Agga Youth Hotel

last day in yangon: fighting for the buddhas and the aung san museum

Friday, February 27:  After visiting Shwedagon Pagoda at dawn, I return to the hotel to have breakfast before I shower and go out for my second day in Yangon.  The older lady from South Carolina who is visiting Myanmar from Calcutta, where she lives with her pastor husband, is sitting on one side of me.  Another young couple I recognize is sitting on the other side, and at first I think it’s the Canadian couple from yesterday who went to the elephant reserve.  I know they look familiar anyway, so I ask how they enjoyed the elephant reserve.  They look at me curiously.  It turns out it is Molly and James, from New York and Tennessee respectively, from a slow cruise down the ayeyarwady river from mandalay to bagan.  They are teaching in Yunnan province in China and they had recommended that I stay at this hotel when we were on the boat ride. I can’t believe I got them confused with the other couple from yesterday’s breakfast!

Molly and James are leaving this afternoon on a direct flight from Yangon to Kunming.  I don’t know why I didn’t find that flight; I booked a flight for tomorrow to Mandalay with an overnight in Mandalay, and then a flight from Mandalay to Kunming the day after.  I could have saved myself a lot of jumping around if I had found the direct flight they found!

Oh well, what’s done is done!

I put some stuff together in my backpack to take to the Central Post Office on the Strand.  I figure I’ll send some of my purchases directly home to Virginia rather than sending them to China and then having to transport them back home in July. When I get to the post office, the postal worker takes every single thing out of my bag to inspect it.  She holds aside two Buddha figures I bought, shown below.  I bought them from vendors at Inle Lake who sell souvenirs to tourists.

The postal worker proceeds to tell me that figures of the Buddha are not supposed to be taken out of Myanmar and she asks if I’m Buddhist.  I tell her no but I’m drawn to Buddhist principles.  She asks why, then, do I want to take the Buddhas?  I say I like them for their serenity and as collector’s items.  I will put them in my home as reminders of my travels and the many Buddhas I’ve encountered.  She doesn’t seem to understand why anyone would do this.  She then tells me I need to obtain permission from the National Museum or the Department of Archeology, some such.  She writes the address in Burmese script and tells me to go there or I won’t be able to take the objects out of the country.

Buddha head and reclining Buddha

Buddha head and reclining Buddha

As I spent good money on these objects, I’m pretty outraged that now I’m told I might not be able to take them out of the country. I’m also annoyed that I have to waste my last day in Yangon searching out this place on the outskirts of the city, about 6km away on the other side of town.  With Yangon’s crazy traffic, it takes almost an hour to get to the place.  When I arrive, I sit in a shabby office while a woman inspects the two Buddhas.  First, she refuses to grant permission for the Buddha head because the back half of it has been cut away.  She tells me it needs to be three-dimensional.   When she tells me that they will NOT give permission for either Buddha, I complain that I spent good money on these.  I say they shouldn’t allow vendors to sell them to tourists if we’re not going to be allowed to take them home.  Finally, she goes to get the director.  She then asks me to wait 25 minutes while the officials finish their lunch meeting, as if I have all the time in the world. Before the director comes, she tells me to put the half-Buddha head into my bag, which seems her way of telling me just to take the head out of Myanmar without permission!

The director finally arrives and measures the reclining Buddha with her fingers at 7 inches.  She cuts a piece of string, lights a candle and melts wax onto a small piece of white cardboard to signify that the authorities deem it to be new and not an antique. She wraps the tag around the Buddha’s lower arm and completes a document granting permission for the reclining Buddha.  After this, another woman official comes in and signs and stamps the permission form, spelling out all the details of the Buddha. She photocopies my passport and writes everything carefully in a ledger.

All this while, I’m sitting at a big wooden table  in this disheveled office, papers and pamphlets piled on top like mountains.  This place seems like some shabby building in the middle of nowhere and the people working here don’t seem all that official at all!

