Golden Memories

Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar

I am back from my trip to Yangon, Myanmar and Bangkok, Thailand! It was an excellent experience, but exhausting due to the length of stay and the all the events that took place: spending time with my fiance, meeting all kinds of family and new relatives, the engagement ceremony and touring the city sites.

It was quite a culture shock to see firsthand how different people’s daily lives are compared to my own. I have much greater appreciation for their difficulties and feel closer to where my family originates from.

My travel tidbits:

Weather: Very hot and humid even in November. Typically +90F and 80% humidity makes for a very long day. You can never be comfortable outside or inside without A/C. However, the locals hardly sweat as they are totally acclimated. You can tell who the tourists are with the soaked shirts and dripping faces. Bangkok was a lot cooler and tolerable to walk outside, but still hot.

Taxi: Pedestrians have no right of way! You have to really watch traffic crossing streets to not get run over. You are not safe even when riding in a taxi for fear of running over or hitting a pedestrian. Inside, most cars don’t have windows handles to roll up or down, door handles, and seat-belts are ripped out? The speedometer doesn’t work, but who really needs all that extra information anyways. You can’t drive fast with all the bumps, potholes, and people in the middle of the street. Not to mention the horrible traffic at night. Good thing is the fare is incredibly cheap and most of the time you arrive quickly at your destination.

Food: OK, some places are not that clean. Just don’t dare look in the kitchen or stare too hard at what you are eating. Just enjoy it for what its worth and the experience. With that in mind, I enjoyed the many different kinds available there: Burmese, Indian, Thai, Chinese, and pseudo-American. Even the fried chicken at KSS tasted good..but did leave me with a bit of tummy-ache.

Hotel: I stayed at Central Hotel in Yangon which is located right in downtown. Close to the Scott Market and plenty of vendors for shopping. Room is decent, but management kind of skimps out on replenishment of soap, water, and other bathroom necessities. Rates are cheap so can’t really complain. But the noise from the room was tough on sleeping since right below is an alley with vendors talking loudly.

Goods: You can find a lot of nice souvenirs to bring back including books, maps, carvings, paintings, clothes, etc. I picked up some nice stone paintings for cheap that are different from anything I saw in Bangkok. Mostly bootleg stuff is available in Bangkok like DVDs, watches (fake Rolex’s), and other cheapies that will break within a month of returning.

Internet: Totally censored and monitored in Myanmar. Forget trying to access Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo. The local cyber-cafes use proxy servers to circumvent the government blocks, but even then most sites don’t connect or loads up incredibly slow. It was very frustrating since you can’t email anyone outside. I just gave up and waited until I got to Bangkok to check mail.

Sites: I was most impressed with seeing Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The sheer size and reflection of the real gold coated pagoda catches your eye immediately. There are so many statues of the Buddha adorned and decorated with care, that you can really feel the devotion from the people praying. No shoes or socks allowed, so you have to walk barefoot. Only problem is that I visited during mid-day and the tiles were smoking hot. Better to go morning or late evening. At night, the pagoda glows with a brilliant golden orange color that can be seen for miles around.

Karaweik Palace in Kandawgyi Park: Actually a boat turned into a restaurant, I was little disappointed to see nothing of real interest inside. Just a big banquet hall that can be used for wedding reception and other special events. The view from the boat is nice looking out into the lake in Kandawgyi Park. There is also a small zoo with even Himalayan brown bears that you can see elsewhere in the park. Most people there I saw were young couples sitting on benches or walking together. It is a romantic place to visit if you need someplace quiet and scenic, but still situated in the city.

National Races Village: Located in Tharketa Township, it covers quite an area. I was surprised how big it was and didn’t get to see everything. It gives you the sense of how each of the ethnic races in Myanmar live including examples of their dwellings and tools of their trade (like a simple cotton weaving machine). In the middle of the village is a lake where you can ride in a swan shaped boat for a small fee. Bring lots of water as you will be walking a lot inside the park.

Since I stayed mostly in the city, I didn’t get chance to see other sites of interest like Mandalay, Inle Lake, and the Gilden Boulder. Next visit will include those.

In Bangkok, the Floating Market was refreshing to checkout riding on speedboats through river canals. Everything is heavily aimed at tourists to buy souvenirs, so the boat stops every so often at each vendor for you to browse and buy if wanted to. At night, Patpong is what you expect to see. Lots of street vendors who are aggressive and try to gain your interest in their goods. Unfortunately, they don’t take ‘no’ for an answer so you have to be really be firm as I found out. “NO, I don’t want to get a damn massage!!”

I only stayed a few nights in Bangkok, but that was enough for me. I was ready to end my trip and go home after more than 3 weeks of travel in Myanmar and Thailand. The heat and humidity was wearing me down badly and the cold Seattle rain sounded more appealing everyday. I had an exciting journey and the memories will last a lifetime. The best part from the trip was meeting and getting to know the people and seeing my family.

I have to give special thanks to my cousin Mimi and her family for making me feel right at home and helping with the engagement ceremony. Their hospitality really made my stay as comfortable as possible for which I am grateful for. It was great to finally meet everyone in person and I hope to see them again in the future.

Pic credits: My Uncle George and father. They all got mixed in with mine when downloaded from the cameras, but all look stunning.

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