Category Archive for Myanmar
Yangon’s top travel attractions! Sule pagoda, Circular Railway, Kalaywa Buddhist monastery lunch, Le Planteur.
Ready for more decadent adventures with Yukiro?
I’ve been saving this final dispatch from Myanmar, since it was the most eye-opening destination we’ve visited together. We’ll give you a run-down of the best attractions in Yangon. The city has lots of fascinating sights, including the golden Karaweik Palace…
… and the lunch procession of Buddhist nuns and monks at Kalaywa Tawyakyaung Monastery.
We’ll also take you to Yangon Circular Rail. It goes all around the city in a loop, which lets you glimpse slices of life in Burma.
But first, the epic news… Yukiro and I are going to India and Malaysia!
This dream trip has been brewing for some time, and it’s finally happening. We’ll be visiting Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi and North India — including New Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), Jaipur and Varanasi (Indian Golden Triangle, and holy city where the Ganges river flows).
Can’t wait to reunite with this queen again. Be sure to follow @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat to see snippets from our Indian epic. And if you have travel tips, we are all ears.
To get you in the mood, let’s flash back to Burma. Yukiro and I were endlessly inspired by the local culture we encountered.
We fully embraced the Southeast Asian elegant fashion and languorous poses. We drew inspiration from the “longyi” skirts and “thanaka” yellow sun-protection paste, worn by both local men and women. (All photos by Sniper Chau.)
Many travelers know little about Burma / Myanmar (you may call it either, according to leader Aung San Suu Kyi) — other than that it’s the most Buddhist country on the planet. We wanted to learn more about the Theravada traditions, so our ParkRoyal hotel driver took us to Kalaywa Monastery, located about 20 minutes from downtown.
(Address: Naga Hlainggu Hillock, Yangon / Rangoon)
Aim to arrive around 10:30-11:30am, so that you can witness the Buddhist lunch procession. About a thousand monks and nuns line up, and walk through this food station run by volunteers. They gracefully receive hot food, vegetarian dishes and fresh fruit in their metal alms bowls.
For most of the Burmese population, Buddhism is an important part of their daily practice. These volunteers work together to prepare and serve the food, in the true spirit of loving-kindness.
In Burma, there are approximately 500,000 male monks, and 75,000 nuns. Lay-people often become “temporary” monks as well, such as by dedicating a month or so to living the monastic lifestyle.
Once they received their alms, the young practitioners walked over to the separate dining halls, where they sat and waited until everyone had been served.
They spend their lives in the kyaung (temple-monastery), where they devote every day to study and practice.
The Theravada Buddhist line of bhikkhuni (nuns) died out in Burma, so the women created a new type of lineage. These “thilashin” take vows, shave their heads and wear the pink robes — sometimes from a very young age.
(Many smiled gently at me, perhaps because of my matching pink hair and fashion!)
Over 1000 Buddhists live at Kalaywa Monastery. The community gladly supports their education and basic needs.
All over Myanmar, you’ll often see red-robed monks making their rounds for alms in the mornings. Even the poorest community members will prepare a dish of food, and dole out a serving into the bowl of each Buddhist that passes by.
Almsgiving is not a form of begging, but the local tradition that lets laypeople give respect to Buddhist monks and nuns, and support their spiritual journey.
When everyone was seated in the long benches, the monks clasped their hands together and chanted. Finally, it was time to break open the fruit and eat from the alms bowls, using their fingers.
We noticed a few cats walking around the tables! True to Buddhist spirit of compassion, these young men made sure the kitties had something to eat.
We encourage you to visit Kalaywa Monastery to learn more about the Burmese Buddhist tradition. If you walk around the grounds, you’ll see some beautiful flowers and gardens as well.
Visiting Karaweik Palace is another way to experience Burma’s culture. Located on Kandawgyi Lake in central Yangon, this golden floating restaurant is based on the design of the Pyigyimon royal barge.
Only customers are allowed inside, so we stopped for tea and pandan leaf-flavored ice cream. (It’s also possible to order Burmese food, and there is an international buffet as well).
We enjoyed cooling off in Karaweik Palace’s golden hall, and watching an energetic puppet show on the stage.
The restaurant hosts a Royal Culture Show every evening, with all types of Burmese performances. Yukiro could easily be mistaken for one of the dancers!
We listened to traditional songs performed by this singer and instrumentalist, who is strumming the Saung-gauk (Burmese arched harp).
Near the entrance of Karaweik restaurant, this stylish woman did a thanaka demonstration. She showed us how to grind bark to make the yellow-white cosmetic paste, which is worn to soften the skin and protect it from sun damage.
