Beautiful Views at Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery, Yangon, Myanmar

The Taung Pulu Monastery is one example of the many hidden gems of Yangon

“Off-the-beaten-path” is la régulière for seasoned travelers in Southeast Asia’s largest continental country and to find the Taung Pulu Monastery you’ll need to be determined and adventurous.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Taung Pulu Monastery: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Taung Pulu Monastery: Click Here

Taung Pulu Monastery

Myanmar is known as the “Golden Land” and Yangon is a prime example of this nickname in action. I’ve written at length about how Myanmar is, for the most part, unexplored, and that information online is as scarce as it can be for a country shut off from the world for six decades. It seems that around every corner and tucked into every nook and cranny of the entire country is filled with a golden dome denoting either a monastery or pagoda which is indicative of Myanmar’s devotion to Theravada Buddhism.

Taung Pulu Monastery

Obscured from view from University Road just south of Inya Lake are two monasteries definitely worth checking out in an afternoon. Taking a small side street past the Myawady Gas Station you’ll come across the Inya Wailuwun Monastery on the left and further down the lane the Taung Pulu Pagoda and Monastery. Heading first to the bright gold-domed Pagoda of Taung Pulu, the site contains a monastery and living quarters for monks on the left right on the bank of the central Inya Lake.

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Located inside the golden dome are seven large Buddha Images each in a similar design and surrounded by fresh flowers, well-cared for plants and other accouterments. As I entered midday on a toasty Saturday, the hall was relatively empty save for the occasional devout Buddhist stopping in to quickly offer respects and pray to the figures. After snapping a few shots I headed up to the second and third tiers which offered brilliant views of the surrounding Inya Lake and waterfront on the east side (facing Kabar Aye Pagoda Road) and the Myanmar Plaza shopping center, a brand-new $440 million USD project.

Taung Pulu Monastery
A symbol of Myanmar’s opening to the world

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery
There are four Gautama Buddha Images around the top center spire

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

This little pocket on the shores of Inya Lake is a great example of how many things there are to see in Myanmar. I mean, down a small road from a gas station lies great views and beautiful buildings. What a gem. In any case, my time was almost up for the day so a quick stroll around the grounds and stop off near the Wailuwun Monastery was in order before massive stray dogs ran me off. Well, it was actually one dog. And it wasn’t that ‘massive’… but I digress… until next time!

Taung Pulu Monastery
“No girls allowed” club
Taung Pulu Monastery
Did I mention peaceful? This is where to find mindfulness

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery
Don’t be fooled, this is a vicious beast!

Taung Pulu Monastery

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Taung Pulu Monastery: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Taung Pulu Monastery: Click Here

Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar

Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan, Myanmar

The powerful people and picturesque places of Bagan, Myanmar

World-renowned and recognized by UNESCO though visited by a fraction of the tourists which make their way to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Bagan, Myanmar is a must-see for anyone making their way to Southeast Asia.

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar: Click Here

More on Bagan: The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Bagan, Myanmar
Mandatory Thanaka to blend in with the locals
Bagan, Myanmar
Some things never change
Bagan, Myanmar
Myanmar Chinlone “Footvolley”
Bagan, Myanmar
Traditional Bagan Palm Wine. Delicious and does the job!

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Foaming at the teeth in Nyaung-U
Bagan, Myanmar
Hey bro, for sure get outta the way!
Bagan, Myanmar
Modern products are still made in the traditional methods
Bagan, Myanmar
Traditional everything at Bagan
Bagan, Myanmar
Locals believe Thanaka leads to beauty
Bagan, Myanmar
Off-the-grid Buddha Image at a worn-down Bagan Pagoda
Bagan, Myanmar
After taking in the Bagan sunrise, locals gather to pitch their wares to tourists
Bagan, Myanmar
Travelers and backpackers taking in the beautiful views from Shwesandaw Pagoda
Bagan, Myanmar
Watermelon fresh and cheap
Bagan, Myanmar
Kyaw (pronounced Joe), our guide
Bagan, Myanmar
Shwezigon Paya through the Ray Bans

