Entry into Thailand and Burma

Dear All!

Here`s some good news! Starting from 1. July Thailand has eased the regulations for tourists who want to enter the country. Starting from 1. July the Thai Pass is obsolete, a certificate of  vaccination will do. Myanmar, too, has eased the regulations: It is no more necessary to bring a negative test result not older than 3 days. However, you still have to buy an insurance on arrival. Hopefully, this will be scrapped soon! 

See you in Burma

Axel Bruns and his team



The recent situation in Burma/Myanmar

Dear readers, here is another article on the situation in Myanmar/Burma. It is concerned with the extent to which the policies of the National Unity Government (NUG) 
have been successful. Or not. FRONTIER MYANMAR is a Yangon-based newspaper critical of the military regime. A while back, her US editor-in-chief, Danny Fenster,
made headlines after being arrested in May 2021 while attempting to leave the country. In November 2021, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his work for
the now banned newspaper Myanmar Now! was convicted. Four days later he was deported to his home country.
More HERE: https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/is-the-nug-ready-for-the-world-stage/

Another opinion …

Hi friends, here are two interesting articles on the civil war in Myanmar that shed another light on the conflict: file:///C:/Users/User/Desktop/Economist%20PDF.pdf AND https://www.economist.com/asia/2022/05/19/burmese-civilians-are-caught-between-the-junta-and-the-resistance. Frankly, I always had a problem to believe the ‘democratic’ media when they wrote that in a clash between the army and rebels more than 40 soldiers died, while one rebel was wounded … 

More good news!

Hi friends,

and here’s even more good news from Myanmar: several airlines will resume their services to Myanmar next month! And it’s not propaganda: I’m going to BKK next week with Thai Smile! I sincerely hope that the prices will be back to normal soon. At the moment, they’re a bit steep … 


Good news from Burma/Myanmar!!

Dear friends.

in the last three years we have only heard bad news from beautiful Burma: Covid epidemic, military coup, thousands of victims … Sad story! But now the tide is turning! The government has decided  to issue tourist visas starting from 15. May!! At the time being there are only a few (and expensive!) flights to Myanmar but I’m sure that’s going to change in the near future. Pls. check the ministry’s website: https://evisa.moip.gov.mm!

Now you might ask yourself: Is it safe to visit Myanmar? I’d say: YES! At least the most important tourist destinations like Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle  are safe from my point of view. However, Kayah State, parts of Shan State, Chin State Kachin State and Sagaing region should not be considered for a visit. And don’t forget to come to beautiful Pyin Oo Lwin, my adopted home town since three years. I will invite you for a tea at my home and give you an unforgettable tour of this fascinating town! Please let us know, if we can help you with your trip to Myanmar.

So, see you in Myanmar!

Axel Bruns & his team   

My new website

Hello from Burma,

A few months ago my new website www.oldburmahand.com went online. There you can find plenty of information about Myanmar/Burma. It goes way beyond what you can find in guidebooks etc. Owing to the fact that I’ve been living here for 25 years and my marriage to a local lady I’ve gained an insight into the life of the Burmese that only a few foreigners have. Though most of the articles are in German I’m steadily working on translating them into English! Enjoy reading!

Axel Bruns

Myanmar – Change in a Society of Shortages

The all-purpose engine – a banger near Pindaya

Until this very day Myanmar is a poor country. But need is the mother of invention! Ever since I came here for the first time more than forty years ago, I have admired her people’s talent for improvisation. Take those rattling engines (Made in China), which delight our hearts and ears – not only at Inle Lake. They are not boat engines, but general-purpose ones. Of course there are boats with modern engines on the lake. Indevi company e. g. offers boats on which guests can even chat! However, they are four times as expensive as the usual bangers. Not everyone can or wants to spend that much. But the use of these stinking air polluters is by no means limited to boats. They offer almost unlimited options: they drive rice mills and pumps as well as those ubiquitous transport vehicles cobbled together by local workshops (see picture) that can be seen in the countryside. The variations are almost as unlimited as the amount of hazardous substances they’re emitting …

