Wednesday, January 8, 2014


I felt a little guilty as I walked through the small village that sits on the sandy bank of the Irrawaddy River outside of Bagan. This could be one of the most down and out places I've seen in all of the countries I've visited in Asia. Lining the side of the road were wooden shacks with dirt floors and partially collapsed thatched roofs. Trash and metal debris littered the crowded narrow street. Young men lounged lazily in plastic chairs, some chewing betel nut and smoking cheroot, which is a type of Burmese cigar. Young girls carried buckets of water that hung from a wooden pole and weighed as much as they did. An acrid stench of food and smoke filled the air as women cooked over open wood fires. Underfed dogs stretched themselves out on the sand and warmed their flea-ridden bodies in the morning sun. Burmese porters carried our heavy luggage on the top of their heads, while fourteen, freshly showered and well-dressed Americans walked toward the luxury river boat that was awaiting our arrival.

As we walked up the narrow wooden gang plank, we were greeted by a Burmese crew of stewards dressed in starched white shirts and others wearing the typical long Burmese skirt called a longyi. Some passed out cold hand towels, and others offered us a refreshing fruit drink. A lovely looking man smiled as he called out our name, gave us our key, and pointed in the direction of our room. Another steward handed us a pair of white slippers to wear on the boat, and asked us to remove our dusty shoes, which someone painstakingly cleaned every night. We were spending two luxurious nights on the beautiful Paukan river cruise boat (built in 1947) that was taking us from Ancient Bagan to Royal Mandalay, stopping to visit a couple of small villages along the way.

Only 300 people live in Shwedagon Pyi Thar village, and 200 of them are children. There is no electricity, no running water or private enterprise. The village operates as a community, sharing all the proceeds from their crops, with the main one being peanuts. For an hour and a half we toured the small village, smiling, repeating over and over the only three Burmese words we have learned so far. "Hello, how are you, and thank you!" And in English, "May we take your photo?" One of the three retired teachers in our group had no difficulty surrounding herself with children. With a knack I've seen her use on other trips before, she had them giggling, singing, and trying hard to pronounce her name. (I have uploaded a short video of the kids, but I don't know whether there is enough bandwidth here in Burma to transfer it.)

I've probably said this about every Asian country we have been to, but we are amazed at how happy and welcoming the Burmese people seem to be. This is quite extraordinary when you think about how much they have suffered during the last fifty years under an oppressive regime.

On our second day we visited the village of Yandabo, which is famous for its exquisite pottery that is sold throughout the country. Yandabo is also known as the site of the first Burmese-Anglo peace treaty signed in 1826. There are three thousand residents living in this community, and unlike Shwedagon Pyi Thar, each family operates its own business. When we arrived in the morning, most of the children were in school, but a few were on the river bank to greet us. Considering that the Paukan River boat brings tourists to this village twice a week, I am surprised at how friendly, open, and receptive the villagers seem to be. No one objects to our taking photos or boldly peeking into doorways. They laugh at us as we butcher their language.

The adventure continues............

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  1. One of my biggest challenges in getting my husband to travel is that he hates feeling like a "rich American." It's tough to reconcile such disparate ways of life.

  2. Hello, Pam:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog (The Paisley Studio) and leaving the message about Anne-Marie Littenberg. I do know her work, although I am not personally acquainted with her.

    It looks like you have a fun life! Happy and safe travels to you.