Friday, February 15, 2019

#8 Hot Air Balloon Ride over Bagan

A hot air balloon flight over the more than 2000 Buddhist monuments surrounding Bagan is an experience not to be missed. Words just can't describe what we saw. (But I'll try...)

We were picked up at our hotel well before dawn and driven to the balloon launching area. We were well taken care of: seated at tables laden with buns and fruit for breakfast, and  served much welcome cups of coffee while we watched the balloons being filled.  

I'm not sure how Craig pulls out such images, but it was still 
dark when this picture of us in the balloon basket was taken.
Getting me into the basket was the hardest part. A bit of assistance, which you can see on Joko's video (link below) was required, but I made it!

We had were 12 passengers plus the pilot.  I was secretly glad he was British. That way we could understand what he was telling us.

We rose like giant bubbles into the sky.

There were a number of companies all taking off at the same time, and each had different colored balloons. 

We were in a Golden Eagle yellow balloon. 

The first light of pre-dawn illuminated the larger, gold structures. 

Not quite light yet ...


It was fascinating to drift over these structures. and wonder about them.  Bagan was one of many capital cities in the history of Burma. What are their secrets? 

How they were constructed is no mystery. Bricks.

There are efforts to keep the land around them somewhat cleared, but from what I understand, the restoration process is strictly controlled.

From the roads around them, it is apparent this grouping is frequently visited. In fact if you look closely you can see someone in the entryway of one structure. This was at about 6:30 AM.

I thought all the haze was morning fog, but it was smoke from small fires used to burn trash. I recalled we had a burn barrel in the 1980's in which we did the same. We lived in Wisconsin, and there was no trash pickup out in the country. I wonder if there is trash pickup in Bagan.

As the early morning light became stronger, the buildings caught the glow.

All too soon the sandy banks of the river, where we were headed for our landing, came into view.

One of our sister Golden Eagle Balloons coming in for a landing.

Once down, we were helped out of the basket and our pilot poured us each a celebratory glass of Champagne. This tradition dates back to the very first French balloonists. They had brought along a bottle of Champagne to toast the flight, but when they landed they gave it to the local farmers to show they were not devils and to apologize for disturbing the land and livestock.

This farmer has to go to work! He was not part of the whole balloon flight extravaganza. He and several other were there waiting until the balloon trucks were out of the way so they could drive their bullock carts to their riverside fields. I had seen many of these carts driving along the rural roads, but never got a good picture. This man was nice enough to stop and smile for me after I had trudged some distance across the sand with camera in hand.

Gil, shooting a video before dawn
As promised earlier in this post, here's a link to Joko's video about the first part of our visit.  
Joko's Video 

I, selfishly, wanted you to look at my pictures and read my posts first, but he does a great job of telling the same story in a 3:39 minute video. Please check it out.

He appreciates comments too! Tell him his Mom sent you.

Next #9 Mandalay

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

#7 Bagan

The next morning, we packed up once again and headed north on Highway 1. After some miles, we left the toll road and took a smaller road to Bagan.

Along these rural roads it was not uncommon to see cattle on the shoulders. Some were being moved from place to place, some were tethered to graze on roadside plants, and some were pulling carts.

Bagan is an ancient city known for the Protected Archaeological Area where there are thousands of Buddhists temples, pagodas and shrines scattered over a remarkable area.

I refer to them as "monuments" or "structures" because it is not clear to me exactly what is a pagoda, a bell, a stupa, a shrine, or a temple.

I do know none of them are grave markers or mausoleums containing earthly remains. The big Pagodas are said to contain some "holy relics" of the Buddhas. (There were several.)

We arrived in early afternoon and got settled into our rooms before going out exploring again.

The grounds of our hotel in Bagan were very pleasant with the rooms all opening onto courtyards. The restaurant where we had breakfast was also outdoors.

All of the other hotels we stayed at were quite "European" with regular queen beds. Our beds in the Bagan hotel were very comfortable in spite of being Asian-style, on the floor. 

We went off to see a few more pagodas in the late afternoon.

I wanted to be respectful of the Buddhist traditions, so I bought a Longyi from one of the vendors. 

You can also rent them for a very small donation at the door if you are not dressed appropriately. (Shorts or tank tops are frowned upon.) I would have been OK with my long pants, but I liked the elephant pattern on this longyi.

