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 giant spider at the entrance hints at the outrageous sights I’ll encounter inside the cave.
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)
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.
The Buddhas come in all flavors: alabaster, teak, cement, marble, brick and lacquer.
The caves are packed with so many Buddhas that it’s difficult to move around. Everywhere you look, eyes are staring at you.
After visiting the cave, we head to the open-air Golden Moon Restaurant for lunch.
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!
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.
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!
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.