Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Myanmar! (Burma,etc.)

Burma! The Royal Barge on Kandawagyi Lake
Hello to all,

This blog post will be a little different than our usual format in that we have so many pictures from Myanmar and so much could be said that it seems best to just go mainly with photos. So I've written an outline of our travels and I'll let the photos do the rest. This was a great trip. Also please note that any of these photos can be enlarged just by double clicking on the image, maybe a 'right click' for you Windoz folks.

September 12, 2012

It's blowing hard, it's raining, it's mid-morning and we're anchored off Beralasbakau. You've never heard of it?  Hah, most Indonesians haven't either but it's about half way down the east side of Bintan about sixty miles southeast of Singapore.
Nicer weather at Beralasbakau
We had planned to move this morning but why move to an unknown anchorage a few miles away when were holding nicely and are comfortable in this spot? There's another squall line coming in from the south. This is a good time to cozy up with the laptop and update the blog.
Floating fish traps off Bintan
Myanmar (Burma) was all we had hoped it would be. Certainly we had one of the best travel experiences we've ever enjoyed. It was a "people" photographer's dream. We have kept about a thousand photos after a couple initial cullings. We could have easily taken a couple thousand more 'keepers'.

River ferry boats
These guys WORK for a living. A longshoreman's break.
Great melon
We never saw a fork lift in Myanmar
I won't even try to write up the entire trip. It was seven hectic days full of interest in a country that soon will experience a tourist boom. Right now, no place takes credit cards, even the five star business hotels in Yangon (Rangoon) and the wonderful tourist retreats in Bagan and  around Lake Inle.  There are no ATMs that take international cards. The US dollar is the preferred currency. If you're dealing with a bank to get Myanmar currency, the "Chat",  for small purchases they require absolutely pristine $100 bills. The black market is a little less picky and may even give a better rate. But you can use dollars for most transactions.
More guys hoping for a fork lift someday.
We had made arrangements for a tour through Exotissimo Travel after several friends recommended using some sort of guided tour in Burma and Exotissimo was highly touted. We have nothing but good to say about the service they provided. This is the first time we've ever done a private 'tour', we've always organized things ourselves. In this case and in this country I believe it was a good idea. We could have spent a lot of time and effort dealing with logistics and details. The travel company and our guides saved us this effort. I'm sure we saw and experienced a great deal more in the week than we would have on our own.

Tea with Mi Mi, our Yangon guide
We flew into Yangon from Singapore on Silk Air, Singapore Airlines 'alter ego' regional carrier. Good flights there and back. We scheduled three main destinations, Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake. Extissiomo arranged our internal flights on Yangon Airways, provided English speaking 'station guides' at each destination and arranged hotel accommodations. Yangon Airways was on time for all flights and their ATR 72's were decent transportation.

 The station guides were all very nice, very knowledgable and had excellent English. The hotels were outstanding.

September 11, 2012

The nasty weather cleared out enough for us to move the boat about eight miles further SE to Palau Mapor where we anchored mid-afternoon yesterday. This is a gorgeous bay with a two mile white beach without so much as foot print on it. We walked the beach and did some shelling. We'll spend another day here snorkeling and exploring around. It's a world class spot and I imagine it gets about one yacht visit a year.
Palua Mapor
But I digress, back to Myanmar. Rather than give a blow by blow account of the trip I'll just talk about what we liked, which was almost everything, and what we might recommend.
Yangon is a rather typical SE Asia city but still emerging into a modern era. The river scene is a fascinating, bustling collage of boats and people making their way. The city is crowded and chaotic in the extreme. However, there are no motorcycles. The government has banded them in Yangon. The official reason being they are dangerous. The unofficial reason being they're too easy for an assassin to use for escape. No one can escape anything in a car in Yangon. There is a very good 'China Town".  
Lunch in China Town
Shwedagon pagoda, one view
The Shwedagon Pagoda is a huge and wonderful Buddhist temple. We highly recommend the Kandawgyi Palace Hotel which was very lovely and in character with the setting.

Kandawgyi Palace Hotel, Yangon.  Highly recommended!
We also stayed at the Chatrium Hotel on the way back and it was a very nice five star hotel but it could have been anywhere.
Irrawaddy Fisherman
Doing laundry in the Irrawaddy
 Bagan is a fantastic, relatively arid plain along the Irrawaddy River. Over three thousand Buddhist pagodas or stupas dating from the eleventh century rise above the acacia scrub forest and rubbly fields.  

