The first full day of the Myanmar tour began with a tour of Rangon, the capital city of Myanmar. It’s the obvious place to start the tour and is highlighted by a handful of impressive pagodas (Buddhist temples). First up, a photo stop at Kan Daw Gyi Lake with with its brightly colored and elaborately decorated floating restaurant – modeled after the royal barge. It was certainly picturesque, but I think my group enjoyed taking pictures of the WWII vintage tank in the adjacent park even more.
The clear highlight of the morning was the reclining Buddha at Chaukihtatgyi Pagoda. It was amazing! The Burmese version of Buddha statues are very different from those we’ve seen in Thailand. The local version is not simply gilded gold, but rather porcelain white skin wrapped in golden robes. It is striking and imposing, and resides in a warehouse-scale building, surrounded by shrines, smaller statues, and prayer mats. The Buddha has a decidedly feminine demeanor, augmented by what can only be described as makeup. He has lovely almond eyes, complete with eye liner and long lashes. His lips are perfectly shaped and ruby red. Lovely ears with elongated lobes are equally stylish. And the coup de gras are the pink painted toenails. Its really fun – whimsical and pleasing. Like in Bangkok, the soles of the feet are etched with symbols for the 108 sacred attributes of the Buddha. Oh – I almost forgot the impressive scale: the Buddha is more than 200 feet long!
Our happy-go-lucky, ever smiling and laughing Myanmar guide, Tun Tun, excelled here. He explained the many Buddha postures and their meanings. The group favorite is standing with right hand up, which means “no worries”. It instantly became the adopted theme/symbol for the tour. Tun Tun is great. His English is easy to understand, his teaching is relevant and engaging, and he has a great sense of humor. Most important for us, he has a million-watt smile and an infectious and ready laugh. Hard not to have fun in his presence. He also occasionally uses the most pleasant turn of phrases. He says “very plenty” quite often. And in describing the disparity between the rich and poor of Myanmar he said “its like earth and sky.”
We continued our explorations with a quick photo stop at Aung San Suu Kyi’s house – not very impressive but interesting for us. Then a downtown stroll. Yangon is typical developing world city – a mix of sometimes attractive colonial buildings, a few modern ones, and many more horrible, decrepit ones.
We took a coffee break at storied Strand Hotel Before concluding our morning at Bototaung Pagoda – an impressive glittering gold stupa made interesting because it is hollow and visitors can go inside. For Buddhists it is important because it contains a hair of the Buddha - encased in a reliquary-like structure, replete with gilded gold and jewels. Tradition suggests the pagoda might be as much as 2500 years old.
After Bototaung we had a free afternoon. Maia and I went had lunch at My Garden Restaurant. I'm finding Myanmar food to be excellent. Today I had eggplant with chicken – savory good, served on a sizzling hot plate. At the Golden Rock Maia and I had tried Cashew Chicken and something called Hot Dry Chicken. The Cashew was perhaps the best I've ever had and the HDChicken was spicey (guess I should have seen that one coming) and rich, but not at all dry. I usually don't care for spicey food but we couldn't put this in our mouths fast enough. We coughed and sputtered our was through every bite. Maia indulged in a dark choc orange frappe, probably not typically Myanmar. All in all, it was a great half day to kick off the tour.