30 July, 2017
10:30 am (local time – Myanmar is later than Vietnam 30 minutes) – We arrived Yangon where used to be the capital of Burma until 2008. It was raining outside. My friend said this time is rainy season here.
Although hotel booking was done and we also received response from the hotel, we could not check in because we did not get a confirmation from them. Hence, we went around and got in Ocean Pearl Inn on Botatuang Pagoda Road. It is a small hotel but OK for backpackers like us. The price was lower than travel season ($23/duel room) with breakfast (toasts and eggs always). The room is equipped two beds, one TV (only 1 Myanmar channel), bathroom with hot water, a fridge, and an air conditioner.
1:30 pm: We wandered and looked for something for lunch. I noticed a clean and small restaurant and we entered. A lady, I guessed she is the owner, asked us for order. When she knew we’re foreigners, she introduced Shan Noddle and Mohinga – traditional food. We preferred Shan noddle or Shan khao-soy. It’s so nice of her when she invited us a small bowl of Mohinga as a present. I finished my Shan noddle and Mohinga in a very short time, because I was so hungry and also it’s so delicious. We paid 1.200 kyat/each. A must you have to do in Myanmar is enjoying Shan khao-soy, Mohinga and samosa.
Then we paid a short visit at Bogyoke market, a major market in the heart of Yangon. This place is similar to Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, which means you can find many wonder things here and you have to bargain as much as you can. Particularly, you could find thousands stores selling marbles, gemstones, pearls, gold or luxury jewelries.
3:00pm: After enjoying 2 lattes, we took a taxi from the market to Shwedagon Pagoda with 2000kyat. The pagoda is one of the most famous in Burma. Here, there were many important events happened. President Barack Obama also visited Shwedagon Pagoda once. Burmese people possess a strong belief in Buddhism. Moreover, this pagoda stores relic of Buddha.
Pagodas in Myanmar, usually, have 4 gates appropriately 4 directions: South, North, West and East. Therefore, pagodas randomly become centers. And there is a Buddha image at each direction. Shwedagon is an example:
- Eastern: Kakusanda Buddha Image (Phật Câu Lưu Tôn)
- Southern: Kawnagammana Buddha Image (Phật Câu Na Hàm)
- Western: Kassapa Buddha Image (Phật Đại Ca Diếp)
- Northern: Gautama Buddha Image (Phật Thích Ca).
Inside Shwedagon, you easily find the Naungdawgyi pagoda which is situated in the north-east corner. Its height is 150 feet (~46 metres). As hair relics obtained from Gautama Buddha were enshrined in it by the older (Naungdawgyi) of the two traders, Taphussa, it was called the Naungdawgy Pagoda.
People in Burma spend most their time in Pagodas. They can pray, read sutras, take a rest, eat, and sleep there. So I acted as local people here. I took a rest after walking around and observed around.
One hour later, we took a taxi with 3.000 kyat to Botutuang pagoda which also obtains the hair relic of Gautama Buddh, but it is smaller than Shwedagon. We had dinner at 5:00pm, then we had homemade yogurt. Burmese eat a lot of yogurt, and eggs.
31 July, 2017
I was waken up by the voices of crows. There are many crows and doves in Yangon. We wandered the downtown to experience the morning in this old capital. My friend bought 200 kyat of pea. Well, I do not think it is pea because it tastes so different. It is sweet and soft.
After we had breakfast, a taxi drove us to a big bus station (1 hour from the hotel to the station). From the station, we kept going moving on a big bus to Mandalay with 23.000 kyat. But you have to book the bus first. It’s 700 km from Yangon to Mandalay, so we departed at 9:00am, and arrived at 5:30pm.
Royal Guest House is a small but lovely hotel which is on 25th Street intersected 83rd Street. It’s hard to get a room here because it’s very cheap but so beautiful. A duel room takes $18 with hot water, wifi and bathroom inside. You also get $7 or $8/room without bathroom.
We wander around the Mandalay Palace of Mindo King around 8:00pm. Then we bought some ice-cream from Nylon Ice-cream store. It seems that this is the most famous ice-cream store here because I saw many people came in and out.
1 – 2 August, 2017 – Mandalay
Shan khao-soy was my breakfast. Then my friend hired a motorbike with 12.000kyat. We rode to Mandalay Hill – a historic place.
The dominant natural feature of Mandalay is its 790 ft (240 m) Mandalay Hill, which towers above the city and the flat plain below.
Virtually all visitors and pilgrims to Mandalay either climb the 1,729 steps of the covered southern stairway with its magnificent guardian chinthe (half-lion, half-dragon) at the entry, use stairways on the other sides or use easier means and take the escalator, cars or buses to the top.
From its top, and from several way stations along the ascent, one has a magnificent panorama of the city, the old Royal Palace and Fortress, as well as the Ayeyarwady river and the distant Shan Hills.
As Mandalay hill looks like a natural tower, you can enjoy the panoramic views of Mandalay and its environs from there. Sagaing Hill, Ayeyarwady River and Mingun in the west and Yankin hill, YaeTa Khun Hill in the east can be enjoyed with pleasure.In the evening, the platform of Mandalay Hill’s Su Taung Pyi Pagoda is crowded with tourists and devotees who record the beauty of sunset.If you visit Mandalay, the ancient capital of Myanmar, we invite you to enjoy the natural beauty of Mandalay hill not very far from the capital and to pay homage the prominent pagodas there.
The story is told that when Gautama Buddha and his disciple Ananda visited the hill, the Buddha stretched out his hand to the plain below and prophesied that a great city and religious center would be founded at its base.
