Paradise – missing photos

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Final thoughts

This is a fascinatingly diverse country; Yangon (Rangoon) has a 20th, century (not quite 21st!) feel with skyscrapers being built, a smart looking university, park & shopping centres (still no McDonalds or KFC, but that’ll change), whilst 70% of its population live in rural villages with houses made of mud brick or bamboo, many with no electricity or sanitation. But this is a country that can easily feed itself.

It is a country with deep roots in Buddhism, and as a result we have enjoyed seeing its ancient treasures and guilded pagodas.

We have listened to stories about the radicalisation by the Taliban of the Muslim minority, who have lived peacefully for decades, causing unrest & conflict. The stories if China, desperate to acquire energy, buying part if the Irrawaddy river to build a dam (sold by the then ruling military junta desperate for money & seemingly not caring about its own people and the impact it would have on rice growing etc). This project has been stopped now and the new government must find three times what it was sold for to buy the section of the river back off China!!

It has a feel of a country in a time warp but, following democratic reforms & the release of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010, change is inevitable. Just how it will adapt remains to be seen.

We hope  the country manages to retain its charisma, and that the gentle, hospitable Burmese never change.

We arrive in paradise!

There’s no other way to describe Ngapali! I wish my phone hadn’t let me down so I could post photos (Trevor will try to find time between snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing & eating to see if we can email photos to the blog, but don’t hold your breath as he doesn’t have much free time!!). So for now I will just have to describe it.

The white soft sand stretches for miles between the clear Indian ocean and the hotels which nestle behind palm trees. Beyond the hotels is a road with restaurants selling fish dishes, freshly caught daily. The resort has a quiet, unspoilt feel but that is about to change! The road from the airport to the resort (6 miles) is currently being relaid; we watched workers (men & women) breaking up stone and then laying the broken stone by hand!! All in the sweltering heat, no doubt paid a pittance in wages. The airport runway is being extended to accommodate long haul flights from Singapore & Bangkok. So in a few short years the resort will resemble those of neearby Thailand.

Women walk along the beach with bowls of fresh fruit on their heads. For very little money they will cut up a papaya or pineapple, delicious!

This is our last full day here. Tonight we are being treated to a meal at a nearby 5 star hotel by Eileen, all arranged in secret as a surprise! Tomorrow we set off for home; we fly from here to Yangon,then to Bangkok, Heathrow then Manchester! We’ll want another holiday after that!

This is my last blog covering our travels. I will post one more to try to sum up our experience, if I can find the right words! If we can’t get anymore photos to you then I will give it a go once we are at home!

Off we go on our own!

I have tried umpteen times to post a couple of blogs with no success. I have been writing them on my phone so now in one las attempt I am writing a blog from my Google tablet but no photos as they are on my phone! Fingers crossed!

Monday 10th
After a tearful farewell (well,only me! But that won’t surprise any of you!) To the group we set off on our adventure by ourselves. Yan bade us farewell with the look of a parent letting his teenage children go off to conquer the world! We could tell he was worried!

This was our 4th internal flight but our 1st delay. What started out as a very busy departure lounge was suddenly just 20 of us (8 were tourists). 1hr 30mins later we were given food boxes & drinks, but just as we took our first mouthful our departure was announced!

It’s quite amusing, there are no screens or departure boards, just a man walking around carrying departure boards (literally), so you have to keep your wits about you!

Eventually we set off. We arrived at an airport and prepared to get off, only to be told to sit back down as we still had a 30 mins flight!!! This would never have happened if Yan had been with us,we would have known exactly what was happening!

yan had been right to look worried! We wondered how we would manage on our own!

For any of our group who are now following my blog from rainy, cold UK, we flew from Yangon to Sittwe (up towards the Bangladesh border) then back down to Thandwe!

I will blog about the hotel & paradise resort tomorrow!

Lake Inle part two

Sorry if you received the last blog multiple times! And I hope all the blogs have had photos attached.

Just as we were getting pagoda/monastery withdrawal symptoms Yan announced a visit!

At the monastery the monks were praying/chanting (except for one day-dreamer), we felt a little uneasy interrupting them, but it seemed they were used to it:

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Next we visited an amazing sight, Nyaung Ohak Temples; there were over 1000 (half the original number) 17century, mainly derelict (though some were being restored) temples in a small area. Again we were the only tourists there:

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We wondered back to the coach past stall after stall of gifts & souvenirs,all selling the same things, still you know me I love a bit of retail therapy!

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We left the lake for our next stop,  the mountain town of Kalaw. This was built by the British as a retreat, from the searing heat of the dry zone, for the Civil Servants! But before we arrived we stopped Off at the Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp.

This is a conservation camp. It is a privately run “retirement home” for 7 elephants, 5 of whom had spent their lives working in the teak forests. They are gentle & friendly and seemed to enjoy our company, and I’m glad to say they are free to roam the surrounding forest at night, no chains or cages. Each has it’s own mahout (driver/trainer) who came with the elephant (along with his family who was rehoused at the camp). The elephant & mahout have a life long bond.

A few volunteers from the group, including Trevor, took part in washing the elephants!

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Trevor, Pru & mahout!

Now we are back in Yangon, at the luxurious Governor’s Residence, where we started our journey. Tonight is our farewell group dinner. Tomorrow most of the group return to the rain battered UK, Trevor & I will fly to a beach resort until Friday. Hopefully there will be WiFi & I can send one final blog!

We head for Lake Inle

Before leaving Mandalay Trevor & I took a taxi to a local gallery and, after much deliberation, we bought two paintings. Once they are framed and on a wall you must come to see them!

