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Buddhas and temples galore in Myanmar.

Around the end of march 2018, we left Inle Lake by night bus to Mandalay. It was a bouncy ride and I did not get a lot of sleep so I was happy when we could check-in early and go to bed for a couple more hours of sleep. The reason for our stop in Mandalay was a visit to the U Bein bridge in closeby Amarapura, We rented a motorcycle from the hotel and were soon on our way to Amarapura.


The U Bein bridge is with its 120m long, the longest teak footbridge in the world.

It was the mayor of Amarapura, U Bein, who decided to create the bridge using the teak supports from the abandoned palace in 1859. There are just over a 1000 pillars along the bridge.

While in Mandalay we decided to visit the Kuthodaw pagoda and the monastery of Shwe In Bin Kyaung.


The “word’s biggest book”, 729 small stupas. Each of them protects a marble slab with writings of the 15 books of the Tripitaka.

King Mindon commissioned the work in 1857 and it took more than a decade to complete and check for errors!

In the late afternoon we took a local van to Monywa, packed with at least 12 other people, AC not always working. We arrived 4 hours later.


Thanboddhay Pagoda, feels like visiting a theme park. Lots of shrines and stupas in vivid colors.

A group of young buddha monks were also visiting.

Inside: Buddhas in every corner.

The walls are covered with more than 500.000 tiny Buddha statues.

Our next mopedstop is the site Maha Bodhi Tataung built in 1960 and dominated by two of the world’s biggest Buddha statues.


Arriving near the complex on our motorcycle was really impressive.

The standing Buddha was built between 1996 and 2008. It is the world’s second tallest statue, rising 116m high. The tallest one is in China. The statue is actually hollow with a 25 story building concealed inside, each floor decorated with vivid murals of Buddha’s life.


To grasp the size of these statues you need to look at the right hand corner where people are standing. Before the lying buddha of Mawlamyne  was made, this was the largest one in the world.

The reclining Buddha was finished in 1991 and is 95m long. Apparently there is a plan to construct a third sitting Buddha in the hills, but we did not see any construction of that. As if we did not see enough Buddhas, we decided to take a trip with the motorcycle (30km) to the caves of Pho Win Taung.


Before entering the caves, a Thanaka treatment for my face.

Hundreds of cave shrines were cut in the hillside between the 14th and 18th century.

The Buddhas and mural paintings are really beautiful.

There are about 500 caves all with at least one Buddha inside.

On our way we stopped to watched the road being repaired the Burmese way. Mostly women doing the heavy work.

Tar is being poured on manually. In Stefan’s video you can clearly see how this is done.

Our heads were saturated with images of Buddha and we were ready for some lazy days at the pool! We travelled with another local van to Bagan, the main tourist attraction of Myanmar and our last stop on our journey before returning to Yangon to take the plane back to New Caledonia. We really enjoyed the 2 days at the pool of our beautiful resort hotel in Bagan (Bagan Heritage) but we still had lots of temples to visit and shopping to do in Bagan town.


After some discussion of going on a balloon trip because it was very expensive (450USD), Stefan decided not to go and I would enjoy the experience of being in a hot air balloon over Bagan. I left at 6 AM in the morning with a group of Spanish tourists.

I was in the balloon with 10 people from Barcalona, who did not speak one word of english and had their translator with them. It was really great fun.

Balloons over Bagan.

The Mingalazedi pagoda seen from the air.

From 1044 to 1287, Bagan was the capital as well as the political, economic and cultural nerve center of the Pagan Empire. Over the course of 250 years more than 10.000 temples were built from which today there are about 2000 left. The Pagan Empire collapsed in 1287 due to repeated Mongol invasions. The old capital became a pilgrimage destination and the capital was moved to Pinle.

We had 5 days to visit the temples but with the heat – 36 Celsius around noon – we were “pooped” by 3 PM and ended our visits then with a cold beer (or two). I do not recall the names of all the temples but we were amazed at the variety of the Buddha statues and the very beautiful temples. Sometimes  there would be no other visitors but the famous ones  were always crowded with Burmese visitors. Myanmar tourism was very low while we were there. It was the low season but on top of that tourism is suffering because of the negative press with the Rohynia. Nevertheless, we always felt very safe in Myanmar.


One of the many beautiful and yet deserted temples.

A simple Buddha. It was nice to stay inside for awhile and recover from the heat.

