The first thing I noticed upon leaving the Yangon airport was an intense blast of heat which seemed to stick with my entire time in the country as my body struggled to find a way to acclimatise.
Once I arrived at the very popular motherland guesthouse and gobbled down a large breakfast of toast,eggs,coffee, and cake, yes cake for breakfast, I was due for a nap. After all, it was just too damn hot to do anything. When I woke and had a refreshing cold shower, I headed over to Shwedagon Pagoda, the epicenter of relgious belief in Myanmar. Having traveled Bhutan, India and Tibet I am more than a little jaded when it comes to my opinions of great temples, but dare I say it, Shwedagon might be the grandest I have come across yet!
Its impossible to take your eyes off the giant golden stupa shimmering in the late afternoon light but when you do, you realize the endless stream of people coming to worship are even more interesting than the stupda itself.
Its difficult not to get swept up in the current of the river of the devout but when you drift to the side and begin to look around there are elaborate multi day ceremonies with families celebrating the ordination of a son or daughter into monkhood, wedding parties seeking blessing, or even just ordinary people looking to improve their karma.
While sitting back and taking in the scene before me, I attracted the attention of 4 young english students who were ecstatic to have a native speaker to practice with. They hung onto every syllable leaving my mouth and constantly praised me for my proper pronunciation of what they thought to be difficult words, I tried reminding them It was my only language but this did nothing to distinguish their amazement.
Afterwards, my new friends led me around the temple grounds showing me little things that I had carelessly walked by or failed to notice. When I told them I had not eaten and I should leave to find some food they excitedly asked if I would join them in the public dining hall because today was a holiday and the temple served free food to the masses. The food was basic but tasty consisting of a noddle soup and crispy beans with a definite taste of fish paste thrown in. I ate well past being full for when I finished my bowl the servers insisted I eat more and more and poured another two helpings despite my pleas of feeling full. Not wanting to be greedy I offered a donation to one of the monks serving food and he showed his appreciation by performing a small blessing for me.
Having said my goodbyes to to the students for making my visit to Shewedagon such a great experience, I returned to my guest house for a beer for retiring for the evening. I was booked to leave for Bagan on a 14 hour overnight bus the next day.