Sunday, 28 February 2016

My Sunday Photo

Bagan, Myanmar Pagoda Climbing 

It is pretty hairy climbing some of the ancient monuments in Bagan, it's not for the faint-hearted! The steps are crumbling, it's a vertical climb or descent, in the tenth to twelfth centuries there was little thought to safety rails you know! 

We  discussed whether it was appropriate to climb, on so many fronts; safety, erosion and sanctity of the site. 'It won't be long before they rethink this', we say! Little did we know that in less than two weeks later, the Myanmar authorities would issue a blanket ban on climbing all pagodas effective March 1st, 2016. They didn't like the "disgraceful behaviour," citing inappropriate attire, and dancing and sleeping on the monuments as the problem - and that wasn't us!  The Ministry of Culture did a U-turn the following day, to allow five pagodas to be exempt.

Bagan: temple climbing

We talked about the dilemma that we faced when visiting Uluru, Australia: to climb or not? We elected not to climb Ayres Rock as requested by the Aboriginal people, but up to thirty percent do climb. 

Daughter Number two just back from South America tells us she could not climb Chichén Itza, the world-famous complex of Mayan ruins on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, something Mr Wren and I did on our visit twenty-five years ago.

What would you do, 'to climb or not to climb', that is the question?!

Linking with Thanks to Darren at Photalife


Saturday, 27 February 2016

Inwa Pony and Cart

It is somewhat of a relief to leave bustling Mandalay behind. It has not quite lived up to it's exotic sounding name of Kipling mystique. Instead of an Orient full of tropical splendour, we find a grimy, congested place full of camera-ready tourists in search of the said delights. Mandalay Hill at Chinese New Year is not a place of calm!

So today we set off in search of what the guide books promises as the 'enchantingly beautiful parts of the wider Mandalay area.' A small noisy wooden boat packed with a mixed bag of tourists takes us across the romantically sounding Ayeyarwady (the Irrawady of old) river straight into a hustle of exuberant pony and cart drivers. They've not got the memo that our adult kids are traveling with their parents AND a tour guide. Assuming them to be part of the 'gappy' university brigade, they are hustled elsewhere and initially find themselves on the wrong horse and carriage. Our tour guide rushes off to retrieve them and eventually they are reunited into the specially reserved, no-need-to-haggle horses, and we set off at a cracking pace.

Somehow,  in the middle of all this whilst waiting for the kids to catch up, we (ie me) manage to express a vague interest in a brass gong. The young seller with a lovely grin, peddles like the clappets after us, like Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France. His air  of 'Got'cha' certainty means he easily keeps up with our trotting, sometimes cantering ponies, his jade necklaces clinking on the handlebars.

"Very dangerous" our guide tells us as the driver manoeuvres past a tour bus reversing down the sandy lane, wheels perilously close to a river's edge. Great! Here we are thinking we are just going on a nice little trot around the villages. But maybe she is talking about the flip flopped lad, with his longyi traditional outfit flapping in the wind, he's oblivious to his attire so close to his open spokes "I give you good price" he beams!

We grind to an abrupt halt next to a funeral, the body clearly visible in a glass topped case, villagers sitting respectfully on plastic chairs... "Yes, very dangerous" we agree.

We also agree no need to stop at the first stupa, 'same as you've seen in Bagan' our Tour Guide suggests. It's amazing how on day one we would have disagreed, but by now we are slightly templed-out. We stop at the Ba- Ga-Yan Teak wood monastery, carefully avoiding the protruding nails in the floors, the kids try to get their arms wrapped round the enormous beams. Our son at 6 ft 2 inches tall, is the closest, but even his fingers can not touch.

Our Daughter ask the guide how much to tip as their driver speaks enough English to tell them he has three kids and needs a big tip. Our tour guide is horrified "so rude" she says. She says she will report the driver to the department of tourism for being unprofessional. She suggests 1000 to 2000 Kyats  (1-2 USD) is enough. Later in a mix up of family communications, when they give him 1000 Ks and the rest of us offer 2000 Ks the driver is cross. It was our only experience on the whole trip of pushy locals.

Back in the cart, we race through the banana fields, the wooden carriage creeks and groans and the ponies rise to the challenge. We love being at last on our own, 'gong - boy' having ditched us for more promising interest way back. At the next stop the kids say we must switch, as our pony is sweating and it is unfair as we have four adults with the tour guide and the driver. 

We debate whether taking a pony and cart is cruel to the animals, but unlike in Bagan, these horses look in better condition. We decide these ponies provide an income to the families and are therefore looked after, who knows. 

'Apart from' we tease my daughter 'the one whose driver you have now had reported to the authorities who will lose his license, and not be able to afford any food for your horse!'

Linking with Saturdays Critters - Thanks to Eileen 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Dear Myanmar 'Mingalaba'

‘This is Burma and it will be quite unlike any land you know about” 
Rudyard Kipling, Letters from the East 1889

The last time I was in Burma was in 2007 on our Honeymoon. 
We won a trip to the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos in the school raffle.  
We weren’t married, but with twenty-two years together, 
we felt we deserved a honeymoon. 

