A Travellerspoint blog


Mandalay, Myanmar

“On the Road to Mandalay”

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“BY THE old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! "
Come you back to Mandalay

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-lo-lo!
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak.
Elephints a-pilin' teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay...”

When Rudyard Kipling wrote “On the Road to Mandalay, he had never been there. His poem evokes a dreamy kind of place with beautiful Burmese “girls”.

The Lonely Planet Guide describes Mandalay as a very busy city with bad traffic, easy to skip over.
So we were surprised to find a bustling low rise city with a pretty relaxed pace and at least a few interesting sites.
We had an early morning flight to Mandalay from Bagan for our last day in Myanmar. Our flight To Chiang Mai wasn’t until 6 in the evening. Anne, our brilliant Myanmar Pure Travel Agent arranged a driver and guide for the day.

It’s about an hour drive into town from the airport. It’s not that far but the roads are not exactly highways. We saw rice paddies and farm fields to the mountains and lots of pagodas in the distance, the first 15-20 minutes out from the airport. These are the many monasteries that have Monks and schoolchildren monks living in them. It was a pretty and rural site.

We first stopped at the Royal Palace. It’s a reconstruction of The Palace complex had been completely destroyed by the British in October 1885. That’s when the British occupied Mandalay and escorted King Thebaw, the last King of Burma, his Queen Supalayat and their daughters the Princesses to India.

For this trip, I read the Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh. It’s a beautiful historical fiction novel that took me through the story of Burma from the British occupation through about the mid 1990’s. I highly recommend the book which had vivid descriptions of life in the King’s Palace before and during its destruction.

So while there’s not too much to see at the rebuilt Palace compound, it was meaningful for me to see the designated areas of where life took place before the exile.

Then we went to the more interesting house with a better historic renovation of King Thebaw’s “sleeping quarters”. This original wooden building was able to be preserved because this beloved King, formerly a monk, had moved outside the Palace walls for some of his personal life.

And we saw the heaviest and perhaps the largest book in the world at a beautiful huge shrine. There were too many rows of white stupas to count. Each contain a marble tablet inscribed with a page of the Buddha’s teachings. The entire treatise is here.

We had a delicious lunch at Bistro 83 and Anne, our Myanmar travel organizer stopped by. We were so happy to meet her in person!
I can’t praise her enough. As you know if you read the Yangon entry, we worked with Anne on pretty short notice by email and we had everything perfectly arranged and booked within 4 days of our first contact email. We highly recommend her!

Myanmar Pure - Beyond Ordinary

Next we passed through a “marble working street.” It was probably at least 10 blocks long and there were so many shops where marble Buddha sculptures are made. Oh there is so much beautiful marble art to see here! But also so much marble dust in the air. The sculptors were using power tools. They were covered in white marble dust. I commented, “those kids should be wearing masks.” Little did I know then that my funky lungs had inhaled some of this and I would get an acute bronchitis for the next 10 days.:(. My photos are worth it and I’m glad we stopped there and at the interesting nearby woodworking workshop also. I love the art workshops here. Who wants to come back with me on a girls “shopping trip?”
270631D5-903D-4E29-B608-D6134E978CEA.jpeg8088D379-13DC-4E1C-92EE-F7F5A1C3F285.jpeg5BF4C08E-A5BE-4461-903F-C8846101FEAF.jpeglarge_3864C750-0161-4DF2-B72A-0F9D30A584FF.jpeglarge_E2FAE456-3DF8-45F1-87B2-088C51135583.jpegI Love this Marble Street!

I Love this Marble Street!


Next we went to the “U Bein Bridge. (Burmese: ဦးပိန် တံတား) It is a crossing that spans the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura in Myanmar. The 1.2-kilometre (0.75 mi) bridge was built around 1850 and is believed to be the oldest and (once) longest teakwood bridge in the world.” Wikipedia
It was very hot out, but a lovely and relaxed site where schoolchildren were returning home with their Mom’s stopping for snacks on the bridge and folks were strolling, flying a kite, & just relaxing.
There’s a big market at the top of the bridge which we skipped. We also missed out on a stop at the famous Jade Market as Mark is marketed out already. That’s ok, as I was already feeling the effects of the dust, we really saw a lot, and it was time to get to the airport.

