Dick is fighting something that makes food less then desirable so Carolyn grabs a bite from the breakfast buffet while Dick checks out. At 7AM we are walked to our car, load up and head for Heho Airport, an hour’s drive away. On our way back to the airport we see a parade to the temple for the ceremony for a young boy to become a novice monk. Looks like the whole village turned out in their best clothes This time we have a driver and a guide but they are not much help over and above getting us into the car and not killing us. The car is an English style, right hand drive (like most of the cars we see) and Myanmar drives on the right side of the road so the driver cannot see to pass. Thus, we suppose, the extra person in the left seat. But, if that is the case, why was there only a driver in the right side yesterday? The little mysteries of travel! We are so confused!!
We arrive at the airport right at 8AM and are met by the same lady as yesterday. She squires us into the terminal and gets us checked in, our immigration papers stamped (as if we would want to stay) and we head through security to the waiting room. We watch several flights come and go; all with very short times on the ground. Finally, here comes a Yangon Airways flight. But wait, our flight is at 9:45 and it is 8:50. This can’t be our plane. Oh yes it is! There goes a cart with our suitcase. They call the flight and we are off the ground a smooth 40 minutes early! Hope everyone who wanted that flight was there!
It is an hour flight to Yangon and we are at least 30 minutes early. We gather our luggage and, like other airports in Asia, have it x-rayed leaving the airport as well as coming into the airport. Wonder what they think we added to the luggage at 17,000 ft.? Now, we are once again missing our driver. We examine all the signs being held up and no Neal; just a Noll. After a few minutes, a lady with a Tourist Ministry badge asks if she can help and she makes a phone call to the local travel representative who assures us that our man is there. Carolyn finally finds him outside the terminal and our name sign is upside down and backwards; it is now after time when we should have arrived, not a good start!
We are supposed to go to a museum but kill that idea after experiencing Yangon traffic. It moves at a snails pace when it actually moves. It took almost two hours to get close to the area where the tourist sights are. Next on the program is lunch at a restaurant named Monsoon and our driver finds it and actually gets to park right in front. We are seated and Dick has the sinking feeling that there are no credit card signs and he is about out of Myanmar Kyats. He asks the bartender if they take credit cards and he replies cash only! Oh, s**t. Dick’s only excuse is fatigue for not asking if they will take US dollars. Everybody in this country takes US dollars except the government type places and the temples. Dick even walks around the corner to try an ATM but it does not like our card. Reject! Having failed to ask about accepting dollars and being short of kyats, we apologize, pack up. The lunch stop was planned so we could visit a craft store a few doors down which supports rural crafts. Pomelo market place is a fair trade marketplace for small Myanmar producers, using local materials, local artisans produce quality, handmade products with a contemporary twist. Sounds good right...well it is a very steep tall flight of steps to get to the store! After all the standing around at the airport earlier, Carolyn is not up for the stairs and we pass. This in turn ruins the driver’s lunch across the street and we head for our hotel. Think we must be having a bad day!
Our hotel, The Strand, is an British Colonial hotel built in 1901. The interior is shabby chic but very nice and we recommend it highly. The staff is superb. We have told our driver, Myeko, to pick us up at 2PM and we relax a bit and get lunch is the hotel café.
From here, there is a shopping stop at Scotts Market or Bogyoke Aung San Market. The British Name (Scott Market) is more familiar than the Burmese name for this sprawling indoor 75 year old market, which contains over 2000 individual shops. It was built during the British rule. It is an old, colonial, two-level market building with small rooms opening onto open air verandas around the building. Plus, there are the vendors who don’t have a room and are selling from the open air verandas. Chaos! Fortunately, Carolyn has the name and general location of the target shop, Yoyomay which specializes in Burmese tribal textiles. It is on the first (Europe), second (or upper floor US) floor and sells the fabrics woven by the women of the hill tribes of Myanma. It was created to help promote an improvement in their lives. We find it and have the store and its proprietor to ourselves. We pass a pleasant 45 minutes visiting with her, she has very good English and is eager to tell us about the history of her shop and the tribes especially the ones who made the various pieces Carolyn likes. We select several large pieces to take with us, plus some souvenir type pieces. The total is 84,000k ($84US) and that is more than we have but Dick saw an ATM on the way through the market and soon returns with an additional 100,000k. Bill paid, we return to our car.
With in a block or so of the market there are a one of the several Christian churches and Mosques that we saw in the city. There seems to be much more religious diversity in Yangon than we saw in the Bagan and Inle Lake area.
Next, and final stop of the day is the Shwedagon Pagoda with all its glitter. It stands 326 feet tall, and is extensively encrusted with gold leaf, diamonds and other jewels, making it visible from all over Yangon. The very top is tipped with a 76 carat diamond. Legend claims the stupa is 2500 years old, though archaeologists think it was originally built between the 6th and 10th centuries. It has been rebuilt and enlarged several times after damage by earthquakes and human strife. It claims to house relics from 3 or 4 Buddhas, including 8 strands of hair from Gautama, the historical Buddha. This is our last pagoda and Dick reluctantly agrees to shed his shoes one more time. Our driver drops us off and we enter, buy our tickets (16,000k for foreigners only), remove our shoes for a final time and take the elevator up one floor. This place is a golden dream. We walk around the circular path around the large stupa that. There are faithful everywhere making merit. It is awe inspiring the amount of gold everywhere. It takes us about an hour to walk around back to the South entrance where we came in. By this time our feet are killing us. The marble floor is really hard on bare feet. Turns out Carolyn will pay dearly for this in Bangkok. We thought we would be here through sunset, but since we got off schedule earlier, the sun has not gone yet when we are ready to leave. We simply have to get off our feet.