Yangon, Myanmar: Shwedagon Pagoda

Visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda was the highlight of my time in Yangon.

When I first started builds Lego architectural models over fifteen years ago I did a great deal of research on the greatest buildings of the world and comprised a list of about 120 of them.  I’ve built over 50 of the se architectural wonders leaving 70 more that I’d like to tackle. But nowhere, not on any list, did the Schwedagon Pagoda ever appear.

The structure, with all its surrounding buildings and shrines, could easily qualify as a Wonder of the World. I suspect it’ll be the first building I tackle when I get home in July.

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And the view from my hotel room

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Yangon, Myanmar (Rangoon, Burma)

The country only recently opened itself up to tourism so there were many delightful and different things to observe about their culture.

The woman wear Thanaka on their faces. Some paint circles shapes while others paint flowers or leave patterns.
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The men wear dresses called Longyi.

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Myanmar  is one of three countries that does not use the metric system (The US and Liberia are the other two)

The steering wheel is on the right (as in England) but they drive on the right (as in the US). Scooter and motorcycles are outlawed. Driving is intense.

The largest bill is a 10000 kyat note worth about US$7.50.  You need sacks of the stuff to make large cash purchases.

The time zone is off by thirty minutes. So when it’s 8:00PM in NYC it’s 7:30AM in Yangon.

Burmese love to chew Betel Nut and spit. Some of the side street are stained red with the spit.

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Stuffing as many people into a van is a form of transportation. I counted 29 people.

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The locals love to engage in conversation. This is “Sam” and “Tom” who approached me in a park and we talked for half an hour. (The park was celebrating Condom Day) They answered all of my questions about Burmese customs and their city.

Kep, Cambodia

Kep is a small town on the southern coast of Cambodia. We headed to a small resort in the town for a short break from school.

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One day we went island hopping. As beautiful as it was, it was disheartening to learn about the fifty families that lived on one of the islands we visited: No school. Children do not learn how to read, write, nor do math. With virtually no skills (except fishing where, if lucky, one can earn $5 to $10 a day) the children have little opportunity to move to the mainland and advance their lives.

We visited the famous Kep Crab Market where the fisherman literally wade right up to the docks to sell their catch of the day.

And we took a pleasant hike through a national park that backed up to the town.

 

We are off to Phnom Penh for the evening and then off to Myanmar the following day

Security Prison 21, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge regime were the victors of the Cambodia Civil War. Over the next four years, the Khmer Rouge, with their leader Pol Pot, killed/executed around 25% of the entire Cambodian population under the guise of “social engineering” policies.

I had the opportunity to visit the regime’s most infamous prison Security Prison 21 (one of about 150 execution centers). The prison was formerly Chao Ponhea Yat High School and is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Only seven (7) of its 17,000 prisons survived.

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Siem Reap, Cambodia (part 2)

I absolutely love this city.  I can get a taxi ride (actually a tuk-tuk ride), a meal with a drink, an hour long foot massage, and two souvenir tee-shirts all for under $20. (Although the Cambodians have their own currency, all prices are in US dollars and is the preferred currency.) Although I hear that the weather is a bit oppressive in the summer I could definitely see (sometime soon) coming back for three or four weeks.

Here’s what else I’ve done during my stay (besides visiting 10 different temple ruins).

We visited Tonle Sap Lake and the local communities living along it’s adjacent rivers (known as floating villages due to the fact that the houses are built on stilts so they don’t get flooding during the rainy season).

A sobering visit to the Cambodian Landmine Museum.

Wonderful food everywhere. (I typically ate the food before remembering to photograph it…sorry foodies)

The Night Market

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Angkor Wat Miniature Golf. (A must for anyone visiting. Great music. Rustic atmosphere. Free beer for holes in one. Rice patties across the road. Etc.)

 

And a guy with a live pig on the back of his scooter. (Lot of weird stuff here).

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