There were a couple of things that were not negotiable, for me, in Burma. One was the boat ride Mandalay to Bagan, the other the balloons over Bagan. My schedule then became dependent on that. The boat to
Bagan, which takes 9 hours, only departs from Mandalay on certain dates, the slow boat that takes 13 hours I was informed is a government owned. I booked my ticket to leave on Thursday the 19th 7 a.m. departure. Am not quite sure what it is about these boat rides but I love them, am not fond of cruises, but give me a boat going up or down a river and I am as happy as a lark. My taxi driver from the night before was
waiting at 6 a.m. for me as arranged. He drove a vehicles that is basically a small truck with 4 seats in the back, I seemed to ride quite a few of these during my 3 week trip.

Had been told to be at the dock by 6.30 a.m. The ride was quicker than I thought, the kind driver didn’t like the looks of the coffee seller by the docks, tok me to a place, where they were frying fresh dough, delicious and a perfect beginning to the day. Andrea in the meantime has reserved a place for me on the outside
deck, inside is AC and numbered comfortable seats. Unless you wanted to sleep I could not see a reason for those chairs. The crew lets me put our lunch in the refrigerator and we are all set, it turns out that coffee and sandwiches are served.

The ride down the Ayeyarwady was fairly eventless, we passed a lot of pagodas, some villages with huts built near the water, that were very flimsy, yet people lived in them. We saw water buffalos and many
sandbanks. The water was receding a bit earlier than usual because of lack of rain last monsoon season. The fun part about traveling is the people you meet, there were quite a few who had been part of the excursion to Mingun the previous day, on the boat . Instant friendships are made by the mere fact that you keep on bumping into each other. In my case it was very fortunate because I had managed to tear a meniscus in my knee, and one of my new-found friends was a French doctor who advised me how to medicate.

As the boat was approached Bagan the excitement was palpable, all of a sudden the deck was packed with people wanting a glimpse and we weren’t disappointed. There was Bupaya Pagoda with its white stucco
and golden roof and many smaller ones closer to the river. There were almost as many people on the riverbank as on the boat. Disembarkation took place walking on two planks with two crewmembers holding a bamboo stick as railing. A little dodgy, but nobody fell in. There were drivers from the various hotels with our names, curious onlookers, vendors and children begging, everybody clamoring for your attention. We had some oranges and chicken left over which I dutifully handed out. The sad part was that our oranges and chicken were as gratefully  accepted as the candies that somebody else had.
The manager from Kaday Aung where I was staying, $15 per night, took my passport and $10 entrance fee and I was processed in no time. Nothing had prepared me for the sight of Bagan pagodas, the fact that
most are earth colored instead of being white and gold, that the stupas are there in the 1000’s or so it seemed and the 100’s of pagodas had me enthralled. An explanation to the name Stupa that I like is, Spiritual Monument.

We arrive at the hotel which is located in New Bagan, it is beautiful with a swimming pool and a lovely outdoor dining area. Disaster hits when I get to my room, the bed is a foam rubber mattress on a low
platform. I try to get down and the pain is excruciating, see the manager who informs me that there are no other rooms, his suggestion to put two mattresses on top of each other. Try that for the night, not a good solution, too soft my back was killing me next morning. When I returned after the days outing they had gotten a spring mattress for me. The hotel had the most incredible service, and always with a smile. One of my favorite places to stay on this trip.

The next morning I was met by my horse and cart driver named Min Min, he is a young man, with a good knowledge of English and even better knowledge of the Pagodas. The hotel manager had written a list for me
of the major, and some minor sites, first we had to stop by the stable to exchange horses since this one was too young for an extended trip. The stable was at the home of the owner, which was in direct contrast to the home of Min Min which I saw the following day. Finally we set off, the clip clops of the hooves, and the breathtaking viewss I kept on choking up, seeing such beauty. One pagoda was more incredible than
the next, many of them have wall paintings that are from the 11th and 12th centuries. The periods that were the highlight of Bagan’s wealth and power, and also the time that Theravadan Buddhism became the faith
of Burma.

My camera was busy clicking away at the different Buddhas. What I subsequently learnt was that the early ones looked Indian with long faces, middle period had 3 creases on the neck and later periods were
Chinese with round/square faces and long ears. I can go on and on about the beauties of Bagan, what I learnt of the different pagodas but that is something you can read up on. Bagan is divided into new Bagan and old Bagan, the government in its infinite wisdom decided to move the residents in 1990 to a new location, hence the name New Bagan. Most of the pagodas but by no means all are located in old Bagan.

