M2MvM – the last of Burma … Rangoon (now Yangon)

Whoever said all good things must come to an end is probably correct, but I wish right now he wasn’t. I don’t want to leave Burma, and hope to return to this wonderful country.

From Heho and the fabulous Inle Lake, we fly to Yangon, founded in 1755, renamed Rangoon when the British annexed the country in 1885. Tree lined avenues, lakes and parks and a bustling city centre. A wealth of Victorian architecture, including the famous Strand Hotel, sister hotel to Singapore’s Raffles.

And traffic.20160316_103728_HDR

We visit the must-see Shwedagon Pagoda 2,500 years old, on Singuttara Hill, the most sacred Buddhist site in Burma and one of the wonders of the religious world. Complex geometry and many structures, up to 110m high, the lower stupa claims 8,688 solid gold bars, with another 13,153 in the upper part. The tip of the stupa claims 5,448 diamonds, 2,317 rubies, many sapphires and other gems, 1,065 golden bells and at the very top a single 76 carat diamond. It’s like Burma kept the best pagoda for the last.  For us, at any rate.


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Looks like a job for Ocean’s 11!




We have lunch on Inya Lake, within 200 metres of Aug San Suu Kyi’s house where she spent 15 years under house arrest.

All too soon, it’s goodbye to fabulous Burma/Myanmar as we fly to Singapore and then home to our own Mandalay.


John Bell Books

AMAZON – John Bell Books




M2MvM – Burma even more beautiful! Inle Lake

20160314_075737_HDRA short flight from Bagan puts us into Heho and we transfer to the fabulous Aureum Palace Hotel. This is a stand-out accommodation resort on the shore of Lake Inle. In the restaurant one young waiter learned that my name is John, and he became so excited, calling me “Johnny” because he was Johnny, too. He epitomized the friendliness of the people of Burma. The Aureum Palace would be my favourite Burma resort; if you go to Myanmar, you must stay there.


We spend a couple of days on the huge lake (116 km2) in high speed long-tails, visiting villages around the shore, marvelling at the floating gardens. These gardens are staked to the lake bottom, replenished continually by boat loads of vegetable matter hauled on those small boats then stacked on top of the garden beds when the previous crop is harvested. Inle provides the bulk of Burma’s tomatoes and many vegetable crops. Reminiscent of the floating island dwellers on Lake Titicaca.




Some 70,000 people live in these water villages. One small group still follow the ancient practice of rings (actually a long spiral) around the neck and legs of the women. We’re told that it’s not a beauty thing. It’s actually intended to make the women seem ugly to invading marauders. The practice h20160314_103943_HDRas nearly died out. Fascinating.

The fishermen on their long-tail canoes use “leg paddling” to manoeuvre their canoes. The long paddle is held against the body, one leg wrapped around it propels the boat, leaving both arms free to handle their conical fish traps and other gear. Against the setting sun, they look like so many ballet dancers performing an elegant and ancient ritual. I hope this fishing system never dies out.

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The lake is surprisingly shallow. Much of it is about 2m deep in the dry season, and crystal clear. Dense growth on the lake floor, in places reaching to the surface, provides a home for a large fish population, predominantly a species of carp. Boats zip around on it all day dragging rooster tails, people travelling, harvesting lake weed, fishing – a multitude of pursuits all based on this massive water resource.


Villages around the lake provide homes for craftsmen of all types. We watch silk weaving on handlooms, visit the ringed neck women, have lunch in a restaurant on stilts, see beaten silver ornaments. Surprise, surprise, we acquire a couple of paintings. They’re now on our kitchen wall, a constant reminder of a wonderful month in our lives.

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At the end of another wonderful day we return to our rooms – yes, plural; our unit is probably as large as our own house – hoping that somehow we could stay here for a much longer. But as the man said, tempus fugit, and so must we, tomorrow, to Yangon our departure city.

Book, you say? What book? It’ll have to wait.

John Bell Books

AMAZON – John Bell Books

M2MvM – Beautiful Burma! Bagan


How many times am I going to say that?           WOW!


