Day 5 (1/3).
Leaving Shitetoko behind, we drove southwest towards another natural marvel of Eastern Hokkaido, the Akan Mashu National Park (阿寒摩周国立公園). On the lush green plains, stratovolcanoes emerged from the horizon, revealing the violent past of the local geology. Hot springs, crater lakes, and stratovolcanoes define the characteristics of the area, and have led to the creation of the national park in 1934. Just 15 minutes of drive from the Viewing Platform 1 of Lake Mashu (摩周湖), we checked in at Masyuko Youth Hostel (摩周湖ユースホステル). That night, we woke up at 2:30am and drove to the Viewing Platform 1 of Lake Mashu to watch the sunrise, a famous scenic sight in Hokkaido. In the summer, the sun rises at around 3:30am in Hokkaido, leaving us little time for sleep.
On our way to Akan Mashu National Park , we could see stratovolcanoes rose from the horizon in a distance.
Masyuko Youth Hostel offered us a comfortable place for a short rest before venturing out again to watch the sunrise.
Arriving at Viewing Platform 1 of Lake Mashu, we were stunned to see a sea of clouds blanketed over the area of Kawayu Onsen (川湯温泉).
Looking down from Viewing Platform 1, the water of Lake Mashu appeared like a crystal clear mirror.
Claimed as the clearest lake in the world (with transparency measured at 41.6m back in 1931), Lake Mashu is a beautiful crater lake where visitors can enjoy the scenery from two viewing platforms along the crater rim. The clarity might have slightly declined in recent decades, but Lake Mashu is still nevertheless an extremely beautiful water body.
Occasionally sea of clouds would appear over Lake Mashu, but not during our visit.
Soon the sun emerged behind the distant mountains to the east.
We enjoyed moments of tranquility at the viewing platform.
Several tourists and photographers stood among us at the viewing platform to watch the sunrise.
While the sun gradually rose over the crater lake, the moon still lingered in the sky behind us.
When the sun was up, the blue water and lush green surroundings changed the ambience of Lake Mashu into a different picture.
The deep blue Mashu Lake looked mysterious and surreal, almost too beautiful to be true.
The rim of the crater lake is now covered by dense vegetation.
On the other side, clouds and fog continued to cover the foot of Mount Iō (アトサヌプリ) and the Kawayu Onsen (川湯温泉) area.
The entire Kawayu Onsen (川湯温泉) area was blanked in thick fog.
Over to the southwest we could see the stratovolcanoes near what could be the Lake Akan area.
Down in Lake Mashu, the small island stood like a feature sculpture at the centre.
The sea of clouds at Mount Iō (アトサヌプリ) and Kawayu Onsen (川湯温泉) subsided a little as the sun rose further up.
Moisture and thin mist emerged over the water of Lake Mashu. The mist moved rapidly over the water as if dancing. At one point thicker mist gathered over the small island like a cotton shield.
The mist over the island soon dispersed into thin air. As the sun reached high in the sky, we returned to the hostel for another few hours of sleep before coming back to Lake Mashu for hiking later in the day.
The most remarkable and photogenic experience of our trip to Myanmar was undoubtedly watching the sunrise in Old Bagan. The romantic spectacle of hot air balloons floating over the plains of ancient pagodas has drawn every Bagan visitors to get up before dawn. We had high hopes for the experience long before we came to Bagan. Our driver came at 6:45 to pick us up at Oasis Hotel. He drove us to a pagoda in Old Bagan, and told us to walk up a staircase to the pagoda terrace. We turned on our head lamps and climbed up the narrow stair to reach the upper terrace. We were surprised to find that two out of four sides of the terrace were already packed with visitors. Without guessing which way to look, we stationed ourselves at a corner in the crowd and patiently waited for the sky to light up.
We stationed ourselves at a corner in the crowds and set up our tripod. Stars were still visible in the sky, and so as the flooded lights at some pagodas.
At a distance, what appeared to be Ananda Pahto looked gorgeous with the golden flood lights and the purple horizon beyond.
Ten minutes later, the foggy plain looked mysterious.
In every directions, silhouette of ancient pagodas and distant mountains formed an one-of-a-kind mystic landscape unique to Bagan.
A few minutes later, a cluster of hot air balloons appeared from the horizon.
At the same time, we had the first peek of the Christmas sunrise.
The hot air balloons went up just in time to catch the first glimpse of sunrise over Old Bagan.
The sunrise over Old Bagan was absolutely a stunning sight.
Watching sunrise of Old Bagan from the basket of a hot air balloon should be a remarkable experience. That would require us to book well in advance and cost each of us about US$500.
From the pagoda terrace, the hot air balloons provided the extra magic to the already otherworldly scenery.
Some balloons got pretty close to the spires of pagodas.
A hot air balloon seemed reaching the rising sun.
For several minutes, the entire Old Bagan appeared in layers of silhouettes.
The balloons gradually floated across the horizon while the sun rose up quickly.
On the other side, the scenery was dominated by ancient pagodas under the orange glow of the rising sun.
At 8:45am, about an hour and fifteen minutes since we first arrived at the pagoda terrace, dramatic low angle sunlight covered much of Bagan with a mystical ambience.
A group of locals walked towards a nearby pagoda under the early morning sun.
Silhouette of the distant Ananda Pahto was astonishingly beautiful.
At 9am, smoke from wood burning began to appear from the fields around us.
By 9:10am, most visitors had already left the terrace.
Down at the pagoda entrance, vendors were setting up their souvenir stalls for the day.
We quickly descended the pagoda and returned to the driver. We couldn’t wait to begin another day of Bagan’s temple hopping with our guide Win Thu.
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Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:
Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT
Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U
Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR