Tues 22nd - Fri 25th April (Week 31)
Tues 22nd - Arrived very tired into Yangon at 7:30am to the usual chaos of trying to get your bags and negotiate with taxi drivers. Got to our hotel at 8am, had a lovely breakfast of egg and toast, then luckily could check into our room and slept from 9-12. Caught the circular train half way around Yangon which was an interesting experience to see how the locals travel, the food vendors, laundry on the side of the tracks drying, people carrying a pole full of dead chickens etc ! Got off an hour later and walked to the Gem Museum. The main reason for going was it was meant to have the worlds biggest sapphire at 63,000 carats, and the world biggest ruby at 21,000 carats. Disappointingly however, both were currently on loan to Cambodia ! Tried to walk around Inya Lake but most was inaccessible due to private mansions and embassies. Managed to see a little bit of it though by walking through some locals gardens ! Walked all the way back home and were boiling hot and shattered by the time we got back at 6:30. The temp today was over 40C with high humidity so we were sweating before we even left our guesthouse ! It really does feel like the hottest place we've ever been and is almost unbearable !
Wed 23rd - Headed out at 10am and took a $2 taxi into town. Followed the Lonely Planet walking tour for 3 hours, starting with the 2200 year old Sule Pagoda. A beautiful and impressive gold paya in the middle of a very busy roundabout ! Wandered down the streets admiring the old colonial buildings like the City Hall, the once largest department store in all of Asia, High Court Building etc. Went inside the Strand Hotel which had a lovely old colonial feel inside and amazing a/c which we savoured for a few minutes ! Walked around the Indian and Chinese quarters and really were reminded of India - chaotic streets, lots of dirt and rubbish and Indian street food everywhere. Finished off with a look around St Marys Cathedral and the Bogyoke Aung San Market. Back to ours at 3pm and spent a sweaty afternoon in the room as the power was constantly spiking and turning the a/c on and off so the room never seemed to get any cooler than outside ! Crazy how the power supply can be so bad in such a big city, and just when we desperately needed a/c !
Thurs 24th - Had lazy morning, checked out at 11am and caught a taxi to our new hotel down town. Checked in, not as nice rooms but the power seems stable and the a/c works - so thats good with us ! Walked to Kheng Hock Keong Chinese temple which was really nice for a change from all the stupas and pagodas we've seen over the last 3 weeks. Then very long walk to Botataung Pagoda and were a little frustrated that it was all under cover and scaffolding being repaired ! But we were allowed in and this is a unique pagoda in that it is not solid like most of the others and you can walk inside. It was beautifully decorated, all in gold and lots of interesting ancient relics in locked display cases. The pagoda was heavily bombed in WWII and when they started rebuilding, they found a relic chamber with a stone cone and inside that a solid gold pagoda, and inside that a tiny gold cylinder with a sacred hair relic from Buddha ! So there is now a very elaborate chamber displaying the hair (not that you can see it). Had a late lunch at 4pm then caught a taxi to Shwedagon Pagoda at 4:30. Huge site and lots of interesting things to see - as well as the beautiful golden paya itself with its 4351 diamonds on the top orb, weighing 1800 carats, and topped with a single 76-carat diamond. Walked around and around the base looking at all the different shrines, statues, monks etc and watched the colour gradually change as the sun set. Stayed until 7:30 to see it lit up, candles lit all around the base, and it really was stunning.
Fri 25th - Headed out at 9am and got a taxi to Chaukhtatgyi Paya - a massive reclining Buddha building in a huge tin warehouse - very strange but nice to wander around ! Then crossed the road and went to Ngahtatgyi Paya which had a stunning white and gold Buddha with intricately carved wooden backdrop - really different and one of our favourite Buddhas. Caught another taxi to Kandawgyi Lake, admired the beautiful golden swan royal boat, then walked around the lake, back towards Shwedagon Pagoda. Walked around the lovely gardens before the heat became too much so got another taxi back to our hotel at 1pm. Went to a bank to change our remaining kyat as well as some US5 to Singapore dollars, and were astounded how informal it was. No passports or ID needed, no checks of the US$, just chucked into a drawer, everything done on a calculator, no receipt or anything ! A bit too easy ! Went to the Strand Hotel at 5pm for Happy Hour and enjoyed the lovely atmosphere, cool a/c and watching the expats come in for a drink, whilst we sipped on some lovely cocktails. Brandon quickly found a pool table and entertained himself with that for an hour or so ! A lovely end to our 3+weeks in Myanmar.
We have been pleasantly surprised by how much easier Burma has been than we expected. There have been ample ATMs, internet in most places, and reasonable buses. The only issues we have found have been due to travelling during their big holiday season of Water Festival where no transport runs, and accommodation gets fully booked and prices go up.
The people have been so friendly, no hassles and everyone waves, smiles and shouts "Mingalaba" or want to talk to you to improve their English.
We were intrigued by everyone wearing a beige colouring on their faces and eventually discovered it is a paste from the thanakha tree to stop sun burn, and help with spots etc.
Another new experience was when buying something, if you are their first customer of the day, they say it is "lucky money" and they touch the money over all their products to bring them luck to sell more during the day.
Bagan has been one of our favourite places of our whole trip with real "wow" factors when you get the 360 views from the top of temples.
One of the things we won't miss though is the constant hacking up of phlem, and spitting red spit into the street from chewing betel nuts all day long !
It will also be nice to not be sweating from the moment you get up as we have been doing in Yangon - just crazy heat, when its in the 40's and high humidity, it really zaps your energy and you have a constant sheen of sweat all day !