A Travellerspoint blog

Yangon (Rangoon)

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Shwedagon Pagoda is (like the Taj Mahal) a top man made site. A gold Buddhist temple in Yangon, it is not to be missed. Thank you to previous Myanmar travelers Jessica M, Linda, Don and my parents for getting that through my thick skull! Once I saw it, I knew what everybody was talking about. Dave & I explored the Pagoda before sunrise, allowing us to see the recording of the daily prayer procession televised nationally and a helpful monk helped explain what we were looking at.

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Also in Yangon, we:

- Took the $1 3 hour circular train, allowing us to see a vast swath of the city quickly (thanks to Jessica for this recommendation!)

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- Toured the Sule Pagoda (near our May Shan Hotel where my parents also stayed on their 1 night cruise stop in Myanmar). This allowed Dave & me to discover that we were both born on Mondays, thanks to a very big book that a monk was carrying. In result, we paid respects to the Tiger, who is associated with Mondays.

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- Bought Dave a "skirt"! We enjoyed the lack of haggling generally required throughout Myanmar, as we were given fair prices during our initial inquiry of the cost (not the case in China, India, Vietnam, etc.).Dave bought a logee, or a skirt that most men wear there. My man looks good, even in a skirt. (Below, he strikes a pose.)

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- Stopped in the Myanmar Shalom office to tour much of Myanmar; much thanks to Linda & Don for this hot travel tip.

- Hopped on a 10 hour overnight bus to Bagan.

Posted by Equatorials 09:16 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

3,000 Pagodas, 6 Street Signs & Zero Traffic Lights

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It was pretty cool to ride a bicycle for a couple of days on largely unpaved roads and to see a sea of endless pagodas (or phyas) everywhere we looked. This was how we spent our Thanksgiving, after our 10 hour overnight bus ride from Yangon, a short impromptu 5 am horse carriage ride to our hotel and then a FaceTime Thanksgiving call to Dave's family.

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Our informative Myanmar Shalom guide spoke English the best we had heard from any local since New Zealand. What a treat for us! For one day, we asked detailed questions about the art, construction and meaning of the various phyas, much of which is probably something I do not want to be quizzed on at this point. Most interesting to me was that the 3,000 phyas were built by families per a command of a local ruler. No graves were part of the phyas, but much honoring of Buddha was visible.

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Lastly, the Myanmar people (Burmese) are so incredibly nice. Imagine a smiling, helpful community and then multiply that feeling of warmth and generosity times 1,000. That is how I will remember the Burmese, and will try to set such a bar for my own behavior.

Here is a case in point: Dave's rented bike (@ $2) broke down multiple times, always resulting unsolicited help. One of these times, for example, 4 people jumped into help on the bike. 4! With all these men surrounding the bike, there was no room for Dave to even try to fix the bike. Talk about overwhelmed by generosity. (This was especially appreciated since we had been lost in the dark without bike lights at night fall and a kind motorcyclist had been lighting our way through the bumpy dirt/sandy roads for an hour+, extending our day longer than anticipated, leaving us exhausted, not to mention filthy.)

Also below is a first photo of us with people who wanted a picture of us; we probably posed with each one of these people in individual photos until we finally suggested a group shot. This happened some in Vietnam and has really ramped up in India tourist sites, where cameras are close at hand. Dave thinks it's the blonde hair but I think it's his Giants hat he usually wears. Who doesn't want to be associated with World Champions?

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Next: 1 day bus ride to Kalaw to start a 3 day trek.

Posted by Equatorials 09:11 Archived in Myanmar Comments (2)

The Taj

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> If you ever get the chance, see the Taj Mahal. If you've already been lucky enough to see it, I bet that you understand that I already (!) want to see it again. So far this has been the #1 manmade site on our journey for me, as its beauty is unparalleled. Builder Emperor Shan Jahan described it well, stating it made "the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes."

> We were lucky enough to see the Taj Mahal (a marble memorial built in 1653 for Shah Jahan's deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal) on December 18 from up close, a bar at a fancy hotel (Oberoi), the top of our hotel (not nearly as fancy with myriads of bugs in the bathroom), and (lastly in the pic below) from Agra Fort, allowing us to see the singular view that Shan Jahan saw for his last 8 years in a prison cell (in which his own son had confined him).

> We were lucky to have a guide that mostly served as a photographer, leaning us with superb memories (and quasi engagement photos).

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Posted by Equatorials 05:06 Archived in India Comments (2)

Buying & Eating Too Much in Hoi An

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Central Vietnam hosts several major delights in the cities of Da Nang, Hoi An and Hue. In Hoi An we pretty much shopped till we dropped, going to Hoan Kim and some ladies in the cloth market (who clearly crushed on apparently-Vietnamese-looking-Dave) for tailor made cotton and silk dresses from $15-25, coats from $50-60 and men's shirts (hope the one we got tailored for Dave's brother fits; Merry Christmas Christian!).

Generally, Hoi An was a beautiful city with loads of lights, open air restaurants (food pics below, Tabz!), and floating candles in the river. It had flooded from a tropical storm days before leaving some water in the street and meaning that the water had recently been as high as Dave's chest in an ancient family house that we toured.

On our clearest, sunniest day along the coast we took a 8 am Sunday bike ride by energetic university students wanting to practice their English at no charge beyond donations. (In Vietnam (& in Myanmar too), we found that knowing English opens up considerable economic opportunity for locals.) On this tour just outside Hoi An, we visited local manufacturers, learning about making wooden ships and we practiced making rice noodles and woven mats, along with two retired A&M professors.

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Posted by Equatorials 19:11 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Waters of Vietnam: Halong Bay

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Hearing that it is time that Dave & I better blog, we heartily agree! A few words are below followed by thousands of words (in the form of pictures, that is).

A Vietnam highlight for us was Halong Bay in northeast Vietnam, where (after a 4.5 hour bus ride) we spent three days on a junk boat and sailing type boat (note: no sails used). Halong Bay consists of 3,000 majestic limestone rocks (or 2,000 dragon tears, depending on who you ask). I'm so glad Mary N insisted that we come to this part of Vietnam!

Thank you to Edith for her Ethnic Travels tour group recommendation, giving us special access to a small fishing village of 200 people, their blue school (below for my ed policy friends) and my lame attempt at rowing as strong as the village women. Also, our guide gave us insights into local culture. For example, she discussed the burial traditions in some parts of Vietnam, in which ancestors' bones are buried, and then, 3 years later, respectfully exhumed and cleaned thrice at night, impacting the surrounding villagers' olfactory systems. Pictures of the resulting tombs are below.

On our trip, we also compared travel notes with fellow Western travellers, kayaked and toured an island by bike, followed by a swim in the Gulf of Tonkin, where I met some girls cooking fish that they had caught with their hands alone, all in all making for a splendid way to spend Nov 15 - Nov 17.

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Posted by Equatorials 19:16 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

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