As the icy cold bus, they have a tendency to have the AC on so powerfully that it often brings the temperature down to 10 to 12 degrees, pulled in to Yangon, former capital of Myanmar. I wondered what on earth the time was. It was light which was an unusual bonus. I'd booked a hostel called 21st Street. I shared a cab with a couple who were yet to book accommodation and told them about this place. We headed there. Check in was 2pm. It was now 6.30am. Inconvenient. But travelling this way generally is. I helped myself the filtered black coffee and pastries, chatted with an elderly German couple who had been to Myanmar sixteen times, the first time in 1977 and gleaned information based upon, 'If I was going to be here for one day what should I do?' What they shared with me was pretty much what Laura had suggested. This involved the three hour city train loop and the 'big temple', plus a general wander about the place..... I decided 24 hours would do the job nicely.... Here I was burning the candle at both ends yet again.
Loaded up on caffeine I headed to the nearest temple at the bottom of the main road. I was asked to remove my shoes (standard practise here in Asia), and leave them for a fee. I asked could I carry them in my bag. The girl nodded. Even though I love the philosophy behind Buddhism, what the underlying messages convey, the tight link between extorting money from 'foreigners' to visit such places of worship whether they have the same religon is, in my eyes, unacceptable. And this thought made me curious. A minute or so of wandering around the gold painted walls, and fancily decorated Buddhas I was approached by a young lady. She wasn't particularly friendly and asked for my ticket. Local practising their Buddhist devoteness could be seen dotted around knelt in front of various Buddha statues. 'Do I need to pay for a ticket to worship here? To practise my religon?' I asked. 'You're a foreigner.' She replied. 'You must pay.' Hmmmmm religon and money, like love and hate, so closely related. 'Surely not.' I queried. 'Does it matter that I was born in a different country? If I am here to worship Buddha is this not all that matters?'. 'You must pay.' Was the more stern reply. I had become slightly fed up of this, especially for a temple that was fairly small in comparison with the infamous golden leviathan that awaited me half an hour's walk away. I walked over and knelt on the tiles in front of one of the Buddhas. I remained for two minutes with my head bowed, then got up and began walking around the interior perimeter of the temple. It was literally 30 seconds before the grumpy lady found me. 'You must leave!'..... This time I decided to take her up on her kind 'offer/demand' and left the premises. I was playing, but obviously this was not appreciated.... not in the slightest.
I headed towards the train station. Half an hour later I boarded the city line train. I found myself an open door and stood there watching Yangon passby.
This was a great way of seeing the more rural areas, the poorer areas, the market areas and the/or one of Yangon's prisons. For three hours I stood in the doorway just drinking it all in. Every half hour it felt like the temperature increased by 5 degrees.
By 11am I was cooking. It was only the steady breeze from the motion of the train that kept me alive.... I really loved my time on this train... and I think I also captured one of my very favourite images so far.
I wandered back towards the centre. Found a busy looking eatery, headed upstairs and sat in the hobbits only section where tiny plastic primary school style chairs were tucked under tiny tables. I looked at the menu and took pot luck, ordering a variety of local foods one of which was a delicious steamed dumpling full of.... something.... tasty.
Next I found myself walking briskly towards the huge temple I previously mentioned. I asked the German couple I'd met in the morning could I walk there, 'NO! NO! Too far, take a bus or taxi.' Half an hour later there I was walking up the many steps towards the main temple area. Wow! Now this place was an impressive sight. It was huge. Massive golden topped pagaodas surrounded me. A back drop of bright blue cloud spattered sky made a beautiful backdrop against the gold leaf.
The roof of the Shwedagon Temple, the main pagoda is plated with over 22,000 gold bars!!! And is therefore believed to be the costliest religious shrine in the world.... There are rumours of over 60 tonnes of gold within this pagoda. Monks, male and female worshipped whilst a mix of international tourists wow'd at the pretty awesome religious architecture which surrounded them......
That evening I wandered the streets, at at a Vietnamese cafe and took in the Yangon vibe....
At 6.30am the following morning I found myself in a taxi heading towards Yangon airport.... But where was I headed? Maybe the lady below knew.... Maybe she was praying for me to regain my direction....