Myanmar, January 2013
“This is Burma, and it is unlike any land you know about.”
This is a famous quote by Rudyard Kipling in his "Letters from the East" (1898), and it still rings true 100+ years later.
We loved Burma. It is a very special place. No McDonald’s, Starbucks, or KFC. There are no chain restaurants - period! The landscape is STUNNING! Today, Bagan has more than 2,200 temples and pagodas. They say kings filled the land with as many as 4,400 temples to earn religious merit during the height of the kingdom (11th and 13th centuries). Temples are still being built today - to make good for wrongdoing.
Myanmar has a long and complex history. The first signs of civilization date back to 300 BC. In 1885, after a war, Myanmar fell under the British rule and was a British Colony until 1948, when it became an independent country. Because of the British rule, people in Myanmar speak very good English (better than most Asia countries we visit). We were surprised by this.
Over the last 40 years, Myanmar has been one of the most isolated countries in the world. Which is correct - Myanmar or Burma? In 1989, Burma became a democracy and the government changed the name to Myanmar. Interestingly, the United States still calls the country Burma.
Myanmar is a resource-rich country with a strong agricultural base, and is a leading producer of gems, jade, and teak. However, military rule prevents the economy from developing, and the Burmese people remain poor. In March of 2011, Myanmar began to open its doors to the world.
Bagan - day two
We normally do not hire guides, but we learned about a professional photographer, Htay Win at Magical Bagan. Htay gives historical tours and takes you to the best place for photos, so we gave him a try. He was AWESOME! Here is a photo I took of Htay while we were waiting for the monks to arrive.
We started very early to see the hot air balloons rise for their morning run. No... we did not ride in one, as this is NOT on my list of things to do before I die!
Next we followed the monks around town while they collected their daily alms (food).
Htay was so good, he even asked the people feeding the monks if they would stand on the left side of us so we could get the perfect shot.
And D did capture two awesome shots!
The streets of the city had so much to take in - the local bus...
Cooking in the street...
Chatting by the fire - love this photo.
Women everywhere carried items on their heads - now that is multi-tasking!
As I mentioned, we got a very early start so we stopped for breakfast at a local roadside restaurant.
I love the tablecloth and the fresh flowers in the "kitchen". The food was delicious, and we did not get sick! I am pretty sure after living here a year, we now have "Asian", or "iron" tummies!
On to the market...
Look at the size of that fish!
We finally learned what the cream is they put on their faces. It is called thanaka cream and it is made by grinding the bark, wood, or roots of a thanaka tree.
They then add a small amount of water on a circular stone slab. Burmese women and children have used Thanaka cream for over 2000 years to protect themselves from the sun and insects; and as decoration. Men do not wear it. To see many more photos of people wearing Thanaka, click here.
Myanmar shares borders with Thailand, Laos, China, India, and Bangladesh. Over 57 million people live there. Officially, there are 135 different ethnic groups. Ethnic minorities mainly live on the border and mountainous areas where there continues to be a lot of fighting. The Myanmar government will not allow tourists to visit this area.
As we were heading out to see the temples with our guide, we spotted these cattle carts and took a detour to photograph them.
It was like something out of a movie. Our guide told us they were coming in for the big festival occurring in three days to celebrate the full moon. They primarily travel from city to city following the festivals - like gypsies.
They people are quite friendly and let us take their photos. It helped that our guide was Burmese.
I found it amazing how this cow was so affectionate to the owner. Our guide translated and we learned that the cows were a little apprehensive with us nearby.
That is one happy cow!
She was willing to give D a little love too : )
Again, the scenery looked like it was staged.
We eventually moved on to see the temples, which are amazing. Bagan is located in an active earthquake zone and the temples have suffered greatly over the years. In the 90’s, many of the pagodas underwent restorations by the government. Unfortunately, no attention was paid to the original architecture, styles, or materials so they are not completely authentic.
Because of this, they have not been able to win the designation of UNESCO World Heritage Site. I have been to many UNESCO Sites and this definitively should be one. There are enough temples that have not been restored and therefore should qualify.
Sulamani temple was built in 1181 with brickwork that is considered some of the best in Bagan.
Below our guide is holding up the flashlight to help D get a good photo. Not only did we learn the history and facts about Myanmar, but we also picked up several photo tips.
The Ananda Temple was built in 1105 AD and is one of four surviving temples in Bagan. The temple is unique in that it is part Mon and part Indian architecture.
The Shwezigon Pagoda was completed in 1102 AD. The pagoda is believed to hold a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha.
The next day Htay was free so we hired him to take us to Mount Popa and to a local, non-touristy village. The Popa Taungkalat monastery at the top of Mount Popa, a volcano about one hour outside of Bagan, was another sight that seemed unreal.
The shrine is home to 37 Nats, or spirits. There are 777 steps to climb to the top and you must do it bare-footed. We decided it was one of those sights that was better to view from afar, not to mention there are many monkeys on the way that jump on you and grab for treats. Our guide said he has to take a stick when he goes up to keep them off. He was happy we did not want to climb to the top : )
On the way to Mount Popa, there are a few tourists stops along the way. They were fun to visit and see the families making palm oil.
Although they allow tourists to stop and observe, they were still making it for a living.
They even let me give it a try.
He is making grain alcohol - see the bottle at the end of the spout? We purchased a few trinkets from them, some sugar, and tea.
On the way home from Mount Popa, Htay took us to a village that was truly off the beaten path. We did not see any other tourists there. And unlike the photos above, which were set up for tourists, this was a real village - rarely getting tourists.
What struck us most about this village was the cleanliness. Take note of the ground in the photo above. We think they swept the dirt.
Ladies, when you think you are having a bad day trying to juggle all your tasks - consider if you had to carry pails of water, or a load on your head with a baby on your hip!
and she is still smiling!
Again, this village looks as if it is set up for tourists, but it is not! These are everyday tasks they are doing. Below she is cutting hay.
Grandma is sorting seeds.
The way all three generations are squatting is very typical in Myanmar. Instead of using chairs, they squat. So interesting how the little one is doing it too.
This man had just gotten his bull the previous day. He was so proud of it and wanted us to take his photo. This village did not speak any English so Htay did all the translating for us.
Piglets - born the night before. Precious.
Okay one more photo - too sweet to not share!
Grandma feeding her little granddaughter. Notice the grid on the chair, probably used for solar power. It was the only sign of modern technology we saw in the village.
Love this little guy with his handmade toy.
The children are always so fun to photograph. And they did not beg for anything... they only wanted to see their image in the camera.
We only had a few hours before our flight, so we hired a horse-drawn carriage to take us to a few more temples and for a cup of tea at a local shop. Notice how young the boy is who served us.
The temples also known as "gu" were inspired by the rock caves of Buddhists. They were places of worships that included frescoes and sacred shrines with Buddhas. Many of the originals have been stolen so they have replicas.
Most of them you can climb to the top, but as you can see they have very steep steps. We sat on them to watch the sunset (photos at the top of this post).
We never get tired of goats or lamb crossings during any of our travels!
And I leave you with one last interesting tidbit... the communal drinking stands. They were all over the country. And, were usually in sets of two, with cups attached. No, I did not drink from it - but I found them to be rather pretty and unique.
If you are thinking about going to Myanmar - go now - before it gets bombarded with tourists and fast food restaurants. It is in our top five favorite places we have traveled to.