Saturday, 20 May 2017

Leaving Hobart

Events of Saturday 20th May 2017

I'd the morning available for more exploration but in the afternoon I'd start my long journey home. Having looked at the imprisonment of men the previous day, I decided to look at the Cascades Female Factory in South Hobart, just a ten-minute taxi ride from my hotel. This is also a World Heritage Site.

Despite the innocuous-sounding name, this was the female prison - the term 'Factory' refers to the laundry work carried out by the inmates. Apart from the Matron's House, not much of the site remains other than external walls but the earlier ground plan has been marked out meticulously with low 'walls', actually metal baskets filled with coloured stone chippings called 'gabions'. It was more like visiting an archaeological site, indeed, digging is still going on.

With limited time at my disposal, I elected for the 'self-guided tour' rather than a conducted tour. To help bring the tragic stories of specific prisoners to life, they also use re-enactors on some tours.

To see a little more of the city, I decided to walk back to my hotel, a journey of perhaps 4 km. A stream, called Hobart Rivulet, passes the Cascades Female Factory and flows towards the centre of Hobart. Part of this has been arranged as an attractive 'Linear Park', used by dog-walkers and cyclists. This gave me an interesting walk which I concluded by rejoining the public roads and walking through Salamanca Market back to the harbour. The market seemed to be mainly craft items and artisan foods.

On arrival back at my hotel, I found Jill Ford waiting for me. Nancy, whom I'd met two days earlier, had given Jill my details since both of them have associations with Burma and Jill, with some ingenuity, had tracked me down. Jill offered to take me to see one of the viewpoints on a hill near Hobart where a semaphore telegraph was used until late in the 19th century. We shared a very pleasant, unexpected interlude and enjoyed hot chocolate and cream cakes at the restaurant housed in the former Signalman's house before Jill returned me to the hotel.

My booked car to the airport arrived early, so Jill and I said our "Good-byes" and I was whisked back to the airport after a very interesting, if brief, visit to Tasmania.

All that remained was the flight to Sydney, transit to a flight to Dubai then transit to a flight to Birmingham!

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My photograph albums

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures from may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-
Cascades Female Factory, Hobart.
Hobart, Tasmania.
Mount Nelson Signal Station, Hobart.
The Henry Jones Art Hotel, Hobart.
Hobart Airport and its aircraft.
Sydney Airport.
Dubai Airport, U.A.E..

[Text added, links to pictures added: 18-Aug-2017]

Friday, 19 May 2017

Trip to Port Arthur

Events of Friday 19th May 2017

Friday was my last full day in Tasmania, and I'd accepted my travel agents suggestion to make a day trip to Port Arthur which had been pre-booked with 'Under Down Under Tours'.

I was picked up from my hotel at 7.30 a.m. by a charming Swiss driver/guide in a 15-seater Japanese minibus and, after more pick-ups, we set off for Port Arthur. We made our first stop at the pretty village of Richmond, stopped again for sea-views at Pirates' Lookout and finally stopped at Port Arthur Lavender Farm. I tried the lavender-flavoured chocolate shavings samples but didn't make a purchase.

Soon afterwards, we arrived at the Port Arthur Historic Site visitor centre which in in the process of being massively extended. Since becoming a World Heritage Site in 2010, visitor numbers have increased significantly.

I'm afraid I knew very little about the period of Transportation when large numbers of convicts from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the British Empire were sent to Australia for imprisonment (partly to ease chronic overcrowding in British Gaols). Sentences varied from seven years to life and those convicts who survived the harsh conditions and were released stood very little chance of ever being able to afford the passage back to their birthplace.

Port Arthur, Tasmania had what has been described as "the finest natural harbour in the southern hemisphere", making it a suitable destination for many of the convict ships. Accordingly, Port Arthur developed as a Men's Prison. Although many of the original buildings have been damaged (or destroyed), what remains has been carefully preserved to give an eerie insight into the prison regime. The large site had no external walls: the remote location was largely sufficient to deter escapes by land or water, particularly since the use of manacles and weights attached to prisoners was commonplace.

After a 40-minute orientation by an excellent guide, Andrew, we were free to explore. My party was booked on the 1.40 p.m. harbour cruise in a modern catamaran and I had to hustle to get to the boat in time - I could have spent much longer there.

The autumn sun shone benignly throughout and, seeing the site as a visitor remaining just a few hours, the site was beautiful. An unexpected comparison sprang to mind - I was reminded of the television series 'The Prisoner' (there's a Wikipedia article here) which was filmed in Portmerion, Wales.

On the long drive back to Hobart, we made various stops at natural sea-related land formations - the Tasman Arch, the Blowhole, the Devil's Kitchen. Interesting, but not the thought-provoking experience the Heritage Site at Port Arthur had furnished.

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The Henry Jones Art Hotel, Hobart.
Hobart, Tasmania.
Richmond, Tasmania.
Hobart to Port Arthur.
Port Arthur Historic Site. Port Arthur to Hobart.

[Links to pictures added 18-Aug-2017]

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Around Hobart

Events of Thursday 18th May 2017

I commented in an earlier post that Tuesday 16th May turned into a 'Railway Day'. Well, Thursday 18th May turned into a 'Museums Day'.

The hotel staff had recommended the 'Museum of Old and New Art', generally called 'MONA'. I commented in my previous report that both the City and my hotel seemed a little 'arty' for my taste and the 'flyer' I'd been given reinforced my fear that 'MONA' might prove too pretentious. But I'd been told that you can reach 'MONA' by a fast catamaran service which took 30 minutes from Brooke Street Pier, no more than ten minutes walk from my Hotel.

The prospect of a river trip convinced me so I took a light breakfast and walked past Victoria Dock, Constitution Dock and Elizabeth Street Pier to reach Brooke Steet Pier. The building had the appearance of a Transit Shed but now houses various places to eat and drink, souvenir shops and booking for the catamaran to 'MONA'. I purchased a combined Ferry/Museum ticket and only had about ten minutes to wait before boarding for the first trip of the day at 9.30 a.m.

The fast ferry left on time, the sun came out and I decided I'd made a good decision. The ferry headed upstream on the River Derwent, past the dock quays on the West bank. The cargo ship I'd spotted the previous day had departed and been replaced by a smaller cargo ship. On the East shore, we passed residential areas. We passed through the centre span of the Tasman Bridge, which I'd crossed by road the previous afternoon on the way in from the airport. The tanker ship I'd seen at the oil depot the previous day had sailed and the oil berth was unoccupied. A large, fairly elderly industrial plant discharging steam appeared on our left and the ferry slowed as we passed the site. We then speeded-up for a final dash across the bay to MONA's landing stage, where we disembarked and climbed the 99 steps to the top of the hill and the entrance to 'MONA'.

Their website is here. Some of the advertising copy I'd read about 'MONA' was vaugely amusing - "Mona: A museum or something in Tasmania or somewhere. Catch the ferry. Drink beer. Eat cheese. Talk c**p about Art. You'll love it" (My asterisks). But when I arrived, the numerous staff, mainly young and black-attired, seem to take it all rather seriously. There's a Wikipedia article here.

The entrance building on the top of the hill houses a large souvenir shop and cafe. There are three underground galleries at different levels below ground chiselled out of rock. Access is by spiral stairs coiled around a circular lift.

What did I make of it? The subterranean galleries I found stunning. The perpetual ethereal music I found annoying. The exhibits, for me, varied from mildly interesting to irritating or juvenile. I was happy to return above ground where one or two items appealed. I liked Wim Delvoyes 'Flatbed Truck, Trailer and Cement Truck' but more for the technical skill displayed in assembling the artefact from intricately laser-cut steel plate. I would probably have liked his 'Church' exhibit, but didn't get that far. I did, however, find the car parking spaces professionally labelled 'Reserved GOD' and 'Reserved GOD'S MISTRESS'. It is perhaps to be expected that they apparently drive electric cars.

I was happy to return to Hobart on the 11.30 a.m. ferry and very much enjoyed the cruise back. I'm glad I've seen 'MONA' but didn't find it life-changing.

Next on the museum circuit was the Maritime Museum of Tasmania but, on the way, I met a retired lecturer, Nancy, who recognised my longyi (Burmese skirt) from her own time in Burma and we exchanged details before I continued to the museum. The building, dating from about 1900 served as Hobart's central library until the 1960s. I found the museum staffed by very friendly volunteers and immediately felt 'at home'. They were hosting a travelling exhibition arranged by the Australian National Maritime Museum called 'War at Sea', describing the role of the Royal Australian Navy during World War I. This seemed particularly well-researched and I spent a long time here before going to the ground floor galleries where the local maritime history was covered. I found this equally absorbing. You can find out more about the museum at their website here.

