Myanmar - Part I - The people


At the beginning of the year, we had the opportunity to travel to Myanmar (Burma).  It was high on both of our "countries to see" list.  I can't even come up with words that accurately describe this country.  We loved it!   We took over 3000 photos in one week.  I will break it into several posts so you can absorb the beauty of this unique country. 


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These two Padaung women were at a temple and were there for the tourists.  They were probably from the mountain villages between Burma and Thailand where the Kayan people live.  The Padaung is one of the eight ethnic Karen communities (in Myanmar, the Karen is known as Kayah).



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This group is known for their women wearing brass rings around their necks, arms and legs.  They are often called the long-neck women of Myanmar. The brass coils are first applied when the girls are about five years old, and as she grows older, longer coils are added.  The coils do not really stretch their neck, rather the weight of the brass pushes down the collar bone and compresses the rib cage, giving the appearance of a very long neck. 



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The yellow color on the faces of the Myanmar is called Thanakha.  Only women and children wear it.  It is used as a sunblock, insect repellent, and make up.  We had read about Thanakha prior to our visit, but thought we would only see it in the countryside.  We were quite surprised when the women checking us in at the passport counter had it on.  We learned that is is still very popular and is worn throughout Myanmar, even in the modern cities.  No other country uses it.



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People ask us all the time if we ask permission before we take our photos, 95 % of the time we do.  We just hold up the camera and point.  Rarely do people turn us down, but if they do, we respect them.  In Myanmar, more than a few asked us to take their photos, children and adults.  The man below wanted us to take his.



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 The Children

They were just precious. 



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One of my favorites... best friends.  






This bunny is just too cute!



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You would think it was winter from their hats and coats on, but it was just a cool morning (around 68).



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The little fashionista


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A country of beautiful people.  If you you are considering visiting Myanamar - go now!  Check back for lots more photos and facts about this stunning country.




Myanmar - Part 2 Bagan


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. 


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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.


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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.

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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.  


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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.



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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.


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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!



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Next we followed the monks around town while they collected their daily alms (food).



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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.



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And D did capture two awesome shots!



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The streets of the city had so much to take in - the local bus...



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Cooking in the street...



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Chatting by the fire - love this photo.






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Women everywhere carried items on their heads - now that is multi-tasking!



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As I mentioned, we got a very early start so we stopped for breakfast at a local roadside restaurant.



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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! 


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 On to the market...



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Look at the size of that fish!



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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.   


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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.


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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.


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As we were heading out to see the temples with our guide, we spotted these cattle carts and took a detour to photograph them.



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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.



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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.



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 That is one happy cow!



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She was willing to give D a little love too  :  )



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Again, the scenery looked like it was staged.



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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. 



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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.



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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.



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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.  


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The Shwezigon Pagoda was completed in 1102 AD.  The pagoda is believed to hold a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha.  


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day three


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.  


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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  :  )



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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.



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Although they allow tourists to stop and observe, they were still making it for a living.



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They even let me give it a try.



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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.



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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.



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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.



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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!



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and she is still smiling!



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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.



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Grandma is sorting seeds.



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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. 



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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.



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Piglets - born the night before.  Precious. 



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Okay one more photo - too sweet to not share!



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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.



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Love this little guy with his handmade toy.



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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.



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day four 

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.


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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. 


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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).



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We never get tired of goats or lamb crossings during any of our travels!



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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. 


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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. 




Myanmar - Part 3 - Yangon


Yangon, Myanmar

January 2013


Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is the largest city in Myanmar, with a population of over 4 million people.  It was founded in the early 11th century (circa 1028–1043) by the Mon.

The highlight of this city is the Shwedagon Pagoda.  Also called the Golden Pagoda, it is a stunning structure.  You can see the dome (or stupa) from almost anywhere in the city.





The base is built from brick that has been covered in gold plate. The crown of the Pagoda is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies, and at the very top a diamond bud tipped with a 76-carat diamond. 




As you can see from the photo above, construction was being done on several of the small, surrounding stupas and they were covered in cloth.

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According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda has existed for more than 2,600 years, making it the oldest historical pagoda in Burma and the world.  Some historians and archaeologists believe it is only 1.400 years old, built by the Mon people between the 6th and 10th centuries CE.

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The Shwedagon Pagoda is Buddhist, as are most people in Myanmar (89%).  They practice Theravada Buddhism, the oldest surviving Buddhist branch, where they study "the Teaching of the Elders".  

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Outside the temple people sell birds to release for merit.  Buddhists believe that releasing animals back into the wild can help an individual to accrue merit.

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All visitors must remove their shoes to visit the pagoda.  The skirts you see on the ladies below are called longyi and are an integral part of the Myanmar wardrobe.  Both men and women wear them.  It is fabric sewn into a tube-like shape.  It is slipped over the head and tied in a knot at the waist.  

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We visited the pagoda three times because the light can vary significantly from morning until night, giving it a very different feel.  Our first time was around noon when the monks make their daily walk.



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And said their prayers.




There are hundreds of small stupas that surround the large one, each housing a Buddha.



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Notice how the large Buddha dwarfs the monk praying.  The position of the Buddha's hands means protection, reassurance, and blessing. 



