Chasing the sun in Burma… Yangon to Bagan

Heading for Yangon

It feels like I am finishing this off an age after we have been there.  I can’t believe that, it is almost a month since we were there.

After 4 hours sleep we were up and out to catch our flight from HK to Bangkok on Asia Air (dare I say that if you were any taller than me you’re in for a squashed up couple of hours), hanging out there for three hours before continuing to Yangon, the capital of Burma (aka Myanmar dependent on who you are listening to; government or army).

The international terminal seemed quite normal from the inside; head outside and you come to the non-developed country madness  – all the pickups people with their signs, the hotel touts and then of course the taxi touts.  We stood back and watched the madness to get the lay of the land and how things operated.  We spotted one guy, speaking english and pointing people towards cars.  We were quoted 12,000 kuats and figured we were probably being had (we were, usual price was 8,000 kuats), but as it was only £6 for the 45 minute trip off we went to the 100 Moon Inn, home for the next two nights.

For our only full day we had decided to somewhat follow a walking tour we found on Triposo and it would lead us around Yangon.  First stop the Botataung temple.  Well immediately the obvious foreign tourist has to pay money to enter – if you looked like you were from the region they didn’t ask you to pay.  Shoes off and in we go.  I think we must have chosen the busiest 10 minutes of that hour as suddenly we had people descending in upon us.  Forget the idea of queues and lines; this was a free for all; smallest to squeeze into that tiniest of spaces in front of you wins.  I believe in doing as the locals do – no chance they were squeezing in front of me, otherwise we shall never see the sacred hair of Gautama Buddha – not that you could see anything once you got there!  Perhaps that was because there were so many little people crowding me in (I’m tall in this part of the world) with their cameras and selfie sticks  that I just had to get out of there.

We were also conned by a couple of monks who were standing in a passage way holding out their hands for money – they gave the impression that we couldn’t go any further unless we made a donation.  It was only after that we realised that monks are not supposed to touch money – only rice and other food should be asked for and only at certain times of the day.  We were not going to be caught out on that one again.

Shwedagon Pagoda – they say it is 2,500 years old and  enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics.  So it was number one on our hit list; well it was on the walking tour featured on our Triposo App.  The temple is the hit attraction within a compound of hundreds of temples and Buddhas from the past centuries; each with their own meaning.  The site was a lot bigger than I anticipated The Shwedagon temple is the main temple in the middle and then it is surrounded by smaller temples.

The place was packed with visitors and we were taking a breather to get out of the mid-day sun and we were approached by a small group of young women, if they could have their photo taken with us.  Sure thing, no problem.  Well, that just opened the flood gates.  We got our few moments of fame; teenagers, families for group shots, with their children started stopping to have their picture taken with us.  We couldn’t quite see the attraction of ourselves but they wanted to take it home and show family and friends that they had met western women on their travels. That’s fame!

We walked for miles through Yangon, seeing all sorts, here are some of the highlights…

Next stop Bagan

We were eager for our first internal flight. There 90 minutes early, walking into the bedlam that was Yangon domestic terminal. You had your bags I’ve; they get placed on the old weighing scales and you hope to goodness you see them again as the checkin counter man puts a sticker on your lapel to remind you what airline who are travelling with as you can be sure it want the one you booked with! 

Going through security you pop your bag on the conveyor and watch security personnel on their phones – no such things as liquid restrictions, laptops out or belts off. The buzzer goes off and it’s a three second pat down before she goes back to her phone again. No such things as electronic boards or tannoy to announce departures – we have the young men walking around with boards stating destination and gate (door 1 or 2). You get on a bus and hope that it really is going further  than 50m to get you to the plane. 

Bagan is an area known for its temples. Thousands of them over a 30 square mile area. As such, the area has not been able to get UNESCO accreditation as they have not followed the rules in renovating temples back to their original being, however this does not stop them charging you an entry fee into the area – well they won’t let you leave the airport until you pay the $10 charge, no matter how much you argue as you can bet that $10 is just going into a back pocket. 

 I didn’t quite know what to expect but I have to say it was the highlight of Burma. We had been advised to rent out electric bikes (aka scooters) and off we went to se wha t we could find. Luckily the Triposo App was our saviour again as we had an offline map to get us around the area and go off the beaten track. We started with the big temple overlooking the water but it was swamped by visitors, traders selling their wears, coloured flashing lights around Buddha’s head that we just had to escape. We just took the open road and headed up random lanes to see what we might find.

We came across one random temple, and after walking around it, Una vanished inside.  I found her chatting to an artist in there selling his paintings.  There was also a huge Buddha statue, that actually represented what we thought should be in a temple.  Talking to the artist, he pointed out a hidden set of steps that would bring us up to roof level.  Up we went and the views were just amazing. So good that we decided to head back there that evening for sunset.

We spent our two days chasing temples on electric scooters, fending off an over-generous hotel manager – he was not expecting females to complain and then persisted to follow us around to try and give us free things all the time; not a bad complaint I hear you say, but heck,, we were trying to avoid him all the time!

Next stop Mandalay, up at 4am to chase the sunrise…

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