Friday, January 20, 2017

Our last day in Yangon: Nga Htat Gyi and Chauk Htat Gyi Payas

After another nice breakfast, we had to decide where to go for our last morning of sightseeing in Yangon before heading to the airport for our series of flights back to D.C.  I wanted to go see the Boatatung Paya along the river in downtown Yangon, but Nancy was worried about getting trapped in downtown traffic and having trouble getting back to our hotel in time to leave for the airport.  She had located two payas to visit that were a bit closer to our hotel, and very close to each other; in the end that is where we went.

Our first stop was the Nga Htat Gyi Paya, its spot marked by two giant chinthes sitting by a gate along the side of the road. 

Chinthes at entrance to Nga Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
We entered a long passageway and then stairway climbing a hill to reach the temple.  The main attraction here was a huge sitting Buddha dating from the mid-16th Century, although in a building erected at the very beginning of the 20th Century

Sitting Buddha in Nga Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

Sitting Buddha in Nga Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
The Buddha sat in front of two intricately carved wooden screens

Wooden screens behind Sitting Buddha in Nga Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

Wooden screens behind Sitting Buddha in Nga Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
On the way into the great hall containing the seated Buddha, we passed a cage holding a large number of white round papers, looking rather like plates, that were festooned with 5000 and 10000 kyat notes running around the edges; each “plate” had writing on it, apparently denoting the donors for the plates

Donation plates in Wooden screens in Nga Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

The meditation space in front of the Buddha was attended by two frolicsome human figures looking rather like Geppetto

Figure in Nga Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
Behind the seated Buddha were this image portraying a line of followers of the Buddha that began with statuary and then, at the wall, faded into painted portrayals of increasingly indistinct figures

with a mountain circled by a snake lit with lights that were blinking on and off

The back of the second wooden screen behind thwe Buddha was highly decorated at well

This set of figures sat on the side of that area

And there were a pair of naga along the Buddha’s side

There were the usual paintings high up on the surrounding walls that told stories about the lifetime of the Buddha.

although some of them seemed to recount later actions by his followers

As at the Schwedagon, there was a monk chanting from a book into a microphone

Monk chanting in Nga Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

the eerie tone could be heard throughout the temple and, indeed, as we were to learn soon, throughout the surrounding neighborhood.

There were a series of tables set up around the great hall containing boxes or sacks of supplies, including rice but also such things as boxes holding tubes of toothpaste.  I couldn’t figure out the significance of these boxes.

On the way out, we noticed some paintings illustrating the problems that could be occasioned by committing each of the five deadly sins of Buddhism – adultery, stealing, lying, killing, and being intoxicated. The morals were drawn both in the Myanmar language and in English.

Mural depicting sin of lying, Nga Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

After heading back down the staircase out of the paya, we had to dash across a fast-moving four-lane highway for our visit to our other planned site for the morning, the Chauk Htat Gyi Paya.  Our visit began inauspiciously – there was a spot that was apparently the place for taking off our shoes and socks, but then we were ascending several flights of a very plain looking concrete stairway.

Stairway to Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

When we reached the top, we understood why – we could see the BACK of a humongous reclining Buddha.  Apparently, we had come into this temple from the back entrance.

Reclining Buddha in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

From the terraces surrounding the temple building, we could look across to the next hill for a view of Nga Htata Gyi Paya.

View of Nga Htat Gyi Paya from Reclining Buddha in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

We walked around the reclining Buddha to see the front.  It was huge -- 65 meters long, in fact

Reclining Buddha in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

Reclining Buddha in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
Reclining Buddha in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
and then far enough to see his patterned feet

Reclining Buddha in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
with painted toenails

Reclining Buddha in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
The Buddha’s face struck us as unusually feminine

Reclining Buddha in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

The figure was attended at each corner by one of these figures

Here were the bells that worshippers could ring to announce that they had come to make merit

Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
There was no chanting here, but the voice of the monk chanting at Nga Htat Gyi Paya on the next hill could be heard loud and clear here.  Across from the front of the Buddha was a series of niches containing Buddha figures carved out of sandalwood. 