Karaweik Hall is a bit touristy, but it’s a fun spot to take photos and learn about Burmese culture.
My ponytail reveals my cobweb undercut, or shaved and dyed hair tattoo! My hairstyle and color are by Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio in Vancouver, as always.
As Seinfeld might say: What’s the deal with these “quacky” gold-headed ducks? Are they dragon boats, or rubber duckies?
In fact, they represent a mythical bird in Burmese folklore with a melodious cry, called the karaweik.
The golden barge gave us perfect views of Shwedagon Pagoda, Kandawgyi lake (with a tall fountain) and park.
Another top attraction is — surprisingly enough — riding the rails. Yangon Circular Railway is similar to the Yamanote in Tokyo: a local commuter rail that forms a loop around the city.
Operated by Myanmar Railways, the line stretches 29 miles and has 39 stops. We went to Yangon Central Railway Station to check it out. (Address: Kun Chan Rd, Yangon, Myanmar)
Yangon’s Circle Rail is extremely popular among the locals. There are about 200 coaches, which carry 100,000 to 150,000 commuters daily.
Yukiro and I enjoy seeing daily life, wherever we travel. Yangon’s central station had a Complaint Center… but there was nobody there to complain to! (Now that’s something to complain about.)
Many tourists ride the circular loop, which takes about three hours to complete. It’s a way to glimpse different parts of Yangon, and see what day-to-day life is like for the people who live here.
We decided the train journey would be a bit too hot and time-consuming… so we ended up simply visiting the Circular Train station.
As you can see, there’s no AC. The seats fill up quickly, so arrive early if you want to nab one.
Such cute and classic trains rolling through, with a choo-choo.
Yangon Circular Railway was first built during colonial times by the British. Today, the tracks have been modernized and expanded, and there are even ads on the front of the cars.
Each train ticket costs the equivalent of 15 cents! Ticket prices are kept low because of ministry subsidies, so this public transportation system is accessible to everyone.
Hello, boys of Burma…
(If you want to hop on this train with them, here’s info about getting tickets, timetables and more.)
Only in Myanmar, you’ll see people wearing thanaka (sometimes in intricate designs) on their faces.
The future of the railway is optimistic. Japan is currently working with Yangon city development to improve and expand public transport.
Yangon is a very safe city, and we rarely ran into touts or beggars. At the station, everyone we encountered was respectful.
Baby on board. (Images by Sniper Chau.)
Even if you don’t end up taking the three-hour ride, Yangon’s Circular Railway is worth checking out!
Another must-see is Maha Bandula Park, which features a fountain pond and sits next to Sule Pagoda. The park dates back to the late 19th century, and is currently named after General Maha Bandula who fought the British in the First Anglo-Burmese War.
During colonial times, the centerpiece of the park was a statue of Queen Victoria. After 1948, the queen was replaced by Independence Monument, an obelisk that commemorates Burmese independence from the British. (You can see it behind us.)
It’s impossible to miss Sule Pagoda, a glimmering golden dome in the center of Yangon’s downtown.
This spiritual site supposedly enshrines a hair of the Buddha. (It’s located at the junction of Sule Pagoda Road and Maha Bandula Road.)
Sule Pagoda was the focal point of many political demonstrations over the years. Protesters gathered here during the 1988 uprisings and 2007 Saffron Revolution, both of which faced violent pushback from the military government that was then in power.
Today, it’s a peaceful Buddhist temple where city-dwellers can meditate.
Sule Pagoda is about the size of a small block — much smaller than Shwedagon Pagoda, which we visited too. You’ll see Buddha statues and golden architecture in both places, but if you only have time to visit one, go to the magnificent Shwe Dagon.
Buddhists can place offerings in a miniature golden ship, which has the mythical karaweik bird at the front. With a system of pulleys, the boat sails up to the stupa.
This Burmese child seemed as earnest as her mother in her reflections.
Finally, you can’t leave Yangon without a fine meal. We headed towards Inya Lake, a popular recreational and romantic area. On the way, look out for Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound, where she spent years under house arrest. (We spotted the outside gate, which has a portrait of her father on the top.)
This photo illustrates the fun of driving in Myanmar. You’ll see “boys in the back” of trucks, lounging about. And when the vehicle needs to change lanes, everyone participates in the turn signal!
Yukiro and I were having dinner at the highly-rated Le Planteur. As soon as we saw this glorious French colonial manor, lit by lanterns, we knew we were in for a special meal.
Address: 80 University Avenue, Bahan Township, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
Le Planteur is all about beautiful service and thoughtful touches — such as this table by the water, covered in fresh rose petals.
