I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Myanmar (26)


Back to Hong Kong


This was going to be the easy day.  Two short flights back to Hong Kong on large, comfortable planes where we could stretch out, use the laptop and where I could catch up on my blog ready to begin the next part.





We were ready to leave the hotel in good time. Sanda arrived promptly as my hero was paying our bill, but for some reason, Mastercard wasn’t working right now.  Credit cards are only just becoming acceptable in Myanmar and we were warned to take cash just in case this scenario unfolded. However, here at this international hotel it was surprising they had difficulties.  Thankfully, Visa was operatng as normal, so after a short delay, we were off. 

Whilst waiting, I sat at the coffee table in reception where a thanaka set was laid out – Mary, here’s the bark and the little pot of water, ready to be ground on the base and applied to the cheeks and nose with fingers.

(I didn’t)




Yangon airport international departures was chaos.  Whole families were there to wave goodbye and it was a squeeze through the throng to reach departures.  Actually, there was a checkpoint to get into the check in hall itself – this was the hall before the first check.




Because actually, the check in area was even more crowded and the queue for our flight to Bangkok was extraordinarily long.  What’s going on, we wondered?




The answer was soon sellotaped to the monitor above the desk.  The system was down and there was a whole A330 load of passengers to check in.  Oh dear.

Somehow, with the help of additional staff, the queues began to move and half an hour late, our flight left for Bangkok.  No time to sit and relax and catch up on the blog yet then.




It was only a short, one hour hop to Bangkok, but we’d taken off late and had only an hour in which to transfer to our Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong.  Though we’d been able to check our luggage through, we hadn’t been able to get boarding passes for ourselves and needed to negotiate the long corridors of Suvarnabhumi Airport to find the right transfer counter.

One of these days, we will be able to get our bearings at this airport, to relax, take a break and maybe browse the shops. As it is, however, every time we are here we seem to be running.  Today was no exception and that easy, relaxing day was fast becoming a total nightmare.




But find our way we did, just as the flight was announced.




We walked straight onto the fresh, new Cathay Pacific A330 and breathed a sigh of relief.  Did I feel like starting to catch up on my blog for the next couple of hours?  Not really, especially when I saw that Finding Vivien Maier was one of the video options.

Feeling somewhat more relaxed as we arrived half an hour early into Hong Kong and knowing we had a quick turnaround to shower and change before meeting Allan and Jane for supper at the China Club, we collected our luggage and waited for Benny, our guide in Hong Kong.  No sign of him anywhere but a quick call brought Edwin his driver running up.  Another unexpected delay, another hour stuck in traffic (Benny arrived eventually, having been caught up in a delay himself), it was with a huge sigh of relief that we finally arrived back at the Mandarin Oriental, where the cool, unflustered staff took over and peace was restored.

“Welcome back Mrs Thomas”, I heard as I walked past the reception desk.  “How was Myanmar?”

How do they do it?  Surely thousands of people have walked past that desk in almost a fortnight since we were last here.  Yet, Vivien, who had checked us in when we arrived last time had not only remembered my name but had also remembered our travel plans.

We are fans.  (or perhaps that’s been said before?)




Dinner at the China Club was fun.  It was great to be with Jane and Allan again and to relax.  We are here.  We might have imagined that allowing ourselves a whole day for two short flights would be a breeze but hey, we made it.

Let the next chapter begin!


Back to Yangon


We’ve been enjoying our travels in Myanmar so much but this chapter of our adventure was fast coming to an end.




We left Inle early having said goodbye to our boat and the driver who’d taken such good care of us over the last few days and set off by car to the airport.




People in the villages we drove through en route to the airport were getting ready for another day too, though what this man is taking to market, I have no idea – rice cakes of some kind?  How did he get onto his bike and how on earth is he going to get off?  Though one thing;s for sure, he’ll have a soft landing if he fell over!




A but further along, the young monks were out looking for breakfast.




They walk barefoot like this for up to ten miles each morning, gathering their food for the day.  I noticed this lady had taken her shoes off whilst she gave them rice.




This lady too.  Sanda thought that both women would do this every day as a means of gaining kharma.




Monks go out in search of breakfast each day because they are forbidden to eat after noon.  I imagine these young men get pretty hungry!




Soon, we’re at Heho airport.  The car park is a little less busy than Heathrow.




The terminal building a little smaller and hardly recognisable as such, with few signs around.




Inside, there’s the usual hubbub as young men dressed in assorted football-related shirts take care of our luggage, weigh it, label it and so on.  Meanwhile Sanda checks us in and gets the boarding passes.




We’re all set. RGN here we come!

Each one of these small flights we’ve taken has left and arrived on time.  This one was different.  It left Heho and arrived in Yangon half an hour early.  My hero was curious about this, being a public transport professional – running a few minutes late is something to be managed but running early? A definite no-no!