“But that's all shove be'ind me - long ago an' fur away
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay...”
Rudyard Kipling 1890.

Thanks for reading!

Posted by Nsevers 01:50 Archived in Myanmar Tagged palace bridge mandalay buddhas stupas Comments (0)

Bagan, Myanmar

Magic from Sunrise to Sunset!

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On my first trip to Thailand in 2006 I first heard that there were as many as 3000 remaining temple ruins from the 9th to the 13th centuries at a place called Bagan. I heard that when you look over the landscape, there are temples as far as you can see. I have always wanted to go!
large_EEC4EF73-81CA-4BB8-A0DD-C4BD9BDFD4D1.jpegBagan Sunset 2

Bagan Sunset 2

Myanmar politics and human rights issues aside, this year was our year! Visitors are noticeably low. Everywhere in Myanmar it was uncrowded for the December “cool dry season.” Local folks welcomed us and thanked us every day for coming to their country.
Since 2016 (the year President Obama visited) tourism and tourist infrastructure has been growing. This makes it a more comfortable trip for older Westerners like us, but still, we wanted to get up there and see the Bagan historical sites before there are 100’s of tour buses and thousands of daily tourists like in Siem Reap at Angkor Wat. It was uncrowded and at many sites, we were the only people there!
UNESCO has been working with the site, but it is not a designated UNESCO location, and might not even become one. We learned that the main temples (from around the 12th century) have been kept up by the Burmese people. They are deeply religious and they have been mostly in continuous use as shrines and for powerful prayer ceremonies. So there have been repairs and rebuilding with new materials that have changed theses temples from their original historic remains. UNESCO doesn’t agree with this approach. They require a different level of archeological integrity.

We had an interesting conversation with Arkar, our very knowledgeable, fun guide who was born within the Temple walls of Old Bagan, about this.
I disagree with UNESCO’s position. I think it’s a lovely and important cultural statement that for example in the most beautiful of the temples you can see a towering original 12th century Buddha that’s facial expressions still change depending on your viewing point. And I appreciate that the other three big Buddhas (one at each entry) that have been reconstructed after damage from various earthquakes, are in place. As a visitor we can more easily imagine how the temple looked and functioned with the newer Buddhas in place, as we watch the visitors and locals from Myanmar worship there. I think the fact that the local communities of Old Bagan & New Bagan have been very responsible in seeking grants and help outside of Myanmar to do the best they can to keep up the main temples here. That’s cultural sensitivity and should be rewarded.
You can read more about the Bagan Burmese Empire here:

We stayed at the Tharabar Gate Hotel in Old Bagan town and we liked the hotel and the location. The hotel is about 10 years old but it’s well kept up. It was really funny. Walking up the path to our one story brick cottage room took me back to my childhood walking up to my front door on Waterman Rd. It wasn’t a twin of course, but it definitely seemed strangely familiar. We found 3 vegetarian restaurants a quick walk away. We tried two of them, Moon and Khaing’s and both were good. And we started our day of biking around the temples right at the hotel. It was really close to everything.
Tharabar Gate Hotel, Bagan

Tharabar Gate Hotel, Bagan

Our bike tour was wonderful! We got lots of exercise and we toured and learned all about the 3 main temples, the most beautiful, the tallest, and the biggest. Of course we stopped at many other ruins too.
We ended that spectacular day (Bagan Day 1) with a climb up to a viewing point for sunset over the temples.
But first I have to tell you how we started the day. We had a 4:45 AM wake up call and we were taken in the dark to a field in a golf complex. Yes golf- popular with the British, lots of Burmese play also. We were served tea, croissants and banana cake on candlelit tables.
FF073729-5669-40B1-99F3-32A28ADF356B.jpeg72882CE0-3CF3-4D50-968A-C1EEE64F290D.jpegB2FF5808-41FB-4549-9451-07CB460F27D5.jpegBaloons Filling

Baloons Filling

Every 10 of us were assigned a pilot - we were Team Nick! We had safety instructions and we watched while many hot air balloons were inflated in the field.
Nick, Our Trusted Pilot!

