Yangoon, 2013-02-22 12:00 by Laerke
Wonderful, smiling and kind hearted Myanmar, this is how I remembered it when I was there the first time in 2005. Now eight years later I was slightly anxious to return, living in Bangkok all I’d heard for a while is Myanmar, Myanmar, Myanmar! “Myanmar is booming, it is opening, it is full of opportunities”, foreign interests are all trying to figure out how to get in and get a piece of the cake. Also travelers were excited to get in “before it just becomes another Thailand”, and I was hearing stories of how expensive accommodation had become because there wasn’t enough hotels for all the people coming in so the prices skyrocketed. And here I was left with my fond memories of smiling faces and thanaka covered cheeks, dusty streets and sweet strawberries, and being stopped by monks on the street who wanted to help, and a general and genuine interest from the people to hear about us and the outside world. I was worried about what I was going to find now in the new and changed Myanmar.


Michael Learns to Rock, a 90s Danish pop band that is still dearly beloved in Asia, is one of the very first international bands to play in Myanmar – yes, Myanmar is indeed opening up!

I was going on a University field trip with my class, we were going to Yangon, Nyepidaw and Mandalay and we were going to visit NGO’s, embassies, ministries and even a school/monastery.


Street scenes from Yangon

However one of the first things we did in Yangon was to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda – a must see in Yangon. According to legend the Shwedagon Pagoda has existed for more than 2,600 years, making it the oldest historical pagoda in Burma and the world. According to tradition, two merchant brothers, Taphussa and Bhallika, from the land of Ramanya, met the Lord Gautama Buddha during his lifetime and received eight of the Buddha's hairs in BC 588. The brothers traveled back to their homeland in Burma and, with the help of the local ruler, King Okkalapa of Burma, found Singuttara Hill, where relics of other Buddhas preceding Gautama Buddha had been enshrined. When the king opened the golden casket in which the brothers had carried the hairs, incredible things happened:

There was a tumult among men and spirits ... rays emitted by the Hairs penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell ... the blind beheld objects ... the deaf heard sounds ... the dumb spoke distinctly ... the earth quaked ... the winds of the ocean blew ... Mount Meru shook ... lightning flashed ... gems rained down until they were knee deep ... all trees of the Himalayas, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.

Even though the earth didn’t shake when I laid eyes upon the pagoda the Shwedagon truly is beautiful, and once you’ve reached the top of the stairs it is almost as if you enter into a magical realm of gold and glitter, happy people and spirituality. We got there in the late afternoon and we able to witness the changing colors of the sky and the pagoda as day turned to the golden hour and the sky went from a light blue to a deep, saturated dark blue and finally the all-encompassing darkness of a tropical night. Through it all the pagoda shone like the pure gold it is coated in!


The first day in Myanmar went well, and it didn’t seem as changed as I had imagined. People were still smiling, the pagodas were still shining, and the government still seemed terrible corrupt.