Suitcase and World: February 2016

Monday, February 29, 2016

Last Views. Nyaung Shwe Five Day Market & Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery.

Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery.

Happy Leap Year day! We made our way from Nyaung Shwe to Yangon today. The nearest airport to Nyaung Shwe is the same one in Heho that we had arrived at from Bagan a few days ago. On the way to the airport, we made a quick stop at the 5 Day Market in Nyaung Shwe.  The market is called the 5 Day Market because the between 5 different locations over a 5 day period. Today, it just so happened that today was Nyaung Shwe's day to host the market. How lucky are we?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Pagodas of Inle Lake. Hpaung Daw U, Aung Mingalar, Shwe Inn Tain & Nyaung Ohak.

Original Publish Date: February 28, 2016.

In between visiting more village workshops, we also managed to squeeze in time to visit three pagodas - Hpaung Daw U, Aung Mingalar, & Shwe Inn Tain. We arrived to all three by boat. It's been a fun day cruising on the water!

The Art of Rolling Cigarettes.

We ended our morning today with lunch at a place called the Eyeful Lake Restaurant which serves traditional Burmese dishes to tourists.  We headed right there after a quick stop at a local foundry.

Weaving on Inle Lake.

From the Jumping Cat Monastery, we headed by boat to our next destination. The first part of our boat ride took us back past the floating gardens that we had seen earlier in the morning.   We then entered into an area that I would describe as a more *urban* area, if you will.  It was as if we had left the countryside and were arriving into a small village.  Lots of larger structures, all on stilts.  I think most were homes but there were stores and restaurants as well.  It made me wonder what the school looks like.

Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery. The Jumping Cat Monastery.

Nga Phe Kyaung is a wooden monastery built on stilts.  Built in the 1850's, it's both the oldest and  largest monastery in Inle Lake.  Locals nicknamed it the Jumping Cat Monastery because in the past, monks had trained a few cats to leap through small hoops primarily to entertain tourists.   The cat jumping through hoops practice ended some years back because either the new head monk did not approve of the practice or the monks stopped because of negative foreign press.  Whatever the real reason is, I only saw one cat today and that was on the way out of the monastery.

Life on Inle Lake. Fisherman and Floating Gardens.

Today was full of very interesting sights. It was our opportunity to see how the Intha people live and work and how Inle Lake sustains them.  We really enjoyed ourselves.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

By Boat to Nyaung Shwe. First Views of Inle Lake.

Lunch was a very short affair. I think given our slow walking pace, we arrived into Tone Lé, much later than Aung had planned for. Good news was that we at least made it :-)

Day 2 of Our Trek to Inle Lake.

Still in great spirits after an hour long hike in the rain.  Our shoes were caked with red mud!

N othing is better than a restful night's sleep.   While we slept on the floor last night, the mattresses were just thick enough to give us comfort and there were enough blankets to keep us warm.  I was awake before the other two.  First thing I did was peek out the window.  It was a foggy morning and there was a bit of damp chill in the air.  We have another 20 kilometer walk ahead of us and as far as I was concerned, a cool, cloudy day makes for good walking weather.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Trek From Kalaw to Inle Lake. Day 1. Part 2.

After our village lunch, we, we continued our foot journey through the Kalaw countryside.  At one point, Bro asked Aung how we were doing.  Aung, being the honest Burmese, told us that we were the slowest, yes THE slowest group, that he had ever led on a trek. That gave all of us the biggest laugh!!  Too funny.

Trek From Kalaw to Inle Lake. Day 1. Part 1.

Today was a day that I had been very much looking forward to ever since planning this trip.  I love village treks because they put you into remote parts of the country that you can obviously only get to on foot.  To me, these are the places where you can see and if you're lucky, experience an authentic way of life.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

On Our Way to Kalaw.

From Pindaya Caves, we continued our drive to Kalaw. We made a few stops before we arrived at our hotel.

Pindaya is well known for the making of paper from mulberry bark, for making umbrellas and parasols and for weaving bamboo hats.  Everything is still done by hand from start to finish.

8,000 More Buddhas. Pindaya Caves.

