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Busy day in Mandalay

Temple bike tour, monastery, Moustache Brothers, and gold markets

There weren't a lot of early risers in our dorm except for the man who was meditating in his bed for an hour. Breakfast spoiled us again with endless toast, juice, tea, eggs and generous fruit plates. We also met 'Moma', the guesthouse's operator, that everyone raved about when we requested a coupe bikes. It was a good thing we'd asked early because when we came down ready with our day bags, there were none except for the ones we'd reserved.

We biked through smaller local streets until we found Skinny Buddha by pure luck. If you found your way to 30th street, it was hard to miss the 75 foot statue done in a very different style to what were accustomed to seeing. We parked our bikes near a golden statue of a person playing the harp. The tall bronze coloured statue of Skinny Buddha had his ribs showing as well as his spine as he sat meditating. There was also a reclining Buddha at the site among other statues. There area was quite open and almost empty at this hour.

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As we got ready to leave, we found more puppies playing, sleeping or in open boxes set up with a blanket for them. They nipped at each other and ran around the grounds.

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We later stopped off at the Air Asia office to confirm there was a shuttle for our flight tomorrow. Then we ventured into a bookstore next door so I could acquire another Burmese short story book.

Sri Ganesh Temple was open this time so we went inside. It was described in our guidebook as a Hindu temple whose gopuram (tower) could excite us if we'd never been to Southern India or Singapore, which we hadn't. It was quite tall and impressive, but despite that we took no pictures. Once inside, we were approached by an impromptu tour from a local Indian man who explained the roles of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the protector, Shiva the destroyer and Ganesha. The explanations were hard to follow at times and remember so hopefully looking some of this up has helped ensure that it's correct.

Brahma has four faces just like the four directions and four Veda, sacred Hindu texts of hymns believed to be divine revelations. He was the revealer of sacred knowledge including the Vedas. Shiva is the destroyer, who will eventually be responsible for dissolving the world into nothingness at the end of creation. In the mean time, Shiva's destruction serves a different purpose to promote progress and regeneration. Our guide explained that Ganesha had an elephant head as after he was beheaded. Ganesha was Pavarti's son and Pavarti was Shiva's wife. She created her son to have someone loyal to her and asked him not to open the door for anyone. Her son listened which angered Shiva who wasn't able to enter the home even after revealing his identity. Shiva cut off the boy's head which enraged Pavarti to the point that she wanted to destroy all of creation. Brahma, the creator, came to an agreement with her. Her son would be brought back to life and worshiped before all other gods. Brahma set out to find the first creature laying with its head facing North for Pavarti. He returned with an elephant head which was fixed onto Ganesha's body and new life was breathed into him.

After our tour, we tipped, as was expected, our guide and he recommended a good Nepali vegetarian restaurant. Although we didn't understand much of the tour, the recommendation alone was worth it. Ryan had a potato paratha which was really good, like a pancake stuffed with savory potato and spices. My curry and puri (thin crispy, fried bread) wasn't quite as great, but still tasty.

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The Hindu population in Myanmar is estimated at 2.9 million of an estimated total population of 53 million. Much of the Hindu population came from India or Nepal at different points in history. The Manipuri Brahmins were brought to Myanmar 500 years ago by the King to perform rituals and give advice on astrology, scriptures and medicine. Some Hindu lineages go back as far as 2,000 years. The main influx of Hindus came in the mid-19th century when the British who had taken over, brought a million people from various regions in India to work in government, the army, build roads and railroads or do business and farming. The Nepali Gurkha soldiers settled around a similar time, but post-war. The Nepalese are generally well respected as during the Second World War, they helped fight the Japanese army and reclaim the country. Post-war, the government considered Indians "resident aliens" regardless of how long their families had resided in the country. Property was seized by the government, businesses were nationalized and people were forced to return to India. By the 1980s, those Hindus that remained were allowed to apply for citizenship and own property again.

Today Hinduism isn't as widespread as the dominant Buddhist culture, but its presence is accepted by Buddhists. Some Buddhists will go to Hindu temples to worship the Gods or for other ceremonies in addition to their Buddhist religion. The Chinese population will visit Hindu temples as well. (for more information on Hinduism in Myanmar see: https://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=5647)

We rode our bikes over to the start of the Lonely Planet bike tour and as we found our bearings. A woman came to speak to us in English. It was hard to understand her, but she kept trying and apologizing. She reached in her pocket and gave us 1,000 kyat before walking away. We were pretty confused and decided to donate the money at one of the many temples we'd be visiting as we didn't feel right keeping it.

The self-guided tour took us down back roads and past older homes wedged together. We stopped in a few Buddhist temples and were greeted warmly each time. One had an indoor worship area with shiny mirrors and some interesting colourful statues outside. We weren't really sure if this was on the tour, but stopped in anyway.

