Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Temple and Train

With the temperature potentially soaring to 36C high at this time of year, I tried to avoid being out and about on Yangon streets during day time at all cost. And thanks to the travel tip I got from my friend A, I started my day of sightseeing early, really early – by that I meant I woke up at 4:30pm and left the hotel before the sun came out. My first stop was the Shwedagon Pagoda complex which houses Yangon’s most famous landmark of the gold-plated giant pagoda viewable even from miles away. I figured by getting there early I could avoid some of the day-time tourist crowd, beat the heat, plus maybe I could find a good spot for some sunrise pictures.

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The taxi dropped me at the south entrance of the pagoda complex, and then it’s a quick 5 minute walk up the stairs in bare feet, passing through the array of stores selling souvenirs and pilgrimage items (flowers, candle, flags, etc) along the way. No shoes or socks were allowed on the ground, so that’s another reason to go either in early morning or evening – last thing you want is to walk bare-footed on the marble floor in scotching heat in the middle of the day. I was surprised the ground was fairly packed when I arrived before 6am, right before sunrise time of 6:20am. Almost all of them were locals – monks and nuns in their special robes or devout Buddhist believers walking around for devotions, chanting and giving offerings to the many Buddha statues and pagodas.

From an architecture and archaeological point of view, the buildings were gorgeous. The Shewdagon Pagoda was said to be first built thousands of years ago with the current structure re-built in the 14th Century. It’s over 100m high and covered entirely in real gold from top to bottom. Surrounding the main pagodas were other smaller ones, along with numerous Buddha statues in various forms. There’s also eight different posts indicating 8 different days of the week in Burmese calendar (Wednesday was split into “2 days” to make up the number) – each posts has a Buddha statue and the guardian animal for each day, and pilgrims will stop to worship at different posts (by giving offerings and splashing water on the statues) depending on the day they were born.

It was truly a photographer’s heaven with such a collection of interesting structures, and I did take some nice sunrise pictures as I caught the right time. I spent around an hour on the ground, and left just when the pagoda ground became crowded with more visitors coming in. That’s the perfect time for me to head back to my hotel for breakfast.

Many Yangon travel guide recommended riding on the Circular Railway line as one of the must-do activity, but the thought of spending 3 long hours to go through the entire line in the packed train without air-conditioning didn’t sit very well with me, literally, so I decided to hop on to the train for only a few stops.

The old sayings of “it’s about the journey, not the destination” held particularly true to riding on the circular railway line, which started and ended at the Yangon Central Railway Station, making stops at 39 different stations along the way, going through the Yangon suburbs to the north. While the scenery was okay – at least for the short segment I travelled – what’s more interesting was the opportunity to observe the daily lives of local people on the train. The car of the train is almost as much a mini moving market as a commuter ride – at every stop and during the ride, there’s a constant flow of people holding their goods to sell, from fruits and vegetables, bottled water and juices, to cooked food and more. One could easily do all their grocery shopping just from their seat.

The train only took off once an hour from the Central Station and as I mentioned, took over 3 hours to make one complete round, but there’s plenty of space in the train station to wait around and rest under the heat, but once the train pulled into the station, it’s best to go up and grab your seat (it’s free seating, of course). The ride was slow but leisurely, with the train making very brief stop at every stations – usually just a matter of seconds for people to hop in and out – before moving on. I got on at the Central Station and off at Hledan stop and made a quick stop at the popular Heldan Market not too far away. To me it’s a fun afternoon well-spent doing nothing and just a lot of people watching. Oh, it only costs 200 kyats, or 30 US cents per ride - one of the best things 200 kyats can buy anywhere, I reckon.

More pictures from my Myanmar journey: https://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/albums/72157694130625305

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