After taking some time off from traveling over the holidays, we just returned from a trip to Southeast Asia. Although the pacing of that trip was such that we did not post during our travels, we have many stories to share. Come along with us over the next few weeks as we sort through our photos and reminisce about these exotic lands of ancient kingdoms.
Our first stop was Myanmar. Formerly known as Burma during British colonial times, the name was changed back to Myanmar in 1989.
Myanmar is slightly smaller than Texas, with a population of approximately 60 million. There are over 135 ethnic groups speaking at least 19 separate languages – – explaining why uniting the country after independence from British colonial rule in 1948 has been an elusive goal. Myanmar was virtually closed to the outside world during the totalitarian government of the military dictatorship which seized power in the early 1960’s, and has just recently begun the slow process of transitioning to democracy and opening to tourism.
We began our visit in the largest city, Yangon, with a population of around 6 million. There are a few scattered villas belonging to the small upper class, but there is a great gap between the rich and the poor. Most of the housing is similar to that of many other developing countries, i.e. not so great.
Running water is not available in many areas, and we witnessed the daily water gathering at a village just across the river from the city center.
Buddhism is the dominant religion, and pagodas are seen everywhere. Many are “over the top” in scale or treasure. For example, the reclining Buddha at Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda is over 200 feet long!
The Shwedagon Pagoda, often called the Golden Pagoda, dominates the city skyline with its grandeur. The pagoda was started in the 6th century, and has been enlarged over the years. Containing relics of the past four Buddhas, it is a major pilgrimage site. The golden color is especially beautiful at sunset. And that color is not paint, but real gold, upwards of 60 tons of solid gold plates!
Still trying to fathom that amount of gold, we prepared to leave Yangon. Our next stop in Myanmar will be Bagan, “city of a million pagodas.” Stay tuned.