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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Myanmar, A Land Like No Other

Myanmar that I visited a couple of times many years ago might be very different with Myanmar today. It was an era when the country was still under military junta. It was the time when the price of a regular mobile phone reach one thousand USD per piece. It was also the time when my phone automatically switched off when the plane landed in the Golden Land. There was no signal and it remained like that until I left Myanmar. Nevertheless, even though I was isolated when I was there, I was never lonely because I had many Burmese friends who were friendly and helpful.

Strolling around Yangon, the ex-capital city of Myanmar, was like seeing Jakarta in 1980 with many old buildings and old cars on the road. Some cars had left steering wheel and some cars had right steering wheel. You can imagine how difficult it was for the right steering wheel drivers to turn left or take over the car in front because in Myanmar, drivers drove on the right hand side of the road. However it seemed like they already got used to it so they could drive smoothly. Government did not allow motorcycle to operate in Yangon therefore bus became their main public transportation. Sometimes we could see people in their sarong chasing the bus.

The sight in Yangon.

With pagoda at the back.

Most of the men in Myanmar wore sarong in their daily lives, while the women were wearing the long skirt. The ladies also liked to put thanaka in their faces. Thanaka was a yellowish white cosmetic paste made from ground bark. It could give cooling sensation and protect skin from sunburn. The way they put thanaka was quite unique: they made a circular patch on each cheek and nose. Those who saw it for the first time might be wondering what they put on their face.

A girl with thanaka.

Visiting Yangon will not be complete without visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda, the highest gold plated stupa (99 metres tall) located in Singuttara Hills, on the west of Kandawgyi lake. Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist site for Burmese as it is believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present Kalpa. It consists of hundreds colourful temples, stupas and statues that reflect the architectural era spanning almost 2500 years. The biggest stupa is covered with hundred of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted by thousand of diamonds. When the night came, the Pagoda lights up beautifully.

The majestic Shwedagon at night.

Inside the Shwedagon complex.

As a form of respect at this religious site, we must take off the shoes and walk barefoot inside the pagoda. It is also not recommended to wear shorts or mini skirt. We can take the picture inside the complex but must be mindful not to disturb local people who come to pray and meditate.

For those who like shopping, Bogyoke Market is the place you must go. It is the biggest traditional market in the center of Yangon. They sell a lot of souvenirs such as beautiful stones, wood carving and clothing. It is better to go with local friends for shopping as the shops usually charge higher price for tourist. We can also find food vendors in Bogyoke Market. Try Myanmar's traditional soup, mohinga, while you're there. This rice noodle and fish soup from Myanmar is considered to be the national dish of the country.

Bogyoke Market.


It has been 6 years since my last visit to Myanmar. If I have a chance to go there again, I want to visit Bagan, an ancient city located in Mandalay and, of course, a visit to Yangon again. With the recent development in Myanmar, I may find many new things there. One thing for sure, as the mobile phone is common these days, I can keep in touch with my kids all the time now.

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