Saturday, January 31, 2015

MY MYANMAR - NORTH YANGON

"Aren't you templed out yet?" asked me a friend after the first three days in Yangon. No, I am never templed out!  There is always another temple to explore and there are many in Yangon alone. 

It took a few trips by taxi, but Taxis in Yangon are really cheap and it's not even worth to look for alternatives like buses. Taxis also have the advantage that I can leave my shoes inside the car and have the driver drop me off and pick me up at the entrance. 

Kyauk Daw Kyi temple with it's huge seated Buddha image carved from a single piece of marble is such an example to visit in Northern Yangon.  Meilamu Paya Pagoda and temple depicts the life of Buddha in various forms and colours and there were no western tourists around these two temples. 

Kaba Aye Pagoda was a bit more touristy, but mostly from Asian tourists. Here I was actually followed by a guy who "spotted" me for not wearing a "camera fee sticker" because I went in a different way. The pagoda is beautiful and hollow inside, containing the largest silver Buddha image in Myanmar. An ex-military and now government representative was so amazed that I came here to visit the pagoda that he gave me a private tour, including the guarded inner core of the pagoda with it's relics and he arranged a special blessing ceremony for me. It was quite impressive to see how the local Burmese and some visiting Thai visitors were all chanting the prayers while the relics were held above my head in front of the Buddha image. That experience alone made the whole day unforgettable!

I expected a bit more from Mahapasana, the large artificial cave which was used for the Sixth Buddhist Synode, the 2500th anniversary of Buddha's enlightenment. But it was just a big hall with empty seats where visitors can only go to the front part and look around. Still impressive though, but most tourists here just ticked the item off their list and went on. 

Two pagodas close to Kandawghi Lake were more impressive. Chaukhtatgyi Paya housed one of the most impressive and beautiful reclining Buddha images I have seen so far. And I have seen a lot of them!  And just across the street is Ngahtatgyi Paya which is as impressive with a huge seated Buddha image.  Both pagoda's were places where I spent more time just to dive into the atmosphere of local people worshipping. 

A bit of a disappointment was the final evening at Kandawghi Lake though. For one, the taxi driver had no idea where to go, despite the fact that my hotel guy told him upfront.  He circled around the southern edge of the lake and finally dropped me off at a luxury hotel, which of course had no direct access to the lake for non-guests. I had to walk quite a bit along the heavy traffic to get to the eastern entrance of the park, where I had to pay an entrance fee and a camera/video fee, only to realize that the wooden path ended after a few minutes and I was out of the park again. The spot I really wanted to get to was at the eastern end of the lake, which is a good spot for sunsets, but here I had to pay another fee for entering the area which consisted of a platform, a few benches and several restaurants. The most expensive sunset photos I have ever taken!

 
















Tuesday, January 27, 2015

MY MYANMAR - ROOM WITH A VEW IN YANGON

Well, actually my room did not have much of a view. I saw the back side of the hotel and if I leaned out I would have seen a bit of the street below. But the roof top had a great view. And the roof top was the reason for me to change reservations and stay here, at the Grand United Hotel chain. There were three branches and I chose the one called "21 street", which is almost next to the "Chinatown" one. 

It's not that easy to find. Even my taxi driver missed it and we had to back up (in a one way street). But for my purposes it was a great location to walk everywhere in Yangon. And since I wanted to see plenty of sunrises and sunsets, the rooftop restaurant was the best option. I enjoyed my views every day!

The rooms seemed to depend on the floor and the room number. Mine was great and had everything I needed. With a few exceptions it was actually better than what I had expected from Yangon, but given the high prices of Yangon hotels it was in line what what can be expected. 

In my own rating the Grand United 21st branch would look like this: 

Location 5 of 5 (as a conscious decision) 
Room Size 4 of 5 
WiFi free and working 1 of 5 (but OK at the rooftop)
Breakfast included and yummy 5 of 5 
Staff competency and friendliness 4 of 5 
Safety box in the room and adequate size 5 of 5 
Bathroom functionality 5 of 5
Room design and functionality 5 of 5 
Sounds 3 of 5

The WiFi connection was really bad for me. Probably the location of my room within the building, but I finally gave up. It was OK at the roof top level and to be fair, the hotel offers two PC stations in the lobby. 