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Later we passed some teak and bamboos weave home as well, though we never found the jaggery place. We'd been craving the sweet since our Mount Poppa tour.

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Next, we arrived at Eindawyar Ceti (chedi) which was said to be build around 1200 BE, though the current pagoda was potentially built in 1847. The temple grounds had many interesting statues including meditating monks sitting in front of Buddha and a tree, skinny Buddha, golden statues, a re-creation of golden rock, and Buddha and the naga (snake). We wandered around that section as it was shaded. There was a beautiful golden chedi lit up in the sun and four smaller ones surrounding it that had some animal-man statues at the bases. Even though the temple seemed important, it wasn't terribly busy.

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Near the temple was the crocodile bridge representing Ngamoe Yeik, the servant of a Burmese-chronicle hero Min Nandar.

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We continued past some old colonial building remains nearby. Next on the itinerary were the monasteries so we entered one at random to look at some of the statues. One of the monks held a rock in his hand aiming at a dog. An older man shook his head at the monk but he unleashed the rock on the perfectly innocent dog. Weren't monks supposed to respect other life forms? Though he was young and potentially still in training. The monk approached us and gave us explanations in very few words of the temples/ stupas as well as the nearby Italian building. He brought us to the back to see the other monk who explained a prayer booklet to us along with a math equation that showed the number of verses. They kept repeating it with joy. The older monk showed us the monk robing procedure and his alm he used to collect food.

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The younger monk took us into the old Italian building with photos of monk gatherings and pictures with special visitors. There were books too. We visited the rafters for some reason. The smell was quite funky up there and the heat was intense. Apparently there were birds to see. The monk wanted us to take some photos with him as well. The lighting made them fairly blurry but he was happy. As we left, he asked for a 3,000 kyat donation which wasn't what we'd expected. We gave him the 1,000 we'd received from the lady early and left a bit unsettled with the slightly disorientating tour. No more monasteries for awhile.

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We biked on until we found Mandalay's own mini teak bridge and eventually carried our bikes over it as well when we could find the proper way. This bridge had far fewer tourists, some resting locals and a temple to see behind it. The waterway divided the two roads and smelled a bit worse than the water around U-Bein.

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Our journey continued to see cargo ships and passenger ships on the Ayeyarwady river, the country's largest river flowing North to South.

We ventured into the new and impressive Jin Taw Yan Chinese Temple after that. There was a vibrant archway that led to a three story temple, conference room and gift shop. To the right was a smaller temple with paintings of mountains where people played mahjong. We walked up to the third floor to see the incensors, carved pillars, and sloped roofs that all reminded us lots of China and had us missing it.

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Our bike tour finished with a visit to the fancier Riverside Hotel. They even had a pool. We went up to the rooftop and after looking at the menu decided to have dessert and overpriced drinks. I scurried around to get some nice photos of the city and the river from both sides. The coco chocolate crepe was pretty good and my golden watermelon fruit shake as well

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On the way back, we got a touch lost trying to find our way to the gold markets. We passed through a bustling market overtaking the street rich in smells, colours and sights where our biked slowed to a crawl.

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We finally found the correct street for the gold market and went to watch the demonstrations. Workers bashed away with larger hammers to create thin strips of paper from bamboo. They'd repeat the process: cut, smash, enlarge for hours until the bamboo was fully utilized and turned into shiny paper. Swinging those hammers was hard labour in this heat. The process for the gold leaf was the same, but they didn't demonstrate it out on the street. We walked through the gift shop and saw people in a closed room cutting up the golden paper. None got wasted, just re-pounded into larger sheets. The sheets were applied to the Buddha statues in religious ceremonies and prayers as we'd observed at Golden Rock.

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After a rest back at the hostel and chatting with a few people like an Australian man with plenty of diving recommendations, we took a taxi to the Moustache Brothers show. Our driver dropped us off early and recommended Star 81, a busy three-story restaurant where Ryan had fried rice and I had their potato and broccoli off the BBQ menu. Mine was meager but cheap enough. The restaurant was quite accommodating to get our food to us as soon as possible so we didn't miss the show.

We ran down to the Moustache Brothers home and sat in plastic chairs. They gave us laminated articles to read about the comedy show. Both brothers Par Par Lay and Lu Maw were arrested and spent five years in jail after a performance for Aung Sun Suu Ky and others in 1996 while she was under house arrest. They made a joke about the government's sticky fingers. Par Par Lay was subsequently rearrested in 2007 as part of a crack-down on anti-government protests. In 2013, Par Par Lay, who had been released and was still performing the show, was diagnosed with kidney disease. The brothers believe it was caused by the lead paint in the water tanks that were in the prison. Lu Maw and their cousin Lu Zaw continued the shows afterward in his absence just as they had during his time in prison.

