From Yangon to Mandalay

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Asia » Burma
February 2nd 2007
Published: February 12th 2007
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Bear with me - this blog entry is rather lengthy as the internet in Myanmar is really crappy and slow. Since it is illegal to access Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo the only way to do so is via a proxy server.

Arrived in Yangon Airport on 29/1 and was organising to catch a taxi into town. The lady asks - do I need someone to share to split the cost? Sure, why not. So she assaults this young English dude named Ian (poor guy looked dazed), and we head to the same guesthouse (the friendly Golden Smiles Inn).

The first thing you notice is how quiet it is as no car horns are allowed - a real novelty in Asia. And that everyone wears a longyi (like a sarong). But 1-2 days is more than enough or one goes stir crazy (not the most exciting city).

It's really easy to walk around Yangon. Visited Chinatown, Sule Paya, Chaukhtatgyi Paya, Kandawgyi Lake and Bogyoke Aung San Market. But the most famous and revered place is the Shwedagon Paya.

Ended up being escorted around the Shwedagon by a couple of monks on the pretext of practising their English. Found
Disco BuddhaDisco BuddhaDisco Buddha

Thought I was in Vegas. Can't believe that someone thought this was a good idea.
out I was born on Wednesday a.m. which is the luckiest day as it is also Buddha's birthday. Afterwards the monks took me around a quiet section and asked for money. I was happy to make a small donation, but then they had the hide to ask for US$10. WHAT THE .... ?!?! If I'm going to get extorted it might as well be by monks. But it was a little disillusioning, and rather pitiful that the monks (and also nuns) have to resort to acting as pseudo-guides in order to get a feed. A far removal from the situation in Laos.

Then had to endure a 15-hour killer bus ride to Mandalay, the royal capital of the last monarchy of Myanmar. About as much fun as you could have on 4 wheels, complete with non-stop action DVD's (very entertaining for the locals) and food/rest stops every 2-3 hours.

It was the "Full Moon" festival while we were in Mandalay. Very atmospheric with the monks chanting, and all the locals going to the Mahamuni Paya to pray (amazing to behold). Also traipsed up Mandalay Hill for the sunset, and around the Kuthodaw Paya (world's biggest book on marble slabs). Finally did a full day-trip to the ancient cities of Amarapura and Sagaing.

Normally you have to shell out US$10 entrance fee to see all these sights (govt charge), but we got out of paying it by sneaking in through the side entrances used by the locals (hooray!).

There's always the ethical question concerning whether one should go to Myanmar. As an independent traveller the best thing we can do is try to direct as little money as possible to the govt coffers and as much as possible towards the locals. So you don't catch any trains or the govt airline (which has a dodgy safety record), or go on expensive package tours (and I saw a lot of foreign tours, which made me cringe). What surprised me most was the number of tourists visiting Myanmar, a lot more than I expected. And how relatively advanced the tourism infrastructure appears. In spite of Western sanctions, there's certainly a fair bit of investment particularly from China (aka Big Brother), India and the other ASEAN countries.

The govt likes spending money on big projects, like bridges. Pity they don't spend as much money on their roads, which need
Little cutiesLittle cutiesLittle cuties

Wearing a bit of thanakha on their faces (natural combo of tinted moisturiser and sunblock)
a lot of TLC (my buggered back can attest to this). Plus there are beggars everywhere hitting up the tourists, especially the monks and nuns. Contrast this to the recent wedding of the leader's daughter where she wore a rumoured $50 million diamond necklace. It's hard not to notice these aspects, even only after being a few days in the country. My eyes were certainly opened.

Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 24


Cleanliness is next to godlinessCleanliness is next to godliness
Cleanliness is next to godliness

Locals mopping the grounds of the Shwedagon after prayers
Birthday statueBirthday statue
Birthday statue

Pouring water on my birthday statue. My planet is Mercury, and my animal sign is the tusked elephant. Water is poured 9 times on the middle Buddha figure, 5 times on the animal figure in front (not shown), and 3 times on the back statue.
Maha Ganda BellMaha Ganda Bell
Maha Ganda Bell

My monk escort showing me the ritual of bell ringing after I poured water on my birthday statue.
Creepy statueCreepy statue
Creepy statue

With real animal eyes
Chaukhtatgyi PayaChaukhtatgyi Paya
Chaukhtatgyi Paya

Get a load of the huge reclining Buddha compared to the pilgrim dude.
Rush hourRush hour
Rush hour

Peak hour traffic heading towards Sule Paya

National brekky consisting of rice vermicelli, spicy fish stock and other surprises
Chinatown street stallChinatown street stall
Chinatown street stall

Where I indulged in skewers of pork, chicken, okra & artichokes.

This fuggly eyesore is supposedly a replica of a royal barge, located on Kandawgyi Lake.
Mandalay HillMandalay Hill
Mandalay Hill

View from the moat surrounding the Mandalay Palace
Go North!Go North!
Go North!

Huge Buddha at the top of the hill pointing to where he prophesied the location of the future capital of Mandalay.
Kuthodaw PayaKuthodaw Paya
Kuthodaw Paya

Each stupa houses a marble slab of what is deemed the "world's largest book".
Long bedtime storyLong bedtime story
Long bedtime story

The entire Buddhist Scriptures are inscribed on 729 of these slabs on both sides. The guidebook says it would take 1 person approx 450 days to read the book.
Mahamuni PayaMahamuni Paya
Mahamuni Paya

Devout worshippers throng to the holiest pagoda in Mandalay during the "Full Moon" festival

13th February 2007

Great blog!
And enjoy those chapatis while they last. Before you know it they will be a mere memory *sniff*
22nd October 2007

Hi, I enjoyed your blog and the humour. It is an amazing country with amazing people. I was there in January 07 and found myself 'teaching' in a school in Rangoon, and what an experience it was! So I am going back tomorrow for another month Burmese bliss. Thanks, and tell your friends they need books and teachers. Kevin.

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