Inle Lake, Yangon and heading Home

Left Kalaw high up in the mountains.    An old colonial Hill Station and now a sizeable metropolis.     This was the only city/town/village on this trip so far, that was not an overwhelming sea of smiley faces and welcoming locals.    Even my guide (who is from the area) confessed that she was happy to move on !!    A centre for the military administration and the corrupt generals who run and are doing their best to ruin Myanmar and my first, and so far only, glimpse of the “dark underbelly” that so often festers in these wonderful Asian countries. 

A two hour drive down to the idyllic Inle Lake.    Everything here is either built over, floating on, or sadly sinking into the lake,    This includes houses, markets, gardens and restaurants etc.   Agriculture and needless to say fishing are the mainstays of the economy.    Vast fields of tomatoes and a myriad of other crops floating on rafts of weed and linked with a series on narrow canals and creeks.  

Virtually everything is accessed by boat, including the tourist infrastructure which tragically has “fallen of a cliff” in the past few years as a result of the adverse publicity and international reaction to the Rohingya genocide etc.      Large 4/5 star resorts lie empty and in many cases closed down.    Meanwhile the corrupt few who own and run this country continue to build more resorts which lie unfinished and empty, while they also spend a fortune on renovating and building new pagodas and stupas everywhere.     A few tourists (French mainly and the inevitable Chinese) including Yours Truly still come here to explore and enjoy the tranquil surroundings while the local population struggle to make ends meet.     The usual story that the kids are all heading to the cities and a huge range of local skills & crafts that have been handed down through generations are fading away and slowly sinking both economically and physically into the lake !!

The usual collection of amazing faces and a veritable forest of Stupas and Pagodas.

Lots of well nourished temple dogs. The Milk Bar is open…

Sunset and Sunrise over Inle Lake and then a flight to Yangon for a quick city tour terminating at the gobsmacking Shwedagon Pagoda. The biggest and goldest and holiest in Myanmar and the logical place to watch the sunset before heading back to Home which involves 4 flights and hours of hanging about in airports etc.

Street food in China town. Decided not to risk it so back to the safety on hotel cuisine.

These folk have a lot to learn about tourism and service and cant keep blaming it all on the “Generals”.    They are constantly “shooting themselves in the foot”.   Yesterday as the Shewdagon Pagoda I bought a guidebook that promptly started to fall apart.   Priced in $$s they refused to accept a brand new $100 bill as it had an ink stain on it.     It was part of the watermark !!!   Then refused a $20 bill because the picture *Abraham Lincoln” was old and out of date !    I explained the he was dead but to no avail.    Their currency meanwhile often looks like it has been through the mangle in a sewer and definitely warrants much hand washing after handling etc.     I was probably the only customer they had had all day !!

A wonderful country,  and am booked back next year for another month.     I fear that they will take many generations (if ever) to recover from their history and legacy.   So I highly recommended it as a place to visit before it descends into further anarchy and total chaos !!     

Steer clear of the cities.   The rivers are the way to explore this extraordinary country and have been the transport arteries for thousands of years.    The roads are virtually non-existent !!

Am home now with happy dogs and a new addition to the pack – Hurley – brother of Zeus & Apollo – Nick and Sara’s latest additions to their family.

So far so good in that Max seems to have accepted him.

Happy Xmas !!

Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp – Possibly the highlight of the trip !!

Back down into the valley – A 4000 ft. drop in altitude and LOTS of hairpin bends etc. The camp is amazing and houses 8 elephants rescued from various traumas and living out their retirement in 200 acres of jungle with 24/7 TLC and veterinary care. All survivors of the now defunct teak logging industry where their services were replaced by the introduction of the chain saw. Much rejection, neglect, trauma and abuse followed.

These 8 were the lucky ones !!!! Amazing !!!

An honour and privilege so get up close and personal with these amazing creatures. The photos speak for themselves. 7 females and one male (easily recognisable by his HUGE appendage !!) Varying in age from 8 to 68. The photos speak for themselves……………So I will put them in large format.

That was the feeding – yes that is my hand in her mouth. Then came the bathing……..

Then more feeding before his mahout brought the male in for a pedicure…..

