Yangon

We flew into Yangon airport fairly late, so we decided to get a taxi to our guesthouse. After a bit of haggling, we managed to end up paying a little more to reach our place than we expected. Our taxi driver gave us a tour as he drove through town and was very chatty. He told us about all the sights we should see and pointed them out to us along the way. We arrived at our guesthouse and checked in to our cosy room ready for a good nights sleep.

We woke up ready for a day of sightseeing and set off towards the main attraction: the Shwedagon pagoda. It was quite a walk through the old colonial streets into a more modern and wealthy area and then we reached the pagoda. Walking in Yangon is quite good since pavements are everywhere and scooters are banned from the whole city. Saying that the sights are quite far apart.

Turning Burmese… Nice skirt (Longyi)

The Shwedagon Pagoda is famous for being a huge golden pagoda, which it is. It’s impressive to see it both glittering in the sun and lit up at night. We were surprised how decorated the walkways leading up to the pagoda were and also how many small temples were clustered around it. As in all of the temples of Myanmar we had to remove our shoes and cover up which meant Matthias renting a Longyi (skirt) to cover his lovely legs. The pagoda was busy with Burmese people visiting their birthday Buddha’s and leaving offerings. We hardly saw any other tourists which was a change from Thailand. It might be expensive to get in (10,000 Kyat), but the Shwedagon pagoda is worth a visit, although we were slightly disappointed that you can’t see the 76 carat diamond at the top of it.

Yangon’s golden marvel

After the pagoda, we went for a walk in the people’s park. We found some lovely gardens, fountains, roller coasters and water slides but at 10am it wasn’t very busy. This did not stop them from playing blaring loud music at one of the stages though. Next up was the national museum to see the treasures of Myanmar. We opted to take a free guided tour at the entrance and this proved to be well worth it. Our guide Calvin took us through the highlights of the 5 floor musuem and seemed to talk almost constantly for 3 hours. He was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable which really helped. Without a guide, the signs at the museum are minimal and you won’t gain half as much from your visit. We enjoyed the exhibits on the people of Myanmar and the historic empires. At the end of our tour, we were desperately in need of a cold drink and some rest for our weary feet so we went to the nearest café. Slightly rested we went back to our guesthouse before meeting a friend later that evening at the Yangon Tea House.

Big bananas

Our second day in Yangon was a little less active. We decided to take the circle line around the city to get a glimpse of local life and a little more of an insight into the city. The circle train takes 3 hours to travel just 49km with 37 stops along the way and it costs just 200 Kyat (£0.20). It was a little tricky to find the correct ticket office and platform, but the train staff and some locals helped us out and we got onto the 10:05 train. The trains are simple, with open windows and seats along the sides, leaving plenty of standing/walking room. As the train pulled out of the station the hawkers began their mobile shop service up and down the train. Each of them carried a tray or bucket of food and stopped when someone wanted to buy something. The people carrying trays on their heads barely fitted through the doors between carriages but as soon as someone waved they placed down a plastic chair and sat with the tray on their lap to assemble a noodle or tofu dish. The buckets turned out to contain heaps of sweetcorn on the cob and after a while we couldn’t resist. The hawkers changed every few stops and a new troop got on with different food on offer. We quickly discovered that the Burmese word for strawberry is strawberry (very British).

Our circular route

The buffet circle train (as we renamed it) was slow and the snacks were necessary to stay the boredom. Our fellow passengers changed frequently and a few obviously wondered why there were tourists on the commuter train but still smiled at us. The most interesting stop was when we pulled into a station which has a market right up to the rails that sprawled onto the platforms. Here traders loaded their fruit and vegetables onto the train in huge sacks and baskets. Since train stops were always short, they loaded goods onto the train through half the windows as well as the doors. The train corridor became a storage area for a market and the hawkers had a little more difficultly walking around the vegetables. The traders prepared their vegetables for resale at another market on the other side of town where they unloaded the market onto the platform. It was all very smooth and swift.

Buffet service on board the train

The other interesting part of the journey was to watch the houses change from concrete blocks to corrugated iron shacks to bamboo huts and then back again as we went around the circle. It was obvious that there is a lot of poverty in Myanmar and that many people still lead very simple lives on the outskirts of town. Just like in the rest of South East Asia, there were piles of plastic and rubbish and people were just throwing rubbish out of the train window; good job we didn’t expect anything else.

Vegetable market loaded on board

3 hours later we trundled back into Yangon station, a little tired from people watching and needing to stretch our legs. We managed a walk around colonial Yangon before we retired into a café to get some iced coffee. We were both a little apprehensive about that evening.

Independence monument
A very British looking theatre

Showered and changed we made our way to Aung Mingun bus station by taxi. For some reason the bus station is miles out of town and journey times from the city seem to vary between 1 and 2 hours depending on traffic. We were lucky with the traffic but had to wait a while to catch our night bus. It was all pretty well organised and come 10pm we were on our way to Bagan.

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