Archive for January 8, 2013

I was in Myanmar for a holiday…

To start from the beginning, a few months back, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from Chunny and AhPhenngg : W.Hoong and myself  have booked AirAsia tickets to Myanmar from 19th Dec to 5th Jan, would both of you like to join us ? My initial reaction was , aiya… work commitments, family commitments, budgetary commitments, time …oh..pening kepala,  i don’t want to think about it. Then came October and oh..ok..time to re-look at this, phone calls were made, and Yes !! Let’s go to Myanmar! But maybe not for such a long trip, we decided that we will be able to make it from 19th – 26th Dec..Yes, everyone can fly…

On the 19th, had to get up early as the flight from KL to Yangon was at 6:55am, which meant having to be at LCCT by 5:30 ( I  didn’t have any luggage to check in), and also meant that I  have to leave the house by around 4:30am, which meant having to wake up a bit before 4a.m…Zzzzzzzz…was this really a holiday ?

On board AK1424, flight time for KL to Yangon is 2 hours and 35minutes. Seated next to us was a Myanmar fella who spoke some English (and we later found to speak some Malay as well) , he worked in Sibu, Sarawak for 2 years and he was returning home to see his Mama. When asked what did he buy for his Mama, he said Batik  ! According to our new friend, Malaysian or Indonesian batik is expensive in Yangon, so this was a good present for his Mama…

Disembarked and we were very impressed with the Yangon International Airport`s arrival hall. but not so impressed with the immigration…the queues were rather long, Chunny was trying to sync her watch with the local time , earlier on board when the pilot announced the local time, he mentioned that Yangon`s  time was 1 hour behind KL`s, so we all scoffed at the clock at the immigration hall which was showing 9:20 , whereby  my adjusted watch was already at 9:50am, clocks that didn’t run on time is not just a Malaysian thing lah ! while in queue, we struck up a conversation with a fellow Malaysian lady who was carrying a large knapsack and seemed to be a lone traveler, She would be traveling alone around Myanmar for 20 days and have been backpacking solo in many many countries..very challenging and brave…I declared this lady as my new hero, I tabik you !

The toilets at the airport were sparklingly clean- Malaysians  should learn something here !

Sorry, no pictures to show yet….please bear with my ramblings…

After getting our luggage, before leaving the arrival hall, we spotted the foreign exchange counter and we changed our crisp new US Dollar ( it was mentioned in forums and guide books to bring crisp , un-torn, unlined US dollars and only notes issued after 2006 are accepted)  for some Kyats ( pronounced as ‘chats’), the rate was   1 USD to 848 Kyats, I changed USD300 and in returned received 254,400kyats…I felt very rich  …Kyats

Got our luggage x-rayed before leaving the arrival hall, and outside the arrival hall, it was like a marketplace, everyone was hassling us to get on their taxis. Our plan was : try to get the bus ticket from Yangon > Bagan on that same day, and if not possible, we would spent the night in Yangon and leave for Bagan the next day. We saw a face that we liked (and who seemed to speak better English than the others) and pulled the young man aside to negotiate the fare. His family name was Lin and we told him our plans and he suggested that he take us to the ‘highway bus station’ to get the tickets  for 8000Kyats and after some haggling, smiles and shoulder pats- we got that down to 7000kyats. W.Hoong  seemed pretty impressed with our bargaining  skills…

Lin is a part time taxi driver and a second year Uni Student majoring in Maths, his Dad is Chinese, they sometimes celebrate ‘kongxi fa chai’ – meaning Chinese New Year. En route to the town area- there were peddlers offering the newly enacted Act, 2013 Ang San Su Kyi’s calendar –with pictures of her taken with President Obama and other head of states.

