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Myanmar Day 5 - Home

Here it is! The last (and least picture heavy) post from my trip.

We got up early and had one last bowl of that delicious noodle soup for breakfast before getting back on the boats to head out to the jetty and meet the buses. I was sad to leave! I could travel like that pretty much indefinitely, really... most everyone was ready to go home, but I was ready to do it all again! But I digress...

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IMG_8286From the jetty we took the buses back to the Heho airport where we were again split into flights. This time I was with 10 others, and we left first and met our bus in Yangon to go back to our hotel there and get our big bags that we'd left in storage. I was really glad we were on that first flight... the other group's flight was delayed so they came in quite a bit later than us. But it was good - I had time to repack and get everything ready for the trip home the next day and browse some of the shops connected to the hotel.

After the other group got back, those who were interested met up in the lobby and we took a bus out and around the lake so we could see Aung San Suu Kyi's house where she still lives and was held under house arrest for so many years. It was funny - lots of people got off the bus to go take pictures through the bars of the gate - holding the cameras up over the top since you couldn't see through. Turns out it was like the gardening shed and the house was further along... pretty funny to watch, though!

Then we went to a jewelry shop - Myanmar is known for top quality sapphires, rubies, and jadite. They had absolutely gorgeous pieces, and I was able to quickly confirm that yes, I have very expensive taste. lol. There were a few people who picked out some nice pieces to take home to family members and it was fun to see what they bought. Nothing for me, though! Not enough budget left.

That night I joined up with our blue bus group (group 4!) and the six of us had dinner together in the hotel restaurant. I went with the Myanmar beef curry again - it was a little different from the night before, but so, so good. I definitely need to find a recipe for that and try it at home - I bet it would be fabulous in a slow cooker or dutch oven. It was so fun to sit and chat, and we finished the meal with some delicious ice cream before we called it quits.

After dinner, there were four of us who were interested in going to the nail salon that was in the hotel, but they had closed early. Then another couple came by and happened to mention that there was a massage parlor down another hallway with dirt cheap massages. We looked at each other and immediately went to check it out. Seriously? $15 for a 90 minute massage - feet, head, shoulders and hands. It was absolutely wonderful and a great ending to the day (although in full disclosure, parts of it HURT! Especially when the masseur used his elbows on my legs. I still have bruises that haven't entirely faded on one shin.) Since we couldn't top that, it was time to head up and get some sleep before our big travel day.

The following morning we lined up our suitcases and took the buses to the Yangon airport where we checked all of our bags through to San Francisco.

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We flew from Yangon to Singapore, which was only a few hours. And the Singapore airport is so cool! There was a group of us that decided to use the layover to find the butterfly garden that we'd heard wasn't to be missed (a butterfly garden in an airport? Awesome!) It was really cool.

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IMG_2856Then we just walked the airport for a while, taking advantage of the time to get in a little activity and stretch our legs. Then we flew to Hong Kong, which was about 3.5 hours, and were able to get out and walk a bit there too. I did stop in a shop and buy a really cute magnet so I could have a souvenir from Hong Kong... lol. And then? The long flight to SFO. It was shorter going back - only about 12.5 hours. I liked that it was broken up so we could stretch and walk around, and miracle of all miracles, I SLEPT on the flight to SFO. Without drugs. That has never happened. Ever. The couple next to me on the flight said I had been really out (that says a lot about the level of sheer exhaustion!) Anyway, we made it back, got our bags, and I said goodbye to most of the new friends I'd made, many of whom were going straight home instead of going to the hotel. It was sad to say goodbye, but as Dr. Seuss said, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." So I'm holding to that advice because there's a lot to smile about.

Anyway, after that we took the shuttle to the Hyatt where those of us leaving Tuesday were staying, and I finally got some good wifi and a semi-soft bed! The next day was solid travel again, and I got lucky with the weather going through Minneapolis, but I finally landed in Hartford around 11pm. I was lucky that I didn't have to dig out my car (although it was 17 degrees and a foot of snow on the ground!) The snow was frozen on top so I could walk on it to get into the car, and I finally got home around 12:30am (and was up at 6am to work out and go back to work! Nuts. But I couldn't take another day off.) Sigh... what a trip! It was truly wonderful from start to finish, and I'm very grateful for all I was able to see and do and the new friends I made. As always coming home from a trip like that makes me very aware of and grateful for all of the blessings I've been given and the life I'm able to lead. And I'm grateful for small things... clean water from the tap (and in general!), my washer and dryer, western style toilets, and clean, safe food that's readily available. It's a good life, is it not?

