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Published: February 17th 2019
It was a short flight from Bangkok to Yangon International Airport. Touching down on Myanmar soil I had my e-Visa (https://evisa.moip.gov.mm/NoticetoTourists.aspx) ready and hostel booked. This time it was me that was approached by a fellow traveller wanting to share a taxi which suited me fine! My hostel was first - Pickled Tea Hostel - a half hour drive from the airport. I stayed here for four nights, eventually leaving on a night bus for Bagan on the 25th. Something happened when I arrived in Myanmar. I felt a sensation that I hadn't felt for a while. It was the feeling of excitement again, the feeling of being somewhere completely different to anywhere I'd been before. If I'm honest, the Malaysia and Thailand leg of my trip was a bit of lull. Perhaps it was because I'd been to those countries before or perhaps I just didn't meet the right people. Either way, I was excited to be in Myanmar. Everything seemed perfect; the weather was great and the hostel was perhaps one of the best hostels I've stayed in on any
of my trips! It was pricey by backpackers' standards at 20 USD a night although I've seen now that
the same room has gone down to 14 USD. I found Myanmar to be a cheap country with the exception of accommodation but this was later explained to me by a local who said that most of the land in Yangon is rented and businesses have to pay high taxes meaning customers have to pay more. It was here at Pickled Tea that I met my travel companions for pretty much my entire duration in Myanmar - a fellow Brit called Mark and a picky German girl called Anke. As has happened to me many times before, you end up meeting people going the same way and it's nice to team up once in a while. Our route was simple (and predictable): a few nights in Yangon, then a few in Bagan, followed by some hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake finishing off with a few days in Mandalay.
The hostel in Yangon was quite a walk from downtown, but the main attraction in the city - Shwedagon Pagoda - was just a short stroll down the road. I don't often get impressed by pagodas or temples. It's easy to roll out the typical "once you've seen
one Buddhist temple, you've seen them all", but this
was something different. I spent a whole afternoon in awe of the hundreds of temples, stupas and statues and of course the pagoda itself standing tall and majestic completely gold plated and encrusted with around 4500 diamonds. This clearly isn't some kind of tourist trap. This is still as important a site now as it was over 1500 years ago when it was built and it's impossible not to be humbled slightly by its grandeur. Just remember to dress appropriately and be prepared to take your shoes off as soon as you enter the site. One of the best views of the city is of the pagoda from quaint Kandawgyi Park, just to the east of Shwedagon. The park is a lovers' paradise where young romantics can show their feelings for each other away from their parents' glares and a welcome area of calmness and peacefulness perfect for grabbing a cold beer, resting the legs and admiring the view for a while. The Karaweik Palace, built in the form of two royal barges, also sits in the lake and provides a decent photo opportunity.
The day after, along
with Mark and Anke, I took a day trip to another important Buddhist shrine called Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, also known as the "Golden Rock". We made a deal with a very friendly taxi driver to take us there and bring us back and despite the fact that it's about an 8-hour round trip, between the 3 of us it worked out pretty cheap. Just getting there was part of the fun/pain! After arriving at the site, it was another rib-shattering 40-minute ride up a steep hill with about 40 other people in a truck with space for 20. It was cosy! Finally, at the top the ambiance relaxed slightly and we got our first glimpse of the rock precariously perched as if a strong gust of wind would make it fall. We stayed for a couple of hours although to be honest there isn't that much to do once at the top. You can buy a piece of gold leaf to stick on the rock which brings you good luck, but only if you are of the male variety, women can neither touch nor approach the shrine. There is a certain energy to the place and when you touch the rock,
gold leaf comes off in your hand. Once we were satisfied, we shattered a few more ribs on the way back down the windy road and then another 4 hours or so taxi ride back to Yangon during which we got to see a lot of the countryside which was dominated by paddy fields, rivers with local fisherman and the odd town. It was a pleasant day although the question "was it worth it?" was debated for some time afterwards!
I spent the rest of my time exploring the downtown area including the fairly bog-standard Bogyoke Aung San Market, Maha Bandula Park, Sule Pagoda, City Hall, Chinatown and sunset at Yangon River. I also strolled round to the Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple, home to an impressive 66-metre highly-revered reclining Buddha. And to finish off, I just had to ride that famous circular railway so I got on at Kyeemyindaing Railway station and rode around some 7 stops to Yangon Central. It was an interesting ride and you certainly get to see another side of Yangon. All that was left was to sample the most famous noodles in town at the very popular and very tasty 999 Shan Noodle
The time arrived for me to get my ass up to Aung Mingalar Highway Bus Station, not far from the airport, for my overnight bus journey to Bagan. It was the first overnight journey on this trip since the one from Tokyo to Osaka waaaaay back at the very beginning. I'm fairly sure that's not an accident! I predictably slept awfully and it's always a shame when you can't look out the window and admire the countryside a little. Still, leaving Yangon at this time had its advantages...
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