This was where I drew my first breath, and thus its magic simply remains unmatched.
1. Shwedagon Pagoda (Shwedagon Paya/Shwedagon Zedi Daw)
The feeling of your sole pressing against the cool marble floor. Planting your body and soul on that very platform so that you can just look up and admire the Golden Pagoda against the canvas of the night. The smell of flowers and burning incense sticks. The sound of chimes, chants, and peaceful prayers. The flames of candles and lights shining the night. The sense of secure serenity as you feel as one with everyone under the same sacred sky. I find magic and peace here, every single time.
No matter where I go, this will always be the most magical, holy, and peaceful place I know.
A Little Homework Help!
- Go once at night, and once at dawn (If you have time! If not, definitely at night!)
- Walk up the stairs (Eastern or Southern stairways are the most beautiful)
- For both ladies and gents, modest clothing is the most desired sign of respect (if you bought a traditional longyi or Burmese outfit, this is the best place to wear!) 🙂
P.s – Nearby is Kandawgyi Park where you can admire Shwedagon from afar and also find another golden icon of Karaweik Hall on the waters.
2. The Reclining Buddha (Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda)
The silence. Not the kind that frightens but the kind that soothes the soul. It was almost dusk and I sat on the carpet to pay homepage and meditate for a while.
When I opened my eyes, I saw an old lady sitting not far from me. I didn’t know how and when she arrived but she was all alone. And gosh, she looked so frail, I thought she must had been close to hundred years old! But there was a sense of strength and sharpness in her movements. She arranged her belongings around her and soon after started her prayers.
I sat in silence with her for a while. Maybe it was the spell of her undying devotion.
I felt as if I found a beacon of longevity.
3. The Five-Tiered Buddha (Ngar Htat Gyi Pagoda)
All I had to do was to cross the road from Chauk That Gyi Pagoda and there I was, standing awe-struck and humbled, in the presence of a 30 feet tall Buddha.
Then I found this ancient full-length mirror at one corner (almost like a mini-version of The Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter). On the top, there were Burmese words along the meaning of:
“You are already beautiful dear. Now let’s just try to beautify your soul instead.
For when you are beautiful from the inside, both your inner and outer beauty will be flawless and unmatched throughout the cycle of life.”
A Little Homework Help!
- The Nine-Tiered Pagoda (Koe That Gyi Pagoda) stands ever taller at 72 feet and is located in another part of the city (Bargayar Road, Sanchaung Township).
4. Neighbourhood Wet Markets
The heartbeat of everyday life.
I grew up following my mum to our neighbourhood wet market on the weekend mornings. Supermarkets were not a thing (still not till today for many Burmese people) and therefore our groceries all came from the individual vendors along the muddy lanes. You know the vendors and their life stories, and they too know which days you come and what is going on in your life.
And getting to tread along these lanes always leaves me in a state of wonder. The rawness of life. The freshness. The lack of pretence. Seeing individuals from all walks of life in one place.
No Food Safety Act? No problem for the citizens! (In fact many have never heard of it even.)
5. Local Wholesale Markets/Bazaars
Walking down the narrow aisles while brushing my hands across the endless rows of fabrics of every pattern and colour has never failed to fascinate me since I was a child. The bargaining voices. The banter between the stall owners. The rainbow display of bras. Piles and piles of shoes. Towers of toilet paper rolls. The glittering lights from the jewellers.
A Little Homework Help!
- Hledan Market is one of the most authentic (it is both wet and wholesale market)
- Others include Scott or Bogyoke Aung San Market (more touristy), Yuzana Plaza (which was once like Hledan, just much bigger in scale, but I believe now is more of like a shopping centre) and other wholesale markets in downtown
There is where I find another world of Yangon comes to life as the night rises. And by this, I mean the street food, the street artists, the street stalls, the street vendors of various trade, anything street related flourish along the streets of Chinatown district.
And once again, among this madness under the flickering orange lamps, I strangely find myself in a state of astonishment.
7. Yangon River (Rangoon River)
As the sun set on the Yangon River, I was mesmerised not by the sunset but by the boats full of people crossing the river to go back to their homes at the end of a long day.
At the docks, I saw a young man asleep on the wooden platform with his head and body covered in his own longyi (sarong) but his legs exposed. I did not know if he was dead or alive.
So I walked around the area cautiously to examine, and to my relief, saw the regular subtle rise and fall of the fabric around his face. He could have been homeless. Or perhaps this was just his much-needed nap as he waited for the boat to go home instead.
A Little Homework Help!
- You can catch sunset at the Yangon River and then head to Chinatown for the Night Markets, they are right around the corner from each other.
8. Yangon University & Inya Lake
I did not even go to high school in Yangon but I was extremely lucky to have sat in the convocation hall of legendary Yangon University a couple of times (thanks to my older siblings and cousins) when I was a child. Once upon a time, scholars from South East Asia region came to this campus for their university studies. Now, it is only an empty shell.
But to be in the vicinity of the iconic building, the trees, and the surrounding Inya Lake that had seen this past, is simply an experience that amalgamates the present and the past.
9. Dhamma Joti Vipassana Centre
This one is special. And perhaps the first place I found a glimpse of peace when I was 5 years old.
I took my first meditation retreat back then at this mystical, magical place, and spent a good portion of the little pockets of time from my childhood here.
Sadly I haven’t gone back to this place since forever.
Still, till today, I remember the little bridge over the lake full of lotus leaves, the wooden walkway that we had to cross to reach the front office where we would register our names, state how many times we had come for retreat, and then off to our chambers among the little forest to place our beds and belongings. The retreats ranged from one day to five, six, seven days, and as children, we meditated, discussed our learnings, and for the rest of the time, simply played as if the world was ending.
If my lifelong appreciation of peace is a tree, this was where I was gifted with the seed.
Yangon is only the first glimpse of this golden land, yet it already allows us to taste, see, and experience the essence and the truth of the Burmese lives. A city physically trapped between the walls of the past, but spiritually enlightening for its travellers and inhabitants. And the majority of the good-hearted souls of those who call this city home, pass the days and nights with ironical content and hope…
May you find your peace in this city of truth too,