If the temples in Thailand were opulent, those in Myanmar are downright ostentatious. The Shwedagon Pagoda, seen above, is reportedly clad in 60 tons of gold (!) and diamonds galore. It is the gem of the city of Yangon which, I was delighted to find, is a big, clean, modern metropolis. Blessed with oil and natural gas, Myanmar is not a poor country. Unfortunately, it also has some of the highest levels of inequality in the world.
Known as Burma until 1989, Myanmar is a complicated country. These days, it is in the news because of the Rohingya crisis, and the stories being reported are indeed stomach-churning. We stayed in touristy areas far away from the devastation, and our guides didn’t like to talk about it much either. When pressed, they said that it was a power play and that the military was using the conflict to retake control of the government.
From Yangon, we traveled to Mandalay, which was once the royal capital. Mandalay has had a tough go of it. During WWII, Mandalay was heavily bombed by the Japanese before they converted the palace into a supply depot. Then palace was then bombed to the ground by the Allies (it has since been rebuilt). From there, we took a boat down the Irrawaddy to Bagan, stopping in Yandobo along the way. Bagan was the capital of an empire some 800 years ago, during which time they saw fit to construct over 10,000 temples, pagodas, and monasteries. From Yangon to Bagan, it is hard to escape the notion that state resources are and always have been funneled into curiously conspicuous public works.