Mazda-600 taxis in Yangon
1940’s buses on the road

But there have always been ‘real’ cars in the country, too. In addition to rickety road cruisers there were a few English Morris Minors and Japanese Mazda – Made in Burma! With no less than 360 or even 600 cc displacement. But without a rotary engine, of course. The huge majority of them sported a sky blue varnish (hence the name blue cap!) and resembled the East German Trabant pickup (Trabbi). The Burmese called them lay bein (four wheels), because there were three wheelers, too. The latter resembled the 1950’s Borgward Goliath, made in Germany. The lack of two-wheelers was striking. As we heard later, they were banned in Yangon! The buses were sensational: Bedfords and Chevrolets from the 1940s! Converted military trucks from Canada with wooden bodies! The destinations could not be read, as everything was written in pretzel script. And people were sitting in those bangers as if it was the most common thing to do in this world. Until then, I would have considered those buses more of a fairground attraction.

A gate made of marston mats in front of a shop in Pyin Oo Lwin
PVC-pipe shop – a designer’s dream come true
Children in a stainless steel workshop in Pyin Oo Lwin

I have divided the development of the last forty years in Myanmar into three phases:

1. The Marston mat phase
2. The PVC pipe phase and
3. The stainless steel phase

For me, these materials have become icons of their style epoch.

A fence made of marston mats in Anawrahta Str., Yangon

A Marston mat is a device for recovering stuck vehicles and for building runways at field airports or short stretches of road, especially on bridges. These are thick perforated plates made of sheet metal, about 2 m long and 60 cm wide and 3 to 5 mm thick. They can be interlocked with each other on the long side. Placed on a flat surface made of sand, earth or the like, a large area can be made available for use by aircraft and heavy equipment within a short time. So far so good. But that does not explain their omnipresence in this country. They were to be seen on every corner and used for all sorts of purposes.

Mostly for fences. But garden benches, doors and other utensils were also made from it. Outside of Burma they are relatively rare and so I always wondered where on earth they all come from. At first, I thought they might be leftovers from the war, but that seemed increasingly unlikely given their huge numbers and good condition. Moreover, it is an item that is rarely seen in the hands of private individuals. I tend to associate them with the military. To this day I haven’t been able to find out where all these things are coming from.

Screens made of PVC-pipe and cellophane in a restaurant
Arbour made of PVC-pipe in a Hindu temple (detail)
Flower bowls made of PVC-pipe in the temple

Marston mats were ousted from their top spot with the rise of the No. 2 style icon: the light blue PVC pipes. Those, I believe, are imported from China. I happen to know them from my career in the plumbing industry, where we used them mostly for drain pipes. But they were always grey in order to make them as invisible as possible. But maybe the Chinese are proud of them and want to show them off? They are mainly used for water pipes (both inflow and outflow). Which is not a problem in this country because the water pressure in Myanmar is low and most of the pipes work according to the principle of connecting tubes. In developed countries these contraptions would simply fall apart at the glue joints due to the water pressure. For the operation of washing machines etc. you’d have to install a pump in this country.

In addition, they can be used in a variety of ways. In the wake of the Corona crisis you will find them often as part of a protective shield. You go to a restaurant for a romantic dinner with your wife, with whom you live day and night. There the ‘screen’ made of PVC pipe and cellophane foil is placed in the middle of the table. However, you can sit next to each other, then you don’t need a partition!

Moreover, PVC pipes offer undreamt-of possibilities: as a table frame, as a clothes line, as a picture frame – to name just three. The imagination knows no limits. I’ve even seen them used as pillars for building huts. Probably cheaper than bamboo! And more durable. For me the most beautiful use was found in a Hindu temple in Pyin Oo Lwin. The entire garden decoration was made from this material. Incredible and beautiful at the same time (photo). Old car tires were also used there as flower stands.

Modern age meets the past: a stainless steel workshop proudly shows its products in front of a fence made of marston mats
Stainless steel from China is the latest hit! This stuff is unbeatably cheap: a 6 m long pipe with a a one inch diameter costs five dollars. Presumably the Chinese have exhausted their quotas in their overseas export markets and are now dumping the stuff on the Burmese market. Since labor costs are also low, you can make the most amazing things out of it. It also glitters a lot nicer than the PVC pipes mentioned above – and they’re more stable too. Railings and beds are often built from them, as well as tarpaulin frames for pickups, but also prayer chairs (see photo). Basically there is hardly anything that cannot be built with it … I had a pool heating system built out of it: 40 meters of ½ inch pipe with 20 windings cost me 70 dollars. And I probably paid way too much … Now everyone might ask: Why don’t they use wood? Doesn’t teak wood originate in Myanmar? The answer is simple: wood is much more expensive than stainless steel!
The latest rage – a prayer chair made of stainless steel
Sink unit at Pyin Oo Lwin station combines stainless steel, PVC-pipe and perforated L-steel sheets
A signal giver made of rails at Pyin Oo Lwin station

