19 Jan - 28 Jan 2012 Nyaung U

Republic of the Union of Myanmar aka Burma
Nyaung U
Anawrahta Road
Oasis Guest House +956160923
Adequate a/c twin room with private bathroom for only MMK 10,000.- or US$ 12.- per night.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Oasis Guest House in Nyaung U and for directions:

Exploring the touristy town of Nyaung U, the principal gateway for Bagan where the kings (and their forced labourers) built as many as 4,400 temples over a 230-year period on an arid riverside plain until it was overrun by the millions of Mongols of Kublai Khan in 1287 CE, with its gilded Shwezigon Paya, the prototype of virtually all later stupas over Myanmar, which is armed with an incredible number of donation boxes (“Buddhism isn’t merely a religion, it’s a philosophy…”, at least according to all those friendly, soft-selling Buddhist professionals who chant unflinchingly this tricky mantra from the East and from the West).

Strolling over the lively morning market of Nyaung U, chatting and bargaining with the sweet and overweight local market women and learning (i) that plumpness is being perceived as a sign of attractiveness (maybe, the husband pays for the good doctor when his chubby later suffers diabetes, heart problems or degenerative joint diseases) and (ii) that the yellow stuff on the belles’ faces is made from the ground bark of the thanakha tree and serves as wildly popular combination of sunscreen, perfume and sexy make-up.

Studying the delicious Bamar breakfast cuisine at our favourite teashop, one of many cheap no-name neighbourhood teashops in Nyaung U: (i) spicy tea-leaf salad (la-hpeq dhouq) for MMK 400.- or US$ -.50 per helping, (ii) thick rice-noodle salad (naung-gyi dhouq) for MMK 300.- or US$ 0.35 per helping and (iii) dry yellow-noodle salad (khaut-swe kyaw) for MMK 200.- or US$ 0.25 per helping, always spiced up with a local masala of turmeric, ginger, garlic, salt and onions, plus plenty of peanut oil and flavoured with ngapi, which is a salted paste concocted from dried and fermented shrimp or fish.

Watching a team of young men playing Burmese chinlone aka “cane ball” by forming a circle and keeping the 12-cm diameter rattan ball airborne by kicking it soccer-style from player to player.

Hiring Soe Naing’s no. 132 horse cart for a relaxed 1-hp morning tour (08:30 - 13:00, MMK 8,000.- or US$ 10.- for the two of us) and touring the North Plain of the 42-sq-km “Bagan Archaeological Zone” for an introductory into Bagan’s 3,000-some tall and awesome temples (mingling Hindu styles from India with local-brewed Buddhist images) which are the most wondrous sight in Myanmar; our favourite ruins: (i) Ananda Pahto, a terraced temple, with a corncob golden hti (the umbrella-like decorated pinnacle atop a stupa) towering 52 m high, and one of the largest, best-preserved and most revered of all Bagan temples, (ii) Gawdawpalin Pahto, one of the largest temples, 60 m high, and (iii) white-coloured Thatbyinnyu Pahto, Bagan’s highest temple with a gold-tipped sikhara (the Indian-style, corncob-like temple final), a proud 63 m up.

Studying the Buddha’s stylised body language and noticing amongst the hundreds of Buddha images three distinctive body postures (standing, sitting and reclining) and five distinctive hand gestures: (i) abhaya (Buddha's Protection: both hands extended forward with palms out), (ii) bhumispara (Buddha's Persistence: right hand touches the ground), (iii) dana (Buddha's Teaching: one or both hands extended forward with palm up), (iv) dhyana (Buddha's Meditation: both hands rest palm-up on the Buddha’s lap) and (v) vitarka (Buddha's Doctrine: thumb and fore- or middle finger form a circle, like PADI’s OK gesture).

Hiking repeatedly the Central Plain (from Myinkaba in the west to Nyaung U in the east) of the 42-sq-km “Bagan Archaeological Zone” (in 1975 CE Bagan was shaken by a 6.5-magnitude earthquake; many of the temples were badly damaged, but major reconstruction started almost immediately) and recuperating afterwards with excellent Myanmar vegetarian food (MMK 500.- or US$ 0.60 per person, from any of the stalls and cheap local eateries: sour veggie soup, rice with five different vegetables, bottomless Chinese tea) and with ice-cold Dagon Lager Green Label draft (our favourite pub: Holiday Beer Station, MMK 500.- or US$ 0.60 per pint).

