“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” – Buddha
So I managed to sort out my Myanmar visa and that evening headed off on my flight – panicking that I would have to do the same for my Vietnamese visa; All of my organisation seems to have been ripped to shreds! However, I’m now celebrating my victory over this mess whilst I can (i.e. before something else goes wrong) as I managed to find the Vietnamese embassy in Yangon and have sorted that out too. Phew! I have also managed to fit in an incredible amount of sightseeing.
Yangon is a breathtakingly beautiful city – a mixture of old British colonial architecture, tropical foliage mingled in and around the buildings, stalls, street food, markets and religious buildings – largely dominated by the stunningly decorative Buddhist ‘pagodas’ scattered throughout. Buddhist Monasteries are everywhere – monks wander serenely around the city and the locals, namely the men, wear traditional yongi (like lap-laps) which further adds to the vibrant atmosphere.
Shwedagon Pagoda has got to be one of the tourist highlights of Asia. It’s a bit early on in the game to be making such sweeping statements, I know, but the vast scale of each elaborately decorated temple is just extraordinary. There’s an entire village purely made of Pagodas, temples and shrines with the enormous Shwedagon Pagoda in the centre – at 99 metres high it dominates the skyline of the city and has relics of the last four Buddhas enshrined within. It’s crown is embellished with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and other precious stones.(I was told this information by an elderly monk who then proceeded to give me his prayer beads which was rather heart-warming.) What’s more, according to legend the Pagoda has been around for more than 2600 years. The 6th-10th centuries are more likely but still, pretty impressive.
One thing that took a little getting used to is that all foot wear needs to be removed before entering any sort of pagoda or temple. Even small little areas with a tiny shrine don’t allow it. It’s a complete reversal from the societal norms back at home where I’ve been asked to leave a supermarket due to my bare feet. Imagine walking into a cathedral at home with no shoes on.
There’s a fantastically lively night-time food market going on all the way down the main road near my hostel. The number of fruit and vegetables that I’ve never seen before in my life is outstanding. I haven’t quite plucked up the courage to try the proper street food yet – largely due to a complete incapacity to communicate with the vendors, but being vegetarian doesn’t exactly facilitate things either. However, I did try out authentic ‘Myanmar cuisine’ for lunch. It seemed like a sort of hybrid between thai and indian:
One of the traits that make this city so unique is the total absence of tourism. Apparently tourism has really taken off this year. That must simply be relative to beforehand as I barely came across a single tourist today and there was certainly no evidence of ‘westernisation’. Definitely no McDonalds here kids.