Sunday, March 28, 2010

Too early for a festival and disappointing Dalah: Yangon Rehashed



Number of days spent:  1

Where we stayed:  Ocean Pearl - $15/night with breakfast

Best Restaurant:  Du Du all the way – hence forth the Chinese BBQ stand that is actually next to the Du Du Children’s clothing store will always be called just DuDu.  We loved it the first time, and had to come back for more.  Tack on the fruit lady with the freshest papaya and watermelon in the country and we had a delicious three course meal for less than $6 for the two of us.  Monsoon is worth the visit for a look at an old colonial building but it was somewhat of a let down food wise.  Perhaps other dishes are better but give the Pad Thai a pass.

Best of:  Walking through the rare A/C in the Strand Hotel and the peaceful walk along Kandawgyi Lake.

Worst of:  The Shwedagon Festival that we were told repeatedly would be happening was not for another 5 days making this one day stop in Yangon virtually pointless.  

Most memorable:  Say’s the Dalah rickshaw driver in hushed tones to me, “next time leave wife at home…K30,000 all day with nice Myanmar girl,” that just about sums up our disappointment in the boat ride across the river.

Useful Tip:  For the best views of Shwedagon reflected in Kandawgyi Lake you have to go by the government owned Karaweik barge.  Strangely and annoyingly the park has one entrance fee and the small part, with the view, has a separate entrance and camera fee.  

After taking the morning flight from Inle and getting checked into our hotel, we hit the streets of Yangon once again.  We checked out the afore mentioned Monsoon restaurant as well as the Strand Hotel.  Both are set in beautiful colonial style buildings, giving a glimpse an era long since past.  Stepping across the threshold of the Strand transports you back in time about 70 years when tea time was still relevant in this part of the world.  All around these two standouts lie hollow shells of buildings left to the elements of time.  Squatters outnumber tenants and it’s this stark contrast that makes Yangon such a unique destination.

We made the return trip to Yangon for primarily one reason – to catch the Shwedagon festival.  Before leaving the temple the first time we asked several people when the festival would be and they all responded with the same, 6 day time frame.  Thinking that festivals are almost always the best on the first day, we planned accordingly.  When we arrived at the gate however, they told us it was not until this weekend, 4 days away.  Bummed and a little upset with ourselves, we decided to check out a couple of other things in the area instead. 

Just across from Shwedagon sits Maha Wizaya, or as locals call it the People’s Pagoda.  Built in 1980, its no where near as impressive as it’s neighbor, but is still a shimmering paya all the same.  Despite one of the military leaders involvement with the building of the paya, it was almost entirely built with donations by the public, hence the moniker of People’s Pagoda.

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Down and across a congested highway from Shwedagon lies Kandawgyi Park.  This natural lake in the heart of Yangon provides a nice reprieve from the city, despite the fact that it is ringed with one of the busiest streets.  A nice wooden bridge winds its way along one edge of the lake passing gardens, a temple and even a hotel.  Visiting in the afternoon reveals the slightly more affluent of Yangon.  Joggers are out, mothers are taking the kids for a stroll and young couples find a quiet corner.  At the opposite end of the lake from Shwedagon sits the government owned Kareweik – a reproduction of a royal barge.  Since we had already paid to get into Kanwadgyi Park, we felt it was a bit of an annoyance to have to pay the government again just to see the last 50 yards or so of the lake so we opted out of the ‘prime’ spot for catching the Shwedagon reflection in the lake waters.  There are still a couple of places along the way that almost work as well.

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The next morning, we had a few hours before we had to catch the bus so we headed across the river to Dalah.  Lonely Planet recommended it as a nice way to see river life in a village.  Ok, so if you only come to Myanmar and see Yangon/Mandalay/Bagan and never venture beyond the main sites, then this may be a passable look at life in a Burmese village….but I call that a stretch at best.  The $2 ferry ride takes literally 10 minutes and little can be seen other than a few commercial boats.  Once upon the other side, rickshaw drivers vie for your attention.  After settling on one driver he bicycles down the road and tells us that he can only carry one person and here is his friend, conveniently enough, waiting at twice the price.  Refusing to support such dishonesty, we walked back and found two other rickshaw drivers to do the same route for just a little more than the agreed upon price of the initial crooks.  Since we only really had an hour or so, we only wanted to check out a couple of temples, the market and head back to the jetty.  The temple was nice enough and the market we found interesting, but neither were more impressive than others we had seen elsewhere in the country.  What of the village life that was supposed to be seen?  We found it to be just more of the sprawl you find in Yangon, only without the crumbling colonial charm.  It was probably the most hassle we encountered in Myanmar.  The topper came with the offer of a prostitute…no thanks.  


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Dissapointed in Dalah and no Shwedagon festival to show for our efforts, we boarded the bus and headed for the South of Myanmar.  Next stop: the glimmering and holy Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo.

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