After a long flight from New Zealand I arrive at the first stop of my journey, Yangon in Myanmar. Although, this wasn’t without an accidental 13 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I have got to learn to double check before booking.
To get into Myanmar you will need a visa. I opted to apply for the Evisa and it was a simple process costing $50. After exiting the plane I went through customs like normal with my arrival card, but just presented my Evisa approval letter to the officer. No additional forms to fill out and no extra lines, which is good because all I wanted to do was check into my accommodation and sleep. There were about 10 tourists in line, the rest were locals, which sped up the process.
After my passport had been stamped and luggage collected it is time to venture out into Myanmar for the first time. I book one of the airport taxis for $6 to take me to Backpackers Bed and Breakfast where I am staying. The government taxis have extremely reasonable prices which are fixed.
The ride into downtown Yangon is overwhelming to say the least. I had done research on what to do, where to stay etc, but not on cultural norms. At each traffic light the car windows roll down, locals heads pop out and the spitting spree begins. Oh, and all while staring at the white foreigner in the back of a taxi.
It was a forty minute drive to reach Backpackers Bed and Breakfast, where I check in and receive a welcome drink. I pay $10 a night and it was honestly the best backpackers I stayed at my whole trip. The beds have curtains for privacy, hooks, lights and a delicious breakfast included each morning. They are also not metal bunk beds #preach, but rather have a staircase leading up to the above bed. It provided the best sleep, especially after a 25 hour long journey.
Waking up early and with minimal jetlag, I drag myself down the hall to a breakfast. I decide on eggs, toast, banana, watermelon, and juice which is included in the room rate. After getting ready I check out google maps on my phone and figure out how to get to Shwedagon Pagoda.
The streets within the city are crazy. This is my first experience of city life in an Asian country. Cars everywhere, tooting constantly, side walks full of tables and numerous people buzzing around. After half an hour walking I finally seem to be out of the city with a clear path to follow and minimal roads to cross.
I honestly did not know what to expect with Shwedagon Pagoda. This is the first temple I have ever visited and naively, I had not done any research. I follow two local girls towards the temple, they dart off one way and I enter through a side path into a large building with stairs leading up and small stalls on each side. Walking on up, straight pass everyone, I am soon greeted by bright sun reflecting off the largest golden building I have ever seen. It is a beautiful sight. Turns out I walked right past the ticketing booth without realising, luckily I never got pulled up for it.
The pagoda is set on a large grounds with numerous other temples and places of worship around. Monks are dressed in bright orange, locals are praying and tourists are taking in the beautiful sights. It smells of smoky incense and all around are well dressed people taking family photos.
I wander around for an hour taking many photos and hiding in the shade from the blasting sun, before deciding to walk to Kandawagyi Lake. Unfortunately at the intersection just before the Lake, the traffic is ridiculous and I cannot figure out how to get across. It was just cars everywhere, one police man controlling the flow and no way to get over.
Heading back towards the hotel to chill out for a bit I decide to pop into one of the stores for lunch. I buy a soda and packet of jam buns for $0.90. While eating back at the hostel I meet Adam from New York, Ning from Thailand and Audrey from Canada, all solo traveling. We decide to head over to Dala township in the evening to get a tour of the township and watch the sunset.
We purchase tickets to Dala at the ferry terminal for $2.20 return and are each taken into a private room while they write down our personal information. When they finally issue return tickets for the boat we are being quickly ushered off towards the wharf.
The boat starts pulling away while the others in the group hop on. It is now about a metre away from the wharf and the locals are reaching out telling me to grab their hands. I jump above the murky water and the men pull me on just in time. I am greeted by high-fiving, smiling and clapping locals making it one of my most memorable moments from Myanmar.
It is only a short 10 minute ride over where we hire a tuktuk and drive around the village for a mere $5.90, split four ways. The main attractions are the fishing village, a local pagoda, a small village and the market. All up the trip takes 2 hours and provides many opportunities to interact with the local people.
Back in Downtown Yangon, Adam takes everyone to Golden Duck Restaurant, a popular restaurant with amazing food. I have Japanese tofu, fried rice and a soda, costing $5.10. A one litre bottle of straight Burmese rum costs $2. We spend the evening drinking and laughing while organising plans for the following day.