For those who are interested, the tour company was Fun for Less Tours and they have a lot of awesome trips available. Most of the people there were repeat customers, and I can see why! I'm already planning on doing my next trip with them, so check them out if you're thinking of planning a big vacation!

And with that, we go... FINALLY... back to our regularly scheduled blogging (or lack thereof! lol.)

Until the next trip... :)


Myanmar Day 4

Okay, I've been home for two weeks and it's time to finish the trip blogs! I finally got over the jetlag just in time to get hit with Daylight Saving Time, which was kind of worse. It was easier to wake up when I was jetlagged than it's been to wake up when it's still so dark outside!

I'm pretty caught up now with work and everything else, and I edited all of my trip photos. All of them. That would be 2,689 photos (those are the ones I kept!) And I hate editing photos. A lot. But, I shot the entire trip on manual. Risky. Turns out, I'm pretty good with indoor shots, still learning with the outdoor ones... and we were outside in bright sunlight all the time! So lots of editing, but it was great learning! So now I need to do something with all those pictures, starting by finishing the blogs... this will be the first post NOT on my iPad and with photos that are halfway decent looking instead of straight out of the camera. I know there have been a lot of posts from this trip, but I decided pretty quickly to let the blogs be my travel journal this time... it took way to long every day to write and I didn't want to miss anything.

That said? Let's finish this! (Warning... lots of photos ahead!)

This was our full day on Inle Lake and it was really fun. We had an awesome breakfast (they do a really good noodle soup there) and saw dancers in the costumes for their local dances - they do versions of the peacock dance all over, and I love the costumes!

IMG_8075After breakfast we got into our boats and headed out on the lake. Lots to see... fishermen and others out and working for hours before we got started.

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IMG_8082Our first stop was to the weekly market. They have about five different locations around the lake where the market is held, and they rotate every week so that everyone has one close to them at least some of the time. I couldn't believe how much was there for a mobile market! It was so cool... markets are one of my favorite ways to see the culture - local markets, anyway... anything from places like these to supermarkets - they all say so much about the people!

When we first pulled up to the market, I couldn't help but be reminded of Venice... long black boats everywhere, branches off of the lake that looked like canals... bridges spanning the water... it was so cool. Right as we landed was also a big pagoda.

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IMG_8097We got off the boats and were given a time to meet back, and then broke up and headed out. Right there on the edges was the tourist market - we wandered through there and it was fun to see what they were selling, but it was lots of the same stuff. Fortunately, we were pointed toward the local market and decided to head off in that direction. That was super fun! We just kept randomly picking directions to wander and see what there was. It was so cool.

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IMG_8104Can you tell I loved the market? I had a hard time narrowing down the photos to share! So much to see. I even saw this little barber shop... I saw several of these on the trip at various markets.

IMG_8139After we finished up at the market, we went to our big stop for the day - it was kind of a 3 in 1... lunch, a bamboo forest and the Shwe Inn Tain Pagoda Complex - I'd seen pictures of that online before the trip and was really excited for it. We got off the boats at the restaurant where we were going to have lunch and I bought a big bottle of water because before eating (even though it was about noon) we were going to take a little hike through the bamboo forest (such as it was... more like thickets of bamboo along the paths) and out to the stupas.

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IMG_8158See what I mean about me still working on my outdoor shots in bright light? (Don't tell... this is AFTER heavy editing. But I'm totally going to just tell everyone that I was deliberatly going for that artsy overexposed edge to my photos. It's pretty cool, right?)

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Gorgeous, right? Picture it with absolutely perfect weather, and a really peaceful quiet broken only by your footsteps on the path and the sound of the breeze ringing the bells attached to the umbrellas of all of the stupas.

So after wandering through the complex, the guides talked a bit about it and then were ready to lead the group back to the restaurant for lunch. There was a small group of us (including all of my boat) that really wanted to follow the road in the opposite direction and go up to the top of the hill overlooking the complex. We all had brought snacks with us and so figured that instead of taking the time to go back and order and wait for food, we could go up to the top and back and make our own way back to the restaurant. The guides and tour leaders were a bit nervous, but saw that it was a direct enough route that we were unlikely to get lost, so they let us go (we were such rebels.) We hiked up the road and got directions from a guy passing on a moped to the top of the hill. One lady and I had passed a path and wondered if that was the way, but the guys were ahead of us so we ended up just following them. We sort of had to hack our way up the "path" (I joked that we should have bought a machete from the knife shop we saw in the market!)

