Myanmar 2017

At the end of June, I flew to Yangon, Myanmar to join Elizabeth, who had already been there for a few weeks, working with her artist friends/cohorts. She set aside the final week as vacation, which she spent with me at a few different places she had arranged for us.

We spent the first couple of nights together in Yangon at the Paradise Hotel.

This is the view of the city. We never saw the large blocky buildings visible in the background.

The included breakfast offered a nice selection of local favorites.

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As well as nationalized hot beverages.

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Buildings were all mixed use, some more mixed than others. This one was probably a shrine of some kind, but we didn’t go in.

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There was also a tendency of plants to take over when you looked away for too long...

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Not sure Samsung’s marketing department approved this installation...

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Infrastructure, particularly electrical supply, was atrocious (being kind).

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It looked like whoever wanted electricity only had to wire it up themselves.

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That or they enlisted monkeys to climb the power poles for them.

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Here is the headquarters of the famous service provider that destroyed human civilization in "Terminator 2: Judgement Day." Low–budget version.

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Need a ride?

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Look for the yellow cab!

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Modes of transportation shown on the right are being replaced with modes seen to the left, with the expected consequences of smog, noise, congestion, and fatalities.

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The Sidewalks
The #1 cause for medivac in Yangon is the sidewalks.

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They are sewage–filled traps for unwary pedestrians.

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And the main reason most people walk in the street, despite the incumbant risk of being run over.

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Yet, a few miles from our hotel, there is the spectacular Shwedagon, a palacial Buddhist pagoda at the edge of town.

This is one of the sky walkways to the central plaza.

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The main "stupa," visible in the center, is covered with gold plates and the top is encrusted with 4531 diamonds, the largest of which is 72 carats (half an ounce). I guess you need a telescope to appreciate it.

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There are literally dozens of shrines surrounding the main stupa, each one attracting many visitors each day.

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The shrine of the Sleeping Buddha seems to attract quite a few nappers, and it wasn’t uncommon to see people taking refuge in shrines throughout Myanmar.

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Buddhist artists going for baroque.

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A better view of the central stupa.

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One of the many side stupas, each one indicating some sort of artifact in the temple below (as I understand).

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Sooo shiny!

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The monsoons seem to keep the place clean.

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At times, we were walking in ankle–deep water. One good reason to take off your shoes, I guess.

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I bet the monks wish their robes were less absorbent.

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Waiting out the downpour at one of the shrines.

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The shrine across the way seemed overcrowded with Buddhas, to the point where visitors had trouble to find space to pray or meditate.

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That’s not a fountain in the background — that’s rainwater seeking its own level down the stairs.

Check out video of the monsoon here.

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The Buddha holding out his hand as if to say, "More gold, please."

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Stylized faces were everywhere...

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Some shrines were agumented with more modern improvements, like — flashing LEDs!

This Buddha was about three stories tall. I guess he specialized in answering the big questions.

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At this point, the rain was more of a gentle shower.

One of dozens of small shrines populating the pagoda

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A stylized lion, stylin’

The main stairs to the pagoda were covered by many roofs.

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There were also a set of outside stairs adjacent to the covered ones.

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These young monks were having a group photo. I was on the wrong end of things, as usual.

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Inside the main stairway

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Many merchants set up shop along the way, and it seems to be common practice to have markets leading into (or out of) places of worship in Myanmar.

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After visiting the Shwedagon, we went to the Pansodan Gallery, where Elizabeth had been working the past few weeks with her artist friends.

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Here’s Elizabeth with Pamela and Mie on the right, and one of the local artists in the back.

One of the many street markets that spontaneously appear every evening in Yangon.

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And one of the stray dogs visible on every street everywhere at anytime of the day or night. Yes, rabies is an increasing problem.

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We took a lovely (if toasty) walk along the wooden bridges that surround a kind of water park near the Yangon zoo.

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We had a great view of this floating temple or palace (we’re not sure what it was) the other side of a small lake.

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Just noticed the disco balls hanging from each bill.

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Fellow tourist traded shots with us.

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This was one of the more bizarre shrines we came across.

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Mao Tse Dum & Mao Tse Dee?

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Shelter over cool tile floor? Bed!

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The floating shrine adjacent to the holy menagerie was listing a bit to one side...

