The Schwedagon Pagoda is the holiest Buddhist site in Myanmar. It is said to contain eight hairs of Siddartha Guatama, the Buddha. It's massive and covered in tons of gold leaf. Literally tons. This was the first place we went on our first day after waking up and eating breakfast. It is a beautiful and vibrant center of faith for the people of Myanmar, and it's packed with worshippers, tourists, and souvenir vendors. The main pagoda is surrounded by hundreds of smaller pagodas and shrines, as well as statues of the Buddha, bells, statues for water offerings. Near to the base of the main pagoda there are many small shrines and rail for offering incense or candles. After our day wandering around, we went back at night in order to see it all lit up. It was beautiful.
While we were walking around during the day we learned that it was Myanmar Independence Day! They were celebrating it publicly for the first time, since in all previous years, gatherings of more than 5 people were illegal without a permit. With the day off, people were out in the streets celebrating together in various and sundry ways. One way they were celebrating was by having a contest to climb a shaved, greased, inverted banana stalk. It's harder than you'd imagine, by the looks of it. After watching many people try, a set of three young boys managed to reach the top and grab the flags. That alone would have been cool, but we found out the flags alone were worth 100,000 Kyats! Kyat is pronounced Chats, and 100K is worth about $120, a very large sum over there. We continued to walk down past the Sule Pagoda towards the Irawaddy River. Once there we walked along a dock where there were boats docked, and at the end of the dock, there were the vibrantly colored water taxis to ferry people back and forth across the river.
On Sunday morning, we drove out into the countryside to Mawbi, a small village that has an Anglican church where we worshiped. After the service we went out to villagers homes for thanksgiving services, something nearly everyone does every Sunday. Our hosts were incredibly generous and friendly, and it was wonderful meeting them. It was so humbling to see how honored they were to welcome us as guests. This was the first time we were really floored by the overwhelming, stunning hospitality of the people in Myanmar.