Browsing Category Southeast Asia

Sunrise and Shan Noodles at Mandalay’s U Bein Bridge, Myanmar

A Travelogue of the U Bein Bridge, Myanmar.

 

U Bein Bridge is in a township of Mandalay called Amarapura, which was once the royal capital of Myanmar. 

Amarapura, literally the city of immortality in Pali(अमरपुर in Hindi), was the capital from 1783 until 1857, for almost 75 years. In 1857, when entire India was about to burst in its first revolt against the British East India Company, Burma’s King Mindon was building Mandalay as his new capital.

In the construction of the capital, the King wanted to use the old material from Amarapura as the second Anglo-Burmese war, (in which many Indian soldiers fought as one can see the graves of the sepoys in a Yangon cemetery), hadn’t left the royal treasure in blooming conditions. Elephants obeyed their king’s wish by hauling the building material over the 11-kilometer distance between Amarapura and Mandalay. 

 

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U Bein bridge, a 1.2 kilometer-long teak bridge, spanning Taungthaman Lake, was built during this move by the then-mayor U Bein. He put the 1000 or so Burma teak columns from the royal palace to good use as one can see in the picture above and below.

 

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We are not talking about Mumbai’s sea link or the US’s Golden Gate bridge, but this footbridge is the oldest teak bridge in the world. (And contrary to popular belief, perhaps not the longest wooden bridge as Guinness World Record says Horai Japanese bridge holds this title.). Taking the name from the mayor, the U Bein bridge has already stood sturdy for about 170 years with only some of its wooden logs replaced by concrete. 

U (in the mayor’s name) here serves as a respectful prefix, something like Sir, or maybe Lord. I request the Burmese readers to please let me know the real implications of U in the comments.

 

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I was at the U Bein Bridge on a cold December morning. As it was the dry season of Burma, the water level of the lake was low. I have heard that in monsoon(June-September), the water from the lake almost kisses the bridge. 

I often say, when in Burma, do as the Burmese, and rise before the sun kisses the sky yellow. As my friend and I had decided to spend that December dawn at the popular Burma bridge, we brushed and plonked our sleepy selves in a kind tuk-tuk. 

When we arrived at the West end of the bridge in Amarapura, tourists and locals had already starting to flock. Swarms of crows were flying out and about. The faintly blue sky was studded with light clouds that the rising sun filled up with an orangish hue. 

It was almost as if someone had dropped a dollop of orange on an otherwise white pool.

 

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Related Read: Exploring Inle Lake, Burma

 

I couldn’t miss the hoards of tourists who had stationed themselves on the lake’s west bank to click the pictures of a fisherman. The entertainer was putting on a show by casting the fishing net in the lake. The travelers, mostly Chinese, captured his every move, and one could sync the click-click of the camera shutter with the fisherman’s muscle movement.

On that note let me tell you that more than 220,000 Chinese travelers had visited Mandalay city through January to April 2019: an increase that irritated locals in a way that it was published in the Myanmar Times

 

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Well, we can’t blame the tourists here as all credits for the showmanship go to the Burmese fish guy. Once, I was taught how to throw the fishing net by a Malaysian man on the banks of the Kinabatangan river. And as you can expect, I failed, horribly. My teacher, though, caught small fishes in his first throw just minutes after my embarrassing display of clumsy body movements.

 

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If you see wooden boats on the West end of the bridge, you can request the boatman to take you on a ride on the lake. I don’t know how much the ride costs, but well, you are in Myanmar.

 

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I didn’t hop on a boat. As I moved my attention from the drama, I saw that the sun was coming up the horizon. After taking a few photographs of the sunrise behind the bridge from different angles, I climbed up. 

 

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Soon I was surrounded by the many locals, tourists, vendors, and monks, who were all starting their day, along with me, at the Mandalay bridge. Some were exercising, some were photographing, some paced up to the other end, and the others were just hanging out.

I saw many photoshoots in that hour or two when I was at the top. Couples were getting clicked together. Some dressed in Elvis Presley-ish clothes were photographing each other in turns. And a few, like me, wanted to capture others’ lives on their camera roll. 