Nick, Our Trusted Pilot!

Then we boarded and sailed over the 2200 Temple remains, Old Bagan and New Bagan, and watched the sun rise over the Temples. I took way too many photos so please indulge me!
What a treat! Mark hesitates when having to cross a street in the car and motorcycle traffic over here, but decided on the balloon ride. We were assured that all of the pilots were foreign and well experienced. And that’s indeed what we found. This was our first hot air balloon ride ever! What a special experience!Balloon Ride Special Treat

Balloon Ride Special Treat


We started Bagan day 2 with a private yoga class in a garden park overlooking the Irrawaddy River. Our lovely teacher, Ting was from China, did her yoga teacher training in Nepal and she is currently teaching her way around her travel habit! She tailored the class perfectly to our needs and we both enjoyed practicing with her!
From there we asked our driver to take us to Sharky’s Bagan for lunch. You read about Sharky’s in my Yangon entry. Bagan’s food is just as local and just as good. The space is larger with an event space too. We met Jane, the Bagan manager and learned more about Sharky’s Clean food efforts and enterprise. The bakery wholesales 200 croissants and loaves of banana bread daily to the balloon ride operation. When we ate them we knew they were yummy, we did not know they were from Sharky’s. I had a quick tour of the large organic garden behind the restaurant. The gardener lives right on the premises. I learned that there is a 25 acre organic garden not too far away also. Sharky’s plan is to continue teaching locals how to grow, source and eat good healthy food. I asked if the gelato comes up frozen from Yangon. No! Sharky’s Bagan recently got its own gelato equipment and it is made on the premises! Yum!
Sharky’s Bagan

Sharky’s Bagan

We like Sharky’s food. We didn’t know this!

We like Sharky’s food. We didn’t know this!

We managed to squeeze in a couple hours to stretch, swim and rest before we were on the go again. We had a private sunset cruise on the Irrawaddy River scheduled. We motored out in a teak boat, with wine and drinks and snacks with our guide. It was a sandy, steep climb down to the river to board the boat. Then, as we were leaving shore, our boat driver hit a submerged rock really hard. The snacks and drinks went flying. We weren’t hurt but our guide bruised his tummy on the table end.:( The driver and guide decided to continue the cruise. I had visions of the Titanic and wasn’t so sure about it. But there were other boats around so I assumed if we needed a rescue it would be easy. Off we went. We learned all about the Irrawaddy and took lots of photos too.
large_F4A75D3D-D867-4FB1-8F0D-6330E220BC13.jpegSunset on the Irrawaddy

Sunset on the Irrawaddy

We were really glad we got to visit Bagan! It’s so very interesting and we are learning so much! We actually skipped dinner that night as we were tired and we had to meet our driver at 7:00 AM for our 8:30 AM flight to Mandalay.
Keep reading! Mandalay is next!
Love, Nancie

Posted by Nsevers 09:06 Archived in Myanmar Tagged temples food hotels bagan yoga Comments (0)

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Frozen in Time!

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The floating village we visited in Inle Lake this week celebrated its 509th anniversary this year. There are 400 villages on, around and in the freshwater lake, which has surface area of 44.9 square miles (116 km) and is one of the highest at an elevation of 2,900 feet (880 m). Inle is in the Shan State and when we arrived at the tiny Heho airport we had to pass through Immigration. See more about the lake here.

