Star Date: February 2008
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Hello! Literally, 'It's a blessing' - Burmese)
Shrouded in mystery, Myanmar (formerly Burma) is an unknown land; lifting it's veil slightly and offering glimpses into the exotic, inimitable country beneath. Rising like a glistening beacon above Yangon is one of the true wonders of the world, Shwedagon Paya. This 300 ft gilded stupa or 'zedi' is nothing less than breathtaking; a vivid reminder of former life in "Golden Land". The revered 2500 year old megalith containing 8 hairs of the Buddha, is covered with over 50 metric tons of gold leaf, as thick as a person's finger. The 30 story high stupa has over 7000 diamonds and gems in it's top or 'hti'. The crowning glory is a 76 carat diamond pyramid which glistens in the evening spotlights or reflects spectacular hues of the setting sun on the golden stupa. Intending to have a look for a couple of hours we ended up spending over 5 hours visiting most of the 80 temples and stupas, chatting with monks, studying symbolism and finally being surreptitiously picked up by 76 yr old Garnet, who explained Buddhism, told us legends and helped us honor our birth shrines. (Joseph born Wed: southern corner, planet Mercury, animal: elephant. Nancy: born Mon: east corner, planet: moon, animal: tiger). Pouring water and bowing to the stupa ensured that our secret wishes would come true. We also saw the 23 ton bell which while being pillaged by the British was dropped into the river. When the soldiers couldn't raise the bell they proclaimed, "You can have it back!" We were shown the 4 ft high gilded Buddha presented to Queen Victoria by plundering troops. Upon receipt of this gift she immediately developed a severe headache that lasted over 3 months. It was returned to Burma in a steel box (still surrounding the statue) following a vision telling her to send it back where it belonged. With a long, colorful history starting with the 10th century, stories and legends abound. Sunsets here are mystical and surrealistic. We returned a month later to Shwedagon, once again transported back in time. Become part of this rich history by retracing bare foot steps around Shwedagon Paya, or Sule Paya. Save time for a stroll around neighboring Kandawgyi Lake with its many small temples, tree lined islands, restaurants and board walks. A pleasant respite from the bustling city and crowded markets.
When walking the streets of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) one is immediately thrown into an intense mixture of cultures. Within a 2 block radius we interacted with Burmese, Sikhs, Chinese, Nepalese Gurkas, Muslims, Indians, and Monks. Buddhist Wats, Hindu and Chinese temples, Islamic mosques, and Christian crosses punctuate the skyline. Many Burmese also worship animist 'nats' or spirit beings, with colorful totems adorning the trunks of trees or doorways. This rich diversity of cultures, languages, foods and religions existing side by side, is a living example of tolerance and acceptance, from which the whole world can learn.
One of the first things to strike you when walking down the streets of Myanmar are the yellow markings painted on everyone's faces, often accompanied by a big smile showing bright red teeth stained by betel nut. What a glorious combination. From whole face masks to squares, squiggles or circles on cheeks this interesting practice is similar to the paste smeared on my face in a longhouse in remote Borneo. There the paste is put on only at home and usually in the morning. Initially just worn at night here too the Burmese have come out of the closet and seem to wear it everywhere and at all times. Made from the bark of the thanakha tree it is supposed to provide protection from the sun thus improving beauty, and with all the beautiful women around this may be the case. Unfortunately the current widespread craze in vanity's name has taken a turn for the worse. Those women with extra money now add unhealthy bleaching cream, moisturizer, sunscreen and/or perfume. As white skin people toast themselves on the sandy shores, Asians join the unthinkable practice of bleaching their skin whiter. Beauty practices worldwide are a curious phenomenon. What is painstakingly carried out in one country or region is hilarious to another tribe or area. A thin woman in some countries would be thought of as unhealthy and unattractive as a potential wife. Such a change from western countries where women starve themselves to keep thin. Here plumpness is also a sign of good health and prosperity, in contrast to the many thin, poor villagers from rural areas. To say 'wa-laiq-ta' (how fat you're looking) is a real compliment. If this is the case overweight, white skinned westerners feasting at McDonalds would be held in high esteem here! Without understanding the accompanying side effects of poor health , the learning curve is often slow in developing countries emulating our western lifestyle. They can't afford processed or fast foods, excessive meat, unhealthy beauty products, or visits to the doctor with chemical prescription drugs. They often live in quiet rural areas, get plenty of exercise and grow organic vegetables in the back yard. Poor yes, but the Burmese are rich in many of life's essentials. What is progress?
