So I left you with my time in Myanmar up through Bagan, and now I am going to run down the rest of my experience in this great country. After Bagan, I took a bus back to Yangon and then immediately hopped on another bus to Hpa-an (pronounced Pa-ahn, an ironic anagram), which is Southeast of Yangon. I spent a couple of days exploring the area before returning to Yangon in time for my flight to Bangkok, which is going to be the next installment in my retelling of my journey. Look out for that in the next couple of days but in the meantime, heres how the second half of Myanmar went! (Spoiler: it was awesome)
Heres a typical place setting for a meal of traditional Myanmar food. It is based around a rice and curried meat or lentil and complimented with a plethora of side dishes. While some of the flavors were definitely unfamiliar, the food was always exciting and variable. The side dishes often consisted of different shrimp and fish pastes along with curried starches, some soup and its always served with fresh vegetables to garnish.
The easiest and quickest way to get around the country is by bus, but they can get pretty crowded, as seen here. Buses would also loudly play Myanmar music videos and tv shows up to midnight on overnight buses, which was less than ideal, but it made for an interesting, albeit sleepless experience.
A boat cruises along the Thanlyin river at sunset on my first night in Hpa-an
Buddha figures in Kawt Ka Taung cave. Hap-an has lots of awesome caves formed in the limestone mountains of the region, and lots of them have been converted to temples, which is pretty awesome.
A whole street lined with monk statues
A funky looking Buddha outside of the Saddar Cave
The Saddar cave is the largest in the region, and the beginning part of it is huge and open with all sorts of statues and figures
It is cool to see things you would normally find in a temple in such a dramatic cave setting
Rocks are pretty amazing
Eventually the cave comes out to the other side of the mountain, where there is a restaurant and lake.
The lake goes under the mount in the middle of this picture, and there are many boats to ferry people from one side to the other, which then loops around to where the main entrance is.
The boats are all hand paddled, and there are a few guys that just paddle back and forth for work.
After going through the cave, the water narrows into a small canal flanked by beautiful water grass
A boy hanging out by the cave
Some of the over 1000 buddha figures in the Lumbini gardens, which is the base of the western ascent up Mt. Zwegabin
Some monks resting on their way up the mountain and enjoying the view. You can see the main rows of Buddha figures in the distance.
The view out over the lower extremities of the mountain as the sun is staring to set.
A cute dog hanging out near the monastery at the top of the mountain
The sunset was beautiful from the monastery, and after over 2000 steps, I was very happy to settle in and watch the colors come and go.
One of the monastery’s smaller stupas at sunset
I slept that night at the monastery, which was a very cool experience, although the monks started in prayer at 4 am on the dot, blasting a man’s singing over the loudspeakers. It made it so that I didn’t get the best night’s sleep, but I was already up for the sunrise which was nice. In my time in Myanmar, I only slept in past sunrise twice, which was tiring, but it made me better appreciate the beauty of the first light of day.
The smaller stupas down the mountain ridge
At around 8 in the morning the monkeys climbed up into the monastery and started causing all sorts of ruckus. This guy had just stole a woman’s orange and was enjoying it on the safety of the roof.
The monkeys playing around on the stupa. The guy to the left tried to grab some of the biscuits I had right out of my hand after I took this picture, which I had never experienced with monkeys before. The ones up here were pretty vicious, and they would fight each other all over the place.
Admiring the view to the west
The mountain seems to come out of nowhere, as everything that isn’t a mountain is super flat
The rocks in the area are quite beautiful
A puppy that walked most of the way down the mountain with me. Not sure what was going on with his back, but he was a cutie
The Kayuk Kalat temple with Mt. Zwegabin in the background
Probably the most beautiful setting for a volleyball game I have ever seen, and it was a lot of fun to hop in and play with these guys. The way they played was very different from what I was used to, but I shook off some rust and got in the mix.
The bridge over Kan Thar Yar Lake right outside of Hpa-an, with Zwegabin again in the background. Because of the flatness of the area, you could see Zwegabin from almost anywhere.
