Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Day in Yangon. Part 1.

Inside the golden stupa at Botataung Pagoda.

We spent a couple of hours this morning visiting Shwedagon Pagoda.  What an amazing place! After that, we spent the rest of today taking in the other sights of Yangon.  I hadn't done any pre-trip reading on Yangon so I had no idea what we would be seeing today.  In hindsight, there really isn't much to see in Yangon other than Shwedagon.  So for planning purposes, you really don't need more than one full day here.

Even with just one day here, Spring packed our itinerary so we got a lot out of it. One thing is that unlike our guides in Mandalay and Bagan, he did not give us the midday break and to be honest, it was hot and humid but not unbearable.

Anyway, right after Shwedagon, we headed to Chinatown and walked a few of the streets.  It was interesting to see the architecture here.  There are definitely touches of British colonial here - reminds me of what I see in the cities of other former British Commonwealth countries.


Things were very dilapidated but you could see through the crumble that at one point in time, these were grand buildings.  Yet, they've endured through decades of neglect.




We really didn't have much time in Mandalay to walk the streets and get a glimpse of daily life in a city in Myanmar so it was nice to have that opportunity today.  So much of the street life is the same here as it is in many a Southeast Asian country.   If the Burmese lettering was not on the building signage, this photo could have been taken in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.


It was nearing lunch time and well, the food that was being served up at this one place looked delicious.  It made me realize that sadly, we've been eaten local food for tourists.  This is the real stuff and as much as I would have loved to have eaten it, I know we'll be taken to some other fancier place where tourists are taken.  On my next trip to Myanmar, I will have to try the real local cuisine.


Spring had said he would be taking us to a market so when we entered inside a building, I was expecting to see produce vendors.  Instead, we were in a spice and medicinal herb market of some sort.  Stalls lined the narrow walkway and the vendors were seated up on platforms above ground level. 



There were sacks and sacks of stuff, piled on the floor, up the walls....anywhere there was space.   Most of the stuff was familiar but I saw a lot of things that I did not recognize like the dried things in the photo below. 


I was not interested in buying any of the spices or herbs or medicine but after chatting with Spring, Ayşe expressed interest in getting a few items so while she shopped, I wandered around and took photos.







With her purchases done, we exited the place that I call the spice market and crossed the busy street to another warehouse type building. 


Things looked promising that this was the market when we crossed paths with vendors unloading plastic cages filled with live chickens.


You would definitely not see live chickens for sale in the typical supermarket in the US!


We entered and again, I was expecting to see produce vendors and again, I saw sacks of dried goods. 



We continued to walk inside the market and eventually got to the meat section.  Ayşe is no good with seeing meat hanging up everywhere and I think the smell was also too much for her so a few feet in and we were walking out.




I had to take the photo below because it shows how people in Myanmar recycle plastic bottles - especially the ones that started out life as bottles holding bottled water drunk mainly by tourists.  I doubt that there are plastic recycling facilities in Myanmar so if people don't reuse them, they would simply end up polluting the land.


We never made it to the part of the market that sells veggies and fruits.  We only passed by this one vendor on the way out selling the fat bananas that are typical in Myanmar.  They are sweet but the texture is a bit dry.  I prefer the small ones that you get in Thailand.



On the way to our next destination, we drove on Strand Road which is home to several buildings dating back to the British Colonial period.  The best preserved of these buildings is the Custom House.



We soon arrived at Botataung Pagoda which is sacred because it houses houses what is believed to be a sacred hair of Gautama Buddha.


We had to pay a small entry fee to enter the pagoda.




Botataung Pagoda was first built by the Mon around the same time as was Shwedagon Pagoda, over 2500 years ago. The pagoda was completely destroyed during World War II, and was rebuilt after the war.

What's unique about the pagoda is that the golden stupa is hollow inside. A very narrow, maze like walkway, with walls lined with gold painted tile, takes you around the interior of the pagoda.


When we neared the small chamber where the sacred hair relic is displayed, the line of people literally came to a standstill.  We patiently made our way towards it.  I was not expecting to see anything much if I could see anything at all.



Here's what I saw of the hair relic.