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Gautama Buddha images of all shapes, sizes and styles are found throughout the thousands of temples of Bagan

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Famous hand-drawn sand paintings at Dhammayangyi Temple
Bagan, Myanmar
Famous hand-drawn sand paintings at Dhammayangyi Temple

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan is well-known for lacquerware products
Bagan, Myanmar
There are plenty of lacquerware workshops and shops to visit in Bagan
Bagan, Myanmar
This cottage industry dates back to 12th Century A.D and runs in Burmese families where fathers pass it on to their sons as a tradition
Bagan, Myanmar
Hand-made lacquerware guitars a future purchase for sure

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
South African backpackers hey

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar: Click Here

More on Bagan: The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan

Bagan, Myanmar

The plains of Bagan rival Cambodia’s Angkor Wat in size and scale

Perhaps only Cambodia’s more-famous Angkor Wat can rival Myanmar’s Bagan in terms of religious importance, size and scale in southeast Asia.

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar: Click Here

More on Bagan: Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Bagan

After taking in the unbelievable sunrise from the Shwesandaw Pagoda (Shwesandaw Pyay), a quick breakfast was in order back at the hotel and then it was straight out for a full day of pagoda hopping. Our first stop after breakfast was the Shwezigon Pagoda (Shwezigon Pyay, Paya) in the small town of Nyaung-U. The prototypical Burmese pagoda is as bright as gold can get and gold leaf-gilded stupa shone even brighter in the bright sunlight. Our guide filled us in on its history, having been built during the reign of Anawrahta in 1102 AD and finished during the reign of King Kyansittha of the Pagan Dynasty. Though he doesn’t buy the traditional story, it is said to house the bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha.

Bagan
No tourists, only locals… and a few at that!
Bagan
A reflection pool was used to measure the straightness of the pagoda in previous times
Bagan
Mon inscriptions can be found all around the Shwezigon Pagoda

After walking the wide expanse of the Shwezigon and peppering our tour guide with questions both relating to the pagoda, general history of Bagan and his relationship with Buddhism, we hopped back in the minibus and made our way to the Sulamani Guphaya Temple, one of the wonders of Bagan. The Buddhist temple located in the village of Minnanthu about 10 minutes southwest of Bagan from the Shwezigon and is an immense structure kept in relatively great shape. As a main destination of travelers, there are plenty of stalls and stands to purchase hand-made sand paintings and all sorts of little knick-knacks and other trinkets. As for the pagoda itself, take a look:

Bagan

 Bagan

Bagan

Bagan

Bagan
The famous hand- and sand-sculpted paintings of Bagan

Bagan

Built in 1183 by King Narapatisithu and similar to the Thatbyinnyu Temple in design, the Sulamani Temple also shows influence from the Dhammayangyi Temple and was the model for the Htilominlo Temple. Sulamani Temple was restored after the 1975 earthquake and utilizes brick and stone with frescoes in the interior of the temple. It was rebuilt in 1994 and maintains its aura even today. After we purchased two too-many sand paintings, we hopped back in the minibus for a tour of the jewel of Bagan, the world-renowned Ananda Pyay (Ananda Pagoda, Ananda Paya).

Bagan

The Ananda Temple is the holiest and most important temple in Bagan. It houses four massive standing Buddha Images each facing towards the four cardinal points. The Ananda Paya displays a mix of Mon and Indian architecture.  Originally built in 1105 AD, it is one of only four temples that survives within Old Bagan. The temple was extensively damaged by an earthquake in 1975 but has been restored with the spires being gilded in 1990 in preparation for the celebration of the 900th anniversary of its completion. The Buddha statues are made from teak wood gilded with gold leaf and the ones facing North and South are believed to be originals. The four Standing Buddha Images are:

Bagan
Kakusandha Buddha – Faces north and pictured for scale
Bagan
Konagamana Buddha – Faces east
Bagan
Kassapa – Faces south, appears to smile the further away you get
Bagan
Gautama Buddha – Faces west and the final Buddha of Ananda Temple

The name ‘Ananda’ derives from ‘anantapannya‘ the Pali word for ‘boundless wisdom‘. There are only so many pagodas that fit into a day and our last stop was the impeccable Dhammayangyi Temple. The largest of all the temples in Bagan, the Dhammayangyi was built during the reign of King Narathu (1167-1170). Narathu, who came to the throne by assassinating his father Alaungsithu and his elder brother, presumably built this largest temple to atone for his sins. Local legend backs up this tale, although he was never able to finish it.