I spent two full days going around with the horse cart, at one point I was invited to visit the fishing village where the Min Min came from. The house which he shares with several family members has no walls. He
said to me “you think it is beautiful now, but not during monsoon season” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I thought it was pretty dismal now. Of course he has a brother and sister selling sand paintings, which I bought gladly, at a highly inflated price. However I had to insist to meet them, he never even suggested it. What really, truly bothered me about Bagan were the women vendors asking for presents. It didn’t matter which pagoda there were always a few women asking “present for me”? This is really the only place in Myanmar where I sensed this trend of entitlement. Another disturbing sight was a young child with her face completely covered with Tanaka, a root from which you make a paste and put on the face to cool the skin and prevent sunburn. A tourist was taking her picture and then handed the mother money. Am not sure if the mother had demanded money, or the tourist felt it was his obligation. This was at the Shwezigon pagoda
which is one of the most visited pagodas, by tourists.

The wonderful parts were the young children, women and men guiding me around the pagodas showing off the riches and special paintings, not asking for a hand out but really enjoying to show off. One vendor
invited me for dinner at her home, unfortunately I couldn’t accept, it was too difficult logistically. The temples or pagodas are overwhelming by the multitude of them, yet I never quite got enough. At most of them I was alone or perhaps a couple of other tourists hardly ever did I encounter a tour group. Many of the temples have interior stairs, quite a few are closed off to visitors, managed to  climb a few for the views being grateful for the pain killers and cortisone that kept the pain at a minimum.

The Balloon ride, which I unfortunately was not able to do the first morning I arrived, which would have been optimal, as it were, it happened on the last day. There were 4 balloons take took off 2 had 8 passengers and 2 had 6 each. I was in a smaller one. The bus that was ancient picked me up at 5.30 am and we were taken to a field where coffee and tea was served while the balloons were gotten ready. While we were watching the balloons being inflated, each pilot held a safety lecture for his passengers. The pilots are licensed airplane pilots and the safety drills quite comprehensive. We all felt very safe, before and during the 1 hour ride.
Am not sure whether it was that my expectations had been so high, or the fact that I had seen all the temples and knew the area quite well, but it was a letdown. It was wonderful being up there seeing the sunrise, and the light on the pagodas as it shifted, but it wasn’t the thrill I had expected. At least I got a cap and some great pictures out of the experience.

When we landed we were served Prosecco and delicious croissants. I returned to the hotel and met two wonderful local guides who were taking a group of Dutch tourists on a biking tour of Myanamar the
average age was 60. Sat by the pool for a few hours and decided to go to Nyaung U another town where the Schwezigon Paya is located. I had heard about an Indian restaurant called AromaII that was supposed to
be excellent. Thought it might be a good choice for lunch.

I walked out to the main road to catch a bus; somehow I got on one going in the wrong direction. Myinkaba, which lies between New and Old Bagan is the village that produces lacquer ware and was the endstation. Talk about serendipity, this way I got to see and meet someyoung girls that collected empty plastic and glass bottles. Thebottles were in enormous sacks, that they balanced on their heads, one of them was carrying a car battery. The bundles were piled into the bus, another open air truck. Finally we got going only to stop again to pick up very large bamboo crates holding lacquer ware. The local bus works as a transportation and trucking company. The girls had pomegranates that they shared with me. We tried to communicate the
best we could.

The ride was about 40 minutes and stopped at a real bus depot, in a town. It was a fairly short walk to the restaurant, but it was closed until the evening. Again this extreme kindness and willingness to please showed up, they offered to open up and cook for me. This was the best meal I had in all of Myanmar, when I return I will probably stay in Nyaung U for a few nights just to eat there. After lunch I went in search of the market which was very large. The open air part was dedicated to fruits and vegetables with the women sitting on the
ground, the wares spread in front of them. I saw the most beautiful miniature purple eggplants, baskets with leaves arranged in symmetrical patterns, to be used by the betel nut sellers.

I wandered for a couple of hours and realized it was getting close to 4 pm when the bus was returning to New Bagan. Also did not realize how far I had walked and there was no way that I could make it on foot and be on time. A horse cart driver stopped and we negotiated a price of  300 kyiat when I arrived he didn’t have change for my 1000 kyiat bill and told me to forget it, instead of asking if somebody who stood around had change. Now I could kick myself for not giving him the bill, instead I said thank you and ran for the bus.

That night I went out for dinner to a Myanamar restaurant near thehotel with a couple of men who were traveling the world and staying at the hotel. A typical meal consists of small dishes that you select from the daily offering and many, many different condiments and side dishes that are included in the price.

