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// 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 Myanmar) from Thailand. I realized on the ride to my hotel on that first day, that I really had no idea what to expect, no mental image, the entire country was simply a blank in my mind. I'd heard Burma mentioned in the news from time to time, perhaps even more so recently (for less than charitable reasons), but I was at a loss as to what I would find here; I had no Hollywood portrayals or friend's Instagram photos to guide me. And I'd planned the trip last minute, so I'd done precious little research. What I found, was, in a word, stunning, a realm where ancient history was literally carved into the landscape at nearly 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 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 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 tributary river of 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 now 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, in the forest). 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 hike, three days across the countryside of Burma, staying with local villagers in their homes, eating homemade meals, crossing rural fields, visiting hard to reach sites, until finally arriving in historic mountain town of Kalaw. Only two of us, along with our guide, were on the hike (most people hike the opposite direction, Kalaw to Inle Lake, and the group I saw coming from that way was nearly eight strong). I've given a few of the villages I stayed at their own sections of photos, but first here below are a few shots from the hike itself, across rural lands, over mountains and hills, and meeting a great many villagers and farmers along the way.
PATTU PAK VILLAGE ON THE HIKE FROM INLE LAKE TO KALAW This was the first village I stayed on the hike. At the time I didn't realize that nearly every village we'd visit would be a different ethnic group, so I don't precisely remember which people these are unfortunately. The last two photos are the family house I stayed 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 (you probably noticed this on most of the people from my earlier photos). It's called thanaka and it's ubiquitous throughout Burma. It's a cream made from bark and it's primarily simply cosmetic (like, say, 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 (once I realized nearly every village was a different tribe, I started marking it down so I'd remember). I 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. We even hiked through some of the chili fields before arriving at the village.
KONE HLA VILLAGE ON THE HIKE FROM INLE LAKE TO KALAW We didn't sleep in Kone Hla, 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 was the last village where we stayed before reaching Kalaw. 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. I also included a photo of myself and my guide (top), who was really great and made the whole adventure possible.
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 villages.
MYIN MA HTI CAVE Not far from Kalaw is 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.
HELL NO Burma has no shortage of giant spiders, sometimes covering the whole sky. These here were the size of a toddler's fist, defying the very laws of gravity. Time to go...