Mingun, Myanmar: A Land of Relics and Prophecy

The busy scene on the banks of Ayeyarwady River was soon forgotten when we boarded the boat to Mingun. Chill and cool wind from the river, which reminded me of Inle Lake, pushed me into a wicker desk chair and lulled me to snooze part of the trip.

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On the banks of Ayeyarwady River

Located just an hour’s boat ride away from Mandalay, Mingun has fascinated tourists and locals alike with its history and attractions. Awoken by a fellow passenger’s cry of excitement, I looked out of the boat’s window and saw a massive pile of ruins.

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On the shore of Mingun

Upon arrival, guides and horse/cow “taxi” drivers popped up to offer us transport. However, the site wasn’t that far, roughly 500 meters away from the shore, so we decided to walk. However, for those wanting to try something new, the offer was cheap enough and could definitely help out the locals in a small way.

 Mingun Pahtodawgyi  ( Mingun Paya )

Ruined by a prophecy – now the world’s biggest pile of bricks.

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Mingun Paya

Started by King Bodawpaya in 1790, this was supposed to be the world’s biggest stupa and intended to reach a height of 152m high – similar to the height of the Great Pyramid in Giza. The king had thousands of prisoners of war and slaves work on the construction. However, the heavy burden of building this massive pagoda took a toll on the people. There came a prophecy that the king would die upon completion of the structure. This prophecy quelled the king’s enthusiasm and slowed progress on his ambitious project. Not long after, the king died and only a third of the structure was completed. Then an earthquake in 1839 caused huge cracks on the structure.

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Walking around it was spectacular. Although I didn’t do it, it is possible to climb barefoot to the top and see a magnificent view of the Ayeyarwady River and as far as Mandalay.

Mingun Bell

The largest working bell in the world until 2000.

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Visitors under the bell

Visitors under the bell

The Mingun Bell is a popular attraction with the Burmese visitors. It weighs more than 90,000kg as inscribed by the number 55555 in Burmese script, which is the weight in Viss (a Burmese unit of weight). It was cast in bronze and once it was completed, it was said that Bodaypaya had the master craftsman executed in order to stop him making anything similar. (That prophecy really had some root)

Visitors usually go under the bell.  Without fail some children will start banging it which makes for a funny albeit noisy activity.

Hsinbyume Pagoda

The abode of Lord Brahma and the Demi-Gods.

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From afar, this unusual all white structure is quite striking. Built by King Bagyidaw for his favorite wife, this structure was based on the Sulamani Pagoda on Mount Meru – the center of the universe in Buddhist – Hindu cosmology.

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The exterior boasts some of the most exciting architectural feats you’ll see in the area. Adorned with ogres, mythical monsters and sculptures, this structure was fun to walk up to. This is in stark contrast to the interior of the building which is barren and offers nothing to the passing traveler.

Walking around this little town was really interesting with the abundance of fascinating architecture and interesting history to learn. However, I was more interested with the people. There were many sellers and bullock cart drivers hanging around the area. Mingun is small and the simple rhythm of life was also relaxing. I saw a small shop which looked like a movie theater (I would have loved to experience watching a movie there), children were smiling and the small shops reminded me of my hometown. There might be huge ruins and structures in the area, but the best attraction is the simple way the locals go about life in their small town.

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Travel Tips

The restaurants and café outside Mingun Paya are cheap and friendly.

There’s a fee of $3 for each visitor which you need to pay at the Sagaing-Mingun Fee counter.

You don’t need the cow cart but you can help the local drivers if you take it.

Look out for Ayeyarwady dolphins during the boat ride.

Check out more photos taken at Mingun on our Facebook page.

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Cave of Thousands Buddha – Pindaya, Myanmar

Let’s start with a legend.

Once upon a time, locals claimed that there was once a giant spider that lived in the cave. One day, the spider captured seven local princesses and held them captive inside. Then, a prince armed with bow and arrow went in and killed the spider then rescued the princesses. On his return to the village, he exclaimed “Pinguya” which translates to “Taken the Spider”. Thus, Pindaya became the name of the region.

Entrance of Pindaya Cave

Check out that big spider at the entrance!