The next morning I got a ride to the airport, for my flight back to Yangon, by an Italian family who had hired a car and driver for their trip around the country. The flight was supposed to leave at 9 am but departed 8.40 because everybody was on board. I sat in the back and saw the flight attendants prepare trays of intriguing food for the pilots. When it came time for my meal I asked if it was possible to get the same food as the pilots, they obliged, with the caveat that I might not like it. I was served the most delicious kinds of tempura,
the best airplane meal in years. Not only that, they also wrote down all the names of the foods in Burmese so that I would know what to order. Unfortunately never had a chance to test it out, but will bring it with me to a Burmese restaurant here in NYC.

Was greeted at Beautyland as a long lost friend, with lots of welcome backs and expressions of how happy they were to see me. My old room wasn’t quite ready so I decided to walk in a direction that I hadn’t been to before. I came across a building that I knew had to be a hospital because it looked just like the hospital where I trained in England. Yes, it was a hospital built by the British, quite a beautiful building actually, but I wouldn’t want to be a patient there. I had called my friend Ann-Sylvie who lives in Yangon, she and her daughter were attending a European film festival that afternoon so I tagged along and saw a French movie with English subtitles “Jean de la Fontaine” afterwards I was invited back to their house for dinner. We had a lovely evening with as usual interesting conversations.

The next morning I explored the market further, It was much larger than I thought and full of tourists. The season had begun and it was time to leave Myanmar.

First two days in Mandalay

It was already evening when I arrived at the totally charmless Hotel Hongtha, my room was adequate and it was within walking distance of the market and internet. The AC worked and the shower had hot water. What else can a weary traveler ask for?

Mandalay is as different from Yangon as night and day. The streets have mainly paved sidewalks and are for the most part walkable. There are no or very few sidewalk vendors, the ones that are sell food. The city is very flat, except for Mandalay Hill, and very spread out. There a large avenues and in general it appears to be much better kept than Yangon.

Iwas met the first morning by my driver who was also supposed to be my guide. His English was not very good so I insisted that his boss, who came along, and who spoke very good English be the driver for the day. He took me back to his house, to get changed, and I met several of the extended family. His father-in-law who was 92 with a mind as clear as a whistle, expounded on the upcoming election, in his opinion nothing will change. We had a pleasant chat, since his English was excellent, having been in the British army. There were many family photos with him, in the army, and at his wedding, hanging on the walls.

James, my driver was ready and off we went, he asked if I wanted to see how the gold leaf was made, since I did, said yes. It was interesting to see how it was pounded into these super-thin leaves and then put between sheets of bamboo paper. Grueling work, the pounding that is, great disappointment for the owner that I made no donation nor did I buy anything. Did however see a small shop with lacquered umbrellas and stopped to pick one up. Am not sure why I wanted it, nor what I am going to do with it, but I like it.

We are finally on our way to Amarapura, home of the famous U Bein’s bridge and also many pagodas including, Maha Ganayon Kyaung home to hundreds of monks which take their meal at 10.30 in silence. Though I had read about it, hadn’t really given it much thought, except that it could be an interesting experience. What I wasn’t prepared for when we arrived were the many tourist buses and hordes of people there to watch. Though I was as much of a voyeur as the others, it left me with a bad taste, there was something unseemly watching people line up for food and then sit down to eat. Before we had gone to watch this ceremony, we had stopped at a temple that looked like an an amusement park, there was a reclining Buddha and many others. I was trying to find the name in L.P. and James offered to search for me, while I looked around. It wasn’t listed, and we left, when we had driven a few minutes I asked for the book and James realized he had left it on top of the car, we went back but nobody acknowledged seeing a Lonely Planet guide book. I wasn’t particularly upset since I thought it would be easy to replace it. This book is not sold in Mandalay used or otherwise, actually there are no guidebooks readily available. When we returned after the day’s outings I walked over to The Royal Guest House to see if they had an old copy. No such luck, but one guest had already been to Bagan so he cut out the relevant pages. Another lent me his copy so that we could Xerox the pages for Mandalay.

Anyway we continued on to Saigang which is home to 500 stupas and numerous monasteries. It has many very beautiful pagodas. I have to confess that, I have no idea how many I saw. Having lost my book, had problems locating where we were. It seemed we crossed bridges climbed to pagodas, crossed other bridges and climbed to more pagodas, yet when I asked is that the one we were just at the answer was almost always negative. I was very disoriented as to where we were, really missed reading or marking down what I had seen. We had lunch at the Chinese restaurant next to Happy Hotel, by the same name. It was expensive and not good at all, avoid it at all costs.

