Myanmar, Day Two, Yangon
The day started earlier than the agreed upon 9am when my mother knocked on our door at seven thirty to see if we were up. Well we were now. The included hotel breakfast was an interesting affair part Myanmar part western, with cakes for good measure. I had a spring roll, mini Victoria sponge and lots of papaya and watermelon to cover all the bases and because I can’t resist a free breakfast, yes I know I pay for it but anyway. All suitably nourished we headed out on our planned walking tour.
Many of the buildings are colonial era, beautiful, colonnaded and scrolled, impossibly romantic wrought iron balconies above rows of shophouses, ornate carvings and cornices. And all of these wonderful buildings are covered in decades of mould, trees tenaciously grow out between bricks high off the ground, years of decay clinging to their facades. It is a city in flux, progress, if it is that, evident in pockets, other areas like stepping into a time warp, transporting you to a time long past, a moment in time captured for ever. The pavements are much better than in a lot of Asia although with high curbs which my hips loathe stepping on and off of.
Our first stop was the Sule Pagoda at the centre of Yangon and from which the cities easily navigable road grid system fans out. Shoes deposited, all Temple sites are shoe free zones, we paid the entrance fee, their sign says three USD per person, we were charged four. The USD seems to be interchangeably used with the local currency, Khat. Once inside as well as the beautiful, but mostly covered under renovation Stupa there were many Buddha statues and lots of very well dressed worshippers, the women and some of the men with Thanaka on their faces. Thanaka, a paste made from ground tree bark, has been used for centuries, originally to protect from sunburn and for its cooling properties and nowadays for these and traditional cosmetic reasons. With a clash of symbols a small boat on cables soared up to a hatch near the top of the pagoda carrying the prayers of a group of fervently praying men. A tiny Myanmarese? Myanmarian? Hmmn will need to research that, a family of very diminutive people from Myanmar approached us all nervous smiles to have their photo taken with the Western Giants. J towering over them as we smiled while photo after photo on different cameras were taken. Great bunches of red and green bananas and enormous coconuts were being made into offerings. As we collected our shoes on the way out we were charged another one thousand Kyat, hmmn ok then, at which point we resolved to carry our shoes with us next time as the lovals had been doing.
We wandered through the adjacent park filled with young couples leaning into each other, clearly a popular meeting place for young suitors. Tiny boy monks approaching us with their bowls asking for money, only too happy to pose for photos in exchange.
Along the way we picked up snacks including a lovely shortbready biscuit, an interesting fishy garlicky moisture sucking pastry, stopped for ice cream which was more sugar than milk and had corn fritters that were so tasty we walked back to get another one. The sellers husband had tried to triple the price and his wife angrily admonished him, shooing him away before giving us the correct change.
We ended up in the sprawling Bogyoke market, with its seemingly endless lanes of fabric, jewellery, art, clothing and knickknacks wandering around our eyes like saucers taking it all in. We bought a small watercolour and Ma bought a little oil painting. We stopped at the little supermarket under Parksons in a very Western mini mall next to the market and stocked up on water and snacks for our first bus trip adventure tomorrow night then headed back to the hotel.
After a few hours chilling we headed out to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, two thousand five hundred years old and the highest point in all of Yangon containing not one but four relics, one from each of the known Buddhas. Shoes tucked in our bags, for twenty USD on top of the eight thousand kyat entrance fee, our guide Win took us slowly around educating us as we went. It’s truly a magnificent place, gilded pagodas and stupas in every direction. There are corners dedicated to the day of the week you were born at which you pour a small cup of water over the Buddha, one for each year of your life and one for the next year and then pour one over the statue of a guardian and rat either side of the Buddha, all for good luck. It was a lovely meditative experience during which Win took Trish’s camera and took about fifty photos capturing every aspect of the experience for posterity. She doesn’t yet know the never give the guide your camera because they’ll take a trillion photos mantra. Lines of smiling women followed by lines of men constantly sweeping the tiled floors passed us repeatedly as we strolled around keeping the dirt to a minimum although our feet were still black by the time we left. J attracting attention with his height and sarong wrapped neatly around in the local way. As the sun goes down the main gold covered Stupa rising into the night sky comes alive. By now the Pagoda grounds were packed with more people arriving every minute and having conpleted our tour we thanked Win and headed out to dinner.
We’d chosen Feel Myanmar on recommendations and the knowledge that you can point and choose from a bewildering array of dishes. The Myanmar language is a beautiful and to us indecipherable
serious of loops, semi circles and swirls so pointing at food is a genius solution. A round plate full of local vegetables, beans, baby aubergine, various unidentifiable leaves and jerusalam artichoke around a spicy dip and a potato and noodle soup were added to our selection of huge succulent prawns with caramelised onions, a greasy but tasty flat bread, kailan, a spicy onion and prawn dish I dterred clear of and sticky sweet and sour chicken and all washed down with local beer. I thought all the vegetables tasted the same but the dinner was a nice experience if not such a great taste sensation.
Dinner over we headed back to the hotel for tea, chocolate and bed. Trish is proving to be a great travelling companion, knowledgeable, fun and not fond of early rising.
Tomorrow we are hoping to go on a food tour and visit the National Museum before catching our overnight bus to Inle Xx