by Janet Levinger

Janet shares her travel notes from a January 2013 family trip to Myanmar (Burma)


We went with Cardinal Photo.  Group had 12 guests plus Dave, his partner Ed, and a Burmese Guide Yan. After our kids left, we had two fewer people. Once on the boat, we had only 8 of us. Dave Cardinal is a long-time friend of ours. Tour was all about taking photos and they took us to spots specifically for photos, paid people to pose for us, etc. This means getting up early for best light and doing a lot of sunsets. Dave did a great job, very patient.  He helped me as a raw beginner with my photography, also seemed very helpful to more experienced photographers. Some guests were repeat guests which means a lot. Dave worked with Tour Mandalay to organize the tour. If you don’t want photo tour, you could go with Tour Mandalay directly. They did an excellent job and arranged local guides in each place as well. Dave usually brings a smaller group so he brought Ed along. He also had two buses arranged so people could divide up. Having a local guide was good not only to explain history and sites but also to ask people to pose for us, etc.


Hotel Savoy Myanmar

Very nice hotel. Would definitely recommend.

Independence Monument and Sule Pagoda good to walk by.

Wharf along the Irrawaddy river — very fun to see all the workers unloading rice and produce.

Scott Market –historic, huge. Not open on Mondays. Has good jade — go inside away from the more touristy areas and also some more traditional tapestry but ask, the best is on the second floor.

Schwedagon pagoda –absolutely must see. The Shwedagon not only features a massive dome with over 50 tons of gold finish and a top of diamonds and precious stones but is alive with hundreds of local Buddhists and monks celebrating, praying and just visiting with friends.

Bagan and the Plain of Temples

Hotel Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary

Again, a very nice hotel with many small cabanas each with four rooms. Beautiful pool.

Bagan has over 4000 temples sprinkled around the countryside in an area of 13×7 kilometers – big ones and small ones, in good repair and poor repair. The oldest is 1500 years old.  They are everywhere. The town itself is not large.

For us, Bagan was Balloons, Bikes, Buddhas, Boats plus monasteries and markets. Specific sites:

Shwe Leik dew pagoda – to watch sunrise. 12C with 4 Buddha images.

Law Ka Hteik Pann temple with beautifully 12C paintings, currently being restored.

Schwelateto Temple good to climb up.

Beludi temple also good climbing.

Schwezigon Pagoda lots of gold.

Bagan Market – I especially like markets.

Lacquer Shop  — we saw how they make lacquer and could buy some.

Law Ka O Shaung Temple – beautiful view and place to see the sunset

Ballooning this was super fun, much larger balloons that I have been in in the US. Run by Brits – very safe and Biking we rented mountain bikes and went from Temple to temple along very sandy roads. This was very fun.  Don’t know the names of most temples as we just meandered.

Hsin Phyu Shin Monastery Complex one of the temples we saw while biking. Inside, you can crawl into a small space where there are some old relics. Need a flashlight (or phone with flashlight app). Fun to crawl through and you can stand once you get in.

Ananda Pahto temple

Boat ride on the Irrawaddy – was a great way to see the sunset.

We went out of Bagan to visit a small village called Phwar where we were very welcome. They showed us their homes, how they grind sesame, lots of livestock.  We visited a local school in West Pwa Saw Village where we spoke with the teachers and students Even the English teacher did not speak very well. We were told all exams are about reading/writing, not speaking. We heard students recite and sing. We made a donation to the school and also bought ice cream for all the students.

Shwe nan yin taw temple and Sulamani Resevoir where we took photos of the novices we hired.

Temple #820 with Buddha images in 11C Indian style.

La Ka Hteik Pann temple with restored frescoes.

Pwa Saw Village School and nearby Phwar Saw Village

Balloons over Bagan did a fantastic job. Well worth it. Run by Brits.

Food: Green Elephant restaurant – ate lunch in Bagan and dinner in Mandalay. The Beach Restaurant for lunch one day. Also dinner at Sunset Garden Restaurant.


Hotel The Red Canal

Mandalay is the second largest city in Burma. It was mostly destroyed during WWII so most of it is new since then.  We visited nearby areas of Sanaing and Amanapura – but all seemed like the same place to us as the buses took us there. Specific sites:

Seyathingi Nunnery This was fun. The nuns wear pink and cook for themselves. We got to see the kitchen. They also sang/chanted for us.

