A Travellerspoint blog

Bagan - Sunday, 22 January 2017

Freechoice - Mount Popa. Sundowners - visit Clay Pot Mountain with magical views over the Bagan plain.

sunny 32 °C

The alarm was set for 4.30 am today so I could participate in giving alms to the monks at a local monastery. I had trouble going to sleep and seemed to be awake all night waiting for the alarm to go off. Twelve hardy souls met at reception at 5.20 am for the short bus ride to the monastery. It is in walking distance, but in the dark it is too dangerous, hence the bus ride.

We arrived at the monastery and the monks were already receiving their food. Some of us actually served them but to do that, we had to take our shoes off. The weather is a lot warmer here in the mornings than it was further down stream. It is cool but bearable. Ingrid and Elfi lent me a cardigan to wear this morning, and even though I would have been okay without it, I was very glad to have it!

We fed the monks warm rice and they are not allowed to eat anything solid after twelve noon. It was a nice thing to do to start what is going to be a very busy day. Good karma.


We were back onboard at 6.00 am and just in time for Phil's room service breakfast, which was enough for two, so I ate breakfast in the room with him, instead on going downstairs at 7 am.

We left the ship at 8 am for the 1 1/2 drive to Mount Popa. It is only 48 kilometers but the roads and windy and bumpy and the going is slow. So we merrily bounced along. After about half an hour we arrived at Toddy Palm Sugar farm and watched how they ground the peanuts to extract the oil and how they make beer and candies. The beer was disgusting! It tasted like kerosene. But the palm sugar candies were lovely and we filled up on the sugar to give us strength to climb Mt Popa.


Mount Popa is a volcano 1518m above sea level. It is perhaps best known as a pilgrimage site, with numerous temples and relic sites atop the mountain - 777 steps up! Many legends are associated with this mountain including its dubious creation from a great earthquake and the mountain erupted out of the ground in 442 BC. Mount Popa is considered the abode of Burma's most powerful nat and as such is the most important nat worship centre. A nat is a spiritual being and there are 48 inhabiting Mount Popa.

Buddhism is considered a nontheistic religion, based largely upon the teachings of Siddehartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha or "awakened one". As with many countires on the Asian continent, Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist and heavily influenced by the teachings and practice of Buddhism. It is an integral part of the lives of the Burmese people. There are two major branches of Buddhism: Theravada, which is currently practiced in Myanmar, along with Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos; and Mahayana, which is now primarily practiced in China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan.

Just after we left the palm sugar farm, we came to the town of Bopa and encountered a procession of young boys and girls, all dressed up in beautiful clothing, who were being initiated into the priesthood. These processions happen a couple of times a year and for most of the children, the stay in the monastery is short lived, except for the orphans or the ones who decide to stay. We all hopped out of the bus and took photographs like mad, but we only saw the tail end of the parade. I was interested to know how these poor families can afford such lavish clothing for their children and was told that this is a huge day in a child's life, almost like the marriage day, but most families hire the clothes.


The band was assembled on the back of a truck and was deafening!

We continued on for about an hour and arrived at the spot to photograph Mount Popa. This was our first sight of it and we were amazed. it is like a fairy castle built on top of a mountain. And we're going to climb that!!! Feeling a bit apprehensive now.


This is the man who built the pagodas ontop of Mount Popa.
We arrived at Mount Popa (along with millions of others) and commenced the first 200 step climb with our shoes on. It was through stalls of local merchandise, so we didn't really feel the climb. The next section was 618 steps, minus shoes. Not a good feeling as there are monkeys all over the place and we had to dodge monkey poo, however there are people all along the way keeping the steps nice and clean. Suddenly the number of steps has jumped from 777 to 818!

I had a walking pole from the ship and off I went - it's now or never! The going was quite good as there were a lot of people ahead of me, so sometimes I had to wait. The flights of stairs were long but when I felt a bit puffed, I stopped to rest and made sure I breathed through my nose and didn't pant. At one stage there was a huge flight of extremely steep metal steps, but I just put my head down and continued on and before I knew it, I was at the top. Simply amazing and it only took 15 minutes. I was so proud to have achieved this and I am not as fit as I used to be.


