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Big Sur - Hiking Andrew Molera State Park

One of the great delights of living in the Bay Area is the proximity to the natural beauty of California and it's hard to beat the stunning drive down Highway One to Big Sur. This is certainly one of the iconic American road trips, but for me the joy of being in the area is getting out of your car and hitting a trail, so you can be "in" the landscape rather than just looking at it from the asphalt. 

The Imperial Capital of Ava - Burma


The old imperial capital of Ava, or Inwa, is a trip from Mandalay and it is often visited in combination with the U Bein Bridge, Amarapura and the Buddhist center of Saipaing. It's all a somewhat formulaic day trip and you are right on the beaten path but Mr. Win (our guide below) timed it so we weren't in the main stampede, though we saw a lot of parked tour buses. 
You take a boat over the river and then get on a horse cart to see the main sites including temples and the ruins of an old palace complex.
It wasn't a bad day out it just felt like tourism by rote. My favorite part was a ruined temple at the beginning and the daily life we saw in in the villages we passed. 
There was a classroom of young boys being taught be a very bored looking Buddhist mont at this wooden temple. I didn't want to intrude on the class so I didn't take any photos, perhaps someone should have suggested that to the other tourists who were there!
There was some beautifully  carved wooden decoration inside along with a notice forbidding women from certain areas.
I particularly liked this carved peacock.


There are a series of different temples in a variety of styles from different time periods.
Here you can see the Irawaddy in the background and a royal tomb in the foreground.
Some of the decorations was reminiscent of what we had seen in Sri Lanka, though not as finely wrought.
Tip: We had a guide but I'm not sure  that it added to our experience. In fact unless you know you'll have a fabulous guide, I'd be more inclined to do the whole thing with just a taxi driver. 
To be Avoided: Photos of the young monks heading out with their bowls to collect alms look very picturesque, but I highly recommend you avoid the ghastly photo op at Mehagandayon Monastery  where hundreds of tourism gather around the monks. On Tripadvisor the debate seems to be whether this is "intrusive" or not, with many proclaiming they felt it was an extraordinary experience. It all seems to miss the point, who wants to be in a large crowd of foreigners observing the "natives", for me this place was everything that's wrong about tourism in Burma and we left on arrival. Seeing the nuns gathering alms in the markets of Mandalay, singing as they went was quite fascinating but looking at a row of young monks through busloads of tour groups hold no magic. Even if the locals don't find it intrusive it isn't somewhere I'd want to be. 

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