Finally, after this ordeal is over, I schlep back to the main road with both Buddhas in my pack, where I catch a taxi.  By this time, it’s 2:00 and I’m starved.  I stop at Biriyani Restaurant for a lunch of Aloo something, breaded vegetables in tomato sauce served over rice.  This restaurant with bright pink walls is rather icy, its air-conditioning on full blast.  It takes forever to get my food.  I can only eat half of it because it’s a huge serving!

After lunch, I catch a taxi to the Bogyoke Aung San Museum, which really isn’t worth the trip.  It seems to be out in the middle of nowhere. This house was where General Aung San lived with his family, including his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, for two years before he was assassinated in July 1947.  His widow and the children stayed in the house until 1953, when their second son Lin drowned in a pond on the grounds.

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

The Colonial era villa, built in 1921, is listed on the Yangon City Heritage List.

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Tourists aren’t allowed to take photos inside the museum but no matter; it is only sparsely furnished with, among other things, family photos, displays of his speeches and handwritten letters to his wife.

garden pathway at the Bogyoke Aung San Museum

garden pathway at the Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

Bogyoke Aung San Museum

By this time, I am exhausted and irritated that much of my day has been wasted.  Though I originally intended to see two more pagodas, I go straight back to the hotel, where I stay in my pajamas the rest of the night.  I am exhausted from the whole ordeal of the Buddhas; I’m tired of the city and generally travel-weary after having traveled all over China and Myanmar for 6 weeks.  I’m not even hungry, although I do have one Myanmar beer and a bag of chips in my room.

Tomorrow morning, I leave Yangon for Mandalay.

 

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Categories: Agga Youth Hotel, Asia, Bogyoke Aung San Museum, Myanmar, Travel, Yangon | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

city walk: yangon’s colonial treasures {vendors aplenty & sule paya}

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.

Yangon gate

Yangon gate

signage in the city

signage in the city

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.

dilapidated colonial architecture

dilapidated colonial architecture

I pass by a temple that looks similar to temples I’ve visited during my time in China.

Buddhist temple

Buddhist temple

dragon

dragon

I love the sewing machine street with the fancy old-fashioned sewing machines.

sewing machine heaven

sewing machine heaven

classics

classics

sewing machines of the past

sewing machines of the past

sewing machines for sale

sewing machines for sale

yarns

yarns

more yarns

more yarns

Food vendors abound on the streets of Yangon.

fruits and vegetables

fruits and vegetables

I love the colorful buildings, even in their disheveled state.

Yangon streets

Yangon streets

a local vendor

a local vendor

Yangon streets

Yangon streets

food cart

food cart

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.

Sule Paya

Sule Paya

inside Sule Paya

inside Sule Paya

characters of Sule Paya

characters of Sule Paya

another figure at Sule Paya

another figure at Sule Paya

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.

Fortunes at Sule Paya

Fortunes at Sule Paya

sending up my fortunes to the heavens

sending up my fortunes to the heavens

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.

Sule Paya

Sule Paya

Sule Paya

Sule Paya

Buddha at Sule Paya

Buddha at Sule Paya

Fancy shrine at Sule Paya

Fancy shrine at Sule Paya

faces

faces

teak ceiling

teak ceiling

Buddha at Sule Paya

Buddha at Sule Paya

Buddha at Sule Paya

Buddha at Sule Paya

After seeing all I can see at this stupa, I continue following my walking tour.  Next stop: City Hall.

Categories: Agga Youth Hotel, Asia, Myanmar, Sule Paya, Travel, Yangon | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

pindaya: buddhas in the thousands at shwe oo min natural cave pagoda

Wednesday, February 25:  We arrive at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda at 11:00 a.m. My driver deposits me at the bottom and I follow the long walkway up the limestone ridge. I can see views of Pone Taloke Lake and the town below.

The approach to Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda

The approach to Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda

The giant spider at the entrance hints at the outrageous sights I’ll encounter inside the cave.

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

archer

archer

giant spider

giant spider

view from Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

view from Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

walkway to the pagoda

walkway to the pagoda

view from Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya - Pone Taloke Lake

view from Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya – Pone Taloke Lake

view on walkway to Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

view on walkway to Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

view of Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

view of Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

After climbing the steps, I take a lift to avoid the last 130 steps.