Everywhere at the entrance you need to take off your shoes and make sure your knees are covered. It was sometimes impossible to walk barefoot on the burning hot stones or sand and you had to run from one shaded area to the next.

At the end of the day we were covered in dust. It was good we had a swimming pool at the hotel.

Being alone in a temple was really a great way to relax and enjoy the peaceful quiet.

Children trying to convince Stefan to buy one of their self made postcards. Tourists in Bagan are not allowed to ride a motorcycle but luckily you can rent electrical bikes which come close to a motorcycle.

In the end we bought all the cards for a discounted price.

Bagan lies in an earthquake zone. Many temples were damaged during the earthquakes of 1975 and more recently 2016. Luckily, the damage was mostly minor.


Even in the small stupas there are sometimes huge Buddha statues which fill the room completely.

Stefan looked for a temple which you could still climb the stairs but we only found one. Because of the earthquake and a tourist falling to her death, they closed off the roofs in all the temples in 2016.


The Ayeryarwaddy river is a much needed refreshing and washing place in this dry area.

A detail of one of the gold crown that goes on top of the stupa. It is decorated with real diamonds, saffires, ruby, emerald etc. It is incredible how much money is spent on Buddhism in Myanmar.

The Ananda Paya, completed in 1090 is one of the most beautiful in Bagan.

There are is a 9m high standing Buddha in each corner of the temple. They are made from teak wood (one piece)and covered with goldleaf.

Nice and cool inside.


In many temples local people will hide from the heat, catch some sleep or sell handicraft items.

Typical smily Burmese children with their faces covered in thanaka to protect their delicate skin.

Stefan in admiration for yet another Buddha.

Bagan is famous for its lacquerware so we had to visit one of the local factories.

Lacquerware is made from bamboo with many layers of lacquer carefully dried and applied all by hand

The more lacquer used the better the quality. The designs are all done by hand.

All colors are natural except for the blue and the purple.

People are so friendly and never pushy to buy a souvenir but for many we were the only tourists that bought a souvenir in days. Sandpaintings are beautifully done.

One of my favourtie Buddhas found in a small deserted stupa.

Stefan and I were happily surprised by Myanmar and its friendly people. I could go a second time but during the month of November or December after the rainy season when the countryside is not so dry. Our heads full of memories of places and beautiful people, our bags filled with souvenirs we were ready to go back home to Sanuk.

Hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, the country side of Myanmar.

I am writing this while sitting in the cockpit of Sanuk in Noumea. We are back in the water and it feels good 🙂

A couple of weeks ago we were sitting on a nightly 10 hour bus ride from Hpa-an to Kalaw. After a not so comfortable ride, we arrived early in the morning in the centre of Kalaw and found a taxi to take us to our beautiful hotel, “Hillock Villa”. We had a fabulous breakfast and went for a walk back to town to find a hiking tour company we could join the next 2 days to Inle Lake. After visiting 4 of those we decided on not the cheapest (too many people in a group) and not the most expensive, Uncle Sam looked like a good choice and Trip Advisor confirmed this.