Not far away was the third museum of the day - the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (their website is here). This is a large museum and I could have done with more time but they closed at 4.00 p.m. I found all the museum sections very interesting: the art sections rather less satisfying. I'd considered a late lunch at the Museum's Courtyard Cafe but ran out of time so had french fries and a cold drink back at the hotel. I'd had a great day but, inevitably, was totally shattered by 5.00 p.m.

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The Henry Jones Art Hotel, Hobart.
Hobart, Tasmania.
Catamaran to MOMA.
MOMA, Hobart.
Fast catamaran back to Hobart.
Maritime Museum of Tasmania.
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

[Links to pictures added 18-Aug-2017]

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

On to Tasmania

Events of Wednesday 17th May 2017

I'd never been to Tasmania so, whilst I was in Australia, I'd arranged to tack a couple of days in Hobart on the end of my marathon trip.

Before leaving the Hotel Lindrum on Wednesday morning to fly to Hobart, I'd intended to see a little more of the Melbourne, using train or tram. Although I started to get up when my alarm went off at 6.00 a.m., two things discouraged me from carrying out my planned exploration. Firstly, although I'd slept soundly, I still felt pretty tired - it had been a fairly intensive few weeks and I don't appear to have the stamina I once enjoyed. Secondly, it was raining and miserable outside. So, instead, I just worked in my room on the computer and watched the suburban trains go by, still impressed by the intensity of the service. I checked out a little before the arranged pick-up time of 10.30 a.m. and found the very professional driver to take me to the airport was already waiting outside with an immaculate Audi saloon. By this time, the rain had stopped and I had a very comfortable ride to Melbourne's Quantas Domestic Terminal where it was the usual do-it-yourself check-in.

The aircraft type was a Boeing 719 which I didn't think I'd flown before so not knowing quite where the seat I was allocated (23D) was, I left it unchanged - this proved to be a mistake.

The terminal was quite spacious without too many people travelling so, having browsed a few shops, I took a seat directly opposite the ramp where my aircraft was to arrive. The aircraft was delayed and frequent apologies were made over the public address. It was about 30 minutes late by the time it had shut down the engines and I amused myself taking pictures of all the different teams at work around the aircraft.

At last we boarded the Boeing 719 - a narrow-body, of course, but with it's two engines strapped to the fuselage rather than being wing-mounted. Seating in economy was 3+3 and, although row 23 had windows, the view was restricted by the engines. My row, row 24 only existed on the starboard side so my seat, 24D, was the aisle seat. The port side of the aircraft was completely obstructed with storage for catering equipment and there was no window on either side of the aircraft.

When 'Concorde' was designed, the passenger compartment originally had no windows - that solved an awful lot of engineering problems. But the response of people shown the 'mock-up' was so adverse that they decided to put windows in after all. I share that aversion so I was quite uneasy on the flight which, fortunately, was only just over an hour.

Once I got off the plane in Hobart, I felt much happier. My driver met me in the crowded baggage hall but we had a few minutes to wait for the bags to arrive on the single baggage conveyor. A sniffer dog and his handler, having first checked the arriving passengers, jumped repeatedly on and off the conveyor (yes, dog and handler) checking the bags as they appeared. Hobart was a much smaller airport and, having retrieved my bags, we only had a short walk to the car park and a waiting Mercedes saloon.

I think the journey into the city was about 18 km, on an uncrowded dual carriageway which passed through attractive, wooded hills. As we neared Hobart, we crossed the River Derwent on the impressive Tasman Bridge. This River Derwent is a broad estuary navigable by ocean-going ships, very unlike the Derbyshire River of the same name I'm familiar with. Rather like Melbourne, but on a smaller scale, the city is a mixture of old and new buildings. The older English-style buildings, often 're-purposed', I found very appealing.

We approached the harbour area, largely now a marina but retaining some working boats, and parked outside my hotel, which was formerly Henry Jones' extensive jam factory but is now an up-market hotel called 'The Henry Jones Art Hotel' (the hotel's website is here). Check-in at the hotel was friendly and I was soon in my first-floor room with views over the Victoria Dock.

In addition to being a hotel, it's an Arts Centre, based around the 'IXL Atrium', another part of the original jam factory. There are Studios, Galleries, various eating opportunities, shops and a bar. I didn't fully explore this interesting establishment as I'd promised myself a walk around the old dock area and the part of the town adjacent before it became dark. On my return, I had a snack and a drink at the Peacock and Jones restaurant before retiring to my room.

I'm very taken with Hobart and the hotel, although both are a tad 'arty' for my taste. But it appears an excellent location to end my marathom trip.

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Hotel Lindrum, Melbourne.
Melbourne's Local Railways (2006 and 2017).
Melbourne Airport.
The Henry Jones Art Hotel, Hobart.
Hobart, Tasmania.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Around Melbourne

Events of Tuesday 16th May 2017

After Myanmar's summer heat, it had been a shock to cross the equator and arrive in Perth in their autumn. Although I was warm enough in the day, each night as the temperature dropped I felt cold and needed an extra blanket on the bed. Melbourne was similar. My hotel room had Air Conditioning but my normal reaction is to turn it off, to prevent the noise from the fan disturbing me. However, without the Air Conditioning heating the room during the night, I'd needed an extra blanket for comfort but I slept well in the huge bed.

Having checked out the walking route from my hotel to Flinders Street Station the previous day and taken the precaution of purchasing the 'Myki' credit card-sized local transport ticket to use on Tuesday, readers will not be surprised that Tuesday turned into a 'Railway Day'. In addition to trying out the 'Metro' local trains, I wanted to travel on the Puffing Billy Railway - a substantial tourist railway in the hills to the east of the city. I knew from my previous visit back in 2006 that it was possible to reach the tourist railway by local electric train from Flinders Street, although on that occasion I was on a coach trip. This time, I was warned to allow at least 90 minutes for the journey travelling by rail.

After breakfast in Hotel Lindrum's restaurant named, oddly, 'Felt' (Lindrum was a famous billiards player so the name refers to the green baize covering a billiard table), I walked to Flinders Street Station in time to catch the 8.22 a.m. to Blackburn, with the intention of changing there to a following train which went on to Belgrave. The Blackburn train was a few minutes late and, by the time I'd worked out that I needed to go to a different platform at Blackburn to join the train onwards to Belgrave, I was in time to see it depart. However, I successfully caught the next train and, on arrival at Belgrave, a footpath (identified with a painted, blue line) led me to the terminus of the Puffing Billy Railway.

The railway's website is here or, for more technical information, see the Wikipedia article here. On the day of my visit, trains were operating as far as Lakeside and I purchased a return ticket to travel to Lakeside on the first departure, the 10.30 a.m. It's a charming railway, run mainly by friendly volunteers, requiring the narrow gauge 2-6-2 tank locomotives which form the majority of the motive power to work quite hard. We were double-headed from Belgrave to Menzies Creek, where the train divided and the pilot engine left us in order to work the detached coaches back to Belgrave to form a later train. We then continued to Lakeside where the train engine took water and ran round the coaches, leaving the locomotive crew a short break before setting off back to Belgrave at 12.30 p.m.

I decided to return on the 12.30 p.m. train, continuing to take lots of pictures. In addition to the elegant and well-maintained steam locomotives, a feature of the line which particularly appealed to me was the semaphore signalling, much of it Mackenzie and Holland lattice posts. I've no doubt I will produce a more technical report on this remarkable line in the future.

Back at Belgrave, I walked to the electrified broad gauge 'Metro' station and only had a few minutes to wait before the next train via Richmond to Flinders Street. On arrival at Flinders Street, I decided to traverse the mainly underground 'City Loop', passing through the huge, modern Southern Cross station, followed by subterranean Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament stations. Having reversed direction around the City Loop, the next station was Richmond, where I alighted. Richmond, with its ten platforms, seems to be Melbourne's 'Clapham Junction'. I crossed to Platform 1 for the next service back to Flinders Street which took around four minutes to reach the southernmost platform at Flinders Street, a bay.

Exhausted by all this travelling, I walked back to my hotel and didn't venture out again, taking a dinner of soup and sorbet in my room whilst working on the computer and just watching the trains go by.

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Hotel Lindrum, Melbourne.
Melbourne (2006 and 2017).
Melbourne's Local Railways (2006 and 2017).
Puffing Billy Railway (2006).
Puffing Billy Railway: Belgrave - Lakeside (2017).
Puffing Billy Railway: Lakeside - Belgrave (2017).