Bagan, on the banks of the majestic Irrawaddy, dates back to 849 A.D. The former capital of the first Burma empire, embracing some 42 km2. There are literally thousands – someone said 4,000 – of ancient pagodas, stupas, shrines, ordination halls and monuments.

sunset dancers Irrawaddy River

sunset dancers Irrawaddy River

More gold leaf than I could imagine. Is it real? We’re assured that it is. I wonder how it survived the years of Japanese invasion, then political instability and struggles.

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I manage to lose another pair of thongs at the Ananda Temple, a whitewashed masterpiece of Mon architecture, with four standing Buddhas. Fabulous. It deserves another “wow” but I can’t keep saying that.

With my brand new longyi  (Burma laplap) – I think mine was designed to fit a Sumo wrestler – wrapped over a pair of shorts, and bare feet, the locals have reason to stare in bemusement. No pics of me so rigged will be permitted in this blog!

I can’t help but ponder how it is that Australians dress to local custom when travelling, yet some immigrants to Australia refuse to do so in our country. Maybe our politicians need to embrace Swiss immigration legislation, where one of the precursors to citizenship is proof of assimilation into Swiss culture. In all its forms. No assimilation, no citizenship. Simple. Sounds reasonable to me.

By late afternoon we’re pretty much pagoda’d out. At one collection of temple buildings about 2000 years old, and now crumbling, in disrepair, being overtaking by trees and vines, we meet a bunch of young girls selling beautifully colored material, and Carol can’t resist.


Up early next morning for one of the trip highlights, a dawn flight with Oriental Ballooning Myanmar. Stunning. Several companies operating multiple balloons create a visual feast drifting silently above several thousand pagodas. Breathtaking.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.

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I’ve about given up on progressing my next book while in Burma. Too much to see and do, feel and experience. Hopefully all of this wonder will recharge my author batteries for when we get back to ‘our’ Mandalay.

John Bell Books

AMAZON – John Bell Books

M2MvM – Burma! Afloat on the Irrawaddy

20160310_090521_HDROur riverboat, the Irrawaddy Princess 2, is waiting for us at the Saigaing Jetty.
20160310_091230_HDR.jpgIncredibly, in that crowded over-used waterway, right where we boarded, these fishermen caught several fish around 500mm long! You can see one in that net.

20160310_093033_HDRLady Lucky must’ve been looking out for us as we are very fortunate to score one of the two forward cabins, which is surprisingly comfortable. Our view includes the ship’s bell, right outside our forward window!

The river is already a hive of activity, boats going in all directions. We head off downstream, pass under a triple-coathanger bridge. Mini Sydney Harbour stuff.20160310_092051_HDR

The wide river, shallow at this dry period, carries an enormous amount of boat traffic. All shapes and sizes, all going somewhere. Occasionally we see boats aground, so easy to veer away from the twisting channels of deeper water. How the skipper finds his way is beyond me. These channels must be continually changing.


We trundle along downstream at a steady 5 knots, slowing frequently to navigate a channel. A full day heading towards Bagan.

20160311_071430_HDR.jpg20160311_091329_HDR.jpgAs the sun sinks, we pull into a back eddy along the bank and anchor for the night. While we sleep, life on the river goes on. Many boats have stopped for the night, but some keep moving. Must be very shallow draught vessels.

Daylight and the engines rumble into life.

During the morning, we pull over to the riverbank and tie up.

A steep sandy climb brings us to age-old serenity and a brush with history in Yandabo, a village of potters, where in1826 Britain and Burma signed The Yandabo Treaty to end the first Anglo-Burmese war. The treaty ceded significant territories to the

The treaty ceded significant territories to the British, and required the King to pay war reparations to the British of one million pounds.  Sound a bit one-way, that treaty?20160310_163315_HDR.jpg

Over 60 families engage in pottery, their products exported widely. We watch the process, from river mud dug out of the steep banks, to finished pot ready for firing.

Carol sits in the working seat and pedals to keep the wheel spinning. Takes a while, but she finally gets the right rhythm. Rewarded with a big grin from the girl whose place she’d taken.

Back aboard our slow boat to Bagan. Eventually we pull in and disembark via a rickety jetty at our destination, a town established in 849 A.D.

