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:
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.
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.
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 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.
The town of Old Bagan looked like this – stilt and thatch roofed houses, and dusty dirt roads:
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.
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.
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:
We had a chance to ring the bells at another temple:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.