Category Archives: Myanmar

information on remote places to visit in Myanmar

Myanmar – Conflict Within – Exploitation from Outside

UNICEF poster of child soldier.
UNICEF poster of child soldier.

This is what is happening in Myanmar – children are fighting a war rather than attending school. There is a struggle between the government, who wants to claim the land and the people, who want to harvest the gold, jade, teak, and opium as they have forever.

First class sleeper on train from Mandalay to Myitkyina.
First class sleeper on train from Mandalay to Myitkyina.

I bought a ticket for a first class sleeper on the train from Mandalay to Myitkyina knowing the Kachin and Shan guerrillas were fighting in the area and it was possible the military may block my travel.

Stupas in village from train.
Stupas in village from train.

Along the way I saw reminders of the power of the Buddhists, who openly challenged the Muslims.

Fields from train.
Fields from train.

From the train, the countryside looked quiet and it appeared as though everyone lived in peace with each other.

Myitkyina train station.
Myitkyina train station.

But once I arrived Myitkyina I hit the barriers.  Note that travelers must register with Immigration at the train station or airport.

Site of historic WWII battle.
Site of historic WWII battle.

     The Myitkyina railroad station was the site of a decisive battle in World War II. Winning Myitkyina with its airstrip and rail station gave the Allies control of Northern Burma and a chance to reconnect India with China via the Burma Road.

Suprabum Road
Suprabum Road

I hoped to travel up the Suprabum Road to the Hukwang Valley but was stopped by Immigration.

Myitkyina market
Myitkyina market

So I visited the local market and tried to regroup.

Unusual fruits
Unusual fruits

The fruits are unlike anything I’ve seen in the western world.

Medicine vendor
Medicine vendor

This woman kindly refused to accept payment for cold medicine I received from her – I had gotten very sick from the train ride.

Natural rememdies
Natural rememdies

They don’t have pharmacies in Myitkyina  but a wide assortment of natural remedies are sold at market.

Chinese in Myanmar
Chinese in Myanmar

I was struck by the presence of so many Chinese in the area.         Later I would find out why.

Tuktuk and motor bikes
Tuktuk and motor bikes

I paid for a driver and motorbike to take me to the Mogaung Valley. I had a map from the main Immigration office in Myitkyina  showing where I was allowed to travel.

Road to Mogaung
Road to Mogaung

     The road to Mogaung, or where the Chindits defeated the Japanese in World War II to secure the Allies position in Myitkyina, was dull… at first. Later I was interrogated by Immigration guards on my return to town. The poor boy driving the motor bike practically peed in his pants, understandably, when the gun toting military questioned us. So many are being killed in the battle between the government and the tribes over land rights.

Road will last only a couple of years.
Road will last only a couple of years.

     On the way to Mogaung we were subject to delays on the new road the Chinese were building. Note the meager layers of bedding, gravel, and asphalt slurry. This road will last only a couple years.

Hauling slurry seal in bucket
Hauling slurry seal in bucket

Chinese and the locals worked side by side carrying boiling asphalt tar buckets – something the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in the US would faint at.

Men women children road workers

Men, women and children worked to build a road to the wilderness.  Why?

Mining in Myanmar
Mining in Myanmar

Access to the jade and gold mines and transport teak logs.

Mining in Myanmar people and equip2

Ko Zaw Pharkant, a photographer who lives in Myitkyina, took the photos of the mines.

Another mine

It’s easy to scorn the devastation of land from mining.

Mining in Myanmar land

But how many of us wear gold or jade jewelry or have purchased teak furniture, boxes, or trinkets?

Mining in Mynamar equipment

It’s not so much that there is mining in Myanmar. They should use the country’s natural wealth to improve the standard of living.

Mining Myanmar land and lodging

Yet the mining in Myanmar is excessive and the wealth is not going to the people of Myanmar but to their trusted neighbor-the Chinese.

Roof tops in Myitkyina
Roof tops in Myitkyina

     Myitkyina is one of the cities benefiting from this exploitation of resources. Not only are the Chinese building roads to harvest Myanmar’s wealth but there is an agreement between the two countries to build dams that would change life for those downstream on the Chindwin and Irrawaddy Rivers, forever.

Myitkyina airport terminal

The Myitkyina Airport looks prosperous.

Expanding Myitkyina airport strip
Expanding Myitkyina airport strip

     But at what cost?  Note the woman on the right in the above photo is carrying a pan of scalding asphalt to cover the thin layer of gravel on the airport runway the Chinese are expanding.

The airstrip improvements will last only a few years.
The airstrip improvements will last only a few years.

     The Chinese are quickly harvesting the wealth of Myanmar but not sharing the spoils with the locals.     Who will stop them?

train ride shack in field

On November 8, 2015 Aung San Suu Kyi’s party gained control of parliament (Hluttaw) who is in the position to elect the next president of Myanmar.  Suu Kyi proactively reached out to the over 135 tribes and 55 parties in Myanmar before elections, including those in the Kachin and Shan states, where the civil war continues.

Myitkyina passenger airport
Beautification of Myitkyina Airport

Suu Kyi cannot become president because Burmese law states anyone with “legitimate children” who owe an allegiance to foreign powers is ineligible.  She has two sons with British passports. It is thought she will rule a puppet president from a parliament seat.

Myitkyina WWII Airfield in background Where Historic Battle was fought
Myitkyina WWII airfield in background. Site of Merrill’s Marauders historic battle.

     Will Suu Kyi and her National League of Democracy (NLD) be the harbinger of change that will lead Myanmar out of religious conflict (Buddhist against Muslim), find an economic solution (sign a truce with all tribes), and protect the natural resources of Myanmar from exploitation by their world neighbors?

World’s Largest Book – MANDALAY

 

The Kuthudaw Pagoda in Mandalay is surround by 729 Stupas

729 stone inscription caves mandalay
729 Stupas surrounding Kuthudaw Pagoda

Within each stupa, marble slabs hold inscriptions that make up the worlds largest book.

Marble Slab with Written History
Marble Slab with Written History

Other than the monks that tend the site, the pagoda is an amazingly quiet site with very few tourists.

Kuthudaw Pagoda
Kuthudaw Pagoda

Mandalay, one of the largest cities in Myanmar, is home to a large population of monks.

High rise Buddhist Monastary
High rise Buddhist Monastary

There are several monasteries throughout the city. Surprisingly they are very modern and appear to be comfortable.

Buy lottery tickets here.
Buy lottery tickets here.

