Bob has been waiting to say the above since we got our visa to Myanmar (Burma)😄 – too funny!
Yangon, as it is now known, is a huge, spread out city with a population of about 6M & was once the political capital of the country. Again, the British influence is prevalent in the architecture but unfortunately many of the buildings are very run-down (visions of Old Havana here) but one can only imagine the splendour of by-gone days. The main attraction in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda & my what a sight this was! This is the pagodas of all pagodas, built in 1453 AD, it is 99.36 meters (326′) high with beautiful gold gilded spires. The is top encrusted with 5000 diamonds & 2000 other precious stones which glisten in the sunshine & sparkle at night. As luck would have it, & totally unplanned on our behalf, our visit coincided with the Full Moon Holiday & a special celebration that occurs every 4-years; the grounds were open 24-hours for the locals to visit, sleep, eat & pray. What a festival & upon our arrival an hour-long procession got underway with all the monks & daughters of Buddha (nuns) snaking their way through the golden stupas while being given gifts, e.g., money, food, soap, toothpaste, drinks, etc., etc. from the hoards lining the pathway. The pagoda is surrounded by the ‘People’s Park’, with beautiful grounds & gardens. Venturing into the central core of the city, we visited the Bagyoke Aung San Market, the National Museum, Mahabandoola Garden, where the Independence Monument stands, Sule Paya – a 2000-year old temple in the middle of a primary traffic circle, & of course China Town. Small shops & cafes surround this colonial area making the whole area strange & incongruent.
Taking the overnight bus (a tad better than the sleeper bus last year in Vietnam), we were dumped off somewhere outside Bagan at 4:00 am. Thankfully our hotel let us check in around 6:30 am & after a couple of hours sleep we headed to the plains of Bagan, home of over 4000 Buddhist temples
Imagine the beauty of a misty morning, dawn breaking over ancient temples with hot air balloons dotting the sky – breathtaking & an unforgettable vision! It amazes us how all of these buildings could withstand the wrath of nature, natural disaster & years of neglect. Some restoration has begun, but it would take 100 lifetimes to complete since the area is so vast. We opted to rent e-bikes our first day & graduated to scooters the second, in order to cover as much ground as possible. The trick with both is to stay out of the soft sand, otherwise you’ll sport Burmese tattoos, which I now have on each knee! We opted to stay in Nyaung U, the hub of Bagan action & just outside Old Bagan. A lovely area, very rustic but quaint with small shops, a local lively market, some restaurants, guest houses & hotels. It was quiet & appreciated after a day of temple scouring. Our hotel also had a pool, so we decided to take our last afternoon off & enjoyed cooling off in the 40C afternoon sun. Life is not easy for the Burmese people & they haven’t quite emerged into the 21st century. Despite this most folks have cell phones & many bamboo houses have satellite dishes. Regardless, they are happy, friendly, curious folk & ‘hello’ is the introduction to a conversation. They always want to know where you are from, where you are going, how old you are & especially love fair completions. Our pictures were being taken constantly & we in turn took theirs. We met a lovely young local couple who have a traditional handmade Burmese umbrella shop; they are struggling to make a go of it but are on to a good thing, Their shop is beautiful & reminiscent of the lanterns of Hoi An, Vietnam.
All in all, despite the heat & dust, we managed to visit Bagan’s top pagodas & then some. Many of the pagodas are just numbered & too numerous to count. It is a photographer’s dream destination (thinking of you here Marlow). The one thing to note about Myanmar is that the infrastructure is light years away from more developed countries, internet access is sporadic or non-existent. The country is in the throes of change & everything that comes with it. Next stop Mandalay.