Lunch over the Irrawaddy

Pagoda Views
 Viewed from the higher  pagodas it's an amazing sight. It's easily on par with Angkor Wat as a destination but is much less developed. We stayed at the Tharabar Gate Hotel which was very nice and very much a part of the scene. 
Tharabar Gate Hotel, lovely.
We saw no farm mechanization in Myanmar
 We visited villages that were not really part of Bagan but were also not of a part of the usual tourist path and they were a highlight of the trip. Bagan is one of those places that should not be missed.

Village life around Bagan
Inle Lake was quite the contrast from Bagan. The lake is at about 3000 feet and the surrounding mountains are around 7-8000'. The air is cool and crisp, especially after a few weeks or months at sea level in the tropics.
Inle Lake
 The lake sits in a north-south oriented mountain valley and is about sixteen miles long. Villages, all on stilts here and there around the lake, house about fifty  thousand people who subsist off fishing, crafts and most of all from fantastic floating gardens which they create, till and maintain far out onto the lake.

 All our travel, other than a nice bike ride along the shore one afternoon,  was done by boat on the lake. 
Inle Lake teak long boats. Teak wood, caulked and finished with lacquer.
It's one of the most unspoiled and beautiful 'populated' places we've ever seen. The Myanmar Treasure Resort was a wonderful hotel and we could not recommend any hotel more highly. All the hotels around the lake, a total of fifteen we're told, are fairly small, low rise type structures that do justice to the site. We were also told that no more hotels will be allowed.

major boat building
If you're interested in some off the beaten path Asian travel you must go to Myanmar and I'd go sooner rather than later. It's bound to change rapidly and the tourist dollar will make some changes that may rub off some of the charm. This was "off season" as far as weather and we still had good conditions. I might recommend the "off season" for a quiet uncrowded experience that is a little less expensive.

Inle Lake, back in rice country again.

Scenes from around Inle lake

The Myanmar Treasure Hotel was wonderful
We've done some travel over the years and this was certainly one of our most memorable trips. As far as travel to a non-wilderness, land travel destination it may be the best we've ever done. Please don't hesitate to contact us for an details of places or travel plans. We'd love to help point the way.

Best of luck!

There's no internet at this anchorage, a bit a rarity in Indonesia these days, so I hope to get this out in a couple days when we're back in Nongsa Point.

Love to all,
Bill, Janet and Scott

PS: We had a nice sail up from Mapor in lovely conditions with a great 25 mile close reach across the southern Singapore Strait to Nongsa Point Marina. A fitting end to a season that has seen entirely too little good sailing and too much motoring. 
Wind for a change!
Scott leaves today for home and tomorrow we motor up to Puteri Harbor Marina in Malaysia to put the boat to bed while we head for home. Should be back in "the world" the 20th of September.


Wahu said...

Bill and Janet, (and Scott, too)
Beautiful photos!
Thanks for sharing them. We look forward to seeing more when you return to sunny McKinleyville. It will have to wait a bit though, as we'll cross paths in mid-air, as we're headed to Kauai 9/19, delivering my brother's dog.

Wahu said...

Hope to see you on our return.
Bill and Sally

Anonymous said...

I tried before and it didn't go through, I don't think.

Thank you both for great pics and narrative. Have fun and be safe!

Blue skies,
Lyle Prouse

Unknown said...

Seeing those picture just made me more excited of my upcoming travel to Myanmar. Loos at those simple people, the nice scenery and those tempting watermelon ah, i can almost taste it!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the interesting post on shipping the boat. A strange sadness always falls over me when I hear of someone "leaving this part of the world forever" -- because of the remarkable experiences you've had here and the beauty of this vat region called Asia. I felt it when Carl & Kathleen Cox left Thailand, then Sri Lanka, and finally when they unexpectedly sold s/v Silverfin in Mauritius. Still, it's a completed chapter for you (as it was for C&K) and time to turn the page... Best of luck with your continuing voyage -- I look forward to jealously reading about it in future posts. And good luck with the supping. Most of all, never stop having fun!
Kevin Cox (in Singapore)

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