     For all its tradition, Mandalay is a city of change with lotteries juxtaposed next to temples and a large gold market attracting tourist on the lookout for inexpensive jewelry.  Those who plan to buy gold in Mandalay should ask whether the gem inset is real. Many times the gold is real but the gem is not and likewise, real gems are often set in cheap gilded metal. So ask the vendor what’s real.

Mya Nan San Kyaw, last Royal Burmese palace
Mya Nan San Kyaw, last Royal Burmese palace

The last royal Burmese palace is in Mandalay. It’s a lovely area to bicycle around.

 

Chindwin River Part II: Sometimes a Great Notion: Bamboo/Teak/Gold

There are plans to construct a dam upriver from Homalin to serve the Chinese. It will impact life along the Chindwin in the future.

Typical bamboo raft to transport goods locally.
Typical bamboo raft to transport goods locally.

Many houses on the river were made of teak. But in other parts of the country, where teak was not just outside the back door, homes or bashas were made of bamboo.  As in India, bamboo is used for everything, from paper to particle board to knit hats.

Commercial bamboo boat
Commercial bamboo boat

With all the teak logging on the Chindwin, one would think teak grew like weeds…well perhaps it did in the past but it is quickly being depleted. Some old practices still exist but modern equipment is being introduced.

Oxen used to haul cut logs instead of skidders
Oxen used to haul cut logs instead of skidders

To germinate teak seeds, they must be placed in a fire, then soaked in water. It takes 45 days for the seeds to germinate.

Dozer lining up logs while workers have some fun in the water.
Dozer lining up logs while workers have some fun in the water.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, Myanmar has implemented British Forestry practices, with a 60 year rotation for teak wood. But given the number of logs being harvested, the regeneration quantity will not meet the harvesting volumes.

Ready to be loaded.
Ready to be loaded.

Logs are milled within the country rather than exported abroad to foreign mills where the finished product fetches a higher price.

Ready to be put into rafts
Ready to be put into rafts

Due to a lack of roads in this region, most of the logs are tied together as a raft to be transported to the mill.  While watching the log rafts move down river, the novel Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey came to my mind.

Teak raft. Sometimes a Great Notion: Chindwin River January 2014
Teak raft. Sometimes a Great Notion: Chindwin River January 2014

The teak industry is labor intensive. It requires a mobile infrastructure that moves from one log camp to the next, once a site has been harvested.  Barrels of oil are shipped to the roving logging camps to power portable generators.

Oil barrels transported to logging camps.
Oil barrels transported to logging camps.

Men are needed to cut, load, grade and track the trees. Wayward teak rafts are known to disappear before reaching their final mill destination.

Government permit tracker and log grader
Government permit tracker and log grader

Accounting records held by one government official showed 100 logs that ranged in size from 12ft diameter x 25ft long to 7ft diameter x 22 ft long weighing 287,000 tonnes within one log raft. Logs that size are most likely from virgin forests, soon to be extinct. But what are the alternatives to teak production? Gold, jade, and opium.

Surface gold mine. Hydraulic river mining next?
Surface gold mine. Hydraulic river mining next?

Gold and jade mines provide get-rich-quick job opportunities, but since this work is far from home, the men become bored. Enterprising dealers find ways to help them spend their free time and money on other forms of entertainment, such as opium.  It’s not unusual for men to become trapped by the good money and drugs.

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Chindwin River Part I: Travel Along the Chindwin

Tied up dugout on Chindwin River.
Tied up dugout on Chindwin River.

In January 2014 the Chindwin River was not a popular destination for foreigners. I saw no other Caucasian on the voyage traveling upriver between Monywa and Homalin.  I was asked several times if I was a missionary (what did that mean?)

Girls I met on river.
Girls I met on river.

The blog below is for those considering a similar trip. Without my guide, Mr. Saw, I would not have been able to purchase boat tickets and find the guest houses at each stop in less than the four days it took us to travel. Unfortunately, my time was limited. But I suggest others allow for more time in each village and schedule buffer time for the inevitable delays. Costs below are listed in Kyats, which at the time of my trip had a conversion ratio of 1000 Kyats (pronounced chats) to $1 USD. Carry both small denominations of Kyats for river travel and USD for places where they won’t take Kyats from foreigners. 

First Class on the Chindwin
First Class on the Chindwin

January 3, 2014 Leave Monywa by boat at 3 a.m.  Arrive Kalewa 5:30 p.m. The trip along the parallel road takes 10 hours.

First class seats.
First class seats.

First class entertainment was a TV at the front of the boat. High pitch Burmese songs blared non-stop from 3 a.m. until 3 p.m. I was thankful for the cushioned seat rather than a hard bench seat for 14 hours.

Second class seats.
Second class seats.

Boat Cost for 1st class was: 33,000 Kyats for foreigners 17,000 Kyats for local residents.

Life along the river is simple. Porters come in handy on these steep slopes.
Life along the river is simple. Porters come in handy on these steep slopes.

Porters charged 500 kyats to carry my 50 pound bag up the hill.

First class meal. Guess where the styrofoam goes?
First class meal. Guess where the styrofoam goes?
Food on the boat came with the ticket but dinner in the village cost about 1500 Kyats
Guest house on Chindwin.
Guest house on Chindwin.
The guest house in Kalewa cost 6000 Kyats  Electricity was on from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.  This is important if you want to charge a phone or computer. I used only the phone’s camera, since there was no cell coverage. Some villages had internet connections when there was electricity but most of the time the internet was down.
Looking west to Chin Mountains and route to Kalaymo on right. Bridge across Myittha leads south to Monywa
Looking west to Chin Mountains and route to Kalaymo on right. Bridge across Myittha leads south to Monywa

Many foreigners traveling down the river from Homalin stop at Kalewa then fly out of Kalaymo, which is inland rather than continue on the Chindwin to Monywa. The distance  from Kalewa to Kalaymo is 20 km or a 2 hr truck ride . If you want to go further  to Kennedy Peak, the route the 1942 Ragoon residents took to evade the Japanese, is 70 km (or an additional 50 km west): a 4 hr truck ride. 

Coal from the local hills.
Coal from the local hills.
Sedimentary rock (sandstone) is found along the river, but in the foothills coal and natural gas is mined.

January  4, 2014  Leave Kalewa by boat at 11 a.m. Arrive Mawlaik 5:00 p.m. Travel from Kalewa to Mawlaik by road is not possible.

Bridge in background collapsed from monsoon floods and earthquakes.
Bridge in background collapsed from monsoon floods and earthquakes.

At least one bridge was down. If the bridge was serviceable the road between Kalewa and Mawlaik is 36 km or a 3 hour drive.  Without the road, residents had to take the boat and board midstream where the river was too shallow for the boat to go to shore.

