Yangon: A Quick Stop-Over

Delays. An annoying reality but unavoidable in today’s world of traveling. And due to this, we didn’t see much of Yangon.

Holy Trinity Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral found on Bogyoke Aung San Road next to Bogyoke Aung San Market. A beautifully preserved church left behind by the British.

Too bad because Yangon is known for its colonial architecture, which although decaying remains an almost unique example of a 19th-century British imperial capital.

Restaurant in Yangon has mushroomed in the last ten years. A combination of British, Burmese, Chinese, and Indian influence means that a delicious host of cuisines can be found here.

With limited time in the former capital, we found ourselves wandering the streets and ended up on 19th Street in Chinatown for a late lunch.   On this street, little restaurants and barbeques stands sit side by side to choose from. We randomly entered a snack bar where there was a Lonely Planet logo that has “appear” below it.

We shared a plate of Roast Myanmar Beef and Fried Chicken Wings at Kosan 19th Street Snack and Bar and downed it really cheap Mojitos. Lonely Planet didn’t really disappoint. It was pretty good for the price.

Dinner, on the other hand, was a platter of charcuterie, cheese and spreads with wonderful homemade bread.

A pleasant surprise, I must say. We went back the next day before heading to the airport and had more of what Sharky had to offer. A Myanmar legend, Sharky’s Restaurant and Deli served artisan food made from locally farmed ingredients. Know more about Sharky’s owner, Ye Htut Win here.

That was how I will remember Yangon, at least for now.  And this ends my series on my travel to Myanmar.

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Why You Should Not Miss Inle Lake

Inle-LakeCredits: Sepia Lane HT Dots and Green Papers; Simply Kelly Christmas Treasure Kit Cream Scalloped paper; Flower, Frame elements and paper 3 from Sus Design Let’s Scrap Kit; Scrap with Brooke polka dot papers; Paper 1 from Studio Tangie All That is Best Kit

This beautiful highland lake, wedge in the valley between two mountain ranges of Central Myanmar, was the reason why we found ourselves in Nyaung Shwe.

farmer

In 2015, UNESCO designated Inle Lake the country’s first biosphere reserve. This sanctuary was established in 1985 to protect and conserve the natural vegetation, wetland birds, and fresh water fishes.

wildlife

Inle Lake is known for water birds and migratory birds and for the floating agriculture farms of the lake. The locals, known as Inthas, learn to fish from the age of 13 and generally continue until they are around 75 years old.

fishermanUsing just one leg to balance on the front of the boat, these skillful fishermen use the other leg to guide their conical nets through the freshwater lake.

Inle Lake has become a popular tourist destination, with visitors flocking to photograph the fishermen who still use an age-old technique for catching fish in the shallow water.

fisherman-posing-for-tourists

Floating Gardens and Fishing Villages

The expansive lake is 116 square kilometers wide and is home to some 70,000 Inthas living in numerous villages along the lake’s shores and on the lake itself.

people-everyday-life-2

The communities are settlements made up of stilted, stationary structures sitting above the water.

Houses-and-Village

They are connected to form channels navigated by long dugout boats.

channels

They grow crops in floating gardens, making use of traditional hydroponic methods. It is a fascinating and unusual technique that showcases Burmese creativity and tenaciousness, as it is not an easy task.

floating-garden

The farmers gather up weeds from the bottom of the lake and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, secured in position using bamboo poles.

flower-floating-farm

Depending on the season, they grow flowers, tomatoes, squash and other fruits and vegetables. You will see farmers paddling up and down between the rows tending to their crops.

Boat Excursion

The tranquil lake is a great way to decompress after the hot and dusty excursions throughout the country, and the best way to explore the lake is to choose a longboat, sit back and float wherever your guide takes you.

long-boat-parking

Never mind that it may seem like a tourist trap to many. The workshop stops along the way, in my opinion, is part of the charm.

umbrella-making-workshop

Some may look too touristy and may have been set up for such, but they are nice breaks to stretch your legs and meet the locals. Having said that, here are some notable stops.

