After two and a half months and four countries, we reached our final great destination, Myanmar. Having read advisories and blogs we were ready with extra passport photos and visas well in advance. We planned much of our travel within the country in advance as well. In the end, entry into the country was indistinguishable from the other SE Asian countries. So much for being off the beaten path.
Our entry point was Yangon, the former colonial capital known as Rangoon. We stayed near the Shwedagon Pagoda, which was a good move. After recovering from our very short flight we headed there around sunset. The ten minute walk was through a local neighborhood with food and produce stands, cute little girls shoving plastic bags at us for our shoes (pretty clever to build a niche economy around footware storage) and tons of people wearing thanaka on their faces and longyi instead of pants. Myanmar would turn out to be the least westernized country we visit.
We climbed up the long Eastern entrance’s staircase past vendors selling all manner of Buddhist offerings.
When we finally made it inside, the view was breathtaking. Temples everywhere we looked, big and small, surrounding the huge main temple. Evening is also when most people come to worship, so the activity level and photo ops were perfect. We opted to forego a guided tour and focus on photography.
Next day we headed downtown to check out Sule Pagoda and the downtown area. At the pagoda, a guy collecting money for the local orphanage educated us on the history and features of the pagoda and then taught us how to make offerings to Buddha. We both poured water on Buddha and our zodiac symbol (tusked elephant for G and lion for D) and rang the bells to share our good deed with everyone.
Strolling through downtown we found an eclectic mix of run down colonial buildings and the standard box buildings found in every SE Asian city. The place was bustling, though, with sidewalks crowded with vendor stands and street food.
We also made a trip to the Bogyoke Market to pick up souvenirs. It was a bit more upscale than other markets we visited during this trip. Most vendors were jewelers specializing in jade and amber, while most of the rest sold fabrics and woodwork.
We finally went back to Shwedagon Pagoda in daylight to get a real guided tour. It’s the oldest pagoda in Myanmar with the first structure built 2,600 years ago. The rest of the structures were mini pagodas with mini Buddha likenesses in their edifices donated by people buying karma. Unfortunately they ran out of space in the 18th century, so we’ll have to earn our path to nirvana the hard way.
We admittedly arrived in Yangon with a bit of travel fatigue, but what we found revitalized us. Great place and great people.