BURMA

Dec 18, 1996 - Jan 15, 1997


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The highlights of this trip were the Buddhist city of Mandalay, the giant temple of Monywa with its 600,000 Buddha statues, and the ancient capitals of Bagan and Mrauk U, two of the largest abandoned cities in the world.
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Itinerary

  1. Taunggyi by bus to...
  2. Kalaw: hill tribes
  3. +Inle lake
  4. +Nyaung Ohak (near Indein, village on the western bank of Inle lake, with staircase leading to Shwe Inn Thein Paya with the ruins of 1,000 pagodas)
  5. +Pindaya caves
  6. Mt Popa: temple of the 37 nats, 20 minute climb
  7. Mandalay, secondo biggest city, religious center and British colonial city:
    • +Palace (Fort) compound
    • +Shenando` monastery
    • Sandamuni
    • Kusoro (729 slabs)
    • +Mandalay Hill
    • Mahamuni
    • U Pain Bridge
  8. ++by river to the ancient capitals...
  9. Mingun (18th AD): Mingun Paya
  10. Ava (15th AD)
  11. Amarapura: +Ubein bridge
  12. Sagaing (14th AD): +Kaunghmudo` Paya (812 stone pillars)
  13. by bus to Monywa... the Thanbode temple is 7kms out of town, 2 kms from road to Mandalay
  14. Monywa ("moinua`"): ++Thanboddi (14th AD, 582.363 Buddha images)
  15. by bus to Schwebo ("scebu`")... 3.5 hours from Monywa
  16. down the Ayeyarwady river...
  17. +++Bagan (ancient capital, 1057 AD-1287, 40 sq kms of temples):
    • Shwezigon (1100)
    • Htilomilo Panto (1200)
    • Upali Thein (1250)
    • Ananda Patho (1105)
    • Thatbyinnyu patho (1150)
    • Ngaki Wenadaung
    • Gawdawpalin Patho (1234)
    • Patho Thanya
    • Mimalaung (1174)
    • Mingalazedi (1277)
    • Gubyaukgy (1113)
    • Manuha (1059)
    • Nanpaya
    • Abeyadana
    • Nagayon
    • Shwesandae (1060)
    • Shenbinthaulyaung (11th)
    • Dhammayangy patho (1170)
    • Sulamani
  18. Bago: +Schwemado` Paya (golden pagoda), Khanbawzathadi palace, Schwethalyaung (huge reclining Buddha), Mahakaljani Thein (sacred hall), Mytaja Ananda (Buddhist circular temple guarded by small statues of soldiers, stairs on each side flanked by two rows of priests, crowd of sitting Buddhas in front of an altar)
  19. Kyaiktiyo: temple at the top and magic rock
  20. Pyay (Prome): Shwesando` Paya, abandoned ruins of Thayekhittaya
  21. fly to Sittwe...
  22. Sittwe, virtually isolated in the western side of the country
  23. upstream on the Kaladan river...
  24. ++Mrauk-U, ancient capital of the Rakhine kingdom (15th-17th AD), hundreds of temples in the countryside: Minkhaunpo, Laymytha, Dukkenthein, Shittaung, Mahabodj, Sakyamanaung, Koltaung,
  25. fly to Yangoon...
  26. Yangoon, capital: ++Shwedagon (98m high, 6th AD, 5.6 hectars of temples on terrace)

Notes

Trip difficulty: moderate to strenuous
Season: Nov-Feb
Length: 20 days
  • Pictures of Burma

    To go or not to go

    The western media and audience are fixated with princesses and assorted female heirs to the throne. Because the daughter of Burma's old dictator asked foreigners to boycott tourism in Burma, several westerners are avoiding Burma. The fact is that this woman has no right to speak for the entire country. If you do go to Burma, you will find that the vast majority of the people will welcome you and of course will be very happy to see you there and buy their goods. Just avoid the government hotels and agencies if you don't want to help the government. But remember that Burma's government is a government of saints compared with China, so it is really unfair to punish one dictatorship and not the other. Burma has not occupied a free country, whereas China still occupies one (Tibet) and threatens to occupy another one (Taiwan). Burma is infinitely more peaceful than China. If you don't go to Burma for political reasons, be consistent and remove all dictactorships from your travel list.

    Mandalay is the main monastic center: 60% of Burmese monks live here. It is also a very Chinese city. The economy is booming.
    In order to climb the Mandalay Hill, you have to walk barefoot.
    The Kuthodan pagoda houses the entire Buddhist scriptures carved onto 729 marble slbas, i.e. the world's biggest book.
    At night Mandalay is way too dark. There are no lamp posts. There are signs at every intersection, but it's impossible to read them in the dark.

    There is a de-facto truce between the government forces and the troops of the druglords in the north. Basically, the government accepts the existence of this phantom state in return for peace and prosperity in the south.

    The road to Kunming (China) is open to trade, but not to tourists. That explains all the Chinese goods here. This is truly a Chinese colony.

    Some of the ancient cities north of Mandalay have just been opened to tourists for the first time in years. Schwebo has been closed again. Mogok is definitely off-limits to foreigners.

    To visit the ancient city-state of Mingung one has to go by boat upriver. Very slow, but rewarding. The nearby village is run as a commune. Some homes were built on bamboo stilt.

    The good news is that there is very little pollution, unlike in the rest of Asia.

    Sittwe is a town isolated from the rest of Burma. It consists basically of two parallel streets. The one along the river continues in a brand new promenade that extends out of town. The river, dotting with rowing boats and fishermen standing in the shallow waters, is very pretty. The other bank is actually three islands, off limits to foreigners. Very few tourists come here. A foreigner is still an attraction.
    There is palpable animosity against the Bengali population, who came here recently (with the British), built its own mosques tolerated in a Buddhist country and now wants independence.
    There are only two restaurants, one Indian and one Chinese. The Chinese place overlooks the river.
    The town is poorer and much dirtier than average.
    Men play chinlon in the streets.
    The area next to Bangladesh is closed to tourists. It is sparsely populated, compared with Bangladesh.

    Mrauk U is reached by boat from Sittwe in five hours. No overland communications yet. Unlike Bagan, the temples are in decay, and they are generally smaller. Lots of restauration in progress. A handful of small guest houses and an expensive government hotel. Only one real restaurant.

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