Yangon has a charm of its own and in its heyday it must have been glorious. Even through the decay and neglect you can see how beautiful the buildings are. The Kandawgyi Lake at sunset is very pretty and the Karaweik boat, a replica of a royal barge against the blazing sky is not to be missed.
Within a few hours after landing I had the first clue that this would be a very different trip. After dropping the bag in my room, I went straight to visit the Shwegadon Pagoda in time for sunset. It is so unlike anything I have seen, so beautiful, there are no words. There are several small temples that house Buddha images, five sacred Bodhi trees, other smaller pagodas and the Shwegadon pagoda itself, a magnificent golden and jewellery encrusted pagoda. I have never seen anything quite like it. I wandered around for a couple of hours, people smiling at me, children waving and saying hello and hardly any other foreigners. Nothing can describe how utterly amazing this pagoda is. You have to see it. There was a Buddhist monk who was being followed by a small retinue and filmed as he walked around. No idea of who he was but it added to this very special setting. Of course, the area is huge with several entrances and it was not easy working out where I’d come in as that was where my shoes were. After a long detour which involved walking barefoot in the street I found it. I learned my lesson and after that I put my shoes in a bag and took them with me everywhere I went.
From the pagoda I took a taxi to a restaurant recommended by the hotel and was pleasantly surprised the driver spoke really good English. We arrived at the restaurant as he was telling me how dangerous this area was, that I should have him wait for me because I would never find a taxi, to which I pointed to the massive hotel round the corner and said I was sure I would find a taxi there. He rushed ahead of me to talk to the waiter as he said he didn’t have change. We had agreed $2.50 and I only had $3. Now, I may not speak Burmese but the body language was unmistakable. There he was telling the waiter to go inside and pretend he didn’t have change. I told him to stop it, that I was perfectly aware of what he was doing and to leave me alone. He left, tail between his legs, I had only paid him $2 but was really annoyed at him and the waiter for going along the charade. Every time I asked him why he’d agreed to it, he pretended he didn’t understand. He understood plenty when it was time to take my order though…
I am in favour of two tiered pricing, one for locals and one for foreigners but here you pay for everything. Want to go into the park to see the lake? Pay. Enter the pagoda? Pay. Want to use your camera in the temple or pagoda? Pay. Video? Some more…The next day I went to see Sula pagoda and Botataung pagoda, both beautiful and $3 each.
Burma for me in a nutshell? Stunningly beautiful pagodas and charming people who smile and are curious about you in a very friendly way and then, on the other hand, others who just try it on constantly. It was exhausting.