7 flights, 6 airports, 5 days, 4 nights, 3 airlines, 2 destinations, 1 Myanmar – Admit it, you read this in the voice of Phil Keoghan.
Yes my trip from Hong Kong to Myanmar involved a lot of flights in a short amount of time but it was also one of the best trips I have ever had. I have already spoken about the majestic landscape of Bagan but I will now write about my time in Yangon.
Money, Money, Money
Arriving in Yangon the first thing I did was change my USD into Kyat. Myanmar is a strange land where acquiring Kyat can only be done inside of the country and they only (mostly) accept USD to exchange with. However, not only is that stringent enough, but the USD must be in the finest of conditions like a wine that has been left to age without ever being touched. The issue was, that in HK currency exchange shops were not very forthcoming with pristine USD bills which was causing my first grey hairs to emerge on my twenty one year old head. Thankfully, a truly amazing friend acquired me the newest, freshest, straightest, cleanest, crispest notes you will have ever seen. To keep them in their immaculate form I sandwiched them between cardboard and placed them inside an envelope. I might sound crazy but my notes were accepted without inspection upon arrival, but not everyone is so lucky to have their notes accepted.
After throwing myself onto my hotel bed, I hailed a taxi and asked to be taken to Bogyoke Market. A market is a fun place to hang out as the local people go about their business. The market was indoors and I was surprised at the amount of space between stalls. It was a lovely experience where I was not being touted and the crowds were simply not there. I could get used to markets like Bokyoke. There was a lot of jewelry stores but I was here for one thing only – to purchase a longyi. At temples in Myanmar it is disrespectful to show your knees but in the sweltering heat I wasn’t going to be wearing jeans. Instead, I would wrap a longyi around myself when in the temples and take it off upon exiting.
I found a lovely stall with lots of variations in the male skirt. The staff were more than willing to assist me in finding the right one. I ended up choosing a dark green longyi with thin stripes. After being taught how to tie the longyi correctly I left to continue my sightseeing.
I walked a short while until I arrived at what is probably the centre of Yangon, Sule Pagoda. This is not the most famous pagoda of Yangon but it made sense to see this one first in order for me not to be underwhelmed by visiting it last.
Sule Pagoda strategically acts as a roundabout, but don’t skip this pagoda just because of that, as it is actually a wonderful golden pagoda that is less visited by the few tourists and therefore you can relax and admire the pagoda and statues. A small fee to look after your shoes is all that is required (remember which entrance you came in as there are many entrances).
I was taking a photo of the pagoda when a monk approached me and offered to take a photo for me. This was very kind and he began escorting me around the pagoda, explaining all of the things meaning. He was highly informative and taught me about the Buddha’s that surround the pagoda. By finding the Buddha which corresponds to the day you are born (mine being a Tuesday) you would wash that Buddha statue with water the correct amount of times (9 times for Tuesday) and then wash the animal related to that day (mine being a Lion) a certain number of times (mine being 3).
I was glad for his wisdom as it meant I could participate at the pagoda instead of remaining passive. However, towards the end of his guide I was starting to feel wary. He took me inside a room and asked me to ‘donate’ money to him. I told him that I already donated money to the pagoda in the form of my shoe donation. However, he said that I should donate in a rather pushy tone.
I foolishly gave him some money (not much mind) and he said thank you and left me to look around the pagoda on my own. I was annoyed with myself because I remembered reading that monks will never ask for donations. The coin dropped. He was a fake monk – exploiting those who were showing an interest in Burmese culture. I’m convinced he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and that left a sour taste in my mouth. I understand that Myanmar is not wealthy but being deceived is never a delight.
I was about to leave when a plain clothed guy approached me and asked me where I was from. He spoke and looked like a foreigner so I assumed he was just making conversation. However, he soon began giving me some spiel about an orphanage school in Yangon to which he said I must visit. His friend then approached as well and I knew it was a scam. Fool me once? Shame on me. Fool me twice? Shame on you. I was not going to let myself become a target within hours of arriving and thus I was very cold to the guys.
I was pretending to listen to the guys but was not engaged in their plight and I soon made my exit – my wallet had not become lighter.
I was disappointed with Yangon. I thought the people would have been friendly and warm, just as the market stall people were. However, I was uncovering a darker side to Myanmar and I didn’t like it.
Next to Sule Pagoda was the Independence Monument positioned in a small but lush park. I walked around people watching and smiled as many people basked in the sun. The monument is simple, yet striking and the colonial buildings in the centre of Yangon hark back to a bygone era.
Outside of Sule Pagoda were a few fortune teller shops. I am very open minded to all this and I wanted to see if my fortune here would correlate to the fortune I was given in HK just a few weeks prior. Surprisingly it did, but the Burmese fortune teller was more detailed.
The fortune teller told me that I will have successful career (thank goodness because I don’t think I can be an English teacher forever). He said that my love life will be bad and will be full of affairs (charming! I may as well give up on love) and that I should adorn my home with jade. It was a cheap and fun reading.
