According to the map Shwe Dagon Paya is further to the north of the city. Sunset is about 6.10pm, so I set off about 5pm. My ability to scale maps to reality was somewhat challenged as always, the bit about it being really far away and the map being really, really small hadn’t sunk in. Setting off down what were practically dual carriageways was a clue that we were not staying in the centre of the city and it was a good 45min trek before the paya hove into view.
Crossing by the paya was a bit of a challenge, roads are not built with the pedestrian at the forefront and things such as a crossing were seemingly not important for such a significant place of worship so you had to make the best of it and run across the 7 or 8 various intersections at the right time.
By this time I was starting to feel a bit knackered, having walked about 15miles or more, and most of that seemed to be going up and down the pavements. I looked up the covered walkway to see there were all the steps up to the paya, I could have wept but at least it was under cover and cooling down by this point. Blimey heckers like, it was worth to get to the top, suddenly there were all these people – it was heaving with locals, Myanmar tourists and the foreigners alike, all staring at the shiny gold in front of us.
The stupa is over 300ft high and covered in gold and all around are these smaller shrines, temples and statues, all covered in gold. Some of the Buddha statues have been taken a stage further and have laser lights shooting out of their heads. The paya has had a run of bad luck over the years, mainly suffering earthquake damage, as well as the Portuguese, and British attempting to steal their bells (!), in the case of the British, they dropped theirs in the river.
Watching the sun going down was a pretty relaxing end to the day, all very undramatic. The guide book had sold it that as the sun set it ‘casts its last rays, [the paya] turns a crimson gold and orange, magic flats in the heat and the mighty diamond at the spire’s peak casts a beam of light that reflects sheet white, bloody red and jealous green to the far corners of the temple platform. Seems when I went the sun and the paya were having a day off, as the sun sunk down pretty undramatically and the lights went on and the stupa was lit up – ta da!!!
The swallows were whirling around overhead catching insects, and the crows were settling down among the flags fluttering on top of the temples. I meanwhile was heading further out of town for dinner. Luckily it was pretty much in a straight line but again I wasn’t too sure of the actual distance from where I was, also it was pitch dark by this time, and the only light was coming from cars that had actually decided to put their headlamps on (or had one or both that worked). Thankfully rush hour was still on and it was pretty much standstill so the only real potential for death was to break your neck stepping off a pavement or stepping too far to the left and falling in an open sewer / ditch. I walked for about 30mins or so and found the place – Wai Wai’s, which was of course, up on the 7th or 8th floor of the building it was housed in.
I think that schlep up the stairs added another mile to the day’s walking at least, even if I couldn’t draw breath to askf or a table! However the chance to have Myanmar food made it all worth it and a small menu meant a joyful lack of overwhelm, so I had the sticky noodles and a long bean salad. Couldn’t take a picture because it was so dark but it was mouth-wateringly good. I had read that Myanmar cuisine is very oil, they use a lot of it to preserve food, as they tend to make the food in the morning and keep it for the day, and there’s a lack of refrigeration, so the oil helps to stop it turning. This however was amazing. The texture of these Shan noodles was definitely sticky, but they were spicy and the pickles that came with it cut through them and brought out the flavours. Meanwhile the beans had onions and garlic in them and then had been dressed with lime juice and fish sauce, and oil then had crushed sesame seeds and peanuts added on top. I hadn’t thought I’d be coming to Myanmar to get fat, but if all the food was as good as that there’s going to be trouble ahead.
Suitably stuffed, I waddled back downstairs and started the 45minute walk back to the hotel, courtesy of googlemaps. I wended my way down various bustling side streets, with hawkers selling roadside snacks, and people out on the street chatting and generally milling around. Then I was back on the main road and at the back of Shwedagon Paya and the moon was full, and hanging above the lit up stupa and it looked beautiful, an almost perfect end to the day, if I didn’t have another 3 miles to walk to get back to my hotel.
Finally made it back and pretty much collapsed into bed, wondering if my feet were every going to work again, and thankful for the walk as it allowed me to work off some of the food too.