Bagan

The Dhammayangyi Temple is also the widest temple in Bagan and is built in a plan similar to that of the aforementioned Ananda Temple. Burmese chronicles state that while the construction of the temple was in the process, the king was assassinated by some Indians and thus the temple was not completed. Sinhalese sources however indicate that the king was killed by Sinhalese invaders. The temple’s interior is bricked up for unknown reasons, thus only the four porches and the outer corridors are accessible. I definitely accessed them. Stay tuned for a final post on Bagan and it’s villages, people and culture. Until next time, Cheers!

Bagan

Bagan
A rare opportunity to enjoy the quiet halls of this famous pagoda

Bagan

Bagan
Old and ‘new’ brickwork on the outside of the temple

Bagan

Bagan

Bagan

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar: Click Here

More on Bagan: Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar, Burma

The Bagan sunrise is a must-see in Southeast Asia

Thousands of temples dotting the landscape make the Bagan sunrise one of the best in the world.

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Bagan Sunrise

Most travelers know that any wakeup after 3:30am is just an arbitrary number. You know you’re going to be shredded and zombiefied so the only thing to do is to keep on doing. A 4:30am call beckoned for what we heard was a must-see in Bagan – the incredible sunrise over the immense plains of the ancient city. With just enough time to boil water, throw on some clothes and quickly down a couple instant coffees, we were out the door from our room at the wonderful Bagan Hotel River View and on the road in Old Bagan to the Shwesandaw Pagoda (Shwe Sandaw Pyay).

Bagan Sunrise
The steep steps of Shwesandaw Pagoda post-sunrise

Our pickup was a minivan flush with air-conditioning already at full tilt which was absolutely unnecessary at 4:30am but appreciated it nonetheless. Our guide and driver were eager to get going as sunrise was expected at about 5:00am on the dot. The 10-minute ride was fairly mundane as Bagan is pitch black at night. Pitch black as in hardly any electricity in the area and only a few lamps around the sides of the roads. Once we arrived to the pagoda we hopped out, kicked our sandals off at the foot of some incredibly steep steps and made our way to the top. The only indication that there was anyone else on the pagoda were quiet voices up ahead on the walk up. In reality, it was packed but you’d never known until you reached the terrace they were standing at. A great spot and a few minutes to relax in the cold morning air gave way to a glimpse of the Bagan plain and mist ascending from the jungle as the sun made its way up to the horizon. Some more light, some more pagodas, some more light, mist, some more light, ‘wow there’s a lot of people around me,’ and then… this:

Bagan Sunrise
First Glimpse
Bagan Sunrise
Little More…
Bagan Sunrise
Money Shot

Yep, for the Bagan sunrise, totally worth it. The moment passes so suddenly and as everyone fell silent to take in the incredible sight I couldn’t help but notice a female traveler, probably in her mid-40s-50s in tears. Turns out she wasn’t crying at the beauty of the sunrise but at the shame of having her camera fog up. Apparently she had been looking forward to this moment for years, taking in the sunrise over Bagan and waiting for the perfect picture… and her camera had fogged up. I got her email address and she had these photos the next morning. Karma must have worked in my favor as the view from Shwesandaw was immense in all directions. The sun, now just settling over the horizon, made for some amazing shots of the misty plains laid out before a backdrop of mountains against a purple-red sky.

Bagan Sunrise
Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

The Shwesandaw Pagoda was built with five terraces and is topped with a cylindrical stupa with a bejeweled umbrella (hti). The pagoda was built by King Anawrahta in 1057. The pagoda once contained terracotta tiles depicting scenes form the Jataka Tales (a voluminous body of literature native to India concerning the previous births of Gautama Buddha) and supposedly still houses sacred hairs of the Gautama Buddha obtained from Thaton (a town in Mon State, southern Myanmar).

