After a nice, LONG sleep in my hostel, I woke up around 10am to begin my first full day in Yangon.
As I’ve mentioned countless times, it’s near impossible in almost every place I was in Africa, to walk anywhere by yourself. Whether it’s safe or there are just street-touts, you. Are. Never. Alone.
So, of course, ALL I wanted to do on day 1 in Asia was to walk and be alone.
Armed with my SIM card & google maps, along with my day pack, I set out on a quest to walk to Shwedagon Pagoda. Shwedagon is THE top attraction in Yangon, and according to Google Maps is a 3 kilometer, forty minute walk.
The day was sunny and warm, and even though I had missed breakfast at the hostel, one of my roommates gave me a few spring rolls and I was off! The walk was GORGEOUS, and I even tried some kind of drink that everyone and their mom seemed to be carrying around. It looked like a latte but it was NOT. It was some type of sour yogurt drink and I did NOT like it. Yuck.
I don’t actually know how long it took me to get to Shwedagon, but I’d guess around 2 hours. I just was lazing along, staring at the scenery and watching people and just appreciating the fact that I was OUTSIDE and WALKING and it was QUIET. Seriously, I was so flipping ecstatic you’d think I had just won the lottery.
When I found a fresh pineapple vendor, I thought I might have too.
For about 20 cents, he sliced up a gorgeous fresh piece of pineapple, tossed it in a bag, and gave me a toothpick.
- MY. GOD.
Exactly what I needed after my long walk!
I ended up walking to the Eastern Stair of Shwedagon, but all of the stairs look similar. Before entering this staircase and heading up, you need to cover your legs, your shoulders, and remove your shoes. Luckily I came prepared with a shawl (thanks MD Renn Faire!) and a backpack to carry my shoes.
Anyhow, the staircase!
It’s filled with items one might buy to pay tribute to the buddah at Shwedagon, as well as souvenirs for tourists like myself. I didn’t buy anything and in general the shops were pretty quiet, but I was also there midday on a weekday.
Once inside, I did end up picking up a guide for 5,000 kyat (like $4 or so), because I figured it would just be worth having someone talk me through the experience. In retrospect, TOTALLY worth it. AND for the record, don’t be afraid to bargain with the guide! I totally did – she seemed like she expected it.
Anyhow, most of Shwedagon is filled with people praying to Buddha, like you see here. Lily, my guide, explained to me that the neon lights behind the Buddhas are brand new, and the people are very proud of them. (They symbolize a halo over Buddha’s head… to me they look kind of weird and out of place but hey, whatever!).
Next Lily took me to her favorite picture-taking spot. Somehow, my camera ended up on fisheye, but I still kinda dig it. Why not, right?
In addition to the golden Buddha found all over Shwedagon, there is also one jade Buddha which has a place of prominence, and in my opinion, was one of the more badass things to see there. Check it out – I don’t think you’ll disagree!
One of the other things Lily explained to me is that in Myanmar there are 8 days – Wednesday has Wednesday Morning and Wednesday Night… and these days are represented by compass points in many Pagodas. The weekday on which you were born holds special significance, so she looked mine up for me (Saturday) and showed me how to pay my respects to my Saturday Buddha as well as my dragon spirit animal.
No pagoda worth its salt would be complete without a reclining Buddha, so here’s the one from Shwedagon!
Now, another cool tidbit from Lily is the story of Shwedagon – apparently the original pagoda was created many years ago because two brothers were granted two hairs of Buddha to preserve. So, they built a pagoda!
Since then, the original pagoda still stands, but there have been six additional pagodas built around it, improving it, since then. Thus, seven is a very important number for Shwedagon, and many buildings have seven rooves, etc. Here’s an example of what I mean!
The detailing in and around Shwedagon is also amazing. The golden image is detailing from posts in the pagoda – that’s not carved! That’s made of PLASTER and formed by hand. The shining posts are obviously hand-laid mirror posts.
Lily also showed me a back area of Shwedagon that I TOTALLY would have missed on my own – there’s an awesome photo gallery of many of the things you can’t see at Shwedagon either since they’re historic or because they’re too far to see with the naked eye.
My personal favorite shot you can see below – many people in Myanmar donate their jewelry to the pagoda when it’s being restored. It’s an honor for your family to be a part of protecting the hair of Buddha, so they send things like golden rings, which are then used in decorating the top of the pagoda.
While I was checking out the images in the gallery, a family happened to walk in as well. I heard them talking to Lily and her making awkward refusal noises, so I popped over to see what was up… they wanted to take a photo with me! As we know from Cairo, I don’t mind being a Caucasian Ambassador on occasion, so we took a photo! I was very careful not to touch the monk…
Oh! Also, as we were walking around the pagoda, Lily would stop occasionally to feed the stray cats that lived there. She was so adorable and they were such cuties that I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos.
Another random note – marketing is ALIVE in Myamar and Shwedagon – Redlink Internet provides free WiFi around the pagoda in exchange for being able to post signs. Ohhhhhh Capitalism.
Finally, Lily left me back at the Eastern Gate after about a 2 hour tour. I wandered around for a while, relaxed near some of the Buddha, and then received an email! My mom’s neighbor ALSO happened to be in Myanmar and ALSO happened to be in Yangon, so we were meeting for snacks and drinks that evening. He’d picked a time and place… and I was still elated to have freedom of movement, so I decided to walk!
During my stroll, apparently I happened upon elementary-school release time and the kids hopping into their busses. As per usual, couldn’t resist a few sneaky photos…
There were also some guys later on playing a hybrid volleyball/soccer. Again, sneaky/awkward tourist photo…
Then FINALLY I arrived for drinks and food at Rangon Tea House!
David and his friends were absolutely amazing – so gracious in allowing me to crash the tail end of their trip together. They had ordered a pitcher already, of which they poured me a glass (it was citrusy and delicious), we ordered more drinks, and I also ordered some food! We ended up chatting and snacking there for a while, and then moving on to a seafood restaurant and then FINALLY heading back to our hotels around… 11pm.
It was a crazy, action filled first day in Yangon, but I had an AMAZING time and truly needed a day like that to rejuvenate my travel-spirit. I hadn’t realized how worn down I had been from being restricted from walking and just being watched over all the time, but once I spread my wings, I knew I was back on course!