Tag - buddha image

Mandalay, Burma

Mandalay, Burma
Mandalay, Burma
Mandalay, Burma

Mandalay was the former capital of Burma and home to a number of Burmese kings. This is the country’s second largest city and is very modern compared to much of Myanmar. The city is rich with culture and history and here you will find large palaces, stupas, temples and pretty pagodas interlaced with vibrant market places, dusty streets and stunning views.

Mandalay was founded in 1857 by King Mindon and there are still plenty of examples of architecture from this period such as the golden Eindawya Pagoda, collections of old wooden buildings originally from Amarapura and the the Shwekyimyint Pagoda, which houses the original Buddha image sanctified by Prince Minshinzaw.

Near Mandalay Hill you will find the enormous Shweyattaw Buddha and the Royal Palace, which is situated in the middle of a large moat at the foot of Mandalay Hill. Climb to the top of Mandalay Hill for magnificent views across the city. As you climb you will come across a number of monasteries and temples, while there are a collection of pretty pagodas and temples at the very top.

Venture just outside Mandalay and you will discover a number of former capital cities, each with their own unique character. A short trip to Sagaing is rewarded with views of the pretty Tupayon, Aungmyelawka and Kaunghmudaw pagodas, while a trip along the river to Mingun gives visitors the chance to see the Mingun Bell, which is believed to be the world’s largest uncracked hung bell. The bell was cast in 1790 to be hung in the giant pagoda of King Bodawpaya and is an impressive sight.

Mandalay is certainly a record-breaking city and in addition to the world’s largest uncracked bell you will find the world’s largest book in the Kuthodaw Paya at the foot of Mandalay Hill. The Kuthodaw Paya comprises more than 700 white stupas and the complete text of the Tripitaka, which is the most sacred text of Theravada Buddhism.

Mandalay is a good place to pick up a souvenir or two as the large markets are full of local produce and handicrafts. Alternatively, a short trip south of Mandalay will take you to the city of Amarapura, which is famous for cotton and silk weaving and you can watch the traditional skills being practiced here.

The vibrant city of Mandalay is a good place to get a bite to eat and there are a number of food stalls and restaurants offering Shan, Myanmar and Muslin food. While you’re here, try htou moun, which is a traditional dessert only found in Mandalay. Very sweet and oily, people travel from all over the country to sample the gelatinous dessert.

Kalaw, Burma

Kalaw, Burma

Kalaw, Burma
Kalaw, Burma

Surrounded by dramatic mountains, flowing rivers, colourful villages and bamboo groves, the pretty hill station of Kalaw is the perfect place for trekking. Many people take advantage of the cool climate to visit during the summer months, when the rest of Myanmar is significantly hotter and more humid.

Inle Lake is located around 30 miles to the west of Kalaw and this is a popular place for hiking to. As you hike through to countryside you will discover a number of small Shan villages, where the people are warm and welcoming and you can witness the gentle nuances of traditional life. Watch as the people weave their colourful clothing and roll cigars from the leaves of the Thanatphet trees.

This is a great place to relax for a while and enjoy the slow pace of life. Kalaw was a former British colonial town and you will find a number of churches such as Christ the King church and other British style buildings. Tudor-style houses sit amongst English rose gardens, making an interesting contrast to the traditional Burmese villages that surround the town.

There are still plenty of examples of Asian architecture in and around Kalaw however. An interesting example is the Hnee Phaya, which is an old and highly revered pagoda featuring a Buddha image made from woven strips of bamboo. Also worth visiting is the Shweumin Pagoda, which is built inside a natural limestone cave. There are a number of Buddha images inside the cave that were commissioned by King Narapataesithu.

Climbing one of the surrounding hills provides a fantastic view of Kalaw. As you explore you will see spectacular scenery such as elephants working in the pine forests, sweeping tea and coffee plantations and women plucking tea leaves from the low bushes.

The vibrant Kalaw market is held every five days and is a great place to stock up on supplies for your trek. People travel from all over the areas to sell their wares and the market is a very lively affair. This is a great place to pick up a bargain or two and sample a delicious variety of local food and drink.

