A map, lipstick, camera and cash: here we go, I’m ready to explore! I put make up on, my favorite dress on and I left the hotel all alone. With the chaos in my mind and pure joy in my heart, I just couldn’t resist to smile. I do smile a lot, without any serious reason, this is just how I am. In Western Culture it causes me a lot of trouble, where I get an instant label: naive, stupid or fake. With age I’ve learnt to embrace preconceptions, instead of fighting them. Let them be. It brought a piece of mind. Smile is a powerful tool and a useful key to switch between impossible and possible. People just trust you more, are willing to help you more and with time they protect you more (less likely in a bear attack, more likely in a roofless night situation). Burmese people really touched my heart from the beginning: they smiled for no reason and behind that smile they held the most precious gift: a real kindness. For the first time in a long time, I felt like a fish in the water, not the only crazy one. It was very reassuring.
Shwedagon Pagoda – the most extravagant umbrella in the Buddhist world
Yangon is nothing like Bagan, that I was previously writing about. Unlike Bagan, which is a charming, intimate village, Yangon is a real monster in size, the metropolis. Most tourists don’t spend much time there, which I don’t really understand why, as the place presents wonderful opportunities in sightseeing, photo shooting and geting to know local customs. My personal number one attraction is a circular train that takes you around the city. I loved it so much that the whole next post will be dedicated to it (patience, please!). Putting my preferences aside, an official number one is undoubtedly Shwedagon Pagoda. Yes, it is very gold, very spectacular but also very crowded. I bumped into many foreigners including some huge, loud and self-absorbed guided tours. It was hard to pay attention to the beauty of the place, when the only thing you could pay attention to was the unavoidable quick lesson of Chinese (no offence my dear Chinese friends). Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist place in Myanmar and for sure is impressive; I just guess it was not my lucky day to appreciate its grandeur and class.
To pay justice to that architectural masterpiece, I’d like to bring few facts, that I really like:
1. It’s all about good fortune
If you want to avoid bad luck and misfortune, you must pour water at your planetary post and all anxieties will end, fingers crossed! And don’t feel like a fool, even Barack Obama poured the water on his post. Why? What is your own planetary post? Read, if you are interested in astrology:
To make a long story short: This ritual comes from Burmese astrology, which recognizes the seven planets — the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The seven days of the week are named after those seven planets. It is important for Burmese Buddhists to know on which day of the week they were born, as this determines their planetary post. There are eight planetary posts, as Wednesday is split in two (a.m. and p.m.) and they are marked by animals that represent the day — garuda (bird-like creature) for Sunday, tiger for Monday, lion for Tuesday, tusked elephant for Wednesday morning, tuskless elephant for Wednesday afternoon, mouse for Thursday, guinea pig for Friday and nāga (snake-like creature) for Saturday. Each planetary post has a Buddha image and devotees offer flowers and prayer flags and pour water on the image with a prayer and a wish. And then, voila, all your worries go away!
My planetary post is… a guinea pig, what a relief, what about yours?
2. Let’s speak numbers 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies
The design is absolutely breathtaking and very precious at the same time: just the crown is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. Talking about stones, rubies in Myanmar! That’s something you want to bring back home as a souvenir! But please, buy them from the reputable store, there is an ongoing issue with human rights related to extracting stones. You don’t want to support slavery!
3. Diamonds are a girl’s best friends
As if 5,448 diamonds weren’t enough, the very top of the temple called “sein bu” is tipped with a 76 carat diamond making the Shwedagon Pagoda even more magnificent. Wow!
4. The devil’s in the detail
As the most sacred stupa, it is a home to the most bizarre relicts of four Buddhas: the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Konagamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and 8 hair of Gautama, the historical Buddha.
5. I’m not the only one
There is a replica of Shwedagon Pagoda located in Naypyidaw. Important! Don’t get confused with the simple fact (like, shamefully, I did): Yangon (also known as Rangoon) is not the capital anymore, Naypyidaw is. So the replica is in the capital, how many diamonds and carats? I really don’t know.
Not all who wonder (around Yangon) are lost
It is that moment, when you commute from one pagoda to the other, when the real magic happens. For me, the most exciting place I found in Yangon, was an old bus full of young monks. They were staring at me curiously and oh, I was staring curiously back at them. We were just so fascinated by each other. I passed the bus slowly, smiled and waved to them and while I was walking away I just couldn’t believe I did not stay longer. So I stopped. It took me 3 deep breaths, few seconds to collect my courage and I turned on my heel and came back to them. That moment in the bus was one of my best experience in South East Asia.
I found other temples much more interesting than Shwedagon Pagoda, mainly because you can interact with locals much more. There are less tourists and more real life. I do recommed visiting other places like: elegant The Maha Wizaya Pagoda, The Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda with a colossal reclining Buddha or The Ngahtatgyi Paya with a huge seated Buddha. Again, it is not the temple that is the most appealing, but the poeple you find there. It’s a well known fact that Myanmar was closed to tourists for many years and this is what makes this country so different from any other in that part of the world. But hurry up, its unique character is about to disappear very quickly, I’m sure, with the mass tourism growing very rapidly every year. I’ve been couple of times to Myanmar within last couple of years and the changes I’ve observed during that short period are just tremendous. As you guess correctly, the changes are not really for better, the changes are usually for worse. Yes, it is easier to find ATM or exchange money, yes, it’s easier to book the hotel, but that’s not what we travel for, the mentality of local people also changes. Come and enjoy, when it’s still quite pure.
Kandawgyi Park – The Lovers Heaven
After running from temple to temple, how pleasant and different that place was! Quiet, peaceful, a real gem in the middle of the city jungle. A pristine oasis of greenery. It was wonderful to wander around, looking at people just now falling in love with each other, blooming flowers, sunset admirers, board game players and, just like me: lost souls, who were happily roaming with no real purpose at all. It is a good place to start your day or finish your day. In the morning it is quite crowded with locals: stretching, jogging, doing Tai-Chi. In the evening it is much more romantic. The choice is up to you.
How do you like Myanmar? Do you like Bagan or Yangon better? Hard to compare both, as they are so diferent. Come back to me soon, I’l take you on a road trip. I promise you fun. Bon chic, Bon voyage x