Thursday, 2 April 2015

Myanmar: Yangon

Once we finally got our Myanmar visas granted after a few days wait in Bangkok, we decided to take the 8 hour sleeper bus to the Mae Sot border. Luckily they have a foreigner queue so we didn't have to wait hours in line with the locals just to get our stamp into the country! However, before we arrived in the country we had heard many warnings about Myanmar using the US dollar as their currency and only accepting pristine notes for payment. So whilst we were in Bangkok, we exchanged all our money into new US dollar notes only to be told at the border that they use their own currency, not the dollar. This made it more difficult to be able to purchase a bus ticket to get us from the border to Yangon but thankfully, a member of staff exchanged our dollars into the local currency (Burmese kyat) and helped us finally book our bus.


En route to Yangon, we had to board a local bus which drove us up through the mountains that had dirt, single-lane roads. This may not sound so bad but it was extremely nail biting when you're on a big coach and a foot away from a 50 ft drop off the cliffs! We were very grateful that these roads were only an hours worth of the 8 hour bus journey and felt relieved to get back onto smooth tarmac until we arrived in Yangon early hours of the morning. We stayed at the Four Rivers Hostel which was quite pricey for our budget because hostels aren't 'a thing' in Burma yet but it was definitely worth the extra few pounds! The dorm room had the most amazing bunkbeds with the softest, fluffiest blanket and pillow we've experienced since we'd left home. It also came with breakfast included which was unlimited toast and hot drinks. 

For our first evening, we decided to visit the local lake which we were told had great views of the pagoda at sunset as it reflected in the water and the sun shone off of it's golden roof. We were slightly disappointed by the view that we got as it was mostly blocked by trees and the sky was too cloudy for an amazing sunset that we had envisioned, but the park itself was still a very pretty and peaceful place to end the day. On our way back to the hostel, we decided to stop at a Thai restaurant for dinner but were shocked at the prices on the menu. They were reasonable for people on their holidays but not cheap enough for our standards, but Sam managed to find unlimited boiled rice for 50p which we all ordered. The waiter looked at us stupid when we said that was all we wanted, and when the food was brought to us, they all gathered around to watch the poor people feast on rice, haha! It wasn't as bad as it sounds because luckily they gave us nuts, chillies, soy sauce etc to add into the dish to make it less bland but it was still a hilarious situation to find ourselves in!

However, the fun didn't end there as when we got back to the hostel, Sarah decided to allow Rebecca to give her a haircut even though she is definitely not qualified to do so but desperate times call for desperate measures! It was decided that Rebecca would only cut about an inch off but soon, she lost concentration and somehow, managed to cut off around 3 inches 'on accident'. Luckily, Sam was there to guide Rebecca and ensure that she was cutting straight so it didn't turn out bad in the end. Good job ladies!

The main attraction in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda as it is one of the most famous in the world. It sits atop of a hill and is 99 metres high which means it can be seen from most places in Yangon during the day and night. It's gold-plated dome is topped by a stupa containing over 7,000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires with a huge emerald positioned to reflect the sunlight which is why it can be referred to as "the crown of Burma".  The pagoda itself is said to contain eight hair of the Buddha which adds to it's prestige and is why Buddhists feel compelled to visit the site at least once in their lifetime. 

We decided it was time to leave for Bagan by train so set off to find the ticket office which apparently doesn't exist. After asking multiple people for directions who didn't speak English and being sent on a wild goose chase for over an hour around the city, we found the station only to be told we couldn't buy the tickets until the day of departure. Ideal! Next morning, we got up really early to make sure we got our tickets for the dreaded train (see next post for details) .. Onto Bagan!
Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset

Rebecca, Sam and Sarah at the lake

Welcome to Rebecca's Salon!
Arriving at Shwedagon Pagoda


Being a real tourist!
Rebecca making pagoda friends!





Burmese children attempting 'hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil'. SOOOO CUTE!




Young monks at the pagoda


The Happy Wanderers

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