Yangon (fka Rangoon)


Upon arriving in Yangon, we were greeted by tree-lined avenues, fine Victorian architecture, bustling markets and picturesque waterfront.

We saw pagodas and vintage World War Two buses everywhere amongst the local people who were dressed in sarongs and had their faces covered with tree bark cream. We were told that the cream is used to reduce oiliness and acne in the skin. Apparently everyone we met believed it because everyone was wearing it.

Sule Pagoda

This pagoda located smack in the center of the city is reputed to date back over 2,000 years. It enshrines a hair relic of the Buddha brought over by two missionaries from India and presented to Dagon minister Maha Sura. Its name means “the pagoda enshrining the sacred hair.” Its octagonal shape architecturally thematizes the eight planetary posts of the Myanmar zodiac. Among the many sights, there are numerous monks paying homage, shrines designed in “amusement park” form, golden Buddha statues and a giant golden stupa.

Shwedagon Pagoda

This amazing shrine has 8,600 one-ounce slabs of gold used to tile the stupa and thousands of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones that sparkle in the rays of the sun. The compound is covered with hundreds of images, statues, and endless processions of bare-footed worshippers all paying their respects.

This is the most sacred structure in Myanmar and the marquis attraction of Yangon. According to legend, Taphussa and Bhallika, two traders hailing from Okkala (Yangon’s old name), traveled to India on business some 2,500 years ago. They encountered Gautama Buddha perched under the bodhi tree 49 days after gaining Enlightenment. Noting the halo of six vibrant rays surrounding him, they held him in veneration and made offerings of rice cakes and honey. The Buddha, in return, conveyed his mastery of the Law in a sermon. Granting their request for an object of worship, he stroked his right hand through his hair yielding eight hairs. When the two men returned home, King Okkalapa ordered the enshrinement of the hairs, along with relics from the three preceding Buddhas, in a pagoda on Singuttara Hill. The male nat Sakka delivered from heaven six marble slabs of silver, diamond, emerald, pearl, sapphire, and ruby for creation of a relic chamber. This chamber was filled knee deep with a sea of precious stones, and a boat carrying the sacred relics and more gems was placed afloat; Sakka himself sealed the chamber with the ruby slab. Over the ruby slab, builders constructed a Russian doll-like sequence of superimposed pagodas made successively of gold, silver, tin, copper, lead, marble, and iron, and sealed with lime, glue, mortar, and plaster. They then studded the pagoda with jewels. While the original structure measured only 22m, Shwedagon presently stands at a remarkable 109m, having survived countless restorations and embellishments.

Kyaukhatgyi Pagoda

This pagoda literally means “six story pagoda”. It contains an enormous 70m long reclining Buddha and has very ornate footprints that contain the distinguishing marks of Buddha. Kyaukhatgyi also lends its namesake to a famous monastery attached to the pagoda. Over 600 monks study Buddhist scriptures and the Pali language and literatures.

Propaganda / Political Environment

Since 1962, Myanmar has been governed by a brutal military regime. Although there have been resistance movements and pro-democracy demonstrations, these initiatives have generally been swiftly crushed by the military government. Even in 1990, when democratic elections were held and the National League for Democracy (NLD) won almost 90% of the vote, the military rounded up all of the leaders and placed them under house arrest. Needless to say, the regime has little care for the views of its people.

During our excursions in Yangon, we actually tried to visit the house of the leader of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi. Upon arriving at the street where her house was located, we were surrounded by plain clothes policemen and asked to leave. Although they did not threaten us, they scared the #%$@! out of our cab driver who was told never to bring anyone else there if he wanted to live a happy and fruitful life.

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