We explored the grounds, blooming with lush foliage and secret lounge areas. Many come here for cocktails and light bites.
How beautiful is the waterfront of Inya Lake? In the distance, there’s a rowboat illuminated in lights.
Inside, we were excited to see a high-tech wine dispenser wall! With a touch of a card, you could fill your glass with varietals from around the world.
Le Planteur pays tribute to the French colonial days. The manor is filled with glamorous private lounges, perfect for large gatherings.
The decor ranges from 19th century style red couches to a chandelier made from white feathers, framed by peek-a-boo vintage photography.
Founder Boris Granges was born in Switzerland, and brought his fine dining expertise to Myanmar. You may order a-la-carte, but I recommend Le Planteur’s degustation menu, which lets you taste the chef’s selection of the day. (It can also be customized if you are vegetarian.)
We started with delightful amuse-bouches of tuna, and ordered a second round of the freshly-baked brown bread rolls.
The French cuisine is five stars perfection. Le Planteur uses the freshest ingredients, with a focus on subtle vegetable flavors. Every dish is beautifully executed and presented. On the right, this is my favorite dessert of the year so far: a black chocolate dome with passion fruit heart and tonka bean biscuit.
Le Planteur is the place to be for an exquisite meal in Myanmar. (Be sure to browse the artisan shop at the entrance too.)
(For other restaurant suggestions, including homestyle Thai and Burmese food, check out this post.)
Did you enjoy our Yangon city guide? Here are all my Myanmar posts in one place — we hope to be back soon, to hang out with our new punk and Goth friends. But now, a new journey to South Asia awaits…
We’ll be exploring India and Malaysia! Add @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat for the first peek.
A guide to Yangon’s modern art galleries! Burma Pansodan & River gallery, Aung San Suu Kyi paintings.
Let’s continue our Myanmar escapades… with a tour of the progressive art and photography galleries of Yangon!
Burmese artists are spreading their wings, now that they are free from military rule and censorship. With the support of these independent galleries, local creators are able to express themselves in ways that were previously forbidden (such as by painting nudes and political topics).
Yukiro and I are certainly “women who explore” — so let’s give you a tour of Yangon’s top galleries.
We stayed at ParkRoyal hotel, and they bestowed us with a car and driver that made getting from place to place much easier. I looked up a few Burmese art exhibits, and gave our driver the list. He figured out the most efficient route, which made it possible for us to see five venues that day: Pansodan, River, Nawaday Tharlar, New Zero, and Deitta.
We started our art tour at Pansodan Gallery, which we heard was one of the best in the city.
Love the greenery and vivid street signs near the entrance of Pansodan Gallery. Walk up the stairs, and you’re there.
Address: 1st Floor, 286, Pansodan Street, (Upper Block), Kyauktada Township, Yangon, Myanmar.
Pansodan Gallery was established in August 2008 by Aung Soe Min and Nance Cunningham, a Canadian who has lived in Burma since the 1990s.
We chatted with Nance and her French friend Christophe Munier, who recently published a book called Burmese Buddhist Murals. He told us that a lot of spiritual art from past centuries has been destroyed. His book attempts to document these works before they are gone, as preservation is unfortunately a challenge in a country with limited budget for the arts.
On the bright side, a gallery like Pansodan is a welcoming space, which gives Burmese artists a chance to present their works to worldwide audiences. The selection ranges from budding artists to older masters, working in a variety of mediums.
Pansodan Gallery also aims to make the local art accessible. Some of the paintings are in higher price ranges, but there’s a great selection of watercolors, cards, books and other small items for $10-30 US.
We loved seeing these fun, modern expressions of Burmese culture on the walls. Works like these were brimming with color and energy.
After years under the military government, Myanmar has opened up. In the past, only non-controversial, sanctioned subjects like landscapes were permitted. Now, artists are free to express any topics and themes without censure.
Before the current democratic government, it was difficult (to say the least!) to be an artist in Myanmar. Art supplies were often scarce, and if the military deemed your works to be offensive, they’d be confiscated. It was even forbidden to display photos and paintings of “The Lady,” Aung San Suu Kyi.
Now that she’s the leader of the democracy, the arts have flowered. This liberalisation has enabled artists to depict nudes, and political or edgy subjects for the first time. Many choose to paint Aung San Suu Kyi, as you can see in the examples above.
Pansodan Gallery encourages this creative renaissance in many ways, including running a laid-back social event every Tuesday night. Anyone can come to enjoy beer and snacks, talk art, and meet others.