Myesekye Monastery a very large monastery for study not meditation. Watched the monks go to lunch. Monks eat breakfast and lunch. Nothing after noon each day.

U Min Phone Ze – beautiful temple with many Buddha.

Golden Palace Monastery this was part of the palace moved to a new location, then a monastery, then the government kicked out the monks and it is now a temple of some sort. Made of teak.

Mandalay Hill – huge complex with a great view. Big tourist site for locals. We met with monks from Shan state who wanted to practice their English. Spoke to  many of them.

Zedgyo Market Great market. The guide walked me through all the food areas and told me what we were seeing. Lots of women carrying various things on their heads.

King Galon gold leaf Saw people make gold leaf – starting with a gold nugget and then hammering it down.

Mahamuni Temple another beautiful and large temple.  Men (women are not allowed near) buy gold leaf and add it to the main Buddha which weighs tons.

Antique Store with Tapestry – saw puppets and other antiques plus some lovely hand made tapestries which we could also see people making

Bronze Casting learned how they do bronze casting – making mostly HUGE Buddha. They make clay model, put was on it, add more clay on top. Then heat upside down to melt the wax. The HOT bronze is poured inside. Big pieces are made in parts and then assembled. Most are paid for by wealthy patrons, often from China or Thailand. I thought this was very interesting.

Lunch at Tea Shop we had lunch at a traditional tea shop – cost us less than $1/person. Food was good and you could see the locals.

Stone Carving – we went to an area where they did stone carving and other crafts. I was most amused by the laundry hanging out amid all the dust from the marble carvings. This was fun, but not necessary.

Silk Workshop – went to another silk place. This one was somewhat automated, with two 100 year old machines – but most was done by hand. Had some nice things but you don’t need to go if you have seen other things.

U Bein Bridge – old 10-foot wide teak bridge which is long and rickety. We walked across and then got a boat to watch the sunset behind the bridge from the water. This is beautiful and a must see – but lots of tourists are there. Need to get there early as boats run out.

River boat tour on the Irrawaddy River aboard the Amara II

Amara II – the boat is spacious, with very nice, large (10×15) rooms – 5 rooms in all. We rented the entire boat for ourselves. Food was good and all attentive. The boat ride was amazing though not as active as I would have liked.

  • Not a lot of exercise but going to villages where few white people are seen is special.

Mandalay to Shinemaga

Mingun was our first stop the first day. It has an unfinished but huge brick pagoda which is falling apart, the world’s largest undamaged hanging bell, and small shops with local art. You can go there on a day or even half-day trip from Mandalay which I would recommend.

Sheinmaga to Thabeikkyin

Nwe Nyein pottery village was great. Lots of kids, beautiful pottery. They don’t see many white folk so we were all curious about each other. We had candy and notebooks for the children. The women all wanted to touch my skin. The kids liked seeing the photos we took of them. Thabeikkyin has a big sand bar where we stopped. The day was much windier than the first day.

Thabeikkyin to Tagaung

We continued upstream to Tagaung, one of the oldest capitals of Myanmar. Excursion into Tagaung.  Tagaung is a town of about 25,000 people. Not that much to be excited about. We saw some temples that had been restored and walked through town. We did not see any white people in this larger town.

Tagaung to Katha

We went to the  market town of Katha which is the setting for George Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days, a book I have not read but is apparently quite critical of British rule. We saw the old English Club, George Orwell’s home, and the train station – only one train per day. We walked through the market.

Katha to Shwegu

We got up early to see the morning market and sunrise and were rewarded by also seeing the monks come for morning breakfast. The day on the river was uneventful, the landscape little changed.

Shwegu is a dusty town. We arrived too late for the market so it did not seem very lively. But few westerners come and we paraded through town with people running to doors and windows to see us. We went early the next morning to the Shwe Baw Kyune monastery which has about 7000 pagodas and a nearby village with houses built on stilts because the monastery and village are on an island that floods.

Shwegu to Bhamo

An early morning departure starts our last day on the river. We went through the Second Defile, where the river deepens and the banks become steep cliffs. In the afternoon our boat will arrive at Bhamo, the most northern extent of riverboat travel.

Bhamo to Mandalay

After breakfast onboard the Amara, we return flew to Mandalay

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