The young people all use cell phones, even smart phones. The handicrafts workshops that tour groups visit take Master Card or VISA. Otherwise life on the lake, is pretty much the same as it was 23 years ago when our Inle guide Naing, was born in his home on stilts, and much the same 60 years ago when his Aunt was born there. We visited Naing’s village and had lunch in his Mother’s home. Naing’s sister in law prepared typical Shan food. So many dishes...it was a feast. We had soup, a tomato, lime peanut salad, “stuffed grouper” grilled fish that was caught for us, a typical mashed potato rice dish with spice toppings and fried tofu chips. An invitation to a local home is always a treasured treat.

All of the villages are built on mud flats in the shallow areas of the lake. Fishing and farming was the way of life before tourism. The Inle residents, have, grow, and make what they need. They sell or trade at the local 5 day market for other necessities. It’s still that way except that the growth in tourism has opened new opportunities for the young people of the lake. They all want to learn English and can work in the hotels, handicraft workshop sales, and as tour guides. The people we met were all curious about our lives and where we come from.

Everyone gets around in handmade wooden boats, canoes and watercraft. The fisherman use nets and traditional cone nets. They row standing with one oar using one leg to free their hands for the nets. They basically balance on one foot, on a moving slim boat all the time bending and twisting to maneuver the nets. It is impressive acrobatics. It was a sight to behold.

As we emerged from the narrow waterway from our hotel, there were two “fisherman acrobats” waiting to present a photo op. And yes, our photos are like the tourist brochures for Inle Lake! These two fishermen fish for tourist dollars. They deserve the “tip”! We love these photos!
But this is the real way of the fishing in the lake too. You can see my un-staged photos of fishing and collecting seaweed to sell from morning to night and during the night too. Inle Lake water and sky is a photographer’s paradise.

We visited several villages. Each village has its own identity. One village is known for weaving. The men and women can work at the one of the workshops or in their homes. They weave cotton and silk for clothing, ( longhi’s) bags, and scarfs. 200 years ago, a resident of the weaving village discovered that the lotus flowers that grow in the lake have strong fibers in the stems that can also be used for making cloth. The lotus flower can signify purity in the Buddhist religion and so hand rolled and spun lotus flower cloth is special when woven into a Monk’s robe, a wedding dress, and even a scarf. We watched the process and I got to try and make the thread. Hand work, not hard but tedious work. The wooden are looms are weighted down with buckets of rocks, to keep them from moving when operating. The spinning wheels are all antiques as well. This visit was a step back in time...unchanged for at least 100 years!

Naing’s village is known for silver and gold work. We visited the silver workshop there. This too was out of another era. They’ve never seen the likes of jewelry manufacturing in Thailand! I like to buy at least one thing at each workshop to benefit the locals. But as in Peru and Vietnam, the prices are way high and the goods not always as represented.

The next day we had a backroad bike tour probably about 12 -15 km. We stopped in to watch the sugar cane being processed. I’m a Florida girl from the days when sugar cane grew there. The sugar cane production process here is from an even earlier era than that! The boiling is not unlike the traditional way of boiling maple syrup in New England and the sweet smell in the air reminded me of that. This was not a tourist place...we just happened to pass by, and I love these photos.

I had thought that Inle was quite solidly touristy by now. But we were actually really off the beaten path everywhere we went.

The local market rotates locations every day and we were lucky our visit coincided with market day in the one that is not far from our hotel. As you can see from my photos, this market was from another era as well.

It was a market for the locals but there were several tables selling tourist trinkets. I noticed some old silver coins at a vendor. I asked about them and he said “what country are you from?” He had French coins, American coins, English coins, German coins and Chinese coins. I picked up a well used 1804 Liberty Silver Dollar and said to Mark, this is weird, I bet it’s valuable.
Then I started thinking, all the country coins were about the same size as if struck from the same mold. And Burma is rich in raw silver resources. Good thing I had the local SIM with data. We googled the value of that coin. Only 15 of them known to exist and the value if real, would be about 3.5 million US dollars! I said to Mark, they are counterfeit coins! As we walked away the vendor was lowering his $30 price after us. As we biked away from the market, I saw at least two other tables each with a couple of 1804 Liberty Silver Dollars. If you think it is too good to be true, it usually is!

