Thursday, January 31, 2013

Myanmar Part Two - Mandalay and Inle Lake

Friday the 18th saw us up at 5:30am for the quick 20 minute flight to Mandalay.  Our driver Mr Toa met us at the airport and we drove an hour to our hotel. There was a bit of a problem at the hotel where we found out they didn't have our reservation, and apparently there weren't any rooms available.  We weren't that keen on the hotel and were getting ready to roll the dice and try somewhere else when magically a room appeared.  The hotel wasn't great, but we were too tired to try anywhere else so took it for just the two nights.

After lunch we explored some temples, one of which included the worlds largest book.  Basically three Buddhist books engraved on large marble stones and put inside a small marble shelter, quite impressive.  Mandalay wasn't as busy and crowed as Yangon, but still a bit overwhelming.  

On Saturday we set off to explore some areas outside of the city, and had a fabulous day.  The weather was great, and provided some extraordinary clouds which looked great in the photos.    We stopped at some marble and bronze workshops, which produced statues for the many temples in the country; always interesting to see how things are made.  

We stopped at one temple and started to wander around a bit when Mr Toa pointed out what I thought was an elephant covered in ornate coverings and said look at the dancing elephant.  To our amazement it was actually two people inside an elephant costume, and they proceeded to perform an wonderful dance.  Click here for a short video of the dancing elephant!

While the elephant was dancing we noticed the start of a parade on the road.  Turns out it was a "Buddha Day' and we were treated to an traditional Burmese parade of people, horse and oxen decorated in local costumes and flowers.  What a surprise treat.

Our next stop was Sagaing Hill, an area often referred to as a living Bagan.  It is full of working temples and monasteries and is the spiritual center of the country.  We loved the temple which contained 45 Buddhas  and the many views of the river.   We finished off the day with a fabulous sunset view of Ubien bridge, which is the worlds longest teak bridge.

On Sunday we had an early morning flight to Heho, which is the entry point to Inle Lake. The lake is beautiful and surrounded by mountains.  This was our last flight on Myanmar Airlines and we were happy to land safely.  At the start of our trip we had picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal in the Hong Kong Airport. The paper had an article about Myanmar and mentioned an airplane had crashed on landing into Heho airport, killing 4 people and injuring a bunch of others. Since we could only get seats on the government run airline, which wasn't recommended due to their safety record,  we were a bit concerned.  However the crash was with a different airline, and we went with the theory everyone would be on full alert after the crash, which worked out!

After an hour taxi ride, and an hour ride on a long narrow wooden boat we arrived at our hotel, a delightful place, all rooms and walkways on stilts over the lake. We spent most of our time relaxing, but got up the following day for a beautiful sunrise trip on the lake to photograph the fisherman on the lake and explore the local villages.  The villages were fascinating, all buildings built on stilts over the lake, and everyone moved around on wooden long boats. It was a wonderful relaxing few days at the end of very busy trip.

Tuesday 22nd we had to sadly leave Inle lake and start the long trek home.  We flew back to Yangon and survived our scariest taxi ride of the whole trip. Our driver almost read-ended one car, and after one frightening dash across the road we were narrowly missed being hit by a bus.  Needless to say we declined his offer to drive us to the airport the next day.  

The following morning we were walking down the street and noticed a sign saying the National League for Democracy and realized we were outside their main office.  The NLD is the main opposition political  party and is lead by Aung San Suu Kyi.  Although the party won a majority in parliament in 1990 they were declared illegal by the military junta and many of their members have been imprisoned or killed.  It was another indication of how much is changing in Myanmar that we could easily go to the office and talk to the people.  

That afternoon we flew to Bangkok, and then on Thursday 23rd took the last two flights back to Dallas.  It was a wonderful trip, providing us amazing memories for years to come.  We'd like to say a special thanks to our friends Vicki Storrie, Sandy Behrens, Larry Henderson and Lee and Susan Hunnicutt for taking the time to share their experiences and suggestions from their time in SE Asia. 

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