We took a lot of photos from the top and then only Howard, Isla, Pam and I were left on top and we had trouble finding the way down, but eventually someone pointed out the way for us and we started to descend. Neela, our local guide, came looking for us and carried my walking stick down for me as I wanted to hang on to the rail. We were down in no time, feeling VERY satisfied.


We drove for an hour back to the Toddy Palm place where we had a lovely lunch under the trees. I bought a couple of bags of palm sugar sweets. Made by boiling sap from the toddy palm trees until it is reduced to sugar crystals, toddy palm sugar is a natural sweetener used extensively in the various southeast Asian cuisines. Unlike coconut sugar, to which it is often compared, toddy palm sugar has a complex, caramel-like flavour, with smoky overtones.


We arrived back on board at about 2.45 pm and only had an hour to relax before we were on the go again.

We drove to Ananda Temple, a lovely temple that is in the process of being restored. It has four entrances and is built like Christian churches - in the shape of a crucifix. We are becoming a bit "templed out" but they are all quite different and I don't want to miss a minute.


Back on the bus and we drove to Clay Pot Mountain for sundowners and sunset over the pagodas. It really isn't a mountain, just a small rise but called Clay Pot Mountain because of all the pieces of clay found on the ground. We stayed for sunset and took some nice shots of the pagodas.


Had dinner this evening with Gwenda and Terry from the UK. They are very nice and we had a very stimulating dinner conversation.

We can have a sleep in tomorrow as breakfast doesn't start until 7.30 am. I don't feel tired yet after such a big day but I am sure that once my head hits the pillow after a lovely relaxing warm bath, I'll be out like a light!

Buddhist thought for the day - "Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.

Posted by gaddingabout 23:22 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Salay to Bagan - Saturday, 21 January 2017

Visit Youqson Kyaung, a striking teak monastery; the largest lacquer Buddha image in Myanmar; the trio of brick shrines at Paya Thonzu and Ananda Temple. Tea house stop at Salay House.

sunny 32 °C

By the time we woke this morning, we were already sailing. We will be docking at Salay in time to participate in a walking tour of the village at 9 am. Salay was founded in the 13th century and has 7,000 residents. It contains Bagan era shrines, beautiful 19th century teak monasteries and preserved British colonial buildings. We are running a bit behind and actually docked at 9.30 am and immediately went ashore. Phil decided not to come today but stay in the cabin and watch the tennis instead.

It is quite cool again this morning. The wind is the problem. Without the wind, it would be nice, but as soon as we stop sailing, the wind does abate a bit.

We walked through the town of Salay and it is totally different from the other villages we have seen. Lots of children everywhere and as usual, the villagers come out to see us. There are old colonial buildings and stupas everywhere. It is such a shame that these old colonial buildings are left to deteriorate, but apparently several years ago, the population moved to Bagan.


These bags of water are hanging on most of the houses. It is in case of fire, of course.


We passed the monastery and went into the pagoda to see the lacquered Buddha. Legend has it that he was found floating in the Irrawaddy and the Salay people were the ones who found him and brought him ashore and put him in their temple.


Chillies drying in the foreground.

We visited an old teak monastery and on the way back to the ship, called into the Salay Tea House for some Burmese tea and samoas. Very nice. The tea house is situated on the banks of the river and it was just a short walk along the road to get us back to the ship. The tea house also had a souvenir shop but we hardly had any time to check out the merchandise, which was unfortunate as there seemed to be some interesting things in there.


Me and Susan - our guide.


Aren't the Burmese nice to their tourists. They really are such a gentle and friendly race of people.


Washing day and bath time.
TJ, Susan and I had a discussion at lunch about Myanmar Tea and now TJ knows what it is, so all I have to do is ask and he'll know what I want.