By Air to Melbourne

Events of Monday 15th May 2017

I was picked up a little after 8.00 a.m. on Monday to be taken to the domestic airport at Perth to catch a Quanta flight to Melbourne. I was sad to leave Keith, Fhines and Sasha behind.

I was travelling Economy and the large Check-in Hall was completely devoid of staff (except for a single Business Class check-in desk). So I thought I'd better attempt to use the self-check-in which, rather to my surprise, I managed without incident.

With only minimal hand carried luggage, security was next. There were plenty of staff there and all were friendly and charming, improving my mood considerably.

At the Gate, the seating overlooked the Boeing 737-800 we were about to board and, on time, Quantas staff checked boarding passes and the passengers shuffled down the air bridge to the aircraft. The economy cabin had 3+3 seating and I did find it cramped but the cabin crew were welcoming.

We took off promptly but there was a fair bit of turbulence as we climbed to cruising altitude. Once things had settled down, a meal was served. I had sausage and mash (in a cardboard box) but it was warm and tasty. As well as an orange juice, they followed up with tea or coffee (I had tea, of course) and later in the flight we had a frozen Snickers bar. We reached Melbourne in just over three hours. All in all, I found it a very satisfactory experience.

Because it was a domestic flight, the driver of my booked car was able to meet me in Baggage Reclaim - displaying my name on the screen of his mobile phone which looked very professional. We had a few minutes wait before baggage started to arrive at the carousel, but my two pieces were fairly early and we were soon driving into the city.

Although Melbourne has plenty of modern buildings and skyscrapers, many rather older buildings remain, giving the city an atmosphere which appealed to me, as it did on my first visit back in 2006, which was part of a trip I call 'Round the World 3'. There's a very brief description of that visit in the post here but only the sections 'Saturday 18th' and 'Sunday 19th' cover Melbourne.

This time, my travel agent had recommended the 'Hotel Lindrum', an old office building converted with a modern interior. My room on the third floor looked across the street to the complex network of railway lines entering Flinders Street Station, which pleased me greatly. All of the trains were Electrical Multiple Units and the service was intensive - I discovered Melbourne's population is four and a half million and growing. By the time I'd checked-in, it was late afternoon (Melbourne is two hours ahead of Perth but I decided to half a short walk before it became dark.

My route from the hotel took me along Flinders Street, parallel to the railway, towards Flinders Street railway station. I visited the tourist office, purchased a local transport ticket to use the following day, had a portion of chips in a station cafe and purchased a Coca Cola and Kit-Kat to take back to the hotel. It was dark by the time I was back at the hotel, so I worked in my room on the computer until bedtime.

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Perth Airport (Domestic).
Melbourne Airport.
Hotel Lindrum, Melbourne.
Melbourne's Local Railways (2006 and 2017).

Monday, 15 May 2017

Perth (Sunday)

Events of Sunday 14th May 2017

Keith and I took Sasha for a longer walk on Sunday morning. The area where Keith lives is residential, with large, detached single-storey houses. Various areas of parkland (with all sorts of trees I didn't recognise) are scattered amoung the dwellings and the road system is supplemented by a network of footpaths, offering many alternative routes for walking.

After a leisurely breakfast, Keith and I discussed railways and engineering, as I studied some of Keith's extensive library of locomotive and railway books. We also looked at some of Keith's locomotive models - some proprietary, some built by Keith, including his live steam model based on L.B.S.C's 'Titch' design. Keith's model carries the nameplate 'ECCLES' (after 'The Goons' character).

In the afternoon, Keith, Fhines and I drove to visit another of their friends - Bill Fritchley. Bill had grown up in Myanmar and, before emigrating to Australia, had worked on steam locomotives for Burma Railways and served in the army. Needless to say, I quizzed him about his experiences on the footplate, particularly on the huge Beyer-Garratt locomotives.

In the early evening, we went to a nearby Singaporean restaurant for dinner. We had a sit-down meal but the restaurant also did take-away. Whilst we were there, numerous clients came in for take-away and the other tables started to fill up, testifying to the popularity of the place. We certainly enjoyed our meals.

Back home, we had a relaxing evening watching television. I did a little work on the computer but I also had to contrive to compress all my possessions into one suitcase and one backpack (never an eahy task) because I was being picked up at 8.00 a.m. the following morning to fly on to Melbourne.

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Sunday, 14 May 2017

Perth (Saturday)

Events of Saturday 13th May 2017

I was up in time to accompany Keith on a short walk with Sasha, Keith's dog. We left by car about 6.45 a.m. by car to drive to the home of Keith's friend, Birgit Gabriels. Occasionally on a Saturday, Keith and Birgit drive to the large Ikea store north of Perth for breakfast in the cafeteria, followed by a browse around the extensive showrooms.

I'd been invited to accompany them so, with Sasha and Birgit's dog Pepper left on guard duty in Birgit's house, we transferred to Birgit's car and drove towards the city, pausing to refuel the car. On a Saturday, we were able to make rapid progress and, after skirting the city centre, we continued north to Ikea and parked in the extensive ground level car park and went to the cafeteria where we each enjoyed an excellent, inexpensive breakfast including scrambled egg, bacon, sausage, tomato and a hash brown, accompanied by tea or coffee with free refills. Then, we spent some time touring the showrooms and Birgit made some purchases - the prices in Australia, like my own country, represent very good value.

Retrieving Birgit's car, we returned south, pausing at a large supermarket, a branch of Woolworth, where Birgit did a little shopping. I was impressed by the size of the 'Deli' counter and also by a small island counter selling Sushi, staffed by no fewer than six Sushi chefs. Shopping complete, we returned to Birgit's house and two very welcoming dogs where we chatted for some time in the elegant Dutch-themed house designed by Birgit's architect father. After a sandwich lunch with Birgit, Keith drove back to his home, detouring to visit another of Keith's friends, Annette. She was born in Australia but trained as a midwife in England, working in Wythenshawe (Manchester) and London's Harley Street before spells as a midwife in both Libya and Turkey.

In Australia, like America, you can make up your own car registration and Keith and I were amused by the registration 'ITZA MINE', attached to a beautifully-restored Ford Mustang.

I'd arranged to meet my friend Captain Myo Lwin, whom I'd first met in 2008 as captain of the 'Road to Mandalay' river cruise ship in Myanmar. Having retired, he now divides his time between Perth, where he lives with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandson Wyatt, and Yangon. I was amazed at how Wyatt had grown since I last saw him. After an enjoyable visit, I returned to Keith's home.

We spent a quiet evening in, watching television and talking. I dealt with e-mails, updated the blog and copied my photographs to my computer (in duplicate) until they could be uploaded to the internet.

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Saturday, 13 May 2017

Perth (Friday)

Events of Friday 12th May 2017

I was up around 7.00 a.m. and accompanied my host, Keith Watson, on his walk to exercise his dog, Sasha, on nearby parkland. On our return, we had breakfast before getting ready to go to visit Birgit, a friend of Keith's for many years. Sasha came with us and played happily with Birgit's Manchester Terrier, Pepper.

After a pleasant visit, we returned to Keith's home. After some catching-up, Keith and I drove to a nearby 'Subway' where we purchased a filled baguette which we took home to consume. Later I attempted to connect my laptop to Keith's Wi-Fi, initially without success, but a call to Keith's computer man quickly resolved the problem and I was able to check my e-mails and post brief reports to my blog.

All the travelling had left me quite tired, so I didn't do much for the rest of the day. I was quite impressed by the television news coverage on SBS (the Special Broadcasting Service which is part of ABC - the Australian Broadcasting Commission), less so by the Eurovision Song Contest coverage from Ukraine.

I retired early and slept very well.

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Friday, 12 May 2017

Onwards to Perth

Events of Thursday 11th May 2017

That's Perth, Western Australia, not the one in Scotland.

I managed to pack, have breakfast and be ready for Doctor Hla Tun to take me to the airport. The Doctor's daughter and wife were with us in the car. The Doctor's daughter has just started medical studies at the college in Yangon so we dropped her at the campus before continuing to Mingalardon Airport Terminal 2. I said "Goodbye" to the Doctor and his wife helped me with my luggage to the right Check-in queue where we also said "Goodbye", as she had to open her Gift Shop in Terminal 2.

My travel agents, Wexas, had recommended flying by Jet Star to Singapore then Business Class by Quantas from Singapore to Perth. Both flights, confusingly were 'code share' with Emirates. The Jet Star flight was all-economy (an A320 with 3+3 seating) and they charge for all food and drink separately. But, apparently, my name appeared on a special list and I received a free meal, a wash bag and the use of a blanket which proudly claimed it was made from '19 recycled plastic bottles'.

