Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Quickie in Yangon, Myanmar

What To Do In Yangon Myanmar

Seven hours. We conquered Yangon in seven hours. It's not as if we wanted it that way, but we had to.

After our Bali and Yogyakarta trip, we camped out at KLIA 2 for 18 hours. Still rubbing my sleepy eyes, we scrambled our way to our early morning flight to Yangon, Myanmar. We're on the fourteenth day of our two-month backpacking trip around Southeast Asia and were so ready to explore Myanmar.

We arrived at around nine in the morning and exchanged some cash at the airport, which was ok at US$ 1 to 1,060 Kyats, then went out to grab a cab. I easily negotiated with our friendly cabbie (10,000 Kyat | US$ 9.43) and went directly to the train station to check out the scheduled trips to Bagan and/or Mandalay.

Yangon Myanmar Streets

It was the first day of Myanmar’s most celebrated Thingyan Water Festival and we’re doomed. All shops and restaurants were closed off for the next five days, and transportation were very limited. We initially planned to go to Bagan the next day but were left with no option but to leave the same day (check here for discounted tours, transportation and activities in Yangon).

Yangon Myanmar Thingyan Water Festival
Our cabbie was ready for the water festival
Arriving at Yangon Central Railway Station, we learned that all trains were cancelled for the next four or five days. The last train to Bagan was fully booked and the only option we had was to take the last train going to Mandalay that same day, at five in the afternoon. The guys who were hanging around at the train station suggested that it would be better to take the overnight train to Mandalay. From there, lots of options would be available going to Bagan. The guys were really helpful. So we bought the last two tickets and headed to our hotel on the next block.

We walked our way to Sule Shangri-La Hotel Yangon (check rates) and checked in for our supposedly one-night stay. We advised them that we’ll be leaving the same day. We had a quick breakfast, freshened up a bit and plotted our itinerary for our Yangon exploration.

Sule Shangri-La Hotel Yangon Myanmar
Sule Shangri-La Yangon
Deluxe Room
Yangon, or Rangoon, is the former capital of Myanmar (Burma). Compared to other major cities in Southeast Asia, it may seem that this city has been undeveloped in terms of infrastructure and transportation, but then, it has the largest number of colonial buildings in Yangon region today.

It was the first day of water festivities in Myanmar so we were expecting to be drenched the whole day. With our dry bags in tow, we explored the town as fast as we could. Time was literally ticking away.

Yangon Myanmar Streets

Yangon Myanmar Streets

We hopped on a cab to get to our first destination, the most important temple or pagoda in Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda. Haggling is the common way to ride a taxi and after we agreed with our cabbie’s fare charge of 1,500 Kyats (US$ 1.42), we sped off and were in our destination in 5 minutes (holiday = no traffic).

Shwedagon Pagoda (Shwedagon Zedi Daw | Golden Pagoda) is considered as the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar for it is believed to house relics of four previous Buddhas (Kakusandha, Konagamana, Kassama and Gautama). Completed in 6th century, the 99-meter pagoda dominates Yangon’s skyline.

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar
Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

Climbing up the steps at Singuttara Hill, we observed the Buddhist devotees removing their footwear as they reached the steps. We needed to pay the entrance fee of 8,000 Kyats each (US$ 7.55) to enter the holy site. With the gleaming ten-o’ clock sun, we were asked to remove our flip flops inside the huge pagoda complex. My buddy was asking if he could wear his socks instead, but was politely declined by the caretakers. Our feet were doomed on our temple runs in Myanmar since then.

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar
Barefoot at noon
Burmese Buddhists and some tourists dominated the whole complex. Some people were taking a break from the intense heat while some were battling with crossing from one shrine to the other. Flowers, candles, flags and streamers were brought by the devotees to offer on different shrines inside the huge complex.

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

My buddy almost gave up from the burning heat. We tiptoed our way around the pagoda complex and had some water stops on small shrines which served as shelter from the intense heat (you should bring lots and lots of water).

My buddy, as always, took lots of photos while I sat somewhere and people-watched.

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

After an hour, we headed to our next stop that day and haggled with a cabbie for 1,500 Kyats (US$ 1.42).

Sule Pagoda was next on our list. It’s located in the heart of downtown Yangon and was built earlier than the Shwedagon Pagoda. The stupa has Burmese and South Indian architectural influences. Its octagonal shape is the focal point in the city center making it part of the city’s life.

Sule Pagoda Yangon Myanmar
Sule Pagoda
Sule Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

We shelled out 3,000 Kyats each (US$ 2.83) for the entrance fee. Sule Pagoda was relatively smaller than the Shwedagon Pagoda and much quieter. We also needed to remove our footwear but didn’t mind it for there were lots of shelter areas around the stupa. The Sule Pagoda was underwhelming compared to the first pagoda but nonetheless, it was worth our visit.

Sule Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

We went outside the Sule Pagoda and were amazed on the huge crowd that swelled over at Yangon City Hall for the opening rites of the Thingyan Water Festival. We joined the crowd and got wet like everyone else. This was just the first day and we also experienced Myanmar’s most celebrated festival in Bagan and Mandalay.

Yangon Myanmar Thingyan Water Festival
St. Mary's Cathedral as backdrop for Thingyan festivities
Yangon Myanmar Thingyan Water Festival
Water Festival Day One
Time wasn’t on our side so we dashed back to our hotel and passed by the old colonial buildings along the alleys with me wishing that we had more time to explore Yangon.

Yangon Myanmar Thingyan Water Festival
My camera was also drenched
Colonial Building Yangon Myanmar
Old colonial buildings in Yangon
We had a quick shower, bid our goodbyes to the wonderful staff of our hotel and headed off to the train station by foot, not minding the trucks that were roaming around the city with loads of water-pumping facilities.

Myanmar Thingyan Water Festival
Soaked in water, burnt on temple grounds
And we did it. We had seven hours and yearned for some more. Yangon was very colorful and interesting and we'd love to go back there to check out the local food scene. 






3 comments: