We were due to arrive in Myanmar early because of a medical issue with a passenger, but due to tidal restrictions and issues with the port authority, we had to stick to our original time of 6PM. Marian and I decided to stay onboard in the evening, as we had a long tour booked for the following day, so we had a leisurely evening and retired to bed early, ready for a day of exploring.
I’d booked our tour for Yangon with Tours By Locals. Sometimes, I don’t want to be restricted by the size of the ships tour group, so this worked perfectly for us. I did a little research online and then found Htay on the Tours By Locals website. His charge was $150 for 2 people for a 11 hour tour – perfect. He and his driver met us at the port and off we went.
Our first stop was at Thanlyin market. Thanlyin is a town not far from the cruise port and it’s typical of day-to-day life for the people that call Myanmar home. We didn’t stay at the market long, we just had a quick walk around to get a feel for it and see what was on offer. You have to have a pretty strong stomach for some of the food sections, the smell of dried fish can be a little overpowering when the temperature is above 34 Degrees Celsius.
Botataung Pagoda in downtown Yangon was next on our list. It’s currently being restored, so the lovely gold leaf wasn’t visible on the outside, but it certainly was on the inside. The stupa is hollow and that is one of its biggest attractions. You can journey through the maze-like walkway and admire hundreds of ancient relics that were at one point sealed inside the earlier pagoda – the original pagoda was completely destroyed during WWII. What you see today was built after the war. It was wonderful and the gold leaf interior is highly impressive. The original pagoda was built by the Mon around 2,500 years ago and it is believed to house the sacred hair of Gautama Buddha.
We jumped back in the car and started making our way towards Bogyoke Aung San Market in central Yangon. The market was originally built in 1926, when the British ruled Myanmar, and was then called Scott Market. After Burmese independence in 1948, it was renamed to Bogyoke and has since had a new wing added. It’s a massive bazaar, you could easily spend several hours there. It wasn’t entirely what I’d expected, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I managed, as usual, to come away with several bags of goodies. I love wooden carvings, especially masks and statues, so when I came across one particular stall, I went wild. There were other vendors selling similar things, but this lady had exactly what I wanted. I bought 2 wooden wall hangings and a beautiful cedar wood statue of Ngahtatgyi – a Buddha that I am told has victory Mudra which means Buddha won over the devil. I still need to do more research on it, but it is beautiful! I know the below isn’t the best picture, but I don’t want to take it out of the wrapping until it is safely back in England. Other things to buy in the market included the traditional longyi, jewellery, paintings and souvenirs.
During the morning, we’d come to realise that the air conditioning in the car wasn’t working very well, so while we were shopping, our driver got rid of the original car and came back to pick us up in something very similar, but with working air-con. It was SO hot, I can’t tell you how happy I was that we finally had cool air. With a pleasant temperature inside of around 17 Degrees Celsius, we made our way to a local restaurant for lunch. It had a nice outdoor area, but we decided it would be best to stay indoors and out of the midday heat. We ordered so much food between the three of us. I ordered tempura soft shell crab, stir-fried green beans with shrimp and coconut rice. Marian had a vegetarian combo that included traditional soup with lentils and then a tofu curry with rice, and Htay ordered chicken curry with rice and soup. We also shared a starter of tempura vegetables and each had a drink. The food was delicious, I never knew green beans could taste so good. I didn’t want to stop eating, but when we had all finished and we received the bill, the grand total was just $26. Incredible.
The Chaukhtatgyi Paya Reclining Buddha was our next stop and I was so excited. I’ve seen so many pictures of this over the years and I couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes. It is magnificent, that’s the only word I can use to describe it. If you’re in Yangon you must go and see it. It’s a little off the beaten track, so make sure you do your research before you leave and get full directions. I’d imagine a local cab driver would know exactly where to find it and of course, your organised tour will likely include it. The Buddha is 66 metres long and is one of the largest in Burma. It’s housed in a metal shed, not what you’d expect and why it can be difficult to find if you’re exploring on your own. The eyes are stunning. If I remember correctly they are made of glass and it was the eyes that first caught my attention. The crown is encrusted with diamonds and many other precious stones. It really is a sight to see and it’s bigger than the one in Bago.
