The following morning we flew to Yangon, to complete our Myanmar trip. Our guide and driver waited for us in the airport. The usual stuff: polite but very limited knowledge of the English language. The city is pleasant, more westernized than one should expect and has a lot of parks and green territory. There are few high rise buildings, but there is a sense of order, much different than the chaos that one sees in Bangkok or the African capitals.
We headed to the train station to get on the train that runs around the city. Supposedly this is one of the must do things in Yangon. The crowds are colorful and noisy, the cars worn out, but the feeling was far from what I experienced in Madagascar on the FCE line. The train runs around the city of Yangon, passing next to slum-like neighbourhoods, much different to the center of the town.
We rode for 4-5 stops and then we got off to get a rickshaw. These are pedal driven tricycles seating two passengers and bearing no suspension. The rough ride twenty minutes ride gave me a good feeling of how many locals commute.
Three hours and one lunch later, we drove to the colonial center of the city. There are beautiful buildings and a sad reminiscence of a guilty colonial past, but the buildings are not well preserved and the whole setup lacks the charm of the colonial past. A large population of Indians is running a lot of the shops in the center. The city has a multicultural air, many Buddhist, Hindu and Christian temples and people of different ethnic groups occupying the busy streets.
This was our second time in the city, as we spend another day here, upon our arrival 11 days before. We had landed at 6am and drove to the hotel to take a short nap, to recover from teh long flight. At noon, we visited the Royal Lake, in the pleasant but mostly empty Kandawgyi Park in the center of the town.
After a chicken wings lunch and a cold beer we went to the Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home of the impressive 70m reclining Buddha. The Buddha face is far from manly, a sign of a great respect from the artist, as the guide explained us.
As it was still my first day in Myanmar, I was wearing my sneakers that I had to take out every time we entered a temple. I learned my lesson that day: always wear flip-flops. The next stop was in a local market, one of the many to follow in Myanmar. The shops are tiny, the noise and colors intense and the people too photogenic.
We saved the visit to the huge Shwedagon Pagoda for the end. It “is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, as it is believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present kalpa” (source:wikipedia). The central stupa is very impressive, 99m high, surrounded by a large number of temples and smaller stupas. Pilgrims from around Myanmar and other buddhist countries flee the complex to wash the faces of the buddha images and express their religious beliefs. An amusing spectacle takes place every 5-10 minutes when chords of women with brooms, sweep the marble floors to clean the way for the visitors.