Inside the cave, I encounter Buddha figures in staggering numbers.   At last count, the caves showcased 8,094 Buddha statues.  Some were left centuries ago by Myanmar pilgrims and others were installed more recently by international Buddhist organizations in lands as far away as the Netherlands, the USA, and Singapore.  (Lonely Planet Myanmar, July 2014 edition)

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Of course, the many Buddhas need a plethora of offerings from the faithful pilgrims who visit today in steady streams.  New pilgrims deposit new images and mediate in the cave’s grottoes and chambers carved naturally into the walls.

offerings for the thousands of Buddhas

offerings for the thousands of Buddhas

The Buddhas come in all flavors: alabaster, teak, cement, marble, brick and lacquer.

Buddha at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddha at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Elephant Mooring Post

Elephant Mooring Post

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

a Buddha sit-in

The caves are packed with so many Buddhas that it’s difficult to move around.  Everywhere you look, eyes are staring at you.

Buddhas in the cave

Buddhas in the cave

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

serpent overhang

serpent overhang

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

the Pindaya caves

the Pindaya caves

intricate Buddha

intricate Buddha

Buddha and subjects

Buddha and subjects

more Buddhas

more Buddhas

monsters

monsters

teeth!

teeth!

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

MAZE ??

MAZE ??

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Buddhas at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Pindaya

After visiting the cave, we head to the open-air Golden Moon Restaurant for lunch.

Menu at the Golden Moon Restaurant

Menu at the Golden Moon Restaurant

view from the Golden Moon

view from the Golden Moon

The Golden Moon Restaurant

The Golden Moon Restaurant

diners at the Golden Moon Restaurant

diners at the Golden Moon Restaurant

Here I eat a delicious lunch of potato curry with rice, accompanied by papaya juice.  I top it off with a can of Myanmar beer, which, to no surprise, will cause me to ask the driver to make another stop along the road so I can pee again!

potato curry with rice

potato curry with rice

a truck full of locals

a truck full of locals

I get to Heho airport at 2:30, way too early for my 5:00 flight.  I have to sit around an hour before I can even check my bag.

waiting at Heho Airport

waiting at Heho Airport

When I’m finally able to check my bag, the woman at Immigration asks to see my passport. She writes the number in a ledger!  I’m not at all surprised that there is no computer system; Myanmar seems to exist in a time warp, frozen in the 1950s.

I sit in the waiting room for a long time.  I use the bathroom twice, thinking it is the ladies’ room.  The third time, I scrutinize the picture on the door and realize I’ve been using the men’s room!  I can’t find a trash can anywhere in the airport, so I leave my debris (a water bottle and Snickers wrapper) inside the stall of the men’s room.

I love how at Heho (and Bagan) airports, the planes fly right up to the door.  A young man grabs a whiteboard sign listing the airline and flight.  He runs to the gate (or door) with the sign, shouting out the name of the flight. Passengers line up, walk out to the tarmac, and climb a ladder up to the plane.  The flight attendants quickly close the door and we immediately take off down the runway!

Heho Airport

Heho Airport

Flying to Yangon

Flying to Yangon

My arrival in Yangon is not much more sophisticated.  We get off on the tarmac and the luggage is simply loaded directly into the arrivals hall.  There is no luggage carousel.  I find an air-conditioned taxi service for 9,000 kyat ($9).  It takes about an hour to arrive at Agga Youth Hotel on No. 86, 12th St.

At the hotel, a short Russian guy is arguing with the staff because they apparently lost some of his laundry.  He tells me he packs light and only has a few clothes with him and now they’ve lost them!

I check into room 202 which is very small and unimpressive, despite the fact that this hotel was highly recommended by several people along my journey.  I settle grumpily into the room, exhausted from my long day, and as I’m too tired to go out, I eat a bag of Oishi Ribbed Cracklings in Chicken Curry Flavor and drink a bottle of water. I’m eaten alive by mosquitoes all night. 😦

I already miss Bagan and Inle Lake.

Categories: Agga Youth Hotel, Asia, Burma, Golden Moon Restaurant, Heho Airport, Myanmar, Pindaya, Shan State, Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Travel, Yangon | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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