Backpacking in Burma: Yangon
Backpacking in Burma: Yangon
Really enjoyed my time in Myanmar (Burma) which is an extremely interesting country. Ravaged by decades of dictatorship and war, the country is finally opening up to the outside world. The richest nation in Asia in the 1960s, Myanmar is now among the region’s poorest. With its immense natural resources, sizable population of 64 million and access to key trade routes, Myanmar has all of the ingredients for a tremendous turnaround story.
Traveling in Myanmar was intense as there is no ATMs (cash only), no credit cards accepted, and little to no internet access. There was also a tough process of obtaining a visa at the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok. You have to go in the morning and wait on a long line to place your application. They then tell you to come back in a few days to physically claim your visa. This process will all hopefully change in the next few years with the US recently releasing its harsh economic sanctions it had placed on Myanmar.
My trip started in Yangon, the former capital of Myanamar. Although the military government has officially relocated the capital to Naypyidaw since March 2006, Yangon, with a population of over five million, continues to be the country’s largest city and the most important commercial center.
Although Yangon’s infrastructure is undeveloped compared to those of other major cities in Southeast Asia, it has the largest number of colonial buildings in the region today (Wiki).
The country has built a brand new, beautiful airport in Yangon. It was probably the cleanest and most modern building in the country.
My two days in Yangon were spent hanging around the city, talking and touring with locals. I took a ton of pictures (as you can see above) because the country’s sites were like nothing I have ever seen before.
The Shwedagon Pagoda or Paya is the single most important religious site in all of Myanmar. The pagoda stands on the top of Singuttara Hill, and, according to legend, that spot has been sacred since the beginning of time, just before our present world was created. At that time, five lotus buds popped up on the hill, each bud signifying the five Buddhas who would appear in the world and guide it to Nirvana. Gautama, the Buddha as we know him, is the fourth of these five (Maitreya, the fifth, will announce the end of the world with his appearance) and, according to the legend, two brothers brought eight hairs of the Buddha to be enshrined in this sacred location, inaugurating the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Whatever the truth of the legend, verifiable history records a pagoda at the site since the 6th Century AD. Built and rebuilt, guilded and reguilded, almost nothing in the pagoda is likely to be old, except whatever is hidden deep inside the stupa. An earthquake (18th century) destroyed the upper half of the pagoda spire and many buildings. Burmese Buddhists are inherently practical people who constantly build and rebuild pagodas for merit (Wiki).
Conclusions of Burma
It was an amazing experience, visiting a country that is about to go through significant changes within the next few years. Despite the difficulties of having to use bills that are 100% crisp without any creases, or the passport issues, it was worth it. This is a great time to visit Mynamar as it will never be this raw and untouched.
What was your Burma experience like? Are you traveling to Burma soon? Leave a question and we’ll gladly help!