Dec 2016 - Jan 2017
Over the Christmas 2016 and New Year 2017, Caxton, Edmund and I explored Myanmar, particularly Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangon for 11 days. To me, as the country just opened up, the experience in Myanmar is different from other countries. Initially I felt like the country is so raw, then I got enlightened that this rawness is the authenticity of Myanmar which had not yet been destroyed by tourism. Then I really cherish this experience. Thanks!

Here we are in front of Aung San Suu Kyi's home on University Avenue. The location wasn't marked on any local map, but definitely a place all foreigners and locals would visit. To prep for the trip, we all watched "The Lady" to understand the recent history of Myanmar.

  Mandalay - Christmas Eve 2016

We only scheduled one day in Mandalay, so we visited only U-Bein Bridge at Amarapura, appr. 30 min taxi from Mandalay city center. A private taxi for the day is around 12k Kyat (or USD8). Built in 1850, the bridge is 1.2 km and is likely the oldest and longest teakwood bridge.

During monsoon season, water level can reach just a feet under the walking platform of the bridge. December, being the dry season, the river narrowed down to only 200m wide.

Watching the sun set has definitely slowed down the pace of life. I didn't apply for internet network, so my heart had already escaped city life on the first day of the trip. Life's been so peaceful.

Our Christmas Eve dinner was at Mingulabar. "Mingulaba" means Hello in Myanmar. Myanmar has lots of vegetable dishes. Tea leave salad is their special. As the country is close to India, curry is amongst their national dish. Myanmar dish also comes with dozen side dishes mainly of vegetables with various spice or sour flavour. This meal cost us around 10k Kyat (USD 7) p.p. Honestly, this meal is amongst the best Myanmar meals we had for the whole trip.

The first Myanmar I chatted on the trip, who seated beside my on the flight to Mandalay. He is the 3rd generation Chinese in Myanmar whose grandfathers were first fighting Japan during the WWII and then escaped the Chinese civil war to Mandalay. He is working in Bangkok for trade with China as Myanmar has not yet developed the logistics and economy for trading yet. Yet, it has been improving since opening up in 2010.
View from our hotel at central area of Mandalay. It was the capital of Myanmar. To me, the city isn't touristy; it's just a place for ordinary people to live. Yet I can sense the kindness of the local people. As I wore a Christmas hat, a mother saw me, then shook my hand and wish us Merry Christmas. We were so touched.

On Christmas Day, we took a 20 seat mini-bus which cost us 9k Kyat (USD7) p.p. for a 5 hour ride to Bagan. As luggage and backpacks were put under our seats and on the walkway, the bus was quite packed. Thru out the journey, there were street vendors selling us fruits, eggs, candies. If possible, buy from them so money channel into the local families.
Bagan - Christmas Day to December 27, 2016

In an ancient city of Bagan, which dates back to the 9th/10th century, witnessing the sun rise over the ancient monuments has pacified our worries and purified our hearts. The moment when the night turns from darkness into light was magnificent. We woke up at 5:20 in the morning, left our hotel at Old Bagan at 5:30, reached Shwesandaw Pagoda at 5:45 and found our front row seats at the 3rd/4th level of the pagoda at 5:55. The night was still dark then, whilst the moon light was still present. It was like 15C, not too cold, and we just waited for the sky to turn bright.

Around 7, the first ray of the sun appeared and pierced into our eyes. The ray wasn't too strong so we could still look at the sun directly. It's red light and slowly turned into orange. The mist from the ground also became more visible. Yet I didn't have the fresh morning smell of the wood. Perhaps, Bagan was at dry season.

Around 7:15, hot air balloons started to rise from north-east (Nyaung-U), passing through the field, approaching the south (New Bagan), which had ornamented the sky of the Old Bagan. The scene was just chilled and peaceful. During the peak travel season, hot air balloon ride needs to be booked months in advance, costing around US$350 including breakfast on the ride. Too bad I was on a budget travel. Next time. Haha. FYI, the temple in the picture is Dhamma-yan-gyi Pahto Temple, the biggest temple in Bagan.

One the first day of the Bagan trip, we all bought Myanmar traditional man wear (Longyi). Wearing pants is actually too hot; wearing shorts result in sun burn. A dress is then a goldilocks, airy and keeping our legs breathe. Not many place on earth males can wear skirts without awkward glances. Let us explore our freedom. haha. Behind us is the Gu-byauk-gyi Temple.

One of the Bagan days, we traveled in style on e-bike. It's my first attempt. Initially travelling at snail speed, I prided myself for passing a normal bike! Ridiculous! Whilst I reached 25 km/h, I was satisfied. Tried it, experienced it. Happy. On the other day, we hired a taxi, costing 45k Kyat or USD35. Actually we stayed at Old Bagan, so everywhere was under a 10-20 min ride. E-bike adventure shall be fine. .

Dhamma-yan-gyi Pahto Temple - the biggest temple at Bagan.
 Inside the temple are four huge Buddha with one facing each side. Shoes and socks are not allow in all temples and pagodas, so be careful of rocks and dirt. Sparrows (or bats) live inside this temple, and I did step on their wastes... it's an experience, an experience. Be warned on the smell too...