Burmese Railways (Myanmar Meeyahta) is also very creative in this regard. In front of Pyin Oo Lwin’s (Maymyo) station stands a complete large stage (picture) built from railway tracks and Marston mats. On the platform, a short section of rail serves as a signal giver. When the train comes, someone hits it with an iron rod – you can’t miss it! The charging station for cell phones is made of the proven stainless steel pipe, as is the wash basin set up to fight the corona epidemic.

A festival stage made of rails and marston mats in front of Pyin Oo Lwin station

A surprising discovery in Maymyo

A surprising discovery in Maymyo

Since I moved to Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin) a year ago, I have been fascinated by the religious diversity in this town: Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians of all shades have built their houses of prayer here. Not to forget the animists. After all, Pyin Ool Lwin ist the home of the famous Nat Ko Myo Shin. The Lord of the nine cities. I cannot imagine that there is such diversity anywhere else in Myanmar.

But even here there are always new surprises. During one of my excursions in the vicinity I came across the Gumba Temple. Designated as a Buddhist temple on Google Maps. I was expecting a Chinese temple or a Burmese monastery. And what did I find? A Tibetan temple! A Mahayana Buddhist place of worship, in which the Tibetan version of Mahayana is cultivated. Tibetans in Myanmar? Well, this country certainly has a colorful mix of people, so nothing surprises you so easily. But it is not Tibetans who run this temple. It is run by Tamang people. They come from Nepal, where they now make up around 6% of the population (around 1.5 million). They are one of the largest groups of highland peoples in the country.

Little is known about their history, but they are certainly among the earliest peoples who have migrated from the Tibetan plateau into what is now called Nepal. That happened probably more than three thousand years ago. The Tamang have their own cultural traditions and language (Tibetan-Burmese language family) as well as an alphabet that is derived from the Tibetan alphabet. 90% of the Tamang people are attached to Tibetan Buddhism. Their calendar is based on the Chinese one with its twelve-year cycle. Like other hill tribes in the country, they are reduced to a subordinate role in Nepal. Most of them are farmers in the mountains others working in the trekking business. If a porter identifies himself as Sherpa, he might actually be a Tamang. Others joined the British army and came to Burma as soldiers. That means, not every Gurkha belongs to the people of the same name and is a Hindu. He might be a member of another of the numerous tribes of Nepal! Such as the Tamang! In Myanmar, there are about 350 Tamang households, almost half them in Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin). Oddly enough, the Tamang sometimes call their temple ‘Gurkha temple’ themselves, adding to confusion. Even though the Gurkhas are definitely Hindus, not Buddhists …

The temple/ monastery is located in the north of Pyin Oo Lwin. It is the largest of its kind in the country. There are other, smaller ones, e.g. in Myitkyina and Yangon. The one in Pyin Oo Lwin was founded by a Tamang guru named Sri Nathung who came to British Burma in 1933. The monastery was built two years later and today it has grown into an impressive complex. The original wooden building still exists but is no more in use. It was replaced by a brick building. The formerly humble temple now looks quite impressive. Ven. Yang Lama, the monastery’s abbot, told me that he is planning to surround the temple with 108 prayer wheels. There are currently five monks and one novice living in the monastery. The faithful travel from all over the country to the great festivals. To the right of the temple are a number of chortens (Tibetan stupas) with prayer flags.

The temple's courtyard
Shrine of Sri Nathung w. planetary posts
Tamang horoscope
Main shrine entrance
Main Shrine w. Tibetan gods

Happy Thingyan!