Here I tried thanaka, a special beauty method of Burmese women.
Our next stop was Kuthodaw Pagoda, on the foot of Mandalay Hill. This pagoda contains the world’s largest book. It was built by King Mindon in 1857 with 729 marble slabs inscribed with Buddhist teaching and 1 marble slab with introduction.
King Mindon ordered the “book” to be made. The works started in 1860 and took 8 years to complete. The texts were copied from ancient manuscripts written on dried palm leaf, the letters chiselled out of the stone and inlaid with gold leaf. Each marble slab measuring 153 centimeters tall and 107 centimeters wide is enshrined in a structure called Dhamma ceti or kyauksa gu in Burmese, “gu” meaning cave.
The white shrines are lined in rows around the complex, with corridors in between wide enough to walk through. Each Dhamma ceti houses a single slab behind openable gates. The shrines have an entrance on all four sides with elaborately decorated arches over them and are topped with a hti, an ornamental spire. One more slab (no 730) tells the story of how the world’s largest book came about.
Then we moved around Mandalay market which is very similar to Vietnamese markets.
We chose U Bein Bridge, the longest teakwood bridge of the world as our next visit. The construction was started in 1849 and finished in 1851. Myanmar construction engineers used traditional methods of scaling and measuring to build the bridge. According to historic books about U Bein Bridge, Myanmar engineers made scale by counting the footsteps. The bridge was built in curve shape in the middle to resist the assault of wind and water. The main teak posts were hammered into lake bed seven feet deep. The other ends of the posts were shaped conically to make sure that rain water fall down easily. The joints were intertwined.
Originally, there were 984 teak posts supporting the bridge and two approach brick bridges. Later the two approach brick bridges were replaced by wooden approach bridge. There are four wooden pavilions at the same interval along the bridge. By adding posts of two approach bridges and four pavilions, the number of posts amounts to 1089.
Very near to U Bein Bridge is Mahagandayon Monastery, the largest monastery in Myanmar with thousands of monks studying there.
The last visit in Mandalay was Maha Muni Pagoda. It is told that the Buddha gave a permission to local people to sculpt a statue of him. Unlike Vietnam, people visit pagodas or holy places on holidays or festivals, Burmese pagodas are crowded even on normal days.
3 – 6 August, 2017 – Pyin Oo Lwin
One and a half of hours to Pyin Oo Lwin from Mandalay with 6.000kyat/person by taxi was our best option. Pin Oo Lwin is a highland in the middle of Myanmar. It is like Da Lat of Vietnam. The weather is cool and comfortable. We spent 4 nights in Royal Park View Hotel with $25/duel room. This is a 4-star hotel so the equipment so much better than Ocean Pearl Inn in Yangon.
The first place we visited was Peik Chin Myaung Cave which located 23 km from Pyin Oo Lwin on Laoshio Road. It is a limestone cave estimated between 230 million and 310 million years old. The long cave is filled with so many Buddha images at every corners and niches.
We spent all day at National Kandawgyi Gardens, on Nandar Road after paying $5 for entrance. From the brochure, it is said that:
National Kandawgyi Gardens has an area of 437 acres (177 hectares), including natural forest, tiers of lakes and recreational lawns plus alluring landscapes and scenic views.
In 1915, Mr. Alex Rodger, the forest research officer implemented with the aid of Lady Cuffe, noted botanist from knew Botanical Gardens, London, for the transformation of land into lawns, converting natural forest, tiers of lakes and gardens as a botanical garden. In 1917, the Directorate of Forestry declared this 240 acres as a state owned botanical gardens.
I like the objectives of this place:
National Kandawgyi Gardens is established
- To be a recreational garden for local and foreign visitors.
- To educate people to appreciate the value and significant of the trees, forest and environment.
- To set up a natural laboratory for botanists, flower enthusiasts and researchers.
- To conserve rare and endangered species of flower and trees.
- To set up an attractive Eco-tour center providing recreation and Knowledge for local and foreign eco-tourists and to promote eco-tourism in Myanmar.
7 – 9 August, 2017 – Bagan
5 hours one the bus with 13.000kyat from Pyin Oo Lwin to Bagan was a little terrible to me because of bad streets. But it was no problem when I arrived May Kha Lar hotel. Bagan is a small province but it is very famous thanks to Bagan Archaeological Zone. However, before reaching Bagan, you have to pay 25.000kyat, and receive a ticket. The ticket should be with you all the time you are in Bagan.
There are thousands of stone and brick monuments and monasteries with different sizes in the Bagan Archaeological Zone.
You can hire an e-bike with 5.000kyat/day or a bike from 1.000-2.000/day, or a horse cart with 12.000/day for wandering around this holy zone. We experience 3 types transportation mentioned above to the zone every day. The further and deeper you enter, the more you feel peaceful and comfortable.
At the time we stayed in Bagan, we enjoyed food, atmosphere, environment, and people. Especially, you should buy a small petrified wood from this place. This is a kind of fossil, then people here believe that it would be very lucky if you’re wearing a piece of petrified wood.
The Architecture of monuments in the Bagan Archaeological Zone is different from pagodas in Yangon and other places in Myanmar. Most of them were built by brick, and some by stone. Here, you can find Buddha everywhere.
10 – 11 August, 2017
We were back to Yangon one more night, and took a flight to Vietnam. We always spent the last day as shopping time. This is our only last chance to buy souvenirs and things we like. But usually, we do not buy so many things.