Present Day

Stunning is the word to describe the landscape from Kalaw to Pindaya. Pindaya is located in a fertile valley bordered by a high mountain range. It is very scenic because of the multi-colored fields, ethnic villages, farms, carts loaded with cabbages and pine tree clad hills. Brown and bare rolling hills dotted with green trees from both sides captured my attention. Along the road are farmers tending to buffalos that often look up to break their concentration from grazing. Kids who are onboard tractors waved their friendly goodbyes while the older ones curiously gazed at us passing by. Sadly, it wasn’t planting season so the fields were empty.

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“I’d love to see this place again when the hills are filled with plants and flowers.” I loudly uttered. Jireh and Laura ( friends in the trip) seemed to agree with me.

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The facade of the cave from the foothill.

After more than an hour of leisurely drive, we caught the façade of the cave from the foot of the hill. It looked massive. Upon the entrance was a big spider sculpture that looked like it is ready to devour people. The path inside the cave was a covered stairway which leads to a glass elevator that brings tourists up to the main entrance.

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Cave of Thousands Buddha

A big pagoda like structure greets people upon the main entrance of the cave. Different styles and sizes of Buddha statues can be seen on the walls. Every nook and corner of the cave is cramped with images up to the ceiling. There are also unique images that are not found anywhere else in Myanmar (Burma). This spectacular limestone cave is said to have existed for the past 200 million years. It has almost 9,000 Buddha images which are created by hand by the pilgrims.

Don’t get lost or the spider might get you!

With Laura at the top of the maze

I slowly went through the maze filled with the sculptures and noticed that each has names and dates of whom and when they were donated. It was interesting to see that the sculptures came from people from around the world. Some sections were too small that I didn’t dare enter by crawling in them. ( My biggest fear is to be trapped and who knows if that big spider has some little ones hanging around! )The cave was also dimly lit and some parts of the floor were slippery. We also got lost in the maze, and the images started getting creepy after going through so many of them.

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View from inside the Pindaya Cave. The stairways are not to be laughed about.

The cave doesn’t offer much to non-Buddhists because it is mostly used for prayers and meditation. However, it was still interesting and unique to see the place. Sprinkled with a lake, temples and century old pagodas make this region important for Burmese Buddhists and an unusual sight for tourists.

Exploring the town was also a good respite after the cave. There are shops around the lake and locals make mulberry paper umbrellas of local designs and other handicrafts for sale.

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An umbrella maker in Pindaya

How to get to the Pindaya Caves

It is located in the Shan state in Central Myanmar (Burma) near the village of Pindaya. It is accessible from Kalaw and about 1 ½ hours or more drive from Heho airport depending on weather and road condition. It is better to hire a taxi/car to take you, also try to find other people to share the cost.

The cave is open daily during daylight hours. Entrance fee is US$ 3 per person.

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Inle Lake : Behind the Mist

“It’s okay, don’t worry! We can make it back to the hotel; this is not a storm, just strong wind!”

The boatman’s voice was drowned by the sound of the boat’s powerful engine on full speed. His assistant was carefully navigating his way to the bow of the wooden boat to get us rain coats and umbrellas. Looking up, the sky was dark and we could feel the wind blowing stronger.  I noticed that local fishermen were returning back to their stilt houses and other boats full of tourists were taking shelter. Then the rain started falling, heavy drops combined with strong wind. I looked back at the other people in the boat and asked them to tell the boatman to just go back; my shouts were carried away by the wind. Then, into the midst of the misty and dark lake we went.

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Around Inle Lake

Inle Lake is Myanmar’s second-largest freshwater lake and located in Nyaung Shew Township. It has a population of about 70,000 Inthas who are predominantly devout Buddhists and largely farmers. The town itself is small and walking around the lake is a delight on its own. There are also bike rentals for 1000-1500 Kyats per day which is great for longer distances.

The lake itself has a complex ecosystem where a unique and centuries-old civilization has flourished. There are small villages along the banks, stilt houses above the waterline and floating vegetable farms along complicated maze of side canals and streams to navigate. Houses on stilts are decorated with flowers and colorful laundry can be seen swinging in the breeze. There are small canoes used by locals to navigate from houses, villages, markets and temples.

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The Boat Trip

At 7 am, it wasn’t cold; rather it was a cool fresh feeling that enveloped me. It was after sunrise because we wanted to catch the sunset at the lake so we decided to have a late start. This kind of trip is scheduled with an itinerary of about 8 hours that includes visits to many workshops. However, if you tell the boat man that you are not interested to visit any one, they will skip it. It was 18000 Kyats shared by five of us passengers. We also got a guide/assistant and a boat driver.