Maybe I can use it as a swim suit cover up.


Not all of the temples are being restored or maintained. We visited this large one in late afternoon as the sun was setting.

I have lost track of the names or how old these places are. 

This Buddha statue was inside. The building may be crumbling, but he seemed to have a fresh coat of paint. 

Craig noticed this man standing on a wall that went around the main structure. We wondered why he was there, and what could he see that we could not.

He was waiting for the sunset.

It was a good one!

That evening Craig and I retired early. We wanted to be able to get up before dawn to be picked up to go to the launch field for our Sunrise Hot Air Balloon ride.

Next #8 Hot Air Balloon ride over Bagan.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

#6 Naypyidaw

Just a note:  I am writing about many details of our trip because when I am finished, I want to have these posts printed as a keepsake book for myself. I have used some pictures from the WEB images because we were often to busy looking and seeing to take the picture to tell the story. I do not intend any copyright infringement.

We left the hotel very early on our third day, and headed out of town to Naypyidaw the new capital, about 250 miles to the north.

It was very interesting to see areas of Yangon that were not in the city center. There were a lot of newer looking apartment buildings, but still many road side vendors selling all sorts of things. 

It did seem that it was quite common for people to build shaky shacks made from what looks like recycled materials, wherever they could find a space. 

alamy stock photo cropped
Traffic was even more crazy with the addition of zillions of motorcycles and motorbikes. Families of three and four all piled on together with Mom holding the smallest tots in their arms, or larger ones to the side.

It wasn't long before we left the congestion of Yangon and turned onto Myanmar #1 - the Yangon-Mandalay Highway. It is a "straight as an arrow", two lane, toll road that doesn't allow motorbikes or bullock carts on the paved lanes. Instead, on the shoulders of the road there is a dirt path for their use. The land was mostly fallow fields (it being January) or uncultivated acreage. There were no small villages visible from the highway, but out in the fields, there were houses on stilts, much like what we saw at the National Races Village Park.  

We did stop for a break about halfway to Naypyidaw to stretch our legs and have a mid-morning snack, of would you believe KFC fried chicken!

 To my relief, "European" style toilets were available most of the places we went. I'm adding that bit of information for any older woman who is thinking about a similar trip. Having to use a squat toilet was my biggest reservation about going on the trip, and I only had to do so twice in 30 days.

Naypyidaw is a strange place. It was built by the military government as the new capital. It covers a large area, but seems to have a very low population. I guess the concept of "if you build it, they will come" did not quite work here.

Among the oddities is a twelve lane road that goes nowhere, and few cars use. We were able to park, and take the above picture of the only other car we could see on the road.

Actually it does go somewhere, to the Presidential Palace.

We drove up and stopped outside this deserted looking gate. Craig and Joko got out with their cameras, and two guards came out from the smaller gate. We thought they were going to let us in.

Craig was able to take this zoomed in image of the inner entry way gate before the guards told us to get back in our car and move along. Reflecting on the situation of the journalists that are presently in prison in the northern part of Myanmar, it probably wasn't a smart idea for us to pull up to the Presidential Palace in a big black SUV and waving around a very nice large camera and a video rig. On another day, we might have been taken into custody for questioning!

Giving up on getting into the palace, we went to lunch.

No, we did not fly there. 

The "Cafe Flight" has a couple of airplanes decked out as a restaurant. Much like some of the older trains and cabooses we have in the USA. The planes were not open for lunch, so we ate in their indoor table area, which by the way was almost deserted.

From there we went to the other side of the city to see the Uppatasanti Pagoda.

Built between 2006 and 2009, it is so new that the base is still just gold paint, and only the very top is covered with gold.

Naypyidaw is in very flat country, so they built a high hill for the pagoda to sit atop. 
The retaining walls of the man made hill were fronted with gold-painted stone work.

There are two ways to get to the top of the hill. Take the elevator and walkway, or climb the stairs.

We chose the elevator! The green-roofed buildings in this picture are the monastery for the monks that care for this pagoda. It in itself is quite a sight! I would have liked to have seen the inside and learn more about a monk's life, but that didn't happen.

The entry to the Stupa was beautiful.