Anyway, our flight was smooth and trouble free and the entertainment was fun.  A group of French women were travelling with us, sitting across the aisle from my hero and I.  As the snack was handed round, it appeared to be simple enough fare; a croissant and a small Danish pastry,  It was handed to us quickly, with a brief description which my hero interpreted as “tuna croissant”.  What?

Bearing in mind the strange pastry which had been given to us on one of our earlier flights which had some kind of meatpaste in the centre, I thought it was perfectly possible that this was going to be interesting.  Judging from the expressions on the French group’s faces, I think they found it anything but!!  For sure enough, though it was a perfectly ordinary croissant for the first two or three bites, the next couple had about a teaspoonful of tuna inside, after which it was a plain croissant again.  Clearly it didn’t meet French quality control though actually, however strange it seemed, it was perfectly ok.




In around an hour we were in Yangon.  This is baggage collection.  A short time after I took the picture, a man with a trolley arrived and handed out our suitcases one by one on receipt of the luggage check.




From there, it should have been a thirty minute drive to our hotel but Yangon traffic being what it is, it was almost lunchtime when we checked in.  Sanda went off to catch up at home whilst we caught up with all kinds of things, including  my blog.  After so many days of flaky internet, the pair of us feasted on it for the afternoon!




Though dinner was good, we are looking forward to a change from banana blossom salad and chicken curry.  Burmese food is interesting but lacks the fragrant heat of Thai cuisine and the depth of flavour associated with Chinese cooking.  Or maybe it’s dumbed down for western tourists? 

We retired to our lovely room and checked our email before switching the light out – because we could Winking smile


The Buddhas




Where were we?  Oh yes, we’d just walked past the Royal Barge, the predecessor of which had sunk in the lake with the loss of five precious Buddhas.  So, what became of the Buddhas?  Well, the four of them were retrieved pretty quickly, and the fifth sometime later.  Now, these Buddhas are revered objects and men – yes, only men – can gain karma by applying gold leaf to these Buddhas which reside in the temple here.




Except that so many men had applied gold leaf to these figures that they don’t look like Buddhas any more.  They look like blobs.  Not that I, as a woman, could get anywhere near them to take a photograph, of course.  That was down to the only man in our party to do.

Heroes do come in useful, you know Smile




From the temple, we went by boat through a series of small communities to Indein, one of the principal places on our map.




This involved a rather tricky journey through a canal in which the brown water signified a serious silt problem.




We passed several boats which had run aground, but for now, we were ok and our driver managed to steer through the deeper channel.  Here and there we saw groups of young monks going about their business, for there must be a largish monastery nearby.




Along the waterway, people were doing their washing, washing their clothes and themselves in the muddy water near the riverbanks.




Some of their water buffalo were doing the same thing.




Eventually, we made it to Indein, without too much trouble, thank goodness.  Our driver parked our boat and we headed out behind Sanda, as usual.




What we saw there came as quite a surprise.  Lots of ruined stupas and pagodas, in varying degrees of disrepair.  Some were as old as the 14th century it’s said, but most date from the 18th and 19th centuries on the whole.




The shapes were wonderful but it was hot hot hot and maybe we didn’t give the site the attention it deserved.




Even so, the occasional Buddha figure looking out at us from its remote place didn't pass us by and we admired the fine detail in the stucco patters and images here and there.




From here, we moved under a covered walkway lined with market stalls to walk to the higher site , were more ruins were to be found alongside restored pagodas, too.  Some of the stalls were selling large embroideries, the like of which we hadn’t seen before.




A small boy was pleased to show off his new toy – a jumping horse which he controlled by means of a squeezy ball.  Sanda asked him how he’d come across such a thing, to which he replied casually, “Oh, I bought it”.




A little further along, a woman was sitting tatting at breakneck speed.  Well, I guess that if you are to make money from a skill like that you do have to work fast.




Her work was for sale, but however much I admired it, there was no way I was going to buy, sadly.




The temples at the top of the hill were even more interesting than those at the bottom.




Some were really well restored whilst others, right next to them were almost ruinous.  In the meantime, I was coveting that sun umbrella.




We walked around the pagodas for a while, finding the intense heat difficult to manage.




But now and again, there was a treat in store.




I liked the personal touches here and there.




But time was pressing and we needed to get back to our boat. We followed this little family group back down the covered walkway, past the market stalls again.




Past the tatting lady.




Past stalls selling all kinds of things, with few customers today.




Trade was so slow, some decided to take a nap.




But needless to say, some business was done.




Back they way we’d come, then, past monks who had gone for a swim in the river and returned to being little boys again.




