Following my close of service with Peace Corps, I chose to romp through Indochina with my sister, who joined me from Australia. Since the window of available time was narrow, we chose to use a tour service, which set up a 15 day adventure for us. We had an itinerary, but the guides freely mixed things up.
Rather than reporting everything at once, I’m going to do each country separately, starting with Myanmar. What follows is not a narrative of the adventure. In my usual style for travel posts, this is just a series of bullets. The information comes from our guides as well as my own observations and thoughts. I probably missed a lot, but hey it’s still pretty long.
Checking time zones, Myanmar is 3… no, 2.5 hours ahead of Tbilisi. What the heck? Who does half hour time zones?
Arriving in Doha at 4:15am, one of the coldest hours of the day, it is 35 degrees Celsius.
Days 1 & 2 - Yangon
There are two man-made lakes here.
There’s a boat restaurant on the second lake. It was made on 1967. It's been used as a meeting hall and a wedding hall.
The bird on the prow of the boat is Garuda, mythical celestial bird from Buddhism.
The lake is green with algae.
Grind Thanaka wood on a wet stone to produce a sunblock moisturizing paste.
Yangon was previously called Dagon.
Yangon means no strife.
The King needed a seaport to the south. He hired a Portuguese engineer to design it. However, the Portuguese supported a vile betrayer, which ignited a civil war. Once Dagon was secured, the king built a new port there and renamed it.
Dagon is also a local beer.
No one had the Innsmouth look.
In 2004, motorbikes outlawed in Yangon. Rebels were supposedly going to assassinate a general via motorbikes. So if 2 people are on a bike in the city, they are shot on sight.
The Pillar of Independence of the country consists of one main pillar surrounded by 5 little pillars (one for each of the states originally gaining independence; it’s now 7 states) and lions representing the military. Lions are seen as the strongest animal in the forest.
City hall built in 1920s. British style with local decorations. The green peacock on white above the entrance is representative of the king.
The dragons on city hall face the river as they are water creatures and this connects them to the water. Dragons have positive connotations here.
Mini-monks (little kids dressed as monks) are fake monks trying to swindle you.
“I’m not acclimated yet.” - Sister. “Oh, I love it” - BJ.
Climate definitely dictates clothing. High humidity and heat discourages tight jeans or similar and encourages open clothing, like the skirts everyone wears.
Flowers in the car are for fragrance and are an offering to Buddha.
Buddhist lent started the day before we arrived and lasts three months. During this time, monks should not go out at night and instead meditate. This is done so that Buddhist monks would not cross the farms and step on newly planted and spouting crops. Additionally, this is the rainy season. Monks only get three robes a year and the weather could ruin them. Finally, this is considered the time when Buddha was praying for his mother, which should be respected and emulated.
Myanmar’s chief exports are rice, beans, teak, and jade.
Relations with Britain and Japan are good despite their history here.
Botataung Pagoda was built to house 8 hairs from Buddha. It was damaged by bombs dropped by the Japanese.
It is made of brick with gold paint. I would not have considered brick in this climate. I’m not sure where the technology came from, but sun drying just does not see feasible in most of the country. Baking sure. Curious as to the evolution of the technology in this country.
Inside the pagoda there’s a relief with dragon on the bottom and a circular design on the top. The latter represents Buddha’s brainwaves. This circular design was also used by King Asoka on his flag when he unified the country.
Mini pagodas, Buddhas, and shrines are donations from people.
Pagodas here have eight corner shrines: one for each day of the week. Back in the day, the week was eight days. Conforming to the modern calendar, two of the days were shoved into Wednesday, which gets two corners: one for the morning and one for the evening.
You pray to the shrine for the day you were born. Wednesday morning here.
Each day has an animal too. Saturday gets the dragon. Wednesday morning gets the elephant with tusks, whereas Wednesday afternoon gets the elephant without.
Your name is also based on the day you were born. The traditional alphabet has 32 letters. These are split into eight groups for the eight days. The first letter of your name is from one of the letters for that day. The rest of the letters are chosen as you like.
You have no last name or family name, but your given name may be 3 words or so long.
