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This time I had someone to follow me on my adventure: John, from a place near my hometown in Germany whom I met a few years ago in Australia. We both shared the plan to visit Myanmar for a while now and finally managed to meet up in Kuala Lumpur to plan our trip. I flew in from Bali, where I had spent the last few months and John arrived only a few hours later from Vietnam. We had yet to apply for a visa for Myanmar which gave us a few days time to explore Malaysia’s capital city first.
When we finally got the confirmation that our visa got accepted, we booked our flight and soon later headed to Yangon. What did we prepare before heading there? Literally nothing. We had to catch up a lot after not seeing each other in a long time and so we arrived in Myanmar without any expectations or plan. We had only booked our accommodation before leaving for the unknown. Our Hotel was located in Downtown, an our away from the airport. To our surprise not only hundreds of taxis were waiting outside, also Grab was available in the city. So, we quickly booked an online taxi and headed towards the city centre. On the 5 Dollar taxi ride, we saw a lot of contrast: new Mercedes sales offices next to brand new Hotels and fragile wooden huts. All framed in overland electricity lines. On the streets taxis and busses were standing bumper to bumper. But what really stood out were the smiles on everyones face. It was afternoon and kids were just on their way back home from school wearing their traditional skirts. The streets got more and more narrow until we finally reached our accomodation. In front of it dozens of men were chewing on betelnuts, drinking whisey and playing some sort of card game for money. Next to them a bunch of street dogs were sleeping.
We carried our backpacks to the second floor where we were welcomed with a fresh juice and the news that our room had water damage. Luckily we were able to move into a different room with a bunk bed instead. The hotel was far away from fancy but clean enough and offered a wonderful view from its rooftop especially during sunset.
Before sunset we decided to have a look around the area and found a cute little park next to a pagoda and some old colonial buildings. The atmosphere in the park was uniquely beautiful: kids were running around playing while their parents were sharing meals, teenagers were playing guitar and singing along to it and everybody seemed to have a good time. The mood was contagious and we kept on walking towards a food market with empty stomachs and big grins on our face while being waved at and greeted nicely by literally everyone. We tried all kinds of food and to our surprise most street vendors actually spoke a bit of English and were able to explain what was on the plates in front of us. Some meals costed us only 300 Kyatt which is less than 15 Cents, truly incredible. With full tummies we continued our stroll and tried to find the river. We were walking past a local market where you could get anything from clothes to used phone batteries and even irons and washing powder. In front of the river were some stalls selling fresh fruits and veggies and people were running around chaotically trying to get a boat to the other side of the river before sunset. That’s when we realised that the sun had almost set and rushed back to the hotel to enjoy the rooftop view before it was too late. And just like that our first day in Myanmar already came to an end.
The evening before we had met a local girl that spoke English quite fluently who gave us some sightseeing tips for our only full day in the city. Right after breakfast we called a taxi and drove to Shedagon pagoda. Our plan was to walk all the way back to downtown from there stopping at some spots. The pagoda was remarkable and probably my favourite temple I had seen in Asia so far and I’ve seen lots! After exploring the buildings by ourselves for about an hour, we decided to hire a guide. Probably the best decision we made that day. We learnt incredibly much about Myanmar and its peoples religios believes as well as about the pagoda itself.
According to the belief here, people come to the temple to pray in a specific corner that is dedicated their day of birth. What we found odd is that there are 8 days regarding this matter in Myanmar: Wednesday counts as 2 days, Wednesday morning and afternoon. Also, each day has a lucky number, animal and a planet. So when people come to pray at Shedagon Pagoda, they usually bring flowers and light up a candle in their corner, pour sacred water over their lucky animal and 2 buddha statues hoping their wishes will come true.
We’ve learned so much about this magnificent complex thanks tour guide. Especially mesmerizing was all the gold being used as decoration. Only the top of the temple consists of more than 500 kilos of pure gold and is decorated with countless gem stones, one of them is the second largest in Myanmar. All these treasures have been donated by the people of Myanmar. Even small golden rings and lots of earrings are part of the decoration.
