Yangon itself has so many things to offer that some travelers ignore the gems around the city. One of the day trips we enjoyed greatly was the day we went to Twantay - it is more adventurous than visiting the main pagodas in the big city, but is also a fun and rewarding experience.
One can get to Twantay by taxi from Yangon via the bridge, but it is a long way and where is the fun in that? I recommend taking the ferry to Dala, keep reading to see why.
There are many reasons to start the day early - get some tea in the morning, leave enough time for all the stops and as an added bonus you will get a chance to experience the morning hustle and bustle around the pier with people from all ages and walks of life begin their day by crossing the river.
There is a special office where foreigners can buy tickets at Pansodan Ferry Terminal (the pier near the Strand Hotel), it is on the left side of the building and there will always be someone pointing you in the right direction. The return tickets cost 4000 Kyat per person. The ferry takes minutes to reach the other side where a different world awaits. Welcome to Dala, the big city is left behind, you are in the countryside now - the colonial buildings are replaced with shacks and small houses, the greenery is not parks but patches of farmland.
From the moment you jump off the boat there will be people offering you various modes of transportation to the sights and villages around, they already know what you are doing there. Renting a motorbike, riding in a horse cart, tuk-tuk or a car, joining a minibus full of locals - it is really up to your preferences, budget and bargaining skills. Just keep in mind that you will be traveling about 60 kms on bad roads which will take about 2 hours. We opted for a car at the price of 35000 Kyat for the day, our driver didn't speak English, but knew where to stop as we discussed this with the help of another, English speaking, driver before leaving. The roads between Dala and Twantay are peaceful, surrounded by rice fields and small pagodas.
The first stop was the main attraction of the day - the pagoda where tens of snakes live. It is a very small building in the middle of an artificial lake, really picturesque from many angles. If you are afraid of snakes this is where you should stop - enjoy the view without crossing the bridge, it is still worth the trip. For me the first surprise inside was the size of the temple - it is very, very small. Second surprise were the snakes - I expected to see some crawling on the floor, but most were sleeping on the windows and some were crawling up and down the Buddha statue in the center.
There are about 30 snakes - from babies to big fat monsters, all pythons collected from the nearby rice fields, the nuns explained that they are not dangerous and eat only milk. This unusual practice began decades ago and it is believed the snakes are reincarnated water spirits. We were about to leave when a group of locals came in, it was a real pleasure watching both adults and kids taking photos and being as excited as a kid's first time in a zoo.
Shwe San Daw Pagoda
Big and beautiful pagoda, which may fail to amaze after seeing the impressive Shwedagon in Yangon, but considering the village around it - it is a mighty temple. The main golden stupa is surrounded by colorful shrines and small buildings, good place for a relaxing walk.
In these peaceful surroundings we witnessed a scene, which made the locals laugh, but as a dog lover I didn't find it very funny. There were a bunch of monkeys wandering around the stalls and at first I thought were cute, but then one of the bigger monkeys attacked a dog. Without any warning the primate pulled the dog's tail and kicked it viciously at the same time, the poor thing howled more from shock than pain, then both ran away in opposite directions (ok, I chuckled a bit too).
The Twantay market is a very lively and colorful place, a real glimpse into the villagers daily life. Of course they sell the usual fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood and grains, but it has a more "low tech" feeling than some other markets - many stalls use weight scales and there are many rickshaw taxis, which the locals use to transport their purchases home.
We spent more than half an hour just walking and browsing the market and bought some bananas from a stall offering a nice variety.
This stop was a bit unexpected as we haven't included it in the plan when we spoke with the driver. I thought we had seen all we wanted for the day and were going back to Dala when he parked the car and waived his hand in the general direction of a small dirt road up a hill. Ok, always ready for a new experience we went up the hill not sure what to expect. The intense smell of burning wood was the first hint that reminded me of reading about Twantay's pottery district. And I was right - up the hill were several small "factories" making all kinds of clay ware using methods dating back centuries ago.
The locals didn't speak English, but were keen to show us how things were made and with our basic understanding of the process (mix water and dirt, shape clay, bake, cool, polish) it was an interesting visit. The produce is not made for tourists, it is what people in Myanmar use at home, they didn't even offer us to buy anything which was a surprise. A great sight to behold were the kilns - so huge, like huts, an indication to the volume of pots and jars made every day. A not so great sight to behold are the people working in far from first world conditions, I felt particularly bad for a skinny teenage girl doing the (in this case literally) back breaking work of carrying huge bunches of wood to feed the fires.
After such a great journey we headed back to Dala, where near the pier one can find many small restaurants and food stalls - definitely worth checking out if you are after more exotic things to eat.
Near the small village we saw a wedding procession led by an elephant, numerous buffalo carts, horse carts, horses and people walking, it looked like the whole village was there! Despite all the noise and my surprise I managed to snap a photo of the newlyweds.
The ferry took us back to Yangon, a pleasant and relaxing finale of the day.