Thousand years ago families building their temples with bricks while houses with wood. With the magic of time, all left are green green lawn and these small temples and religious monuments. It was a pleasure to walk through history.

180 degree view of the Old Bagan. A dynasty was built here 1,000 years ago, yet lasted for two hundred years and declined into no settlement. There were only three major dynasties rose up in Myanmar prior to the colonial period, yet they just faded out into non-settlement. The dynasties were not continuous. I guess this region really upheld Buddhist philosophies to disregard fame and power and to live a benevolent and peaceful life.

Anada Temple - the most squarely proportional and artistically structure temple at Bagan

Inside all temples are the same with different forms and styles of Buddha statues

The Anada Temple was built under white sandstone or marble. It's unique in the area.

Other tourists requesting picture with us >o<

Shwe-zi-gon Pagoda
Old Bagan is an ancient district of monuments, while Nyaung-U is the 10 min ride nearby living residential town. This pagoda at Nyaung-U is still been used by the locals.
The locals like to stick gold leave on Buddha

Different spires
Some temples surrounding the pagoda depict the life of Siddhartha becoming Buddha

U-pali-thein Temple well preserves 1,000 years old wall painting of the life of Buddha
After visiting 7 temples/pagodas, I realized they are all the same. The best way to enjoy Bagan would be sitting at top of pagoda...
overlooking the vast clear blue sky, savouring the greeneries, and counting the thousands of spires in the area   
Then one of the enjoying moments of Bagan is to witness the sun setting over thousands of pagodas

We stayed at Bagan Thande Hotel at Old Bagan, which King Edward VIII stayed when he visited Bagan. Our suites can look over the Aye Yarwaddy River. Looking out the window had just calmed my heart and had me in serene. I'd looked at this view to write some of my postcards to friends and family.

Myanmar puppet shows

Myanmar harp performance at our hotel
Painting vendor at temples

Selling puppets
The Lady. Picture taken at The Moon, a local famous "Be kind to animals" vegetarian restaurant

Myanmar tradition to apply grinded Thanaka tree bark paints on face as sun block
Picture with the local boys

Renovating Su-la-ma-ni Pahto Temple
Street vendors at the Old Bagan pier

I tried and bought some home. I am not accustomed to the taste, but gotta try to know the difference
Inle Lake - December 28-30, 2016

We hired a taxi for a 9 hours ride from Bagan to Nyaungshwe, a town beside the Inle Lake. It cost 150k Kyat (USD110) and the last 5 hours was wiggly going through the mountain district. There are direct internal flight, but too bad I forced myself to travel in budget to experience the backpack traveling life style. Anyhow. Inle Lake is a village area. It's a sight of how the locals live.
  Inle Lake used to be just a lake surrounded by normal villagers living a normal life. Yet the region has gained popularity by tourists and 5 day-markets had been set up on the villages surrounding the lake. The markets change location each day so there will be business for all villages. On the day which we were there, we visited Ywama Village which had a market selling scarf; while the main attraction here were these women from Padaung Village (8 hours boat and 2 hours trek from Inle Lake near Thailand border) who wear brass neck coils and nick-named "long neck ladies" or "giraffe women". They started wearing the coils since 5 years old. The neck coil may be for ornamental purpose, yet it may make them look un-attractive so these women are protected from being captured as slaves by other tribes. Nowadays modernization has kept the younger Padaung ladies refrained from wearing ring coils as the coils are really heavy and deforming the neck. Yet this unique ethnic identity helps them generate tourist income. So don't pay them money for the sake of their neck; buy their scarf for the sake of their efforts.  

Jumping cat monastery, a monastery with cats freely roaming inside

Me playing the traditional Myanmar harp

The local houses are built on stilts and boats are the major mean of transportation

Other long neck tribe ladies

Statue made from real buffalo teeth

In Paw Kone Village is for weaving cloth

These threads were made from lotus stem fibres
Authentic traditional stilt houses. Aung San Suu Kyi's government actually encouraged travellers not to join tour and should explore Myanmar on their own so money can be channelled into different local families.
With some modern modification

Floating garden. Mainly serves as barrier
Water way is their road. Each village has its gate. Bamboos will be raised at night to close the road

More advance villages have bridges to connect cluster of stilt houses
  Our boat men for one of the days, a 15 years old handsome boy and his 10 years old brother
He is handsome. It cost us 20k Kyat (USD 15) for a boat for 8 hours. They also get commission from our purchases. After we left, we saw they had to pay the agent and the lease of the boat.
A cluster of performing Inle Lake fishermen strike poses for tips. Yet we were more interested on the real Inle Lake fishermen -->
Water at village isn't as clear as in middle of the lake

The front row seat is a wind breaker. Be warned

Connecting the world

Boys bathing...
Nam Hu Village, a famous floating market with 5 heavily-gold-covered Buddha statues

This island of pagodas are more like tombs
Cigar market. Smoking fragrance cigar

Edmund bought a spoon made from shell as a present for Tino. In Yangon we realized it is imported...
Jewellery market. Ruby, sapphire and pigeon blood gems are famous in Myanmar

The tiny blue gemstone (star sapphire) costs around USD300. Sorry I have no knowledge on such

On the second and third day we explore the Inle Lake area by bike and on foot to see the real Inle Lake villages. The exploration of Inle Lake area had me experienced the meaning of "nothing" (本来无一物). There was no tourism at Inle Lake and the touristy areas around lake was a creation. I was initially un-thrilled that the tourism isn't really measured up with other south east Asian cities, but then I realized the region has offered us an authenticity of itself if we want to explore. It is about simple people living out their simple and content life in their plainest form. Then I really appreciate this pure experience with simple life and the nature.

