Saving Thailand's Elephants - Thailand and Myanmar with Jennie of the Jungle Part 2

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Myanmar! Also known as Burma. I'd been wanting to visit this country for a long time, and it all started with a photo. I saw a beautiful photo of Bagan at sunrise, showing temples upon temples in front of layers of pinkish, glowing trees. Hot air balloons floated over the scene. I had to see this place. And it truly lived up to the dream!

After spending a week in the jungles of Chiang Mai, Thailand at our elephant rescue project, my volunteers and I flew to Myanmar for our one-week tour of the country. We would see Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake, and Yangon. I had no idea what to expect, as there isn't a whole lot of information about this country. Myanmar just opened up to tourism about twelve years ago after being fraught with internal struggle and war. They didn't even have cars in Bagan until five years ago! Despite the warnings about the dangers of tourism in a country strife with war for so many years, I found it to be one of the most welcoming, peaceful, and safe countries I've ever visited.

We flew into Mandalay in the evening, and unfortunately didn't get much time there. We toured a large, popular temple at night, lit up and sparkling, with our guide and then hit the hotel for our early flight to Bagan the next day. I was so excited to see Bagan, the city from the photo, and could barely sleep that night.

When we arrived in Bagan, it was much different than Mandalay. Mandalay is the capital of Myanmar, large, trafficky, and noisy. Bagan is an old city - small, quaint, historic. No urban shopping centers, skyscrapers, or much of any construction. Most of the structures are old temples from 1000-1100 A.D. And how beautiful they are! Some are ruins and some are still in use. My favorite part of Bagan was old town, where the dream-photo was taken. It's a square-shaped area full of ancient pagodas. Some of the temples you can tour without crowds. Those were my favorite ones. The larger, newer temples are more popular, with locals continuing to worship there. Giant Buddha statues abound. The temple ruins were so peaceful and beautiful. The birding around them was amazing. We saw bee-eaters and rollers. Both new birds for me!

Standing in front of the wall to Old Bagan

Temple ruins in Old Bagan

One of my favorite temples in Old Bagan

The monthly local market. This is where locals get all of their household items and foodstuffs.

Jennie of the Jungle volunteer crew at a temple in Old Bagan
Our guide, Jo, looking at the scenery

The next day I surprised my volunteers with a hot air balloon ride for all of us! We got up before dawn and watched the sun rise from hundreds of feet above the city. Temple spires moved past us, and everything was lush and green below. What a beautiful scene. Upon landing, we toasted with a glass of champagne and fruit for breakfast by a riverbank. I thought that was the highlight of my day, until our guide took us to one of the best sunset spots. Playful, annoyingly cute children tried to sell us wares and watched the sun set with us. Layers of temples and mountains turned fiery orange and yellow, and I reflected on what a fantastic and successful volunteer trip this was. It was one of those perfect moments where everything feels magical and right with the world. I never wanted that feeling to end.

Sunset in Bagan

My wonderful volunteers enjoying the peaceful dusk

Temple view from the balloon


We're flyin' high!

Our next destination was Inle Lake. We drove for a few hours after arriving at the airport and then took an hour-long boat ride to our hotel on the water. We passed traditional Burmese fishermen on one stilted leg hanging off the side of their fishing boats. The lake is surrounded by mountains, and flocks of gulls follow your boat and fly right above your head. During our time there, we toured temples standing right on the water, trekked through small villages at Pindaya, met lots of lovely locals, and saw a stork nesting site especially chosen by our guide for our group. The trekking was one of my favorite parts. Our guide knew many villagers, and we stopped at their dwellings for tea and to see how they made a living. Usually drying out tea leaves or making potato chips to sell in the villages. The homemade potato chips were delicious! We hiked through hills and were greeted in the nicest of manners. Children ran and played and farm animals peacefully munched on vegetation. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful experience.

Trekking with a guide in Pindaya

Local villagers

Woman drying tea leaves


Traditional fisherman on Inle Lake

The JOJ crew and our cute guide, Mae Sue

Our final destination in Myanmar was Yangon, a bustling city and a huge contrast with the previous places we had visited. I felt a big crowded as we toured the country's most famous temple, Schwedegon Pagoda, made of huge amounts of gold. Monks and tourists mix in the epicenter of the city. The sunset behind the gold pagodas did make for some stunning photos.

After a week in Myanmar, my volunteers and I said our goodbyes and returned to our homes in the States. Another JOJ volunteer trip done, and one step closer to saving the world.


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