Next stop was the boat ferry to Inwa and a horse cart to see the sights. So far I had not had to pay any tourist fee, but when we got to Bagaya Kyaung the teak monastery, my $10, were duly handed over. The monastery was very nice, if a little spooky, I was alone and wasn’t sure if there were bats or birds flying above me, under the eaves so I made a rather hasty retreat. Next stop was the tower which I declined to climb and then onto a most magnificent pagoda, which I loved walking around. Inwa looked like a place that I would be most happy moseying around, apart from the 3 tourist sites it is very much a farming community, unfortunately, it was hard getting off the tourist paths.

Most of the day had gone and it was time for the sunset view at U Bein bridge, it didn’t look like there was going to be much of a show, the changing lights overlooking the opposite side of the river with the farmers tilling the earth was a very worthwhile sight. There were many beggars on the bridge and all they kept on saying was “money”, there were also many young courting couples, tourists and monks. One little girl totally stole my heart, all she wanted was her picture taken, she was so cute with pigtails and a smile that could melt icebergs. The young men loved my smiley stickers, wore them as earrings, and goofed off in general. Since the sunset was not going to be spectacular, James and I decided to leave. That night I had dinner at an Indian restaurant which was alright, and early to bed.

Woke up early and had my usual breakfast of fried rice with a fried egg. This must be one of the most delicious breakfasts invented, L.P.’s walking tour starts, decided to follow that for the morning. It was fun , especially the market which is situated in two buildings, it appeared that similar merchandise was grouped together. Have never seen so many flip flops ever, after awhile it becomes mind numbing seeing the same things over and over. I had lunch at one of the outside stalls, where I also fed some begging street urchins. Continued walking and came across the vegetable markets that went on for miles. Now I understand the Myanmar reputation of being the largest consumer in the world of onions. They were everywhere ,mountains and sacks of them, little ones resembling shallots seemed to be the norm. After having walked for hours, in the heat, found an internet cafĂ© that was air conditioned and popped in to cool down. It was on a street that only sold religious paraphernalia, including monks attire, was trying to find yet another Pagoda, but somehow missed it. The market went on for miles, finally I went down a small alley and hailed a trishaw to take me to the palace, since Iv had already paid my $10 might as well see some of the included sights. The Mandalay Palace and Fort and its grounds are surrounded by a square moat that is 230 ft wide and 2 miles long on each side. At this point I had no idea of distances, so I bargained the poor boy down to 2000 kyiats =$2 when I got to the East Gate of the palace I gave him his asking price, which was still a bargain.

The Palace grounds are also home to the military, many of the roads on the grounds are forbidden for visitors to enter. The road from the East Gate to actual Palace is quite long fortunately another trishaw driver was on hand. Did a quick tour of the palace, where I came across a group of nuns who insisted of having their pictures taken with me. They were having such a good time on their outing, running up the steps to the tower, giggling the whole time.

There was still time to see the Zoo, having gotten those Gibbons on my mind, and according to L.P. there were a lot of them at the new and quite nice Zoo, which were part of the palace grounds as I understood it. It was a fair distance and not part of the grounds. I arrived before they closed, but not before the train had stopped running. Paid my entrance fee and went in search of those apes. The grounds are very lovely but very poorly marked, I saw one lonely monkey and no other animals, rather a wasted visit. Time to head back to the hotel and dinner.



The plane is approaching the airport and as I am looking out over the Bay of Bengal and the beach of Ngapoli. I am once again so grateful for what I am experiencing, and also for the fact that my psyche permits me to travel like this. I am starting to recognize that perhaps my way of traveling at my age is a little different from most people’s comfort level. Be that as it may we are landing and no more time for philosophizing.

A tall man with a cane approaches me as I get out of arrivals, he is obviously German and informs me that he is the greeting committee for Lin Thar Oo hotel. He is also holding the hand of a young Burmese boy whom he claims saved his life at Inle lake. As it turns out he is staying at the other Lin That Oo hotel. The partners had a fall out so now there are 2 places with the same name. Everything gets sorted out and I am taken to the correct place.

This could be any Caribbean island, or tropical resort, long sandy beach, palm trees, hot sun and very crystal clear water. My cottage with a front porch, $20 per night, overlooks the beach, and it doesn’t take many minutes for me to change into my bathing suit, we are next door to an extremely posh resort, I see women in bikinis, my Longi wasn’t necessary after all. I make my way into the water, it is warm, bath tub warm, and very shallow, , It seems to take forever to get so that I can swim, when I do it is heaven. The water is surprisingly not very salty there are a total of 5 people in the water, and hardly anyone of the beach.

