Having landed safely in Indonesia a couple of days ago (and having access to good internet again) I can undertake the task of regaling you all with my experience of the beautiful country of Myanmar. Here’s part one of the two weeks including Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay.
We flew into Yangon to begin our trip and then proceeded to loop around the country to hit all the major areas. Yangon is a massive, and I mean obscenely massive, city–it takes a long time in a cab to get most places, including from the airport to our fairly-central hotel (~1 hour) and from our hotel to the bus station (~1 hour and 15 minutes). While in Yangon we visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, the huge golden pagoda that you often see on postcards from Myanmar. It was an incredible sight to behold, the sheer amount of gold that hits your eyes as you enter the grounds is astounding. The pagoda itself is said to be around 2,500 years old, is entirely solid and completely covered in gold. The diamonds at the top total over 2,000 carats. Check out Sacred Destinations page on the Shwedagon Pagoda for more incredible details about the grounds.
It was an incredible place to visit and experience, for me especially due to the hundred of Burmese and Buddhist visitors visiting the pagoda to pray. I’ve always been fascinating by religions, and have read and learned about Shwedagon in classes, and I found it to be such an intimate experience to be side by side with the locals here.
While in Yangon we also visited the National Museum, which I would highly recommend visiting, especially if starting your trip in Yangon as we did. It provided a great breadth of background and history which gave me a better understanding of the country as a whole.
Bagan was one of my favourite places in all of Myanmar. Between the 11th and 13th centuries around 10 000 temples were built across the countryside, of which several thousand still remain. The view everywhere you look is stunning. We stayed in New Bagan, but at a hotel right on the edge of the town. We rented bicycles and took to the dusty roads and “paths” out to many of the payas to explore. There are several “major” temples that many people go to on tours, but I much preferred simply exploring and seeing where we found ourselves.
At one point we were walking our bikes out to a paya when a local man walking down the path offered to show us how to climb to the top of the paya. He showed us the way up, from which were some of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen. Payas as far as you could see one direction, the river, towns, and more payas the other. He showed us where his town was, and chatted with us about his studying to become a tour guide. He also showed us the sand paintings that he does, of which we bought several they were so stunning.
From Bagan we headed out to Mandalay, an often-heard-of city in Myanmar. Another large city, but it didn’t take nearly as long to get around as Yangon did. Home of the famous Mandalay Hill, this was a for-sure stop on our trip. We woke up early one morning to beat the 40 degree heat to walk the 1,729 stairs up to the top of the hill. The walk up was actually quite lovely, not many tourists make the trek up the hill but instead opt for a truck that will take you up near the top, then take an elevator the rest of the way. There were a handful of locals walking up as well, but it was mostly empty. There were several different landings along the way to the top, some with small payas, one with a monastary, and other religious stops along the way. I highly recommend the walk for anyone who is able to.
While in Mandalay we also visited U Bein bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. We went out at sunset and wandered the 1.2km bridge along with many other tourists and locals. The views were stunning at sunset, but the people-watching was equally as entertaining for us. Several groups asked to take photos with us, or stopped and chatted with us for a bit. It was great fun.
And so ends part one of my Myanmar experience. Check back for part two soon (as soon as I upload the rest of my photos!)