The spirited people of Myanmar have withstood centuries of oppression starting with Kublai Khan, a succession of ruling kings and warlords, King George VI and finally the current military regime. Possession of a white (albino) elephant supposedly ensured Burmese kings a long and prosperous reign. In 1885 King Thibaw's white elephant died and soon thereafter the British took over the country. The British continued to colonize until ousted in 1948. With the self proclaimed slogan: "Everybody's friend but nobody's ally" this government has made few friends since 1962. After widespread nonviolent protests started on the auspicious date of Aug. 8 1988, (8-8-88) in which over 3000 died, international pressure caused the junta, in power 26 years, to hold elections. Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD party won with 84% of the votes. Rather than let their reign end the SPDC military power put Suu Kyi under house arrest for 6 years, at the same time changing the countries name from Burma to Myanmar. Speaking 4 languages and married to an Oxford professor while living in Europe, Aung San Suu Kyi continued writing and encouraging Buddhist based non violent change. She was awarded many literary prizes, including the Nobel Peace Prize. Facing continual control by the government she wasn't allowed to speak in public following her release in 1995, and when her support was rising to threatening levels, she and her followers were ambushed and over 100 killed. Barely surviving, Suu Kyi was jailed for several months then returned to house arrest where she remains to this day (almost 20 years later).
Recently, in October 2007, the world was aghast by the thug like quelling of a peaceful protest of monks and students in Yangon. Thirty one protestors were killed, and many more were tortured, jailed or disappeared. The image of the Japanese journalist laying on the sidewalk, camera still in hand, after being shot point blank by soldiers is a vivid example of the violence. We had dinner with a westerner, living here for over a year, who had been taking photos of the protest next to the Japanese journalist. When the shooting started they ran in opposite directions, their fates taking a different course.
Visas were stopped for 6 weeks and now they have allowed a few visitors like us in, but for tourism only. Still angry, several locals offered their ideas to us, hoping for outside intervention. "Without guns we are helpless, maybe the US will provide what we need". Little do they realize that the global powers that be are already pulling the strings. After all, sensitive off limits border zones have few insurgents to speak of, as they claim, but they do happen to be one of the prime opium growing regions in Asia. Coincidence? Do a search on the below link to follow the captivating history of mankind; from early symbolism and religions to present times. A must! We learned about this all-encompassing documentary from a Buddhist monk of 27 years and a fellow passenger flying into Yangon. www.zeitgeistmovie.com
Raising taxes and fuel charges to support a new centrally located capital, Naypyidaw, near Pyinmana, being built by forced labor gangs, has locals upset. With the average annual income around $1800 and a pitiful 0.4% of national budget going towards health care, it seems that Myanmar's people are a lower priority than this new shrine immortalizing the politicians. Our contact felt that the recent protests were fuelled by economic despair rather than ideals. One privately owned guesthouse we stayed at was charged a $700 license fee last year, eating up most of their profit and possibly forcing yet another private venture out of business, due to the lack of tourists. There is less than a chicken in every pot in most rural areas and this hunger for peace and basic sustenance, in a land where teachers still earn $8-$14 a month (military soldiers start at $40), is a recipe for disaster.
So why would anyone want to come visit Myanmar? The people! The people are beautiful, happy and warmhearted. Opinions vary on whether to support the tourist boycott of Myanmar. The Burmese want to have us here and with a background of British occupation many are able to communicate very well in English. Foreigners are called guests and treated as such. With careful attention to avoid government owned tours, transport and hotels, any money put directly into the pockets of private citizens is greatly appreciated to say the least; Myanmar being rated one of Asia's most impoverished nations.
