Burma Trip Burma Trip, 2012

Marguerite's Trip to Bangkok and Burma (Myanmar), October 2012

In October of 2012, Marguerite, her Vanderbilt friend Gretchen Turner, and four other friends embarked on their third adventure, this time to Bangkok and Burma. The 3-day Bangkok trip was on their own with local tours arranged ahead of time. On October 17 we joined 9 other travelers for an Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) trip to Burma: Land of Golden Temples and Floating Gardens. See OAT Travel for a description of OAT adventures.

The Travel Group

The Travel group included (left to right): Veronica Thighe (Denver), Martha Shepherd (Atlanta), Gretchen Turner (Atlanta), Marguerite (San Diego), Joan Edgerton (Atlanta), and Kent Leslie (Atlanta).

Temples, Markets, and Elephants in Bangkok

While in Bangkok we took a city tour and visited several temples. We also took a boat ride through a floating market -- mostly a high pressure sales pitch by numerous local vendors in boats and on land. Then we visited an elephant enclosure where elephant rides were available. Marguerite and Gretchen had taken an elephant ride on their trip to Thailand in 2006 so choose not to repeat the experience; however, the other ladies enjoyed the bumpy rides!

Summer Palace, Wat Maha That, and Phra Monghon BoPhit Buddha in Bangkok

We also took another tour that included a visit to the Summer Palace. The Palace was used by royalty until relatively recently and is beautiful, clean!!, and very interesting. We then visited a very old temple complex, Wat Maha That. It was a collection of large ruins that were in various stages of reconstruction. Finally we visited a very large Buddha, almost 50 feet high, that was restored in 1957.

On Our Way to Yangon (Rangoon), Burma

The rest of the OAT group arrived in Bangkok and we were off to our big adventure in Burma. Marguerite is shown in front of a very large serpent statue at the Bangkok Airport.

Our Guide

Our tour guide, KoKo Latt, was very nice and knowledgeable. He is a devout Buddhist and we learned a great deal from him about Buddhism. Here he is in front of a very large "reclining Buddha". This was our first experience learning the joys of removing our shoes and socks and walking around on very dirty floors. Buddhists take removing shoes very seriously and severely criticized the British when they occupied Burma for refusing to remove their shoes in Buddhist temples. Buddhists see removing shoes as a mark of respect. Because our feet were usually filthy after these experiences, the tour bus driver provided "handi wipes" after each visit. We learned the easiest way to manage was to wear sandals or flip flops which are the shoes of choice for all of the Burmese people we met!

Three Days in Yangon

We checked into the Chatrium Hotel for a three night stay. It was very, very hot and humid so all of us purchased longji, a long wrap around skirt worn by both men and women. Here Kent, Gretchen, and Marguerite model their longji in front of the hotel.

We then visited one of many street markets with vendors selling all sorts of food. The food stalls were crowded and dirty and we didn't dare try anything for fear of getting sick. We also saw how the vendors created beetle nut wraps that the men (and some women) chew and spit like chewing tobacco. It also turns their teeth red and contributes to cavities and tooth loss.

Our Lovely Hotel

A photo of our lovely hotel pool. The massage spa was behind the pool. Marguerite got two massages while she was staying close to the room with "traveler's diarrhea" for a couple of days. Because toilet facilities were few and far between when we were out touring, the risk of an accident was too great to leave the hotel. Several other people in our group also suffered with this 3rd world country malady while we were on the trip.

The most impressive and sacred Buddhist site in all of Burma is the Shwedagon Pagoda. Also known as the Golden Pagoda, the temple complex covers more than 12 acres and is filled with gold-draped, gem-studded pagodas, complete with neon halos. The largest pagoda is 326 feet high. The Buddhists believe that people should donate funds to erect many Buddha's and embellish them in order to insure that they will reach Nirvana in their afterlife. We were quite interested in this priority for money in light of the fact that many people are desperately poor and do not have clean water to drink nor adequate hygiene facilities. The outhouse in the photo below is typical of toileting options in almost all of the villages we visited.

