through some remote village nestled in the mountains flanking Inle Lake. We started at 7:45 in the morning, walking directly east of…Read More
After a delicious meal of slightly spicy Shan State style noodles at Inle Inn, we took off on a 13.5 mile hike through some remote village nestled in the mountains flanking Inle Lake. We started at 7:45 in the morning, walking directly east of Naungshwe.
The first thing we came across was the meditation cave. The cave had a monk who lived there, often living on donations of the surrounding village people, who would bring food to him. We walked barefoot around the cave, peering in dark, dank caves filled with bat guano and candles.
I wondered why we were crashing through brush. "Shortcut", our guide offered, as we continued, our legs rubbing against itchy plants. Whenever a guide on a long hike says that we are taking a shortcut, it usually ends up being more obnoxious... The guide, and for that matter, many of the villagers, seemed quite amused with the funny-looking foreigners traipsing through their villages, so I asked our guide what exactly they (and him) found amusing specifically. "The long noses. The pale skin and big shoes." As I don't have light skin, I was clear of one of them. "And the shorts. Villagers here don't wear shorts."
The houses that we saw were primarily made of bamboo, and usually raised to avoid flooding and animals. We were invited in to a couple of houses along our day-long hike. They usually had posters of Burmese and Asian movie stars, sometimes cut out of magazines.
When we finally walked past the meditation center and down a long wide dirt road to the boats docked below, everything around us was bathed in a beautiful golden light. Contrasting with most of our trip in Burma, where it had been grey and overcast, this was especially beautiful.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner, leader of the National League for Democracy, and the democratically elected leader of Myanmar. After being under house arrest for six years, she now has limited freedom but cannot leave Yangon. Her father, General Aung San, was…Read More
Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner, leader of the National League for Democracy, and the democratically elected leader of Myanmar. After being under house arrest for six years, she now has limited freedom but cannot leave Yangon. Her father, General Aung San, was the first leader of Burma’s independence movement and was assassinated in 1947.
While returning from the Martyrs Day events at the Arzani Mausoleum commemorating General Aung San’s death, we saw a large crowd outside a building adorned with large red banners with Burmese words and English words saying "National League for Democracy". Intrigued, we wandered over and were told that Aung San Suu Kyi would be arriving in fifteen minutes. The crowd enthusiastically waved us in, and we were seated in white resin seats just behind ambassadors from the United States, Britain, and Japan, and in front of members of the international press. Many cameras warily followed our every move.
"The Lady" arrived to much commotion. Several speakers gave speeches in Burmese, and Burmese literature was handed to us. Paula managed to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi briefly – an incredible opportunity, given her limited freedom.
After the meeting, as the gravity of our situation continued to sink in, we walked out with one of the U.S. embassy employees. As we rode away in our taxi, a man in a white car began following us. We changed directions several times, but the car continued following. We finally asked the nervous driver to drop us off at the U.S. Embassy, where we reported to the Marine on duty that we were being followed. He said that others had reported being followed before, and he didn’t seem terribly alarmed. We walked out to an expensive hotel, getting drinks to calm our nerves, and emerged two hours later. We walked around and were certain that we were no longer being followed.
The next day, Paula left. However, her phone call from Singapore several hours later left us in total dread. She revealed that the airport officials, who had her name on a list, had searched her belongings and had confiscated her film, books, and cassettes. In what seemed like a futile attempt to escape with at least a few rolls of our film, I purchased ten rolls of film, shot one or two pictures, and rewound the film. I then placed these rolls in my lead-lined bag as a decoy. Lisa and I hid the rest of the film in every crevice of our backpacks, including dirty socks, aspirin bottles, shirts, shoes, artwork, and even a couple in my shoes. We had nothing of value, nothing inflammatory, and felt odd that we had to hide such innocuous pictures from the military. I locked my backpack several different ways and hoped for the best. However, we needn’t have worried. We arrived at the airport, checked our luggage in, sat in the waiting room for almost two hours, boarded the plane, and took off for Calcutta, India without incident. Few people have ever been so happy to be in Calcutta.
