Category Archives: Myanmar

Chasing the Sunrise in Bagan

Huge gap in posting; I’m the worst, I know. Let’s backtrack..

image
The weather predicted a not-so-cloudy morning on my last day in Bagan, so I decided to enjoy the sunrise from one of the pagodas nearby. At 4:15a, I was fortunate enough to have the entire pagoda to myself. Pulled myself up onto a ledge and sat in silence just watching the sun start to creep up and illuminate the tops of the thousands of pagodas. The picture doesn’t do the experience justice in the least. It was absolutely magical.
image
This is what it looked like when I first climbed up to the top.
image
These two cuties decided to join me after they saw my scooter parked across the road.
image
One last look..

Headed back to the hostel and met up with Chhay and another fellow traveler, Alex.
image
Grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant. Burmese curries are notably different than Indian and Thai curries. The gravy is a bit milder and seems to be comprised largely of sautéed minced onions as opposed to coconut milk or broth. I opted for a pumpkin and chicken curry this time around.

We decided to take it easy on our last day and check out a couple more pagodas in the area.
image
The first of the lot was named Shwe Zigon Pagoda.
image
Detailing around the entrance
image
image
Work in progress…

We walked around the grounds for a little while before being approached by a young boy who motioned to us enthusiastically. He grabbed our hands and led us towards a shrine like room repeating, ‘Lucky Buddha! Come see Lucky Buddha!’ Ooooookay..
image
Behold! The Lucky Buddha..! We were led into this room where two elderly ladies promptly shoved plates of fruits and incense into our hands. They motioned for us to move the plates in a clockwise direction and began chanting what I believe was a prayer. After this, they filled up a cup of water for each of us and motioned for us to throw this on the Lucky Buddha. They held our hands for a short while praying, and then in perfect English stated, ‘NOW YOU GIVE DONATION.’
image
Yep..no puntos for the tourists. We got scammed. Whoops. Luckily 1000 kyats (which was the required minimum donation-and here I was thinking I had escaped from RMD’s ha-) only comes out to a dollar or so.

The older woman let me in on a secret, ‘beautiful, you give more donation, you have more beautiful.’ Thanks grandma and Lucky Buddha, I’m counting on ya -_-
image
Hello there!

Headed over to another pagoda with our scam radars up and ready.
image
Pit stop! Nothing beats the heat like guzzling down ice cold coconut water and scooping out the sweet meat afterwards. Favorite snack.
image
Chhay with some roadside foolishness
image
Prawn/fish cakes/crackers? Tasted similar to shrimp chips, except extremely oily and surprisingly chewy. Can’t say I’d give these another go.
image
Next, we check out the Htilominlo Pagoda, built in honor of King Htilominlo, ruler of Bagan from 1211 to 1231. It is one of the taller temples in the region sitting at roughly 150 feet.
image
A closer look
image
The inside view
image
Shops selling trinkets outside the pagoda
image
Beautiful stonework
image
View of the Htilominlo Pagoda from a smaller stupa
image
More views

Hopped on our scooter and rode onwards to the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, about a 15 minute ride South.
image
The Bupaya Pagoda, built on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River.
image

The sun had begun to set by now; we decided to avoid the crowds fighting for a piece of temple ledge, and enjoy the view from a boat on the river instead.
image
Cue sunset boat ride
image
image

Now this is where things got a tad funky. About halfway into the ride, we noticed a large gathering of people near a sand bank in the middle of the river. Curious, Alex asked the boat driver what was happening over there. I think the boat driver mistook her question for direction to head over, so he quickly steered us to the bank, secured the boat, and led us onshore.

And that is how we became unintentional wedding crashers.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. Here we were, complete foreigners, on a sand bank in the middle of the Ayeyarwady River, watching random people get married. The hosts generously offered us seats and asked us to stay for the event. We politely declined as it felt a bit intrusive, but joined along in the cheering at the close of the ceremony.
image
Congratulations!
image
Our last sunrise. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to close out my time in Myanmar. Leaving was bittersweet; Bagan was undoubtedly one of the most uniquely beautiful places I have ever been in my life. But…Onwards! Thailand here I come!

Tagged , , ,

Mingalabar!

