A detailed account of the very bizarre experience of shipping a package from Yangon and about taking the Circular Train.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About an excursion to the cave of caves of Eastern Myanmar.  8094 Buddhas, four wonderful locals, a new travel companion and some rain, of course.  And about umbrella making Myanmar style.

I was heading up another mountain today and what else is new?… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Images from the five-day rotating market in Nyaung Shwe.  A day of catching up.

It was time for a short day and for writing blogs and processing photos.  It takes four hours per day to keep up and I had once again fallen behind with full days like the boat trip on Inle Lake yesterday…

It was market day in Nyaung Shwe.  This region is known for two unusual markets:  The “floating market”, which really means little more than a market in one of the marsh-towns of Inle Lake and the “five-day market” which refers to a rotating schedule between the major towns of this area.  On such market days the otherwise sleepy local market swells to triple and quadruple proportions and vendors as well as customers from the surrounding mountain areas descend upon the town.  I spent three morning hours squeezing my way through the tiny crowded alleys of the market, smelling, tasting, looking, sneaking pictures, wondering, guessing, being amazed, and buying one little souvenir trinket.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



A day on the lake in a traditional boat observing life as it could have been lived in the 18th Century.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



About the un-ceremonial departure from Bagan, a quick flight, and the unexpectedly wonderful welcome at my next destination. 

I arrived at 9:20 AM at the airport without a ticket or a reservation for a 9:35 AM departing flight to Inle Lake.  And guess, what: I got on!  Did we ever have those good old days in the prior 9-11 era when getting on an airplane was as easy as getting on a bus?  I don’t think so, but then perhaps I just don’t remember because I did not fly much within the country then?  All I needed was my passport and cash.  The biggest problem seemed to be that one of my $1 bills had a little stain on it.  I had to find a spotless, clean, flat, unfolded and pristine, post 2006 one.  That was the holdup, not by any chance, my expired visa, mind you!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY




Final day in Bagan.  Some reflections about the overall impressions of the archaeological zone.  And about liquor and sweets made from palm trees.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Another day cruising around in the Archaeological Zone.  About the production of lacquer Bagan style and about somebody who met Obama.

Just picture me cruising around Bagan for the second day, happy as a clam (no, my fall did not deter me from doing this again, I was already out yesterday afternoon, after the failed Mt.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



About trying to pay respect to the Nat of Myanmar and being rebuffed.   The mountain conspiracy.  Meeting the umbrella lady and a lot of rambunctious monkeys.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About cruising the Archaeological Zone of Bagan from sunrise to sunset and the things that happen along the way.

What I did yesterday would have been considered a total waste by any casual visitor to Bagan.  But sometimes I just can’t get out of my “art history skin”.  I had to know a bit about the background of Bagan, its building phases, its main decoration themes, its sculptural programs, its architectural types.  It made me so happy today when I recognized most of everything I had read about yesterday.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About a magical arrival in Bagan last night.  About being overwhelmed today.  About making a plan.  About getting out slowly.  About superstitions and UFOs.

The approach toward Bagan last night on the slow ferry was nothing less than spectacular.  Pakokku was our last stop.  Several women had boarded the boat with beautiful handwoven blankets they wanted to sell.  But they were also offering trade for perfumes, lotions, shampoo and soaps — anything smelling good, anything of foreign origin.  I was so reminded of my life in East Germany where we had soaps, of course, but people and packages from the West always smelled so wonderfully different.  They smelled of freedom, of things beyond reach.  I would have loved to just give these women anything that smelled foreign, but I had parceled out only a tiny amount of perfume and lotion to take on this trip, both gone by now.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Washing the face of the Buddha — ritual at the Mahamuni Temple.  The river road from Mandalay to Bagan.  The relativity of time.  Even more heat.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


A day spent in two gardens.  A word about colonial architecture and the use of motorcycle helmets.  A Muslim community with a difference.  Internet!VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Across the Gokteik Viaduct.  Trains, the measure of things?

Yippie, it’s the train today!  I have been waiting for this day.   I am looking forward to every minute of this 8 hour ride as it will not only be my first but likely also my last ride in Myanmar.  Some things, like climbing Mount Fuji, only need to be done once.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


A slow day spent in the laid-back Shan town of Hsipaw.   Looking at old ruins, eating the freshest noodles ever, and stumbling on the palace of the last prince of the Shan.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Into the Mountains by bus.  Faces from Myanmar.

There is nothing much to say today, except that it feels good to have a cloudy, rainy, and cool day and to moving on.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About the largest pagoda to be and its current state.  An excursion to Mingun across the Ayeyarwady River.   A visit of Ma Soe Yein Kyaung Monastery, the birthplace of the 969 movement.  Meet Ananda, the teacher-monk.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About a bizarre lunch spectacle, a famous bridge, and a trip to Innwa where some of the unrestored past of this area survives.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Ebb and Flow

Ebb and Flow

This is a detailed description of how it felt to be sick over the last five days.  It’s for my own memory.  My recommendation to the blog subscribers:  skip this one.  :-)

It was always the middle of the night, somewhere between 3 or 4 AM when I would wake up.  I would have the irrefutable image of a high tide approaching.  My blood would start to pulse and eventually my skin would feel too tight to house this growing amount of liquid and both my hands and feet would hurt as they got pricked by a thousand little needles, as if caused by a sandstorm.  That was the time the sweating and the chills would start.  That was the time when the IBUs from the night before were wearing off.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Checking out the South of Mandalay.  About the biggest book in the world and a real nifty souvenir I found.  About the tallest and skinniest Buddha in the world a political slogan, and a few other memorable and not so memorable sights in Mandalay. 

