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Inle Lake in Myanmar


Inle Lake hotel and spa

Our lodge on Inle Lake

Inle Lake is a very beautiful, tranquil and special place to visit in Burma or Myanmar. There are many hotels on the lake, maybe the best Myanmar has to offer. We stayed at the Inle lakeResort and Spa. It was off season and we were almost alone in a big resort and spa, so the prices were discounted for massages, which is always a big plus.

Even in the off season, there is a lot to see. Of course everywhere you go,you go by boat.

The lake area supports about 70,000 people. Many of them are fishermen. They fish in an unusual manner.

fishing in Inle lake

The fishermen stand in their small canoes and row with their feet. They are very stable as they throw and retrieve the nets. This guy was so good he was even able to smoke while doing this feat.

The crucial element of this talent is using the toes properly.

These guys are collecting the weeds growing in the lake for use as fertilizer.

Every year in September/October there is a three week event  called Hpaung Daw U Festival.

Included in this festival are races between villages in foot paddled boats.  Also during this festival the Royal Barge is brought out of storage and sailed from village to village.

This is a big deal to the inhabitants of the villages around the lake. The journey of the barge takes up almost the entire three weeks. Each town turns out their best as the barge visits them.

One year, a tragedy struck. A storm hit the lake and the barge sank. The real tragedy was that when this barge does the tour, it carries five Buddhas encrusted with gold leaf. Only four were recovered right away, the fifth turned up in a fishing net years later. This is a photo of a painting in a temple alongside the lake depicting the tragedy.

This is a memorial in the lake to mark the spot where the barge sank.

Buddhas encrusted with gold

Buddhas encrusted with gold leaf? Yup. In fact there is so much gold on these things they look more like a lump of mashed potatoes than Buddhas. Here I am adding to the treasure and having a spiritual moment.

There are numerous villages on the lake. Each one has a different industrious specialty.

In this village, they rolled cheroots and cigars.

In this village they had the Temple of Jumping Cats. The cats were trained by a monk to jump through a hoop. The monk is long dead, but the tradition survives. I canot get my cat to jump off the couch, so I am amazed by this. Of course I am easily amazed.

Burmese cats

In between two villages was a beautiful, very large sanctuary dedicated to the restoration of the Burmese cat to Burma. About ten years ago a wealthy man found out there were no more Burmese cats in Burma. So he went all over the world to find pure bred Burmese cats. They have a playground better than most grammar schools, a huge house to roam. They breed here, but they do not sell the cats. So if you want to see a Burmese cat in Burma, this is the place

Another village is dedicated to weaving lotus stalks into cloth. This is how they extract the fiber from the stalk. The emphasis is on quality not quantity. It takes many man hours (woman hours really) to get enough fiber to weave.

Weaving lotus cloth is much more complicated than cotton or silk, because the strands they have to work with are quite short and must be tied together.

Mary Ann owns more scarfs than I ever owned Grateful Dead T shirts, so I knew she would buy one. All those woman hours do not come cheap, and I imagine the village ate well for a few days after we left.

There were villages dedicated to silver work, paper making and aqua culture. We visited them all.

There are five community market towns surrounding the lake. The market moves from town to town every day. This is the parking lot where we went.

On the way we passed this vendor taking his baskets to market.

Because we were just visitors we had to park a ways away and use this bridge to cross the water to get to the market town.

It was a long walk from the water to the town. We saw many people who had shopped early returning home.

Look closely, you will see my wife “inspecting” a load of bamboo floor mats heading to market.

Traditional clothes are still worn, especially by the women. The Burmese know hats!

nuts in Burma or Myanmar

Nuts and such for sale.

Spices. What did I say about hats?

If you ever go to Burma or Myanmar, be sure to go to Inle. When you do, be sure to see the lost temples.

There is one area on the lake where (in relative terms) they recently discovered hundreds of small temples that the jungle had consumed. Most of them are visible now, and some are restored. It is a great place for a walk.

One more quirky thing to show you.

Whenever you leave the main body of water to go near a village or a lodge, you must go over a speed bump! I have never seen a speed bump on water before.

All good things must come to an end.

That is it for Inle. Thanks for reading please hit share to send this to all your close friends on FB, and if you get truly adventurous, make a comment.

Burmese Days Part 3, Mandalay

For the Temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea;

            On the road to Mandalay. R Kipling

We did not take “the road to Mandalay” we flew. This time I think it was Asian Wings Airline, another start-up with two planes. Same process as before including the cool little stickers you had to wear in the waiting room.

