Discovering the relatively unknown Burma/Myanmar: Yangon

01/11/2012

Burma, South East Asia

Burma was never really on my list to visit when planning my trip around the world. Truth is, I didn’t plan this far ahead and I had a little more than 2 weeks to spare so I figured I’d go check out what’s going on in Myanmar. I haven’t met that many people in my travels that actually have been to Myanmar, so that gives me a good reason to visit it.

Getting there was easy though, just booked a return ticket from AirAsia and you could get the visa in Bangkok. Normally you have to wait about 21 days before you can get the visa, but if you pay an extra amount and show them proof that you’re leaving sooner, you can get it in 1 day. Extremely easy.

Anyway, on the flight there, I sat next to another Canadian couple (Tosh and Emilie) and started chatting a bit. We ended up sharing a taxi going to our hostel in a shabby looking car. Long story short, we spent a few days sightseeing a bit in Yangon.

Colorful building fronts all over Yangon

Colorful building fronts all over Yangon

Some of the buildings with European influences near the waterfront

Some of the buildings with European influences near the waterfront

Many European influenced buildings are spread around the city

Many European influenced buildings are spread around the city

Yangon or Rangoon was quite a refreshing change compared to the other Asian countries I’ve been to. I didn’t know what to expect really and was pretty amazed that there’s such a strong Indian culture and influence in the capital. I really liked to just walk around the city and admire the people and buildings and their culture. The people are amazingly friendly to tourists and foreigners. And their English is shockingly good compared to the other Asian countries.

Local merchants playing a boardgame on the street with bottle caps

Local merchants playing a boardgame on the street with bottle caps

Streetvendor selling intestins to eat on the go...

Streetvendor selling intestins to eat on the go...

Foodwise it was quite difficult to get around in the beginning. Not really knowing what type of food people eat I ventured out to the streets and tried out the different street food which is actually just “normal” food for them. There are some restaurants around, but majority of the food places are out on the street. Some next to open sewers and drains which could scare a way a lot of people. I must say I was a bit taken back as well by the unhygienic and dirty surroundings, but figured if the locals can eat it, I can as well! Bad idea of course, since a few days after that I had a minor stomach ache which bothered me for a few days after I’ve left. Anyway, there is tons of interesting food to try out though. I don’t have a picture of it, but noodles and curry are a common choice of food. The noodles are dry noodles and one day I picked out a random stall where they just mixed the noodles with a bunch of spices and leaves with their hands and serv it with a bowl of soup on the side. Must say it was one of the best things I ate in a while. Eventhough it might leave you with stomach aches afterwards, be sure to try out some of the streetfood they sell in the stalls on the street. It’s worth it! …. kinda…

People selling their crops on the side of the street. Haven't noticed any real market areas

People selling their crops on the side of the street. Haven't noticed any real market areas

The city is divided in narrow corridor like streets/blocks

The city is divided in narrow corridor like streets/blocks with coffee stalls all over the place

One of the things you had to visit was the Shwedagon Paya. I compare it to a Disneyland for Buddhists when I entered the compound. At the centre of it stands an enormous golden stupa which is the heart and soul of Myanmar. Every Buddhist in Myanmar tries to make it to the Shwedagon Paya once in their lifetime. There are tons of other buildings housing other Buddhistic statues. It is said that the main stupa is 98m and over 53 metric tonnes of gold leaf. The top is encrusted with 5000 diamonds and 2000 other stones.

One of the main entrances of Shwedagon Paya

One of the main entrances of Shwedagon Paya

Shwedagon Paya, Disneyland for Buddhists...

Shwedagon Paya, Disneyland for Buddhists...

People praying in front of one of the many statues in Shwedagon Paya

People praying in front of one of the many statues in Shwedagon Paya

Tons of Buddhistic statues in 1 temple

Tons of Buddhistic statues in 1 temple

Sometimes when I visit these religious sites and temples, I wished I was more religious. As I visited the Shwedagon Paya, I simply viewed it as another touristic site, however I saw many Buddhists there praying to every god, statue, temple with a sincere belief. I think for some or most of them, visiting this place would be the highlight of their religious life. So sometimes I wish I was a truely religious person to experience this kind of feeling. It’s just not the same when visiting a religious site simply as a tourist.

Many statues have a colorfully animated aureola

Many statues have a colorfully animated aureola

Woman resting in front of an enormous Buddhist statue

Woman resting in front of an enormous Buddhist statue

Part of main stupa in Shwedagon Paya

Part of main stupa in Shwedagon Paya

Main stupa of Shwedagon Paya in all it's glory

Main stupa of Shwedagon Paya in all it's glory

Like I said, the capital itself didn’t have much to show, but it showed a great first impression of what is up ahead in the rest of Myanmar.

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About Alex Yip

Alex Yip is a web enthusiast who put his online marketing career on hold to travel around the world for a year. This blog is his virtual journal and logbook to keep people updated on his backpacking adventures on the road.

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