We were seated in one row with small chairs installed in the boat. We had to be extra careful when getting on or off because there’s no outrigger so it easily sways. I sat on the first seat in front of the boat but I could not clearly see what’s ahead; all I can clearly make out is the mist of dawn that gives a silver-like light of the tranquil water in the lake. With only the sound of the boat breaking the silence, the place seemed mystical. What makes this place so interesting – I silently asked myself. The answer was about to reveal itself.

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As the boat approached the middle of the lake, I could not help but get an eerie feeling. The mist was preventing me from seeing what’s ahead. All I can see is the silhouette of the distant high mountains that flanked the lake. Then slowly, the mist cleared and a distant lone boat came to my view.

The fisherman was standing at the stern of the boat on one leg and the other leg wrapping the oar. Well, I have seen the pictures but with the tranquil water and mist surrounding the fisherman, it was very enchanting to watch. He was gracefully swinging his leg with the oar and perfectly balancing his other leg on the boat. This unique technique evolved because the lake is covered with reeds and floating plants which make it difficult to see above them if the fisherman is sitting. Standing provides the rower a view beyond the reeds. Many tourists have tried to do this style, most of them making a big splash into the water.

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We passed by floating vegetable farms, villages on stilts, and temples along the banks of the river. We stopped at a silk weaving factory, local boat makers shop, an iron smith, a tobacco maker shop and a restaurant for lunch. It was fascinating to see a flourishing community in the middle of a lake. Boosted by tourism inflows, many of the locals are working in the tourism industry.

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Another interesting part of the lake is the floating garden beds that are manually formed by farmers. They gather weeds from the lake and make them into beds anchored by bamboo poles. These gardens rise and fall with changes in the water level so they are not affected by flooding.

We also stopped by the shop of the popular long-necked people of the Palaung tribe in Inle Lake. They weave scarves and beautiful fabrics there. I found them very interesting; however, I could not make myself take photos of them. I personally feel like some tourists may treat them like some sort of circus attraction. I understood that they get paid but it was a matter of personal preference that I did not want to. If we had more time, I would have hung out with them a bit or just talk about their culture and tradition.

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After visiting another temple, we decided to slowly make our way back to the middle of the lake to wait for sunset. It was at this time that the weather started turning bad. Sunshine was covered by dark and gloomy clouds. We asked the boat man if we can still see the sun set, he was not sure. He suggested for us to go through one of the floating gardens and see if the sun shows up again. The canals were narrow and eerily quiet too. As we were almost at the end of the garden, the clouds started to become heavy and the wind was blowing stronger.

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“We should go back now!” the boat driver told us.

“Can we make it back without getting wet?”

“I have umbrellas, don’t worry!”

We all braced ourselves as the boat driver hit full speed. Then a lighting strike and a loud thunder followed. We all looked at each other with similar questions in our eyes – maybe we should wait until this clears up?

“It’s okay, don’t worry! We can make it back to the hotel; this is not a storm, just strong wind!”

The boatman’s voice was drowned by the sound of the powerful engine of the boat on full speed. His assistant was carefully navigating his way to the bow of the wooden boat to get us rain coats and umbrellas. Looking up, the sky was dark and we could feel the wind blowing stronger.  I noticed that local fishermen were already returning back to their stilt houses and some other boats full of tourists were taking shelter. Then the rain started falling, heavy drops of rain combined with strong wind. I looked back at the other people in the boat and asked them to tell the boatman to just go back; my shouts were carried by the wind. Then into the misty and dark lake we went.

I positioned my umbrella so that it is covering me from the wind and rain. The once tranquil water turned chaotic. We thankfully had life jackets, so I was not really that worried about the boat turning over. The rain coats helped but we got drenched all the same. It was almost twenty minutes of struggle until I felt the same cool and fresh feeling in the morning. Looking up, the sky cleared and the sun showed up. Although slowly setting, it was peaking behind the clouds that were slowly disappearing.

“See, the lake is so big that it rains in the middle part and the sun shines on the banks.” The boat driver laughingly said when we reached the bank of the lake. We could only laugh with him at that time.

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If I had the boat for myself, I would have asked the driver to go back to the lake and witness the sun set there. The mist may cover the lake and temporarily shield its dwellers, but I have observed that even in a community as unique as a floating village, people still do similar things as we do everywhere in the world. People go home, have dinner and go back to their families. It may not have been a day of sunset for me; however, it was still wonderful to get a glimpse of the mystery behind its mist.

