The first thing you notice when arriving in Myanmar is the fact that men are wearing skirts. Of course they are not really skirts, but traditional Burmese clothing called longyi. But for the ignorant foreigner in the first moment there is a surprise.

Longyi

The second most visible thing you encounter in former Burma is young men, old women, just about everyone chewing betle nut leaves constantly and spitting the red juice all over the pavement. Yangon is full of betle nut stains…EVERYWHERE!

Betle nut vendor

Stains 1

Betle nut stains

And a third thing that struck me right away are the face paintings you see on pretty much everybody. Even children and men paint their faces with a yellowish paste made from sandalwood, a traditional make-up/sunscreen/beauty product called Thanakha. Some people paint their whole face, others create pretty designs on their cheeks, nose and/or forehead.

Thanaka

The streets of Yangon are crazy. Traffic is heavy and differing from other countries where at some point you just walk when you want to cross the street and know the cars will slow down and wait. Don’t count on it in this place! No breaks, no looking after you….you just have to run! But do watch your step, as the pavement has huge cracks and holes all over the place.

Traffic Yangon

Broken streets Yangon

Broken streets Yangon

We liked Yangon from the beginning. The city has a colorful vibe with people moving around busily, some praying, some playing and others selling their wares from their heads or their stalls, with small tea shops at every corner, where customers sit on the sidewalk at tiny tables on even tinier chairs, sipping milk tea and eating snacks.

Barber Yangon

Praying Sule Pagoda

Traditional game Myanmar

Vendor Yangon

Vendor Yangon

Stall Yangon

Tea houses Yangon

Tea pots Yangon

Tea house Yangon

Different kinds of street food can be found every few meters, day and night. The main cuisines being Chinese, Burmese and lots of Indian food. The Indian influence in general is quite visible.

Street food Yangon

Street food Yangon

Street food Yangon

In between, Yangon is peppered with glittering pagodas and temples framed by colonial buildings, some in a terrible state of decay, others looking beautiful under the last scaffolding.

Sule Pagoda by night

Buildings Yangon

One means of inner city transport is the bycicle rikscha. But in contrast to the ones known from other countries, the ones in Myanmar are built in such a way that the passengers sit back to back next to the driver. Very cute somehow!

Rikscha Yangon

We spent our first two days in the former capital, walking around and exploring. Prices in this country have increased significantly, even compared to our two year old guidebook. If you want a hotel with a window in Yangon (a window!! not a golden faucet), be prepared to pay European prices. Our hotel, which was conveniently located but REALLY not very nice cost us 56 Euros. And the egg and toast we were served as complimentary breakfast was cold. (I hate cold eggs!) Also sights are incredibly expensive. We ended up having to pay 8 dollars entrance fee to visit the Shwedagon pagoda, one of Myanmar’s most important sacred places. To me the whole place felt more like an amusement park than holy ground. It starts with the high entrance fee, after which you can either walk up quite a few stairs to reach the pagoda built on a hill or use the escalators or elevators…didn’t feel much like a site of contemplation.

Escalator Shwedagon Pagoda

Between kneeling, praying people, you have families enjoying their picnic and youngsters taking advantage of the free wifi zone. And then there are those ATMs and money exchange offices next to the shiny Buddha figures that just don’t fit my concept of a spiritual place.

Monks Shwedagon Pagoda

Praying Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagode Yangon 2

Wifi Shwedagon Pagoda

Regarding money, we had done a lot of research beforehand. In the past there had not been any ATMs accepting international cards in Myanmar. That has changed recently. What hasn’t changed is that apart from Myanmar Kyat (pronounced chat) the foreign traveller needs to have crisp, new US dollar bills without stains,  folds or tears to pay for flights, most hotels, tours and sights. As we have our DKB card to withdraw money for free in any country of the world, it was clear that we would just draw Kyat whenever we needed. But what to do about the dollars? We had changed a huge sum of Thai Baht in Thailand into dollars to last for the entire trip and then figured out a way to keep them staying as good looking as they were when we received them.

Dollars Myanmar

Then, once we arrived in Myanmar we also needed somewhere to put some dollars while we were outside of the hotel. (Of course we don’t want to carry such a big amount of cash around with us the whole time.) And we found a good solution for that also:

Dollars Myanmar

Next step: Spending our money wisely without supporting too many government run places.

 

3 Comments

 

  1. 31/01/2014  19:48 by margit Reply

    Unglaublich, wie viel dort sich in ein paar Monaten ändert. ATM und Internet, war undenkbar.
    ich hoffe, Sie genießen die Zeit und erleben immernoch sehr besondere Menschen dort! So habe ich Burma erlebt 2011 und 2012.

    • 07/02/2014  16:14 by V Reply

      Ja, das ist wirklich unglaublich. Wir hatten nicht erwartet, in fast jedem Hotel Wifi und in so gut wie jeder größeren Stadt (manchmal auch in kleinen Bergstädten) Bankautomaten vorzufinden. Sobald man jedoch die asphaltierten Straßen verlässt und die kleinereren umliegenden Dörfer erkundet, scheint die Zeit stehen geblieben zu sein. Diese Kontraste sind spannend, aber noch faszinierender sind die Menschen, die uns durch ihre Herzlichkeit und große Herzen berührt haben.

  2. 04/02/2014  10:02 by Antonella Reply

    Wunderschön erzählt, und mit den begleitenden Photos steckt man fast mit für ein paar Minuten. Thanks!

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