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.

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 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.

Bagan Medical Clinic - Sunday

Events of Sunday 30th April 2017

At 7.30 a.m., I toured the clinic compound. It was noticeably quieter than the previous day. 150 patients had been registered. The Clinic is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week so registered patients must be seen before the Clinic closes on Sunday.

Around Bagan Clinic - Sunday: Patients waiting for Dr. Hla Tun to start consultations.

The clinic compound is situated on the raised East Bank of the Ayeyarwaddy. I decided to walk to the river's edge, and find the source of an incessant racket. I discovered an area of the sloping river margin, completely unfenced, was in use as an impromptu steel boat building yard. A floating steel hull was moored in the river with a part-built superstructure awaiting completion. On the bank, three smaller steel-framed boats were being constructed.

The Ayeyarwaddy at Bagan (2017): Three new steel boats under construction.

One boat builder was marking out a large sheet of steel into strips, using a long steel rule and chalk, presumably prior to dividing the sheet. Squatting, he held one end of the ruler with his left hand and the other end with the toes of his right foot, leaving his right hand free to mark the sheet.

The Ayeyarwaddy at Bagan (2017): A boatbuilder marking out a sheet of steel.

Another boatbuilder was welding the frames of the largest of the three boats on the bank using an electric arc welder. The source of the electric power was one of two ancient-looking diesel generators. The diesel engine ran in the customary noisy fashion, until the arc was struck when the engine seemed to stagger and almost stop. Once the arc was broken, the engine would recover. After fuelling the second diesel generator, a second welder started work, adding to the racket.

The Ayeyarwaddy at Bagan (2017): A boatbuilder welding the frames of the largest of the three boats on the bank.

A rather derelict paddle steamer has been moored nearby for years. I'm always drawn to it as it conjures-up visions of the 'Irrawaddy Flotilla', but I've still not discovered its history.

The Ayeyarwaddy at Bagan (2017): This rather derelict paddle steamer always conjures visions of the 'Irrawaddy Flotilla'.

I returned to the Clinic just after 9.00 a.m. and found Doctor Hla Tun (who'd worked until 3.00 a.m. Sunday morning) taking breakfast, before resuming consultations.

Around Bagan Clinic - Sunday (2017): Dr. Hla Tun takes breakfast, before resuming consultations. I sat in with the Doctor for a time.

Around Bagan Clinic - Sunday (2017): Mother and baby.

Around Bagan Clinic - Sunday (2017): An elderly patient.

Shortly after 11.00 a.m., the Head Monk appeared to supervise the distribution of the free lunches to patients and their companions.

Around Bagan Clinic - Sunday (2017): The Head Monk supervises the distribution of the free lunches.

I returned to sit-in with Dr. Hla Tun later. Many of the patients had a variety of mobility issues, often age-related.

Around Bagan Clinic - Sunday (2017): Dr. Hla Tun diagnosing mobility issues on a female patient.

Around Bagan Clinic - Sunday (2017): A female patient attended by two family members.

Work continued during the day on the construction of the Hospital Building. Joiners were using both hand and power tools.

Around Bagan Clinic - Sunday (2017): A joiner planing timber for the Hospital Building.

At 5.00 p.m., Doctor Hla Tun had a short break to take dinner. At that time, there were 24 patients left to be seen.

In the early evening, I returned to the riverbank to see what progress had been made by the boat builders. The men were still hard at work. Painters had transformed the hulls of the two boats nearer the river from bauxite brown to a gleaming white and a number of hull plates had been attached to the frames of the third boat. I watched as a plate was shaped to the frames, prior to welding.

The Ayeyarwaddy at Bagan (2017): A steel hull plate being shaped to the frames, prior to welding.

Once again, I retired early, leaving the Doctor and his team to complete their work.

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 album listed:-
Around Bagan Clinic - Sunday.
The Ayeyarwaddy at Bagan.
All my albums for Burma 2017. [Text and pictures added: 15-Aug-2017]

Bagan Medical Clinic - Saturday

Events of Saturday 29th April 2017

At Bagan Clinic on Saturday, in addition to dealing with 35 patients carried forward from Friday, a further 280 patients registered.

The clinic started consultations at around 8.00 a.m. when I took the picture below showing an enthusiastic group of patients waiting their turn to be seen by Dr. Hla Tun.

Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday: Enthusiastic patients waiting their turn to be seen by Dr. Hla Tun.

Next, I studied the building work in progress on the Hospital Building.

Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday: End view of Hospital Building under construction, showing main entrance.

Areas of exposed brickwork on the building have been turned into a 'Wishing Wall' by visitors and bricks carry handwritten messages of support for the projecy. "Health and Happiness" is a recurrent theme.

Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday: Part of the 'Wishing Wall' at the Hospital Building.

I carefully checked the building work in progress - shuttering being erected for reinforced concrete columns on the unfinished upper floor, a stream of lady labourers carrying sand and cement up the stairs for the required concrete.

Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday: Builder erecting shuttering for a column on the upper floor.

Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday: Lady labourers transporting sand and cement to the upper floor of the Hospital Building.

In the 2-storey building, the opthalmolgist was carrying out eye examinations.

Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday: The opthalmologist carrying out eye examinations.

About 11.30 a.m., the Abbott started the distribution of well over 300 free lunches to the patients and their companions.

Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday: The Abbott distributing free lunches to patients.

Throughout the day, the Dispensary Staff were kept busy making up and checking medication prescribed by the Doctors for patients.

Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday: Throughout the day, the Dispensary made up prescriptions for patients.

In the late afternoon, Doctor Hla Tun had a short break to show Geoffrey Cohn, a visiting opthalmic surgeon from Australia, around the 2-storey building. The surgeon is Honorary Medical Co-ordinator for a number of overseas projects, including the Myanmar Eye Care Project.

Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday: Visiting Opthalmic Surgeon Geoffrey Cohn and local staff, photographed on the roof of the 2-storey building, with the River Ayeyarwaddy in the background.

By 11.0 p.m., I was totally exhausted and retired to bed, but Doctor Hla Tun and his dedicated band of assistants were working until 3.00 a.m. Sunday morning.

Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday: It's late evening, but Dr. Hla Tun continues his consultations.

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 may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-
Around Bagan Clinic - Saturday.
All my Burma 2017 Albums.