Two Days in Bagan

Bagan is a very old city, also known as the "city of Four Million Pagodas". Bagan is the largest temple city on the planet, as well as one of the most important archaeological areas of all of Asia. Most of the ruins in Bagan were constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries.

One night in Bagan was our Home Hosted Dinner with a local family. The family are quite prosperous and entertain 3 or 4 OAT groups each week. Their home has a large covered patio where we ate a typical Burmese dinner. The family also has a travel business and several family members live together in two houses. The photo of Marguerite is with the hostess and three of her grandchildren.

Three Days in Mandalay

After arriving by plane to Mandalay we took a ride by horse-drawn carriage to the old teakwood monastery of Bagaya Kyanung.

We had to remove our shoes often on this trip! Later that day we rode through some fields in a horse drawn buggy and visited another large monastery.

Shopping in Mandalay

To satisfy the shoppers among the group, we visited a most interesting gold leaf workshop where sheets of gold are beaten into gossamer-thin pieces. Placing gold leaf on a Buddha image brings great merit to the faithful, so the layers of gold leaf on Buddha images throughout Burma get thicker and thicker with the passing years. Most of us bought souvenirs of black lacquerware embellished with gold leaf decorations.

We continued our shopping on the "marble street" where Marguerite found a Buddha that looked remarkably like George!

One evening we drove to the world's longest teak bridge, the U Bein footbridge over Thaungthaman Lake. We watched a beautiful sunset and drank wine toasts to the exquisite view.

The next day we explored Mingun, a small village that is home to a massive unfinished pagoda and the largest, un-cracked, fully-functioning bell in the entire world (cast in bronze in 1808). There is also a large white pagoda that was very interesting.

Two Nights in Kalaw

We flew into a small local airport and drove to our quaint hotel. Kalaw is inhabited by members of the Pa-O tribe, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma. We visited a village school where the Grand Circle Foundation had funded several toilets . We rode a "farm truck" to the home of a local family where we helped prepare a traditional Burmese lunch. Gretchen did the honors in preparing Rum Sours (rum, honey, and lime juice -- yumm!!) and lunch was followed by conversation with the family and dancing to local music!

Three Days in Inle Lake

Inle Lake is Burma's second largest lake. We stayed at a beautiful hotel and Marguerite had two more massages (with two massage therapists each time!). To reach the hotel we went by long boat which is the primary means of transportation on the Lake. The second day we got up at 5 AM to participate in a large Pagoda Festival that occurs only once each year. One of the decorated boats contained two small Buddhas that were heavily embellished with gold leaf. At the end of the procession the Buddha's were placed in the local temple. Thousands of people were at the festival, all with no shoes and the floors got more and more dirty as the day progressed! After the festival we learned about lotus fibers and also silk making. Of course, we had to buy some silk pieces!

We ended the trip in Inle Lake visiting yet another pagoda and monastery. By this time, we are worn out, our feet hurt, and every piece of clothing we own is dirty and smells like the Irrawaddy River! It is time to come home.

Our final evening in Inle Lake included our Farewell Dinner, complete with each of us dressing in Longji and other purchases. We also each had Thanaka cream applied to our cheeks -- embellishment considered beautiful by the local people.

Loom Movie

Additional Photos from Linda Holman

Linda Holman (Scottsdale) sent these photos from the trip and they are such good quality, we've added them. Marguerite and Veronica Thighe (Denver) on the boat at sunset. Wendy Gebb (New York), Marguerite, and Valerie Larkin (St. Louis) on one of the many boats we used during the trip. Kent Leslie (Atlanta) and Marguerite at the Farewell Dinner with the Thanaka cream on our faces.

Home from Bangkok

We ended the trip with a short night in Bangkok before boarding our international flights at 6 and 7 AM. The trip home was long but uneventful. The first order of business was to wash everything, including shoes! Although the trip was very interesting, I think this will be my last trip to a Third World Country. At almost 70, I think I am a bit old for the hardships of this type of travel, lack of adequate hygiene, and bouts of traveler's diarrhea. Next time, I hope we will go to Europe!!

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