After a quick stop at the market in Heho, we continued our drive towards Kalaw.   I had no expectation for how the landscape would look in this part of Myanmar but was most certainly not surprised to see the same dry, arid land that we had just left behind in Bagan.  This is so different from the rest of Southeast Asia.

Our First Stop in Heho. The Market, Of Course!

Selling the fried crullers that I love to eat.  Had to buy some!  She's smiling because she's holding my money :-)

We had our last buffet breakfast, at our *regular* table, on the dining terrace this morning. We've enjoyed all our breakfasts and dinners in this lovely spot - I'm going to miss it here.

Miu and Aung were at the hotel front entrance right on time.  The ride to the airport was less than 20 minutes.  Miu helped us to get checked in and then we bid him farewell.  He was a really nice guide and took very good care of us.  Hopefully, the tips that we gave both men showed our appreciation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Our Time in Bagan Comes to an End.

We ended our short time in Bagan as we had started it - with a quick visit to the top of a pagoda.  Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the pagod though it's located just stone's throw from our hotel.  I'm sure the original plan was for us to come here to see the sunset but with today's overcast skies, that was not meant to be.  In any case, it was nice to once again gaze out over the plains of Bagan.

Dhammayangyi Temple.

We're winding down our visit to Bagan. I cannot believe that we leave tomorrow for Kalaw. We ended our visit of Bagan temples with Dhammayangyi Temple, which was just a very short drive away from Sulamani.

Dhammayan, as it is popularly known, was built during the reign of King Narathu who famously ascended to the throne by assassinating his father Alaungsithu and his elder brother.  Some believe he had the temple built, in the course of his ruthless three year reign, to atone for his sins.  However, construction of the temple was not completed at the time of his death.

A Small Ruby. Sulamani Temple.

Update:  August 25, 2016. 

I just read the sad news that Sulamani Temple and Htilominlo Temple, that we had just been to yesterday, were both badly damaged in the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the region, just south of Bagan, yesterday.  Local authorities have estimated that at least 185 pagodas and temples have been damaged.  The images of the damage is heartbreaking.  The top of Sulamani is now just a pile of rubble.  Hopefully, there's little or no damage inside the temple.  UNESCO has been providing assistance with restoring Bagan's temples and pagodas but even with their help, it's going to take Myanmar years to restore the damage....if ever.  While I feel sad for tourists who will not be able to see or visit the sites that I did, my heart truly goes out to the people of Myanmar for the historic and cultural loss that have been dealt.

In Our Own Backyard. Gawdawpalin Temple.

Every time we come and go from our hotel, we've passed by several pagodas. One in particular has always stood out - mainly because of its large size and the fact that it's not constructed of red brick.

After lunch to day, Ayşe and I decided to forego our midday siesta.  We left Bro behind in the room and headed out to explore a few of the pagodas that are less than a 10 minute walk away from our hotel.

Nats and Mount Popa.

Popa Taungkalat Monastery.

From the dry, arid plains of Bagan, our drive took is into the mountains.  Temperature wise, it wasn't all that much cooler but the air felt cleaner.  I think we were just away from all the dust that's constantly stirred up by cars on the streets running through Bagan.

Here, we got to experience a bit of tropical forest.  For a few minutes, I felt like we were back in Thailand.

A Bit of Sweet.

Ceramic pots hung up to collect the sweet sap from the palm tree.

This morning, I read the news that the Myanmar government has issued a ban, effective March 1, that will prohibit tourists from climbing the pagodas in Bagan.  This comes mainly as a result of what the government considers disrespectful behavior on the part of tourists including wearing inappropriate clothing, dancing and sleeping on the monuments.  Seriously, my fellow travelers.  It's not hard to do a bit of pre-trip research and educate yourself on cultural etiquette so you don't do anything that would be considered disrespectful.  As far as inappropriate clothing goes, I don't know how anyone could violate this rule as signs are posted everywhere! 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

When in Bagan....

View of sun set from Shwesandaw Pagoda.

