Thursday, August 20, 2015

Yangon, Myanmar: Capital City Chaos

Another night bus adventure later, we arrived in Myanmar's (unofficial) capital city of Yangon at 6AM to a drizzly downpour.  I think I've grown to develop a love of long bus rides.  That being said, I'm just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Southeast Asia bus riding, so that may be a little premature to declare.

Colonial buildings in downtown Yangon

What It's All About:
Yangon is the former capital of Myanmar, and its largest city at over 5 million people. The military government officially moved the capital in 2006 (I don't even know where to), but Yangon is still the unofficial capital to most.

I don't know what I was expecting, but I do have to say it was a lot.....grimier than I imagined.  It used to be a British colony until Burma gained its independence in 1948 ,so there is a lot of old world British Colonial style buildings, many of which have fallen into disrepair and provide this interesting contrast to the bustling, crazy city Yangon is today. Yangon is also a lot less developed than other Southeast Asian cities, so there's not really any kind of skyline - it's just a huge cobbled-together city.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Spent the morning with Jo, Will, and Clare at a shopping center near the hotel - again, strangest place ever. 
  • Nine of us went for a brief afternoon walking tour with our group guide through the city to see all the old colonial buildings.

The former telegraph office in downtown Yangon

More colonial-style buildings. This is the hospital, I think?

It's been a day and I've already forgotten what building this is. But I like how it's sea-green

I also love the crumbliness of these old British-style buildings

A selfie with the independence memorial, erected after Yangon declared its independence

THIS STREET. This street is my favorite; given how the buildings are so gorgeous and old-school, but now are just apartment complexes with crazy street wires and people everywhere. Perfect blend of old and new

I think I have a thing for any buildings this color, actually

Taken through a window; this is a sad glimpse into some parts of the city
  • Late evening, the nine of us headed off to see the most famous/sacred/important/baller pagoda in all of Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda.  This pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in the country. It is believed to have 8 hairs of the Buddha, as well as three relics from the three previous Buddhas. The pagoda itself is 326 feet tall and is believed to be over 2,600 years old (whoa). It is incredibly impressive to see it in person - the sheer size of it, and the fact that it's totally blinged out with gold (and the top has tons of diamonds and rubies and emeralds and other fancy gems). The entire area is basically a complex - there are countless amounts of Buddha statues, pagodas, temples, etc. that people can come worship at.
Shwedagon Pagoda. So much bling

And I am tiny next to it

Unbeknownst to us, there are four separate entrances (and the place is huge!) and our three taxis all dropped us off at separate entrances. So we discovered each other in the complex group by group. Also, the guys in our group had shorts that showed their knees, so they had to wear longyis (a traditional skirt the men all wear here in Burma)

In Burma, it's important for Buddhists to know what day of the week you were born on (something to do with planetary posts). I didn't know until I looked it up that day, but apparently I was born on a Monday. So a tradition is to go find your day (there are corners for all the days with a Buddha underneath), and bathe the Buddha there (you bathe them with a cup an odd number of times such as 3 or 5, or your age +1).  As I didn't want to monopolize the entire Buddha corner by bathing it my age, I chose 3.  Also, Monday's animal is a tiger. I am a tiger. Rawr.

A monk meditating

A cool part of going to Shwedagon late in the day is that you can see it in daylight, as well as at night - they light the entire thing up and it becomes even more bling-tastic.

We finally found our entire group and took a group shot

Gold. So much gold.

Resting. It was raining and the mats they set out were spiky and felt like walking on nails (you have to go barefoot in all temples and pagodas). And walking on the slick rock was basically a death wish

  • We took off the next morning on a flight from Yangon to Bangkok.  Though we only had one full day in Yangon, it felt like more than enough to see it all (really, the highlight is the Shwedagon).

At the Yangon airport, sporting some fly shirts we found at the shopping center the day before.  I like the "terrible need to give" part. Best phrase ever.

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • In Theravada Buddhism, there are eight days of the week you can be born on that coordinate with your "planetary posts".  This is because Wednesday is broken into the morning and evening. (Why is Wednesday special? I have no idea).  And each day is associated with an animal.  This has to do with your offerings and where you make them in certain temples.  I assume it also has something that is kind of zodiac-related, but what do I know.  
  • Another buddhism fun fact - even numbers bad, odd numbers good. I'm sure it's more in-depth than that, but a good overall assumption in general.  That means when you chime gong bells in temples, or bathe Buddhas, or whatever, you always do it an odd number of times.

Bye, Myanmar!  The two weeks spent in the country just flew by, but I loved everything we did and felt like I got a good snapshot into the country's highlights.  I loved how relatively more untouristy the country is compared to the rest of SE Asia, how gorgeous it is (GREEN. SO MUCH GREEN.), and how untouched it still feels.  It was so amazing. Love you, Myanmar.

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