So hungry. I was a hungry, hungry, hippo. Food was evading me in Yangon. I searched high and low and was struggling to find a restaurant or place to eat. I must have traversed the entire length of downtown Yangon and I was food deprived. Eventually, I spotted a table in the middle of the road with food cooking and some lovely plastic chairs to sit and eat. I pointed at some sort of a curry and sat down on my plastic chair in a dark alley way.
Hmm, something was scurrying under the table where the food was. Rats! Rats were flourishing in this alley way and were clearly feeding themselves off left overs. I did not care though and just embraced the Burmese way; Pixar’s Ratatouille made me less concerned about contracting Delhi belly.
I devoured my food within minutes ungracefully and decided to continue sightseeing at night time.
Chaukhtatgyi Paya was a short taxi journey away and would let me glimpse a 60 meter long reclining Buddha. My driver actually deposited me on the opposite side of the road where a giant sitting Buddha is located. As fate had dropped me off here I explored barefoot the Buddha statue, whilst simultaneously dodging turds and dog sick – it felt like some wicked Japanese gameshow.
I then skipped across the traffic logged road and climbed up to the top of a small hill to see the reclining Buddha. Decked out in diamonds this sure was a beautiful sight. Only a few locals were gathered around. I walked around the lounging Buddha and saw the intricate details crafted into the feet that describe the many lives of Buddha.
It was getting very late and with a flight the next morning I decided to head back to the hotel…on foot because I’m adventurous / foolhardy, especially as I didn’t know where I was in relation to the hotel. Walking for about half an hour I returned and crashed out like an over dosing rock star.
The next morning I took a domestic flight to Bagan and a few days later I returned to Yangon to finish off my sightseeing.
After a tremendous trip in Bagan I wasn’t going to waste any time exploring on my full day in Myanmar.
I travelled directly to Kandawgyi Lake which is famed for having a golden dragon boat. After paying the entrance fee to the park (when did parks start charging for entry?) and being ordained with a sticker as proof of purchase I went about walking along the lakeside. It is a pretty park that is expansive. I decided to follow the boardwalk where I got to be mesmerised by the Karaweik. The Karaweik is the name of the golden dragon boat that is actually a replica of a Burmese royal barge. It really dominates the landscape – even with the most famous pagoda poking its head above the foliage. A nice walk ensued and despite the sky turning grey and gloomy I was happy to still be in Myanmar.
I decided to wander around the streets with no premeditated thought as to where I would go. I just wanted to see the streets of Yangon. I managed to walk very far and across a bridge that gave me views of the circular train.
I walked and walked and walked until I reached as far the land would let me which also happened to be Botataung Pagoda. This temple was much less visited by tourists but locals were here in their droves. It was very busy and there was even security checks – although I think it was there more for decoration than anything else.
Inside the Botataung Pagoda was a marvellous gold room that held gold statues and figurines. Even the walls were gold. The crowning glory here was that the sacred relic – a piece of hair of Buddha.
Outside the golden room a 40 meter pagoda stands defiant in a large but mostly empty enclosure.
I departed in search of food. Once again, Yangon was proving problematic for food. I just could not find anywhere to eat. I made my way into a shanty restaurant where I sat down. The staff couldn’t speak any English and he ushered me to the back of the restaurant where he stared at me. I left, utterly confused as to what had just occurred.
Despite not finding food I walked to the most famous and prominent landmark in Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda.
110 meters tall and over 2500 years old the Shwedagon Pagoda draws all to witness its golden facade that is topped with 4531 diamonds that makes this pagoda shine bright. I chose to leave the pagoda ‘til last because I was waiting for the sun to descend and leave the golden grounds cast in orange hews. It was a magical pagoda and despite having to walk barefoot through puddles due to the heavy rain early I was still entranced. There are other small temples and shrines to look around as well within the same vicinity so over an hour can be spent here marvelling at the hidden gems.
Candles and incense were lighting the night sky after the orange rays transformed into navy blue and then black.
My time in Myanmar was up and I had a tremendous time. Despite scrupulous individuals the rest of my journey was hassle free.
I think I explored all I wanted to see within two days in Yangon, but I would leave Myanmar wanting to return to explore its other cities and towns.
I stayed at the Pleasant View Hotel both times in Yangon. The hotel was simple and honest with wonderful staff who were very welcoming.
The majority of the guests were Chinese tour groups but apart from that the hotel was probably slim on guests.
The wifi in the hotel was absolutely fine and the bed was comfortable.
The hotel is average with nothing bad to say about it but also nothing to boast about. A ‘pleasant’ stay was definitely had.
- Bring pristine USD bills
- Cover your knees when visiting temples, shrines and pagodas
- You will be going barefoot a lot so wearing flip flops is a good idea (sadly, even inside the toilets in Shwedagon Pagoda you must go barefoot – I’m still traumatised by that)
- Monks will not ask for donations. Instead, donate to the temple or shrine directly
All images taken by myself. Follow me on Instagram: Arik_Dane