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

Although wi-fi was advertised as being available in the rooms as well as in the lobby and restaurant area, the signal in our room was very weak – too weak to get access to my email through our office remote access system.  And too weak to even consider uploading photos and text for this blog.  It was slightly better in the restaurant area, but not enough better.

We were up a tad late than usual, not getting to breakfast until about 8 AM.  But what a breakfast it was: we had a choice of a crepe (called pancake) or eggs prepared in one of three styles (we both chose the crepe), but there was so much more: a bowl of home-made yogurt with meusli and fruit, fresh orange juice, choice of coffee or tea, bakery including croissants (REAL croissants, with proper flakiness), plus pain au chocolat (again, with proper flakiness), and fresh fruit (watermelon, pineapple, papaya and pommelo).  Good buffets are nice, but this was a breakfast to rival the best of the included breakfasts  for the whole vacation.

After breakfast, we made another effort to pay for our hotel charges, and again the charges would not go through.  This made me increasingly suspicious, because I had checked with our credit card companies and learned that they had placed no block on the account; in fact, the companies, they had not record of an attempt having been made to charge our cards.  So I was left suspecting that this hotel just doesn’t want to be paid by credit card even though they advertise themselves as accepting credit cards.  A significant blemish on their quality, to my mind.

Then we were off by taxi to the Shwedagon Pagoda (2000 kyat).  Just as during our ride from the airport, the traffic was very nasty at many junctures of this ride, but we were unsure enough that we could find our way on the street map that a cab ride was imperative.  And besides, it WAS a fair way from our hotel.

There are four long staircases up to the top,

Stairway up to the Shwedagon

Looking up a stairway up to the Shwedagon

each guarded by a pair of these mythical creatures (chinthes)

Chinthes at entrance to Stairway up to the Shwedagon

Chinthes at entrance to Stairway up to the Shwedagon

but there was also an elevator to the top at the northern staircase at which our taxi had dropped us (and, indeed, at all the staircase), so that is how we got from the ground-floor entryway to the platform at which all the sights of the paya can be seen.

Then we walked down a long covered walkway,

emerging from under this structure

onto the plaza of the temple.  The main building is the central stupa, the actual shwedagon, rises some 325 feet to the top of the diamond bud at the very top.  The base of the stupa is made of bricks covered with gold plates. Above the base are terraces, then the turban, then the inverted alms bowl, inverted and upright lotus petals, the banana bud and then the umbrella crown.

The crown is tipped with thousands of diamonds and rubies. Immediately before the diamond bud is a flag-shaped vane. The very top—the diamond bud—is tipped with a large diamond.

The central stupa is surrounded by Buddha images at the “birthday corners” as we have seen in other Myanmar temples.

There are dozens of other buildings,

sometimes labeled either exclusively in Burmese

and sometimes with an English translation denoting a specific Buddha image or Buddha relic contained in that building.

This octagonal structure, known as the pagoda of the eight weekdays,

similarly had Buddha’s in niches that can be venerated by the faithful based on their birth day corner.

The entire grounds were dominated by the chanting of this monk, who seemed to be reading a text as he chanted

There were several series of illustrations which, it appeared, told not only the Buddha story but the story of the creation of the Shwedagon.

Some of these illustrations features painted carvings of figures that stood out from the two dimensional illustration to which they were attached

There was also a series of illustrations on the tower of the Mahabodhi Pagoda, a copy of a temple in India

Various of the images have special legends attached to them.  For example, offerings to this image of a figure (apparently, a child) clutching Brahma is supposed to have the tendency to lead to gratification of the wish to produce children

The Bodhi tree is revered as a tree of wisdom and receives its own special ceremony in May of every year

There were seated or reclining Buddha figures of varying sizes and styles inside many of the buildings

as well as a variety of fanciful creatures.

Many of the buildings had fairly plain  pillars, walls and ceilings, but some of these were highly decorated as well

as were some gongs and bells

After we had wandered the Shwe da Gon grounds for nearly two hours, we were ready to see more of the city.  We decided we would see more by walking to downtown instead of riding another taxi, so we set off around the Shwe Da Gon and then south on Shwedagon Road, passing the Wat Maha Wizaya

and then the very different looking Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda

There were little shrines mounted on trees along the way

Catholics were represented by Holy Trinity Cathedral

We passed City Hall

and before continuing with our tour we ducked into the 999 Noodles for some Shan noodle specialties – a cheap but filling lunch with a proprietor with a sense of humor.

We also worked hard to increase our supply of currency.  My ATM card continued not to be accepted, and we could not find a bank that was willing to give us currency for our travelers checks.  Finally, we tried using NANCY’s ATM card, and even though it draws on the same bank account, it went through just fine!  So, we could now relax about spending money for the last 24 hours of our trip.  But the lesson was clear – come to Myanmar with plenty of American currency, and currency in pristine condition!

As we walked along the street, this group of young monks (or, maybe, given their very young ages, novitiates!) were heading off together with their bowls

Our plan was to follow the Lonely Planet walking tour of Colonial Yangon. so we started off by walking around the Sule Paya, which is in the middle of a busy intersection in downtown Yangon

Sule Paya. Yangon

This main structure in this pagoda, the Kyaok Athok, stands out from other Burmese pagodas because it is octagonal well past the base and under the umbrella at the top of the spire

Worshippers can place a prayer card in this replica of a royal barge, then send it uo the chain to deposit the card at a shrine higher up on the stupa

here are some other images from Sule Paya

Walking south from Sule Paya, we passed the High Court building

Old High Court Building, Downtown Yangon

and crossed into Mahabandoola Park to look at the Independence Monument at its center

Independence Monument in Mahabandoola Park, Yangon

Turning east on Strand Road we passed this red brick Customs Building (still in use as such)

and the Yangon Regional Court building

I thought this building looked Masonic, but it was the next best thing: the Yangon Stock Exchange

there was a few old buildings that were lovely once but have seen better days, including this building whose name I could not find

and the Lokanat Gallery, formerly a department store

Traffic was beginning to build up as the afternoon wore on.  We noticed these private buses, each of  whom had a man who would stand in the middle doorway urging passenger to board, and yelling loudly otherwise, sounding as if he was making an announcement (perhaps stating the destination and route?)

Another means of local transportation was the bicycle rickshaw. 

I thought that might be a cool way to get around, but there was seating for only one in each vehicle and besides, Nancy seemed to shudder at the idea of riding one of these things in Yangon’s heavy traffic.

This large brick building was the seat of British power in the colonial days in the 19th Century

And this is the old telegraph building

At the entrance to this street running south off Mahabandoola Road, there was an archway with an inscription and it appeared that attendants were soliciting donations

We passed this Hindu Temple on Mahabandoola Road,

and just off the same road to the south on some nearby streets we spotted several mosques.

As dusk was approaching, men were gathered in seating along the side streets drinking tea – no women were seated among them

For dinner, we stopped in at a small Muslim eatery called Shwe Mei Thar Su; an acceptable dinner was 6100 kyat, less than five dollars for the two of us.

We took a cab back to our hotel for 5000 kyat, and settled in for the evening.  Tomorrow morning we would have to pack for our flight back to Bangkok and then on home, but I was hoping to have a couple more hours of sightseeing Wednesday morning before leaving Yangon.

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