Lotus Weave Workshop

Lotus plants flourish and grow in abundance on the pristine water of Inle Lake, yielding lovely blooms and healthy stems needed to create fibers for lotus weaving. The workshop is set up in such a way that visitors can be guided through the process chronologically –

lotus-fiber

how fibers are extracted from the stem to how the thread is spun using a spindle.

weavers

All done by hand. The process is tedious, a scarf will require 4,000 lotus stems and may take weeks of hard work to complete.

Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda

Phaung-Daw-Oo-Pagoda

The holiest religious site in the Inle Lake area houses five old images of the Buddha that are entirely covered in gold leaf.

market-outside-the-pagoda

Surrounding the Pagoda, and in the basement are shops selling traditional Shan and Burmese merchandise. It is usually part of the boat tour.

Shwe Indein Pagoda

One of the 17 small villages of Inle Lake, at the end of the narrow Indein Creek on the western banks, is dotted with stupas dating a few centuries back. There are 2 sets of pagodas, the first set Nyaung Oak Pagodas are the first set behind the village and near the boat landing.

Nyaung-Oak-Monastery

A covered stairway leads to the 2nd set, Shwe Inn Thein. This mysterious, hillside setting is a complex of hundreds of weather-beaten pagodas of many sizes in various state of ruin.

shwe-Indein-weather-beaten

A truly magnificent sight and should not be missed. Some tours will eliminate this village due to its remoteness.

Shwe-Indein-collage

If you have the time and don’t mind an extra hour at the river, do go the extra mile for this reward.

Here’s sharing with you more captures of the beautiful community of Inle Lake.

farming-village

structures-forming-channels

fishermen-at-dawnFishermen caught at dawn
peopleIntha Tribes on market day
fishermen-posing-for-touristsFisherman posing for tourists
people-everyday-lifeGoing about their regular chores

house-details

Useful Info:

Myanmar’s 2nd largest lake, Inle, is best accessed from Nyaung Township. Boat trips can be arranged directly at the docks or through hotels or guesthouses.

boat-dock.jpg

Nyaung Shwe

One look at the sloping and winding road, I am grateful for the decision not to walk or bike. Passing several grapevines,

Outdoor-Seatingwe arrived at the outdoor seating at the top of the hill, overlooking the sprawling vineyard of the estate and Inle Lake shimmering in the distance – a view that could almost pass as Spain, France or Italy.

view.jpg

 

The Red Mountain Estate Vineyard and Winery, lying at 900 meters above sea level, produces Myanmar’s best wines with locally grown grapes imported from France and Spain.  Set up in 2002 its first wines were produced in 2006.

wine-tasting

We opted for the sampler albeit not the best we’ve had, but surprisingly not bad. Along with the wine, they also serve local and international food.

dessert-at-Red-MountainBecause we’ve had lunch already, we got desserts to go with the wine.

It was a fun afternoon and an enjoyable change from the traditional and historical route we have been visiting since the first day in Mandalay.

Nyaung Shwe is the main access point to the Inle Lake and Wetland Sanctuary – also the main reason why we found ourselves there.

Marina

It serves as a marina to the longboats that act as transportation to the lake. A vibrant town with a relaxed vibe, this is Myanmar’s backpacker scene and where a few good international restaurants can be found.

One-Owl-Grill

 

Nestled just off Yone Gyi Road, next to the small canal is One Owl Grill, a Mediterranean restaurant with an eclectic menu.

One-Owl-Grill-tapas

They serve tapa style dishes and offers a range of smoothies, lassies and cocktails and a solid wine list.

The-French-Touch

The French Touch is a neat little French Café that serves terrific cocktails, good food, and great coffee. The French photographer owner of this café has his beautiful photos all over its walls.

Nyaung Shwe is located in the Southern Shan State and to visit, one has to take a flight from Yangon to Heho. The journey from Heho to Nyaung Shwe takes 45 minutes by taxi and costs around K30,000. The cheaper option is to travel by VIP buses. For approx. K24,000 you can travel overnight in a leather reclining seat with a blanket on the 10-hour journey from Yangon to Inle Lake.