Phil went for a massage this afternoon but before he went, I hopped into the jacuzzi. I couldn't get it to work so he phoned for help and THREE staff arrived. How embarrassing! I'm sitting in the jacuzzi while they are trying to work out why it wouldn't work and then we realised that the water wasn't covering the sensor. Once we topped up the jacuzzi, then everything worked perfectly. How lovely it was - lying back in the jacuzzi and watching the world pass by as we sailed along the Irrawaddy.


I went to an icecream party at the pool, which was followed by a small concert of singing and dancing by the staff. I had chocolate and chilli icecream, but I couldn't taste any chilli, which was probably a good thing. After the concert, we all got up and danced to "YMCA". It was great fun.

We docked in Bagan almost at sunset and the staff had to work very quickly to drop anchor, secure a line ashore and put up the gangway. We are tied to a large rock here as opposed to large trees at other dockings along the river. It is quite mild outside this evening and there is not much wind. I hope we have left that weather behind us.


Bagan was once the centre of the Pagan Empire and is the centre of the Burmese lacquerware industry. Bagan contains a huge number of religious edifices and magnificent architectural examples. There are two different styles of temples in Bagan - the stupa (a solid style temple) and the gu style (hollow temple).

A stupa, also called a pagoda, is a massive structure, typically with a relic chamber inside. In contrast to the stupas, the hollow gu style temple is a structure used for meditation, devotional worship of the Buddha and other Buddhist rituals. The gu temples come in two basic styles - one face design and four face design - essentially one main entrance and four main entrances.

Early to bed tonight as tomorrow is a HUGE day, commencing at 5.20 am when some of us will be going to give alms to the monks. More about this tomorrow.

Buddist saying for today - "A generous heart, kind speech and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity"

Posted by gaddingabout 16:33 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Magwe - Friday, 20 January 2017

Explore Magwe by trishaw, similar to a side car, visiting Mya Tha Lun Pagoda set on Naguttama Hill.

sunny 32 °C

We awoke this morning at 6am and to our surprise we were sailing. This ship doesn't sail at night because of all the sandbars in the river, however, they had the big spotlight on and away we went without any trouble.

We were supposed to go ashore at 9am but we are running a bit late and have just arrived at Magwe now, just after 9 am, so our trishaw ride through the town will be a little bit delayed. The wind on the deck is cold, but the day warms up to about 32 degrees. I wish I had packed a light jumper but I didn't realise the mornings and the breeze would be so cool. We are docked near this fabulous bridge.


When we dock, everyone helps tie up the ship.


We climbed up the river bank. We are all becoming very adept at this now. All our trishaws were lined up and off we went, winding through the streets, looking at the sights of Magwe. We cause quite a stir as all the locals come out of their homes and shops to stare and wave. The children just love it when we call out "Mingalarbar" (hello). Magwe is the second largest of Myanmar's seven divisions. The main product in Magwe is petroleum. It produces most of the oil and natural gas in Myanmar. Other industries include cement, cotton weaving, tobacco, iron and bronze. There also seems to be a lot of furniture making taking place along the way - probably teak, I expect.


We stopped for a photo opportunity at a park to take a photo of General Aung Sung (Suu Kyi's father).


When the going gets a bit hilly, the poor little skinny drivers get off and push. I feel so guilty. I just want to get off and walk!


Road works in Magwe.


We arrived at Mya Tha Lun Pagoda which is located on the top of the Naguttama Hill. It is the largest shrine in the region and overlooks the riverbank.


We have all learnt about which animal we are according to the day we were born, so we can now find "our own corner" when we visit a pagoda.


We are back on board at about 11.30 am and sail almost immediately. There is quite a cool wind blowing today but it is nice sheltered from the wind.

At lunch we met Brian and Jill Fletcher, who were in the Army and in Brisbane when General Jeffery was the Major General in charge of Queensland. Small world again!

Lovely sunset today.