The colors on the Buddhist flag symbolizes the colors of the brainwaves coming off Buddha.
No shoes or socks in the pagoda. To help give traction in some of the pagodas there are plastic mats with little grids, little grids that take all your weight, which means ouch.
The “hairy cucumber”, as I called it, is actually a gourd. It’s very bitter, so, once you cut it, you wash it with salt to get rid of some of that taste.
Dessert at lunch was chick peas with a yellow bean powder, palm oil hardened into a stone, and palm oil mixed with plum and then hardened into a wafer.
Also for desert, a platter with mini shrimp, tea paste, ginger, bean, and peanut with dried garlic and chili peppers on the side. You mix the platter contents (garlic and chili optional). This is called a tea salad. It is traditionally served with one shared spoon and the palm stones (I want to call them some variation of bezoar, like pazoar).
Chauk Htat Kyi Pagoda
The reclining Buddha of Chauk Htat Kyi pagoda is 68m long. The original engineer was not very knowledgeable about Buddhism, and, consequently, he screwed the design. The rich patron who commissioned the work had already spent the money though.
Astrologers used to read feet, not palms. They predicted Buddha’s future from his feet. There are different beliefs as to what Buddha’s footprints were, but all agree that he could either be the king of the universe or the Buddha.
The long log like bell gets rung based on the hour, day, and month. The number of strikes being equal to each in turn.
Shwedagon pagoda is the big pagoda of Yangon.
Shwedagon pagoda is surrounded by a multitude of smaller pagodas from donors.
Green ogre statues and red alchemist statues are both guardians for the Buddha.
Surrounding buildings are for pilgrims to rest in because it is too hot to travel in the afternoon.
Day 3 - Bagan
It’s also occasionally written as Pagan, but not pronounced as pagan. That’s a running theme here: the Romanized spelling of a Myanmar word will come out a couple different ways.
The Bagan airport is hidden in the jungle.
When you fly in, foreigners have to pay 35000 kyet for an archeological permit.
Our guide was Oo and our driver was Mr. Zanny. They sound like the sort of characters a cartoon is named after.
Bagan is divided into Old Bagan and New Bagan.
Until 1990, there was only Old Bagan. The government made New Bagan and kicked everyone out of Old Bagan to preserve the sites.
Old Bagan is home of over 3000 religious monuments that have been so far unearthed.
Bagan also lent its name to the golden age of Myanmar; the Bagan Period. According to our guide (and counter to Wikipedia), Bagan stretched from 1st century AD through 13th century. The chronicles of it began in the 11th century, which coincides with its golden age: between the 11th and 13th centuries. Like Georgia, the Mongol hoards crushed their hopes and dreams.
People will rent a truck (or at least a seat on a truck) and come to market to buy enough food for the week or month.
Flowers, coconut, and bananas are traditional offerings to Buddha. Coconuts sold with bamboo on the stem are only for offerings. If there’s no bamboo, then you can eat or drink from it.
Flowers are one of the main crops in the Bagan area.
The most common slipper here is a wooden slipper from the Neem tree. The top of it is painted, and it has no padding.
School uniforms are green, which is why there is so much green fabric in the market.
Pots made of iron or clay are scattered about the market. They are used to store drinking water.
The floors of the market are paved, but they are also sloped and grooved for drainage.
Motorcycles are everywhere. Most of them are imported from China and are called Chinese mosquitoes.
Most pagodas are made of brick. Only three are made of sand stone.
After you make an offering, you ring the bells. If you hear the ringing, then you say “well done, well done, well done.” Do this and you can get a small reflection of their blessing.
There are six kinds of religious monuments: stupa, temple, library, monastery, ordination hall, and cave.
A library looks like a monastery with a thing on its roof.
The ordination hall is where a novice is raised to a monk.
The sandstone three-terrace pagoda has niches on the side that have glazed figures depicting Buddha’s life.
Bagan period used the Indian standard for Buddha image. This had an angular face, depicted the knees, and had long earlobes that did not touch the shoulders. Later Buddhas were in Myanmar’s style: rounded face, no knees, and long earlobes that touched the shoulders.
There’s a thousand year old door. In 1000AD, it was hard to make the iron bar and iron spike for it.
