Back to Burma
Yangon – Pathein (Bassein) – Sittwe (Akyab) – Mrauk U – Thandwe – Mandalay – Bagan – Mt Popa – Kalaw – Inle Lake – Yangon
Yangon and Pathein (Bassein)
My trip through Burma started in the capital Yangon. It is an interesting city with a mix of old and new buildings. Many new buildings are under construction. You can visit several beautiful old pagodas. The main pagoda, and the most interesting, is the Shwedagon. It is said to be 2 500 years old. There are many guilded buildings inside. More gold has been used on Shwedagon than you can find inte vaults of Bank of England, according to one statement. In Yangon you can also find som nice hindu and chinese temples.
Pathein (Bassein) is located about 190 kilometers west of Yangon. One way to go there is to take a boat leaving Yangon in the afternoon and arriving early morning next day. During the trip you can sleep on deck among hundreds of other passangers. A nice experience! The majority of the population belongs to Karen and Rakhine. Just outside Pathein you find the umbrellamakers. Man and women producing the beautiful coloured umbrellas used by monks or citizens.
Here I rented a bicycle and explored the countryside. I met ricefamers, women working in the fields, fishermen and a lot of nice people in the villages.
Sittwe (Akyab), Mrauk U and the Lemayo River
Sittwe has been inhabited for more than 2 000 years and has an important harbour. The city is located near the border to Bangladesh why the indian heritage is significant. The british occupied the town in 1826.
Here I was lucky to participate in a temple feast, with burmese wrestling and competitions to climb a greasy pole.
From Sittwe I continued upstreams the Kaladan River to Mrauk U.
Mrauk U was once an important center in one of the strongest burmese kingdoms. Today it is one of the major attractions in Burma with its old temples and pagodas.
From Mrauk U you can visit some very interesting chin villages situated along the Lemayo River. For this excursion you need a special permission from the police. The chins once tatooed their girls with force to make them unattractive. You still can see some older women with tatooes in their faces. There are different chin tribes in Myanmar.
Mandalay, Amarapura, Mingun and Sagaing
Mandalay was the last capital of Burma before the brittish occupation. The city is still of major importance as a cultural center. Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar with a population of about 1 miljon inhabitants. There are many interestings sigths in, and around the city.
Mandalays main attractions are Manadalay Hill with old temples and pagodas and a superb view over the city. The largets book in the world can be found in the Kuthodaw pagoda. In the Mahamuni pagoda you can see one of the most holy Buddha-statues in the country, the Golden Mahamuni. Women are not allowed to touch the statue. An interesting experience is a visit at "The Moustach Brothers", a kind of political theatre.
Amarapura, Inwa and Sagaing were all once capitals of Burma and are very interesting to visit. In Amarapura you will find the longest teak-bridge in the world, the U Bein-bridge. A visit during sunset is something special. In Amarapura you will also find the largest monastery in Burma, with more than 1 200 monks.
Sagaing is known as a religious center with many monasteries for munks and nuns. The Sagains Hills are scattered with pagodas and temples. Try to be here at sunrise when the rays are colouring the buildings.
Mingun has the largest cast bell, without cracks, in the world. The bell has a weigth of 90 tons. There is one larger in Moscow, but this is cracked. King Bodawpaya had the ambition to build the largets pagoda ever built. He started the construction in 1790. In 1819 the king died. After this there was a shortage of money, so the pagoda was never finished. Today you can visit the ruins, heavily affected by earthquakes. The views over Mingun and the Ayeyarwady river are superb from the top.
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Bagan, shin-pyu ceremony and Mount Popa
Bagan is the main attraction in Burma, probably in the whole of south east Asia. The region had its peak for about 200 years, from the middle of year 1000 to 1287, when the mongolian leader Kublai Khan and his troops drowe away the inhabitants. There are thousands of temples and pagodas left from this era. Some of the most famous buildings are Ananda Patho, Thatbyinnyu, Mingalazedi, Sulamani and Shwesandaw.
During my stay in Bagan I was lucky to participate in a shin-pyu ceremony, which is a very important moment for a young boy. During the ceremony he is leaving his childhood and entering the mature world. In the beginning of the ceremony the boys are dressed in beautiful clothes and it ends with shaving all the hair away from the head. Afterward the boys are dressed in the monkrobe and they receive their alm-bowl. Then they becom novises in a monastery, for a period.
Mount Popa is located only a few hours drive from Bagan. This holy mountain is supposed to once have been a volcano. On the top of the mountain there are several temples and pagodas. The Mahagiri-temple is the home for the nats, spirits. In the temple you can find 37 beautiful statues. If you are lucky you will met a "yeti" here. They are holy men walking very slowly the stairs up to the top of Mount Popa.
Trekking in the Kalaw-area
The town Kalaw is situated 1 300 meters above sea level on the western part of the Shan-plateau. Once it was a british "Hillstation". Many typical houses from this period can still be found. Kalaw was the starting point for my trekks to some nice and interesting mountain villages, inhabited by pa-o, danu and palaung tribes. The trekk is easy, some ups and downs of course, and gives you a good view of the life conditions for people living here. I stayed overnigth in different villages with very friendly people. A "smugglerstrail" lead through one of the villages. People were smuggling cows to Thailand! The profitable trip took them about one month.
Inle Lake and "The Jumping Cat Monasetry"
The shallow Inle Lake, 875 meters above sea level, is situated in the shanstate. The lake has a length of 22 kilometers and a width of 11 kilometers. The area is very beautiful. The shan-mountains are framing the lake. In, and around the lake there are 17 villages, populated mainly by the intha people. They are supposed to come from the southern part of Burma. Here they live a life adjusted to the environment in stilt houses. Several of the men leave their houses early morning fishing. They paddle their boats with one leg, balancing in the front of the boat. They handle their nets or osier baskets with their free hands. The inthas cultivate vegetables, fruits and flowers on floating gardens close to their houses. They are Buddhists and have built many pagodas and monasteries in, and around Inle. The most famous monastery is "The Jumping Cat Monastery". Here the monks have trained their cats to make high jumps, a popular attraction. A visit to the local markets in the villages is popular among different ethnic groups, as well as tourists.
My base for trips around the lake was Nyaungshwe. A nice little town. Here you can rent your own boat for lake excursions and visit the local market. You have also a possibility to meet a small group of paduangs, "The Longneck people", living here. During my stay in Nyaungshwe I was lucky to participate in a nat pwe, a feast for the spirits.
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