April 30. 2019
Last night in Horizons, Ray, our cruise director, had set up a “surprise” party for Kelly, the dancer on our entertainment team. Of course, he announced it clearly several times in front of her so it was a great gag, but a real party. He had a monkey cake made in her honor, and we had a fun time late night with drinks, cake and entertainment.
The Captain’s cocktail party took place tonight and there were lots of traditional outfits to be seen, including the kira that I bought in Bhutan. Great fun. We also had our picture taken with Michelle, our guest singer who called out our names in a previous show.
Today, we had a tour organized by Alice Holloway – one of our friends from a previous cruise. The port in Myanmar is very tricky with the tides – which definitely impacts our arrival and departure times. So today because of the tides, we didn’t get in until 11:30 instead of our scheduled time of 10 AM.
Our tour guide was Jack and our driver was Saul and they were, as all of our private tour operators have been, great!
On our way to Yangon – Formerly Rangoon (which takes about 90 minutes to drive to) – Jack gave us lots of information about Myanmar. He talked about the Rohingya issue which is mostly affecting the Bangladesh/Myanmar border area and not so much the rest of the country. 60% of the people in the country are farmers and there are 135 different tribes of people living here. All boys must go to the monastery to learn Buddhism and are called novice monks. They can stay as long as they want to and some stay for life. They don’t have a choice about going, this is made by their parents, but Jack stayed only a week. He said it is because they only get 2 meals a day, breakfast, then lunch at 11 and no dinner at all. Their meals here are from the donations they get from families as they go house to house. There are 400,000 monks in the country. More and pictures from the monastery tomorrow.
The roads leading from the port are under repair (by Japan) and the traffic today was really heavy.
When we reached Yangon, we had a walk through the colonial neighborhood. Many of the buildings are from the time of the British rule when the country was called Burma.
We saw the vendors making sugar cane juice and wrapping the betel nut in a leaf spread with limestone paste and tobacco. The people put it in their cheek and allow it to slowly absorb. It is causing cancer. Their lips and teeth are often stained red and there are red splotches on the sidewalks where the people spit. Not Singapore for sure where spitting is illegal.
Lots of interesting street food (we didn’t eat any), as well as sim cards for sale, etc..
Jack showed us their currency. The largest bill is 10,000 Kyat, which is worth about 6.50 US. The 1000 bill is worth about 66 cents. Alice asked why they don’t make bigger bills and Jack said everything is inexpensive and they don’t make much money so they don’t need bigger bills.
The national dress is the longyi which is a skirt worn by both men and women. The men tie it in front and the women on the side or it is custom fitted. Our friend Rodney wore his all the time after our first visit to Myanmar in 2015. Here Jack is showing us how to tie it. And how to shorten it for sports activities.
Each neighborhood has a water station and each town has its own monastery. Here are a couple of examples of the water stations.
We visited a synagogue (at 2:15 and the inside closed at 2 so we only saw the outside). There are 11 Jewish people living here in Yangon, all from the same family.
Lunch was at the Padomar Restaurant where we enjoyed traditional Myanmar and Thai specialties.
After lunch, we went to the Bogyoke Ang Sun Market (British name is the Scott Market) where there are more than 200 vendors selling wood carvings, tapestries, silk, silver and brass as well as hundreds of kinds of jewelry. We got there 30 minutes before it closed which allowed us a short time to browse, but we didn’t buy anything.
There are lots of apartment buildings here that are about 6 or 8 stories high. There are no elevators so people are using narrow stairways to get to their homes.
The highlight of the day was the Shwedagon Pagoda. We were here on a previous visit, but it never fails to impress. It is 2500 years old and is located on a 190 foot hilltop. It is covered with about 6500 priceless gold plates, rubies, sapphires and other precious gems and a single 76 carat diamond crowns the top. The entire complex covers 12 acres! The spire soars 326 feet in the air. Our visit was timed so that we could enjoy both daylight and darkness at the Pagoda.
Shwe means gold, and Dagon is the section of Yangon where the pagoda is located.
Norm was wearing shorts, so he had to put on a longyi. Your shoulders and legs must be covered and all shoes and socks must be removed.
One of the things a visitor must do is find the area of the day of the week in which he or she was born and pour water over the statue that is located there. Norm and Tom were born on a Tuesday (Lion symbol), Alice on Thursday (rat symbol) and Wednesday is divided into morning and afternoon. I was born in the morning so my symbol is the elephant with tusks. Here are each of us making our wishes and pouring the water.
You can buy gold leaf to put on the statues and we all did that. Some of the areas need a lot of gold leaf and others are covered beautifully.
Pictures just cannot do justice to this immense and beautiful place. There are many Buddha images, lots of spires and the main stupa, which is partially covered in bamboo scaffolding due to renovation.
All of us, except Alice, had to ring the bells. And the little kids love to do that too.
Here are some of the people (and cat) we saw there.
There was even a blood donation place set up inside.
After a terrific and tiring day, we returned to the ship at 9 PM. We needed showers immediately but went for a quick bite to eat in the Terrace Café which was kept open as the tours had a late start due to delayed arrival in the port, and therefore returned late. The temperature today was 104 degrees and it was very humid. Luckily Jack and Saul kept us constantly refreshed with very cold bottled water.
If we were to do this again, we would stay at a hotel for the night, but the roads were not as bad before, or at least we don’t remember that they were. So the trip to Yangon is a long one. The first time we were here in 2015 we spent very little time in Yangon but did see the Shwedagon Pagoda. We then took a trip to Bagan. And in 2017 when we returned we took an overnight trip to Mandalay so spent no time in Yangon at all.
Time to sleep and then get up to leave at 8:45 for another exploration of Yangon.