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Their shows are referred to as a-nyeint pwe, which according to Kyaw Phyo Tha's article "Junta Satirist From ‘Moustache Brothers’ Trio Dead at 67" is a traditional Burmese vaudeville performance in which a female performer dances and sings to light music while supported by comedians. While the government had banned them from touring the countryside as they used to performing to local audiences, they were allowed to perform from their homes exclusively for tourists. (http://www.irrawaddy.com/burma/junta-satirist-from-moustache-brothers-trio-dead-at-67.html)

Soon the plastic chairs filled up and the two remaining family members came on stage. Lu Maw showed us the scene from About a Boy where Par
Par Lay was mentioned as well as a clip from the 1996 performance, during which the brothers were arrested.

Lu Maw, with his colourful lettered signs, explained today's government as the military without uniforms, still acting in the fashion they did before. He had little hope for the upcoming election. He asserted that the only thing keeping his show alive was tourism because the government wanted to please foreigners to get their cash. For this reason, they'd let the brothers perform exclusively for foreigners, which they did nearly every night.

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This was one of his well-known jokes.

“I had a toothache, so I went to Thailand to visit a dentist.
"The dentist asked, ‘Do you not have dentists in Burma?’
"'Ah, yes,’ I would say, ‘but in Burma, we cannot open our mouths.’”

Lu Zaw came on stage to do some dancing in costume with an umbrella. Afterwards Lu Maw introduced his wife who was also featured on the cover of Lonely Planet a number of years ago, but he held the book up to her face for reference anyhow. Many of the shows jokes were about her. She had been a dancer in their troupe when it toured locally. He was a few years her senior, but they got married. Their daughter now worked as a taxi driver mainly for tourists and the young granddaughters danced on the stage with their grandmother for a few of the acts.

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The dances signified certain messages or acts, one of which was carrying the harvest. One dance they had a mask that reminded us of the Sichuan opera a bit. The costumes were quite bright and colourful. A performer studied for three years before joining the troupe. The troupe was then hired to perform at events around the country. Hiring a troupe for an event was considered a prestigious thing.

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The finale featured seven dances and much of Lu Maw's family performing as monkeys, ogres and a prince. After the show they had t-shirts for sale and called for some photo shares on social media. Our splurging couldn't go any further today as we had just enough cash to get ourselves home and to the airport tomorrow and we didn't plan on exchanging or withdrawing anymore. Even though our day was quite busy, it was a nice way to spend our final day in Myanmar.

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Posted by Sarah.M 04:59 Archived in Myanmar Tagged performance monk bridge dance mandalay pagoda crocodile monastery myanmar chinese hindu comedy sri_ganesh_temple eindawyar jin_taw_yan_temple riverside_hotel moustache_brothers par_par_lay lu_maw lu_zaw Comments (0)

Shan Palace and Little Bagan

Exploring Hsipaw

Ryan was feeling pretty sick this morning and didn't want to go to breakfast. I took the elevator up to the fourth floor for the breakfast buffet that I'd been excited for since last night. They had fried noodles, fried veggies, tomatoes and crepes in addition to the standard eggs your way and toast.

There were even tasty brown baguette-like slices that were delicious. The highlight was the crepes with jam and I knew Ryan would enjoy them so I went back down and talked him into coming up for breakfast. He managed to eat a little and loved the crepes too. The view from the rooftop was a bit foggy this morning but we could still see other rooftops and trees.

We rested in the room for awhile after breakfast. For lunch, I ventured out to the street for some mediocre fried rice that I couldn't finish after the marathon breakfast. I came back to check on Ryan who still wanted to rest so I rented a bike so he could do so without me shuffling around the room.

My destination was Little Bagan, but it was far harder to find than I'd anticipated even with the hotel's hand drawn map. I passed the railroad tracks and kept going past some uphill construction to find nothing but trees, fields and sunrays. I turned back and headed for another temple but that road had a dead end. Riding up and down the street one last time, I spotted a couple foreigners and followed them to Mrs. Popcorn. I continued down the little trail to find Little Bagan.

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Near a monastery, there were white and gray stone chedis with vegetation growing out of them. There were around a dozen all together near the gates. One outside that area called Eissa Paya had cracked down the middle as a result of a growing tree. Behind were nice terraces and a few woman working in the fields.

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Further down the road, there was the Bamboo Buddha Monastery, Maha Nanda Kantha. A small pagoda sat near a seated Buddha on an island reached by small bridge. The monastery was mainly wooden and not very busy. Across the street there were more chedis of a similar age to those in little Bagan. Some had loud speakers attached and others were newer. They were all together in a courtyard area, different than the spread out and endless nature of Bagan.