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After busting through all of the thorns and plants while climbing over rocks and going up at a pretty steep angle, we made it to the top. And then discovered that yes, the path we'd seen was actually the right one. lol. But it didn't matter... the view was totally worth it.

Here's a panoramic from my phone to get an idea - that's going from far left to right about 180 degrees around where we were.

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IMG_8211And then coming back down the hill and approaching the complex again.

IMG_8214Then we went back to the restaurant and, as we had bet would happen, the people who had gone back with the main group still hadn't even gotten their food. Surprise! So we found seats and pulled out our water bottles, protein bars, and crackers and had our lunch. After that, we still had time to go back out and wander a bit and get some more photos. There was one place down the way with a bridge over the river where you could see all of the Saturday activity. This was apparently the day for swimming, bathing, and doing laundry. The people all bathe out in the water, and the women have bathing dresses that they wear for modesty.

IMG_8224Once everyone finished up with lunch, we headed back out in our boats. For the next part of the day, we split into groups and went to two different artisan workshops. On the way, we saw the water buffalo out for a bath...

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Our group went to an umbrella factory first, where they made the paper and the structures all by hand. The bases and spokes of the umbrellas were all bamboo - no metal involved at all. We watched the guy turning the lathe - it was old school... he used his foot to pump it so it would turn.

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IMG_8244The funny thing about this? There were no umbrellas for sale in the main showroom! It was cool, though. We weren't there very long - it was pretty small, and then we got back in our boats and swapped with the other boats and went to the silversmith workshop. There was a whole room full of men creating different jewelry designs and other pieces.

IMG_8253The workshop was gorgeous... they had these stunning silver worked curry dishes like the ones we'd bought at the lacquerware shop. If I hadn't already bought one of those, I could have gone for a silver one for sure! Lots of gorgeous work on sale, but I was actually starting to be a bit shopped out (I know... can you believe it?)

After that, it was time for the long boat ride back to the hotel so we could be back before sunset.

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IMG_8259We came back out on the patio to watch the sunset which was even more beautiful than the night before, if that's even possible! Then our boat gathered around the table and ordered drinks from the bar for a toast (I had a Grape Forest - all fruit juices and delicious!) As we sat there, lots of others came to hang out with us and it was just fun to sit and chat.

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IMG_8273After sitting out and talking for about an hour or so, our boat went into the hotel restaurant to have dinner together. They had a really great menu, and I decided to try something local for our last night on the lake - I ordered the Myanmar style beef curry, and it was absolutely fantastic.

IMG_8284It was an absolutely wonderful day... I loved every minute of being at Inle Lake and was so sad that our time was nearly up. But I'm so grateful I had a chance to go! The people who didn't go on the extension totally missed out on an awesome experience.

And with that, just one more post to wrap up the last of the trip!


Myanmar Day 3 - Inle Lake

Still playing catch up here... trying to get over the jetlag, fight off a cold from lack of sleep / trouble sleeping since coming home (I might be winning! knock on wood) and getting caught up on real life. And trying to GET WARM!!! (My well documented antipathy toward snow has only grown after my trip. This weather sucks.)

Anyway...

This was the day of my trip that our group split... our tour manager took the 9 people who weren't doing the extension and they went back to Rangoon and then on to San Francisco while the rest of us flew out to Heho for the excursion at Inle Lake with our educator and his wife. We left early in the morning... we needed to meet the bus at 6:30am, so I checked out just before 6 and then went down to get breakfast right as it opened. I went through and grabbed a bunch of fruit, some fried noodles, and juice and sat down, enjoying the misty view of the river and the cool morning before heading to the airport.

Because there were still so many of us, we had to be split onto different planes and airlines to get to Heho. I was put in a group of 6 that went on Yangon Airlines on our own. We got split off from the rest of the group and funneled into our own departure room, so we didn't see the rest of them again until they landed in Heho. As we headed to security, we passed a table marked "immigration" where we had to stop and show our boarding passes to a woman (boarding passes, mind you, that had no names or seating assignments, nor any information beyond flight number and a big product advertisement... lol.) The woman looked at our boarding passes, asked us where we were from (we told her "America") and then she looked at us, nodded, stamped the boarding passes and sent us through security. She didn't even write anything in the ledger sitting in front of her! We joked that security was a box with a blinking light and that it wasn't actually scanning anything as we all just cruised right through. I couldn't stop laughing about the immigration table. It was so funny to me... so apparently pointless... she didn't even ask to see passports! We got on the plane - not the puddle jumpers we were fearing, but definitely not big planes, and headed out. Our group left early and arrived first, then we found the buses and waited for the rest (again, I was so intrigued by how they run these tiny airports! They just bring the baggage in by hand on carts... so much faster than home, but easy to say when it's so small.)

