I have only heard stories about Burma. I had only seen its streets, met its people, and experienced its culture through the dreams and words of others. When I applied for a visa, I didn't think that I would be traveling to this secluded country by myself. Like most of my journeys, I decided not to set any expectations for this enigmatic country. I did a little research on the things I needed to know before I entered Burma, but after that I did little else.
I wanted this country to surprise me.
Upon arriving at the airport, I already noticed how authentic their airport was. The facade was like the pagodas or temples you'd see in Buddhist countries. There was also this huge painting of a Burmese castle on the wall of the airport.
The Temples of Yangon
It took around 45 minutes to get to my hotel, Ocean Pearl Inn, from the airport. My hotel was conveniently located in downtown, which was near some of the places to visit in Yangon. I quickly left my things in the room and wandered the streets of Yangon. I headed out to visit the many pagodas in town. The first temple I visited was Botataung Pagoda. It was not very far from where I stayed, it was only a 10 to 15 minute walk.
Botataung literally means 1,000 military officers. This temple was said to be as old as Shwedagon Pagoda, around 2,000 years old. It was nice to wander inside this temple along with many locals coming to pray for good luck.
It seems like monks now use cell phones.
The walls inside Botataung Pagoda were covered in gold. At the heart of this temple lies the sacred hair relic of Buddha. I saw a lot of Buddhists come inside and go to this specific part of the temple to pray to Buddha.
I was surprised to see that men and women alike wore traditional skirts called longyi. There is also a 3,500 kyats entrance fee for Botataung Pagoda.
Wandering the streets of Yangon was a bit tiring, so it was a welcome relief to finally reach Sule Pagoda. It took around 20 minutes, including getting lost, of walking from Botataung Pagoda to get to Sule. This pagoda stands tall at the heart of downtown Yangon.
Sule Pagoda stood next to Yangon's City Hall. I was impressed with the architecture of their city hall, although I was unable to go inside, the facade still looked fantastic.
According to legends, Sule Pagoda is older than Shwedagon. This pagoda was also said to have been the home of a nat or spirit.
Many worshipers also flocked to this pagoda to pray to Buddha. Although I'm not Buddhist, I liked walking inside pagodas just to marvel at the architecture and the history behind them. There is a 2,000 kyats entrance fee for Sule Pagoda.
It started to rain hard as it was monsoon season in Myanmar. I couldn't get back to the hotel right away so I ended up in an art gallery somewhere in Yangon to wait for the rain to subside.
The owner of the art gallery, Ye Min Aung, saw me waiting outside and asked me to come in and sit down. It was a welcome relief to talk to someone who spoke better English than most people in Yangon. We chatted for a while and talked about life in Myanmar in general. He ended up showing me his water color creations which were quite good. He and his wife were nice enough to show me around their art gallery.
Lighting Up the Sky
I wanted to visit the other temples at night because I knew that the temples were going to light up the sky. I hired a taxi to take me to three different places and back to Ocean pearl Inn for 11,000 kyats. I did not bother walking because the places I wanted to visit at night were far from downtown.
One of the places I visited at night was Karaweik Palace. This palace was constructed in 1972 and was finished in 1974. It was designed after a royal barge of Burma. There was a, if I'm not mistaken, 20,000 kyats entrance fee to get inside for a show and dinner. I did not book the show and dinner because I only had limited time with the driver I hired.
There were also locals dressed in traditional wear outside the Palace.
Chaukhtatygi Paya is home to one of the famous reclining Buddhas in Myanmar.
I waited till night to enter Shwedagon Pagoda, and I can honestly say it was worth the long wait. The golden stupas just lighted up the sky. The hugeness of Shwedagon Pagoda was magnified because of the golden light shooting up the sky.
Shwedagon has four different entrances that lead to the stupa and the shrines. Many locals still come to offer prayers to Buddha even though it was late at night already.
|Posing with Shwedagon Pagoda|
After my first day in Yangon, I was surprised at what this country could offer. It would come as no surprise if this country had a sudden surge of tourists coming in, in the next few years. Burma had so much to offer in terms of culture and history.
Armed with just a map and relying on the friendliness of strangers, I walked to most of the temples that were in a 30 to 40 minute walk from where I stayed. It was nice getting lost, seeing the inner recesses of the city, talking to locals, and meeting fellow travelers who were also exploring Yangon. I hired a taxi at night to get to the last three spots I visited because they were simply too far from where I stayed, and I didn't want to be walking alone at night. Solo travel can be exciting, but I also wanted to be cautious.