Muay Thai

Muay ThaiI remember not so long ago, I was sat around a table with an American, a German, an Aussie and a Thai bloke. It had got to that stage of proceedings when we were missing our home lands and the ugly sceptre of patriotism raised its’ head. The theme of the conversation turned itself to what our homeland had brought to the world. Being a Brit I put soccer, rugby and cricket on the table. The American offered baseball, basketball and American Football, the Teutonic one offered BMW’s and lager, the Thai mentioned excellent food, Red Bull and Muay Thai. When it came to the Aussie’s turn he blushed a little and with more than a hint of embarrassment he muttered, “Errr. Well umm. Rolf Harris and Dame Edna.”

Now I could be evil and vent my sarcasm on a certain member of that group but because I’m in a good mood I’ll focus on my personal favourite sport of “Muay Thai” or “Thai Boxing” as it’s know in some quarters. It’s been described as the “Art and Science of Eight Limbs” and by another writer on a different site as “The most graceful way in the world of beating the snot out of some one”. Personally I wouldn’t have used the word snot, but I’m an ungracious Northerner. The Thai’s are justifiably very proud of their national sport and at some time in their lives, most schoolchildren will undergo some form of tuition in this ancient art. On a personal front Thai Boxing helped me stay on the straight and narrow when I could have got involved in less savoury parts of society, and when I’m in Thailand helps me work up a healthy thirst before I go out and undo all the good it’s done me.

Muay ThaiThe Muay Thai of today has undergone a metamorphosis from its original form. Its exact provenance is a little vague, as the country’s records were destroyed when some bad tempered guys from Burma decided to set a torch to the ancient capital of Siam (Ayuddhaya) in 1767, destroying the country’s Royal Archives, so what we know of the history of the sport is pieced together from manuscripts found in the adjacent countries.

The earliest written record is in 1411 up in Chiang Mai. After that the “fistic art” goes unmentioned until around 1590, when King Naresuen got a look in for heralding it as a form of self defence and unarmed combat against invaders, and documented some of the moves that characterise it today. In 1703 “The Tiger King” continued encouraging his countrymen to partake and was rumoured to fight himself (incognito) in a number of villages.

No article on Muay Thai would be complete without mentioning Nai Khanom Dtom, a Siamese soldier who famously won freedom by beating twelve of his Burmese captors and won national respect in doing so. From 1703 onwards the sport carried on merrily with the only change being the swapping of leather hand bindings for ones made of cloth, which if both parties agreed could be dipped in glue and ground glass. In the old days it was a sort of “last man standing” type of contest but in the 1930’s after a few too many fatalities they introduced rules and regulations, which have remained mainly unchanged to the modern day.

Muay ThaiThe changes of the 1930’s were to insist the contest took place in a ring, break the fight into five rounds of three minutes, replace the hand wraps with gloves, insist on mouth and groin guards and let a referee get in the ring to ensure fair play.

If you’re in Bangkok and want to enjoy the spectacle there are two different stadiums, Rajadamnern (five minutes walk from Khao Sarn Road) and Lumpinee where there are bouts staged most nights of the week. It’s a commonly held belief that the Lumpinee fights are of a slightly higher standard although it is hard to separate them. Whichever you chose, you’ll experience a night of true sporting excellence. The sport is still steeped in superstition and spiritualism. When the fighters enter the stadium, they’ll be dressed in silk gowns with garlands of orchids round their shoulders and a “Mongkon” (a ceremonial band) around their head.

On entering the ring (over the top rope if tradition is adhered to) they will remove the gown and perform what is known as a “Wai Kru” it’s a dance which is designed to pay homage to their mentors, family and Buddha but it also helps them focus and warm up. Often the competitors will have spent the day praying, meditating and being blessed by monks.

During the bout, the fighters wear a “Kruang Ruang” or “Ring of Charms” around their bicep, which usually contains a Buddha image. The fight itself is accompanied (as is the Wai Kru) by music from a three piece band made up of cymbals, drums and an oboe.

As the tempo of the fight raises and falls, so does the tempo of the music. Uninitiated spectators are often taken aback at what they see as the “brutality” of the fight. The competitors are allowed to strike each other with fists, feet, shins, elbows and knees. It can look a little scary, but the guys in the ring are highly trained in defensive techniques as well as offensive.