John Bell Books

AMAZON – John Bell Books

M2MvM – Burma! Hsipaw and Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin)

20160306_095628We walk through timeless villages where Shan people farm using techniques and tools that haven’t changed in hundreds of years.20160307_162147_HDR

And we ride in the local taxis, lovingly decorated carriages dra20160307_162000_HDR.jpgwn by horses – great way to travel.

Our Hsipaw day closes with sunset drinks in a longtail on the Irrawaddy River.


The learning curve extends – I take my first selfie; a bit one-eyed about it.20160305_171825.jpg

From Hsipaw we board a train. This is some train. And they’re some tracks!


Narrow gauge, ancient, it shakes, rattles and rolls alarmingly on rails that must’ve been laid a long time ago. Our bags threaten to roll out the open door, so we stack them tighter.

20160306_131402.jpgWatching the carriage behind us through the open connecting doors exaggerates the roll. The scenery drags our attention away from our potential life expectancy.

You’ve heard of the slow boat to China – well this is the slow train to Maymyo. But it winds through magnificent scenery, dense forests and then down into a huge ravine. We see the Gokteik viaduct, built in 1901. Spindly.


Hope it’s stronger than it looks, the second longest viaduct in the world at the time. The aging structure creaks as the train edges its way across. A long way down… 320 feet.

Despite misgivings, we arrive in Maymyo, a classic British station town, elevated and cool to escape the lowland heat of Mandalay. Redolent of the British Empire, complete with haunted mansions, stagecoach taxis, Baptist and Anglican churches.


You must visit the National Gardens of Kandawgyi, 435 acres of lovingly maintained grounds and pagodas. I leave Carol sketching beside the lake while I go walkabout. Orchids galore, butterflies, deer, tropical gardens and lawns.


Watching Carol for a moment, I realize I too should be creating – i.e. putting more words into the manuscript for Book 4 of the Williams Series. But there’s too much out here to do and to see.  Maybe tomorrow… and then again, maybe not!

John Bell Books 

AMAZON – John Bell Books

M2MvM – Burma! At last … Mandalay

I’m pleased the traffic and parking at ‘our’ Mandalay doesn’t resemble that of this Mandalay.


Patience needed… no road rage here


How do you get your scooter out of that mess?

Once its capital, Mandalay is now Burma’s second largest city, with some 1,250,000 people. Not an old city, dating from the mid 1800’s, it’s been revitalized by the relatively recent influx of Chinese, who make up over 40% of the population.

The British influence on design is evident from the streets’ layout and numbering. I listen carefully, can just hear the ghost of Rudyard Kipling reciting On the Road to Mandalay

“Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;

For the temple bells are callin’, and it’s there that I would be –

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea;

On the road to Mandalay,

Where the flyin’ fishes play,

An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”

So of course we had to go to the old Moulmein Pagoda. Burma is Pagoda Central, there are so many of them. One town has over 4,000. Kipling’s pagoda is beautiful, covered in gold leaf and rich colours.

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The world’s biggest book has its home in the Kuthodaw Pagoda, with 729 stupas, containing marble slabs each engraved with pages from Tipitaka, the Buddhist equivalent to the bible. It’s claimed that added together the pages/slabs, 1460 of them, reach over a two storey building.

The largest Buddhist monastery in Burma has over a thousand monks. We watch them line up for meals, silent, in their colourful robes.


Again, we visit the markets, stroll the streets, marvel at the parking.


Carting sugar cane – Burma style

We’re attracted by loud hammering to a small shop. There fit men swing long-handled hammers, creating a rhythmic, musical beat. We learn later that the beat is not accidental. They’re actually composed.


The men swing those hammers all day, beating gold into gold leaf for the temples. The leaf is so fine that the slightest breath of air sends it fluttering. I manage not to sneeze.

Time is flying, so we head to Taungthaman Lake to catch sunset over the U-Bein Bridge.

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We hire a boat to take us on the lake and under the longest teak bridge in the world, all 1.2km of it.







Perhaps I’ll get into my next book tomorrow… too tired tonight. Too much to see. The swimming pool has the usual signs telling you what you can’t do, including “No back rubbing.” ??


View from our room. Mandalay Hill behind.

John Bell Books

AMAZON – John Bell Books