The exquisite detail of the interior

And of course, in the park-like area below the pagoda there were many:


Next post #7 Hot air balloon ride over Bagan

Friday, February 8, 2019

#5 Food, and More to see in Yangon

As we traveled through Myanmar, we became accustomed to having a fairly large breakfast each day. These were included in the price of the room. 

image from web, I forgot to take a breakfast picture
Self served from covered hot pots, one could have fried potatoes, chicken sausage, fried fish, fried tomatoes, fried slices of corn on the cob, and of course the ever present rice noodles, fried vermicelli noodles, and fried rice.

A hot bowl of Miso soup was also standard with things to add such as green onions, won-tons, and tofu.

Fresh fruit, buns and toast, coffee, tea and yogurt were standard, and a few places offered oatmeal. Most hotels had a cook on duty to make omelets or fried eggs to order. 

Also, each hotel seemed to have something different from the others. One offered sweet and sour pork, and another had a big pot of fried vegetables with steamed rice.

My favorite, Pumpkin Ginger Soup
If Craig and I had been traveling alone, these breakfasts would have satisfied us all day, but Joko and Nicki are both big eaters and we found ourselves eating lunch, a snack and a nice dinner almost every day.

Also good, a rice noodle soup

Since it seemed just about everything was fried in a wok with lots of vegetable oil, I quickly learned to order only a soup for lunch.
My choices were also compromised by my determination to follow the CDC's recommendation to avoid "raw foods". After a week or so I did eat some fruit with only moderate consequences.

On the second day we again drove around the city to see more. We stopped at the school where Joko teaches, but of course they were closed for the holidays.  We also checked out some of the government buildings and some of the old structures from the colonial days when the British ruled over what was then called Burma.

The traffic was terrible, and there just was no parking anywhere, so our sightseeing was limited to drive-bys. I must say, Joko was a great driver. There is no sense of lanes, stop signs, turn signals, or for that matter staying on a particular side of the street in busy Asian cities. Changing lanes, U-turns in mid block, and lots of horn beeping are all standard. It was a bit scary for an old lady like me, and Joko laughed at my spontaneous gasps and squeals. (Not much different from when I'm in the passenger seat of the Alfa in city traffic.)

Then, he wanted to show us the Armenian Apostolic Church of Yangon. 

We looked for a parking space, and the only one open was filled with birds! Since it was under a tree, and a man was feeding them, there was little question why no one was parked there. 

But we did, and Joko had the car washed at the end of the day.

The church was quite beautiful. It is the oldest church in Yangon and dates back over 100 years. They still hold services here. 

Next it was on to the Bogyoke Aung San Market, formerly called Scott Market.

from Web

Merikay and Joko exploring the market
Built in 1926, it contains booths and small shops of every kind imaginable. Somewhat like a cleaner more permanent version of all the street vendors.

from web
Everything was very colorful! Because we live in a motorhome with limited space, I do not buy souvenirs, but I was really tempted here.

This image was taken from a second story walkway that connects the old market building to the second building that opened in the 1990's.  

Notice there are no motorbikes. (We will see plenty later in the trip.) In '03 the government restricted motorcycles on the streets of Yangon. 

"There are a number of rumors about why motorcycles were banned in Yangon in 2003, as well as mumblings that change is on the horizon. One version about the ban is that a person on a motorbike made a threatening gesture to a military general; another is that a motorbike rider distributed pro-democracy leaflets, and the third is that a general’s son was killed while riding a motorbike." Myanmar Times

As it is, motorbikes are the most popular modes of transportation in Southeast Asia, and many are found in the suburban and outlying areas of the city. Although cars are very expensive, a city resident has to provide proof that they have a parking space before they are allowed to purchase one.

Buddhist monks and nuns are seen everywhere in Myanmar. I learned that it was not necessarily a life long commitment, and people could become a monk or nun for a limited period of time. 

These small girls streamed through the aisles of the market chanting and holding out their silver bowls to collect money. 
Nicki corrected me when I said they were "begging'.  The correct way to think of it is  asking for "donations". 

All monks seem to  carry a donation bowl wherever they go.

Perhaps Buddhist parents send the children to become temporary nuns or monks the way Christian parents send the kids to summer bible school.

That evening we had a delightful dinner at the hotel with one of Joko's fellow teachers.  It was nice to learn more about his life so  far from home.

We slept well., and were ready for more.

Next: #6 Naypyidaw