(hello in Burmese)

Hit the ground running today. Grabbed a taxi to the hostel, and since it was too early to check in, I rented a scooter from across the street and off I went. Didn’t do anything wildly exciting, just rode along the path and stopped whenever I saw anything interesting.

image

My trusty scooter and a few of the many stupas I saw driving down the road.

image

These pink flowers kept popping up here and there.. They were a beautiful contrast to the brown and green.

image

Parked my scooter and ventured inside

image

Inside the stupa

image

Looking out

image

I climbed up the initial stairs and then scaled the side of the stupa. So this is what all the hype was about. Sat on a tiny ledge far too small for comfort for about an hour. Anything for that view.

image

Red arrow pointing to where I sat. Doesn’t seem very high up from the picture but the climb was a tad scary as there were no stairs past the first level.

image

More of the view. Stupas for as far as you can see and beyond!

image

Another beautiful pagoda

image

A closer look. Decided to head back to the hostel for breakfast before I set out again.

image

Yum-o

I hopped back on my scooter and set out on the road again. About twenty minutes in, lo and behold, my battery died. Whoops. Thankfully, the folks in Bagan are probably some of the sweetest I’ve ever met. A guy about my age riding by turned around and asked if I needed help. I must have looked pretty pathetic at that point. He called the number on the scooter keys and explained the situation to the rental shop. He then told me that they would be here in about forty minutes, and asked whether I’d like a small tour of the area in the meantime. Yes please! Hopped on and ‘Koko’ went on to show me spots that I definitely would not have found on my own.

image

Koko!

image

Different views

image

Going down one of the staircases. These were usually very steep and required a flashlight to navigate.

image

Ananda temple, known for its Indian-influenced architecture

image

One of the four Buddha statues that face each direction (North, South, East, and West)

image

‘Lucky charm.’ Koko and I each struck the bell three times for good luck, health, and prosperity.

At this point, my bike had been fixed and Koko said that there was one last temple he thought we could check out.

image

Thatbyinnyu temple is the tallest in all of Bagan; it is nicknamed the ‘Omniscient.’

image

image

image

image

Zoom zoom zoom! Koko you photographer you.

It started to drizzle so I headed back to the hotel and relaxed for the remainder of the day.

image

Burmese chicken curry! Get in ma belly protein!!

Tagged , ,

Try, try, try again..Yangon edition

I am so happy I pulled it together for my second day in Yangon; today was something special.

I woke up and headed downstairs for breakfast provided by the hostel.

image

Two types of noodles, spicy sour soup, a banana, and an egg! (I grabbed an extra egg on the way out to make up for all the fried crickets I wasn’t eating..)

Chhay (a friend I met over breakfast) told me about an English school that was just the street over. The hostel told us that they were looking for ‘foreigners’ so we decided to check it out.

image

image

We had an hour or so to spare before the class started so we decided to visit Sule Pagoda in the mean time.

image

On our way over, we passed by Yangon’s city hall…

image

And many many fruit stands. These are rambutans! They are extremely similar to lychees both in texture and flavor. Yum!

image

Sule Pagoda! Known for its rich cultural history, we were told that according to legend, the pagoda enshrines a strand of Buddha’s hair, thus dating it to be over 2,500 years old.

image

It looked like it was about to pour at any second, so we hustled on to our next destination.

The English class was filled with students of all ages, from around ten to fifty years old. The director explained to us that he encouraged English-speaking tourists to stop by and simply talk to the students so that they could familiarize themselves with the language. I was assigned to a batch of children and was given an hour of pure freedom. I love talking so this was no problem for me.

One of the staff members came by and asked if I would like to have ‘thanakha’ applied. Thanakha is a paste made from a specific tree, and is often used in Myanmar as both sunscreen and makeup. I had seen many people with the distinct yellow paste on their faces, so figured why not.

image

End product! The students and I. Excuse the zombie face, I momentarily forgot where my front facing camera was

After that first freestyle hour, we were instructed to sit up and the front for a Q&A style session. Chhay and I were joined by three fellow travelers from New Zealand, London, and Scotland.

image

My hair looks fantastic, thank you.

image

The students asked about absolutely anything and everything from whether we had boyfriends to what our countries were doing in terms of environmental conservation. When I introduced myself and stated that I was from the US, they all chanted ‘AH OBAMA!’ One student even asked about my thought on the upcoming election and my feelings towards Hilary Clinton/Donald Trump! At the end of the class, the director kindly invited us all for lunch at the nearby monastery.

