Yangon: Wednesday 20th February 2008
We flew into Bangkok airport whilst it was still dark; a full moon following us on our flight from Melbourne. The lights of Bangkok like jewels cast to the horizon.
Bangkok airport is huge; and new only being completed 2 years ago. We made our way to transit as our baggage was checked through to Yangon.
The distance between our arrival gate and departure gate was about one kilometre! Michelle took advantage of the many travelators. I’d eaten so much on the plane that I needed the exercise: having eaten two meals during a time that I would normally have been sleeping! Our first in-flight meal was Thai Fish Balls in spicy green curry, delicious whilst Michelle had the chicken pasta. For breakfast we both went for the cheesy omelette.
We had a very brief look in a newsagent, but I had no baht on me so I had to give the tempting salty durian chips a miss. We retired to gate E2A to await our flight to Yangon.
There was a lot of traffic on the runway, so our takeoff ended up being slightly delayed. We climbed quickly through the Bangkok haze which made it difficult to see the many waterways and housing estates surrounding the airport.
In about an hour we were approaching Yangon and we could see many golden pagodas from the air: it was a magical sight. The ground transformed from a river delta to open farmland where the golden pagodas were scatted liberally. The delineation between farmland and airport was quite blurred, with farmers tending crops like corn on the land within the airport fences almost right up to the tarmac of the runway!
We had heard about the military government of Myanmar, and we spotted a Navy helicopter on the tarmac with smiling men in brilliant white uniforms moving towards it, a much smaller presence than what we witnessed when flying previously into Saigon. This was the only military we spotted in Myanmar until leaving at Yangon airport again a week later.
We passed through customs with no problems, and Tun our guide was waiting for us outside with a huge and friendly smile. A taxi was soon arranged and we were on our way to our hotel, the Nikko. The drive through Yangon reminded me strongly of Bangalore. Michelle fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow at the hotel. At 12:00 we were downstairs in the lobby ready for our afternoon tour of the city.
First stop was the reclining Buddha at Chauk Htat Gyi Paya. With successive artists over the millennia each trying to make their interpretation of the Buddha more and more handsome the Buddha had taken on a quite feminine appearance. Many people knelt and paid homage, while children played with skinny wild dogs that had made the temple their home. There were many dogs here, as people took things to the monks that they no longer wanted or that they think are bad or have bad spirits so that they could be made good again. Same thing happens quite a lot with black cats…
We then went to the Kandaqgyi (Royal) Lake. There were many young couples here kissing and cuddling on the lakes edges; escaping the watchful eyes of their parents. Fish jumped in the water as we looked at the life size reproduction of a royal barge on the far lake shore: a Karaweik.
The April Water Festival/New Year music was playing as well; even though it was a few months early.
Next stop was Bogyoke Aung San Market. We were walking through looking at silk, carvings, clothes etc and I was keeping an eye out for somewhere to change some money. Problem was solved when a man came running up to me asking if I wanted to change some US$. The rate was good so I changed $100 and spent the next 10 minutes counting 110 1000 Kyat notes!
Now armed with local currency we were bombarded with requests to buy things. Some beautiful charcoal drawings which were very expensive at $20 each, postcards and various other items, which the prices all were being quoted in USD! We haggled the price for two drawings down to $15, a big drop from the $40 originally asked. I’m sure they were still making a very good profit. We also succumbed and bought some postcards for 2000 kyat, gave a few 1000 kyat notes to a couple of nuns and then headed out of the market to a restaurant to sit down and have a cool drink.
We caught up with Tun again and stopped outside city hall then walked through the downtown area heading towards the port. Dodging rough broken pavements exposing open drains, walking amongst busy street vendors selling everything from cheroot to books. Our guide explained that walking at night is dangerous, not because of crime but because you could fall through open footpaths.
We crossed the Yangon River on the ferry with the locals and arrived at a small village where we walked past rows of buses and jeeps coming soon to a small market selling raw fish, chicken heads, guts and feet, flowers and many varieties of fruit and vegetables. We love seeing these markets; I was watching a young girl making fish paste from Feather Fish. She kindly offered to teach me how to make it myself. We chatted with another lady via our guide about how much fish was back at home for us, where we could easily pay $30 or $40 a kg whereas here fish was only a couple of dollars a kilogram. She suggested we should buy a few armfuls of fish and take them back home with us!
We crossed back over the river in the barge, watching the locals feeding the seagulls for pleasure then drove up to the Shwedagon Paya. This was truly magnificent, standing some 100 metres tall and covered completely in gold leaf. The upper layers were covered in gold plate and the very top was encrusted with precious stones such as diamonds and rubies with the very top having a 76 caret diamond capping it off.
We spent ages here walking around and visited the planetary posts for Friday, our birthdays. I poured water on the Buddha for good luck, good health and good business.
The suns warm glow was glistening on the golden pagoda as we left for our hotel, pretty well worn out for the day and not looking forward to our 4:45am pickup time tomorrow morning!
We ate at the hotel restaurant though there was reportedly a very nice Thai restaurant across the road. I had a salmon steak with a nice tomato relish Myanmar style and Michelle had a soup. We retired up the stairs to the sound of a band playing western songs, looking forward to our trip to Bagan in the morning.