When we first landed in Myanmar, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the place. Charles (Fabian’s dad) got his drone taken away at the airport, men’s teeth were dripping red from betel, women and children had their faces covered in a yellow cream (called thanaka), and hardly anyone was wearing pants! Instead, both men and women wore sarongs called longyi.
I later learned that the betel nut being chewed and permanently dying everyone’s teeth red was used for stimulation during a long work day, especially by taxi and bus drivers. Walking down the street you see lots of red stains on the cement… From the chewer’s spit. Thanaka is used by most people in Myanmar as it is a tradition, and has been in their culture for over 2,000 years. It’s mostly used as a beauty product to keep skin clear and beautiful. It is also believed to work as a sunblock.
We found our driver and he took us to the Rose Garden Hotel, which also felt like an episode of the Twilight Zone. It was an old, yet, huge 7-story building with a grand lobby, all nicely furnished… And it was completely empty, there were more staff members there than guests. We heard that only two floors were actually ready for guests to stay in and the rest was being refurbished. That being said, our stay there was lovely, they also had an amazing restaurant and bar.
We spent our first full day at the Shwedagon Pagoda, where we were first ambushed by locals trying to sell us whatever they could, including plastic bags for our shoes. I should mention, if you’re uncomfortable or grossed out by walking around barefoot, then Asia is not the place for you. We’ve spent more time with our shoes off then on since you have to remove both shoes and socks to enter any of the temples here.
It was all worth it once we made it to the top of the staircase and into the temple, though. The design of this place is incredible. The Burmese people take great care of it, as it is their most sacred pagoda. It is said to hold eight hairs from the head of Siddhartha Gautama, the first original Buddha.
Our other favorite memory from Yangon had to be our train ride, it was a three hour circle tour around the entire city and we saw a whole lot during it.
But before our train arrived, Fabian was able to take a ton of great shots of some beautiful children at the station.
The best part of the train ride was when we pulled up to one station and local farmers started throwing bags and crates of their crops through the windows and into our seats! We had no idea what was going on, but they soon rushed in and to their crops to organize them; allowing us to sit again. It was wild, some of them started selling what they had right there in the cars of the train, but most got off at nearby markets as we passed.
The next day we continued on to Mount Kyaiktiyo (the Golden Rock), a gravity-defying boulder on the edge of a cliff that has been covered in gold leaves by devotees. This rock, topped with a pagoda, is a site of Buddhist pilgrimage and is believed to be settled upon a strand of the Buddha’s hair. Apparently the guy had a lot of hair to leave behind…Getting to the top of this mountain was quite the adventure… To get there, we had to pile into what was called a “mountain truck”, which I guess means it was built for this terrain. We were all squished in together, which was probably best, to hold us all in as the truck whipped through curvy mountain roads. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones film, even more than the ride at Disneyland. On the way back down the mountain a local next to me was even praying for his life. Although it was a little crazy at some points, it was actually a lot of fun.
When we got to the top I was pretty disappointed that I couldn’t touch the rock (as I had planned to) all because I’m a woman… Sorry ladies we’re out of luck on this one.
Currently, we are staying at the Kempinski Hotel, the same one Obama stays at when he visits the country, in the capital city of Nay Pyi Taw. This town feels so post apocalyptic, everything is huge and gorgeous, but there’s no other people to be found, only staff members. I’ve never seen anything so nice, yet so empty. The entire city was built for the military, but when it was finished no one came. Even the highways, which have up to ten lanes, have no cars to fill them.
Well, that’s about all we have to report for now but check back in soon for the rest of our journey to Mandalay!