Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Myanmar: Shwedagon, the jewel of Yangon

shwedagon monk with pink umbrellaTouching down at Mingaladon Airport, passengers are besieged (as anywhere else) by overeager taxi drivers and their middlemen.  I make up my mind to go directly to Mandalay (nearly 700 kms up north) or Bagan on my first day. That is, if i can get a ticket. But first, I must go-see Shwedagon Pagoda right here in Yangon.

So after exchanging a chunk of my dollars for kyats (i got a very good 1,000k - $1 at a small store), My driver cum guide, Aung San, facilitated my procurement of a bus ticket to Mandalay. But not after trying our luck at three bus ticket outlets (there’s an upcoming water festival holiday and many locals are eager to go back home). If I want a ticket to Bagan,  I would have to get it in Mandalay.shwedagon buddhas and monkIt wasn’t even 10.30am yet so with plenty of time to spare, I bit into Aung San’s offer to tour the city’s main pagodas for a princely sum of over 30,000kyats. The proviso: I'll add a few thousand more to include the fare for the trip from the airport to downtown and the trip to the bus station located at the city’s outskirts later.yangon skyline from shwedagonOur first stop: Shwedagon Pagoda right at the heart of Yangon.  It’s hard to miss it as the main stupa is visible from afar, gleaming in the morning sun like a jewel. I opted to take the elevator going up for a glimpse of the city. Looking at the spread of over a hundred smaller stupas, halls and pagodas surrounding the main stupa was a heady experience. It’s a visual overload that made me momentarily forget the blistering heat on my bare feet.shwedagon golden stupas and ladyShwe means “gold” in Burmese while dDagon translates to “three hills” and literally and figuratively, the pagoda lives up to its golden name.  The main stupa alone is a virtual treasure find – plated with 8,688 solid gold slabs, with a tip that glows with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies, sapphires and topaz. Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most sacred places in all of Myanmar, built over the shrine containing the Gautama Buddha’s relics. In this jewel of a pagoda, common people mingle with the monks, praying, meditating, reflecting, offering, and making their wishes. I, too, make a wish for this trip to open my mind and allow me to explore a new culture with openness and genuine curiosity. 

Info: Shwedagon Pagoda is open to tourists from 8am-9pm • entrance fee: 6,500kyats (roughly US$5-6.50 • footwear storage fee: 500kyats (suggestion: lug your shoes or sandals to save) • beware of “guides” who volunteer their services but wouldn’t quote their fee outright; they can be an annoyance, demanding several thousand kyats as “donation” later on


escape said...

very interesting place. usually people choose thailand over myanmar but it seems that it has its own beauty as well.

beautiful photos as usual oggie. it's so relaxing to see myanmar through your photos.

lagal[og] said...

ei dom, myanmar is really nice. the reason probably that tourists prefer visiting its neighbor, thailand, is that there's a somewhat strict visa requirement even among fellow southeast asian travelers and that the set-up over there is not as conducive to tourism (ex. not a lot of establishments accept credit cards).

Erick said...

wow! ito na yung mga stories at pictures na inaabangan ko.

congrats on your trip bro!

bertN said...

Am I right in assuming that Burma is not a tourist-friendly place? Or it is just not ready yet for the influx of tourists like Philippines, Thailand, Hongkong, Singapore, China, etc?

Ferdz said...

The sights are really overwhelming. Sa temples, spires and the local colors pa lang medyo nakakalula.

Really love that 2nd pic. Timing na me nag me-meditate dun along with the statues.

lagal[og] said...

erick, thanks bro! watch out for the next installment in the series.

bert, imho, myanmar locals welcome the tourists; it's the infrastructure in myanmar that may not make it easy for tourists to visit, e.g. lack of credit card facilities. also, there's the arbitrary dollar-kyat exchange rates where the official rate is miles away from the black market rate (US$1 - 6kyats vs. US$1 - 950 to 1,000kyats). but otherwise, the place seems to be a step back in time, very beautiful and charming.

amigo, nalula nga ako dito. visual overload talaga. for the first 10 minutes, i don't know where to look first. yung 2nd pic, nagulat din yung monk at nakita ko siya - nagkagulatan din kami. but i'm glad he let me take his picture when i asked his permission in sign language :)


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