First Impressions of Yangon | Myanmar


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Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar
 
We hadn’t done much research on Myanmar before leaving the UK, the same as Bangladesh, as all our research had gone into India. The week before arriving we decided that as we only had two weeks we would pick just three key places. This would mean we could spend a bit more time in each and relax a bit before getting to Cambodia to start working. This was much slower travel than we’d done so far – especially in India. Andy was happy with this as it’s his preferred style of travel, but I wasn’t so keen as I felt we’d be missing out on loads. I changed my mind though when we agreed that we could always come back later in the year to see the things we missed. Myanmar is, after all, only a relatively short, inexpensive flight from Cambodia. This 10 to 14 day Myanmar itinerary also covers the places we visited during our time in Myanmar, plus a few extras. Our first stop was Yangon.

Arrival in Yangon 

We finally arrived in Yangon after a long delay in Dhaka airport in Bangladesh. Due to a technical fault, our plane had turned back to Dhaka after only 35 minutes in the air. Over seven hours stuck in one of the dirtiest airports we’d ever been in, was not quite what we’d envisaged. It was typical though, as we were chomping at the bit to leave Dhaka and couldn’t wait to start the Myanmar leg of our journey. Nevermind, you have to take the rough with the smooth. As we’d known from the start, this wouldn’t all be plain sailing. On disembarking the plane, the air felt cooler compared to Bangladesh. Immediately we noticed how clean Yangon airport was. We sped through immigration using our e-visas that UK citizens must purchase online in advance and collected our bags. Such efficiency was a complete contrast to the airports we’d experienced in India and Bangladesh. 
 
The driver sent by the Lotus Bed and Breakfast we’d booked was waiting for us in arrivals, he looked relieved to finally see us. I’d been updating them of our arrival time by email, but I think the poor chap had had his plans changed several times that day. The roads were quiet as we drove from the airport towards Downtown Yangon. This was due to the late hour of the evening and there wasn’t much to see in the dark. Until that is we spotted Shwedagon Pagoda, the biggest pagoda in Myanmar. It shone bright gold against the night sky in the distance. We planned to visit it the next day and also the night before we leave Myanmar. Apart from that, there wasn’t much to see at that time of night. 
 
Something strange we noticed during the drive was that the steering wheel was on the right-hand side of the car (the wrong side), but we were also driving on the right-hand side of the road. Apparently, most cars in Myanmar are like this as they are imported from Japan where they drive on the left. We arrived at Lotus B&B and from the outside appearance, my heart sunk a little. The entrance hall looked quite scruffy and I began to have visions of a repeat of that awful first hotel in Mumbai. Once inside though we were pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t anything fancy but it was clean and functional and the staff were welcoming and helpful.

Food and Beer

Having dropped our bags off we headed straight out just after 11 pm to find much-needed food and beer. Following a suggestion from the B&B staff, we took a short walk to 50th Street, a cafe, bar and restaurant. They told us it was one of only a few places serving food and beer until midnight. As we walked through the nearly deserted streets I saw several huge rats scurrying about. I’d heard there is a prolific rat population in Yangon but didn’t expect them to be that big. 50th Street is a well restored colonial building located on…yes you’ve guessed it – 50th Street. It’s located just outside the busy Downtown Yangon. As we entered we saw it was a spacious, well restored colonial building. Later we found out it’s also one of the longest established Western-style establishments. It’s also supposed to be an expat haunt and has pretty good wifi (for Myanmar).
Mohinga 50th Street Restaurant Yangon Myanmar
 
The Aussies knew of another bar that was likely to still be open, so we all wandered a bit further down 50th street to the Fat Ox. It was difficult to find as the sign lights were off and the windows tinted. A British expat ran the bar and it was pretty dead, but fine for a late drink. We all had several more before calling it a night at about 3 am and wobbling back to our B&B, tired and tipsy.

Integration and Assimilation

After we’d had another yummy Mohinga for breakfast at the B&B, one of the staff gave us a map and pointed out some key sights for us. For the third country on this adventure, it was ‘integration and assimilation’ time. We needed to find our bearings and get into the swing of things. As always this would involve wandering around, to see what we could find and to familiarise ourselves with this new country and how things work. 

 

Transport

We set out on foot to explore, the first thing we noticed was it was much quieter than India and Dhaka. It became clear this was because there were no motorised auto-rickshaws constantly beeping their horns. The drivers of most vehicles here seemed to have much more decorum. There was still some scary driving about but they were much less liberal with their horns! The only modes of public transport in Yangon seemed to be taxis that could be hailed from the street, buses that had seen better days, and trishaws. Trishaws are three wheeler cycle-rickshaws, designed to take two passengers sitting in opposite directions. They seemed to have been built for small people though so I think one person per trishaw would be much comfier.

