…continued from: Travels through Myanmar III – Money Matters
First stop – Yangon.
The unofficial capital of Myanmar, and the country’s financial hub – the capital “officially” moved to Naypyidaw in March 2006 by the military. By far the largest city in Myanmar at almost six million now. A short flight from Bangkok and a straightforward affair at the airport with minimal hassle. The first greetings you notice is the sea of Thanaka covered faces waiting outside the terminal. Like the aftermath of a peanut butter factory explosion at head level only. A thousand different tan lined designs with a pair of eyes staring through. Not a matching design in the crowd.
Leaving the airport and driving through the city, one of the first big differences you will notice between Yangon and most SE Asian cities is the lack of motorbikes. Motorbikes aren’t allowed in the city limits. WoooHoooo! No masses of Hondas converging towards you at every street corner and crossing, like a dam above the Honda factory just broke. No playing the chicken game at every crossing. No head twisting looks as you step off the curb. Heck, no worrying about getting hit on the sidewalk. Ahhh…
A few days seeing the sites. The massive Shwedagon Pagoda overlooking the city and shining through the night. If that’s not enough for you, there are numerous other pagodas, or payas, scattered throughout Yangon. The Maha Wizaya, Botataung, Kaba Aye, Chaukhtatgyi, Me La Mu, Ah Lain Nga Sint, Yau Kyaw, and Sule Paya (pictured below). Too many to count and each one as exotic as its name is hard to pronounce. Tired of all that gold and religion, head to the park, the Maha Pasana Guha, or “Great Cave”, or Kandawgyi Lake.
Downtown Yangon, with its fin-de-siècle architecture, gently crumbling, decaying and fading with time. Being the former British colonial capital, Yangon has the highest number of colonial period buildings in Southeast Asia. Buildings like the former High Court, the former Secretariat buildings, St Paul’s and the legendary Strand Hotel are all excellent examples of the bygone era. For me though, the buildings are just a backdrop for some really interesting characters that can be found throughout the streets of downtown. From soldiers to hawkers to homeless to children. Most of the back streets in downtown form one long continuous maze of a market. I find just wandering is the best way to find things. So much to see that isn’t on any map or in any guide. …you can’t find what you’re not looking for, so this truly is a city where getting lost can be the best way to see the sites.
Make sure you try the Dagon beer, named after Yangon. Huh? Named after Yangon you ask? …Yangon was founded as Dagon in the 6th century AD by the Mon, who dominated Lower Burma at that time. Dagon was a small fishing village centered about the Shwedagon Pagoda. In 1755, King Alaungpaya conquered Dagon, renamed it “Yangon”, and added settlements around Dagon. …and how do you record that moment in history? With Dagon Beer of course!!! Than there is always Myanmar Beer, blue & red labels. A great place to enjoy one (or more): …while watching a rugby match or Premier League, Traders Gallery Bar & Restaurant is top-notch and highly recommended. I even had quesadilla’s there that were surprisingly great, as well as any other snack I tried. They even have a Happy Hour…
Aung San Suu Kyi, freed on Novermber 13, 2010. Wish I was there for that. I hear her street is open now. When I was there it was a bit tough getting past the tanks, but once you got past them you only had about two hundred military with automatics to deal with. I bet it’s a lot easier now 😛
Don’t miss the Bogyoke Aung San Market. It’s a virtual maze. You think you’ve seen it all, than go upstairs, than across the walkway, than across the street, than through the little alley, etc, etc. There are some really interesting pieces in here (just make sure you can actually get them through customs) and anything can be had here from souvenirs to clothes to food to anything else imaginable. Also a good place for changing money – don’t worry about looking for money changers, they’ll find you …believe me, they’ll find you. If a mazelike indoor type market isn’t to your liking, the streets all around are basically extensions of the market. A great place to walk around even if your not looking to shop. From the market it’s an “easy”, eh-hem, walk down to The Strand which really shouldn’t be missed. Just don’t fight to much with the military telling you you can’t walk on “this” side of the street, cross the fifty lane deathway at a quick pace, dodge the kids if you like, or not, they are fun… Than scratch your head as the military on “this” side tells you – you can’t walk on “this” side and cross the deathway again. The walk is well worth it, and you wander around the Strand for a while, have tea or coffee in the lobby, bar or restaurant and soak up the cold air conditioning while admiring the teak-wood, bamboo and old world type interior. On your way, if you have any extra hair gel on you, give some to Beckham pictured on the right here …and watch him instantly put it in his hair and animatedly start jumping up and down showing you how much he looks like David Beckham, as he screams over and over, Beckham, BECKHAM, BECKHAM!!!. …as his sister tries to sell you every postcard in the book. Good times… Just a note: this picture was taken next to a guy with an automatic (rifle) screaming at the kids to leave me alone from about a foot to the right, as I screamed at him to leave the kids alone, as the kids got up, as Beckham told his sister to look at the camera …and hurry up, as the guy yelled, as I clicked, as the gun waved, as the kids smiled, as Beckham fixed his hair. The kids did a great job of not running away crying and screaming, or crossing the road to the other side. …not really sure what the guy was yelling at them for, but the gun was big and his voice intimidating. If I knew what he was saying I probably would have run away crying and screaming, but, the joys of ignorance. 🙂
Enough for now. I haven’t talked much about the Shwedagon Pagoda. Next post.
…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar V – Shwedagon Pagoda