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I biked maybe five minutes back down the main road to reach the much easier to find Shan Palace. The gate was locked and closed so I pulled out the travel journal and prepared to make the most of the wait. The resident dog was not so happy to see me so I began to walk away. Luckily, the grandson of the owner was more friendly and invited me inside as he and others drove off to work.

Fern, the owner, came out to greet me and invited me to explore the yard. I went back to the 90 year old prayer house, a two story wooden building that hadn't aged so well. There were three smaller shrines in front of it as well.

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When I returned to the European style house, Fern kindly explained the history of the Shan Palace in the sitting room. Sao Khun Seng was the ruling Shan prince or chief in the early 20th century. His son, Sao Khe went away to school in England and was even knighted at one point. He finished his studies and upon his return, he wanted to embrace western life and had the current Shan Palace built as a home to live in separately from his family. There was already a Shan Palace not far from there which housed his family. When his father passed away, Sir Sao Khe used the original palace for administrative purposes. He had no children but his uncle had two sons, Sao Oo Kya and Sao Kya Seng.

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The eldest was invited to Taunggyi to be the secretary for all of the Shan states. The youngest, Sao Kya Seng, left for Colorado to study where he met an Austrian woman on a full scholarship. They fell in love, got married and moved back to Hsipaw. His father passed away, leaving him as chief. Inge, his wife, learned Burmese and Shan as well as adopted Burmese and local dress. The local people liked and accepted her for that reason. She stayed along with her two daughters for 10 years.

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Post World War II, Burma went through political change and independence. Sao Kya Seng served various roles such as the Mp for Burma's house of Nationalities, a member of the Shan State Council and secretary of the Association of Shan Princes. The military came into the area where some Shan rebels seeking independence resided. The rebels would be arrested, go missing or be tortured. Sao Kya Seng maintained his position as prince, saopha, while others were giving up theirs. In 1962, ethnic groups were planning on asking for federation. Ne Win knew this and also planned to take over the country. A coup occurred and he seized power.

The heads of Shan state were all arrested including the two brothers and Fern's father. The family were able to write to them so the families relocated to Rangoon (now Yangon). Inge stayed until her mother in law confirmed that the Hsipaw prince, her husband, had also been arrested. Then Inge moved to Rangoon and sought assistance from the British and Austrian embassies and friends. They found out that her husband had been killed but the government would not confirm this. They wouldn't even confirm that he'd been arrested anymore.

Since she wasn't a Burmese citizen, she chose to move back to Austria and then America for her family's safety. She wrote to the government, asking for information on her husband but this earned her a spot on the black list. To this day, he is still considered missing. Therefore, by Buddhist tradition, they cannot hold a funeral for him. Her blacklist status has been lifted but she has grown older and is not well enough to travel. She wrote Twilight Over Burma twenty years ago about her experience.

Biking back to the hotel, I was quite happy with the experience. It was very special to have someone share such a fascinating family history to such a small audience. It was one of my highlights of Myanmar so far.

Ryan was feeling better after a good rest so we decided to tackle sunset hill. The walk to the river was nice and straightforward. A water buffalo was grazing on the boulevard. The first hill and temple we saw, we attempted to climb, but it wasn't the right one. Further down, the hill had a sign and quite the climb, even after a few ambitious short cuts. The climb wasn't too long, maybe 15-20 minutes. Many took a tuktuk to save time and energy.

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The top had a great view of the Dokhtawady river and Hsipaw. The sun was still up, illuminating a statue with monks kneeling around their teacher and Thein Daung Pagoda. The sunset soon painted the sky in pinks and oranges.

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We made good time on the way down, passing others on our way to find supper. We went to Mr. Food to have a Chinese meal. I had an omelette and Ryan had tasty fried tofu. Sharing the table with us was a Canadian man from Newfoundland and his Canadian/Thai wife. He was 85 years old and they came to see the viaduct then return. They also met other Newfoundlanders earlier in their trip who were twins. Another man joined us from Germany and he'd been trekking for three days with the guides from Mr. Charles guesthouse. They slept in hammocks and ate a monkey that their guide shot. I hoped when we did the trek that there'd be a vegetarian option or that he was exaggerating.