 

Thanaka, Longyis, and Paan

As we strolled down the busy streets we noticed many of the women and some children had some sort of gold/ white paint on their faces and occasionally arms. I wondered if it was for religious reasons but soon discovered it was actually Thanaka – a cosmetic paste made from ground Thanaka tree bark mixed with water. Thanaka Yangon Myanmar

Sule Pagoda and Luck Birds

First stop was Sule Pagoda, a golden Buddhist stupa which doubles up as a roundabout. We had a quick look round, removing our shoes first and ensuring my shoulders and knees were covered. This is the norm when visiting temples in Asia. There were signs up everywhere displaying images of the clothing rules for the pagoda. Sule Pagoda’s location was central and a perfect start to our exploration. We spent a while after that just wandering looking at sights and soaking up the atmosphere.

 
On some corners we noticed street vendors selling tiny birds in cages, these were ‘luck-birds’, a Buddist tradition. From what I could gather the belief is freeing these birds earns ‘merit’. I couldn’t see the logic of trapping and caging birds to then release them, but then who am I to question another’s tradition. We also passed several colonial style buildings, such as the Independence Monument and the City Hall. All that walking in the heat had made us peckish so we popped into Lucky Seven Tea-shop near Independence Monument for a quick snack. I had a tasty bowl of Shan Noodles, whilst Andy went for Vegetable Soup, they were both great. Shan Noodles Lucy Seven Tea-shop Yangon Myanmar
 
The sky looked as if it was threatening rain so we bought an umbrella each. We’d been thinking about getting some for a couple of weeks but kept deciding against it. Everyone seemed to have them here though so we gave in, by the end of the day we were pleased we had. We pottered around the street’s a bit longer looking at roadside vendors and stalls selling all sorts. Tables overflowed with phone accessories, chargers and adapters, colourful fruit and vegetables, fish, dried fish and prawns. There were also several tea stations dotted about with locals sitting sipping steaming glasses of green tea. Street Stalls Yangon Myanmar
 
Admission to the pagoda is 5,000 kyat (£3.20 GBP) for foreigners, but free for locals. Despite the rain, the pagoda was full of locals milling about, meditating and praying, including lots of monks and some nuns. There were also a few other Western tourists. Despite the large numbers of people, it didn’t feel crowded as it was massive. We only stayed about an hour because of the rain, but you could kill a good couple of hours or so exploring all the different parts to it.

China Town and 19th Street

After a quick freshen up back at the B&B – we set out for the evening. We wanted to check out China Town, in particular, 19th Street where we’d heard there were lots of barbeque street food stalls, beer stations and buskers. It was supposed to be pretty lively in the evenings. Street BBQ 19th Street Yangon Myanmar

 
We finished the evening back in the Fat Ox as it was Sunday and not much else going on. We also had a pizza craving to satisfy. Since visiting Yangon fellow Cambodia expat and travel blogger Elise from Travel, Work, Play has shared this nightlife tip (I wish I’d known this when we were there) – For incredible night time views of the Shwedagon Pagoda which is lit and glowing in the evenings, head to The Thiripyitsaya Sky Bar – on the 5th floor of the Sakura Tower. Not only can you see incredible views of Yangon and its pagodas, but you can enjoy some delectable beverages at this upscale wine bar. International wines are available, as well as wines from Burmese vineyards! Recommendation – the Red Mountain Sauvignon Blanc from their winery near Inle Lake
 
I had planned to do the Circular Train the next day. However a couple of expats had said it was nothing special, so I decided against it and opted for a lie-in instead. I later regretted missing it though as generally, I usually prefer to form my own opinions. I’ll save that one for our next visit, along with the self-guided colonial walking tour.

First Impressions

Our first interactions with Myanmar and its people definitely lived up to our expectations. People were friendly, food, drinks and taxis cheap, and there are some great sights and lots to do to keep you occupied. I also loved how colourful everything is. Another attraction of Yangon was there didn’t seem to be the scams we fell for in India; even the expectation of tips didn’t seem so commonplace. I think the fact that the tourism industry is still relatively new here adds to the charm, maybe this will change soon, but I hope not.
 
We left Yangon eager to see what Bagan and Inle, the other two destinations on our itinerary in Myanmar would have in store for us. We’d also have loved to explore the ancient cities around Mandalay, but that would have to wait for another trip. 
 
Have you been to Myanmar and was Yangon your first stop? How did you find it? 
 
P.S. You can read more about our time travelling to Cambodia through India, Bangladesh and Myanmar via the following links:

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2 thoughts on “First Impressions of Yangon | Myanmar

  1. Amy

    Although it wasn’t my favourite country in Asia, I remember how amazingly nice the people in Burma were and the temples in Bagan were incredible. I’m glad you guys enjoyed Yangon and I look forward to hearing what else you got up to.

    1. TanyaKorteling Post author

      Yes they really were friendly, what is your favourite country in Asia? We have a few more to check out hopefully this year!

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