Mandalay (which avoided the name change fad) is a port city on the Irawaddy River which starts in the Himalaya and runs the length of  Burma. Although it is a bustling city, it retains a certain charm, maybe it is the name.

This is a view from atop Mandalay Hill, which of course has another temple. You can see the busy port and part of the city. However, Kipling’s poem is an example of artistic license, you cannot see the sea. In other verses of the poem he says China is on the other side of the river. Well, not yet anyway.

Mandalay has a thriving Jade business.  We went to the Jade cutting area of town, which is three big square blocks and busy as a county fair on the 4th of July.

The jade, all mined in Burma, arrives in big blocks that look like normal old rocks to a guy like me.

These stones then get sawed into more manageable sized pieces. Big operations like this were all over the area, not just this one.

Then the pros go to work. They take a long time with high intensity lights and other vision enhancement tools to decide if a stone is worth further work, and if so where to cut it. Jade has relative values according to color and they work hard to get a part of a stone with pure dark green isolated for the best jewels.

Some jade beads in process.

Garbage jade! This where they dispose of the parts of the stones they do not want. I asked the guide if they would mind if I took a piece. He laughed and told me to go ahead, it is garbage. So I rooted through the pile and came up with a nice jade soap holder for the bathroom. I think that when tourism picks up in Myanmar, that will be harder to do!

Another Mandalay must see is the largest monastery in town.

We got there on laundry day. There were monk’s robes hanging out to dry all over the campus. I say campus because this is not just a monastery it is also a school.

It is a place where young novice monk in training go to learn the lessons of the Buddha before they can wear the maroon robes. There is a very big ceremony in a family when they send a son off to become a monk. Family, freinds, neighbors all come and give gifts. But some of the kids just do not make it. I have had at least three guides who lasted as little as two days, or a couple weeks. They could not take the long periods of fasting. In this picture they are standing in line for lunch with their bowls.

It is a very longline. This is a big complex. Women come from other parts of Manadaly and cook the meal in a huge kitchen. All the food comes from money donated by the community This is the place where the military government killed a bunch of monks, which set off the revolt that resulted in a democratic government.

The Source!

In the last few years of extensive travels in Buddhist Asia, we have seen more Buddha statues than it would be possible to count. In  Mandalay we saw something that I never expected to see.

Our guide, wh0 by now had tossed the itinerary away because he knew we wanted the bizarre stuff took us to a BUDDHA FACTORY!

The Buddhas are carved without much detail and without faces, until someone buys them and specifies what they want. Of course I was irreverent enough to ask our guide “If I bought this guy here, could I have MY face carved on it? ” I was not sure what the look on HIS face meant.

Then he pointed at this Buddha as if to say “put your face on this one.”

Mandalay Gold

Gold leaf is a very big thing in the Buddhist world. It is a common offering to Buddha statues to apply gold leaf to them. Now we got to see how it was made.

Of course you start with real gold. This was from a mine in the north of Myanmar.

Then the gold is melted, formed, pounded, stretched, pounded and pounded again until it is thinner than newspaper. It is then cut into squares about 2×2″. That little piece of gold from the last photo makes dozens of these sheets used for offerings. You can see them in this photo. The value added to the gold is probably five fold.

OK, that is it for this post, but we are not done with Mandalay yet. Next post we visit Mignon which is a community across the Irawadddy river which has among other things, the world largest brass bell! Stay tuned, share this with a friend, and thanks for reading.

Burmese Days, Part 2, BAGAN

We left Rangoon by air. We could have taken the train, but our time was limited.

It does not seem to matter which airline you book your flight on in Burma. All our domestic flights were booked on Air Mandaly.

We got to the Yangon airport early. At first it was a sea of confusion, but our guide assured us we were in the right line, although it was definitely NOT Air Mandalay. They took our bags and weighed them on an honest to god butchers scale, with a big hook and everything. They put old style tags on our luggage that read NYU. Huh?  Then they treated us nicely and gave us actual paper boarding passes that said NYU, and then they put stickers on us. Apparently we were on Air KBZ. It was too early in the morning to really care.

The stickers we were wearing were for the airline people to tell who was on their plane. There were maybe three flights leaving within the half hour. We all shared one waiting room. When it was time for our flight, a guy walked around the waiting room holding a sign like a pageboy in an old Manhattan hotel. He found people with the right sticker and pointed us to the gate. In the end, a very efficient, if 1950’s, system.

This was the breakfast served on Air KBZ. I thought it looked like fish food and I did not touch it.