We arrived on time at Singapore's huge Changi Airport, the Transfer Desk issued my boarding card for my onward flight to Perth and I had a little over one and a half hours in the comfort of the excellent Quantas Lounge with time for a Coca Cola, Cheese Plate and internet fast enough to load a few pictures from Bagan.
The aircraft on the Perth leg was a Boeing 737. Despite the winglets to improve economy, the narrow body gives this iconic design a rather old-fashioned appearance. We taxied to the runway and, after one arrival and one departure had preceded us, we took off for the four and a half hour flight to Perth.

After a good flight, we landed a few minutes early at Perth. Immigration, Luggage Reclaim and Customs were completed promptly and the driver for my booked car was waiting in the arrival hall. Within a few minutes, we were on the way to my friend's house, arriving about twenty past midnight. After a joyful re-union with my friend Keith, his wife Fhines and, of course, Sasha the dog, I retired for the night.

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Yangon Airport (2010 and later).
Jetstar at Mingalardon.
Yangon -Singapore by air.
Singapore (Changi) Airport (2015 and later).


[Links to pictures added 16-Aug-2017]

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Last Full Day in Yangon

Events of Wednesday 10th May 2017

Since my first visit to Yangon in 2008, the intensive railway working around the Circle Line has fascinated me. There's an earlier post Yangon Area Railways which gives an overview.

My friend Doctor Hla Tun had managed (after some difficulty) to arrange official permission for us to visit signal cabins on the Circle Line before modernisation by the Japanese wipes them away. So the day was spent dashing from site to site in the Doctor's car and trying to understand the equipment and systems currently in use by inspection, by taking photographs for later study and by quizzing the local staff, with the Doctor as interpreter. We were warmly welcomed every where we visited and I had a wonderful day but, of course, ended up totally exhausted.

We first went to Khyee Myin Daing station I'd visited previously. There's an earlier post here. On the 'official' visit in 2017, I discovered signalling equipment (of a pattern I'd not come across previously) which is used to instruct the two local signal boxes regarding the route through the station area to be taken by trains. Then we visited the South Signal Box I'd photographed a year earlier. This time, I was allowed to make three lever movements. I was very surprised when I learned, a few days later, that the stationmaster's photograph of the writer operating the frame had appeared in the newspaper Myanma Alinn Daily News on May 12.


Jan operating the lever frame at Khyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin.

We then moved to Khyee Myin Daing North Signal Cabin for more pictures. The 'South' and 'North' cabins are the only 'mechanical' cabins in the Yangon area.

On earlier visits to Insein, I'd identified the 'power' signal cabin but failed to identify the likely equipment supplier, so I was keen to inspect this installation. There's an earlier post here. On the 'official' visit in 2017, I discovered that the push-button control panel was a 'modified NX' pattern made in Korea. I was unable to inspect the relay room as the technician with the key was away at the time.

On a previous visit to Myanmar, I'd found a small push-button signalling panel at Da Nyn Gone which I believed had been built locally by Myanma Railways. There's a post here.

Based on this discovery, it appeared likely that the small installations at Mingalardon and Paywet Seik Kone were controlled from similar locally-built panels. The 'official' visit in 2017 allowed me to inspect both Mingalardon and Paywet Seik Kone stations and confirm that locally-manufactured push-button panels are in use. I was also able to take pictures of the relay interlocking at the two sites and determine that rather elderly Westinghouse relays are in use.

I believe Pazundaung and Mahlwagone probably have similar installations constructed in Myanmar but there was insufficient time to establish this positively.

In the above, I've used the 'Anglicised' spelling which the railway seems to use, although rendering Myanmar names in 'English' is always a rather variable affair. I took lots of technical pictures, plus a few 'group shots' with the station masters and staff at some of the places we visited. These pictures have now been uploaded to 'Flickr' and the various new albums are listed below. It will take time to absorb what I saw and, in due course, further technical reports will surely appear.

I spent a quiet evening at Doctor Hla Tun's home. Sadly, I had come to the end of my visit to Myanmar and the following morning I was to travel to Australia to visit some of my friends there.

Related Posts on this Website

Next Post describing this trip.
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My Pictures

Kyee Myin Daing Station Master's Office.
Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin (2017).
Kyee Myin Daing North Signal Cabin.
Insein Signal Cabin.
Mingalardon Signalling.
Pa Ywet Seit Gone Signalling.

[Text amended, links to pictures added: 22-May-2017]

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Around Inle Lake

Events of Tuesday 9th May 2017

I'd arranged with my guide, Ms. Thandar Oo, that I would take a trip around the lake by boat so, at 7.00 a.m., I breakfasted in the capacious restaurant at Villa Inle Resort and Spa and by 8.30 a.m. I'd checked out. Thandar Oo was waiting, this time with one of the elegant 15-metre Inle Boats.

With my luggage on board and sheeted over, we set of along the narrow canal between the hotel and Inle Lake, with the tomato fields on both sides and local people at work tending the crop. Once we entered the broad expanse of the Lake, there were numerous Inle boats, similar to our own, noisily heading in all directions. Usually, the motive power is a manual-start, Chinese-made diesel developing 25 horse power costing 500 U.S.dollars new and perhaps 300 U.S. Dollars second-hand. Later in the day I spotted a few Inle boats powered by an automotive engine which was probably more powerful. It was certainly quieter! Some of the smaller boats on the water were of the well-known 'longtail' design.

Harvesting Weed

Inle Lake is quite shallow and water weed grows freely. One of the more arduous tasks is collecting water weed from boats, using a long pole to repeatedly lift massive clumps of weed into the boat until it almost sinks. The weed is then dried and used as fertiliser for the tomatoes. In some places, zucchini were grown, under the same sort of bamboo frames I'd seen during our train journey from Kalaw to Nyaung Shwe.

Inle Lake Villages

A broad canal led us through a large village of substantial houses on stilts, raised high above the water. Although some designs recurred frequently, each building reflected the owner's tastes in decor. Some houses were completely made of bamboo but most adopted at least some more modern building techniques. Piped water (via blue HDPE pipes) and electricity (via a most curious distribution system featuring wooden pylons along all the main canals) were commonplace. There are seventeen distinct villages distributed around the lake, with a total population of around 56,000, plus a further 40,000 people at the administrative centre of the area at Nyaung Shwe.

The village included a long, open shed housing one of the equally-long man-powered racing boats which compete during the Pagoda Festival. Narrower canals, with a number of footbridges, led us to the rickety wooden landing stage of a family-run silversmith's workshop.

Silversmith's Workshop

Silver ore is reduced to pure a small, clay crucible. This requires a temperature of 800 degrees Celsius produced in a small forge using bellows to supply extra air. The molten silver is cast into a small ingot using a simple mould and, after cooling in cold water, the ingot can be beaten to the required thickness or turned into silver wire using a small 'mangle'. The hard fruit of the Star Anise plant, if warmed for one minute can be grated to give an effective 'soap' for silver cleaning, for clothes washing without fading dyes or as a shampoo. There was a large showroom with an amazing range of silver jewellery. The delicacy of some of the items was astonishing.

Boat-building yard

Our next visit was to a boat-building yard. Two 15-metre long hulls of the standard Inle design were virtually complete and I was staggered by the craftsmanship. Only teak wood is used and, when we arrived at the landing stage, two men were starting to turn one two-inch thick teak plank into two one-inch thick planks by sawing. One man stood on a raised sawing platform made of bamboo, one man stood on the ground and between them a massive saw was being worked vertically up and down.

Each of the many frame members required was made from three pieces - left, keel, and right.The keel is normally made from three planks to give a slightly convex shape, requiring keel frame members to be curved at the bottom. Keel frame members were being shaped, with considerable accuracy, by another man sitting on the ground merely using an axe.

The structure of the hull had been assembled using wooden dowels, but I didn't identify the wood. Metal woodscrews were used for some features, like attaching the planks forming the top of the gunwhales.

All seams, dowels and screwheads had been caulked using teak sawdust and resin mixed in a simple stone mortar with a pestle to give a dark-coloured paste. Boats built in this traditional way have a long life of tens of years given some maintenance. The purchase cost of 2,500 U.S. Dollars seemed very reasonable to me given the skill and man-hours involved in the construction.

