Saturday, 7 June 2014

MYANMAR (BURMA) TRIP - YANGON

I am always feeling curious about this country that produces precious gemstones such as rubies, jade, sapphire and pearls. This is my first time there, and again, with my few travelling khakis, off to Yangon we went. We had a late afternoon flight to catch and Yangon is 1.5hrs behind me. The 3 hrs flight journey finally brought me to Yangon International Airport. Its summer, therefore temperatures were high at 36 degrees at that time. It was a new experience for me because I had never had such hot weather here at home. Remember to obtain your visa if you are heading to Myanmar. Apply online for appointment and head to the Embassy at the appointed day and time. Bring your passport along. The visa looked beautiful by the way. The country uses USD and local currency, Kyat. The rate is about USD$1 = 900 Kyats. You will not be able to change Kyat at any money changer at home unless you head down to Peninsula Plaza, but the rate is horrible. It is best to change when you arrived at Yangon. Taxi from Yangon International Airport to downtown Yangon is USD$10, fixed rate. If you are arriving at night, better change Kyat at home because your first meal late at night will be paid in Kyat. And the money changer in Yangon had already closed for the day. It was late so we had dinner in the hotel.



Food was not that fantastic that was why only one picture was taken. Do not expect much from Myanmar food because they have funny spices taste. Not many people will like. But one thing I like about is that they always add garlic in your cut green/red chilli. It definitely added some flavour to the not so fantastic food. Our hotel was a new hotel, therefore some areas in the lobby was not ready yet. Beer was cheap. Our hotel location was in the heart of Yangon and it was walking distance to the famous Bogyoke Aung San Market, formerly known as Scott's Market. We washed up and went straight to bed after that.

We had breakfast in the hotel and off we go walking. Well again, breakfast was also not that fantastic, but luckily was that we were not picky with food.



I am always the navigator, and we headed to the famous Bogyoke Aung San Market. Weather was really hot, tempertaure was at 39 degrees for today. We carried 1 litre bottled water with us everyday. It was about 15 minutes walk before we saw our destination. The street was as usual jammed with traffic, air was polluted, and there were small stalls set up along the pavement walkway. In less developed countries, beggars were everywhere, and because families had no money to feed their children, they sent them to be monks. 

 

  

The market was quiet on a Saturday morning, because we are too early. We are used to getting up early because of work, now its too early over here. Some stalls were opening and those whom wanted to target more customers were already opened. Then I saw a shop selling Thanaka powder. Part of our trip mission was to buy Thanaka powder, because we had heard the list of benefits that it could bring. More information here. We bought lots of it and it was cheap too. It had a lifespan of exactly 2 years so there was a limit on how much we could bring home. There were also lots of money changers at the market so be sure to keep USD with you all the time.

 

 

There were lots of gem stones shops in Bogyoke Aung San Market. And prices were very competitive. You really needed great bargaining skills to slash their prices. Lots of pearls and they were so big and beautiful. The prices were charged according to their weight. A 4g pearl costs about USD$64. Precious stones were charged mostly in USD, but you can find jade charged in the local currency, maybe because there were too much of it. 

 

 

The weather was humid and hot. We had lunch in a local eatery. Finally the food was slightly better. Most of the eateries were ventilated by fans, whereas air-conditioned eating places were not that common for the local people because it would be a little more pricey. Despite the sweating and fanning, food still tasted great. 

 

 

We continued to walk around the market after lunch figuring out if there were any areas we left out. Finally we decided to leave and head back to our hotel. Then we saw a shopping mall, Parkson, located just 5 minutes away from the market and in our direction back. We decided to go in and seek for some cool air. We found ourselves mingling in the supermarket. For every trips, we would definitely visit the supermarkets to buy local products. You would be surprised that different countries would sell different stuffs even though they are available back home. Fruits were extremely fresh and to my amazement, they do sell deep fried pork skin.


We had ice-cream to cool down our bodies then headed back to hotel to rest. It was not advisable to visit the temple in the afternoon because the floors of the temple would burn your feet. Footwear was not allowed in all temples. We spent about an hour plus resting in the hotel before we set off to the most famous temple in Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda Temple. The temple was situated inside Yangon and located on the sacred Singuttara Hill - holy hill to all Buddhist in Myanmar. It was decorated with gemstones and gold contributed to most of it structures. It is also one of the most religious architecture in the world. 


