Yangon, The Unexpected Tour
By Carol Rudy
I have to admit, I was quite skeptical of Myanmar in the beginning, let alone Yangon. It wasn’t even on my list of travel destinations, but a friend of mine convinced me to go for something unexplored beyond the usual, so I complied out of curiosity. On the plane I started to have second thoughts and question my hasty decision. What if Myanmar did not suit my travel style?
I have never been so wrong.
The moment I stepped out of Yangon International Airport, I was greeted by the morning rush of bustling Yangon. There were cars honking, chatters and sounds of engines —things that I did not expect to experience the moment I reached Yangon.
Our taxi driver hummed mindlessly all the way from the airport to our hotel. I admired his laidback attitude despite driving around town with a temperature of almost 43°C, because we were sweating bullets. Even though the taxi was air-conditioned, I could feel the heat bearing down on me, but the driver mentioned he was already used to it. We continued to exchange small talk and drove past several food vendors selling bowls of food. There were many people crowding the stall and all of them had at least one bowl in their hands. I later found out that it was a meal called Mohingha, Myanmar’s unofficial national dish combining rice noodles and fish soup that almost all locals have as their breakfast or just as a snack.
The first thing we did right after checking-in was to explore the streets of Yangon and take in its surroundings. I was smitten by the environment; it had a rustic edge presented in a fashion that rendered it both urban and antique. Some parts of the street gave off a vintage vibe, with its old, time-worn buildings painted with fresh paint on its windows and doors. Stepping through the door, I noticed that even the tables and chairs were given a fresh coat of paint. The furniture was clearly old, but the allure was the interior’s classic layout that made you feel you had stepped back into time in the 1960s.
I was surprised by how often the people wore a longyi for almost any occasion. They wore it in so many ways—in a knot, or folded up at the knee — that I decided to try one myself. It was not difficult to find stalls selling longyi around. Looking around, I found a humble little shop with layers and layers of longyi put on display on the chipped-off wooden platform elevated just a few inches off the ground with an old plastic stool. I did not mind the over all look of the shop, as I had already started rooting for the authentic vintage vibe of the streets of Yangon.
It took me forever to choose a ‘htamein’, which is a type of longyi that women wear. There were so many designs and colours to choose from that I could not pick one, but finally decided on two. One was a simple pink htamein and the other had purple and black stripes running down from the waistline. I put on the pink one and was relieved of my tight jeans that were digging into my sweaty skin the entire morning. I finally understood why locals wear longyi all the time. With its flexibility in comfort and easy-to-match attire, I would too!
With no further plans, we wandered around the streets of Yangon and were slowly greeted by the night. It was time for dinner, so we set off on an impromptu food hunt around the hotel. We didn’t even need to go far to find food stalls — there were already a few selling a variety of mouth-watering food and beverages nearby. The deep-fried bottle-gourd was my personal favourite. The crispy texture followed by the salty and fragrant vegetable taste was heaven. The sauce added the perfect finishing touch, as the sweet, sour and spicy flavour gave the crispiness an added kick of taste. The night was lit with bright lights and a lively atmosphere, and we ended our night in a good note.
We went to Shwedagon Pagoda the following day, and the sight of it was jaw-dropping. I have never seen such an impressive religious monument. Not only was the pagoda huge, but it was glowing fiery gold against the sun! My aching bare feet suddenly didn’t feel painful anymore as I tilted my head all the way back to take in the entire view before my eyes. After taking tonnes of photos to catch the perfect spot of the sunrays hitting the glittering diamond placed atop the roof, it glimmered in a burst of colours, reflected on the hti. Marvelling at this golden wonder, we moved on to quieter places where devotees were seen kneeling and praying to the statue of the Buddha.
I was touched to witness how the monks sat so still and were able to brave through the scorching heat just to pray and recite prayers. With their eyes closed, fingers folded across palms, and their faces frowning in concentration, the beads of sweat on their faces didn’t seem to bother them at all.
Shoes were not allowed in the holy site, so we carried our shoes around in a bag we brought along. The floor was scorching hot and we learned the hard way that visiting the pagoda in the evening would have been a much better choice.
My overall experience downtown city and Shwedagon Pagoda completely changed my mind about Yangon and Myanmar. My experience is yet to be completed, but I am already in love with the place! Yangon is safe, the people are friendly and it was relatively easy to get around town. We will be doing more exploring soon, but it is safe to say that I am officially a fan of the country. Stay tuned for more adventures!