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  • **

I've done my best to try and make sure the details are accurate, especially with the history. If you're interested in further reading on the Shan prince situation here are a few articles:

http://www.irrawaddy.com/feature/hispaw-haw-abode-of-tragic-shan-prince.html

http://www.irrawaddy.com/contributor/posthumous-award-revives-memories-of-a-shan-prince.html

Posted by Sarah.M 19:17 Archived in Myanmar Tagged palace breakfast burma pagoda myanmar shan sao buffet lily prince hsipaw inge kya seng little_bagan thein daung sunset_hill Comments (0)

Bagan Temples

semi-overcast 32 °C

After lunch, we were off on bikes to explore Bagan, a temple wonderland. This was largest concentration of Buddhist temples, stupas, payas and ruins in the world, many dating from the 11th to 13th centuries. Bagan's history began in the 9th century, but massive temple construction began in 1044 with King Anawratha founding the Bagan Empire. He'd been influenced by the Mon with regards to both the script and Theravada Buddhist religion. At one time there were an estimated 10,000 structures but today there are approximately 2,200. Many were damaged in an earthquake in 1975 and some restored in 1990, but not always to historical accuracy.

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Not even five minutes past our guesthouse, down a flat dusty road, we found several temples. The structures weren't huge, but they were quite relaxed to visit given the lower number of visitors. A few vendors wanted to give their painting sales pitches and tell us about the temples. They had been damaged by smoke during the war as well as in the earthquake. Golden or red robed Buddha statues sat behind old brickwork. There were staircases up to the top to see the view of just how far the temples extended. For miles there were big, small, golden or red bricked pagodas populating the plains.

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The next paya, Tha Kya Bon, had a statue that the vendor called the grandfather Buddha. The second head poked out of the main Buddha's stomach and had been built in the 11th century while the larger Buddha that encased it was built in the 13th century.
Further back, there were more rectangular buildings from the same reddish bricks. Trees with purple flowers grew nearby. The overall vegetation was fairly sparse in terms of groundcover, just small bushes and a few trees, almost desert-like.

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We rested back in the room to ease our stomachs and beat the heat. We got a free map and figured out a good sunset temple.

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On the ride back out to the temples, we found a few more temples to explore including Htilominlo, meaning 'Blessings of Three Worlds', which was large and impressive. It was the last temple known to be built in the Myanmar style. The temple was erected because on this spot King Nantaungmya was selected from among his five brothers to become the crown prince. We wandered around inside where old faded paintings lined the arched ceilings and walls. There were sitting and standing, also old and newer gold Buddha statues.

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This temple had a staircase to the top to view the pagoda landscape as well.
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Some of the vendor's offered to take us to a photo area for a fee, but the best photos were from a further distance so we declined, sneaked our bikes around the outside wall and walked to an area where we could get our own shots.

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We continued to U-Pali-Thein which was a single level rectangular gray building that was gated off but there were old paintings inside on the arched ceilings of Buddhas and other motifs.

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We biked down to Buledi temple after failing to reach the further ones. We scaled the steps to join the growing crowd of observers for sunset.

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There were some clouds but the colour still came through quite well. There were plenty of other temples around to liven up the sunset shots and create silhouettes at times. A sleepy dog managed to climb up a few levels of the temple and joined us. There were less hawkers now than during my last visit when people offered cold drinks to bring up to the top and post cards. They had some clothing at the bottom with the large pile of tourist shoes as we had to leave them out of respect. The sun sneaked below the horizon dozens of temples and stupas in the distance.

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Our return cycle was in the dark down a dusty road that could be a bit too soft and sandy at times. At least there wasn't a parade of horse carriages to pass on the way, another popular form of tourist transportation out here. We popped back on the main road at the rental shop. It was quite nice considering how exhausted we were.

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At supper, I was feeling quite awful so after staring at the menu for far too long, I just went back to the room to sleep under the heavy blankets. Ryan finally got to try his local Star Cola and had a chicken burger from the place where we'd rented our bikes.

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References:
http://bagan.travelmyanmar.net/bagan-history.htm
https://www.renown-travel.com/burma/bagan.html

Posted by Sarah.M 12:43 Archived in Myanmar Tagged temple bagan pagoda bike heat tha_kya_bon htilominlo u-pali-thein buledi Comments (0)

Yangon

Pagodas, tea houses and fried cashew nuts

In the morning, I woke up early to Skype the bank with little success. Then I tried the guesthouse computers and the software was too outdated to run the program. Ryan and I had the Myanmar breakfasts while I kept stressing. My breakfast was rice, beans, and onion cooked in groundnut oil. Mine was called Penan Bye. Ryan had a coconut based soup called Onnoth Khawk Hswe as his Myanmar breakfast. We enjoyed them both and would have ordered them again.

I ventured down to the internet cafe, getting a bit lost and taking the better part of a half hour to find it. On my route back, I spotted it. I tried the computer with no success before paying the 100 kyat (10 cents) a minute to sit on hold with TD over Skype. After talking to the guy, nothing was wrong with the card, in fact it didn't even register any attempts at withdrawals let alone the failed ones. At least the sort of peace of mind was only 2000 kyat, or a couple dollars. Though, I still wouldn't have access to my funds.

