Yangon: The Botatuang Pagoda

Twas the third day of Yangon and not a person or thing stirred throughout the hostel at 6am, until the sound of my very raucous alarm started that is, which is an unnecessarily loud Irish-jig sounding atrocity. Why do have such an awful alarm you ask? The reason is this, I actually need to be frightened or annoyed out of my slumber, and the most irritating alarm noise is the only thing to wake me up. A morning person I am not. However! Something amazing was happening, I was actually enjoying arising at an early hour, as the excitement that awaited me in this city motivated me to become a person of the early hours.

Today was the day I would go to see one of Yangon’s fine pagodas, The Botatuang Pagoda, which was very unique in that unlike other pagodas, in that it had a hollow interior which was described in Lonely Planet as having a golden maze-like interior. I was immediately asked the very helpful staff at the Backpacker Myanmar Hostel for directions and set off for my day of unforeseen adventure. This pagoda was within walking distance of my hostel and on the way I once again passed through atmospheric streets of old colonial buildings, where vendors sold every genre of book and unfamiliar smells wafted out from various eating establishments along the way. I turned onto Strand Street, upon which the pagoda was located. Walking along Strand Street I encountered one of the street vendors selling the infamous betel nut, that when chewed, stains the teeth blood-red. Being a curious creature, I took it upon myself to try the infamous nut and see what all the fuss was about. I approached the vendor, who was all smiles and asked about getting myself one of these nuts. Having no English, it was to be a conversation through copious amounts of awkward hand gestures and body language. I first tasted this green gel, which tasted amazing and she spread it over a leaf, along with a white paste and put the betel nut in the centre. She expertly wrapped it all up into a neat little bundle and instructed me to put the whole thing in my mouth. One word to sum up the betel nut, WEIRD. The nut itself is rock hard so chewing was too strong a word for what I was doing which was clanging it against my teeth and intermittently spitting out a luminescent green goo, which was once leaf and gel (a necessary practice in fact). An interesting sensation but I spat it out after a minute.

IMG_20160205_102450After this very interesting and unique experience, I continued along the hot dusty path to get to the Botatuang Pagoda. I finally reached my destination, paid the entry fee and proceeded to enter the beautiful pagoda, while barefoot of course. This is a very unique pagoda due to the fact that it is hollow as most other Burmese pagodas are solid structures. It was an incredible sight to behold inside the interior. It was completely lined with gold-leaf and very beautifully gilded. The golden corridors of this pagoda followed a set path, not that you could tell though, it felt as if you were walking through a maze. After a relatively short period of time, I exited the pagoda and was greeted by an array of shrines being visited by many people. I wandered around the outside of the Botatuang pagoda, trying to take in all of the activity that was happening around me. As I wandered around, I was approached by a monk who offered to show me around and I gladly took him up on his offer. He started by asking me which day of the week I was born on, I told him I was born on a Monday and he informed me that my animal is a tiger.  The significance of this is that around the outside of the pagoda there are eight stations or ‘corners’ whereby each day of the week is represented by an animal and you can offer a blessing in accordance with your birth day. Interestingly, in Burmese culture there are eight days of the week. In Burma, Wednesday is divided in two, Wednesday morning and Wednesday evening. The morning is represented by a white elephant and the evening is represented by a black elephant. After relaying this information to me, the monk then guided me over to the Monday ‘corner’ and instructed me on how to make a blessing. I offered a small donation to this monk for his time and took my leave from the quirky and characterful Botatuang Pagoda.

I made my way back to the centre of Yangon, to continue my meandering around the city centre and stopped along the way at a lovely little ice-cream shop at a busy road intersection, where I sat and people-watched for the best part of an hour. I then continued my exploration of this wonderful, energetic city and as dusk settled into night I came across a slice of the place I now call home and that place was Yangon’s very own China Town! It was packed to the brim with people hustling and bustling their way through the many vendors, inspecting and purchasing various local delights. I, myself purchased a bright, pink squishy cake that tasted strongly of coconut. I still have no idea what it was and devoured the whole thing before I remembered to take a picture of it. A novice mistake!

I explored the furthest reaches of the lively market, lapping up the atmosphere as I went. After I was satisfied with the extent of my exploration, I made my way back to my little hostel, ready to get some shut-eye in preparation for another day!