They’d hung their maroon robes on the bushes alongside the river as they swam.




At one point, we ran aground!  Our driver had to wade into the water and try to lift the boat out, floating it into the deeper water.




We passsed boats returning from the market, bringing the women back home, including this Karen woman peeking over the side.  You can’t see in the photo what I saw – the brass rings around her neck, because this is the tribe of the long neck women and she was wearing a full set of brass rings around her neck.  We’d met these women some years ago in North East Thailand and chatted to them about their culture – fascinating – so it was interesting to see one of them out and about today.




Heaven knows how these more heavily laden boats made it through those shallow waters!




We were returning to the peace and quiet of our room where we could cool off, reflect on the days happenings and pack our bags again.  We’d said goodbye to our boat driver and arranged to meet Sanda early the next morning for our flight out of Heho.

I can’t tell you what a great time we’ve had here!


A few more things to see around the lake




Another bright and sunny morning, another opportunity to slather ourselves with sunblock and insect repellent in preparation for an hour or two sitting in the sun.




People were already out on the side of the canal to the hotel, taking the air and enjoying the relative cool of the morning.




I had dressed to match the boat and our driver today!




I found myself taking more photos of much the same things as before – well, how could I resist it when it’s so picturesque?




We were heading to new places today though, past this landmark which we’d not seen before.  It commemorates a tragedy which happened during Hpaung Daw U celebrations a few years ago. During this celebration, an elaborate Royal Barge is brought out of storage and five precious Buddhas are transported from village to village around the lake.  On this particular occasion, a storm blew up and the barge capsized.  All five Buddhas were lost into the water and though four were retrieved fairly soon afterwards, the fifth wasn’t found until some time later, when it appeared in a fisherman’s net covered in seaweed.




We were heading to the place where the Royal Barge is stored, next to the Phaung Daw Oo Paya and already, it was looking pretty busy.




Thankfully, our skilful driver squeezed our boat through the others, dropped us off and went to…who knows?




Sanda took off at quite a speed over the rickety bridges through the village.  She is so light of foot, those boards hardly moved and yet when we galumphed over, we were sure that one or other of them was going to break!




Our first stop was the colourful market which was here today.  The market moves around the lakeside villages on a five day cycle and this one was the one Sanda recommended, because it’s where the colourful hill people come.  First stop was to look at the snack stall, which was offering a wide variety of what appeared to be doughnuts of all kinds.




The Pa’O ladies were there, selling a few vegetables and turmeric.




Oh, and tomatoes of course.  So many tomatoes here!




Next stall was selling lacquer, not for making decorative things but for sealing boats.  Far more practical.  Sanda showed us how it’s brown in its natural form – almost like brown sauce – but oxidises black when exposed to the air.




A chemists stall was selling all kinds of medicines – no prescriptions needed.  Half of it looked like the shelves of our local Boots,




The other half was well stocked with Chinese medicines.




This Pa’O woman had left her collection of goods for sale but as soon as she saw Sanda explaining what they were she was quickly back on the scene.  She wasn’t amused – one of the items she was selling was a purple-black powder which we were told was hair shampoo.  Clearly, we weren’t going to buy any but were merely interested, but her expression said it all – if you’re not buying, then get lost!

I love her bag!




In one particularly hot corner of the market a blacksmith was at work.  The fellow in the yellow shirt was operating the bellows as the smith heated a knife blade for a chap who was waiting beside us.  Heat – hammer – heat – hammer – the same as blacksmiths the world over.




Here, there were the same dry goods stalls, selling beans, nuts and so on, all using the milk can unit.




I thought the cross section of the nuts (whose name I can’t recall) was interesting enough to record.  I think these are the same nuts as are quartered and included in the little betel nut leaf package sold at the markets…areca?




This was an interesting product – dried wheat flour, we were told.  Quite why wheat flour couldn’t be sold as, well, flour, was a question we didn’t ask.  Apparently it was for vegetarians, who soaked it, cut it into cubes and deep fried as a snack.

I know.  I have no idea.




And bags.




We were really happy to have visited this market, so different from the others we’d already been to!




Rice cakes – so light and so bulky.




One of our parting shots of the market was of this Pa’O woman chatting with a customer who was casually doing business as she smoked her cheroot.   That pink!  (bag!)




As we walked out of the market we spotted these friendly young Pa’O women who laughed and joked with us.  Not only that, they were happy for me to take their picture!




Leaving the market, we walked past the Golden Royal Barge – the same kind of thing that sunk in the lake.




We didn’t visit it but we did visit the temple where the photograph was, showing the accident as it happened.

We also saw the buddhas which had been lost and found.  Meet me in the next post and I’ll tell you all about it!


and now…


we were going to cook lunch for Myint and Zaw, the charming couple who were welcoming us into their home.




