Monday, June 24, 2013

By train to Gokteik and one of the longest
viaducts of the world across a canyon

Picture by -AX-
The viaduct of Gokteik

The train in the direction of Hsipaw and Lashio, up to the high plateau of Shan State in the northeast of Myanmar, leaves Mandalay early in the morning, at 04.00 am, see the timetable on The train soon will gain hight using a series of zig-zags. The higher the train climbs, the greener the country. Streams cut flower and vegetable fields, in between huts made ​​of woven bamboo mats. Buffalos are grazing in the rice fields, farmers bucking under their straw hats in the sun. After about four hours, the train enters the once British hill station Pyin U Lwin (Pyin Oo Lwin). The colonial rulers fled here, when the heat in the dusty plains of Mandalay was unbearable. From here the train takes another two-and-a-half hours until it arrives in Gokteik. Just after Gokteik station suddenly the tourists will jump up, grab their camera and secure a place at the open door or the window. In the distance, the steel girders of the Gokteik viaduct come into view. At a walking pace, the diesel locomotive pulls the cars on the bridge. If you want to cross the viaduct on the train and afterwards return south, you should buy a ticket to the station called Nawngpeng. The southbound train is waiting here, but you should hurry to catch it.

When American engineers finished the viaduct in 1901 this was the second largest bridge of the world. 793 meters long and 111 meters high, across the Gokteik canyon. The British colonial rulers built the bridge to extend the railway line from Mandalay to Yangon via Lashio. From there, on the so called Burma Road, they delivered weapons to the Chinese who fought against the advancing Japanese in the Second World War. Until the Japanese overran Burma in 1942. The bridge was renovated in the 1990s.

If you want to stay in Pyin U Lwin (formerly Maymyo), you get more informations on The Leaping Lemur. One sight in Pyin U Lwin are the Kandawgyi National Botanical Gardens, where many families and young people flock to, strolling around the lake with its black swans, picnic in the shade of trees, playing guitars and sing.
From here you can also visit the waterfalls of Pwe Kauk and Anisakan as well as the Hinduist-Buddhist cave-shrine of Peik Chin Myaing.

Picture by Arian Zwegers
Pyin U Lwin Market

Picture by Mat Maessen
Pyin U Lwin Downtown

Picture by Mat Maessen

Picture by mangostani
Horse-carriage waiting in Pyin U Lwin

Picture by ninjawil
Nuns in Pyin U Lwin
Pyin U Lwin with Kandawgyi Lake

Hotels in Pyin U Lwin

Kandawgyi Hill Resort:

Picture by travfotos

Candacraig Hotel:

Picture by lacest20

Read more:
Mandalay Impressions: Between Pilgrims to a very holy Buddha Image and the unholy Chinese Hunger for Jade
Mandalay Hotel Picks: Reviews by guests
Mandalay Restaurant Picks: Reviews by guests
Amapura - the City of Immortality and U Bein Bridge: A day trip from Mandalay
River Cruises from Mandalay to Bagan and Mingun

Get around in Mandalay by Taxi

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chinatown in Yangon:
Temples and a Nightmarket full of flavours

See the locations on Yangon Chinatown Google Map

Walk up and down 17th to 24th streets and also Bo Ywe, Latha, Sint Oh Dan Streets and along Maha Bandoola Road: Here you find Yangons Chinatown - also called Tayote Tan -, some streets lined with old wooden shuttered houses and shop fronts. Discover Chinese medicine shops, gold and jewellery stores, restaurants and Chinese Temples. In the night Chinatown - especially 19th street with its restaurants - turns into a colourful nightmarket, full of food stalls with steaming dishes, snacks like fried insects, vegetables and fruits as mangoes, durians, mangosteens, pomelos, apples, tangerines, grapes, lichees, rambutan and banana banana. Historically the Hokkien Chinese lived along Strand Road while the Cantonese lived along Maha Bandoola Road. Read ab article about the old clans and todays life in Tayote Tan: Night an Day in Chinatown. See great pictures on Shutter Nomad and by Derick Chik.

Picture by onourownpath
Streetfood on 19th street

Picture by Tianyake
Sei Ta Lon Fruiterers, 722 Maha Bandoola Rd, between 17th and 18th street

Picture by Tianyake

Picture by Tianyake
Picture by Tianyake

Kheng Hock Keong Temple 庆福宫: Hokkien temple.