The walls in this place were over the top gold.  I think it is gold leaf over tin tiles but I dare not touch the wall to find out.


There were numerous glass showcases containing many ancient relics and artifacts that were sealed inside the earlier pagoda.  Obviously very precious items as there was a metal gate separating the viewer from the glass showcases.




It was only after we exited the pagoda that we actually could see the full structure.  When we first entered, I thought we were in some ancillary building.  First time I've ever been inside a stupa.  Very cool experience!





Our next destination was to the city's wharf area.  Spring wanted to show us the view of the Yangon River.  As we walked towards the dock area, I was distracted by the sight of a woman serving up drinks from the back of her small truck.  I was intrigued as was Bro so while Ayşe and Spring wwalked ahead, Bro and I sauntered over to thoe truck to check out the action.  We stood next to a man who was watching the woman make up his drink in a plastic cup.  He was pointing out to her what he wanted in it. 


Surrounding the woman were plastic containers of jelly looking things.  Once the cup was partially filled with the different types of jelly, she then poured in a bit of condensed milk and then topped it off with coconut milk. 

It  looked so good and if you're from Southeast Asia, this is something you crave, especially on a hot and humid day.  We asked the man what it was and with a big grin on his face, he replied, "falooda".  Falooda is a classic Indian dessert drink that the Burmese have changed to suit their tastes.

This woman was really popular - there was a constant flow of people coming up to the truck and ordering from here.


It's hot wandering the streets of Yangon.  We need some falooda!   So we each ordered a cup.  We just pointed to the cup that the guy had and raised our fingers in a sign of a *V* meaning we wanted two.  We watched as she made up our drinks.  Each type of jelly was a different color and shape.  We had no idea what they were.  There were also some pearl shaped jelly which I think was either tapioca or sago.  In all honesty, I really didn't care what she was adding.  I was virtually drooling the whole time. 



Bro had the first sip.  "How is it?", I asked him.  "Good!" which in Bro terms means awesome.  And indeed it was.

It's these sorts of local treats that remind me why I do not relish eating local food cooked up for tourists.  The  locals have it so much better, why should I deny myself?  That simple falooda was the perfect bite of cold and sweet that we needed and it was not something we had seen at any of the restaurants we had eaten at.  Mind you, there was a time that Bro would not have had the falooda for fear it would not be safe to eat and would give him the runs.  Thankfully, after all these years of travel, he's built up enough immunity that eating street food no longer bothers him though there are times when not just him, but me as well, will suffer from an upset stomach and the runs so we still have to be careful.


By now, Spring had figured out that he had lost sight of us and had sent our driver in search of us. When he caught sight of us with our faloodas, there was a sense of relief on his face that he had found us and a big smile as he knew we enjoying ourselves.


Spring and Ayşe eventually made it back to where we were standing; Bro and I never made it to the dock to see the river but neither of us cared.  We were happy with our faloodas. :-)

We ended our morning with lunch at a local restaurant called *Feel Myanmar Food*.  It's a branch of a larger chain of restaurants.  Spring told us he likes this place and brings his wife for dinner here on a weekly basis.  We entered in a very busy restaurant and looking, it was filled with locals - we were the only tourists.  Finally, real local food.


Like all the other restaurants we've been to, we each had to order our meat dish and we would be given a set of side dishes to share.  Along with all the dishes, came a huge pot of rice.  Looking around at the other diners, I was amazed to see how much rice they eat here.  There were two older women and a young girl seated next to us and they basically devoured their pot of rice while we barely managed to eat half of ours!


While it was nice to eat inside the restaurant because the space was air conditioned, the real food action was taking place outside as that's where the kitchen was located.  There was a separate dining area outside.  I don't know if they were serving the same food.


Right next door was a smaller eatery.  I don't know if it was affiliated with the restaurant or not but they were serving up some delicious looking food - especially the roast ducks that were hanging behind the glass partition.  Some pieces of roast duck and plain white rice would have been a satisfying lunch for me.


I was stuffed from lunch but there was no midday nap in Yangon!  Spring had us on the move to our next destination which thankfully, was indoors.