Arriving in Yangon
After a long flight from New Zealand I arrive in Yangon, Myanmar. Although, this wasn’t without an accidental 13 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur – 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. This 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 was time to venture out into Myanmar. I book one of the airport taxis for $6 to take me to Backpackers Bed and Breakfast.
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- you will know what I mean if you have visited Myanmar.
It was a forty minute drive to reach Backpackers Bed and Breakfast, where I check in and receive a welcome drink. The cost is $10 a night and it was honestly an amazing backpackers. The beds have curtains for privacy, hooks, lights and a delicious breakfast is included each morning. They are also not metal bunk beds, but rather wooden with an actual staircase.
Waking up early and with minimal jet lag, I drag myself down the hall to 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 main city center.
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 through, I am greeted by bright sun reflecting off the largest golden building I have ever seen. Turns out I walked right past the ticketing booth without realizing, 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. Smoky incense fills the air and all around are well dressed people taking family photos.
I wander around for an hour, 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 is just cars everywhere, one police man controlling the flow and no way to get over.
Check Out: My Top Things To Do In Yangon!
Heading back towards the hostel 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 as well. We decide to head over to Dala township and watch the sunset.
We purchase tickets to Dala at the ferry terminal for $2.20 / 3000 kyat 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 meter 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 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 tuk tuk and drive around the village for a mere $5.90 / 8000 kyat total, 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 locals.
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 / 7000 kyat. A one liter bottle of straight Burmese rum costs just $2.00 / 2500 kyat!
Exploring Downtown Yangon
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 / 500 kyat, which helps keep us refreshed while admiring the amazing architecture.
At the Ministers Building we sign in and are told that we can only take photos of the parts that have been restored. 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 / 2000 kyat 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 avocado 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.
Yangon Circular Train Experience
Sitting down for my last meal at Backpackers Bed and Breakfast a girl from the Netherlands sits down next to me. 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 $5.00 / 7000 kyat.
It is a twenty minute walk to the train station. Once there we find ourselves among the chaos of locals on 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 / 200 kyat, receive a small ticket and are told to wait.
The seats are just benches which run down the length of the train and fans spin for the ceiling. 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 / 1500 kyat. 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 /18500 kyat. 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.
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!
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