 

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Though all the articles on the internet suggest seeing a U Bein bridge sunset, I found the sunrise there quite calming, and, of course, gorgeous. As a result of the internet advice, the number of people at dawn was definitely lesser than the number of people who would head to the bridge in the evening.

 

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For us, travelers, the bridge was all about sightseeing. But the locals have been using the bridge to go from one end of the lake to the other for more than a hundred years now. Children go to school by walking across the bridge. Monks go asking for alms via the bridge. Men and women get to their work, some of them carrying bamboo baskets over their heads, through the bridge. Some locals were even on bicycles giving the photographers a perfect silhouetted shot while the bridge lay spanned across the lake. 

 

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The reflection of the sun and the bridge in the lake water caught my eye. So after we had clicked and rested and relaxed in all lengths of the bridge, we got down to walk around the lake.

 

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While we strolled under the bridge, we found small restaurants and snack shops run by locals. One such restaurant not only served as a quick tea joint but saved two homeless travelers by giving the keys to their bathroom which we used to full advantage. 

 

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The girls from the restaurant helped us wash our hands by pouring water, and I was suddenly sent back to my parent’s home. 

In my small hometown, we lived traditionally and wouldn’t even touch the tap with our potty hands(excuse me for the childish language but I believe I never grew up for that is how I still refer to this business.). And when I say potty hands, I am being literal for we used traditional Indian style, or squat, toilets. Neither did we know about toilet papers nor did we have hand showers that most of us can’t live without. 

In the absence of a better tool, we cleaned ourselves by throwing water from a mug, and if need be, used our hands, too. I would spare you further details as Wikihow has explained this process generously. When one family member would exit the bathroom, the other would come with the precious jugful of water. The culprit would lather her hands with soap, and the helper would pour the holy water.

No one judged because soon it would be the turn of the other person. 

And that happily forgotten childhood scene was repeating now. The only difference being that I had wiped myself with toilet paper, my hands were clean, and instead of my family, two young, benevolent, but giggly, Burmese girls were washing my hand while their mother, also giggly, instructed them from the background. 

 

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Friends, always carry toilet paper in Burma.

After this long toilet saga, I would not feel bad if you leave this travelogue right now. But what are travel stories without a bit of truth? Haven’t you ever been stuck abroad in a toilet without any toilet paper or a hand shower and no one to call? What did you do? And let us not blame Asia. My Airbnb host in Kelsterbach, Germany forgot to keep the toilet paper in the bathroom, and what followed on that period day is a story that I will tell in another lifetime. 

Life was slow in that family-run food shop. And I can’t even imagine how it would be to run a restaurant under a bridge. But with the lake and the stunning nature shows and lost travelers looking for the toilet, it wouldn’t be that bad?

 

sunrise at the lake in mandalay u bein.jpg

 

Now feeling fresh, we walked to the Amarapura market near the bridge hoping to eat. 

 

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My friend had been hypnotized by the Shan noodles. So when we asked about them at a family-run food shop, and a little boy nodded, we ran inside. 

I would tell you more about Shan noodles in upcoming Burma stories, but for now, I thank Burma for introducing me to the great Shan noodles. I even bought a few packets of the noodles from the San Bogyoke Market in Yangon and now I make them back home in India. Just fry some garlic in oil, add chunky tomatoes, some spices, and add this to boiled Shan noodles. Voila.

 

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We ate Shan soup, snacked on the tea leaf salad, and sipped herbal tea. Soon the restaurant filled with families and some more giggling and smiling ensued.

 

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What a morning it was! And as if the sunrise and the shan noodles weren’t enough, I caught sight of a Burmese longyi shop that seemed to carry simple designs and none of that floral overhyped.

 

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Not this one. That one. Not brown. Colorful. Not printed. Plain. Not silk. Cotton, please. And a few more this and that later, I found myself wrapped in the perfect, striped, multicolored longyi that would come home with me. And by chance, I am wearing the same longyi while writing this piece.

