A Travellerspoint blog

June 2016

Bilu Kyun, Ogre Island

sunny 34 °C

We walked over to Breeze Guesthouse to see if there'd be any breakfast served before the tour. They sent us off to the familiar grandmother, grandfather restaurant for the same thing we'd had yesterday. At least my stomach was familiar with what we were eating. After that, we waited at Breeze for awhile to get on the tour, although I had to run back to the restaurant to get the hat that I'd forgotten. Nine of us, including our guide Mr. Kyi, got in the tuktuk to the pier. It was a bit of a drive to reach it.

The boat heading to Bilu Kyun, also known as Ogre Island, had motorcycles stored in the seating undercarriage. We crawled over the top and into the back section. As we chatted with a woman from Australia, the boat fumes drifted over to make it a less pleasant trip. She'd been travelling with two French guys that she'd met and lived with in London. She shared some tips on minimum wage, buying cars and working in Australia, claiming we could get normal jobs and do more than just farm work to earn money. She wasn't super keen on this tour so far.


We got off the boat and into another tuktuk. We stopped near the rice fields to get pictures. Mr. Kyi shared that Ogre Island used to be populated by cannibals until the Mon people came and got rid of them. Now it was mainly farmers and some handcrafters that resided here.


There was loud music playing from a home and our tuktuk slowed right down. Mr. Kyi told us to go upstairs and we sat on the floor with the other villagers. Soon they brought us snacks like tea leaf salad, sticky rice cubes, and tea to celebrate the family's new novice monk. He had gone off to the monastery that morning.


Our guide soon called us downstairs for a table full of food that I could only describe as a vegetarian nightmare. Bowl after bowl of chicken, fish, and pork curries made their rounds. One dish looked like vegetables, but that was only because the meat was very fine and it clung to everything. I ate rice wishing I had eaten a bit more upstairs. I had thought a celebration for a monk would have less meat, but that was a wrong assumption. That ten a.m. meal probably counted as our included lunch, cutting costs wherever possible.


The house was decorated with a large tent and lines of heart-shaped balloons. They even hired a videographer who came to film us too. The money invested explained the meat, always a sign of wealth. We didn't stay too long.


Next we stopped to see a woman sewing together pieces of stretched bamboo to make hats. The women's hat had a wider brim like rice hats while the men's hats were smaller like a helmet. I tried one on but I wasn't feeling so great.


We took a long walk to a quarry to find a small swimming pool they had created. Some of us dunked our legs in but no one swam. It was also near a mine site where the workers would earn only around $20 for the rock they mined in one day. I assumed that wage would be split between them too. I tried to enjoy the stillness in the shade while it lasted. Today was quite hot.


The tuktuk brought us to a pipe factory where men sanded and made holes in small pipes meant to hold cigarettes. We watched them us tools to chip, shape and sand the wood that spun from a belt powered device. We were shepherded upstairs for a product display from pens to hairclips, massage and pipes, all made of wood. We had some fun trying out the not so obvious massage tools. A Korean woman who owned a restaurant in Northern India bought quite a bit as did a couple other guys on the tour. They gave us tea and coconut crisp snacks.


We could smell the next item on our itinerary before it came into view: the rubber band factory. Outside, bright pink and yellow rubber stretched over cylindrical rods was drying in the sun. We went inside the garage shop and saw the white rubber in liquid form in a large barrel. One of the workers poured in yellow dye. Another dunked the sets of wooden cylinders into the colourful rubber barrels.


To the side, two women had the dried tubes, now resembling sleeves, and were feeding them through a mechanical cutting machine. Small elastic bands came flying down to the colourful floor. They were shipped all over the country with the good ones getting sold at the market for 1000 kyat a pound. Not one worker wore a mask for the strong fumes, nor did they have protective footwear. I wondered how their health fared after working here.


With water and chemical, a man removed the dry sleeves of rubber from the cylinders. They would soon be sent off to the women to cut into bands. The factory also produced sheets of rubber that were used to make slippers or flipflops as we know them back home. Women out front sorted the good rubber bands from the broken.