Midstream boarding included taking a dugout to the commercial boat.
Midstream boarding included taking a dugout to the commercial boat.

After Kalewa, first class travel changed from cushioned seats to shared metal boxes. A log grader and government lumber inspector shared the first class box with me and my guide. It held 6 adults and was, 4 feet high by 10 feet wide by 8 feet long with a cotton cloth covering a metal floor.

First class box was 4ft x 10ft x 8ft. Day packs are 18 inches high.
First class box was 4ft x 10ft x 8ft. Day packs are 18 inches high.

The cost of a 1st class box between Kalewa and Mawlaik was 20,000 Kyats. 

On board, you could buy from the kitchen (this photo) or from midriver or shore food vendors.
On board, you could buy from the kitchen (this photo) or from midriver or shore food vendors.

Dinner and breakfast in Mawlaik cost 6000 Kyats,  The guest house cost 10,000 Kyats but that was because I stayed longer than 24 hours or beyond the 2 p.m. cut off time.  The Guesthouse, which was located across the street from the police station, let me use their bicycle for free to tour the village.  All guest houses have TVs. It was a good opportunity to sit with the locals and observe or interact.

Riverside restaurant.
Riverside restaurant.

I met many geologists during my trip on the river. They were on the river conducting investigations for coal and natural gas. Another natural resource was sand, which was excavated and exported for construction purposes.  Unfortunately, the sand excavation resulted in undermining the banks along the river.

Typical settlement along the river.
Typical settlement along the river.
January 5, 2014 Leave Mawlaik by boat at 5:45 p.m.  Arrive in Homalin 2 p.m. on January 6. 
No electronics here. Day time travel was best with manual depth finder for sandbars.
No electronics here. Day time travel was best with manual depth finder for sandbars.
The boat grounded at 9 p.m. and for one hour all the men got off the boat to rock it free. They were unable to push it off the sandbar like they had earlier. So a tug boat was called up from Mawlaik to pull us out to deeper water. Men stationed on each side of the boat use simple bamboo poles and probed the water to determine depth. 
Getting from the front to the back of the boat required shimmying along narrow walkway before climbing into the metal 1st class box.
Getting from the front to the back of the boat required shimmying along narrow walkway before climbing into the metal 1st class box.
Later we got stuck on another sandbar at 2 a.m.  It was too dark to continue, so they shut down the boat until daylight, or  6 a.m. Getting up in the middle of the night to use the outhouse and shimmying along the narrow walkway with a fast flowing river over the edge was quite an experience – But the stars in the night sky were spectacular.
Outhouse on boat - guess where it all goes.
Outhouse on boat – guess where it all goes.
The lights in the 1st class box stayed on all night, making sleep difficult. The sounds through the paper thin walls of snoring, farting, crying babies, and the cold metal floor, as well as gasoline smelling like it had an additive of naphthalene, made sleep impossible.
Sights along the Chindwin.
Sights along the Chindwin.

To see villages, stupas, and trade along the river was worth the inconvenience. This stretch of the river includes jade and surface gold mines, and, like the rest of the river, a lot of teak logging. Early the next morning, in the dense fog, the vendor boats arrived to sell “fast food.” 

Chindwin River Fast Food vendor boat.
Chindwin River Fast Food vendor boat.
The log grader and government lumber official got off at one of the logging stops along the river. In their place, a woman who sold betel nuts to support her entire family, got on to share the 1st class box. She talked, or perhaps it was the betel nut that talked, nonstop for 3 hours.
Boarding midriver was a challenge.
Boarding midriver was a challenge.
An alternative to river travel from Mawlaik to Homalin is a 100 km road on the east side of the Chindwin River. It’s a 2 day ride, depending upon the weather.
Chain of stupas accessed only from the river.
Chain of stupas accessed only from the river.

The cost of a 1st class box between Mawlaik and Homalin was 30,000 Kyats for foreigners. Food on the boat was 5000 Kyats. Once I arrived in Homalin, dinner in town was 2250 Kyats. There are more guest houses in Homalin than in the other villages along the river, but most were full when we arrived at 2:30 p.m. So I ended up at one of the simple places for 10,000 Kyats per room. They kindly provided a pail of heated water for a bucket shower.

Peanut field in flower.
Peanut field in flower.

Due to the delay on the river, we arrived at the Myanma Airlines office in Homalin at 2:30  p.m. We had to wait around until 5:30 p.m. before tickets could be purchased because there were reservations for all the seats. There are only two airlines that fly into Homalin, so departure from Homalin was limited to 3 times per week. If I didn’t catch the plane I would have been in Homalin another 4 days. That would have meant missing other sites I wanted to see in Myanmar. 

Homalin boat landing.
Homalin boat landing.
Myanma Airline staff graciously sent a local boy to all the homes and guesthouses of those with flight reservations to see if there would be any no-shows. There were four cancellations. The plane ticket for a foreigner cost $90 US (must be USD and exact amount) and for locals it cost 64,000 Kyats. Plus there’s a charge of 2000 Kyats for non-carryon luggage. 
Homalin is a relatively large city. I guess around 100,000.
Homalin is a relatively large city. I guess around 100,000.

January 7, 2014 The plane left in the morning around 8 a.m. The same people who sold the tickets in town, processed tickets at the airport, checked baggage, and served as security before boarding.  This meant if you were in town and had questions while they were at the airport, you had to wait until the plane departed. There was a separate inspection of my purse, which was conducted in a dark closet by a female employee. I don’t think she could see anything. Be sure to reserved 4000 kyats for the taxi to the airport (which was basically the back of a truck.)

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Stilwell’s 1942 Retreat from Burma through Homalin

January 6, 2014

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Looking west from Homalin from where Stilwell crossed the Chindwin River in 1942.
Looking west from Homalin from where Stilwell crossed the Chindwin River in 1942.

On May 12, 1942 General Joseph Stilwell led 114 Americans, British, Chinese and Burmese into Homalin. The next day they crossed the Chindwin River. They started in Maymyo on May 1 and arrived in Imphal, India on May 20.  Stilwell knew the Japanese were on their heels so he set a tough pace: fourteen miles per day at 105 steps per minute. Fifty minutes of marching per hour with a ten minute break. The Japanese arrived in Homalin only a day after Stilwell’s group crossed the Chindwin. In those three weeks they marched through jungles and up mountains, losing an average of 25 lbs per person.

On May 24, 1942  Stilwell gave an interview to a New Delhi reporter, “I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake it.”