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“Judas’ Cave” : Into The Depths

( To learn why this mountain is called “Judas’ Cave”, read the first part of this story here. )

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Al Gara Mountain is a vast expanse of layers of sedimentary rocks that can be seen with the naked eye. It is the most famous and frequently visited landmarks of the Al Ahsa Region. While nearing the starting point, your eyes can feast on the beauty of the mountain in its visible layers and an array of forms that seem to have been sculpted delicately by human hands-your imagination is the limit. The sands seem to create an illusion of waves as the mountains tower upon them. No wonder there are stories about giants and aliens, the scenery is wonderful and amusing to behold that it leaves you a feeling of “this is a government conspiracy”, it was that unbelievably well formed even when in disarray.

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Going a little up from the foot of the mountain to the cave is not a hard thing. It’ll take you only a few steps and a gallon of sweat. There were renovations and constructions going on when we visited the place since they are trying to develop it as a tourist attraction but that did not undermine its beauty. The entrance of the cave is relatively small to the huge and tall rocks that encompass it. Think about a three feet man beside an eight foot man huge (that HUGE). The façade of the cave is situated in between tall rock boulders .Humongous rocks seem to be chiselled to form alleys between them, welcoming all humans to discover its course. I thought, maybe this is how the ancients felt upon entering the Colossus of Rhodes or being watched by the Great Sphinx. At the outside, we kept on pointing and making sense of the rock formations.

There’s an ape! There’s a pharaoh’s mask! There’s a dinosaur! There are mushrooms!

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The cave is also known to be cold in the summer and warm in winters. Since it’s a freaking 50 C outside, it was a relief to be in the cool comfort of the cave. The main passageways were lighted by lamps with mounted cctv cameras. The dim lights complemented with the natural sunlight and the pallid to brownish walls creates an atmosphere worthy for its alleged history. The rocky ceilings were filled with gaps of different sizes as if they are oculi of the ceilings that allows the light in. Whoever designed this cave (conspiracy theory) made it challenging for claustrophobic.

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Further, a narrow staircase was built to allow easy access into the upper chambers of the cave. There have been talks that whoever hears the sighing of Judas and clanking of the coins inside the cave is bound to betray someone dear to him or her. Nevertheless I would have thought more of local “jins” (ghosts/spirits) inside and more so, tarantulas or snakes or scorpions when I shrinked myself to get inside a dark, isolated alley.

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My voice echoes, the air is cold, the chamber dark and I can’t take a selfie. I tried to climb into some of the narrow upper divisions but this limestone of a cave makes it hard to do so (I still tried). It was amazing that the cave seems to stretch infinitesimally, and at every main passageway branches more small and narrow ones that it could probably take you a day to finish and examine all of them. It was fun, awesome and enlightening to experience. I was also delighted to see that there was trash bins located inside the cave. We should leave nothing, not even footprints, for they get erased in the transitory state of the sands. I believe that is all we are, visitors.

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Somehow, the sentimental me have wished that it truly is Judas’ cave. That way, I could touch the walls and maybe feel that remorse he could have felt if nothing else. I wanted to sulk in the corner and maybe hear his sigh. Screw the rumors. Yet, in reality, the past is nothing else but as is- the past. Whether this is his death bed or not, it does not matter. It is nor relevant enough to be intellectualized. It is that is what is in front of you does.

And beauty, as what Oscar Wilde wrote ends where intellectual expression begins. Therefore, I walked out of that cave not an intellectual but an energy fueled by beauty and the sheer realization of my minute standpoint in this world.

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The Quest for “Judas’ Cave” in Saudi Arabia

(A guest post by Holly Christy Ibarra of Literary Nomad)

If you were given a chance to visit the cave where the infamous Judas Iscariot of the New Testament hid and hanged himself after his betrayal to Jesus, would you have gone?

Me? Wait, ‘cause I’m packing my stuff. I have a bus to catch.

I am currently living at the Northern Border of Saudi Arabia and a colleague here invited me and my friends to come to her sister’s place at the Eastern Province to visit a place known as “Judas Cave”. It could probably be just another Judas from their neighborhood, but I was intrigued when she said it was the cave where Judas hanged himself after his betrayal (Yes, that Judas). Anyway, it probably can’t be true but I was itching for a breather and a new scenery is highly inviting-with biblical significance or not (silently disillusioning that it has). So, me and my friend packed our bags and rode a bus for Dammam, Saudi Arabia to meet up with another two friends.

