Myanmar’s tourism industry isn’t as well developed as other countries in South East Asia. Tourists are a curiosity to many Burmese as we’ve experienced already in our first few days. Many people stare and then shy away when we smile or say hello. A few have asked to take a selfie with us and others try to sneak a picture of us on their phones. The lack of tourism makes communication and navigation difficult. All signs are in Burmese text, with very little English. Navigating the streets, sites, menus and shops is challenging. We were lucky to have English on this sign below to tell us which cave we were visiting.
Traffic is difficult, even as pedestrians. We had just gotten used to left side driving, but in Myanmar the driving is back on the right. The problem is that most of the cars have their steering wheel on the right! Apparently, in the 70s the government changed to driving on the right overnight. Supposedly it was mayhem! Cars today are either still from the 70s or are cheaper Japanese right side drive imports. A city with as much traffic as Yangon doesn’t need this confusion. Traffic is so bad it takes 1 hour to go 20 km. Most men in Myanmar wear a longy. It is a sheet of cloth wrapped around the waist, similar to a skirt. We had heard of these but thought it would only be worn in traditional dress. Instead, we see almost all men wearing longys.
There are many monks in Myanmar. Boys are expected to spend a year in monk training between the ages of 10 -and 20. We saw many of these novice monks especially collecting food donations in the morning and at temples during the day.
Shwedagon Pagoda is a glittering gold collection of zetis and shrines set on a hill in the center of Yangon. There are four entrance gates with long, colourful walkways and stairways leading up to the main plaza on the top of the hill. Entering the main plaza, you are awestruck by the incredible display. The large main golden Shwedagon Pagoda is surrounded by dozens of smaller golden zetis, which in turn are encircled by dozens of golden Buddhas and other deity statues.
Throughout the large plaza are many more temples, zedis and shrines all glittering with gold, mirrors and coloured glass. The Shwedagon Pagoda holds 8 hairs from Buddha. Another shrine on the plaza has Buddha’s footprint so this entire complex is very important to the Burmese.
It’s impressive during the day and even more so at night when the candles are lit, and the entire complex is illuminated. It can be seen from many parts of the city, shining on the top of the hill.
We were lucky to see this beautiful Burmese couple getting their wedding pictures taken on the steps of the Western Entrance.
Downtown Yangon still has many colonial building from the time the British were here. Unfortunately, they are in really poor condition.
Bago – 50 km north of Yangon is Bago which was the capital during the 13th century. There are many old pagodas and shrines from that time. The difference with the sites in Bago compared to Ayuttaya, in Thailand, is that the pagodas in Bago have been restored many times over the centuries. Today they don’t look that different from the modern technicolour ones.
The remains of the Kanbawzathadi Palace in Bago are being restored. The main rooms that have been completed are the Great Audience Hall and the Throne Hall.
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