Myanmar is a poor Buddhist country that has recently opened up for tourism. As a consequence, it is very cheap and exotic. In Yangon, the largest city, there are some points of interest, such as Shwedagon Pagoda.
Getting to Myanmar
Coming from Cebu, I waited several hours at the modern airport in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) until the flight to Yangon in Myanmar. This late afternoon flight cost 197 Malaysian ringgits (~41 euros) with the low-cost airline AirAsia.
Upon landing, it was enough to hand over to immigration the letter of recommendation of the application of eVisa, filled in advance by the internet for 50 dollars, to get inside one of the most different countries I have ever been to.
Up to Chinatown, where I was going to stay, the airport taxi driver wanted to charge me 10,000 kyats (~6 euros), and there was no bus service over there. I was lucky to find a couple of Brazilians (Gleice and Renan) when I went to the money exchange (necessary, as credit cards are useless there, because it is not accepted in almost anywhere). As they would go close to me, we were able to share the ride.
I barely got there and walked out onto the busy, slightly dark streets of the metropolis. Although it seems somewhat intimidating, crime against tourists is very low. I tried to get to the temple that supposedly holds a piece of Buddha’s hair (Botahtaung Pagoda), but it had just closed, due to late time. In fact, I soon realized that the official Buddhism religion is present everywhere.
On the way back, I walked by Independence Monument Square (Maha Gandula), where there is also the Sule Pagoda, City Hall and other buildings from the British colonial period on the surrounding blocks. It was half past nine; nonetheless, only street food stalls and some fancy restaurants were open.
For only 8 dollars, including breakfast, I stayed at the very nice Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel. To sleep in the 8-bed air-conditioned dormitory would be a relief against the awful heat during the days.
Breakfast was a strange bowl of rice noodle soup with fish and seasoning, called mohinga. Although it was extremely unusual for us to ingest this early in the morning it was not that bad. And what about the side dish? Cake with poppy seeds! Nothing fairer for the world’s second largest producer.
At that same place I met the travelers Lainie and Claudia from Australia, as well as a Swede, with whom I took the circular train for 200 kyats at Lanmadaw station. With everything written in the indecipherable Burmese language, it was a bit difficult to know which train was right, but a few tens of minutes later we boarded one of the old British wagons around town.
On the way you see a lot of dirt and poverty; this is the reality in Myanmar, one of the least developed countries in the world.
At some point you need to change trains, so pay attention and try to get information from the rare people who speak some English.
About halfway, you see farmers and their plantations. Then at some point, the hall of the wagon gets completely filled with vegetables to be sold downtown.
We jumped off our 50 cent train ride near Lake Inya, the city’s largest reservoir. We bought 2 bunches of bananas for only 400 kyats and walked around. We even tried to see the residence of the revolutionary leader’s daughter, but access was forbidden.
Yangon Buddhist Temples
As the lake was not very interesting and it was already over 35 ºC hot, we were tempted to take refuge in Myanmar Plaza, a western-style mall right across the lake. But as there was still a lot to see, we set aside, taking a taxi for 3,500 kyats as far as 2 Buddhist temples with giant statues, both of them free. In the first one, Chauk Htat Kyi, the statue is reclined, while in the Ngar Htat Gyi it is seated. Like every Buddhist temple, one must enter without shoes and with shoulders and knees covered.
Out of curiosity and practicality, I bought fried bean dumplings and other vegetables on the street, for 300 kyats. They were good and I had no stomach problem later.
The Bogyoke Aung San museum, also nearby, tells a bit about the history of the general who led the country to independence soon after the end of World War II. It stays in his last house before he was murdered, but there is so little to see that I do not know if the 5,000 kyats of entry are fair.
I continued, now alone, towards south, visiting the open gardens of Lake Kandawgyi. Walking around it, I got up on Utopia Tower, where I had a nice view for 200 kyats. In that same tower I had my popstar moment – a group of Indian girls wanted a photo with one of the rare blonde guys in that part of the world.
Another point of interest is the Karaweik Palace, an expensive restaurant in the shape of a dragon boat. It also hosts typical cultural presentations of Myanmar.
Then I ran to reach the sunset at the biggest attraction in Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda. For 8 thousand kyats one has access to a Buddhist complex full of tourists, whose main attraction is a stupa of 99 meters of pure gold. The night lighting on this stupa, as well as the others, is incredible, so it’s worth going for a stroll in the day and at night to see the building raised from 6th to 10th century.
Feeling safe, I also took some photos on the Maha Vizaya Pagoda already walking back. In the middle of the journey I had a goat curry for only 1500 kyats, on a place frequented only by natives.
I had another unconventional breakfast. Then, as the souvenir market (Bokyoke Aung San Market) and the National Museum were closed on Mondays, I had to settle for the zoo (Yangon Zoological Garden). For 3 thousand kyats I took a taxi there.
The entrance cost the same value. By Myanmar standards, it’s a reasonable zoo. There are hundreds of species of various animal groups, most of the country itself, such as the Asian Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus).
However, with the exception of the deer area, the other cages are too small for the poor animals, who did not seem to be happy.
There is also a museum of natural history included in the ticket, which has several stuffed animals, fossils and rocks.
Two and a half hours was enough to see everything, so I came back through the chaotic traffic of Yangon, which could possibly be lighter if motorbikes were not banned in this city.
Finally, I parked a taxi and went to the airport, where I had a snack and boarded the Golden Myanmar Airlines. The flight to Bagan cost 110 dollars, even though I bought previously at their website. I was apprehensive when I saw that the plane was a turbo-propeller, but despite the shaking I arrived safely. The on-board service included a magazine and a snack.