Thursday, September 24, 2009
This was the view from our hotel window in Mandalay. Construction began each morning around 6 am and continued non-stop until the late afternoon.
Women carried mixed cement, in woks, on their heads, up ladders, to be poured into forms.
Your heart really went out to these hard workers.
In the center of the city is the Mandalay Palace, originnally built for and occupied by the Burmese Royal Family until the British took over the country in 1885. Some taxi drivers will refuse to take you there saying that you should stay away because it was rebuilt with forced labour. We chose not to visit.
A moat circles the entire one square kilometer grounds. Tourists enter through the West Gate.
When You Go:
* Before traveling to Burma, contact a travel agent who can arrange a transit letter for you. You will need this when applying for an entry visa into Myanmar. We used Myanmar Tourex. They can make hotel and internal air reservations for your trip, arrange airport transfers, as well as private tours. A paypal deposit is required after setting-up the trip and the balance is paid on arrival (USD cash).
* Stay away from government run hotels, travel agencies, and airlines. Support the local independent merchants. When shopping in the large tourist marketplaces, the government run merchants are clearly labeled as such.
* Don't miss the Maha Muni Buddha Image, Mandalay Hill, and the local markets in the Chinatown area.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
For the past few decades, the debate on visiting Burma (Myanmar) has waged on with many scholars saying that a regular tourist visit would be viewed as support for legitimizing the repressive military regime ruling the country.
On the other hand, there are those who believe that visiting Burma would only help the people there. In many instances, tourists are their only contact with the outside world.
In recent years, the shift has been "to go". And if you want to experience a diverse culture and fantastic, jaw-dropping sights, you must go.
For many years, we debated these very same points, and when we first visited Burma in 2006, we wondered why we had not gone sooner.
We entered Burma, as many western tourists do, from neighboring Thailand. As independent travelers, we had arranged our accomodations, aiport transfers, and internal flights with a local travel agent in Burma over the internet.
The Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda houses an enormous Reclining Buddha.
Alan with an apple vendor on the street in front of a bank.
You cannot exchange money at a bank in Burma. And never exchange money at the airport. In most instances, you can purchase just about anything using dollars, so bring plenty of small bills.
Dollars must be free of any markings and excessive wrinkles or tears. Money can be exchanged at most hotels at very unfavorable rates. For the best rates, go to the local markets.
When You Go:
* Change only as much money as you think you spend. It's virtually impossible to change it back into dollars, and is useless outside the country. You will however receive a better exchange rate with larger bills ($100s). In Rangoon (Yangon) your best bet is exchanging with merchants at the Bogyoke market.
* Crime against tourists is rare since the penalties can be severe. Pickpockets do exist so be aware in crowded areas.
Friday, September 18, 2009
The Pagoda Complex is open daily for worshippers and visitors from 4 am until 10 pm.
Tourists pay $5 USD to visit.