U Bein Bridge is the longest teak bridge in the world, over 1.2 km and crosses the lake Taunghthaman (named for an ogre ve, according to tradition, came there in search of Buddha). The name of the bridge is usually attributed to the mayor of Amarapura, when he moved the capital to Amarapura in the year1841. The wood comes from an Inwa palace, which was abandoned. Some suggested reusing wood to construct monasteries, but the mayor decided that the wood that was there couldn´t be used by the monks.
Kyaiktiyo (pronounced shiatkiyo), is a huge sacred golden rock, in Kyaikto, Myanmar. Today with events and protests I do not know what travelling is like nowadays, but when I went it was beautiful and relaxing and had such nice people who were also so poor and were subjected to a military dictatorship regime. Some of the people there speak very good English and they even dare to talk to tourists. I found it very interesting to get to know a little more about their life. Kyaiktiyo is a gold-covered rock. The monks go there to meditate and bring golden leaves that cling to the rock. They say it is a very small rock with a lot of gold stuck to it! What is most impressive is not that it is huge, but also that it looks like it is about to fall. The venue is accessible for tourists and entry has to be paid, but this does not preclude respecting the silence and meditation of the monks. In the village, which is 20 minutes away, there are small hotels, restaurants and half a dozen regular connections with Yangoon.
Mahagandayon Monastery is 11 kilometers from Mandalay, in the former Burmese capital of Amarapura. Around 10 in the morning over 1000 monks who live in the monastery come out to receive food from donors. Everything is planned, the monks are standing in 2 rows, volunteers distribute the food, the dining rooms are filled and they eat at the same time. It seems like a ballet. This monastery is not known for its buildings, but it is striking how big it is. It seems like a city with its schools, prayer rooms, places for the monks, laundry rooms, streets, etc..
The city previously known as Ava is now known as Inwa and held the title of capital of the kingdom for many years. Today, it is a kind of island, calm and oblivious to everything, with stunning stupas that seem designed to coexist with wild nature around them. To reach it you have to take a boat. On landing transport options to visit the area are scarce. You can rent a cart pulled by mules or a motorcycles and be lead around by the local youth. Despite the heat, the thousand potholes in the road and the sad looking mules, it is advisable to make use of one of these carts to explore Inwa. The landscapes of Inwa is dominated by the water. The two rivers surrounding the village contrast with stupas of mud and dry sand roads. The tall Palm trees, carefully cultivated fields and uncontrolled vegetation shape a landscape that does not tire of hiding little surprises like the monastery of Aungmye Bonzan, the Leaning Tower of surveillance and certainly the most interesting, the monastery of Kyaung Bagaya, which houses a small school. The best site that Inwa offers is undoubtedly the ruins at the edge of the road. These remains still boast clown faces, stupas and smiling Buddhas. All in Inwa are shadows and light. Yellow ground and green grass. Brown rivers and blue skies. Great contrasts.
Myanmar is a country where things are done by hand. Not just the tourist souvenirs,but normal things as well. Everything from the cultivation of the fields, to utensils, clothing, religious objects, decorative arts, including the walls of their houses which are made of bamboo!. Much of the trip included one or more visits to the workshops to see how they made the local products: Silk fabrics, the gold leaf stick, Burmese Buddha statues in the temples , the bowls and lacquered bamboo boxes, and so on. And it helps to stay with a romantic medieval image of the country. I'm not sure that is the case, as it is ruled by a military junta which intends to iron socialist doctrines of the former Communist China, but I'm not sure that the free market, mechanization and consumerism in which we live is the best. Anyway, I leave you with a sample of the artisans of this great country that is crowded, sweet, friendly and loving.
In the center of Pindaya we saw a small family workshop that produced parasols, fans, notebooks, called Shan paper. We got to see all processing, starting from mulberry bark paper until the final products. Once you have the paper, bamboo is used to make the rods for both the umbrellas and the fans, amazing results.
The Myatheindan Pagoda or Hsinbyume are located in the village of Mingun in Myanmar. You can reach these locations by boat from Mandalay. This temple was supposed to be the largest in the world, but the king who commissioned it died during the construction and the work was abandoned. However, now there are a lot of monks in the temple. Most of the monks are children from the villages around the temple sent by their parents to give them an education and to feed them. The day of the little monk starts early. He takes a pot begging for food around the town because a monk can not touch money and lives a hundred percent of the generosity of the people. The peolpe give them ready dishes, rice, some meat, and monks do not get to decide what they will eat. This highlights them a little more from material concerns. They eat once a day when all the monks return to the temple and share the food that they were given. Afterwards the kids go to study religion, but also English, mathematics and philosophy.
