Glorious Burma

Everyone in the family agreed that Burma was one of our favorite destinations in Southeast Asia. The country has been isolated and has seen little development, leaving their lovely culture intact.

We noticed right away that almost everyone wears the Burmese traditional clothing, the longyi, a kind of sarong.  Even the men wear them! Kate, Anna and I loved all the beautiful fabrics and designs so much that we had to buy some of our own:

Kate in her new longyi

Our first stop was Bagan, a small village of about 50,000 people that is famous for its 4,000 old temples scattered over the countryside. Yes, I said 4,000 temples!  They pop up all around on the dry farmland amongst the cacti and dirt roads.  Some are tiny (you have to crouch down to walk inside) and others are gigantic.

Temples everywhere in Bagan.

We also noticed that all the women and some children were wearing a tan colored paint on their faces, sometimes in shapes or designs. It is called thanaka and it is made from bark. In our tour of a local market, I bought some thanaka and a woman helped me put it on.  It is used for sunscreen and also for beauty.

Stacy having Thanaka applied at the market in Bagan. (See Kate holding her nose – not crazy about market smells).

We visited so many temples I can’t remember all the names. The first had a long covered breezeway leading to it that the kids loved running through (ahh– freedom!).

The temple itself was covered in gold and stunning in the sunlight.

We took a rest with some novice monks in the shade of the temple.

The kids enjoyed the freedom of chasing each other and birds around inside the temple grounds.  Everywhere we heard the lovely sound of small bells that hang atop the temples and all over the temple grounds.

We walked through many small passages, some leading to Buddhas, some leading to pretty vistas.

Ananda, one of the larger temples we visited, had four massive Buddhas inside – I think they were over 30 feet tall each and hundreds of years old, all preserved beautifully. It was awesome.

Our hotel was lovely and peaceful. The kids escaped the heat of the afternoon in the swimming pool.

We took a horse and buggy ride one evening around the village, farmlands and countryside to see more temples. The dirt roads were bumpy but fun!

Here is a short video from our horse and buggy ride:

The town of Old Bagan looked like this – stilt and thatch roofed houses, and dusty dirt roads:

Old Bagan

We stopped at a temple and climbed barefoot up a set of extraordinarily steep stairs. I had to swallow my motherly fears to ascend this with my kids.

Here’s a short video of the scary but beautiful view from the top:

The climb up was terrifying but worth it – here’s another photo from the top — it looked like an oil painting:

The food in Burma was wonderful – lots of Indian and Thai influence, but it still had its very own unique dishes.  I loved the traditional noodle fish soup for breakfast.  We ate dinner one night at a gorgeous restaurant on the river, where the kids could run around on grass:

Burma has beautiful lacquer-ware. We went to a workshop in Bagan where about 20 people were working on the incredibly painstaking and tedious process of creating all manners of lacquer items – chairs, bowls, trays, cups, etc.  It takes months to produce one product, which has nearly 20 layers and intricate designs.

Lacquer workshop

This is an example of an offering bowl that is about 3 feet tall:

Anna spotted a huge scorpion in the courtyard of the lacquer workshop! When I saw this, I thought how glad I was to be heading back to Cleveland Heights in a few weeks, where all we have to contend with are deer and skunks:

If you’re interested in the fate of the scorpion, watch this video. Let’s just say it involves a pair of chopsticks (but no harm was done to the creature):

We had a chance to ring the bells at another temple:

Our guide took us on a tour of a local village. We got to see some of the homes and people up close.

I think this grandmother rolls her own cigars while the baby is sleeping:

The girls noticed that cactus can be used as an effective fence!

Traveling with children is a great thing.The curiosity was mutual. Lots of people wandered over to see us, too. Everyone wants to know how old Kate, Anna and Matthew are and if the girls are twins.

We took a boat ride on the Ayeyarwaddy River and enjoyed the beautiful sky and clouds.

Our last temple in Bagan at sunset was the oldest (over 1,000 years) – Bu Pagoda, built right on the banks of the river:

Bu Pagoda, the oldest in Bagan

We saw a very funny and slightly naughty puppet show in Bagan that the kids loved:

We left Bagan and flew to Inle Lake. On the way to the lake we stopped at a monastery that was unusual because it was made of wood.

We figured out how the monks get their haircuts:

Their temple had over 1,000 Buddha statues in nooks and crannies everywhere:

The only way to get around Inle Lake is by boat. It is about 13 miles long and very shallow – only six feet at the deepest point. But the narrow, long boats can go just about anywhere on the lake, no matter how shallow the water is. They are very noisy boats! We visited during the monsoon season, so we practically had the entire place to ourselves. Luckily we didn’t have much rain at all and just popped up umbrellas if there was any drizzle. We also had to use the umbrellas for the sun – we all got a bit burned and learned our lesson.