Hiring Soe Lwin’s no. 240 horse cart for another relaxed 1-hp morning tour (08:30 - 13:00, MMK 8,000.- or US$ 10.- for the two of us) and touring the South Plain (famous for its many 13th-century CE murals) of the 42-sq-km “Bagan Archaeological Zone” for a farewell trip of Bagan’s almost innumerable stupas aka zedis (solid, bell-shaped holy shrines), pahtos (hollow, square or rectangular shrines) and kyaungs (Buddhist monasteries); our favourite ruins: (i) Tayok Pye Paya, a spired temple with great views from its upper reaches, (ii) Nandamannya Pahto, a small mid-13th century CE temple with the “Temptation of Mara”, a mural with nubile young girls with remarkable boobs who attempt to distract the Buddha from the meditation session that led to his enlightenment, and (iii) Kyat Kan Kyaung, a working underground monastery dating from the 11th century CE (where apparently a Buddhist monk died during meditation in recent years and was left undisturbed for days; everyone thought he was still meditating…).

Climbing the steep Buledi Pagoda stairways to watch the sun dip behind the mountains in the west and the famous Bagan sunset turning all shades of tangerine, lavender and rust, afterwards sun-downing with genuine Scotch (Highland Pride, labelled: “Singapore - Duty not Paid”, for only MMK 2,500.- or only US$ 3.- per 0.7-ltr bottle from any of the rugged bottle stores near the market) and people-spotting two distinctive tribes of international tourists who looked as if they were coming from a fancy-dress ball: (i) older folks, mostly from the more republican homelands, clad in khaki expedition uniforms “out of Africa”, very expensive and fresh from the mail-order catalogue, and (ii) younger folks, mostly from the more democratic homelands, who tried “to blend in with the locals” by wearing pseudo-native, home-spun stuff (which no Burmese could afford or would ever put on), also very pricey and fresh from the local souvenir shops/boutiques for western tourists.

Taking the bone-shaking, crowded Nyaung-U-Mann bus from Nyaung U to Shwen Yaung (about 290 km, 10 ½ hours, MMK 10,500.- or US$ 12.80 per person) on a very dusty, pot-holed road with many roadworks, where beautiful young Burmese women slaved as manual labourers in the sun and where strong young Burmese men meditated as monks in the shade, and thereafter hiring a túk-túk (11 km, ½ hour, MMK 1,000.- or US$ 1.20 per person; plus, at a roadblock, the compulsory US$ 5.- entrance fee to the Inle Lake zone for foreigners) right to our hotel in Nyaung Shwe, the hyped-up, overrated tourist trap (with prices for street food unbudgingly two/three times higher than in the rest of Myanmar), situated about 3 km north of the Inle Lake and overrun with elderly Westerners (mostly monoglot Merdestanis).

Click below for more blog posts about Burma
05 Feb - 08 Feb 2012 Yangon

Click below for a summary of this year's travels
2012 Map Konni & Matt

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12 Jan - 18 Jan 2012 Yangon

Republic of the Union of Myanmar aka Burma
Konzaydan Street 69
White House Hotel +951240780 whitehouse.mm@gmail.com
Spacious and clean double room (no. 702), with private bathroom, for US$ 22.- per night, including a bottomless, vegetarian buffet brunch for two.

Click below for an interactive road map of the White House Hotel in Yangon and for directions:

Exploring on foot Yangon’s decaying downtown (an amalgamation of British, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences) thus starting our tour at the 2,200-year old Sule Paya, the geographic and commercial heart of the city where the British-designed grid street pattern is centred, and wandering around this architectural hodge podge where golden, ancient pagodas share the crowded streets with colonial dishevelled Rangoon, having delightful encounters with friendly and welcoming local men (who still wore their traditional skirtlike longyis) and women (whose faces were still dolloped with tan-coloured thanakha, a make-up/sunblock made from powdered wood), relaxing our tattered feet afterwards with the help of a professional foot reflexology treatment at the Central Hotel’s 6th-floor massage parlour +951241007 for only MMK 6,000.- or US$ 7.50 per hour, conscious of the fact that a systematic review of 18 studies concluded about “…the best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition…”, but enjoying nevertheless the treatment since one reason that a foot massage is very pleasurable and always associated with a significant improvement in mood is the scientifically proven fact that the area of the brain which connects to the foot is adjacent to the area that connects to the genitals, at least according to the good doctors Ramachandran and Blakeslee in their marvelous book Phantoms in the Brain (most notably if the treatment is performed by a sexy therapist...).

Jumping into Yangon’s spiritual and religious diversity, temple-hopping (i) the auspicious and famous Thayettaw Kyaung Taik, a rotting 19th-century compound of 66 active Buddhist monasteries, (ii) the atmospheric Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue with its dilapidated, well-camouflaged exterior but beautifully maintained interior, founded 100 years ago by Sephardic Jews, (iii) the red-and-golden Kheng Hock Keong, Yangon’s largest Chinese (Hokkien) temple, humming with preparations for the upcoming Chinese New Year of the Dragon, (iv) the colourful, kitschy Sri Kali Hindu temple near our hotel and (v) the classy Holy Trinity Cathedral, an Anglican cathedral built by the British, and noticing the mushrooming palmistry and astrology industry all over the city, infallible signs for an approaching and overdue Burmese version of glasnost and perestroika: “Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi/Reine?”