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While it appeared at first a bit treacherous, there were no gaping holes to indicate recent drowings, so we walked on with confidence.

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Not as difficult as walking on a lilly pad, anyway.

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They were selling tethered balloon rides — presumably, a way to pop up for a good view of the Shwedagon, zoo, and park, but we didn’t take one.

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This is what we could see from the ground.

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Leaving the park, we took the pedestrian bridge over the main roadway to get to the zoo.

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There were a fair number of folks there. It was a Saturday, I guess, so shouldn’t come as a surprise.

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It’s sloped. It’s smooth. Must be a slide.

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River otter with attitude

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Relaxed kitty

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Elephants looking for handouts (nose–outs?)

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I love elephants.

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This isn’t a peacock, even though it looks like one.

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The zoo provided selected treats for some of the animals, but people seemed to feed the deer whatever they had on hand.

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Not even sure what that is...

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And here’s the reason the deer were so hungry. Top Buck was sitting in the feeder. A perfect analog of human societies everywhere.

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Very colorful throwbacks to the age of the dinosaurs

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Wouldn’t mess with this guy...

See some video here.

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An adorable fawn

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We saw a few structures made from used water bottles, which seem to be a serious trash problem in Myanmar (and probably everwhere).

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The aviary

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Healthy bull

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Some of these pythons were probably native to the area.

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The snout of a tapir

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Some rather fanciful flowers

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Being a tropical area, the botany in Myanmar is quite diverse.

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The following morning, we hopped a plane for Bagan, where we stayed at the "Amazing Bagan Resort."

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This is the Amazing Pool.

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Here we are walking along the Amazing Road into Old Bagan.

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We saw these Amazing Locals gleaning leftovers at the borders of what might have been a peanut field.

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Here we are posing ourselves before this Amazing Sign.

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One of many restaurants in old Bagan offering an Amazing selection of cuisines.

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We had a drink to wait out a brief shower there before heading off on a pair of electric scooters they had for rent at $3 each for half a day.

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Riding was much easier & more comfortable than walking, and we were able to make it to a few different pagodas before we got hungry, tired and overheated.

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One of the aforementioned markets aligning the entryway to the shrine

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Many pagodas in Bagan have square symmetry, where each elevation of the structure included an entry point and a large Buddha. The main entry (this one) typically had a donation box in addition.

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You could see where people had rubbed the Buddha for good luck, rubbing off the gold leaf at the same time. (Having gold on your hands must be good luck.) Buddhas were frequently enclosed by a cage or low fence for that reason.

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I flipped the image around to make this easier to read from inside. I’m wondering what was donated, exactly — the gate, or the sign?

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The doorways made us feel tall...

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We both wondered what the place looked like in its prime.

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One of the women at the temple suggested we climb up the stairs of a neighboring building to have a better look around.

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The passageway was difficult to find and we had to duck quite a bit to get through it...

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...but the view was worth it.

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This is a telephoto shot of a neighboring pagoda.

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We rode just a big further down the road to the Bupaya pagoda, whose stupa is preserved from the second century A.D.

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Bupaya Pagoda

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The adjacent temple was a bit more recent, or at least had some modern additions, like LEDs(!)

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Another nearby pagoda

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And yet another. I would say more if I knew more...

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Big happenings at the Myetaw Pyay Phayt. Much wrath. A litte mercy. More wrath.

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People were working and cleaning up the grounds while we were there.

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Eliz decided to climb up this time, not me.

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Burmese characters are nice and round. It’s a pretty (and pretty large) alphabet.

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The attire restrictions applied to most Buddhist shrines.

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Take off those feet!
I had trouble with this one, however.

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Eliz decided to keep hers on as well.

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We saw people sound the bells (softly), and that much they seemed to permit. Actually, I never saw anyone being scolded for anything.

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A lot of the pagodas were being worked on, including this one.

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At any given site, there are often a variety of styles present, as shown here.

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It was difficult to tell gold leaf from gold paint, but we got the sense that there was a lot of both.

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The rickety bamboo scaffolds were apparently used for climbing during repairs, which seems like it wouldn’t pass OSHA.

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Scary monster cherubs

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Chill Buddha

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The adjoining market

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A road seemed to pass through the corridor.