The staff was mostly untrained in my opinion. Some were really friendly, but spoke almost no English and misunderstood some of the orders in the restaurant. Others were so neutral that you felt invisible, but in general they were all nice and tried to help. 

On a really positive note, the room had plenty of electric outlets, so charging batteries, phones, laptops etc was no problem at all. As expected we had many power outages, but the hotels generator would come on immediately. I also had hot water from the moment I turned on the shower. 

A word to the sounds though. Night times were great. Besides other customers throwing their doors into the lock or being too dumb to open it properly,  I was mostly undisturbed during the nights. During the daytime though the Hotel re-built the ground floor, broke down walls and the hammering went on all day long. I sometimes just left the hotel to get away from the noise during daytime. But that should be a temporary problem. 

All in all a better stay than I had anticipated, at a high price compared to other cities. There are cheaper Hotels and Hostels but not as nice as this one was. And of course there are many hotels at a much higher price. However seeing the Swedagon Pagoda every night from the dinner table has something that money can't buy. 








Shwedagon view (with zoom)






 






 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

MY MYANMAR - DALA TOWNSHIP

Visiting the other side of Yangon in Myanmar, is quite an adventure. Very different from the bustling city with it's never ending traffic noise!  From the Yangon side there is nothing much to see and I initially wanted to get some local transportation to a completely different part of the Irrawaddy delta, but as western faces we stand out from the masses and are being targeted by self-proclaimed tour guides in the moment we approach the ferry building. 

I had to fend off several people who showed off their English language skills even before I paid the steep ferry fare of 4000 Kyat. Locals pay a fraction of that, and so do Asian tourists. The boarding process is pure chaos and turns into a huge crowd of people who all run onto the ferry to grab the best seats. 

On the boat, another guy tried to talk me into a tour of Dala Township. I wasn't interested, so I let him talk for a while and hoped he would lose interest, but I was barely off the ferry on the other side and he was walking besides me again. They probably all have the same heartbreaking stories about why they took the ferry and how much they can help you but in the end we were discussing prices for a ride on a trishaw through the villages. 


After setting my expectations about what I wanted to see and for how long, he picked one of the trishaw's which were standing in a long line a little distance from the harbour buildings. As it turns out, these tour guides will just go with you and a trishaw driver, but when this became clear I jumped off the agreement again and off the trishaw. I wasn't going to pay for two guys, so I told my skinny guide that I was either going with him, or not at all. And he agreed to be my driver and guide. Poor guy! It was very clear that he is was not used to drive around a western guy twice his own weight!  But I think he was ok. After all he just wanted to earn some money. 

Once we left the harbor area I also took it much easier and allowed far more time than we initially discussed. I wanted to see as much as possible of Dala Township.  What initially is almost developed villages with houses made of cement or wood quickly turns into wooden shacks without electricity or water.  There are huge settlements of orphans. Children who lost their parents in the devastating cyclone Nargis which flattened entire villages on it's path here.These people were poor and had nothing to begin with but were left with even less after the storm passed through. Walking through the villages and the graveyards close by leaves you very depressed. 


We did a long cycling tour around several villages and since I have a pretty good sense of direction I could actually follow our path after I returned to Yangon on google maps.  We visited a few temples which were repaired after the storm and saw a few markets all filled with local life. We stopped here and there for some food and drinks along the way, to get a break from the heat as well as getting more flavours of local life there. The people are really friendly, smile and wave at you, mostly while uttering a low tone "min-ga-la-ba".  It's been a few interesting and educating hours on the other side of Yangon and upon returning to the big city again, The Strand Hotel and the outrageous tourist prices of Yangon seem almost surrealistic.



corpes of the saint U Pinnya