Discovering the relatively unknown Burma/Myanmar: Yangon
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.