Trip Start Feb 29, 2004
Trip End Apr 12, 2005

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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Saturday, May 1, 2004

From Kyaiktyo, Daren and I stopped over in Bago, an old capital just northeast of Yangon whose town symbol/mascot is a male goose (hamsa) with a female duck on his back. The Mon who founded the city took the hamsa as a royal symbol because in Hinduism the god Brahma rides a (the?) hamsa. But there's also a legend about the area around the city being surrounded by a sea, with a small island. It was only big enough for one goose to stand, so the female goose got to stay high and dry on the male's back. This slid right into the idea of gallantry and gentlemanly conduct--the men here are supposedly the most chivalrous in the country, and the 'women have the last word'. Hhhmmm, we'll see about that...

At the hotel we were talked into a late afternoon trishaw (bicycle rickshaw with 3 wheels) ride to see the sunset at a couple of temples, so off we rolled. My rickshaw guy's name was Manny and he was a real character. Skinny as a beanpole, a smile an ocean wide, and pretty good English. He was really proud of the fact that he was mentioned as an outstanding rickhaw driver in several guidebooks (and has photocopies to prove it) and also that he had fathered 8 children! Daren's driver was quieter, but still just as nice (and I'm ashamed to say I can't remember his name now, opa...).

The sunset was pretty spectacular--how can the setting sun be so HUGE in this country?? The second temple we went to was Shwemawdaw Paya and is the highest pagoda in the country at 113.6m (371.4ft) high. The most striking thing about the temples for me was the small animal statues that were next to the Buddhas--a pig, a tiger, a cow... They're nats, like spirits, part of the old animistic religion. In the 11th century, King Anawrahta tried to boost Theravada Buddhism as the only state religion and decided to ban nat worship, including destroying all nat shrines. But he only succeeded in driving the practice underground and to push people further away from Buddhism, so he recinded the ban and instituted a blend of the two. Seems like a pretty savvy ruler--can you think of any politicians today who would be bold enough to do an about-face ont heri opinions, admit a mistake and then proceed to actually try and fix things him/herself??? What a concept. On the topic, this film about 'ladyboys' in nat worship looks interesting--anyone got a spare $225?

On the way back from the payas we stopped in a roadside pub, and over some (very good) Myanmar beers and tasty BBQ'd goat on a stick, Manny taught us some good local phrases to use:

Yabba dey! (no problem, okay, everything's groovy),
kown dey (very good), ma kown bu (not good),
chaw dey (handsome), la dey (beautiful), chit dey (I love you)

and my personal favourites:
apollo mendeh mii (I am an astronaut) (I'm tired of saying I'm a teacher), and
chema nameh Indala Chjosey (my name is Indala Chjosey--a famous Burmese actress. Daren was a famous actor, but I can't remember his new name.)
This was a big joke while we were going from place to place, with Manny telling random people along the road to ask us, 'What's your name?" (in Burmese of course). We were well trained to give our funny new names after about a half an hour of doing this time after time--we were like a rolling circus, perplexing people and making them laugh as we (well, Manny!) peddled on by.

The next morning, Manny and his friend took us around to see a few of Bago's best sights, cannily early enough that it was before the government officials showed up and asked for their entrance fee. First off was the huge reclining Buddha, and we got there just as a couple of men were cleaning the Buddha's face. We spent some time snapping pics and talking with a group of monks that we'd met the night before at the Shwemawdaw Paya.

Then we had a wander through a neighboring village to see some longyi weavers in action. We got called over for a cuppa with some farmers and introduced them to the wonders of digital photography, then repeated the same with some more weavers and a young tattooed guy down the road. And then did it all again when we stopped for a fabulous la peyeh sweet tea. My la peyeh addiction truly started in Bago at this little dark, wooden teahouse--it's better than espresso!

We finished with an interesting stop at a cheroot (cigar) factory, where loads of young women and girls (and a fwe boys) sat on floors of raised houses, whiling away the hours by clipping leaves, filling them with tobacco, rolling them up, gluing a wrapper around them and popping a wood piece int eh end as a 'filter'. Repeat ad nauseum. They were all really curious about us and loved the instant pictures. I think digital cameras and the bility to instantly be able to show people themselves may be the best invention for travellers since...well, maybe since backpacks. Or the internet. Or Tevas. Or mp3's. Well, it's a great invention anyway!

A quick, hot and dusty stop in the market for some water and goodies, and we were ready to have another la peyeh and hop on the long bus to Kalaw, where we were hoping to do some trekking into hilltribe areas...
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