Myanmar: A snapshot of Yangon

BY ONEIKA RAYMOND

A brief note on Myanmar’s past and some images of Yangon, its largest city.

 

The money is dirty, slick as oil, and looks as though it could crumble at the slightest manipulation.  At first glance, Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar, feels very much the same.  Ramshackle houses, seemingly on the verge of collapse, dot streets slippery with debris. Gaping holes in warped sidewalks make walking without eyes cast downward a health hazard.  And while the air is heavy with the heady scent of fruit, the smell of something fetid lingers under the surface.

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The declaration that I would be travelling to Myanmar last February elicited more than a few blank stares and “You’re going to Myan-where?”s from friends and family back home.  So before we begin this conversation, I offer you a chance to brush up on your geography:

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However, don’t feel bad if you know nothing about the place: that Myanmar is not a destination on most travellers’ radar isn’t  particularly surprising.  Despite being a large territory flanked by well-known countries like Thailand, China, and India, Myanmar’s oppressive military rule from 1962 to 2011 made it virtually isolated from the rest of the world, and its shocking human rights violations under the military junta caused the country to be subject to many economic sanctions.

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However, the dissolution of the junta, installation of a civilian government, and subsequent institution of democratic reforms in 2011 have smoothed foreign relations and effectively re-introduced Myanmar to the world stage. No longer a leprous pariah,  Myanmar is essentially “open for business” after years of isolation, an idea reinforced most notably by diplomatic visits to the country by the likes of political heavyweights such as Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama.

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This favourable turn has also increased tourism to the country, which is where I come in. Fascinated by the history and curious about the culture, I spent a week in Myanmar last February, boarding the plane to Yangon a mere 36 hours after getting home from my five-day trip to Tokyo.

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Given where I had just come from, Yangon was a shock to the system:  long gone were the life-sized robots, sleek late model cars, and futuristic fashion I encountered in Tokyo. Instead, I suddenly found myself in a place commonly referred to as ‘the land that time forgot’. On more than one occasion I caught myself  feeling like I had been transported back a few decades — it just doesn’t feel like 2014 here.

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Yangon used to be known as Rangoon, and depending on who you talk to, the names are used interchangeably (not unlike the nation of Myanmar, which is still commonly referred to by its former name of Burma in certain circles).  This sprawling city, the largest in the country, is an economic hub — a fact made fully apparent by the amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic on the streets.  These wage a not unpleasant assault on the eyes and ears: the colourful stands manned by smiling vendors, along with the horns sounded by the anxious drivers of the cars, buses, and motos that pack the thoroughfares, are more endearing than annoying.

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Apart from visiting the impressive Shwedagon Pagoda (which I’ll write more about in a future post, stay tuned for that!), there isn’t a huge amount of touristy things to do in Yangon, so me and my two travel companions spent an inordinate amount of time walking around and trying to absorb the city’s unique atmosphere. Downtown Yangon is home to the decidedly less blinged-out Sule Pagoda, which is still worth a walk-through if you have the time.

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We also availed ourselves of the city’s Circle Train, which makes a slow three-hour loop of Yangon’s environs. It’s a nice way to see the countryside whilst giving your feet a break from pounding the pavement.

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And of course, market-hopping is indeed a must.  We checked out the Bogyoke Aung San Market during our first day and explored the Anawrahta Road Night Market on our last evening. More adventurous types will enjoy the opportunity to try the variety of wild and wonderful fare on offer!

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In total, we spent nearly three days in Yangon, which I felt was too long (in retrospect, I would have only spent a full day here and used the other days to explore Inle Lake or Mandalay, which I didn’t make it to on this trip).  Still, the locals are friendly and the amount of excitement in the streets ensure you will never have a dull moment.

 How much do you know about Myanmar? Would you travel there? 

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54 Comments

  • Oh wow! It would be lovely to visit both Myanmar and Tokyo..for some reason, I love Asia and keep coming back for more!!! It would be lovely to explore Asia more! not to forget Hongkong!

    Reply
    • Tokyo and Myanmar are awesome, and as you know I adore Hong Kong… Good choices all around!

      Reply
  • Interesting post! I also spend 3 days in Yangon and felt that it was slightly too long also. I’m glad I took the circle train loop too. It was a relaxing way to see the countryside and chat with the sweet ladies sitting next to me. I Liked walking around and visiting the pagodas but I wish I had taken one less day in Yangon and spent it in Bagan!

    Reply
    • Right on! My friends and I spent four nights in Bagan, and now I’m so wishing I subtracted one day from each city to spend two days at Inle Lake. Next time!

      Reply
  • I’ve been wanting to go to Myanmar and this intrigued me even more! It sounds like a unique experience!

    Reply
    • I wish I had more time to explore and see more cities! Sadly, it was only a short trip.

      Reply
  • Well, I know about the military junta in previously known Burma, and yes, I would absolutely love to travel to Myanmar. You lucky thing!

    Reply
  • I am not saying good in which you are taking your information and facts, even so superior subject matter. We would need to spend time figuring out more or even knowing more. Thank you for outstanding information and facts I’m hunting for this data for my mission.

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  • Like Thailand, Almost everything comes cheap in Myanmar, people are friendly definitely a must visit for people who loves to travel.

    Reply
  • Spent four days there and loved it! I plan to go back and see other parts of the country. The people were friendly and I enjoyed walking around. Well worth a trip!

    Reply
  • Hi Oneika! I stayed in Yangon for 3 days in April of this year. I enjoyed visiting Shwedagon Pagoda and taking the Circle Loop Train but the relentless heat kept me from enjoying this city. You mentioned the traffic including motorbikes but an interesting fact is that motorbikes are actually forbidden in Yangon. The explanation that was given to us was that a high-ranking official was hit by one a few years back so the solution (punishment?) was to remove all motorbikes from the streets of Yangon. I thought it was strange not to see any motorbikes in such a sprawling city in Asia but there you go! 🙂

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