We sat on the fence for a number of years hashing out whether or not we should visit Myanmar because of how the military has ruled this country with an iron fist. It has virtually caused Myanmar to come to a standstill and we weren’t sure if visiting would support this or if somehow our tourist dollars would at least trickle over to someone trying to make a living. We had read and heard that Myanmar is changing quickly and really opening up for tourism, so we decided now is the time to go before it changes too much. We are still not able to go everywhere in Myanmar, the infrastructure is not good in some areas, the roads are terrible, and there are still security issues in certain parts along with some political instability. In the short amount of time we have been here it’s obvious that this is changing at an alarming rate, buildings are going up everywhere in Yangon and tourist sites are busy with foreigners.
Yangon is a melting pot of cultures in a very lively and colourful city (it reminded us of Indonesian, Malay, Chinese, and Indian combined). The streets are stained red everywhere because of the betel nut chewing. I guess it’s habitual like smoking and it makes the person’s teeth and lips a bright red, they chew incessantly for a period of time and then spit it out, so there is red all over the streets.
The first morning in Yangoon, we took a taxi from the hotel to the Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market is the old British name). Before heading inside the market we saw the Holy Trinity Cathedral next door and walked around the grounds to admire it.
We spent a couple of hours walking through the market and sadly we just didn’t have room in our luggage otherwise we would have went to town buying all kinds of things. The market has over 2000 shops and the wood carvings, lacquerware, and furniture were so beautiful. Maybe on our way through at the end of our Myanmar journey we can shop and ship some things home.
After the market we did a colonial walk that took us a few hours. We loved the old colonial buildings that haven’t been restored yet, and seeing all the people’s laundry hanging off the balconies and windows really reminded us of Havana, Cuba. Most of the old buildings are still being used today but there are a few that look vacant and maybe one day they will be restored and hopefully not destroyed. Along the way we passed some food stalls on the street and one particular stall caught our eye, it was fondue in the street, aside from the fact that typically the morsels are pork ‘nasty bits’, it looked like fun.
The walk brought us through one of the liveliest fresh markets we have ever seen. We were surprised to see the huge avocados on display because in neighbouring Thailand you can usually only get imported avocados from New Zealand and you pay a pretty price for them, yet right next door in Myanmar there are huge quantities of them available and for a great price. The vendors would all yell out what they had for sale and it sounded like an advertising slogan. It was crazy, colourful, crowded, and very noisy but it was so much fun to be there and take in all the chaos.
Our walk ended at the Sule Pagoda in the center of Yangon, it was built during the time of the Buddha and it is 2,500 years old. Near the Sule Pagoda is the MahaBandoola Garden, it’s a beautiful green space that many locals enjoy and so did we.
Late afternoon we ventured to the 2,500 year old Shwedagon Pagoda, it’s one of the most sacred sites for the Myanmar people and it has relics enshrined from all four Buddha’s. This sacred site is nothing short of impressive, it’s completely covered with gold plates and the top of the stupa is covered with 4,531 diamonds and the largest one at the top is a 72 carat diamond! It was bustling with Buddhist Monks and locals offering flowers and making merit and busy with foreigners walking around in awe. We learned that after someone makes merit, at the end of their worship they ring a bell three times to share their merit with everyone.
The next day we decided to take the circle train since we couldn’t get train tickets from Yangon to Mandalay because it was booked solid. The train goes around the suburbs of Yangon and covers a bit of the countryside, the roundtrip takes approximately 3 hours. In Myanmar there is virtually no rail maintenance and this was quite obvious once we were riding on the train, we were tossed around like crazy at times and it made us feel pretty happy that the train was sold out from Yangon to Mandalay. We boarded the train and quickly noticed that we were the only foreigners on it from what we could see. Most of the locals would offer us a smile and some kids sitting behind us kept touching my hair. We passed many little villages, some of the areas we saw were heartbreaking and the poverty was very hard to see. We hope with the current economic boom Myanmar is experiencing, that some of the monetary gain will make its way to the local people. We passed by a lot of farming areas and everything here is done by hand, we saw a father and son watering their crops with a huge modified sprinkle can, they work very hard to get a crop.
After our train trip we stopped by a travel agency to see if we could book our boat from Mandalay to Bagan (we were worried we would run into the same sold out scenario as the train), the agency was closed but the director was there and gladly booked it for us. It took over an hour to get these tickets because the internet was so bad and finally someone just hand delivered our tickets instead of emailing them (things don’t happen fast over here).
Yangon captivated us with its chaotic and colourful culture and we sure hope that it can keep its old world charm with the influx of tourism.
Where we stayed: Great Feel Hotel
Written by: Tammy Hermann…Live~Love~Travel