We set off walking to Botataung Pagoda near the river and the guesthouse. There was plenty of life on the streets: people selling machinery parts, drinks or snacks, vehicles ranging from old buses to trishaws just chugging along. We found the pagoda on Strand street, not really marked but a Buddhist archway told us we were going the right direction. The building instructing foreigners to come in that direction and an admission fee told us that we'd made it to the right one. It was 3000 kyat to get in.

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The main hall had paintings depicting the voyage of two men who met Buddha and received eight of his hairs. The voyage took 1000 military leaders who accompanied the hairs from India to Myanmar over 2000 years ago. The hairs were enshrined here briefly as was the case with many of the other temples around the area. There were English subtitles to the story too. The large Buddha at the back was around during the reign of King Thibaw, the end of a long monarchy before the British annexation and colonization. It was sent to London for awhile and returned in 1951, around the time of independence.

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We went inside the zedi itself, a rare occurrence but a bomb from an allied raid in 1943 had damaged the paya and when it was rebuilt they built a hollow zedi which was most unusual. The walls were gold from ceiling to floor and embossed. Given the round nature of the zedi, the interior felt very boxy with zigzag triangular sections and tight narrow corners. In the centre, people swarmed to a window to glimpse a statue and the spot where the hairs would have sat. We got our quick look too. I found the fact that there were large metal locks on all of the relics different than other
temples, but I could understand why.

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Outside the temple was more relaxed. A painted archway led to a pond with 'Turtle Island', which was a miniature mountain structure where the terrapin turtles could climb up out of the pond and bask in the sun. As there were many turtles, it became a show of turtles climbing over each other just to warm up. A giant turtle swam around too. There was turtle and fish food for sale but the animals didn't seem too keen on it.
A few mentally ill people sat along the archway paths which left me wondering if they might have been subject to torture a few decades back during the military regime.

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There were more shrines and small pagodas to visit around the site too, all pretty relaxed. They featured different Buddha statues with his followers surrounding him.
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Next we took a quick look at the Yangon River, not as picturesque as some.

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We kept walking down Strand Street, passing the fancy Strand Hotel and a collection of British-Burmese era colonial architecture. We passed a number of embassies too.

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After cutting up a few streets, we made it to Mahabandoola Garden. The park was free, an exception among the rest of the attractions. Democracy monument ironically sat in a park surrounded by fences and guarded entrances. It seemed to fit the city. From 1988 to 1990, when tensions with democracy protestors was high, soldiers occupied the area. Today, people took refuge in the shade of bushes or around the tall white monument, far more relaxed. We checked it out quickly and ventured elsewhere. Ryan enjoyed got a laugh out of the well endowed statues.

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We tried to visit LinkAge, a restaurant that supported street children and those from poor families by giving them cooking and catering skills, but the staff said they were closed and to come back at 4. We returned to the area near Sule Paya Thon and the park to Thone Pan Hla tea shop that I'd eaten at on my first trip here (another Lonely Planet recommendation). I ordered a dish that was almost identical to my breakfast, but the naan bread had been substituted for rice. The groundnut oil was still delicious. Ryan had Si Chet - chicken and garlic noodles that he also enjoyed along with the sweetest tea you'll find nowhere but Myanmar and table snacks. The whole meal hardly made a dent in the budget.

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Visiting the Bogyoke Aung San museum required quite a bit of walking. Luckily the sidewalks weren't in the abysmal state I found them a few years ago so we didn't have to walk on the road, as much. Repairs were underway and the progress was visible. The route did require a fair amount of creative jaywalking and a few stops to photograph the buses out of the 60s roaring by. But the walk fueled us with constant entertainment. We tried to guess the ages of the cars and see the mix of left and right hand drive vehicles due to imports from all over and different time periods. There was a large housing development in the works near Shwedagon Pagoda that looked really swanky. A few people helped us find our way to the museum located on a conveniently named road.

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The museum was the two story house where Aung San had lived with his wife and children, including his well known daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, for just over two years. Aung San was a man regarded as a national hero. He led a fight towards an independent Burma during British rule. He and other comrades went to the Japanese for training and assistance during the Second World War, but conditions became worse than they were under the British, so they rejoined the Allies to fight for their independence and against the Japanese, driving them out two months later in 1945. Aung San met with the British Prime Minister to agree upon a pact where Burma would be under self-rule within a year. He also signed the Panglong agreement which guaranteed ethnic minorities to choose their political destiny if dissatisfied after 10 years. In 1947, he and six aides were gunned down. Speculations point to dissatisfaction with his plan to demilitarize the government.