Oh, did I mention that it’ll take you about nine to ten hours by bus to get there? I just did! Although you can reach it by plane, which I unfortunately cannot very well afford. Besides, we travelers are practical and do not take the easy way. Experience is still the best policy (defense mechanism of the financially constraint). From Dammam, it took us another two hours by taking a bus going to Al Hofuf (A.K.A. Al Hasa/Al Ahsa). Another option is to take the railway train and you’ll be there in about an hour. We weren’t able to though, it was fully booked the time we got into the railway station (who knows there are too many Saudis travelling on a hot summer day!)

We arrived late in the evening at the house of my friend’s sister, took our delish homemade supper, Gulp, got wobbly and merry until three AM.

Nah, just kidding.

They don’t sell alcoholic beverages in Saudi Arabia. That’s mamnu (forbidden). So we called it a day (night) and saved our energy for the next day’s mountain tour. ETD: 6 AM. Alarm set: 5 AM.

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We woke up at six and left for the mountain at seven. It’s about 50°C outside and we jammed ourselves in the car where the air-conditioning system can’t seem to cool us inside our abayas. Thirty minutes. It was thirty hellish minutes of travel to Judas Cave. Our driver, a fellow Filipino who stayed in Hofuf for 20 years informed us that the place is actually called Al Gara Mountain (Jabal Al-Qarah) and the Saudi locals do not actually know about the entitlement of “Judas Cave”, it was only widespread among Filipinos. He doesn’t even know how that name came upon that mountain.

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While you wait for our thirty-minute travel to peak, let me tell you how I thought it can’t possibly be Judas Iscariot’s cave. First of all, the said betrayal and eventual crucifixion occurred in Jerusalem, about +2,000 kms away from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, the location of “Judas Cave” (thank you Google). In the Christian New Testament, there are more than one accounts of Judas death; two are from the Gospel of Matthew and from the Acts of Apostles.  Matthew 27:310 says that Judas returned the money to the priests and committed suicide by hanging himself. They used it to buy the potter’s field. The potter’s filed is called Akeldama, a place used as burial ground to this day. The Gospel account presents this as a fulfillment of prophecy. The Acts of the Apostles says that Judas used the money to buy a field, but fell headfirst, and burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. This field is called Akeldama or Field of Blood (source: Wikipedia).

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But if you insist, if by some alien intervention, Judas would like to move away into a new land, he has to travel the 1, 242 miles road to Saudi Arabia. If he’s spirited enough to walk all the way, given that the average human speed is about 3.1 mph regardless of the hot desert sun, hunger, body state (border issues); it’ll take him about 16 days to get to that cave (not to mention the road was even not a road at that time). Oh, if he happen to have a camel with the average speed of 40 mph, regardless again of the aforementioned factors, he could reach it in less than two days. Now there’s a thought. Sadly, nobody knew how it was named as such or if Judas was truly there. Some legends are meant to be legends huh?

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To read more of our adventure to Al Gara Mountain, here’s the second part of this adventure.

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An Adventure in a Desert of Saudi Arabia

( A guest post by Holly Christy Ibarra of The Literary Nomad. )

One surprisingly unexpected day, we were invited to see beyond the desert we thrive in. I mean living in the Middle East would always make you think of sands, and yes you’re right; but you’ve never experienced it if you do not go beyond the hot sun under the air-conditioned buildings.

After almost a week of scattered rains (unusual actually that it lasted for a week) we got the chance to finally go at a nearby place where the good old Saudi Arabian mud houses haven’t completely washed out yet by modern civilization. So shades on and it’s hello sunlight!

Sand Dunes

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The cliché of the desert: the dunes. And it’s still a good cliché. You may think walking barefoot would hurt your soles but not when we were there! Thanks to the week long rain showers! The sands felt soft and cool to the bare feet. Going up the was a fun ride since it’s slippery and wet; so the thrill of riding a car which will probably slip and fall down is an exciting idea that made us laugh (unless of course it actually happened). Thanks to our local Saudi driver who was ever brave or thrill sucker we arrived at the top end. Lo and behold! Think of sands that span everything your eyes could witness while the cool slightly humid winds blow your hair. Form the sands into mountains and hills and imagine walking at the narrow top while you could slip and roll at each edge anytime you lose enough balance and we’re on the same place. It was the greatest fun I had since living in this place.

