Hot air Balloon Festival, not all went well

I hear people screaming and see them running away in all directions. That’s not easy in a large dark terrain packed with thousands of spectators watching the big balloons taking off to the sky. Normally it takes a while to prepair the eight metres high balloons with lots of candles on her side and fixing the plateau with fireworks under it. Then when released to the sky the fireworks should start at a height of about 100 metres. That is in most cases the case, but not this time on a sunday night in Taunggy.

This went wrong from the start. The balloon was released and after about ten metres the wind caught the balloon and the balloon set herself on fire with big flames and the firework started almost just above the ground. People got hit and some were injured and the balloon is burning his way to the wooden building where the jury is seated. Then after five minutes the firebrigade arrived and started to put out the fire. Ten minutes later the fire was over, the jury was save and people went up to the next balloon. Except the balloon chief. A policeman tried to arrest him, but people who liked the chief became angry with this and beat the policeman with sticks. With help from colleagues of the policeman the chief was arrested because he had ignored the warning not to release the balloon because of a sudden wind. It took a rather long time before the ambulances arrived. I didn’t see any casualties, but some were injured.
Later, I found a video of this wrong going event by and from ‘loralgt’ on:

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The temples of Bagan

Thousands of temples and pagoda’s in Bagan, Burma. Amazing spectacular. Here are the pictures, they say more than words can do.

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Impressions of the Irrawaddy

The boat from Mandalay is leaving prompt at 7 am and that’s on schedule! The boarding starts before 6.30. This season there are two fast ferries going to Bagan. This one is called Shwe Keinnery, build in China 17 years ago. That was before the Chinese upheavel isn’t it? With your ticket comes a reserved seat, one of the 90 inside, so you don’t have to fight for it. Not so on the sun deck, where the 15 easy chairs are quickly taken by a French travel group. They seems to know the rules, at least their guide does. The windows are big and good for the view and there is a little restaurant with simply meals and lots of black coffee. In the first hour down the river the starboard side has the best view passing the ford and pagoda’s of Sagaing, but it is out of the sun and cold so early in the morning. People are wearing jackets. The left side is nice and warm.


It is beautiful saling in the dawn when there is bit of fog around the pagoda’s. The coast of the Irrawaddy reminds me of a cruise on the Nile that Hillie and I once took from Abusimbel. But here are more pagoda’s, haha, and on the Nile are much more palm trees. The ship is not sailing in a strait line in the middle of the river as I expected, but is lingering her way between the invissible sandbanks. I take a look at the bridge, where I can see the best man steering without the use of GPS or map. Knowing a bit about sailing I’m amazed about this. After three hours the ships bends her bow to the riverbank where is a little village but no jetty. Just put the bow to the shore. A man with a red nylon bag comes aboard walking over a narrow shelf. Alongside women of the village expecting us are standing in the water, shouting and throwing banana’s up to the passengers on the high ship. Money is thrown back in the water. Amazing. After a short while we go again. At the shore I see fishermen working, cows drinking from the river and women washing cloths and themselves. We pass by some cargo ships, but not many. I see my first Burman eagle.

At noon the crew is walking around taking your order for lunch. Rice or noodles. I just had my cheroot finished and wasn’t hungry. We pass the Malika 2, the ferry from Bagan. After the new bridge a long blow of the horn and the captain lays his ship again aside the shore with no landing place for the ship. He keeps her on place with the propeller. The man with the red nylon bag now steps off of the ship. Maybe he is a postman I guess. This time no village and no banana’s. Off we go again enjoying the green landscape. After 14.00 it’s getting hot inside, almost no one of the ninety passengers here, hardly any blowing fresh air and outside the seats are taken.


So I am glad when this very beautiful trip ends at 16.30 in Nyaung U. Taxi’s enough. A nice cold mercedes benz brings me to hotel Flower Breeze in New Bagan which is a half an hour drive passing along 1000 years old pagoda’s. I came for them in the first place. Ready for a bottle of Myanmar beer at last. I could have taken one on the boat but I wanted to save that pleasure for the evening.