The accumulation of merit seems to be one of the biggest past times in Buddhist circles.  Or is that rather the fear of hell?  In Myanmar even more so than Japan fire, hell and brimstone scenes decorate every temple.  And that, even though the Buddha himself — from all I know, and that is not much; please correct me if I am wrong — never scared people about hell.  As if it were not enough that hell is a firm part of Christianity and Islam, Buddhism, which didn’t have the concept had to invent, of all things, that!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Changing pace.  About a Burmese saying.  Observations about work and pay.  About taking baby steps exploring Mandalay.  What would Marx say?VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



About an evening spent with Nanbwe from the Yoe Yoe Lay guesthouse.  Two women having too much fun.

Was it because I was sick?  Was it because I was her age?  Was it because I am an American?  Or was it just because Mama wanted company for a night out?  I will never know (as I will not ask).  Either way, Mama was quite concerned about my feverish condition when I arrived yesterday and has been looking in on me.  Today, over breakfast, she invited me out to dinner.  “You rest all day and then you will feel better and we will go out, OK?”.  How could I refuse such a kind invitation?… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Ebb and Flow

Ebb and Flow

A sick day in Mandalay.  About malaria.  About the Yoe Yoe Lay Guesthouse and Mama.

First I thought it was the air-conditioning on the bus.  I was freezing and the cold air was blasting at full speed.  It did not get much better after closing all the vents in front of me and behind me — as you may recall, this bus was nearly empty.

I wrapped one of the questionable looking nylon blankets around me which sported the “Hello Kitty” slogan I saw everywhere in Japan, then two. It barely made a difference.  When we stopped for a break and stepped out into a brick wall of heat, the heat barely seemed to touch my skin.  I could not get warm.  It was then that I realized that all is not well.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



About death and departure. Visiting a synagogue, a market, and two more giants. Saying goodbye to Ted and Rowena.

Ted and Rowena are moving on today and had to take care of travel business.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Going retour today from Sittwe back to Yangon.  A few words about kids, schools,  and education in Myanmar.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Going back to Sittwe on the government ferry.  About social classes and poverty.

It took $20 and only 3 hours upstream to get here from Sittwe with a rundown, claustrophobic, air conditioned private speedboat in which the music would not stop blaring, and a cheesy soap opera on an overhead monitor could not be turned off.    It will take 5-7 hours and $6 to get back with the double-deck open air government ferry.  I will take that any time, especially since it is yet another beautiful and sunny day.  I finally can catch up on some blog entries and process some of the hundreds of photographs I took over the last three days.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About exploring a few of the hundreds if not thousands of sites of Mrauk-U with my new friends from Australia.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



About an excursion upstream from Mrauk U into three Chin Villages.   Meeting a dying breed of tattooed Chin women.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About a few hours on a “speed” boat where I met the most wonderful couple from Australia:  Ted and Rowena.  About a 1/2 day excursion to Mahamuni and Wethali.  A word about food.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Where libraries still have a card catalog, where cows are a part of city traffic, and where riots took place in 2012.  About a close-lipped town with a history.  About a guy in distress and a short flight with KBZ Air.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY





A look at the local market on a day of nothing much else.  About tailoring clothes.

It was time to take a break.  When you travel for extended times it is easy to run yourself into the ground.  Day in, day out it’s up early and to bed late.  I knew it was time to put in a day of rest.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



More village life and more pagodas.  Exploring the vicinity of Yangon by motorbike with Tommy.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



About village life in Dalah, across the Yangon River.  Getting to know the area via trishaw.  About a fishing village, a market, a cemetery and some funerary rites.  About poverty and wealth.  About business manners. 

I am not known to be a wide-hipped woman, in fact, quite the opposite.  But as everything else, hip sizes are relative.  Today I crossed the Yangon River on a local ferry and found out about that when I hired a trishaw for sightseeing.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About one of the distinct and ancient ethnic groups in Myanmar.  A day in transit back to Yangon.  About safety and security or the lack thereof.

I did not learn much from the displays at the neon-lit Museum of Mon Culture in Mawlamyine that I had not already learned in the villages:  the steps involved in weaving, pottery, rubber making, etc., many of those labeled in English.  But there are some artifacts worth noting that are a bit older than what is typically on display at the temples and pagodas.  Furniture, metal work, pots, coins, local dresses, musical instruments and prehistoric bones can be seen on two levels in about 20 different thematic areas.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Mawlamyine — finally! About some local attractions. Travel back into the colonial past and why I keep staying here.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



About criss-crossing Mawlamyine in search of temples, churches, mosques, and shrines on a hot and sunny (!) day on motor bike.   

