musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Archive for July, 2016

Photos by Aung Thaung, novice monk from Shan State

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Today’s photos were all taken by Aung Thaung, a novice monk at Tat Ein monastery in Shan State. The photo above is a self portrait that he took during our trip to Bagan. The other photos were taken either in Bagan or back in the village or at the monastery.

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In addition to his Buddhism studies at the monastery, Aung Thaung is also a member of the fifth grade class in the village’s primary school. When he is done with his two-year stint at the monastery he plans to continue his education back in his home village (don’t ask me exactly where that is; over the hills and far away!) or possibly in nearby Nyaungshwe where his aunt is living.

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When I was in the village recently, and during our trip to Bagan, I would frequently hand over my camera to Aung Thaung and let him take photos to his heart’s content. He’s a polite kid and very responsible, so I had no worries about him using the camera. Plus, the smile on his face each time was evidence that he was enjoying the opportunity!

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I thought about whittling the number of photos in today’s post down to a dozen or so, but there were just too many good and/or funny photos to share. Enjoy Aung Thaung’s photos!

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Ruins of the Afternoon

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Nyaungshwe is best known as “the gateway to Inle Lake,” thanks to it being located near Myanmar’s famous boat-driven tourist attraction. But a stay in Nyaungshwe should not be confined to taking a tour of Inle Lake and its surrounding villages. Nyaungshwe is a very charming town and there are plenty of things to do in town or the surrounding area. The town itself is ideal for exploring on foot or bicycle. In addition to dozens of Buddhist monasteries, the bustling morning market, and the network of canals in town, there are plenty of narrow roads and lanes that are perfect for catching a glimpse of local life. You will also find some old Intha temple and stupa ruins, big and small, scattered around town. It seems like I’m always discovering new sets of ruins every time I visit.

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During an afternoon bike ride around Nyaungshwe recently I came upon some old temple ruins out in the middle of nowhere. Well, the location wasn’t quite that remote, being on the outskirts of Nyaungshwe, heading towards the big canal that leads to Inle Lake. But it certainly felt like it was in the middle of nowhere; no towering hotels or busy roads around me, and not another tourist — or any human beings — in the vicinity; just me and my bike and these lovely old ruins. All in all, a fairly glorious situation!

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Inle Lake is an interesting place to visit, but don’t limit your stay in Nyaungshwe to riding in an uncomfortable boat and getting sunburned by the afternoon sun or freezing your ass off in the morning chill (hey, the lake takes no prisoners!); hit the streets of town, slow down the pace, and discover the pleasurable vibe of Shan State!

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Bagan Invaded By Novice Monks!

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Over the centuries the ancient temples of Bagan have weathered the invasion of enemy forces such as Kublai Khan’s Mongols, not to mention the corrosive effects of decades of wind and rain, plus a powerful earthquake in 1975.  But could the old temples withstand the arrival of those rambunctious novice monks from Tat Ein village in Shan State? We were about to find out!

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Actually, compared to the hordes of foreign tourists who have descended upon Bagan in recent years, it’s highly doubtful that a few dozen young monks (along with a teacher and two female students from the village) was going to be have too much of a negative impact on the old temples. Any pagodas which are structurally unsound or particularly vulnerable to legions of visitors have either been closed or made inaccessible in certain places (you are not allowed to climb to the top of some of them).

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We tried to visit as many of the major temples as possible during our three days in town, but due to time restrictions and the fact that it was so damn hot the entire time we were in Bagan, our pace was slow and we didn’t see as much as we had hoped. The last morning before the crew returned to Nyaungshwe (I stayed in Bagan an extra day and then returned alone to Mandalay) we visited the archaeological museum in Old Bagan. That was the first time I had visited this museum and found it quite impressive. Strangely, visitors are not allowed to bring cameras inside the museum, but they do allow photo-taking phones!

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The biggest change I see in Bagan, besides the higher number of tourists in the area, is the decline of the horse carts that were once a popular option for tourists wanting to see the sights. Instead, electric bicycles have become the rage and they are everywhere. Horse carts haven’t disappeared completely, but sadly they are becoming a rare sight.

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Silver House Restaurant in New Bagan

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When I was in Bagan recently I had the chance to revisit a favorite eating establishment, the Silver House Restaurant in New Bagan. Hey, for me, food plays a vital part in the joy of travel, so I’m always delighted to find places that please my stomach. The food at Silver House is always delicious, plus the owners, U Aung Koont and his wife, provide excellent service along with that trademark Burmese hospitality.

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Tourists that visit the ancient temple ruins in Bagan have the choice of staying in three distinct areas. There is Old Bagan, where you will find most of the most popular temples. But the hotels are quite expensive in Old Bagan and the area is strangely devoid of any real residents (you can read elsewhere about why that’s the case: there as a forced relocation of the old community). Many tourists, especially those on a budget, prefer the town of Nyaung U, which is closer to Bagan’s international airport and has more of a thriving business district. My choice for accommodation, however, is in New Bagan, a small town just down the road from Old Bagan and the village of Myinkaba. The room rates in New Bagan are about the same or slightly higher than Nyaung U, but it’s not as busy — meaning, it’s much less hectic — and offers the visitor a more tranquil stay.

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Rather than try any new restaurants in New Bagan this time — and there are more than ever — I headed over to Silver House for all my meals. I hadn’t been there in about three years, a shockingly long time considering that I used to frequent the restaurant four or five times every year for the better part of the past decade. But I don’t visit Bagan as much as I used to, and the last time I was in town I had the crew from 90th Street in Mandalay with me and didn’t have time to visit Silver House.  So, I made up for it on this visit, and enjoyed catching up on local events and politics with U Aung Koont.

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My Bagan friend Nine Nine accompanied me to Silver House when he wasn’t working at his hotel job or busy with family matters. One night, we had dinner at Nine Nine’s house, a sumptuous spread that his wife and mother-in-law prepared, while his infant daughter played in a corner. Afterwards, Nine Nine came back to my hotel and serenaded me on acoustic guitar with a medley of Myanmar music, including songs by Linn Linn and a new discovery, Wai La. Great stuff!

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If you are in New Bagan, you can find Silver House on the town’s main road, sometimes called Khaye Street, across the street from the Shwe Ou restaurant and the Ruby Guesthouse. They are open every day!

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