Myanmar is referred to as the ‘last frontier of untouched Asia’ as it boasts rugged mountain terrain, wide sweeping plains dotted with glittering golden pagodas, floating village communities and a 2,000 km long coastline…unfortunately it also has terrible roads, dirty streets and smog.
Buddhism is the dominant religion with over 85%of the 54 million population being followers of this faith. The monastery is the traditional focal point of village life and every Buddhist boy is expected to spend time as a monk. Buddhist girls are also able to be novices for a short time, sometimes for only a week or two, and they wear pink robes instead of the red robes of the monks.
Sunday 8th – We started the day with breakfast at the outside area of the Colonnade as usual but were soon driven inside by the incessant noise of the pile-driving (apparently they are building a new dock here in Thilawa/Rangoon) …three days of this noise and we might all go mad…nice place to park Captain!!
Late afternoon we left to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda…the coach journey there was dire, the roads are bad and the traffic even worse but it was an eye opener, for an hour, to see how the Burmese live outside of the main towns. There was so much plastic rubbish left everywhere I’m sure some enterprising local could make a fortune if they opened a recycling plant.
But the Pagoda is unbelievable. It was built over 2,500 years ago and towers 325 feet above the green city space of Yangon and is reached by huge stairways decorated with mythological animals, but we took the elevator to the top – not so interesting maybe but definitely quicker. The central Pagoda is covered with over 9,000 solid gold plates and the top is encrusted with over 7,000 diamonds, rubies and sapphires…but we couldn’t see the jewels as the structure was covered in some sort of bamboo wrapping…pity…but we did see photo’s of them in an exhibition pavilion.
We all had to remove our shoes (and socks) and walk around the site barefoot…knees, midriffs and shoulders also had to be covered. There were so many spires, shrines and pavilions around the site that we took over an hour just to walk around and explore. We were lucky enough to see the site in the late afternoon sun and also as the sun set which gave the whole place a different aspect. As the sun set everyone lit a candle for luck and the effect of all the burning candles around the base of the Pagoda was fantastic.
Then it was back down in the elevator to wash our feet (they were so dirty) and reclaim our shoes before the coach journey back to the ship which took ages due to the traffic jams. So glad to be back onboard Sojourn…our home away from home.
Monday 9th – After yesterday there was no way we were leaving the comfort of the ship, even with the noise from the pile-driving – actually you could hardly hear it on the pool deck (or I’ve gone deaf!!).
But a lot of our friends left early this morning for a flight to either Bagan (and it’s 2,000 temples spread over 15 square miles of countryside, best seen from a hot air balloon) or Mandalay (known as the ‘city of gold’ it is the spiritual heartland of the nation, with 150 Buddhist monasteries and over 70,000 monks there). Hope they all get back safely by tomorrow.
Tuesday 10th – Another day onboard for us…private pool day …my favourite time. By 16:00 everyone was back safe and sound from their travels with lots of stories and photo’s to share. Glad they had a super time but this is not a place I would like to visit again. We had sail away drinks at the Sky bar with Irene and Alan but the smog was beginning to drift in so we didn’t sit out for long…I don’t want that cough back again.
Clocks go forward half an hour tonight so we are now back to being 7 hours ahead of UK time again.