Myanmar (pronounced Me-n-mar), is still known as Burma in some countries, such as the UK, as it’s current Government is not recognised. The currency- Kyat- is pronounced Chat. The name Myanmar is thought to be more inclusive as there are a large number of tribes there even though the majority are Burmese.
Yangon Part 1:
After a short Air Asia flight from Bangkok, we arrived on a Thursday evening to a hot and wet Yangon. Monsoon season has begun.
We had done some research beforehand, dutifully brought our brand new dollars which we withdrew in Cambodia in case the ATMs didn’t work or were not plentiful. We needn’t have worried there were loads in the arrival hall and Gav withdrew the largest wad of cash ever! It was about £200 worth so 337,000 kyat but since the largest note in Myanmar is 5000 kyat, it was quite the bundle!
The first major hurdle to cross as always was getting into the city, step one of which was negotiating a price for a taxi (we were hoping for $8 but got the driver down from $12 to $10) from the awaiting swarm when we exited arrivals and shortly afterwards we were hurtling straight into the gridlock of Yangon’s prolonged rush hour. The slow pace allowed us our first view of the locals, almost all the men here wear a Longyi, aslo they don’t like you calling it a skirt, It’s very cooling in the heat.
We were at the far side of the city centre, in the heart of Chinatown staying in a hostel dorm for $8 a night each. The prices in Yangon are very high- we would soon realise however that went for the whole country- so expensive, this was the cheapest we could get. So glad we had ear plugs.
We had two days in Yangon and a really out of date counterfit lonely planet from Cambodia, so the first night we set out to orientate ourselves with the area and find somewhere to get onward travel connections while grabbing dinner on the way. We were only successful with one of our aims for the evening but did have a nice wander through the night market.
The following morning, having been unsuccessful in our attempts to find out prices for bus and train tickets we set off again, eventually ending up at the train station (rather confusingly the same building houses the tax and car registration offices) and going to three different ticket desks – in the station, on a platform and then eventually finding the advanced ticket office and getting our tickets. The price had dropped for the sleeper from $45 for a foreigner to 12000 kyat ($12) (same as locals) so rather than get the bus (11000 kyat/$11) we opted for the experience of the night train to Mandalay!
Next it was off to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda– it is the holiest site in Myanmar. For foreigners it is 8000 kyat ($8) in. It is very beautiful at dusk apparently as it is all lit up and has a ring of candles around the base. We would have had to wait 4 hours to see that though so we decided to leave it on this occasion. The whole thing is covered in gold plate stamped with the donor’s name, if you have the money you could marry merit and fame in one place. The top section is covered in donated gold jewellery.
That evening we decided to try some street food. I had picked out one out of the stalls operating out of the back of a car but it had 10 seats and it obviously was good as it was always busy. It was threatening rain so we went for one nearby, the guy had no English and we tried to ask him using our “Point It” book if it was chicken, he said yes. Gav then picked out a soup with an egg, I asked for it with no egg. We both got the same in the end- a raw egg soup, with unspecified meat (after eating half of it, which had a weird texture, we came to the conclusion it was probably offal of some description- there were also kidneys or liver or something brown in there. It was not very pleasant.
The following day after checkout and a rather incipid breakfast of watery vegan curry (our hostel was very, very cheap-bizzarely Gav liked it, strange boy), we set out to see the old colonial buildings in Yangon- when we arrived back we did a proper walking tour, the following photos are a mix of both.
While wandering around looking for the Secretariat, we stumbled across a sign for the Rangoon Tea House and ascended the stairs for our first Burmese Tea House experience! We were not disappointed. It was however exactly like being at home in Liverpool decorwise. The guy grew up in the UK to Burmese parents.
Refreshed and rejuvenated we grabbed some snacks and our bags and headed for the train to Mandalay!
