Katja and Arne's travel stories

12.12.14 Thai Friday

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Our upcoming stay in Thailand exceeds the the thirty days visa on arrival can give us. We couldn’t apply from home because of the limitation of validity on granted visas so we’ll apply here in Myanmar.

To apply you need the normal papers plus dollar bills. Ahhh, the dreaded crispy and unfolded dollar bills. We thought we had good enough bills to exchange, and since they got turned away must likely our bills will be turned down at the embassy. This means that the morning is a hunt for money exchangers from whom we can by dollars.
Last night while walking around we saw an insanely number of money exchangers, why then are they so hard to find today? And the once we find don’t open until 9:30 or like the bank’s who don’t get their exchange rate until 10:30.
The information we got off the web was that the application us to be handed in between 9:15 and 11:00. We run around the streets and finally get the exchange done. From there it’s a taxi up to the embassy. We planned on being there around 8:30, we got there at 9:45. Right, just about one hundred people in line. Are we gonna make it at all? We talk to a European looking girl in the line about twenty places ahead of us. She’s been here since 7:00. So what we would have gained by being a bit earlier it’s not easy to say. While getting better copies of our passport in a little shack by the road I talk to another applicant who tells need they’ve changed the system. It used to be a two step process, now each is dealt with from start to finish. This makes up for the long queue. “Not like this last time”, he said. Guess this once again proves that all you read on internet needs to be verified.
Right now we’re standing in the direct sunlight in about 32 degrees sweating it out and hoping we will get our turn before they close for the day.

The line at the Thai Embassy

The line at the Thai Embassy

Two hours we spent there in line waiting to get in to deliver our applications. Just before were allowed into the embassy itself so we realize a huge error. A note on the wall says all visas are valid for three months, unless you are dying and in need of late departure. We enter Thailand the fifteenth, today is the twelfth. Shit, if they date it today, Friday the twelfth, it’s not valid upon entry. If they date it on Monday it will be ok. How will this pan out?
We’re so close now we decide to stay in line and talk to the case handler and make it work. Finally it’s our turn to get inside, but the line continues there. We are anxious about how this will play out, and we quickly get it answer when it’s our turn.
“Come back on Monday”, they say. We try to plea with them, but to no avail. Is it possible to be so stupid as we have just been? The whole reason for delaying the application was because of the validity of the visas. And here we are, three days short of success. Damn it!
We sulkingly wall down towards the city. Quick research shows we can apply in Hanoi, so that will be our next opportunity. This coming Monday we’ll be inland and we have just spoiled a morning.
We go to a shopping center and cool down a bit. Get to use a toilet and grab a coffee and a Friday cake. Katja walks around while I sit and relax and recap this mornings adventure.
We hail a taxi driver outside of the mall and ask for the price down to the food district.
“Where you go? ”
“Nineteen street”
“One nine street? ”
“Three thousand”
“No, two thousand”
“Two thousand five hundred”
“No, two thousand”
“But. Ekko Ekko. Two thousand five hundred”
Repeat last two lines five six times.
At last we understood that “ekko” means air con.
“Hahaha, ok, two thousand five hundred”
We are now in nineteenth street at “Popular Restaurant”. Quite a catchy name for a restaurant, but the waiter struggles to grasp the idea of us having water and food. ” But but but, Myanmar beer only one four”. At one point I take the backpack and walk away. Katja wants to give them a second chance, and so at last we get the menu. After pointing at five dishes they can’t serve we end up with two orders we have no idea what will look like, but we trust it will be sufficient to quench the hunger?

It did and it was super tasty. We got more greens in one severing here than all or malls in the Philippines. And the rice portions they serve here are quite large. So far I’ve been pretty satisfied with the portions served.
After lunch we went to a mini mall and cooled down a bit. Katja is still searching for that Chinese blouse and even found someone worthy of trying on. No luck though.
From there we went in the market between 25th and 26nd street. Here you can get it all. Old tube tv’s are next to a Samsung S5, next to the watch seller, and the fake Converse. It’s any cheap shoppers Mekkah. I get myself a new watch here. We both brought with us our Polar trainers, but we don’t use them as such. So when my failed on battery I shouted it home and are now the owner of a “xinjie” watch. Not heard off the brand? It’s huge actually and are mass produced and shipped from China, it seems. It claims to be water resistant down to thirty meters, but I wouldn’t even wear it in the shower. It tells time, I’m happy.

New watch, only 4 dollars

New watch, only 4 dollars

Now it’s time to visit the most famous sights in Yangon, the Shwedagon pagoda. It’s a massive pagoda used for Buddhist ceremonies, small and large. (Don’t know what a pagoda is? Don’t worry, the pictures will show you.)
We get in a cab and go up there. As we closes in the golden pagoda rises into view and it is, even from afar, a fantastic sight. And now a brand new adventure begins.

