Burma, a country with a unique past and rich culture has always been a place I’ve wanted to visit. I had the good fortune to visit the country ten years ago when I was just a small yet round boy at the tender age of nine. Ten years have passed since that trip and a lot of things has changed since then. In the time that has passed I have grown older, wiser and importantly, the country has changed significantly.
The change was first evident when we landed at the new Yangon airport terminal. The last time we were here the airport did not have a single aerobridge nor air-conditioning. Now it has changed with many aerobridges and an fast efficient immigration booth. The second shock was the road traffic. The road traffic in Burma is incredibly chaotic. This is due to the fact that in Burma they drive on the right even though the steering wheel on most motor vehicles is on the right. The traffic has certainly increased since the last time I was here and it was chaotic. The cars variety also increased as now we see cars ranging from the Tata Nano to a Mercedes GL500. Multinational companies have also increased in numbers here. In the past we would mostly see Japanese and Singaporean companies setting up offices. This is because they were the only countries to do trade with the Junta Government. Nowadays we see companies from places like China who are expanding into Burma for their resources.
On the drive from the airport, the guide informed us that we would be going from the airport The Shwedagon Pagoda. Our guide compared it to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem in Israel, in terms of holy sites. I had first visited this site as a kid and I was in shock of the sheer size of the pagoda. Ten years later I still am amazed by the effort that went into creating this landmark. The pagoda is made entirely out of gold and gems such as Burmese Rubies and diamonds on the top of the pagoda a 76 Karat diamond.
Our guide gave us some interesting stories about this pagoda. The legend of the pagoda goes back to the 15th century when two Burmese merchants went to visit the Buddha. The merchants gave him gifts in exchange for gifts from him. The Buddha then gave the two princes 8 strands of his hair and they brought it back with them and put it in the base of the pagoda. It was built in the 15th Century and the original pagoda was only 66 ft tall. It reached its full height of 325 ft in the late 18th century I believe. All this was achieved through rebuilding and restructuring of the complex.
After visiting the pagoda and taking some amazing pictures we soon head for dinner at a place called Monsoon Palace, a place which was popular amongst tourists. I was able to have my first chance of trying some of the local cuisine which is mainly influenced by Thai, Chinese and Indian foods. I also had a chance to try the country’s famous local brew, Myanmar Beer. The beer had a smoother taste compared to my local Singapore beer, Tiger. The food we had was a simple stir fry dish with some rice and noodles. After dinner we went back to the hotel to rest up for the long day that awaited us.