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

In true traveler spirit, the Bagan sunrise was over and everyone started moving on for a day out and about in Bagan. Breakfast was beckoning but we stuck back for a bit to take in the incredible sights and to talk to some of the locals. The famous Hot Air Balloons take off around sunrise, however it you want some photos of that or to hitch a ride (an expensive $300+ ride per person!) the Shwesandaw is not the place for that. But for incredible landscapes of Pagodas and an excellent view of the entire area, look no further. Check out some pics below, for High-Res photos of my trip to Bagan CLICK HERE. Stay tuned for more posts from Bagan, coming soon!

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise
Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Kyain Thit Sar Shin Monastery

Mahar Kyain Thitsar Shin Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Kyain Thit Sar Shin Monastery is a place you can’t believe isn’t more famous

One of the more unique pagodas in Yangon is the Kyain Thit Sar Shin Monastery, a giant open-air Rakhine-style Gautama Buddha Image which can be seen from miles away.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda: Click Here

So I’m at the rooftop of Parami Hotel at the popular Piano Bar midday trying to book the location for a work event and I notice a huge, and I mean absolutely massive figure due north just glaring in the sunlight. I say to the manager “Akko le (Burmese for my brother), what is that huge statue over there?” He replied “Big pagoda. Very nice, big big pagoda.” Cool bro, and the name? “Kyain Thit Sar Shin Paya.” Alright my man, how do you spell this bad boy? After a quick location search on Google, I had my next location to check out in Yangon.

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

Large trees and dilapidated buildings obscure the vision while driving north on Thudhamma Road, however my expectations were high and once we made the turn onto Thu Nandar Road the giant Buddha Image hits you like a bright sun. The incredible reflection of light from the entirely gold-leafed image is really something to see, so much so that it boggles the mind that people don’t know about this place. Built atop a two-storied monastery, the hollow Buddha statue house a monastery for Buddhist monks and the walled compound surrounding it provides housing.

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

One thing that stands out about this Image is that the face and crown look far different from the rest of the Buddha Images in Yangon. The reason for this is that the head monk of this sect of Buddhism, called Adit-Htan, is from Rakhine State in the north of Myanmar and in this state they have a very specific style of Buddha. This Buddha has several names, like Mahar Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda, Kyain Thitsar Shin Pyay, Adit-Htan Pagoda and Maha Kyein Payagyi. It stands an imposing 130-foot tall (45 m) and is a testament to Burmese craftsmanship and dedication.

Kyain Thit Sar Shin
The head monk Mahajeyyasiddhi Adit-Htan Sayadaw U Kularakhita

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

The compound itself is guarded by several Nagar (Burmese Mythological Dragons) near its gate. The rather large walls are quite thick, as they contain housing for Monks and devoted followers who pilgrim to North Okkalapa Township in Yangon to pray and study at the monastery. On top of the walls are many Gautama Buddha images each intricately detailed and housed in expertly-crafted coves.

Kyain Thit Sar Shin
Nagar guarding the temple

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

Kyain Thit Sar Shin
The first floor of the Monastery
Kyain Thit Sar Shin
The second floor of the Monastery
Kyain Thit Sar Shin
Stairs leading up to the hollowed-out Buddha Image

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda: Click Here

Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths

Inle Lake, Myanmar

There is so much to see and do at Inle Lake, Myanmar, that you can spend days on the water and not catch it all

There are few places on Planet Earth like Inle Lake, Myanmar – it’s a must-see destination in Southeast Asia.

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Inle Lake, Myanmar

September weather in Shan State can be a bit of a coin toss. The monsoon in Myanmar this past year hit several areas of the country rather hard and led to serious flooding and damage.  Not only were cities cut off from the rest of the country but even entire townships. Inle Lake was spared serious flooding and the weekend we spent there was quite nice during the day with overcast skies saving us the brunt of the oppressive Southeast Asian sun.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

The last post finished with a tour of the main village of Nyaung Shwe and the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda (also known as the Phaung Daw Oo or Phaung Daw U Pagoda). After checking out the city, we hopped back in our boat and headed to a hand-rolled cigar factory, one of the lake’s main tourist spots. While I prefer off-the-grid locales, this is definitely a spot to check out. Now using the word ‘factory’ is a bit misleading, as about 8 women seated around the floor of a shack on the water doesn’t quite make for mass production but it does make for a tasty mid-morning smoke.