Cheroot Factory

Immediately behind the boat-building yatd was a cheroot-making factory. Home-made cheroots, can be huge, fat affairs but the commercially-made cheroot is more like the small cigars marketed as 'cigarillo'. Seated on the floor of the factory, a number of women, paid by 'piecework' were deftly assembling the product.According to a sign in English for the benefit of the many tourists around Inle Lake, the ingredients are:-
Cheroot Leaf
Tobacco
Honey
Tamarind
Brown Sugar
Rice Wine
Banana Fruit
Star Anise
Alodawpauk Pagoda

A boat ride of less than 200 yards took us to one of the landing stages of the important Alodawpauk Pagoda. This was busy with tourists, many apparently from Mynmar. I was told it's an 11th century pagoda which, because of its importance, was restored by the military government in the 1980s. Ongoing development is paid for by private and business donors, some in Thailand.

Blacksmith's Factory

After a brief visit to a bamboo handicrafts showroom where modern products for tourists seemed to predominate, we moved on to a blacksmith's workshop. As the boat docked agt the usual rickety landing stage, I was sure I recognised it and, indeed, it was the same blacksmith's I'd visited in 2008. That first visit is described in another post called 'Around Lake Inle' which you can find here. Work was carried on exactly as I'd witnessed the first time, but the personnel had changed. After the blade forging process, sharpening was being carried out by two men, one using a sort of spokeshave to scrape away excess metal, the other using an assortment of metal files to produce the cutting edge. Both men used simple jigs to hold the workpiece but the man with the files also used one foot, like a third hand, to hold the item in the jig..

Lunch

After visiting the blacksmith's workshop, a short boat ride took us to the huge, clean 'Golden Kite Restaurant' built, like the rest of the village, on numerous wooden piles but here the landing stage was, unusually, in good repair. The restaurant was located at the intersection of two major canals so it was rather noisy but we nonetheless enjoyed lunch there.

Return to Nyaung Shwe

Back in our boat, it was time to head back north to Nyaung Shwe. This took about 45 minutes, very pleasant but noisy. On arrival at Nyaung Shwe, Our driver was there to meet us and my luggage was soon transferred to the car. We set of towards Heho for me to catch the afternoon Air KBZ flight back to Yangon. At Shwe Naung, we turned left towards Heho.

Paper making

"We're a little early", Thandar Oo said, telling the driver to stop at a small paper handicrafts workshop up in the hills. We watched two women making sheets of paper from the bark of the Mulberry tree. I'd seen a similar process, but using different plant material, in Bhutan and that's described here. In Myanmar, the mulberry bark is softened with hot water and then pounded with hammers until it becomes a paste which, mixed with water, can be poured onto a muslin-covered wooden frame in a cistern of water. Then, if desired, decoration can be added, creating patterns with leaves and petals before the frame is gently lifted from the water and allowed to drain, leaving a layer of cellulose material which, when dried in the sun, will become paper. A wide selection of products made from this paper were on display.

Return to Yangon

We set off again, still early, so I proposed a visit to Heho station. I was able to take a number of photographs and, using Thandar Oo as an interpreter, clarify various technical points with the friendly young stationmaster.

Heho airport was only a few minutes away and on arrival it was time to say "Goodbye" to my driver and guide. Since it was 'low season', I was surprised at how many tourists were waiting to travel - Japanese, German and various English-speaking travellers. The Air KBZ flight was on time into Yangon where two transfer buses took us to the new Domestic terminal. Doctor Hla Tun was waiting to pick me up, as I was again staying at his home.

Related Posts on this Website

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All Burma-2017 Trip posts.

My Pictures

Around Inle Lake (2017).
Inle Lake Silversmith.
Inle Lake Boat Builder and Cheroot Factory.
Alodawpauk Pagoda, Inle.
Inle Lake Blacksmith (2017).
Naung Shwe - Heho by road.

[Links to pictures added 16-Aug-2017]

Monday, 8 May 2017

Kakku

Events of Monday 8th May 2017

My hotel, Villa Inle Resort and Spa was very comfortable and peaceful, so I awoke refreshed although during the night there had been a violent thunderstorm followed by torrential rain. Monday was planned for a visit to Kakku: an important Buddhist site with over 2,000 pagodas.

My first visit to Inle Lake in 2008 (part of the 'Far East Two' trip, described here) had included a trip to Kakku during which there was heavy rain whilst I was touring the pagodas. That earlier trip is described here.

This time, I was picked up by car from my hotel. As I've noted already, there are road improvements in many areas and the Pa-O area of Southern Shan State where Inle Lake located is no exception. I was told we could now drive on a new road from Maing Tauk Village (the location of the hotel) cross country to Kakku with considerable saving of time. Previously it was necessary to go via Nyaung Shwe (where I'd boarded the boat to the hotel the previous afternoon) and Taung Gyi to reach Kakku.

We set off about 8.45 a.m. and headed south, close to the eastern side of Lake Inle. Tourism has brought ribbon development which extends ever-further. The Government have designated a 'Hotel Zone' to control this development. Feeder roads, complete with lighting, are already in place and large, new hotels are being built. I noticed the 'Hotel Zone Jetty' under construction.

Our route then took us through the mountains on a road not long opened, presumably to help open up the fairly remote area we were in. A rural, agrarian way of life was the norm and the majority of the people showed their Pa-O origins with either a turban for the men or an orange plaid headscarf for the women, who favoured dark-coloured clothing or the traditional black tunic and trousers.

Sooner than I expected, we were at Kakku and the remarkable sight of (I'm told) 2,478 pagodas huddled together on a compact, rectangular site on a gentle hillside. As a foreigner, an admission payment was made for me.

Thandar Oo said that a party of donors from Yangon were dedicating a number of donated 'umbrellas' that morning. The 'umbrella' is the metallic decoration carried at the top of the 'spire' of a Myanmar-style pagoda (different ethnic groups favour different styles, I understand). Music was coming from the site and the dedication was in progress. Scaffolding had been erected over a row of perhaps eight similar-sized pagodas. The scaffolding was a mixture of push-together metal access towers and bamboo poles, tied together with a heavy-duty twine. One bamboo deck had been laid across the scaffolding about eighteen feet above the ground and a second about twenty four feet above the ground. About twenty four men were distributed across the two decks, presumably the donors or donors representative. The upper deck of the scaffolding was about level with the position where the 'umbrella' would be carried. I couldn't see the ceremony itself but later the men all returned to ground safely. Immediately, a group of scaffolders started to dismantle the temporary structure.

A combination of bad storms and last year's earthquake has damaged pagodas throughout Myanmar. The 'umbrella' can easily be displaced and many at Kakku were sittkng at a crazy angle. The delicate, tapering pinnacle or 'spire' of brick, sometimes with stucco applied, is the next area to crumble. Damage elsewhere in the structure is usually limited to cracks developing or small areas detaching.

Restoration work is always going on, but this is usually at the behest of donors and to the despair of archaeologists who often consider the historical record 'corrupted' by the new work.

Pagoda builders and those carrying out repairs seem to use bamboo scaffolding exclusively, embracing the pagoda being worked on in a 'cocoon' of scaffolding and we saw examples on our visit to Kakku.

The railway station at Kakku didn't detain us long. It is a one-platform halt on the single line from Taung Gyi to Nansen and Mong Nai. Although it has a simple station building, we found it boarded-up and semi-derelict. There is one train to Taung Gyi at 06:00 daily, arriving three hours later. The return from Taung Gyi is due to arrive in Kakku at 16:00. Ordinary Class Single Fare is 200 Kyats.

The restaurant just opposite the pagoda site with a timber framed roof which I used back in 2008 was badly damaged in storms. It has been replaced with a huge steel-framed affair, very well-appointed and clean so we were able to enjoy lunch before setting of on the return journey through the mountains using the new road.

I was able to enjoy the warm afternoon in the comfort of my villa. Tomorrow morning we plan to explore Inle Lake a little, then in the afternoon I catch a flight from Heho back to Yangon.

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My Pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures from may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-
Kakku by road (2017).
Kakku, Shan State, Myanmar (2008: my earlier pictures).
Villa Inle Resort and Spa.

[Links to pictures added: 16-Aug-2017]

Sunday, 7 May 2017

On to Inle Lake

Events of Sunday 7th May 2017

I slept well at Hotel Kalaw Hill Lodge, took an early breakfast and then, as the day before, had to borrow their tiny battery-powered modem before I could attach to the internet. I was not being picked up until noon but, rather than relaxing, I used the morning to produce a review of the previous days events.

The reason for the late start? I'd determined to make another journey by train. In 2016, I'd travelled from Thazi to Kalaw by train, as described here. This time, I'd arranged to start the journey at Kalaw and travel to Shwe Nyaung, about a three and a half hour journey.

