Saturday, 18 March 2017

One last day

Back in Yangon for the final full day of my third big adventure. This morning we had a walking tour with Alex in the main area of Yangon.  It's very hot, mid 30s and up, so we were grateful to be in the air conditioned bus part of the way.

Only in SE Asia would you see a sign such as this!

The streets provide rich still life opportunities, even in the shabby rundown areas there are pops of colour such as this door.

Or the personnel statements made in masonry paint.

Then there are the little quirky moments such as the bird seed seller.

More proof that I've actually come to Myanmar and not hiding away in my sewing room at home, here I am on the central pedestrian bridge with (yet another) stupa in the background.

As ever, street food is everywhere.  Deep fried cricket anyone?

No, I thought not.  Perhaps a punnet of fresh strawberries instead? I just wanted to buy some so that I could have the hand woven palm punnet that they came in ....

Plenty of book sellers lined the streets, most from what I could see they were school primers and revision books.  

We wandered down to the dock area and watched the ferries come in before heading off to the main market, the huge Bogyooke (formerly Scott market.)

Here food, handicrafts, clothing, jade, flip-flops and anything else you may need is sold, in vast quantities.  Longie, male or female, are everywhere.

Or if you prefer to have something custom made then that can be arranged too.

There's no need to worry about your safety either....

The dogs may command the streets, but the cats have the market under control.

We are on the move again, walking the busy streets to the south, where dilapidated colonial facades dominate the skyline.  There aren't many sky scrapers here,

but there are many colourful opportunities to be captured.

Other people's washing is always more photogenic than your own!

 After a hot morning full of bustle we felt in need of some cool calm and altogether different atmosphere.  So off to The Strand we went for lunch.    A colonial throw back, it was visited by the likes of Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham.  Lunch was very pleasant, if a tad expensive.

Before we headed back to the hotel we went on a mission to find Pomelo.  This is a fairtrade handicraft shop, take a look inside:

Just my sort of place to have a good rummage around.

And this is what Sue was on a mission to buy...a papier-mâché dog, which has now been christened Hazel.  I think it's a compliment from my roommate of two weeks!

Back in the hotel it was time for me to address my packing....will everything fit in I ask myself?  Of course it will....


Late afternoon we took a stroll around Lake Kandwgyi, home to the glittering Karawelk replica of the Royal Barge.

Finally our tour took us to the glittering Schwedagon Pagoda just in time for sunset.

This is the most religious site in Myanmar as well as being one of the most richly decorated with real gold sheet and leaf, 5500 diamonds and numerous other precious stones.  It is also said to contain eight hairs of the Buddha.

There were plenty of richly decorated screens and artifacts.

Plus devotes lighting candles, wicks and dinging bells.

 Recognise this little chap? Saw another one at the foot of Mt. Popa.

There were many people praying,  the two dressed in pink are Buddhist nuns.

Synchronised sweeping anyone?  Actually they are all regular citizens who after a day's work volunteer to come and help maintain the pagoda and keep it clean.

As sunset approached the place became more and more busy,

although in places I can't help but think that it all has the look of a theme park, with all the glitz, gold and flashing neon lights. There were even ATMs and foreign currency exchanges.  Baffling really.

But given all that, the main stupa does look magnificent at the close of the day.

As did the birthday cake Alex had arranged in honour of Rob's birthday.  A wonderful way to end the day and a two week adventure in Myanmar.

Tomorrow it's time to catch the flight back to London Heathrow via KL.  No doubt it will be raining and a little chilly, but life is an adventure and I'm determined to travel it well.  So be it London, Yangon or Saigon, there's always something waiting to happen just around the corner, another road less travelled. After all, the best adventures are the ones you don't expect to take!

One final temple

So, the last morning on the bikes.

Before we go let me introduce you to thanaka, a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark.  It's a very distinctive feature of the culture of Myanmar.  Commonly applied to the face and sometimes the arms of women and girls, men and boys do use it, but to a lesser extent. It's been used by the Burmese for over 2000 years and is applied to the face in attractive designs.  Most commonly as a circular patch on each cheek and the nose.  It's main property is the cooling sensation and it also provides protection from the sun.  

Just as we had started cycling we came acros another Burmese custom, shinbyu is the Burmese novitiation ceremony in Theravada Buddhism which marks the ordination of a boy under 20yrs.  It is regarded as the best religious gift his parents can give a boy and it is believed to have a lasting effect on his lifetime.

It involves thee whole family, aunts, uncles, grandparents and siblings, even as in the case of this little tot, if they are reluctant to wear the full regalia!  It's an expensive event for a family, especially if there is more than one boy, so, as in the case of the one we witnessed, the celebrations are shared with other families and all the village will be invited.

See the little girl in the decorated bullock cart? Still not prepared to wear her head dress no matter what the occasion is!

