Before I went to Myanmar, friends have been trying to persuade me to visit the country and from my strange nature, I don’t go to places that does not appeal to me. At that time, I keep asking them “What is there to see in Myanmar?” and all I can hear them tell me is “Temples!”. Living in Thailand makes you templed out, but what changed my mind going there is when they told me that “Burmese people are amazing! They are the nicest people I’ve ever met!”. That was my driving force to go there.
My first stop in Myanmar was Yangon. From the guesthouse on my first morning after breakfast, I followed the map given to me at the airport going to the pagodas, it was quite a walk or maybe I wasn’t doing too much walking since I lived in Thailand. Anyway, I went to Sule Pagoda.
(Notice their hanging basket and clips)
10) Walk Around and See How Locals Live
On the way there, I noticed how the living in Yangon so basic. It seems like I’m back 20 years ago in the Philippine provinces. Yangon is a city, but I remember noticing how the buildings have hanging clips or baskets tied on a rope. I saw one man using it, as he yelled down to the newspaper guy below(he was on the 5th floor) that he wants one newspaper. The newspaper guy grabbed the clip, clipped the newspaper and the guy at the 5th floor pulled the rope up to take the paper. He then clipped money and slowly drop the clip back as the payment to the newspaper. It was primitive, but it still works.
(French Colonial Buildings)
Here’s what I found out about Burmese local fashion:
Locals are wearing their traditional clothes. Longyi for women’s skirt, and Pasu for men(yes, men wear skirts too!).
Women wears their traditional makeup called Thanaka. It is made from Thanaka tree bark being rubbed on a stone, it is the Burmese sunscreen.
(At the roundabout: L-R; Sule Pagoda and The City Hall)
9) Go to Sule Pagoda
Sule Pagoda is normally walking distance from the hostel I was staying in. It was quite a walk to Sule, but it was always every backpackers way to know more about the place one is visiting. Along Sule Pagoda’s area are noticeable old French Colonial architectures and different religious worship places from church, temple, pagoda, etc. I paid an entrance fee(2000 Kyat) and a ‘compulsory’ donation by leaving your footwear at the gates(200 Kyat).
(They’re not just techie monks, they’re Myanmar’s heroes)
8) Watch the Monks Taking Photos of Each Other
I think it was fun for me to see monks taking photos of each other maybe because I thought being a monk is a devotion, but as I live longer and travel to Buddhist countries I get to learn more about their faith. In Thailand, I found out that you can be a monk for a day or how long you want to be. In Myanmar, it is somehow a summer vocation for most younger men who wants to be a part of Buddhist monastery. It is something they do during school break as opposed to our summer classes, camps, and vacation. When the school resumes, they leave the monastery to go back to their normal life.
Which is why the younger monks are not totally cut off to material attachment, which according to their history, were the tools for their country’s freedom. I’ve seen it from the documentary film at the Moustache Brothers’ show, when Lu Zao played it on the show and Will Farrell was explaining how the young monks showed the world of what was really happening in their country through their gadgets and the Internet. From there, it started a revolution and the world realize that something has to be done to free the former Burma.
7) Get Scammed by a ‘Buddhist Teacher’
While enjoying my simple pleasures of taking photos of images, statues, and interior of Sule Pagoda… One old man approached me, he was so nice to me but then when he became overly helpful telling me about Buddhist teachings and all, I became very suspicious. Perhaps I was a willing scam victim to let him share whatever he wants to share, I thought I’ll give him donation afterwards just because it was interesting enough to know some Buddhist rituals such as:
- Pouring water on Buddhas head several times means something: First pour is for your parents; second pour is for your teachers; for your health; for Buddha. The water signifies your request to cleanse the auras and bless them for you.
- He then took a leaf from one of the altar, which I know normally should be an incense, asked me to my hands together with the leaf in between showing a third of its part and bow three times in front of the Buddha. He said to keep the leaf as my lucky charm or ‘talisman’. I did, but I don’t think I’d keep it forever since I figured his intention was not holy enough to give it to me.
- Beside the little altar at the side was a big bell. He took the wood and asked me to hit the bell three times, saying that the echoes of the bell communicates with my loved ones that passed away. If it were true, at least my dad and Itay heard my message.
It was a bit interesting but then he seems like in a hurry, like trying to tell me all at once and get some money from me to move on to another victim. I became anxious and just asked him I need to go. I hand him 1000 Kyat as the talk only took 10 minutes or maybe less because he was talking so fast, yet that money didn’t make him happy and said, “Minimum is 2500 Kyat”. Secretly infuriated, I handed him 1500 Kyat more and left without saying anything. My fault, I went with it and ignored my instincts.
(Devotees pouring water on the head of the Buddha)
6) Visit the Famous Shwedagon Pagoda
After being scammed, I finish taking photos of things I would want to take photos of, and even though one legit ticket lady told me that I could climb up the top of pagoda by paying a minimal price fee, I became uninterested. Simply because I was expecting everyone to be really nice as I was told, yet that taught me, I should not be naive that not everyone is the same and it doesn’t mean they are bad, they’re just trying to get by(still in my opinion, is not the right way to do it).
