My exploring of Yangon started on a Sunday morning from the Sule Pagoda and followed the very detailed itinerary that I was given at the hostel (Thanlwin Guest House)
The traffic was a bit slower than a weekday; some people were cleaning the street, the golden paya was shining in the mellow morning light and a few meters away the streets were already starting to get noisy. The triumph of gold of the golden land had definitely started but the noises from outside the Pagoda were distracting me. I cut short the visit at the pagoda, even because my bare feet on the very dirty ground were starting to worry me, and started navigating the colorful streets of downtown. That took me a while! Busses, longyi, people selling a bit of everything… so much to get distracted with! (more first impressions on Yangon here)
Next on the list was the Bogyoke, or Scott’s market. There are two parts on the market: one is the most popular and tourist oriented, and the other is more local on the other side of the street. I honestly haven’t understood if they are the same market or not, but, if you can, explore them both! You will find antiques, gems and especially longyi—lots of them! There is a whole area dedicated to tailors with many colorful fabrics. Of course I could’t resist and I got my beautiful longyi, which I was planning to wear the whole time to blend in, but I soon discovered that my clumsiness gets much worse when wearing a long, tight skirt that tends to fall off… So, no blending in for me.
After the market it was time for a late lunch and a break from the heat at the Kandawgyi Lake. The Royal Palace on the lake is amazing and the park in general is perfect for a break and a walk in the shade. Being a Sunday afternoon, many locals were chilling there, playing music and drinking a bit too much whisky and beer.
Ready for the sunset at the Shwedagon Pagoda!
The complex of buildings with the golden stupa in the middle is astonishing. There are different entrances and in all of them you will be welcomed by big and impressive Chinthe: the half lion and half dragon pagoda guardians.
Going to visit the pagoda on a Sunday wasn’t the smartest idea: it’s probably the only place in Yangon where you will find other tourists and on Sunday you have to add the many locals that go there to pay their respect. Too busy! I went back the day after and it was way better!
On my second day in Yangon, I took the 5 minute ferry to cross the river and get to Dala.
Even though the two sides of the river are very close to each other and a flood of people cross it every day, going to Dala is like jumping in a completely different world. The area is rural, peaceful and inhabited mainly by fisherman living in bamboo huts. Kids go to the clean water lakes to get water for the family, women carry big baskets over their heads, there are no cars and cows roam around freely—very different from the bustling and trafficked downtown just across the river.
Dala is poor. Myanmar problems and poverty are not just due to the government or the religious fights; several natural disaster have hit the country. The biggest one being Cyclone Nargis in 2008 which affected 1.5 million people, especially in the Delta area. In a poor and corrupted country, the recovery from these kinds of events is slow and painful. According to the guide that took me around, the orphans and people that need help to recover are still many, but “the government doesn’t care about them.”
You can get to Dala by taking the ferry from Pansodan Street jetty on Strand Road ($4 return) and, once there, you will find many trishaw that will want to take you around for $8 per hour. Find one that speaks English and can explain to you the situation about the villages and the history of the temples. Also be aware that in Dala it’s even hotter then in Yangon, at least I felt that way. Try to go either in the morning or the evening!
I took a break in the hottest hours and went back to the Shwedagon Pagoda for the sunset with less people… much better!
The third day was dedicated to a day trip to Bago.
Honestly I wasn’t particularly impressed. Going there on a day trip ended up being a long day exploring not particularly impressive pagodas and Buddha. We went to an archeological park where there were 2 palaces which are beautiful from outside but if you want to see the inside, you have to pay $10 and one of them is empty. I think it’s better just to walk around them.
My highlights in Bago was the the Shwemawdaw Paya where I was approached by a monk that, with his broken English, told the story of the beautiful Paya and his story: an ex-sailor who spent the last 12 years in the temple, meditating and trying to clean his heart.
The hostel organize tours to Bago with their lovely driver for $70 and you can easily find someone else from the hostel to share the ride with.
The last day in Yangon was ‘bus ticket hunting time.’
According to everybody if you need to go to Bagan or the north of Myanmar with a night bus, there is no problem booking it in the morning. Of course, this wasn’t my case. When I arrived to the ticket office with my loyal driver and another guy that was hunting for the most recently updated Lonely Planet, all tickets were sold out! At that point we were on a mission: the driver making phone calls and me asking all the other people selling tickets on the road. We finally got a seat, not exactly the best one, but at least I got my transport sorted.
Our next mission was to find the book, so we started surfing the downtown alley with rain, blackouts and crazy traffic. It never occurred to me, but during blackouts the traffic lights don’t work, at least not that day, so it’s a bit of a mess!
We failed on the book mission, no updates Lonely Planet to be found in Yangon, sorry Patrick! But I still had a good time, weaving and hyper lapsing in that beautiful mess.
Time to go back to the hostel, have my last shan noodles from there (which are the best in all of Myanmar) pack my stuff and go to the station for my long and very uncomfortable journey to Bagan.