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We don’t have the concept of a motorcycle–pickup truck in the U.S.

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I guess the Amazing Bagan has been there a while, as it has its own fleet of carriages. Surprised no one has thought to pull these with a motorcycle.

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The breakfast buffet at the Amazing was amazing.

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The surroundings weren’t too bad, either.

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Not sure how old these ruins were, if they were in fact genuine...

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We rented just one scooter the second day, which worked fine for the two of us.

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We were lucky to have nice weather, though it was a bit warm in the sunshine.

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An image showing the many layers

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The stupa of this pagoda was being worked on as well.

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Some tourists(?) seemed to have found an escort to the top of the tower.

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This temple featured four (I think) standing Buddhas.

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It was easy to get lost wandering around the pagoda, as many of the blind corridors led to similar–looking shrines and entries.

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Standing Buddha #3. So, there were at *least* three.

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Each of these little alcoves also contained a Buddha.

Some of which can be seen here.

Shiva? Sheena? Beyonce?

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And if there weren’t enough Buddha statues for you, you could always count the Buddha drawings...

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These looked almost Egyptian.

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Many of the Asian tourists wanted their picture taken with us, for whatever reason.

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Eliz said this woman was hugging her so tightly that she thought she might break a rib.

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Good that we took some photos of the plaques and entry gates, because I lost track of all the temples we visited in Bagan.

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This pagoda featured a lot of marionette makers, and tourists liked to pose with them.

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Typical arrangement behind one of the large Buddha statues.

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I liked the way the shadow of the shrine combined with the large Buddha mural in an echo of its form.

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The roof of this particular alcove was covered in bats, which had shall we say a distinctive smell.

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Batty Bat
This little guy appeared to be covered with cobwebs.

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The Buddha’s are all in such different styles.

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These are some friends who allowed me to take their photo. They later insisted on getting photos of them with me, which was nice.

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I’ll tell you what this says in a minute...

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...there you go!

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I tried the stairs, but the way up was gated off.

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Big sleepy Buddha

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You can’t really tell from this photo, but the corridor was very dimly lit.

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Our driver then took us to a little village, which Eliz had picked out as an interesting tour.

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Our young guide showed us some of the common jobs/activities there.

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This was a shelter where they kept the loom and some chairs for hanging out and miscellaneous other stuff.

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The fabrics they made here started from cotton they harvested themselves.

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I think this leanto must have served as storage for the adjoining living space. Everything was sort of indoor/outdoor.

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Our guide studied English in school, and considered herself "done" with education at 16.

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This was an ancient mill they still used for grinding peanuts.

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Here was their kitchen. Their village only recently acquired electricity and running water.

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Here we’re getting a demonstration on how to grind the bark of a common tree with water to make "thanaka," a paste worn by Burmese women as a cosmetic for sun protection.

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The guide’s little brother was wearing thanaka, also.

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Here he is with his 95 year–old great grandmother, who still spins thread for their hand–loomed fabrics.

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Eliz posing with the proprieter in her new "longie."

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One of the neighboring household shelters

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After our village visit, we went to see a few more temples, including a couple we were able to climb up.

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At any given time, many of the locals must be employed fixing up the temples, but we didn’t see many being visibly worked on.

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These stairs look steep because they are.

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Elizabeth demonstrates the proper climbing technique.

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Steep, like I said

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From a higher vantage, it became apparent just how many temples dotted the landscape.

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Lots and lots

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Many of the ones we didn’t have a chance to visit looked quite spectacular from a distance.

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We couldn’t even count them all...

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We also had a look from the neighboring pagoda.

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Eliz wearing thanaka

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I applied my own thanaka, attempting to draw whiskers, but ending up like I had eaten a sloppy meal.

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There was a long line of tourists scooting by as we looked on.

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Eliz trying to capture the moon with her iPhone. Not the right camera for the job, says I.

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Climbing down

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Our driver, Ko Htet

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The temple we went to for our final sunset viewing was immensely popular with the tourists.

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It was challenging even staking out a spot.

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One of our fellow tourists took our photo.

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Afterwards, we went to a place in New Bagan recommended by Pamela, the Green Elephant.

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Dinner there was good, if a bit on the pricey side for Myanmar. (Translation: dinner cost nearly what lunch would back in Berkeley.)