We always hear about the Allies journeys through exotic lands. But who did they pass along the way?  Below is a day by day summary of Stilwell’s retreat and the problems they encountered with photos from Homalin of the type of people they may have passed along the way.

Known as Chin Lone in Myanmar and Sepak Takraw in other Asian countries, this game of kick-volleyball should be an Olympic sport.
Known as Chin Lone in Myanmar and Sepak Takraw in other Asian countries, this game of kick-volleyball should be an Olympic sport.

April27, 1942 Heard an ugly rumor from Limie: the Chinese are leaving Lashio (about 100 miles east). Chiang Kai-shek (CKS) said to stay in Burma. Sixty boats sunk by Japanese on Irrawaddy. Flew all the British women out of and most of the Head Quarters crowd.

This child followed me for blocks for a photo - what a cutie.
This child followed me for blocks for a photo – what a cutie.

April 29, 1942 Swebo hit by 27 Japanese bombers.

April 30, 1942 Officers are beginning to lose their grip, squabbling over rice and trucks. Lashio was taken. Ava Bridge over Irrawaddy blown-up by Chinese to stop Japanese. Imminent danger of disintegration and collapse.

Love those lunch boxes.
Love those lunch boxes.

May 1, 1942 Japanese on Maymyo road. Started evacuation from  Maymyo 6 am. Arrived in Zigon 10 pm. Car stalled. Three hour delay.

May 2, 1942 Left Zigon at 6 am arrived in Pintha at 11 PM. Battled along oxen-trails. Dr. Seagrave got some medical equipment off a bull cart.  Had a bath using a farm well.

These teachers motioned me over for photo of their flowers.
These teachers motioned me over for photo of their flowers.

May 3,1942 Left Pintha at 6:30 am arrived in Wuntho at 9:30 pm CKS says to go to Myitkyina. Tomorrow we’ll head towards Mogaung. Need to decide whether to wait three days for elephants to carry food or forage later. Bridges needed repair before trucks could cross. Sent mules ahead to cross Chindwin at Kalewa then travel through Kalemyo to Tedim.

Flowers - one of the better things in life.
Flowers – one of the better things in life.

May 5, 1942  Myitkyina out. Had to make a decision whether to take the route to Tamu, due west of Mawlaik on Chindwin or head towards Kawlum and cross Chindwin from Homalin. Chose Homalin. Heard elephants trumpeting in the woods. Broken gas line in car. Another car got stuck in sand. Limie’s truck blocked ford in river: didn’t want to get his feet wet. Had to abandon all vehicles and find other crossing. Serious fords to cross with monsoon. Saw head man at village.  Said all coolies went south.  Will take 10 days to get rafts or next village has 60 porters and mules. Good eggs (people) here.

In a country at poverty level, who buys flowers? Must be a priority for some.
In a country at poverty level, who buys flowers? Must be a priority for some.

May 6, 1942 Late start at 3:30 am. Last radio message – destroyed radio

May 7, 1942 Arrived in Magyigan. Hard going across river. Some carried mattresses and bedding. Stripped everyone down to only 10 lbs per person. Of the 12 officers 4 are seriously ill. Merrill fell face first. Christ but we are a poor lot. Marched down the middle of Chaungyyi River rather than fight the vegetation along the shore.

Aren't their smiles contagious?
Aren’t their smiles contagious?

May 8, 1942 Arrived in Saingkyu. Chattering monkeys in jungle. Japanese bombers overhead. We’re not out yet. Had tea and good sleep.

May 9, 1942 Arrived in Maingkaing – Charged by rogue elephant. Began travel on flat bed raft with bamboo hand poles on Uyu River.

Homalin is a large city similar to Monwya, which has a population of 150,000.
Homalin is a large city similar to Monwya, which has a population of 150,000.

May 10, 1942 Put Seagraves Burmese nurses on roof of rafts. Nice ride but too damn slow. Took break at 22:00 then poled all night on river.

May 11, 1942  Rain. That’s ominous. Had a hell of a time getting everyone going. Big chicken dinner.  Off again at 22:00. Many snags and rafts breaking up. Rumor preparations made for us in Homalin.

Homalin and Monywa are the two big towns on the Chindwin.
Homalin and Monywa are the two big towns on the Chindwin.

 May 12, 1942 Arrived in Homalin. It’s Mother’s Day. No one’s here. Commissioner up river. Camped in temple.

May 13, 1942 Left at 6 am and traveled 3 miles north of Homalin to cross Chindwin by dugout. After we crossed, one of the guerilla leaders took his horse through the chowline. “What will I do with him?” Thunderstorm ahead.

Homalin ahead traveling from south. Notice good-luck leaves in bow. North of Homalin the river is very shallow. High risk of bottoming out.
Homalin ahead traveling from south. Notice good-luck leaves in bow. North of Homalin the river is very shallow. High risk of bottoming out.

May 14, 1942 Passed by bright green snake. Sissy Brig complaining. Climbed in heavy rains to Kawlum. Met British relief expedition with ponies, medical supplies and food.

May 15, 1942 Time change. Beautiful view of Mainpur Hills.

Homalin looking south in January. Imagine Chindwin River during monsoon.
Homalin looking south in January. Imagine Chindwin River during monsoon.

May 16, 1942 Met Tangkhul bearers. Fine people. Haircut like Iroquois. Men wore g-string sashes. Arrived in Chamu – beautiful view. Thatched covered bridge. Coolies built me a house in an hour.

May 17. 1942 Seventeen miles to Pushing. Naga came out with rice wine to welcome “great man.” Pushing like Alaska with totem pole boards. Saw Tangkhul with safety pin earring.

Teens seem to be the same world-wide. Note 'pinky' connection between 3 Chin girls.
Teens seem to be the same world-wide. Note ‘pinky’ connection between 3 Chin girls.

May 18, 1942 Six miles to Ukhrul. Noisy night with bugs. Tangkhuls wear a ring on their dink while working in the fields with the women. Women strip down to nothing with the heat. Imphal bombed again.

May 19, 1942 Rained. Passed through Limpo. Made 21 miles. Got cigarettes and chocolate.

May 20, 1942 Rained all night. Cordial reception by Limies. The PA, an old fart, didn’t know I wanted him to forward radio message from May 6. Colossal Jackass.

General Joseph Stilwell, WWII leader and great historian.
General Joseph Stilwell, WWII leader and great historian.

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Mawlaik has a Golf Course: British Raj in Myanmar

January 5, 2014

U Thant Zin - Mawlaik's local historian.
U Thant Zin – Mawlaik’s local historian.