When we got on the plane I read the airline magazine and it told me that Air KBZ has only two planes (ATR 72-500s). The airline is only two years old, but they must have bought this plane from the Bosnian air force. It was sort of beat up. I looked at their destinations, and nothing said they went to Bagan. I mentioned this to Mary Ann in my least possible “worried about it” voice. She gave me that look she does often that says “fool”. She pointed out that the name of the airport we were headed to was Nyaung U Airport hence the designator NYU. That was not fair because the guide had explained all that to her, not me. But OK, I’m cool now. When we arrived at NYU the plane parked  in the middle of nowhere. I of course had visions that a coup had happened, but in a few minutes we were safely in the hands of our next guide. You cannot leave the airport without paying a US$10 fee. Not an airport tax, no no. This was an entrance fee to the archeological site, which the airport sits on the edge of.

The I Am Sam club was there. They were Korean, but that is all I really understood. I just thought they were cute.

So we started our drive through Bagan. Our guide had grown up there and was very proud of his ancient city.

Every horizon is spotted with ancient stupas.

Normal life, just as it has for a thousand years continues underneath the temples and stupas, and the tourists.

I hope by now you are getting the idea that Bagan is a very special place. It was the first capital of a unified area now called Myanmar. It was very prosperous from 900 A.D. to 1300 A.D. Then the Mongolians, under Genghis Khan arrived. They laid waste to everything but the temples and stupas.

I feel incapable of describing Bagan in any form. Let me say this, I have been to Machu Pichu a couple of times, the pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal, the Vatican and none of them impressed me as much as Bagan. I have a few more photos to share.

This is one of the major temples in Bagan, just one. There are many. Counting temples and Stupas, there are close to three thousand archaeological sites.

Inside the temple of a thousand Buddhas. There were two layers of hallways each with these alcoves containing Buddhas.

Some of the temples have frescoes depicting the lives of Buddha.

Closely look at these next three photos of the same Buddha. This photo was taken up close to him. You can see Buddha is frowning.

Step back twenty feet or so and the same Buddha is now smiling.

Step back another 20 feet and Buddha is still smiling, only now he is glowing and his eyes take on a shine.

This Buddha is  just one example of the magic of Bagan. I have not been to Angkor Wat in Cambodia yet. I hear it too is pretty special. But…EVERYONE goes to Angkor Wat. It gets some amazingly huge amount of tourist traffic every year. Bagan is still sparsely visited, so see it now!

Thanks for reading. Please share with a friend on FB or on your porch, but share it. I crave the attention!

Next post, the beautiful Inle Lake, so stay tuned.

Burmese Days, Part One

Burmese Days is the title of a fun book written by George Orwell. People all over Burma try to sell it to you like tiger balm in Kathmandu.

Orwell is lucky he lived and wrote when he did. Ever since a Peking Duck became a Beijing Duck, Asian name changes have caused confusion, dismay, and sold a lot of new globes. I cannot imagine titling a book Myanmar Days. Or a blog post for that matter. My wife was trying to be politically correct and use  the new name, but she kept saying  Miramar. Hillary Clinton was in the country a couple months ago and she just called it “your country”. So welcome to Burma.

My first stop in Rangoon, I bought a copy of Burmese Days and a cheroot and some little girl painted my face. Traveling, can’t beat it!

English: State seal of Myanmar adopted in 2008.

English: State seal of Myanmar adopted in 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The only airport to get into Burma is in Yangon. This is the city that was Rangoon. Those international 3 letter acronyms used by airlines  for cities change slower then maps, Yangon is still RGN, just like Ho Chi Minh city is still SGN. You can fly into Mandalay (no name change there) but only from China.

As you might know, Burma has just recently become a democracy. It had a rather oppressive military dictatorship since the late 80’s. People put up with it until the military killed a bunch of Buddhist monks, and then they picked up sling shots (really) and revolted. The dictatorship was only recognized by the Chicoms, who have exploited Burma’s natural gas reserves and built a pipeline to China. Every other country, and the financial world as well, refused to deal with the dictatorship.  Consequently, there is not a single, not one, ATM in the entire country. Beyond that, you cannot even use a credit card anywhere. That means a tourist has to enter the country with enough cash to last the entire trip. The currency is a Kyat, luckily pronounced “chat”. While we were there, the exchange rate was 865 chats to 1 US$. Just recently they introduced a 5000 kyat note, thank you Buhdda! Tourists before us had to carry enough 1000 kyat notes around to get by. Do the math. That is a lot of paper to trek around with. However, they, like everyone else in the world, love the greenback.  So if you go, bring US$. And bring brand new ones! If there is much as a inkspot on a bill, or god forbid, a crease in a bill, no one will take it. Mary Ann tried to tip a porter with a US$1 bill. He inspected it and refused it. OK, no tip for YOU!

