August 31, 2012

Yangon attractions – Part 2

We started Day 2 by driving past Aung San Suu Kyi’s house.  The house is surrounded by a high wall and so cannot be seen from the street.  Since her release from house arrest in November 2010, the military no longer guard the house.  The entrance is emblazoned with the National League of Democracy (NLD) posters and flags.

We then drove 32km to Taukkyan Allied War Memorial.  The memorial commemorates over 30,000 British Commonwealth soldiers who died in Burma during World War II.  There are 6,374 beautifully well-kept graves, and a further 27,000 names of fallen soldiers with no known graves are engraved on the Rangoon Memorial, an imposing and sombre memorial pillar.  The memorial is built and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Inscriptions on the top reads: Here are recorded the names of 27,000 soldiers of many races united in service to the British Crown who gave their lives in Burma and Assam but to whom the fortune of war denied the customary rites accorded to their comrades in death 

Names of soldiers inscripted on the pillars 

 Another wall with names

On the way back, we stopped by a temple, the highlight of which is the image of a sitting Buddha crafted from a single piece of marble.

The Kaba Aye Pagoda was built by U Nu, one of the earlier prime ministers of Myanmar not long after her independence from the British in 1954 in dedication to the Sixth Buddhist Synod held from 1954-56.  This 34 metres high pagoda also measures 34 meters around the base.  Nearby is the Mahapasana Cave, a man-made cave built simultaneously with the Kaba Aye Pagoda to host the Sixth Buddhist Synod.  Inside the assembly hall measuring 67m long and 140m wide, 2500 monks converged to recite, edit and approve all of the Buddhist scriptures.  It is now still used for major Buddhist ceremonies and conferences, and examination and ordination of monks.

We then drove past the Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda, a pagoda made entirely of glass mosaic.  The name Sein Yaung Chi means “reflection of diamond”.

August 29, 2012

Yangon attractions – Part 1

The airport taxi driver who took me from the airport to the hotel offered to take me around and act as my guide.  I agreed he’s a certified tour guide, and I knew getting around on my own will be difficult due to language issue.

I gave him the list of things that I wanted to see and we covered pretty everything over 1.5 days, including some sites where we made impromptu stops because they were on the way.

Our first stop was the Bogyoke Aung San Museum.  This two-storey building where Burma’s national independence leader, General Aung San lived with his family until the time of his assassination was turned into museum in 1962.  The house is still in original condition, with many interesting items on display, for instance Aung San's car, his library, his suit and family photos.  Outside is the pond where his son Aung San Lin drowned.  This accident was one of the reasons why the family moved.

The lake where Aung San's son drowned

Covering an area of 150 acres, Kandawgyi Lake is best known for its glittering Karaweik barge, a replica of traditional Burmese royal barge.  Established in the 1980s in the shape of the mythical Karaweik bird, it houses a floating restaurant, a ceremonial hall and shops selling Myanmar art and crafts.

Courting couples like this is a common sight around the lake 

The Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda houses the 65 meters long reclining Buddha, the largest reclining Buddha image in Myanmar.  Originally built in 1907, it has suffered damage due to climate over the years.  In 1957, it was demolished and rebuilt to its current structure.  The uniqueness of the image is the mosaic on the sole of its feet representing the 108 sacred Buddha symbols.  (Note: In all pagoda, footwear is not permitted.  Visitors have to remove their footwear (even socks) at the gates before setting food inside the pagoda).

Our final stop on Day 1 was the single most important religious site in the whole of Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda.  The central stupa is covered in genuine gold plates weighing an estimated 52 metric tones and topped with a 76 carat diamond, and surrounded by smaller shrines.  The temple was built between the 6th and 10th centuries although the site atop Singuttara Hill has been considered holy for over 2,500 years.  Also know as the Golden Temple, Shwedagon is the most sacred pagoda as it enshrines the relics of the three earlier Buddhas and eight hairs of Gautama Buddha.

Day shrines around the eight corners of the stupa.  There are eight shrines, one for each day of the week, with an additional one on Wednesday (in the Burmese calendar, Wednesday is divided into two parts).  Most Burmese pray at their day shrine when visiting the pagoda.

3D murals showing distinctive Myanmar landscape, temple, country life, architecture, palace and court sceneries, period costumes and mythical animals flank the upper part of the walls of all the four entrances to Shwedagon

We purposely visited in the early evening and stayed on till night fell to have a glimpse of the pagoda by night.  The dazzling day sight turned magical by night when the whole place was lit up.

August 26, 2012

Yangon, an overview

When I was asked to provide training to my Myanmar colleagues in early July, I agreed without hesitation, as that would give me the opportunity to visit Yangon, which I would never have visited on my own.  I had been so busy during that period that I forgot to check on visa requirement, until I was alerted by my Singaporean colleague just days before I was scheduled to fly.  Henceforth, it was a mad scramble trying to get the Myanmar office to issue me an official invitation letter, the local HR letter and getting the photo and visa forms ready for submission.  Malaysians travelling to Myanmar for business is entitled to apply for visa-on-arrival but I didn’t want to take the chance.

In this post, I will write on some general observations on Yangon and the Burmese people and culture.  First trivia fact – do you know that Yangon is no longer the capital of Myanmar?  I didn’t until I did some research in preparation for this trip.  Since November 2005, the capital of Myanmar was shifted Naypyidaw but with a population of over 5 million people, Yangon remains the largest city and main economic hub of Myanmar.