In the early rounds the fighters will typically “fell each other out” looking for gaps in their opponents defence. In the later rounds spectators are usually treated to a spectacular display of pugilist technique.

At the end of the five rounds if neither fighter is concussed, the winner (as in Western Boxing) is the one who has attacked and defended most effectively. Putting the fight’s themselves to one side for a moment it’s important to understand the enthusiasm of the crowd. The Thais live and breathe Muay Thai. When you attend the stadium the atmosphere is similar to a Premiership Football Game and if you chose to flick through the channels on a TV in Thailand, it’s unusual not to find at least one fight being shown.

Despite the brutality of the contest, the combatants have a great deal of respect for one another. They are highly trained sportsmen. Most of them start early, at the age of around seven or eight, and if they are accepted to a gym or “Camp” the Thai word is “Sit” they will often take on a “fight name” which encompasses the name of their gym or their mentor. They live in the gym under a Spartan regime and spend as much as seven or eight hours daily training.

To outsiders it may seem harsh, but Muay Thai offers an escape from poverty and a more healthy alternative to drugs or alcohol for a great many young Thais. The fighter’s career is often over by the time they’re in their mid twenties, with a successful fighter often having some two hundred fights under their belt. It’s hard to classify “Muay Thai” as either a “Martial Art” or “Sport”, I tend to put it in a box of it’s own and call it a “Martial Sport”. It differs from the more “conventional” Martial arts like Karate or Wing Chun, where participants receive grades and practice “forms”, it can seem a lot less formal, although the spiritual aspects of the fight separate it from a traditional sport.

On the international scene Muay Thai remained in the shadows for quiet a while, but films like “The Man With the Golden Gun” and “Kickboxer” have done a great deal of good in opening western minds to its potential.

If you’ve seen the James Bond classic, Golden Gun, 007 visits Lumpinee. The two fighters who were paid to perform for the cameras (Master Woody and Master Toddy) along with Master Sken were among the early pioneers to take the sport abroad. Towards the end of the seventies they settled in Manchester (where the rainfall must have reminded them of the monsoon, but I’m not sure what they made of the temperature) and went about training westerners in their art. They acted as ambassadors for Thailand, and have done a great deal of work in promoting the sport worldwide.

During the mid nineties Muay Thai was going through something of a slump, but was cast into the limelight again by Noong Tom, the famous lady boy boxer who competed wearing lipstick and nail varnish, until he was bared from competition when he underwent re assignment surgery.

In the martial arts field Muay Thai is universally respected as being one of the most complete forms, I don’t want to get into the “if a karate expert and a Thai boxer got in a scrap” type of conversation, but there are well documented examples of other disciplines trying to compete under Muay Thai rules and failing.

If having seen a few bouts and you fancy giving it a whirl there are plenty of gyms dotted around which welcome novices, and don’t be put of by the brutality of the contests. If you attend a gym the professional trainers are well versed in tailoring the sessions to an individuals capabilities. I can personally recommend Sor Vorapin on Chakrapong (the Gullivers World end of Kha Sarn behind the watch shop), Jitty’s (Soi 49 Sukumvit), Sityodthong (Nakula north of Pattaya), Sitpholek (Weekender Resort 2nd Rd Pattaya) and Jungle Gym (Haad Rin Kho Pha Ngan). Other’s which enjoy good reputations, that I can’t comment on personally are Fairtex (Trok Kai, Th Anuwong Bangkok), Chitlada (Rama IV Bangkok) and Lana (Chiang Mai). If you fancy competing you need to put aside a lot of time (years) to attain the levels Thais attain and foreigners don’t have good record of attaining a comparable level, although there are some noteable exceptions including Ronnie Green of England, Raymond Decker and Ivan Hippolyte of Holland, I also believe the Japanese are putting forward some serious contenders.

To conclude if you’re passing through Bangkok and want a taste of culture you could do a lot worse than to spend anevening of watching fights (lots of sexy bodies if you’re a lady and a good scrap if you’re a bloke) and if your worried about getting fat, pop down to a gym, they won’t hurt you but you might ache a bit the next day.

Dominic Lavin