When we arrived at the bus station, Lin asked around for the bus services to Bagan,  and we finally got to the right bus operators. We were worried about the condition of the bus (quite a number of fright stories from the online forums) and the bus operators let us board the bus to inspect the condition – the bus was in pretty new condition and the seats looked comfortable . Sold ! The tickets were priced at 15,000K (a bit more than RM50) from Yangon > Bagan. The bus would leave the station at 8 :00 pm and arrived at Bagan the next day at about  4 to 5 a.m.

The bus operator allowed us to leave our luggage at their office and we challenged their hospitality further by asking them if we could make some calls. They obliged and W.H called the guesthouse at Yangon to cancel our pre-booked rooms for that night. And again imposed on them that we want to make a call to Bagan to re-confirmed our rooms. There were some vigorous ‘No’ all around but when we suggested that we pay for the call, one of the guys took out his iPhone and allowed us to make the call to Bagan – which he later didn’t charged  us… nice chappie you…

We had a few hours to kill, so we decided that we would tour Yangon and asked Lin to drop us off at Shwedagon Pagoda, that cost us another 8000K, which we decided not to negotiate as Lin had been patient and kind to wait for us while we settled the bus tickets. So, our suggestion is > to cut taxi costs – don’t bother to get the tickets at the bus station but get it downtown , you might have to pay a bit more for the bus tickets, but it will work out to be cheaper than having to pay for the taxi fare to the bus station.

At the grounds of Shwedagon Pagoda, it was nearing lunch time and we were feeling a bit hungry so we decided to explore around the area before entering the pagoda to see if we could find something for lunch.. We saw an astrologer, with his/her tagline – ‘a face may lie but a palm will not’…but i wonder, would an astrologer lie ?


There were many stalls selling wood carvings,  statues, calendars  and souvenirs itemsstalls

A stall  selling offerings – bananas and coconutsofferings

A stall selling betel nut chew betelnut

The charges for a meal seemed rather steeped around the Shwedagon temple area so we decided to chew on biscuits and leftover bread for the time being…

And we stepped into the sun and the Magnificent  Shwedagon Pagoda…Guardians

We decide to conserve energy by using the elevator to get into the temple rather than taking the stairs…and as we do not want to ‘tie’ ourselves into having to leave the pagoda using the same gate, we decide to carry our shoes along ( suggestion : carry a shoe bag, plastic bags etc for this purpose). The entrance fee for foreigners to Shwedagon are USD5 / pax and if you retain the sticker , you can come in again within the same day without having to pay the entrance fee again . We were  also given  a card with pin code for Myanmar Hotspot – free wifi!wi fi

We entered Shwedagon through the north gate .North gate

Shwedagon was as magnificent as I remembered it ( this was my second trip to Myanmar and my third visit to Shwedagon).P1010088

There were so much to Oohh and Ahhhhh over and we had merely moved a few meters from the entranceP1010124



This was our first day in Myamnar and everytime we see the monks walking passed , it seemed like an auto-reflex to take some pixs.P1010110


You can read about  Shwedagon Pagoda here and here  The information on my ticket stub says : the origin of Shwedagon Pagoda materialized in brilliant epoch in Buddhist history over 2,500 years ago. In India, Prince Siddahartha had just attained Buddhahood when he was visited by two brothers, Tapussa and Bhallika, merchants from Myanmar who offered a gift of honey cakes, in return, the Buddha personally removed 8 hairs from his head and gave these to the two brothers for enshrinement in their native town of Okkalapa, which is now the city of Yangon. On their return, the two brothers presented the Buddha’s hair to the King of Okkalapa who erected the pagoda and enshrined the eight hairs together with the relices of the previous three Buddhas. The original height of the pagoda was 66 feet. From the 14th century onward successive monarchs in Myanmar rebuilt or reguilded it until Shwedagon reached its present height of 326 feet. 

