(Written by Nick)
If Thailand can call itself the land of smiles (which, after 3 weeks there, I found to be an innaccurate marketing campaign) then Myanmar can certainly be referred to as the land of pagodas. Ok, and this time definitely the land of smiles, too.
Gazing out of the train window as we pull away from Mawlamyine station, the colonian British capital of Burma, I count 5 mosques. I soon lose count of the number of pagodas, though. The city is behind us now, and as we trundle through miles of rice paddies, the hills to the east glisten with gold, each one adorned with its own pointy pagoda. I notice a similarity with the Tibetan prayer flags strategically placed on peaks and passes in the Himalayas. And the cairns of Scotland – simple rock piles added to by successive travellers.
So these gold, bell-shaped monuments may be particular to Burmese culture, but there seems to be a greater inherent human desire to mark these points of natural significance. In Britain I would consider it a physical representation of the original graffiti cliché, “I was ‘ere”. I suppose others are not as flippant as me.
They’re not just in the hills, though. Like children’s glitter, these things seem to get everywhere. And when one is not enough, another is made alongside it. And then a few more. And then perhaps a larger one. The conditions here are just right to allow them to breed.
On our arrival at the airport in Thailand we were greeted with an angry sign placed at each immigration desk declaring that all imagery of Buddha’s head was disrespectful and encouraging visitors not to support those who depicted it. Whoever placed these signs should definitely not visit their neighbouring Buddhist country; they will surely have a rage-induced fit.
One statue of Buddha is never enough here. Like the pagodas, they too multiply, culminating in the “field of a thousand Buddhas” we happened to pass the other day. So whenever you see photos of Myanmar and you wonder if all tourists do is visit pagodas, the answer might be that they didn’t even realise the pagoda was there. These things are the original photo bombs.
Top tip for tourists:
Do not plan any trips to pagodas, temples or monasteries. They are the top attractions in this country, so my advice may seem extreme, but I promise I’m not being negative. Even if you love them as much as most tourists appear to, I would still purposefully avoid adding them to your itinerary. You will see more than enough of them without trying. Think of other things you want to see and do and they will provide a picturesque backdrop. That is their true magical power.