The Rocky Plateau

What come along the sands are rocks. Pile them up and make a long range plateau. First thing though: trudge the rocky walls before you reach the awesome top!

Going to this place was no easy road. Small rocks scatter all over the place making it a bumpy ride in the middle of nowhere-literally. My thoughts: 3G signal, check (got to post them on Facebook right?); mobile signal, check. A person new on this path would never know his way. You got the rock and sand fields, no directions away from the highway road, no houses, only the mob of sleeping sheep that I realize are the slightly huge white “rocks” I saw from a distance. But no worries, we got a lot of gas to last a day, huge tires for this tire killer road and a local who know his way even with eyes closed (of course I never get to know that).

A Century Old Fault Line

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A thorny plant said to be the same species used to crown Jesus Christ

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 Flashback some hundred years ago and Saudi Arabia was hit by an earthquake. That was what our local company said. After surviving a missed dive directly into a maybe more than five meter edge (I take back when I said he can drive with eyes closed), we finally arrived at a perplexing view of cracked lands and black almost-felt-like- weightless stones spread around the area. Some were just narrow and distant longitudinal cracks while a few of them were huge enough that a person could fit into the seemingly cave faults which of course I did. A bonus find: a poisonous plant that bears what looked like an edible fruit and a thorny plant, said to be the same species used to crown Jesus Christ. I tried a soft prick on my finger and it was bloody painful I can tell.

The Mud Houses and a King’s Abode

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One of my favourite find in this place is the abandoned mud brick houses in the place. Earth based houses are naturally insulated, warm on winters and cool on summers, a perfect house for a sadistic temperatures on both extremes. Only a few of the houses remains though but I’m glad I was able to simply witness it. On our way home, we also passed by a renovated old building where it was said that the king used to live there some hundred years ago (identity remains unknown to us though).

It may not be the green landscape or the sunny blue skies and white beaches, but I always think that every place has its own charms and to discover them takes more than just being open minded, it takes a thirst for adventure too, oh and doing it with friends!

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Rotating Market in Kalaw (Myanmar)

Kalaw is a former British hill station in Shan State, Myanmar (Burma). En route to Inle Lake by bus from Bagan, this small town offers cool temperature, pine-tree filled views and fresh air. Tourists stop by Kalaw to trek to Inle Lake. However, I decided to skip trekking to explore more of the town and Pindaya. One of the attractions of the small town is the five-day cycle rotating market. This event moves each day from town to town around the Kalaw/Inle region. I was lucky enough to be there for the arrival of the market.

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It starts early in the morning and looked similar to other Southeast Asian open markets that I have seen. It’s a typical outdoor market that offers everything for the locals and some interesting sights for tourists. Many people who are selling and buying produce hiked from great distances from the surrounding villages. The atmosphere makes up for a great activity as the buzz of people and colors is interesting to immerse with early in the morning.

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This man saw me taking photos and then he asked me to take his photo too. He gamely smiled for the camera.

 

How to get to Kalaw

Buses from Bagan leave at 7:30 in the morning arriving in Kalaw around 3pm approximately (K11,000). Same bus continues to Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe town). Make sure to buy the ticket as soon as possible since it’s always overcrowded and you don’t want to get a spare seat on the aisle.

To catch this rotating market, try to call ahead to a hotel in Kalaw, they will know when the next schedule of arrival in town.

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Breathless Moments in Bagan, Myanmar

The squeaking of the wheels on my bike was the only sound I could hear. The gently forming sweat behind my neck was cooled down by a gentle breeze that touched my face and blew my otherwise properly braided hair. The warm and welcomed heat of the sun highlighted the colors of the place. All around me, I see different sizes of stupas and pagodas. Every bend on the road reveals a sight that makes me feel like I am in a different world.

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Loud shouts woke me up from the comfortable reclining seat of the overnight bus that Jireh, Shayne and I took from Yangon to Bagan. Looking out of the window, it was still dark but many people were already at the bus station. Most of them are taxi or horse cart drivers waiting for passengers. The now familiar shouts of people asking where we were going greeted us when we stepped off the bus. As always, haggling is one of the things I love and hate when traveling. It is the game of who’s going to get the best rate out of the other. However, since it was still early in the morning; I accepted defeat and took a taxi to the hotel.