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Inlay Lake Airport
The following morning, we flew from Bagan to Inlay Lake (often written "Inle Lake," though I prefer the spelling that’s a better match to the pronunciation).

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There, we had lunch at a nice little Indian place owned by the refugee chef at the left in this photo.

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We liked the decor, which included photos of many of their regular customers.

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The sidewalks in Inlay Lake were no better really than those in Yangon.

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I think many of the vehicles, including boats, tractors, and trucks, used exactly the same single–cylinder diesel engine.

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Their smoke and noise filled the air everywhere we went.

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The scooters of course had regular gas engines, which are more compact and not as noisy. This one was more modern, befitting the needs of a young, jet–setting toddler and his family.

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Inlay Lake is largely a boating community, with many houses right on the water and people going to and fro via these long water taxis.

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The billboarded place in the middle is where we caught a water taxi to our resort some miles south.

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These boys were seeing what they could catch off the taxi pier.

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Our bags were put under a tarp so they wouldn’t get muddy from other passing boats.

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On our way!

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The ride was quick and smooth for the most part.

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This dog must have built his own bridge over the waterway.

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Someone bailing out his boat

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Someone else washing her clothes, or something...

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I’m not sure, but I think this is some kind of dredging barge.

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A lot of the trash ended up in the river, somehow.

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Along with the local cattle. I guess they see it as the easiest passage due to the dense vegetation next to it.

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And we saw hundreds, if not thousands of marsh birds.

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Lots of ducks, egrets, and cranes

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Someone passing with a boat full of produce.

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This is why our luggage was covered — boat operators have to constantly lift their propellers out of the water in order to clear them of the mulch they create as they slice through the vegetation.

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Once we reached the open water of Inlay Lake, travel got much smoother.

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Fisherment set and collected their nets with a characteristic style, hooking one leg on an oar and balancing off the back of the canoe.

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This is the water gateway that led to our resort hotel.

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It was a rather expansive establishment, which was mostly empty in the off–season.

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Every unit had running water, sewer, and electricity, but no A/C.

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The associated pipes and things ran under the boardwalks, which is why they all had skirts to conceal what was going on...

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We were very pleased with our greeting at the Myanmar Treasure resort.

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Eliz made some of the local tea, which was very smokey.

The bungalow was generously appointed, with mosquito netting over the bed.

We didn’t spend much time there, however. Too many interesting things to see & do!

And though we didn’t make use of the nice tub...

...the outdoor shower was much appreciated!

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The view from the deck

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We rented a couple of bikes that afternoon.

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These were the spa rooms, where guests could treat themselves to massages and that sort of thing.

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These folks seemed to be harvesting lotus, which we later learned is used to make an expensive kind of fabric.

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The boardwalk from our resort

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The boardwalk led from our resort by a small collection of associated buildings on the shore to the main road.

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Our bikes were serviceable, but we were grateful for the (mostly) level road running along the lake shore.

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I don’t know what the razor wire was about — we saw a lot of it in Myanmar, but this was a tin–plated mosque that seemed pretty low–budget.

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Some local students heading home after classes

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A typically overloaded bus

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Note the care taken with small riders.

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Each village seemed to have its own pagoda associated with it.

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This one was broadcasting prayers all hours of the day as far as we could tell.

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It also had a number of disused or little–used sculptures and floats.

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I wonder how many cuts the makers of these things suffer each day on the job.

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Some of these looked like they belonged on a merry–go–round.

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Lots of stupas

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Many shrines as well

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This was the main entrance.

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We had wandered in through a back gate.

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It’s actually quite grand as viewed from the roadway.

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Some kind of rainbow bush

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I think this dog must have belonged to someone.

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Though he seemed happy to keep me company.

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Heading back out the way we came

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One of the fields along the road leading back to our resort (visible in the background as a bunch of black points on the waterside)

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Another building made of recycled plastic bottles

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I shot some exciting video using the GoPro, which I’ll try to link here.

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On our way to dinner

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The place was kind of magical at night.

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The resort officially welcoming both of its guests

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Dinner menu was just OK, but hard to beat for convenience.

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Plus we got to watch geckos on the wall chasing insects of various kinds.