The 1975 earthquake did a number on the place.
Mara attacked Buddha while he meditated under the Bodhi tree. Buddha touched his right hand to the earth to remind the gods of his good deeds. The guardian of the earth took note and came to his aid. This is why so many of the Buddha statues have him touching the earth with his right hand.
Nowadays, if you do a good deed in front of a monk, you pour water with your right hand so the monk will take notice.
The direction the head of the reclining Buddha faces gives different meaning to the depiction. North is the death position. East is the relaxed position. South means he’s preaching to celestial beings. West means he is preaching to mortals.
Nat is an evil spirit. It is made when a famous person dies a violent death.
Pre-Buddhism, people were animists and worshiped the nat.
When the king introduced Buddhism, he knew he could not change the hearts and minds of the people with an order, so he collected the 37 most famous nats and put them in the pagoda complex. He did not forbid their worship, but, this way, if someone wanted to worship the nats they’d have to come to the Buddhism complex. This exposed them to Buddhist teachings though the shrines and prayers. It also showcased the value of Buddha over the nats because Buddha had great golden pagodas, whereas the nats were all in a comparatively crummy house. Who was this Buddha who had such a magnificent building?
People still give respect to nats, but they don’t worship them.
The branch of the neem tree can be used as a toothbrush.
Myanmar is an earthquake prone area.
Bricks are laid mostly vertically at the base to give strength versus earthquakes.
The story of the monkey and the two crocodiles. One day, Mrs. Crocodile saw the monkey playing in the tree, and she told her husband, Mr. Crocodile that she wanted the monkey’s heart to eat. Mr. Crocodile went to the monkey and befriended him. Then he told the monkey of better fruit on the other side of the river. The monkey lamented that he couldn’t cross the river, but Mr. Crocodile said that he’d ferry the monkey. Halfway across the river, the gig was up and Mr. Crocodile spilled the beans, telling of the monkey’s impending doom. The monkey didn’t want to die and so convinced Mr. Crocodile that monkeys can live without their hearts; they put them in the tall trees so that they can jump from tree to tree. Since they’re such good friends, monkey would give his heart to Mr. Crocodile, but he’d need to take monkey back to the first side of the river. Mr. Crocodile did so, and monkey disappeared into the jungle.
Our guide said the lesson was to think on your feet and be clever like the monkey. I said the lesson was to not monologue your evil plan to the hero. The guide gave me a strange look.
Four colors are used in temple paintings: white, black, red, and yellow.
The name means “umbrella’s favor, king’s favor”.
The king had five sons by five wives. Normally, the oldest son would be the next king, but the youngest wife convinced the king to give her son a chance. So the king had his 5 sons sit in a circle with an umbrella in the center. Whomever the umbrella fell upon would be the next king. It fell on the youngest son. When the son became the king, he renamed the temple to Htilominlo and upgraded it.
Square doors are made possible by building a square window inside of the actual arch.
Famous for plaster carvings on the exterior.
Also famous for glaze on sandstone. Glaze requires 1000+ degree heat. Bricks can withstand this, but sandstone cracks. Archeologists still don’t know how this was done.
The sandstone is from mountains in the north.
Sand paintings are made by first laying down a sheet of cotton. Then you apply resin glue from the neem tree. Now sprinkle on sand from the river. Repeat this for nine layers of resin and sand. Then you may paint on it. Some go to 25 layers instead, switching the type of sand used. Then the artist engraves the images in the sand.
The ancient city had 8 gates in the 9th century. Now only one eastern gate is still in “good” repair.
Kings competed to build the biggest temples, bigger than previous kings. Like kings do.
This is the largest temple in Myanmar in the 11th century.
The king interviewed traveling monks from Himalayan caves. He was so impressed with this that he built this temple based upon their descriptions. Its name means “replica cave”.
The pool was kept for fish and turtles (of the non-teenage mutant variety). It is considered a good deed to feed them after paying your respects.
There is four layers of white wash on the walls. These were added later and cover the original paintings.
Original Buddha was made of five metals: gold, silver, copper, iron, and zinc.
