Exploring Myanmar…We Start Our Trip In Yangon.

Exploring Myanmar...We Start Our Trip In Yangon.

Young Buddhist nuns in the streets of Yangon

We were leaving our very posh digs in Bangkok and heading to Yangon this morning. The Viking River Cruise staff had everything under control. Our bags were picked up at our rooms and taken to the airport ahead of our bus. When we arrived at the airport we had already been checked in and we were given boarding passes for our flight to Yangon.  I am beginning to realize how much of a shock it will be to go back to my old budget travel ways…but until then I am going to revel in the service and enjoy that pampered feeling.

As we rode from the Yangon Airport to the Sule Shangri-La Hotel in the heart of town I was trying to reconcile my expectations and preconceived notions with the reality of modern Yangon. My first surprise was a new modern airport…I was shocked as it was a far cry from what I expected.  All along the way into town I saw examples of progress…new roads, new building, expensive cars, and stores selling major western brands of electronics.  This country is no longer living in isolation and is striving to catch up with the rest of the ASEAN nations at a breakneck speed.

Exploring Myanmar...We Start Our Trip In Yangon.

At the station to catch the Yangon Circle Train…loading plastic bottles and vegatables

We arrived at the hotel and our bags were already in our rooms. We had just enough time to freshen up and take a walk around the hotel before we were to gather for Champagne, hors d’oeuvres and a meet and mingle with our new guide and fellow guest before dinner. There were only about 25 people in our group with all of them coming from different parts of the US. It looked to be a convivial group of fellow travelers.

After breakfast the next morning Barbara Weibel and I set out to explore the city a little on our own. We started on our the walk…only a few blocks to the train station and a ride on the Yangon Circle Rail. The station and the train were leftover from the British Raj and it did not look as if anything had been cleaned, painted or replaced in the passing years. It didn’t matter, we were going to go on this train ride no matter what. The trip last about 3 hours and makes a circle around the city…going 45.9 Km (28 miles) and stopping at 39 stations. Along the way people come and go, produce is loaded on and off and a panoply of Myanmar life appears along the track. We paid out 440 Kyats each (37 cents) for our journey and without realizing that there were 1st and 2nd class cars piled into the nearest one.  By default we landed in 2nd class and I am glad we did because it an amazing slice of local life.

Exploring Myanmar...We Start Our Trip In Yangon.

Inside our train car before it filled with produce a woman sells snacks.

About half the way around we stopped at a larger station that had a sea of vendors peddlers and farmers. All of a sudden all these people started throwing in big bundles and baskets filled with vegetables and herbs till the entire center aisle of the car was filled. Everyone who came in with the produce started to clean, strip, bundle and prepare their products for the market. Neat little bunches of greens and herbs started to neatly pile up all over the rail car.

Exploring Myanmar...We Start Our Trip In Yangon.

An ad hoc restaurant besides the train track

Outside the windows of our car Yangon and its outskirts slowly rolled by. Ad hoc restaurants with a couple of folding tables and some plastic stools appeared. Entrepreneurs selling refreshment and snacks would hop on at one station attempt to sell their wares and hop off at the next station. I loved all the vitality and spent a lot of time taking photos and watching the people interact. One of the things that impressed me was that almost all the people had a smile on their faces and the farmers joked and laughed all the while continuing to bundle up their produce…bundle after bundle.

Exploring Myanmar...We Start Our Trip In Yangon.

The inside of our train car with the produce loaded in.

Before one stop all the farmers jumped up and started to gather baskets and bundles together and as we rolled to a stop everything was off loaded in a flurry to waiting helpers and all that was left was a floor littered with leaves and stems. Our journey continued…people getting on, people getting off.

After our train ride I had to make a stop at the Scott Market. Only a block from our hotel this bazaar is a major attraction. The exterior is  fine example of of Colonial architecture and the interior is a warren of shops along cobblestone paths. Everything from jewelry, antiques, Burmese textiles and clothing are for sale but I was on a mission to buy a new sarong (longyi).  These are the skirt like garments worn by Burmese men and I love to travel with them. In warm weather they take the place of a robe when exiting a shower and can even be used in a pinch as a towel.  But I wear one in hot weather and they are cooler than a pair of shorts. They had a great selection so I bought two and sprung for the big bucks…$12

Exploring Myanmar...We Start Our Trip In Yangon.

Scott Market where I went to buy my new sarongs

In the late afternoon we headed up to Shwedagon Pagoda. This Pagoda is the most sacred shrine in Myanmar. Legend has it that it is 2,600 years old making it the oldest stupa in the world. What makes it so special, aside from the grand appearance  of this gold plated stupa, is that it holds eight strands of the Buddha’s hair. I once visited a temple in Kandy Sri Lanka and they had  a tooth…they didn’t tell us if it was a molar or an incisor and I don’t know if it makes a difference but Hey, it could. Over the centuries this stupa has grown larger, grander and jewel encrusted. The 99 meters (325 ft) tall gold stupa sits on a large hill and is visible to the whole city.

Exploring Myanmar...We Start Our Trip In Yangon.

The Golden Pagoda…Shwedagon

The top of this Pagoda has a gold umbrella crown covered with 5,418 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. At the tip of the Pagoda is a 76 carat diamond just in case the other diamonds and rubies failed to impress the faithful. Of course the fact that the brick stupa is covered with plates sold gold adds to the opulent and impressive appearance of the Pagoda.

Exploring Myanmar...We Start Our Trip In Yangon.

A monk looks for answers to the eternal questions on his smart phone ???

We stayed till the sun set and as the lights came on, the faithful were flooding in to make offerings and to visit the most important site in Yangon.

It was a good day traveling around the old capital of the Burmese empire, where the crumbling old Colonial building of the British Raj bump up against the new construction of Yangon,…the new symbol of Myanmar’s place in the developing economies of Asia.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Viking River Cruises during my Myanmar trip.  However, the receipt of complementary services will never influence the content or post in this blog.  I write the truth, even if it means biting the hand that feeds me.

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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6 Responses to Exploring Myanmar…We Start Our Trip In Yangon.

  1. Barbara Hood says:

    What a wonderful experience! Great photos….I love all the colors!

  2. Jim says:

    This trip is already so much fun. It reminds me of my travels to Thailand and India. The photo of the vendors with all their fruits and vegetables on the train coach as they prepare them for the day’s sell is priceless. What a contrast to life in the U.S.A.

  3. We are continuing the journey through your eyes. Thank you for the rich experience you are sharing. We hope to do the same some day.

  4. Claudia says:

    I am glad you are enjoying this trip with all it’s luxuries! I wonder how long that temple would last in the states with all it’s jewels and gold. It would have been stripped and chipped. I love mass transit because you experience all kinds of people.

  5. Frances says:

    We want to see a pic of you in your sarong!

  6. Julie Wright says:

    yeah i want to see you in sarong too

    From your photos is would seem the only thing that’s changed since I was there are the number of westerners……..but isn’t that train good value?

    I am looking forward to more posts from you…………..and wishing you luck in your new home in Turkey

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