Thursday, February 26: Today is Mike’s 61st birthday, so before I even get out of bed on this, my first day in Yangon, I text him back and forth several times to send him good wishes.
I go to breakfast on the 8th floor of Agga Youth Hotel. First, I meet an older lady from South Carolina who is visiting Myanmar from Calcutta, where she lives with her pastor husband. She has the day ahead of her without her spouse; he has meetings to attend all day. She says she will stay in the hotel all day. I can’t imagine being afraid to go out and explore a new city alone. I used to be like that years ago, before I figured out that all you have to do is put one foot in front of another, and a whole world opens up before you!
I also talk at length with another couple from Toronto, Canada. The girl is wearing the cutest tank top with a colorful elephant on it; she got it in Thailand, but I make a note to keep an eye out for something similar on my last couple of days here. They are heading today to an elephant park that’s 2 hours away from Yangon.
After breakfast, I move to room 306-307, a triple room, because when I woke this morning I had no water at all, and when the water finally did come on, it was cold. This new room is more acceptable than the first room, but most rooms seem to be interior rooms with no windows that feel very claustrophobic. After breakfast, I take a shower in my new room, but the water is still cold. I’m afraid I’ll have to move rooms again, but I notice there’s a button to turn on the water heater. I turn it on, hoping this will solve the problem tomorrow.
At 10 a.m., I begin a self-guided walking tour of Colonial Yangon. I’m following the City Walk from Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma). From the hotel, my first planned stop is Sule Paya, but I walk down a lot of streets busy with commerce before I get there. I’ve never seen streets with so many vendors packed onto the sidewalks. They’re grouped together by products; in one area are all tools and machine parts, in another are old-fashioned sewing machines and sewing accoutrements. Food vendors are of course interspersed among the other vendors.
One of the reasons I’m interested in downtown Yangon, formerly Rangoon, is for its colonial architecture. Many of the buildings today, after years of neglect, are crumbling and dilapidated, but I can still see some of the city’s former glory.
I pass by a temple that looks similar to temples I’ve visited during my time in China.
I love the sewing machine street with the fancy old-fashioned sewing machines.
Food vendors abound on the streets of Yangon.
I love the colorful buildings, even in their disheveled state.
Finally, I arrive at Sule Paya. This 2,000 year old golden temple sits in the middle of the city’s primary traffic circle. I have to go into an underground tunnel to get to it.
I buy some prayer cards, written in Burmese, and then send them up in a small golden karaweik (royal barge in the shape of a mythical bird) to a shrine higher up the stupa. It’s like sending my prayers to heaven.
The central stupa, known as Kyaik Athok, is translated from the Mon language and means “the stupa where a Sacred Hair Relic is enshrined” (Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma)). This gilded zedi’s octagonal shape continues right up to the bell and inverted bowl.
After seeing all I can see at this stupa, I continue following my walking tour. Next stop: City Hall.