My next door neighbors are two young men from the Basque region of Spain, there is also a young Italian couple and a Polish physician and his wife staying at the hotel as well as a French man in his 60’s with his 21 year old Burmese wife and finally a German woman who comes for 3 months at a time for the last 10 years. Certainly an interesting group of people. The Spaniards and the Polish couple join me for dinner at the Friends restaurant up the road. The food is good and as usual the conversation flows. We decide to hire a boat for the next day to go snorkeling and fishing. We are indicating to the boat owner that we want to go snorkeling and fishing. These trips are arranged through the restaurants, not hotels. The Polish couple decline since they are leaving, but my two Spanish friends are very excited, as am I.

8.30 the next morning we set out and are in the middle of the bay when we drop anchor and start fishing. With my hook and calamari for bait manage to catch a few small ones. The big ones got away. When it was deemed that we had enough fish we go to a small island, where we go swimming while the captain and his mate start a grill and prepare the fish for lunch. This is where they suggest we should go snorkeling, around the cliffs, I feel the sea is too rough and decline as do the boys. The fish was delicious but we never got any snorkeling done. The cost for the day was $30.

The next day I went out with the Italian couple for half a day at $15 where we snorkeled and fished. The boat owner brought along his mate’s 10 year old son, because the father had been too drunk to make it. The two of them harpooned several Parrot fish, and we caught some more with our lines The snorkeling was very good, there wasn’t any coral but plenty of fish amongst the rocks, we even saw some barracudas. Then we went to another small island that was obviously set up for cooking the catch. While they grilled the fish we went to a fishing village nearby and bought lobsters off the boat, and a red Grouper all to be cooked for dinner at the local restaurant that evening.Unfortunately 2 of the lobsters were bad but we enjoyed the fish and the one survivor.

The next day left me without any playmates, I walked the entire beach, approx 3 miles, to the fishing village where the fish was laid out on netting to dry. Took some pictures of the women who sorted the fish and walked back, a pleasant way to spend a few hours. In my estimate there could not have been even 100 people spread out between the different hotels. After lunch, a swim, then spent the rest of the afternoon reading.

The following morning got picked up at 8.45 am for the flight to Mandalay, which was very delayed, we had a choice of returning to our hotels and I was invited to join some people at their,German owned, de luxe resort next to my hotel. We still used the same beach, they had a pool and AC and I am sure paid much more per night. My connecting flight to Mandalay from Yangon was at 3 pm we landed at 3 pm. Was whisked through the arrivals building through security and to the departure lounge where the flight was just boarding. Arrived in Mandalay as it was getting dark, and ready for more adventures.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

What a bizarre thing it was to check into Air Bagan 6.30 am. Show my ticket, no ID, no passport absolutely nothing except a ticket was required. My luggage was under the limit, I was tagged with an Air Bagan label and waited with yet another Italian tour group, as well as one from Hungary. There were very few independent travelers, it seemed those that were had a guide with them. The flight was to make one stop, in Mandalay before proceeding to Heho, which is the airport closest to Inle Lake.

It was very fortunate that my seat companion was a very pleasant American, since the seats are very narrow, who was here on a return visit. He had somehow gotten hooked up with a guide and a school in the Delta, this time he was here with money to have desks and chairs built. Last visit he had brought school materials. We had a very nice conversation, especially about the merits of single travel, and N.J. politics. After a quick continental breakfast we landed in Mandalay, and were son airborne for the 30 minute flight to Heho. I had been advised by my travel agent to see if I could hook up with other travelers for the taxi to Nyangshwe, since it is $30. The first travelers I approached were a Dutchman and a Frenchman who already had a guide and driver with them. The next were two good New York boys, 26 years old living in Bangkok here for a short visit. We shared a cab and commiserated or gloated over the Yankees win depending on whom you spoke to of the two.

Checked into Paradise Hotel which is very pleasant, the staff is beyond pleasant and helpful. After settling into my room I walked down to the market which is very close and had some corn and onion fritters, followed by a delicious Shan Soup, unfortunately this is food that will not travel well. Then I walked to the Boat Landing, to book a boat, or so I thought, of course I read the map wrong, but had the good sense to ask for directions. I was escorted by several nuns and possibly grandfather and granddaughter who both spoke very good English. Travel karma prevails, or maybe it was the nun promising to pray to Buddha for me, I meet the perfect boatman for me. His English is quite good, he seems to totally understand my requests so off we go onto Inle Lake.