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The roof had intricate carvings all in gold.



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Many Buddhist believe in astrology and it is very important for them to recognize the day of their birth by pouring cups of water over their "posts" to avoid bad luck and misfortune.  They say to pour one cup for every year you have lived. 



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There are eight posts; Wednesday is split in two, a.m. and p.m. They are marked by animals that represent the day: Bird for Sunday, tiger for Monday, lion for Tuesday, tusked elephant for Wednesday a.m., tusk-less elephant for Wednesday p.m., mouse for Thursday, guinea pig for Friday and dragon for Saturday.


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I randomly picked one to pour water on... Tuesday the Lion.  Later I learned that I was born on a Tuesday so that was my post!  I am also a a double lion.  D was born on a Saturday and is a dragon.  If you Google "what day of the week was I born" you can find your post.


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Shwedagon Pagoda is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist pagodas in all of Myanmar.  It contains relics of the past four Buddhas.  To see more Buddha images from Myanmar,  vist my art blog, Ma Vie Trouvee.




We also went to the Pagoda at sunset. 



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Volunteers help to sweep the floors in the early evening.  It is said to bring good luck to those who participate.


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Even the little ones helped out.



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The Pagoda was equally as pretty at night.


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Another beautiful structure, the Maha Wizaya Pagoda.  A new Pagoda, built in 1980 has a mix of modern and traditional architecture.





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A bit about money...

They were implementing the very first ATM machines while we were there.  Really, the only way to get money is to take US dollars and exchange them at the airport or a bank.  When D was in the states he went to the bank and looked at every 100 bill before accepting them.  They must be brand new (big head), with no marks or creases.  They refused to accept one below because of the small red mark at the very top, caused by the counting machine at our bank in the US.  And NO credit cards!




A co-worker had traveled there a few years before and out of 400 $100-notes he carried; he was only able to use one!  We think they have become less strict with more tourists visiting, but if you plan to travel there, don't take any chances.  Interestingly, they gave us all 1000 kyat-bills in exchange; equal to $1 USD each.  It was quite the stack to carry around - but easy to calculate when paying.


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The Streets



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Yangon is a very crowded, dirty city - both the streets and the air.  We loved that is felt "untouched" and "raw".  There are no fast food restaurants or American chains of any kind.


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Like many countries in Asia, the people use the streets as living space, particularly for eating.


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We spoke to a woman who has been traveling here for the last 10 years and she said that just last year, there were 75% fewer cars then there are today.  It is changing fast.


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 These two women are nuns.  Yes, sharing a cigar!



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Most people carry one of the silver stacked tins below to work with food, mainly rice.  Rice is a staple eaten at every meal.



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Cooked tomatoes were a popular street food.  I ate them in a restaurant and they were delicious.  We did not eat street food in Myanmar.


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Not quite sure what these were, a rodent of some sort?



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I think this was a sign saying not to eat them....



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Telephone booths


Sometimes I think we have seen it all, and then we are surprised.  Like the public telephones.  This is the very first country we have visited where D's blackberry did not all!  Myanmar does not have a cell phone network.  Little tables with mismatched phones like the one below are all over the city... in case you need to make a "mobile" phone call.

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Betel nut is very popular among the men.  Vendors brush white liquid (limestone paste) over betel leaves...

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... then place a mix of areca nuts and/or coconut, cloves, or cardamom on the leaf and roll it up.  They then chew it.  Then spit it on the streets.  It leaves gross red marks all over the sidewalks and roads.


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A local market

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Those of you who follow us know we love food markets.  You can tell so much about a culture from the markets.  I hate to say this, but this was the dirtiest market we have ever visited.


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There were hordes of flies on all the meat.  This young man was waving a feather duster contraption to try and keep them away.


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This man was so friendly and wanted us to take his photo.  Throughout the market they were happy to see us, with lots of smiles and giggles.  I am sure they have rarely seen tourists at this market.


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As for the main food, there was predominately fish for sale.



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And how do you play sports when wearing a longyi (skirt) - you roll it up to make shorts!


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Shopping - how is this for a crazy mall?



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Our bus ride to Bagan


Our next destination was Bagan.  We could not book a flight, even trying two months in advance.  So we took a 10-hour bus ride, an adventure in itself!  Thank goodness it was a modern bus.  




We slept and watched TV.  Well... there was a slight problem in that it was all in Burmese!  There was one other tourists on the bus, the rest were all locals.  We stopped a few times for breaks.  Isn't it fascinating how all the Burmese squat at the break?


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We could also purchase unique snacks...



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So you are wondering about bathroom stops... two in a real facility, one just on the side of the road.  No trees, just wide open space... men, woman and children.  Now we know why they wear the longyis.  Thank goodness we did not have to go  :   )

Want to see more on Myanmar...

Click here - to continue to Bagan - a must see!!

Click here for the people of Myanmar

An for the slide-show - click here.


Myanmar - the slide-show


And if three posts were not is a slide show of Myanmar.  It it around four minutes long and is best viewed in full screen (click on the red arrow to start and then click on the brackets at the lower right of the slide-show).  If you have your volume on, you can enjoy tribal music - reed pipes from Myanmar's Shan State.