Although Yangon is a very interesting city, I like cities which retain part of their past, although, as in the case of Yangon, this legacy has not been restored in 60 years. The main colonial era buildings are spread near the river, where they were customs and colonial buildings where officials worked in what was then a thriving commercial metropolis for its navigable river. Some buildings in the main square are next to each other like the clock tower, and you should visit Aung San market.
Hsipaw life is pretty busy now that the road through the village goes to China, and that it is among the few villages that supports the Burmese military. The road noise and freight traffic never stop. To escape the noise, it is best to go up the hill in the late evening. To do this, cross the river on the new bridge made by the Chinese, or cross the ancient bridge made by the English, so small that does it can not fit a bus if there are crossing pedestrians. After a half hour walk you will arrive atop the hill. There is a small temple at the top. A monk brought a guest book for us to sign, and some tea. Tea is one of the most popular drinks in Myanmar, and it's free almost everywhere.
The river Dokhtawady is the lifeblood of daily life in Hsipaw. Traders arrive at dawn with their belongings to be sold on the market or market candle candles as night falls. Fish, vegetables, and other goods from tribes and towns are sold quietly into the wee hours of the morning. Despite the heavy traffic, Hsipaw still boasts a rural life.
The Burmese military junta, which mainly belongs to the ethnic Burmese, is very cruel to the country's ethnic minorities, and has threatened and intimidated them for a long time. The Shan in the northwest of the country are trying to maintain their language, their customs, their dress and their culture, but it is not easy. They warmly welcome foreigners to visit them as they usually show a lot of interest in their culture and lifestyle. You can do a 1-day trek or more to visit several different Shan towns. Perhaps the best guides are those of the Mr. Charles Hostel, the guide I had spoke very good English and was the son of the village chief, which meant we were received especially well in the village. We slept in the family home, in a separate room, and the experience was incredible.
In SIAMTRAILS over the course of our program Burma Temples Landscapes and the Pho Win Taung caves we'll show you a place of worship for Buddha. It appears to have been established in these rock formations around the eleventh century when King Anawrahta of Bagan invited King Bandawa to the consecration of Shewzigon Pagoda. During his journy he discovered this hidden place and decided to turn it into a place of worship to the Buddha figure. Hundreds of Buddha statues of all sizes are hidden under the caves and the beautiful murals give us an example of the importance of this sanctuary in the past.
The centre of Yangon is not a square, but the confluence of four streets. In the middle, there is the Sule Pagoda which isn't round, but octagonal plan that is transmitted to the pagoda. This is also kilometre zero for all the roads leaving towards the north of the country. Also in this plaza is the City Hall and the Monument of Independence. It has devilish traffic and luckily you aren't allowed to ride by motorcycle in the circular, if not, it would be really crazy.
In most tropical countries that are former British colonies, they attempted to escape the summer heat, which hardly bearable at 45°. There used to be stations based in the mountains, like this one from Pyin ULwin, at almost a kilometre in altitude. Maymyo is famous for its strawberries, jams and fruit liqueurs, and has been one of the most multicultural areas of Myanmar since the British brought many Indians and Nepalese workers for the construction of the railway from Mandalay to Lazhio, and these were left to complete construction of the railway. Its central market is one of the most colorful of Myanmar Maymyo Another peculiarity is that it has a tower donated by Queen Victoria, Purcell Tower, which is equal to others donated at the time by the Queen of England. Also the local transport is curious, since you seem to go on nineteenth century carriages which have been decorated in an exaggerated manner.
The term capital is a little exagerated, since Nyaungshwe is a town that has grown considerably due to the increase of tourism going to Inle Lake, one of the most beautiful places in Myanmar, and has backpacker options and services, such as guesthouses, ciber-cafes and bike rental. The town itself has little of interest, except for a museum dedicated to the Buddha, but I just need a vibrant and authentic market to be happy, and Nyaungshwe has such a one, I sat down to eat and made signs for what I wanted, everyone was laughing at my attempts to try tosay words in Burmese, and in the end the food and drink, tea of course cost me 50 cents. Nyaungshwe not on the lake, but 3km away through a busy channel, and when you enter the Lake you see typical images of fishermen in their small boats.