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Nov. 21, 2015

We left Los Angeles on Nov. 19 at midnight and arrived in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly called Rangoon, Burma) on Nov. 21st after a 13 hour flight to Taipei, and a 4 hour flight from Taipei to Burma. It was with relief when we saw our luggage come around the carousel. After going through customs we were met by our tour director, Bunny. There are nine of us on this optional pre-trip tour. From the airport we were driven to the hotel. The Park Royal Hotel is beautiful and the rooms were large and comfortable. We walked around the corner from the hotel with our guide to a local restaurant for lunch. Bunny helped us with the menu. We ended up ordering chicken fried rice which came with soup. The total bill for both of us was less than five dollars!


After unpacking and a quick nap we decided to take a walk. Although the temperature was in the high 70's, the humidity was over 90%. After 20 minutes we had had enough. We decided to stay in the hotel for dinner and ended up in the lobby bar with another couple for drinks and a light appetizer meal. By 8:30 we could not stay awake so called it a night.


Nov. 22, 2015

We had a great night's sleep and were feeling good. The breakfast buffet at the hotel was one of the largest selections of food we had ever seen. There was something for every nationality and taste.

The first stop on today's agenda was to a Buddhist monastery and nunnery. More than 1000 novice monks and nuns live in this monastery, most very young (as young as 5 years old). They are often sent by their parents to receive an education. Surprisingly, this is not a lifelong commitment. Rather you can leave at any time. And you can decide to rejoin later! We lucked out as when we got to the monastery there was a special happening. The monastery was being offered food by a group from the university. The monks and nuns walked silently in a line with bowls in hand as people, including us, placed rice, beans and fruit into them. Then they went back to the dining area to eat, also in silence. It was quite a sight to see all these very young monks and nuns. To view a short video of the event, click here.

Our next stop was a visit to the historic Scott Market. Built in 1926, this was like a huge indoor swap meet with vendors selling everything from fabric to clothes to jewelry. Myanmar has ruby and jade mines so there were many of these gems for sale. It was very crowded and hot in the market and the aisles were narrow so we didn't stay long!

After lunch at the Green Elephant restaurant, we toured the Shwedagon Pagoda, also called the Golden Pagoda. It was initially built about 600 BC as a small monument but has been added onto over the years by various kings and queens. It is the most sacred pagoda in Myanmar because it houses relics of the past four Buddhas. Buddhists from around the world come to pay homage to Buddha here. The pagoda is covered with real gold bricks, not just gold foil. It is said that most of the gold in Myanmar is on this pagoda - more than 30 tons! It stands 326 feet tall and dominates the city's skyline. The very top of the pagoda has 1800 carats of diamonds, including one that is 76 carats, as well as more than 83000 other jewels.


Before entering the area surrounding the pagoda, we had to take off our shoes and socks. In addition to the actual main pagoda, there were many other smaller pagodas, temples, shrines called stupas, and prayer halls in this huge complex. It took us over an hour to walk around the Golden Pagoda and it was an overwhelming sight. As this is a most sacred place, there were many people sitting on the ground praying, lighting candles and incense, and leaving flowers by one of the many Buddha images in the stupas.

Nov. 23, 2015

After another great breakfast, we headed to the city center for a walking tour of the area. Since this was formerly a British colony, there are remnants of old colonial era buildings mixed with new more modern architectures. Yangon is home to over 7 million people. Motorbikes are not allowed on city streets so everyone that can drives a car. Busses are crowded and traffic jams are monumental. There are few traffic signals and the sound of honking horns is constant.

Our next stop was to the Chaukhtatgyl Pagoda. This is home to one of Myanmar's most revered reclining Buddhas. Begun in 1899, the massive image of the elegant Buddha resting on its side in the six story pagoda is more than 200 feet long. Each of the images on the bottom of the feet represents a previous life or incarnation of Buddha. We were also fascinated with the head, particularly the eyes and eyelashes. There was nail polish on the fingers and lipstick on the lips. This doesn't mean that Buddha is a female! Rather it was to make the image the most beautiful.




After lunch at a local noodle shop, we were driven to the waterfront and boarded a ferry for a quick trip across the Yangon River to the small, rural village of Dala. This was an optional tour and turned out to be an amazing experience. We climbed onto trishaws for an hour ride through the village. It was a little scary at times with the bumps in the road and the motor bikes sharing the same narrow space. But it was also fun to see how people live - very different from the city. Cows wandered the streets. Families live in bamboo huts. People were very friendly, calling out hello's and children holding out hands to slap as we passed by.


We made a few stops at some family run businesses. The first was a candle making "factory" where we watched them pour hot wax into presses with spools of cotton wicks, then form the candles and bundle them for shipping. All in a shack with dirt floors.

The next stop was another shack where they made the wraps for spring rolls. The man dipped his hand into a vat of dough and dropped a light coating on very hot grills. Then quickly another person scraped each one off and stacked them for packaging. Packaging was done by two old people who wrapped a stack of 100 in newspaper and put them in a plastic bag! They make 7000-8000 sheets per day and sell a package of 100 sheets for less than $1. To see a short video of the process, click here.

Our last stop was by a fresh water lake where we watched people carrying 2 five gallon buckets on wooden poles, rushing down to fill them and carry them back to their huts. They can only do this between 4 and 5 o'clock every day in order to make the water last. The lake is replenished during the rainy season. To see a short video of this, click here.

Seeing the way people live that is so different from us was eye opening. Yet they seem happy and very welcoming. As we passed by on our trishaws, people called out hellos and children raised their hands to high five ours. Barb's peddler said he could not read or write but he spoke pretty good English which he learned from tourists. We had an interesting conversation about his life and it sure makes you appreciate all that we have.

When we got back to Yangon, we visited the Chinese Night Market. It was interesting to see all the different kinds of fruits and vegetables grown here. We stopped by a platter of barbequed crickets. Bunny asked if anyone wanted to try and Barbara volunteered. After breaking off the head and legs, she gave it a try. It was actually pretty tasty - crispy like a chip.



To view more photos from our trip to Yangon, please go to Yangon Photo Gallery. To read about the next location visited, go to Bagan.

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