Myanmar Milkrun

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December 29th 2016
Published: December 29th 2016
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We had a few hours before our flight to Bagan departed. Or should I say flights? How was I to know that Bagan is only 1 hour from Yangon when I was booking these flights. It's 8 hours from Brisbane to Singapore and 3 hours seemed reasonable at the time! And what better way to see a little more of the country than to take a milk run flight with 3 stops in under 3 hours? Deaks was happy - three flights equals three sprites.

But more on that later. We had the morning to make the most of and headed to The People's Park for a shady stroll and some serenity. People's park is across the road from Shwedagon Pagoda and the gilded stupa is an ominous presence beyond the lush green trees shading the various playgrounds. We walked a wooden rope bridge between three tree-top towers that was about 20 metres above the ground and of questionable engineering. The local kids and teenagers were doing it, so why not us? We discovered that the privacy afforded by these tree-top towers (think the Ewok houses in Return of the Jedi) allowed for a bit of discreet canoodling behind umbrellas for these Burmese teenagers. It's a very conservative country and these little moments are probably all they can getaway with. It was all very PG and above the belt - quite cute actually.

The quirky park signage is a gentle reminder of the rules they've lived under through decades of a brutal military dictatorship. A less subtle reminder is the military parade ground that leads up to the Shwedagon Pagoda. A wide concrete parade ground with white lines marking out parking spaces for the tanks that would have paraded past the generals on commemorative occasions. The parade ground (think North Korea) joined the parliament house with Shwedagon Pagoda - the most sacred of sites - and would have served as a constant reminder of who was in charge.

One of the benefits of a dictatorship is that you can make decisions on a whim. Like changing which side of the road cars drive on overnight, banning gambling because you lost big in a foreign city or banning motorbikes from a city because of a run in with a motorcyclist. Apparently a former general did ban gambling after losing millions in a London casino and while the lack of 6 million motorbikes does make Yangon quieter, it probably just adds to the crowded roads. The frenetic nature of the traffic masked the lack motorbikes, but now I've noticed they're absent, I do miss them.

Back to the sanctuary for a quick vegemite and cheese toasty (feels like home), a bit of quiet time and then we are off to the Airport for our Bagan sidetrip. A surprisingly fast $6 taxi ride and we are at a brand spanking new domestic airport. I must admit that after arriving into Myanmar at an archaic and dilapidated international airport and booking our tickets on Mann Yadanarpon Airlines (you haven't heard of them?) via some dodgey website, I was overcome with a sense of security and calm when we walked into the serene soothing surrounds of the new airport. Filled with light and space and new carpet and almost too cold air con, I just felt more confident that I hadn't booked the family onto a death flight in a junkyard single engine bucket of rust.

The flight was delayed and the plane was pretty small, but flying Yangon-Heho-Mandalay-Bagan did enable us to see the country change from the Ayeyarwardy Delta to the green hilly northern regions. And the low altitude gives a much better veiw of the farmland and villages. Every village has at least one pagoda, regularly gilded and prominent. The patchwork of farms had changed in colour, much darker and richer from the volcanic soil. Coming into Heho I saw a dark ochre pitch with dozens of children in yellow playing soccer and farmers burning the waste from their recent crop. It looks to be such a simple life in contrast to the crowds and noise of Yangon.

Flying into Bagan, the number of pagodas and temples is startling and you don't know where to look. The delayed flight sees us driving from the airport to Old Bagan after sunset. The source of the silhouettes by the road isn't immediately obvious. It's not trees though, it's pagodas and there are dozens of them. The kids announce the first few pagodas they see and then they just keep repeating "and more", "and more", "and more!"

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