Monday, February 4, 2008

Road to Mandalay - Myanmar

Governor's Residence
John's Birthday
Reclining Buddha
Shwedagon Temple
Cooking lesson
Road to Mandalay riverboat
Bagan with the cows returning home
Village lady feeding the cows
Lady carrying the pottery she made to market
Novice monk parade
Ear Piercing parade

Over a century ago Rudyard Kipling visited Burma, now called Myanmar, and said it was "quite unlike any land you know about." He wrote, "The Road to Mandalay" but never visited Mandalay. In fact he was in Myanmar for a very short time but his poem has invoked images of romance and beauty in minds of travelers for generations. Myanmar has change little in the last 50 years and is one of the few places to retain its agrarian lifestyle. The most beguiling aspect of Myanmar is its people who are friendly and welcoming and not jaded by the world of commercialism. Imagine a country with no McDonalds and no WalMarts!

We arrived in Yangon and our first impression was positive. The streets of the city are lined with trees and quiet – honking the car horn is not allowed in the city center. Our hotel, the Governor’s Residence, is located on a quiet street in an area that is home to many embassies. A gong announced our arrival. We fell in love with the Governor’s Residence immediately with its beautiful garden, jade-colored pool, and teak buildings built in the traditional style.

For six dollars an hour we hired a car and driver to tour Yangon. The jungle setting of the glass factory was beyond description. The kilns are in very rustic buildings covered with rusty metal sheets. There are piles of glass everywhere. We were glad we went because we saw their glass products at all the hotels.

At the Temple of the Reclining Buddha we were invited into the monk’s quarters Most monks were sleeping because they get up at 4 a.m. to pray so we tried to be very quiet. They live a very Spartan life. In the evening we visited the most important Buddhist Temple, Shwedagon Pagoda, to watch the sunset. One morning Mr. Ko Ko, the Restaurant Manager, took us to the farmer’s market where we saw familiar, and unfamiliar, fruits and vegetables. We bought feather back fish and when we returned to the hotel Mr. Ko Ko and his assistant taught us how make Fried Fish Cake Salad. It was excellent!

We hated to leave the serenity of the Governor’s Resident but the river was calling us. We flew to Began and boarded the luxurious "Road to Mandalay" riverboat on the Ayeyarwady River. It is part of the Orient Express so connections, tours, and everything else was seamless and perfect. We toured the ancient capital of Bagan, which was at its pinnacle between 1057 and 1287. The impressive ruins spread over acres. We visited pagodas, watched people make pottery, lacquer ware, and other handicrafts, wandered through a farming villages, visited a nunnery, went for an ox cart ride, and watched the sun set from atop a pagoda. There were so many wonderful sights to see and interesting things to learn about. The people we so open and friendly that we felt very comfortable everywhere.

On board, a French chef prepared gourmet dinners every evening. In the evening there was entertainment but one evening was magical beyond description. After a blazing sunset, we gathered under the full moon on the top deck for the Festival of Lights. Off in the horizon there were hundred and hundred of small colored lights. Slowly, while listening to classical music. the candlelit, colored lanterns flowed with the current until it reached and surrounded the boat. Incredible!

When we were sailing we could swim in the boat’s pool and just sit on the deck and watch the ever-changing scenery. It was National Geographic come alive. One day we were fortunate to arrive in a village in time to see the parade of young boys heading to the temple for the Novice Monk Ceremony along with girls on their way to the Ear Piercing Ceremony. Each boy was dressed like a little prince and the girls were in beautiful outfits as were the accompanying family members carrying gifts for the temple. Even the horses, cows, and cart were festively decorated.
Every day was one amazing sight after another. We fell in love with Myanmar and are planning to return in 2009! Stay tuned for the second half of our Myanmar trip.

Kipling was correct, it is "…quite unlike any land…".