We arrived late at night. Customs in Myanmar goes at a snail's pace. There were probably a dozen foreigners in front us in line but it took an hour to get through. Is the computer system that slow? Are they doing an extra though look into our backgrounds? Dunno.
First things first. This is the cool/dry season? Holy crap. there is a breeze and if you stay perfectly still and are in the shade it is bearable. Once you start moving or are in direct sunlight all bets are off. So much sweating. I burn like nobodies business so I am already covered in three layers of four types of sunscreen. Not today sun!
We stood at the Sule Pagoda for a long while getting our barings. This is the first time that we have be out of the hotel during the day. Men lean out of the open doors of the buses constanly coming by casually holding on and yelling out various destinations.
We notice that many people's face is covered in Thanakha. Of course we didn't know that is what it is called at first. All we knew is that people were wearing some sort of make-up. It is a yellowish beige paste made from grinding a tree branch into paste and putting onto the face. It is startling at first but you get used to it very quickly. Most of the women, many of the children, and a good portion of the men wear it. It is kind of a makeup/perfume/sunscreen/skincare hybrid.
Many people are in traditional dress. It is called a Longyi. It is basically a tube of cloth that you step into and fold into a skirt. Men and women both wear then although they fold them much differently and the patterns of fabric and colors used are different. It is one of those types of clothing that looks as if it is incredibly simple but actually there is an art to folding it so that the pleats fall correctly and you can walk.
There is a great variety of people and the way that they look. Myanmar is the cultural watershed of Asia so some people look almost Thai and other people could be from India. It is interesting that not everyone is skinny the way that they are in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia.
We have a guide now but are basically we are doing everything that we would normally do. The only difference is that we don’t have to figure out how to get there. #winning What we did the first day alone probably would have taken Carsten and I a week to get around to if we were by ourselves. I was worried that I was going to feel uncomfortable or rushed but so far the pace has been good and the Guide has been awesome.
10 things to see in Yangon:
1. Sule Pagoda and the People's Square and Park
We started out, as so many do, at the Sule Pagoda. It is in the People's Square and Park and is lined by colonial architecture. It is the central point of Yangon and the colonial architecture on all sides serves to remind you of it's history. There was a coup in 1962 and the country was under a military dictatorship until 2012 (some of the parliament seats are still taken up by the military). In many ways all progress in Myanmar halted in 1962 and change is just now slowly coming about. This means that things that have disappeared in other southeast Asian countries are still visible in Myanmar. For better or worse. They are however in shocking repair. I think that there may have been a tree growing out of the clock tower of The Secretariat.
Myanmar has such a sad history and it is so recent that loving it here and having a good time seem vaguely wrong.
2. Colonial Architecture
Notable examples include The Strand Hotel, Tahe Secretariat (which used to be a library), St. Mary's Cathedral, the Post Office , and Yangon Heritage Trust Building. The Post oddice is still functioning and if you go inside you are treated to the sight of dozens of mothers squatting in line in front of an open box of Burmese food. They are there to send care packages to loved ones who are working in Thailand or Singapore and the Central post office gets things there days faster than the other city post offices are able to.
3. Bogyoke Market
What is notable about this market is that it is primarily a market for locals. Sometimes when you visit markets in Southeat Asia they tend to be tourist centered but not here. That seems to be one of the common themes in Myanmar. Authenticity. It is one of it's greater charms.
It is easy and cheap to cross the river to the small communities on the other side. The ride is not comfortable and the current is so fast that the boats cross almost sideways.
5. Street Food
Street food in developing nations is always a slight gamble. We ended up in a tea house, which is just about as local as you can get in Myanmar being served tea by about ten 14 year olds. This is one of the few places that I have ever been where children this young legally work in the service industry. We ended up having "english tea" which is black tea mixed with sweetened condensed milk. This sounds like it would be kind of gross but is actually addictive.
6. Kandawgyi Lake
If you do decide to take the short walk around the path and brindge be advised that much are the timbers are half rotted and none of them are even. Definitly watch your step. This advice in no way comes because I was taking a picture and tripped over a protruding log and then almost crashed through the rotting wood when I landed. Not at all.
7. Reclining Buddha
Known as the "prettiest Buddha" and you can easily see why. I suppose that over time our concepts of male and femal beauty has become more ridgid but many of the Buddha statues in Myanmar were quite feminine in their looks. To be honest this Buddha looks a bit as if he is posing for the thumbnail of his youTube makeup tutorial channel. False lashes and all. I's watch that. Bonus: I bet that channel would be awesome for your Karma.
8. Yangon National Theater
9. Islamic Quarter and the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue
There are only three Jewish families left in Yangon and one of them is the caretaker of this charming Synagoue directly off the Islamic Quarter's street.
10. Swedagon Pagoda
It is not possible to fully explain how overwhelming this site is. The central stupa is almost 350 feet tall and completely covered in real gold plating. First impressions of Myanmar include the fact that pretty much everything that stands still is eventually painted or carved with a Buddhist image and then covered in gold leaf or plate. Inside there is supposed to be eight strands of the Buddha's hair which make this an especially holy place. It is hard for your brain to even take that in. But wait! There are hundreds of outer temples, pagoda, stupas, and statues. The place is huge. HUGE. Everywhere you look people are praying, sweeping the floor (as a meritorious deed), lighting candles, pouring water over Buddha statues, or circling a temple seven times. I have never been to a place where Buddhism was this essential to everyday life. There are eight "corners" of the pagoda that correspond to the eight days of the week (Wednesday has a morning corner and an evening corner) each represented by a different animal. It is actually Hindu astrology but long adopted in Myanmar and accepted into their Buddhist faith. If you are born in Myanmar you are guaranteed to know what day you were born on as that thells you where it is best for you to pray. Each day of the week's corner has a Buddha statue (or twenty) and worshippers place flowers and other offerings there as they pray. As the sun set the pagoda glowed as if it were lit from within as all the gold reflected the sun's rays back on it