Myanmar · Travel Tales

Downtown Yangon

Sule Pagoda
Sule Pagoda

It’s hard to believe Yangon till you’re in it. For me, it was like a small Philippine city, with its roads and pedestrians who cross said roads with quick fatalistic steps. However, its people — blue-collared workers and office workers alike — are in colorful longyis which they adjust and retie around their waists while walking. The smell of betel nut permeates the air, and the sidewalks are stained with rust-red juice spat out by the passersby. (The first time a Myanmar spits out what looks like blood is always shocking. Then you, the traveler, start getting used to it.)

It was our second day in Yangon. We took a taxi from our hotel to the Sule Paya. Unfortunately we’d gone to the Shwedagon Pagoda the night before, so everything else, even if they are inlaid with gold, seemed a little anticlimactic.

Sule Paya
Sule Paya
Sule Paya. Notice the small transport for gold leaf.
Sule Paya. Notice the small transport for gold leaf.
Independence Monument near Sule Paya.
Independence Monument near Sule Paya.

Andy and I went to downtown Yangon on our own. It was a hot summer day in peninsular southeast Asia, but there was always something that held our attention: formerly banned (and illegally copied) books being sold on the streets, palm readers, and the rare fruit vendor.

Books on Aung San Suu Kyi in downtown Yangon
Books on Aung San Suu Kyi in downtown Yangon

This fortune teller told me that I was going to have many lovers this year, and that I'm going to win the lottery soon. Hmmm.
This fortune teller told me that I’m good-natured, that I was going to have many lovers this year, and that I’m going to win the lottery soon. Hmmm.
My good-natured smile. :)
My good-natured smile. 🙂

Navigating Yangon was a different adventure altogether, as we had to strain through the language barrier. Buying mangoes involved a great deal of pointing, bowing, and smiling. Getting a palm reading involved speaking and writing, and so much laughter. However, there are Myanmar people who speak conversational English well enough, even though the sidewalk vendor would have to call him from a few meters away, and many could give you the price of a fruit in kyats in English.

Yangon is filled with beautiful, crumbling colonial buildings...and cars.
Yangon is filled with beautiful, crumbling colonial buildings…and cars.

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We finally arrived at our destination: The Strand hotel. We had snacks here — for a steep price, admittedly, but the air conditioning was a blessed respite. It still retains (or remade) some of its colonial-era interiors, I think, so it was easy to imagine Rudyard Kipling eating a meal not far from us.

At The Strand, Yangon
At The Strand, Yangon

We stayed in the lobby for a while longer until Joey and Vince rejoined us. Then we headed back out, walking along the narrow streets of the city, among decaying buildings and men conversing during afternoon teatime under colorful umbrellas. We dropped by a bookstore and bought what seemed to reflect our varied interests: VInce bought a book on Burmese temple designs, Joey bought a novel and a book of folklore, and I bought a travel narrative.

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Yangon streets
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A pretty red-brick colonial-era building that none of us can identify 😦

We headed to the Bogyoke Aung San Market north of downtown. The area was more organized, though traffic slowed down near the market.

More Aung San Suu Kyi merchandise
More Aung San Suu Kyi merchandise

We took a taxi back to our hotel from here. After a nice chat with our hotel hosts, we headed to the bus station — more than an hour away by taxi! — where we took a night bus to Bagan.

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