The many niches make the walls lighter and distribute the weight along their arches, allowing the walls to be higher. It also disrupts echoes so that you can talk relatively normally and privately.
Giant wooden temple doors. No hinges. Instead each is held by an iron ring at the top and the base is in a hole/divot at the bottom.
No flame is allowed in this pagoda, only electric lights, because a nun left a candle too close to the large, wooden standing Buddha, and whoosh.
The Buddha at the southern gate looks serious if you are right under it, but the further away you get, the more it smiles. Also, a window at the top lets light come in to hit his face.
The Buddha is not in back or in a niche. It is instead in the front room and you can go behind it.
The ceilings of the inner corridor are so high and so dark that bats roost there.
The prince wanted to be king so badly that he murdered his father and brother. Then he built the pagoda to atone for his mistake. Two Buddhas sit side by side in the south entrance as his apology.
The prince, now king, also required the bricks to be super tight, unlike all other pagodas. If he could fit a needle between the bricks, then he cut off the worker’s fingers.
This may come as a surprise, but he was assassinated before the pagoda was finished.
The inner corridor is blocked off.
You do feel special when you are touring in a private car.
The spire collapsed in an earthquake.
The entrance is decorated by a number of peaks. The middle peak, the tallest, represents the tallest mountain in Buddhist cosmology, Mount Meru. It is surrounded by seven other mountains and seven rivers. The lotuses represent the seven rivers.
A Buddha painting inside has eyes that supposed follow you as you move. I didn’t feel watched.
There were 12th century paintings covered by 16th paintings covered by 18th century paintings.
There are some images of Mongols so that they wouldn't destroy the temple. Armenians did the same thing.
The lacquer is from the sap of the lacquer tree (who’d a thunk it?). It is cream color, but it oxidizes black. Once applied, it takes seven days to dry in a cellar.
First, weave bamboo or horse hair into the basic design. Alternatively, carve something out of teak wood. Then paint one layer of lacquer. Polish this layer smooth with a knife. A second layer of lacquer is painted on. It is then wrapped in cotton. The next layer is lacquer mixed with the ash of peanut shells. Then add 18 layers of lacquer. Each one has to dry, so this takes a while. At this stage, you optionally engrave the item, tracing grooves into the lacquer by hand. You can then add color via a mixture of lacquer, peanut oil, and one of vermilion, ocher, indigo, or a mixture thereof. Seal the color with acacia glue. The final layer is done in a clean room to prevent dust. The whole process takes six months for small stuff. Furniture can take over a year.
Horse hair lacquer ware is quite flexible. You can bounce it off walls.
Men can learn the base weaving skill over a three year apprenticeship. Women can learn the fine design that decorates the work at the end.
No pictures allowed of the final product. Each factory is a family business and they are protective of their designs. Therefor they have no website, but you can email them and they will send you pictures.
Bagan is in the rain shadow.
You can climb up near the top of this for a panoramic view. It gives a great view of several pagodas from above.
The steps are very tall: 5 to 7 bricks tall.
“Do you want a picture of yourself?” - Guide. “We don’t take selfies. We’re not vain people.” - Sister
Days 4 & 5 - Inle Lake
Market day is only in the morning. People want to get home before sundown.
Chief crops are rice, tomatoes, cabbage, peas, corn, sugar cane, Lima beans, and mangoes,
Teak can be farmed after twenty years.
The red soil is rich in soil.
Near the lake, the main way of moving around is long, narrow boats.
Boat protocol: Slow down when passing so you don’t splash and to minimize wake so you don’t capsize someone. The distance for passing at full speed seems about four meters.
Farmers collect lake weeds to use as fertilizer for tomatoes.
Fishermen use nets and slap the water with paddles to try to scare the fish into nets. They usually only catch two to four a day.
Bamboo sticks lining the lake bed are tomato plantations. The tomatoes here are somehow OK with lots of water.
The lake is only about 4 meters deep in the center.
Ywama Village was formerly known as floating market village, but the market moved because the water level is now too low. The water level in the area has been going down over the years, in part because of sediment coming from the mountains. The village is the center of silver and gold smithing.