I tried following the map to Shwedagon Pagoda but as always, I asked a local to confirm whether I was heading the right direction. They said I did but suggested to take a bus for 200 Kyat directly to Shwedagon Pagoda. Drained from that scam, I did ride a local bus.
When I get there, I walked some alleyway and saw a temple beside it. I decided to see the temple beside it first before marching up to Shwedagon’s entrance. Yes, you have to climb steps on this huge wide stairs filled with souvenir sellers at the side asking every tourists to buy something.
I should have hidden my camera, but I didn’t know that trick yet so I was approached by a young lady asking me if I need help. Of course, its her way checking if I am a local or not, then lead me the way to the counter explaining to me that I have to pay 5000 Kyat for the entrance fee.
Shwedagon Pagod is huge and there were lots of people around, but I tell you what, I was not impressed. Maybe because I live in Thailand and I’ve seen better pagodas and Buddhist temples better than that, plus going all the way there to see their famous landmark, I was expecting more but it is, what it is.
(Here’s my original photo semi-edited Shwedagon Pagoda shot)
5) Eating Street Food
Since Myanmar is surprisingly expensive than Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, by far the most common resorted choice of food is from the ‘street food’ and Mohinga, a Burmese breakfast fish soup originates in Yangon. Be cautious that if you think you’re a hardcore street food eater now that you are not that afraid of getting sick just because you think your immune system has adapted to it? Don’t be so sure until you get to Myanmar. Just like Laos years back when they just opened it to the tourists, food handling is such a big question mark. Myanmar is my new Laos in food handling. I must give credit to Laos that they have changed a lot from 2008, but Myanmar is where Laos was. Just be careful with eating street food in Myanmar. I received the payback few days after the Myanmar trip. I got sick for 3 days!
(I had a 700 Kyat lunch just outside the Sule Pagoda)
4) Humor Yourself While Walking an Endless Bridge Path to Kandawgyi Lake
On the free Yangon map they gave me, there were few highlighted places they recommend and after seeing Sule Pagoda, the minor ones would not appeal ti me anymore aside from other travelers’ opinion that walked to see everything on the map, I know I would not check them out.
Karaweik was one interesting icon on the map so I thought I’d drop by it on the way back to the hostel but there’s two ways going in, its either you go through the park or go around the side gates which both would take couple or more kilometers away. A local suggested to go through the park, the catch is, you will have to pay 2000 Kyat entrance fee, but it is nicer to walk an endless wooden lake bridge than endless street road. At least, I’ve seen beautiful park with its lush greens, elephant sculptures, hotels, and local lovers that hides on trees or any quiet part of the park. I was probably a good surprise to their moment every time I would walk to a nice quiet side trying to get a good spot for a good shot and there they are with their partners snuggling under a tropical humid weather(Wow! Love doesn’t know weather too!).
3) Be Misled That Golden Karaweik Is a Temple
It took me more than an hour to get from the park’s entrance to the Golden Karaweik through the wooden bridge, not because it is long enough to walk but also, I’d stopped on several occasions to take photos or get a little rest under a shady tree. Since it seems like everything is either temples or pagodas, I thought Karaweik is one of them, but I was wrong. When I was having a little rest beside one Chinese Temple along the bridge, one local photographer was talking to me, so I asked if Karaweik is a temple. It wasn’t, it is a big floating expensive restaurant which I didn’t bother getting in, was that a sign of soon-to-be ‘templed out’? You bet it is.
(The Golden Karaweik, Who would have thought that I’d walk kilometers to see a golden floating restaurant?)
2) Get Lost Finding an ATM That Works!
Myanmar is lacking of ATM that works for International ATM cards. I was told there are only three banks that have ATMs that work for International cards but I wasn’t told that even if you found 3 ATMs of those banks, it’s either ‘out of order’, ‘service not available’, ‘no sufficient funds’ displayed!
I have to go for an ATM expedition to get me some money since the country was draining too much juice from my pocket, rode a local bus to their ‘mall’, cross different roads to try different ATMs from different banks, asking locals if there were other banks with ATMs that works with Visa or Mastercard and finally, after countless entering of my PIN and changing ATM cards and places just to get money, it worked! Whew! Next problem was, to go back to the hostel. I guess my Banking Tips for Travelers would work here that much, so be smart!
(Yangon’s local buses)
1) Learn The Basics
I always find it interesting to learn a new language, but it’s always amusing how easy you can make a local smile as you utter words in their language like simple Hi’s and Thank you’s. Gladly, the first taxi driver in Myanmar that I talked to on my day one taught me “Mengalabar!” and “Chesube!”, which was really fun, specially in my case.
I guess this post is the longest I created since this blog existed on world wide web, just because I don’t want to elaborate everything on one post over another on this and that. I also have a lot of backlogs which I would have to think about. So, I hope you liked my ramblings of “What to Do’s in Yangon”.
(A temple beside the entrance of Shwedagon Pagoda)