Yangon: First Impressions of Myanmar

I arrived into Yangon airport from Bangkok late on Wednesday evening and had 2 thoughts as I exited the arrivals hall:

  1. This feels more like an African airport than an Asian one.
  2. My taxi driver speaks impressively good English.

[I’ll later learn that the level of spoken English amongst older people in Myanmar is generally good as a result of the British education system implemented during the colonial period.]

My driver deposited me at the corner of a busy street pointing up to the third floor where a neon sign identified the location of my hostel, my next thought of ‘so how do I get up there’ proved irrelevant as a friendly local directed me to a dingy looking stairwell.

Checked in, my next priority was food and I only hesitated momentarily about the Indian restaurant next door before ordering a Paneer Masala and Roti and taking a seat. The food was delicious and with that it was time for some sleep so that I would be fresh to explore the next day.

I woke up to torrential rain but incredible views of the charming street outside that had been engulfed in darkness upon my arrival last night. I’m always eager to dive in as soon as possible on arrival to hit the ground running, so, undeterred by the weather, I walked down to the railway station and took the circular train to tour the city’s surrounds. At only 200Kyat this journey isn’t going to break the bank, but you do have to commit three hours to make the full loop.

Along the way I had time to soak up the culture with some fellow backpackers whom I met on the platform, as vendors got on and off selling tea, corn on the cob and betel nuts. Almost everyone wears the traditional longyi sarong and paints there face with a pale yellow powder that is mixed with water to offer protection from the sun, adding intrigue to this mysterious culture. The betel nuts are chewed by most men and spat out in a pool of red, leaving most of their teeth stained red as well. Amongst this colourful mix there are monks adorned in maroon robes and nuns in pink to add even more flavour. I am astounded but infatuated with each turn.

I took lunch with my new friends from the train at the Little Rangoon Teahouse – a step up from my usual dining standards but so worth the extra cash as I tucked into the most delicious, and generous, vegetarian biryani. The dish is served on beautiful china and baked with a roti break on top adding further to the charm.

For the afternoon I opted to hit up the unmissable Shwedagon Pagoda which is around a 30 minute walk from the centre of town, feeling lazy, I took a taxi. I spent around 1hour exploring the temple and couldn’t pull my eyes away from the dazzling gold stupa which seemed to get more beautiful as the sun dropped in the sky. A rainbow arced across the Eastern side as well, adding further charm and beauty to something already so magnificent.

Next I will move onto Bagan as I will return to Yangon at the end of my trip, but as far as first impressions go, I have high hopes for what lies ahead in this mysterious and magical country!

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