Tag - Burmese

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.

Bago, Burma

Bago, Burma
Bago, Burma
Bago, Burma

Situated some 50 miles to the north of Yangon, the pretty town of Bago is one of Myanmar’s leading attractions and a great place to spend a little time. Also known as Pegu, the town is home to a large collection of sacred Buddha images, making it one of the country’s holiest sites.

Many people simply pass by Bago on their way to Mandalay, but those who take the time to stop and look around will come across many unique features. Here you will find literally thousands of Buddha images in carved niches in a rocky cavern and an interesting array of pagodas, temples and other buildings.

The site of Bago was founded in 573 AD by two Mon princes and paid an important role in the history of both Mon land and Myanmar before being destroyed by the Burmese King Alaungpaya in 1757. Although only a few buildings remain as testimony to this interesting period of history, those that do are worth taking the time to investigate.

Bago has a number of large pagodas, of which the Shwemawdaw or Golden Shrine is the most sacred as it is believed to contain a couple of hairs belonging to the Gautama Buddha. As you explore the town you will discover the Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha statue and the impressive Kalyani Sima or Hall of Ordination.

There are a number of interesting places to explore on the outskirts of Bago. Just 40 miles to the east is one of Myanmar’s most prominent landmarks. Also know as Golden Rock, the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is a 5.5 meter high pagoda atop a large bolder covered with gold leaf. What makes this site so unusual is that the bolder is balanced on the very edge of a precipice and looks as though it will topple over the edge at any moment.

Bago is situated between the forested Pegu Mountains to the west and the Sittang River to the east. Surrounded by picturesque paddy fields, this is a good area to explore to get a real feel for Myanmar. There are number of places to get a bite to eat around Bagan and a couple of cosy places to stay.

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand

Just one hour from Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya is a key destination for anyone interested in history, culture and architecture. This former capital of Thailand is steeped in history and is a great place to spend a couple of days.

Formerly known as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, the city was founded by King U-Thong in 1350 and kept its status as the nation’s capital until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in Asia by the 1600s, as its vast array of temples still testifies.

Most visitors come to explore The Ayutthaya historical park, which contains most of the magnificent ruins of the ancient city and was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1981. Over 400 hundred temples were originally built in Ayutthaya, and the fact that they were built by various rules means that they comprise an interesting range of designs and styles.

Many of the temples from Ayutthaya’s glory period still exist today, although in various states of preservation. Wat Mahathat is by far Ayutthaya’s most photographed temple, made famous by the head of a large Buddha statue which has become entangled in the roots of a giant banyan tree.

Other temples of note include Wat Lokayasutharam (also known as the temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Naphrameru.

Ayutthaya’s temples cover an area of several kilometres, and many people choose to explore the area by hiring a bicycle or a tuk-tuk for the day. You can learn more about Ayutthaya’s rich and interesting history at the Chantharakasem National Museum.

But there is much more to Ayutthaya than simply temples. The Ayutthaya Elephant Camp provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to find out more about these mighty beasts and rides can be arranged around the scenic area.

The nearby town of Bang Pa In, with its glorious Summer Palace provides an excellent site for a day trip. Another great day trip is the Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts Center, which aims is to train people with poor backgrounds and to try provide them with the skills to earn a descent income. The arts and crafts here are of a very high quality and make excellent souvenirs.

Ko Kred – Bangkok’s Hidden Gem

Ko Kred - Bangkok's Hidden Gem
Ko Kred - Bangkok's Hidden Gem
Ko Kred - Bangkok's Hidden Gem

The artificial island of Ko Kred lies cuddled between two bends of the Chao Phyra River at a point where the river wends to its narrowest. It is a counterfeit structure, as this straight and narrow channel was cut to speed the journey of river traffic as it plied between Ayutthaya and the Gulf of Thailand.

This 10 kilometer square island is a delight. There are no cars, and the roads are narrow concrete strips splayed out around the island. The only traffic is an occasional motorbike or bicycle. What bliss, a stone’s thrown from Bangkok, a city that is being strangled by the motor vehicle!
 
As you step off the ferry that has brought you across the river from Pakkred in a brief minute or two, you step back into a Thailand of 50 years ago. This island is home to a community of Mon people who came here from their homeland in the river Kwai valley north of Kanchanaburi . The temples and Buddha shrines scattered around the island are visible evidence of this neo-Burmese heritage.
 
The island is the site of a pottery industry. The rich clay soil provides an ideal medium for the red terracotta earthenware pots and water containers that were the mainstay of this economy. Sadly, others elsewhere, produce alternatives at a cheaper price and brick kilns have outlived their usefulness. Now the potters have turned their attention to the tourists who visit the island, usually on a Sunday in one of the large tour boats that sail up river from Taksin Bridge. However, the rich soil also supports a verdant landscape of palms, and fruit trees giving the place a wonderfully tranquil and rural feel. As a visitor you can walk around the island, hire a bicycle or zip quickly by on one of several motor cycle taxis. It’s quite a long walk, just over 5 kilometers, but a wonderful one at that! The path takes you under plantain tress with bunches of bananas overhanging the walk way and down below limes, papayas, pomeloes and all sorts of fruit I cannot identify grow in profusion.
 