Anyway, we were told that we had like a 2 hour bus ride and then a long boat ride to get to the hotel, but time estimates weren't always that accurate. This was one of those inaccuracies. We were going to stop part-way through at a monastery, which was pretty cool. That was only 30-45 minutes into the drive, and we took off our shoes and were able to go upstairs and walk through an active monastery and see all the young monks at work on their memorizations - they were all chanting in unison as they read from their books. It was cute to see that they were still pretty typical boys - one was leaning against the window frame and sleeping, and another had a Lilo and Stitch notebook under his scripture. I felt weird going through there like that - like they were being put on display, but I was glad to get a chance to see what monastic life was like. We saw the shrines, the living quarters, and the kitchen area where they stored and distributed the food from that day's collection (the monks go out daily with their big jars to collect food donated to the monastery for the day.) Image
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From there, we were able to go into a temple next door. This one was interesting - inside were hundreds of niches, each with a small Buddha statue placed in the name of a donor. I found a few in a row donated from people from Connecticut! Then it was time to get back on the bus to go to the jetty. The rest of the ride was only about 10-15 minutes, and then we got off to get to the boats. They told us to get into groups of 5, I joined up with a group that I'd really enjoyed hanging out with and we headed out together. Image
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Once we got in the boat, we found out that every time boat #1 was called (our boat - Number 1 Boat!), we were the ones on that boat. We had a super fun boat! From there we went out on the water for our ride to the hotel, which was about another 30 minutes or so. At first it was more like a river - a very narrow neck of water coming off the main lake, and then as we broke into the lake, we started to see the fishermen out on the water and get our first view of their unique leg rowing technique - they stand on the prow of the boat and use their leg to row the paddle. Standing makes it so they can see into the water and see where the fish are and where they're going. It was pretty cool. And then we started to come in to the hotel, and it was just as nice as I'd hoped from looking it up online. We pulled up to the dock and stood and got out one at a time where we were then greeted with a cool cloth and then a glass of sweet and sour fruit juice - it was really good. They also had a sesame cracker stick - they grow a lot of sesame there. The view out to the lake from the patio was gorgeous - the lake in front with the mountains behind. And the buildings of the hotel were all on stilts in the lake. Our rooms were like individual bungalows on stilts off of a kind of boardwalk that went throughout the hotel. The rooms were gorgeous - each with a private balcony. We settled in and then went back out to the front to meet to go back out on the boats. Image
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Our outing that afternoon took us to the far south end of the lake (we were at the north end) and we went through the villages and saw the floating gardens, which were just amazing - hydroponics at their best! They had created floating islands of crops that were all staked to the bed of the lake with long bamboo poles. Tomatoes, rice, beans, corn... all kinds of crops. The villages and gardens were so cool! We also visited a workshop where they make silk and cloth from lotus plants. That was cool to see - the weaving was amazing. It was a little sad to see how old the women were who were working at spinning and carding though... I guess retirement age isn't something well known in most parts of the world.

Early afternoon our guides (one of whom is native to the lake area) took us to a restaurant where we could order lunch. The manager or owner came out and told us about the menu and offered to take any of us who were interested back to the kitchen. They had a lot of Italian food on the menu (funny enough) and served lots of pizzas. So we went in to see the kitchen and their pizza oven, and I was a bit surprised at how clean it was! I suppose the cater to tourists, but it was reassuring. Just to try something different, I had mushroom pizza - mushrooms were grown locally in the hills and the tomatoes in the sauce were from the floating gardens. It was pretty good, actually!

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Anyway, we went back out and saw more of the villages and gardens before going back to the hotel. We needed to be back by about 5pm since once it started to get dark, it was too dangerous to be out on the lake - no streetlights, no headlights on the boats and all. So we went back and went to our rooms and then came out to watch the sunset, which was gorgeous. Image
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Later that evening, those who were interested gathered around a fire pit on the pier looking out onto the lake for a lecture from our educator, Glenn (it's an LDS tour company, and his specialty is church history.) It was an excellent lecture about Joseph Smith and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and I'm really glad I got to go. Then it was off to sleep in beautiful beds draped with mosquito netting. It got quite cool at night and the beds were slightly softer than the floor, but I still enjoyed it... it was another wonderful and incredibly memorable day.