Picture by Mat Maessen

Picture by Wong Kee Wee

Picture by antwerpeneR

Picture by HeyltsWilliam

Guang Dong Kwan Yin Temple 观音古庙: Also: Guan Yin. Between Latha and 20th street. Cantonese temple, established about 170 years ago. It was rebuilt in 1868 after being destroyed in a fire. See picture on

Picture by Hintha

Picture by worak
Picture by Tianyake

Long Shan Tang 龙山堂: The clan temple of the Hokkien community on Anawratha Road. Read more on

Read more:
A Taste of Chinatown
5 colourful markets of Yangon
The Yangon Heritage Walking Tour: See old Rangoon before too much ist lost
Shwedagon Pagoda Impressions
Yangon Hotel Picks
Yangon Restaurant Picks
Myanmars ex Spy Chief opens an Art Gallery
From Yangon a Sunset Cruise or by ferry to Twante

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Myanmars ex Spy Chief opens an Art Gallery

See the location on Yangon Art Gallery Google Map

This is one of the unbelievable stories about the changing times in Myanmar: Former general Khin Nyunt, now in his mid-70s, has opened a contempory art gallery at 27 Nawaday Street in Mayangone township in Yangon. The former Military-Intelligence chief told The Myanmar Times at the opeing ceremony: “As I’m getting old now, I look forward to a peaceful life. I practise my religion and do community work, but it isn’t enough. I had this idea to invite artists to hang their paintings in my gallery to bring peace and delight,” the former leader said at the opening ceremony of Nawaday gallery.

Khin Nyunt "was (...) notorious for sending thousands of politicians, activists and monks to prison, a political persecutor virtually unrivaled in Burma’s five decades of oppressive junta rule", writes "In 1988, he was among a military coterie that dispatched soldiers to deal with student-led pro-democracy protesters — a ruthless crackdown that stands in history as Burma’s Tiananmen massacre. His nickname? The Prince of Evil or sometimes, for variation, the Prince of Darkness", adds Time World. In 2003 he was named Prime Minister of Burma, but a year later he was purged by then junta chief Than Shwe. He was charged with insubordination and corruption and sentenced to 44 years in jail. This was turned into house arrest. In January 2012 he was released during an amnesty.

Nawaday gallery lies in the garden of the residential compound where he spent the house arrest for seven years. To Khin Nyunt said: “I did many things [during military rule], as it was my duty for the country. It was a big burden. My life is free now and it is very different from the past."

Two small bungalows nearby sell Myanmar cultural artefacts, gold and silver embroidery and accessories - this gift shop is run by U Khin Nyunt’s wife, Daw Khin Win Shwe. And his son, Ye Naing Win, operates the open-air Nawaday Coffee Corner as a branch of Café Aroma. The garden is open from 9am to 9pm every day.

Read more:
The Yangon Heritage Walking Tour: See old Rangoon before too much ist lost
Shwedagon Pagoda Impressions
Yangon Hotel Picks
Yangon Restaurant Picks
Chinatown in Yangon: Temples and a Nightmarket full of flavours
Myanmars ex Spy Chief opens an Art Gallery
From Yangon a Sunset Cruise or by ferry to Twante

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How should you say: Burma or Myanmar?

Picture by tap tap tap
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a press conference in 1996. She uses the name Burma - bot no more consequently.

What is the correct name, Myanmar or Burma? For years it has been politically incorrect to use the name Myanmar. U.S. governments have refused to acknowledge the name change made in 1989 by the country's military junta - as not to give legitimacy to military governments. The military rulers had changed also a number of other “wrong pronunciations” from the British colonial period such as “Mergui”, “Rangoon”, “Pegu”. They were changed to "Myeik", "Yangon" and "Bago". This was seen as form of censorship.

But as answer to political reforms made by President Thein Sein, the White House has started to use the name Myanmar more often than before. "We have responded by expanding our engagement with the government, easing a number of sanctions, and as a courtesy in appropriate settings, more frequently using the name Myanmar," White House spokesman Jay Carney told Reuters, when Thein Sein met with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on in May 2013 in the first visit to the White House by a president of Myanmar in 47 years.

What's going on now? Asian correspondent Chan Myae Khine analyzes: "People who like to work with government, for instance Southeast Asian countries, may prefer to say 'Myanmar' while those who are less confident about the future changes by the military backed government would call the developing country 'Burma'." And she adds about the opposition leader: "Aung San Suu Kyi always refers to her beloved country as 'Burma' in English but in her statements published in Burmese she has used 'Myanmar' instead of 'Bamar'."

What makes it not easier: The name change to Myanmar was recognised by the United Nations and by countries such as France and Japan, but not by the United States and the United Kingdom. The New York Times began calling the nation Myanmar in 1989, while the Associated Press adopted "Myanmar" in 2006. But the BBC in 2012 told her readers, she would continue to use Burma.

In June 2012 democrazy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been warned to stop calling her country 'Burma' during her overseas visits and use its official name 'Myanmar' in an editorial in the state-owned newspaper "New Light of Myanmar". A statement by the state Election Commission suggested she was in breach of the country's constitution by using the country's former official name. Suu Kyi brushed this off: "I used that name freely in keeping with democratic principles", Suu Kyi said. She added that General Saw Maung failed to consult the Burmese people when he decided to change the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar.

What happened next: There was an announcement on June 3 in 2013, that "BBC World Service has become the first international media organisation in Burma (Myanmar) to deliver news on the mobile platform". BBC World Service Head of Business Development Asia Pacific, Indu Shekhar Sinha, said: “As Burma’s media scene goes through rapid change, we are thrilled to be spearheading the delivery of international audio news bulletins to Burmese mobile-phone users". BBC cooperates with the local leading mobile aggregator, Blue Ocean Operating Management. Its Managing Director, Htun Htun Naing, commented: “I’m very excited to launch this mobile service which is a first in Myanmar."