Another delicious lunch and them back up the wiggly road to Kalaw, its market and train station. Back in the lodge with Christmas Carols and log fires blazing/blaring as the 82 staff members put up the Xmas decorations for us 7 or so guests. Internet access still remarkably still there (albeit a tad sluggish). Will publish this now,

Off to Inle Lake tomorrow for two days of Stupa overload and floating everything. You have to do this !!!

Leaving RV Kanee Pandaw & The Irrawaddy

After the Beach Party we got to say farewell to our Crew who were amazing and had looked after us all in typically brilliant and smiley Pandaw style !!!

Needless to say there was more somewhat cringe-worthy audience participation

Final sunset & sunrise before disembarkation at dawn for a short, though a tad delayed, flight from Mandalay to Heho where I was met by my new guide & driver combo and off to see caves and golden Buddhas . A photo stop to see some rice winnowing just before their lunch break,

We stopped for delicious lunch is a local home en route

Caves and Buddhas and some flight crew, posing for selfies The caves guarded by a large spider who was slain by a fearless archer way back. Or so the Buddhist story goes………….

A stop off for paper and umbrella making demo.

Then lengthy drive into the mountains to Kalaw – 5000 ft up and many hairpin bends later arrived at Kalaw Hill Lodge – home for the next two nights and a definite “chill in the air”. Not many fellow guests, apart from a loud Chinese family (just for a change !!) but a delicious dinner with log fires blazing and Xmas Carols playing in the background. Yet again very surreal !!

Relatively early night. As off to see the Elephants tomorrow……………

Watch this space as it was mind blowing !!

A village visit followed by a Beach Party…..

After the Largest brick pile and Bell, it was back to the ship for lunch and then a short cruise upstream for another “unscheduled” village visit. Huge marble quarries in the distance and the usual “life along the banks” !

These guys were peanut and rice farmers with a motley array of livestock including cows, oxen, chickens and some Huge pigs. As usual there was much hospitably and giggling and the whole village gradually came out to greet us. First the mooring and then the livestock….

Lots of smiley people and a new pal ….

We cast off and cruised across to a large sandbar in the middle of the river where we moor up and the crew relocate all the deck furniture for Happy Hour. Disco and conga dancing to Abba, Neil Diamond and Michael Jackson. Hot air balloon/lanterns that never got hot enough and some rather lame fireworks. Somewhat cringe-worthy but some of my fellow passengers loved it ! The highlight of their vacation etc !!! No Comment !!!!!

Then back on board for dinner. A village visit today to see pots see BIG pots being made.

The Milk Bar is open !!

Then back on board to start packing as the cruise portion of the trip comes to an end. Two days at an Elephant sanctuary and two days on Inle Lake (floating markets and more Stupa overload). Then 1 1/2 days in Yangon (Rangoon) before the long haul home via Bangkok , Heathrow and Malaga and the reality of Elections and Brexit etc. Go Boris and get it done for Gods sake !!!!!

Its all becoming a bit of a blur!!

Since leaving Yandabo a couple of days age we have been cruising up to Mandalay and other towns and cities. A relentless series of amazing experiences and photo ops. In order to catch up will post a load of photos with brief explanations etc. Several villages along the riverbanks when we start to wonder who is more fascinated by who. The facial expressions (Happy !!) say it all…

Sunsets and Sunrises at a variety of locations including the U-Bean Bridge ( the longest Wooden bridge in the world).

A selection of paintings and faces to get started ….

The unfinished Pagoda which is the largest brick structure in the world. Had King ??? not run out of bricks and money it would have been higher that the Great Pyramid at Giza. Then it was hit by a huge earthquake which cracked and sealed its fate. Also the large working bell in the world and other mind blowing sights. A multitude of friendly faces selling all sorts of stuff.

Some of the merchandise and more faces….

A selection of the boats and ships (including our loyal Kanee Pandawt at various moorings) that we have encountered on our journey. This huge river is very shallow except in the rainy season when it floods and water levels rise – in some places by 20 meters). The sandbanks and islands, visible in the photos and a Google Maps screenshot, become submerged and are constantly emerging in different locations which makes navigation quite a challenge !!

Monks (in dark red robes) and Nuns (in pink) and foreing (in saffron) are everywhere. All with shaved heads which makes it a tad tricky to work out monks from nuns, apart from the colour of their robes !! Many clutching their cell phones which have just arrived in Myanmar……….