 

It was truly a magnificent structure. I was so amazed with the amount of gold being laid onto the pagodas. The pagodas were covered in a layer of gold on the outside with leaf size gold, and the crown shaped tower on top was attached with diamonds, sapphires, rubies and other precious stones. There were rules in the temple, so you better checked it out before going there. You need to be covered up till your arms and no revealing tops because it is a sacred place. No footwear including socks are allowed. And you are to walk in one direction. Well , just follow the local people. There were different gods for people born on different days of the week. Water the gods on the day which you were born and the number of cups to be watered was determine by your age. If you are 20 years old, water the gods 20 times. Good luck for those who are 50, 60 or 70 years old. We spent about 2 hours there then headed back. We stopped by a restaurant for dinner, BBQ Chicken restaurant. Great food!!!! It was cheap as compared back home. So delicious and juicy. 2 pieces of chicken with olive rice.... Yummy!!  The day ended for us. 


We headed back to the hotel after dinner and had our rest. Hot, sweaty and tired, but happy...


After breakfast, we set off to another temple which was located by the sea, Botahtaung Temple. We tried to find our way there on foot. We wanted to see the lives of the local people on a sunday morning. Though the sun was hot, we were enjoying our exploration around the city. The most challenging was crossing the road. We followed the local people whoever was crossing at that time. Traffic was all over the place and you got to run. There were not many historic structures along the road but there were lots of old buildings probably a hundred years old. We can also see people building homes along the pavement, covered up in cardboards. I felt so sad. Why would people spend money to donate to temples but not enriching their own lives... This is something which I cannot decipher.

 

 

Finally after walking and exploring for about an hour plus, we decided to take a taxi. The sun was getting worse, temperature checked was at 40 degrees, terrible. The comfortable journey only took us 10 minutes to reach Botahtaung Temple. It was so crowded. For once I saw that we really need to queue and squeeze our way into this Buddha's First Sacred Hair Relic Pagoda. The Buddha is seated inside.

 

It was a spectacular view. I went through the door and saw for the first time, gold walls!! The interior of the temple walls are gold!! DO you believe it? I couldn't take my eyes off the walls. 

 

 

We spent about an hour plus in the temple basically snapping the rarely seen gold walls. There were also stalls setup outside the temple, mostly selling offerings to the gods. One rare sight was coconut was used as an offering too... 


We walked along to see what was selling along the streets. But none suited us. After that, we took a taxi and went straight back to our hotel for lunch. We had a short break before we set off to another destination. We went for the Yangon Circular Train ride. The railway station was a short walk from our hotel. Yangon Railway Station is the biggest railway station in Myanmar, dated back to 1877, first built by the British. It felt like a very run down place. With a total of 7 train platforms, we got to make sure that we found the correct platform to board the circular train. The feel was like I was back in the colonial times of Singapore. The lives of the people at the railway station was busy. I can see people making a living by selling food, carrying and transporting goods from one state to another state, how people idle their lives away by doing nothing, the fun the children were having running up and down.

 

 

We board the train and it took us for a round trip ride to the outskirts of Yangon. It was an eye opening experience for me. The kind of houses and lives of the poor people in the villages, you could never imagine. The salary was as low as 600 kyat per month. Imagine the exchange rate was at USD$1 = 900 Kyats. Women were pregnant at a very young age, and there was no control on babies. When they grew up, what can they do without proper education. My mind was in a swirl after seeing those. Though the people were struggling to make ends meet, I could feel that they were happy. Living life happily is the best option available.

 

 

 

The Yangon Circular Train really taken us aback for a moment. We would not have the chance to experience what the people were experiencing, and never would we want to have that. We must be grateful for the lives we are having now.  

 

The day ended fruitfully back at the Yangon Railway Station, and with a sumptuous dinner at BBQ Chicken again.

 

Our last day in Yangon was on Monday. We had an evening flight to catch so time was short for the day. We visited the Karaweik Palace, which had now turned into a banquet hall restaurant. It was a quiet scenic place in the precint of a park. The palace was huge and we were like jaw-dropped when we came up close with it. It was only opened in the evening for buffet dinner together with a cultural performance stage show. We had no time for that so we decided to give it a miss. We collected beautiful views of the palace and the park. Nice and quiet as it was. 

  

 

We wanted to go to back to Bogyoke Aung San Market, but it was closed when we reached there. Note that the market is closed on Monday. So we went Parkson mall again and had our lunch there. We did our last minute shopping and off we went to the airport. 

It was overall a great experience and I will definitely be back again. The next place I wanted to visit in Myanmar would be Bagan Temple in Mandalay.