Indein Village ruins at Inle Lake
A wedding in China was on the cards. 
And as we already had three children, it seemed totally appropriate 
in our back-to-front lives, to have the Honeymoon before the wedding. 

Fisherwomen at Ngapali Beach
Where to have a honeymoon was always going to be a tricky decision. 
We've had a fortunate life, full of international moves, exotic travels and adventures. 
Choosing somewhere new, exciting, gorgeous, and not too far away 
from our then Hong Kong home was proving tricky... 

A FREE honeymoon to where-ever, was the perfect solution for us. 

Destination decided. 

A live-in Helper, and Mr Au our trusty taxi driver 
made the logistics of leaving the kids during term time easier.

Bagan Temple
We crossed the Thai border into the grubby chaos of the Burmese town of Tachilek. 
You had to exit Thailand and then pass through the Myanmar Border Control.
I remember the glare of the Myanmar Government officials as our passports full of Chinese visa’s were scrutinised
Yes, I'm planning a wedding at the Great Wall!

Burmese wedding fans in Mandalay
We were warned not to venture too far off the beaten track. 
This is Opium country, renown for human trafficking.
Even today there are parts of Myanmar simply not freely open or safe for tourists. 
We did make it as far as visiting the long-necked Karen hill tribes
but we didn't stay long.

These were the months of the so-called Saffron Revolution 
where monks were marching in Yangon and Mandalay to show anti-government dissent. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, Leader of the National League for Democracy was under house arrest. She had previously called for an International tourist boycott, arguing tourists were putting money directly into the hands of the regime. 

We crossed, ticked another place off our 'countries we have visited' list, and quite frankly beetled back to Thailand, it was a relief to get back to our gorgeous Chang Rai hotel.

Gosh, how time flies, we are now living on another continent and Myanmar is emerging as a booming tourist hot spot. The land of jade and dust has quietly emerged as our destination of choice for a family holiday, rather than somewhere we go to because we won the trip in a raffle!

A lot has changed in Myanmar in the past nine years. Now is not a bad time to go. If you want adventure without being a total pioneer, then get in quick. The country is slowly emerging from decades of harsh military rule, and you will find the Burmese offering you a warm 'mingalaba - blessings upon you' welcome. They are a friendly nation, despite their history.

It is not a cheap destination but choose your travel wisely and you will be supporting local Burmese companies, not the Government cronies.

Myanmar is  fast learning how to deal with tourists needs. Our travel, with the help of a local Yangon Travel agency, went without a hitch, the hotels were lovely, even the things we expected to be tricky, like finding ATM's to withdraw money, was easier than we expected.  

Yet there is still (just about) an undiscovered charm... 

Mingalaba Myanmar! We hope to return again soon. 

Linking with Our World Tuesday

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Our 15 Day Myanmar adventure

We loved our holiday in Myanmar. 
Here is the itinerary put together for us by our Travel Agent. 
We took 5 internal flights; Myanmar is surprisingly large, three times the size of Great Britain. 
You will note we had lots of early starts and so we really enjoyed the three days relaxing at Ngapali Beach. 
Our absolute highlights were Bagan and Inle Lake.

Feb 6th: Arrival Yangon. An evening visit to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda

Sunset at the Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
Feb 7th: Yangon sightseeing

Tri shaw ride in Yangon
Feb 8th: Yangon-Bagan (Flight 06:20/07:40 am) Bagan Sightseeing

Sunset in Bagan
Feb 9th: Bagan sightseeing by bike

Feb 10th: A visit to Mt Popa & Evening sunset boat ride along the Ayeyarwaddy River

Feb 11: Bagan - Mandalay (07:35/08:05 am) Sightseeing Mandalay

Feb 12: Visit Amapura, Sagaing & Inwa

Feb 13: Boat trip to Mingun

Feb 14: Mandalay HeHo (09.30/10:30) Inle Lake sightseeing by boat

Inle Lake
Feb 15: A visit to Indein village

Feb 16: Heho - Thande (09:30/10:30 am) Transfer to Ngapali Beach

Feb 17: Ngapail Beach

Feb 18: Ngapali Beach

Feb 19: Thande-Yangon (13:45/14:35 am) cocktails & dinner at Strand Hotel

Feb 20: Yangon sightseeing, Lunch at the Governors Residence Afternoon transfer to airport for departure.

If time was short we'd reduce our time in Mandalay and/or we would have loved to have done the two-three day trek into Inle Lake. However as by this time some of us were sick, so maybe we were better off in smart hotels with nice bathrooms!

Linking with thanks to the hosts at Our World Tuesday

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Myanmar - in the Pink

Greetings from Myanmar - the land of the many golden stupas and pink people power! We're at the end of a two week family trip and have now returned to Yangon, and are back with occasional WiFi - Yay! 