After making it back to the hostel and checking out, Chhay and I met up with some more traveling friends. We decided that we wanted to check out  one of the local markets and made our way over.

image

Traffic in Yangon…

image

Trying new things.. This a palm seed, it has the consistency of Jello and tastes faintly of coconut!

image

Sugar cane juice stand

image

Finally reached!

image

Visited a beautiful art gallery within the market. I wish I could take all of these home with me.

image

Especially this one. Ba-DONK!

image

Stopped by a fabric shop and we all decided to grab a pair of the local garb (a ‘longi’ and matching top) – will post pictures of me wearing it some time

image

Chhay wearing his newly bought longi! (far left.) Us at the market ft. my high fashion shoes. Mildred (2nd to the left) and I matched. We laughed about our shoes and I was comforted when she told me that they were worth their weight in gold during Thailand’s rainy season. #win

After wandering around the market for a little more, Chhay and I decided to break off and make the 45 minute walk to Shwe-Dagon Pagoda, the most famous pagoda in Yangon. The weather seemed like it was holding up so we headed out.

The weather did not hold up. Oops. It started pouring about thirty seconds after we left the market and stopped about two minutes before we got to the pagoda. Forty minutes of pure downpour.

image

image

After the whole ‘omg I’m soOOooo wet’ subsided, splashing through the streets with no one on the road (all the sane people were keeping dry inside) turned out to be a lot of fun.

image

We grabbed some coconut water on the way over

image

Coconut water in one plastic bag, coconut meat in another.. Portable and delicious!

image

Shwe-Dagon pagoda in the distance

image

image

Stairs up to the pagoda

image

Shwe-dagon Pagoda is supposedly the oldest and most famous Buddhist temple in the world. It is said to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas, including the hair of Gautama (as seen with Sule Pagoda)

image

image

Panorama!

image

image

Beautiful detailing

image

The modern side of Shwe-Dagon pagoda..

image

image

Ran home, showered, and took a taxi to the bus station.

image

Hooray for night buses. #savetime

image

Quick dinner from the station and we were off. Next stop –  Bagan!

Tagged , ,

Welcome to Myanmar!

I touched down in Yangon from Osaka the following morning, and the extreme heat was the first thing to hit me. Gone was the perfect 75/80 degree Japan weather, Yangon on that specific day topped nearly 100 degrees. Fun!

I’m not going to lie, I barely did anything that first day because I think I was in some kind of culture shock.. To go from Japan to Myanmar was quite the drastic change.

The first thing I did was walk down the street that my hostel was on. 

image

It was humid, congested, noisy, and smelled like a combination of fish sauce and dog doo doo. Am I painting a vivid picture? Between the street vendors peddling their goods, wandering dogs that weaved in and out of peoples’ legs, and men spitting some kind of chewing tobacco juice everywhere around me, I felt like I was suffering from claustrophobia.

I made it out onto the main street in search of something to eat. There were people sitting on tiny plastic chairs eating what looked like rice and curry served out of huge vats. Further down the street there were some fresh fruit and noodle vendors. Two things kept popping up repeatedly:

image

Fried crickets and..

image

Miscellaneous meat skewers! I was later told that intestine was a popular street snack in Yangon. I didn’t have the courage to try either of these, maybe one day.. 

I kept wandering, and finally came across an Indian restaurant that advertised as  ‘Lonely Planet recommended.’ I know I know, boo you Jasmine) , going all the way to Myanmar and eating Indian food. I trust Lonely Planet-a tiny bit more than my judgment of a random street vendor- so I decided to head into the small shop. To my surprise, the owner of the shop was speaking in Malayalam (my native language) to one of the patrons. I asked him if he was a Malayalee and we chatted for a while about Kerala and things to do in Yangon and whatnot. That small interaction really helped ease the anxiety that had been slowly building.

image

Kerala-style meal, on the house! I chose a veg thali plate as I was still hesitant of the meat..

image

Grabbed some papaya off the street on my way home. Dumped the rest of my water bottle into the bag and gave it a good shake. I’m sure that did next to nothing in terms of safety, but the effort was reassuring. The papaya was delicious and fingers crossed, I haven’t gotten sick yet..

Back at the hostel, I had a brief self-scolding session where I realized that I might as well have stayed at home if I planned on being uncomfortable in new environments. It was a hard day, but definitely something to learn from. With that in mind, I told myself I would give Yangon my best shot the following day.

Tagged , ,