Our Most Exotic Trip: The Kingdom of Myanmar

Myanmar, formerly Burma, is one of the most mysterious and undiscovered destinations in the world. One of South East Asia’s largest and most diverse countries, it is situated on the vast Indian Ocean in between the two great Asian civilizations of India and Thailand. A land of breathtaking beauty and charm, it has only recently begun to emerge into the modern world.

Myanmar is called “the MOST Buddhist country on earth”. And for good reason… There are said to be more stupas, which are mound-like shrines containing Buddhists relics, than people in Myanmar (roughly 50 million).

The people in Myanmar are some of the gentlest, warmest, most talented people Missy and I have every encountered. They have withstood oppression for centuries, from the Mongols, to the British to the current abominable military regime, which has been in power since the early sixties.

Knowing that permits are required for video cameras and computers are often confiscated at customs, we left our electronics in Bangkok and crossed the border into this mysterious and fascinating land… A description of our trip follows the photos.

We began in Inley Lake. Here, in one of the most beautiful places on earth, 100,000 villagers make their home literally on the water. They live in houses on stilts, or tiny man made islands, created by bringing bowlful after bowlful of soil up from the bottom of the lake and laboriously adding to their little yard, bit by bit.

We visited breathtaking monasteries and temples, tiny water villages and floating markets. But the highlight was a village called Indane (pictured above) a bustling marketplace at the foot of a hill with a golden shrine of a thousand spires at the top. It was simply indescribable – one of our most exotic and enjoyable travel days ever…

From Inley, we traveled on to Mandalay, the fortified city which was the former capital of Burma. The government is headquartered here, behind the walls of a 2 mile square fort surrounded by a 200 foot wide moat.

The highlight of Mandalay was a region across the river called Mngon, where we saw gorgeous shrines, holy Buddha images and the vast “Unfinished Stupa” whcih was begun and abandoned in the 1600s… We also had what was possibly the best dinner we’ve ever eaten in Mandalay at a simple, modest hole in the wall called The Golden Elephant. The food in this country is an exquisite blend of Indian and Thai.

From Mandalay, it was on to the ancient temples of Bagan. Here, literally hundreds of temple complexes dot the landscape, most of them abandoned. We spent a few days wandering the pagodas and monasteries, making friends with monks, and shopping for textiles and lacquer boxes (Myanmar’s specialty handicraft).

Swedagon Pagoda

Swedagon Pagoda

Our last stop was the modern capital of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and the awesome, indescribable Swedagon Pagoda. One of the world largest temple complexes, it is said to contain multiple bones from the Buddha himself and vast treasures on a scale that may not be found anywhere else in the world. The main stupa alone is covered with 8,688 solid gold blocks and holds 5,448 diamonds and a combination of 2,317 sapphires, rubies and topaz – with a huge emerald placed in the middle. It is there to capture the sun’s rays, and does that best at sunrise and sunset. Below the golden stupa are 7 more gold blocks, which are attached to 1,485 bells. Of those bells, 420 are made of pure silver, and 1, 065 are made out of gold. It’s absolutely mind boggling…

The trip was SO amazing ion so many levels. One of the most fascinating, beautiful, educational experiences of our lives – and definitely our most exotic adventure!

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