I had booked us onto the Paukan Cruise, and we set off early in Mandalay to catch the boat to Bagan. Luckily as we asked for a taxi we were informed that the water level was too low to set off from the original jetty. If we tried to find out own way we probably would have gone to the wrong place. When we arrived we couldn’t see anyone else on board and found out that we were only 2 of 6 people on the boat for the first day, which was a pleasant surprise.
We met our guide Kay who was really lovely and had very good English. He told us about the history of Myanmar and how the British Colony took Burma and killed a lot of people, yet the Queen wouldn’t give up because she was too proud and didn’t want to accept defeat. Therefore a lot of people died as Britain had canons and Burmese only had spears. While the Brits did rule, they helped build an infrastructure and built bridges and roads. However, during WWII the burmese decided they wanted to ally with Japan to get the Brits out. This was successful as the Brits were preoccupied, but the Japanese then ruled for only 3 years and the Burmese were not happy and reapproached the Brits to get rid of the Japanese. This was successful and Burma was then granted independence. This is when it’s name was changed to Myanmar Republic as they wanted to move from being part of colonies.
Unfortunately, the river was too low for us to sail upstream so we had to park up and get a bus to the pagodas. As consultation we had an open bar for the day so I had a cocktail and a few fruit juices.
We had lunch which was a fish curry, beef & potato, lentil soup and rice. I wasn’t feeling too hungry which I think was down to a dodgy belly. We then jumped into a fancy mini van to go to the Mingun Pagoda conplex to see the unfinished pagoda, the Mingun Bell which is the largest ringable bell in the world. Of course I had a go with some massive wooden stick. I also bought a longji which they sewed together and added straps. Everyone here is really nice and I am also becoming a tourist celebrity and have had my photo taken many times.
We then went to a nunnery where the nuns lived and studied. It was interesting to learn that the nuns have to cook for themselves and the monks don’t. We saw their kitchen and it was very dark and cramped, very simple and straight forward. We also learnt about how they have to study certain books to pass the nun tests which can take days to complete. People are allowed to be monks or nuns for weeks at a time, you don’t have to commit for a lifetime as you would in Christianity. Kay our guide, told us how he was a monk inbetween working and felt it was a good was to cleanse himself.
Inside the the nunnery kitchen
The nun way of life is simple, but structured. They wake up at 3.30am to cook breakfast, then only wrap up their day at 10pm. So they definitely need the dedication to stick to the schedule.
Kids who are curious can join for days and it is up to them if they wish to continue. The parents are not allowed to pull thier child out or keep them there.
We then went to Sagaing which is a temple at the top of the hill to view the sunset.
We headed back to the boat, I passed out on the deck and was woken up to go eat dinner. We had spring rolls, chicken and veg, pork and really nice sweetcorn soup.
We then watched a traditional puppet and dance show which was quite impressive. At the end I couldn’t resist the invitation to get up and dance along with them. It was pretty simple steps but I enjoyed it a lot. We then enjoyed some drinks and had a nice chat with the group.
Monday 03/ 03/15
We were woken up super early at 6.30am from the start of the boat engine, and 16 Germans boarded. I went to have breakfast which was dissapointly continental. I would have loved to have eaten some congy but we have the typical tourist menu.
The first half of the day was free. The sun was already hot in the morning but I found comfort at the side where I had a delicious breeze. As we were finally sailing down the river I sat watching the many villages close to the shore. The villagers were using the river as a wash basin to wash themselves and thier clothes. Many times the women had their children with them, you could also see many cattle being herded by families. It was a really nice insight to the way of Myanmar life on the river. We could see plenty of boats shipping cargo or coal, there were also many fishermen and other boats doing a strange thing on the water.
Village on the riverside
The strange thing was that all the boats suddenly stopped for a long period of time, we found out that they were all checking the depth of the water to make sure they don’t get stuck. Once we were on the move again lunch was served. This time it was Thai style with sweet and sour and spice fish with chicken, seaweed and rice. Also to start was tom yum soup. It was very delicious but obviously westernised.
Soon after we stopped off at the village where pottery is made and is where the treaty between the Brits and Burmese was made. There were about 100 different family living within the communitu, each family is very large and can make around 40 pots a day. Each family has it’s own stamp which is imprinted in to each pot.
The clay is sourced from the riverbed which over the years had widened the bed. The clay is then mixed with water to get the final substance. They have a similar clay wheel, however, one person has to push on the rod to make the plate spin, and the other person has to shape the clay.
It takes two to make the clay pots
From what we saw it was the women who made the pots, not men. Once the initial pot has been made they hit it into shape and stamp it. This gives it a rounded bottom.
Woman hitting the pots to get a smooth bottom
Before it is hit the pot is sat in sand to toughen it up. The men then create the kiln once a month where they pile the lighter (straw) and place the pottery around it, they then place a lot of straw around the pots and then finally place ash on top. They then light the inside and let it burn for around 3-6 days. The outside doesn’t catch fire due to the ask and it means the kiln is placed quite closely to the houses.
The families are very big, one woman had 9 children who all had further children. Everyone helps in the pottery process, the kids make little clay elephans. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly. I felt a bit bad as I was taking many pictures of them but the majority of the time they were happy to pose.
They have also farm land to grow sesame for oil and other plants for petrol. They also had a farm of animals. We saw the biggest pig, she could’ve easily have crushed me! When someone gets married they will kill the pig and everyone eats it, must be so tasty.
At the end of the tour a woman presented us with some sugared white pumpkin sweets and tea. I thought it was very welcoming and didn’t ask for anything in return. The sweets were delicious, like they had been covered in sugar cane.
We then headed back onto the boat where we sailed off again. I fell asleep on the upper deck and woke up in good time to enjoy dinner.
Dinner again was very western, pork with pineapple, chicken and veg beans in a satay with rice. There was an awful tofu dish, the tofu was like custard. I ate it up as it’s essentially free food ha.
After dinner I went up to the sun deck and noticed the amazing bright moon. As there’s no light pollution I easily spotted Orion’s belt, had difficulty finding the plough and even with help from others on board I still couldn’t find it. What we could see was an orange red planet which I was sure was Mars, it shone brightly for about 5 minutes and either was covered by clouds or that was it.
In the morning we arrived early in Bagan.