To make a silver bowl, start with a disc of silver and hammer it out. Heat as necessary and then hammer some more. You then put the plain bowl on a Q-tip like resin mounted rod and sketch out whatever design you want on the bowl with a pencil. You finish it off by hammering that design from the inside out. The process takes about ten days.
Necklaces (as well as some bracelets and rings) are done from wire. The bar is rolled into a rod and then pulled through dies of successively smaller diameter until you get the wire size you want. The wire is then woven into the resign you want. This typically takes three days.
A fish charm is just concentric rings shaped to allow horizontal or vertical movement when bound together. The head and tail of the fish and linked together to hold the rings between them. This takes two days to make.
You can test the quality of silver by rubbing it on a stone and seeing what color you get. This 98% pure stuff leaves white marks. Less purity can leave comparatively reddish marks.
Silver is mined and smelted in northern Shen state (same province as Inle Lake).
Magoke, near Mandalay, in the source of the stones used. Primarily Jade, but with that come a lot of different stones.
It takes a minimum of one year to learn the trade.
Long Neck Ladies
Seriously, that’s how our guide referred to them as: Long Neck Ladies.
The Long Neck Ladies were originally from Kayah state. Many migrated to Thailand and Shan state. They are from the Padaung tribe. Legend gives a couple of reasons for the rings.
One legend says the rings are to protect the neck from wild animals. Great cats, for example, bite the neck to suffocate their prey and clamp down on the carotid artery.
The preferred legend states that the Padaung tribe are descended from a dragon. Although they were farmers, they wanted to carry their wealth with them at all times. Copper, bronze, even the rare silver or gold became rings that they wore on their necks and legs.
They start wearing the rings at age 8 or 9. These early rings weigh about 4kg.
Remember this next time you want to play a paladin who can only keep what wealth they can carry.
The Padaung tribe are also known as weavers, and they make all their own clothes.
Got stuck on a sand bar rounding a corner.
In October there is a procession of the five Buddhas of Inle Lake’s pagoda. They tour about in big ol’ gold boats, visiting 18 sites around the lake in 25 days.
One constant dip/sauce is soy sauce with diced garlics and mini hot peppers.
Education: Children are required to attend 4 years of primary classes and then 4 years of secondary classes. Many then enter the workforce, especially if they don’t pass exams. The government is trying to fix this and is now paying through high school.
Weaving at Inle Lake is done with silk, cotton, and lotus.
Take a lotus stem, crack it open and pull. This makes the strands visible and accessible. Gather then and roll them with the previous batch to form the thread. Lotus fabric is usually made into scarves for monks, requiring 4000 stems and one month to make one scarf.
Lotus is found mostly in the rainy season. There are four kinds of lotus: purple, white, pink, and red. Only pink lotus stems yield the desired strands.
Pink lotus, Inlean, the best.
It takes two or three months to learn the skills needed.
The flowers from the used lotuses are donated to Buddha.
Spin the threads to make uniform thickness. Then mixed with peanut oil, glue and rice to soften the thread.
Weave together to make a scarf. Then dye.
Can be woven with silk for scarves.
Thread colored by stringing it up, covering certain parts based on the pattern you want then dying and removing the covers.
Chemical dyes are for silk and cotton only. Natural colors for lotus. Inle tree gives you grey or black. Mango tree for red. Jackfruit tree for brown color. All use tree bark. Lotus leaf gives you green
Silk and cotton from Mandalay.
Waved at all the tourists on other boats. Every time, at least one person waved back.
Luggage stayed on the boat the whole day.
Tomatoes grown on floating islands anchored with large bamboo stakes. Islands formed from grass and water hyacinth whose roots bind together and then trap dirt. Smaller bamboo are driven in to guide tomato growth.
Water hyacinth blown in this time of year from the south by monsoons. They can block the lake.
Each village has long rowing boat. During the October festival these are stacked with 50 to 100 people who row with their legs. Each village has one or two of these boats.
It may have looked like a chance collision when we pulled into the floating market and ran alongside another boat, but it totally was not. These people lie in wait and put their boat in your way. When they hit, they immediately started trying to sell souvenirs.
The market is once every 5 days.
Low season due to weather. Less of everything.
