The flight from Bangkok to Yangon was short, but the differences between the two cities were profound. Bangkok (pop. ~8 million) is like many large cities with all of the luxuries of any major metropolitan area, while Yangon (pop. ~6 million) is just beginning to figure out that it too is becoming a major tourist draw. After arriving at Yangon, we set out to find some dinner a short walk from the hotel. Initially, we all felt a bit uncomfortable even though we had read that Myanmar was the safest country in all of Southeast Asia – poverty is more visible, litter is abundant, many people wear a natural sunscreen which looks like pale yellow face paint and is initially somewhat intimidating, beetle nut chewing is so prevalent that the streets and sidewalks are stained red with the blood-red spit byproduct and the teeth of users are stained a reddish-black – all in all a much different experience than we’ve had thus far.
We considered turning around, but decided that it was just our own preconceived ideas that had us feeling uneasy and as we walked, we became more comfortable. We noticed more people saying hello and smiling. We found the restaurant we had been looking for, although we weren’t sure if it was actually a restaurant. There was only a small room with space for two tables just off the street. A man waved us in and set out stools for us. Our choices were shan noodles or rice with chicken, pork, or squid. Ty and Ray opted for the noodles and RJ and I opted for rice. We then had to get up and look at a variety of meats on display and choose the one we wanted. I have to say that RJ was a bit braver than me and chose pork. I was a little afraid of the meat dishes and opted for fried tofu. It didn’t matter… everything was delicious. Dinner for the four of us ended up being 4000 Kyat or about $3. Ty even commented that it was really fun to go out and try something new and that we should do that every day.
On our way back to the hotel we walked through a night market where we tried a few sweets off the street. The first was sweet rice that had been cooked in bamboo. It was then cut open and filled with sugar and fresh coconut. Cost: 200 Kyat or $0.15. The second item was a sweet pancake filled with a sweet liquid and more sugar. Cost: 500 Kyat or $0.38. We ordered 4.
On day 2 we were all much more at ease in Yangon and took a walking tour of the city led by our fearless leader, Ray. This is the second walking tour that he has taken us on and I have to say that they are a bit boring. He gets these “tours” from the Lonely Planet guide books and, while they do get us out and show us a bit of the city, the “highlights” are really not that exciting unless you really, really want to know the history of a city. We saw the top of a pagoda, city hall, a gate at the back of the building that still had the Rangoon crest, a church, a lion on top of a church, Independence monument, a really big bank, and a few other buildings that by that time were all starting to look the same. But as boring as I find the tours, we were on the exact same path around the city as several other tourists and spotted them carrying the same guide books, so apparently Ray is not the only one who finds them interesting.
That evening, we went to Shwedagon Pagoda, which is one of the most sacred sites in Myanmar for Buddhists. The main pagoda stand 325 feet tall and, according to Lonely Planet, is adorned with 27 metric tons of gold leaf and thousands of diamonds and other gems. It is also believed to enshrine eight hairs of the Gautama Buddha. As we stopped for a rest, we ended up in conversation with a monk who invited us to come speak to his English class the next morning in exchange for coffee and breakfast. If our time in Yangon had not been so short, we might have considered it, but the next day we were off to Mt. Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock)…
Independence Monument in Yangon.
A monk walking around the base of the largest stupa. Hopefully this gives some sense of its enormous size.
Golden stupas glowing at dusk.
Birds for sale on the street that you can buy and then release for good luck.