The buttons below link to details of our visit to Myanmar. The gallery link takes you to photos of our trip and 'About' includes travel practicalities as well as a reading list.

Introduction Yangon to Mandalay Places - Bagan and InlePeople Crafts about Gallery

Vicky's blog has a lot more detail and colour. You can read the first episode here

We travelled with Panoramic Journeys.

 

Bagan, Lake Inle and Ngapali Beach

The plains of Bagan are one of Myanmar's most stunning sights. Between the mid 11thC when King Anawrahta conquered the Mon capital of Thaton and established the first Burmese empire here to 1287 when Kublai Khan's Mongol armies conquered Bagan there was an incredible period of temple building with 13,000 temples, stupas and monasteries being built across these plains. Today more than 2000 of these survive, despite the 1975 earthquake which did extensive damage.

Shwezigon pagoda

The Shwezigon Pagoda (above), built by Anawrahta himself, is a stunning gilded shrine and still an important religious site. Most of the other monuments are less decorated, largely brickwork, and some have been rather clumsily restored. However they are still stunning, from smaller pagodas with fine murals to the massive Dammanyan Gyi or the magnificent Ananda.

Balloons over Shwezigon

We splash out and take an early morning balloon flight over Bagan. On the morning we go it is a major exercise with 14 or 15 balloons, each carrying up to 16 passengers taking to the air. Fortunately Mike, our Bristolian pilot, is very experienced and avoids any congestion as well as picking a convenient field for our landing. The views are spectacular and it is quiet and peaceful as you drift over the landscape below. I am fascinated by the whole process, this being my first balloon ride, from the fans to fill the balloon to the seats and handgrips to hang onto when you land.

Bagan is not all pagodas. We visit a great market in Nyang U, several farming villages and a primary school which our guide has been sponsoring. The studious pupils carry on with their work despite the interruptions of 10 noisy tourists.

Pwasaw school

From Bagan we fly in a small, but new, plane to Heho high on the Shan plateau. From here we drop down to a basin between two rows of hills to reach Inle Lake. Here the local Intha people fish and farm as well as weaving and basket making. We leave the bus at Nyaungshwe and transfer to long narrow boats, each holding 5 or 6 tourists (or about 20 locals). The boats skim along the river and then along channels cut through the marshes before reaching the lake itself. The Intha fishermen are famed for their one-legged rowing and the farmers cultivate tomatoes and beans on floating mats of weeds and soil.

Inle fishermen

Our hotel is near the top of the lake so we need to travel around 30 minutes to get to the villages and sights. The day we choose to visit the Phaung Daw U pagoda is the day that the weekly market visits and again we come across hundreds of other tourists converging along the narrow waterways to see the Intha, Shan and Pa-O people trading, buying their supplies or selling souvenirs to the visitors. Back in the villages we learn about Lotus fibre weaving and cheroot making as well as eating some good local food (stuffed lake fish, tomato salad and morning glory) and motoring along the neat rows of water houses on stilts. Boys flying kites, women making cheroots and small boats transporting farm produce.

Inle Village

After a day and a half in Inle we climb back up the mountain and fly from Heho to Thandwe on the Indian Ocean. Here we are in different state again - this time Rakhaing, historically home of the Arakan people. We are staying a short drive from the airport at Ngapali (pronounced Napoli) Beach. Our hotel is in a beautiful bay with fine white sand and palm trees. We discover that the local fishermen were evicted from here to make room for tourist hotels and that in 3 years time they are opening up the airport for international flights from Bangkok and India. Enjoy it while you can. For the moment there are great little restaurants along the beach serving fresh grilled seafood and salad. A delicious contrast to the more heavy food up country. I am not a great beach fan but it is a lovely place to relax at the end of a very busy but fascinating two weeks.

Ngapoli Beach sunset