Heritage appreciation tour, or adventures and misadventures in Vietnam and Myanmar (Part 3)

After an amazing lunch at a local restaurant recommended by Mr. Tam (he used to work there and his wife still works there as a manager), we headed to the Hanoi International Airport for Yangoon. Incidentally, I no longer remember the name of the restaurant but it was really good! It was full house when we got there. When we finished our lunch, there was still a long queue waiting to be seated. Maybe it was a matter of “lost in translation” or perhaps I was not paying attention to details when Mr. Tam mentioned the name of the restaurant.

It was a relatively smooth flight save our descent to Yangon. Slowly, the journey was rough. Its the season of rain in Yangon as we were informed by the captain of our flight! Prior to take-off, we were warned that our flight could even be delayed due to the heavy rains and thunderstorms at Yangon. Still, we arrived safely.

Gladly, our airport transfer was waiting for us outside the arrival area. I was so overwhelmed to see my name spelled correctly, for the first time. Often, people mistakenly remove my first name “Sir,” assuming it was an honorific title. However, my brother’s was mispelled – instead of the “Y” in Loyd, it was spelled with an “R.” He was Lord Jayril. At least for once we felt a sense of entitlement in the literal sense of the term. I guess my first name was thought to be a very important title and I believe my brother’s mispelled name was also misread as a title. We were flattered by the very kind gesture of the driver: we were addressed “yes, your highness” until we reached the hotel. 

When we exited the hiway and about to enter the city center, there was something illuminating from afar. It was as if something was on fire. I dont know how best to describe the illunination – but it was like a spectacular yellow lights illuminating some dancing shadows. As we came closer, the fire turned from yellow to bright gold. As if we were watching a television show where the presentation of gold is sexy and seductive. Both me and my brother gasped wow. 

The driver saw our amazement. “Shwedagon Pagoda! Center in city!”

We really were in Myanmar! My head was speaking out loud. I will talk more about the Shwedagon Pagoda later.

Anyhow, it was time to rest. After having dinner at a nearby cafe, we prepared for the Bago trip slated the next day.

Day 3: Bago! 

Yangon was a misbooked flight. We wanted to see Bagan. It was too late when I realized the nearest airport en route Bagan was Mandalay. But anyhow, Bago was an interesting alternative not because I am justifying my stupudity. Bago was indeed really amazing. 

This ancient Mon city is a two-hour drive north of Yangon. Our local guide, whose name I also do not remember was truly amazing! We were picked up at 8 am at the lobby of our hotel (we stayed at Hotel G, amazing staff members and amazing rooms!). Remarkably, my brother immediately noticed the white markings on the face of our guide. It was like a make-up, a foundation similar to how some individuals conceal their facial bumps or whatsoever. Curiously, we observed that our driver had the same “make-up” on his face. 

“Thanaka!” she said.

“Thanaka?”

“Burmese version of sun-screen!” She said. “And it is from a tree.” 

“Will we be able to try it?” My brother asked. 

“You want?”

Of course we wanted! It was an educational trip, right? Ahaha!

The Taukkyan War Cemetery (SAPT)
The centermost marker of the cemtery (SAPT)
The beautiful landscape (SAPT)
The pillars (SAPT)
Posing with my brother (SAPT)

Our first stop was the Taukkyan War Cemetery, a cemetery for the allied soldiers who died in some battles in Myanmar (then Burma), especially from 1941 to 1945 (during the World War II). The cemetery is in the village of Taukkyan, about 25 kilometres (16 mi) north of Yangon on Pyay Road, which I think is a national road.

The log book states that the cemetery houses the graves of 6,374 soldiers (plus 52 soldiers who died in Burma during the World War I), and memorial pillars (The Rangoon Memorial) with the names of over 27,000 Commonwealth soldiers. There are 867 graves that contain the remains of unidentified soldiers.

The cemetery was beautifully landscaped. We were told that several pre-nuptials were shot there. 

When we arrived at the ancient city, the first stop was the site of the Kyaikpun Shrine, home to the Four Seated Buddha shrine – 90 ft (27 m) statue depicting four Buddhas namely Kakusandha, Konagamana, Kassapa and of course Gautama. All four are seated back to back to four directions. The people attribute the shrine to have been built by King Migadippa of Bago in the 7th Century AD (popular lore) and renovated by King Dhammazedi in the 15th century AD.

Nonetheless, the very first activity we had at this site of interest was to put thanaka on our faces. 

Thanaka (SAPT)
One of the 90 ft Buddhas (SAPT)
The wishing bell (SAPT)
Two sides of the Kyaikpun (SAPT)

One of the stalls was selling an entire stalk/branch of the Thanaka tree. One side of me was thinking of climate change especially since, selling of it involved cutting a tree. While the other side was very earnest and excited to try it. In the end, excitement overruled. Thank goodness, i learned that first, no one is cutting of an entire tree for the thanaka. Burmese only cut branches of it. Second, the thanaka tree is not an endangered species and Myanmar people are still planting more of them. 

