Myanmar is a unique travel destination because it is still not very well set up for tourists. It is bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand, and sits on the Bay of Bengal. It is involved in one of the world’s longest-running civil wars. Once a British colony, the country was granted independence in 1948, only to be taken over by a military dictatorship in a 1962 coup. Going back to an earlier name, the military changed the name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. Since the military government’s legitimacy is not recognized, many continue to call the country Burma, and both terms are used.
In the largest city and former capital, Yangon (Rangoon), the largest building is the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, a Buddhist temple complex on a hill in the heart of the city, covered in solid gold. The first set of photos show this pagoda, where the main stupa (reliquary) houses relics of four recent Buddhas. As you can see in the third photo, that small shrine holds a replica of Buddha’s tooth! We had to remove our shoes each time we entered any of the Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. It was a little upsetting, and we would have brought wipes if we had known, as these were outdoor venues, covered in dirt, stains, and dust, and dogs roamed freely. It felt very unsanitary.
A big, huge “thing” in Myanmar is big, huge statues of the Reclining Buddha. The one shown below is 217 feet long, with inscriptions on his feet, as you can see. We emailed photos to friends while we were there, and they wanted to know, “who is that giant lady?” We laughed heartily, but the Buddha does have lipstick-red lips, painted nails, and looks very feminine, so we understand why the question was asked! And since this was a Buddhist temple, yes, we had to remove our shoes. We want to note that we received a very warm welcome wherever we went…lots of waves and big smiles. The people were thrilled to see western tourists.
Following the Buddha are some street scenes from around Yangon, always one of our favorite subjects, as they give you a glimpse into ordinary life for the locals. The food stands you see are the best you can get once you are out of the immediate city center. It is food cut or processed without regulations, and sitting out on small tables where there is no running water and crude restrooms. People asked us, did you have some? No way. We have been warned many times about only eating in recommended restaurants, and only drinking bottled water. So taking photos is as close as we got.
We visited here on February 21-22, 2016. The photos after the toilet are of the city of Bago, about 60 miles north of Yangon. The pagoda shown is the Shwemawdaw Paya,which also had various booths, kiosks, and businesses around the sides, including that in the photo of Horary Astrology and Palmistry (“I can say to your fortune, Biorhythm system and combination scientific system”). As far as we know, neither astrology nor palmistry are scientific, but this is a very different culture from ours. After that, we walked around a local market. Since it is a poorer city than Yangon, the dried fish and other goods were just laid out on papers or bags, directly on the dirt walkways.
Third from the end is a garden with stone grave markers in the Allied War Memorial Cemetery. It was a beautiful spot on the road from Yangon to Bago. The last two photos were taken while visiting the Kyaly Khat Wai Monastery (yes, sigh, we had to remove our shoes). The monks were studying, then praying, and paid no attention to us at all. There is a place to leave gifts or offerings, which is likely why tourism is encouraged/tolerated here. As you can see in the final photo, they start them young! Monks can be as young as 8 years old!