When you are in Bagan, as a first time tourist, there are two things that you will most likely end up doing. One is shopping (and maybe buying) lacquerware and the other is seeing a sunset. We saw the sun rise over the plains of Bagan this morning so it just seems fitting that we end the day watching the sun set.

Miu and Win deposited us back at the hotel right after we had lunch which was traditional Burmese food cooked up for tourists.  Thankfully, there is plenty of variety in the food here so never eat the same meal twice.  Every cook has his or her variation on a dish so even the same *beef curry* doesn't taste the same from one restaurant to another.

Even well before lunch, the heat and humidity levels had reached uncomfortable levels.  Our daily itinerary in Bagan is following the pattern we had in Mandalay - we had a midday siesta to escape the uncomfortable weather.  Even local Burmese, who are accustomed to the weather here, retreat indoors in the middle of the day.

Back at the hotel, Ayşe went off to the hotel spa for her massage and Bro did a quick catnap.  Miu and Win would be back at 5pm to pick us up.

In Honor of Buddha's Faithful Attendant. Ananda Temple.

In my humble opinion, Miu saved the best temple for last today.

Ananda Temple was built in 1105 AD during the reign of King Kyansittha of the Pagan Dynasty. Kyansittha is considered one of the greatest Burmese monarchs.  The temple is named in honor of the Venerable Ananda, Buddha's first cousin, personal secretary, one of his many principal disciples and a devout attendant.

Beauty Needs No Name.

Miu has been doing an excellent job taking us around to see the sights in Bagan. He's been mixing things up so we don't tire of seeing any one thing.  After spending time seeing a large temple like Htilominlo that is very popular with tourists, he took us next to a cluster of very small pagodas that I don't think many people come to.  If the collective group of pagodas has a name, I don't know what it is.  In fact, as we drive around Bagan, I notice that many of the clusters are simply named "Cluster xyz" with *xyz* being a number.

Htilominlo Temple.

Our whirlwind tour of some of the spiritual landmarks of Bagan continued following a brief visit to Shwezigon Pagoda.  Next on the agenda was a place called Kyan Sit Thar Umin,
a cave temple was built in the 11th century, into a cliff face.  The low brick building is also half underground and half above ground.

Kyan Sit Thar Umin served as a monastery and features a few small rooms, which were home to the monks.

At The Nyuang U Market in Bagan.

Women prepping fish for sale in the seafood section.

If you want to go to any local market, THE time to go is in the early morning.  We arrived at Nyuang U market shortly after 9a, still early enough that vendors had the majority of their items laid out for sale.  Come three hours later and some will have already left their market spot as they had sold out.

All That Glitters Really is Gold. Shwezigon Pagoda.

After our quick trip to the market in Nyuang U, it was time to get down to some serious sightseeing. We began with one of the treasured sites in Bagan - Shwezigon Pagoda.

A giant chinthe ("chin-thay")  greeted us at the entrance.  Chinthe are lion-like, mythological creatures that  are revered throughout Myanmar. For centuries they have protected temple entrances and royal thrones.

Early Morning in Bagan. Bu Le Thi (Buledi) Temple.

One of the more popular, touristy things to do in Bagan is to catch the sunrise. If you're a photographer, you'll want to capture images of pagodas against the backdrop of the early morning sky. Bagan is home to about 2,200 pagodas, scattered about the plains around the small city. No doubt the best view of pagodas is from a hot air balloon but to go up in one will set you back at least $250 USD per person!

Monday, February 22, 2016

On The Irrawaddy. Mandalay to Bagan.

The original itinerary for this trip had us flying from Mandalay to Bagan to save time.  But I was not about to save time if I could experience a boat ride down the Irrawaddy River.  Of course, I had no idea what that would entail so I decided I better do some research in to boating on the Irrawaddy.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

As The Sun Sets Over Myanmar. U Bein Bridge.

In the glow of the setting sun at U Bein Bridge.

We barely made it to Mandalay Hill in time for sunset yesterday. I think Zaw did not want to take any chances today so he had us at U Bein Bridge just before the sun began its journey down to the horizon.

 Zaw and Aung deposited us in the parking lot.  We agreed on a spot where we would meet back up with them and then headed out on to the bridge on our own.

