We flew to Bangkok from Chiang Rai and from there we flew to Yangon (a.k.a Rangoon) in Burma/Myanmar. I don’t remember much of the journey as I was still terribly ill but I do remember the silent, meltdown by TUT (The Ultimate Traveller) at Bangkok airport. The night before he couldn’t find his knife and presumed it was either lost or squished in one of our bags somewhere. Turned out it was in mum’s bag and Bangkok security found it. He explained the story and they looked furious that Chiang Rai customs hadn’t seen it. They took it and he never saw it again, that’s when he went into shock and looked on the verge of tears. Mum wasn’t too happy either that her husband had planted a deadly weapon in her luggage! Certainly a good entrance into Thailand! ;-).
I’ve never been to Burma before so this city, country and trip is all new to me and my family. We arrived in the evening in Yangon and drove to our hotel for a good sleep.
Yangon is Burma’s former capital city and the largest city in the country with over 6 million people. It’s a busy city and everywhere you turn there’s at least one person doing their own job. It’s a mixture of new and old buildings some of which are colonial and could be mistaken for somewhere in Europe, of course once you look at the surroundings it seems like anywhere but.
Over the next 5 days it felt like we had truly explored the streets and I’d come to love it here. Partly I think it’s because it reminds me of an overpopulated, chaotic, city in India with a mix of British and it’s a comfortable environment for all of us. There’s the main park with its green grass which we hadn’t seen in a while and it’s fountain with playground which was sufficient enough excitement for my brother. The city of course was full of Stupa’s but also mixed with the colourful Indian temples.
We also took a look inside the Strand Hotel. Its a Victorian styled hotel, which opened in 1901. It was built by the British entrepreneur John Darwood but it was later acquired by the Sarkies brothers. Its been handed down to many different people along the years, including Japanese troupe’s during the war, so of course it isn’t in it’s original state with a lot of renovation done but you can still picture how it might have been. Rudyard Kipling (author of the jungle book) and Edward Vlll stayed here along with many other people. Its now used as a boutique hotel.
A circular train runs through the city and the outskirts with tracks popping up randomly along the streets. We took the air-con train without realising it (meaning it had a fan) along with one other tourist who ended up on a different carriage and all the rest being locals eager to reach their destination. Sat on the simple but comfy seats it was hard to see clearly through the windows but if you stood and looked through the open top window you always saw something of interest. It drove through the city stopping now and then to let passengers and sellers with baskets of fruit, nuts and drinks hop on.
The whole ride lasted around 2 hours. Which meant dealing with eager girls who were dying to have a picture taken with you and passengers wanting to touch Jed everytime they came in contact with him. Thankfully they don’t do that to me anymore – they just stick to the pictures which becomes annoying all the same but at least you make their day. It was a fun glimpse into rural and city Burmese life.
The next big attraction in this city is the Shwedagon Pagoda. The Stupa is 99 metres high and the largest one I’ve ever seen. It’s visited by thousands of locals, tourists and pilgrims from around the world. The legend says that there are 8 of Buddha’s hairs encased inside the Stupa.
It has 4 entrances each just as impressive as the interior.
Once you’ve walked the hundred of steps up to the Pagoda and stand in front of the Stupa you feel calm. With gong’s echoing around the huge area, praying from different parts of the Pagoda and not much sound apart from the jingling of bells scattered around the temples, it was like a barrier to the busy city outside and one step closer to a peaceful safe place of your own. We all meditated inside a beautiful small temple (even Jed was happy to sit quietly watching the glowing lights behind Buddha’s head) and felt the powerful peace of the place.
We sauntered our way through the temples only stopping when groups came to me for photos and to touch Jed. The sky was blue with a few wispy clouds which were the perfect contrasting colours for the golden Stupa.
After watching the monks chant and the sun disappear behind the Stupa bathing it in a golden glow we headed home through sellers and food stalls back into the chaos of Yangon. I would recommend this beautiful site and city to anyone.