We saw a herd of buffalos and attempted riding them. Honestly there were fleas biting my legs and this buffalo had resisted me riding him. After this experience I pledged to reduce cow intake in 2017

Another 5 minutes by bike south of the hot spring we arrived the main Khaung Daing village. This village is famous for its tofu. They stopped making fresh tofu at 11am but good to have some left at 1pm when we arrived. Well, it was really just fried tofu. From these tofu, I could literally taste the meaning of life. They were plain and simple and yet could fill our tummy. This dish also reminded me how fortunate I am living in my side of the world which we can taste a variety of food from all nations and likely took it for granted.

We biked an hour from Nyaungshwe to Khaung Daing Hot Spring at the north west of the lake. There are foreign wing and local wing at the hot spring which foreign needs to pay 8k Kyat (USD 6) for entrant regardless. We chose to dip in the local wing for the authentic experience. People needs to wash the body first before dipping into the pool. But judging from the layer of oil on the water, I doubt people were actually cleansed... The water was around 30C. There is no view of the area. We stayed for 30 minutes. There is no private cubicles for shower or changing, and only has one pool of murky water (due to soap) for people to scoop the water to wash the bodies. While I don't mind being naked, the locals used their skirt (Longyi) to dry their bodies and covered up changing. It was good for us to understand more of the local culture. Thanks.
A semi-abandoned temple housing a few monks

including this kid watching tv

As much as we were interested at their culture, the same for them to be curious on ours.

We hiked up a school of young monks
Making crackers

A village beside the lake. Walkways soon became inaccessible while boat is needed for locals to go back home

Our hotel, Golden Empress Hotel. Highly recommended as the owner was very helpful

Local school volleyball practice for tournaments

Lunch at private hut on a stilt

The waiter for our dinner
  That's how we reached Yangon from Inle Lake, by a 12 hours night bus! We booked the seats late, so didn't get the VIP bus. Normal bus wasn't that bad, costing 18k Kyat (USD13). I did sleep deeply from mid-night to 4. I am amazed that we can still enjoy (endure) this type of traveling, fighting our comfort zone to keep our mind and body challenged and our hearts young.   


Yangon - December 31,  2016 to January 2, 2017
Aside from the Aung San Suu Kyi's home, the only major tourist site at Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is believed to be built more than 2,500 years ago. The pagoda is at the top of the mountain so is prominent at most part of Yangon. Here is group of nuns chanting.

The best time to view the pagoda is wait for the sun set. After which big spot lights would shine on the pagoda making it golden.

It is about 100m tall. Here is a scale to imagine how tall the pagoda is; monks walked around the pagoda to pick up leaves and dirt, making sure it's clean.

Shwedagon Pagoda prior to sunset

Sule Pagoda at central business district

Stand Hotel, the most upscale hotel at Yangon beside the Yangon River. However, the river bank was closed so there was no view.

City Hall. Myanmar was a British colony so there are many colonial buildings at CBD. Yet many are still run down restricted for access. Myanmar is developing, so will see how they turn out in future.

Enjoying an afternoon tea at the Strand. We ordered Myanmar tea sets (~USD20), yet there wasn't much being signature.

Monsoon. A highly recommended restaurant in an colonial building setting. We had tea leave salad, lamb curry. Food were ok.

J-One Music Bar. Here we counted down for the New Year 2017. There is no bar culture in Myanmar. Luckily there is one mainly full of foreigners.

Met a new friend Kelvin for our New Year count down and tour of Yangon on New Year's Day.

A church in Yangon

Washing Buddha for good fortune

A view on south west. Mainly old buildings

A view on north, Pagoda in sight

Playing soccer on street

Old buildings don't have elevator. So some have to walk 6 to 8 floors.

Food market at city center at night

Yet we didn't venture for it...

Bogyoke Market. The best section to explore

is the gem and jewellery hall.

Went to a travel agent to exchange kyat back to USD. Realized they were 3rd generation Myanmar Chinese from Guangdong. They learned Chinese primarily from their parents. It was good we still can communicate in Mandarin and to under their lives in Yangon. It's all getting better. ^__^. 

This driver was a sailor and travelled 100s of countries. He was so thrilled to tell us the countries he traveled and Hong Kong back in the 1970s. When we arrived Monsoon, he shook our hands and wished us "Happy New Year", then I carried his happy spirit though out the New Year. Thanks!