Inle Lake, Myanmar
“Ugh, tourists always taking our pictures…”
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Lake-grown aquaculture tobacco, honey-paste for glue
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Palm leaves and corn-rolled filters
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Flavors include betel nut, coconut, honey, vanilla and more! I went with berry flavor

I also used the bathroom. How about that middle-of-the-lake plumbing and fully-functional toilet! But I digress, our next stop was the Khit Sunn Yin Lotus, Silk & Cotton Hand-weaving center. Some of the finest dresses and scarves come from Southeast Asia, with Laos and Myanmar particularly renowned for their weaving skills. I have to say I don’t know much about all that but hey, when in Rome… or in this case on the lake…

Inle Lake, Myanmar
Looms on looms

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Everything at Inle Lake, Myanmar, is handmade – from breaking apart the individual lotus branches to the threading and sewing. After perusing the factory we hopped back on our boat and headed to what might be the highlight of our trip to Inle Lake, a real, good ol’ fashioned blacksmith.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

In Se-khong village, there is a blacksmith workshop which produces knives, swords, farming tools and more. Sold at different 5 different day markets around the Inle region, visiting the shop is a must if you want to see how things are done in the original form. Wearing traditional Myanmar longyis, the blacksmiths strike rhythmically and in turn on super-heated metal forming crafted swords that put Renaissance Fair enthusiasts to shame. I purchased a coconut-cracking dagger for a very reasonable 20,000 kyat (about $15 USD). Definitely worth the splurge.

Inle Lake, Myanmar Inle Lake, Myanmar Inle Lake, Myanmar Inle Lake, Myanmar Inle Lake, Myanmar Inle Lake, Myanmar

The modern-meets-traditional forms of production and life at Inle Lake, Myanmar, is really cool to take in. With so much to see and experience, one day doesn’t seem like nearly enough time on the water. Another example of this is modern-style housing with amenities such as electric, satellite television and plumbing built on bamboo shafts stuck into the lake and next to ancient pagodas hundreds of years old. I hope you enjoyed part 2 on the water and part 3 will come soon, with a trip to a bamboo factory and some unbelievably beautiful and ancient pagodas.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Balance Fitness Center Charity Sports Day

Balance Fitness Charity Yangon Myanmar

Local Gym Balance Fitness Center hosted its 3rd Annual Charity Sports Day

Yangon’s premier gym Balance Fitness Center holds an annual sports day for local underprivileged children and those from orphanages.

Balance Fitness Center
Dance with Balance Fitness instructor Mimi Wu

During my time here in Southeast Asia, I’ve had the opportunity to  work with some local businesses and organizations to help the underprivileged, impoverished and those who have suffered from years of conflict and natural disasters. On January 10th, Balance Fitness hosted its third annual Charity Sports Day for over 360 orphans and poverty-stricken children from all around the Yangon area.

Balance Fitness Center

Balance Fitness Center

Held at the Seinn Lann So Pyay Garden on Inya Road (just south of Inya Lake; blog, more info), the event featured many famous Burmese musicians, local businesses selling their goods for donations to the charity and plenty of sports-related activities for the children to take part in. Soccer (known here as football), hacky sack, yoga, leithwei (Burma’s version of the well-known Muay Thai kickboxing), dance and more were offered for the children to take part in.

Balance Fitness Center
Leithwei with Aung Thett
Balance Fitness Center
Hacky sack with Tony Jones

The past two years’ events saw over $30,000 USD raised for 8 orphanages and this year’s event was the biggest and most successful yet. The charity day began from around 1pm and ended after 6pm, with happy and ‘tuckered-out’ children heading to their homes with plenty of prizes, new clothes, toys and huge smiles on their faces. Of all the fundraisers and charities I’ve attended so far in Myanmar, this was by far the most fun and most well-organized event. A day gone and already we are looking forward to next year’s event.