After another good breakfast at Backpackers Bed and Breakfast, Adam and I decide to head to the Ministers Building, where there is an exhibition by Wolfgang Laib. Walking through the streets we decide to half a watermelon for $0.20, which helps keep us refreshed while admiring the amazing architecture. In its own way, Yangon is an extremely beautiful city with the aged colonial buildings.
At the Ministers Building we sign in and are told that we can only take photos of the parts that have been restored. This meant no pictures of the construction work going on. Therefore no photos of the building as a whole. Within the entrance way is a beautiful staircase with intricate detailing on the rails. We watch a short film about the artist behind the exhibition and how grateful he is to be able to produce a meaningful piece to showcase Myanmar.
For lunch we walk back into town and visit 999 Shan Noodle House. The meal is absolutely delicious and the restaurant is full of people, both tourists and locals. Only costing $1.50 I highly recommend trying it out for lunch.
Afterwards we visit the famous Scott/Bogyoke Market and have a look at some of the local stalls. We check out a few of the stores selling paintings, but the workers seem to pressure us which basically results in an immediate exit. People down on the lower levels sell avacado juice, which to me seems like a strange combination. As Adam has a train to catch we head back to the hostel and chill out for a while.
All my friends have moved on and I am yet to meet anyone else, its dinner for one tonight. I head back to Golden Duck Restaurant, as a lot of the street food seems to be BBQ meats and I am vegetarian. This visit I am seated at a single table in a room full of Chinese people. I do not hear one word of English my entire stay so I people watch then head off soon after I am finished eating.
For my final day in Yangon I decide to take a solo trip on the famous Yangon circle train. Sitting down for my last meal at Backpackers Bed and Breakfast a girl from the Netherlands sits down next to me. It is her first day in Myanmar, only arriving late last night. Turns out she is also interested in taking the Yangon circle train so we make a plan for our day.
First up is lunch and I decide I feel like something a bit more western so we head to Rangoon Tea House. This is the most modern building I have seen since I arrived. Beautifully decorated and hipster chic, unfortunately with prices to reflect. I sit down for a meal of samosas and watermelon juice, setting me back $5.
Walking towards the circle train station we find a small supermarket which is a score. Previously I had only found corner stores selling chips and sodas. If you want to find this little supermarket it is located on Pansodan Street, a block up from Rangoon Tea House.
It is a twenty minute walk to the train station. Once there we find ourselves among the chaos of locals in their daily commute. Through constantly saying ‘tickets, circle train,’ we are soon in front of the ticket counter. We write down our personal information, pay $0.15, receive a small ticket and told to wait.
Time passes, we turn down our eighth bottle of water, and are still waiting for the Yangon circle train to arrive. It is suppose to come every hour, but we had already been waiting longer than that. Soon more tourists arrive and a man points at a train for us all to get on.
The seats are just benches which run down the length of the train and fans spin for the ceiling in an attempt to provide relief from the heat. People make their money selling noodles, eggs and the ever present beetle nut. The train goes slow, giving the perfect opportunity to take photos out the windows. There are animals, furniture and basically anything that will fit through the door is shoved on board.
Four hours after departing we are pulling back into the station. Having taken so long, it is now starting to get dark so we decide to get dinner. Stopping in at the supermarket I pick up noodles, a drink and banana cake for $1.80. It goes down a treat and I save some banana cake to keep me going while on the night bus.
I previously booked my bus ticket with the hostel for $13.50. As well as putting my name down for a shared taxi to the bus station. The bus leaves at 8.30pm, but traffic can be crazy so the taxis leave at 5.30pm. Two french people on a business trip offer me a ride. They also have their own personal driver who constantly talks proudly of his country and his Burmese heritage. I try to give him some money on arrival, but he politely declines.
The bus station layout is extremely complicated. All in one massive area and every building looks the same. The driver asks numerous people how to find the company I am traveling with. Once we finally found them it was 7.30pm. Quickly, I check in my bags and jump on board. Fluffy pillows, fleece blankets, freezing aircon and crazy disco lights greet me as I enter. Next stop the magnificent Bagan!
Want to know what to do in Yangon? Check out my list of the top eight things to do in Yangon Myanmar!
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