Burma is a very unique place. I wasn’t sure what to expect upon arriving but all I found were friendly people, including the taxi driver who brought a friend and I from the airport in Yangon to the center of the city. He told us where to go and drove us past the places on the way into town. All cab fares were negotiated before hand as there are no meters.
The first night we wandered down to the waterfront area. We found lots of people gathered, just hanging out and playing barefoot soccer on the pavement with makeshift goals.
The next day was full of sightseeing! We started at the point farthest from our destination and then worked our way back into the city. The first stop was Nga Hyat Gyi Pagoda, which featured an enormous seated buddha. A lot of people were gathered in prayer in front of it. As is traditional, shoes came off and all extremities were covered. Surprisingly though, the buddha had small LED lights surrounding its head. I’m assuming this was an update in recent years.
As we prepared to leave and go visit the reclining buddha across the street, we met Alexander, a former monk who still lives in the monk quarters of the reclining buddha. He took us through a shortcut to the reclining buddha and took us into the monk quarters to show us where he lived. They were very simple and it was all open. The beds did not have mattresses but rather straw mats and blankets. He then took us to the reclining buddha. It was enormous! The symbol on its feet talked about Buddhism and horoscopes.
One of my favorite experiences of walking around with Alexander was meeting another monk who promptly took my hand and gave me a BIG smile. It was so different from living in Thailand where the monks are not supposed to have contact with females.
Our third stop was the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is over 2,600 years old and the gold on it is replaced every 4 years for a cost of 30 million USD. As we walked around the pagoda, we saw signs saying “Thursday corner,” “Friday corner,” etc. It turns out that you are supposed to visit the corner of your actual birthday and bathe the buddha figure there while also leaving offerings.
We walked back into Yangon from Shwedagon, just meandering through the city. We stopped at People’s Park which is apparently only for the People of Myanmar and not foreigners as we were told we could not enter. We found a different way in and were amazed at the beauty of the park. There was an old plane, suspension bridges with Rapunzel-like castles in between, and a water show synchronized to music. The officials didn’t like that we were watching the water show and we were told to leave so we did. It’s interesting because there are signs everywhere that encourage people to be nice to tourists yet there was a “tourist/foreigners” price for EVERYTHING!
That evening we wandered over to the Strand Hotel. It is supposed to be the place to be on a Friday night for expats as all drinks are half off during happy hour. The hotel has a colonial feel from the early 1900s as does all of Yangon actually. Most of the people we came in contact with were able to speak some English since it did used to be an British colony.
Examples of British architecture: