Monday, February 29, 2016

My Trip to Burma: Sagaing Hill, Nunlets and Monklets, and the 45 Buddhas of Umin Thounzeh

We crossed the Ayeyarwaddy and quickly arrived in Sagaing, a low-key city just 25 km south of Mandalay.  Sagaing is the capital of the Sagaing Region, which stretches all the way north almost to Tibet.   Sagaing has largely devoted itself to spiritual matters. Today, around 6000 monks live in the numerous monasteries dotted around the town.  The main reason to come here is for Sagaing Hill.

Before Sagaing Hill, however, our guide decided to take a detour.  Hearing us talk about monks and nuns, and seeing how much we liked the children we encountered in Burma, he took us to the Aung Myae Oo Monastic Education Center.

The education they get here is free, and it is considered an honor for a family to have a nun or a monk in training in one of these schools.

Friday, February 26, 2016

My trip to Burma: Exploring the former capital, Inwa, by horse cart.

It was tough saying goodbye to beautiful Inle Lake, but we were excited about our next stop, Mandalay.  The flight to Mandalay was very short.  Barely 35 minutes, which was a pleasure. We arrived at the airport and met our tall, slender guide, Marn.   He took our bags and led us to the car where we met our driver, Mr. Aung.  Instantly, I could hear that Marn spoke English better than any of our previous guides.  He laid out our itinerary:  We were going to Inwa first, where we would see the sites by horse cart, then onto Sagaing, and then finish the day in the former capital, Amarapura, where we would stroll along the famous U Bein Bridge to watch the sun set.  Sounded pretty good to me.

The three cities we were going to visit - Inwa (also known as Ava), Sagaing, and Amarapura - have an interesting history.  All three were former capitals of Burma (although Sagaing was a capital for only four years), and all three are tethered together by the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River.

After a brief drive, we were in ancient city of Inwa.  It’s a sleepy, semi-rural village, and one of the most enchantingly beautiful parts of the Mandalay area.  Originally known as Ava (that’s what the British called it), it was the capital of Burma, not just once, but four times!  For over 300 years total, more than any other city.  You’d never guess this, seeing the place today.

We parked the car and headed down some steps, where we were to catch a ferry.  The city is encircled by a moat, and you need a ferry to take you across the moat.

Monday, February 22, 2016

My Trip to Burma: The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, another beautiful sunset, and goodbye to Inle Lake.

After lunch at the Inthar Heritage House (and a good hour spent playing with the cats at the sanctuary), we hit our last site, just a little south of Ywama. It's the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, and it is the most important religious site in the area.  Inside are five small Buddha images at the central shrine. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

My Trip to Burma: A visit to the Inthar Heritage House and their Burmese Cat Sanctuary!

It’s not difficult to find Russian blues in Russia, Scottish folds in Scotland, or Turkish vans in Turkey.    But try finding a Burmese cat in Burma.  It’s not as easy as you think.   

During the 19th and 20th century, increased development led to a large influx of people (and cats) into Burma, resulting in the rise of other cat breeds.  The Burmese breed was gradually diluted, becoming hybrids. A few purebreds were brought to the U.K., and one was brought to the U.S.  By 1930, true purebred Burmese were gone from Burma. 

Now this popular and well-loved breed, with their beautiful color, big eyes, and gentle temperament are adored in North America, Europe and Australia, are virtually unknown to the Burmese people. The Inthar Heritage House’s Burmese Cat Conservation Project hopes to change that.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

My Trip to Burma: Last day in Inle Lake: Long-necked ladies, skilled silversmiths, and ancient ruins at Indein.

We started our last day in Inle Lake with a nice breakfast at the hotel.  Love those long pastries.

Nyein Nyein picked us up at the hotel and we walked to the jetty.  As usual, we passed multiple dogs along the way.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My Trip to Burma: Inle Lake Day 2 - Cooking Class, the Jumping Cat Monastery, assorted craftspeople, and the best street food.

Today we get a good taste - literally - of what Burma is all about, because we're starting the day with a cooking lesson at the Bamboo Delight Cooking School.   I set this up weeks in advance as a surprise for Mark.  Cooking is his passion, especially Asian cuisine.  He wasn't expecting this, so he was majorly psyched.

First was breakfast at the hotel.  The breakfast room overlooks the pool, which is always nice.

Here's the view from the breakfast area.

Their banana pancakes are different than American pancakes, and certainly not like the kind I'm obsessed with at Cowgirl in New York, but I'm not complaining.  It was great.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

My Trip to Burma: Arrival in Nyaungshwe, the incredible Pindaya Cave, a paper Factory, a cool monastery, and the raucous Fire Balloon Festival.

This morning we’re heading east, from Bagan to the Inle Lake area.  Such chaos at the airport.  There are three or four domestic airlines in the airport, each located next to each other, in booths smaller than a Paris hotel room.  

I‘m crazy paranoid about our luggage, given what happened on day 1, but it all goes smoothly.  We land in Heho airport, high in the southern Shan hills. Our next three days are going to be spent exploring and learning about the Shan state.

Burma has 135 different ethnic groups (officially recognized by the government).  These are arranged into eight major national ethnic races:  Bamar, Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan.  

The Shan are Burma's second-largest ethnic group, making up about 9 percent of the population.  The Shan people are located mainly in eastern Burma (and also across the border east, into northern Thailand). Culturally and linguistically, they're closely related to the Tai peoples of Thailand and Laos. The Shan have inhabited this area of eastern Myanmar since at least the tenth century, playing a major role in the country's history.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Trip to Burma: Bagan Part 3 - Palm Sugar, a Local Village, and the Nats of Mount Popa

The day started out great, with a lovely buffet breakfast at our hotel.  Nice selection of food, although as I've said before, I just can't get into real Asian cuisine - noodles, fried rice, etc. - for breakfast.  I need my eggs, pancakes, and bacon.  Fortunately, they had all that.   And a nice view of the river.
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