Myanmar. Have you heard of it?
When I was texting my home homies and told them I was pumped for my upcoming trip to Myanmar, they responded with a “Yo I had to look up where that was real quick. But cool!” Myanmar is the hot new destination for backpackers in Southeast Asia trying to get their culture on. You won’t find any neon paint parties, buckets, or douchebags in beer shirts here.
Only being open to tourists since 2011, Myanmar is supposed to have the most well-preserved traditional culture left in Southeast Asia, as it’s been protected from Western influence. And I must say, it did not disappoint.
Most people start or finish in Yangon on their backpacking route, as it’s cheap to fly into/out of with AirAsia.
Yangon makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine. There’s colorful decaying British-colonial-influenced buildings. There’s men riding around on bikes with straw hats on, and bicycle-powered rickshaws. The people wear traditional clothing – men longyi skirts, and women traditional dress suit type things. The people wear traditional paste on their faces that’s supposed to be good for their skin, and the men chew disgusting betelnut that they spit everywhere.
Shwedagon & Sule Pagodas
The main “to see” things in Yangon are the Shwedagon and Sule pagodas. The Shwedagon Pagoda is the more famous one, and it’s freaking MASSIVE. It’s definitely a must-do in Myanmar, as it’s the absolute most beautiful religious monument I’ve seen in Asia.
The Shwedagon pagoda costs 8000 kyat to get in(pronounced chee-aht), or about $5.70. It costs about 2000 kyat for a taxi to get there from the city center where we were staying (close to Chinatown). You have to dress conservative – no shorts for guys, and your shoulders have to be covered.
We went in the evening to see the sun set and the pagodas light up, and there were a ton of Burmese nuns chanting at various parts of the pagoda. They started lighting candles around the pagoda, which was really pretty to see. There were also many Burmese people praying, and a lot of Burmese monks. Unfortunately, it was also crowded with tourists, but that’s life. I’ve heard you can also go early in the morning around 5AM for meditation.
The Sule Pagoda is a smaller pagoda closer to the city center. It costs 3000 kyat to get in, and it has the same dress code. I didn’t go in because I was wearing a tank top, but my friends did. They said they were each escorted around by monks who asked them for money to donate to orphan children. This sounded suspicious to me because there are a lot of fake monks in Yangon, and the monk tried to guilt my friend into donating. Maybe it was legit, but who knows.
Like most absurdly hot cities, Yangon is bumping in the morning, quiet midday, and bumping in the evening. 19th street in Chinatown is the most lively, with tables from restaurants lining the streets. We stopped here at night for a beer(dirt cheap – 1400 kyat($1)), as there was cheaper street food at the local night market on Strand road, which was about a 2-block walk away. On a different night we popped in to Khao San Road bar(hahahahaha) which was pretty quiet, but still lively for Yangon. A Mandalay-rum mojito only cost 2000 kyat($1.42).
My 2 favorite things to do in Yangon were walking around and taking pictures, and hanging out at tea shops. Tea shops are a big thing in Myanmar, Burmese people just park it at tea shops and lounge around for hours.
We kept going back to one recommended by our taxi driver called Mahar Yangon on 9th street. It was bumping, even at like 1PM on a Monday, and filled with locals. It was DIRT cheap also and freaking delicious- Burmese tea with naan ya(Burmese breakfast naan with chickpeas and onions) was 800 kyat, or $.57.
Like everywhere else in Myanmar, free green tea was served at the table. Sometimes tea shops leave out little pastries and stuff on the table – heads up though, they’re not free, you pay per item that you eat. They’re still cheap though, I paid 300 kyat($.20) for a veggie-filled pastry.
The Circle Train
The circle train is just a local train that goes around Yangon in, you guessed it, a circle. We read about this online so we decided to give it a try, and it was NOT worth it. The train is cheap(200 kyat), & you pay each time you get on and off. It’s superrrr slow. We couldn’t figure out where to get off to check things out as all the signs were written in Burmese, and a lot of the stops seemed like they were in the middle of nowhere. And it was hot – no aircon & 90 degree weather kind of sucks.
However, the train was cool to see. The people on the train were interesting, and vendors kept walking through with trays on their head selling food and carrying small stools. When someone bought something, the vendor would put down their stool, prepare the salad or whatever they had (stuffed tofu was popular), put the money in their hat, and be on their way. Be wary of trying some things though – my friend got food poisoning from a popsicle he bought. We’re guessing it was made with local water.
A Pretty City
I thought Yangon was fascinating. There’s not really much to do touristy-sight-seeing-wise, but I loved the city. Like I said, one of my favorite things to do was walk around and take pictures. The market streets were interesting and the best for taking pictures; in the morning lines of monks walk through to ask for food donations. The people were also super nice, every time I asked someone to take their picture they’d smile and say yes. It was also really easy to find good, cheap street food – a samosa cost 100 kyat, and a dosa platter cost 500 kyat. Dirt freaking cheap.
4Rivers Youth Hostel. Amazing free breakfast, decent wifi(by Myanmar standards – overall Myanmar wifi is HORRIBLE), comfy beds, and a good location.