Rising Phoenix of Travel
By Carol Rudy
To be entirely honest, Myanmar was not my first choice of destination. It only dawned as a possibility when I was browsing through a pile of travel brochures that led me to a plain small poster half-covered with other pamphlets with a single bold title printed across – MINGLABA. Intrigued by the words, I obliged and gave it a read. I was surprised to discover that a whole new world of travel awaited me in Myanmar – and it delivered!
When Myanmar was first introduced as the land of pagodas, they really meant it. There are hundreds of pagodas in Myanmar in each state that I had a hard time choosing which ones to visit. I finally decided to start with Sule and Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, simply because of their top destination reviews, and was completely smitten by the beauty of these amazing religious monuments!
I was expecting to find Sule Pagoda segregated from the city in the midst of peaceful corner. Imagine my surprise when the taxi driver dropped me off right in the middle of downtown Yangon! Apparently Sule Pagoda was famous for its distinct location right in the heart of the city. The combination of a traditional and religious architecture in the busy streets of Yangon threw me off at first, because it seemed odd that a religious site should be placed in the middle of a busy street. However, I understood the placement when evening broke, because I was lucky enough to witness the pagoda light up against the setting sun. The sight was simply mesmerising as people crowded around us to watch. Locals made themselves comfortable sitting around the pagoda, chatting amongst themselves in their longyi, and I admired how casually these people could have a good time with friends by the pagoda as the sun set elegantly in the horizon.
Eager for more, I visited Shwedagon Pagoda at dawn the next day and was rewarded with an astonishing sight. The gold-plated dome was magnificently decorated with glistening diamonds, rubies and precious stones, giving me a new understanding on why the pagoda was nicknamed ‘Crown of Myanmar’. I couldn’t take my eyes off the whole pagoda and was quite enchanted by this massive structure that spanned 114-acres. It was fun to experiment with different photos and angles as each corner readily offered a new viewpoint for better sights. Who knew how architecture could be appreciated in so many different ways! When the sun rose and finally sets its first rays on the smooth gold surface, the pagoda actually glowed. This left a deep impression and would be one of the few spectacles I would remember for a long time.
Another awesome site is all the way up in the city of Bagan, which can be reached by both bus and train. My tour started with visiting Shwe Gu Gyi temple that used to be the religious site of an ancient city that once flourished in Mandalay. The tour guide was kind enough to share a tip: Climb up the rooftop to get the best view. He was right. I had a bird’s eye view of the encompassing landscape, and I could even spot other monuments that the guide pointed out and named. The raw excitement I felt being at the top gave me an exhilarating sense of adventure I had been missing for a long time. My excitement peaked when I climbed back down and continued the tour, the cracked structures and deserted surroundings made me feel like I had travelled back in time to Old Bagan.
Moving on, we headed to Shwesandaw Pagoda. I had heard from other tourists that the sunset at the pagoda was an unparalled beauty to not miss. I patiently waited for the sunset along with the other tourists, we exchanged quick smiles as the guide called for our attention. The sun had begun to set, and we watched in silent admiration as the sky changed from light blue to splashes of red, yellow, orange and violet. It was a healing moment for me as the day’s exhaustion crept away and I felt a new tranquillity settle in.
The country’s natural beauty placed against the pagodas is truly a site to behold and I felt fulfilled witnessing them all. No doubt I would surely return for more, hopefully to visit its wildlife sanctuaries and join in their merry festivals. There would also be the famous one-legged boat rowing competition to catch, which I’ve heard multiple times really sets your adrenaline going!
Myanmar is, to me, the rising phoenix of travel. I believe that this country will soon be at par with other Southeast Asian countries. It won’t take long before they are the top tourist destination and I would be proud to say I was here first!