As I sit here on a dull gloomy day listening to the rain pound on the roof I was reminiscing about past journeys and my mind took me back to Myanmar. Not because it was rainy there, the exact opposite in fact but because it still rates as one of my most favourite places I’ve visited. So I thought, what better to do than share a bit of Myanmar with you.
A few years ago Dave and I headed off on our first big international, no end in sight, adventure. We started in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as that’s the cheapest destination from Brisbane and when we discovered beers were hideously expensive, we headed to Thailand for a Christmas break while we decided where to go for some adventure.
Christmas lunch in Thailand 🙂
After a bit of chat we hit upon going to Myanmar. I was a bit trepidatious as at that stage Burma was being heavily boycotted by the world, including tourists due to the oppressive military regime but after a few queries on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forums we found that it was safe and that the people were hurting from a lack of tourism so that was it, we were going to Myanmar.
Our big plan was that we were going to limit the money that went to the government by staying local, travelling local and eating local. The visa money was a must spend but aside from that we were determined not to support the regime, instead to support the people. We had been warned that there were no such things as ATM’s and that credit cards didn’t work either so with typical lack of planning we hit the airport with no spare cash and cleaned out our daily limits on the cards and headed to the plane with a total of $1000USD and a plan to stay 10 days.
We landed in Yangon (the capital in the south of the country) and found ourselves a local hotel. A guide book hastily bought in Bangkok gave us a bit of a start point for attractions so we hit the city.
Yangon is famous for it’s pagodas and we could easily see why. In the late afternoon and evening we went to one of the most amazing pagodas I have ever seen, the Shwedagon Pagoda. Acclaimed as one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites, the incredible main dome is said to be covered with 27 tons of gold leaf, along with thousands of diamonds and other jewels. The top of the stupa has a single huuuuge diamond that literally sparkles in the evening light. All around the main temple are smaller golden stupas (the towers) and smaller side buildings that are said to hold holy relics. The local people come along all through the day and evening to offer up their prayers to Buddha. The whole place was humming with people coming and going, chanting their prayers and just general controlled chaos. The outer area around the main stupa holds lots of smaller rooms, often heavily decorated with statuary and golden relics and offerings. It was so beautiful, super glittery at times, but just beautiful.
We don’t normally bother with guides, although there was a constant stream on offer at every temple, but this place was just so amazing we decided that it would be worth it to have someone tells us about it. Which is why you see a photo of Dave (while he still had his glorious long locks) seeking the Buddha’s blessing. Apparently your can dip you hand in the sacred water and whatever part of your body you wish to enhance you simply rub the water and kaboom, Buddha will help you out. Sadly, while it was a fun exercise, I’m not sure that the Lord Buddha heard his westerners prayer and the hair ultimately departed 😉
While my little camera (long before I got into my photography for real) didn’t cope with the low light of evening you can still get a feel of the place from the photos. The last image is one of four amazing entry buildings. At each of the compass points there are these incredible covered walkways that lead to the stairs to take you into the pagoda proper. Such a beautiful way to enter a scared site.
And so, with that, I will leave you for tonight and rejoin you later in the week for more of my favourite country.
The golden stupas surrounding the main event at Shwedagon Pagoda. For scale there is a man reading on the bottom step.
Dave praying that his hair stays put (which as time told it just didn’t). Shaggy of days of old.
One of the side rooms where the local people come to pray to Buddha.
All along great plinths were thousands of candles lit in prayer. We saw the same in the Nepalese temples. It reminds me a little of the Christian religious ways of lighting candles to be heard better by your God.
The incredible 99m tall zedi (techincally not a stupa) that is topped with a 76 carat diamond (!!!!)
The jade Buddha found in one of the side rooms. He was a bit precious as they had him in a big glass box.
The entrance walkway to get up to the pagoda.