Friday, 23 September 2011

Glittering gold in Yangon

We woke up in Bangkok, and after a quick stop for breakfast (and a longer-lasting reminder of the seriously oppressive humidity), we dashed to the airport to catch a flight to our final stop of the trip - Myanmar.

Boarding the ever reliable Air Asia (my favourite budget airline), we were soon descending into Yangon, the golden stupas of temples and the densely packed buildings lit up by the evening sunset. There were a number of immediate differences between Myanmar and the other SE Asian countries we'd visited - firstly, the people look quite different from the small framed men and women we were used to seeing, no doubt reflecting the different cultural influences over time, with a more Indian build and colouring. It was an appreciated break after finding over the past weeks that we couldn't fit into car seats/tuk tuks/clothing and feeling huge compared to the rest of the population! The taxis into town were also interesting - lacking doors or complete interiors, it was a case of holding on tightly!

The following morning we set out to get a feel for Yangon, and wandered around for a few hours, visiting some of the main temples and the colonial remnants of the past. The city was friendly and lively, and having been forewarned about the numerous holes in the road and some precariously balancing pavement slabs (thank you Lonely Planet!) we kept one eye glued to the ground and avoided any mishaps (although, in retrospect, flip flops probably weren't the best choice of footwear).

The city twisted and turned, markets dotted down alleys and up narrow buildings, footbridges arching high over busy roads (affording nice views) and tall pastel painted colonial facades overlooking temples. Everywhere was crowded with people, with very few tourists in between.

We saved the biggest attraction for after the sun has set, visiting Shwedagon Pagoda in the dark, when the huge gold stupa and surrounding golden temples are lit up and contrast against the black sky. The day had been rainy, so the floor was slick with water, making moving around barefooted difficult, but casting stunning reflections on the ground. Even the feel of the water under our feet helped cool our bodies and enable us to enjoy the visit even more. The temple was peaceful, with people quietly moving from area to area, only the occasional sound of a struck going breaking the hush.

We met a couple of local guides who took us round the whole site, and the small amount of money it cost was more than justified by the information we received. In fact, we would probably have missed a number of the smaller or hidden features without them. After we had thanked them and they went on their way, we spend some more time there, just wandering around and enjoying the atmosphere and the beauty of the place. It really was one of the most magnificent sights we'd seen on the whole trip.

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