We drove to the station and waited for the train which, not unusually, was late. Thandar Oo travelled with me on the journey and our car and driver went on ahead with the luggage. I took lots of pictures of railways, the scenery and people. At some point, there will no doubt be a more technical commentary for those interested in railways.

I was quite tired by the time we arrived at Shwe Nyaung but our car was waiting so we set off for Nyaung Shwe (yes, same words, opposite order). The developments in the almost nine years since I last visited the area were quite noticeable. Thandar Oo and I boarded a boat to take us to my hotel - the Villa Inle Resort and Spa. Then I realised that the boats I'd admired at Phe Khong the previous day were actually the 'standard' design used around Inle Lake.

The boat must have taken about 30 minutes to reach my destination as the sun set in the west and the heat of the day abated. My arrival at Inle Lake almost 8 years ago is described here and you can find all my posts on that trip to the Far East here.

My personal, large, wooden villa at the Villa Inle Resort and Spa was very luxurious and I'd have happily stayed longer than the two nights arranged.

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Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures from may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the album listed:-
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My Pictures

Kalaw Hill Lodge.
Around Kalaw (pictures from 2016 and 2017).
Kalaw - Shwe Naung by train.
Shwe Naung to Villa Inle Resort by car and boat.
Villa Inle Resort and Spa.

[Links to pictures added 17-Aug-2017]

Return to Kalaw

Events of Saturday 6th May 2017

I was really sorry to leave the Loikaw Lodge. It's new, only open about eight months but the lady owner, Swe Yi Myat, has incorporated all the features that have impressed her in her own travels and, for me, the result was perfect. Everybody was keen to make me comfortable, everything worked and the views over the small lake made a peaceful environment, although the hotel is conveniently situated in a residential area of Loikaw.

My guide Thandar Oo and the driver collected me at 8.30 a.m. and we set off along Route 54, retracing our arrival route From Heho. As we left the city, I spotted the small commercial airport, followed by major construction work which appeared to be a serious extension to the runway.

We passed a Christian church. I couldn't tell whether Catholic or Baptist (both are active in Myanmar) but it had two white towers, each topped by a short blue spire, so Catholic is more likely.

Once out of the city, we crossed a plain with rice fields on both sides, followed by a concrete river bridge. The river is presumably the water source to irrigate the healthy, green rice fields where a number of farmers could be seen working. An earlier, steel truss road bridge stood alongside the concrete bridge.

We passed an area of Government-owned teak trees, still quite young. Each tree had a white ring painted on the trunk, to indicate that unauthorised felling was likely to result in incarceration for the miscreant.

. A massive, ragged outcrop of rock had attracted the building of a host of gold-painted pagodas and the rock itself was painted white resulting in quite an impressive effect, although not on the scale of Taung Kwe Zedi in Loikaw.

On our left, a tall, steep-sided mountain was topped with a white and gold pagoda but lower down the rock face, a Christian cross had been painted, as it appeared to me, defiantly.

Shortly after, entering Phe Khong town, we passed a large building, perhaps a school, with Catholic embellishments. Here, the unfenced single-line railway line from Loikaw had come very close to the road so each building on that side was isolated from the main road by the railway track and had built its own, rather informal, level crossing to reach the main road. The railway then ducked out of site as we passed through the main part of the town which included another church, this time with a single tower and spire surmounted by a large cross.

The railway then re-appeared on our left and, hidden in the trees, was a small station. We stopped so that I could make a photographic record. The facilities were very modest - a simple station building, single platform and passing loop. Thandar Oo noted the ticket prices displayed in the deserted ticket hall:-
To the new capital, Nay Pyi Taw:
2,500 Kyats Ordinary Class, 3,350 Kyats Upper Class.
To Kalaw (our destination that day): 1,200 Kyats Ordinary Class, 1,600 Kyats Upper Class.
But road and rail were not the only transport options at Phe Khong. At its southern extremity, Inle Lake discharges into a system of lakes and rivers which extends to Loikaw. Small boats provide passenger and freight facilities between Inle and Loikaw and Phe Khong is one of the intermediate calling points. So, after I'd finished my examination of the railway station, we drove to Phe Koung Jetty.

'Jetty' was rather overstating the infrastructure - there's a beach and the elegant wooden boats get as close as they can to dry land. I did see a decrepit-looking short wooden walkway which is perhaps intended for passengers but the activity in the short time we were there was all freight-related.

First, one of the basic but effective small Chinese-built lorries arrived. These improbable-looking machines are everywhere - four-wheeled and articulated with a noisy diesel engine on the front unitt whilst the load is carried on two rear wheels in a simple, tiny lorry body. The driver perches on a padded shelf attached to the front of the lorry body, wrestling the steering wheel on the front unit. I say 'wrestling' because the direction of these vehicles always seems rather uncertain but they are ubiquitous and carry out prodigious haulage feats. I'm told they're called "Chinese Buffalo" which seems appropriate.

The driver of this intersting vehicle turned it around and unhesitatingly backed into the lake, with an assistant sitting on each rudimentary mudguard over the rear wheels, until he reached a waiting boat lying broadside-on to the beach. Everybody involved then started to transfer a load of building bricks from the lorry to the boat.

Another "Chinese Buffalo" arrived and made a different manoeuvre, driving forwards into the water parallel to the shoreline, then attempting to reverse to reach a another boat lying perpendicular to the shoreline, partially-beached. This positioning was achieved only after a lot of heaving from the driver's two assistants. A large sheet of tough, woven polypropylene had been laid across the hull of the beached boat and the men started shovelling gravel from the lorry onto the sheet.

The third vehicle to appear was a motor tricycle. These vehicles can be seen all over Myanmar, acting as taxis or freight hauliers. But I was surprised to see the driver reverse his machine into the water until it covered the rear axle. He then called to a boatman some yards away who poled his craft across to the motor tricycle and, once lined up, a variety of goods were moved from the motor tricycle to the boat.

The many motor boats I could see appeared to be of the same general pattern, wooden framed and clad with thick, flush planking, perhaps 25 feet long and 8 foot beam across the gunwhales at the widest point fitted with simple, low decking near the keel. The hull shape was elegant and suggested speed.

Whereas many of the smaller motor boats I've seen in the Far East have been of the 'long-tail' pattern, these motor boats had a fixed diesel engine driving a propeller shaft which passed through the transom to a universal joint driving the propeller itself through a secondary shaft. This allowed a lever mechanism incorporating a tiller to steer the boat and lift the propeller out of the water when required. Seen on the water, these craft seemed to have a fair turn of speed.

We then walked to the nearby market. It was a large market, well provided with permanent, lock-up stalls. Although only partly in use during our visit, there was still the usual bewildering variety of food and dry goods on offer.

Our car continued north through the rugged mountain scenery of Pa-O territory which I found most appealing. We made another stop at Pin Kun Village, with a typical Pa-O market still in progress where the Pa-O come to sell their produce and purchase necessities.

Thandar Oo had presented me with a Kayah longyi which needed tapes fitting (for the fuller European figure). She commissioned a girl at a tailoring stall equipped with two Chinese-made treadle sewing machines to do the work but, before the work was completed, ended up demonstrating her abilities as a seamstress herself.

We continued towards Kalaw and, about 20 minutes later, passed through another village where the railway ran down the side of the street. When we came to the junction with the road to Heho, we turned towards Kalaw, pausing at the railway station to re-check the timing for our proposed railway journey the following day. Finally, it was on to the comfort of the Kalaw Hill Hotel for one night. I'd first stayed there just over a year ago. That visit is described in the post By train to Kalaw with a link to the following post and to the pictures of that first visit.

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My Pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures from may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the album listed:-
Loikaw Lodge.
Aung Ban - Loikaw by road.
Phe Khong Jetty.
Phe Khong Market.
Pin Kun Market.

[Links to pictures added 24-May-2017]

Friday, 5 May 2017

Around Kayah State

Events of Friday 5th May 2017

After another excellent breakfast at Loikaw Lodge, I was picked up by my guide and driver at 8.30 a.m. I was to see a little of Kayah State outside the capital, Loikaw. We set off on Route 5 which leads south from Loikaw right through Kayah State. We passed through the important town of Demoso and skirted Ngwe Taung lake and dam, which I was told we would visit later in the day.