After an impressive morning in the pagoda we decided to head towards a nearby park with a lake inside that the women we met at dinner had recommended. After 5 minutes we turned around again, the park was not nearly as exciting as we had hoped for. Next stop on our agenda was the zoo, also recommended by that lovely lady. I am not sure what we expected but being to lazy to walk around the zoo’s property insteadt of right through made us buy the 2 Euro tickets. The zoo was absolutely horrible and the animals were kept in tiny cages. A really sad view that brought us from cloud nine straight back to reality. After this shocking experience our legs carried us to a local market where jewellry, art and fabrics were sold. It was a really hectic scene. People were everywhere, motorbikes and cars tried to squeeze through way too narrow alleyways. We decided to step into a little juice bar from where we just watched people dealing with their daily business while almost being hit by cars and bikes. This was probably my favourite place to visit in Yangon. The work of some local artists was truly amazing. To our surprise we spotted a super modern shopping mall on the other side of the street which we strolled through before heading home by eating our way through the streets of china town.
The next morning came and it was time to say goodbye to Yangon. We booked tickets for the night bus to Kalaw which was supposed to leave at 7.30 p.m. that day. Thank god we found out in time that it would take us 2 hours to get to the bus station! After a morning of not doing much we packed our stuff and gotinto our taxi. When we reached the bus station I probalby witnessed the most chaotic thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I have no clue how big this bus station was but it seemed to go on forever. Without our driver we would probably still be stuck there. He drove us right to the office of our bus operator. Our bus wasn’t there yet so we went for a walk with our backpacks to a restaurant around the corner. That restaurant seemed to be managed by a 13 year old boy in a super bad mood yelling through the whole restaurant everytime an order came in. What we ordered first turned out to be cauliflower in oil. Next try. We eventually ended up with a full stomach and got back to our bus right in time. The interiror of the bus reminded a lot of grandma’s living room in the 80’s: crocheted white-yellowish blankets hanging over the seats and everything a bit dusty. Also quite unforgettable the disco lighting and the way too loud sound of Burmese prayers blasting from the speakers. Nevertheless, the seats were quite comfy and there was a lot of leg room. If we wouldn’t have stopped every hour or so it would have been possible to actually get some sleep. While we thought we would get to Kalaw at about 6 or 7 in the morning, our bus driver woke us up at 4 and tried to tell us without words to get out. We were already in Kalaw. All the streets were pitch black, all shops were closed, it was freezing cold and we had no idea where to go.
TO DO IN YANGON
Pagodas: there are plenty of pagodas in Yangon. I can definetly recommend visiting Shedagon. Probably the most stunning religious building I have ever seen in Asia.
Traditional market: Most likely my favourite thing to do in any city is to visit the traditional market. The one in Yangon is unique due to the amounts of jewellry being sold and the massive amount of people that are just everywhere.
Food market: Visit the local food market or just wander around the streets of downtown and try everything this area has to offer. Our favourites were some sort of crepe with sugar and coconut, something that looked like Dutch poffertjes but was savory with a little quail egg and the noodle salad that you can find literally everywhere.
Wander around the streets: The best way to get to know a city is by just following the streets and alleyways to unknown places. By just walking around we probably found the best food, met the craziest people and saw some pretty random stuff happening everywhere.
Tipp: We found the best icecream in Myanmar and probably all Asia. It was somewhere between 29th and 28th street on the Maha Bandula Street. A small shop owned by an Indian looking man. It’s soooo yum!
HOW TO GET THERE
Buses to Yangon are leaving daily from all bigger towns in the counry. There is also an international Airport located 60 minutes away from the city centre. You can use a Grab or one of the million taxis standing in front of the airport to get to your hotel.
HOW TO GET AROUND
There are millions of taxis in this city as well as Grab and public busses. We wouldn’t recommend the busses though, they are super crowded most of the time. The city centre itself isn’t that big. You can easily walk to most places.
GOOD TO KNOW
Book your hotel in advance! Prices tend to be way higher when you just show up at some place (we had to learn that the hard way!). Also when extending your stay do so online!
Before coming to Myanmar I was quite confused about the power outlet situation about this country. Turns out that there are actually 3 different ones common here.
The Yangon bus station is located 2 hours away from the city centre. Keep that in mind in order not to miss your bus!