We were scheduled to arrive in Yangon, Myanmar’s (Burma’s) former capital, largest city and commercial hub around 00:10 AM. Needless to say, connections from Hong Kong airport to our destination leave something to be desired. If that weren’t enough, a delayed fight involving a double flip of gate assignments at our jumping-off point pushed our arrival back to a 1:00 AM.
Our guide, Ye greeted us at Yangon airport after we navigated immigration, and whisked us through deserted streets to our accommodation, the lovely Kandawgyi Palace Hotel, where our spacious, comfortable room afforded us an abbreviated rest. Ye met us next morning for our full-day tour of this city of six million, but first he taught us “mangalabar,” hello, or good day in the local language.
Over 80% of Myanmar’s inhabitants follow Theravada Buddhism. Many are devout followers and the faith is considered part of national character, and is manifest in the number of temples and stupas. It seemed that we spent much of the day in our bare feet as we toured several in Yangon including Botataung Pagoda, and Sule Pagoda, culminating in an early evening visit to the magnificent and massive Shwedagon Pagoda. Translated as golden pagoda of Yangon, Shwedagon, its 99-meter high spire gleaming with gold plate and leaf is highly revered by the faithful of Myanmar and beyond. We found it moving both for its sheer beauty and the obvious devotion it inspires.
We also enjoyed the old colonial buildings in downtown Yangon, often in a state of decay, small shrubs rooting in walls and cornices, mold discoloring chipping paint. We wondered whether expanding tourism will lead to greater preservation efforts or demolition and replacement. One colonial building that has clearly benefited from tourism: the 1901 Strand Hotel, again an upscale accommodation.
It seems our itinerary did not conform to airline schedules, so not only did we arrive well after midnight; we departed just 29 hours after arriving in Yangon. So we could make our connection with Kindat Pandaw in Bagan, we were obliged to arise at 3:30 AM for a 4:30 journey back to the airport. There should be better ways to get to Bagan to begin a journey aboard the Mandalay—Bagan Packet, but we are glad to have had at least one very full day to experience Yangon. We are already enamored of this place and its people.
In our next post we’ll report on the appealing and distinctive little river vessel we will share with the crew and just 15 other passengers for the next week. We have embarked safely, if a bit tired.