Isolated for so many years it is obvious at once, when visiting the rural areas, that outside influences of dress and technology haven't caught on. A man in a sarong skirt or 'longyi', sporting a turban, along with his wife colorfully dressed in hand woven clothing and puffing on a large cigar, ride along on their ox cart as they have for centuries. Gone are the incessant cell phones. There is still no internet to speak of and only 1.6 cars and 9 telephones per 1000 people. Rotating blackouts reflect the government's policy to sell most energy supplies to neighboring China. The largest bill is the 1,000 kyat or about 80 cents, so life is still thought of in small change. When we buy fruits or vegetables at the local markets there is a big fuss if we pull out a big 80 cent bill to pay. Visiting Myanmar is like getting a glimpse of what life was like a century ago. People don't flock to the cities in search of a modern life like in many countries, instead over 67% still are involved with agriculture or fishing. Staying at home in the village means many Burmese are well fed from their own fields and gardens. The simple life, once again, is often the healthiest. Of the 53,000,000 total population, approx 450,000 are in the military. It takes a lot of soldiers to run a military government. Several men we have talked to told us they were businessmen and, "Well, a soldier too". Large military compounds are visible on the edge of every town but they don't maintain a high gun toting profile as in some countries. They simply are in charge and everyone knows it. It is against the law to speak against the government and an active secret police enforce this. Slogans proclaiming the rules of the military rulers over the Burmese citizens are painted prominently in the town squares, especially in little villages off the tourist circuit. "Oppose foreigner's points of view that threaten the stability of our nation." "Tatmadaw and the people, cooperate and crush all those harming the union." "Crush all internal and external enemies who go against our common cause." and on and on. The peeling paint reflects the feelings of these oppressed gentle folk. The Burmese love their motherland but not the controlling rulers. Don't start political conversations, let the locals initiate this topic, when they know it is safe. We were informed that many young men are simply told they will volunteer for a forced labor project or serve in the military. One visiting doesn't know the real story in this troubled land but the consensus is that change must happen - the sooner the better.
Bordering on Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh contributes to Myanmar's rich ethnological mix, some 135 distinct groups; especially in the northern border regions. The majority are Bamar or Burmese, thought to have originally migrated from the Himalayas. Walking the streets is like viewing snapshots of faces from Tibet, China, India, or other SE Asia countries, and any mixture of the above. Most Bamar are devout Theravada Buddhists. They believe that only by reaching a state of complete wisdom and non-desire can one attain true happiness. To achieve wisdom and eliminate craving one must turn inward and master one's own mind through meditation or 'bhavana'. (This practice of quieting the mind is something that we can all look at to help balance our hectic, stress filled lives. Three month meditation visas are available at one of the many meditation training centers). Until this state of balance or peace is achieved Buddhists believe that life repeats itself endlessly, learning lifetime after lifetime until we get it right. Their lives revolve around abstinence from the big 5: killing, stealing, adultery, lying and intoxicating substances. Short of perfect behavior requires acquiring merit for a better future life by feeding monks, performing regular worship at local payas or temples, helping those in need or donating to temples. The favorite trick is for prosperous old gentlemen to build a whole stupa for a monastery to ensure that his slate of immoral actions in life is wiped clean and he can reincarnate to a higher level. Kind of like buying an express ticket. This even includes the top military generals who have some seemingly heavy karma or 'kamma' to work off. Government owned media reports daily on the merit making of top VIP's. (Like our venerable leader reading storybooks to school children or sitting like the perfect Christian in the front row of his church).
Some of the ethnic groups, such as the Shan, Kayah, Kachin, Kayin, and Naga (from Nagaland - the symbolism continues) have resisted the ruling governments for centuries and many of their states are completely off limits to travelers. When tensions die down (and opium crops profiting outside interests are grown elsewhere) these states will hopefully open up and there will be a whole new dimension to explore in Myanmar. Near the state borders, where outsiders are banned, it is still possible to see colorfully dressed tribes people nonchalantly going about their daily lives. The best place to soak in the local flavor is always, as said so many times, at the weekly or 5 day local markets. Villagers walk in, sometimes 20 miles or more, to buy, sell, chat and socialize.