We biked to one of the two newish wineries, the Red Mountain Winery for a wine tasting and lunch. The winery was about 7 years old. We left our bikes and hiked up the big hill. The view of the grape vines and across the valley was lovely and we enjoyed lunch. They have a ways to go, the red wine was undrinkable, even to my inexperienced “nose.”

We totally enjoyed our guide Naing and our boat driver Nyi!

After 2 busy full days we spent the next morning relaxing, rinsing out some laundry, and enjoying the Lovely Sanctum Inle Resort where we stayed. Coming back to the Sanctum Inle after touring was like returning to the 21st century from a time machine that had taken us back 200 years ago. It is beyond comfortable and we recommend it!
The hotel is only 2 years old. The staff couldn’t do enough for you. The owners are a French Group & it’s stunning, contemporary, with a beautiful location, a great infinity pool, lovely good restaurant (not expensive), large bright high ceiling rooms, & huge bathroom with 2 sinks, a tub and great walk in shower! The bamboo, hot stone massage in the spa totally fixed my achy back! And while the staff all wore jackets on the unseasonably cloudy days, they wondered about the crazy foreign guests who were swimming at sunset!


Our flight from Heho to Bagan was a little late and departing that airport was a bit of an adventure. But we got finally there after dark and placed a 4:45 AM wake up call for our 5:20 AM meetup the next morning. Watch for the next entry to see what was good enough to lose sleep over!

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Posted by Nsevers 03:26 Archived in Myanmar Tagged villages markets lake floating inle Comments (0)

Myanmar’s Treasures!

Another Best Kept Secret Destination!

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My friend Jay shared brilliant photos of a trip to Myanmar -Burma on Facebook last winter. 5 days before we left for Thailand I thought, maybe we can do that trip this year. I asked Jay about his trip and he referred me to Anne C, an American living in Mandalay & Anne’s company, Myanmar Pure Travel.
Anne’s company plans private and small group trips which strive to connect its guests with local people and culture while benefiting local community and businesses. I heard from Anne on a Tuesday, we worked together by email each day and by Saturday this awesome trip was planned and booked! Even I was stunned with her capable advice and service!

Now after almost a month in a Thailand, here we are in Myanmar!

Yangon - Rangoon


We are waiting for our Myanmar National Airlines flight from Yangon to Heho, which is the closest airport to Inle Lake. Where are the tourists and other tours? We are the only westerners here today. Our Yangon guide says that tourism is low now due to the news around the world about what he called, the “civil war.”

We spent two nights in Yangon. We had a full day of touring yesterday with our great guide Maung Maung Myint. (We have a driver and a guide arranged for each location we visit.) We enjoyed getting to know Maung Maung and we both learned a lot!
We learned yesterday that Myanmar is the historic name for this country. It means “strong horsemen” and was the original name of tribe that dominated the country in about 1000 AD. Legend has it that when the British arrived, they misheard the name to be Byamar, which became Burma. And they thought the Myanmar people saying Yangon, said Rangoon, so they called the port city Rangoon and the country Burma. Yangon and Myanmar are the original names and the military government restored them in 1989 after its coup.

We started our tour day (after breakfast) at a famous little restaurant for Mohinga a fish based rice noodle soup popular for breakfast where locals eat. We were brave and polite and while it was tasty, I like my “American Breakfasts.”

From there we walked to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. On the way, I bought some noodle soup packs and juices to give the roaming Monks. They come out with bowls for alms every morning. There are many monasteries and schools in the neighborhood of the famous golden pagoda, as many different tribes from this country come to worship there. The different peoples each have a presence. There are many child monks staying in the monasteries. Some are orphans, others have families that can’t afford to raise them.

We wandered through an interesting local market and another Temple on the way to the Pagoda.