More Useful Info:

Red Mountain Estate: Taung Chang Village Group Nyaung Shwe Township, South Shan State 

One Owl Grill 1 Yone Gyi Street, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar +95 9 262 972 841 

The French Touch Kyaung Taw Shayt Street | N0 23, Myo Lac Quater, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar +95 9 525 1365

Tranquility in the Country Side and A Quiet Resort

Country-Side-and-Mt.-Popa-ResortCredits: Papers by Sus Designs’ Saving Memories kit.

We found ourselves in a quiet street, away from the main road of New Bagan, looking for La Min Thit, a family run restaurant highly recommended by the staff of Yadanarbon Hotel. There we were warmly welcomed by the owner himself, Ko Htwe. He suggested some excellent dishes, which he said are simple home food that his wife cooks.

La-Min-Thit-dishes

While waiting for our food to arrive, we asked for a recommendation on things to do while in Bagan and ended up accepting his offer to drive us to Mt. Popa on New Year’s Day.

Fifty kilometers away from Bagan, passing through the countryside, is an extinct volcano, an iconic postcard sight, and a frighteningly steep cliff that leads to a sacred monastery.

Mt.-Popa

Monasteries and temples can become monotonous after a week in this country so we decided to just admire it from afar.

Resort

Instead, Ko brought us to the Mt. Popa Resort, just 1.5 kilometers away from the pilgrim village.

poolside

Mt-Popa-from-Resort

Mt-Popa-backdrop

The resort offers a breathtaking view of the Taung Kalat Monastery atop Mt. Popa and its lush surroundings.

Organic-garden

It also offers cooking classes in their organic garden.

Organic-garden-and-Ko-HtweKo Htwe enjoying the garden with us.

Resort-2

Mt.-Popa-Resort-dishes

We went continental for lunch, for a change.  The serene and relaxing vibe was a welcome treat.

On our way to Mt Popa, we stopped at a roadside village selling local produce.

Country-life

Local-snacksLocal snacks, which include ingredients to make Tea Leaf Salad.
Making-ThanakaNothing spells more quintessential Burmese than Thanaka.  This girl was making Burmese sunscreen from this bark.

Useful Info:

Mt. Popa Resort: Mount Popa, KyaukPadaung Township, Mandalay Division, Myanmar 
Tel: (+95 9) 402760884, (+95 9) 8600 660. 

La Min Thit: Khat Thet Street, New Bagan Tel: (+95) 6165313

Keeping Ancient Traditions Alive

Spending the New Year abroad is always a treat, no matter what. Some more interesting than the others, I admit. This trip to Myanmar fell right smack on New Year— in Bagan sans the usual fireworks.

new-year-dinner

It was celebrated via a cultural program, which began with a puppet show during dinner.

puppet-show

It was similar but, in my opinion, better than the Mandalay performance.

guests-playing-with-puppets

Since the 15th century, puppet shows were used to entertain the Burmese royalties. Skillfully carved puppets that look like human substitutes were made to move and dance gracefully on stage thanks to the skills of the puppeteer.

The night progressed to a few more exhibits before the countdown. No fireworks, just good old fashion fun.

Chin-Lone

We were asked to move to the garden to watch a group of men kicking a rattan ball – demonstrating what I know as Sepak Takraw.

Chine-Lone-2.jpg

It is known in Myanmar as “Chin Lone” and is considered more of an art (although it is the country’s national sport), as there aren’t any opposing teams but they rather play as one team. Men, women, and children often play together.

elephant.jpg

 

Followed by an elephant dance. Similar to that of the Chinese’s Lion dance, two men together dance in rhythm.   And the most bizarre show I’ve witnessed so far — a snake dance that involved an adult and a kid, which had me worried all throughout. I mean, he is just a kid after all.

snake-dance.jpg

 

 

Yes, it was a unique “end of the year” celebration, so to speak.  But we had fun.

A belated Chinese New Year greetings to all. Here’s to the Year of the Dog.

Temple Hopping on E-Bikes

With thousands of age-old temples, Bagan’s Archeological Zone is Myanmar’s Must-See. Although it is not yet recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to poor management strategies and legal frameworks, it still is a sight to behold and not to be missed.

hot-air-balloon

To explore, one can choose to go by horse carriage, car, balloon, bike or an electric bike. We chose the latter (for a change).  It’s like riding a motorbike, except that the battery is charged by electricity and a fully charged battery will last for 8 hours (more than enough to get you by for the day). It can go up to 40km/h making your way to the destination quicker than riding a bike. And besides, foreigners are not allowed to drive motorbikes or scooters in Myanmar making e-bikes the popular choice.