The Pagoda from afar

The Pagoda from afar

As we go to the security check we start to talk with one of the guards. They all think it’s funny when I strip of singlet and put on a t-shirt for being appropriately dressed. It gets even funnier when we take out our newly bought sarongs. “Do you know how to make it? “, one said. Luckily Katja had taught me a new way yesterday so I stepped inside the sarong and fastened it. This was highly praised by the guards and the conversation continued. As we talked to Kyaw Thu Ming he guided us through the entrance and asked if we wanted a guide our two. He had friends who trained to be guides here and they needed to practice both their English skill as well as the histories and information about the pagoda. We happily agreed and went up in the elevator with him and meet his four friends there. Three spoke English and the fourth had German as her language. She didn’t say much until Katja said “Guten Tag”, but then we had to stop her as she thought we spoke German. Aber nein, das macht wier nicht. Or something like that.
The next three hours were spent walking around getting Buddhist history, history about the pagoda itself, rituals and offerings…a lot. We enjoyed it immensely. The four guys really wanted to share their knowledge and they are to go for an exam in January/ February and want all the practice they can get.

Shwedagon pagoda is maybe the most fascinating structure I have seen. The feeling of awe and grandeur is only closely matched by entering St. Peter’s church in Rome. You feel equally small and insignificant standing within the splendor.
It could even have been grander still if it wasn’t for the reconstruction they perform right now.
They have a photo gallery who shows it over the past decades and the amount of diamonds, gold and gems are insane. The diamond on the very top is 76 karat. That’s big enough to be seen when the lights hit it. And a lot of the donated rings and bracelets are just added to the top to make it more shiny. A photo gallery shows details from the top that really gives you the details of the beauty.
This pagoda is 2600 years old. That’s right, 2602 to be precise as they celebrated the 2600 anniversary two years ago. Of course it didn’t look like this then, but the foundation was set and it was a building for a place of worship. Back home I suspect there wasn’t much happening at that time.
We got so much information it’s not possible to relay it all. This post would be too long, and I would probably still just get about half of it.
A few facts should be presented though:
– There has been four Buddhas so far. We’re still waiting for number five to reach enlightenment.
– There are four Dohdi trees around the pagoda. These trees are from seeds from the tree the last Buddah reach enlightenment after six years of meditation.
– There are four Buddahs present at four different entries that are the oldest images of him.
– The number of Buddah images totally is over 80.000 images of Buddah in this pagoda
– The Buddhists have eight different (days) as Wednesday is separated in morning and afternoon
– All days (based on your birth) is connected to an animal
– Wednesdays are elephants. Morning with tusks, afternoon without
– Monday are tigers which represent longevity (among other things)
– Friday is guenniepig and that’s among other things a representation of prosperity
– Katja id’s tiger, I’m guinniepig

After the sun had been down for a few minutes we were taken to a special place whee you can see the different colors in the earlier mentioned top diamond. Each step forward at the right angel made it turn from red to Orange to white to green to blue. I got four out of the five. This is only possible at sunset and the minutes after and something your are bound to miss if you don’t have a guide.

We sat down and talked a little with our new friends. They were happy to have practiced and we were happy receivers. They wanted to do other sightseeing as well and we have the phone numbers so we’ll contact them when we return to Yangon. Getting the same guiding at the national museum will be brilliant. They also wanted to show us Yangon and the country side. We will try to make room for both as we plan the next days.
Overwhelmed we got hero to hail a cab and negotiation of the fee back to the hotel. A quick change there and then we set out to find dinner among the food stalls.
Dinner got to be a new adventure. First we found the place we wanted to eat. A place where you use a plastic basket and fill it with whatever you want grilled. Then you wait to get it served at your table. We got seated with to local funny guys. They spoke a few words between them, but we had a great time together. Their friend was the waiter who had gotten our attention in the street and they had nicknamed him Monkey. We drank beer, made cheers and genuinely had a blast.

At one point a table was freed up and we were moved there just as the food arrived. It was great, but while Monkey took the wooded spears from the food, he stopped when he broke open one of the large prawns. He brought it over to someone to get a second opinion and came back claiming it was OK. As soon as he turned his back we threw it away. Apart from that it was just as good as any street food ever tasted, but it was a bit pricy.
As we got ready to go we started talking with the couple on the table next to us. We take a seat at their table and get and give a few tips of the city. They are Canadian and from Vancouver where our good friend Even lives. We are all going to Bagan to look at the Pagodas in a day our two, and who knows, maybe we’ll meet up there.
We walk home and hit the sack. A bit too much Myanmar beer tonight. It’s good, maybe a touch to sweet but absolutely drinkable in the heat. Gonna feel this in the morning.

Love all. Trust a few. Do wrong to none.

– Shakespeare 

Author: arnber

Humongen! The big guy! The man, the myth, the legend! And then theres' me. The nice guy in the house. The man without cooking skills, but with five stars on the Playstation. Boss at work, relaxed at home. What you see is what you get. Life is good. I choose it to be.

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