Considering we knew we were going to just be in one place for 4 nights, I did my research on foodie finds in the city and was determined to make it to all of them. Adam, like always, was the compass on finding obscure, hidden spots and also the reality check when practicality was needed versus dreamer wanderings off into the abyss with no food in site.
While we had heard about the amazing-ness of Bagan, we weren’t keen (I think our British friends are rubbing off on us? Not sure I used that word in the States.) on taking a 8 hour bus ride or expensive plane ride up this trip, so we stuck with the city. And for the most part, we are glad we did. Yangon has a lot to offer outside of the top ten Tripadvisor sites and to find them it requires time and patience (and “A/C runs” back to the hotel mid-day).
After a flight to Bangkok and then Yangon, we took a $8 taxi to the hotel. We were immediately surprised by CARS and well constructed streets. Not a tuk tuk in sight! Thanks to British colonization back in the day I guess? We hopped over to our hotel which was a interesting attempt at a “cool” hotel. While the price was right, the cleanliness good, and shower water hot, the art “boutique” downstairs was all stuff that had been imported from China and it wasn’t carried over into the rooms. Instead, there was cheap decal art. To me it doesn’t make sense. There is SO much color and vibrancy and art within every day life here. Why not use your local artists? But, I digress! An additional plus was the area. It is in a local neighborhood right down the street from a main market (if facing the hotel, turn left and walk 1-2 blocks). Sidenote – They have HUMONGOUS watermelons in Myanmar. Who knew?!
After we settled in a bit, we went off to find one of the spots I had found while doing
“blog-earching.” Rangon Tea House! Highlights were Chai Beer and Duck Empanadas! But, really almost everything was tasty. We also enjoyed the Burmese style Thali.
After lunch, we set out to explore the streets a bit and hopefully score some vintage finds at the roadside vendors (and try some local street food). One of the coolest and most different things for us about traveling here versus the other Asian countries we have been to thus far was the Indian influence here. You could see and feel it everywhere – people, food, vendors, etc. Additionally, the very distinctive Myanmar traits included the wearing of the longyi and the burmese sunblock/beauty secret of Thanaka paste. