Burma Notes: Random weekend trips

Discussion in 'Asia' started by anileze, Dec 7, 2015.  |  Print Topic

  1. anileze

    anileze Gold Member

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    Pagodas, Donations, and the Night Markets.

    Yangon boasts of one of the most unique and elaborate pagodas in the buddhist world. Shwedagon Pagoda is a golden domed pagoda surrounded with many smaller temples and a monastery. It is magnificent to behold, and glows golden on a clear night sky. It is the main draw of pilgrims, devotees and tourists alike. Foreigners have to pay 8000 Kyats, while locals are allowed in free. Since most pagodas and temple complexes where foreign tourists are charged entrance fees, are also active places of meditation and worship, locals buddhists are allowed free.


    Like all pagodas in Myanmar, it has symmetry on all four cardinal points. There are entrances in the South, North, East and West. There are number of shrines (Tazaung) within the complex. The Theravada buddhism and the legends have it that there were were three predecessors to Gautama Buddha, and the shrine to them are also present in this Pagoda. Actual gold is used in covering the stupas and interiors of the pagoda. Daily hundreds of buddhists followers in Burma, apply gold leaf on the surface of this and other stupas in various pagodas around the country.

    shwedagon1.jpg shwedagon2.jpg shwedagon3.jpg

    The pagoda is always crowded, more so in the evenings or special occasions, such as a full moon day.

    For the month of November, from full moon to full moon (Nov 26th, 2015) all over the country, charity drive for local temples, monasteries, and pagodas were in full swing. Pickup trucks, flatbeds are decorated with colorful decorations of buddha, currency notes, and other gifts for local monasteries. From morning to night, loudspeakers blare music intermixed with appeals to contribute generously. Colorful parades with young men and women dressed in their co-ordinated fineries marching down the main street is a sight to be seen.

    charityn.jpg charity5.jpg charity4.jpg charity3.jpg charity2.jpg charity1.jpg

    Like the rest of the region, night markets are rather popular even in Yangon. Specially in the chinatown district’s 19th Street. Small chairs and tables dominate with carts and stalls serving up satay to grilled meats and south indian snacks like Idlis and dosas. Inter-spread with lots of cheap Chinese manufactured household ware and garments. On a good clear night, the streets are jammed with people enjoying themselves - outdoor dining and shopping till wee hours. Young and Old congregate in these night markets and enjoy local beers and grilled meats cooked in local style, and a wide array of chinese and thai style dishes, popular with locals and tourists alike.

    nightmarket.jpg nightmarket2.jpg nightmarket3.jpg

    [...To Be Continued...]
  2. anileze

    anileze Gold Member

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    Kakku Pagodas and Pa-O ethnic tribes of Shan state.

    About one and half hour drive from Taunggyi, the capital city of Shan State, lies the archeological site of Kakku Pagoda. Deep in the middle of the ethnic group of Pa-O tribal base, are a few thousand stupas around a pagoda. Some say there are 5000+ stupas, and other give a different number. My guide said that the pagoda has 2478 stupas.



    Some of these stupas presumably dating to third century BC, during the Mauryan Empire in India, but he could not identify which were the oldest ;) Strangely each of the stupas have a unique sculptural details, and narratives tied of legends and mythologies of the local kings.



    When the earthquake destroyed hundreds of stupas, the wealthy donors from neighboring countries, and some even from the West, donated to have most of them restored, and some reconstructed. Not without controversy, is the method in which the stupas were restored. The Western experts, many with endowed chairs in their respective academic institutions , strongly favor minimal intervention - a.k.a Greek and Roman ruins; while in the heart of buddhist faith, the stake holders, namely the locals and the faithful donors want it rebuilt to best effort conditions, for kaki is a functional pagoda of the Pa-O tribe.





    The Pa-O tribe, men and women wear head gear which has significance to their culture and practices.




    Given the complex arrangement between the government and the ethnic pa-O elders, one cannot visit the pagoda unaccompanied - One has to hire a guide/escort from the Pa-O tribe to go along and explain the nuances of their customs and beliefs.

    [...To Be Continued...]
  3. loungebuddy

    loungebuddy Active Member

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    Wow thanks for this. I'm headed to Burma at the end of December... really looking foward to these sights!
    anileze likes this.
  4. anileze

    anileze Gold Member

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    From here to there:

    All trips require some degree of planning. Either on your part (if your are a budget backpacker) or on the part of your guide/handler/fixer (If you are not too much concerned on the expenses side)

    Burma (Myanmar) is fast changing in terms of regulations and restrictions. The elections that took place on November 8,2015 have ensured that there will be new government in March.

    Entering Burma requires a visa. Either on arrival airport, or apply one before hand. If you are in NYC or DC you might as well apply before hand. It is cheaper, and no surprises at the airport. Business visa is $36 and good for 70 days after arrival, while tourist Visa is $20 and good for 28 days stay after arrival. Visa of arrival is I think $50.

    kyat is the official currency, while US dollar is readily accepted elsewhere, and in some places, is the only valid currency of transaction. Make sure you have unmutilated and unmarked crisp new notes. I used a bundle of one, one dollar bills, and rest in 100s and 50s from my bank before going. You have to declare currency over USD 2000. I found the exchange rate for USD to Kyat in Bgan to be the best at the bank counter at NYU airport. Avoid dubious changers in Shan State.

    There are no foreign banks, and the ATMs that are there charge 5000 kyats per transaction.

    Domestic flights are inexpensive and less than 90 minutes each. Some even less than an hour. The airline I took (K7) uses mainly ATRs. My tickets were paid for by a local entity, so I do not have exact amount for them. Buses and trains are available from Yangon (RGN) to many of the cities and state capitals. I took flights to four locations.


    Taxis are readily available, but I had a fixer/handler with a car all throughout my stay, so I could not comment on the taxi fares.

    I firmly believe that what’s good service in New York, is also a good service elsewhere, deserves same % of the bill as a tip.

    This is where Burma has to still catch up. There are a couple of old colonial, British Raj era hotels in Rangoon, where the service is Raj like - i.e slow paced, high tea and choice of scones and crumpets. There is a US chain Best Western, and one or two Singapore based hotel chains. Unfortunately no Hyatt or Sheraton or Marriott, though Hilton seem to have a couple in the capital city - Naypyidaw

    Internet and Gizmo related:
    If you have to depend on Wi-Fi for work, be prepared to supplement the “Free Wifi” with telephone carrier based data SIMs. Telenor’s 2GB pay-as-you-go 30 day validity SIM was 13,500 Kyat. The hotels, specially old British colonial buildings, have inadequate power outlets. I carry a multiple plug with three outlets, and a compact 5 port USB charger.

    I have posted more about the trip on tumblr, do check if you want.

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