Some souvenirs and sunrises are to keep I guess. 

 

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Where to stay in Mandalay, Burma?

We stayed at the tall Gold Leaf Hotel in the main Mandalay area. Even though it is a big hotel with the standard, dull check-in and check-out process, not something I prefer as I am a homestay and a small guesthouse person, I liked the place for its view and vibrancy. 

The other, practical reason to stay at Gold Leaf was that in that New Year’s week not many hotels were available. Damn these world travelers. Gold Leaf has a large breakfast buffet with unlimited soup. There, I sold it. 

Click here to see the prices and book the hotel. If you want to avoid the corporate-ness of Gold Leaf, go here to see other hotels in Mandalay. 

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What is the best time to visit Mandalay city and the Mandalay bridge?

Winter is a good time to visit Myanmar, but summers are not. Avoid the months of May to July. 

August would bring a lot of rainfall, so humidity, but lower temperatures.

December was perfect weatherwise. Mornings were a bit cold and breezy but afternoons would be warmer and not hot at all.

 

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Would you love to see the sunrise at the U Bein Bridge, Mandalay? Do let me know if you buy a longyi.

 

Like this post? Please pin it so that others can find it on Pinterest. Thank you. 

Sunrise and Shan Noodles at Mandalay’s U Bein Bridge Myanmar u bein bridge photography | u bein bridge sunsets | u bein bridge sunrise | Mandalay city | Amarapura Myanmar | Myanmar Travel | Southeast Asia travel | Photo Essay | Travel stories from Myanmar | Southeast Asia Travel | Burma Backpacking | Most beautiful sunrises photography | Countries to visit in Southeast Asia | places to visit in Burma #myanmar #burma #travel #budgettravel #offthebeatenpath #Asia #southeastasia

Riding the Yangon Circular train – Memoirs from Myanmar

Riding the Yangon Circular train – One of my best day trips from Yangon, Myanmar

When you search for things to do in Yangon, riding the Yangon circular train comes as one of the top activities. Pictures of travelers surrounded by sleepy Burmese people carrying overloaded bamboo baskets in the Yangon train would fill the internet feed. 

Those Yangon train pictures promised to offer an insider’s look into the local life of the city. So after exploring Yangon for a day, I decided to get my piece of the train.

The little girl inside me who grew up in India riding trains suddenly sprang to life. Before heading out of my hotel, I packed a small bag with my wallet, camera, water bottle, and strode towards the Yangon Central Railway station. 

Finding the train station wasn’t the easiest task. When I arrived at the Google map location for Yangon Central station, I couldn’t find the place. 

A few locals gestured me to climb the bridge at the location. When I did, I could only see the railway tracks from up the bridge, but I couldn’t locate any ticket booth or platform.

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Lovely Things To Do in Inle Lake, Myanmar

Located in the Shan state of Myanmar, Inle Lake is a huge freshwater lake. It is surrounded by mountain ranges from all sides.

Measuring twenty-two(22) kilometer long by eleven(11) kilometer wide, Inle Lake seemed so big that it reminded me of Lake Titicaca that is shared between Bolivia and Peru. People inhabit both these lakes.

While I was trying to find the things to do in Inle Lake Myanmar, only a few travelers talked about visiting the Shan, Intha, Padaung, and Pa-O communities that live on, around, and above the lake in the mountains that so gloriously encircle the lake.

So what was the highlight of the Lake Inle as per most of the people?

I had seen traveler’s feed stuffed with Inle lake fishermen balancing a conical net on their one feet while the other leg rested on the stern of a long wooden canoe that is ubiquitous on the lake. In other Inle pictures, I had seen frail men maneuvering the wooden oar with one leg and their other leg perched on the stern.

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Myanmar Visa for Indians – A Complete Guide

This guide to the Myanmar visa for Indians lists all the possible Myanmar tourist visa options for Indian citizens — Myanmar visa on arrival for Indians, Myanmar e visa for Indians, and the regular Myanmar travel visa from the Myanmar embassy in Delhi.