There were some renovations going on around the Pagoda- i.e. some of the smaller structures around the pagoda  were covered up with attap matsP1010138

Below is the picture taken during my last visit in 2006 – without the mats/ covers OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the topmost of the Pagoda is the Diamond Orb with 4351 diamonds weighing 1,800 carats, the vane which with a length of 130cm and weigh 419kg, the umbrella  or ‘Hti’ with a height of 13 meters , and a total weight of 5 tons, out of which 500kg is gold.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was interesting to find that the temple seemed to be a place that has assimilated into ones’ daily life…for instance meals were being had at the shrine hallsP1010106

Err…one could even have a nap alongside the reclining Buddha..i wonder will this resting gentleman have holy dreams ?P1010159

And some weird tourist doing jumping jacks at the holy site..P1010141One other interesting fact I learnt was that, unlike tiles, marble flooring are real cooling even under the hot sun….what kindness to the feet under the scorching mid day sun ..P1010137

Offerings of candles ..P1010131

Drinking water were available all over the place and some of the vessels were rather cutewater

Golden opulence at every cornerP1010150


Look up and you will see intricate carvings at the wooden columnsP1010127

At the smaller shrines we saw devotees ‘bathing’ the statues of the Buddha and a rodent-liked animal at the bottom of the shrine, we observed what they were doing closely so that we do not offend anyone when we make the same attempt. We tried to count the number of times they bath the statue of the Buddha before they shower the rodent, but then some show the rodent before the Buddha, and another lady used three silver mugs at the same time instead of one..Grr…we lost count and gave up..bath

And  I did it my way……with humility and respectbath1

NB: only afterwards did we learn that there was a specific animal for the  day that you were born,  and you were suppose to ‘bath’ the animal that represent the day that you were born in. I checked and I was born on a Thursday , and I ‘bathed’ the right symbol- a rat….Sunday is represented by the garuda, Monday –tiger, Tuesday – lion, Wednesday a.m – tusked elephant, Wednesday p.m- tuskless elephant, Thursday –rat, Friday – guinea pig and Saturday – naga

Novices taking a rest ..


Being loud Malaysians, our conversation were heard by an Uncle who was resting at one of the halls, he heard us conversing in Mandarin and asked us where we were from. We got to talking and found out that Uncle Chen origin was from Guangdong Taishan ! His Dad was a kuomingtang member and he migrated from China to Myanmar, we chatted for a bit and asked Uncle Chen does he know where we can get some decent lunch..and Uncle Chen offered to take us there. We left the golden  Shwedagon through the South gateP1010172

The South gate exit led us though a busy road , this stall was selling sparrows to be ‘set-free’ to gain you some merits P1010173

And we were still enthralled by the number of monks and novices we see on the streetsP1010175

A stall selling fried snacks – some looked like samosa, spring roll and corn fritters.P1010176

The ‘public’ telephone service ..well, not many people have phones at home..P1010177

Took a last glimpse of ShwedagonP1010179

We walked and walked..i was at this point ready to faint from hydration and hunger but Uncle Chen walked on and on, probably trying to find a more suitable eating place for us..and finally!! After I think more than 20 minutes of walking, we got to a eatery..and saw a variety of dishes to choose from…fish, pork, chicken, mutton, brinjals, potatoes..macam-macam pun adalunch

We selected stewed pork, fish with capsicum and chili , fried brinjal to go with rice, and we were provided with two plates of  vegetables – one being raw vegetable consisting of cabbages, cucumber , chili padi and pegaga leaves , and the other was blanched vegetables including bean sprouts and some leafy vegetables. Oh, and soup was also provided. The soup was a sour soup ( kinda like the ones I tasted in Vietnam) and quite delicious- we had a few re-fills . The rest of the dishes weren’t too bad too..the cooking style would not be unlike the regular Chinese food with tauchue ( fermented soya beans), soy sauce and fish sauce. The meal below cost us 4,000K ( ~RM15)lunch1

While we were pigging out, a group of nuns came buy to collect alms and the girls at the shop offered the nuns scoops of uncooked rice.alms giving

I really liked the warm smiles of the girls from our makan shop in this picture..P1010185