Monday 30th / Tues 31st / Wed 1st – Nay Pyi Taw to Yangon
This part of the trip started with a long driving day, backdown from the hills south towards Nay Pyi Taw – the brand new capital city of Myanmar.
It was built in secret just after the millennium and all of the government and military personnel moved here over a few months in 2005. It has been designed to cope with an increasingly city based population of many million but currently only 1 million people have moved in – so the 22 lane road outside the government building, where we stopped to take photos, was well able to cope with 1 bus load of amused tourists and 1 motorbike…
It’s very like Milton Keynes with a grid system and roundabouts at every intersection and oddly the city has been zoned into distinct areas including a hotel zone and a restaurant zone – which unfortunately are nowhere near each other so we ended up eating Thai food in the supermarket next door to the hotel.
On the way in, we stopped at the Uppatasanti Paya built by General Than Shwe, which is a replica of the Shwedagon Paya in Yangon but 30 cm shorter. Around the base the General installed a group of elephants – a couple of which were the fabled white (pink!) elephants along with a couple of regular grey ones. They aren’t kept in the greatest conditions but we’re told they are allowed to wander the grounds once their duties are complete each day.
We stayed overnight in a bizarrely gigantic hotel, complete with restaurant inside a disused aeroplane which is 10m in front of the hotel so of course required a golf buggy to transport us to breakfast. All really odd and Seems to have more in common with China than the rest of Myanmar.
In stark contrast the next day we transferred 2hrs down the road to the old capital city of Yangon – where to be honest everyone has stayed including all of the foreign embassies. As you can see below…the traffic was very different to Nay Pyi Taw!
The next day Thura took us on a walking tour of the highlights – as the city does have some interesting buildings left over from colonial times – ending at the main market. I have to confess left to our own devices, we opted out of culture and dived into the fantastic coffee shop next door to the market and enjoyed being westerners for an hour while drinking frappacinos in icy air con.
That afternoon we visited the Shwedagon Pagoda which is a huge golden pagoda visible across most of Yangon. There is supposed to have been a pagoda on this site for over 2500 years and it is one of Buddhism’s most sacred sights. The main stupa – the Nuangdawgyi Pagoda – is covered in 27 metric tonnes of gold leaf and the weathervane at the top is covered in diamonds and other precious stones. It is supposed to contain sacred relics from 3 former Buddhas and 8 hairs from the Gautama Buddha.
All around the stupa are other pagodas filled with other representations of Buddha and other religious relics, its a great place for people watching with visiting worshippers, monks, tourists and a dynamic team of sweepers who at 5 pm formed lines across the patio and swept around the pagodas.
That evening we went up market to the lovely Rangoon Tea house for our farewell dinner as 7 of the group were leaving the tour at this point to either head home or to carry on in another direction. We were leaving at 7am the next day to head south so we let Jack and Tony take on the bulk of the drinking duties.