More Buddhas. Sagaing Hill.

U Min Thonze Cave.

Our sightseeing day resumed after our midday siesta.

Sagaing is a popular day-trip destination, across the Irrawaddy River, 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Mandalay.  I thought Bangkok was hot but I think Mandalay is worse.  By about 11a, the temperature and humidity have already soared into the sweltering range.  I don't know when I became such a wuss but I really cannot bear the midday weather here.  I guess most tourists can't either which is why our itinerary schedule is the way it is.

On the Shores of the Irrawaddy. Mingun.

Hsinbyume Pagoda (also known as Myatheindan Pagoda), Mingun.

We're very quickly getting into our sightseeing rhythm in Myanmar. Down for breakfast at 8a, ready to go by 9a. Today's itinerary to Mingun, a town located on the shore of the Irrawaddy River, about a 45 minute boat ride from Mandalay.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Shwenandaw Kyaung, Kuthodaw, and Mandalay Hill.

Shwenandaw Kyaung (Golden Palace Monastery)

I tell you, the heat and humidity really saps it out of you. Even though we had a couple of hours to refresh ourselves in our comfortable air conditioned room, I was still feeling a bit tired when we met back up with Zaw at 5pm to resume our sightseeing.  Thankfully, the excitement of seeing more of Mandalay got my adrenaline going and I was raring to go in no time!

The Mahamuni Buddha.

Young Buddhist nuns praying before the Buddha image at Mahamuni Temple.

Our last sightseeing stop, before we broke for lunch and a midday siesta was the Mahamuni Temple.  I had no idea what to expect so all I can say, now that I've seen it is....Wow!  You'll have to read on to find out what I saw.

The entrance to the temple was well, not very temple like.   Just before entering, we walked passed a set of shrines, around which people were going around their daily lives including catching a nap.

More of Mandalay. Gold, Monks, and Wood.

A young monk eating his lunch.

We started our first full day in Mandalay with Shwe In Bin Kyaung, a most incredible carved teak monastery.

Though our sightseeing day would be cut short because of a midday break to escape the horrible heat and humidity here, Zaw was determined to cram in as much as he could.  Thankfully, our next destination was not a monastery though it was in a way related.

The Teak Monastery. Shwe In Bin Kyaung.

Shwe In Bin Kyaung

I didn't sleep well last night. Not because the bed was uncomfortable or the room too hot or I was feeling ill. It was because I was too excited to sleep! I've been wanting to come to Myanmar since 1985 and I can't believe I'm finally here. I couldn't wait to get going! I was the first to get up - well before the alarm even went off. The three of us were downstairs for breakfast promptly at 8a. We had to meet up with Zaw at 9a. We were ready for Zaw before he arrived. He wasn't late; we were early!

Friday, February 19, 2016

First Views of Myanmar. Mandalay!

In Mandalya, walking on the main road near our hotel.

You would think that after all these years of travel, nothing makes me nervous but you would be wrong. For me, the worst day is travel day, especially when I'm going international.  Today was no exception.  The big unknown was how long it would take to go from our hotel,  located near Don Muang Airport to Suvarnabhumi Airport.  Last night, the receptionist gave us an estimate of 1 - 2 hours depending on traffic.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Journey Back to Bangkok.

We said goodbye to Koh Lanta this morning.  We basically had to retrace our route back to Bangkok.  Ferry from Saladan Pier to Hao Yat Pier.  Shuttle van to Trang Airport.  Flight back to Don Muang Airport.  According to our itinerary, the ferry would depart Saladan Pier at 10a.  From our hotel, it would only be about 5 minute car ride so it was an easy departure for us.  Our hotel had a shuttle back to town.  The nice man who helped us with our luggage when we checked in three days ago was our driver.  Our *taxi* was another small flatbed truck - this one had a cover.

We arrived back at Saladan Pier around 10:20a.  First thing we did was I got us checked in.  As was the case on our way here, we each got another round sticker, with the letters TR manually written on it,  indicating our final destination - Trang Airport.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Feelin' Lazy.

Strolling on Klong Dao Beach as the sun sets over the Andaman Sea.

