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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Memories of Mandalay cruise....

Yandabo, which can only be accessed by river, is well known for terracotta pottery made with the yellow mud from the river bank.  One person can make 30-50 such pots per day that are used for water and food storage.

The village has about 350 houses; each has between 5 to 10 people. Thirty of the families are potters; the other villagers are farmers, fishermen or suppliers of raw materials such as clay or wood for kilns. 

The women make the pots, with one person potting while the other operates a wheel using a treadle. The women also decorate the pots and arrange them in a circular pattern to dry.  There may be up to three thousand pots in a single layer that is covered with a large pile of ash, straw and wood, then set on fire. The temperature in the kiln reaches 1200C and firing takes 3-4 days, including cooling. At the end of the process, the pots have changed from dull brown to a red color. The pots are transported by boat to locations throughout Myanmar.

Many apply a paste to their faces - called thanaka, it comes from Myanmar’s native hardwood thanaka or "elephant apple" tree, whose bark is rich in skin-protecting tannic acids and whose fragrance has been likened to the aroma of sandalwood.   Cuttings are sold in marketplaces in their natural state, as small logs, along with disc-shaped stone slabs for grinding.

For lunch, the soup was chicken coconut.  The main dishes were chicken/cashews with jasmine rice (my choice), vegetarian pizza or spaghetti with mussels.   For dessert, we were treated to lychees - about the size of a golf ball. The fleshy, edible portion is an aril (white and sweet) surrounding one dark brown inedible seed.  The waiters cut them in half to make them easier to eat.

The Viking Mandalay arrived in Bagan late in the afternoon. I sat up on the sun deck and got some nice pictures of the sunset.

For dinner, the appetizers were a choice of grilled chicken skewers with two sauces or mixed green salad with poached pear and blue cheese. The soup was broccoli cream soup. The main dishes included beef tenderloin in bourguignon with potatoes gratin, or fish fillets, carrots and aborigine fettuccini or vegetable quiche. The dessert was dark chocolate mousse, and I had red wine. The beef was very good - it was one of the best dinners that we had.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Memories of Mandalay cruise....

Viking conducted a boat ride on the Chao Phraya River and Canals.  The boat picked us up at the dock of the Shangri-La Hotel.

Although many of the canals have been filled in during the last several years to make room for the development of roads, the canals to the east of the river still remain much as they did in the 19th century, with a network of waterways spreading out into the countryside.

Locals will load small boats with souvenirs and approach tourist boats to sell them their goods.

If houses are built on stilts, they cannot technically be owned; their occupants will keep them as long as they live, but cannot sell or will them.  Houses on stilts are not regarded as being built on real land.  If houses are situated on concrete blocks and real land, they can be sold or willed.

The water looks very dirty; this is because the river bed is so muddy.  All rivers in Southeast Asia look dirty for the same reason. The tour guide dipped a plastic bag into the water, and it showed clear.

The locals do not drink the water; they prefer to pay for water from a city water filtration plant.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Memories of Mandalay cruise....

Viking picked us up at the Bangkok Airport and drove us to the Shangri-La Hotel. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guide said the following, "With 800 rooms, the Shangri-La is one of Bangkok’s biggest luxury hotels.  It has several restaurants and bars, the excellent CHI, The Spa, a fitness center, a pool, and tennis and squash courts." 

The Shangri-La is a beautiful hotel located along the Chao Phraya River.  It contains a combination of dramatic architectural design and an inspiring merging of decoration and art.   One feels enriched by being inside the hotel. 

There is an open-air restaurant on the lower level where one could dine and watch the activity on the Chao Phraya River.  I was so impressed by everything  - inside and outside. 

The rooms were very nice, and the bathroom facilities excellent and very modern.  Bottled water was complementary in the rooms.

The breakfast buffet was included in the trip. It was exceptional and included everything imaginable - one of the best buffet breakfasts that I ever had.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in New Zealand.....

 Comment - Vera from Canada:  "It looks totally different from the dog food here".

The never-ending procession of logging trucks on the SH1 - about one every 2 minutes.

The SH1 is NOT for bikes - even with a bike lane in some spots.  (Get Scotty to beam you between the sections without a bike lane)...

Empty logging trucks going back north for more.

Looking north-west towards Whangarei hospital.

Really super location at a major intersection very close to the business district of Whangarei.....
With thanks to the folks at Avanti.

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Memories of Mandalay cruise....

We visited the Mahagandayon Monastery, which is the biggest active monastery in Myanmar.   People seem to hold the monks in high esteem - they go out daily to beg for food, or people will visit the pagodas and monasteries and donate food.

