Aung San Suu Kyi, Ayeyarwady River, Bagan, Balloons Over Bagan, Belmond, Buddhist Temples, Burma, Hot Air Balloon, Inle Lake, Irawaddy River, Mandalay, Myanmar, Pagodas, Stupas, Temples, Yangon
Ellen and I, and friends Fruszina and Ray, recently returned from almost two weeks in Myanmar, formerly Burma. After largely being closed to the outside world, the country is now “open” and in transition, moving from almost 50 years of military rule into some form of democracy.
The first half of our trip was largely on the Ayeyarwady (Irawaddy) River and through the countryside and rural areas with only brief stops in three major cities — Yangon (once the capital and now the largest city), Mandalay (nothing close to the romantic image we and others have/had of this city), and Bagan (also a former capital and a region known for its Buddhist temples and pagodas). The final portion of our trip took place in the Inle Lake area.
The pictures in Ellen’s slide show are roughly broken up into four groupings:
1. Hot Air Balloon Ride in Bagan. Clearly this adventure was one of the highlights for all four of us. We rose before daylight, and with some trepidation, joined others (16 people per balloon) in baskets below one of 10 balloons, and floated over the city and countryside as the sun rose. We each had different words to describe the amazing experience, but all agreed it provided a new perspective on the world below. There was something almost mystical and magical about the hour we spent floating above Bagan, and it certainly gave new meaning to the term “bucket list.”
2. Views from the Ayeyarwady. We spent seven nights on a Belmond boat/ship on this main river of Myanmar. It turned out to be more of a hotel than a cruise as the water levels were low, and we were only able to explore a small portion of the Ayeyarwady. Much of our time was spent taking side trips from the boat to explore small towns, villages, markets, Buddhist sites, and various cottage type industries. We spent many hours wandering in markets and observing daily life in these rural areas of Myanmar and were intrigued by the lives of hundreds and hundreds of young and not so young monks devoting themselves to living and learning the teachings of Buddha. It was a terrific insight into how people live, work and pray. We loved it. Some of Ellen’s most cherished pictures are in these grouping of photos.
3. Pagodas, Stupas, and Temples. Overwhelmingly a Buddhist country, Myanmar has literally thousands and thousands of temples, pagodas, and stupas (I never did learn the difference between a pagoda and a stupa). Despite my usual lack of interest in churches, cathedrals, and temples in other parts of the world, I never seemed to tire of seeing another Burmese temple or pagoda, though I could have done without so many statues of Buddha. There was one temple with over 535,000 (yes, five hundred thousand) images of Buddha, one ‘forest’ of 1,000 Buddhas, several resting, reclining, or standing Buddhas that were longer than a football field or taller than most buildings throughout Myanmar, and much gold leaf decoration of temples and pagodas built to honor Buddha (and hopefully guarantee the sponsor an auspicious return in his/her next life). We all were surprised by the variety and attraction of these structures.
4. Inle Lake. After our time on the Ayeyarwady, we flew to an area further east where we spent four days on the banks of Inle Lake, a fascinating area where each day the four of us would set out with a guide in a narrow, small, flat bottomed boat. We traveled to floating villages, observed floating farms, watched fisherman row boats with one leg while using their two arms to fish, and learned about a way of life that has existed for more than a thousand years. This area was the verdant Myanmar we had imagined it to be, and it was spectacular.
On our final night in Myanmar, on the picturesque lawn of Le Planteur restaurant in Yangon, and over a wonderful dinner, we reviewed our two weeks, trying to identify what each of us most enjoyed and would most remember. We all agreed: the hot air balloon ride was a remarkable and unforgettable experience; our time walking in the markets and villages was insightful, and we encountered wonderfully friendly people; our Inle Lake explorations opened our eyes to a unique way of living and working; and the Burmese people we met throughout our two weeks were gentle, friendly, hospitable, and resilient. The trip exceeded most of our expectations.
We only saw a small part of the country, and while we were aware that the country is in a political and economic transition, we did not have a clear sense of what the next few years will bring. (Unfortunately, we only had limited opportunities to explore the political realities of the transition to the new Aung San Suu Kyi inspired democratic era.)
All four of us will be curious and watching to see what happens now and in the next few years in Myanmar.
