The road to Mandalay and the rest of Myanmar

I inherited my adventurous spirit and insatiable curiosity from my mother.  The fact that she's in her seventies, hasn't stopped her from visiting the places that spark her interest.  Which is how we found ourselves touring the sights of Myanmar over the 2015 Christmas holidays.   Our trip was way too short, only 10 days long, I think we both fell in love with the people we met and the stories we heard,  and have no choice but to go back.

Places visited: Yangon, Bago, Twante, Bagan and Mandalay

Must sees: Shwedagon Paya at dusk, Bagan from a hot air balloon at sunrise, The Mustache Brothers show in Mandalay, afternoon tea at any of the local teahouses, and a day trip to the pottery village of Twante without a guide (the fun is negotiating directions with the locals).

Every morning in most cities, towns, and villages a steady stream of nuns and monks can be seen collecting their daily alms (food) from the townspeople. 

Most meals in Myanmar begin with this snack tray.  In it there are nuts, legumes, and fermented tea leaves...I like to mix them together to make a sort of chex mix salad. One of the things I miss most about Myanmar are the salads.  The curries they served were mild but greasy.  The salads were a mixture of greens (mostly shredded green papaya) nuts, and other herbs.  

A random travel book, from a travel book shop led me to this store in Yangon.  To find it, our guide took us through back alleys and a maze of tiny shop owners, until we found this family run store that specializes in textiles from the indigenous tribes.  Both my mother and I went nuts buying scarves and purses and jewelry.  Some of my most favorite accessories have come from tiny, stores and markets found in back alleys of a developing country in the middle of nowhere.

The hustle near the U-bein bridge is real and most of the folks I met had enough hyphenates to put any LA ingenue to shame.  I spent quite a bit of time talking to a boat taxi driver-baker-farmer-coffeeshop owner.  Everyday he wakes up at dawn to tend to his fields and crops.  His wife take the produce to market to sell, while he bakes the bread and opens his small coffee shop, when his wife comes back from the market she takes over the coffee shop, while he takes his boat out to the famous teak bridge, with the hopes of getting hired by tourists to paddle them across the lake.  After a few hours, he returns to the shop to work for a few more hours before returning to the bridge close to sunset with the hopes of getting hired again by tourists, at sunset he can charge a little more money for the ride.  

Potters in their workshop in the village of Twante.  

Intricately folded paper offerings for sale at the temple.  They will be burned as a blessing and gifts for the deceased..

Intricately folded paper offerings for sale at the temple.  They will be burned as a blessing and gifts for the deceased..

In Bagan, we visited a monastic school to deliver school supplies to the children.  This is a group of 6 year olds learning their numbers and beginning arithmetic at that school.  We also visited a local volunteer library, where we donated a bunch of children's books.  The librarian was the most incredible woman, she not only set up a library and reading program for the local children (all donation based) but in order to make money she also teaches English classes to locals and cooking classes to tourists that she meets at the nearby hostels. 

The best view of Bagan is from a hot air balloon at sunrise.  It's fun to watch the town awaken, the shepherds leading their sheep and cows to the pasture, the monks and nuns in search of alms, and the farmers tending to their crops.  It's a quiet morning, as there are very few motorized vehicles at that hour.

I found this girl near the teak temple in Mandalay, the markings on her face are the remnants of thanaka root which is fashionable in Myanmar.  The root supposedly acts as a sunblock, moisturizer, and stops aging.  I put it on the back of one of my hands for a portion of the trip, and I agree it definitely lives up to the hype.  My one hand was felt smooth like it had sat in a paraffin bath for a month.

Farmers sowing seeds along the banks for the Irwaddy river outside of Yangon.

The Shwedagon Paya at sunset is a site to behold.  There are few photos that can even begin to do it justice.  The giant golden pagoda reflects light everywhere, it's a beacon that can be seen from miles away around the city of Yangon.