Yangon – Part 1

The bus ride was incredibly comfortable: they even provided us with soft, nice smelling blankets and water. The scenery was very similar to our car trip, but I must confess that I spent most of the ride snuggled up in the blanky and sleeping. We did spot a procession on the street, with a bunch of vehicles of various descriptions waving red flags with an animal that resembled a peacock on them.

We arrived in Yangon just after dark, which meant we missed out on the last bus into town. As with most major stations, we were swarmed by taxi drivers wanting to give us a ride, which can be quite annoying when you just spent long hours in a bus and need a few minutes to gather your thoughts and before you keep moving. Because of that, we politely declined all the ones that came to us and chose one that was just sitting there, being quiet and smiling. He ended up speaking quite a bit of English so we asked him all sorts of questions about his country. Coincidently, he had one of the previously mentioned flags on his car, and he proceeded to tell us it was showing his support of NLD, the party with the biggest chance to oppose the military, and that the elections were on the 8th of November. Once again, without planning anything, we ended up in the middle of a historical time of change for this country under military rule for so many years…

After over an hour of battling through heavy traffic, we made it to Janis’ (our German CS host) neighbourhood. Our driver had a bit of trouble finding the house (there are no street signs and very few house numbers) but after asking around we made it to our destination. I think I liked Janis from the moment he opened the door, wearing nothing but a sarong (local skirt-thingy). After the introductions, he promptly got a few cold beers out of the fridge, and we were introduced to the next Burmese wonder: Myanmar beer. See, many people will tell you beer in SE Asia is cheap and amazing. My opinion is, even if its relatively cheap, it mostly tastes horrible. Myanmar beer on the other hand, is rather delicious! So after many months without a proper beer to fight the heat (totally a thing) we were delighted for the opportunity. He also made some scrambled eggs for us to eat some dinner (since we were quite hungry) and we enjoyed a nice conversation. All in all, a great first day at a new Couchsurfer home.

The next morning we woke up to find Caity at home. She was the other flatmate, who had arrived late the night before, giving us little chance to get to know her. We had a lot in common, and spent a while chatting before we set out to explore the busy streets of Yangon. I was a little bit overwhelmed by the amount of people walking around, which I would say takes a while to get used to. At the same time, the side walks are alive with stalls selling all sorts of stuff, women walking around carrying huge trays on their heads (mad balance skills), kids playing, and loud conversations and laughter.

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In contrast, some streets seem to have been closed down (who knows why?) and look like something out of Silent Hill. Heavy traffic is another constant anywhere you go within the city, so crossing streets is quite a feat and honking part of the overall noise ever present.

We ended up visiting the local port, where we saw many locals get in and out of boats, load goods in and out, and hang out drinking coffee or beer. A group of men were playing some sort of game with rocks, bottle caps and a board painted with chalk, but I still have no idea what it was (if anyone does, please let me know!)

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We kept going for another hour or two, but were getting quite tired of walking around in the heat. We then decided to take the circular line, a train that goes around Yangon, so we could check out the surrounding area while sitting on our asses. The ride was quite interesting, and took us to the outskirts, were we saw people up to their hips in water farming watercress, rice and a few other crops. The landscape was quite nice, and the AC a welcomed respite from the hell outside (Did I mention it is very hot in Yangon?). We cheated a bit and got out a station later than we should have, as that was the one closest to Janis’. We had agreed to make dinner that night, so with Caity’s help, we made a pretty delicious Thai style curry…

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We were up with the sun the next day, ready to hit Shwedagon pagoda early enough to avoid the swarm of tourist that visit it daily. We were a bit surprised to see that most locals were already out and about at six AM like it was no great deal. The walk there was pleasant, as the heat had not turned unbearable just then. After about thrity minutes we made it to the place and started ascending the steps to make it to the main temple. This enormous golden pagoda is the biggest in all of SE, and surrounded by multiple smaller temples and shrines. There was a lot to see and learn, and we spent quite a bit of time exploring the place on our bare feet. One monk in particular caught my attention, because of the amount to tattoos on his arms, but he did not look particularly friendly so I refrained from asking questions. Apart from that we paid our respects and left before the crowds got too big.

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We went back around the zoo and looking out to a very beautiful park. We tried a different path that took us to the train station, where we inquired about upcoming trains to Nay Pyi Daw, the capital. Eventually we got back to Janis and had a well deserved nap. We visited the supermarket after waking up, and realized milk was well priced, therefore opting to make a white sauce pasta for dinner (something we had not had since leaving NZ). Caity had a few friends over that night (she was moving out) so we got to meet some other cool ex pats living in Yangon and share some beers with some awesome gals.

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