E-bike

So at 9AM, right after breakfast, our guide talked Anton through the mechanics of operating the bike, which is basically like driving a scooter. And then we discussed the day’s itinerary and requested that we start the route from the end – our way of avoiding the usual crowds. That was how we found ourselves (alone) in the midst of temples and stupas sprawled across the Bagan plain.

temples-spreadout

guideOur guide

Lying on the bend of the Ayeyarwaddy River, spanning 26 square miles, Bagan was once an ancient city that was the capital of the prosperous Bagan empire that dates back to the Christian era. At the height of the empire’s power, more than 10,000 temples and pagodas were built. Over 2,200 temples and pagodas still exist today.

Starbeam-Bistro

In between pagodas, we had a delightful lunch at the Starbeam Bistro, and we likewise managed to visit a market (my all-time favorite activity).

market

pya-tha-da

Our first stop and closest to New Bagan, where we were staying, Pya Tha Da had a fantastic panoramic view of the area and is said to have one of the best sunset spots around.

view-from-the-pya-tha-da

We didn’t get to see it, but we luxuriated in the sight all by ourselves.

Thatbyinnyu-Phaya

Thatbyinnyu Phaya, our next stop after lunch, is one of the highest monuments.

Thatbyinnyu-Phaya-up-close

It towers above other temples nearby and can be seen from much of the Bagan plains.

Thatbinnyu-from-PyathadarThatbyinnyu Phaya from Pya Tha Da

Ananda-Temple

Adjacent to it is the Ananda Temple. Considered to be one of the best surviving masterpiece of the Mon Architecture and one of the 4 surviving temples of Bagan.

Ananda-Temple-door-detail

Ananda-Temple-details

Well preserved and most revered, the impressive temple has been called the “Westminster Abbey of Burma.” This is my favorite.

Shwezigon

Last but not the least is the Shwezigon Pagoda, a Buddhist temple in Nyaung-U, a town just outside of Bagan. A prototype of Burmese stupas, it’s circular stupa is gilded in gold leaf. Among the 4 important temples of Bagan, Shwezigon is the most essential reliquary shrine of Bagan.

Other temples seen only from afar:

DhammayazyiDhammayangyi Temple
Gawdawpalin-templeGawdawpalin Temple

The Cruise to Bagan

Myanmar’s lifeline, the Irrawaddy River flows from the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas cutting across the country from north to south before emptying into the Andaman Sea. The river is used for commercial transport and is Myanmar’s largest river, about 2,170 kilometers long.

It is a pleasant way to travel between Mandalay and Bagan, two essential cities to be when visiting Myanmar. The former is the country’s most significant and historically most important of all cities, and the latter is its mecca of temples.

A visit to Myanmar was seen as relatively remarkable. Significant changes recently to the political regime has caught the attention of the traveling world, and cruise lines have started to offer multi-day cruises as part of their itinerary.

We flew into Yangon via AirAsia, which had a long layover in Kuala Lumpur. We decided to stay the night so we could have our favorite char siu at Oversea Restaurant in Jalan Imbi. Due to flight delays too, we only spent a night in Yangon.

It was a few days of airports and planes; the day cruise was a pleasant respite – to take it easy, go with the flow (literally), and visit with locals.

The RV Panorama Cruise ship runs between Mandalay and Bagan from October to March. It leaves at dawn at the Gawein Jetty in Mandalay and arrives in Bagan at the Nyaung U Jetty late afternoon just around sunset.

The cruise comes with breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks with a side trip to a town by the river.

The town visit was a nice break from an otherwise uneventful journey. For the most part, we kept ourselves entertained relaxing on the upper deck by the bar.

It is, in my opinion, an excellent way to slow down after a few days of catching flights in different airports. Here’s sharing with you some of the highlights of the day cruise.

Breakfast at dawn
The RV Panoarama docked at a town by the river.
The crew teaching how to wear a longyi.
Traditional house
Curious local folks