12 Jan - 18 Jan 2012 Yangon

Republic of the Union of Myanmar aka Burma
Konzaydan Street 69
White House Hotel +951240780 whitehouse.mm@gmail.com
Spacious and clean double room (no. 702), with private bathroom, for US$ 22.- per night, including a bottomless, vegetarian buffet brunch for two.

Click below for an interactive road map of the White House Hotel in Yangon and for directions:

Exploring on foot Yangon’s decaying downtown (an amalgamation of British, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences) thus starting our tour at the 2,200-year old Sule Paya, the geographic and commercial heart of the city where the British-designed grid street pattern is centred, and wandering around this architectural hodge podge where golden, ancient pagodas share the crowded streets with colonial dishevelled Rangoon, having delightful encounters with friendly and welcoming local men (who still wore their traditional skirtlike longyis) and women (whose faces were still dolloped with tan-coloured thanakha, a make-up/sunblock made from powdered wood), relaxing our tattered feet afterwards with the help of a professional foot reflexology treatment at the Central Hotel’s 6th-floor massage parlour +951241007 for only MMK 6,000.- or US$ 7.50 per hour, conscious of the fact that a systematic review of 18 studies concluded about “…the best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition…”, but enjoying nevertheless the treatment since one reason that a foot massage is very pleasurable and always associated with a significant improvement in mood is the scientifically proven fact that the area of the brain which connects to the foot is adjacent to the area that connects to the genitals, at least according to the good doctors Ramachandran and Blakeslee in their marvelous book Phantoms in the Brain (most notably if the treatment is performed by a sexy therapist...).

Jumping into Yangon’s spiritual and religious diversity, temple-hopping (i) the auspicious and famous Thayettaw Kyaung Taik, a rotting 19th-century compound of 66 active Buddhist monasteries, (ii) the atmospheric Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue with its dilapidated, well-camouflaged exterior but beautifully maintained interior, founded 100 years ago by Sephardic Jews, (iii) the red-and-golden Kheng Hock Keong, Yangon’s largest Chinese (Hokkien) temple, humming with preparations for the upcoming Chinese New Year of the Dragon, (iv) the colourful, kitschy Sri Kali Hindu temple near our hotel and (v) the classy Holy Trinity Cathedral, an Anglican cathedral built by the British, and noticing the mushrooming palmistry and astrology industry all over the city, infallible signs for an approaching and overdue Burmese version of glasnost and perestroika: “Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi/Reine?”

Changing money (i) first on the black market (MMK [“kyat”] 800.- for US$ 1.-) in the vicinity of Sule Paya and studying how the money changers on the street short-change their innocent clients, luckily without us falling prey to it: (a) they whisper to you a rate ways above the market rate (e.g. MMK 900.- for US$ 1.-) which tempts you and lures you into their trap, (b) they even let you seemingly take control of the whole deal, almost to the very end, (c) now, when the deal is almost finished, they distract and irritate you (e.g. they tell you that your money is not good enough, they tell you that your money has the wrong serial numbers, they tell you that the police are coming), (d) and they make you give them your counted stack of already received 1,000-kyat bills back and here they do some very elegant, almost DavidCopperfield-like sleight-of-hand trick (e.g. they quickly scratch the back of their head and some of the bills disappear into their shirt collar), (e) eventually, they agree to finish the deal with you, pretending to compromise or to give in, … and at the end you will have changed your money at a rate of plus/minus MMK 600.- for US$ 1.- which you only realise later in your hotel if/when you recount your received kyat; and (ii) afterwards in one of the black ubermarket’s new and shiny private banks, the Myanmar Industrial Development Bank, where the uniformed working bees gave us even MMK 825.- for US$ 1.-, air-conditioned, in brand-new 5,000-kyat bills, no stress and with a home-made receipt, really nice.

Worshipping the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Moon (Konni) and Saturn (Matt) at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda’s day shrines, gawking in awe at the top of the 98-m high, gold-plated stupa, the seven-tiered hti (which is hung with gold bells, silver bells and various items of donated jewellery) and trying to identify the lofty diamond orb (a hollow golden sphere which is studded with 4,351 diamonds totalling 1,800 carats) at the very top of the wind vane tipped with a single 76-carat diamond.

Making friends with the superhuman nat (spirits) at (i) the touristy Chauk Htat Gyi Paya with its monstrous, 66-m long reclining Buddha (length of one of his erotic eyelashes: more than 30 cm) and at (ii) the nearby Nga Gtat Gyi Paya where the greedy monks and trustees of the Ashay Tawya monastery (entrance fee for foreigners: US$ 2.-) keep their huge seated (five storey) Buddha in a tall, metal-roofed shed as if he were King Kong.

Making friends with the superhuman nat (spirits) at (i) the many scruffy “beer stations” in Yangon (Myanmar draft beer: MMK 600.- per pint), (ii) the many efficient, Chinese run supermarkets (640-ml bottles of ice-cold Myanmar Beer for MMK 1,300.- or US$ 1.60, Dagon Lager Green Label for MMK 1,000.- or US$ 1.20 and Mandalay Lager also for 1,000.- or US$ 1.20) and at (iii) the many rugged streetside food stalls where we indulged in the most delicious mohinga (rice noodles with fish soup) for only MMK 300.- or US$ 0.35 per generous helping.

Embarking on the cross-river rust bucket to Dalah (MMK 1,000.- or US$ 1.20 per foreigner) and crossing the murky waters of the Yangon River, thereafter buying two of the 30 (!) crowded “seats” in a crammed pick-up truck from Dalah to Twante (25 km, 1 hour, MMK 500.- or US$ 0.60 per foreigner) and exploring this cluster of dusty roads which is lined with make-shift bamboo huts and ramshackle wooden shops by means of Kyaw Soe’s worn bicycle trishaw (2 hours for MMK 6,000.- or US$ 7.30), which he has to rent from its owner for MMK 1,000.- US$ 1.20 per day: (i) watching a local master potter making water containers of varying shapes and sizes from river clay, (ii) visiting cotton weavers and (iii) exploring the 76-m tall Shwe San Daw Paya, a Mon-made stupa which was built just a few years after the one at Yangon’s Shwe Dagon Paya.

Taking city bus no. 43 from Sule Paya Bus Stand to the Aung Mingalar Bus Station aka Highway Bus Station (15 km, ¾ hour, MMT 300.- or US$ 0.35 per person) and thereafter the ultra-modern, very comfortable Ye Thu Aung overnight express bus (about 550 km, 11 hours, MMK 15,000.- or US$ 18.30 per foreigner, booked one day in advance from our hotel) to Nyaung U, the town which most independent travellers call home while in Bagan, home to the largest area of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries CE (described by Marco Polo as a "… gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks' robes …").

Click below for a summary of this year's travels
2012 Map Konni & Matt

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