It was my left ankle that woke me up this morning.  Somehow I must have had in the wrong position when I was sleeping and an achy pain told me to get up to tend to it.  I lifted my ankle from under the blanket to look at it.  It didn't look too bad and when I stood up, it felt sore but okay.

The other two were still asleep but I decided to just go ahead and get ready for the day.  Seems like I'm the first to always get going, then Ayşe follows next and Bro....he's always the last to get into the bathroom.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On a Stroll To Town.

I woke up so well rested though my left ankle is still swollen. Someday soon I hope I will be able to see the space between my toes :-(

Bro and I were downstairs having breakfast while Ayşe was still getting ready for the day. You know you're staying in a small hotel when the woman who is cooking up bacon (yes, real bacon!!) is the same lady who checked you in last night. She is such a lovely woman - very hospital and always has a smile on her face.   Aside from bacon and eggs, there were the usual Western breakfast items e.g., toast, cereal, yogurt as well as Thai fried noodles and rice porridge....a bit of something for everyone.

Monday, February 15, 2016

To Sand and Surf. Koh Lanta.

On the tarmac at Trang Airport.

It was an early wake up call this morning. We are leaving Bangkok for Koh Lanta and it was going to be pretty much a full day of travel. Everyone was scrambling around to get ready for the day, finish up packing and checking the apartment to make sure they've not left anything behind.

My left ankle was still badly swollen this morning but I was able to hobble on it last night so I was sure I could do the same today.  I will have to walk carefully to not injure it further.  I can be so careless!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Packing List. The Caucasus.

Advertisement for for Louis Vuitton July 1898.
From from Villanova Digital Library.
 Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
I wasn't planning on putting together my packing list for the Caucasus until I got home from my Thailand and Myanmar trip but now that I'm sidelined with a sprained ankle, I might as well use the time to come up with the list.

Pat and I are headed to the Caucasus pretty much around the same time that we went to Central Asia in 2015.  The one thing we learned from that trip was that we were not well prepared for the cold weather that faced us.  It was 23 degrees Fahrenheit the morning after we arrived into Tashkent!

With El Niño affecting weather world wide this year, it's going to be more difficult than usual to predict what the temperatures will be like when we are in the Caucasus.  I've been keeping watch and  even in February, there are days that the temps are unseasonably warm, some days unseasonably cold.  So, I think I will err on the side of cold than warm meaning packing in more long sleeve shirts than short, bringing along a down vest and my lightweight down jacket.  Good thing is that shirt wise, Pat and I are the same size so we can borrow clothing from each other if need be.

Luckily, with the exception of our time in Azerbaijan where we will be staying in hotels and guesthouses, our accommodations in Georgia and Armenia will be mainly Airbnb apartments, all of which are equipped with washers so we can do laundry.  This will lighten the load of the clothes we need to bring along with us.  Otherwise, I will pretty much follow my Central Asia packing list.

Down Time For The Wilted Lily.

Setting out breakfast - street food for Bro and I plus restaurant food for Ayşe.

Before I even fell asleep last night, I had already decided that I would sit today out. My ankle had swollen up to the size of a plum and I held no hope that it would be better this morning. 

Apparently, last night while I was fast asleep on the couch, Bro and Ayşe we planning their day without me. Supposedly, they were talking about going to Amphawa Market and all of a sudden, I fully participated in their discussion. They thought I was awake as my eyes were even open. Apparently, I voiced I wanted to go to the market. When I asked them this morning where they were going, they were surprised because they thought everything had been decided last night. I don't recall any of this so I am standing innocent! All I can say is that I must have a very alert subconscious!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Flowers and a Sprained Ankle.

At Yodpiman Flower Market.

After visiting Wat Arun, we took the short ferry ride back across the Chao Phraya River.  There, we then boarded another ferry that would take us to the flower market.  After all the ferry rides we've had, we knew exactly where we had to get off.  Ironically, we were on the local ferry this time - the one that I was hoping we would be on from Day 1.  This ferry doesn't have the commentary and caters mainly to locals.  The fare was just 15 baht.....less than 50 cents.  Not that the tourist ferry, at just 40 baht, was outrageous but for us, it was unnecessary.