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The following morning, we saw these two dancers in traditional costume.

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We didn’t actually see them dance, and I wonder if they were just there to pose with guests.

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The breakfast buffet was amazing, particularly considering how few guests were there.

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We ate well that first morning, which was good because there was no buffet the second day, just a small menu selection.

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We decided to walk to the "forest" monastery halfway up the mountain.

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One of the resort hands coating a new plank in creosote, a nasty tar–like paint that covered and protected all the wood in the place.

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More lotus famers? Not sure.

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These flowers were abundant, and used in decoration around the place.

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A lotus blossom

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This was a rarer pond flower — we only saw one or two of these.

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Another one of the contraptions that puttered along the shared roadway — this one must have been constructed from a converted tractor, judging by the prominent hydrolic pump.

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Well, it’s a ride!

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We saw a lot of oxcarts parked along the road.

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Old construction with modern improvements (or improvisations)

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A small village near the turn–off for the monastery. The smoke in the distance is likely a trash fire. They had them everywhere.

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They also had water for passers–by. I think the different urns corresponded to different religious sects.

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We passed by the same pagoda from the day before, which marked the road to the monastery.

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There was a large structure behind the main pagoda that must have been a school or some such.

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If only I could read Burmese...

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Typical home

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Local bird

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Local flower

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A Powerful Deity
The stupa we were headed twoards

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The signs were most welcoming.

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The view might have been better had the weather been a little nicer.

We arrived a bit sweaty.

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The main pagoda was very well–kept.

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Shiny shrine

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We gathered this was the likeness of some famous leader associated with the place.

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I think this was another one.

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These were some workers who were on break.

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Perhaps they built this place.

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Or this one?

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This must have been an original stupas associated with the monastery.

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Now we’re famous, too.

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Elizabeth likened this place to Rivendell, a place we’ve always wanted to visit.

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We only saw young monks running about.

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No other tourists besides us, either.

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The stairs were quite cool, though.


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These must have been the main living quarters.

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On the road back down

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A view of the rain forest

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This poor fellow was being tormented by biting flies.

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Cool Cobweb

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Must have been rich people living here.

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We saw a fair number of orphanages.

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This was more of a normal school, I think.

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This was the entry way to a village on stills, essentially the town associated with the Buddhist temple we saw earlier across the road.

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We wandered through for some refreshment and a bite to eat.

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We ended up at the cafe in the center of this image.

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Life in the fast boardwalk

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It was good to sit down and have a little something to drink.

So Thirsty!
Like a coconut bigger than your head

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Local fish, no doubt — bony, but good!

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You’d never know we were tourists.

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This guy, though...

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Lunch rush hour

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Any port in a storm. Or this.

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Home status is having the most posts in the water, I guess.

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These are the so–called "floating gardens," where many of their vegetables are grown.

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Another view of the cafe where we had lunch

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We basically walked to the end, were offered a boat ride home we should have taken, then walked back.

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The boardwalk was fairly well–kept.

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As were the many motor scooters we saw. I got the feeling that maintenance is an important aspect of local culture, as purchasing power is extremenly limited.

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A pupular spot

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We are in the sticks

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Another wannabe motorcade

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These were the common buses they had running everywhere. I’ve no idea how you signed up for it, but they must have had regular runs they made.

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Heading back from the market

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Some of the homes had billboards on them — apparently an easy way to make a little money.

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Side of the Road
Trash heaps were common by the side of the road. It seemed like people just dumped whatever they didn’t want anymore, and eventually burned it as best they could.

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Contrast with where we were staying.

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We did.

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That afternoon, we rented a canoe to take us to various sights along the lake that Elizabeth had selected, along with one or two recommended by our captain.

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This appeared to be a canoe train of some sort.

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And here was a midlake shrine.

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Post Office
Conveniently located.

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They were above water. They just didn’t look like it.

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Another fisherman

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Taking video of our approach

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This is one of the more famous shrines in the region, Phaung Daw Oo.

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This was a most unusual spot, which only men were allowed to approach. (Or anyone who didn’t consider herself a lady, I guess.)

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These were the Five Golden Buddha’s, which originally started out the size of egg cups.

