So you have about 24 hours free in Yangon, a city you’ve never seen before, in a country you’re still puzzling the history of. With so much excitement and so little time, let me share with you what was my satisfying 1 day free in Yangon, Myanmar.
The flight landed around 11am local time, in the old airport building (a larger, newer building has now extended on this). Being eager to dive in, I skipped the taxi’s and took local buses down to Shwedagon Pagoda, where I met my friendly couch surfing host for the evening, Demian. The tourist desk at the airport was really helpful to figure the bus route that I had to take, and locals provided for the rest.
Passing by a protest related to Rohingya’n people, we sat down at a food stall and enjoyed a lunch of mohinga, the most basic and delicious local rice noodle and fish soup, freshly opened coconut juice and wheel cake, essentially a pancake.
Later on I would buy more pineapple, mohinga and some Chinese cuisine, washing these down with local beer or cocktails, as was available. Food is plentiful as you go, with stalls ranging from the suspicious to very well-managed and clean. High chance that you will be seated on a 30cm high plastic hair though, so don’t be surprised.
Dropping my things at my home for the night, I was off in the July drizzle to Shwedagon Pagoda. On the eastern approach I stopped at another shrine on the way, confirming that my bold-pink board shorts were sufficiently covering my knees to allow entry at such places.
Each approach to the pagoda is slightly different outside, although all have a roofed avenue leading you up the steps to eventually reach the entrance gates. Inside you can find all kinds of trinkets, religious texts and swallows for release. My naive luck let me stroll past the ticket booth at the top without paying (although I came back another night and did, so I felt better).
Rainy Sunday afternoons isn’t my idea of peak traffic, but the inner area was quite crowded still. You’ll see families having a meal, tourists snapping photos, monks meditating and reading, devotees offering prayers, local couples on dates and a variety of other bodies taking rest at one of the many roofed areas around the central structure.
I was a bit unsure how to spend my time here when I arrived, but joining others on one of the platforms and taking the time to sit quietly gave me some insight. The pagoda is like the temples of old, a central point bringing together belief, trade (outside) and daily living. I was visiting as a quick day tourist, but others had come here as they do every week, to spend time with their friends and families and weave the different strands of their culture together.
Sule Pagoda & area
Leaving Shwedagon, and aware my 1 day free has limited hours in it, I exited on the southern side and caught a bus going downtown. It wasn’t my intention to discover all of these together, but it’s practically impossible not to, due to layout:
Bandoola park is the centre point, where I was lucky enough to enjoy a local magic/humour performance by a group of young guys, with Sule Pagoda on the north-west corner and colonial architecture all around.
Bandoola park became my second resting spot, where I joined couples, a few tourists and other locals for some downtime and people watching. Between the people, the central monument and the surrounding buildings, it also offers great opportunities for some photos.
Sule Pagoda is lovely, although viewing from the outside is sufficient and no entrance is really necessary, unless you want to find the “foreigner only” bathroom they have. It also added to the backdrop of many photos being taken, the shining outline being such an iconic image.
The colonial architecture around the park is lovely. Not all the buildings are in perfect shape or apparent use, but skyline elements are all in tact and it lends a real quality to the atmosphere of the square as a whole as you consider all the events held here in recent history.
By late afternoon I was hungry again, thirsty and looking to socialise more directly. The day before, while in Batam for my first try at cable ski, I was advised that China Town is a great stop to solve all of the above, so off we went.
Realistically the only area I spent time in was 19th Street, joining the ever-growing crowd of patrons at the restaurants that crowd in from both sides. I strolled the main area’s length twice and made a decision for a table outside one already rowdy establishment, giving me a great seat to watch the evening unfold.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long after my first beer and dish arrived that conversation sparked with a neighbouring table. Fast forward an hour or two and we’re now all drinking and laughing together, they push more food and drink on me, with a ‘Myanmar people are honest and friendly!’ never far away. Later I had a cocktail further down the road to close the evening off and got to hear the backpacking plans of a group who met at their hostel that same evening.
The last stretch
That night I got up for a bathroom break around 4/5am. On the way past the window I spotted the pagoda’s in the distance, how surreal it suddenly seemed to have those golden pinnacles shining in the predawn quiet out there.
And so my free day came to an end that morning. It was brief but incredibly satisfying and confirmed for me that Myanmar is worth a whole lot more than a side note on any travel itinerary. Hope to see you there soon 😉
Whether it is work related or otherwise, many times in our lives we may find ourselves with the dilemma of a new place to explore, but vastly inadequate time to do so. As part of my attraction to the job I accepted in Singapore, I will face this dilemma myself more frequently than before.
So ladies and gents, allow me to introduce the ‘Half-pint Travel’ category. I’ve decided to introduce a category to help highlight the shorter trips, be it layovers, weekends away or day-extension on work travel.
What’s playing: 张碧晨 – Voice of China compilation
Where to next: Vietnam
What’s news: I’m very average at cable ski