The owners have also opened up a new space called Pansodan Scene recently. In addition to displaying paintings, the Scene has poetry readings, talks, concerts, and a small cafe.
(Address: 144, 2nd Floor, Pansodan Street, Corner of Mahabandoola Street, Kyauktada Township, Yangon)
Yukiro and I consider the streets of Yangon to be works of art in themselves! So many colors and textures in a single block.
We watched this man hang up spiritual flags, as he prepared a stage for a Buddhist event.
We said hello to a few cats, on the way to our next stop: Myanmar Deitta gallery. (Address: No.49, 44th St, Yangon, Burma).
This is a not-for-profit organisation that supports photographers, filmmakers and other multimedia producers in Myanmar. The upper level space hosts workshops and exhibitions, with the goal of presenting and discussing social issues that were formerly repressed by the military.
We caught the bilingual exhibit by The Kite Tales Project, titled “Unsung Heroes: Telling Myanmar’s Lost Stories.” Run by two journalists, Ma Thin Lei Win and Kelly Macnamara, this digital initiative captures the daily lives of people all throughout the country.
The journalists traveled all throughout Myanmar, including to remote and conflict regions. Through photo, video and audio, they recorded stories that had been silenced for decades, from a variety of perspectives.
Naturally, I was drawn to these photographs of tribal tattoos and body modifications in Burma. On the left, a 90-year old woman from the ethnic Chin village sports a full-face blue tattoo. One of the reasons these women modify their appearance is to prevent other tribes from preying on them.
Another woman, a daughter of a Lahe chief, spoke about how her community once got tattoos to celebrate heroes and victories. She lamented that today the practice has become lost.
In the attic, we watched documentary footage from throughout the country. I was intrigued by these videos from the Saffron Revolution, a series of peaceful political demonstrations in 2007. Many Buddhist monks took part in this nonviolent resistance, wearing saffron-colored robes.
Onward to River Gallery, which was once housed in The Strand hotel. (Address: Chindwin Chambers 33/35, 37th and 38th Street, Yangon)
Yukiro opened his Pokemon Go app, and realized there were almost no Pokemon to catch in Myanmar. Nonetheless, this gallery had what looked like a wooden Poke-Stop sculpture, which you could even spin!
River Gallery is a high-ceilinged space that beautifully showcases the works of Myanmar’s leading contemporary artists. It’s a great place to pick up artistic souvenirs, as there are cups, jewelry and other fine items for sale.
Before the democratic leadership, Myanmar was isolated from the global art scene, and struggled under the draconian censorship. River Gallery was keen to create a space for local artists to get better representation and exposure.
Here, you can see playful and abstract works by over 40 contemporary artists, who are now free from these restraints. River Gallery organises an annual show abroad for its talents as well.
In contrast, New Zero Art Space is a more obscure and underground gallery. We went into an apartment building, and searched for the door to this non-profit. (Address: No,202, 2nd Floor, United Condo, Ah Lan Pya Pagoda Road, Dagon Township Yangon 1181)
We stepped into “Identity of Fear: A Solo Exhibition by Mayco Naing.” The stark, white tiles of the space were the perfect backdrop to her black and white photographs.
The concept: young Burmese, immersed in baths, with their hands clasped over their faces. Naing’s photographs reflect the generation born around the 1988 Revolution. She and her fellow 20-30 year olds faced a volatile dictatorship, low educational standards and conservative values while growing up.
The underwater bathtub images represent the stifling educational opportunities she feels her peers have suffered. The nudity also confronts feelings of shame about the human body.
Before heading back to our ParkHotel, we stopped by the nearby Nawaday Tharlar gallery. The smiling kawaii logo is impossible to resist!
Address: Yaw Min Gyi road Building No. 20B Room No. 304, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
When we stepped into the entrance, we were mesmerised by the tangle of electrical wiring — that’s an art piece on its own!
Nawaday Tharlar opened in 2012, and is dedicated to creating a place for people to come together and share art, music, poetry and stories.
The gallery holds a bi-monthly open mic, where anyone can come to perform. It also hosts different creative activities, such as a tea and drawing workshop.
In the main room, we enjoyed the “Yangonoftheday One Year Exhibition.” This photography project posts images once a day, depicting some aspect of Yangon city life.
The concept shows all the facets of Yangon (Rangoon) and its people, and lets residents share their stories through Instagram-like square photos.
I spotted monks and punks. Birds and buildings.
In the back rooms, there are stacks upon stacks of canvases, from dozens of Burmese artists. Anyone can come to flip through them.
Buddhist themes abound, in this spiritual country. Isn’t the Burmese writing lovely?