I had booked a flight to Guwahati and, then from there, I was to enter into Burma by land (always my preferable travel option) via the Moreh (Manipur)/Tamu (Myanmar) border.

But my Northeast India and overlanding into Burma plan was disheveled by the protests in Guwahati. Land travel was impossible under the given conditions, and I canceled my flight ticket and a stay in the Maujuli island, the disappearing land of the east.

As I booked a flight to Yangon, I decided to apply for a Myanmar online visa (evisa) to be assured instead of depending on a visa on arrival as the trip already seemed to be jinxed. Also, I didn’t want to wait in queue for long at the Yangon international airport.

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Your Appetizing Penang Travel Guide – Delectable 3 days in Penang 

What to do in Penang in 3 days

    1. Introduction to Penang
    2. 3 days in Penang — My Penang itinerary to fun and food-filled trip to Penang.
    3. Day 1 — Art, Street food, and historical places to see in Penang
    4. Day 2 — Penang hill, Clan jetties, and a seafood dinner at hawker center with live music.
    5. Day 3 — Penang National Park for nature or Hin Bus Depot for street art and Batu Ferringhi beach to end the day with a golden sunset and good food.
    6. Have only two days in Penang?
    7. Important information – Planning your trip to Penang
    8. Where is Penang Island?
    9. Where to stay in Penang city?
    10. How to reach Penang, Malaysia?
    11. What is the best time to visit Penang Island?
    12. Where to exchange currency in Penang?
    13. What would be your Penang trip budget?
    14. Resources to help you visit some of the Penang famous places.
    15. Supplementary reads to this Penang Travel Blog

Introduction to Penang 

After a short walk under the bright sun from the bus stand to my guesthouse in Georgetown at Lebuh Carnarvon, I put my bags in my room and went out for a stroll. For those who don’t know, Georgetown is the capital of Penang state or the Penang island.

I was famished after a long bus drive from Taman Negara, and Carnarvon street seemed like the right place to be. Little did I know that soon I was to be lost in the labyrinth of the streets of Penang flaunting exquisite art and some delicious Penang food.

The streets seemed empty, and I wondered if there were any tourists. A friend had questioned my Malaysia trip by saying that the only thing to see in Malaysia was Penang.

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What to Eat in Penang – The Seafood Lover’s Guide

What does this “What to eat in Penang” Guide Contain?

  1. My crazy journey with food and how I can’t stop eating fish but now I eat more responsibly. (Though this is a good story along with some dependable resources to eating fish sustainably, if you are short on time, you can click on the below sections directly to jump to the food in Penang.)
  2. Why food hunting in Penang can be overwhelming for first-time travelers to Penang?
  3. Brief introduction to the Penang food culture.
  4. Best street food in Penang for seafood lovers.
  5. A note to the vegetarians and pescetarians reading this Penang food guide
  6. Translations of some important food items from English to Malay to help you navigate Penang food
  7. Best food courts in Penang.
  8. Where can you find the best hawker food in Penang?
  9. Where should you go if you want to eat the best Indian food in Penang?
  10. Which one is the best restaurant for Nyonya or Peranakan Cuisine?
  11. Best restaurants in Penang/Best restaurant in Georgetown Penang.
  12. Where should you go if you want to eat the best seafood in Penang?
  13. Which one is the best seafood restaurant in Penang?
  14. How to travel in Penang to eat the best food in Penang?
  15. Where to stay in Penang for food?
  16. Great Instagram accounts for finding best food and restaurants in Penang.

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Finding Stories and Street Art in Penang

Penang is a spicy potpourri of Chinese, Malay, and Indian ethnicities. But I didn’t realize how thick this gravy of cultural mix is until I went to Penang.

On my first day in Penang, I stayed in a Chinese guesthouse, ate rice and fish curry at a Muslim Malay restaurant, and my evening stroll took me to Indian food stalls proudly flaunting crispy samosas.

Wait. What was happening?

