I have returned from a 4-day trip in Yangon. The city reminds me of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (the city centre) and Yogyakarta, Indonesia. In Yangon, I crossed the road like it belonged to my grandfather – brazenly and confidently. This behaviour of mine can only be seen in Cambodia. Never in Singapore. The cars would slow down to avoid me. However, unlike in Phnom Penh, I got honked at. There were a lot more cars in Yangon than in Phnom Penh, and these cars are mostly from Japan.
I have to get used to the different meanings of honking in different countries. In Singapore, it’s a rude gesture – akin to “what the hell are you doing on the road? Hurry up”. In India, it’s a kind warning to pedestrians that a car is coming their way. I think when drivers honk at pedestrians in Yangon, it is a kind reminder to them to watch out for cars near them. Please correct me if I have misunderstood road situations there. (I hope I am right, though. I was honked at about 54235 times while I was in Yangon.)
I stayed at the Chan Myae Guesthouse along Mahabandoola Garden Street. The location of the hostel is great as it is in the middle of the city centre. The only drawbacks were that I had to call them to get a room, my private bathroom only had cold water (but it’s good for combating the heat) and the hostel is on the 3rd floor (meaning ground floor, 1st floor, 2nd floor and 3rd floor – 4 flights of stairs). Everything else was fantastic and breakfast is included in the mix. The people at the taxi counter in the airport know where this guesthouse is, but I often have trouble finding the hostel in the evening (like in every other country I have been in on my own). Call early to get better deals.
When I was there last week, the exchange rate was 970 kyats for US$1 (this rate is only applicable to US$50 and US$100 notes).
Note that I did not go to a store on the black market. I went to a proper bank, based on the advice of my friendly hostel manager (I don’t know how to spell her name but it was pronounced “Kate Kate”). This one is the AGD Bank just north of the Sule Pagoda. They accept battered notes, Euro and the Singapore Dollar.
Next time, I will not bother to change my money into US Dollar before I leave for Myanmar.
What I wore
Since I would be encountering squat toilets, I did not pack my pair of jeans. On my first day there, I was wearing a huge A-line skirt which threatened to fly up every time a breeze came by. (It is a lot more windy in Yangon than in Singapore or Jakarta!) I decided to wear what the locals wore:
These longyis don’t cost a lot. I did not buy this in the Bogyoke Aung San Market. I got this at a shop near my hostel, thanks to the advice of Kate Kate. This shop (Taw Win Traditional Longyi Store) is located between Mahabandoola Garden Street and 34th Street. As I may wear them in Singapore, I bought plain but thick cotton in 3 colours: silver, blue and green. The store did not provide tailoring service so I walked around to find a tailor who could sew up my longyi for me. There was a tailor on the 35th (Rainbow was the name of the shop) but he charged me 1000 kyat to sew up my longyi, which was double the price I paid at the 38th Plaza. The 38th Plaza is on the 38th Street. Walk in, and you will find a floor full of seamstresses. They did my longyis very quickly. Affordable and efficient. ♥
In total, I spent 4000 to 4500 kyats for each longyi. I saw longyis going for 8000 to 12000 kyats at the Bogyoke Aung San Market. If you prefer something ready made, go to Ruby Mart (near 38th Street) or any of the other supermarkets in town. I bought a red cotton one for 4000 kyats. But the colour does come off in the wash. I learnt this the hard way after my legs turned red in a thunderstorm. So beware, and soak longyis bought from the supermarket in vinegar before putting them with the other clothes.
Crocs are ugly and I would not pay $100 for a pair. But the lookalikes are useful in places with broken pavements.
I have read that travellers to Myanmar advise future first-time travellers to Myanmar to wear flip-flops/slippers because people need to remove their shoes more than a couple of times during the day. But I would advise against it due to the uneven pavements. If not for this pair of mud-splattered and battered shoes, I would have gotten cuts in a dozen places on my feet. Travelling with injuries on my feet is not really such a good idea. These shoes are good for the rainy season as they are waterproof.
I am really not one of those gourmets running around the world tasting food. But I am glad to tick mohinga off my list of food to eat. I sat down on a plastic stool on the pavement and a bowl of mohinga was handed to me. I paid 200 kyats for this because I saw the other person beside me paying the same amount to the stall owner. However, I think he wanted to charge me the foreigner price – he looked sullen when I handed him 200 kyats. Haha.
Besides going crazy with the unripe mangoes, I also had this:
I bought 3 for 200 kyats – foreigner price – from a stall along the street. But it was absolutely delicious.
There are a lot of Chinese and Indian style street food sold in Yangon, which does not surprise me since Myanmar is greatly influenced by both countries.
The international airport in Yangon
I swear this looks like Singapore’s Changi Airport.
Rich airport, poor (but friendly) people on the streets.