We headed off for the next stage of our journey to lake Inle, initially by coach. Yan, our guide, spotted a wedding reception on the side of the road and decided we ought to gatecrash! We were made welcome and given green tea and snacks:

After a brief visit to a local vineyard for wine tasting (at 11am!) then lunch, it was time to board long boats (4 to a boat sitting one behind the other) to get to our hotel.

The engines were noisy but as we made our way through the villages on stilts and neared our hotel the engines stopped & rowers (using their leg to stear the paddle!) took over, this was so that the peace around the hotel was maintained. The pic below is a house on stilts, not our hotel!

Our hotel rooms were chalets dotted around the lake, complete with private outdoor shower:

We spent two days exploring the floating villages built on stilts as well as the villages dotted around the lake, which are also only accessible by boat. We got off and walked around one of the lake side villages and were invited into one of the bamboo houses to have a look around; no furniture or knick knacks just a Buddha in the corner. The lady’s bedroom consisted of a wardrobe & a mattress! We sat with her on the floor & drank tea:

Yan, our guide, with our hostess.

Each Village has a craft speciality. Here are photos of some we visited:

Paper making before (above) and after (below)

Silversmith:

Silk weaving

Now, I need to explain the lady weaving above, she comes from a tribe known as (translated) “ladies with long necks”!

They increase the number of gold bands around their neck as they grow so elongating their necks. Once they get to 75yrs they can remove the rings. It’s not compulsory, and many young girls choose to just wear a few rings, like the girl in the check shirt.

Back to our hotel for another delicious meal.

The Road to Mandalay!

First impressions of Mandalay is that it is a busy, dusty city! Delighted to find still no McDonald’s or any western influence (though I did see Colgate toothpaste in a shop!). The main mode of transport here is the motorbike, though there are quite a few cars, virtually all of them white!

There are no traffic lights or give way signs at junctions, it’s just a free for all! It appeared to be chaos yet we didn’t witness any accidents or road rage. Scary at night as the street lighting is poor and most of the bikes didn’t have lights.

The general rule is that knees and shoulders should be covered when visiting pagodas, temples or monistaries; the men in the group had usually got away with the length of their shorts but on one visit they were given a longyi to wear (the traditional Burmese male attire)- Trevor looked very stylish in his!

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This photo was taken at Maha Muni Pagoda, the most revered shrine in Mandalay. Here the Buddha is still being covered on a daily basis in gold leaf, so much so that apart from the face the body looks thick & lumpy!! Only men are allowed to add gold leaf, this was almost the only example of male/female segregation we saw.

The other highlight of Mandalay was the world’s largest book. Not exactly what we were expecting! Kuthodaw Pagoda has 729 whitewashed pagodas each housing a marble tablet on which the holy inscriptions are carved.

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No visit would be complete without popping in on a local school! The children seem to love this intrusion, especially as our guide, Yan, gave pens and pencils out:

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This children are actually young nuns!!! Their heads are shaven and they wear pink robes.

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Another glorious sunset (view of U Bein’s Bridge) and another end to an amazing day!

Balloons and boats.

Friday – Trevor had a 5.15 wake-up call to go on a dawn balloon ride over the pagodas (I bottled out as scared of heights and confined places!). 16 in a basket plus English pilot, flight lasted an hour and was truly an amazing experience with champers at the end (sorry to have missed that bit!).

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Up up and away!!

We then set off for our cruise up the Irrawaddy river to Mandalay on board the Paukan 2007. 2 days & nights of rest & relaxation! The cabins were spacious and decorated with teak lined walls in a colonial style. There were only 55 on board so it has a quiet, calm feel.

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We disembarked briefly to visit a village called Yandabo, where the peace treaty after the first Anglo-Burmese war in 1825 was signed. The villagers make all the terracotta water pots for the region from the yellow mud from the river bank. We wondered around the huts (homes) and watched the various stages of making the pots. Finished product below:

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Back on board to finish our journey to Mandalay.

Thanks for all your comments!

Mt Popa

Sorry for sending another blog so quickly, but we struggle to get internet!

Today we drove 1hr 30mins out of Bagan. This is a semi desert area during the dry season and we were able to drive along dry river beds,everything is covered in dust. We past many, very basic, villages but all were neat and tidy to get to our destination, another pagoda and monestry! As with many places we have visited we were the only visitors.

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We were introduced to some young monks and nuns. They join the monestry or convent as young as 8years of age, the majority leave at 18, some become life-long monks and teachers. The youngsters live in the monasteries and benefit from the education provided by the monks as well as attending a state school – double the education!

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Young monks wearing the red robes.

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Young nuns, shaven heads, wearing pink robes.

We continued to drive to Mt Popa, an extinct volcano, now one of the most sacred places in Myanmar. A shrine at the top of an outcrop is the spiritual home of 37 nats; nats are the spirits of historical or legendary figures who suffered tragic deaths and now exist as ghosts. Worshipping nats is older than Buddhism, and not all Buddhists believe in this practice.

To reach the shrine we had to climb 777 steps! luckily for us the steps were covered, unluckily for us we had to contend with scores of monkeys! As it is a holy place we had to climb barefoot, not a pleasant experience as scores of monkeys produce tons of poo!!! The steps are continuously cleaned but standing in some was inevitable. one tried to snatch my water bottle and when I wouldn’t part with it it gave me the evils!!!

Still, having climbed to the top and paid our respects we will hopefully receive “success in business, happy married life & sound health”!

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Toilet stop!!
That’s all for now!