Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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Sunset at Shwedagon Pagoda. As the sun dips, this most famous of Buddhist sites in Yangon, Myanmar, begins to glow as if illuminated from within.

Click on title to view photo in large format: Sunset at Shwedagon Pagoda. As the sun dips, this most famous of Buddhist sites in Yangon, Myanmar, begins to glow as if illuminated from within. The 325-foot high pagoda is said to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas. It sits on a base of gold bricks and is entirely covered with gold plates. Additionally, the crown is studded with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies, including Read More

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Chilies and spices of all kinds are sold at the Dala market, a small village across the river from downtown Yangon, Myanmar

Click on title to view photo in large format: Chilies and spices of all kinds are sold at the Dala market, located across the river from downtown Yangon, Myanmar. The village of Dala is accessed by a pair of ferries that run continuously throughout the day, with the trip taking about 15 minutes. Upon arrival, any of the dozens of rickshaw drivers Read More

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All manner of goods carried on the head are sold to passengers of the ferry that continually crosses between Yangon and the small village of Dala in Myanmar

Click on title to view photo in large format: All manner of goods carried on the head are sold to passengers of the ferry that continually crosses between Yangon and the small village of Dala in Myanmar. In addition to this watermelon, I saw vendors with giant stacks of oranges, baskets of steamed pigeon eggs, trays of candy and cigarettes, and much much more, all of which were balanced on their heads. Read More

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Our guide, Mu Mu, wrinkled up her nose when she learned I planned to take the Circular Train in Yangon. “It is not very comfortable,” she said. “Hard to go to the bathroom and takes a long time.” It sounded perfect to me.

Later that morning, I traipsed through the mud to a dilapidated ticket window in a dingy train station where chickens roamed, only to discover I was on the wrong side of the tracks. By the time I had located the correct platform, the train whistle was blowing, so I hastily paid my 20 cents and ran for the carriages. With no pass-through available between cars, I checked for an available seat before climbing aboard. I finally found one in the fourth carriage and settled into the hard wooden bench just as we jolted out of the station.

Huge bags are loaded onto the Circular Train at Yangon Central Station

Huge bags are loaded onto the Circular Train at Yangon Central Station

Now it was my turn to wrinkle up my nose; the stench that permeated the car was equal parts stinky feet, stale urine, and sewage. The breeze through the open windows did nothing to reduce it, and I realized the smell emanated from the surrounding land, where squatters had constructed shacks of woven bamboo and corrugated tin sheets. Lacking sanitation facilities or city services, land along the tracks was serving as both toilet and dump. The poverty that unfolded as we rolled lazily along was pervasive but not startling. Myanmar emerged from an oppressive military dictatorship in 2010 and economic sanctions are still being imposed by some countries, including the United States. Though conditions are improving rapidly, the majority of the population still lives below the poverty level, earning on average only $100 to $300 per month. Read More

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Men in Yangon, Myanmar break for tea and checkers every afternoon, squatting on low plastic stools that are set out on the streets

Click on title to view photo in large format: Afternoon break for tea and Checkers in Myanmar. Squatting on low plastic stools that are set out on the streets around Scott Market in Yangon, these men seemed oblivious to the cars and motorcycles that sped by with only inches to spare. The game is played Read More

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Unloading charcoal to be sold at the market in Dala, a small village across the river from downtown Yangon, Myanmar

Click on title to view photo in large format: Unloading charcoal to be sold at the market in Dala, a small village across the river from downtown Yangon, Myanmar. In an attempt to slow down deforestation, the production of charcoal has been restricted in some regions of the country. Charcoal use in the cities is decreasing, as the new democratic government has made great strides to production and access to electricity. However, Read More