Thru Ellen’s Lens:
To see Ellen’s entire slide show (116 photos), use this link: Myanmar, January 2016 Slide Show.
For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show and see all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).
Bob Thurston said:
Thanks you guys! The pictures are outstanding as usual, and they seem to have transported us to an incredible dreamscape.
Can you explain about putting (something) on faces– just girls I think?
Much that reminds me of Indonesia, but much that has to be unique in the world. So many monks, so many pagodas, so many Buddhas!
Last question, did you learn about, or encounter, any of the Rohingya (sp?) people who have received a lot of attention recently?
Ellen seems to get better and better at her photography.
The ‘paste’ on the women’s and children’s faces is called “tanaka.” It comes from the bark of a specific tree and is used for a number of reasons – sunblock, skin conditioner, beauty treatment, perhaps anti-aging, and assorted other uses. You see it all throughout the countryside. Ellen and Fruszina brought some home and are talking about going into a cosmetic business (I think the anti-aging thing is what interests them the most).
We weren’t in the area where there are significant issues with minorities and suppression of various groups. We tried to get information about that issue, but we were never satisfied with the conversations we did have about those issues.
Inle Lake was in a state where minorities were the majority (?), but as it’s an important tourist area as well as a successful farming area, the Burmese seem to be getting along with the people from that area.
Larry M said:
Spectacular again! Great photos, as usual. And it’s amazing how similar Myanmar/Burma still is from when I saw it in 1980. Well, except for the balloons..
Kudos to the photog and merci to the blogger-in-chief for the posting!
Wow! Amazing pictures and nice report of the trip by you both.
From my mind’s eyes I can see through Ellen’s lens and your report, that makes me feel as if I were there, soaring through the sky, watching the movements of people in villages, on land and in water, engaging in their lives’ most ordinary daily activities.
Thank you for sharing.
This selection is incredible. Thank you for posting, and thank you, Ellen, for capturing and sharing so much of your trip w/ us. Absolutely incredible.
Some of these don’t even look real. Thanks, Millers. Adding this to my list of places to visit!
samuel clover jr said:
good morning rick…ellens work is breath taking…mr. sam….
Fruzsina Harsanyi said:
Fabulous images. And I’m one of 4 people lucky enough to testify to how good they really are. You also do a great job describing in words the wonders of this trip. Thanks for capturing the memories.
Hugh Riddleberger said:
Ellen’s pictures continue to amaze me…I agree with you, Richard…she only seems to get better. I love the pics of faces. That’s a real talent. Would Ellen ask permission? It seems so because they are so revealing..there is a wonderful picture of a woman with glasses and a plaid shawl. Is she someone special as she conveys a certain importance and wisdom…?
And while I have seen fishing pics like these before, they baffle me..I mean, does it really take the balance and agility that the pics convey?
And not many (if any) pics of overweight people…
And final question..why little water for the cruise part of your trip? Draught? Any other signs of climate change?
Thank you for this journey. I loved it.
Ellen usually ‘gestures’ to ask if it’s OK. These ladies, particularly in the markets, were quite friendly and seemed to have no problem with Ellen’s camera. We were in areas where there were very few tourists, and so it’s possible that they were as interested in us as we were in them. But they were pretty self assured and not suspicious or overly shy.
I love pictures of people much more than scenic pictures, even if the scenes are magnificent. I’m glad you got to the slide show because I didn’t think there were sufficient people pix in the 13 on the posting page.
You got it right about the woman in the shawl. We were at a bamboo ‘factory’, and somehow I got this woman (she was the owner) talking about her business. The exchange was extraordinary, and while she and I were ‘talking’ (with the help of our guide), Ellen was able to focus on her. The four of us all said she was one of the two or three individuals we would remember the longest. Neat that you picked that up about her. Indeed she was wise. It was not surprising, after listening to her, that her business was so successful.
The fishermen were like acrobats and unlike anything we’d seen in action before. Their balance is graceful and amazing. And they’ve been doing it for generations. Makes a lot of sense as a man can go out alone, moves his boat with his leg (which is more powerful to row than his arms), leaving two hands free to fish.
The river was low because it was the beginning of the dry season.
Love it that the pix bring questions.
No overweight people in the countryside
Thanks everyone for your too-kind praise. It’s a treat to hear your reactions.
You only encourage me! Much more to come.