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Yangon | The city and Shwedagon Pagoda



Just around a week after I was back from Cambodia and Vietnam, I was off to Myanmar! Indo China is a big focus for this year, and after Myanmar I will only have Laos left on the plan. After 4 days in Siem Reap & Angkor Wat, I think it's enough temples for me for the year. In Myanmar, I will only be visiting the city of Yangon for a short 3 day trip. In hindsight, I should've booked longer to visit Inle lake, but perhaps for another time.  

Yangon isn't difficult to plan at all. All I did before hand was booked my flight, booked a hotel, applied for e-visa online 2 weeks in advance, bought the Lonely Planet guidebook for Yangon and I was on the plane. I maybe read 2-3 blog posts, looked around on YouTube which convinced me to make sure I do the full circular railway cycle. 

The objective of this trip is really simple, Schwedagon Pagoda and the railway. The rest will be based on wandering around on foot (while I sweat my ass off in the 35C+ heat). 



Alright, this is one of the most painful flights I've taken, both ways. 11pm departure 1:30am arrival and the return flight is a 1am departure 5am arrival. Long enough that you'll want to nap, but too short to get meaningful rest. Thankfully, the immigration and arrival process was really easy. I was off the flight and on the way to my hotel within maybe 15 minutes. The e-visa saves so much time, and I also lined up shamelessly in the ASEAN line. (I can pass for SE Asian right? Even though Taiwan is not a part of ASEAN.) The ATMs are right by the baggage claim, and it spat out super crisp 10,000 Burmese Kyat notes. 

The taxi ride was a quick ride and only US $6 ($8,000 Kyat) near Lake Kandagwi where I was staying at. The town was completely asleep, and the night breeze was nice. Schwedagon Pagoda was shimmering at night, fully lit and beautifully golden. At Kandagwi Palace Hotel, I checked-in and was assigned a butler who took my luggage and escorted me to my top floor room facing the lake. I often take it for granted how cheap it is to travel in South East Asia. This is a 4 star hotel with massive rooms, a great view, a spa, and garden overlooking the Kandagwi Lake and Schwedagon Pagoda, and guess how much I paid? $70 USD per night. Try getting a half decent room in central London with that price. 



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I was awaken by a flock of birds sitting in the trees. It was already 10am but I only got in at 3am, so it's just enough sleep. The hotel had buffet breakfast included with a range of western and Asian food. This is the first hotel that I've stayed at which served different blocks of cheese, pretty interesting. I sat down by the ceiling to floor windows of the restaurant, and lake Kandagwi shimmered in the distance. 

 




Sule Pagoda
After breakfast/brunch, I spent 11am - 4pm walking all around the city. I must've sweat several bucket loads, it was 35C outside and the sun was blazing. I took a cab to Sule Pagoda. Surrounding that area was a chaotic yet orderly amount of people and traffic. There were buses coming constantly, and there'll always be a man who's repeatedly shouting things, which I assume are the stops. The Burmese doesn't use the common Arabic numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5..... they use their own writing, so I wouldn't dare hop on any buses. 


Independence Square
Around that square where Sule Pagoda is, there was also a church and a mosque! I didn't imagine Yangon to be such a religiously diverse place but I love it. In the middle of the nearby park, you can see the tall white Independence monument. At the base of the monument is a massive stone with engravings of text. On the road beside is also a row of outdoor food stalls where people sit on short plastic benches and enjoy a quick meal outside (like Hanoi street food style!)

 

Strand Hotel
On the south end of Yangon is the Strand Hotel. It was built back in 1901, but remains as an iconic establishment in Yangon as a 5 start Victorian style hotel. They have 2 restaurants and 1 swanky bar with a pool table. I had been walking around for over an hour and was dripping sweat, so I stopped by at 1pm, to have a beer at the Strand Bar. The interiors were very impressive and the inside was cooled just perfectly, it's almost as if I've stepped into another place entirely. 


Junction City
After cooling down, I walked north and then west through old buildings, roads with alley ways that looked out of a movie scene. There were electric cables everywhere and satellite dishes you cannot count. There was a fairly prominent Indian population here as well, which reminded me of some areas in Kuala Lumpur. I stopped by the old market, but not much was going on there. They sold textile, rugs, cloth by the feet for anyone wanting to tailor make an outfit. Directly across from the old market is this big modern mall called "Junction City". It must be the hippest place in town because it had the highest concentration of 20-some year olds. This mall had just opened a month ago in April 2017, but it was already occupied by brands such as Coach, Hugo Boss, Versace and Pandora. I wasn't there for shopping, I have enough of that in HK already. But I managed to find Taiwanese bubble tea on the top floor beside the cinema! Who knew you could find that in Myanmar. 

National Museum
Last stop before heading back to the hotel was the National Museum of Myanmar. Admissions is just US $5, but it has 5 massive floors, and each floor has 2-3 large rooms for different themes. It started out with the natural history with animals that used to roam Myanmar. Then it moves towards the old kingdoms, the temples and massive grounds of the empire, the clothing and the music from this heritage. 


After the museum, I took a long walk back to the hotel and around the lake boardwalk. I'd say I slight regret it doing in the middle of the day, by the time I finished it my face was red as an apple. But back at the hotel, I cooled down and had some food before heading to Schwedagon Pagoda for sunset. Each time I ordered room service, it would come with a rose: 

 


Schwedagon Pagoda at Sunset
Non Burmese people who visit the temple are required to pay 8,000 kyat, which was reasonable. If it would contribute to keeping this grand temple as stunning as it is then I don't mind. Shoes aren't allowed on the grounds, so I brought a plastic bag with me to bring it around. Then one of the staff proceeded to retie my coverup, I felt like a restrained Geisha and had to take tiny steps to walk. Next you take the elevator up, and you cross a overpass to the temple grounds. There are really no good words to describe this temple. It's not like anything I've seen. Covered in gold, shimmering in the sunset, the Pagoda towered over. There were incense burning every where, people in prayer, monks and nuns chanting in groups. The sky was purple and pink just before sunset and that complimented the gold of the temple really well. I found a nice spot and sat down for an hour to wait for the sky to turn dark. And guess what, there's wifi at the Pagoda! Not fast enough to film a live video unfortunately, or else I would've totally done that! 


A Night Out in Yangon
I met some new friends on my flight here, so we arranged to meet up for a night out. We first started at the Strand, drank too many Espresso Martinis, played some pool. Next we found a nice rooftop with a great view of Sule Pagoda and downtown Yangon. The rooftop was called "Yangon Yangon". The breeze up there at night was just perfect. There are also a lot of little bars and street food vendors in Chinatown, and it comes alive at night on 19th street. But I kept it a fairly civilized night and was back at my hotel by 1am, not tipsy at all. I think as a rule of thumb, never get wasted while traveling. Safety and health first! 



Schwedagon Pagoda at Sunrise
On my 3rd day in Yangon, I woke up at 5am to get to Schwedagon Pagoda in time for sunrise. It was Sunday early morning, and there were almost no foreigners there (most were probably drunk and still in bed, hungover). I found a nice spot and again sat down to quietly admire the sunrise. I also set my GoPro up to take some time lapse shots. I was lucky enough to bump into a group of monks that were visiting and I asked for a quick group photo! Best souvenir anyone could ask for. 










Next up, I'll be covering the Yangon Circular Railway. It was originally built by the British and runs 3 hrs around Yangon into the suburbs and back. What happens on the train is pretty entertaining to say the least, bananas, mystery sacks of I don't know what, and lots and lots of veggies. 




Walking map from the Lonely Planet guide book





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