Just on sunset, we pulled alongside a cliff of loose sand, in the middle of nowhere for the night, as because of sand bars in the river, we don't sail at night. In this day and age, 2017, you would think they would use sophisticated navigation equipment but no. The Scenic Aura had its spotlights searching the bank, and there are local Burmese running along the bank with torches!! What a scream. Then they threw the rope over and the locals ran straight up a wall of moving sand and tied it around a tree. And there we are - anchored for the night.

Tonight we had a Gala Dinner and were welcomed at the door to the dining room by the Captain, plus a champagne and we had our photo taken. We pushed tables together and sat with Faye, Mike, Eĺfi and Ingrid and Brian and Jill Fletcher and a very nice time and meal was had by all.

After dinner we went to Mike's cabin to help him work his TV and then he came to see our cabin and have a bedtime brandy.

Buddha saying for the day - "Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared"

Posted by gaddingabout 07:38 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Thayetmyo - Thursday, 19 January 2017

In Thayetmyo, visit the oldest golf course in Myanmar, admire the region's old colonial buildings and explore the gems on offer at the local market.

sunny 32 °C


We were the first group off the ship this morning for our visit to the town of Thayetmyo. Our group is know as the A Team and we are getting a reputation of being the "singing bus" as we sing all the time on the bus. It is nice and we, plus the B Team, are a nice bunch of people.

I was wondering how many of our travellers would have difficulty climbing up the steep river bank this morning, but everyone seemed to do it okay. There were Scenic staff all along the route to help.


At the top of the river bank, our horse and cart were waiting - one per couple - and off we went through the streets of Thayetmyo.


Our first stop was the golf club, which is the oldest golf club in Myanmar, obviously started by the British. We all had a putting competition - women versus the men - and Charlie from Texas won the putting and the cup. Great fun. Then some of us had a drive off the first tee. I was very surprised that they had a left handed driver for me. Unfortunately the golf shop had no merchanidse at the moment which was a shame, as I wanted to buy a memento of our visit. Phil's drive was an absolute screamer!


This is the club house. Royal Canberra members - eat your heart out!


Back into the horse and cart and drove through the town of 100,000 people to the local market. Now the game begins. Susan gave each couple a piece of paper with a Burmese word written on it and 500 Kyats and we had to go to the market, find the thing written on our paper and buy it. Our word was "Gaw Bi" which we discovered means "cabbage". After lots of arm waving and laughter, we were directed to the middle of the market where the vegetable stalls were and we purchased the cabbage. The others bought eggs, potatoes, beans, bean sprouts and then Susan gave some to a begging lady and her two children in the street, and the rest to the drivers of our horse carts.


We walked a short distance from the market and then down the river bank to our boat, and at about 10.30 am we were sailing again.


It must be the river air (or possibly the G&Ts) but as soon as we started sailing, we both had a nap BEFORE lunch and then AFTER. How lazy we've become!

At 4pm, I went to a cooking demonstration on how to prepare Tea Leaf Salad and Ginger Salad and then one person from each side of the room entered a competition. Jimmy represented us and Howard represented the other side. Howard, who didn't know what a sesame seed looked like won, and Jimmy who cooks all the time, mistook salt for sugar and made his too salty!! It was great fun.

We have now docked at Magwe. The anchorage sites are two huge trees on the bank. How funny!

After dinner, we went to the lounge and participated in a Trivia Competition. It was great fun. We came about third, with 31 points out of a possible 35. Our team consisted of me and Phil, Elfi and Ingrid, Mike and Faye and Isabelle wandered in about half way through. A very enjoyable evening was had by all!


Buddah saying for the day - "The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly"

Posted by gaddingabout 18:23 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Pyay (Prome) to Sri Ksetra - Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Start with a visit to Shwesandaw Pagoda before heading to Sri Ksetra, the ancient Pyu Kingdom's capital and also Myanmar's first World Heritage listed site

sunny 32 °C

Scenic Aura Cabin 302

Had a great sleep in a very comfortable bed. Lovely big soft pillows. There are a couple of barges tied up alongside the Scenic Aura and during the night I heard 12 bells ring out, which must have meant it was midnight. Meanwhile, Phil was "socialising" with Mike from the UK and a couple of blokes from WA. I don't know what time he got to bed but the condition he was in, I was surprised that he could find the cabin. Mike confessed today that he took a long time to find his cabin, because he couldn't find the lift, well - duh - there isn't one on this boat! Consequently, the four of them are feeling rather seedy today.

