Thursday, September 3, 2009

Shwedagon Pagoda

(PICTURE: Shwedagon at night.)

As you might have figured out, I was not very impressed with Yangon. However, there was one saving grace to the city -- Shwedagon Pagoda. In a country where there are probably hundreds of thousands of pagodas, Shwedagon surely stands out.

Supposedly the stupa was build 2500 years ago, although that is up for debate. Regardless of when it was actually built, it was definitely rebuilt many times in its recent history. Apparently Myanmar is a hot spot for earthquakes and it seems that every stupa throughout the country has been affected/destroyed by them. No matter where you go in Myanmar it is always the same story: "This ___ was built ____ and rebuilt in 19_ _. "

I was told that the coolest time of day to head to Shwedagon is around sunset. Huyen and I went up to the pagoda and were told that it cost $5 per foreigner. I had ten dollars with me but only six of them were flawless enough for the ticket office. I paid for one ticket with American dollars and the other with Kyat. The ticket office blatantly rips off anyone using Kyat and charged us 8,000 Kyat. The standard exchange rate is $1 = 1,000 Kyat. They basically charged us an extra three dollars because we were using their crappy currency.

The pagoda and the surrounding area did not disappoint. The cool thing about the pagoda is that it is almost smack in the middle of the city. You can basically see it from wherever you are in Yangon. The uncool thing about the pagoda is how many unofficial tourists approach you offering their services for $5. Actually they're not that blunt about it. Basically it goes like this:
A random man casually approaches...
Random Man: "You know there is a 75 carat diamond on top of the stupa."
Me: "That's interesting." (I said that the first time. After I said, "So I've been told.")
Random Man: "The big stupid is called little brother. The one over there is called big brother. That is little brother. That is big brother. Little brother. Big brother."
Me: "That's intersting." (Again, I said that the first time. After I said, "So I've been told.")
Random Man: "I can tell you more for $5."
Me: "No thanks. We're just gonna walk around on our own."
Random Man: "There are no tourists this season. I need money."
Me: "I'm sorry to hear that."
Random Man: "I have a wife and five children and 11 grandchildren."
Me: "Wow, that's a lot. I'm sorry though, we're just gonna walk around on our own."

This conversation basically happened four times. I've come to the realization in my travels that I'm pretty content just learning the history through my guide book. I often don't understand things when locals try to explain them. Guidebooks like Lonely Planet do a good job of telling you the essentials while keeping things interesting.

(PICTURE: Me and my favorite tour guide.)

Anyway, here's some cool pictures of the stupa:
(PICTURE: People praying at sunset.)

(PICTURE: Men doing construction.)


a fan who happens to be your mom said...

I think that Lonely Planet should hire you.

Huyen said...

It is also the first lesson for me when I travel outside of Vietnam: All the strange people aproaching you always try to sell some thing or to get money from you! At the beginning I just thought: it is so kind of him/her to tell us about this/that....