I had very clear first impressions of Yangon. After vivid experiences in India, Yangon seemed a very clean and green city. Drivers on the road are very organised and do know how to used the honk moderately. It seemed that there are blooming flowers, trees, parks and lots of water everywhere. The first hours in Yangon made me realise how stressful India had been.
For the first nights in town we chose to stay in a home of a Latvian couple that I had found through Airbnb. We were staying in residential area 7th Mile district, that is located rather far from downtown, but gives a great impression on how the wealthy and poor co-exist in Myanmar. Huge villas fenced and wired and small market stands with fruit, vegetables and fish on the side of the streets.
We arrived in Yangon in the afternoon. I had not completely recovered yet. It was clear that we would no do much that evening. I had only one desire – to wash our clothes. I had been longing for this day for few weeks and finally I had a chance to put all our clothes in a washing machine. The little pleasures of life.:) To be clear – we try not to walk around in dirty clothes. Most of the guest houses and hotels offer laundry service, that we happily had used when it was needed. Thought the quality of washing vary. Once in a while being able to do it my self brings some satisfaction and general sense of cleanliness.
As we had no plans for dinner, but we had to eat, our hosts offered us to join them. We went to local sea food restaurant. Stijn, Elīna and Jānis tried all kinds of sea monsters, but I had to stick with plain rice and some suspicious desert made with noudles and dark brown, sweet liquid. I did not want to risk with my stomach yet.
To concur downtown of Yangon was our plan for the second day. Public buses do not scare us. It was decided – we will go to downtown with a public bus. We paid 400 kyats for both of us. A taxi would have been 4000 or 5000 kyats. We had no idea which bus should we take, we just had our key word “Sule”. It worked perfectly well. In 20 minutes we were some where close to the center.
For the first part of the day we had two main goals – getting a breakfast and find local sim cards. We wanted to be back in contact with the virtual world as soon as possible. While we were searching for a place with Western breakfast on menu (we were not mentally, nor physically ready to dive into local cuisine yet), I managed to get a sim card. It was sort of a handicraft exercise. While getting a card is as difficult as paying 2000 kyats, to resize the sim to fit in iPhone is another story. This time I could do it myself. It was one of those street side shops selling completely everything. It reminded more of a garage and it seemed that the shop owners were also living there. The shopkeeper, who spoke very little English, refused to cut the sim card. I had to do it myself. I was sitting there with a big pair of scissors, trying to resize the card without ruining it.
We were advised to search Western food in the area of central railway station. Social media and rating sites were not much of a help this time. We were circling around the block. We found a bakery that seemed to be good enough for plan B, we craved for something more that pastry. About the time we were ready to give up, we turned around the corner and found our selves in a place called “Craft”. Western design, Western and local menu. Western prices. Oh, well… If that’s what you have to pay for a sandwich with scrambled eggs and tiny salads, so it be. It was coming close to noon, we were too hungry. The portions of food seemed small, but the taste and presentation was good. We also had iced fresh fruit juices (they freeze fruit and then blend them), that were very good. All in all we were satisfied.
We went back to the same shop to get a sim card for Stijn too. This time Stijn was sitting there with scissors. The rest of the afternoon we spent wondering around down town. First we peeked into the Bogyoke market. It was so organised, clean and calm. If you fancy, it is possible to order a piece of tailored clothes right in the market. In between stands with all varieties of fabrics, women with sewing machines are sitting.
For a change it was hot outside. Surprisingly enough we had forgotten how that feels. We were moving slow and we needed a lot of breaks. We paid a visit to Sule pagoda, which marks the centre of down town. It might have not done it, but it was our first pagoda in Myanmar. It deserves some credit. Next to the pagoda is a very nice park with a green and welcoming grass, that we profited of.
We had early dinner in 999 Shan Noodle House that was recommend by our hosts and ranks very high in Trip Advisor. It is a clean, small place. Food was good, but unfortunately too heavy for my stomach in recovery. We paid less than we had paid for breakfast, but had 3 times as much food.