Nothing has prepared me for this lake, it is immense or so it seems flanked by mountains on the East and West sides, Nyangshwe to the North at the end of a long channel. There are many natural floating islands separated by water hyacinths. It is not until we finally reach what I think is the lake proper that there are clear waters. Ko Oo that is the boatman’s name takes me to several villages, I see boats loaded with tomatoes, from the floating gardens. The famous Inle fishermen, with their bamboo cages, he stops very frequently so that I can observe how they fish. There are 4 different types of fishing taking place on the lake. The bamboo cages that are lowered into the water, then a triton is lowered into the center and pushed up and down in a churning motion to attract the fish. The next method are nets, the fishermen go out in teams lay the nets and then hit the water with bamboo sticks to scare the fish into the nets. The third method is line fishing with bait attached at regular intervals and last there was something I am not sure how to describe. There is a small handheld square piece of cloth attached to a frame that is lowered into the seaweed, dragged up and the fish picked out of the seaweed.

There are many different kinds of houses on the lake, some are ramshackle bamboo, others solid wood, there is an obvious have and have nots. Many of the villages consist of bamboo houses, some have aluminum roofs, which make them very hot, but require less upkeep. Some villages in particular the south part appear quite prosperous with, generators and TV antennas or satellite disks. I was told that they were mainly rice growers who lived there.

The first afternoon We went to Mang Thauk on the Eastern side and Kyay Sat Kona and it seemed other places in between. There were a lot of fishermen about which and I photographed a lot. Ko Oo was great as I raised my camera he slowed the boat so I could take pictures. A little about my mode of transportation while in Nyaung Shwe. The hotel was a fair distance from the boat landing so each day I had Polo, the trishaw driver pick me up in the morning and drop me off at night. The boats used on the lake are narrow wooden boats, the tourist boats have folding seats in a row with a cushion and a life vest. The Boatman stands in the back, steering, while you face the front. It is a very comfortable ride, and most of all so peaceful and beautiful.

We make arrangements to meet the next morning at 6 am, I want to see the sunrise on the lake and also get a head start on the floating market, to get to the lake from Nyaung Shwe you go through a channel the ride is about 15 minutes. The mist is lifting and we pass fishermen who have slept on their tiny boats. About 7 o’clock we stop for a picnic on the lake. Ko Oo brought tea and hot water for instant coffee, as well as deep fried dough. Polo had gotten me sticky rice, the hotel provided bread and butter sandwiches and then we had bananas. The night before I had wanted to buy bananas for breakfast and I was asked how many, 3 or 4 should do it I answered. The next thing I know he is handing me bunches, 1 bunch was 50 cents and was more than I could handle in 3 days. It was so nice. We then proceeded to the floating market in Ywama. We got there before Nay of the tourists but not before the souvenir boats. We never even went ashore, though the market had quite a few tribal women shopping. I did buy some flowers to put into my traveling vase. Asters and yellow mums were basically the only flowers for sale though I did see flowering roses but in private gardens.

We then went into a narrow channel leading to Indein, which was one of the places I had really wanted to see. We dock and make our way through bamboo groves along a small creek. It is early morning and mothers are bathing their children, we pass the empty market place that looks quite large. There are many novice monks playing around, like little boys do. Today is a big holiday and they are free, some have money in their pockets and buy chewing gum, or other treats. They are laughing and giggling and absolutely adorable.

We continue our walk and come to the Stupas, There are hundreds of them in various states of ruin.Though these are much younger and it is completely different from Angor Wat there are similarities, as I see it. The jungle has taken over tree are growing in the middle of some of them roots are holding the structures together. A striking difference is that here we walk on barely discernible paths, narrow footways and we are the only ones around, except for a young man with a little girl. Some of the stupas are beautiful, all of them have a Buddha inside. Not for the first time, do I wish I understood more of the religion. We continue walking around and come to a roofed colonnaded uphill walk to the Pagoda. The Colonnade is lined on both sideas by shop keepers selling some really lovely things. I dare not stop and look, because as soon as I do I am surrounded by shop keepers anxious to show their wares. After our visit to the main Pagoda and more Stupas, I stop at stall and buy a small hand painted box from an artist who has no arms and only one leg. He is extremely talented and has a smile that could melt anyone’s heart.

As we make our way back to the boat we encounter more children swimming in the creek, when they see us scramble up the bank to say hello. We come to a small souvenir stall and Ko Oo points out pictures of President Obama. The shopkeeper is so excited she has to show us her 2 ½ months old infant, called Obama, he is also dressed for November weather in the States, not Myanmar. It is really felt in this part of the country that the election next year will make a difference, and somehow Obama is a symbol for change.

