Tuesday, April 13, 2010

3rd Times a Charm: Yangon, Myanmar re-rehashed


Destination:    Yangon, Myanmar

Number of days spent:   2 days

Where we stayed:  Ocean Pearl - $15/night.  Get a room with a window/balcony.  They tried to put us in a mildew and mold filled room at first this time around so be careful.  If we had to do it all over again, we would probably have stayed closer to Sule Pagoda – reasonable walking distance to most things.  We also managed to make it out to Motherland – the unofficial backpacker central for Yangon is still a further 10 minute walk out of town from the Pearl but is consistently full.  Can’t say it’s better, but if you are looking to share stories and chat with fellow travelers this may be a better option for you.   

All roads begin and end in Yangon.  Virtually every legal visitor to Myanmar flies in and out of here.  While it’s certainly not a bad place to be, a couple of days will pretty much cover all the main sites leaving you with ample time to spare for some of the cities neighborhoods should you find yourself here for a longer period of time.  With public transport being spotty at best, we opted to play it safe and tack on an extra day in getting back in time for our flight out.

One of the more colorful and festive neighborhoods is Chinatown.  Starting from the Sule Pagoda, walk to the west about 10 blocks and you reach the start of it.  Several temples are located in the area so we popped into one for a quick peak.  With China itself on our itinerary in a couple of months, the temple gave us our first glimpse of what lies ahead.

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It’s when the sun goes down, however, that the area truly comes to life.  The sidewalks are expanded out into the streets where vendors set up for the night.  One side of the street sells the usual sundries, tools, clothing, etc. while the other, more chaotic side is all about delighting the palate.  Fresh fruit stalls selling all varieties of cut fruit from watermelon to first of season durian – an extremely pungent fruit that I have yet to bring myself to try in the raw form.  Regardless of what all the guide books tell you about cut fruit and bacteria, we have yet to have a problem with it (knock on wood).  Down one of the side streets sits BBQ row – an entire street of nothing but BBQ’s and draft beer – excluding our own personal favorite, Dudu’s which is located a couple blocks further on the opposite side.  One odd street stall that is found all over Yangon is the ‘pig parts fondue’.  A boiling pot of oil is surrounded by all the leftover parts.   Tongue, brains, ears, intestines – all laid fanning out in it’s skewered glory.  


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On our walk back to the hotel, we passed the wonderful Sule Pagoda all alight.  The rising full moon just behind added another dimension.


By daylight, the city is a hodgepodge of middle class and poor, old and really old, all in varying degrees of upkeep.  We spent the day just wandering down a couple of the streets, checking e-mail, and stopping for a coffee when we felt like it.  We even managed to make it to a theater.  One surprise is how excellent the popcorn is here – a slightly sweet-slightly salty combo that somehow works really well.  The locals, however, prefer sunflower seeds as the floor was completely covered with the hulls once the lights came back on.  One other interesting bit was that American movies (Sherlock Holmes in this case) are not subtitled.  I suppose that is the reason why the most popular are action packed with little to no dialogue or plot – Jason Statham movies come to mind. 


We took pause outside these two baby/children stores and wondered if any Westerners would trust the stuff being sold here to be quality enough for their child.  At first glance, I would guess not.


We also managed to make it to the northern part of town, where the ‘other half’ live.  In a country filled with natural gemstones, we got a glimpse of what the country could really be like in a free and capitalistic market by visiting a jeweler (government ran and owned to some degree of course).  $8000 jewel encrusted putter anyone? 

On our last night, we finally made it to Dudu’s in the light so here are a few photos of the lovely family that runs this BBQ stand along with our feast for less than $5.

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Of the few buildings that measure over a couple of stories high, the Sakura towers is somewhat of a landmark in downtown Yangon.  The building not only is one of the few places in the city that has 24 hour power and A/C (thanks to trailer sized generators just outside), but also boasts a nice bar/restaurant on the top floor.  While the cocktails are a bit pricey by Myanmar standards, it is one of the few places that even sells spirits beyond the common man’s ‘homebrew’ and sports one of the best views in town – particularly of Yangon’s crown jewel – the Shwedagon Pagoda.


With that one last toast, it was time to say goodnight and goodbye to our dear friends in Myanmar/Burma.  Next stop – a plane hop across the border to Bodhagaya, India.

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