Yangon is to Myanmar as Bangkok is to Thailand: it’s massive and spread out, it’s the business centre, it’s chaotic and it’s nothing like the rest of the country which has a significantly slower pace. Unlike Bangkok, however, it has no efficient or comfortable mass transit system. Taxi’s are the mode of transport and they are absurdly cheap.
Just like elsewhere in South East Asia, the locals are extremely welcoming and friendly. But, I found Burmese people to be the kindest of them all. As Buddhists, Myanmar people are welcoming to any stranger. Their friendly or even familial attitude towards strangers was very similar to what we experienced during our time spent in super friendly Cambodia. Everyone will greet you with a giant smile. Every Burmese person that we met literally went out of their way to make sure that we were having a good time. Most importantly, there is absolutely no hustle for your tourist dollar which allowed us to let our guard down and just enjoy every conversation without a sales pitch forthcoming.
Yangon is arguably the most exotic of all Southeast Asian cities with gold pagodas spread across the city and the appearance of wandering monks in burgundy robes on the streets. Yangon was full of crumbling, colorful colonial buildings. The roads were chaotic but, unlike in most other Southeast Asian cities, there wasn’t a motorcycle to be seen as they are strangely illegal in Yangon. I really digged the city and the innocence reminded me of my memorable times in Vietnam back in 1996 when that country was in its early tourism phase.
As for food in Yangon, just like in all other big Asian cities, the locals love to chow down. The pungent smell of food is always in the air emanating from the ever present street vendors on almost every street. Noodles are the go to dish. Shan Noodles were awesome Tea Leaf salad was solid. The big national dish is Mohinga, which is a rice noodle w/ fish soup. You can find it in just about any restaurant, tea shop, or street stall, especially before noon as it is usually consumed for breakfast. The cuisine is a mixture between Thai, Chinese and Indian food, which makes sense because Myanmar is physically sandwiched in between these three countries. All local dishes are absurdly cheap. I was spending anywhere from .80 cents to $3 USD for decently sized portions.
The two big activities in Yangon besides wandering the action packed streets are the following:
CIRCLE TRAIN – I was always looking forward to taking this train that takes about 3 hours to circle the entire city and costs a budget busting 23 cents per person. It’s a great activity to do when you are traveling with zero time constraints and you simply want hang out with the locals and watch the world go by. (see video below) We bounced over the rickety tracks taking in all the very colorful local life while gazing out of this open-air honkey tonk train checking out lush green rice fields, local villages and bustling markets that took place in each of the railway stations. I was not alive in the 1940’s and 50’s but I could envision this is what train travel was like back then. It was colorful and a real trippy experience.
SHWEDAGON PAGODA – I am not a big temple guy but this massive gold pagoda and its grounds were really cool. I was awed by this shimmering golden stupa highlighting the city skyline by day and night. Buddha was not the only star at the Shwedagon Pagoda. Big Doug was also a huge star at this pagoda. The Burmese people are very small in stature and strangely, the majority are just about the same size standing at about 5 feet tall with most having the same exact tiny frame. Apparently, they are not used to seeing any westerners, especially one that measures 5′ 10″ and goes by the name of Big F’ing Doug. While walking around the pagoda grounds, I felt like a true celebrity. The locals would constantly stop Barbie and I to pose with them for a photograph. They stopped us and simply wanted to speak English and learn more about where we were from. It was quite surreal receiving so much attention. I got a real charge out of the entire scene. Now I know what it feels like to be Michael Jordan or any other celebrity. So, there you have it, another reason to come to Myanmar. You too, may become a Star!
Restaurants – Aung Mingalar Shan Noodle Shop, 999 Shan Noodle Shop, Banana Leaf, Shwe Mingalar Resraurant @19th Street BBQ.
LOOSE STOOLS INDEX – 1
Normally, I would not elaborate, but a messy 1 rating clearly warrants some detailed explanation for the loyal followers of my index. I will pin my demise on either the Penang Noodle Soup at the airport or the Air Asia onboard Diarrhea Wrap. A total debacle in the anals of the Loose Stools Index. I was due, as I was getting a bit cocky. After passing immigration in Yangon, my bowels exploded but fortunately the setup in the airport bathroom was shockingly ideal. I took care of business clean and efficiently and was confident that the issue was resolved. We entered the taxi and while sitting in severe traffic the loose stools gods said, “No way, big boy, we are not finished with your ass”. Try to envision the following. Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, in a 3rd world country, hot as shit in the taxi and a good 30 minutes from the hotel…… I simply could not take the pain anymore and it was literally seconds before disaster struck inside the taxi. Fortunately, the driver located a dumpy local tea house off the dusty road. I tore ass approximately .1 furlongs to the bathroom, while Barbie being the compassionate person she is, laughed her ass off. I was faced with the dreaded squat toilet with no toilet paper in the bathroom. Being the adaptable person that I am, I was able to put the fire out in these less than ideal conditions. As a result, I am a stronger and better person having to endure this disaster under abominable pooing conditions. Miraculously, this was the end of the issue and I somehow bounced the next day to a solid 9 on the loose stools index. Big Doug was put to the test and now life is back to being good!