Pa-O tribe wears traditional dress of black rove and turban. Second largest ethnic group in Shan state. Also believe descended from dragon. Turban is representative of the dragon’s head.
Sebastian (?) leaf from mountain used in cheroot (also spelled as cheruut on several local signs). You bake 20 to 30 leaves at a time. Then flatten them. You have to wet them again to roll.
Corn husk is rolled and used as the filter.
Tamarin (?) juice is mixed with tobacco. Sometimes mixed with honey, anise, rum, pineapple, and other things for flavor.
An experienced lady can roll 800 a day.
Tobacco comes from the middle of the country near Bagan. The most important aspect of the quality is how it mixes with tamarin and dries in sun.
Using a rod with a plastic (or paper) flag, put tobacco on the plastic. Pat down with a pre-rolled filter stick. Insert the filter stick. Roll up in plastic. Then wrap a leaf around the plastic tightly. Pull rod and plastic out. Glue on a paper tab/label that holds the wrap closed. Snip off the filter stick leaving the filter inside. The stick will be reused. Tuck in the leaf at the opposite end to seal it.
Pretentious wine descriptions are pretentious.
My sister liked the wines. I'm not a wine person, so I'll take her word that they were good. They really didn't tickle my pallet in a good way though. I preferred the Georgian wines I’d brought and that we drank earlier.
The peanuts were great.
I'm curious how the iron rich soil impacts the flavor.
Teak monastery is 130 years old.
Originally built in the lake's flood plain. In a bad flood the stain glass windows were washed away.
The Buddha is a bamboo shell with gold paint, but it’s older than the monastery. It was donated by king of Mandalay.
The monastery was originally built without nails. Repairs done with nails.
To make paper: Boil leaves with ash for 8 hours. Pound and pulp. Put pulp in pot with water. Mix vigorously using bamboo stick with prongs. Pour into water pool with frame and mesh. Swirl around to get even distribution of fiber. Carefully put flower petals and other decorations in the mesh. Pull up slowly for uniform distribution. Two hours to dry in sun. Very similar to recycling paper.
I taught kids recycling paper in Georgia using almost this exact same routine.
Mulberry tree bark for paper pulp. The leaves can feed silk worms.
To make a paper umbrella: Indian trumpet wood. Core it. Insert stencil and trim width. Then lathe it with a knife to smooth it. Groove and then break into top and bottom. With saw, score one end. Trim and punch holes. This guy is really fast. Make bamboo strips. Put hole at end that mates with grooves piece. Make partial split for struts. I think I missed a step; he’s that fast. Paper attached to top is 2 or 3 layers and treated with peanut oil. Switch is one piece of bamboo that is then inserted into a bamboo rod that is the main pole for the umbrella. Thread holds the bamboo struts together at the holes. This guy can make 3 or 4 personal size umbrellas a day blindfolded.
“These seats aren't very comfortable.” - Sister. I'm thinking, “first world problems”. Compared to some of the seats I've endured these past two years, these are nice.
Wait minute. There's only 13 passengers on this flight (it’s an ATR 72-6000), and we're leaving an hour early without refueling. This has horror story written all over it.
Mandalay - Days 6-7
35 minute flight and still the service is better than United.
Guide claimed there’s only one top university in the whole country. It’s just outside of Mandalay.
You need to get foreign language and/or computer skills if you want a good job. Chinese and Japanese language skills are desired, but the Chinese are rude and people don’t want to take Chinese because they don't want to work with them.
80% of jade trade in Myanmar is owned by Chinese. 90% of "Chinese" jade is actually Myanmar jade just re-branded. 20% is owned locally. Jade mines mostly played out.
Viper and cobra are the most populous and dangerous snakes here. If you get bit get to the hospital in 2 hours. However, the bite still damages the kidneys. If don't take care of yourself you can still die within 3 or 4 years.
The night market here is a wholesale market. It goes until 4 or 5 am.
Government tax on imported cars is about 50%.
There’s 3 ancient cities here. First 1769. Second 1315. Third 14 to 19th century. Each was a capital of Myanmar at those times.
Alluvial soil near the river is good for growing. The river is also for trading.