Thingyan 2020 will definitely be remembered for a long time to come. For some (especially the elderly) it must have come as a blessing in disguise. No blaring music, no drunkards in the street. But it certainly was a big disappointment for the youngsters. And for those who make a lot of money with grand-stands and trucks during the festival. Musicians and dancers also suffered. However, I wish all of you a happy new year 1382 Burmese Era. The thekari’ era has been used widely in South East Asia, but nowadays Myanmar seems to be the only country where it still holds some significance. It is used to mark traditional festivals. Some of you might have wondered why the festival dates in Myanmar are constantly shifting. One year Thadingyut is in October, the next year in September. New Year, however, is always on 17. April. The reason for this is that the Burmese are using a lunisolar calendar. The months follow the moon calendar, but the years follow the solar calendar. Therefore, a leap month (called 2nd Waso) has to be added regularly.

So, what exactly happens on Thingyan? The Burmese word is a corruption of the Sanskrit word Sankranti, which means transition. On this day (approximately) the sun enters the house of Aries. As you all know, the festival starts on 13. April. Not too long ago, the Thingyan holidays might have lasted for ten days. Nowadays it has been shortened in order to adapt to modern times. But don’t worry: the ‘missing’ days will be added to other festivals.

On 17. April Thagyarmin (Sakka), the king of gods and ruler of Tavatimsa comes down from his heavenly abode in a beautiful chariot. It is driven by Matali, who carries two books. One with a golden cover, the other one with a cover made of dog leather. One contains the good deeds of the believers, the other the evil ones. You may guess which book is for which deeds. Then Thagyarmin will reward those who behaved well and punish those who didn’t. The photo shows the entrance of a ruined temple in Indein (Inle Lake). On the left hand side you can see Matali writing something in his book. On the right hand side you can see Thagyarmin with a vase holding the nectar of immortality (amrita, ambrosia). You can see his statue on the platform of Shwedagon pagoda at the planetary posts, too. He’s the one standing behind the Buddha statue holding a conch in his hands. From this conch he’s pouring the nectar of immortality over the Buddha statue.

Of course, there are various legends regarding the water festival. One of them tells the story of the Red Brahma (Athi). He made a bet with Thagyarmin, claiming that the week has eight days. The winner would have to chop off the loser’s head. From the Burmese point of view he was right. But that didn’t help him. So, Thagayarmin reluctantly severed his opponent’s head. But in order not to kill him, he sent out a sage and told him to bring the head of the first creature he encountered. This happened to be a golden elephant. Since then he is known under the name of Maha Peinne (great delight). Because a human saved his life, he’s fond of them. He is identical with the Hindu god Ganesh. The Burmese regard him as a nat. (see photo of Maha Peinne statue from Mt. Popa’s nat shrine). However, that didn’t solve another, even bigger problem. Athi’s severed head was so hot, that it would have burnt the earth if it touched her. So Thagyarmin gave it to seven goddesses for safekeeping and they take turns in handing it over to the next one, which happens exactly on Thingyan. In order to cool the head during this process they are splashing it with water as much as possible. Originally, the purpose of spilling water might have been the ablution of sins that have been committed in the old year. Another reason might have been the prayer for rain in the upcoming agricultural season. Very often, the first rainfall after the hot season (thingyan rain) coincides with the water festival.

Another legend is based on Thagyarmin’s promise to the Buddha Gautama to take care of mankind. Especially in the second half of the 5.000 years that the Enlightened One’s doctrine would last. This time span was granted on Thagyarmin’s special request. Originally, it would have lasted only 2.500 years. Therefore, he comes down to earth every year during the water festival for a check. Apart from that, he will only come if his throne heats up. This indicates that something went wrong in the human abode. Looking at the world today, I really wonder if he has any time left to spend on his throne at all… According to Buddhist teaching, humanity came down from the upper echelons (bhumi) of Mt. Meru after the destruction of the last world. In the beginning they were ethereal beings, free from the three inauspicious roots (akasamulas), i. e. greed, wrath and ignorance (lobha, dosa, moha). All their needs were gratified by the padetha pin (Sanskrit: kalpavriksha, wishing tree) that was located on the northern continent (Uttarakuru). (see photo from Pawon temple, Java, 8. Century A.D.) We may assume that it left nothing to be desired as it was 15 yuzanas (about 300 km) wide. However, there was one condition: it was not allowed to take more from the tree than one needed. But humanity was overcome by greed (lobha) and started hoarding the fruits of the tree. As could be expected, conflicts ensued and fighting (dosa) erupted. The tree withered away. Then the ethereal beings ate from the sweet soil and became physical. Consequently, they lost their luminous power and became afraid of the dark. Out of pity, Thagayarmin asked the gods of the sun, the moon and the constellations to make themselves visible to humanity. Since then they light up day and night. (Please note the similarity with Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise).

