What an amazing couple of days in Myanmar. This country is culturally rich and has been cursed for decades with a brutally oppressive regime. It is making tentative steps toward democracy and the 15 year tourism boycott has ended. Myanmar has only been open to tourism since 2011. Tourist numbers have grown but the infrastructure is still inadequate to accomodate them. Most memorable about the trip are the people eager to introduce their country to us.
We planned an overnight excursion to Bagan and we started the day by having breakfast in the terrace cafe on the ship. We sailed into the harbor on a 38 mile long river that has quite a current. We saw these small fishing boats off to the side of the ship. Some had entire families and pigs and goats, melons and coconuts on them and others were fishing with huge nets dragging behind the boats.
After breakfast we left the ship with a small cooler that was packed with food and provided to us so that we could have our lunch on the trip from Yangon port to the airport.
But first we visited the wonderful temple or pagoda- Swedagon – said to be the holiest in Myanmar. Pagoda is the word for all religious buildings. Phida is our guide, she explained that phida means water, and she taught us to say minglebaga which means good morning or good day.
This pagoda is really spectacular, and there are too many statues, etc, to count.One of the interesting and different things we learned is the significance of the day of the week you were born. There are shrines representing each day of the week that had significance in the life of the Buddha and people go to their own area to pour water over the Buddha image that relates to the day of their birth and they provide offerings or make specific wishes for good luck. Wedenesday is the day that the Buddha went to the forest to meditate and is considered his lucky day. So there are two images for Wednesday, morning and evening.
I was born on a Wednesday morning, so here I am making my offering and my wishes.
Norm was born on a Tuesday so here he is making his offering and wishes. You can see that the Buddha statues are surrounded by flowers that are often brought as offerings.
Other photos are of the stupa and some of the beautiful and jewel encrusted statues.
The temples have 4 entrances which represent the 4 Buddhas. And, they have the ever present ATM machines!
On our way to the airport which is quite a drive from Yangon port – especially with the traffic, Phida told us a lot about Myanmar. We had a police escort to the airport, so that did make it a little faster. Bystanders probably wondered who was in those buses!
They do believe in reincarnation here and believe that by doing good deeds in this life, the next will be better – good Karma. She said that ladies pray to be a man in their next life. Not sure I can hold with that one!
Myanmar has 60 million people and 90% are Buddhist. Only 5 countries in the world practice Theravada Buddhism which is the one that is religious. Education is free here. 67% of people are farmers and they have 5-10 children, to help with the work. In the capital, the maximum number of children is 3. They grow a lot of rice, which they have at every meal. Fish is an important export for them too. They have teak forests and export that and have rubies, sapphires and jade.
They are mostly vegetarian, so pork and beef are very inexpensive here. Even if they are not vegetarian, most people practice that once a week.
The longyi is the traditional dress for both men and women although they wear them differently, men tie them in the front, and can pull them up into a kind of shorts in the hot weather or when playing sports. Women tie them on the side. In the school system everyone wears uniforms, even the teachers. The longyi is traditional after age 10.
Here are some photos of people in longyis, and of the Bo or Bodhi tree, sacred to Buddhists as I mentioned before. The one in Sri Lanka is said to be from a cutting of the original tree.
The “makeup” on the girl in orange is called Thanaka and is made from wood. You see most of the women wearing it as sun protection, You will see boys under 10 with it too, if they have it on after age 10, it is a sign of being gay.
The first election was held in 2010 and there are 2 main parties represented by the lion and the peacock. Up until 3 years ago, no new cars were allowed to be imported here, so people bought good used cars (mostly Toyotas) and they cost around $35,000. Now they import cars so costs are going down.
At the airport, we were so surprised at the difference in the security from the rigor of India. We were checked in by our guide, no one asked for any ID and there was just the usual luggage screening. It was a 1 hour 15 minute flight and we got drinks and a small tray with a sandwich, a pastry and a cake. Later the crew handed out small hard candies. Not like American airline flights!
I will cover Bagan in the next post – it deserves its own!