Amarapura city means free from dying, the immortal city. It is 11km outside of Mandalay.
Now famous for its monk school and teak wood bridge (longest in the world).
Hot and dry weather like in central Myanmar gives the best quality cotton. It’s white, not pink like you get in the hills.
Monk’s robe is reddish brown. The nun’s robe is pink.
With all the gems, there are no local diamonds. Rich locals therefor prefer diamonds, which have to be imported.
The longest teak wood bridge is 1.2 km long. It runs from Amarapura to a small village. The bridge is named U Bein after the man who built it. It means thin man.
Lots of people with chewing tobacco. Horrible teeth.
There are some buildings under the water. In summer time they are uncovered and they farm in the flood plain.
Some tour groups hire monks to cross the bridge up and down because tourists say they want to see it.
The bridge spans Taungthaman Lake, which floods with back log from the river in the rainy season.
Monks must finish lunch by noon. After this they may not eat solid food.
Locals didn't like the monks wandering about and asking for food. Instead, donors send food and volunteers to cook their food. Over 1000 monks and volunteers live at the monastery.
Volunteers change every 3 or 4 months. The volunteer orgs are based in Mandalay city.
The monks here are not vegetarian. Since the food is donated they don't have a choice; can't be picky.
Generally steamed rice and curry.
Donor information put on stone slabs around the monastery.
Tamarin tree. Popular tree in tropical area.
Corner of monk robes notes their names.
You can take pictures of the monks but you can't ask them to pose. It interferes with their activities.
Buddhists in the monastery study the Pali language. Like Latin it is a dead language. No one speaks it outside of the scripture. Pali was the language of Buddha, which is why they learn it. When studying they must speak it aloud so they can hear each other.
At the age 5 or 6 parents force kids into the monastery for two weeks or so. After that they can choose to stay or leave. If they stay they must stay in the practice monastery, then they can graduate to the teaching monastery if they want to be educated in the monastery. Just like school, they have to pass exams. They can quit at any time. They can also come back, but that reflects poorly on them if they do it frequently and that means less donations. The young age of admission goes to the idea to reincarnation. No matter how young they are they may feel at home because their previous lives were there at the monastery. Almost all boys are sent to the monastery at least once. It also gives them interaction with kids the same age. Girls get the same deal, except at a nunnery.
Pre-novice wears white.
You can even pet the birds here.
Dogs also, but they are kind of mangy.
Dorm halls have 10 to 30 students. Smaller huts for senior monks, who are assigned one dorm each.
Pre-novice has 200 rules. Novice has 400. Ordained monk (age 20) has 2000 rules. They need to memorize them all.
The lunch bell rings at 10am. Monks get ready. At 1015 they line up for the rice donations.
Monks line up senior to junior. Ties are broken by educational level.
Guide likes to park us and then play on his phone.
People really jockey to photo the monks. Even hanging outside the windows of the cafeteria to snap a shot. Very invasive.
Hand woven cottons and silk are cheaper in Mandalay than Inle lake.
Sagaing, second ancient city.
75 steps from the base of hill to the Buddha cave at the top.
The exterior of the cave was improved with concrete. Inside the Buddhas are all carved from sandstone. There are 45 Buddhas. 4 + 5 = 9. 9 qualifications of Buddha makes it a sacred number.
The mirrors inside are replaced every 3 years.
Swam Oo Pon Nya Shin Pagoda
Famous for its panoramic view. So famous they want 300 kyet for you to take pictures.
Paying the toll for crossing the bridge is an informal affair.
The river is 4 times the normal size. Normal being the summer and winter levels.
Rice takes 4 months to grow. Then 2 weeks to prepare the ground. Not grown in summer due to lack of water.
Built in 1834. This place is 188 feet by 103 feet, and made from wood.
When built, everyone who wanted good education came here. Even princes. Then in 1850 British made new school and it drew students away.
Central Myanmar only gets about 20 inches of rain a year. Even in rainy season it only rains about 2 days a week.
Large building is dormitory and classroom. Spire like building is prayer hall.
Jet fruit has spiky skin.
