Yangon

Jan 12, 2016 1:26PM JST

I first flew to Yangon, Myanmar via Don Muang, Thailand (Bangkok), on Jan 12, 2016. The reason why I picked Myanmar for my trip was that I figured it would probably be better to travel from north to south in SE Asia, since Bangladesh is somewhere I do not want to go yet – I need the gut to go solo as I think Bangladesh can be dangerous to travel as a solo female traveler.

I did not book hostel. I was planning to do everything last minute, since 3 weeks is quite long in terms of the vacation that is supposedly only one week in Japan, and some people take up to only two weeks, and 3 weeks is truly quite rare. How I managed to take that 3 weeks off then? Well, my company at that time was an international company with many employees from overseas such as Australia and Philippines, and I saw that some of these did actually take 3 weeks off. Unfortunately, I was not on overseas contract, so I ‘forced’ to take 3 weeks off. It was not good but I really needed a long vacation to fulfill my travel dream.

Yes, I did not book hostel, but that also meant that I did not google up where to stay either. I did not know where main hostels and hotels were. I did not intend to stay in hotel since hotel was generally more expensive than hostel. At the airport, while I was looking at the map of Yangon, there was this Indian-looking lady asking for a taxi. Voila! Here was my chance! So I asked her where she was staying and asked whether we could share the taxi ride or not. Yes, that worked very well. We took taxi and shared, ended up paying a lot, after negotiating – 12,000 Kyat (~$9.20 USD) for about 45 min ride. This was quite expensive in standard from airport to our hostel. People at our hostel mentioned paying 8000-10,000 Kyat on average. Since I was not on budget, it was not a concern for me.

We stayed at Chan Manye Guesthouse. I saw someone from same flight also staying there. While we were settling the room, the Indian lady Abhirrami from Malaysia whom I shared the taxi with, shared a double bed room with me. Lucky her, because the price was significantely cheaper for her original personal bedroom if I was not there. The Dutch man Geoffrey whom I met on airport later discussed travel plan with me. We came to conclude that I was more adventurous type than Abhirrami so he asked if I should join him instead. His plan in Myanmar included visiting Bagan that night (so was my plan and Abhirrami) and do some trekking after Bagan. I had to consider it and I was more opt to follow him too.

Since it was quite late when we settled, at 9PM, we went out for some food. There was not many stores open that late so we went to look for street food. We had similar idea; we did not want to try meaty street food that we did not know they were or what they contained, so we went for egg rolls – the kind that my mom makes – egg mixed with flour and then pan-fried. I would say it was Asian style, not unique to Myanmar.

After the pancake, we hurriedly returned back to our hostel. Along the way, we saw kids playing soccer. It was pretty dark. The kids were playing in the open street. I guess it was safe since there were no cars around. It was pretty late though, not sure how kids can play out in the streets this late.

After we arrived at the hostel, we promised each other to meet at 7:30AM in the morning to tour the city. Both Abhirrami and Geoffrey went to sleep early. I stayed up little late because I was curious if the girl talking across me had any relation to my friend back in Vancouver. They talked exactly same – same pronunciations and accents. The only difference was that this girl talked louder than my friend. I asked Geoffrey meanwhile, before he went to sleep, if the girl in question and the friend on Facebook look similar to each other. He said no, maybe only 20%. I personally had no idea.

So I talked to the girl. Apparently, her Chinese accent was not unique. She was sitting beside a Finnish man and I thought they were a couple since the girl had her hand on the man’s leg. They were not. The lady was already married and the Finnish man had a girlfriend. We talked late into 11:30PM and we promised each other to meet up at 5:45AM in the lobby to see sunrise at the Shwedagon Pagoda. The girl Zizi and I stayed until 12:30AM, sharing some cigarettes. Zizi is a Yi Chinese. I figured that she was probably not a Han Chinese, which majority of Chinese are, after I discovered that she was from Yunnan, a city known for diversity of indigenous people.

I felt bad waking Abhirrami up when I entered the bedroom. The bedroom was quite nice. There was air conditioner and I quickly went to sleep.

The next morning, on December 20, 2015, at 5:35AM, I went to lobby to check if there was anyone there. The Finnish man Tuomas was already there. We both went back to prepare for departure soon. At around 5:45AM, we both were there with another girl Erika coming a few minutes later. Zizi never showed up. It seemed that she told Tuomas that we should leave without her if she did not show up. So we left without her. We got a free taxi – someone working at the hostel kindly offered us a ride.