Then we went to the famous U Bein Bridge, which spans Lake Taungthaman.  The lake is a seasonal body of water which dries up in the winter and leaves fertile, arable land.   As the weather was threatening, we did not walk the bridge, instead going in small boats.  Viking added a nice touch and arranged for champagne to be served in flutes on the boats. As we finished the boat ride and were going back to the bus, a very heavy downpour let loose - it was one of the few occurrences of rain on the trip.

The courses at dinner were served by waiters - the appetizer was either a ginger salad or radish sour soup (my choice).  The main course selection was chicken curry or braised beef with mashed potatoes and vegetables or fried chayote and egg, with fried shrimp and rice.   I also had red wine. For dessert, there was Myanmar semolina pudding cut into slices (like cake) with an apple gel served in a shot glass.  A very good meal...

We cast off from Mandalay for Yandabo early the next morning.  In the afternoon, we went from Yandabo to Bagan.  We did not do a lot on this day - most of the time was spent cruising on the river.

We did not cruise very far before we saw another pagoda, then another and another.  It is amazing - the pagodas are everywhere.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in New Zealand.....

The local grocery store and other shops are just a five minute walk from home, going north along SH1 (State Highway 1) towards Whangarei CBD.

A bit of an identity crisis....

Post office and pharmacy.  All you need...

Looking south along SH1.

There are many of these Four Square stores around Whangarei - just about every main intersection has one.

A local brew - pretty conventional beer - great.  The prices seemed about the same.

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Memories of Mandalay cruise....

Still moored in Mandalay, we started the day by visiting a craft silver shop. They offered quite a few items for sale, including jewelry.   Some on the tour bought some items - as with the other craft shops visited yesterday, the prices did not seem to be high.

Then to the city of Ava and the Mae Nu Oak Kyaung Temple.  We used small boats for a short ride across a lake to get to Ava.  This was where we had our first encounter with hawkers - locals trying to sell us trinkets and souvenirs.  The hawkers used bicycles to follow us.

We were taken in horse-drawn carts to the temple.  The hawkers usually pick out specific tourists, and stick with them until they sell something, or the tourists leave.   One girl pictured above followed me both to and from the temple.   She was nice, but returning, she was joined by another girl who was nasty and tried to push the nice one out of the way.   I bought a necklace from the nice one without bargaining, and this set off the other one, who pouted and cried.

It is amazing how many pagodas, many of them gilded ones, there are in Myanmar.  Eventually, I asked the Viking tour guide why - her explanation in a nutshell was fear of the next world.   The people hope that such good works as building pagodas and temples would ensure that they return in the next life as a superior life form.   She also said that people chose to live near where they are built - people followed pagodas and temples, not the other way around. 

Then back to the ship for lunch.  Lunches were buffets, but the main dish was served by a waiter.  The waiter would ask at breakfast what main course we wanted - we had three selections -  a meat, fish, or vegetarian dish.   The rest of the lunch was buffet, and included soup, various salads, fresh breads, cold cuts, cheeses, multiple desserts and fresh fruits.  For lunch, I had vegetable soup, curried chicken, and a flan. 


Next blog - continuation of day....

Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in New Zealand.....

Kaiatea Rd joins Matapouri Rd at the end, which is the main road along the Tutukaka Coast.  Pretty hilly too, but not as much as Kaiatea Rd.

There is a big hotel and marina in Tutukaka itself, but it looked a bit deserted, in spite of all the boats in the harbor.

The shops in the hotel and nearby restaurants were empty too.   Great place.

About a four hour ride...

 including lots of stops and little detours for picture taking.

The Poor Knights Islands on the horizon - apparently a popular destination for boats in Tutukaka harbor.

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Memories of Mandalay cruise....

After lunch, then on to the Royal Palace, which was the last in a long line of fortified royal citadels erected on the banks of the Irrawaddy by successive Burmese rulers. 

Twelve gates pierce this formidable perimeter, corresponding to the signs of the zodiac. Each is said to have been inaugurated with a human sacrifice - a total of 52 persons (selected at random from passers-by) were buried under teak posts at each of the entrances to protect the palace’s most vulnerable points in the event of attack.

Then we visited three types of craft shops -  (1) production of gold leaf which is used to apply to Buddha images to display reverence and respect; (2) sculpturing marble statutes and images mostly of the Buddha; and (3) producing wood carving and tapestries. 

These types of crafts can also be found in other countries in Southeast Asia and India. Except for the marble sculpturing, the prices seemed reasonable, and some people in the tour were purchasing the crafts.

And then, back to the ship.  Viking gave us a selection of three main entrees, and on this particular night, I ordered fried fish.   It was the only dinner during the cruise that I was dissatisfied with, and I did not finish it.

We also always had soup or salad and a dessert. There was not one soup which I did not like during the whole cruise - the soups for both lunch and dinner were always very good.  We also could order beer, wine (from Chile), or soft drinks.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco.