Nov 4th - Nov 18, 2013

Our group at Umin Thonse` Pagoda (click to enlarge, and click again to return)

This is where Myanmar is, wedged between China & India

Where we have been

We left SFO and after an extremely long flight, around 14 hours, we wound up groggy in Hong Kong. Then, after a long layover we continued our journey to Bangkok, Thailand. In Bangkok we checked into a nice hotel just in time to get our early-morning wake-up call to continue our trip to Yangon. In Yangon we checked into the beautiful Chatrium Royal Lake Yangon hotel (nicest building we saw in town - Obama stayed there recently) and to the Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda where there was a 65 meter long and 16 meter high reclining Buddha.

View from Chatrium Hotel
On the feet were 108 auspicious characters of the Buddha. Later we went to the most sacred Buddhist site in all of Myanmar. The Schwedagon Pagoda, also known as a Golden Pagoda.
The pagoda was 326 feet high and at the site there are many other smaller pagodas and stupas as well as some monks running around the Golden temple at sunset. Before leaving we were able to witness the cleanup of the site.

Before leaving Yangon we got to see some interesting things at Chinatown including the making of rice crepes. A fellow just put his hand in the batter and then slopped it on the hot cooking surfaces.

Done selling, counting up

Packing betel leaves

Linda thinks he wants a contribution


On the right is a finished crepe

The black is mold

Most of the buildings were pretty black, but that was not due to dirt, but because of the humid climate it was mold growing on the surface of the buildings. After a night in Yangon we flew to Bagan, the largest temple city in the world. At one time it was rumored to have 4 million pagodas there. Currently they are about 2000 in various state of repair. Supposedly most of the 4 million were dismantled to use the bricks to make forts during one of the many conflicts.

Really Steep
The views were taken after climbing to the top of Shwe Sandaw Pagoda. We visited Ananda Pahto which had some big Buddhas and a Buddhas want-to-be.

Later we went to a lacquer factory. Bamboo was split and woven into baskets to be the base of bowls that were then lacquered. The lacquer is made from tree sap. As many as 20 layers can be applied to finish a product. Some are etched along the way.

Lacquer colors

Splitting the bamboo

Weaving a basket


Etching after color
That evening we took a short boat ride on the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) river to catch a pretty sunset. Then we had a home visit where our hosts had a very nice conversation and meal with us.
The next day was filled with adventure as we took a horse and 2 passenger buggy ride to see some pagodas in the archaeological zone.

Massive Dhamayangyi Temple

We passed workers making decorations for a fund raiser, the pots of black bean curd were aging before they were packaged. We also saw them cooking the bean slurry down.
Before dinner we went to the Nanmyint Viewing Tower for our last views of Bagan's temples. On returning to our beautiful Aye Yar River View Hotel we found a decorated bed.

The next morning we flew to Mandalay, In the evening we enjoyed a dinner with a show. One part had a marionette performance, where the puppeteers were as interesting to see as the marionettes. An elephant danced to some very catchy music.

elephant dance (click for movie, hit browser back button to get back to his page)
The next day we visited Mahamuni Paya which had a highly venerate Buddha image gold leaf was constantly being place on the Buddha and was around 6" thick. Around lunchtime we visited Myawaddy Nunnery in time to see a wedding and partake in the ensuing meal.

Putting gold leaf on Buddha

Wedding guest & Lynne

Young nuns eating lunch

Wedding Couple

Wedding Couple posing with us

Dessert offering

All they wanted was their picture taken

Another wedding couple at our hotel
The Mandalay Royal Palace has been restored and then neglected, the view of the grounds is from a watchtower. After we stopped for a little exercise

Mandalay Royal Palace

Local par course
The next day we visited Kuthodaw Paya, besides having the largest book in the world there were very beautiful things to see.

Kathy & Yuke making dong dong

A Buddha holding a smaller one

Gold leaf was shipped up to workmen to place it on the Buddha (being restored)

The entrance to the book

Each one contained a page of the book

A model showing all the pages

Lynne as Edith Ann back at our hotel
After a visit to the wooden Shwenandaw Kyaung Monastery we watched a gal throwing a pot and another gal decorating the pot with a patterned wooden panel. She was proud of her work and showed it off. After she stacked some unfired work for a trip to the kiln. Shelly tried that too with - only one.

Gary & Deborah in front of the monastery

Creating the pattern

Showing off her work

All ready to go

Shelly quit while he was ahead with one
Up some escalators to Mandalay Hill Monastery, there we got to see some more Buddhas, an artist creating a masterpiece in 3 minutes and a hot air balloon in the shape of an elephant floating in the air. Inside there were 45 Buddhas all together. Lastly we got to enjoy a beautiful sunset.

The halo is led lights

Elephant - red is flame

On previous trips we went to large Jade factories and showrooms. This time in Mandalay we got to see Jade being traded, sold to the public, cut and polished by different small operations.

We were told that one of those pieces was $6000 USD

One of the many operations going on
The next day we took an enjoyable boat ride upriver to the village of Mingun. We got to see a hugh unfinished Pagoda (some earthquakes helped unfinished it). The scenery was beautiful. The unfinished Pagoda had hugh cracks from earthquakes. A stone lion's head rolled down towards the river. The Mingum Bell was definitely a highlight. It is the largest uncracked functioning bell in the world weighing in at 200 tons.

View on river

Pagoda from the water

You can see the hugh cracks

Back of the lion's head

Mingum Bell

Inside of the Mingum Bell, click picture to hear it and see a movie
Back in Mandalay, we went to a shop where they stamped the gold that was placed on the many Buddhas. This was a multi step process that pounds the gold in wafers thinner than a sheet of paper.

