So in Yangon I have had very limited success with my Burmese, but I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of saying a simple “hello” and a “thank you”. I gave up on the phrases given to me by Google and instead just reverted to gestures, maybe a little bit of charades, but it doesn’t really matter most of the time. Unless of course your taxi driver has no idea where you want to go.
The highlight was walking around Kandawgyi lake and enjoying the sunset. A short taxi ride from the guest house in the city was just 2,000 kyats and I got dropped off somewhere along the south-west side of the lake just along the s-bend before Kandawgyi Palace. There was a place to join the boardwalk and no one was looking to collect fees, but I had heard of some people being charged a few hundred kyats.
The boardwalk was every personal injury lawyer’s dream. Every metre you walked you had to sidestep left and right across the boardwalk to find somewhere to walk were you were a) not going to fall through or b) not going to trip and faceplant. Loose boards jump up everywhere as you step on them and I was pretty convinced I was going to lose my sandle on day one of my trip. Walk carefully, but don’t be discouraged from going. The walk may need a bit of care and there isn’t much shade, but the park overall is great to see and you can join the locals relaxing in the shade amongst the exotic plants if you need a breather.
I walked along the boardwalk from where I was dropped off all the way to the eastern side of the lake. Along the way you can take a break on Bagan Lone Island where there is a shrine, but I’m pretty sure that is the least structurally sound part of the boardwalk.
From that point onwards you also get a nice view of Karaweik Palace which was built to resemble fancy royal ships of Burmese kings.
At the south-eastern entrance to the lake there is a checkpoint where all tourists are charged an entry fee of 300 kyats. As I walked past the security I noticed a sign which also said there was a camera charge of 500 kyats, but no one bothered me about it. At this end of the lake you can access the Karaweik restaurant if you’re feeling fancy, but otherwise there are a number of little vendors offering food, cold drinks and ice cream.
This is definitely the best vantage point to get a nice sunset view of the Shwedagon pagoda. The place is full of locals and so it should be. It’s a great public space to be enjoyed. Families gathered, children ran around playing in the grass and others just chilled out and enjoyed the view – as did I with my 700 kyat Oreo ice cream until the sunset.
I was initially worried that the local currency wasn’t in use, but it is used everywhere, so go to an ATM or a money exchange and grab some rather than USD. From what I read it can be hard to get cash outside the major cities, but apparently Myanmar is changing and it’s all becoming much easier.
The street food vendors certainly take the local currency and we bit off much more than we could chew for just 3,200 kyats. We found some vegetarian noodles, chicken curry puffs and then had rice with Burmese curries and hot greens. Not a bad start and all at the end of 13th Street were we were staying.
The next day we got up early to go to Shwedagon pagoda. After a bit of trouble trying to explain which entrance we wanted to go to we just let the guy drop us at the western gate for 2,000 kyats. The stupa seemed smaller than it looked from Kandawgyi lake, but considering it’s covered in gold, it was still pretty impressive (it’s actually 100m tall). The entrance fee was 8,000 kyats and make sure you cover your shoulders and wear long pants even if you’re a guy.
It was a Monday and there was a big procession walking through to a morning service. The Burmese are very passionate about their religion and there were many people praying and making offerings to Buddha. They draped flowers around Buddha and bathed the statues with silver cups of water.
We asked to join in on the ritual which I think is for purification and we then enjoyed some breakfast under one of the pagodas. There were a number of people eating there so we joined in and everyone was very welcoming and friendly. We later learned that all the food was free so we thanked them and made a donation.
After walking around the temple it was reaching about 10.30am so we headed back to the guest house to retreat from the heat. Later that night we went back to Shwedagon and re-used our entrance pass from the morning.
It’s a bit different at night. There were some groups of Buddhists praying together, lighting candles and burning more incense and lights start to shine on the golden stupa. It’s a very calm atmosphere.
From here we are heading southeast towards the Golden Rock, Hpa-an and Mawlamyine. There are plenty more temples and buddhas to see in Yangon, but to be honest after growing up for a while in Southeast Asia I’ve seen a few and I will surely see more around Myanmar!