But the wishing trees are not gone for good! Every year they pop up at the festival of Kathein in the lunar month of Tazaungmon (October/November). Then pyramidal wooden structures (padetha pin) can be seen everywhere in the country. The believers decorate them with presents for the monastery. Originally, only monk robes were donated but nowadays all kinds of goods can be seen. Thus, even poor people have a chance to gain merit by hanging a little item on that tree. Even money is donated, even though that is contradictory to the monastic rules, as monks are not allowed to touch it. When the ‘tree’ is full it is brought to the monastery with a lot of ballyhoo! Other activities comprise weaving contests that are held especially on the full moon night of Tazaungmon. Women from various villages compete with one another to be the first to finish a monk’s robe.

A pot made of platinum

A pot made of platinum

Before I moved to Maymyo, I sometimes treated myself to a buffet dinner at Sule Shangri-La. There I always chose a table at the window so that I had a view of the old Dagon Hotel (formerly called Orient Hotel). It was located right next to the brick building that still houses the Myanmar Bible Society today. And why? Pure nostalgia! I used to stay there during my visits to Yangon when I couldn’t afford a better place. The hotel was located on the second and third floor of the building. It was one of seven in town that were open to foreigners. The ‘rooms’ were partitions made of plywood, furnished with a bunk bed, a small table and a chair. But I guess for five dollars you couldn’t expect much more. There was also a deluxe room. For a long time it was unaffordable for me. The bathrooms (one per floor) were in the hallway, as were the toilets. That was the case with most of the rooms in the Strand Hotel at that time, too. Where the Sule Shangri La stands today, there were many beautiful old houses. There was a cinema and the ‘People’s Patisserie’. With a bit of luck you could get the ‘Working People’s Daily’ there.

Then I kept thinking about a story that happened on a beautiful December day in 1980. I had finished my midday nap, had a shower and had descended the steep stairs unscathed. As well as the meeting place of Rangoon’s drunkards on the first floor. Downstairs in the bakery I had enjoyed a fancy cake and a cup of tea. I was heading towards Sule Pagoda to meet my Tamil friend Victor, a reliable black market money changer. To cover up his illegal business he did a little window dressing, selling spectacles. His business was located near the famous Diplomatic Store (nowadays: Sule Plaza), a forbidden paradise for the ordinary Burmese. I had just crossed Anawrahta Street, when a well-groomed Burmese man in his early 30s approached me. He was wearing a green longyi, a blossom-white shirt and the usual slippers. The inevitable Shan shoulder bag hung over his shoulder. After a rather flowery and long-winded introduction in excellent English, during which he looked around nervously, the man finally came to the point. He told me that he was the son of a rich family. Due to the mismanagement of the socialist government they had become completely impoverished. Everything had been taken away from them, even the bicycle. It was only through an ingenious trick that the greatest family treasure could be saved: a bar of platinum! They had melted it down and turned into a vulgar cooking pot – but a rather special one! To camouflage it, they had blackened it. And what the man secretively pulled out of his shoulder bag, really looked like an ordinary cooking pot. It was amazingly heavy. Among all the people in the busy street he chose me, the shaggy hippie with the fuzzy beard and striped shirt as prospective buyer. He told me that the value of the pot was more than twenty thousand US dollars. However, due to the extraordinary circumstances he would sell it to me for a mere five thousand! What a bargain! And what did I, the narrow-minded traveller who was in Rangoon for the sixth time in his life, say? ‘A platinum cooking pot – that’s really the biggest nonsense I’ve heard in my life.’ And might have missed the deal of a lifetime! I laughed at him and parted with the man.