Maha Aung Mye Bom San Monastery
Monk living here was famous for teachings and translations. He translated Buddha's teachings from Pali to Myanmar’s language.
It’s not a teaching monastery, so no classroom just a dormitory and library with a prayer hall on the side.
Baby Buddha is cut from marble.
The opening of the door near the dormitory used to make a sound of a peacock to alert the monk as to who was approaching. Now it’s more like a dying elephant.
Maha Buddhavamsa is a large gold Buddha that we’re not allowed to take pictures of (not exactly).
Legend says Buddha came to visit. When he was set to leave, the king lamented that if he left they would have no Buddha. So they made a statue of Buddha out of copper and bronze. Buddha then touched its forehead seven times to bring it to life. People believe statue is alive, so they bathe it and even brush its teeth daily. The most common offering is to buy gold leaf and coat the statue with this. Only men can touch the statue to do so. Women can pray. The gold leaf got so heavy that they had to peal it off. They coated the temple ceiling with this peeled away gold leaf. Even now it looks like the statue is trapped in stone.
The ruby mine this family owns and gets their stones from is literally called "Ruby land". Its six hours away by car.
Star sapphire and star ruby have lines on the surface. They are never cut. Instead they are polished round cabochon cut.
“The traffic lights sleep at night.” - Guide
Rainy season is low tourist season. The guide only works 7 to 14 days in a month.
There are about 8000 tour guides in Myanmar. Many tourists are backpackers who don't use tour guides. Some of the best foreign language speakers are tour guides.
Su Taung Pyai Pagoda
Mandalay hill is 300 feet up from city
First time barefoot on an escalator.
Driving to Inle Lake from Mandalay takes about six hours due to the Shen Mountains.
The area of the river is up to seven times greater in the rainy season.
A green ogre lived on Mandalay hill. She was really impressed by Buddha and wanted to give a donation, but she didn't have any wealth or food. Instead she cut off her breast as an offering of meat. Buddha was impressed and said she would be reincarnated as a human and found a great civilization. Buddha’s lifetime is 2800 years. It took that long for the ogre to reincarnate. As the reincarnated King Mandal, it founded the city in 1857. Mandalay city and hill are both named after the ogre.
Sarong. In Myanmar it's called paso for men, htamein for women. Aside from the patterns, the only difference is the fold. Men fold it together in the front while women fold it together on the left side.
Despite all the legends, historically Buddha never came here.
Biggest Book Pagoda
There are 729 small shrines at this UNESCO pagoda. The shrines are hollow house stone slabs with Buddha's teaching written in Pali using Myanmar letters. If all the slabs were stacked together it would make the largest book in the world. Hence the name.
Start reading with the innermost shrine.
The star flower tree planted when the pagoda was put there to give shade. They used star flower because it continues to be fragrant after they die. Given to lovers to emphasize that whatever may happen they will still love you.
Traditional medicine made from flowers involves drying them in the sun before grinding to powder. Bees and flies swarm them while drying.
Golden Palace Monastery
The palace built in 1857.
This monastery was originally in the walls of the palace. After king's death the prince moved it outside and donated to the monks as a monastery in 1879 (one year after king’s death). When the palace was bombed in WW2 all other buildings inside the palace walls were destroyed.
Made of teak wood and gilded.
The exterior gold rubbed away by hands of people who couldn't believe their eyes and by the weather.
Angels are not native to Myanmar mythology or history. But a German architect helped with the palace which is why there are some angels.
Day markets run from about 5am to 8am.
Teak wood is primary wood for carving as it is light for transport. Tamarin and neem trees are also used.
The smells are great.
They start work after 7 months but they learn mostly as they go. Learn step by step. This is a generational trade.
It takes about a month to do a full stand/screen.
They also sew bead tapestries here. These often appear in hotels and the airport.
Ogres eat human flesh. They would change their face to that of a handsome man or lady to trap and eat them.
As you might guess, carving wood is a matter of reduction. Start with large piece and shave down.
It’s really just practice and skill after that. No special process.
My greatest expense, other than the tour package and the plane ticket, has been tipping. Its expected that we tip the driver and guide a sum of $25-$50 each day.
They really like their curly straws in this country.