Buddha in niche in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

Niches holding sandalwood Buddha figures in Reclining Buddha in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
And up near his head was an octagonal structure containing Buddha figures that appeared to represent the usual eight-day birth corners

Birth corners  in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

Below the figures, I noticed a series of animals, and I had also seen some of the same animals and the birthday corners the day before, and then it struck me that– there must be specific animals for specific birthday corners.  I asked a guide who was talking with a couple of clients and he confirmed this: the Sunday corner is associated with Garuda, for example, and the Wednesday corners with the elephant – Wednesday morning is the elephant with tusks, and Rahu Day the elephant without tusks.

Birth corners  in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

Birth corners  in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
In one niche around the figure, there were two smaller reclining Buddha’s with an altar in between with a sitting Buddha in front of flashing lights

Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

This mural seemed to incorporate the various parts of the life-story into a single mural with multiple panes

Mural in Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon
It was getting toward the time when we had to think about heading back to the hotel, so we retraced our steps back down the hill to catch a taxi.  We had been told coming up that the paya was attached to a large monastery, and we could see what we assumed to be the monastery’s library as we made our way down the stairs.

Monastery adjoining Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, Yangon

As it happened, there was one stopped on the street near where we emerged, so we showed him a piece of paper that the clerk at our hotel has written to ask that we be taken to a Myanmar traditional food restaurant.  The driver was non-plussed by what we were showing him, and he plainly could not speak any English, so he flagged down another driver to help translate and also help figure out where to go.  At this point, Nancy was concerned about whether we really had enough time for lunch before leaving for the airport, so in the end we asked him to take us to our hotel, showing him the card for the hotel.  He still did not know where to go, so he asked the other driver (an older man) for help.  After some exchange, we were ready to take off.  We asked how much the ride would cost us, and the interlocutor spoke to our driver, then told us – this is a 3500 kyat drive, but because our driver does not know just how to get there, and will have to ask directions several times, it will be 5000 kyat.  I wanted to say, well, if the other guy is the one who knows the way, maybe we should go with HIM.  But that, we figured, is not how it works.

SO off we went, and it turned out that the driver was VERY confused – he asked directions several times, and apparently got bad directions repeatedly because he kept turning around and retracing his steps.  It was almost a half hour after we got into the cab before he finally managed to reach our hotel – and then he asked for 7000 because he had had to ask directions so many times.  In the end, we secured the assistance of some of the hotel staff dislodging him from his demand for more than the agreed price – he must have been arguing about this for nearly ten minutes by the time it was done.  But although I was grateful for the assistance of hotel staff in addressing all this, I really have to count drivers’ unfamiliarity of the location – there was one driver whom we asked for a ride back from downtown who looked at the address and sent us on our way – as something of a factor militating against choosing this hotel.  As I have noted before, though, there are a good many factors supporting the hotel as a place to stay.

We headed back to our room, switched some of the materials from my backpack into the suitcases and put things into the backpack had to be in our carry-on luggage, and we were ready to head to the airport.  The driver who had picked us up two days before showed up as agreed, and off we went.  He asked, though, whether we had had lunch; I said no, and asked whether there were any good places serving Myanmar food on the way to the airport.  He said, yes, and besides, he added, you don’t want to eat at the airport anyway because it is so expensive.  There’s a good place near the airport, and I can take you there; and that is what he did.  He took us to a place whose Myanmar name, he said, was Shwe Fa May, which he said would roughly translate as Golden Eat Much.  The place was essentially a cafeteria – I went up to a series of windows at the front of the room in which various curries were sitting in pans;

Shwe Fa May near  Yangon airport

the waitress said, pointing to one set, fish, pointing to another set, chicken, then pork, mutton, prawns and more fish.  I chose a couple and ended up with some whole prawns, in a tasty sauce but somewhat overcooked, and a fishhead, also tasty.  There was rice to go with it, and a plate of leaves of various kinds (mint, kaffir lime, lettuce) and other greens, and  what appears to have been a bottomless bowl of soup with vegetables, and tea.