Anyhow, we also learned that the traditional clothes of the Burmese is called the longyi, a long sarong-like fabric that is worn by both males and females. According to a travel blog known as legal nomad: “a sarong-like tube of fabric worn by both genders, they are called paso when worn by men and htamein by women. Throughout my time in the country everyone merely referred to the gender-neutral term “longyi”. The patterns differ by gender as well: for men, a thin plaid or woven stripe, tied by pulling the fabric tight against the back and tying an elegant knot in front. For women, anything goes: beautiful, bright batik patterns, traditional woven zigazags called acheiq, stripes or flowers.” 

We had to buy our respective longyi. Both me and my brother were wearing shorts. The places we were going to visit such as the Kyaikpun are places of worships. We were strangers, we had to respect their ways of life.

Anyhow, not knowing the difference between a male’s and a female’s, both me and my brother chose designs that apparently were for females to the amusement of the vendors. Well, the designs were really sparkling beautiful and at least we had made them smile amidst the low number of visitors that time due to heavy rainfall. 

After donning on our traditional Burmese make-up and clothing, we were in front of the magnificent 90 ft buddha. The complex wowed us especially we were allowed to ring the wishing bell. My brother started his and then my turn. We were told that if we were able to wake up the sleeping buddha up in the nirvana, our wishes would be granted. What was my wish? I cannot reveal. It was a secret between me and Buddha! But once it was granted, I might just inform you here! 

A few kilometers from the Kyaikpun was the Shwemawdaw Pagoda, which as our guide mentioned, shwemawdaw literally means golden god.

No words could express my fascination with it. It was grand. I wondered if the pagoda would have a beautiful impact at nighttime: “Sure, it does” said our guide. 

Grand staircase leading to the Shwemawdaw Pagoda (SAPT)
The Royal Umbrella that fell off from the top of the pagoda during the 1917 earthquake (SAPT)
Spectacular temples on top of the hill where the pagoda stands (SAPT)
We were wishing for good fortune! (SAPT)
Main entrance to the Shwemawdaw Pagoda from the National Road (SAPT)

It served as a beacon – like a lighthouse in the sea or ocean to guide ships and boats at nighttime. Like the Shwedagon Pagoda mentioned earlier, which I will talk in details in a latter and final post about Mynmar, it was built on the highest elevation of the city.

Our guide informed us that Bago was once upon a time a very isolated city, an ancient capital of the Pagan Empire. Back then, it was used as a marker for travelers signifying hat they were in the centermost point of the capital.

The main entrance was a labyrinth of history!

Pictures, both legendary and historical are narrating how the pagoda was built. While oral narratives are important aspects of a community identity, I had hoped the painter separated the legend from the historical. But nonetheless, who am I to complain? The pagoda and its story are the people’s. 

The pagoda also suffered intensely from natural disaster such as earthquake. In 1917, the Old Royal Umbrella (topmost portion of the pagoda) collapsed. Today, the huge stone served as a memorial of the strong earthquake. It has since then become a reminder that the forces of nature are stronger than the forces of men. Myanmar was also under some armed unrests but these man-made sufferings never made the pagoda stumble and fall to the grounds. 

After an hour and a half marveling around the pagoda, we were brought to the former official residence of King Bayinnaung  (Kanbawzathadi Palace), which, as most ancient palaces in this region of the world, is covered and decorated in gold! 

The marvelous palace (SAPT)
The golden pillars of the palace (SAPT)
“Original pillars” found by the archaeologists during the initial excavation (SAPT)

Built in 1566, the palace burned to the ground in 1599. After archaeologists discovered the actual site, the palace was reconstructed from 1990 to 1992.

The palace was so “photogenic.” During our visit, two couples were shooting their pre-nuptials at the site. One couple were even not Burmese but from another country in the Southeast Asian region and the other are from Pyu, another ancient city and one of the current two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Myanmar. 

My brother and I did our own photoshoots. His were more serious and mine were more quirky (LOL).

After a quick lunch at a local restaurant, we drove to our final destination at Bago: the shrine of the Shwethalyaung Buddha. Maybe because we were already tired of walking and walking and walking the entire day, the final site on our itinerary was no longer welcomed with much excitement and enthusiasm. Or perhaps, my subconscious was telling me, you have seen the same image in Bangkok – just rest in the car.

But i overcame this laziness. It was, after all, a different image versus the one in Bangkok. Bago’s full of details – very intricate baroque-like ornaments, making it grander and more spectacular than the reclining Buddha in Bangkok, which, as I remember very distinctly, carved in gold-plated materials. However, Bangkok’s has its own charm, so to speak!

The gleeful lying Buddha (SAPT)
Just look at the details of those feet (SAPT)

The day ended with . . . the pouring of rain. It was a blessing in disguise that after our quick visit at the Kyuikpun Shrine, the sun started to greet us happily – as if enthusiastic about our visit in Bago. I fell asleep on our way back to Yangon. My brother woke me up upon reaching the hotel who remarked “You did not see how candles illuminated Shwedagon Pagoda, kuya!”

Regretful about it, but I was really too tired to be awake the entire travel.

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