Props to our ParkRoyal hotel driver, for navigating these confusing and busy streets! Interestingly, motorcycles are banned in the city, so you won’t see street scenes similar to Vietnam. Still, people will cross the roads willy-nilly.
We saw children in school uniforms, and adults in matching longyi (the long Burmese tied skirts worn by men and women).
Our car passed by the Ganesh Hindu Temple. Buddhism is practised by about 88% of the population, but there are other religions here too.
As we drove through the narrow streets, our car windows were perfect for people-watching.
We noticed these covered drinking gourds, or pots of water that anyone can drink from.
Myanmar has a lot of investment from Korea and Japan, hence this street filled with technology stores. Smartphones are common here…
… as Samsung, Sony, LG and others have a large presence.
Modern and traditional are a true balance in Yangon. We’re very glad we came to Myanmar, and hope to see Bagan and more of the country next time.
For more about Burmese Buddhism and monks, come see our story about the golden Shwedagon Pagoda.
Isn’t Myanmar a fascinating country? I’m glad to see the liberalisation of arts here, and look forward to these continued positive changes.
Volunteering with Punk Rock bands in Yangon, Myanmar! The Rebel Riot, Human Rights concert, Rangoon restaurants.
Believe it or not — there’s a 1970s-style punk rock subculture in Myanmar!
Yukiro and I loved getting to know Kyaw Kyaw, the leader of Burmese punk band Rebel Riot, and his studded, tattooed, Mohawk-ed friends.
As you’ll see in this post, Yangon’s punks play hard. But they also give back to their community in a huge way: Kyaw Kyaw runs two charities that directly aid the homeless, and children in need.
Yukiro and I called the theme of our Burma trip “Monks and Punks.” The two groups have more in common than you’d think: they’re all about inclusivity, compassion, and taking action to support others.
(You might remember from our Shwedagon Pagoda photos that this is the world’s most Buddhist nation.)
Before we arrived in Yangon, I reached out to The Rebel Riot band on Facebook (as they are one of the most prominent punk groups in the scene). We were keen to volunteer for their charities, and get to know Burma’s alternative, underground side.
Singer and songwriter Kyaw Kyaw welcomed us warmly. He invited us to Human Rights Day, where The Rebel Riot was performing an acoustic set.
The free event took place outdoors, in People’s Park (not far from the famous golden temple).
As I mentioned in my first post about Myanmar, the country was formerly under a military dictatorship, which put up strict barriers for freedom of expression. Now, Aung San Suu Kyi is the democratic leader. The state of human rights is still a work in progress here (as it is everywhere — I’m not going to get into the specific politics). Still, it’s significant to have event like this one, run by young Burmese who believe in this mission.
We were thrilled to meet locals at the event. I was impressed by their passion: they were here to stand up and speak out, for human equality and freedoms.
A lot of friendly faces came up to us, and asked to take photos together. Yukiro’s makeup and fashion were quite the sensation!
In recent years, the LGBT community has become more open and accepted in Myanmar. Still, same sex activity remains technically illegal, and the gay night at J-One Music Bar is sometimes shut down.
The King n Queens Organisation is doing wonderful work to advocate for equality in Burma. As their motto says, “Human rights are LGBT rights.”
In addition to fighting the discriminatory laws, these LGBT groups are working to increase awareness and education. One giant placard contained a “glossary” with definitions in both English and Burmese. The terms include queer, pansexual and transgender (which are not instinctively known in this population).
Next to People’s Park, we noticed a creepy abandoned theme park! This is the old “Happy World,” which looks like a derelict, haunted version Disney’s Fantasia. (It should be re-named “Unhappy World,” don’t you think?”
Anyone can access the run-down rides — so naturally, we posed inside the creepy roller-coaster cars. (More images at the end of this article; all photos by Sniper Chau.)
To celebrate Human Rights Day, various Burmese bands took the stage and performed. The Rebel Riot band did an acoustic set with their friends. Between songs, Kyaw Kyaw spoke from the heart about the importance of this cause.
As he put it — he’s an advocate for human rights because as a human being, how could he not be? The fundamental rights to equality, free expression, and protection against unjust persecution should be extended to everyone in society.
The Rebel Riot’s songs conveyed these messages with power.
As Kyaw Kyaw’s nonprofits gain more recognition, many are coming to Myanmar to volunteer directly alongside him. My friends and I brought a suitcase full of school supplies for Books Not Bombs, which provides children with educational support (especially in conflict and rural regions of the country).