Tourism is the first chance Burma has to bring in foreign money. So, you see these signs everywhere, even as big billboards. They seem to work. the Burmese are very warm and kind. Yes of course they have hawkers at the tourist sites, but they are respectful.

So we arrived in Yangon, Rangoon, whatever. We were met by our tourist agency Myanmar Shalom. I thought Shalom must be a Burmese word, but no. The agency is owned by a gentleman named Sammy  Samuels who is one of the last 16 Jews in Burma. As you might expect, he brings in a lot of tourists from Israel. We found him on the net. His prices were extremely good, and it turns out the guides he hires are first rate.

The first place a guide wants to show you in Rangoon, is this amazingly beautiful temple. It is really a great place to visit at night, because the faithful come here to do rituals at the different staions that relate to the day of the week you were born. In Buddhism, there are eight days in a week. Wednesday is split into before and after noon. People born before noon on a Wednesday, like me, are kind, slow to anger, and write great blogs.

I think this was taken in Rangoon. I included it here because I like it, I hope you do too.

Yangon, until recently was the capitol of Myanmar. When the revolt against the military started, they freedom fighters used motorcycles to strike and run. So, motorcycles were banned in Yangon, except for the police and the military. These super Tuk Tuks are now mass transit!

When Myanmar moved the capitol, they simply abandoned big buildings that were once ministry offices, and had been since English colonial times. So right now, there are quite a few beautiful colonial buildings standing empty. A couple are being converted to hotels.  One ofthe buildings is not so fortunate . The head honcho of the ministry occupying it was being investigated for corruption, so he lit the building on fire. When the fire department arrived, he bribed them to not put out the fire. He went to jail for bribing the fire department.

Chapter two of Burmese Days will cover Bagan, which is quite simply one of the most amazing places I have ever been. Historically, spiritually, and architecturally, it rivals Machu Pichu and the Taj. So stay tuned. Please share this with your FB friends (all you have to do is click on a button, and type “read this” ) and I will appreciate it!

Posting From My Ipad. Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Borneo and Thailand

Please be understanding about my posting for the next five weeks. I love my IPad, but it is a bit difficult to type with two thumbs instead of two fingers. Also, the WordPress apps for the IPad are seriously demented.
Mary Ann and I are off to Kathmandu on Friday. We are going there for two strategic reasons. Kathmandu is one of only three places where you can catch a flight to Bhutan. Only one airline, Druk Air, flies into Paro, Bhutan.  If you want a good scare, go to YouTube and search for “Real Paro Bhutan Landing” or just click here. I cannot believe I will be on a Druk Air flight making that landing in just a few days. I have landed in La Paz Bolivia, and Bocas Del Toro Panama, both less than comfortable situations, but this one is rated the most dangerous landing on the planet. It is visual only, no instruments and weather is constantly sketchy. All the trip planners say to build in an extra day or two in case your flight cannot land or take off, so we have.
The other strategic reason is that Bhutan seriously limits the number of tourists at any given time and we know a great Nepalese guide who was able to get us the entrance visas.
Bhutan is an official bucket list item. There are many things to see there, including the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, which you should google to believe, or just gander at this.

They say that you should acclimate to the altitude before you hike to this place. There are three ways to get there. Hike, ride a horse 2/3 of the way, of fly on the back of a mythical tigress. That last one is probably a budget buster.

After Bhutan we are going to Burma (Myanmar if you must) which also just reopened to tourism quite recently. How recently?? There is not a single ATM in the entire country. We will float down a river to Mandalay (which also has a new name,,duh, I dunno what) and see many spots that they want to turn into tourist haunts ASAP. I am just as glad to get there before the drunk Russians.
Then Borneo. Hell, I know nothing about Borneo. The tour agent told us to bring leech socks. Sounds like fun!
After that we are going to Thailand to try to find a place to retire. We think we found a good candidate. Inexpensive, on the beach, good expat community and excellent health care. We will do a week of due diligence. One good thing about Thai law is that foreigners cannot buy land, so even if we think we love it, then we don’t, we are not stuck with a place we cannot sell.
Stay tuned for posts about riding a Yak and other nomadic pursuits! Share this with anyone that you want to convince you know someone crazier than they are.
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