That afternoon, we decided to have our first proper meal of the day at one of the restaurants overlooking Ayeyarwaddy River. Renting out bikes, we pedaled to Sunset Garden restaurant in New Bagan. It was a decision we did not regret. The restaurant is situated on a cliff with beautiful jars lined as decoration. Looking down below, the gently flowing river separated the distant mountains. The food was affordable and delicious as well. With the sun slowly setting, golden colors reflecting on the river and hearing distant birds singing, the moment captivated me. After a short while, the food was served and it was a wonderful first day wrapped up in Bagan.

Early the next day, we decided to hire a car to take us around Bagan to see the famous temples. There are so many of them, over 2000, so we decided to visit the important ones. I wrote about the 10 temples that I personally liked and recommended too. There’s also a $10 fee if you decide to go inside one of the biggest temples, however, many of the smaller temples are free to enter and just as beautiful experience.

Bagan, Temples, Panorama

After the whole day of temple trampling, the driver took us to one of the temples to wait for the sunset. It was a busy one; many tourists came for the sunset as well. People were milling around, taking pictures with locals and tourists alike. We waited with unmasked anticipation; the distant clicks of cameras broke the suddenly silent place. Time passed by so quickly and then it was over,another breathless and beautiful moment in Bagan.

Bagan, horse carts, myanmar

On the third day, we literally took the meaning of breathless by deciding to bike around the city. Renting bikes from our hotel, we decided to go to other side of Old Bagan; the main area where most of the temples are located. As we slowly followed the paved and winding road, the pleasant early morning sun showed the way. Along the road, we passed by people walking, tending to their goats, horse carts and buses filled with tourists. Then, we decided to leave the main highway and followed a smaller dirt road.

The squeaking of the wheels on my bike was the only sound I could hear. The gently forming sweat behind my neck was cooled down by a gentle breeze that touched my face and blew my otherwise properly braided hair. The warm and welcomed heat of the sun highlighted the colors of the place. All around me, I see different sizes of stupas and pagodas. Every bend on the road reveals a sight that makes me feel like I am in a different world.

Bike, Bagan, Temples, Myanmar

The smaller temples were charming and unique. Some looked worn out; some looked like a version of smaller cities. The best thing about biking was I can stop anywhere I like. Whenever I meet locals, I was met with smiles and curious glances. The place enveloped me with the surreal feeling of being in a place that isn’t touched with all the perks of technology. We decided to stop at one of the temples for a few hours, it was so peaceful and without interruption, the perfect place to relax and read a book.

Sunset, Temple, Bagan, Myanmar

The atmosphere of the temple was very similar to the atmosphere of Bagan as a whole. It was calm, unspoiled and a truly wonderful part of the world to see, and biking there is one of my favorite travel moments.

 

Categories: Bagan, Myanmar | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments
 
 

5 Things to do Around Krabi Town

Krabi town is a popular hub for tourists who want to stay somewhere relatively cheap but closer to the beautiful islands of southern Thailand. Compared to Phuket, Krabi is more laid back and inexpensive but also offers several attractions in and around the town.

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If you’ve had enough of the islands and staying in Krabi town, here are some things that you can do.

5. Krabi Food Night Market

A big night market usually happens every Saturday but a smaller one with great selection of food pops up near the ferry pier to Railay. There are stalls with different inexpensive dishes which is a great place to test your tummy for Thai food. Prepare to be filled up for the evening.

4. Visit Wat Kaew Temple

This is a temple in the centre of Krabi town. The white façade with blue roof will attract your attention but make sure to visit inside this large complex. It is a wonderful place to relax and pass the time especially if you’re caught in a downpour. It is just across the popular Vogue Mall.

3.  See Khao Kanab Nam

Walk along the river and you can see people taking pictures of a big black crab. Behind it is the symbol of Krabi; a silhouette of two karst rocks situated next to each other.  Hire a long tail boat to take you from the pier to the rocks where you can walk up some stairs to the top.

2. Visit Wat Tam Seua (Tiger Temple)

Technically not in Krabi town, but a short 3 km away is a Buddhist temple known for tiger paw prints, tall Buddha statues, panoramic view of Krabi and strenuous 1272 small steps to the summit. It rises to about 600 meters (2,000 feet) with monkeys roaming around the stairs and temple. Be prepared to sweat and don’t forget to bring bottled water. Songtaews ply the way from Krabi town for about 50 Baht per trip.

