// MY NAME IS DANIELAnd after years of dreaming I've sold everything I own and set off on the open road. I've made this site as a sort of photo journal of my travels. The map shows where I've been (red), where I've stayed a month or more (yellow), and where I plan to go (white). And so, armed with little more than a backpack, a camera, and a dream, I now take the road less traveled by. So it goes.
MANDALAY I arrived in Burma (now offically called Myanmar) from Thailand. Before stepping foot in the country, I really had no idea what to expect, no mental image, the entire country was simply a blank spot on the map of my mind. Normally there are at least some inaccurate Hollywood potrayals or friend's Instagram photos that I've seen, but in this case, other than some recent, less than charitable news coverage, I knew nothing about Burma. And what I found was, in a word, stunning: a realm where ancient history was literally carved into the landscape at every turn, where the people were generous and welcoming, and temples. I found lots and lots of temples. Below is Mandalay, the former capital and second largest city in the country. From here I traveled overnight by train further south, in an old rickety wooden British train which you can also see below.
U-BEIN BRIDGE TAUNGTHAMAN LAKE An hour or so from Mandalay is the U Bein Bridge. It was built in 1850 from wood reclaimed from a former royal palace. It's the oldest teakwood bridge in existence and one of the longest, nearly a mile long, stretching over Taungthaman Lake. Historically it was an important route over the lake, especially during the rainy season when the lake was at its highest point, and it still serves that purpose, but today it's also a major tourist site in the country.
BAGAN IRRAWADDY RIVER My overnight train brought me to Bagan, founded sometime around 1000AD, an ancient holy city, once to home to more than 10,000 temples, 3000 monasteries, and 1000 stupas. Abandoned long ago, the city now has been overgrown by forest, consumed by the eroding banks of the Irrawaddy River, or turned into grazing pastures for cows and fields for village farmers. Declared a UN World Heritage Site in 2019, today 3822 temples and stupas are all that are left of this former glistening metropolis. Because the ancient city covers nearly forty square miles, I rented an e-bike (which I only crashed once) with a friend to explore the ruins.
NYAUNGSHWE SHAN STATE From Bagan I traveled to Nyaungshwe, the largest settlement on Inle Lake in the Shan State, a large state of several ethnic groups, many of whom are at constant odds with the government for more autonomy. Nyaungshwe is the starting point for exploring the region and local villagers offer boat rides to see life on the lake, which is home to floating villages, various ethnic groups (including the long-necked Karen women), and ancient Buddhist ruins.
INLE LAKE SHAN STATE One of the (many) highlights for me in Burma was a day trip around Inle Lake with a local fisherman (photo of us together below). We were able to visit floating villages built on stilts, including a few floating monasteries, and even some floating farms, watch the 'one-legged' fishermen of the region paddle with one leg while throwing nets with the other, stop at a busy ethnic market of vegetables and local crafts, and generally enjoy the beauty of this highland lake.
NYUANG OHAK PAGODA FOREST INDEIN VILLAGE Down a river off Inle lake lies the small village of Indein, and a short walk from Indein are two ancient 'pagoda' forests, home to hundreds of Buddhist stupas and ruins. On top of the hill is Shwe Inn Thein (the first few photos) which has been restored with donations from Buddhists from all over the world, the ancient pagodas and stupas there have now been recast with gold tops or rehabilitated brickwork. Below the hill, along the banks of the river, is the more interesting ruins of Nyuang Ohak (the next set of photos). These stupas, pagodas, and temples have been left to the jungle, overgrown with trees, their once impressive monuments and statues crumbling into the forest floor. Wandering through these ruins is like stumbling upon a lost city for the first time. The last few photos are of Indein Village itself, just a small window into daily life there.
INLE LAKE TO KALAW TOWN HIKING IN THE SHAN STATE In Nyuangshwe I signed up for a three day hike across the countryside. We'd be staying with local villagers of differing tribes in their homes, eating homecooked meals, crossing rural landscapes all day by foot, and finally arriving in the historic mountain town of Kalaw. I've divided the photos up by the villages we stayed in, but first, here are a few shots of the hike itself.
PATTU PAK VILLAGE ON THE HIKE FROM INLE LAKE TO KALAW This was the first village we stayed. At the time I didn't realize that nearly every village we'd visit would be a different ethnic tribe, so I don't precisely remember which people these are unfortunately. The last two photos are the family house and the meal we had. We slept on the floor, with sleeping bags. Showering is done with a bucket of water outside behind the house. Most of the houses have a stone wall outside for bathing privacy. The men in the first photo (at the village monastery) are weaving baskets to be sold in the markets. You'll also notice many of the children in the village have a sort of paint on their faces. It's called thanaka and it's ubiquitous throughout Burma. It's a cream made from bark and it's primarily simply cosmetic (like lipstick in the West) though many local women believe it also protects from the sun and makes their skin smoother.
POWKE VILLAGE ON THE HIKE FROM INLE LAKE TO KALAW Powke Village is home to the Pa'O people. We didn't sleep here, it was simply one of the many villages we passed on our three day hike, but it was a very interesting one, as nearly all of its activity seemed centered around red chilis. Red chili fields surround the village.
KONE HLA VILLAGE ON THE HIKE FROM INLE LAKE TO KALAW We didn't sleep in Kone Hla either, but we did stop here at a local village house to have lunch. This is another Pa'O village. The Pa'O are the second largest ethnic group in the Shan State, though like the Karen People, many have fled to Thailand because of ongoing military conflict with the Myanmar government.
LEMIND VILLAGE ON THE HIKE FROM INLE LAKE TO KALAW Lemind is one of the villages we spent the night. You can see the family that hosted us below, and the dinner we had there. They were Danu, one of the smaller ethnic groups in Burma. There's also a photo of me with our guide, who really the whole adventure possible. Our hiking group conisted of only our guide, me, and another friend, though I should say this is because we were doing the hike in reverse, which is less popular as its mostly uphill. Most hikers start in Kalaw instead of ending there like we did.
MYIN MA HTI CAVE ON THE HIKE FROM INLE LAKE TO KALAW Our last stop before reaching Kalaw was Myin Ma Hti Cave, a natural cave filled with hundreds of Buddhist statues and iconography. Buddhists all over Asia were drawn to caves for meditation and some, like this one, have developed religious importance over the centuries. The grounds and stupas around the cave are quite beautiful as well.
KALAW SHAN STATE Our hike ended in the hill top town of Kalaw. Under colonial rule (and sitting at 4300ft/1310m above sea level), this is what the British called a 'hill station', a town where the European administers could go to escape the heat. Such towns were quite common in British colonies, especially India. And, at least in the case of Kalaw, they chose wisely. The town sits in a beautiful pine valley, with cool breezes and peaceful views. Today the town is growing in popularity for tourist wishing to hike the mountains and visit the local tribes and villages.
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