Mysterious, Magical Myanmar

Myanmar travel - A fisherman on Inle Lake in Myanmar. Photo by Sherrill Bodine
A fisherman on Inle Lake in Myanmar. Photo by Sherrill Bodine

I had to travel halfway around the world to discover through Myanmar astrology that since I was born on a Wednesday and my husband on a Saturday, we are the perfect match – destined to have a lifetime of happiness – which might explain how we’ve endured for so long!

Thus begins a voyage of enlightenment into a country isolated from the world for decades because of military rule and only recently opening its borders as a democracy.

Travel in Myanmar

As most visitors do, my travel in Myanmar begins in Yangon, the largest city in the country. Traffic is chaotic until we turn down a quiet tree lined street in the Embassy Quarter and pull up to the Belmond Governor’s Residence. The elegant teak mansion dating from the 1920’s is set in extensive gardens with lotus ponds and an amazing fan-shaped pool blending into the lush surroundings. Music coming from a party at the Sri Lanka Embassy across the road completes the sense of slipping back into a bygone era when Myanmar was known as Burma.

Myanmar Travel. The Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar. Photo by Sherrill Bodine
The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Sherrill Bodine

Yangon is home to many fine buildings and temples that are well worth a visit, but the mighty Shwedagon Pagoda cannot be missed. Gleaming with gold leaf, its umbrella and vane studded with jewels topped by a Diamond Orb totaling 1,800 carats, it looms over the city.

I do recommend entry with a guide even though maps of the pagoda are available in many languages. All material reminds visitors that the dress code for visiting temples and pagodas is no shorts, covered shoulders, plus shoes and socks must be removed on entry.

Our guide, carrying a small black book which turns out to be a 100-year calendar, leads us to our appropriate Buddhas. Mine – Wednesday – is represented by an elephant and my husband – Saturday – is a dragon. We bathe our Buddhas in clear water for a blessing and then strike the large bell, its deep bong echoing through the vast complex, to share our blessings with all there.

Everywhere I wander, in the pagoda and on the streets, I find the Burmese people very friendly and helpful – especially when I enter a local, small, three-story mall seeking a hair salon for a quick fix after dusty days of travel. The receptionist speaks English and tells me I must wait my turn. Dutifully, I join dozens of men, women and children doing the same.

In a few minutes I am ushered into the shampoo room which consists of several long massage tables and told to take off my shoes, lie down on my back with my head slightly off the table. For the next 25 minutes I experience utter bliss as my hair is not only shampooed three times, but I am given a head and neck massage worthy of the best masseur. To add to the pleasure, another young woman gives me a hand and arm massage. I highly recommend you treat yourself to this unique pleasure.

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