A Gem Among Gems. Wat Arun.

At Wat Arun. Bro standing before me, Ayşe waving from above. 

It's our second day in Bangkok. Already I feel like time is passing by too quickly as we leave day after tomorrow.

As always, I was very ambitious with our travel itinerary. I had us visiting Wat Arun in the afternoon of Day 1 but we obviously we were not able to do that so it's on the top of today's sightseeing agenda. Today was suppose to be market day and maybe we'll have time to fit that in later today. Maybe.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Day 1 Comes to an End.

On the long walk home.

We ended our first day in Bangkok the way we started it - with a long walk and a meal.

After wrapping up our visit to Wat Pho, we decided to call it a day.  The Wilted Lily was more than ready to escape the oppressive heat and humidity and the other two were feeling the effects of jet lag.  I think everybody was looking forward to getting off our feet and maybe even catching a short nap.

Wat Pho.

My first day's itinerary for Bangkok had us visiting Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho all in one day. We had done the first two in the morning and although I, the newly nicknamed *Wilted Lily* was ready to escape to a cooler place, I had to trudge on.  The light the end of my tunnel of misery was the hope that we could have lunch in an air conditioned restaurant.

Our Grand Palace guide had given us directions on how to get to Wat Pho.  She assured us that there were plenty of eateries along the way.

A Palace, a Temple, and a Wilted Lily.

At Wat Phra Kaew.

It seemed like it took forever for us to get from our apartment to the ferry pier at Saphan Taksin - mainly because we made so many stops along the way.  No matter. We were enjoying ourselves immensely.

By now, it was late morning and the temperature and humidity had soared.  I found myself taking more and more sips of cold water, from my water bottle, to cool off.

A Morning in Bangkok.

Buying some delicious fried bananas from the vendor across the street.

Good morning, Bangkok.  Although we didn't set an alarm to wake us up this morning, we were all up bright and early.  I think we're still reeling from the excitement of being here.

Our plan today was to visit the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.  I had delegated navigational duties to Bro and Ayşe. Aea had left us with a rough map of the city and Bro had carefully looked it over last night to familiarize himself with the lay of the land.  We decided we would approach the Grand Palace by boat.  Good excuse for a short boat ride up the Chao Phraya River.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Another Trip Begins! Bangkok.

Our first meal in Bangkok.  Seafood!
It was 10 minutes past minute on February 10 that our flight took off from SFO. The first leg of our journey would take us to Taipei. We were on the same EVA Airlines flight that flew us to Singapore in 2012, enroute to Sri Lanka.   On that trip, one of Bro's friends took us to the airport; this time we took Uber.  How things have changed in just a few short years.

The flight to Taipei would be a 14 hour flight.  Ugh....I used to not mind the long haul flights but nowadays, I seriously dread them.

I managed to keep myself busy watching a couple of movies, playing games on my iPad and catnapping.  I know I can't sleep on a plane so no point even trying.  I looked over at Bro every now and again and he looked to be in a deep sleep - his head hanging down low against the neck pillow.  He later commented that he hadn't slept but at the same time, he was amazed at how the first 9 hours of the flight seem to just fly by. flew by cause you were fast asleep!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bangkok or Bust!

Thai Food in street.JPG
Thai street food.  This will be my first meal in Bangkok!
(Photo by MOs81.  Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.)
In a few short hours, Bro and I will be heading to the airport for our long flight to Bangkok.

 I used to not mind the long haul flights but as I get older, I don't look forward to them. The only saving grace is there are usually plenty of videos to keep me occupied until I drift off to catnapping. I also have plenty of games loaded on my iPad and my iPod to keep me entertained as well.

Sleepwise, I never really get much sleep - just enough that I can power through the rest of the day once I land.  Bro is determined to sleep, as best he can on the flight - he bought a travel pillow last night.  Hopefully, it works for him.

The entire trip will take us nearly 18 hours not including a short layover which I have to admit, I do look forward to. It's not only a good opportunity to stretch our legs a bit but it also gives us the chance to get some fresh air.