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At the museum, they had us check all cameras and mobile devices in the lockers. In the first room, they had his table with name plates. There were excerpts from his speeches and write-ups on his education: an English student and graduate. He also wrote his own address to the public in English. The sitting room was set up with an old radio and furniture. Upstairs there were more photos of the families and his childhood home, as well as the beds. Aung San Suu Kyi's was a crib bed as she'd only been two when the assassination took place. Aung San also had an extensive English book collection. I picked up a quite cheap, much newer book on his assassination that I have yet to read. Outside they also had his old car on display.

We walked toward Shwedagon Pagoda after passing markets of sugar cane juice, flowers, incense and religious articles before the long, shoeless walk up the staircase. I remembered how surprising convenient the escalator had been on my first visit, but they weren't at every entrance. At the top, the entry price had inflated from $5 US to $8 each, just for foreigners. Ryan and I were indifferent. He didn't want to go in if I'd been already and I was content to go in or stay out. It was another temple to us in the grand scheme of things, even though it was one of Yangon's top attractions. Ryan preferred to see life on the streets as it was more representative of the culture. We turned around and decided to go for supper. It was a good thing as the whole zedi was covered with burlap-like material due to renovations. No sparkle or excitement to be seen, even if we'd paid to get close up.

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We stopped at two other pagodas, Maha Wizaya Zedi and Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda. I'd visited the former on my previous trip to Myanmar. We followed a bridge across a turtle pond where a bright gold zedi gleamed as the sun set.

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Hardly anyone was there so we walked around enjoying the scenic paintings of Buddha's life and near superhero like presence and the forest-like interior of the interior of the zedi.

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Sein Yaung Chi pagoda caught my eye as it was silver and more rectangular. The mirrors lit up with the sunlight. It was virtually empty as well and didn't take long to go through.

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We tried again to support a good cause with our supper selection, but the staff told us they were closed for a special event, reservations only. Out of luck, we walked back through busy and frustrating markets until I started to see English restaurant signs. Too bad Lucky 7 teahouse was closed in the evenings.

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We did find Rubyland where I ordered fried cashews nuts. Cue my surprise when exactly that showed up on a plate. I'd been expecting a stir fry or meal of sorts since their menu had some interesting and entertaining translation difficulties. Ryan and I split the cashew nuts and I ordered a very oily fried rice to go with them. Ryan enjoyed his fried chicken.

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We turned in for the night. I still had no luck with the ATMs I tried during the day.

Posted by Sarah.M 18:03 Archived in Myanmar Tagged tea pagoda shop pan shwedagon_pagoda democracy_monument sein_yaung_chi_pagoda maha_wizaya_zedi botataung bogyoke_aung_san_musuem thone hla Comments (0)

Hangzhou

Visit to West Lake

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Our next stop was Hangzhou, a city not too far from Shanghai. The ride to the train station had far more apartment complexes than we imagined, both new and falling apart. Shanghai was still huge and seemingly never ending. We were fortunate to stumble across another foreigner from Rochester, New York. He was living in Shanghai and studying Chinese. With his help, we all got cheap tickets to Hangzhou. He even told off the Chinese man who, like most other locals here, tried to cut us in line. It seems to be a universal thing to do here and since we didn't speak Chinese, we were never able to comment on it.

The train ride to Hangzhou made it hard to tell where Shanghai ended and the other cities began. The buildings crawled along the countryside the whole two hours we spent on the train. We met some Chinese students who were also studying English and chatted for a bit. Our American friend spent the whole ride speaking to Chinese to a woman across from us. We really envied those language skills.

Our arrival in Hangzhou was pretty painless. The metro was right beside the train station and ran nearly identical to the way the Shanghai one had. The place we were staying was only two stops away and easy enough to find.

From there we went to West Lake, one of China's budding tourism locations that won some awards. I had pictured a quaint lake that we could bike around, explore and relax. A bit like Clear Lake in Manitoba. I had not thought about just how many people lived in China.
We took the metro there and again English signs helped us find exactly where we needed to go. The riverwalk was packed with Chinese people and the occasional foreigners. They walked in every which direction, stopped for photos and occupied most of the space. There were even street performers doing karaoke or dancing. The lake was also huge and not manageable in a short afternoon stint.

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We stopped for supper at a restaurant with a Lotus theme. I thought it would be fun to try the veggie dish with lotus seeds. It was, except the expensive dish was the size of a side and left me hungry. Ryan wasn't a big fan of his chicken dish either. We stopped at Burger King to fill up on a burger for him and fries for me.

After that we caught a musical fountain show, which was essentially a laser show better suited to the 80s when simple computer generated graphics were impressive and played to a soundtrack of Simply the Best and some techno. We made it through without laughing, but needed to leave after a few songs. The galloping unicorns, rotary telephones and animated people were not what we expected.