The colorful cliffside Bayin Nyi Temple. One of my favourite things about Hpa-an was that it is relatively off of the main Myanmar tourist circuit, so places like this that would ordinarily be crawling with tourists instead is crowded with Myanmar people. Being a tall white guy, I stood out, but almost everyone would greet you with a smile and a mingalaba (Myanmar for hello)
Looking out of the cave at Bayin Nyi
The row of Buddha figures at the face of Ya-The-Byan Cave
Sunset over the rice paddies
Bats streaming out of a cave at dusk by the river. The sheer number of bats that came out of the cave was staggering. There was a flow of this strength out of the cave mouth for probably around 30 minutes. I was in awe standing under the cave and watching the rush of chirping bats rushing out to get food. As the people who were watching the bats started to leave, I decided to stay until I could count to five in between bats leaving the cave, and I remained there until it was too dark to discern the shapes, so the bats were coming to life for some time
That night I took a bus back to Yangon for my flight the next day. I arrived in the city around 4am and made my way to the Shwedagon Pagoda for a magical sunrise.
A store of Buddha figures near the Shwedagon Pagoda
The eastern stairway up to the pagoda. Just a few hours later this place was so much more crowded with vendors and people streaming in and out of the complex.
The pagoda is illuminated through the night, so I could see it when I arrived even before the sun had risen, and it was truly stunning
Lots of the Buddha figures in the Pagoda complex featured LED circle arrays around their heads that would play all sorts of patterns to an interesting effect
Morning prayer fires outside the perimeter of the central Pagoda
There are 4 entrances to the Pagoda, and each one has a structure devoted to one of the first four Buddhas, starting with Kakusandha in the east and progressing clockwise around to Gautama in the north.
The Shwedagon Pagoda was built initially when Buddha Gautama gave eight of his hairs to two merchant brothers, who then returned to their home in Myanmar, and when they told the king at that time about what they had, they decided to build a stupa on top of the hairs. The initial stupa was 18 meters tall, and through successive regimes, the Pagoda was built up to the 99 meters it stands at today. The crown of the stupa doesn’t look like much from the ground, but it is adorned with 5448 diamonds and 2317 rubies. The crowning jewel is a 76 carat diamond atop the whole structure. All of the gold looking stuff on the Pagoda is actual gold as well, which is crazy. No-one know exactly how much gold is used in the construction but estimates range from 6 to 60 tons, and either way thats a whole lot of gold
The scale of the compound is really hard to capture in a photograph, and it is a place that truly has to be visited to be fully appreciated. After spending lots of time in religious spaces over my time in southeast Asia, I wouldn’t say I have become any more religious, but I have a much greater appreciation of how religion unifies people and creates such beautiful things.
One of the cool things about Yangon is how much stuff was available to buy on the streets. Who knew there was a demand for TV remotes?
The facade of the Secretariat building in central Yangon, which was the hub of colonial British power, and then of the military regimes that took hold of the country. This building was also the site of the assassination of General Aung San, who was the driving force behind the liberation of Myanmar from the British. Now it lies derelict and closed to the public all but one day a year outside of special occasions, and I was lucky to catch it on such an occasion.
It was so powerful to be in a place where so much history gone down
The occasion that made the Secretariat open to the public was an art exhibition by Wolfgang Laib, a German artist who uses minimal natural elements in his work, often ones that are perishable
This piece is one of his recurring works, called milkstones, which are white granite slabs with a small cavity worked into the top of them that are filled to the brim with milk. The milk is thankfully replaced daily, but it commanded the room with its smell.
I am used to seeing art in sterile white galleries, but I loved how the space itself was more than just a blank canvas which the art is displayed over
Lieb’s work was interesting, but the space in which it was held is what made the art so engaging. This definitely was one of the coolest exhibitions I have been to in my life.
Access to the building was pretty limited, as they rightfully didn’t want people all over the place, but I found a closet off of the exhibition space that was filled with remnants of the past tenants
It was simultaneously creepy and fascinating
There were lots of letters official looking memos, but I couldn’t read most of them as they were in Myanmar (another weird thing about Myanmar is that while the term Burmese is often used to refer to the people and language, the correct term is Myanmar, which doesn’t sound right but I guess they can do what they want)
One of the many churches around Yangon that exist as a remnant of the British occupation. Almost 90% of Myanmar is Buddhist, so the churches are not hubs of the community in the same way as the temples are
To finish off my day I went back to Shwedagon Pagoda for sunset, which was also spectacular.
Saying goodbye to Yangon and Myanmar on my flight to Bangkok