Postcard from Burma

By Dave Fox
Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar)

I’m at the airport in Mandalay, sweaty, exhausted, and sad this journey is ending. I’m waiting for a flight back to Yangon, where I’ll eat some street food and slurp a final Myanmar Beer, do some final journaling for this trip, and snore for a few hours before I head home to Singapore tomorrow morning.

With luck, the wifi at my hotel will be working and I’ll get this online before bed tonight. Myanmar has been a wild ride. I have a rich list of tales to polish up and post over the next several weeks.

[Note: I was not able to upload this from my hotel in Yangon as hoped, so I am home in Singapore now – with a list of more than 30 potential blog topics to extract from my journals in the coming weeks.]

For the first eight days of this journey, I was traveling with my wife, Kattina, and our pals, Gary and Rena, who teach at an international school in Saigon. They headed home three days ago and I rolled onward to Mandalay to explore for a few more days.

Highlights of our trip, with stories on the way:

Yangon: Aimless wandering, rickety beer joints, and curious people who are eager to connect with the growing number of foreigners visiting their country now that the political situation is improving.

Yangon’s most stunning sight: the Shwedagon Pagoda – a mind-blowing structure that assaults one’s senses in the most delightful of ways. The compound includes a 99-meter-tall stupa, plated in gold. I had seen it in pictures, but nothing compares to being there. It was staggering to ponder that relatively few tourists have visited this architectural and spiritual treasure due to sad politics and a harsh regime.

Nyuang Shwe: We had no idea until we arrived at this town on Inle Lake we’d be coming during a huge, local festival. Villagers from settlements around the lake converged for three days of mayhem – a raucous party to celebrate the solemn transportation of a Buddhist relic from one temple to another. Most insane thing we saw here: A human-powered Ferris Wheel. You won’t believe the video.

Bagan: Imagine hundreds of pagodas, everywhere you look, freckling the landscape for miles. Imagine bicycling before sunrise in a land with no street lights, down roads thrashed with potholes and clogged with sand traps. Sunrises and sunsets with dogs barking and monks chanting in the distance. Entire pagodas to yourself! Bagan is magical. Tourism is at a trickle now, but I predict (and both hope and dread, for reasons I’ll explain in another article soon) that is about to change.

Mandalay: Myanmar’s second biggest city is the one place that didn’t make me swoon. However, an intimate comedy performance by the Moustache Brothers, former political prisoners who do political satire and Vaudeville’esque shows in their home, was  an unforgettable travel moment. The next day, along with two new Swiss friends, I day-tripped seven kilometers outside the city to the world’s longest teak bridge, which we were delighted to discover was a popular tourist destination – for Burmese tourists in their own country.

My flight’s about to board so I’m going to flap my laptop closed for now. I’ll elaborate on these and many more stories soon!

Published on Friday, November 2, 2012

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