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October 31st 2017
Published: November 2nd 2017
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Our Emirates car dropped us at Gatwick in plenty of time to get into the Lounge to watch Everton v. Leicester on Sky. Unfortunately we arrived before the check in opened! But the staff soon arrived, probably having realised that David needed to get in front of the TV and also needed a glass of champagne. Anyway as it happened we got to the Lounge to watch the second half when Everton were already 2 0 down and that is how it ended. More champagne and some smoked salmon and dinner was the only response to that.

The Emirates 380 business class is amazing, a ridiculous amount of space, flat bed, 21” TV and iPad and your own minibar.......most enjoyable, and it's no wonder BA is losing customers. Having already eaten dinner we went straight to sleep as you get to Dubai at what is 0300 in London time, so you stagger off and shortly thereafter transit to your next flight to Yangon which is just over 5 hours. We were shattered on arrival in Yangon, changed some US$ to local currency and then found neither of our ATM cards worked! Anyway the driver and guide were waiting for us, so off to the Shangri La hotel, get organised, shower and bed and ten hours of almost unbroken sleep.

The first morning in Yangon. Off to see the colonial heritage of Yangon (aka Rangoon of course), lots of fine 19th century buildings down towards the banks of the Irrawaddy river which were built in the period after 1852 when the British conquered Lower Burma, which was the delta region including Rangoon. Lots of hardy Scotsmen were instrumental in the colonising and setting up of trading operations in Burma, which the British did in stages after three Anglo-Burmese wars (this is the point at which Sara says “Oh please no, don't put in all that history stuff......”so I shall say no more on the history at this point).

These old buildings are in what one would call a genteel state of decay, stained and decrepit with water damage and mildew and showing the deterioration of neglect. After independence from Britain in 1948, the country set off on a path of independence under Aung San, the father of “The Lady” as Aung San Suu Kyi is called by the Burmese. However after his assassination, things went downhill and the Burmese lived under a socialist regime and then the military junta. Miserable periods of economic stagnation and oppression, though all is now bright under wonderful under the new government of The Lady we were told. And the people all live in total religious tolerance and harmony, though the Rohingyas may have something to say on that.

We then went on a driving circuit taking in the Sule pagoda (lots of gold leaf on the outside but not interesting inside apparently), and a picturesque lake where we went for a walk. On the lakeside the guide pointed out a “crony hotel” that had been built by a crony of the junta. It had been burnt to a blackened shell just two weeks previously. He was very pleased to point this out. “Building cursed as he stole the people's money” he said. Poetic justice.

Next stop was the Chauk Hti Gyi pagoda, home to a massive 66m long reclining Buddha. The original version was outdoors, but suffered in the rains, and it was replaced by a new version in 1973 which is housed under a massive and unsightly tin roof. The Burmese visitors bowed in prayer, while the few other tourists risked falling off a small viewing platform that put them at the same height as the Buddha, by stepping ever further backwards while taking selfies with that most hideous of inventions, the selfie stick. Sadly they stopped just in time and just before David pushed them off (he hates selfie stick users).

We crawled back into town through the surprisingly heavy traffic, and set off for the Bogyoke market aka a tourist trap full of souvenir shops designed to relieve tourists of their money. On the way, we took in the far more interesting Indian spice shops that front the older and more local market. With hindsight, we should have stayed there. ‘How long you want to look round Bogyoke?’ our guide enquired. ‘Hour, hour and a half?’ We assured him half an hour would be plenty, and arrived back at the front of the market after 15 minutes. The waiting time was productive however, as we tried yet another ATM and finally got one of the debit cards to work.

We returned to the hotel so Sara could ice her knee. After an arthroscopy 3 months ago she developed inflammation of the fat pad under the kneecap, which turns out to be a highly sensitive and hence painful hitherto unheard of part of one's anatomy. We’ve learnt how to tape the kneecap to pull it up off the fat pad, and regular ice helps.

At 4.30pm we set off for the Shwedagon Pagoda, getting there just as the sun was going down. We gratefully utilised the tourist option of taking a lift to get up to the Pagoda rather than walking up eleven flights of stairs. The word pagoda suggests a single building, and indeed all the iconic pictures show the massive central golden pagoda, 99 metres high. But it is surrounded by a myriad statues of Buddha, and then, beyond a wide walkway, by numerous other, smaller pagodas, shrines and buildings. The central stupa alone is covered in 60 tonnes of gold leaf, and looked simply beautiful as the sun gradually set, burnishing the gold. We were worried we had arrived too late to see the best of it, but it is floodlit after dark, producing a different but equally beautiful sight. Most of the visitors were Burmese, who had all come to worship. Volunteers, mostly dressed in yellow, were everywhere, sweeping the floor and cleaning the statues. Everywhere, people knelt and prostrated themselves in prayer, including mothers teaching their young children what to do. We walked round slowly twice, to see everything before and after the sun set.

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