Travel Dates: February 16-19, 2017
Of all the places we’ve visited, none have made us feel like we’ve traveled back in time as much as Myanmar (aka Burma). As a traveler, there’s an allure to exploring untouched locations. Myanmar, having just opened up to tourism 5 years ago following 50 years of military-enforced hibernation, definitely fit the bill. It’s an extraordinary country of over 53 million people (more than 2x Cambodia and Laos combined) and thousands of Buddhist pagodas. Not knowing what to expect, we planned just four days in this remote country.
Accommodations: The Strand
Our flight to Yangon was an extremely long three hours, stretched painfully by the brutal food poisoning we got in Singapore. Side note – in our experience, you get food poisoning from the places you least expect it – from seemingly clean restaurants with closed kitchens not from fresh cooked street food!
On our first morning, as Linda recuperated, I took a stroll through the streets. The setting was a managed chaos of cars, scooters, masses of people, and food stalls. It was like the SE Asian version of India. Actually, I found it very interesting to learn how influential India has been on all the cultures of SE Asia, particularly through the spread of Buddhism and Hinduism.
In the afternoon, we took a tour around the city. One of the highlights was the Yangon Circular Train, a 46km slow-moving commuter train that surrounds the city. For less than a dollar a train ticket, you can kick back, feel the breeze, and observe the locals going about their day.
We also visited the Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple, which houses a 217 ft reclining Buddha. But the pièce de résistance of Yangon was walking around Shwedagon Pagoda at dusk. This 2500 year-old temple was amongst the most magnificent we’ve seen in the world. The stupa (the dome-shaped structure) is covered in gold plates and the top is encrusted with 4531 diamonds, the largest of which is a 72 carat diamond. As the temple lights switched on and the sky slowly darkened, it was a stunning sight to observe:
Accommodations: Bagan Lodge
The next morning we took an early flight to Bagan. If you’ve ever seen pictures of thousands of stupas dotting the misty plains in Asia, this is the place those were taken. Bagan is the ancient capital of Myanmar. As the story goes, in the 11th century, the Bagan king converted to Buddhism after meeting some traveling monks. He asked them how to introduce the peaceful religion to his kingdom, and they replied: first, you must build temples for people to practice. Thus began the process that led to the construction of over 10,000 Buddhist pagodas in the region.
We spent our first day exploring several pagodas around Bagan. They’re everywhere. As cliche as it sounds, you can literally throw a stone and it will likely hit a pagoda. You feel like Indiana Jones climbing through these ancient structures. We visited a mix of remote temples and popular ones like Ananda and Sulamani. And we ended the day climbing to the top of a brick pagoda to catch an incredible sunset over the plains.
The next morning we awoke in the dark to head to the takeoff site for a hot air balloon ride over Bagan. This was the moment Linda had been waiting for since I first showed her pictures of Myanmar. It did not disappoint. Soaring over hundreds of pagodas as the sun came up, the plains covered in morning mist, the sun casting red light on the pagoda walls and stupas. We were fortunate to be standing next to a younger couple from Europe. When the guy asked me to take his camera and start snapping photos of them and not stop, I looked at him confused…until he got down on one knee to propose. It was an extraordinary place to pop the question…and of course to celebrate a Honeymundo.