Indian Malaysians, who were mostly from South India, told me that many Indians were taken to Penang to work as laborers during the 130-years rule of British over Malaysia. Penang port was the main trade route for traders from China, Spain, Arabia, and India, and the British wanted their chunk of the trade.

A Malay Chinese whom I met while hiking the Penang hill cleared my doubts about the origins of Chinese Malays. He said that the Chinese sailed to Malaysia in the 18th century to trade and work as laborers.

Over time, all three ethnicities blended to form the current Penang.

While the Chinese relished the Malaysian coconut flavors, Indians used sweet-chili sauces in their curries, and Malaysians ate biryanis and noodle soups with the same fervor. Given the rich mix of the three cuisines that the island is blessed with, the question of what to eat in Penang and what to do in Penang can be more complicated than you think.

While admiring the street art in Penang, I felt that the cultural evolution of Penang had been pasted onto Penang streets in a raw and hilarious manner.

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Kinabatangan River Tour – It Is Not Just About Wild Orangutans

Once upon a time, there was a long river muddy. Along the bank of the river lived the mama elephant Lily. On the top of a Jamun tree lived a monkey very funky with a very long nosey. A shrewd crocodile waited beneath the tree to see the monkey fall loosey.

A talkative hornbill nested in the tree. While her friend the orange orangutang visited her often for tea. The village children played on the riverbank every day, while their mothers shouted to call them home, come, come, otherwise the monkey will take you away.

If you hadn’t guessed, this is a story inspired by real characters. I wrote it when I went on the Kinabatangan river tour in Sabah, Borneo.

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Malaysia Wasn’t the Country I Imagined – Your Reasons to Visit Malaysia

When I was thinking about visiting Malaysia after my Bali trip, everyone told me to not go to the country that only has Penang and Kuala Lumpur. They said maybe you can see a few orangutangs while traveling in Malaysia, but what else?

In the one-month that I stayed in Malaysia, I not only traveled to Penang and Kuala Lumpur but I fell in love with the country.

I wanted to write these reasons to visit Malaysia since the day I came back to tell those friends that they were wrong and to urge the rest to explore Malaysia. Of course, I did have wild encounters with orangutans in Sabah, but there are many more riskfree things to do and interesting places to visit in Malaysia.

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Bali Visa on Arrival for Indian Citizens (And Others)

I traveled to Bali a few months ago. The beautiful pictures of Bali and other islands of Indonesia that I had seen made Indonesia a must-visit destination in Southeast Asian countries.

But gorgeous azure-green pictures weren’t the only things that had enticed me to fly to Bali. If you are an Indian reader, you would know how much we struggle with visas on our Indian passports. Given my never-ending wanderlust, I am always looking for countries who offer a visa on arrival or a visa-free entry to Indians.

As soon as I read about the hassle-free Bali visa on arrival for Indian citizens (and other almost 170 nationalities), I bought a one-way ticket to Bali.

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Malaysia eVisa for Indians – All You Need to Know.

When I traveled to Southeast Asia this year, I knew that I would visit Indonesia, but I didn’t know where I would go from there. I zoomed out of the Asia map and turned the globe around to understand which countries were green and gave a visa on arrival or an e-visa.

The closest country to Indonesia was Malaysia, and its green footprint on the map captured my attention. Also, I am always excited to visit the less-popular places, and Malaysia is one of them. If you are planning to visit Malaysia now, you are lucky as you will see it before the country is flooded with tourists. I went to Malaysia in October, and sometimes I was the only one in a room in the entire hotel or the only one camping amongst 100 empty tents.

When I first traveled to Malaysia in 2012 for two days, my friends and I drove in and out of the Malaysia-Singapore border five times due to some immigration problems. Back then I had applied for a Malaysia visa via an agent; in those days I was not so rigid about I-will-plan-all-my-travel-myself.

This year when I googled about Malaysia visa, I found out that Malaysia now gives an eVisa to Indians which is valid for three months, and you can travel within Malaysia for thirty days on that eVisa.

Happy as a girl who had just discovered ice cream, I applied for the eVisa for Malaysia within a few hours. The next day my visa was approved.

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