We were heading for the Padaung village of Pan Pet, taking us onto a spectacular road through the mountains. This was another of the roads in Myanmar being widened and improved ("New Government - New Roads", I have been told). A small sign in Myanmar language seemed to suggest that we had to divert onto a temporary dirt road but after a short distance our driver decided to go back along the dirt road and continue along the metalled road. But a little further on, the road was completely blocked and we could see a road construction gang in the process of building the road's continuation. Our driver went ahead on foot to see if any alternative route existed but returned with the news that we would have to walk the rest of the way to the village, perhaps 15 minutes away. So I had an opportunity to examine road building techniques close-up. Most of the way, there was a narrow strip from the former dirt road available to walk on and we passed occasional motor cycles bouncing along this strip.

In due course we arrived in Pan Pet, a Padaung tribe village. The Padaung are animists and some of their women are 'long-neck' women, encasing their necks and lower legs in a substantial brass wire helix. I'm afraid it's not a tradition I'm in favour of and I was encouraged to learn that, out of a total population in Pan Pet of 80, only 12 ladies have neck rings, although one was a child who could have been no more than ten years old. My guide introduced me to one of the long-neck women who runs a shop, supplying necessities to the villagers with a sideline in souvenirs for the tourists. This lady of 47 with six children had a very intelligent gaze and seemed to find my presence most amusing so we spent most of the time laughing together. She was very competent on a simple 4-string guitar. Their neck-rings comprise a slightly larger diameter coil which rests on the shoulders with a long coil reaching under the chin, totalling 8 kilograms in weight and they are permanent. A pair of similar rings on the lower legs add a further 3 kilograms.

For some reason, the lady and my guide insisted that I 'play' the guitar (I'm afraid I don't play). I also reluctantly submitted to being decorated with a small neck ring sliced into a semicircular shape and merely tied into place and a Padaung head-dress. Needless to say, this provoked further gales of laughter.

As we started our walk back to the car, I saw an animist shrine comprising a group of Kutopoe, similar to those I'd seen the day before in Loikaw.

Re-united with our vehicle, we retraced our route. Although the road building near Pan Pet had been a purely manual operation, heavy machinery is employed where necessary and we saw Backhoes, Road Rollers, a large Motor Grader from SDLG and BOMAG machines.

Back at Ngwe Taung Dam, we had a closer look. The dam appears to be purely for irrigation purposes - a sluice halfway along the dam controls water flow to a canel which provided water to the rice-growing area. Needless to say, this area is a magnet for young boys who were joyfully diving into the lake or swimming in the canal. A couple of working elephants, each with with their mahout, passed us and delicately negotiated the steps from the dam to the road before disappearing along the bank of the canal.

We stopped for a pleasant lunch at the Marco Polo Restaurant. Although only a couple of hundred yards from the main road, it was a tranquil spot, overlooking the plain where cattle idly grazed.

As we continued back towards Loikaw, we passed a number of Catholic Churches and one Cemetery before turning off to see Umbrella Lake. This turned out to be a fairly small pool where usually a shallow 'hump' is visible, vaguely resembling an umbrella. We were particularly lucky in that two 'umbrellas', plus a 'baby umbrella', were visible on our visit. In the centre of the 'umbrella' a small orifice discharged a trickle of water so I assume geothermal activity produces this effect. The lake is surrounded by a number of Buddhist shrines but there was also an Animist shrine with a number of Kutopoe Pillars. Before we left, thunder and lightning started but we were back at the car before the rain started.

Our journey continued to Seven Steps Lake, by which time it was raining quite hard but there was a wooden shelter with a 'tin' roof from which we admired the setting with wooded hills coning down to the water. I believe the name derives from the fact that the one large lake is made up of seven sections interconnected by narrow channels.

Back in the familiar surroundings of Loikaw, we went to a business where the special Kayah Sausage is made. This prized pork sausage, flavoured with ginger and other spices, is supplied ready-cooked as a large spiral and costs 9,000 Kyat. In appearance, it reminded me of the English Cumberland Sausage .

The car finally delivered me to my hotel after a tiring but interesting day. Once safely back at the hotel, a thunderstorm hit Loikaw and this was followed by fairly heavy rain.

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My Pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures from may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the album listed:-
Pan Pet Village trip.
Loikaw, Kayah State.
Loikaw Lodge.

[Links to pictures added 24-May-2017]

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Around Loikaw

Events of Thursday 4th May 2017

I was delighted with the friendly reception I received and the facilities at the Loikaw Lodge. I slept well in their large, soft bed and enjoyed a filling, English breakfast. At 8.30 a.m., I was picked up by my guide and driver and we made our way to Loikaw Market.

The market was large with both outside stalls (often provided with sun shades of various types) and an extensive, gloomy covered market. Everything you can imagine is available in these markets - vegetables (familiar and exotic), spices, fresh and dried fish, chicken, beef. Many of the stallholders were wielding serious-looking knives which they used to prepare their wares. The inside market was mainly dry goods of all kinds - clothing, toiletries (including make-up and shampoo), luggage, backpacks, ladies fashion handbags, sturdy shopping bags. A seamstress with a treadle sewing machine offered alteration and a watchmaker offered repairs. At one stall, a lady was expertly using four frying pans to prepare thick pancakes while you wait.There was also a large hardware stall selling a bewildering array of items, including loose nails in various sizes.

Next, we visited Loikaw Railway Station. The station had and impressive reinforced concrete two-storey building with steel-framed overall roof, appropriate to a State Capital. Footbridges were provided at each end of the station - somewhat unnecessarily as gaps were deliberately provided in the concrete-post and barbed wire fence between the tracks alllowing everybody to cross at ground level. The station has just one departure a day at 05:00 which takes ten hours to reach Kalaw and this service returns in the evening at 21:45. The Ordinary Class single fare is 1,500 Kyat, The Upper Class fare 2,000 Kyat.

Our next visit was to the Poa Pa Yone monastery where there were 311 novices and 43 monks (although a number of monks were absent on the day of our visit). We stayed to watch the novices summoned to lunch which they ate in a large dining room with round, low tables. Monks have only two meals a day - breakfast and lunch. We visited the monastery kitchen where the monks' food is prepared.

Our car then took us to a weaving factory where fabrics in the various traditional designs are produced. One wooden hand loom was in use and it was remarkable how quickly fabric can be produced in this was. There were also two fairly elderly motorised machines. The one was used to load the small bobbins with thread. The bobbin is carried inside the shuttle which performs the actual weaving as it oscillated across the weaving frame. The other machine was a power loom which was certainly quicker than the hand loom, but much noisier.

Near the weaving factory, I looked at a rather rickety wooden road bridge which seemed to carry a lot of traffic. From the bridge, I had a good view of daily like along the river bank. I could also see numerous tiny pump-houses drawing up the brown river water with electric pumps and delivering it through exposed blue plastic pipes to various premises. Adjacent to the bridge was a tall wooden tower which appeared to be a public water supply. I presumed that a larger electric pump was drawing river water into a storage tank at the top of the tower, from which various discharge pipes could service water tankers to distribute the water. A large road tanker noisily moved away having filled-up and it was soon replaced by one of the smaller rather primitive-looking lorries powered by a noisy Chinese diesel engine, where the load space was completely occupied by a large, rectangular water tank.

The Loikaw Cultural Museum formed our next destination. This was another reinforced concrete structure in 'municipal' style but freshly-painted and with immaculate gardens. In Kayah State, nine different ethnic sub-groups are recognised and the museum featured the distinctive clothing used by each tribe. There's a little more about Kayah State and its ethicities in the Wikipedia article here and about the 135 ethnic groups recognised in Myanmar in the Wikipedia article here. I spent some time studying the interesting exhibits. In the 'Show Room of Kayah State Historical Record and Kayah Chief, I was particularly intrigued by a photograph of the ceremony erecting a tall wooden post which I learned was called a Kutopoe Pillar.

After lunch at a typical teashop, I was taken to the site where many white-painted Kutopoe pillars have been erected. I'd seen plenty of evidence of Buddhism and Christianity in Kayah State but Animism also exists and the Kutopoe Pillars form part of the Animist tradition. Then it was back to the hotel for a rest before setting off again at 4.30 p.m. to see one of the most famous feature in Loikaw - Taung Gwe Zedi.

Near the centre of Loikaw, a rocky outcrop rears out of the plain, fractured and fissured leaving a number of pinnacles. In this unlikely location, a series of increasingly improbable pagodas have been erected, accessible from the ground by a number of twisting stairs, forming Taung Gwe Zedi. Some of the pagodas overhang the rock, cantilevered into space on concrete 'rafts' and the various pinnacles are interconnected by a bewildering series of bridges and stairways. A modern elevator (lift) provides easy and quick access to the main level but to explore other pinnacles involves going up and down some stairs, so I eventually elected to descend to ground level using the stairs, although this involved two very steep sections of straight steel stairs, like a ship's companion way. It was an excellent end to a fascinating day.