See posts on the train ride to Mandalay:First Class trip back in time
Yangon Part 2:
After Inle Lake we opted to get an overnight bus back. We also paid a bit more to get a 2+1 seat (basically they are bigger seats). Unfortunately the company we went with (there were sooooooo many) had no toilet on board so after the almost audible “in bus entertainment” of ConAir finished at 11.30 we got woken every 2 hours, and then at 5.20 am by Buddhist prayers which went on for an hour. Gav also thought the buses went into the city- they didn’t. Stopping at the bus station past the airport-miles from the city centre. We ended up getting a taxi ($10/10,000 kyats), ended up giving a monk a free ride too (though that will go on the driver’s good credits to Buddha). Our hotel for the next few days was a guesthouse. 1415 Guesthouse, again in Chinatown, right at the bottom of the road of the offal soup stall. It’s basically a hostel, tiny rooms, with plywood walls- we were in a large double too. There was no space!
After a quick nap- we headed out for a Burmese style breakfast in a little coffee shop called Thone Pan Hla- we had some delicious and super cheap coffee (300 kyat,/30c), juice and noodles. Unfortunately we now refer to this cafe as the “rat cafe”- the place is clean and everything but the toilet is in an alley out the back. Gav almost stepped on two rats while visiting the facilities. I decided against going.
I dont know if its just the time travelling or what but we have got so used to seeing rats everywhere however Yangon seemed to have a larger number than normal for some reason. They don’t bother you though.
After the tour we ended up at a Muslim tea shop called Golden Tea, there were some rather amusing children serving here- a 6-7 year old was ordering about a 12 year old and telling him off for removing a plate of samosas just as Gav was about to have one- it was returned seconds later after the reprimand. The place is mobbed in the evening- taking over most of the street outside.
Tour, tea shop
We also went to the Scott (Bogyoke) Market one day, it is rated as one of the top things to do in Yangon. We didn’t think much of it, you can pick up souvenirs there- jade, wood and paintings and it sells a lot of fabric. I picked up what I thought was a premade Longi- my ankle tattoo was attracting attention and I wanted it covered- but it turned out to be fabric and I had to pay more to get it made up! Very annoying- they are also almost impossible to walk in. Outside the front there are quite a few taxi drivers who offer currency exchange services- the arrival of ATMs has made this service a bit obsolete. As a market it was alright but aimed almost completely at tourists, not really at locals so we didn’t really enjoy it. On the way out though we did free a bird from one of the guys selling them. I earned some merit with Buddha for that.
The day after the market we decided to take a trip on the circular railway- again one of the things to do in Yangon. It paled in comparison to the night train and at one stage stopped for ages, there was not much to see on it. However it got us where we needed to go which was past the airport and after a short taxi ride we were at the Allied War Memorial/ Taukkyan War Cemetery. A very peaceful place and nice to see it so well maintained. Jewish, christian, hindu, etc. graves were side by side.
On the way back, we got a taxi back to the Scott Market area to go to the Nepalese place for food- unfortunately we got caught in a horrific downpour. It was like walking through a swimming pool the wall of rain was that bad. My backpack is now very old and got wet through. We had our passports in it as we had read we might need them for the train. They got soaked but not too damaged thankfully. We learned our lesson though- they are now in a plastic bag to make sure they remain dry.
Our last full day we decided to go to the zoo. I was quite worried about how the animals would be here given that it was a victorian zoo. By and large they were reasonably healthy- some of the birds were a bit worse for wear though-you could see signs of stress on some of them. However it was a million times better than Beijing Zoo. That was awful.
The following morning we were up early to head back to the airport. We had decided to get breakfast at the airport, we figured the food would be terrible but at least we wouldn’t miss our flight. As it turned out there were two food places, both next to each other and as we were queuing to look at the menu I spotted a dazed but moving mouse at the front of the counter. The girl in front of us nearly stepped on it. We decided to wait until we got to Bangkok as we had a few hours between flights. We didn’t even get a can of coke- it was $2.40 (2400 kyat) 6 times the price in the shops. Total rip off.
Although we enjoyed Myanmar we were looking forward to Chiang Mai and not being stared at or photographed!