After I was done with what I had ordered the waitress brought me a few plastic containers containing what I took to be  dessert, including some balls that I thought she called chocolate but turned out to be balls of palm sugar, a small dish containing what looked like fermented tea leaves and a couple of other things, a small bowl containing a red sauce with ice, and then a mixture of dried beans, dried lentils, peanuts and sesame seeds, which I mixed with the sweet balls and a sauce

I mixed the sweet balls with the red sauce and the dried mixture (which I found so pleasant to eat that I ordered more of the mixture to take with me for the future).  All this cost 7000 kyat plus another thousand for the extra mixture, a pretty good price for lunch.  I asked the taxi driver for  the name of the mixture of which I had taken extra; he said it was what goes into tea leaf salad.   In retrospect, my guess is that I should have mixed the tea leaves and other things into the mixed dried stuff.  Oh well.  Then we were off to the airport to catch our plane –  the driver said that the stop for lunch, during which he waited for us, did not increase the price of the ride.
We had plenty of time to catch our plane but we made the mistake of not changing our kyat for dollars before leaving – turned out that NONE of the money exchange places at the Bangkok airport would accept kyat.

We stayed that night at the same airport Novotel where we had stayed upon our initial arrival in Thailand.  For dinner we walked back to the airport through a pedestrian tunnel and ate at the small food court on the ground floor of the airport.  A reasonable dinner for two, including two appetizers two main dishes and two beers, cost us $20.

Then, back to the hotel and to bed.  The first leg of our flight home was to take off at 7 AM, which meant a 5 AM checking.  Happily, breakfast at the Novotel begins at 3 AM to accommodate the many guests with early morning international flights.  The omelet/fried egg station was not manned when we got down for breakfast at about 4 AM, but the rest of it was there.  From the standpoint of our experience over the past three weeks, I have to say that this buffet, although extensive, was not quite as good as at the Krungsri River hotel in Ayutthaya.  Too bad there were OTHER problems there!

Our flight to Tokyo’s Narita airport on ANA was delayed because of a maintenance issue, and we missed our connection by an hour.  As a consequence, we had to stay overnight near the airport.  Happily, ANA had to put us up in an airport hotel; unhappily, our new flight was in the morning, so we were unable to take the bullet train into downtown Tokyo for a whirlwind visit.  Nothing of much interest to report from our stay, except that the toilet had a spray mechanism that allowed it to double as a bidet.
Toilet with bidet attachment in Tobu Hotel, Narita airport hotel

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Whirlwind tour of Yangon: The Shwedagon, Sule Paya, and a Walking Tour of Colonial Yangon

The Alamanda Hotel was a pleasant place to stay, and but for some of the problems I will mention in a bit, this could have been a five-star stay.  The room was reasonable large, with a sitting area I front of the area with the large bed, which had mosquito netting available.  The room was reached by walking on a footpath through a shady garden, and there was a sitting area outside our door with a bench, two chairs and a table (however, we were too busy sightseeing to use that).  The place had an almost bucolic feel, and at night we heard the birds calling, nit at all like being in the city.  There was one bird call that I had never heard before, a sort of whooping whistle; when I played a recording to the hotel clerk in the morning, she identified it as the coco bird,

Hotel Room, Alamanda Hotel, Yangon

Hotel Room, Alamanda Hotel, Yangon

Walkway from Hotel Room, Alamanda Hotel, Yangon

Sitting area outside Hotel Room, Alamanda Hotel, Yangon

Our final day at Inle Lake

We were up in plenty of time to catch the sunrise this morning

Sunrise over Inle Lake

Sunrise over Inle Lake

Sunrise over Inle Lake

Although this was the day for us to head to the airport in early afternoon to fly to Yangon, we decided to spending try a visit to the market-of-the day, being held in the nearby village of Nam Pad.  And what a difference; this was a huge market!  We arrived shortly after 9 AM and boats were jamming the harbor between two spits of land that appeared to have been reclaimed b§y dumping dirt out into the lake.