I borrowed a bicycle and joined U Thant Zin for a tour of the Victorian Village in Mawlaik.

Mawlikbritish1916

Let me take you back to 1916.

Par 2
Par 2

To support the teak trade along the Chindwin, the British imported their way of life from back home. So Mawlaik has a golf course, although the grass is not always cut these days.

Welcome to the club house.
Welcome to the club house.

 And where there’s a golf course there’s a club house.

Imagine it's 1920, someone's behind the bar and the tables are filled with expats.
Imagine it’s 1920, someone’s behind the bar and the tables are filled with expats.

 The club house appears to have been the center of social gatherings during the British occupation.

Having drinks on the veranda while the golfers play.
Having drinks on the veranda while the golfers play.

I suggest that you read Burmese Days to get an understanding of how important the club house was to those wanting to keep a link to the mother land which was at least a month long journey back home.

Parade ground - for what?
Parade ground – for what?

I’m not sure what they would be showing at a parade ground. The terrain is not conducive to raising horses and Mawlaik was not a big military site.  Maybe they used the grounds to play croquet or futball.

Two story government office built in 1916
Two story government office built in 1916

The teak trade must have been brisk for the British to have built such a large government building in such a remote area. My question is: what kind of work would the government employees do?

Notice use of Underwood typewriters.
Notice use of Underwood typewriters.

 What struck me about the current use of the government offices was that the Burmese appear to be temporary tenants, ready to pick up and move.  Nothing seems permanent.

Mawlaik Courtroom
Mawlaik Courtroom

Some offices remain empty, like the court room.

British jail in Mawlaik
British jail in Mawlaik

 When U Thant Zin and I passed by the jail, he just shook his head. I guess that was statement enough.

British hospital no longer in use except for solar panel, laundry and grazing.
British hospital no longer in use except for solar panel, laundry and grazing.

There’s a new hospital in Mawlaik built adjacent to the old one. Surprisingly, the old one is not being used. The old brick building is not seismically stable and Mawlaik has seen a number of earthquakes.

For whites only.
For whites only.

U Thant Zin sounded bitter when we walked around what he called the “white section” of the hospital.  They have torn down the Burmese section of the hospital.

Mawlikchurch

What would any Victorian Village be without a Christian church?

Church bell tower
Church bell tower

It even had a bell tower. Imagine hearing it every Sunday or maybe there were even weddings. I heard Caucasian women were imported from Britain for just such purposes.

Mawliksuperintendenthouseoutside2
British Commissioner’s house.

Since Mawlik was ruled by the British, they needed a Government Commissioner and he needed lodging.

Grand entrance to the Commissioner's house.
Grand entrance to the Commissioner’s house.

 Currently, the Myanmar government is investing some funds into the restoration of the old British buildings.

Doesn't look like anyone's coming to dinner.
Doesn’t look like anyone’s coming to dinner.

But I didn’t see any work being done while I was there.

Teak wood throughout Commissioner's house.
Teak wood throughout Commissioner’s house.

I was surprised the flooring was not teak but either tile or linoleum. Maintaining buildings and in particular the wood is expensive in the hot humid climate along the Chindwin.  It was phenomenal that these buildings were still standing. They’d be perfect as a back drop in some BBC movie.  

Bedroom - notice fireplace
Bedroom – notice fireplace

The bedrooms appeared to serve as housing for Burmese employees. Again, there was a sense of temporary use.

Officer's house back stairs
Officer’s house back stairs

Wherever there are government officials, there are government officers to protect them. Their homes were not as elaborate as the superintendents.

Luxury crapper
Luxury crapper

But, they were fancy enough to have a western style crapper.

Mawlikofficerfireplace

U Thant Zin said only British buildings had fireplaces.

Mawlikofficersalonwithshrine

There hasn’t been much entertaining in the officer’s salon in recent years, so the current landlords have converted it into a Buddhist shrine.

Outback in the kitchen
Outback in the kitchen

All British kitchens were kept separate from the rest of the house. As noted in Kalewa, fires are not unusual and rebuilding the kitchen is much easier than the whole house.

Landlords kitchen today
Landlords kitchen today

Today, they caretakers have moved the kitchen into the main building.  Yet notice how temporary it looks.

Two-man saw
Two-man saw

I can’t imagine them using these “two-man” saws today. But if they still use oxen to haul the logs to the river, then maybe they don’t have chainsaws large enough to cut the teak lumber.

British staff housing
British staff housing

British staff were needed to manage the locals.

British Forester's house - in use today by Burmese Forester.
British Forester’s house – in use today by Burmese Forester.

And the British Forester must have been as important as the Commissioner. You can tell by the size of the house.

Mawlikflowers

But all that remains from the Victorian era are the buildings. In 1942 the Japanese invaded Burma and the British fled to India. The Raj has not returned. It is up to you to use your imagination and fill these buildings in with the people who lived and died there.

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Mawlaik-Not Just Any Village on the Chindwin River: The Battle of Imphal, 1944

January 4, 2014

 

Aren't they sweet?
Aren’t they sweet?

 Mawlaik is a close-knit village 10,000 strong in the township of Mawlaik which has only 100,000 inhabitants. It was the center for British teak logging in the 20th century.

Locals boarding boat on Chindwin.
Locals boarding boat on Chindwin.

Given the bridge to Mawlaik from Kalewa was severed by monsoon rains and earthquakes and the road to Homalin is almost a two day ride away, most people reach Mawlaik by boat.

Arrival in Mawlaik from Chindwin.
Arrival in Mawlaik from Chindwin.

When traveling to remote areas, it helps to visualize the arrival point. Mawlaik is located at the top of a steep sandstone bank. I was happy to pay $0.50 to have a porter haul my bag up that hill.  

Boat tied up on slope during dry season.
Boat tied up on slope during dry season.

 During the monsoon, the Chindwin River swells, flooding launching areas that are inaccessible during the dry season.  

Eroded walkway and former boat launch.
Eroded walkway and former boat launch.

At one time they had established docking facilities, but the banks were continually eroded away by monsoon rains and the locals dredged sand for construction. The slope became inaccessible.

Concrete road constructed by hand
Mawlaik is a village that works together.  At the top of the eroded bank the road had crumbled. So a new road had to be built. The women worked side-by-side with the men, laying the gravel bedding while the men used a portable cement mixer to prepare the concrete, and then leveled the grade. All of this was completed by hand.
Typical house in Mawlaik with clay water jugs out front

Next to the construction site was a permanent water station, much like our drinking fountains. These water posts, maintained by the locals, are found throughout Myanmar. This simple act of generosity exemplifies the kind of people you find in Myanmar.

