JBR#1 – Yangon Myanmar, the golden city

Day 1: Arrival

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Going outside of Yangon international airport and many surprises already awaited me. Even though Yangon was the former capital of Myanmar, it didn’t have the vibrant look of a big city. The city was poorly lit and merged in quiet atmosphere, people dressed in traditional clothes and all the women I saw still used Thanakha on their faces. And guess what, all the car drove on the right side of the road but the driver’s seat was on the right side as well. On the way to the hotel, I had a glimpse of Shwedagon Pagoda at night, a dazzling pagoda dominated the downtown skyline.

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My glimpse of Shwedagon

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Day 2: Yangon city tour

 

I started walking through the city center, it was a strange mix of contrasts. There were Sule pagoda standing next to a modern Burmese influenced building of Yangon city hall and modern glass high -rise buildings. Added to that were British colonial architectures and a American style Independence Monument at Maha Bandoola Garden.

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Sule Pagoda

 

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A British influenced building viewed from Maha Bandoola Garden

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Independence Monument at Maha Bandoola Garden

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Another colonial architecture

 

 

Botataung Pagoda, a small pagoda located near Yangon river. It had a peaceful atmosphere with many local worshipers but once I got inside, I was amazed. There were a gold plated hallway with intricate Buddhist decorations led to the center chamber which allowed you to have a closer look of Buddha relics inside.

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Golden chamber with Buddha relics

One of the most sacred sites of Buddhism, Shwedagon Pagoda had a surreal beauty that caught me breathless. I spent over an hour walking around this massive pagoda complex  but it still wasn’t enough for me to explore everything.

 

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Shwedagon central stupa

 

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The palm tree here is the only thing remained from the old Shwedagon

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Just a small part of Shwedagon Pagoda

The central stupa was adorned with tons of gold, diamonds and other gems, rising high into the sky. It was said to enshrined relics from 4 Buddhas, which brought it the name Shwedagon. Surrounding it was the marble terrace and all the beautifully decorated pavilions and worship halls, making it the largest pagoda complex in Myanmar and maybe the world.

 

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One of the worship hall in Shwedagon Pagoda complex

 

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Intricate worship hall ceiling decoration

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The central stupa surrounded by many other small stupas

 

Day 3: Bago and Golden Rock

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Leaving Yangon behind, I was heading to Bago and Golden Rock. On my way, I stopped at a monastery to see the monks having their lunch. It was an interesting experience to see all the monks marching in order with their urns but it must be not too comfortable for them having many people watching like that.

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My next stop on the way was Kambawzathardi Golden Palace.  The palace was burnt down hundreds of years ago but its golden structure was excavated recently so they built a replica on that place. It was a place full of history and had a stunning beauty, totally worth a visit.

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Golden Rock in the mist

Just like Shwedagon Pagoda, Golden Rock is one of the most holy sites in Myanmar. It was believed that there were a Buddha’s hair inside the rock, which kept it from falling down from the edge of the cliff. After a  ride by an open truck and a short walk, I got to the pagoda at the top of the mountain. The Golden Rock was there covered in mist, that somehow brought up the dreamlike feelings.

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Day 4: Going back to Yangon

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Since it wasn’t enough time to get down, I decided to stay at a hotel there at the mountain top. The sunrise view outside my window was outstanding, a hopeful start for a new day maybe?

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View from my window

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A nice place to stay

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Shwemawdaw Pagoda was my next stop on the way back to Yangon. It was the tallest stupa in Myanmar when Shwedagon Pagoda was the largest. The original Shwemawdaw was destroyed in an earthquake about 100 years ago and was rebuilt. It was said that the part enshrined the Buddha hair relic still remained even when everything else was broken into pieces when the quake happened and they kept that part as the symbol of holiness.