Most Burmese worship Buddha, but make friends with the nat or spirits. Dating back to pre-buddhism when animism or worship of nature was practiced now it is hard to distinguish these two as they exist side by side. Many homes or sites around the country have red and white colors draped to make friends of these sometimes malevolent spirits. If a person is possessed by such a bad spirit they may perform unconscionable acts in public. But have no fear, the exorcist services of an older Buddhist monk, for a fee of course, will send the unwanted nat packing.
There are over 500,000 monks in
Myanmar (about the same number as
Women of Myanmar enjoy legal equal rights with men and women outnumber men in University. It is only within Buddhism where women are forced to take a back seat. While boys age 5 to 15 spend time in monasteries as novice monks, girls have their ears pierced in a special ceremony or become temporary nuns. In a breath of fresh air most Myanmar women see their role as equal but supportive and complimentary to men, rather than competitive.
In the 13th century Marco Polo described Myanmar as having vast jungles teeming with elephants, unicorns and other wild beasts. Still home to wild tigers, leopards, rhinos, bears, tapirs, monkeys and elephants; as the prime forests disappear at an alarming rate, so go the animals, birds and flora. Off to see some of this exotic flora and fauna we discovered that all buses north traveled at night. Only the train left in the morning and when we tried to purchase a ticket we were told we could only travel upper class or tourist for $35 to Thazi. We protested that we were ordinary people and wanted to travel ordinary class. Smiling they sent us to the adjacent building where we paid $8 to travel with the 'ordinary' locals. Upholding it's reputation the 12 hour trip lasted 14 hours and although the hard seats were really hard, our interactions with the surrounding locals were fun and heartwarming, the real reason we travel. Arriving in Thazi after dark we were whisked away on a horse and cart in true frontier town fashion. Welcomed into a family owned guesthouse we spent over an hour talking with the owners and left with a better understanding of current affairs in Myanmar, from a local perspective. Our jam packed bus up to the mountains and Kalaw groaned with each bump. Perfect warm sunny days and almost freezing nights reminded us of the elevation and the fact that it was winter. Without the rain it was great hiking weather, you just had to snuggle under piles of blankets at night until the frost burned off the fields. We randomly picked out a village on the map (see below) and ended up trekking over 10 miles through pine forests, fields, and thatched houses. Gone were most of the forests and animals but we were enthusiastically greeted by villagers heading into town. We gained a great appreciation for their stamina as they not only walked the 10 mile circuit but with mammoth loads of goods that made us tired just watching. We spent one afternoon with an 84 yr old resident who had seen too many changes to remember, and stopped by and chatted with young novices at the monastery in the middle of classes. We hung around for the flamboyant, vibrant 5 day market, when all the brightly garbed tribes people walked in to see us, rather than us trekking up into the hills to meet them.
The Inley Lake region, a magnet for everyone who visits Myanmar is difficult to reach but one of the only areas of about 10 different tribes including Intha, Shan, Pa-O, Kayah, etc. that is open to travelers. Nyaungshwe, boasting a fantastic 5 day market, is an interesting place to stay, although the floating hotels right on the lake certainly looked inviting. With a fringe of infrastructure for tourists from earlier times, people are hurting for business. We were told that one year ago there were 10 times the tourists. The town was almost empty except for a couple of groups of Germans and Russians passing through on tour. (with all profit going to the government. We wondered if they researched the countries situation at all or just went for the lowered price). Passing your business around in Myanmar is really important. We bought a bit of vegetables from each lady's blanket, bought one necklace from each stall, stayed at one hotel, bought our bus ticket from another and paid for a private boatman. Trying to take privately owned transportation also, someone laughed and said that yes the government profits directly from certain airlines, transport, and all tours but in fact one of the top generals took over some of the private bus lines. All we can do is try to help in a small way and deal directly with the people.