Balance Fitness Center

Balance Fitness Center

Balance Fitness Center

Balance Fitness Center
Burmese orphans wearing the traditional ‘longyi’

Balance Fitness Center

To check out Balance Fitness Center, click here for the website or click here to ‘like’ on Facebook.

Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1

Inle Lake, Myanmar, Burma

Inle Lake is home to unique fish species and a unique single-legged method to catching them

Myanmar’s Inle Lake is a massive body of water with full-on cities built right on the water with bamboo and even plumbing!

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more on Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Inle Lake

Starting our day bright and early (and by skipping breakfast!) we headed out from our hotel The Pristine Lotus Resort on a small boat towards one of the most iconic places in Shan State, Myanmar (Burma), Inle Lake. There is nothing like taking a boat from your room straight on the water and heading down a small waterway towards the lake itself, we were both buzzing from excitement.

Inle Lake

 Our boat driver, whom we hired for the full day for 15,000 Kyat (about $13.00 USD), was in a chipper mood and with his basic English and my very basic and heavily-accented Burmese, we were able to communicate where he would be taking us. The simple explanation was everywhere! Our first stop was to see the famous fishermen of Inle Lake, complete with bamboo fishing traps, basic line and their unique one-legged fishing technique. The Intha technique, standing on the stern of the boat on one leg, apparently was developed as a way to get a better view of the water as the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants.

Inle Lake Inle Lake    Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

 The peace and serenity of Inle Lake is truly something to experience. Set between two large ridges, the seemingly sleepy water poses in front of a backdrop of golden pagodas and green rolling hills. Water agriculture and houses made of bamboo and standing on stilts of the same wood line the waterways towards the main village of Nyaung Shwe and the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda (also known as the Phaung Daw Oo or Phaung Daw U Pagoda).

Inle Lake
The Kaylar Village floating garden, where locals grow tomatoes, peas, chillies and flowers
Inle Lake
The Intha (Hintha) Bird is a mythical creature believed to have golden feathers and can fly great distances
Inle Lake
Inle Lake taxis complete with umbrellas to shield you from the powerful sun

As we arrived in September, the area was buzzing for the Phaung Daw U festival and around 9:00 am you could see the lake waking up with water taxis sprinting about and farmers harvesting their crops. As we arrived to the main pagoda the town was buzzing. A literal town on the water and a market to boot. The Phaung Daw U Pagoda contains four Buddha images which have been turned into golden globes as each male pilgrim adds his own gold flake in homage to the Buddha.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Just a short walk over a bridge from the market a barge in the shape of the Hintha Bird was being prepared for its annual trip around the lake. Bright gold and large enough for several dozen people, the barge carries the Buddha images to each village on the lake so locals can pay their respects. The trip is accompanied by paddling competitions, signing and dancing along with martial arts challenges.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more on Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

2015 Myanmar Election Through the Lens

Elections, Yangon, Myanmar

The 2015 Myanmar election shot live in Yangon by a diplomat’s spouse

The opportunity to experience democracy in action during the 2015 Myanmar election was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

2015 Myanmar election

November 8th 2014 marked the day I proposed to my wife, a diplomat of the State of Israel, and I never thought that we would be celebrating our 1-year proposal-versary in the country of Myanmar (formally Burma) observing the nation’s first free and fair elections in over a quarter of a century. The build-up to this day was marked with a speculative excitement  and nervousness I’ve never felt before from the locals, who feared everything from a military crackdown to a delay in voting to a rigging of the elections. As we await the closing of the polls at 4:00pm local time, it seems as though the fear and tension have abated by now as happy voters and thrilled security staff lined up side-by-side since 5:00am to cast their vote and celebrate their leap towards democracy and a truly representative government.

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

Much has been made in the international media of the regime’s oppression of minority Muslims and disenfranchised citizens, however in Yangon, the nation’s former capital, all were united in a peaceful and beautiful display of camaraderie and hope. As an American born and bred, I can honestly say that the overwhelming feeling of optimism far surpassed anything I felt during Barack Obama’s election campaign back in 2008.

