Friday, April 25, 2008
BURMA by Josefina Laurel
It was with some trepidation that I decided to go to Myanmar (Burma) in early February of this year to fulfill a birthday promise to my beau that we would visit the only southeast asian country he had not seen. The reasons for my trepidation were firstly, Myanmar is and has been ruled by the military for over 4 decades. Secondly, I learned that when one visits Myanmar one should be prepared to lose touch with civilization as we know it because cellphone usage there is blocked and access to the internet for email purposes is very difficult and expensive. Thirdly, credit cards are not accepted in Myanmar so one has to take enough cash for all expenses there. What a hassle. Later, I was to find out later that credit cards are accepted in certain hotels like the Sedona but at a mark up of anywhere from 4.5 to 8%. The Myanmar government does not make it easy for one to get a visa. My travel companion and I had to personally go to the Embassy of Burma in Manila to sign an affidavit saying we were not journalists and we would not interfere with the internal affairs of Myanmar. We got a 28-day visa which is now standard and stayed for 18 days.We arrived on Feb 2sd in Yangon via Bankok ( an hour's flight on Thai Airways) on a Saturday evening. Being tired from our one week prior trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia to tour the Angkor Wat and its neighbouring temples I did not feel too well upon arrival in Yangon and remained mostly hotel-bound. The Yangon int'l airport is modern enough, that impressed me immediately but reminded me of our awful int'l airport here in Manila. We took a car to our Kandawgyi Palace Hotel which used to be the museum of natural history. It is a beautiful hotel made of teak and has a lovely lobby pavillon. We were billeted in a non-smoking room (as I requested ) on the 5th floor. Walking through the promenade on the 4th floor to get to the 5th floor we were treated to a startling and beautiful view of the great Shw edagon Pagoda, a dazzling gold monument thrusting out in the dark horizon. The most vivid image I take away from Yangon is of this magnificent pagoda. On the afternoon of our second day I went just before sunset to the site of the great Shwedagon. Fortunately there is an elevator that one can use to get to the top of the hill. The Shwedagon pagoda is a huge bell-shaped pagoda with tons of gold-leaf applied to it over some 500 years. Surrounding it are many other temples, stupas, pagodas and bells. One is required to go unshod upon entering the sacred ground of the pagoda. Upon entering the holy site one is amazed at the living spirituality shown by the devotees all over kneeling in front of the different temples.