Yangon: Second Time Around
Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar and is a place in which we spent plenty of time but saw barely anything at all. The reason: we both got sick and were recuperating in our hotel room for several days. When others would ask us about what to do in Yangon, we could never come up with much else besides the main sites – the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Sule Pagoda, the Independence Park…and that was about it. One of the sites I found on the map was the SOS Clinic, the medical clinic we visited along Yangon’s Inya Lake, which I remember very clearly. Because we rarely go back to the same place twice, we were looking forward to revisiting these places and reminiscing about our time here, albeit a more difficult period at the time.
We made an interesting arrival into Myanmar. Whereas we typically dock on the sea coast of the a country, we ascended the Yangon River for about three hours before we made our arrival at the port. We quickly noticed this changed when the water changed from that deep blue ocean water to a dark brown mucky water. This was due not to pollution but from the sediments the water brings up from the river as it made it was down the country. We would pass a long line of fishing boats, all perfectly lined up for nets to be linked between them in order to bring in the fish working their way down the river. The line was as far as the eye could see as we passed by them perpendicularly. These rickety boats were getting thrown around in the swells but were perfectly placed all the way to the horizon.
The Yangon River became almost a mile wide as we got closer to the port. On both sides of the ship, we could see green farmland and the occasional golden pagoda rising up from the land. Numerous other smaller fishing boats crowded the river, many coming a bit too close to the ship to where the captain had to sound the horn as a warning. As is normal, many voyagers crowded the bow of the ship in anticipation of arrival.
After arriving and clearing the ship, Chika and I were able to get on the first shuttle into Yangon. With traffic, it’s about an hour ride, and we got to the city around 6PM. We began our walk of rediscovering the city. There is the Sakura Building. This is where we got the sugar cane juice that maybe got us sick. We drank tea there once. Then we found the Cherry Guest House, where we spent so many hours during that week we were sick. And right next door was the Japanese restaurant that gave us refuge, comfort food and what felt like less risk in a time when our stomachs just wanted clean food.
We found a restaurant nearby that we found on Google Maps and had good reviews for the mohinga, a rice noodle soup. The place was filled mostly with foreigners, and when we were leaving, about 20 people from Semester at Sea were just making their way there. Shows the power of Google Maps and a few ratings on there!
We walked down to the Sule Pagoda and the Independence Park. The Sule Pagoda has a traffic circle build around it, giving it an important feel but also a less intimate feel than the Shwedagon Pagoda which is so large and is outside the city center so that you don’t notice any traffic or outside noise. In the Independence Park, a place where we had spent some time relaxing, they were showing a movie on a large screen. This park seems to have been developed quite a bit since 2014. Nicely trimmed bushes were placed around the park. A life-size elephant sculpture was placed on the east side. And this was the happening place in Yangon, with food vendors and vendors selling glow-in-the-dark objects all over the place. At the vendor area, we stopped for a sugar cane juice, something we certainly enjoyed last time we were in Yangon. It is quite literally sugar cane crushed to squeeze out all the juice and served with ice in a pint glass. It is pure sugar cane!
We then visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, one of Myanmar’s most important Buddhist sites. We loved visiting last time and couldn’t pass up the chance to experience it again, especially at night. The golden pagoda really shines bright at night, and the sun is long gone which paves way for moderate temperatures, comfortable for walking around. The Shwedagon Pagoda was as impressive as we remembered. Like the Taj Mahal, many Burmese were visiting for the first time, and it’s fun to watch them marvel at the site, as well
From there, we made our way back to the bus stop and then took the shuttle back to the ship for the night. Chika was on duty for the next few days, meaning she is not able to get off the ship. Over the next three days, I decided to travel to the eastern part of the country to see the city of Bago and the Golden Rock temple, another major religious site in Myanmar.
Our final day in Myanmar, I did make my way back into Yangon to explore further. I really took my time walking around, ate a nice Indian breakfast of dosa, found an important pagoda that I had never seen before, and visited an NGO which operates as a fair-trade business. I really just wandered, relaxed, and saw what I saw.
The pagoda that I saw was the Botahtaung Pagoda. Located along the Yangon River, this pagoda is most unique with its hollow pagoda in which one is able to walk through. The gold plated walls are built like a maze, a beautiful air conditioned maze. In the middle of the day, when it’s 90 degrees and sunny, air conditioning never felt so nice. And you know how important a site is when it is air conditioned – it’s not cheap! Inside the temple is an impressive gold shrine which commemorates this pagoda, supposedly housing a hair from Buddha. Just around the corner are old relics that were placed inside this pagoda. While most had one barred cage around them for safety, I came to one case that had two large barred cages around it, signifying how important and valuable these hand-made Buddhas and Pagodas were. These contained large amounts of gold and are hundreds of years old. Outside the pagoda, back in the heat, I worked my way around the temple. They had a small pond there that literally had hundreds of turtles. And then I finally saw the bronze Buddha. This beautiful temple was well worth the visit, especially to have the chance to walk through the actual pagoda.
After this day visit, I took the shuttle back to the ship and was ready to depart for Vietnam.