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Over the years, men (and men only) had added leaf after leaf of gold (which many people tried to sell me on the way in) to the Buddhas, until each one must have weighed hundreds of pounds. Seems like it would have been no problem to slice a bit off as a souvenir, but I thought better of it...

The whole place was built a bit like a carnival house.

Everywhere shiny shiny

Not a merry–go–round or ride of any sort, as it turned out.

Purpose of design: unknown

Lots of little shrines, though


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Heaven’s bells

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Hark of the covenant

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Boating on to the next stop

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A wood–carving shop and boat–maker

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Each canoe was carved from two solid pieces of teakwood.

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It was then sealed with a heavy sap–based varnish.

No nails were used in the construction — the smaller canoe in the foreground is considered "family–sized."

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More infrastructure. This was the building water supply — rain barrels mounted on the roof.

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We saw many power lines supported by barely functional sticks crossing this way and that over the water.

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Very mysterious why the power was so unreliable...

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Yes, ma’am — best construction in the region. Check out those solid rock foundations!

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Setting up the scaffolding for a major high–rise

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Like this one

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On the way to market

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Sit still back there!

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Family station wagon

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Tourist shop next to ancient temple

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Or maybe just one in need of a little upkeep

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For some reason "cherry" was often associated with restaurants. Maybe it was a chain?

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When one house starts to fall apart, build an identical one next to it. Keep trading off.

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I think this guy was a repairman. He must not have repaired houses.

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One of the more solid places we passed

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This must have been a business establishment; why else would it be so fancy?

See high-speed canal tour here.

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Our next stop was a fabric manufacturer, which was pretty good–sized.

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Their most expensive fabrics were made from lotus stems, whose harvesting is tightly regulated by the government.

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The natural polymers are rolled into a loose thread, which is spooled and dried.

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This gets woven into larger threads...

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...which are then stained or dyed.

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I assume this is the drying and spooling process.

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The fabrics are woven on a collection of hand–looms.

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I don’t think electricity or motors of any sort are involved in the completely manual process.

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The results were beautiful.

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Perhaps they had a final dying process they used (sometimes)?

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It was clear that they produced a lot of fabric here, which they offered for sale in this warehouse–like store.

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Most of the colorful fabric was made into "longies" (sp?) like these.

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Back to the boat for one last official stop

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Oo Shoo
Our captain–guide

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Elizabeth was good at capturing the reflections with her iPhone.

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We saw a few cats that were kept as pets.

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People seemed to use whatever materials they could get for making their houses and other structures.

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We saw a few colorful houses like this one, but paint seemed not to be a thing.

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I didn’t think about it at the time, but I suppose covering your canoe was important if you didn’t want it to sink in a particularly heavy monsoon.

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A major advantage of the canoes was their ability to carry a good deal of cargo while still being able to pass each other at speed on narrow waterways.

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Our final stop was the "Jumping Cat" monastery, where monks *used* to train domestic cats to jump through hoops.

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They gave up on training some time ago, but the cats were still about.

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The main hall was beautifully appointed, with an unusual array of Buddhist shrines.

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Rather than giving each one its own little alcove, they were all lined up on a single platform.

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Lots of gold and real gems

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And of course, kitties

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Elizabeth found a friend.

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Back in the boat to head back to our hotel

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We essentially went the length of the lake to get back, which was several miles.

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I still haven’t identified this bird, but it was definitely my favorite.

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Arriving back to our home dock

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Our final morning in Myanmar greeted us with brilliant sunshine.

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We had a little breakfast, then borrowed the bikes again to go check out the nearby winery.

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Visible from the dock was a monastery with long stairs leading down to the water across the lake, which looked inviting though we never did make it there.

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Watermelon juice. If you like that sort of thing.

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The sun gave way to overcast skies, which was just as well as we had some uphill to climb and it was plenty warm without the sun.

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Passing an oxcart on the way

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And another monastery

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As well as this school (Inlay Heritage project)

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One of the few modern structures we saw

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Very nice, actually

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Here’s the winery. Also modern, but more conventional.

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We didn’t actually have any wine, or see any visitors besides ourselves.

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The view was quite nice, though.

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The gardeners were working hard.


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This guy was probably 15 inches or so, including his tail.

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Bankok Airport
The Bankok airport, which was one of our two stops on the interminable flight home.

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