First thing I did upon arrival was to change some local currency, the kyat, as none was available at the money changers in Mid Valley or KLIA.  Credit cards are rarely accepted but USD can be used at hotels and upmarket restaurants.  When bringing or exchanging USD, be sure to take only clean, crisp notes; best if they are new notes.  Cashiers really scrutinize the USD notes and will reject those with even the slightest pen stroke and crease marks.  This doesn’t apply to kyat notes though.

I also had to rent a local SIM card, as Malaysian SIM cards do not work there.  In addition to the SIM card, I also had to buy prepaid credit cards – different cards for local and international calls.  I bought the credit for international call, yet it was so difficult to call to mobile numbers back home – either the line can’t get through, or the line dropped half-way.

Burmese is made up of predominantly Bamar people, with a relatively large Indian minority.  There’s also a small Chinese minority and ethnic groups such as the Shan and Karen.  The trademarks of the Burmese people has got to be their men wearing a sarong-like garment, called the longyi, and their betel nut chewing habit, resulting in friendly smiles reddened by bloody red juice.  Women put thanaka, a sun protection cream made from extracts of a tree branch.  Monks can be seen anytime of the day wandering the streets in their burgundy robes.

Men in longyi and women with thanaka on their faces

Chewing betelnut is so common that there are stalls like these selling pre-packed, ready-to-chew betelnut leaves

From Wikitravel: “…Yangon is the city where Toyota cars come to live out the rest of their days.  Plenty of old white Toyota Corolla taxis ply the streets…Be warned that almost all taxis are in an appaling condition, they're old, dirty and run down.  Don't expect aircon or seat belts that work.”  And this is so true – however, occasionally I could spot some new Honda/Toyota cars on the street.  With the opening up of the country and the expected boom in economy, I’m sure more new cars will be on the roads in the near future.

I went on a field visit with the Myanmar team and had the opportunity to visit the local shops.  Shopping in Yangon is pretty much limited to the traditional small grocery shops and few small supermarkets.  The only hypermarket in Yangon is the Capital Hypermarket, established in 1998.  There’s a newer, more upmarket supermarket with lots of imported goods, called Marketplace by City Mart.  Spotted quite a number of expats shopping there during my visit.  The latest mall to hit Yangon shores is Junction Square, opened only in March.  This is probably the coolest mall in Yangon right now, and it’s only here that I spotted many familiar brands like Bata, Iora, SKII, Ipanema, Giordano, Bonia and Face Shop, among others.

Photo from here 

The latest mall in Yangon, Junction Square 

Housing in the city 

And of course, the most famous produce from Myanmar is its gemstones.  Myanmar is well known for its rich mineral deposits that produce some of the world's finest rubies, blue sapphires, imperial jade and many other semi-precious items like peridot, amethyst, garnet, spinel, tourmaline, pearls, etc.  I bought these earrings for myself and mum - the ruby and sapphire ones for me and the jade ones for mum.

August 23, 2012

Yiu Yiu new art class

Yiu Yiu had been attending art class at Da Vinci since she was four.  Like any franchised child enrichment centres, we find the centre rather commercialized and somewhat impersonal.  So recently we switched her to an independent art centre near our house.  The proprietors of this centre are artists themselves, and the centre looks like an art studio.  Each week the students are given a theme and it’s then up the their imagination to create a piece of art befitting the theme.  Here are the first few pieces of her work: 

Theme: chameleon 

 Theme: my family

Theme: clock 

Theme: clothes

Theme: rainbow

After the first few classes, the teacher commented that she's not very confident in drawing, and takes a long time before putting pen to paper.  This stems from her worries that what she draws might not turn out nice,  hence her hesitation to even start.  Hopefully she'll gain more confidence as she continues her lessons.

August 21, 2012

Girls being cheeky

Mummy: Mei-mei, lets go take bath
Yan Yan: Not yet.
Mummy: Why not yet?
Yan Yan: Not yet BECAUSE not yet THEN not yet


Hubby had arranged the cloth hangers neatly on the sofa while removing freshly laundered clothes from them.  Yan Yan was playing nearby and hubby had asked her to be careful not to knock them over.  Not sure if the little prankster did it on purpose but knocked them down she did and she immediately turned to her papa and confessed, “Papa, I'm not careful again”


On the flight home from Koh Samui, it was raining and so there were turbulences.  Yan Yan commented, “The aeroplane is not careful, right?”


Cheeky girl always pretend not to hear what we say.  She then cups her ear with her hand and exclaims “Huh?” before pretending to listen intently when we repeat what we say.


Upon arrival at LCCT from Koh Samui, we passed by the duty free shops with large signs of Duty Free and Yiu Yiu cheekily asked, “All the things in the shop is free?”


We drove past a car wash centre and Yiu Yiu said "Look! There's a car massage”  There was a little sign in front of the centre promoting some Thai tomyam so my brain processed what she said as "There's a Thai massage".  I simply brushed it off with a "No la" and she explained herself, "Yes, it's Car Spa (the name of the centre), spa mah, so massage lah"

August 19, 2012

Day 3 in Koh Samui – Chilling by the pool and beach

We had a leisurely breakfast and took time to walk around the resort and snap pictures.

Girls waiting for their fried eggs

Enjoying their breakfast

We then spent the whole morning at the pool.

Before spending the rest of the afternoon at the beach.

 View of the hotel from the beach

 Crystal clear water - can you spot the two fishes?

Vendors selling snacks by the beach - papaya salad, grilled chicken/fish and pineapple 

This girl loves the sea 

While this scaredy cat was contented just playing sand and not going into the water

Rounded up the day with dinner at Chaweng Beach, before getting ready to head for home the next day.