We leave Indein, pass many boats with children going to school and more boats with novice monks, we make our way to Phaung Daw Oct Pagoda where it is almost impossible to move. The line to get into the Pagoda is three or four deep, families are having pinics on the grounds and the loudspeaker is blaring. After awhile it all starts to make sense. This is the ultimate making merit. There are tables lined up with bowls of raw rice, big bags on the ground to refill the bowls, and the process ion starts. It is heade by what appears to be a golden sedan, followed by two white lotus parasols and then the monks file by, monastery after monastery, as they are called by the loudspeaker, with their alms bowls held in front of them. I am very glad we came I was also able to see the golden ship that is launched on the lake in October.

Time for lunch we end up at a lake restaurant and share pork fried rice and mixed vegetables, it was quite tasty, even if I think that Myanmar food is a little bland. The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting a family that make Cheerots, a process most different from any cigar making I have observed. They also had fish breeding pens, we amused ourselves by feeding the fish bananas . A total first, who have ever seen fish eating bananas, but these did. We also went to a silk weaving factory, it was interesting seeing how they made thread from the lotus plants. Since I was not in a shopping mode have no idea if prices were good or not, they did have beautiful things, though. Time to head back since tomorrow was going to be a very long day visiting the south lake.

In order to visit the southern lake which is called Sankar, you need permission, and a Pa O guide. You pay $5 admission fee and $10 guide fee at Golden Cottages, which are Pa O owned. Sankar is quite different looking from its cousin Inle, it appears much more prosperous with many, many wooden houses with their own generators and satellite disks. The lake is surrounded by rice fields and mountains and doesn’t appear to have as many floating gardens as Inle. We stop at a market which is very small. And since it is 10 am, is already winding down. It is not a very large market, there are some interesting things for sale, e.g. hand tooled knives and scissors, soy pellets used in curries, some textiles and since I didn’t know what to find in Ngpali I bought Longi. May be I need to be covered upin Ngpali?

Myanmar, Yangon

Yangon Tuesday November 3rd

The flight from Chiang Mai via Bangkok was incredibly smooth. The luggage is checked through and I am labeled, in such a way that I can sit in Bangkok Airlines transit lounge, with complimentary snacks, internet etc. My cough is bad and I am in a panic about not being able to enter Myanmar. Fortunately all the medication is holding up and I sail quietly through immigration and the health screening.
Sleep most of the time in the back of the taxi until we arrive at Beautyland II $15 per night. It is more than adequate. The bed is comfortable, I have a window. The shower is hot and the refrigerator works, haven't tried the TV nor the phone yet. I am so tired, this chest cold is taking its toll, but I venture out first to change money at Scott’s market which is 5 minutes from the hotel, and then to walk down to the Sule Pagoda and the tourist office for maps.

Yangon how to describe this extremely vibrant city? Where every sidewalk is a market place the buildings more rundown, than anywhere else I have seen, the sidewalks in total disrepair and I am in heaven. It is so alive, with activity everywhere and some order to it if hard to discern.

Take my life in my hands a few times crossing streets, but it is not as bad as Hanoi, while continuing down to Monsoon a restaurant that had been recommended. It is situated in an old colonial building with a very eclectic menu. I start with a tea leaf salad that I didn’t like it was much too oily, later I learn it should be eaten with rice. Am not sure what possessed me to order Spaghetti Carbonara, perhaps the memory of it at the Butterfly Farm in Siem Reap. This version was not particularly memorable but with a carafe of wine I managed to finish my meal. Taxi back to the hotel and a very bad night, the cough never let up and I am exhausted the next morning. After breakfast I go visit Santa Maria travel agency, they are on the next block. Get my schedule set, not exactly as I had envisioned but have no energy to not be generic.
Air Bagan W9 011 Nov 8 Yangon- Heho 7.30 am arr 9.20 am Paradise Hotel in Nyaungshewe
Nov 09
Nov 10am
Nov 11 Air Bagan #W9 141 9.00 for Ngpali beach Lin Thar Oo Hotel
Nov 12 Ngpali
Nov 13 Ngpali
Nov 14 Ngpali
Nov 15 Air Bagan #W9 141 10.15 to Yangon arr 11.05 Yangon Airways YH731 to Mandalay 15.00
Nov 16 Mandalay Hotel Honghta
Nov 17 Mandalay Hotel Honghta
Nov 18 Mandalay Hotel Honghta
Nov 19 Boat to Bagan
Nov 20 Bagan Kaday Aung Hotel
Nov 21 Balloon over Bagan
Nov 22 Bagan Kaday Aung Hotel
Nov 23 back to Yangon
Nov 24 Yangon – Bangkok

Today Saturday is the first day that I am feeling half way decent, not so tired, am looking at the schedule and wondering where was I when it was made. Am sure it will fine, if not the worst that could happen I change things around.