For the really discerning travellers, there are rooms available to rent a very reasonable Bt 200 per night. The KoKred Restaurant has a verandah that juts out over the river. It is an ideal venue to eat or just sit, sip a drink and watch the sand barges and other water traffic as they glide by.
 
You don’t need to take the big cruise boats, chock full of tourists. Instead make you way to Victory Monument on the BTS. This missile like structure, which commemorates the Indo-Chinese War of 1940-41, serves as transport hub for Bangkok. Walk along the arterial skyway, and below you will see a sea of bus stands. Go as far as you can, descend and then wait for a 166 Bus. This will take you to Pakkred by motorway, thus avoiding the worst of the traffic jams. On reaching Pakkred, which is the terminus. You alight obliquely opposite the TMB bank, walk straight ahead until you encounter the motorcycle taxi-rank situated at the rear entrance of Jusco. Mumble something about KoKred and the driver will take you to the ferry stage at Wat Sana Nua. Enjoy the trip!

About the author:
Alister Bredee is a freelance author specialising in articles on health related topics.

Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park

Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park
Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park
Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park
Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park

It’s a beautiful sunny day and I have decided to hire a motorbike to drive the 65 kilometres from Kanchanaburi to the enchanting Erawan National Park in the west of Thailand, near the Burmese border.

The journey takes me just over an hour and is mostly flat, before leading me up a winding tree-lined hill. On the way up the hill I stop to buy petrol from a small stand and get talking to the owner, a friendly robust woman called Pim.

Pim laughs when she hears that I intend to climb to the top of Erawan Waterfall, the majestic seven-tiered fall that is about 1,500 meters high. “You cannot do it,” Pim grins – “you are much too fat!”

I thank Pim for her kind words and continue my journey, noticing how empty the road is and how beautiful the scenery. Before long I have reached the park and leave my bike in the car park.

As I walk through the forest to the first level of the waterfall, I pass by a guide giving instructions to a group of brightly-clad tourists. “Remember, the monkeys like to bite. Last week a monkey bit of someone’s hand!” the guide grinned at the look of alarm at the tourist’s face. “No, I am joking. But take care.”

I pass the group and reach the first level, which is stunningly beautiful. Although only a shallow fall, the water is clear and inviting and the forest backdrop is very pretty. Several people are already at this level, splashing in the water, balancing on logs or eating picnics.

I continue up a flight of steps to the second level, which features a deep pool filled with cool water. It is a long climb up to the third level, and I am hot and breathless by the end of it. I remember Pim’s words and wonder if I will make it to the top.

The fall at level three is much larger and extremely pretty. This seems like a good place to swim and its not long before I’m splashing about in the crystal clear aquamarine water. But I am not alone. After a few seconds I am attacked by a school of fish, who are intent on eating my skin. Luckily, these fish are only about an inch long and simply want to feast on my dead skin cells, so I’m safe enough. Still, the fish are persistent ands swimming with them is like being struck by a series of minor electric shocks.

Erawan falls is situated in Erawan National Park, which covers 550 sq kms and receives around 60,000 visitors each year. The falls are named after Erawan, the three-headed elephant of Hindu faith as the falling water is said to resemble the mighty beast.

After sitting sunbathing on some rocks to dry off, I embark on the challenging climb up ton level five. Sweat is pouring off me as I struggle to climb the steep hill. Luckily, there is a lookout point halfway up and I take the opportunity to rest as I enjoy the spectacular view across the lush landscape.

My spirits are lifted as I reach level five and am greeted by the sweet sounds of singing, music and laughter. A group of Thai teenagers have somehow carried their guitars up the mountain, and I rest for a while enjoying the way the light blends with the sounds of the birds and the breeze in the trees.

The climb to level six is equally challenging, but once there I am greeted by the sight of a large waterfall and deep pool. This level is completely deserted, and I welcome the opportunity to wade in the waters once more.

After I have rested, it is time to ascend to the seventh and final level. I search in vain for a pathway, finally realising that to reach the top I must climb the steep rock face to the left of the fall. Expecting to stumble at any moment I eventually make it to the top, cross a stream and somehow manage to climb the last 100 metres to the summit.

Hot, sweaty and breathless, I stand and look around. To my surprise I am actually above the level of the jungle and can see for miles in every direction, where varying shades of green mix with bursts of bright colour and the sparkling blue of distant rivers.

Finally, it is time to descend from my lofty perch. On the way back down I am surprised by a group of monkeys, who climb past me down the rocky path without even giving me a second glance. I look jealously at the effortless way they scamper down the mountainside, feeling slow and heavy in comparison.

Finally I am at the bottom and climb aboard my waiting motorbike. On the way back I stop to tell Pim about my adventure. The friendly woman looks at me in surprise. “Maybe you are like an elephant,” she tells me. “They look slow but are very powerful.” I grin at Pim, realising that this is as close to a compliment as I am ever going to get.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!