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U Bein bridge near Mandalay

It’s quite a bit outside the busy town. At the old long bridge made of teak wood: Country life, with a man and an ox ploughing and a woman behind them carefully throwing seeds to the earth. A nice sight to see them cooperating for tomorrow. And a big flock of ducks floating by, packed together looking like a living island. They know the direction. A bit later I see two duck-keepers in a little boat. So they aren’t wild ducks as I first thought. On the other side of the bridge many geese, also on their way from the water to the shore happely wagging to their home.

Not far from the bridge are gondola boats laying, which take you to a spot on the water where you can have a good look at the bridge while the sun sets. I shoot very many pictures, just for the good one. I am sure I have that one, the view is beautiful. The rowing skipper points me photogenic points. Everytime when I point my camera he stops rowing. Thoughtful.

The road to the bridge goes through a poor part of Mandalay, I see cows and children searching in carbage. It makes me think and sad.
Burma has problems. With poverty that you see at the outskirts of the cities and beggars at touristic places. Not many and not persistant, but still. And a few days ago demonstrating farmers were chased away with teargas and water according to the BBC. These farmers had to leave their land for a Chinese who bought a coppermine and wanted the surrounding area as well. That was last year and the farmers found that they were not compensated enough. They got a basic house and money, that was aggreed upon, but they are unhappy with the deal. Ms Suu Ky was also there and said after she spoke with the famers, now I speak to the authorities, to hear the story from two sides. The authorities on their turn said: We cannot close the mine. That would give a loose loose situation. According to the BBC Burma is a corrupt country, so the farmers may have a point. In my hometown The Hague we have beggars too and European farmers just last week blocked the roads around Brussels with their subsidized tractors. I think there is difference. On the other hand nowadays Burmese people have, as I have, acces to the free press via internet. In my hotel I could use the computer of the reception. If the last visited internet page of the former user of that computer does say something about what people like to read in the foreign media, then there is more interest in the Premier League. Like you can see the television watching crowds in cafes. All English football.

The sunny side in Burma is that I woke up one morning with the sound of singing children in a school across my guesthouse. What a beautiful sound that is. There were early in the morning and late afternoon many children attending that school. That made me happy.

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The train from Hsipaw

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My two fellow travellers and I got the last three tickets for the soft seats. At the time we didn’t know that we were very lucky, but we were. The remaining westerners were given a ticket for the ordinary class, … Continue reading

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Domestic Flying in Burma

Propeller jet Flying to Inle Lake and beyond
At the check-in at the old Yangon Domestic Airport where Airforce One with the American president left a week ago, they put a small green sticker on your shirt with the destination, HEH for me. I still don’t know why that is. Entering the waiting area I don’t see any information signs and the flight is late or am I at a wrong waiting area? The sticker helped me to see other passengers with the same sticker and waiting while the scheduled departing time passed. Suddenly a man shouted something running around holding up a wooden sign with my flight info on it above his head. That is is how is goes here. There is one waiting area and just wait for the man with the sign. Easy when you know it. I didn’t notice if the man was looking for people with the green sticker, but he could have.
Later when I flew from Heho to Mandalay and I was about to leave the plane the passenger who stood before me was refused to leave. ’Go back’ the purser said. The man had a different color sticker and the plane had more destinations. So that’s how they do it. Watching the right stickers to know if you indeed have reached your destination and may leave the plane. Pretty efficient I would say when you have trouble deciphering the announcements, as I have once in a while. This was for me the first plane ever where during the flight they played music like in elevators. I think it was semi classical with a trumpet.

A weird thing happened after arriving at Mandalay International Airport. The plane arrived at 7.30 in the evening and the new airport was almost empty and the taxi desks were closed. On the big parking lot were no taxi’s or busses. And the city is an hour drive from the airport. So we were seven of us and puzzled in the dark not knowing what to do. Well that’s always better than being on your own. After a while a Burmese man came up and offered us to call a bus from Manalay to transport us. We happely accepted and a half hour later the bus was there and took us to Mandalay, for 6000 kyats. That’s cheap considdering the situation we were in. It gives something to think about. I mean an international airport and the second big city in Burma, with no transport to the city. Burma has still a way to go.