But I should have known better! Hadn’t the Bodhisatta* himself, the later Buddha Gotama, traded a very similar pot (made of gold) for worthless junk and a few copper coins? At least this is what the Serivanijan-Jataka** tells us. The story can be found at Ananda monastery in Bagan. And I even had been to that place! But, of course, I didn’t understand the meaning of the murals then. Here is the story: once the Bodhisatta was incarnated as a dealer in pots and pans in the city of Serivan. Together with a colleague he roamed the villages in the area and sold his goods there. When the two of them arrived in one of the typical one-street villages, they split up. One of them worked the houses on the right side of the street, the other one the left side. Then they had a cup of tea together on the roadside. Afterwards both of them worked the other side of the road.

So it happened that the Bodhisatta’s colleague, a greedy fellow, on his tour passed a poor house where an old woman lived with her daughter. Both had been rich in the past but had lost everything due to unfortunate circumstances and lived in poverty. Only an old, dented, soot-blackened cooking pot had remained from their former life – and it had become quite perforated, so that no food could be prepared in it. When the pot dealer came by, the old woman invited him in and showed him the pot with the request to exchange it for a new one. ‘An old pot for a new one? Why should I do that?’ he asked. The old woman began to cry and so he stooped himself to take a closer look at the pot. He scratched the bottom of the pot and turned pale – the pot was made of pure gold! But he didn’t let on about it and said to the woman: ‘All right, I’ll exchange the pot for a new, smaller one, but you have to give me three more copper pieces!’ – ‘Lord, we have no money at all! Be merciful, take the pot and give us a new one – we haven’t eaten something warm for three days now!’- ‘It’s only three copper pieces! You can borrow them from your neighbors! I’ll be back after a while. Get the money in the meantime!’ was the harsh reply. And off he went – of course with the firm intention to take the golden pot with him later. The two women stayed behind crying. But the deceitful merchant had reckoned without his host. Not much later the Bodhisatta passed the house of the women. They poured out their troubles to him and out of pity he also had a look at the pot. He scratched the bottom and came to the same conclusion as his colleague: the pot was made of pure gold! ‘My dear lady’, said he, ‘this pot is made of pure gold! It is worth far more than all the goods plus the cash I have on me. I’d be a swindler if I agree to this barter!’. ‘Sir, have mercy, please!’ pleaded the old woman and after much back and forth the Bodhisatta changed his mind. He handed over all his wares and all his cash to the women. They gladly allowed him to keep some money for the ferry ride across the river. He took the pot and went home without waiting for his colleague. It did not take long before the greedy man came to the women’s house and asked: ‘Well, did you manage to get the money?’ – ‘You rascal!’ screamed the old woman! ‘Your honest colleague was here and told us the truth! Get out of here before I chase you out with my broom!’ Furious, the swindler threw his goods and all his money on the floor and stormed away to confront his colleague. When he reached the river, he saw the Bodhisatta midstream on the ferry! He screamed and shouted his name obsessively and summoned him to come back. But his colleague ignored him. The evil man’s heart ‘became hot, blood rushed out of his mouth and his heart broke like the clay on the bottom of a dried-up pond…’ Only in passing, it should be mentioned that the crook was later incarnated as the archenemy of the Enlightened One, Devadatta. Out of greed he tried to assassinate the Buddha several times and failed. Consequently, he descended to hell. If I would have known this story then, I’d probably be a rich man today. But to be honest, I didn’t have five thousand dollars on me then either…

*Bodhisatta (Pali, Bodhisattva/Sanskrit) means ‘enlightenment being’ on the path to Buddhahood. They can take the form of humans or animals. Usually, they have made a resolution to become a Buddha and have received a prediction or confirmation from a living Buddha that this will be the case.

**Jataka (lit. birth stories) are the canonical stories of the previous existences of the historical Buddha. In these existences he is called Bodhisatta (Pali, see above). Traditionally there are 547 canonical existences. Some jatakas are rather short, others of epic breadth. The first is the Apannaka –jataka. It tells the story of two traders who travel in the desert. The first one meets a miserable death while the second one (the Bodhisatta) arrives safely at his destination – thanks to his wisdom. The last jataka (No. 547) tells the story of king Vessantara, who gives up all his possessions (including his wife and his children). He acquires so much merit that he is consequently reincarnated as Gotama (Sanskrit: Gautama), the historical Buddha. That doesn’t mean, however, that this number embraces all the previous existences of Gotama. There may have been countless others. According to the Burmese tradition there are three additional ones, bringing the total to 550. One of them is the hermit Sumedha. His image can be seen in many temples.