Mawlaik tea house
So how does one get to know a small village like Mawlaik? A good place to start is at the local tea house.

A TV was wedged in the corner of this riverside restaurant playing Myanmar's version of Next Top Idol, only their stars were painted-up 10-year-old girls.
A TV was wedged in the corner of this riverside restaurant playing Myanmar’s version of Next Top Idol, only their stars were painted-up 10-year-old girls.

Meat is scarce along the river. But soups are offered morning, noon and night. Personally, I did not like their traditional morning fish soup, but don’t miss their fried tofu paddies.

Sponge from local market added to fish soup.
Sponge from local market added to fish soup.

Most of their food is fried in oil, which can be a fire risk.

Vegetables, herbs and tubers new to my taste buds.
Vegetables, herbs and tubers new to my taste buds.

There is plenty of bottled water or tea for when you’re thirsty. Unfortunately, most women don’t drink beer. So I got a few questioning looks when I ignored that custom. Other than administrative buildings, there are no restaurants or other reminders to show travelers this town had been under British rule.

Teak forest at 20 years. Usually harvested at 60 year rotations. Notice straight trunks.
 After the British left, the people continued to work in the teak industry. They implemented many of the British forestry practices.
Teak raft hauling about 100 logs down Chindwin River to mill.
Locals work in the lumber mill across the river. They drive the river rafts that transport logs weighing up to 300 tonnes downstream.
Man on left is government permitting official. Man on right is teak lumber grader.

Some grade the lumber before sending it to market. Others represent the government, and ensure that the logs traveling down the river are permitted and not stolen.

Food shipped from nearby settlements to market.
In addition to teak logging, villagers from neighboring settlements work the land and bring their goods to the local market in Mawlaik.
Betel nuts are seeds from palms, not nut trees.
Bamboo, gold, natural gas, tea and betel nut are other local cash crops.
Betel nuts and leaves used to wrap betel chew.

A woman I met on the boat, sold enough betel nuts to villages along the Chindwin, to support her entire family, and she put her two children through higher education. I couldn’t understand a word she said in Burmese. But what ever it was, she talked non-stop for three hours straight.  I think it was the betel nut talking for her.

Betel stained mouth.
Needless to say, betel nut is the preferred stimulant in Myanmar as opposed to cigarettes. It stains the teeth red; vampire red. But no one seems to notice.

Mawlikmonkfoodrun

In each village, the locals support the Buddhist monks.  Every morning, the monks walk from house to house with their eating utensils in hand, knowing locals will fill their bowls.  Some monks push carts throughout town, collecting from restaurants and businesses, to feed those that cannot go out on their own.

mawlikstreet

Life is simple in Mawlaik. Homes are usually made of wood with open-air windows. Most walk or ride bicycles.

Guest house on Chindwin River
There are a few guesthouses for travelers, usually filled with geologists exploring the land for oil and minerals.
Mawlaik Police Station
The guest house where I stayed was across the street from the police station. I found I was treated kindly if I reported my presence upon arrival.
U Thant Zin’s home and the local English school
Once it was know an English speaking tourist had arrived, the locals sent me to U Thant Zin, a 75 year old elder.
U Thant Zin’s students with open classroom in background.
Education is mandatory in Myanmar to the age of nine. Yet there is so much more to learn. U Thant Zin has taken it upon himself to teach English. He is also the local historian, passing down tales from the past to his students.
Mawlaik Forestry office where Japanese committed suicide after Battle of Imphal, 1944.
One of his stories includes the 1944 Battle at Imphal. The Japanese stormed Mawlaik after crossing the Chindwin. Then they marched through the mountains bordering India and Burma to Imphal, the China-Burma-India (CBI) headquarters for the British during WWII. The Japansese lost at Imphal and had to retreat. The Japanese who were injured or sick with malaria and typhus were abandoned in Mawlaik.  Those men committed suicide in the local Forestry office. U Thant Zin joked that given the shortage of balls after the war, the Japanese heads were later used by the children as futballs (soccer).
From bank along Mawlaik looking east across the Chindwin. The river floods to the far hills during the monsoon.

With all the unexplored wilderness and resources Myanmar has to offer, there’s no doubt that the villages along the Chindwin will host more and more tourists in the future.

U Thant Zin’s student and my market guide.
When they arrive, U Thant Zin’s students will be there to carry on his tradition.

 

 

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Kalewa: 1942 Evacuation Route from Rangoon to India

January 3, 2014 After the fall of Rangoon in April, 1942, a bailey bridge was shipped to Shwegyn, ten km south of Kalewa, where those fleeing the Japanese 55th Divison were trapped on the east side of the Chindwin River.

Entrance to Kalewa from Chindwin River
Entrance to Kalewa from Chindwin River

The Rangoon residents then crossed the Chindwin and started the second leg of the evacuation route, on elephants or by foot, up the Moutaka Road along mountainous paths to Imphal, India . The route became known as the India-Myanmar Friendship Road.

indiamyanmarfriendshiproad

This town of 16,000 people, at the junction of two rivers, the Chindwin and Myittha, is approximately 115 years-old. To the east are the Swe Tha Min (Golden Deer) Mountains

Looking south-east on the Chindwin at Swe Tha Min (Golden Deer) Mountains. Note the junction with the Myittha River on the right.
Looking south-east on the Chindwin at Swe Tha Min (Golden Deer) Mountains. Note the junction with the Myittha River on the right.

On the west, towards India, are the Chin Mountains. Kalewa  continues to be a river and road link between Burma and India.

Looking west to the Chin Mountains. Note the bridge in the background, crossing the Myittha River, to the road leading south to Monywa
Looking west to the Chin Mountains. Note the bridge in the background, crossing the Myittha River, to the road leading south to Monywa

The local guesthouses are filled with businessmen interested in gold mining and teak lumber.

kaleguesthouse

And a few travelers, like me, who are not accustomed to squat toilets,

guesthousetoilet

bucket showers,

Hot water? Dream on.
Hot water? Dream on.

or having electricity only three hours a day, from six to nine in the evening, when phones and computers can be charged.

Lights out at 9 pm
Lights out at 9 pm

Other people make their living from tea, betel nuts,

A popular red 'chew' rolled in leaves, is lime paste, tobacco and betel nut.
A popular red ‘chew’ rolled in leaves, is lime paste, tobacco and betel nut.

 and coal.

About 100 pounds of coal on her head
About 100 pounds of coal on her head

According to the seventy-one-year-old elder, U Pho Htsin, the British came in 1885. Most of the original inhabitants were Chin and Naga from India.