On June 6 in 2013 Suu Kyi announced she wants to run for president. It will be interesting to see, if she continues to stick to the use of the name of Burma. May be the Banyan Blog of The Economist is too early with this title: Bye-bye, Burma, bye-bye.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The People of Myanmar

Not less than 135 distinct ethnic groups are officially recognized by the Burmese government. Ethnologists see four main groups:

Tibeto-Burman: Migrants from the Tibetan Plateau. Include the Bamar, the Rakhaing, the Kachin and the Ching - all together around 78 percent of the population. The Bamar are wet-rice farmers and Theravada Buddhists. Bamar women use pale yellow powder, made from thanaka bark, to protect their faces against the sun. The Rakhaing have darker skin - a result of a long history of intermarriage with Indians. The majority of them are Buddhist, but a minority is Muslim, living in Sittwe and along the northern coast. The Chin have been animists traditionally, but most of them are converted Christians today, living in the forests close to India and along the Bangladesh border.

Picture by Dietmar Temps
The powder protects the face from the sun - a sign of Bamar women.

Picture by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection
Kachin woman

Mon-Khmer: Include the Mon, the Wa and the Palaung. The Mon live around Mawlamyine. They are wet-rice growing and Theravada Buddhists.

Picture by European Commission DG ECHO
Wa women in traditional clothes

Picture by UN Women Asia & the Pacific
A farmer from the Palaung hill tribe in Myanmar’s Shan state separates mustard seeds from their husks.

Austro-Tai: The Shan - also called Tai Yai - count over 9 percent of Myanmar's population. The Shan are wet-rice farmers and Theravada Buddhists. They inhabit the valleys and high plains of northeast Myanmar. Shan men and married women wear turbans.

Picture by European Commission DG ECHO

Karennic: Includes the Kayin (Karen) and the Kayah. The Kayin - also Kachin - count around 7 percent of the population. Many are Christians. They Kachin are dry-rice farmers and hunters.

Picture by Michael Foley
Karen family

The Indians: A large immigrated community especially in Yangon and Mandalay.

The Chinese: Around 1.3 millions of Chinese are living in Myanmar today. A part of them came from Yunnan and lives near Yunnan. Another part arrived during the colonial era and became merchants or restaurant owners. Read about Chinese People in Burma.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Wine tasting around Inle Lake

Picture by Kirk Siang
Vineyvard of Red Mountain Estate

You would assume that grape vines can't grow in tropical Myanmar and that the production of wine is simply reserved for places such as Europe, South Africa, South America or Australia. However, Shan State is perfect for it. You will discover, that your assumption proves wrong, when you go wine tasting to the vineyards near Inlé Lake:

Red Mountain Estate: Located on the side of Inlé Lake, in the southern Shan State, the Red Mountain Estate, owned by a Myanmar businessman, produces produces wines with locally grown grapes. All of the 400,000 plants in Taung Che have been imported from France and Spain. The grapes grow through a combination of different factors: the cool climate, the soils and the long experience of French winemaker Francois Raynal. The Inlé Lake is located in the mountains, at an altitude of 1,000 meters above sea level. The dry season from October to March brings cold temperatures during the night and very sunny days. During the wet season: from April to September there are high temperatures and rain. The grapes are harvested in February and March. The wines reach from Sauvignon Blanc to Rosé D'Inlé and Inlé Valley Red. Red Mountain restaurant. Good reviews on and on living if.

Myanmar Vineyard: The vines grow on the Western slopes of the City of Taunggyi. The vineyard was established in 1999 in the village of Aythaya, located at an altitude of nearly 1.300 m. All fields and soils in the region are of calcareous origin. Winegarden Restaurant. Myanmar’s wine pioneer was German Bert Morsbach, who founded Aythaya. He began working in Myanmar from 1989 exporting organic basmati rice, but turned to vines after the business was confiscated by a government minister. Aythaya has found that Shiraz grows here well. It is also testing German Dornfelder, Tempranillo and Chianti. Hans Leiendecker, a German, is director of operations here. Read: Lunch at Aythaya Wines, Taunggy, Myanmar

For visiting the Vineyards the easiest is to ask a taxi driver at Heho airport or in Nyaung Shwe at the Northern edge of the Lake. Red Mountain Estate is about a half an hour bike ride from the center of Nyaung Shwe.

Read more:
Winemaking takes root in Myanmar. See video.
Myanmar Wines Push the Limit

More discoveries around Inle Lake:
Inle Lake - where people live on the water
Hotels and Resorts around Inle Lake and in Nyaung Shwe - and Reviews by Guests
Kalaw - the former British Colonial Town and the Colours of the Shan Hills
Pindaya Caves - a fascinating Pilgrimage Site
Kakku: Thousands of Stupas around a Pagoda - a Magical Place
Burma Bible