Postscript: A month after we left Myanmar, the military prevented Aung San Suu Kyi from going to an NLD youth rally only 30 km from Yangon. Aung San Suu Kyi remained in her car for about 11 days—the fourth such stand-off in the last ten years—before finally being forced to return to her house. The military then raided the NLD headquarters, carting away documents.
Written by sbmalik on 22 Aug, 2006
Myanmar-Buddha’s landMyanmar in Southeast Asia is bordered between India, Bangladesh on the west, China on North/Northeast and Laos, Thailand on South/Southeast. The country with a population of 60 millions is an ancient civilization. You can see Buddha’s pagodas in various form and sizes all over…Read More
Myanmar-Buddha’s landMyanmar in Southeast Asia is bordered between India, Bangladesh on the west, China on North/Northeast and Laos, Thailand on South/Southeast. The country with a population of 60 millions is an ancient civilization. You can see Buddha’s pagodas in various form and sizes all over the country, glimmering with golden domes. YangonThe capital city of Yangon is the only modern town in Myanmar, somewhat comparable in Hotels, Transport etc. with cities of neighboring countries. Yangon (old Rangoon) has a population of 4 millions. International calls can be made but connecting with Internet is almost impossible, except may be in 5 star hotels. Food is not much of a problem in Yangon or other towns as you can get Chinese, Indian food according to your taste. We spent 3 weeks in Myanmar in May/June 2005. The weather in summers can be very hot/humid, with temperatures up to 36 degree C and high level of humidity. The places to visit in Yangon include the largest pagoda the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. The pagoda is so tall that it is visible from any place in Yangon. Sule Pagoda, Kandawgyi Pagoda and Myanmar Gems Museum are other places worth of visit.Gems and jewelry fitted with rubies, jade stones are worth a buy. Scott Market in downtown Yangon or the Gems Museum is the place to buy gems. We stayed in Traders Hotel, a modern 21 storey hotel with all facilities, coffee shop, restaurants, business centre, pool, gym etc. located in downtown. BagoWe went to visit Bago which is 80 kms from Yangon. Bago is a small town having the famous Shwethalyaung Buddha (Reclining Buddha) Pagoda. It also has the renovated Kanbaw Za Thardi Royal Palace & Museum. Shwemawdaw Pagoda is another worship place to be seen. You can spend a day visiting from Yangon. MandalayWe then went to Mandalay, located 600 kms north of Yangon in central Mynamar. Mandalay is the second largest city with population of half a million. The famous Maha Myat Muni Pagoda, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Mandalay Palace are worth a visit. We also saw the tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal ruler of India who was imprisoned by British in the then Burma. Bagan A 2 days visit to Bagan from Mandalay was very interesting. Although it was quite hot, the 4 hours drive in AC Bus over some good and some potholed roads was enjoyed by our group. We had fresh palm extract juice (call it wine), palm sweets by the road side. Bagan has many historical remains. It has over 4000 ancient monuments. Bagan is the core of archaeological zone in Asia. Ananda Pagoda, Gawdawpalin Pagoda, Dhammayangyi Pagoda, Shwesandaw Pagoda, Bagan Museum are worth and very nice to see in cool evening or early morning time. Bagan is located on the bend of Ayeyarwaddy River. Visitors should buy a map in Bagan to be able to travel independently and decide on which pagodas/sites to see. Good hotels and restaurants are available. Buy hanicrafts and art objects from authorised shops. Insist on receipt to show to officials especially at Airport. We also visited the famous Mount Popa near Bagan. Popa is an extinct volcano. The peak is over 1500 mtrs high from sea level. Mt. Popa is considered to be the abode of Mynamar Nats or Powerful Spirits. Climb to volcanic hill is of 777 steps via a winding route. The hill top provides picturesque view of pagodas, temples and buddhist monasteries.Popa has a 9 hole golf course and other facilities in the resort.Myanmar is a poor country. People are religious, praying in large numbers at various pagodas. Most of the men spend some period in his life as a Buddhist monk. Flights are available connecting Bangkok, Delhi. Malaysia, Qatar, China Airways are also operating. Stay in Mynamar is affordable. Close