Before we were heading back to our Yangon home, we went to a supermarket. I mentioned before, that those are rarity in India. We found something like yoghurt and some oat based cookies to keep in our bags for hungry times.
We were enthusiastic about taking a bus back to the 7 Mile. We had no idea where to look for a bus or which bus we should take. But we just asked locals few times. We end up in the right spot. We got information on the bus number, but… Myanmar scripture is slightly different than latin. We had to google numbers in burmese, to be able to recognise our bus. Just before we gave up the right bus arrived. As we got on it in the center, we were still among the lucky sitting ones. Later on it got so full, that we had to make our way to the doors few stops before getting off.
Stijn’s list of the thing to be done never ends. First half of the following day we spent staring at the screens. Myanmar had a big wi-fi problem, but fortunately our network provider supports creating hotspot via phone.
In the afternoon we went searching for bus tickets to Bagan. At first we could not find an agency that would sell the bus tickets of JJ Express bus company, that was recommended by our hosts. As we on our way to the railway station, where no agencies supposed to be, I spotted a simple stand on a side of one of the main street with a logo of the bus company among others. Girl made a call to the JJ Express office, wrote a paper ticket and our bus to Bagan was booked. We had only one thing left to do – pay a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda. THE site of Yangon. They say it is a must to see it in the sun set. So it be!
Stijn: Maybe it is because we have already seen so many temples in India, or because just before entering the Pqgoda we had a little argument (reason already long forgotten), but the place didn’t really move us that much. As for me, I was looking for the good photo moments and interesting people to take photos of. It didn’t seem to be easy as I always try to keep some distance from people praying. Out of respect for their moment. Next to that, I had the feeling there were more tourists and even every local was taking photos with their smartphones, tablets and cameras.
Even though the whole area is massive, I got so upset about all the disturbing things surrounding the area. Light poles everywhere, ugly mixture of light temperatures, a neon sign, signs, constructions… Maybe a second visit would change my mind, but finding the beauty of this place wasn’t to going to be found that moment.
I think the best place to enjoy the Pagoda is from a distance. Since we were both getting hungry and it got dark soon we headed towards the exit in the direction of the park that would lead to our bus stop.
We found our dinner in a near by shopping center – I had my steamed rice and banana juice, Stijn tried cold duck salad (isn’t he going fancy?)
The next day our bus was only in the evening. We hoped still to have a little walk around one of the lakes, but we got as far as Yangon Bakehouse. A community supported cafe, that hire woman with challenging background, giving them second opportunity. It was a little celebration for Stijn, as he could have his favourite musli-curd-fruit-honey breakfast there. We also got some musli to take with us for hard times and a tasty tasty sandwich to take with us.
We decided to take a public bus to Aung Mingalar Bus Station. The bus station is close to the Airport, but far from city center. The bus 43 that had to take us to the bus station was not too far from where we were staying. The only problem – traffic. It was the rush hour and busses where stuffed full. We let the first bus pass, but the next one was not any better. But a friendly woman, that was concerned about our means of transportation, arranged that we got VIP seats. We could place our selves on the steps next to the driver. There was enough space for us and our backpack. And unlike most of the passengers we could sit (!). As a bonus we got a view to the passing by cars and the setting sun. Passengers of passing by buses, cars and taxis found the view very amusing. One for passing by taxi even politely asked “can I take a photo”?
We got to the Aung Mingalar Bus Station safe and sound. It is not really a bus station, it is rather a bus village. For every company there is a different garage like “office”, for where the buses depart.
The bus we got on was nothing like we had ever seen before. I once had a very pleasant bus experience in Turkey, where bus attendants were distributing water, drinks and snacks on the way. But this company went further. We had big armchair seats with tv screens in front of us. We got blankets, a water bottle, complementary snacks and soft drinks, brought on a little trolley like in an airplane. The bus tv had 4 different channels – 2 movie, 1 cartoon and 1 music channel. One one of the stops we also got a wet hygiene napkin to keep our selves fresh. The AC was strong. I was happy I had my sleeping bag with me. Despite the luxurious setting, we could not really sleep much, but it was definitely worth the experience.