Kalewa elder, U Pho Htsin
Kalewa elder, U Pho Htsin

Now, 40% are Chin, 58% Burmese and 2% from India with 98% Buddhist and the remaining population Hindu or Christian.

Young Chin boys wearing longyi typical of region
Young Chin boys wearing longyi typical of region

The monsoon, from June to August, is extreme. But during the dry months there is a significant risk of fire.  In 1962 and 1980 fires, from cooking stoves, destroyed most of the village.  All documents were lost. Now, Kalewa has three fire trucks.

Japanese made fire trucks
Japanese made fire trucks

In addition to river travel, there is a road from Monywa that takes about ten hours to travel.

How does that engine handle the monsoon?
How does that engine handle the monsoon?

West of Kalewa about 20 km, or a two-hour truck ride, is Kalaymo, with a population 300,000.  On January 7, 2014, all of the elected officials from the Sagaing Division met in Kalaymo to listen to Aung San Suu Kyi from the National league for Democracy.

Kalewa elected official on left and my guide, Mr. Saw, on right
Kalewa elected official on left and my guide, Mr. Saw, on right

Myanmar or Burma, is a country with 135 tribes and 9 common ethnic groups, one being Burmese. Before independence from Great Britain was finalized, in 1948, Myanma was the written name and Bama the spoken.  Not all citizens from the Republic of the Union of Myanmar are Burmese.  So the name of Myanmar is more inclusive than Burma, but old habits are hard to break. Many people still call Myanmar, Burma.

General Aung San 1915-1947
General Aung San 1915-1947

In 1947, Aung San, a thirty-two-year old Burmese revolutionary nationalist and founder of the modern army, secured a commitment from the British to give his country, Burma, independence within one year. Aung San had belonged to the Communist party and supported the Japanese during WWII, until March 1945, when he changed his alliance to the Allies due to the Japanese treatment of his people. He was assassinated within six months of securing his country’s independence from Great Britain, leaving behind a two-year-old daughter Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Ong san sue chee.)

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi attended Oxford, married Michael Arris, a Brit, and had two children. In 1988, a year of great upheaval in Burma, she returned home to attend to her sick mother. She spoke out against the dictatorship and was put under house arrest, on and off, until 2010.  In 1991 she received the Nobel Peace Prize as a human right’s activist.  Suu Kyi, who recently won political office, is actively pursuing the presidency. But there’s a law on the Myanmar books that says anyone running for president cannot be related to a foreigner, as she is—with a British husband, who died in 1999, and their two sons. The military is hesitant to endorse her, not wanting to upset the delicate relationship between their civilian-military government and democracy.  

Kalewa women
Kalewa women

When I travel, I foolishly ask about local politics. I was surprised to learn that although many of the men support Suu Kyi, they feel that at the age of 70, in 2015, she will be too old to be president. Perhaps because of the traditional role women play in Myanmar, I did not find any women who supported Suu Kyi.  Yet there is a resurgence of interest from democratic countries, who want to invest in Myanmar; and who support Suu Kyi. But I was told that rather than do business with super-powers, like the US, Europe, or Japan, the Burmese prefer to do business with their neighbors, the bourgeoning powers of India and China. In remote regions, like Kalewa, change is slow.

Looking north, up river, on Chindwin from Kalewa
Looking north, up river, on Chindwin from Kalewa

Suu Kyi is an inspiration to many, having single-mindedly dedicated her life to Burma, a country that has been under a brutal regime for many years. She is quoted as saying, “Fear is a habit—I am not afraid.” Having proven that, she has my vote.

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Monywa – Reclining Buddhas and Opium Smoking Nuns

January 2, 2014

Is she using Bic or Zippo to light her modified opium pipe?
Is she using Bic or Zippo to light her modified opium pipe?
I gave up my window seat on the early morning bus ride from Bagan to Monywa to a young bald nun in a pink robe.  She and her sister were assigned seats in different rows.  She looked terrified.  As a consequence of the trade, I shared a bench with a young man who spit betel juice the entire five hour jam-packed ride.  Lucky me!
No sun hats for these girls
No sun hat for these girls
I understand the fear shown by the young woman, given the January 2014 riot where a Buddhist mob killed dozens of Muslims in western Myanmar, close to where the bus was taking us.   Muslim and Buddhist conflicts have left 140,000 people homeless since 2012. There’s good reason to be cautious ‘in the wild west of Myanmar.’
One of two bus stops from Bagan to Monywa

I was en route to the Chindwin River, where my 350 mile plus boat trip would start the next morning in Monywa and end several days later in Homalin.  Everyone thought I was crazy traveling upstream with unpredictable boat conditions, no airline reservations to get back to the main tourist route, and limited time.   I was to meet my guide, Mr. Saw, later that evening in Monywa.  So I hired a motor cycle to visit the Buddhist caves in the afternoon.

Who needs a gas station?
Who needs a gas station?
It took one hour to get to the caves with reclining Buddhas and was well worth the bumpy trip.

Monywa7 cave reclining buddha

Un-excavated ruins bring out the “why” in me.  Why reclining?

Monywa1 cave temples

Why in caves?

Monywa5 deteriorating cave temples

Try to imagine this site in the 11th century. I don’t think much would change other than the erosion.

Monywa4 reclining buddha in cave

Are these dogs guarding the entrance? If not, then what are they?

Monywa8 cave monkeys

A troop of monkeys call these ruins home.

Monywa3 cave entrace to stupas

They’re deteriorating rapidly with the wet climate. What is being lost and should anything be done to save them?

Monywa11 Myanmar child at temple
These active religious sites are still visited by locals, daily. So what will restoration do to their culture?

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Bagan and Burmese Days – George Orwell

January 1, 2014

burmesedays

What an idyllic way to get to know a country. Reading Burmese Days not only allowed me a glimpse into the past but my Kindle didn’t work without internet or cloud reception. So I had nothing to read.

View from Shwe-San-daw Pagoda
View from Shwe-San-daw Pagoda

It’s hard to imagine what 13,000 temples, pagodas and  stupas would look like when only 2,000 remain today and they dominate the Bagan landscape. If you want a good view, go to the Shwe-San daw Pagoda. It’s probably best to go at sunrise when it is less crowded and the balloons (which start around 7:45) are floating over the plain. Also, the heat can be overwhelming in the afternoon.

Breakfast view from Thri Marlar Hotel roof top
Breakfast view from Thri Marlar Hotel roof top

There seems to be a perfect view from every spot – so expect to return home with more photos than you can ever share.