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Entering Burma

Yangon

Yangon

Shwedagon, Yangon

Shwedagon, Yangon

Shwedagon, Yangon

Shwedagon, Yangon

Shwedagon, Yangon

Shwedagon, Yangon


Yangon International
The immigration and security are smooth. There is a visa on arrival desk VOA but that’s for bussines people only. So it was indeed necessary for me to get the visa from the Berlin Embassy of Myanmar. The arrival hall and the outdoor area is fully packed with islamic dressed people. It turns out that travelers are arriving from the Hadj they have made and half villages are here to welcome them back. But in spite of that I see my travel agent before she sees me. We change flight tickets and hotel-vouchers and dollars and in no time I am out looking for coffee nearby on the other side of the road and wait some steaming hot hours for my next flight to Inle Lake.

Changing money
When you arrive at Yangon International Airport you arrive with many others who all don’t have kyats and want them desperately. So one long queue at the bankcounter. You can speed up things by stepping outside the building, walk fifty meters to your right to the departure hall and there is close to the door a bankcounter with no clients. Checking money and passport and multiple counting took only ten minutes. I changed euro’s which I withdrew from an ATM in Holland. No problem. Not so with a Dutch couple I met on the road. They tried to change euros in Mandalay and the banknotes were refused because not crispy enough. The stress that gave this to them not having enough cash, ruined their day, so they decided to shorten their trip leaving Burma earlier than they had planned and span the rest of their vacantion in Thailand (where there are ATM’s of course). I had some better euro’s left and I changed it with them so they could buy a decent meal (I’m not sure if it was that bad).

So there is still one country left on this planet that doesn’t like every euro they can get. What people told me about this is that because of the western boycot the foreign banknotes are changed with China to get Burmese money. And that the Chinese are extreme picky on the condition of the notes. Another black side of the boycot from the West I think. This is about to change soon.

(Sooner than I thought. A few days after I wrote this I found an ATM in Mandalay where I could withdraw Burmese money with a foreign bank-card. I must be among the first foreigners who have this joy of electronic banking in Burma. Maybe now the hassle of needing pristine dollar bills are over)

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On the road to Mandalay

Next week I fly away, to Burma this time. There is no direct flight from Amsterdam so my first step is to Bangkok with EVA Air. The next day with Bangkok Airways to Yangon and same day with Mandalay Air to Inle Lake. Besides visiting the lake and their people, floating markets, pagoda’s and sigar factories I plan to go to the full moon hot air Balloon Festival in Nyaunggi in the evening. When I like the fireworks and burning big balloons, I’ll go again next evening. Two top attractions in the first couple of days. Need I say more? After that to Mandalay the former capital with the Glass Palace, perhaps a mountain train journey to a hill town and by boat over the majestic Irrawaddy River to Bagan. Bagan is known to be one of the three nicest archeological Buddhist sides. The other two are Borobudur on Java and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I have seen these two and I am very curious to make the comparison with Bagan and his field with many many pagoda’s and temples.
In the following I will write about my experiences, about temple fatigue, the influx of tourists in this high season with no proper infrastructure, the cash-only economy (no ATM, no plastic money), slow e-mail connections if any, finding rooms as if it was in the pre-internet days. And above all how this long isolated Asian country and people are like. What is still left of what Rudyard – jungle book – Kipling once wrote: ‘This is Burma. It is quite unlike any place you know about.’
Well I have booked my first 5 nights and will see it from there.

Recommended reading.
In the preparation of this trip I had much joy in reading Burmese Days by George Orwell, The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh (moving beautiful) and I take the e-book version of The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason with me to read it on the road.

On the road to Mandalay
Where the flying fishes play
And the dawn comes up like thunder
From China, across the bay.

(Kipling)

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Goa and Agra, practical

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I visited Goa and Agra as an independent traveler in february 2012. Here are some first hand practical things that I encountered in those weeks and the reader might find useful. South Goa – I stayed in Majorda at the … Continue reading

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Portuguese left in India

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My research question was: What’s left of the Portuguese in India? Many old mansions and many Portuguese names. The hotel woman listens to the name of Fernandez, the signs of shops show Da Costa, Silva or Teixeiras. In the capital … Continue reading

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