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

As luck would have it, the polling station we were at in Bahan Township in Yangon was graced with the presence of National League for Democracy chairperson, Nobel Laureate and world-renowned freedom fighter Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as she cast her vote. Daw Suu Kyi’s famous history, for those who don’t know, includes a war hero of a father who negotiated Burma’s independence from the British, General Aung San, and years of house arrest by the military junta who previously led the country for her advocacy for democracy.

2015 Myanmar election

Given her status and high profile nature, international press and media attended the polling station and crowded out many of the locals hoping to ‘get that one shot’ of Daw Suu Kyi to blast around the world’s mainstream media and social media. The media horde dissipated as soon as Daw Suu departed and business returned to normal. Happy voters with ink-stained fingers proudly waved them after voting in the 2015 Myanmar election, as election organizers are using this method to prevent anyone from voting more than once. Many families all attended together, helping their parents and grandparents sort through the process and make it to the polling booths. Even the security guards were more than willing to lend a helping hand to those in need.

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

There is much more to say on the elections, including discussions on the current president U Thein Sein, his USDP party and the constitution of Myanmar, written by the military, which excludes Daw Suu Kyi from holding the title of President, however I’ll leave that to the mainstream media. I will leave this post on one thought – how incredible it is to see real, true democracy in action in a place that has little experience with it in the past. Myanmar is a place with a truly special culture and people, and I’m thrilled to having been able to watch it from the sidelines.

2015 Myanmar election 2015 Myanmar election

Massive Statues of Meilamu

Meilamu Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Meilamu Pagoda is a Disneyland-like playground of Pagodas north of Yangon

There is so much to see and do in Yangon and one thing not to be overlooked on your travels is the Meilamu Pagoda.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Meilamu Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Meilamu Pagoda: Click Here

Meilamu
Several giant Gautama Buddha Images are stationed around the pagoda

The Meilamu Pagoda, located on Thudhamma Road in the working-class suburb North Okkalapa Township in Yangon, is a literal Disneyland of pagodas and stupas. Nominal access to the city’s power and sewer grid leave the Pagoda virtually untouched by tourists as electricity is available only several times per day. The pagoda and area is so remote that LonelyPlanet and the internet are little help to visitors as this is as far off the grid as  you can go in Yangon District.

Meilamu
Meilamu

Established in 1959, North Okkalapa Township serves as home to several structures on the Yangon City Heritage List and our day there was fulfilling and gorgeous as even storm clouds couldn’t keep our excitement at bay. Larger-than-life 3D stucco depictions of the Buddha’s life and practice can be found throughout the compound while a giant concrete crocodile houses a gallery depicting the legend of Mei La Mu, the girl born from a mangrove fruit, after whom the temple is named.

Meilamu

Meilamu

Walking through the compound takes quite a while even if you don’t pause to stop and look at all the sites. Making your way to the back of the compound, you come to Nga Moe Yeik Creek and Pazundaung Creek with teahouses and local restaurants galore. Houses floating on the water is truly a sight to see and across the creek is the stunning Wijuwedo Pagoda, but that is a story for another day!

Meilamu

Meilamu

Back to the compound, and numerous buildings scattered throughout the complex shelter other images of the Buddha before and after he became enlightened. In addition, many little shops adorn the walkways and entrances. You can buy little crabs, fish, clothing and more!

Meilamu
Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Meilamu Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Meilamu Pagoda: Click Here

Ho de Yangon Zoo ho de

The Yangon Zoo is one of Myanmar’s most prestigious zoological gardens

If you’ve ever wanted to get a taste of wild Myanmar, head to the Yangon Zoo and be prepared to sweat!

