I flew into Yangon airport with Vietnam Airlines. I got an eVisa online, and contrary to what it says it requires you do not need to have a return ticket booked to enter Myanmar. I stayed at Sleep In Hostel downtown near Chinatown. I paid $12 a night for a 8 bed dorm. It’s pricier than I’m used to but Myanmar hostels are just starting to open and there is no competition yet.
Yangon is nothing like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam, which is what I was hoping for. There are a few western tourists but the city streets are local still. The locals are also very polite and traditional- all the men wear long wrap skirts daily. What surprised me the most is how many locals speak English, more so than in Vietnam or Thailand.
I went to 19th street (the heart of downtown) my first night and had a few beers with a Australian dorm mate. The street food is incredible. Rows of vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables, pasta dishes, grilled meats, snacks, etc. There are push carts selling a corn and black bean concoction that I refer to as the Mexican stand. 19th street is full of street restaurants with stands where you can choose your protein and raw vegetables that you want cooked. There were random westerners but for the most part the city was packed with locals having a night out.
One thing that caught me by complete surprise is that when you want to grab a waiters attention you make a kissing sound. This is throughout the whole country and hard to get used to. I kept thinking rude men were trying to get my attention.
We met a London taxi driver who gave us tips on Myanmar. He travels the world for three months every year when business is slow.
My first day Australia and I went for breakfast. Prices are not on the menus so you just hope for the best. He ordered noodles and I ordered Mala Curry. First we were served tiny bowls of broth which tasted like Chinese wonton broth. Then the dishes were served- his in a tiny bowl and mine was a massive main course. The curry was different from Thai, Indian or Vietnamese curry. It’s brown with peanuts and sesames. It doesn’t have the traditional curry taste I am used to, but it was delicious. The plate was different noodles, different mushrooms, cauliflower, green beans, snap peas, sprouts, scallions, other vegetables I didn’t recognize, chicken, tofu, pork and a few hard boiled quail eggs. His ended up costing $1.20 and mine was $1.50. I couldn’t believe it.
After breakfast we parted ways and I walked two miles, past the People’s Park, to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. Like all famous monuments I see the pagoda was being restored and the bottom was completely covered in scaffolding. Nonetheless the gold shined through and the entire site was spectacular. Shwedagon is completely plated in gold and adorned with real jewels including diamonds. It stands tall in the middle of the site and it’s surrounded by tons of other pagodas and temples. Buddha’s are sitting and lying all throughout. Some temples are more decked out that others with mirror paneling, shiny tiles, detailed tile work, etc. One Buddha has LED lights halo-ing around it. The entire site is gold and combined with the bright sunshine it appeared fake, but I assure you it is not.
After the pagoda I walked towards the big lake, Kan Daw Gyi Lake. On the way I stopped in at Happy World, a small outdoor amusement center in the middle of Kandaw Mingalar Garden, a manicured park that looks like it belongs in the SIMS. Lollipop trees and a small pond with duck peddle boats. I had a ice coffee at the cafe near the entrance before continuing my journey. I read the price on the Burmese menu before ordering and it said 80 cents but when I tried to pay that the waiter said no and brought me over the English menu where coffee is $2. Yet another place that rips tourists off.
Kan Daw Gyi Lake is massive to say the least. There is a $2 entrance fee which I did not expect but it was worth it. I chose to walk the lake via a boardwalk that winds and goes straight down it. There are fountains and lily pads in the lake, and random small islands of gardens and praying areas. It was 90 degrees out so a great day to be outdoors. At the east end of the lake is a massive dock- a restaurant with two gold plated ducks in the waterfront.
From here I walked south then west along downtown. I randomly ran into the government square which had City Hall, the Supreme Court, and the Sule Pagoda. Next to the pagoda were a bunch of pigeons with women selling corn to feed them, which turns out is common here.
I was walking along Maha Bandoola Road which is the Main Street downtown for street markets. The main sidewalk was crowded for over thirty blocks with stands selling everything from soap to do-it-yourself fried meat stations. Side streets were packed with street restaurants.
I was planning to take it easy but ended up going out with a German bunk mate and a local who he met earlier that day. We shared a taxi to the locals house where we waited for him and his wife to get ready. The local man was 34, and his wife was 26. He’s a tour guide for a living and although he spoke some English I’m actually surprised he’s able to be an English tour guide. He was very friendly and took us to his house without any questions. He lives in an apartment building in the east end of downtown. Walking up the stairs we past a few dead cockroaches. His apartment was a lot bigger than I expected. We walked into one large open room with three leather chairs on the left, a shrine, a old TV, and a woman playing with a baby on the floor. The apartment was home-y but barren. The ceiling had beautiful molding and two chandeliers. Past the living room was a small room with a double bed, and past that was a big kitchen with a twin sized bed. Our local shares the twin bed with his wife. Eight people live in the apartment and I only saw the two beds. I met his brother, his brothers wife and their baby daughter.
His wife stepped out in a short tight red sequined dress and heels, not at all what I expected or was dressed for. The four of us took a taxi to a local night club area. Before going to the club we sat at a street restaurant and drank whiskey with beer, and tried a few local dishes. Steamed chicken, friend chicken, fish salad, fried mutton, and fried broccoli. I wasn’t that hungry and only ordered the steamed chicken but they kept encouraging me to try the local dishes so I did. At the end the bill came and they just handed it to us. I have no problem splitting a $12 bill with my mate for a local experience but I did not like the way they just handed us the bill. The local and his wife were the ones who kept ordering food, and they drank half the alcohol. It was another situation that really put me off about being taken advantage of as a tourist.
From there we took the elevator to the top floor night club. There was a security check then we entered into a real club, but we were the only ones there. The local said it will get busy, that apparently it does every night. Two hours later there were less than 10 of us on the dance floor. I’m not sure if that’s crowded for a Myanmar club. There were multiple security guards standing in the middle of the dance floor (about one guard per person.) There was also a lady security guard in the bathroom. Me and the wife were the only girls dancing with “the crowd;” all the boys were conservative and enjoyed dancing more with each other. Separately there were three local girls dancing, one of which was a ladyboy. The local girls wore tiny outfits and 6″ platform stilettos.
The next day I went back for more curry and spent a day planning Myanmar, which I should have done when I had real wifi. Later I went out with a friend of a friend from home who just moved to Yangon. We went back to 19th street and had the grilled food station. The waitress carries a plastic carton and places whatever you choose inside. We got a whole fish, squid, broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms and okra. The food was simply grilled and delicious. After dinner we went to 50th Bar, an expat spot. It was the first truly American looking place I’ve seen since being away. It was a fancy pub with shiny wooden walls, a bar with leather seating, and a huge circular staircase in the middle.