Celebrations in Yangon

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Some times in life, it’s necessary to splurge, to treat yourself or loved one to something that is ridiculous, luxurious, and extravagant. For us, being denied the beach for the end of our days and being forced back on the bus, the time had come. We really deserved it. Yvonne surprised me with getting a room at the Savoy Hotel, a gorgeous place, one of the renovated mansions that you here about. There are two major classical colonial hotels in Yangon, Savoy and the strand. We arrived to a nice long hall way filled with beautiful hand made antiques, musical instruments, furniture, and mirrors. The staff were wonderful and welcomed us in right away, offering us a cocktail and fruit while they set up our reservation. We even got a cheaper price because we went on their internet and set it up. The manager there was amazing, asking us any of our needs. There was a large courtyard with a pool, surrounded by round tables with the most gorgeous hand made umbrellas. Every inch of this hotel was done beautifully, with stained woodwork, Myanmar details, and staff.

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Our room was more of an apartment then a room, overlooking pool. It was the nicest we had stayed in on our whole trip, with a huge king size bed, large flat screen tv, and desk. That night we had a lavish dinner and appetizers, my entre was duck, a few bottles of wine, and then dessert after. Again the restaurant was spotless, and had great atmosphere. We took a wander around at night to check out the Shwedagon Pagoda, but then headed back to enjoy the bar because it was closed.

There we met a young Burmese Lawyer who lived in London with his wife. He was back for business, but was eager to come back permanently. He spoke openly about all the change, and how excited they were to be part of it. They both made really good salaries in London, and knew they would have to take huge cuts to move back here. But he felt now was the time for real change in the country. We had a few birthday drinks that night and ended up swimming in the pool. It was a perfect Birthdays eve.

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The next morning the manager, Thisli, knocked on our door. She surprised me with a personalized birthday cake. Then she and her staff sang happy Birthday. It was such a nice touch. Really, I cannot say enough about how awesome this hotel is, and the manager was the nicest woman in the world.

After we checked out Joshua picked us up. He had a day planned of all kinds of exciting things to do for my Birthday, and I was thrilled. We arrived to the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is a huge golden stupa in the center of Yangon. It is as iconic to Yangon as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Even more importantly, it is the center of the spiritual life of Yangon.

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A pair of huge golden lions guard the entrance, soaring thirty feet above our heads. This place is insanely beautiful, with a massive central dome soaring up in the sky in the center of a massive complex. The central Stupa is just one part of it, because circulating out of it like the spokes of a bike are numerous other temples, each so unique that alone they would bring in throngs of tourist. But here, they are just spokes of the wheel to the golden Stupa. Being a Buddhist religious sight, you had to go shoeless. Never a problem for us, but lets not forget where we were, Burma, in the hottest time of the year. The entire courtyard was marble and granite tiles, and they were scalding. We ran from shadow to shadow, dancing in macabre dance that was probably as painful to watch as it was to experience. My feet were literally smoking, it was like walking across coals.

I could try to go into detail about each of the pagodas we saw, the Buddhist deities they were worshipping, and how much gold was on each. But I would probably bore you and make my self-look stupid trying to explain. So I will stick with some really cool basic highlights and let the pictures talk. For example, to have your wish granted, many worshippers will take gold leaf and adhere it to the Buddha. And let me tell you, there was gold everywhere, so these folks have been busy. There was a massive bell that would be rung very rarely, but you could stick your head up in it. Talking about gold, just about everything was gold plated, jeweled, and ornate. Dragons and turtles, Buddha’s and deities, pillars and domes. Everything was “Bling Bling”, in such detail that the eyes were constantly dazzled. And did I mention, that not only was the main stupa was plated in solid gold, but there were all kinds of rare jewels and diamonds at the top.

