Yangon is really something special. Scratch that – Myanmar is really something special! Since I set foot, crossing over the bridge – literally on foot – from Thailand, I fell in love with the quiet chaos that is Myanmar. And if I were to use a few words to describe Yangon, these would be them:
Worn. Weathered. Resilient.
After a weirdly pleasant overnight bus trip from Myawaddy, the little down on the border, I arrived in Yangon. I use the word ‘pleasant’ because it was a super comfy bus that supplied us with water, pillows and blankets! And we had three 30 minute stops – lots of time to walk around, use the bathroom, have a sit-down meal and stretch! But I use the word ‘weird’ because we were supposed to arrive at 5am, but we arrived at 3am… with no hotels in sight! I had met a French girl on the bus that was headed to the same place as me, so we tried to figure out what to do with the ridiculous arrival time! But she was definitely not on the same page as me… we ended up wandering through unknown streets in an unknown country in the middle of the night searching for a place to sleep. That is definitely not a smart move for two young girls travelling in foreign places! Or for that matter, not even something I would do at home! So I quickly suggested that we get in a taxi and get them to take us to a hotel nearby. She reluctantly agreed, insisted the taxi driver used the meter (though, there seems to be no such thing in this country) and refused to barter for it. When she finally gave in and got in she started complaining about the hotel being too far away (from what, I wonder?). When we got to the hotel (the only hotel on the planet it seemed) she complained that it was too expensive. I told her that I was just going to do it, regardless of the $28 price tag even if she decides not to join me because I was exhausted and just wanting a safe place to sleep!! She ended up joining me… but wow was that an adventure in itself! My original plan coming to Myanmar was to go to a meditation centre and do some volunteering there, and she was actually headed to the exact same place to do the exact same thing! But in the morning when she started talking about taking a city bus there (it’s about an hour and a half outside of Yangon), and she had me wait about an hour for her to go to get money, I decided that that was not the right path for me! When she got back I told her very nicely that I had decided to stay in the city to do some sight seeing. That was the right decision for sure!!! I’ve met a lot of crazies on this trip and she might have topped them all!
I thankfully had picked up a Myanmar Lonely Planet before crossing the border and had picked the cheapest guesthouse that was listed and headed right for it. It turned out to be a super nice place! With HUGE breakfasts included. Seriously had made the right choice!!! I spent the majority of the first day recovering from the bus ride and slept the majority of the afternoon. In the evening I had wandered out to get some dinner (a delicious vegetarian Indian/Nepali restaurant!) and walked around the streets for a bit. There was tons of street food (although, not so good for a vegetarian) but it was nice to wander through the food stalls nonetheless.
The next day I woke up and during breakfast met a super nice Russian guy, Vadim! We had a super pleasant conversation over our meal and decided to meet up for beers in the evening! After we had parted ways, I went back to my room and got ready for the adventures to be had! I wanted to get a good general look of the city on my first actual day exploring, and that led me to take the Yangon Circle Train. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a train that goes in a big circle around Yangon! I paid 1000 kyat (pronounced ‘chat’) and spent 3.5 hours very slowly making my way around the city on this dirty, rough, local-filled train. I wish every city had something like that! The time of it was definitely long, but it was definitely worth it. We went along neighborhoods, through slums, through the countryside, over rivers, etc. It was sooo enjoyable and I really feel like I got a good look into the Burmese lifestyle! For example, I came across a man who was weighting splinters of wood and tying them together with old cut up plastic bags – I’m assuming to be sold. I watched women washing their babies and their clothes, young boys playing soccer, and teenagers playing volleyball. It was really neat.
