wandering in yangon

I arrived in Yangon by train just as the sun was beginning to set; the transition from grassy fields and wooden huts to multi-story housing buildings and chain-link fences seemed to happen in a matter of seconds. But I love cities just as much as I love the country, and the pink-yellow-orange sunset, as I walked from the train station was just as beautiful over the city skyline as it was over green hills.

I spent just 2 days in Yangon. The first morning I walked around the city, an interesting mix of new and old – colonial era buildings, the modern city hall, and in the middle of an always crowded round-a-bout, a flashy pagoda (Sule Pagoda) with signs for astrologers and other random businesses all around the outside. I ate street food and walked through Bogyoke Market. And yes, I went into the fancy and new looking mall (Parkson), mostly to escape the heat for a little while 😉 Later in the afternoon I grabbed a taxi to Shwedagon Pagoda. It was packed with people, tourists both from Myanmar and foreign, but also with many locals. I was stopped by several people – old and young, mostly monks – who just wanted to chat with me to practice their English. Everyone asked where I’m from, and exclaimed with huge grins “Obama!” It was nice to wander and people-watch. I did a few laps just observing. I made a stop at the Sunday corner (because I was born on a Sunday, which matters a lot here apparently), and watched as other Sunday ladies, and one young boy, poured water over the Buddha statue’s head, waved incense, and offered flowers. I stayed for sunset, and watched as they lit up the temple with lights shining on the gold against the darkening sky. After the pagoda, I went for Indian food and a lassi at Nilar Biryani (which was amazing!).

The next day, I took the ferry across the Yangon River to Dala. It was a rainy day, and we hired a taxi to drive us around the quaint villages, as well as to the snake temple – which is exactly what it sounds like, a temple filled with snakes!

Yangon was an interesting mix of a modern feeling city, with people in traditional dress (longyis), and thanaka (off-white paste made from tree bark that all children, most women, and even many men wear as a natural sunscreen). It was both old and new, traditional and modern, and felt at the same time authentic and tourist-friendly.