Myanmar is a fascinating place, it's exploding as a tourist destination and rightly so. An exotic destination emerging from it's forbidden years for those supporting Aung San Suu Kyi's tourism ban and it's booming. Last night we compared Beautiful Burma with our previous holidays in China, Vietnam and Cambodia and it comes out tops for shear diversity. 

Burmese ladies at a donation ceremony in Mandalay
I remember finding Vietnam a rather depressing country on our various visits.  Sure it's beautiful but you sure do travel with the weight of history. Our guides seemingly placing every historical detail in context to 'the war.' Cambodia by contrast has had equally, if not worse atrocities which are more privately born. In China, things are only mentioned behind closed doors within relationships of trust, not for a casual conversation. 

Myanmar is somewhere in the middle. The Lady has emerged from years of house arrests, and Myanmar is open for business. A country whose future following the recent 'free and fair' elections remains as a wait and see, the Burmese are cautiously optimistic and we are happy for their hope.

We've loved the ancient history and all the different forms of travel. We've  had sweaty, dusty journeys on people-powered trishaws. We've jolted along bumpy streets in pony and carts and cycled around Bagan, the land of ten thousand stupas. We've whizzed up and down lakes and rivers in noisy long-tailed boats and in between, we've had the luxury retreat of our own private air conditioned mini-bus.
Paintings of Monks in Inwa

All the while being intrigued and struggling to come to grips with the stories of the modern history.  We've found the Burmese a humble and friendly nation,  as yet largely undemanding of tourists and trustworthy in terms of giving us the best experiences. We've seen some awesome sights and some awful sights. 

Our  grubby clothes will be washed on our return, our feet can be pumiced back to pinkness after days of traipsing barefoot around sacred sites and we hold our breath for Burma in their next stage, post elections.

Female Monks pretty in Pink, Mandalay
They tell us a sign of voting was the ink-stained pinkie. As the pinkie stains fade let's hope that this life changing moment in Myanmar's history as military control is replaced by voters choice brings a brighter future. 

Closer to home and talking of life changing moments, Daughter Number one left this morning for her new life in the UK. She leaves a hot, dusty, dirty Rangoon for an altogether different life. In life's lottery she lucked out with passports to education and the choice to live in either Australia or England. We will miss her! 

 I have so much to share in the coming days, when I get back onto decent wifi and have time to compose my thoughts.  

I hope you are having a lovely weekend!

Bye for now

Sharing with thanks to Beverley at Pink Saturday
and with Judith at Mosaic Monday

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Faces of Myanmar

Magnificent Myanmar!


Marionettes in Bagan

Bagan Buddha
Watermelon face at Popa Mountain resort

Pomelo seller in Yangon
Donating to Buddha in Bagan
Fan making factory - used for wedding ceremonies

Off to watch the football in the village

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The sign of the times Myanmar

All the signs are, that Myanmar is going to be a wonderful holiday. It's an exotic destination full of interest and incredible experiences. Although as we find, amidst a whole host of best Exotic Marigold Hotel moments, the Burma that was, is far from being an adventurous family holiday place. No! Burma nowadays is full of retirees, ticking off another bucket list dream.

The times there are a changing - Myanmar Times, Yangon
It's early days. We've only been here three days, but I can already tell it's going to be a cracker of a family holiday. With Daughter Number One not returning with us to Australia, and her British boyfriend accompanying us, we move in a six pack here, maybe for one last time. I'm a proud Mother Wren, having all our Wrenlet's in the same nest, at least for the next two weeks.

We've already experienced lots of 'I can't believe I just saw that' moments. Stick around, there's actually an escalator inside Myanmar's greatest temple, not to mention the wow moment at the top, as we enter the Shewedagon Padoga in all it's golden glory... 

Shewadagon Pagoda, Yangon
We have a bumpy rickshaw ride to a remote Hindu festival, where we are surrounded by a festive and bustling chaos; locals offer us the best seats for the walking on hot coals ceremony while demanding money from our indignant Buddhist guide, at the same time a broken legged dog snarls at our feet as he tries valiantly to fend off the friendly advances of a bigger dog. Amongst all of this, we then have our biggest gob smacked moment ever...

Rickshaw ride in Yangon
Around the corner comes a bare chested man pulling coconuts on ropes behind him attached to his body by hooks piercing his skin on his back. We're not exactly sure what we are witnessing, is it religious bravery or torture? We have an interesting discussion with someone saying "it's only physical pain." I may have added that my friends who do Tony Robbins do walk on fire, but remind me? When in the blink of an eye did they grow up? Or perhaps the kids are right and who am I to judge? Although I'm pretty sure, coconut man is possibly not the image for the Myanmar tourist brochures, so let me show you this below instead...

Hindu festival celebration
Today we have been cycling around some of the ten thousand temples and stupas in Bagan. This whole holiday so far feels a bit like we are on a movie set! I can't wait to show you some more incredible sights, but for now the internet is dodgy and tomorrow beckons. Sleep well!

Bagan - land of ten thousand temples
Linking with thanks to the hosts at Our World Tuesday