1.  Drive and Enjoy the Emerald Pool and Blue Lagoon

Locals call this place “Sra Morakot” which means Emerald pool. It is located just an hour away from Krabi town, this is a popular destination for locals and tourists. The Emerald pool or pond is fresh and cool with the water supplied from natural streams coming from the hill. It is part of a national park so they require an entrance fee for both locals 20 THB and 200 THB for tourists.

sa-morakot copy

So if you’re in Krabi town for a short stay, check out these places and you’ll surely add more fun experiences than just islands hopping. Bonus activity: take a boat to Railay for a day and enjoy one of the most peaceful and stunning sunsets in Krabi.

Categories: Krabi, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments
 
 

10 Temples to Visit in Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan is a fascinating place that lures many to see one of the world’s greatest archeological sites. Located on the banks of Ayeyarwady River in Central Myanmar (Burma), Bagan is a vast plain, partly covered of palm and tamarind tree with silver-grey distant mountains as its background. From the plain’s green spots, a dozen, hundreds or thousands of temples rise. Their silhouettes are beautiful, haunting and other-worldly. Originally 4,450 temples were built by the kings of Bagan between 1057 and 1287, however, only 2,230 of them survived.

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To explore all of them would be a long and tedious feat; however, just seeing 10 of them will give you a glimpse of the amazing place that is Bagan.

10. Gaw Daw Palin Phaya (Temple)

This is the 2nd tallest temple in Bagan. It features pointed arches and vaulted that looks good from the outside. However, its exterior is more impressive than its interior design. Inside are highly decorated ceilings with white-washed corridors and traces of formerly impressive murals  can be seen behind the heads of Buddha statues.

9. Shwe Gu Gyi Temple

This is a temple that boasts fantastic views of the surrounding temples of Bagan’s plains. Taking a steep and narrow stairs take you to a veranda where you can see different views from each side. It is also a good alternative sunset watching spot because it is less crowded and has almost as nice view of the river and temples.

8. Thatbyinnyu Temple

Thatbyinnyu which also means “omniscience” is the tallest temple in Bagan. It is known for its impressive brickwork covered in white stucco and stone pavements. Take a closer look at its brick masonry because of its intricacy that one cannot put a knife blade between the bricks. Its white façade looks beautiful which is actually the most interesting part of the temple.

7. Manuha Paya

This temple will surprise you with the Buddhas inside the small temples. They looked too large for their enclosures. It feels cramped and uncomfortable inside which is said to represent the stress and lack of comfort of King Manuha who was held captive in Bagan and built this temple to represent his displeasure. This temple is one of the first places that Aung San Suu Kyi visited when she was released from prison.

6. Gubyaukgyi Temple

Visit this “cave temple” for its interesting Indian-style spire and intricate murals that are blissfully preserved by not allowing photographs to be taken. UNESCO restored the paintings on the wall so bring a torch to clearly see the colored illustrations. A really nice stop if you’re biking along the highway. This is one of my personal favorites as well.

5. Dhamma Yangyi Temple

The largest of all temples in Bagan but comes with an eerie story which makes it more fascinating. Locals consider this temple as the ghost temple because of stories that the work on the temple had to be so perfect that if a worker leaves even a really small gap in between the bricks, his arm has to be cut on one of the stones. The guide mentioned that it is the only temple with two Buddhas sitting side by side as well.

4. Shwe Zigon Pagoda

It is considered one of the oldest and most sacred temples in Bagan. It resembles the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and it is also covered in gold. Make sure to visit in the morning as the floor can get really hot in midday.

3. Shwesandaw Temple

This is the temple to be for sunrise. Be prepared for a very steep climb but well worth the view for there are hundreds of other pagodas and stuppas in sight from the top. Come early and enjoy the fascinating view of Bagan.

2. Sulamani Guphaya Temple

This is my favorite temple in Bagan because of its fantastic exterior, stunning frescoes and beautiful murals. It is a photographer’s heaven and the place has a very relaxing feeling. It is a temple that should not be missed!

1. Ananda Temple

The most beautiful temple in Bagan stands out for its unique architectural style. It is one of the most visited and well preserved as well. Its murals, frescos, paintings and overall design give you the feeling of awe and wonder. It is simply stunning.

Take a whole day to explore these temples then another day to bike around. Enjoy the smaller ones and feel the ambiance of the entire place. It is one of the places that will make you feel in awe of history and past civilizations.

Categories: Bagan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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