On the way to our next destination, we passed a big wooden pipe statue. Fittingly, the next shop we visited was a pipe shop that also made walking sticks. One man told us how his father spent months working on the world's biggest pipe. There was also an Ogre pipe for sale where the smoke came out of its eyes.


We left shortly after too see a woman weave a rope out of old coconut skin. She'd wet the hairs, roll them into her hand, then twist them together, often adding more pieces.


Another ride took us to an area where people were cleaning up slate, sanding it then putting it into wooden frames, also sanded to perfection, so they could be used by school children. Most primary school students from years 1-3 used these to practise their writing. The slate pencil served as the writing utensil, a blast from the past.


Our last stop was a weaving area where women spun thread to make brightly coloured longyis often exported to Thailand. I bought a brightly coloured purple one for 5,000 kyat (about $5). The looms were all worked by hand and foot pedals with long bundles of thread wound and placed to create the pattern ahead of time.


On the boat ride back, we discovered some sexism in the seating arrangements. Only men were allowed on the top section, women either had to sit in the fumy back or underneath with the motorbikes. We chose the latter for cleaner air alongside some cute babies, women and a few men who hadn't gone upstairs.

For supper, we browsed a few menus where my vegetarian option was the omelette, a meal I couldn't bring myself to eat yet again. We went to the Cinderella Hotel for a fancy candlelit meal. I had tasty Malaysian fried noodles and Ryan had the Chicken Masala. The tables were bamboo and the courtyard was nice and relaxing. Finally, a tasty vegetarian meal.

Posted by Sarah.M 06:37 Archived in Myanmar Tagged weaving monk coconut pipe hats crafts celebration rope slate woodwork bilu_kyun ogre_island longyi Comments (0)


Mon museum and Payas

sunny 32 °C

I had a bit more energy in the morning and my appetite came back. We went looking for another place to eat but ended back up at the Grandfather Grandmother restaurant on the river again. I attempted to eat the fried toast and egg while Ryan went for more fried rice. The fried egg came with condensed milk and sugar, a bit like French toast, but far too sweet. I tried to order just an egg after that but I ended up with the exact same dish again. That was the downside to not speaking the same language.

We started the walking tour that we found in our Lonely Planet. We had to use Google Maps and modify it a bit based on where we were and what we wanted to see.

First stop was the Mon museum. It had quite a lot on general Burmese history and held a strong nationalist sentiment displayed by statements like 'Myanmar people come from Myanmar' in the displays of archaeological finds dating back thousands of years. Like in China, pottery was a major trade in Myanmar’s past.


It could have been due to our inability to read Burmese script, but there wasn’t much background on the Mon people so I went searching for some in preparation for this blog post. Just be advised that I wasn’t always able to find dates or origins that stayed consistent so there will ambiguity.


The Mon people are thought to have come from Western China thousands of years ago and are also thought to have introduced Theravada Buddhism and other Indian influences to the area. They settled in the Lower Irrawaddy delta and developed a strong kingdom that was eventually conquered by the Burmans in the 11th century. Myanmar wasn’t the only place the Mon settled, they also settled in Northern Thailand not far from Chiang Mai and near the Chao Phraya River in Nakhon Pathom. The island we’d visited in Bangkok was an area where Mon people currently live in Thailand. The Mon regained some independence after the Mongols took over from the Burmans in the 13th century, but the rivalry and clashes between the two groups continued.


In the 18th century, Burman King Alaungphaya drove the Mon out of their territory and they became stateless. As the British came in next century, the Mon sided with them to try to improve their situation with little results. After the nation achieved independence in 1948, the Mon asked for the recognition of their identity and own state. They faced more percussion, death, burnt villages and imprisonment. Mon people created organizations, first the Mon People’s Front, then the New Moon State Party to fight for their rights. In 1974 they were granted a partially autonomous state, but continued to resist the oppressive military government until a ceasefire in 1996.


From the archaeological section of the museum, time jumped to the current era where coins, tool and crafts of the Mon people were on display. There was a step by step diagram of pipe making, a common trade in this area, slate making to supply schools, weaving and pottery. There were also Buddhist statues, sculptures, Mon musical instruments like kyam, the crocodile xylophone and the saung harp. Music and dance were important to the Mon people.


