05.04.2016 – 08.04.2016 and 25.04.2016
We had our first 2 major transport hiccups involving Yangon, Myanmar. Well the first was in Bangkok, but involving our flight from Bangkok to Yangon, which we missed, as we completely went to the wrong airport (they are situated 1 hour apart). We had no hope in making the flight, so we had to pay almost another fare worth to get us to our destination. It also involved a whole day at the airport (eating Maccas… not so bad). The second was lack of bus tickets available due to the upcoming 10 day long public holiday, unfortunately we had to stay an extra few days in Yangon to get some of the last tickets out of the city (there was no way we could stay in Yangon any longer… Bianca was threatening to fly straight back to Bangkok if it didn’t work out).
We were so excited to arrive in Myanmar, we had no idea what we would see or experience. It was totally unknown to us. Our first night walking around Downtown Yangon was slightly overwhelming, when the only food for dinner was street food involving intestines, or diarrhea induced old meat (I have no evidence to support this, but I’m sure we would have had a bad few days if we consumed it). First impression was that Myanmar was VERY different to the rest of South East Asia so far. Not much has changed for been upgraded since the British left; to the point where there are left and right hand drive cars driving on the same side of the road. Mayhem reigns in Yangon!
The city of Yangon can be hit and miss when exploring, there are large parts that are uneventful. Just north of downtown where the Shwedagon Pagoda is situated and Chinatown (19th Street downtown) are the best of the action. The Shwedagon Pagoda is as stunning as it is immense. While there we were invited to join locals in a meal made from food donated by local Buddhists. It was a really cool experience, we sat in a very crowded room with a mix of locals and Buddhist monks who had made the pilgrimage to this sacred site. They served us a never ending supply of noodle soup, and free bottled water… surprisingly delicious.
Other than enjoying icecream at the local Swensen’s (seems we are making a tendency to try icecream everywhere we), spending $6 on 6GB of internet (beautiful fast internet), exploring the fairly mundane Bygoke Markets and walking around the city; the best thing about Yangon was spending three hours slowly meandering our way through the region around Yangon on the Circle Line train. The 1930s style train travels at no more than about 30km/h, rocking side to side, and completed a loop from Yangon Central Station to the outlying villages and back again. We loved watching Myanmar in action; the locals carrying their goods in and out of town, selling food and CDs on the train and the scenery of villagers working the rice fields. We sat across from a teenage boy who was so thankful that we spoke English with him that he bought us a cob of corn each. They were super delicious.
When we returned a second time to spend a night before flying back to Bangkok, we realized how much of Yangon was closed during our last visit, due to Thingyan (Water Festival for Burmese New Year). Even though the public holidays ran from 11th to 20th of April in 2016 locals start travelling back to their families earlier, so shops start shutting and bus tickets become hard to get from a week before hand, especially if you are travelling to or from Yangon in this time. When leaving Yangon by bus, be prepared for the fright of your life. Not only does it take up to two hours to get there by taxi, but the bus station is chaos turned up to level 300. It was like being trapped in a bad nightmare. We just kept showing our ticket to locals in the hope they would lead us to somewhere near our bus.
OUR FAVOURITE BITS
- Taking the Circle Line train.
- Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset.
- If there is no price on the menu, always ask first, otherwise locals are inclined to inflate prices for travelers.
- Carry scarves or sarong (for both men and women) to wear to pagodas. This saves you buying one at the entrance. Sometimes they can be quiet picky with what you wear, even long pants or skirt maybe incorrect. We just found it best to wear close to traditional dress as possible.
- Barter with taxi drivers. It costs 8000Kyats to get from the airport to the city. A 20 minute taxi ride from the city should cost 3000Kyats. We paid everything from 2500 to 5000, so be aware that prices vary!
- A stay of 2 nights is perfect; you’ll find yourself itching to move on if you stay any longer.
Book any bus or train rides at least 2 days in advance. Things can get very busy, especially during Thingyan.