Bicycle paths take tourists beyond the main road.
Bicycle paths take tourists beyond the main road.

 Bicycling as far as the eye can reach is the way to see and get to know this site. But don’t underestimate what you’ve tackled. With a little over 40 square acres, make sure you carry plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and don’t leave home without a map. Bicycling at night with a flash light just isn’t practical, so beware of potholes in the road and schedule your trips to fit your bicycle skills.

Temple along main road.
Temple along main road.

Yes, there will be crowds, especially at the better preserved and more accessible temples along the road.

Caretakers basha with solar power adjacent to pagoda with less visitors.
Caretakers basha with solar power adjacent to pagoda with less visitors.

But explore off road pagodas, where you get to see what it must’ve been like in the 11th-13 century, when Bagan was in its prime and the temples towered over the bashas of the local villagers.

Twenty foot tall Buddha in Ananda Temple
Over 30 foot tall Kassapa Buddha in Ananda Temple

When I visited the site I couldn’t help but wonder who built these religious structures and why.  The thirty-foot tall, gold-leafed Buddhas are still imposing, even today.

Be sure to take off your shoes.
Be sure to take off your shoes.

What I loved about Myanmar is the mixture of tourists with locals, who go to the temples to pray.  Be sure to wear shoes you can slip on and off quickly.  You must go barefoot in all Myanmar temples.  After a full day of bicycle riding and padding barefoot on the cold temple floors, be ready for dirty feet and cracked heels.

Small stupa like in Behind the Forgotton Front.
Small stupa like in Behind the Forgotton Front.

Not all shrines are huge temples.  Small pagodas and stupas squeeze in between the large ones.  Throughout Myanmar, religious shrines dot the hillside.

bagan8

Old building and infrastructure crumbles.  The people who built them to ensure a better ‘after-life’ are gone.  So who’s left to fix them?

bagan restoring
Restoring interior of temple.

When you arrive in Bagan by air, they charge an archaeology fee.  Don’t lose the receipt if you want to climb the Shwe-San daw Pagoda.  And don’t begrudge the small payment needed to maintain the site.

bagan monk

It’s not as though these temples have regular parishioners to cover the cost. Even though you find monks everywhere and thus would expect them to actively provide the upkeep, like foreigners, most monks are tourists.  But they have the privilege of tolling the bells; for whom, why or at what time, I don’t know.

Irrawaddy River still serves brisk flow of travelers.
Irrawaddy River still serves brisk flow of travelers.

Whenever I visit an archaeological site, I wonder what it must’ve been like when it was flourishing.  Like many villages in Myanmar, Bagan had water access, and not just any river, but the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) River – the historical thoroughfare from northern to southern Burma.  A few villagers remain in the area, mostly selling the beautiful lacquer ware typical of the area or books, like Burmese days, to remind tourists what once was.

We met while bicycling. She sold me Burmese Days by Orwell.
We met while bicycling. She sold me Burmese Days by Orwell.

 
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Myanmar – A Country with a Ton of Gold, Precious Gems, Opium and Buddha

December 31, 2014

Shwedagon Pagoda - Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda with stupa in background.

Even if you’ve visited a thousand pagodas, Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is worth the visit.  With a gold gilded roof 400 feet tall and a spire an additional 400 feet, the shock of seeing so much gold is overwhelming.  Gold is mined in northern Myanmar, where there is an age-old struggle between the government and the local tribes, and where the Chinese are changing the landscape, forever.

Shwedagon Pagoda
Pagodas for prayer

Pagodas? Stupas? What’s the difference?  Pagodas are tiered towers created as places of mediation.  Stupas, or mounded heaps, are sacred sites for holy relics and burial grounds. Shwedagon has both, pagodas for prayer and stupas as a final resting place for the ashes of Buddhist monks. With all the guerrilla warfare and rush for natural resources in Myanmar, I believe religion will be the key to lasting change.

Monks are everywhere
Monks are everywhere

In India, only Majulie had a strong Hindu monk presence.  In Myanmar, Buddhist monks are everywhere. 

yangon temple3
The people believe the more sacred sites they construct in their present life, the better their future life will be.

It is truly humbling to see how intently these people pray. They seem to find solace in it. When speaking with them, their philosophy is to: take only what is needed.  That’s honorable, but it seems to have thwarted their economic growth and suppressed their standard of living.

Old British Building
Old British Building

Like India, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was a part of the British Empire.  Throughout Yangon there are relics of what once was.

Yangon - grandeur hidden at first glance.
Yangon – grandeur hidden at first glance.

Some have called Yangon an ugly city at first glance; albeit one with unlimited potential.

Restoration is starting slowly.
Restoration is starting slowly with changes in government.

Only recently has there been significant progress in reaching a peace accord between the government and the twenty six tribes who want to govern their land separately.  This political instability has resulted in Myanmar being one of the last unexploited frontiers to bid on. 

The transportation system in Myanmar is unpredicatable
The transportation system in Myanmar is unpredicatable

The most frustrating thing for me, as a tourist in Myanmar, was the undependable transportation system.  Airlines were either late, or completely canceled with only a moment’s notice.  Trains were so old, that you couldn’t blame them when they broke down.  And the river system is dependent on nature, getting stuck on a sandbar is the norm.  So leave a buffer in your travel time and travel with a lot of cash.  You may want to check out Go-Myanmar.com. They are have great insight on air and train travel. Recently, ATMs have arrived in Myanmar, but only in large cities. Also, the internet and cell phone service is costly and unreliable. Consequently, blatant, bootlegged communication services have sprung up.  So enjoy life without a cloud connection.

Satellites are a lucrative business
Satellites are a lucrative business

But the Burmese passively accept what I would consider inconveniences. They live in the present, with rich traditions from the past and after years of political struggle are wary of the future.  

Notice traditional cream from Thanaka bark on her cheeks: used over 2,000 years to cool and refresh the skin.
Notice traditional cream from Thanaka bark on her cheeks: used over 2,000 years to cool and refresh the skin.

They are a people that carry-on.  

Sidewalk lean-to kitchen in Yangon
Sidewalk lean-to kitchen in Yangon
They don’t complain. If they don’t have enough money to rent space for a kitchen, they just throw a lean-to on the sidewalk.

Typical sidewalk cafe.
Typical sidewalk cafe.

And the people come.

Beautiful display of "fast food."

Beautiful display of “fast food.”
So why visit Myanmar? It is a mystical land devoted to tradition, with an unexplored wilderness, bursting with natural resources.  It seems to be the simple life we all long for, until we get it.  

Seamstress
Seamstress

 

 
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