Next we went to the central market to look for some souvenirs. It was a huge warehouse like building, filled with tight hallways filled with everything from shirts, dresses, handmaid crafts, laquerware, longjis, electric goods, and parasol’s, which happened to be our goal. Hand painted six-foot parasols for just 40 dollars, all in brilliantly vibrant colors. We decided to buy two, though if I could I would have bought a hell of a lot more. We still had four more countries to get these through, and they were six and eight foot umbrellas after all. But where there is a will, there is a way. They have become our signature piece of the trip, something that you look at and gives you happy feelings every time you see it, because it brings you back to your country.

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We drove to another section of Yangon where everyone knew Joshua. I stopped at a pub while Joshua had some things he needed to take care. I sat down, ordered a beer, and started drawing on napkins like I tend to do. Soon I was joking with the guys, toasting beers, and having a good time. We then stopped at Joshua’s house and I met his Wife’s sister and son. We had a traditional cocktail and then they gave me a wonderful gift. A Buddha statue that had little heads poking out of him which represents good luck and success in business. It was wonderful and I feel already has brought us luck.

Later that night we met up with Mr Souso, Joshua, and his wife to have a traditional dinner outside. I wore my lougnie that I picked up at the market earlier that day. Joshua had to show me how to wear it, and still I had no end of trouble of keeping it on. I have seen guys with their wallets, cellphones, and even an iPad in theirs, but mine never stayed up. If you were worried that it bothered me to wear what some might call a dress, all I have to say is grow up. It’s damn hot in Myanmar, and you need to keep some airflow in the cramped, hot, moist spots on your body. We had a fabulous meal, and I was really so sad to leave such great friends. I could not have asked for a better birthday in the world.

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Next day was our last in Myanmar, and I was so sad to leave. Joshua picked us up and took us to one of the most iconic images for Myanmar for me, mainly because it was on every beer and beer glass that I had seen since I got there. The floating Karaweik Palace. It was originally a massive pleasure palace that that would meander around the lake, having insanely crazy parties, wild orgies, and formal events. Now you can rent it out and have weddings on it or private parties. I have never seen a boat look so amazing, ornate, and regal as this one. We had one final lunch where we grilled meat on a little stove looking at the splendorous pleasure craft.

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Sad to say, but it was time to go to the airport. On the way we stopped at Joshua’s Aunts house to say good by. They were such wonderful people. Then we swung by Aung Suu Kyi’s house, which was just around the corner. The most influential person in all Myanmar, and we were spraying people with hoses for Thingyan a block away. That’s how great it is here, so connected. Of course we could not get inside but it was still cool to see where she lived.

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Then Joshua dropped us off at the airport. As always, things were not going too smoothly for our exit, there were no gate people at all. Just an empty counter, 2 hours before boarding. We had been told our flight was delayed, so we showed up at our new departure time. Thing is, in Myanmar, they close the gate at the original time. Makes no sense what so ever, but it is Myanmar. I tried to get every supervisor in the world, but was having no success. Then all of a sudden Joshua shows up, wearing an employee badge that was not his own, and asked us what was wrong. He then went to work, I assume yelling at airport staff, till someone finally showed up. He then escorted us to the plane. Did I not tell you how amazing this guy was. I can only end on this by saying, if you can get to Myanmar, then by all means GO. It’s our favorite country in all South East Asia.

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3 responses to “Celebrations in Yangon

  1. This is the most amazing story, and I think your friend Joshua is wonderful! You look great in the lougnie – and kudos for giving it a try! A friend of mine sent a sarong from Sri Lanka and I can relate to the challenge of making unfamiliar clothing work. I had to watch YouTube videos even to get started.

    But oh, the temples and palace and pagodas. Oh, I am astonished. I can’t even imagine being in the presence of all those sights (or hopping around on hot tiles and trying to take photos).

    • Thanks, yeah Joshua was awesome. The lougnie makes a very important appearance when we get back from the trip, but I will keep you in suspension on that one till I post the blog. Keep your eye out for the return trip or something along those lines.
      Most of the monks kept their cool walking around on the hot tiles, I guess it was their training, but it was seriously painful.

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