Every Monday night, his group Food Not Bombs purchases food and distributes it to the homeless and needy in Yangon. At first, locals weren’t sure what to make of these tattooed and pierced punk volunteers! However, their dedication spoke for itself, and the rockers are now welcomed each week with hugs.
The logo at left (two people giving a high five) summed up the positive spirit of Human Rights Day, Yangon.
In the audience, we saw others with large gauge earrings, alternative dyed and shaved hair, and DIY studded and painted clothing.
It’s interesting (but perhaps not surprising) that punk ideologies have taken hold in Myanmar — as the country has recently broken free of military rule, yet continues to struggle with regional clashes and authoritarianism.
We have full confidence in the young Burmese volunteers we met. They’re progressive and full of energy, and will shape their homeland in a positive, inclusive direction.
We wanted to get to know The Rebel Riot and friends better, so we made arrangements to hang out the following evening.
It turned out to be a grand gathering of Goths and Punks, at Rangoon Tea House! (Address: Ground Floor, 77-79 Pansodan Rd (Lower Middle Block), Yangon, Myanmar).
We sat down at a long table, and the boys laid out their tattooed arms. I see A for anarchy, hell on the knuckles, a skull, and two gasmasks on these sleeves.
In true punk spirit, many of these tattoos are DIY. I spot 666…
A lot of young locals and travelers come to dine at Rangoon Tea House, which is one of the highest rated restaurants in the city. The restored two-level space is reminiscent of the British colonial era, with classic molded ceilings and lanterns.
Rangoon Tea House is well known for its drink menu. The world-class cocktails are inspired by Asian flavors, such as a jasmine gin and tonic, and “Smoking Cheroot” with smoky cinnamon, bourbon and Hennessy, served on a thanaka tray.
At the entrance, we saw the staff preparing tea from the finest grade pindica leaves, aerated with a long pour from above.
Goths in the back, and punks in the front! I’m standing next to Esther, a Gothic makeup artist, and Ze Ze, vocalist and composer of the band Maze of Mara. We quickly became fast friends — amazing how you can find like-minded spirits in the most unexpected of places.
“System Error” — so good. Tattooing isn’t taboo here, as it is in Asian countries like Korea and Japan. There’s also a history of tattoos among ethnic groups in Burma, up until the 20th century.
As you can see from our smiles, we loved the food at Rangoon Tea House. The mohinga (Burmese fish noodle soup) was so delicious that we ordered two bowls! This national favorite dish is made from fresh Rakhine daggertooth fish, and perfectly balances sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
The menu is a homage to Rangoon’s past — when traders from different countries mingled with colonial settlers and locals. We ate up every bite of the Indian-inspired curries, biryanis, samosas, rotis. Other highlights included British Pimm’s, and traditional Burmese “ohn note kauk” chicken and noodles in coconut broth.
As you can see, the boys were fans of the Burmese beers.
A meal to remember, followed by a night of more laughs, drinks and shenanigans!
On a different evening, we dined at the amazing Yangon Green Gallery — a Thai restaurant that is the favorite hangout of expats and young artistic types. We were sold on the chalkboard sign: “Let us tickle your tastebuds and fill your stomachs.”
Green Gallery Address: Mahabandoola No 58, 52 Street Lower Block, Between Mahabandoola and Merchant, Yangon 1116, Burma.
The friendly owner, Bo, welcomed us with gusto, and insisted that we make ourselves at home. Once again, we found a kindred spirit — we bonded over the 1980s songs that she broadcast all night, from Europe to Eurythmics!
Bo used to live in Thailand, and brought these traditional flavors to her cooking. At the same time, Green Gallery is as modern as it gets: she brought us gin and tonics with colorful straws, and we admired the industrial, bohemian design of the restaurant.
The Lady, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, looks over the space. It’s wonderful to see women like Bo put their hearts into their independent businesses, and succeed.
My mouth is watering as I reminisce about our meal at Green Gallery! The menu is simple, with a focus on fresh and healthy — yet comforting — Thailand dishes. The items change with the seasons; we started with spicy salad Larb Mhoo, and adored the panang and green curries with rice. Leave room for the coconut sticky rice and mango dessert, which is full of love.
As you can see, the tables fill up quickly, especially with groups of expats. The restaurant also hosts a monthly Green Party that draws in lots of friendly, young faces.
We could have stayed all night, grooving to the 80s songs and joking with Bo about thumb sizes. There’s no better place in Yangon to get a heart-warming meal than Green Gallery. Please say hi to her for us!