About 300,000 people live here, which makes Mawlamyine a compact and manageable town.  On one side flows the Thanlwin River, one of the four main rivers of Myanmar.  The long drawn out town stretches and curves along its shores and is backed by a pagoda-studded hill.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Sacred sites around Hpa-an, the capital of the Kayin State.  About losing things and about who is winning:  Nature or Myanmar’s Buddhist Disney World.

It’s all about opportunities.  I arrived in Mawlamyine a few days ago and have not seen a single street in town except for the ocean boulevard on which I live.  I look out at Thanlwin River which somewhere downstream connects to the ocean.  I hear the ocean steamers honk and see little fishing boats tucker by.  Behind me unfolds the city.  But each day an opportunity arose to join a group of travelers on an excursion to explore the vicinity around town and it is a lot more affordable and more fun when you have some people with you.  So, the town has to wait.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About “my own” Golden Rock and the Biggest Buddha in the world.  Two excursions from Mawlamyine with Masa-San.  Is more better?  Does size matter?VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



About villages on Ogre Island with special crafts and trades. About making rubber, carving teak wood, weaving textiles and producing slate tablets for school children. About an invitation to celebrate a dead man’s life.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About the Golden Rock during daylight, about monks, child labor, an angry Vietnamese monk, a fall, and another rainy day.

It was 4 AM when I woke up because the pitter-patter on the metal roof had stopped.

Most houses around here, even this fancy-shmancy Mountain View Hotel at Mount Kyaiktiyo, even some mansions and certainly all the shacks around here seem to have metal roofs.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Pictures are in for “Stormy Night”.  Sorry, for the delay.  Bandwidth issues…  ET… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



About the fiasco visit of the most important pilgrimage site in Myanmar. About rain, about meeting old friends again. About the philosophy of travel.

It was a dark and stormy night… It really was!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



About the three big ones: Pagodas in Yangon. A few words about Buddhism in theory and in practice.  About prayers riding ships and ET riding the public bus.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


About my accommodations and a few things of daily life I observed during my first walk on the first day in Yangon: sex in the park, the perils and the blessings of rain, money, and an artist’s co-op.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY



Transit days are the worst. Nearly 36 hours on the move can dampen if not kill anyone’s appetite for travel. At best it is an exercise in patience. At the worst it gets you sick right off the bat. The guy behind me has been coughing non-stop!

Watch movies, drink water, snooze (if you can). Stand in line, walk endless corridors, sit and wait. With two stopovers and two custom clearances, there was plenty of all of this. I am always grateful that I can do this just by myself and without any responsibility for others. On the first 13-hour flight there was a young couple with 3-year-old twins.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Various NatWho are you going to take along this year? My mother asked. Uh… I had not planned on anyone but the usual pantheon (see main blog-tab). After all this was a Buddhist country and I have my trusted Bhaisajyaguru along, the Medicine Buddha who has served me so well for years. With the Hindu god Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, and St. Christopher, the Christian patron saint for travelers, I am usually well served.

But I do like to take local deities along whenever possible, preferably females, to round out the pantheon. I just did not think there were any other noteworthy ones in this predominantly Buddhist land but I was wrong!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


ReisefieberIt’s that weird tingle in the stomach. I get it each time I face a class at the beginning of a new semester, even after 20 years of teaching. And I get it each time about a day before a big trip, even after 40 years of traveling. Quite literally Reisefieber translates into ‘the temperature (as in illness) caused by traveling’.

Going into the unknown is exciting but there is also something deeply disconcerting about it, something that makes me trepidatious even if only for a brief moment. That moment manifested itself in a little meltdown I had on the phone with a nurse yesterday, the day before I started my journey.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


Myanmar MapSometimes it feels like flipping a coin. Sometimes, I have had long-term, well-developed plans. Sometimes things just fall into place. And sometimes destinations develop. I guess this year is one of the developing kind and here is some background on the development:

For years I have said I would go to Indonesia and believe me, someday I will. It was going to be Indonesia this year. But Indonesia, short of any earthquakes or unforeseen natural disasters will in all likelihood be there next year, too. However, news has recently come out of Myanmar about clashes between Buddhists and Muslims; Buddhists are the main perpetrators, if not the aggressors, if news reports can be believed.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


North Korea?  Why on earth?!

Well, I had this nostalgic thought fueled by some number symbolism: I lived in the DDR (East Germany) for 25 years.  It was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this year (November 9, 1989) and North Korea, pretty much the last full-fledged communist country save Cuba or westernized China, is alive and kicking.  I had to see what it was like.  How does it compare to life in the DDR?  Does a trip like this bring back long-lost memories?  It does compare and it did bring back memories.

Much could be said about all of this, but somehow time got away from me.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY


SYNOPSIS:  About some curiosities and the smells and the sounds of Japan which I will remember from this trip.  Good bye, Japan.