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The following day we stopped at V N Go for some delicious prepackaged baked goods, red bean filled buns and cold cross buns. We scarfed them down before our metro train arrived. A few stops down, we found a new way to West Lake. We couldn't decide on bikes or bus so we did neither and walked the riverwalk for quite some time. We passed some beautiful pavilions, lots of lily pads and a temple or two in the distance.

Ryan was quite the celebrity. A Chinese man handed him his baby to take a picture of the three of us. Some confused baby is going to grow up wondering why he has a picture with some random white couple. After that, a group of university students wanted to capture our smiles in exchange for cool buttons so, again we complied.

We then crossed a bridge to one of many islands on West Lake which featured many museums and temples. Our first stop on the island was a museum that featured modern local art. A painting of various Chinese masks reminded us of Folklorama where they quizzed us on the different meanings of them. We couldn't remember much but the painting was nice.

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Next, we went to the Hangzhou museum which had more pottery and ceramics. We were going to be certified experts pretty darn soon at this rate. Hangzhou was in Zhejiang province which played a key role in China's long history and their Neolithic pottery went back at least 7,000 years, when rice cultivation first began. Hangzhou was one of the ancient capitals of China around the 10th century. Many of the pieces were similar to those we saw in the Shanghai museum.

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There were plenty of rebuilt temples from different dynasty periods and a few ruins among them. We went to General Yue Fei's tomb. He was considered a hero in Chinese culture because his actions serving in the military showed his unwavering dedication to his country. When his mother died, he requested a leave but got called back several times. His actions also represented a loyalty to his mother, another revered Chinese ideal. He was executed along with his son under not so solid orders, but years later he was considered a hero. The tomb featured some memorial pagodas and statues of him and his son. The tombs were gravestones engraved with Chinese characters.

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We continued our walk slightly uphill past some botanical gardens with an impressive looking landscaping. One of the bushes even looked like a spider. But we wanted to make it to the final destination so we didn't stop.

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At the Feilai Feng Scenic Area, we found a vegetarian restaurant much to our delight. As we walked around, we realized all the tables were full. We figured once we visited the temple, the place would have cleared out a bit so we grabbed a snack and bought our tickets to the scenic area.
We went inside to Flying Peak, limestone grottoes with hundreds of statues from previous millenniums carved into them from Buddhist figures to animals, to people. There were some tucked inside the caves and others featured on the outside to enjoy from afar. The whole experience was really neat as long as we took care not to bump our heads. Without signs to guide us we also walked high up to a peak where a stone with some red Chinese writing sat, not our happiest moment as we had expected more with that calf-burning climb.

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We visited a few more temples, Taoguang, and a monastery that were both quite a hike up from where we started. The monastery was bright yellow and had plenty of greenery and arched doorways with pillars to support the inner wall and offering a nice view of the courtyards. The statues inside were golden and were male or female Buddhist figures, with brightly coloured prayer pillows below. People would bring in their incense here too.
The final temple, Lingyin Temple, required an entrance fee. We figured since we came all this way and the whole complex was named after this one. They gave us three complimentary incense sticks each and we had quite the time lighting them. Every other person there had their own lighter or a friend with a lighter. We stood around awkwardly until Ryan decided to try and ask some people. One girl who must have been watching us came up and offered us one and some help to get the stick lit. Everyone around would raised their incense to the temple, then their forehead, and bow to pray one time in each direction. Then they place the incense stick in a large black metal ceremonial censer.

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We went into the main temple and monks in yellow and red, dual-coloured, robes were in prayer. The Chinese people were praying with them as well. They also prayed in different directions, reciting the prayer. The temple itself had many large golden statues, quite impressive. We went through the other buildings as well, a study area as well as a memorial hall where hundreds of statues of monks sat just above eye level. They had a variety of facial expressions, poses and accessories, even a monkey. It was a bit creepy as it felt like at any minute they would all jump down and surround us, but maybe that was just my crazy imagination.

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We went back to find the vegetarian restaurant closed so we hopped on a very crowded bus and headed back toward the metro. Thankfully we made it off that bus on time as movement was severely restricted. Every time I thought there couldn't be more people added to the bus, there were.
We found supper at a tasty ramen noodle restaurant that had pretty spectacular mushrooms and both meals were wonderfully filling. Ryan quite enjoyed his fried rice and chicken. My veggie ramen was great along with the sweet lychee juice, with real lychee pieces. It was a good end to the day. We would definitely be stopping for lunch the following day.

Posted by Sarah.M 17:59 Archived in China Tagged temple metro tomb pagoda hangzhou west_lake ramen lingyin_temple Comments (0)

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