So far I have been for sunset at the Shwendangon Pagoda, it is as magical as everyone says. It wasn't until last night that I realized that it is actually illuminated. Been to the night market in Chinatown, loaded up on more medications in a very modern supermarket. Had dinner at a sidewalk restaurant, sour hot chicken quite good, took the circular train around Yangon.

The train is a trip in more ways than one. I paid my $1 and was given a very official receipt and am then escorted to the train where I am seated behind a rope together with a gentleman who is the money collector. In the middle of the car is an ancient looking metal box, next to him piles of leather pouches, at each stop he receives a pouch and gives out an empty one. The full one goes into the metal box, this goes on for 3 hours at each and every stop, when he is finished with the transaction he waves the green flag for the train to continue. Somewhere in the middle of the journey, bales of green leaves are thrown in through the windows and doors. Don’t know how many but the entire car as well as the next one were filled with these bales.

Women throw on bags of rice, this is as much a freight train as a commuter train. Markets are going on on the tracks, kites are flown, little boys play ball as we go past rice fields and farmland. This was a trip I am so happy I made even if it was uncomfortable. Since I only have energy for one item a day this was enough, get back to the GH and sleep for 10 hours
One morning I met Sylvie, friend of the Swiss people I met in Lao, spent a lovely time with her and had lunch with her husband and daughter. They have been here for 7 years and are presently under contract with WHO. It was interesting to hear how life as an ex-pat is here.

Take myself to the National Museum which was actually quite interesting, had no idea that there were several languages and alphabets here, nor that the king had a chief wife as well as lesser ones. After the museum I decide to hire a taxi to go Kyauktan where there is a pagoda in the water.

As usual Lonely Planet is wrong, the taxi doesn’t want to be hired for the afternoon, the fair is also double quoted. We compromise and he drives me to the bus station. Again I am given privileged seating on the minibus next to the bus driver. This is a dubious distinction, apart from the comfortable seat and not being cramped, my heart is in my mouth., he drives like a car thief, with the hand on the horn, no seat belts, no speedometer, constantly spitting out his betelnut juice. The drive is very lovely we pass many, many Payas. 1 ¼ hour later we have arrived, because of a misunderstanding I think I only have 45 minutes for lunch, and don’t get to go the pagoda. It was lovely sitting on the deck of an outdoor restaurant amongst the fishermen looking at the boats on the lake and the very lovely pagoda. There were market stalls and a lot of mangy dogs around, certainly a slice of Burmese life. The driver’s wife shows up an elegant woman, and seems very lovely. Back to the city at the same breakneck speed.

Yangon continued,
Last night I went on the recommendation of the Englishman and his guide to Kandawghyyi Palace for dinner. It was the same place my friend Sue had recommended, and she had lived here for months.In a few words stay home, I had been told they had a puppet show and anyone who has read “The Piano Tuner” knows that a puppet show is a must. Note there is no puppet show at Kandawghyyi Palace, there is a very kitschy, rather sweet, actually set up with costumed people greeting you. There is an awful buffet and a 2 hour show with traditional dances. I have no problems eating by myself, but to be seated way up front at a table set for a single person on a raided level, made for many a curious glance.

As an aside, if anyone ever mentions the ugly Americans while traveling they have not met an Italian tour group. I had the great fortune of being seated next to one. They should have been filmed, and shown the reel.
Today I went to see a temple where Buddah’s hair was enclosed in an ivory pendant, paid my foreigners fee, gave a donation to a begging monk, who I think sneered at what I gave him. Am not sure, though and will give it the benefit of a doubt. Took one of the small local buses to the Strand, it was too hot to walk, for lunch and had a lovely Lamb Burger, sometimes one has to have something different. People are extremely puzzled b y the fact I am alone it is invariably the first question asked, except by the touts.
My impressions are that though this is a very poor country, not as many beggars as in India, but with a far worse infra structure there is a growing middle class. TV and Refrigerator shops are in abundance, as are electronic stores. Internet cafes have great connections, they are plentiful, and the cost is 40 cents an hour. They are jam packed at night. Telephones may not be easily available, though cell phones are commonly used. The telephone booths are young women sitting at tables with a few really old telephones in front of them. At first I thought they were for sale, then I realized what they were for.

The supermarkets seem to be stocked with almost everything you can imagine and prices are not high by our standards. That said, the public buses, trains and taxis are in deplorable conditions, the taxi I came home with last night had no interior on the door, so the metal and everything was painted white to give the illusion.

Last dinner was at the Sarakan Tower purely for the view, a beer and a prawn dinner $7.50. The trio played lovely music, Gershwin and and all very easy to listen and dance too. Can absolutely recommend when you have a date.