Changing money (i) first on the black market (MMK [“kyat”] 800.- for US$ 1.-) in the vicinity of Sule Paya and studying how the money changers on the street short-change their innocent clients, luckily without us falling prey to it: (a) they whisper to you a rate ways above the market rate (e.g. MMK 900.- for US$ 1.-) which tempts you and lures you into their trap, (b) they even let you seemingly take control of the whole deal, almost to the very end, (c) now, when the deal is almost finished, they distract and irritate you (e.g. they tell you that your money is not good enough, they tell you that your money has the wrong serial numbers, they tell you that the police are coming), (d) and they make you give them your counted stack of already received 1,000-kyat bills back and here they do some very elegant, almost DavidCopperfield-like sleight-of-hand trick (e.g. they quickly scratch the back of their head and some of the bills disappear into their shirt collar), (e) eventually, they agree to finish the deal with you, pretending to compromise or to give in, … and at the end you will have changed your money at a rate of plus/minus MMK 600.- for US$ 1.- which you only realise later in your hotel if/when you recount your received kyat; and (ii) afterwards in one of the black ubermarket’s new and shiny private banks, the Myanmar Industrial Development Bank, where the uniformed working bees gave us even MMK 825.- for US$ 1.-, air-conditioned, in brand-new 5,000-kyat bills, no stress and with a home-made receipt, really nice.

Worshipping the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Moon (Konni) and Saturn (Matt) at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda’s day shrines, gawking in awe at the top of the 98-m high, gold-plated stupa, the seven-tiered hti (which is hung with gold bells, silver bells and various items of donated jewellery) and trying to identify the lofty diamond orb (a hollow golden sphere which is studded with 4,351 diamonds totalling 1,800 carats) at the very top of the wind vane tipped with a single 76-carat diamond.

Making friends with the superhuman nat (spirits) at (i) the touristy Chauk Htat Gyi Paya with its monstrous, 66-m long reclining Buddha (length of one of his erotic eyelashes: more than 30 cm) and at (ii) the nearby Nga Gtat Gyi Paya where the greedy monks and trustees of the Ashay Tawya monastery (entrance fee for foreigners: US$ 2.-) keep their huge seated (five storey) Buddha in a tall, metal-roofed shed as if he were King Kong.

Making friends with the superhuman nat (spirits) at (i) the many scruffy “beer stations” in Yangon (Myanmar draft beer: MMK 600.- per pint), (ii) the many efficient, Chinese run supermarkets (640-ml bottles of ice-cold Myanmar Beer for MMK 1,300.- or US$ 1.60, Dagon Lager Green Label for MMK 1,000.- or US$ 1.20 and Mandalay Lager also for 1,000.- or US$ 1.20) and at (iii) the many rugged streetside food stalls where we indulged in the most delicious mohinga (rice noodles with fish soup) for only MMK 300.- or US$ 0.35 per generous helping.

Embarking on the cross-river rust bucket to Dalah (MMK 1,000.- or US$ 1.20 per foreigner) and crossing the murky waters of the Yangon River, thereafter buying two of the 30 (!) crowded “seats” in a crammed pick-up truck from Dalah to Twante (25 km, 1 hour, MMK 500.- or US$ 0.60 per foreigner) and exploring this cluster of dusty roads which is lined with make-shift bamboo huts and ramshackle wooden shops by means of Kyaw Soe’s worn bicycle trishaw (2 hours for MMK 6,000.- or US$ 7.30), which he has to rent from its owner for MMK 1,000.- US$ 1.20 per day: (i) watching a local master potter making water containers of varying shapes and sizes from river clay, (ii) visiting cotton weavers and (iii) exploring the 76-m tall Shwe San Daw Paya, a Mon-made stupa which was built just a few years after the one at Yangon’s Shwe Dagon Paya.

Taking city bus no. 43 from Sule Paya Bus Stand to the Aung Mingalar Bus Station aka Highway Bus Station (15 km, ¾ hour, MMT 300.- or US$ 0.35 per person) and thereafter the ultra-modern, very comfortable Ye Thu Aung overnight express bus (about 550 km, 11 hours, MMK 15,000.- or US$ 18.30 per foreigner, booked one day in advance from our hotel) to Nyaung U, the town which most independent travellers call home while in Bagan, home to the largest area of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries CE (described by Marco Polo as a "… gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks' robes …").

Click below for a summary of this year's travels
2012 Map Konni & Matt

Recommended books - click below for your Amazon order from Germany:

For Amazon deals from the United States, please click here
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