Some of the stages

Actual Pounding

click picture for a movie

A little gold leaf for all our work watching
Back on the water again to Thaungthaman Lake we went to the famous and picturesque U Bein bridge made out of teak poles is about 3/4 mile long and is about 200 years old. The sunset was mandatory.

U Bein Bridge

On a visit to a farming community, we got to see their bounty of tomatoes and a hugh bee hive they learned to ignore.

So many tomatoes

The hive was about 2 feet long
We had a visit to a school where the kids showed us things and sang some songs for us. That evening we went up a hill for a sunset, but instead we got to watch some dogs doing their thing.

Yes, those are teeth showing
Later at a little get together before dinner Nanda got a chance to show off before putting on his gift San Francisco T-shirt.

Does he work out?

The following morning we were put to work. 3 Groups were given baskets and shopping lists in the local language and we were set loose at a market. Our group did pretty well. Picked some local produce, then Nanda and mostly the women cooked up a storm (lunch). Nanda also showed us how to make rum sours. We ate, got to meet with the people and danced with them.

Even had some money left over

Local cab

Picking a chayote

Nanda cooking

Music & Dance

Music & Dance 2

click picture for a movie
We visited a place where we watch paper being made. Gal was pounding pulp which when dried became paper. At the same place we watched an experienced make and put together a bamboo umbrella in just a few minutes. A little later we saw a beautiful wooden monastery.

One step in making paper

All wood
Inle Lake
Back in the bus again we drove past Heho airport to Inle Lake. Upon arriving at the lake we transferred to water taxis which took us to our wonderful hotel on the lake. The lake is 13 miles long and 7 miles wide and it seemed like most of the communities lived on the lake. Their homes were on stilts and the local Intha tribe traveled in the water by wooden flat bottom skiffs that looked a little like canoes. They were propelled by a single oar, with one arm, one leg and a body twisting thrust providing most of the propelling oomph. Our trips to sights around the lake were by the powered water taxis, but we did get to visit a village on the smaller skiffs. We traveled in luxury in seats in the water taxis, but the locals or workers traveled about 20 per boat. Everybody waved at us and the propellers for the taxis were like a hand held blender going in and out of the water to control speed, most of the time sending up a distinct spray. Fishing in the lake was done with nets from the skiffs. The lake also had floating islands which was farmed. It seemed like tomatoes were the most popular crop.

Our Hotel

Dining room


View out our window

Near sunset

Getting close to sunset at hotel

Arriving at dock



Bigger group

Freight shipment


Looking for a parking spot

From the market

Boat to boat selling

Getting ready to sell

Picking flowers

Net fishing

Showing catch

Cleaning up weeds

Yuke & Kathy in skiff
On the entire trip we kept seeing many Buddhas each one was a little different and each offered an enlightening experience. There was also a winery near the lake, Red Mountain Estates. We visited, sampled and bought. The winery looked like any modern winery you would see in the states.

This one was made of ivory

Nanda explaining
Some views in and around Inle Lake

Shelly standing on a floating island (like waterbed)

Another wonderful sunset

In Nampan we watched cheroot (cigars) being made. Some of us tried also.

Native - 1200/day

Anita tried

& Lynne tried
We went to the village of Tha Ley to see a very sacred site in Burma "Daw Oo Paya" In the picture below are 5 Buddhas. (only 4 are allowed to travel--but that is a long story). Gold leaf is continually being put on these Buddhas to the point that they are almost unrecognizable. Getting close enough to take a picture was a task since I was competing with all the people applying gold leaf. A visit to the Jumping Cat Monastery did not see any jumping cats, but did see genuine Burmese cats.

5 Buddhas with lots of gold leaf on them

Getting ready to jump
Lotus Stem Fiber
We were lucky to be able to see fabric made from a silk like fiber found in the stem of a lotus flower. The stem was cut or snapped and pulled uncovering a fine silk like thread. These threads were twisted and joined with other threads to make a fiber. It was similar to silk and to me seemed a lot easier to deal with than untangling the thread from a silk worm cocoon. The fiber was dyed and then woven like silk would be. Only found out recently that Myanmar and Inle lake is the only place where this is done, for about 100 years.

Shelly stretching the stem

A native doing same

Turning the fibers into a long thread

Working with a dyed thread

Laying out different colors for a loom

Weaving in progress

A view nearby
A brief visit with women of the famous Padaung hill tribe who are known for wearing a long piece of brass twisted around their neck. These woman also spend their time weaving. They are sometimes referred to as the "long neck women" but in reality their necks weren't that long.

Lynne had to make sure we knew what a banana tree was

We took a short hike up a hill to the village of Inthein. On the way we watched a gal cook rice cakes with hot black sand. Definitely the low calorie version. When we got to the village there were ruins of 15th century Pagodas. They were very colorful and really didn't look as old as the USA. Some of us hiked up another hill to a temple which offered a nice view of the village Pagodas.

The Pagodas from the previous picture are in the middle. Inle Lake is hidden in the tree.
At lunch the presentation and food was wonderful.

Yuke & Kathy ready to dig in
Last official night of the trip
Before dinner we all posed after getting dressed in our sarongs and longyis. The gals were more subdued than the guys who aren't used to wearing skirts.

Dinner and Show

Actually the night before

Then we became part of the show




As we were leaving Inle Lake area we got to see a procession celebration for a Priest induction. Then back in Yangon at lunch, Deborah found an interesting character to pose with.

Then all of a sudden someone noticed Linda, Anita and Susan were all wearing yellow. We also got to see a driving range where the golf balls are hit into Inya Lake. When we visited the revered albino elephants we were told not to take pictures, but that did mean I can't post one I found on the web.

12/22 All done. Please send better, more pictures or corrections.
Picture Credits and Other information