Yangon: A Burmese Adventure Begins
I saved Myanmar for my last Southeast Asian country before heading to the Land Down Under. I figured I would work my way around the other Southeast Asian countries and prepare myself for an intense transition. I always had a strong draw to see Myanmar before the locals were tainted by western tourists.
After leaving 4000 Islands in Laos, I spent a full day and night on a bus to Bangkok. We passed through many villages and long spans of open land. The air conditioning vent dripped on me for the duration of the ride and mini plastic children's chairs lined the middle aisle of the bus where the locals sat comfortably in their small personal bubbles. I met a fellow English traveler at the Thailand border crossing when I said "I'm sweating like a whore in church," too loudly and we became fast friends. Sorry for the politically incorrect joke, but it was very hot and sweaty with no fans or A/C in the building.
I flew into Yangon from Bangkok, a flight that costed less than $50 on AirAsia. It is important to note, in order to respect the Burmese culture, cover your shoulders and your knees. It's a bit awkward being stared at already and if you aren't covered up it will be ALL EYES ON YOU to the extreme!
I collected my visa on arrival and went out to the taxi line ($30 at the time I visited). Thankfully on the flight over I sat next to a lovely elderly man who offered to share a cab with me on arrival.
CAUTION: You have to be careful about accepting taxis in Southeast Asia, be sure they are certified taxi drivers and make sure you decide on a price before you get in. ($7 in this case to get from the Yangon airport to downtown Yangon)
Yangon is one of the bigger cities in Myanmar and it exemplifies another world I never knew existed. It was a bit shocking seeing the conditions of the buildings and people's homes with a surplus of stuff and people everywhere. Yangon is a dusty, bustling city, full of character and smiling locals. Most locals rock the typical longyi, a wrap-like skirt that adheres as one of the Burmese traditions, and thanaka, a yellowish paste made from ground bark worn on the face for sun protection.
There are women sitting on the sidewalk with newspapers laid down and their produce for sale sweltering in the hot sun. Many men sat along the streets distributing beetle-nut tobacco in leaves. I do not recommend trying it. My friend's face said it all when she put in in her mouth and began to chew. I was amazed at the young children playing in plastic buckets of water in the middle of the streets having a blast just being alive.
We spent a full day exploring the Shwedagon Pagoda and People's Park, stumbling upon various markets throughout the city. Our favorite place to eat was 19th St Chinatown where the food was cheap and delicious and it offered the local feel of night life in Yangon.
The day following we took a day trip on the ferry ($5 return) over the canal to Dalla. Dalla is one of the poorest districts in all of Myanmar. We were heckled beyond belief when we got to the other side and many of the locals will try to rip you off. You should not pay more than $7 each to the driver. They drove us through the open land to a snake temple, which I thought was going to be statues of snakes but really it was over 50 large pythons hanging in the windowsills. I obviously didn't go inside. Later we visited the pottery villages and then happily returned back to Yangon.
Yangon was a perfect place to start my Burmese adventure. The locals are wonderful and the city has much to offer. I don't recommend staying more than 3 nights in Yangon unless you are super interested in sticking around a hot, crowded city.
Be sure to smile and wave at the locals! They are so excited to see you, although many do not speak English. A few mothers may even walk up and give their newborn babies to you in order to take a quick photo. A very strange way of showing they don't see many westerners, but in the end they appreciate us visiting their country.
Where to stay:
Book on Hostelworld, Agoda.com, or Booking.com before arriving in Myanmar.
- 20th Street Hostel: Downtown- Near 19th St. Chinatown food night markets - $7 per night
- Wayfarer's Rest: A beautiful hostel near Chinatown. Very helpful staff and nice dorm rooms. - $10 per night
- Little Yangon Hostel: $9 per night
Things to do:
- 19th St. Chinatown night market - Amazing place to hang with locals and grab amazing food. I preferred the red snapper on the grill!
- Shwedagon Pagoda - A beautiful Pagoda in the middle of the city with a section for each day of the week.
- Peoples Park - Right across the street from Shwedagon Pagoda. Offers expansive greenery and hanging bridges to walk along.
- Shangri Li Hotel - If you want to escape the town and get away from the dust, you can visit the fancy Shangri Li posh hotel.
- Day trip to Dalla - Take the ferry over the Twante Canal to Dalla, one of the poorest parts of Myanmar. Find a driver to take you to the Snake Temple & Pottery villages but be sure to not pay more than $7 a piece for transport. They will try to rip you off!
- Lake in the middle of the city - grab a beer by the lake and enjoy the view.
- Bogeyoke Market - Huge market that sells jewlery, paintings, clothing and more!
- 26th Street morning market - If you are interested in finding out how Burmese people by and sell groceries, you won't want to miss the 26th Street morning market. Be weary of the chicken stands, it's pretty brutal....
Where to eat:
- Feel - Typical Burmese food by Shwedagon Pagoda
- New Delhi - Indian food
- Chinatown 19th St Food Market - Great food night market.
- 999 Shan Noodle Shop - Delicious and cheap noodle dishes
Don't forget to book your luxury bus ticket in advance! The bus companies JJ Express and Elite Express were the ones I used. JJ Express is a bit more expensive and tends to fill up quicker than Elite Express. Have your hostel help organize these tickets when you arrive or reach out via email before getting to Yangon. Happy traveling!