Tuesday, 24 May 2011

BURMA DAYS- PART 1 Yangon, Pyay and Bagan

Places we visited in Burma


Our first impressions of Yangon, was that it was like being in India...almost. It’s the ultimate case of same same, but different. Similarities included the old colonial train system, but there are no lines for tickets or shit on the tracks. The streets smell and look the same, but there aren’t millions of people everywhere staring at you. Most of the people look Indian, but they don’t wobble their heads when they talk. The food is Indian, but with a slightly different twist.  There are guys chewing/spitting paan (red betel nut, chewing tobacco) and hocking up gobs of mucus.
 
But, of course, most people in Yangon are ethnic Burmese, and Buddhist. In the square near our guest house, a number of mosques, churches and a Hindu temple all surround the central Buddhist golden pagoda, Sule Paya. Local minorities, such as the Shan people, and also Chinese and Indian all join the Burmese in an ethic melting pot that rivals Kuala Lumpur. Diversity gone mad!
We took great pleasure in being in a completely new country with much to observe and learn. A pleasant introduction to Yangon was the three hour train trip around the city and into the suburbs/surrounding farmlands we took. Although we were escorted by armed guards, it was a wonderful experience to travel along-side chattering locals with their baskets full of produce.


Locals on a train

Yangon train trip

Yangon train trip

 We also explored some of the city’s beautiful pagodas- the Burmese were more than happy for us to wander around their religious monuments without fuss or hassle.


Yangon mirror pagoda

Yangon Pagoda

Beautiful mural, Yangon pagoda
Kids at pagoda, Yangon

Another day was spent simply strolling amongst the decaying colonial architecture and the accompanying interesting smells and rubbish, feeling happy to be in Burma! The pollution here seemed pretty bad, and we were glad when we left after a few days for Pyay.


Tiny seats, Yangon


Old colonial buildings, Yangon

View from Guesthouse, Yangon
 
Pyay (also called Prome) was probably the best place on our trip through Burma. It doesn’t have spectacular architecture, great food or scenery, but is just an ordinary town with extraordinarily friendly people. It’s the sign of a welcoming town when we could walk around all day with no particular agenda, and just stop in cafes, chat, have a couple of beers on the riverside, and see a few pagodas.


Buddha statue, Pyay
Pagoda, Pyay

Pagoda, Pyay
River kids

Market woman, Pyay
Cigar seller, Pyay

 Beautiful Buddha, Pyay
Funny snub-nosed Buddha, Pyay
 
The main highlight of Pyay was a town a few kilometres away where a famous Buddha statue with glasses can be found. We had heard about this Buddha years ago, and I didn’t believe it was true for a long time, but here is the evidence.....


Buddha with glasses, Pyay

Buddha with glasses, Pyay

From Pyay we took an overnight train to the next destination. Many people, including the Lonely Planet, don’t approve of the use of trains in Burma, as the money tourists pay in US$ goes directly to the government and supports the regime. But we found that there is no way to travel in Burma and avoid at least some of our money going to the government. Apparently the bus companies are in the pockets of the generals, who skim money off the profits, and how much of the money we pay to the little guesthouses do the owners actually get to keep? The money from the entrance fees for Bagan, Inle Lake, and any other pagodas or tourists sights that are paid in US dollars.......goes to government. So with this knowledge (and the fact that the bus on the same route was the same price and took much longer), we embarked on the 12 hour train trip to Bagan. It was extremely comfortable, with reclining seats and big, open windows with plenty of fresh air, although our seats near the toilets, combined with the lights that were left on all night bringing in hordes of insects, made it hard to sleep!


Train Pyay to Bagan

Our 'guard"
Train Inle to Kalaw


Bagan is a place we’ve dreamed about visiting for a long time. Along with Borobudur (Java) and Angkor Wat (Cambodia), which we’ve been lucky enough to visit on previous trips, it’s one of the “Big 3” of the ancient sites in South East Asia. It’s so hard to describe the beauty and scope of Bagan. There are 4400 pagodas/temples here, and climbing up one of the many viewing levels inside the temples and looking out at miles and miles of lovely pastoral scenery dotted with hundreds and hundreds of pagodas, was really breathtaking. Almost every pagoda has at least one Buddha image inside (some have dozens of different sizes), and while they are all a similar style (very distinctive Burmese style), they are all quite different, with varying expressions, clothes and positions. I think Richard must have taken a photo of every single one! People try to compare Bagan with Angkor Wat, but they are very different. Both cover big areas, but Bagan can’t compete with the beautiful carvings and jungle appeal of many of the Cambodian temples, and Angkor has nothing on the peaceful atmosphere, soaring views and mural paintings of Bagan. Both are fabulous in their own way. One difference is the sleepy feel of the town of Bagan. For the country’s biggest tourist attraction base, there is surprisingly little English spoken, no touts, only a few sellers at the temples, mostly simple guesthouses, and locals who are not all into the tourist dollar (this may be different in the high season). We hired bikes to get around for three days, after which our bums had had enough, and we were a bit pagoda-ed out! We apologize for the huge amount of photos here- this place is so beautiful, it’s hard to choose which ones to put in!


Bagan Buddha

Bagan

Bagan
Bagan temple

Bagan Buddha
Bagan

Bagan Buddha

Bagan temple

Bagan Buddha

Bagan temple
Bagan

Bagan temple
Bagan

Bagan Buddha
Bagan

Bagan temple
Resting at Bagan

Bagan temples
Bagan Buddha



 Some more Bagan beauty:
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEzqhdd7b5w

  • Lungis (sarongs) are king in Burma. At least 90 percent of people wear one. They are fantastically diverse. Most men wear them with a short sleeved shirt, and women with a blouse, but we saw Muslim robes, suit jackets, singlets, even barrister’s court clothes topping the lungi. We are big fans of the lungi for ourselves as bed/dagging around the house wear, but neither of us was confident about going out in public, and not having it fall down, so we decided against joining in with the lungi fashion in public. Plus, we didn’t want to look like prats.

Lungi man with lollypop

Tiny lungi



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