Yangon: a city you could spend some time in, but the question is, would you want to?
Being a city lover myself, I was unsure how long I wanted to stay in Yangon, thinking it may just be like any other big city in Asia, and in some aspects I was right. It’s easy to lose yourself amongst identical looking streets with wires hanging precariously low, home to numerous pigeons and shops selling handicrafts from everything to electronic ware to home ware. Streets turned into market stalls with fresh vegetables and caught fish laid out in full glory for sale from a passerby, or occasional lost tourist.
Of course, the more time you spend in Yangon I am sure, the more you appreciate it. Art galleries hidden around street corners, museums filled with useful and interesting information that shines a light on life in Yangon and various neighbourhoods highlighting different communities, are all something which you will see in abundance if you invest time and energy into exploring Yangon.
But the aim of my trip was to escape the clutches of a city, to run away from the smog of traffic and continuous hawkers cries. I wanted to be whisked away to majestic landscapes, scenes of culture and recluses of calm, thus I left Yangon to be my last destination, when both time and money were against me.
Of course, heading to Shwedagon Pagoda is a must when in Yangon. The temple complex is huge and filled with intricate designs and pagodas praising the archaeological Buddhist days of the week, with various elements of Buddha himself (like his sacred tooth or 8 hairs) and four alternative stairways ornately designed and decorated leading to the towering, empowering Buddha. Locals merge with smock wearing monks and colourful tourists in awe and astonishment of its splendour, gazing at its sheer size and colossal amount of gold.
Do remember which entrance you come from as you will leave your shoes there, which if forgotten is a bit of a nightmare. Entrance to the pagoda is 8 thousand kyat and make sure to cover both legs and shoulders for men and women.
The Bogyoke park nearby to the pagoda acts as a perfect retreat to the hectic heaving mass of worshippers at the pagoda. Although the lake is artificial (and a little cheesy with an amusement park titled “Happy World” and swans you can pedal around in on the lake) it is still is a wonderful place to catch your breath and people watch.
Chinatown is also a fascinating neighbourhood to wander around in, as is Little India– especially if craving that cuisine. Although nice to have a stroll around, I wasn’t taken aback by anything within the neighbourhood, which was only home to a few temples and souvenir shops as well as restaurants. Which was a shame, as I really enjoy exploring Chinatown in different countries around the world. Get used to the sight of crumbling colonial buildings too, as they make out years of history with their faded curls of paint seeping out tales of another world.
A sunset drink at a rooftop bar was something I was recommended (Sakura rooftop bar on the CB Bank Tower) although running out of funds, I swapped the rooftop bar for a local watering hole where a 8 year old boy served sleazy sleepy men, swaying from side to side and slurring their words. Smoke circled the room as men lit up around me and dirty tables shouldered next to even dirtier walls. They looked at me in awe, as to why a blonde white woman would enter such a dirty dive. Honestly, I did question quickly why I was there, but I was swayed by the price of cheap beer and my fellow backpacker friend nodded to the 8 year old for service, we were there to stay.
As Yangon is such a sprawling city, bumping into other tourists doesn’t happen often, unless at major monuments, so locals are still entertained by the sight of westerners. Accommodation; as like the rest of Myanmar, varies in style, price and location. Plush hotels line the city centre, whilst more affordable accommodation is based in Chinatown near the Sule Pagoda. I stayed in Agga Bed and Breakfast which for a bed in a 6 bed dorm, cost 6 dollars, it was clean but a little rough around the edges- but it served its purpose of one nights accommodation before my flight back.