The rest of the afternoon I just wandered through the streets. My guidebook had a colonial walking tour laid out, and so I had decided to do that. But really, I couldn’t have cared less about the old British buildings that were along that; I was too captivated by the local life I experienced as I walked through the streets. Each step I took had to be carefully placed to avoid the wet, red stains from the spitting of their paan (which is a mixture of betel nut and tobacco that’s chewed), piles of garbage, potential rat dwellings and tripping on the rough and broken sidewalk. But as I navigated along the terrain, I was so amazed with the culture I was seeing. Right there. The block over from my guesthouse. So far on this trip, culture has been much harder than expected to find. It was so refreshing to not have to find it. I was amongst it all. Everywhere were women with their faces painted with thanaka, a pale yellow paste made from tree bark. I came across so many little restaurants of plastic tables and chairs on the sides of dark alleys. I came across many stands folding up the paan. And lucky for me, it was Independence days, so the streets were filled with celebration. I can’t even count how many groups I came along, playing soccer, hopscotch and volleyball, having water fights, and blindfolding kids and giving them a stick to stumble through the street in search of the tin canister hanging from a rope to hit. It was so fun.
As planned, I met with Vadim for drinks that evening! Even though I was exhausted and would have been so content with going to sleep early, I was more content to exchange some conversation with a new friend. And not to mention that between the two of us we had 6 beers which we paid a whopping $4.50 for! By far the cheapest beer I’ve come across! We exchanged our experiences of Myanmar, what our regular lives look like. We compared Russia and Canada. We just had a really pleasant evening! I’m so glad I met him, it was the perfect ending to the day.
Needless to say, this was one of my favorite days travelling. Probably in all of my travels! It was so easy¸ and so rewarding. Finally, I feel like I’ve landed into the trip I’ve been waiting for.
The next day I was planning to head to see some temples, but on my walk to do so, I ended up in a MASSIVE market that sucked me in for the afternoon. I spent hours navigating through this place, it was insane! It had everything from fruit, to jade, to jewellery, to bags and purses, to aisles and aisles and aisles of fabric. I was so captivated by it all. It was jam packed full of people and things to sell. I definitely made my fair share of purchases! But to be fair, this country is one that definitely requires a different dress code than the ones I’ve been through so far. I definitely don’t feel uncomfortable, in the sense that I may be drawing too much attention, wearing the tanktops I’ve been sporting over the past few months, but as a country that is so so inescapably Buddhist I feel that it is much more respectful of my to cover up more. And the local wear is not as westernized as in other countries; the majority of the men and women wear longyis, which are long traditional skirts. And the women wear tops that cover their chests and shoulders. This is all despite the very warm temperatures in the city. Anyways, whether or not I’m using this as an excuse to justify the clothing or not, I did indeed buy a bit much. Well, four shirts and a pair of pants. Also some really delicious food, and a bracelet. It was just so fun to see all these little shops making their clothing right in front of you! I bought one shirt that is a beautiful rusty/mustardy (okay, maybe that description doesn’t make it sounds so pretty, but I PROMISE, it is!!!) that has this incredible embroidery along the bottom third of the sleeves and around the waist. I hope that I can keep it in good condition while I’m travelling because it might be my favorite thing ever!!!
I decided that the next day I was going to move on to my next destination: Mandalay. I bought a train ticket for 3pm, so I still had time that morning to do some sight seeing! I made my way to Shwedagon Pagoda, which is this incredible Buddhist temple that is said to enshrine 8 of the Buddhas’ hairs! It’s this seriously massive religious sight, and I was surprised to hear that they had wifi… but I completely took advantage of that fact and FaceTimed Dan! I spent about two hours going through this incredible temple with my love. It was so cool. I loved the fact that he was laying in bed, literally across the world, and I was able to tour around and experience this with him. Technology is so cool. As much as sometimes it’s consuming and easy to spend time on Facebook or other websites and waste away parts of the day, it’s incredible that I’m able to stay in such close contact with the people I love back home.
I definitely fell in love with Yangon. It’s a true diamond in the rough! Old, worn and weathered buildings, surrounded by dirty, rough streets, containing incredibly rich culture and traditions. I am so thankful for my time in this welcoming, rewarding and photogenic city.