We chatted with someone at the next table, and he suggested that we visit Root Kitchen and Bar for a “Wa-Tang” cocktail. His recommendation was on point: the drinks are perfectly concocted with ingredients like tea, lemongrass, ginger, and a special Wa-region liquor made from rice and barley grains.
Root is a new restaurant and bar, which pays homage to the Wa people who live in Shan State. This region of Myanmar is often dismissed as a drug and conflict-ridden borderland, so these owners wanted to showcase Wa culture, art, and food in a comfortable space.
Later, we met Bo and other new friends at the nearby 50th Street Bar (there are lots of bars and hip restaurants in this district). This venue is known for its live concerts — that evening, we watched several alternative bands perform.
A sunrise visit to Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar! Burma golden temple, Buddhist travel destinations.
I’ve been to temples all over Southeast Asia, but none has been as extraordinary as Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar. In this photo diary, Yukiro and I will show you why!
Before we begin our pilgrimage, I’m humbled and thrilled to announce that I won the Best Blog of the Year award! A zillion thank yous to everyone who voted in the Auxiliary Magazine awards. None of this would have been possible without your support throughout the years. Congrats to the other winners and fabulous nominees, and I am excited to keep on bringing alternative travel stories to you in 2017.
Yukiro and I are standing inside Shwedagon, with lovely locals. This huge golden Buddhist temple complex dominates the Yangon skyline, and is one of the most sacred sites in Myanmar (Burma). The name breaks down to “shwe” (gold in Burmese) and “Dagon” (the township where it is located).
That day, we met the kindest, gentlest Buddhist nuns, dressed in pink robes…
… and children with thanaka (sun-protecting face paint) on their cheeks. (All photography by Sniper Chau.)
Let’s begin our visit to Shwedagon Pagoda with a note on the dress code. Out of respect to those who come to the temple to worship, all visitors (male and female) should wear clothes that cover their legs and shoulders. Shorts aren’t permitted, but there are longyi that you can borrow at the front if you forget.
Despite the clothing restrictions, you can still glam it up — as we did! We wore long wrap skirts (mine is from Thailand), and lightweight tops that kept us from overheating in the humid weather. (Yukiro had the shawl over his arms except for this moment of posing!) Sunglasses are a must, as the golden glare hits hard once the sun rises. In addition to sunscreen, we painted some thanaka over our skin as well.
We met our ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon driver in the lobby at 6am, as we wanted to catch the dawn. It’s worth waking up early, as sunrise and sunset are the best times to visti Shwedagon Pagoda. (You also avoid the crowds and the high noon-time heat this way).
The temple is open from 4am to 8pm, and the entrance fee for foreigners is $8 (about 8000 kyat — make sure you have the local Burmese currency). Everyone must remove his or her shoes at the entrance, and go barefoot inside the complex. If you’re a foreigner, there’s a special rack where you can store your shoes (otherwise, you’d have to carry them with you).
We walked down the long corridor, and bought a fragrant strand of white flowers. It opened up into this mesmerising plaza filled with gilded architecture and colorful Buddhist statues — we felt as if we’d entered a new universe.
Shwedagon is a feast for the eyes and senses. It’s filled with an energy of compassion and happiness — as personified by these praying, chanting Buddhist children.
The pagoda sits on Singuttara Hill, and holds the relics of four Buddhas. The first version was most likely built by the Mon people between theb Shwedagon Pagoda was pillaged many times, rebuilt and expanded, and struck by earthquakes — but has stood strong, and is grander than ever.
Could there be a destination more fabulous than this one?
Shwedagon is the largest stupa in the country, at 99 meter high. It’s plated with over 20,000 gold bars, with a tip decorated with thousands of diamonds, rubies and sapphires. The various buildings hold treasures of Burmese art, including the Tharrawaddy Min Bell that weighs 44 tons.
(In the 17th century, a Portuguese adventurer stole the 300-ton Great Bell of Dhammazedi — but it fell into the Bago River and was never recovered.)
Myanmar is the world’s most Buddhist country, with most locals identifying as Theravada Buddhists. It’s a regular sight to see monks and nuns of all ages in the city, and we encountered many smiling faces here.
I think Yukiro and I fit in rather well with the decadent, golden art!
Visitors can spend hours wandering into the various buildings, where there are thousands of Buddha statues and relics to behold.
Although Shwedagon Pagoda is centuries-old, and has traditional architecture, you’ll also see modern incarnations. Such as this reclining Buddha with a flashing, electric cyber-disco halo around his head.
The spirituality is open and welcoming in Myanmar. We saw punk rockers praying, and monks with tattoos. Some locals choose to become monks or nuns for a short period of time (such as few weeks or months).