There are several villages along the lake and people here live in stilt houses over the water – the houses mostly have thatch roofs and the sides are made of woven bamboo. It is very rustic. Some places have no electricity, but most places do.

The fishermen row their boats using their leg to row the oar.  The wrap their leg
around the oar and balance on the other foot, all while casting a net. You have to see it!

Leg rowing on Inle Lake

We went to a temple where the cats were taught to jump through hoops for a treat. The kids loved that. We also saw another bunch of cats – a man is trying to preserve Burmese cats and is breeding them in a house on Inle Lake. I think there were 40!

The kids bought carved wooden slingshots at the market which provided hours of entertainment.

A market in Inle Lake with a boat parking lot in front

In addition to fishing, people earn money through farming huge floating gardens on the lake, which are secured by bamboo poles. They mostly grow tomatoes, which we ate loads of in salads with peanut sauce.

Floating gardens on Inle Lake

No day would be complete in Burma without a visit to a temple. We took a hike up into the hills to see some that are under renovation but beautiful.

The sounds of the thousands of tiny bells created an other worldly feeling, and it was a great place for hide and go seek. To hear the sounds, take a look at this video:

Inle Lake has lots of wild life – there are snails, crabs, butterflies, two black swans in the water around our hotel (imported), lots of shore birds, flowers and fish.There are no cars or motorbikes. We played Scrabble a few times and enjoyed every minute of our peaceful stay.

Feeding the black swans at our hotel on Inle Lake

Family Scrabble game!

We drove back to the airport and flew to Yangon, the capital city of 5 million.On the drive we saw lots of people loaded into trucks on their way to work on farms.

Michael gave two lectures on entrepreneurship in Yangon. The first was hosted by the American Center (with a great panel of Burmese entrepreneurs) and the second was hosted by Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI).   Several hundred people attended the lectures.  There is a great deal of enthusiasm among entrepreneurs there regarding the opening of the Myanmar economy and opportunities to start new businesses.

Because of Michael’s lectures, we were able to meet some of local entrepreneurs who kindly treated us to a wonderful dinner and show at a beautiful restaurant.

Dinner with our new Burmese friends

We drove past Aung San Suu Kyi’s house and stopped at her party’s headquarters (the National League for Democracy) to pick up some t-shirts and other goodies. The Lady (as she is affectionately known in Burma) was in Europe accepting her Nobel Peace Prize, so we didn’t get a glimpse of her.

The gate outside Aung San Suu Kyi’s house in Yangon.

Buying National League for Democracy t-shirts

We visited an old synagogue in Yangon, the first we have entered in more than seven months! Yangon had a thriving Jewish community, most of whom fled during WWII; now there are only 25 Jews left in the city. The 120 year old synagogue is located downtown in what is now a Muslim neighborhood. The friendly keeper of the synagogue and one of the remaining Burmese Jews, Moses, showed us the Torah and lit the candles with us on Shabbat. There were not enough people for a minyan, so sadly there was no service.

Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue in Yangon

Motorbikes and bicycles are not allowed in Yangon, so we were surprised to see the orderliness of the roads in the city.

Downtown Yangon

The cars were mostly old, especially the taxis. We were amused by this one in particular, and our family is still debating if it was ever used as a hearse or ambulance. I am of the opinion that it was made this way because it just looks so darn cool.

Only one night left in Hanoi, then a visit to Thailand, then back to Cleveland! We are so sad to leave, but also ready to get home to our family, friends and dog. We’ve really missed Coco – she’s been ignoring us on Skype. We are hoping she will forgive our absence when we see her in Chattanooga in July at Poppy and Susu’s house.

10 thoughts on “Glorious Burma

  1. Again you’ve had amazing once in a lifetime experiences! It has been a pleasure to join you through Stacy’s blog.
    Have safe travels
    Michele Sudow

  2. So, so wonderful to follow you as we sit on our back porch, yes, looking at the Tn river…thanks for sharing your journey with all of us. Hope to see you in July in Chatt. Hugs and love, The Elders

  3. We have so enjoyed reading your posts and will miss them. It looks like you all had such a great experience! Safe travels home. Hope to see you soon!!

    Love,
    Bari

  4. What an incredible adventure! I’m forwarding this to my mom who is going to Burma later this year! We look forward to welcoming you back home:) Nikki Pulver

  5. Wish I were there and can’t wait to see you all. Great photo’s and travel log. Will be memories for decades to come. Poppy

  6. What incredible life long memories you will have. I would have loved to look at your blog even if I didn’t know you. Have the kids started dreaming of their first US meal?

  7. Love all the pics, videos and stories you shared. What a wonderful journey! we will be sad about not being able to follow clevelandersinhanoi anymore, but we like to see you coming back home. Have a safe trip!

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