The temple we visited today was Kyuak Gu U Min, north of the main temple area.  Partly buried into the cliff face it was discovered by the British during the Anglo Burmese war. There was the usual Buddha statue, this time complete with two canopies, two attendants, a string of neon flashing lights and....

a lotus shaped rotating disco light.  Nice.

But if you ignored the 21century trappings it was calm and peaceful.

The stone Buddhas were finely carved

and with a faded charm no amount of neon flashing lights can change.

What makes this temple interesting is the tunnels leading into the hill side, deep under ground.  There were several niches for individual meditation

plus the usual white graffiti.  In this case the writing was on the roots of the tress which were growing far above! So I tickled their roots, but didn't hear them laugh.

The tunnel was much reduced in hight by the end and clostrophobically hot, so we were glad to come back into the open.

Framing the doorway were finely carved sandstone pillars

with the usual gargoyle embellishment!

Being off the beaten temple track there was only one vender outside, but she managed a sale from me - a string of temple bells and a mini Buddha.  When I handed over the kyat she then proceeded to chant and tap the stall, I was her first sale of the day and therefore 'lucky money'.

Back at the bike yard the team had our final snack all ready for us.  The bikes were handed back, seats, peddles etc removed and goodbyes made.

Here's the team, from left to right, the two drivers of truck and bus, the mechanic CoLee, the driving assistant and Alex, team leader.

All that was left for us to do was shower, pack and catch our flight back to Yangon with Alex.

Going up the mountain

It's going to be quite a challenge to write this blog from now on as the iPad screen has developed dead spots and so typing is very slow...

The road to mt.Popa is long, straight and undulating, 'up, down, mostly up'.  It was also already getting very warm, despite our early start. So it was a relief when the palm sugar plantations came into sight and we could stop for a visit.

First we saw how peanut or sesame oil was extracted.  I'm sure there are much more efficient, and quicker, ways to do the job.  But for now it's just a man, a bullock and lots of walk around in circles...

There are many different varieties of  palm tree ( over 2,500 actually according to Wiki) and this one is the type grown for the extraction of palm sugar. 

The plant stem of the female fruit is cut and the sap harvested.

Small clay pots are hung under the cut part of the tree and the farmer climes up each day to collect the sap.

This is then slowly heated in large open pans until it has evaporated and a sticky mass is left. Sometimes extra flavourings are added such as freshly grated coconut or ginger, tamarin or plum. Whatever the flavour is is highly me, I speak from experience!

See the little baskets?  Yes I indulged my vice once again. ;-)

The sap is also mixed with water and other flavourings and put through a distillation process to produce a 40% proof toddy.  Pretty lethal!  See how they distill and bottle in the lower left photograph? Whiskey bottles!

This is a family run operation and I just loved the swinging cradle hung between two poles in the shade.  There's no paid maternity leave here, so the children are kept close.


Green tea and a condiments tray consisting of freshly grated ginger, fresh green tea leaves, sesame seeds and spiced lentils are traditional offered to visitors in a Burmese home.

Anyway we couldn't put off the cycling any longer, we had more miles to cover.  This is a fast group, all much stronger than me, so I try my best at the back.  Someone has to be last don't they?!

The top left photograph shows you where we are heading, the pagoda at the top of Mt. Popa.  But first we stop off to look at some Nats (spirits).

These highly stylised and colourful statues/models leave me baffled and bemused in equal measure.

As does the display of 37 Nats at the base of the mountain.  Frequent nat pwes (spirit ceremonies) are held in their honour.  See the chap on the horse in the top right photograph?  That's Ko Gyi Kyaw, patron Nat of tramps and alcoholics.  He's adorned with whiskey bottles because he was a heavy drinker and the vice took him prematurely to his grave!

The little cub can just be spied peeping out from beneath the skirts of another Nat standing next to the tiger.

There are 777 steps to the top of Mt. Popa ( not that I counted them, that's what it says in the trip notes!) and you run the gauntlet of entrepreneurs, flogging all manner of tourist tat, and marauding monkeys!  

The pagoda at the top had many stupas, Buddhas and shrines, plus bells. Love the bells and the gentle tinkling in the breeze.

It also afforded a fine view of the countryside and the route we had just cycled.

Interestingly, in common with other shrines, list of benefactors are recorded for public perusal.  Look who donated 25000.000 (about£15,000). I wonder what his good deeds were?

But at least we know what Derek Plamer got for his birthday, a new umbarella.  Not the rainy weather kind I suspect, but the highly ornate affair that sits on the top of a stupa!

So there was one last dong of the bell - love the decoration on this one, don't you?

and it was time to brave the attentions of the monkeys and climb down the 777 stairs to reclaim our shoes and go for lunch.