I wasn’t too familiar with Burmese sculpture / art until I visited, and was in awe. In this tradition, Buddhas are smiling and friendly, and draped in golden robes.
We had no issues walking around barefoot, as the tiles are kept clean by volunteers with mops. Locals have always pitched in to preserve Shwedagon, taking part in activities such as sweeping the floor, washing the statues, and repairing damaged areas.
The stupa is a top Buddhist tourism destination. We saw a tour group of men and women in pink headwraps, travelling together on a spiritual pilgrimage.
I loved seeing the joy and tranquillity on everyone’s faces.
Burmese architecture ranges in styles. This reddish-brown spiky roof spoke to our Gothic aesthetics.
As the sun continues to rise, the tiles heat up. It’s good to go early (as we did) so that you can leave before high noon.
As author Rudyard Kipling described it: “Then a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun.”
Wearing cat-eye sunglasses by Moat House Eyewear, which match my pink hair and top.
A lot of locals came up to us, and gently asked to take photos together. We got nothing but compliments on our outfits and style.
We became fans of the elegant, traditional fashion — particularly these Burmese long skirts, or longyi. This group of women shows it’s possible to be chic while following the dress code.
Offerings of fruit and flowers for the Buddha, made by these young devotees.
Loved seeing the small moments of generosity all around Shwedagon Pagoda.
Myanmar has only recently opened to tourists, which means landmarks like these are still very locals-only. We saw only about 10 foreigners during this visit, and there weren’t any gift shops or touts.
Many Burmese also follow traditions that come from Hindu astrology. They pour water and perform purifications at their “planetary post,” which refers to the day of the week they are born on. For example, if you were born on “Wednesday Morning,” you would look for a basin with this signpost, and make offerings and wishes there.
On the left, you can see the sign for “Tuesday Corner.”
We didn’t know which day of the week our birthdays fell on… but the giant leogryph (mythical lion creature) looked like our spirit animal.
This protector lion being is a “chinthe”, often found at the entrances of pagodas and temples in Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Love the sideways-facing paws.
Snakes are another guardian, depicted with vampire-like fangs. The precise carvings found all over Shwedagon are impressive.
Photography is allowed in Shwedagon Pagoda. Anyone can respectfully ask monks or nuns if they’re willing to take a photo. However, as our guidebook counselled, one must not touch their robes (not even for a friendly pose).
As you can see — it’s ok to stand next to a monk after getting his consent to take a photo together. But langorous arm-draping is a no-no!
Burmese children grow up learning the founding legend of this stupa. Once upon a time, two brothers were traveling when they met the Buddha beneath a tree. They offered him food, and as a thanks, the Buddha gave them eight hairs from his head!
The brothers put the 8 hairs in a ruby casket and carried them back to Burma, where they started to build Shwedagon Pagoda with the help of their king.
There are other relics preserved in the temple complex, ranging from sacred robes to… an ancient water filter.
This sign illustrates the story of the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment. Love the rainbow colors, and the gorgeous Burmese script.
It’s apparent how much meaning the Buddhist teachings have to locals here, through each stage of their lives.
We’re very glad we got to spend time in Myanmar, a travel destination that people often overlook.
Such an interesting contrast between monastic simplicity, and golden richness.
When we saw these flares of light, we knew why “Shwedagon Zedi Daw” is also know as the Golden Pagoda.
Don’t forget to walk around the edges of the complex, which tend to be quieter, and filled with surprses. Such as: a bodhi tree.
Siddartha Gautama meditated under a bodhi tree until he attained nirvana. Perhaps this monk, crouched under the canopy, will follow his path.
We encountered this lion guardian on the outskirts as well. The pale pink claws are on point.
Shwedagon is heaven for people-watching and photography. (All images by Sniper Chau.)
The women we met were stylish and self-possessed. The Burmese are known for their welcoming nature, perhaps testament to the Buddhist culture.
This nun smiled at us as we passed by, and her group of children followed suit. Moments like this remind me of why I travel.
I hope this photo diary conveyed the magic of Yangon’s Great Dagon stupa. Although the pagoda is not a household name, it now ranks among my favorite wonders of the world (and I’ve been to Petra, Angkor Wat, Hagia Sophia and more).
Coming up: we’ll show you more of Yangon, including Sule Pagoda and art galleries. A big thank you to ParkRoyal Hotel for the driver and travel tips. (See our review of ParkRoyal Myanmar here.)
Have you heard of Shwedagon before? Isn’t this spiritual site inspiring? Thank you again to everyone who voted for me in the Best Blogger of the Year awards — none of these adventures would be possible without your love!