It was pretty dark when we left the hostel. By the time we got to the Shwedagon Pagoda, which was only 5-10 minutes since there was no traffic that early in the morning, the sky brightened a bit. The pagoda was massive. I was wearing the wrong clothes – short pants that were above the knees and a tank top. It was not proper to wear too short clothing as they disrupt the religion of the pagoda – Buddhism. I had to buy ‘longyi’, a sheet of cotton that wraps around the lower bottom. I had jacket so I was wearing it the whole time. It was not that hot in the morning – temperature was perfect.

Lightened up pagoda during early hours.

We saw little monk kids singing. It was very beautiful song. Erika recorded with her Go Pro and Tuomas recorded with a recorder. I had neither so I recorded nothing. I regretted not having Go Pro, so I was destined to buy Go Pro once I came back from the long trip.

Child monks singing with their mentor in middle of the main street and visitors looking on.

 

We walked around the took photos of the golden pagoda. The Shwedagon Pagoda was huge with four gates. Even though the time was early and not many people were there, I was still shocked to see people that early. Maybe it was because of Sunday when people rise early and pray? I bet so. As time moves on, there were many more people entering the Pagoda. People were kneeling down and praying. People had flowers offered. We went round and round taking photos.

From left to right: Erika, Tuomas, and me. All three of us were wearing long pants/dresses bought in SE Asia. Erika is wearing a very popular SE Asian long pants. Both Tuomas and I are wearing longyi.

Close to 10AM, we went back to our hostel via taxi. Abhirrami just woke up. When it was time for breakfast (the hostel provided free breakfast), Abhirrami had to go for a quick prayer. Geoffrey was not there. I assumed he was already out exploring the city. Nonetheless, I waited for both Abhirrami and Geoffrey until 12PM (check out time), until I have finally given up. By that time, Zizi, Tuomas, and Erika were up. We went for lunch at 999 Shan Noodle, after one of us could not find the restaurant that Anthony Bourdain dined at. We ate Shan noodle, as the name of the restaurant suggested. It was decent noodle and I liked it, but the portion was too small. Fair enough. After lunch, Tuomas and Erika had to return to the hostel to pack up their luggage to move onto their next destinations. I were with Zizi thereafter, enjoying a rather expensive $3USD coffee at Shangri-La hotel. It was Zizi’s last night in Yangon. She stayed in Yangon for several days, changing her plan around. She loved Yangon and she said she wanted to be Ambassador of Myanmar one day, after completing her Masters Degree in Security at Georgetown University.

Shan Noodle.

After our coffee, we went to the famous Bogyoke Aung San Marketplace since I had time before going to the Inya Lake close to Shwedagon Pagoda then to bus station. Zizi greeted jewelry saleswoman and took photo together since Zizi bought several jewels off her. We went around. I really wanted to buy wooden box but decided against it since it was only my first day. I left it to later.

After the marketplace, I had to go back to hostel to pack up and take taxi to the Inya Lake. I really had no time to go to places and since everyone has been to Inya Lake as part of the trip to the Pagoda, I was inclined to go. After saying goodbye to Zizi, who was not so optimistic saying goodbye – oh well, I am using to it – I went to the nearest taxi and went to the lake.

It took around 20 minutes to go to the lake. In the middle of the lake, there was a dragon-shaped restaurant boat. Many people were taking photo of it. I was one of them, carrying the huge backpack along with me. Not many tourists I would say. Along the way, I met a Black person from Montreal who was working at a telecommunications company in Yangon. Well, for foreigners, telecommunications company is one of the most common and popular sector that people overseas work. My past company’s development and strategy manager also had ties with a telecommunications company in Myanmar.

Famous dragon-headed boat at Inya Lake.

After the little 30-45 min tour of the lake, I went to the closest road that the local man who was with the Black man told me about. I took the taxi to airport with lots of traffic. It took me about 1 hours to reach the airport, from 5:45PM to 6:50PM. The bus leaves at 8PM but passengers need to be there by 7:30pM. I made it. The others – Geoffrey with new people – a couple Marta and Fabian showed up 15 mins after me even though they left the hostel at 5PM. Marta and Fabian said they saw me at the pagoda in the early morning and they also saw me at the restaurant. I had no memory of them. Abhirrami arrived much later and she had her own tour around the city. Geoffrey actually took my seat as there was some problem with booking. Since I booked already, they placed me in a front seat. Geoffrey also had his own tour. He is quite impatient waiting for people, as I noticed later during more trips.

Here we go, the next destination, Bagan!