Our day out on 22 mile long Inley Lake was nothing less than spectacular and the happy energy of Ya Zjo made the day memorable. Life hasn't changed a bit as Intha fishermen, monks on floating temples, craftsmen and life in the stilted or floating villages goes on as usual. The scenery is beautiful with mountains, blue water, wispy clouds, birds and floating gardens whizzing by. Even the stops at the individual craftsmen and shops were informative. We learned how they made paper from cooking and pounding mulberry bark, wove colorful clothing from silk, cotton, and even the rare lotus fiber, watched as silversmiths made jewelry, and 3 blacksmiths pounded a red hot knife in unison with high swinging sledge hammers. While watching the demonstrations you could hear the banging of the looms or the clanging of the blacksmith's hammers throughout each village as all the craftsmen busily worked, not just a set up for tourists. Late afternoon, everywhere in Burma, one can hear the rhythmic tapping of the woven cane ball used in the local game of 'chinlon'. Similar to 'hackeysack', a small circle of men perform all sorts of contortions with their feet, knees, shoulders or heads to keep the hollow ball in the air.
Aside from these little villages or the floating markets abuzz with activity, it was only you and the lake dotted with golden hilltop stupas or occasional fishermen uniquely paddling their boats with one leg or setting their nets. Being the only people in most of the shops we had time for meaningful interactions with the artists, especially the 3 long necked Padaung women, implanted in Ywama, weaving colorful scarves. Wearing over 10 pounds of brass rings around their necks, up to 24 rings are added between the ages of 8 and 44; these fascinating women elongate their necks by compressing their collarbones. The number and value of these rings gives status to the woman's family, but the original reason for this strange practice is unknown to the tribes people themselves and is dying out. My neck was aching just watching them move around carefully as they wove.
A 15 minute boat trip through the grass lined canals to Indein provides a glimpse into life along the lake. Walking the 1000 meters through the village and up to the forest of 1038 ancient stupas gracing the hillside, like sentries guarding U Daung Monastery and Meditation Center, gives a panoramic view of the whole Inley area. Hurry there though, as market stalls and cement and gold paint renovations of the crumbling stupas will give this picturesque area a not so welcome face lift. A quick stop at the massive floating vegetable gardens and Nga Hpe Chaung is fun to see the old wooden floating monastery where monks with extra time on their hands have taught the usual tassel of temple cats to jump through little hoops, if they are in the mood that is. As the sunset painted the sky crimson and the first stars twinkled over the hills we motored back towards town, thankful for the rare opportunity to share a day in the lives of the welcoming, cheerful people of Inley Lake.
From the serenity of Inley we
bumped along in the "express" middle size bus (which broke down 15
minutes into the trip) for the 11 hour trip to Mandalay. A tangled
eclectic mass of wires, shops, mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples,
tea shops and cultures; we settled our spaceship into the ET Hotel
for a few days over Christmas. The country's last royal
capitol is home to over 60 % of Myanmar's monks and their
accompanying array of 'payas' or temples. The shady tree-lined
lanes of the Shwe In Bin Kyaung area is 'monksville' and a quiet
respite from the dusty, busy streets of Mandalay. Hidden nearby is
the jade market where fervent bargaining can be heard above the
buzzing of the craftsmen's saws and polishing wheels. As we
explored the city and sites we couldn't help but get caught up in
the never ending boisterous action that makes Mandalay the thriving trading center of the north.
As if on cue, the plug gets pulled every evening and the noise
grinds to a halt. People walk the dark eerie streets, lit only
by the feeble candles of evening betel nut or tea vendors.
