Sunday, April 2, 2017

Avalon Waterways - Myanmar - Part V (Katha to Tigyang)


I thought my interest in Katha ended with the sunset.
I was wrong!
The fifth day of our journey on the Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Myanmar started a bit early with a visit to the local market with our transport being the back of a pickup truck with bench seating (the local’s way).





It was in this market that it truly hit me that Myanmar is not what I had really expected:  Destitute, Backwards and Starving.  The Katha market was the cleanest, sweetest smelling, most polite and fully stocked market I have visited in Southeast Asia.  And the fish were not only incredibly clean, but super-fresh (even more so than in my Amazon River, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam visits).






In fact, at least so far from the north traveling south along the river, the people (besides being incredibly warm and friendly) are extremely well feed and other than the concept of “throw your garbage on the riverbank it is gone” very clean and tidy.

After the local market it was off to visit The British Club.  If you are a British history buff I guess it would be of interest, but it has been converted to government offices (of sorts) and a storage facility (including the dance hall below).  

There isn't much left of the British Club,
but the old rattan chairs were certain were a throwback
to Colonial times
Then it was off to George Orwell’s home which, if restored would be a wonderful example of British Colonial living.

No one can say with certainty how long George Orwell lived here,
but if restored would be a great homage to British Colonial living
(for better or worse)
From there it was off to a small village of the Jingpo, a group with in the Kachin ethic minority,  for a bit of an explanation of their culture and then their making of rice wine and rice liquor.


An ancient, but efficient Jingpo still
After cooking the rice it is placed in the the clay pots (rear)
to ferment for an extended period and then distilled.
The rice wine was actually quite delicious and was able to bring back a water bottle for to enjoy later.  I was cautioned to be sure to loosen the cap and place it in my suite’s refrigerator when I got back to the ship.  (Side note:  Weeeellll, I forgot to do it right away, so a couple of hours later this obviously still vigorously fermenting wine showered me when I loosed the cap.  At least I saved ¾ of it and smelled sweet, though I was a bit sticky!)

As we headed back to the Avalon Myanmar we were given the opportunity to wander around Katha for about 45 minutes.  Only three of us took up the opportunity.  After purchasing a gold nose ring for my daughter (yes I did), I sought out a place for a quick snack.  After looking around I figured I should go back to the same place I had dinner the night before because it was so good.


 The woman remembered me (you know the only white guy with the beard) and I ordered soup for the three of us.  She “suggested” two orders, and I fortunately agreed.  

Magically this becomes

This spicy, rich, pot of wonderful Burmese Noodle Soup.  Yum!
As I was in my soup nirvana she came over and had her friend take a picture of us (role reversal)!  I, of course, also had a photo taken.





After returning to the ship for lunch and a rest the ship sailed down the river to Tigyang for a walk through this village and then a visit to a reclining Buddha.  

Avalon Myanmar has the bed facing the huge sliding wall of doors
 that open to give you an unobstructed view of the river as you cruise

The view from your sofa on the Avalon Myanmar
with your sliding glass wall open is pretty nice too!


When we arrived, because the road was dusty, Avalon provides dust masks if you desire them.  A nice touch that a few of the guests took advantage of.  And then we were off!

While electricity and brick homes are becoming more commonplace
traditional methods remain prevalent 
What I noticed is that the village – as I sort of expected – is transforming from teak and bamboo homes to brick homes.  One explanation offered is that the people do not want to labor going into the forest to harvest the trees and build less sturdy homes, but the other is that the government has cracked down on the now illegal harvesting of old growth teak so they are pretty much required to use bricks and mortar.


I also noticed that while bathing in the river is still very common, many more homes have wells and/or pumps.  And there are true electric lines.  One thing to note is that electricity in Myanmar, even in Yangon, is not assured and that over 90% of it is from hydroelectric plants.  In the more remote areas a very limited amount is provided by generator for a few hours in the evening.  In Katha and Tigyang it is provided more regularly during the day and evening.  When you get to major cities it is essentially 24 hours, but during the summer, when the rivers are not running as full, electricity will be cut off with rolling blackouts; so large generators are fairly ubiquitous.

So where does the money come from to pay for the bricks, construction and electricity?  Gold, silver, nickel, zinc production as well as the sale of teak (much of it illegally to China through the pretty much ungoverned northern border).  I noticed some of the countryside scarred by new roads being built and wonder how long before the more simple rural life in this part of Myanmar is gone.

After our walk we arrived at a hill with a giant reclining Buddha at the top, which you can go inside to meditate in.  According to Myo, our guide, the monk that lives there is actually an environmentalist and has requested those locals that make the journey to pray there bring a teak sapling with them to help reforest the area. 

237 Step to the top of the hill to see a huge
Reclining Buddha
Visions of my struggle to climb the stairs in
Alesund, Norway?  Nope! Living in the Sierra Nevada mountains made this a pretty easy stroll.
We were given the choice to walk up 237 uneven steps or take a van ride.  I was the only one that chose to hike the hill.  (Avalon provided an assistant...just in case; a nice touch.)

The views on the way up were fantastic and, ironically, I got to the top long before the others; 




spending time with some Burmese teenage school girls who were giggling and laughing at/with me jostling to be next to me for photographs.

Myanmar's teenagers are clearly becoming a bit more Westernized
(I don't know that is a good thing, but we did have fun.)
After my ego was soothed, I walked inside the Buddha and said hello to the monk, who was meditating; leaving an offering.

This giant reclining Buddha was constructed to allow meditation
inside out of the heat and harsh Burmese sun
(Note the monk on the left side)
It was then short ride back to the ship, where I took advantage of the beautiful and extremely comfortable outdoor lounge, the cool breeze, the setting sun and an ice cold beer.

Yes, frosted mugs are included
with every single ice cold beer!
Then it was cocktails, the daily briefing,  dinner and then a documentary film, “They Call It Myanmar”.  It is a few years old, but it is a good insight into some of the conflicts and concerns that the Burmese have, and continue to, suffer through.  I would suggest viewing this movie before you arrive.


What is now obvious is that Avalon Waterways takes your journey seriously.  Avalon is taking special care to assure you have a real opportunity to know and understand this unique and surprising country as in depth or superficially as you desire.