The next morning was the start of my organized tour and they had a very busy day planned for us. We started with a short walking tour of the colonial city.
The Yangon city hall was initially planned in 1913 by the British; the start of WWI halted construction. When construction resumed in 1925 it was with a decidedly Burmese flair thanks to Burmese Nationalists.
This building was the home of Rowe & Co, an opulent Asian department store, until 1964. After the store closed, it housed various government offices and then fell vacant until the AYA Bank purchased and restored it in 2012.
Myanmar gained their independence from the British in 1948 and the Independence Monument was erected to celebrate this. Replacing a statue of Queen Victoria, it sits in the centre of Maha Bandula Park.
The mythical chinthe, a lion-like creature, protects temples and pagodas around Myanmar. There are ten of these chinthe protecting the monument, arranged in two concentric circles around the base.
You don’t see a lot of people smoking cigarettes in Myanmar, but you do see a lot of red stains on the pavement from people chewing betel nut. To make this, a betel nut leaf is brushed with slaked lime, sprinkled with catechu and betel nut and rolled like a spring roll. Catechu is an extract from the acacia tree which becomes red when heated; the heat of saliva is enough to do this. They pop the roll in their mouth and suck on it, their saliva thickens and turns red until it is spit out. It’s addictive, cancer causing and stains everything it touches red, but still very popular.
Our next stop was St. Mary’s Cathedral, yes, a Catholic church in Yangon. This cathedral was designed by a Dutch priest who was also an architect. The cornerstone was blessed in Nov 1899 and the cathedral was consecrated and dedicated in 1909. Having survived the earthquake of 1930, the original stained glass windows were destroyed in the allied bombing of 1944.
In 2017 the Pope visited Myanmar, and this, the largest cathedral in the country, was one of his stops.
Tea shops are everywhere in Myanmar and a huge part of their culture. People gather at these tea shops, typically in the morning, to discuss their day, read the paper and discuss current events and politics.
When you arrive at the tea shop they give you green tea and an assortment of sweet and savory pastries. Then you order your the tea of your choosing. We visited one of several “Lucky Seven” tea shops. It was later in the morning and still fairly busy.
After the tea shop we headed to Chauk-htat-gyi Temple, home to one of the biggest reclining buddha statues in South East Asia. This buddha is massive, over 200 feet long and 52 feet high; the eyes are almost 6 feet wide! Unfortunately for us, it was maintenance time (which hadn’t been done for 5 years) and the buddha was covered in bamboo scaffolding while they refreshed the paint and made any necessary repairs.
There are 4 types of reclining buddha but Myanmar has only 2 – the relaxing buddha (head pointed south, eyes open & feet relaxed) and the dead buddha (head pointed north, eyes closed, feet together). This one is a relaxing buddha.
Next stop was lunch at a local Southeast Asian restaurant, Monsoon, where they gave us much more food than we could eat. All that food was for 4 of us, and that’s after having spring rolls and soup! They tell us that very little goes to waste; some of the leftovers were packed up for the bus driver and his helper and then the remaining food is given to the poor or fed to the animals.
After lunch we had a few hours to relax before heading out to Shwedagon Pagoda, one of Myanmar’s most sacred sites. Said to enshrine several of Buddha’s hairs and other relics, the stupa, which is over 2500 years old, is surrounded by hundreds of temples, smaller stupas and statues.
Buddha sat under a tree in Bodh Gaya to meditate and attained enlightenment. The tree was given the name Bodhi (it’s actually a type of fig tree) and became a symbol of Buddha’s presence. In 1926 a clipping from this tree was brought to Shwedagon and planted; there are now several on these sacred trees on the property.
This is shrine No. 73; on the right hand side of the shrine is the “child clutching brahma”. The superstition is that couples who wish to have a child will be successful if they pray to him.
This Buddha image was sculpted from one piece of Myanmar jade. It weighs over 700 pounds.
The flashing lights around the head are meant to represent the rays of light that shone from Buddha’s head when he gained enlightenment. In reality, it gives a somewhat garish feel to things.
The Shwedagon Pagoda has been at it’s current height of 326 feet since 1774. The stupa itself is plated with over 22,000 gold bars. At the top of the vane sits a diamond orb that is 22 inches tall and 10 1/2 inches in diameter and contains 4,351 diamonds, 1,800 carats in total, as well as sapphires, rubies and other gems. The vane itself has over 2,000 assorted gems. At the apex of the orb is a 76 carat diamond.
This bell was cast in 1841 during the reign of King Tharyarwady. It weighs a mere 42,000 kilos or 92,000 pounds.
The Naung Daw Gyi Pagoda is said to contain hair relics of Gautama Buddha
There are 8 planetary posts around the main pagoda which correspond to the days of the week (Wednesday is divided in two). These posts are marked by the animal that represents that day and each one has a Buddha image. People offer flowers and pour water over the image at the post representing the day of the week on which they were born.
This is the Sunday corner (I was born on a Sunday) and the animal is a Garuda, a mythical bird.
The very busy day ended with dinner at Le Planteur, where we dined al fresco in the lovely garden of the Colonial Manor.
I don’t normally photograph bathrooms, but this one had the most beautiful faucets I’ve ever seen…
In the morning we fly to Bhamo and board the boat for 10 magical days on the Irrawaddy River!