Gazing out over the temples of Bagan at sunset, one is transported once again to another of the great wonders of the world. Rivaling Angkor Wat, these ambitious Kings built over 4000 temples in 230 years, only stopped by hoards of Kublai Khan's Mongols sweeping down from the north in the late 1200's A.D. (sending the real estate prices on a serious downward spiral). As you climb up through the tight stone staircases that lead out to large upper terraces one can imagine the city alive with activity. Marco Polo in 1268 described Pagan as "one of the finest sights in the world, ... with temples covered in gold a good finger in thickness." Only a handful of golden Buddhas, set amongst some impressive original indoor murals remain, but with over 2000 monuments in various styles lingering the site is still awe-inspiring. There are still far more temples than tourists and it is easy to find a spot all to yourself. Over 30,000 Mon prisoners of war were used initially to construct this massive ancient city and as new temples, palaces, capitals and limited infrastructure immerge throughout Myanmar, it seems that history is repeating itself. Gone are the golden layers but the shine remains on the faces of the beautiful, gentle Burmese people, waiting for better times and their golden era in history.
And so it goes.........................................Next Sri Lanka, Southern India & Hawaii. We have been back and forth across S. E. Asia and at times even in different directions around the globe, from Laos to Burma to Sri Lanka to Hawaii and back to Asia. Finally we have caught our breath and can share another webpage. That is if there is electricity tomorrow at the little internet shop down the street. We just go with the flow. Until next month remember to make the choice to hang with positive, encouraging people, and in turn look for the greatness in yourself and those around you. We are glad you stopped by. Thanks for remembering us and keeping in touch. Take Care & Keep Smiling.
Love, Light &
$1.00US = 1250 kyat
While gathering statistics on
Myanmar from Britannica and Encarta 2007, we pulled up the same facts
on the United States for comparison. It was like comparing two
different worlds from different sides of the Universe. And yet
our society is always complaining. Let's be ever thankful for
our many gifts and opportunities. Just ask someone from Burma
to change places with you.
Click on this link to follow the captivating history of mankind; from early symbolism and religions to present times. A must! www.zeitgeistmovie.com You can do a Google search to watch it live (approx 1 1/2 hours) or download it on eMule.com. The purpose of the documentary is to inform the public and pass on this information, continuing the theme of the film that we are all powerful to help make changes in our world. The film states: "Please feel free to download this movie and pass it on".
Proxy servers are necessary in Myanmar to send email. The government overtly monitors the internet and blocks many commonly used sites. Try www.3proxy.com or www.shadow.com . Connect to the anonymous proxy server and then access yahoo or Google. You can send replies from these servers or from others in use around the country.
Don't miss the market down the road - left out the front door of Motherland. Authentic and bustling. It is obvious that this market and the riverfront behind never get tourists.
New Delhi Restaurant: No
262 Anawrahta Rd (may be moving but just ask), around the corner
from Bogyoke Aung San Market serves up authentic thali plates and
great masala dosas for about 75 cents per person.
Ta Zin Restaurant: Turn left on your way up the stairs leading from the main road to the Thein Taung Monastery . You may be the only customers in days so be patient as they sneak down to the market to get supplies. Free tea and nuts keep you occupied as the 84 yr old grandfather recalls life of days gone by.
Try hiking to the viewpoint. We never found the right dirt path but instead walked the 5 miles to Tayaw and back. Get the names written in Burmese - no one spoke English outside of Kalaw but everyone was extremely helpful, often sending you down the wrong dirt path, only adding to the colorful day's adventure. Choose another route as most of the forest is gone towards Tayaw but the tribes people coming into town were happy and friendly. We were greeted by many Palung and Pa-O villagers on their way to a ceremony at the temple in Kalaw.
A possible 2 mile loop:
Walk out of town toward Tayaw. Keep asking which way to go at
each junction. As you go up a hill you will see the golden top
of a temple on a hill to your left. The road veers towards the
left and there is a path up to the temple from behind. Do a
circle back down through the villages and back to town.
Guaranteed a fun village experience without a guide to mess up the
interaction with the locals.
Marionette, 'youq-the pwe' puppet theatre: The show near the Inley Inn was simple yet interesting. Canned Burmese music with an English narration, the highlight being the puppet playing the Myanmar form of soccer, 'chinlon', complete with a ball bouncing. The show in Yangon is more polished but the enthusiasm of this 4th generation puppeteer draws you in and helps you part with the whopping $1.80 for the half hour show. (7 pm and 8:30) When you leave at 9pm all the street lights are out and the town is completely rolled up for the night. Remember your flashlight.