Needless to say more Pagodas, Stupas and Buddhas everywhere…

And should you want to buy a Buddha they come in all shapes and sizes !! Also hand pounded gold leaf that covers them all……….

Dogs everywhere but all healthy and fed and taken care because they are Buddhists.. A neutering programme wouldn’t go amiss !! But all seem content …….

The cruising part of this adventure is coming to an end and we are moored on a sandbank in the middle of this extraordinary river while the crew are setting up all the deck furniture for a beach barbecue. So will post this now and more photos and stuff will follow tomorrow……….

Yandabo (Pots !!) and The Kids Are Alright !!

A walking tour of Yandabo this morning. Famous for the place where some treaty was signed between Burmese & Brits. Needless to say it didn’t last !!

Now Yandabo is famous for making terracotta pots. Lots of mind numbing discussion about why they don’t make them with flat bottoms !! Had to walk away !!

Lots of friendly smiling faces including the 92 year old cheroot smoking Matriarch who stole the show !

The Kids Are Alright !!

Latest Selection from The Gang at Posh Pets. I clearly don’t have to worry about them then !!

Mister Max !!

Bagan or Pagan when Myanmar was Burma.

Bagan is one of many of the ancient capitals of Burma.   Boasting literally 1000s of temples and pagodas spread over a vast area on both sides of the Irrawaddy.    Denied World Heritage Status until July 2019 due to some of the restoration techniques used, and the fact that “The Generals” keep building bigger and better monuments to ensnare preferential treatment, for them selves, in the next life.    Both are strict no-nos in the bureaucratic world of UNESCO !!

Two days here.  The first was largely wasted due a tip to visit a lacquer factory and attempts to be coerced into buying very expensive (beautiful – agreed) lacquer-ware.   I resisted as am still trying to work out where to put the lacquer-ware that I bought back from Cambodia.   De-cluttering and all that !!

So lots of impressive ruined temples etc amid a sea of smiling, happy people.     Amazing considering !!    The power  of Buddhism I guess !?!?!

I will combine photos from both days so excuse the odd sunset that may appear in the middle !

Back to the boat for lunch and a very entertaining Elephant dance (No elephant but 2 strapping kids pretending to be one!)

So lots of impressive ruined temples etc amid a sea of smiling, happy people.     Amazing considering !!    The power  of Buddhism I guess !?!?!

Please note the “No Kicking Buddha” rule amongst others ! I will combine photos from both days so excuse the odd sunset that may appear in the middle !

More to follow……..

More Shore Visits and a Tour of the Ship

Another mooring alongside a “muddy bank” with huge tree roots as anchorages.   Decidedly low-tech but effective and seemingly the “norm”.     Another slightly larger (30+ cabins) German cruise ship sharing our muddy mooring this morning, took everyone somewhat by surprise.    How dare they intrude on our river??     Fortunately they were heading downstream and we are heading up so hopefully the last that we see of them !!!

Three more villages with Markets, and the usual gold stuff and colonial remnants etc.     Minhla has two reasonably well-preserved forts flanking the river.   Built by the Italians on behalf of Royal Myanmar, in an attempt to keep the Brits out of Northern Myanmar.   Clearly not very effective as the Brits with the help of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company’s fleet of ships (built in Scotland) soon sailed past during the 3rd Anglo Burmese War,   seized Mandalay in 1885 and for the next 50 years or so ruled Myanmar in its entirety until the Japs appeared in WW2 and the IFC was forced to scuttle its entire fleet of 600 ships and barges as an “Act of Denial) to keep them out of the hands of the Japanese.     Pandaw have managed to resurrect the brand with some of the original IFC ships and many new builds based on the original low-draft, teak and bronze, designs.     Many horrendous bureaucratic and other obstacles had to be overcome (very well documented in The Pandaw Story by Paul Strachan (an extremely determined Scot) ) who restarted Pandaw and now runs his fleet of excellent ships throughout SE Asia and more recently on the Ganges and other Indian rivers.   More of all that later.    A selection of Photos (in no particular order) showing the markets and yes (afraid so) Stupas, Buddhas and Pagodas and the spectacular sunsets every evening.    

