Monday, December 21, 2015

Messages From Myanmar #08

Messages From Myanmar #08
21 December 2015

Photo Update Alert:
  Yangon River Cruise

Hello there… Rodger French here.

I love port towns. As a kid, I spent many hours on the Belle of Louisville, a 1914-vintage steamboat, on the Ohio River. But a true appreciation for ports and maritime cities emerged as a result of sea duty during my hitch in the U.S. Navy. My first ports of call were Port of Spain, Trinidad and Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique, and I was hooked. So when the CLO announced a sunset cruise on the Yangon River, A.J. (who grew up in a port city, Mobile, AL) immediately signed us up.

It should have been easy. We got a taxi at The Shang to take us to the American Embassy, where we planned to join our compatriots for a bus ride to Batahtaung Jetty, hence to our designated vessel, the “Dora.” Small problem. Our driver, a young man of limited experience, began taking us to the American Center, which is in a completely different part of town.

And then it gets worse.

By the time we realized what was, indeed, up, we had missed the bus and had to alter course to make for the harbour. (Hindsight being 20/20, that should have been Plan A.) Now we’re stuck in Yangon’s horrible traffic, trying desperately to maintain a Zen-like outlook on the situation. Mercifully, after about 90 minutes, we spotted our landmark, Batahtaung Pagoda, and arrived with a few moments to spare.

The Dora is a lovely small cruise boat and comfortably accommodated our party of 30. (Photo, not mine, in the link above.) We had a wonderful excursion, lasting - like our taxi ride - about 90 minutes. Our hostess, and boat owner, Ce Ce Htwe and her crew could not have been more gracious.

The Yangon River is a bustling place. On the north/east bank are a floating hotel, numerous party barges, and docks for commercial river cruise vessels as well as terminals for large container ships. Across the river are ship repair facilities; basically places where boats are dragged out of the water to be (a) restored to working order or (b) abandoned. Larger ferries and countless small water taxis crisscross constantly, transporting people and goods. We had a terrific time and look forward to further exploration of the area.

Back at the ranch, the holidaze are upon us and we have actual plans. Well, a plan. Anne has serendipitously scored an invitation to a Burmese wedding, so we will join about 1000 other guests in a hotel ballroom on Christmas morning for what promises to be a memorable spectacle. Otherwise, we’re maintaining a low profile, especially on New Year’s Eve, when alcohol-enhanced revelers reportedly turn out in large numbers.

[Annual Shameless Commerce Sidebar - In the spirit of the season, I’d like to remind you all that the first three collections of these postings - from Ghana, Pretoria, and Buenos Aires - are still resolutely for sale at Entertaining, yet cheap; perfect gifts for any occasion… except perhaps a wedding.]

Whatever your plans may be and wherever they take you, I hope you’re able to keep calm, remain sane, and enjoy. As for us, we intend to take fewer taxis for a bit.



Monday, December 7, 2015

Messages From Myanmar #07

Messages From Myanmar #07
08 December 2015

“The more I see, the less I know for sure.”
John Lennon

Photo Update Alert:
  Inle Lake  “Inle Lake Stupas”

Hello there… Rodger French here.

After almost three months in Yangon, Anne and I were ready for a break. So, in the great British tradition of international travel, we elected to spend a month - well, four days - by a lake. Specifically, Inle Lake in southern Shan State.

Inle Lake is a picturesque place and, at an elevation of 880 m (2900 ft), offers a cool respite from the heat. The downside, of course, is that tourists both domestic and international visit in large numbers; like, in herds. Granted, this means a lot of cash coming into a local economy that can surely use it. But the strain imposed on the shallow lake ecosystem by this relentless influx of visitors presents an enormous challenge.

At A.J.’s suggestion, the Embassy travel office booked us a room at the Inle Lake View Resort & Spa, a very comfortable and relatively low-impact establishment located on the west side of the lake, a 35-minute drive from Heho Airport, which is a 65-minute flight from Yangon. The resort is tastefully fraught with teak, grows much of their own food, and employs more than 60 people who live in the nearby village or in staff housing across the road.

The staff, in typical Myanmar fashion, were extremely courteous and helpful. One of the services they provided was to arrange two half-day private boat trips so we could hit the lake along with all the other gringos and see the sights. It was tons of fun, if a rather intense tourist experience.

[Nautical Sidebar: There are two types of boats in use on Inle Lake. Fishermen use a flat-ended canoe, which they row with one leg while standing, thus freeing their hands to fish. Major tourist photo op. The other type is a long boat made of teak (costs about $2500, lasts about 35 years), powered by a very noisy diesel outboard motor, and used to transport goods and passengers. We loved cruising in these.]

Cue the highlight reel:

Floating Market - Moves daily to different lakeside locations; caters to locals as well as tourists, who get the hard sell. That wears very thin very quickly.

Cottage Industries - Including textile weavers, boat builders, silversmiths, blacksmiths, and umbrella makers. Bought a grand pink and black paper parasol, with no clue where it’ll end up. Doesn’t matter, it’s fabulous.

Monasteries - Bare feet on cool teak floors, Buddhas galore, and (allegedly trained by the monks) “Jumping Cats.” It seems, regrettably, that the latest generation of feline troupers has decided to change their schtick to “Snoozing Cats.”

Stupas - In a fantastic variety of sizes, colours, and conditions. Acres of stupas… forests of stupas... a righteous plenitude of stupas… and splendid photographic opportunities.

Floating Gardens - Farmers gather up lake-bottom weeds and transport them back in boats to create floating beds for growing fruits and vegetables. To quote Mr. Spock: “Fascinating.”

After two days, however, we’d had enough of the lake thing for a while, and decided to spend our third day exploring the road to the aforementioned village. It was cool and overcast as we schlepped along, occasionally waving greetings to adorable small children and taking photoz of more - altogether, now - stupas!

On the final day, we were scheduled for an evening flight to Yangon, so our accommodating innkeepers graciously let us linger long past checkout; which worked out very well indeed since a cold (by Myanmar standards) rain had settled in for the day; a pleasant, low-key coda to our little holiday by the lake.

In our absence, meanwhile, Christmas had broken out all over Yangon, especially here at the Shangri-La Residences, aka “The Shang.” We’re all for it. What the heck, why not celebrate everybody’s holidaze? More fun, less work, and good diplomacy, too.