Saturday 25 July 2015

Yangon, Myanmar: One day in Yangon

Myanmar has been on my list for quite some time and finally, I've packed my bags and gone. Sad to say, I'm a bit late and most parts have already been tourist-fied. We decided to explore Yangon briefly in a day and take an overnight bus to Bagan since we had to be back at Yangon for our flight. Let me correct myself, Yangon in an insanely HOT day with our backpacks.

We exchanged our USD for local currency at the airport bank, the rates were not too good but we had no choice. We hired a taxi at the airport counter and bought our tickets for our bus. It's cheaper to get the bus tickets from the bus station itself but the bus station was 30 minutes from the airport to the North while the city center was 30 minutes from the airport to the South. So it made more sense to us to just get the bus tickets from the airport since we were worried that the tickets would be sold out.

We decided to go to Inya Lake since it is the largest lake in Yangon. The unconditioned taxi was supposed to be 8000 kyat (which is pronounced something like 'chart') to the city center but the taxi driver charged us 9000 after we got on, claiming that Inya Lake was very far. Sheesh, Inya Lake is like halfway between the airport and the city center! I guess petty scams are part and parcel of travelling. After 10 plus minutes, we arrived at Inya Lake. The lake was really nice and peaceful and we ate our sandwiches as lunch there.

Then we decided to walk to the city center. It took us almost two hours. It was a nice way to check out the city, we passed by a school and saw children going home for lunch break. Finally, we caught a glimpse of the huge pagoda and walked towards it. When we reached a junction, we weren't quite sure which way to go so we asked a local couple and they told us to follow them and so we did. They weren't even going to the pagoda but yet they brought us there! So kind of them. :) It cost 10USD for foreigners to enter while it's free for locals so we decided to skip it and visited the toilet instead haha. I saw an old lady spitting out 'blood' much to my horror and later learned that it was a 'tobacco wrapped in leaf' thing which almost all of them chew and then spat out. I don't know why it's red but you can see all these red markings all over Yangon. I suppose it's a cheaper version of cigarette.

We continued our way to the city center and crossing roads in Yangon is almost as bad as crossing roads in HCM city. There are rarely any traffic lights for pedestrians so you just have to weave in between the traffic. While we were crossing the road at this particular junction, this local ladies offered their umbrella to us to shade us from the merciless sun. Aw :) We reached the Shwedagon Pagoda but we didn't go in because it seems to look a lot nicer on Google Images hahaha. Besides, you have to be decently dressed and take off your shoes AND socks when you enter temples. We were decently dressed alright but it was such a chore to remove our shoes and socks  every time we wanted to visit a temple and then wearing them back again. #firstworldproblems I guess I'm not a temple person, I've seen enough of this style of temples in Thailand and Cambodia.

We visited the local market which was a lot more exciting. We didn't get to try all the things there but we did try some 'cake'/'pudding' thing that one of the stall owners offered us.

This is the tobacco wrapped in leaf thing I was talking about. You can see pushcarts like this selling them all over Yangon. These are the freshly made ones, there are also those that are premade and sold in packets. It had been a long day of walking for us and we were super tired so we took a break at Yakun (YES YAKUN! haha) and drank familiar tasting coffee/barley.

 We found out that a local bus (number 43) goes to the bus station so instead of taking the taxi, we decided to try the bus. We went to the bus stop where the bus stops (near Shangri-La and this Pagoda) and asked every bus that stopped whether it was 43 since we couldn't read the Burmese numbers. Then two ladies asked us what bus we were waiting for and they told us that they were taking the same bus too. So we followed them up the correct bus and they even told us how much to pay. :) The bus was very full and we had to squeeze with two others on the bus bench. I noticed that the locals are very warm towards each other. Like when three ladies with baskets boarded but there was no seats, the ladies seated down placed their baskets on their laps and one of the boys offered her his seat. Then when a monk got on, the ticketer (there was no ticket, he just collects money from you when you get on, but it doesn't seem right to call him the money collector) asked a boy to make way and squeeze with the monk.

The way they pick and drop passengers was very fascinating too. They would shout the destination that they are going and passengers would jump/get pulled on to the bus, they jump off to alight too. The bus doesn't really stop, it just slows down. The ticketer actually remembered us and told us when it was time to alight. Since the bus station was still further in so we wouldn't have known if he didn't tell us. We managed to find JJ Express after the locals pointed us to the right direction. We caught a beautiful sunset while waiting for our bus. :)

Then it was off to Bagan! The overnight bus wasn't crowded so we managed to get two seats to ourselves and slept quite well. They provided blankets and water and we made two or three toilet rest stops along the way.

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