Embassy Traffic, Military Hands Out & One Good Ice Cream Cone

Posted by on Feb 8, 2005 in Myanmar (Burma) | No Comments

The main attraction in Yangon is the Shwedagon Paya, but my favorite thing to do in any city is walk around, get lost and watch everyday people doing everyday things. The day after The Shwedagon I decided to head out to another paya described in the Lonely Planet guidebook as having a “mirrored maze”–sounded right up my alley.

On the way to the mirror-maze paya I headed East and soon found myself walking along with about one hundred other people on their way somewhere. At one point all of the traffic stopped and wrapped along side streets. I was curious what could be blocking our way–an accident, a market? It was none other than the U.S. embassy! Housed in a British colonial style building, the embassy appeared to take up most of the block, but the real problem was the cement barricades covered in rolls of barb wire blocking off the entire street and sidewalk in front of the embassy. After stopping in front to laugh a bit I walked around the entire block and spotted the tiny Australian embassy behind one door which opened up to the sidewalk, no barbed wire in sight.

The U.S. detour took me along the river front, which is lined with shipping containers and other generally unaesthetic industry. Along one empty port was the maze paya. Right outside the entrance a military officer sat behind a sign that read “foreigner entrance $5.” Seeing as I had paid $5 to enter the Shwedagon Paya, a much more amazing site, I didn’t think the entrance fee was appropriate. I also wasn’t about to literally hand a military officer $5 to see a religious site. While I was standing about twenty feet away, surveying the scene, the officer noticed me and yelled out “five dollars!” Shaking my head an smiling I started to walk away while he yelled “three dollars!”

I had decided that in addition to visiting the mirror paya I wanted to head up north to a paya with a long, reclining Buddha. Away from the city center the streets widened and the buildings were scattered with more contemporary, usually unattractive, buildings. I wandered into a a neighborhood with an interesting paya. The stupa was quite plain, but covered in birds. Around the perimeter was a diverse group of statues and paintings. I dropped a donation into the glass boxes covered in Burmese script and headed back onto the street. Soon I spied The Shwedagon from quite a distance and realized I was near Kandawgi Lake. I was determined to get to the lake and navigated the wide road circling the fenced off park. As soon as I walked in I was greeted by a military officer asking for the entrance fee. I couldn’t believe there was an entrance fee to a lake, but I had made such an effort to get there I decided to pay the 1,000 kyat fee (a little over $1) to get past the guard. I was a bit moody and crumpled the ticket up in front of the guard and generally looked angry, even though I know from experience that anger is counterproductive in Asia. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see in the park. It was obviously for more wealthy locals, with playground equipment and small stands selling popsicles and drinks.

Typical delivery // Playground equipment // Tourist boat

Before heading out of town I had to stop at my favorite shop in Yangon–the ice cream shop! I was still one month out of the hot season but 90° heat was hot enough to warrant ice cream. The stand was on one of the major streets in town, in-between my hotel and the internet cafe. A girl served me the best mint chocolate chip ice cream I have ever head–in a waffle cone to boot! Looking back, I’m sure it wasn’t very good ice cream, but when it’s so humid that you are soaking wet all day long anything cold tastes glorious. Besides, 250 kyat (30 cents) is a small price to pay to cool down and prepare for my trip south to the golden rock, where I wasn’t sure I’d find any food at all.

You can see the photos from Yangon in the gallery.