I was already prepared for the worst for the 10+ hours Bus journey to Bagan from Yangon. Oh I’ve read so many horror stories of old buses breaking down, air-conditioning giving up mid-way the journey or even some bumpy roads that would shake you up awake. But, fortunate to say, it wasn’t even that close. Changes here were for the better and the journey was much more comfortable and easier than I expected. I guess it was too comfortable that I had to push my seatmate, who’s sleeping like oil, a few times as he constantly leans on my side of the seat.
The tranquil face of a gigantic Buddha filled my vision as I enter a large open shed with metal roof. He seemed contented there, reclining on the floor with his crown adorned with diamonds and precious stones glittering for everyone to see. This is Chaukhtatgyi Paya, home of this gigantic Buddha, uncommonly known but is considered one of the most beautiful reclining Buddha in Myanmar.
“Where are you from?” is the usual ice-breaker question people here would ask. “I’m from the Phillippines” I replied with a smile as I bite into my toasted slice of bread with a healthy layer of butter and strawberry jam while having breakfast. Young adults here like to engage in a conversation to practice their English. “Where are you going today?” I told him that I’d be leaving tonight for Bagan but this morning I’ll hit the streets of Downtown Yangon first to do some sightseeing.
Surprisingly, the endless stream of people didn’t bother me at all. My sight was fixated at the cone-shaped stupa piercing the sky. The afternoon light strikes its slab of gold layers making it shimmer magnificently under the sun. I am humbled by the towering presence of the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred, the most ancient and the 2nd oldest Buddhist pagoda not only in Burma but all over the world. Surrounding the main stupa are numerous mini stupas, shrines, pavilions and prayer halls that it’s easy to get lost on the platform on a hill and be overwhelmed by the many details.
Maps are my best friend when I’m exploring a new place. Starting from where I am, the Motherland Inn 2, I asked the girl at the reception for the location of the Thian Phyu Money Changer Center on the map and found out it was about 3 blocks south west. Since I don’t have any kyat yet, I just decided to walk. Besides, exploring on-foot is the usual way for me to get to know the city. Botataung Paya is on the way so it might be a good place for a side trip.
As always, the first step when coming in to a new country is adapting. And this process can be an ease or a struggle depending on our initial encounters with the locals. And it couldn’t be any easier when the place you’re staying is already used to foreigners like Motherland Inn 2 in Yangon. It’s like a backpacker’s haven in this part of the country since most foreigners go here and there’s a good reason why.
There are no direct flights to Yangon, Myanmar from the Philippines so I had to make a couple of flights to get there. First step was to get Bangkok, the closest possible airport to Yangon. I was lucky to get a cheap flight there through an introductory promo fare from Seair/Tiger Airways from Clark. On the rainy morning of November 2, 2011, I made my way to Megamall which is only 15 minutes from home. The Philtranco Bus (P400) headed to Clark was ready for its 7am departure. It’s been a while since I travelled by my lonesome and that familiar feeling of fear and excitement crept in. I don’t know what to expect of Myanmar except that I would be cut-off from the rest of the world for two weeks.