On the upper floor, there were more Buddhist artifacts and furniture from King Thibaw and his family. That royal family was the last of the monarchy as the British took over the country and forced their family into exile in India during the 19th century. Myanmar currently has no monarchy, though their descendants survive.


On the way out, we passed the cannons and the old Ebenezer Baptist Church that looked pretty quiet. Mawlamyine had been an Anglo-Burmese settlement during colonization and it still showed in the landscape.


Next we arrived at St. Patrick’s Church built in 1829. It was bright yellow with red trim. The clock tower had been built in 1854 by the French. Groups of Burmese people sat around the church and only two wandered around inside while we were there. There were some statues of Jesus, but it was nowhere near as ornate as their Buddhist temples. It also had no pews just two large mats on the floor.


We journeyed on to Kyaik Than Lan Paya, a temple built in 875 AD that reputably housed one of Buddha’s hairs. There was a long quiet walkway to explore with a couple dogs lazing nearby. Hardly anyone was around and the pathway was well on its way to decaying. The path slowly climbed until we saw a higher entrance.


We made our donation to ride the elevator to the paya as there were no stairs that we could find. From the paya site at the top of the ridge, we could see most of downtown Mawlamyine along with the river. It was quite the view, even including the old colonial prison.


The Paya was a bit strange in the sense that they had someone sitting at the entrances of each shrine with a receipt book to take donations. We just observed from afar as it was likely an activity more suited to Buddhists. We walked around the tall golden pagoda, standing 46 metres. They even had benches to relax on as well. Unlike Shwedagon Pagoda busy with tourists and locals alike, this one only had a few other locals and one older foreign woman. One of the workers led me down a strange descending path to find the washrooms that felt like they were in a construction zone.


We walked down another corridor to Maha Muni Paya, passing a reclining Buddha on the way. The Paya and Buddha area were under renovations but we were still invited in to look around. A woman was painting the gold back on the mirror tiled pillars while she spoke of her travels through Europe with her husband who was a doctor. Her English was pretty good. She said that the paint she was replacing was a hundred years old. Many of Myanmar's landmarks were getting makeovers, probably to be in good shape for tourists, or maybe it was just the tourism dollars could finally fund it.


Venturing on, we descended toward Strand road to find lunch.


We went through a couple of markets and a residential area first, also passing the colonial prison. We found a South Indian restaurant where our options were chicken, pork, vegetable or other meats. At least that made it simple. They brought us curries, crispy bread and rice to enjoy it with. It was nice to eat something with a different flavour than we were used to and Ryan quite enjoyed this one. The vegetable curries had a tomato flavour and a bit of spice, though not too much. The meal was reasonably priced as well.


We hid from the heat after that. Ryan had been having trouble with his bank card earlier, which was bad news bears considering mine flat out didn't work in this country. We were getting a little worried. We were able to check if his account had been hacked, which it hadn't. When we went for supper, he tried the other ATMs with no luck. The lady at OK Guesthouse found an internet cafe for us, called to ensure they would be open and arranged a driver for us. We weren't even staying there, just planning on eating at the restaurant next door!

While the ride was a bit unnerving, three of us balanced on the driver's motorbike including me in a long skirt, we got there quickly enough. Ryan managed to make the call, surrounded by curious staff and our motorbike driver. It went through much quicker than mine had in Yangon. The only challenge was when the owner of the shop hung up our first call because Ryan had to type in his bank information. The whole process got a bit lost in language barriers. But in the end, we got the issue resolved. Since he'd been pulling out cash for the both of us, he'd reached the weekly withdrawal limit he hadn't reached before.

We walked back to OK guesthouse to eat as a thank you gesture. My omelette and fries were so-so, but the plates of watermelon we ordered thinking they were actually juice were downright delicious. My stomach didn't like the oily main dish however. Ryan hadn't been a fan of his fried noodles that reminded him too much of soap either. We walked back and settled in to get some sleep for the early morning tour we'd booked for the next day.


Posted by Sarah.M 07:31 Archived in Myanmar Tagged mon walking_tour mawlamyine mon_museum maha_muni_paya kyaikthanlan_paya st._patrick’s_church Comments (0)

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