The Golden Kite Restaurant even boasts authentic homemade past and pizza, taught by an Italian and using imported ingredients. The enthusiasm with which they explain their business is as good as the food.
We chose to get our onward bus ticket to Mandalay from the May Hotel. He was a little more expensive but spoke good English, was honest and full of good travel info. Part of passing your business around.
At the market ('zee') we met a fun couple from Seattle who passed on the name of their wonderful boatman, Ya Zjo. You can arrange for him through the assertive business ladies, Mom and daughter, at the Teakwood Hotel. $10 for a whole day on the lake by yourselves, 8-5pm , including In Dain stupas and village. (Price$15, with 2 other people at the May Hotel or Golden Kite.) Even with little English, Ya Zjo makes the day!
We were told that the Golden Mandalay has wonderful clean bungalows set in a garden. Approx. $15 a night. The family is very helpful. Give it a try if you are sick of drab budget rooms.
An option to get from Mandalay to Bagan is 14 hours by slow boat or 8 hours by express. (Really an oxymoron in Myanmar - you should see some of the express buses!) With up to 10 times the tourists a year ago, the prices skyrocketed for tourist venues and haven't gone down much. Bargaining helps a little. We decided against the $30 boat ride and the $8 entrance to the politically controversial antics of the "Moustache Brothers" in Mandalay. The $10 entrance ticket to sites around Mandalay is a good deal if having a look at the ancient cities also - otherwise a rickshaw driver can help you get in to side doors, etc. The Palace is checked, as it is a military stronghold, and after long, hot walk up Mandalay Hill we would suggest you focus on other sites. Aung Naing, one of the drivers of a miniature 50 year old blue trucks, who parks across from the E. T. Hotel can take you wherever you want. He is honest, friendly, and needs the business. ($15 for a full day at the ancient cities, 3000k to temples in town). Rickshaw peddlers charge 500k -to 3000k for a bumpy but exhilarating ride through the traffic. Everyone in Myanmar needs your business. Spread it around. Don't encourage begging but you will end up buying a lot of items at give away prices. Like one young artist told us when we said we were buying gifts for our family, "the money will feed my family tonight".
Skip the Nepali Restaurant - the write up in the Lonely Planet has gone to their head, as is often the case. The Marie-Min Vegetarian Restaurant is out of business but talk to the sleepy, rotund owners of the Pon Cherry Indian Restaurant near the temple on 81st and they will give you an endless thali plate of S Indian curries and dhal. No nan or chapattis, only bottomless rice.
Horse cart driver: Ask at either the New Park Hotel or Eden for Myo Lay (like Mulie) (#235?) , for 10,000 k, 8am-sunset) wonderful, friendly Myo Lay will take you to the highlights of Bagan. He has pretty good English and understands requests such as a sunset away from a lot of tourists. Poor as a market mouse he will no doubt earn a tip. Beware he likes to laugh and is really ticklish!!
Nanda Restaurant offers vegetarian dishes for 1000-1500k amid floodlights over a neighboring ruin and candles on the outdoor tables. The setting is lovely and worth the walk to restaurant row. You can't miss the ambiance at night. We enjoyed eating here when taking a break from cooking in the almost one burner rooftop breakfast kitchen of the Eden.
A true express overnight bus (15,000k) to Yangon is really your only option other than flying or a 2-3 day public bus fiasco.
Trains only go to Thazi from Bagan currently. One man spent 3 nights on a wooden bench of a cargo boat going down the Ayeyarwady River from Kawlin to Mandalay, because lack of tourists means cancelled transport. Plan lots of time to move about, which is tough on a 28 day visa. Instead of "racing, (ha ha)" around take one place out of your itinerary and enjoy the others a bit more in depth. Get in to it - public buses and markets are where the action is. Fly as a last resort. Maybe paying $3 for overstayed days will again be an option as political friction dissolves.