Last Day In Yangon

Trip Start Mar 04, 2006
Trip End Apr 13, 2006

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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Friday, March 10, 2006

Yesterday evening, after leaving the internet cafe, I grabbed a taxi to Shwedagon Pagoda, the can't miss sight of Yangon. As with everything in Asia, it was a study in contrasts. On the one hand, it really is something you have to see if you're in Yangon. A 300' tall pagoda plated with 7 tons of gold IS an impressive sight, and beautiful as well. On the other hand, it's surrounded by 14 acres of seemingly extraneous temples, filled with hundreds of Buddhas. To be honest, they seem to detract from the magnitude of Shwedagon. Obviously, that's a view not shared by non-westerners as this is one of the holiest sights here. Perspective is everything I guess.

After 2 hours of walking barefoot on marble tiles, slipping back into my Nike sport sandles was better than any foot massage. I headed outside to grab a taxi, which resulted in the most comical 3 minutes of my life as I tried to explain where I was going (Motherland Inn) and he kept repeating it back to me (Mutnahlanan???) and looking at me with absolutely no comprehension. We pulled one of the girls working the temple's ticket counter into the conversation, with the same results. So I switched to the street name, thinking that would at least get us in the neighborhood. Let's just say my Burmese accent needs some work. Idiot me finally remembered I had a map, pulled it out and pointed to where I needed to go, resulting in instant comprehension by all parties. "Ah, Pazundaung Road! Yes, yes!!" (Hint, it's not pronounced like you me on this one).

I started today with the intention of finding a way to my next destination, Bagan. (Puh-gon, see what I mean?) My choices were the bus ($7), the train ($40), or a flight ($75). Seeing as I've stayed in Yangon a day longer than I really intended, and there will be plenty of other 14 hour bus or train rides in my future, I splurged and booked a flight out at 6:15 tomorrow morning. It took all of 2 minutes to book the flight through Good News Travels, Lonely Planet's recommended travel agent in Yangon. They were fantastic.

Since booking the flight was so fast, I left there and headed next door to the amazing Bogyoke Aung San Market. You can get anything here from luggage to handicrafts. It's a great place to wander, haggle, and practice your skills at fending off the postcard kids, who hound you to buy, you guessed it, a book of 20 postcards for 1000 kyat. For the most part, they take no for an answer, at least the second or third time. More fun than hassle. I didn't buy anything, as I don't want to be carrying more around Myanmar, and I'll be back in Yangon for my flight to Bangkok and so have another chance to buy you all some schlocky souvenirs then.

There were also novice monks walking around, asking for alms. Hard to say no to a 10 year monk, so I asked one of the moneychangers if he could break a 1000 for me. He managed 5 200's, but when I told him I was looking for smaller for the monks, he dug a handful of 10's and 20's out of his pocket and gave them to me. He wouldn't except anything in return and sent me on my way with a handshake. Just another example of the kindness of strangers. And a moneychanger at that...

By the time I finished at the market, it was noon, it was hot, and I was pretty thirsty, so I headed for the ritziest place in town for some refreshments, the bar at The Strand Hotel. Built in 1896, and recently restored to it's former glory, it is an amazing place to take a break from the heat. I relaxed for an hour, sipping a Tiger beer and enjoying the quiet elegance of the place. At one point, as I was wondering at the strangeness of the moment - relaxing amid old world luxury, sipping a $5 beer from a glass constantly refilled by a nattily dressed bartender in a skirt while in the midst of a city where most people get by on a few dollars a day - Hotel California started playing softly in the background and the moment went from strange to surreal. Unforgettable.

I left the Strand and headed across the street to snap a photo, and was immediately accosted by a postcard girl. I managed to discourage her, and started heading in the general direction of the U.S. Embassy, thinking I would pop in and see what it's like (having never visited one of our embassies). Not 20 feet down the road I get hit up by another postcard girl. As I convince her that I in fact don't need any postcards, I'm thinking of how to get a picture of her. She's cute as a button, with thanaka powder on both cheeks, longyi and shoulder bag. She asks where I'm going and suggests she act as my guide, for a mere 2000 kyat. I talk her down to 1000 kyat and a photo. Score! She speaks remarkably good English, so along the way I learn that she's 13, on summer break from school, lives across the river in a small village, that the postcard girl before her was her 15 year old sister, that in Bagan I should stay at the Eden Inn, that I should visit her village, and that she gets back and forth each day on the boat for free. She was a bit of a talker, completely charming, smart and clever. By the time we got to the embassy, we'd collected a couple of her friends, and I got them all in the photo. It's one of my favorites so far.

Next update from Bagan.

P.S. Thanks again for the comments! And Tom, I got ya covered on the smokes! Hand rolled Burmese cigars. Hope I can get them through customs :-)
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