When we arrived at the very famous Shwedagon Pagoda, I was a little disappointed to see the famous large gold stupa was covered in cloth and scaffolding. The gold and gold leaf is being reapplied by hand in advance of a special occasion coming up next year. The entire complex is very large and contains many shrines. We had both a lesson in religion and history. And actually the scaffolding which is hand constructed of bamboo and supports workers was an architectural marvel by itself.

After a couple hours at the Pagoda and learning about the mix of Buddhism, Hinduism and astrology practiced by most of the Myanmar people, it was time to have our fortunes told by the astrologer. We gave our birthdates and the fortune teller worked out some numbers and told our fortune. He had me cut a deck of some Hobbit cards and when Gandalf the magician came up I got a fortune that was really calming.

We spent the afternoon and early evening exploring downtown. We stopped in to see an important large reclining Buddha figure. This too was covered in bamboo scaffolding. Because it was closer to us we could see both the Buddha behind the bamboo scaffolding and the precarious repair process as well. Quite amazing.

We took the slow circle train for a short ride to experience transportation as the locals do. We ended our ride in the large historic colonial style train station that looked mostly unchanged since the time the British left in 1948.

In Downtown we saw remnants of colonial buildings, old Rangoon and new Yangon. We went down a mostly Muslim Street and found the only Jewish synagogue in Myanmar. It dates from the 1800s and is kept up by descendants of the community’s founders. It’s live in caretakers are a conscientious Muslim family. I was frankly surprised to see the synagogue, at least 3 Mosques and 3 churches all within relative proximity to the many Buddhist temples, shrines, monasteries and pagodas in Yangon. By appearances, there is religious tolerance in Yangon city.
We walked through the busy city streets and saw the Western hotels both older and newly built. Downtown was crazy busy and the traffic was intimidating even though it’s cars & trucks only. It helps that motorcycles are not allowed in the Yangon. We passed the large Park Royale, Shangri La, and new Pullman Hotels and we stopped in for fresh juice at The Loft, a popular contemporary downtown boutique hotel. After our tour, we were happy to get back to the Savoy where we were staying.
The Savoy Hotel in the upscale (for Yangon) neighborhood called the Golden Belly. It’s in the neighborhood very close to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda which we came here to see! The lovely small hotel is British in style, right down to its formal afternoon tea if desired. The rooms were large and the pool area was pretty. Breakfast outside looking over the garden pool was lovely and good. The hotel has an elegant feel to it. Yangon is busy and very foreign to us. The Savoy made staying in the city comfortable.

Our guide had taken us to lunch in a local restaurant. We ate river prawns and rice & carefully tasted a few other things. I enjoy tasting the local food, within the safe or prudent traveler guidelines. But I’m actually happiest these days when we find organic, locally sourced, healthy familiar choices. We found that at Sharky’s which was just a 3 minute walk from our hotel (The Savoy). Oh my, Sharky’s has the BEST food and the nicest Yangon vibe.
We have been concerned about the sources of what we have been eating, especially because we have been spending so much time eating on the road on a long trip. In Myanmar, we know that the lakes where much of the country’s tomatoes are grown is polluted from the pesticides used in the growing process, along with the trash and sewage that goes into the lake, the water source for the food. The rivers are likely equally polluted. So we were happy to eat at Sharky’s where the food showcases the flavor of the best quality ingredients available in this country. Every single item is sourced from within Myanmar. If Sharky couldn’t find a needed product or ingredient he would grow or make it himself. He makes his own cheese and found that with buffalo milk he can create something close to the Swiss cheeses he likes. His meats are hormone and antibiotic free, all produce is organic. I loved the veggie burger. Did I mention the gelato? Sharky sent a family member to Bologna, Italy to study with gelato makers. It’s made with Myanmar organic milk and I am pretty impressed! We had dinner there both nights and lunch there also before heading off to the airport. We can’t wait to eat at Sharky’s Bagan location later this week.

We of off to the Shan State now to visit Inle Lake. Hope you enjoy the Yangon photos!

Posted by Nsevers 21:07 Archived in Myanmar Tagged temples food yangon buddhas Comments (0)

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