Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Burma: Yangon (Rangoon)

Thursday 27 January: Motherland Inn, north of the city centre, is an easy choice - they have a free courtesy bus from the airport - the taxi fare is 10US$, the same price as a single room. Three weeks later for my return trip the room rate (including airport transfer) is increasing to 13US$ - the curse of Lonely Planet.
Most of the city's colonial buildings are unloved, decaying and crumbling. This is a poor country made poorer by its military dictatorship. I thought long and hard before deciding to visit Burma (called Myanmar by the ruling junta) but my style of travel puts much needed money in people's hands and very little in the greedy paws of the generals. I'm staying in family run guesthouses, eating in local restaurants and travelling mostly by private transport (sadly, the state operated railways levy a heavy 'tax' for foreigners), this will be an interesting trip.
Friday 28: A gentle stroll along Kandawgyi Lake leads me to the magnificent Shwedagon Paya (temple), Burma's finest. When early British explorers reported 'mountains of gold' this is what they saw. Sixty-tons of gold plate covering the upper stupa make it gleam brightly in the sun, but that's not all. Above the cone is wind vane encrusted with jewels which is topped by a single sparkling diamond.
Spending most of the day here relaxing and reading I'm approached by Yen-Suyata, a young monk from the Mon area (a monk must speak to you first, not the other way round), and for several hours we discuss the virtues of Buddhist thought. He's been studying for only a year and is impressed by my knowledge and that I've been to Bodhgaya in modern day India, the place of Buddha's enlightenment. He explains, as only a novice can, the difficulties and rewards of meditation, something I must try. We leave mid-afternoon before the tourist hoards arrive for sunset.
Saturday 29: Changing large sums of money, illegally, on the black market is always tense, but as the exchange rate is so much better than the bank rate (and it circumvents the government) I feel I must try. Everything goes surprisingly smoothly in a dimly lit corner of the central market and I've swapped a crisp one-hundred dollar bill for 85,000 Kyats (pronounced chats) in one-thousand Kyats notes, quite a bundle. When I get fifteen pages photocopied from my guide book it costs 100 Kyats (about 10 pence in total) but they can't change my 1,000 Kyats note, the country's largest bill. This is an inexpensive and trustworthy country to travel in. Next, I reserve a seat on the night bus to Mandalay. Following a busy morning I enjoy lunch at Monsoon restaurant set in a colonial style house then relax near the river in Botahtaung Paya before catching the night bus to Mandalay.
Photos of Yangon (Rangoon).

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