A quick tour of the Ship’s working areas – Galley, “bridge” engine room etc.     All very functional with a few omissions (GPS not commissioned yet !!, no depth finder so bamboo poles come in handy and all onboard navigations lights do not have light bulbs !!   Otherwise “safe as houses”  !!  

The “galley’ has Immaculate kitchen and prep areas.    Compact of course but they manage to produce amazing array of food 3 times a day !!

Tales from the River …

The next few days are starting to “blur” somewhat with daily visits to towns and villages, along the riverbank, including Danubyu, Myanaung, Prome and Thayet Myo.  

These excursions provide some much-needed exercise.    Only problem with these small ships is there is no “promenade deck” worth speaking of for stretching of legs and strolling around!!

Excursions also gives Pandaw a chance to subject us all to a bone rattling selection of ground transportation including (so far…) trishaws, horse drawn wagons and a variety of muddy banks to clamber up and down.   This lark is not for the “mobility impaired” but the crew are fantastic at supporting everyone to and from the ship, and the mooring sites, and various locations etc !! So, it’s a daily combination of Temples, Pagodas, Stupas and needless to say Buddhas.  

Had our first experience with a “slithery” person yesterday outside one of the temples.     A very young (but still about 80cm long) cobra.    Needless to say, I was not alone in taking evasive action.   Especially when one of our guides insisted in prodding it into showing its “hood” etc.

Today (Thayet Myo) even a golf club (very George Orwell & Burmese Days !!) claiming to be twinned with, and have a reciprocal arrangement with, Royal Saint Andrew’s in Scotland.   I wondered if St Andrews know anything about it and what they would do if a Burmese chap turned up with a bag of golf clubs demanding his rights to a free round of golf !!  

All of this accompanied by very friendly (if not somewhat bemused) locals. tourists and “westerners” are a rarity in this part of the world as some of their facial expressions shows!

Mooring is a daily challenge. A couple of days ago we awoke to find ourselves stuck on a sandbank, so much engine revving before we got going again.   A common problem on this hugely wide, but quite shallow river, as the sandbanks have a habit of shifting overnight especially during the rainy season and soon thereafter (which is where we are now) when huge amounts of silt and sand comes down from the Himalayas.

Last night we had to struggle with a variety of hazards as the Captain tried to navigate us into a suitable overnight mooring.    This included fishing nets, bamboo rafts and a few rocks.   The river is very shallow just to add to the challenge.   Depth finding is pretty lo-tech and seems to involve, not very long, bamboo poles with red and white stripes.    To put it into context, the draft of these ships is around 1.5 meters and we still manage to run aground on the ever shifting sand/silt bars and banks !     Needless to say there are no navigation markers or even accurate charts for the Irrawaddy as it changes shape every year during and after the dramatic level changes during and after the rainy season (May through October) !

Our long-suffering Captain finally found a secure mooring site below a monastery who promptly turned on an all night stream of Buddhist (I guess !?!) rap & disco music, which forced us to move on in search of a more peaceful and sleep inducing location.

The river is vast, with a constant succession of overladen (and barely afloat) gravel barges chugging noisily past.      Vast arrays of ancient dredgers come and go.    Sucking up the silt and gravel, sieving out the not insignificant amounts of gold that are washed down from the mountains each year during the rainy season.   All that gold leaf has to come from somewhere!!  At one point yesterday, we sailed through a fleet of hundreds of small dredgers all belching out black diesel fumes that at times almost obscured the riverbank.     Like a scene from a Mad Max movie!!    Then as soon as this “horror show” appeared it disappeared behind us and we were back into clear waters and fresh air again.   Very bizarre, not to mention surreal! But that’s Myanmar for you ……     Soon back to sandy shorelines and cliffs smothered in carved Buddhas – large and small.   Small communities and fascinated children come down to watch us glide by,,,,,,,,,,

All of these towns have a smattering of colonial buildings left over from the “glory days” of the British Empire, with bustling street markets etc. Various remnants of good old British engineering strewn all over the place.

Keeping track of day and time here is also a tad tricky as they have 8 days a week, including 2 days on Wednesday.   Don’t even ask !! As I haven’t quite managed to figure it out yet !!    We seem to have managed to make it through to Thursday again so not quite sure what happened yesterday with Wednesday and 2 days in one…

Internet just reappeared so will post this while the going is good. I think that it is Saturday but who knows !!