Myanmar Trip Day 2: Exploring Yangon

Yangon used to be the capital of Myanmar before it shifted to the new city of Naypyidaw, so you could expect the usual sights that you would get from a capital city; busy streets, the bustle of people everywhere, stalls that line up the street, shops and the somewhat smoke filled air. Yangon does not have as much skyscrapers as compared to cities like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur (the highest building in the city is only 20th storeys high), but there's numerous collections of shophouses that line the streets.

a typical sight of a normal street in Yangon

The buildings and places stand in stark contrast with each other, from colonial era shophouses to private mansions to serene pagodas, each offering their own unique taste of Myanmar. Depending on how adventurous you feel, you can travel to the off beat streets to experience the daily lives of the residents of Yangon or you can stay at the comfort zones catered to the tourists.

Our first stop for the day, after lunch, was to visit Aung San Syuu Kyi's house, an icon which I have read so much about in the newspapers. I didn't get to meet her though, but I was able to take a photo of her house in which she spent a lot of years in due to her house arrest. It was a really big house (left behind by her father), complete with high walls and gates to block off the eyes from the outside world.

waiting for my turn to take my photo

In hindsight one might ask what's the use of taking a picture in front of a house, but it is not often that you get a chance to stand in front of a Nobel peace laureate's house. Plus it was just interesting to see actual stuff that directly relates to a figure that is so well known to the world and to be in the presence of it, I think.

Our second destination of the day after Aung San Syuu Kyi's house was the Kadawgyi Lake where various attractions were situated. It's one hell of a big park with loads of attractions inside, but due to the hot weather, we weren't able to explore much of the park surrounding the lake itself. However, the scene at the place itself was breathtaking, at it's certainly one of the places that couples should consider visiting. Do take note that foreigners will be charged every time you enter the lake (even using different entrance).

a view of the kadawgyi lake

We wanted to visit the Karaweik palace located at the center of the lake, but unfortunately it was closed for movie shooting and would only be open in the evening, so we had to contend with pictures instead.

the bridge leading into the karaweik barge

view of the place from afar

The structure is a replica of the ancient Burmese royal barge built in 1792 according to Wikipedia, and according to Chan (our friend + tour guide for the day), it houses a restaurant inside where the locals would hold their wedding dinner there. Quite grand, don't you think? We did not have a chance to visit the restaurant sadly, as it only opens at night, but I assume that it would have been an awesome experience to dine there.

After the lake, we decided to visit the Schwedagon Pagoda near the west of the lake, and I must say, the pagoda itself is one of the must visit place in Southeast Asia.

view of the pagoda from below

The pagoda itself is huge, and one cannot help but to stand in awe under the presence of the towering gold structure. And because it is located on top of a hill (one needs to climb a lot of staircases to reach the place), it is one of the few structures that you would constantly notice as you travel around Yangon. I personally find the sight of the pagoda itself breathtaking, I couldn't stop myself from admiring the design and structure of the entire pagoda. The feeling itself is hard to describe, but it's something close to a very humbling type of experience when you're standing in the presence of the majestic structure.

one could just stand there all day looking at the pagoda

Legend says that the pagoda itself is more than 2500 years old, making it one of the oldest in the world; and with the four Buddha relics enshrined within, is one of the holiest too. The pagoda not only houses one main structure in the center, but several smaller ones in the surrounding too. The area itself is big, with multiple smaller temples and shrines located in the vicinity.

It is one of the holiest site for the Burmese people, and as you walk on the marble slabs surrounding the pagoda, you could easily catch the sight of monks, locals and foreigners alike praying and meditating. It was an interesting sight to behold for someone coming from a busy city like Singapore.

the sight of monks like this are common around the pagoda

an elderly devotee praying near the pagoda

A note to visitors though, the rules governing visit to the Schwedagon is really strict, as visitors must adhere to a dressing code and be barefooted at all times. And also not forgetting the 8 USD entry fee. But it's an interesting place to visit nonetheless.

the instruction board for foreigners

Our next stop was Yangon's own version of Chinatown, located near the heart of the city amidst the bustling life of local residents. Compared to other Chinatowns I've visited, like the one in Singapore and KL, the Yangon Chinatown was not as commercialized. If it's not for the sudden change in signboards from Burmese language to a mixture in Chinese, one could easily miss the entire area.

The place itself was filled with roadside small stalls that sold almost everything from slippers to durians, much like a pasar malam in Malaysia, with the exception that it is open the whole day. The sidewalk itself was filled with people going about their daily business, and if you're visiting, you should mind the occasional beggar and monks asking for alms. Might want to keep a few thousand kyats ready as they could be very persistent or if possible find a place to hide, preferably a shop.

the typical sidewalk in Yangon's Chinatown

We were brought to sample Chan's favourite food stall in the area, where they have their own version of dim sum and paus, and I was quite amused by how stalls in Myanmar are mainly like. Food stalls have the tendency to use kiddy sized chairs and tables when they're located in the outside, which I find to be quite cozy and cute at the same time.

the typical road side stall in Yangon

For our visit, we sampled the local version of the siew mai, dai pau (big pau) and the local milk tea, which I must say have a peculiar but yet tasty flavor to them. Myanmar food has so far not disappointed me, and I must say I am starting the fall in love with their food.

The siew mai itself was made of pork, wrapped in a thin layer of wanton skin beneath it. It is hard to describe the taste of it, I'm afraid my vocabulary is severely limited when it comes to food, but its texture was stickier as compared to the normal siew mai. It's something like lo mai kai in terms of texture and feel, only that you have meat instead of rice.

As for the pau, the dough itself is different than the pau you will find in Singapore or Malaysia, in that it tastes much more rough and less bouncy. The filling itself is all meat, but it lacks the chunkiness of the meat inside of the char siew pau. It's similar to minced meat, in its uniformity. The tea on the other hand, has a stronger scent to it. Like I said, hard to describe, but definitely tasty.

the tea, the pau and the siew mai

To close off our day, we were visited the jetty overlooking the Yangon river. It was an extreme closeup with the local Burmese people, and I can't help but to feel very far away from the comfort of life that I used to know. According to Chan, the people take a daily boat journey from their hometown to Yangon to work. Looking at everything there, I pretty much stood out like a sore thumb with my DSLR bag.

sunset overlooking the boats that ply the river for their daily trade

the sight from the platform

Out of the many experiences in Yangon, I would say that this short visit to the jetty was truly an enlightening one. Standing there amidst the smell of diesel oil and smoke, I realized how different life looked for so many us. While we have the privilege of using a clean and cool public transport in Singapore and also our own vehicles in Malaysia, many of the local Burmese have to go through these conditions daily to get to work. I can assure you that if you put an ordinary Singaporean on the boat, he/she would complain to death.

Still it's difficult to judge, but somehow I was grateful to be able to see all these. I guess it takes travelling like this to really appreciate what you have, huh?

the boats ferrying its passengers across the river to the opposite town

We ended off our day with a dinner at a business tower (called the Sakura Tower), and went to sleep early as we have a road trip the next day to the nearby town of Bago.

The trip around Yangon itself was eye opening and interesting, but given the short time that we had, we were not able to fully explore the city and all of its attractions. Still it was a worthwhile trip, and definitely memorable. It's very interesting to stand in a completely foreign city and absorb its culture. Next destination, Bago!

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Day 3: Bago Road Trip
Day 4: Wedding and Bogyoke Market Shopping

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