After breakfast, we had a short shore excursion this morning to the Shwe Sandaw Pagoda in Pyay. The gold on these pagodas is just something else. It is mesmerizing!


Pyay (or Prome as named by the British) was once controlled by the Mon tribe during the Bagan Era and then conquered by the Burmese King Alaungpaya in 1754. It boomed along with the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company in the 1890s and is now an important trading post for goods travelling between northern and southern Myanmar.


Shwe Sandaw Pagoda was built in the life time of Gotama Buddha and contains four sacred relics. The four sacred relics are: the dugut robe of Kaukkusanda Buddha; the anthakite piece of Konagamana Buddha; the girdle of Kassapa Buddha and the four strands of hair, the eight special stretchy hairs and cushion of Gotama Buddha. It was constructed in the Maha Sakarit year 103 (Buddhist Era) on the 13th waxing moon of March. It is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites of Myanmar.


Phil and I were both born on a Saturday, which means our animal is Dragon and that we are very volatile, which explains a lot. Jimmy, our next door neighbour on the ship, is a Saturday baby too so we all had our photos taken at the Saturday corner and tipping water on Buddah.


Shoes off again and again, filthy feet. But Scenic think of everyone and had out wipes for our feet.


We are attracting a lot of attention wherever we go, especially in the pagodas, and these lovely people are only too happy to pose for photographs with us. The little girl was fascinated with Phil. I don't think she had ever seen anyone so big!


We visited the Wunchataung Paya (Apology Mountain Pagoda) which was very old but just made from bricks, and not covered in gold. I'm not sure why, but it has been quite neglected and needs some maintenance work done on it. It had grass and bushes growing out the sides of of it.


On the way back to the ship, we visited Thhayekhittaya (also known as Sri Ksetra, the Fabulous City, in the Pali language). It is an ancient Pyu city that ruled in this area between the 5th and 9th centuries. The museum is full of excellent maps and artifacts including Hindu deities, Buddah images from as far back as the 6th century, Pyu beads and silver coins.


Back on board, the staff took our shoes and cleaned them for us. Talk about service! I know they are trying to keep the ship as clean as possible, but cleaning our shoes??!!

Then the ship sailed but for the first couple of hours, there were two staff out the front of the boat in a speed boat, measuring the depth of the water. Lots of sand banks around here. That's why they never sail at night, especially now as it's the dry season and the river is a bit low.

Nice buffet lunch and then decided to do a spot of ironing. I offered to iron a shirt for Mike from the UK and as I was on my way to the ironing room, Chantelle in reception saw me and said "We do your ironing and washing for you. Here, give it to me". That's the beauty of staying in the Royal Panorama Suite, I guess!

Phil is now watching the Australian Tennis Open from Melbourne (sleeping on the bed) and I am catching up with my blogging as the internet is VERY slow, especially downloading photos, and I don't want to get too far behind or it becomes a chore.

The butler just dropped off some fruit sticks. When we came back from our shore excursion, he was standing there with two cafe lattes and two G&Ts!

We, along with two other couples, have been invited to the dining room tonight for "An intimate Table around the Asian Saveurs", elaborated by the Chef Than Hitke and his Team (whatever that means)!

I went to a longyi tying demo this afternoon and when we came back from dinner, there was a male and a female longyi in our room as a gift from Scenic! Nice touch.

Well dinner was delightful. We shared the event with Faye from Melbourne, and Jimmy and Pat from Perth. It was seven courses and each one was spectacular.


After dinner, we went to the lounge for drinks with the West Aussies and Ingrid and Mike. And we all left for our cabins at a respectable hour and SOBER!


Buddah saying for the day - "True love is born from understanding"

Posted by gaddingabout 16:24 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

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