First of all though, we needed some help from Zaw to get our boat close enough to his jetty for us to get out.  Our driver was doing his best but in a limited space, it wasn’t easy.  Eventually, the use of a long bamboo pole was the answer and Zaw handled it with such ease, it was clear he’d done this kind of manoeuvre all his life.




The people in the villages around Inle grow up messing about in small boats and the youngest children are comfortable on the water and actually take themselves to school by boat each day, Sanda told us.




Myint and her husband Zaw own their home which stands on stilts above the water a short distance from the main lake of Inle.  They’d already prepared a couple of tables in their main living area and welcomed us with a cup of tea and a rice cracker snack.  They didn’t speak any English and we no Burmese, but thankfully, Sanda was on hand.




They’d set the dining table for us too, sprinkled with rose petals and set with freshly laundered napkins too.




Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Kyawthu had set out his mise en place – a range of ingredients we’d bought from the market and a few storecupboard items from Myint’s extensive larder.




Oh my. 




No modern hob or microwave oven here!  Just three small charcoal fired burners in the corner of the cooking area of this wooden house.




Kyawthu began to chop tomatoes.  He chopped a few and then handed over the knife to me, asking me to finish off.  It took me rather longer than him – I don’t usually use a cleaver to do such a task!




The view from the open door was of Myint and Zaw’s outdoor space and their neighbour’s home across the way.




This is where the washing up was done, in water collected from the local artesian well in 25 gallon containers.  Dirty water was simply poured through the bamboo back into the lake below, and slightly dirty water – that which had been used to rinse vegetables or similar – was reused to pre wash or soak dishes.  Great efforts were made to conserve water, we noticed.  Anyway, Zaw was preparing the spring onions.




Sanda and Myint prepared the other herbs, carefully picking through them, whilst the boat driver, whose name we never found out, sat enjoying the conversation and a cup of tea.  Kyawthu supervised all processes!




Kaung and I picked through the garlic, peeling off the skins and discarding any dodgy bits.




Meanwhile, Zaw came in and lit the stove – which prompted Kaung to grab a fan and try to waft the smoke away.




He and my hero had been busy with the pestle and mortar, grinding those garlic cloves and ginger to a smooth paste which met with Kyawthu’s exacting standards.




Kyawthu was preparing the fish for soup and for a fish salad.




He also prepared the chicken, washing it several times in clean water – discarding that water every time, we noted.  He pulled off the skin, kept everything separate from the other ingredients and collected the waste pieces in a bowl.




Before he did anything else, he cleaned everything he’d used with the chicken with detergent, scrubbing the board and rinsing several times.  We felt reassured!




I started off the chicken curry, following Kyawthu’s instructions but found it incredibly hot standing there by an open flame in 35C heat, so Zaw kindly took over whilst I continued with Kyawthu, making a vegetable tempura.




Time to deal with those fish and Kaung was a ready student, taking great interest in his uncle’s method of stuffing and cooking the carp.




Myint brought in a pile of plates she’d prepared with banana leaf coverings and there was just the tomato salad to finish off and a few finishing touches.




The carp were cooked with a coriander, garlic, tomato and peanut stuffing/topping.




The vegetable tempura, made from spring onions and tomato.




A salad of wilted greens, tomato and onion.




Chicken curry with tomatoes and onions.




And a tomato salad with onions and coriander.




Myint produced a bowl of rice which had been cooking in the rice cooker and Kyawthu had prepared a dipping sauce for the tempura.  Time to tuck in.  The good thing was, there was enough for us all to have a good lunch – Myint and Zaw, Kyawthu and Kaung, my hero and I, Sanda and the boat man.  It must have been ok because no-one complained Winking smile




Feeling very full, we somehow found our way back down into the boat and waved goodbye to Myint, hoping she and Zaw  would enjoy the box of Yorkshire Tea we left with her with our thanks.  Sanda explained to her about the Royal warrant on the box, though whether she even knew who Prince Charles is, I have no idea.  Still, the picture of rolling hillsides, village houses and a game of cricket on the box itself provided a talking point!




With a bit more help from Zaw, we set off back to our hotel.  Oh, and can you see another little basket in the boat there?  Well, it did look so useful with that neat little lid, and can you believe it’s got a small lock on it?  The lady selling them was rather persistent… Winking smile




It seems a good time to include a picture of the front gates, too.  A floating bamboo pole serves as a marker for the entry to a village and in a smaller format, as a front gate to someone’s home.  To get through it, the boat motor needs to be lifted – after which, the boat can continue straight on through.




We went through the gate and back to the hotel, waving bye to our driver who was already on his mobile phone, having what looked like an intense conversation.

The question is, would we have dinner tonight?  (we did!)