Our final stop would be the Shwedagon Pagoda and we certainly saved the best for last. I could not believe my eyes when we entered the complex, it is out of this world. The official name is Shwedagon Zedi Daw and it is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, thought to have been around for 2,600 years. The 326-foot-tall pagoda is believed to contain important relics of the four previous buddhas of the present Kalpa – the period of time between the creation and recreation of a world or universe – and they include a piece of the robe of Kassapa, the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Konagamana and eight strands of hair from the head of Gautama.
The base of the stupa is made from bricks which are covered in gold plates and above that are terraces that can only be accessed by monks and other males. If we continue up the stupa, we then come to the bell-shape and above that, the turban. Next is the inverted almsbowl, inverted and upright lotus petals, banana bud and then the umbrella crown. The crown is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies, sapphires and other gems, and 1,065 golden bells. A flag-shaped vane comes before the very top where you will then find the diamond bud, which is tipped with a 76 carat diamond.
The Shwedagon Pagoda consists of hundreds of colourful temples, statues and stupas. It’s not just one lonely pagoda. I think that is what completely blew my mind. I felt like I had stepped onto a movie set, it didn’t feel real. I can’t describe to you what it is like, but I’m sure if you have been before you’ll know exactly what I mean. As an example, you have many images of Buddha, including Gautama, Padashin, Kassapa, Padamya, Saedawmu and Kakusanda. There are also other pagodas, including the Naungdawgyi pagoda and the Htidaw pagado, and then you can also find King Singu’s Bell and King Tharyarwady’s Bell.
Surrounding the base of the Shwedagon itself are small shrines that represent days of the week. There are 8 days in Myanmar astronomy. Wednesday is split into 2 days. Until 6 p.m. it is Wednesday as you and I know it, but after that time and until midnight it is Rahu’s day . I was born on a Monday, making my planet the moon and my animal the tiger (ta nin la), so I found Monday and poured water over the Buddha and made a wish. I’m told it’s to bring good luck.
After a long, tiring and very hot day, we returned to the ship, grabbed a quick dinner and retired to bed. We had to be up early on day two for our ‘Local Life In Thanylin’ tour and I hadn’t slept well the night before, so I was exhausted.
Our Thanylin tour started with a visit to a Buddhist Monastery (Bone Payan) and that was quite interesting. There were several novice monks there (children) and they were quite cheeky, too. One boy kept sticking his tongue out and then smiling as if he were shy. It was interesting to stop there and see how very basic things are. You know, the monks can’t eat after midday until the following morning. I don’t think I could do that.
Our next adventure was a trishaw ride to the market we had briefly visited the day before. I loved it. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience, but joining the busy street traffic and riding along taking everything in was exactly the kind of thing that I like to do. We had some free time at the market, so Marian and I went off in search of local snacks. By local I mean crisps. I love crisps and although there was still an abundance of dried fish available, it wasn’t quite doing it for me. I ended up with a bag that contained 10 small bags of sweet corn puffs and they are delicious! I’m not sure any will make it back to the U.K..
We left the market, again by Trishaw, and rejoined our coach for our visit to a local village. There we were greeted by another temple that housed a massive sitting buddha. When we were there, some monks were reciting Buddhist mantra. They each have to do this for 1 hour and it lasts for 24 hours. It was quite hypnotic. We also visited a lady and her newborn baby and then enjoyed fresh coconut water before heading back to the ship. It was a good tour and I’d definitely recommend it if you want to step away from the pagodas and see what life in Myanmar is really like. You could also go on a horse and cart if you didn’t quite fancy the trishaw, but as I am allergic to horses, I stuck with the trishaw there and back.
We’re back at sea now, heading for Cochin in India. Later today we will make a short stop to pick up our security team. Once we leave India we will be heading for pirate waters, so I guess it is better to be safe than sorry. They will stay with us as we head through the Red Sea and towards the Suez Canal.