Back at Loikaw Lodge, I decided to have an evening meal and selected their Spaghetti Carbonara which was most enjoyable.

Related Posts on this Website

Next Report on this trip.
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My Pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures from may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the album listed:-
Loikaw, Kayah State.
Loikaw Market.
Loikaw Station.
Loikaw, Poa Pa Yone Monastery.
Loikaw Cultural Museum.
Loikaw, Kutopoe Pillars.
Loikaw Lodge.

[Links to pictures added 24-May-2017]

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

On to Loikaw

In earlier posts in this series,I've described my visit to Mon State with Doctor Hla Tun, principally in connection with the educational support given to the Orphans and Vulnerable Children work. I've described my visit to Bagan Medical Clinic, as a donor very impressed by the work being carried out. I've also outlined the education support given to certain schools in the Bagan area. These three initiatives have evolved into a regular pattern.

But I also try to manage a 'side trip' which is pure sight-seeing, to learn more about this fascinating country. In 2017, I'm visiting Kayah State, the smallest state in Myanmar with the State Capital at Loikaw.


Events of Wednesday 3rd May 2017

Although there is a direct air service from Yangon to Loikaw, the flight times were not convenient (May is in 'low season' when not so many tourists visit Myanmar) so my travel agents suggested flying to Heho and driving by car to Loikaw. Thus, after a light breakfast, I left the Belmond Governor's Residence by taxi at 06:30 in order to be on Air KBZ Flight K7 200 at 08:00 from Yangon's new domestic terminal to Heho.

Departures is on the first floor so we exited via a smart new airbridge but then had to descend to apron level via open stairs and join a transfer bus which took us a couple of hundred yards to a waiting ATR-72-600 (I think). Although there are now a number of competing private airlines operating the internal services in Myanmar, almost all the work is done by the ATR72 Short Take off and Landing (STOL) turbo-prop of various types.

It was a busy time for departures. We were a few minutes late starting to taxi and then we had to queue for the runway. First to go was an unidentified 4-engine propellor aircraft, followed by a twin jet with winglets (probably a Boeing 737). Then an ATR72 belonging to a different airline took off. Finally, we were able to take off, banking hard right as we gained altitude to get the correct heading. I think the announcement said our en-route clearance was at 17,000 feet.

After a smooth landing at Heho, the passengers were allowed to walk to the terminal and present themselves to Immigration (we were now in Shan State). There were two sections - Myanmar residents presented their identity card whilst foreigners had their passport checked. This process was quick and friendly. Checked luggage had been laid out nearby and my luggage receipt was collected and matched against the bag tag before I took possession. I quickly spotted my lady guide by her sign - the agents had me as Mrs. Jam Ford but I thought that rather nice (there's a joke in there somewhere about "Jam Tomorrow") and, after exchanging greetings, we went outside to the car and driver.

We set off on our long journey (about 180 km) initially travelling broadly west towards Kalaw, climbing over a fierce mountain range with many twists and turns. I recognised the important town of Aung Ban which I'd passed through last year on my way from Kalaw to Heho (see post Around Kalaw). I enquired about the station and this time managed to do a quick photographic survey. Aung Ban station is the junction for the line to Loikaw and that line ran close to our onwards route in many places.

Before reaching Kalaw, we turned south onto Route 54 which ran along the line of the mountain range and gave some spectacular views. The soil is fertile and a wide range of vegetables are grown and exported. In some places, the hills have been terraced for rice growing. In other places Zucchini or courgettes are ground under bamboo frames. I'd seen this on my Thazi to Kalaw train trip last year (described here but not identified the crop.

I was amazed that most of the houses seemed to be modern and solidly-built - very few buildings retained woven bamboo panels and new housebuilding was everywhere.

Route 54 is one of the many major roads in Myanmar being improved and widened and there was frequent evidence of work in progress. On hilly sections, deep run-off channels were provided for rain water and retaining walls made of stones carefully mortared together were frequent. On one section, two men were delicately painting the mortaring white!

Unexpectedly, there was suddenly a large industrial plant ahead of us - the 'Dragon' Cement Works, owned by a Pa-O businessman, I was told.

We came to a fairly large town, Pin Laung, with an impressive pagoda. Despite the impressive exterior, there was only a tiny temple inside.

I'd seen ancient diesel engines driving electric generators in Bagan, where steel ferries were being built using electric arc welding. In Pin Laung, a parked lorry had one of these generator sets coughing away. I could see leads dangled off the back of the lorry but couldn't immediately see where they led, until I crossed the road. Two leads (which seemed to me very thin for electric welding) were laid across the tarmac, being run over by the frequent traffic. The leads passed into a trench where a welder was working on steel pipes, watched by his happy mates.

Having passed through the main part of the town, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch where I had a very acceptable steamed rice with fresh vegetables including tomato, cauliflower, carrots and beans, together with a potato and onion soup, all washed down with hot green tea and a slightly cool Coca Cola.

Beyond Pin Laung, the road turned east and descended to the plains. Ahead of us was a huge lake (Moebyel, I think) and we turned south again to run near the edge of the lake. At the town of Phe Khang there appeared to be numerous Catholic churches. One tall hill nearby was topped with a white-painted cross, I imagined in rebuke to a golden pagoda on the opposite side of the valley,

In the plains there were broad rice fields and some water buffalo but there were also farmers with mechanised cultivators. The area produces two rice crops each year.

Without ceremony, we passed a sign saying we had entered Kayah State. A little further on, another sign said we were now in Loikaw. There was a dual carriageway, large educational college, anonymous government buildings and at least two military camps. We turned off into the suburbs and made our way to my home for three days, Loikaw Lodge. Open only eight months, the styling is very modern with large rooms with a balcony overlooking a small lake. To my surprise, I found it all charming.

Related Posts on this Website

Next Post describing this trip.
All 2017 Burma Trip posts.

My Pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures from may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the album listed:-
Yangon - Heho by air.
Aung Ban Station.
Aung Ban - Loikaw by road.
Aung Ban to Loikaw railway.
Loikaw, Kayah State.
Loikaw Lodge.

[Links to pictures added: 24-May-2017]

Belmond Governor's Residence Hotel, Yangon

Events of Tuesday 2nd May 2017

I slept well in the luxurious surroundings of the Governor's Residence and took a simple breakfast in the open air on the Garden Terrace (there is the alternative of an 'inside' restaurant with air conditioning). I toyed with various ideas as to where I might go but I still felt very tired so, in fact, I spent the whole day in my room dealing with e-mails, amending or adding blog posts and uploading photographs to my 'Flickr' site which is linked in my blog posts. Even with the benefit of the fast internet connection, it became clear that I would not complete the work so I broke off for a pot of tea and a cheese sandwich (a very elaborate and superior cheese sandwich). After the break, I did more computer work but, having concluded that the alarm would need to be set for 5.45 a.m. on Wednesday, I stopped fair early and retired for the night.

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Next Post describing this trip.
All 2017 Trip posts.

My Pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures from may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the album listed:-
The Governor's Residence Hotel.

Visiting Schools in the Bagan Area

Events of Monday 1st May 2017

I'm afraid that, at present, this post is just a 'placeholder' until I have time to write up some of the details.

The Clinic was strangely quiet on Monday morning with all the patients departed. Dr. Hla Tun had decided that, before we returned to Yangon, we would visit three village schools in the area, distributing exercise books, pencils, erasers and plastic rulers.

I joined the monk who supervises the Clinic, Doctor Hla Tun and some of the Clinic staff in the monastery 'Hi-Ace' people carrier and we visited three remote villages. The format was generally similar to previous years so you could refer, for instance Visit to Bagan Schools, 2015. Although it was school holidays, most pupils were happy to attend school to receive the distribution. Only those with family commitments or long distances to travel were missing and we left sufficient materials to pass on to them.

Then it was back to the Clinic for a meal and a rest before the Doctor and I were driven to Nyaung Oo airport to catch evening flights back to Yangon. This time, rather than staying at Doctor Hla Tun's home, I was driven to the Belmond Governor's Residence Hotel. Eddie Teh had invited me to stay there and make use of the fast internet connection to allow me to upload some of the many pictures I'd taken since my arrival in Myanmar.

I'll add more as soon as I can.

Related Posts on this Website

Next Post describing this trip.
All 2017 Trip posts.

My Pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures from may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-
From Bagan Clinic to Htee Pu by road.
Distribution at Htee Pu (2017).
Distribution at Bagan School (2017-2).
Distribution at Bagan School (2017-3).
All my albums for Burma 2017.