Check out the Travel Guide to the Yangon Zoological Gardens by Clicking Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Yangon Zoo: Click Here

Yangon Zoo

Let’s start with a quick lesson in the Myanmar language – “Ho de” is literally translated into “OK” in English, however you constantly hear a mixing of the two around Yangon – “Ho K, Ho K, Ho K” usually said three times. Why? No clue. Now let’s continue with a lesson in local custom – myself and my wife being eye-balled at the zoo more than any of the animals. Apparently a white guy and a black girl are more rare in this part of the world than elephants, hippos or tigers. Apparently.

Yangon Zoo

The locals also have no real concept of obeying rules at the Yangon Zoo, especially the ‘don’t feed the animals’ rule. Seeing kids throw fruit at hippos or otters is cute, but a monk giving absolutely zero f*cks and jumping over the guard rail to feed a massive 300+ lbs white tiger is one of the gnarliest things I think I’ve ever seen.

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

We arrived at Myanmar’s oldest zoo mid-day and the temperature was already well over 100F. After paying the 6,ooo Kyat entrance fee (about $3 each – more expensive for foreigners) we entered into a tropical path with various trails off of each side.

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Like the locals here in Yangon, we had an umbrella to shield us from the sun however it didn’t help much. With righteous humidity slowing our progress we ended up cutting the zoo a bit short, however the hour-plus we were there we were still able to catch most of the Yangon Zoo main attractions, of which included several behemoth Asian elephants, deer from around the region and more than a few strange birds and mammals.

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Most Asian Zoos are strange to visit as they tend to have a much different view on animal’s right, upkeep and care. The Yangon Zoological Gardens are not much different and regardless of the small sizes of some of the enclosures, the elephants’ area was quite troubling to see.

Yangon Zoo
Riding elephants is a very harmful practice to the animals.
Yangon Zoo
Chains and…
Yangon Zoo
Very obvious struggle marks.

 Click the links below for more!

Check out the Travel Guide to the Yangon Zoological Gardens by Clicking Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Yangon Zoo: Click Here

Photo Journal: Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

The world-famous Shwedagon Pagoda is more impressive in person than in photos or videos

The Shwedagon Pagoda is a pillar of Myanmar Buddhism and is as revered as it is incredible.

For all my High-Resolution images of the Shwedagon Pagoda: Click Here

For all my High-Resolution images of the Shwedagon Pagoda at NightClick Here

Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon Pagoda located in Yangon, Myanmar is certainly a one-of-a-kind compound visible from all parts of the former Burmese capital. Also known as the Great Dagon Pagoda or the Golden Pagoda, the main spire stands 325 feet tall (99 meters or taller than a football field is long) and is one of the more impressive sites in the entire area.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda
There are thousands of statues of Gautama Buddha around the Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda
Gautam Buddha is covered by different robes according to the season in Burmese tradition

The entire “compound” features hundreds of smaller stupas with Buddhas and carvings of all shapes and sizes. The detail on each column, figurine, statue and stand is incredible. There is so much to see even in one of these individual stupas that it overwhelms the senses to the point where you look at the main figurine and move on. To give each its proper due would take months. Literally months.

There are 4 entrances to the Shwedagon – East, West, North and South. Each entrance contains a massive covered walkway guarded by two Chinthes – Burmese mythological creatures – and many flights of stairs. There is a ‘bonus’ entrance off the north side with an elevator for those who need assistance reaching the pagoda which sits on top of the Great Dagon Hill.

Shwedagon Pagoda
Yangon Myanmar in 2016

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda
Rangoon, Burma, is one of the premier places for travel photography

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Vipassana Meditation techniques along with many others are practiced throughout Myanmar and Burma is home to thousands of monasteries, some of which accept foreign practitioners.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda
All type of meditation can be seen at the Shwedagon, including Vipassana

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

For a country that ranks 2nd in landmass in Southeast Asia, Myanmar has more than its share of golden stupas and pagodas located throughout. Yangon’s centerpiece is a class above the rest as its renown is legend around the globe of the world.

For all my High-Resolution images of the Shwedagon Pagoda: Click Here

For all my High-Resolution images of the Shwedagon Pagoda at NightClick Here

Shwedagon Pagoda
Rocking a longyi in Myanmar Burma

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda
Actual Ivory carved with images of Gautama Buddha
Shwedagon Pagoda
Make your own globe of the world!