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The part enshrined the Buddha hair relic

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The reclining Buddha Shwethalyaung was believed to be built about 1000 years ago and left abandoned until the British found it when trying to establish a railway station. It was the second largest Buddha in the world. All the ornaments and decorations were made later after the British decided to keep the Buddha, but they should do something about the unflattering metal structure housing it, I thought.

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My last stop for the day was Kyaikpun Pagoda. It depicted four different images of Buddhas with four enormous Buddha statues in meditation pose facing four cardinal directions of the compass. They said that this pagoda was built by four sisters who swore to dedicate their lives to Buddhism. And since one of them broke their vow and got married, the Buddha she built was broken down and had to be rebuilt later. Many locals believed that lovers should not visit this place or else they would break up.

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Buddha statue at Kyaikpun Pagoda

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Day 5: Than Lyin excursion

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Yele Pagoda on the midstream laterite reef

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My first stop for the day was Ye Le Pagoda. It was built midstream on the laterite reef. The only way to get to the pagoda was by boat which took only about 1 minute. It was a very beautiful place with wood carving structure and golden decorations topped with multi tiered roof. It housed a magnificent golden Buddha image. There was a monk statue here which believed to be the guardian of seamen. Fishing wasn’t allowed 3 miles radius around this pagoda and visitors could feed the catfish living in the river since those fishes knew there was nothing to fear here.

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An interesting place to visit in Than Lyin was an ancient Portuguese church ruin. In a country where over 95% population was Buddhist, seeing something not Buddhism was rare.

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My next stop was National races village. Traditional houses from each major ethnic were built there together with a replica of the landmark of each region.

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Going back to Yangon, I went to Myanmar Gems museum. Too bad for me, that was a blackout so the museum was closed for the day. Anyway, I visited some gemstones and jewelry shops there, they had nice stones and the prices were quite fair (or so I heard), but never forget to bargain a little.

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Day 6: Departure

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My first stop was the other reclining Buddha image in Yangon. It was newly built in 2010 and said to be the largest Buddha image in Myanmar. From there, I got to the park and had a look at Karaweik Palace. It was a wonderful place to take photo both of Shwedagon Pagoda and Karaweik Palace but it was raining like crazy so I had to be content with whatever photos I took.

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Scott’s market was a major tourist attraction located in central Yangon. It was a colonial structured bazaar with many antique, handicraft, jewelry shops and clothing stores. This place was a little touristy but still great for buying souvenirs.

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Mahapasana Guha Cave from the outside

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Mahapasana Guha Cave meeting hall

 

 

 

 

 

 

I only had few hours before my departure so I decided to visit some places which on the way to the airport, there were so many things I still wanted to see but couldn’t risk the chance of being late. Mahapasana Guha Cave was a large man made cave which contained the meeting hall decorated with real jade where the 6th Buddhist council was held. At the end of the hall was a Buddha image made of real jade. Not far away from there was a place where they kept white elephants. White elephants were considered the symbol of power and good fortune in Myanmar but I guessed not too good for them to live their lives in captivity like that.

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Buddha image at Kyauktawgyi Pagoda

My last stop for the trip was Kyauktawgyi Pagoda where they kept the massive Buddha image carved out from a single piece of white marble. This was the largest marble Buddha image in Myanmar, which weighted over 600 tons. The Buddha was cased inside glass, that somehow ruined the sacred atmosphere but they said if not, the wind would make the marble become too dry and crack. So no more complains, we wouldn’t want this masterpiece to be destroyed, would we?

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The time was up so I had to say goodbye to this beautiful country. The Burmese people was so nice and friendly, they made me feel welcomed everywhere. The food was good, I couldn’t find out any dish I had tried that I didn’t like. The only 2 things I would complain was that the internet connection was terrible and the hotel price was too high to justify.

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There are still many things I want to see in Myanmar, Bagan, Inle lake, Mandalay,… just to name a few, I wish I could come back there one day. Myanmar is on its way to open up to the world, just hope its uniqueness and charisma wouldn’t be destroyed.

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Categories: JBR, just back report, travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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