While in town we bought a hat for Stefan since he had left his other head 😉 somewhere in a restaurant.
The scenic view at the start of our walk from Kalaw to Inle Lake. It is clearly the dry season ! The only crop in the ground is ginger. They are waiting now for the rains to come which will be in July.
The fun part of hiking with a guide is that you are able to connect so much easier with the people working in the farms and on the land.
Beautiful women from the Pa’O tribe.
Kun-ya or betel nut chewing is one of the most popular traditions in Myanmar with men and women (a bit less). It is a mixture of betel nut (the areca nut) with slacked lime (calcium hydroxide) and catechu (black shiny piece) wrapped in a betel leaf. You have to place it between your cheek and gums and suck on it. Soon a red liquid will form in your mouth which you have to spit out. (hence the red spots on the pavement and streets) It is addictive and causes severe tooth decay and oral cancer in the long term. Everybody knows this but apparently it is too difficult to quit. The government has launched a anti-betel campaign because it is one of the leading causes of death in Myanmar.
At 76 years old she is still working hard, sitting on just a mat weaving. I admire these strong women.
The typical Burmese woman, smiling with thanaka paste on their face. Thanaka is worn as a protection for the sun but mostly as a make-up. It is said that Burmese have been using thanaka for over 2000 years.
The thanaka is paste is made from grinding the bark on a flat wet stone and then immediately applied to the face as it dries quickly.
Our guide was happy to show us how it was done and apply it on our faces. According to the Burmese it is not only good as sun protection but also lightens the skin and even works against acne. I brought a jar of thanaka powder home :-).
The dry land, hard to imagine in the next months this will all be green. Some time I want to come back in november at the end of the raining season, it must be such a difference.
Another typical image for Myanmar, so much is still done by hand. We saw these men in the fields weaving baskets from bamboo.
In the evening coming back from the field. An ox cart is still a very common sight in rural Myanmar.
The girls getting water. I do not think long hot showers are an option here.
We spent the night with a local family. They prepared wonderful meals for dinner and breakfast, sleeping accomodation is very basic but for these people the tourists are an important source of income. Several houses in the little town were housing tourists with a local guide. Our group was really fun : on the right Celine (FR), Stefan (BEL), Helene (FR), Melanie ( GER) and in the back Alexander (GER), in front with the twin boys was our host family, Ilse (BEL) and one of our guides.
Our trekking continued through lots of dry fields but really beautiful scenery and friendly people. Unfortunately I lost all my pictures from the second day because something went wrong with the transfer to the computer :-(.
Inle Lake is the second largest fresh water lake in Myanmar and the highest (900m).. About 70.000 people are living on and around the lake, most of them are Intha people.
We rented a boat for the day at our hotel (beautiful Innthar Lodge on the lake) so we could get a taste of the life on the lake.
We made a stop at Indein village to visit the Shwe Inn Thein pagodas. A little girl tried to convince Stefan to buy a scarf.
We could not resist her smile and bought a scarf for 1000Kyat (60c).

While we were walking in the little town we noticed a lot of dressed up Pa’O Hill people. It seemed we were at the right place at the right time, to witness an important rite of passage, the Buddhist Novitiation Ceremony in Myanmar. The Novitiate ceremony is when boys do their service to Buddhism and are entered into the order of the monks for a week or longer. Novitiation is the obligation of every parent and the most important gift to their sons. It is believed that this deed will prevent the parents from having an evil afterlife in Buddhist tradition.

The Pa’O hill tribe is the seventh largest minority in Myanmar.
The Pa’O have been in Myanmar since around 1000 BC.
Forced to wear dark indigo-dyed clothing after the defeat of the Mon King Makuta of Thaton by King Anawratha in 1057, today the Pa’O are known for their brightly-coloured turbans.
It was so great to see all the beautifully dressed men and women for this novitiation or Shinbyu ceremony.
The Pa’O people were called“Black Karen” by the British colonialists because of the dark blue or black clothing. Here they are carrying offer money for the monastery.
The boys heads are shaven apparently earlier in the day. They are dressed in yellow, pink and green satin costumes with colourful make up .The costumes are symbolic of the look of a royal prince.
The procession with the monks-to-be protected from the sun by the golden umbrellas.
Like a little prince but not for long. After the ceremony the boys are undressed and the typical maroon robe is put on.

This was such a beautiful and unexpected event that we did not venture further to see the pagodas but just enjoyed watching the people. Happy with these impressions we looked for our boatman and returned to the lake.

The famous leg-rowing Intha (‘”sons of the lake”)fisherman.
Reeds and other floating plants rise high out of the waters, so that when they are sitting low in a boat, it can be hard to see and to steer through the vegetation. It is for this reason that, while the local women still row their boats in the usual manner, the local fishermen developed their distinctive standing rowing style.
The water hyacinth (purple flower) is not native to Inle Lake but grows fast, clogging the smaller streams and depriving local plants and animals of light and food.
The fishermen like to show off their balance to tourists:-).
Roughly 25% of Inle Lake is covered by floating gardens where lots of manual labour produces tomatoes, beans and cucumbers. The farmers gather lake-bottom weeds from the deeper parts of the lake, bring them back in boats and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, anchored by bamboo poles. These gardens rise and fall with changes in the water level, and so are resistant to flooding.
The garden “shed” on the water.
We visited one more monastery, forgot the name. It was 100 years old and the wooden walls were painted in  gold. I find these places so peaceful and enjoy just walking around watching the lifes of the monks.
How would it be to enter a monastery for a week or two ?

Next stop : Mandalay, Monywa and Bagan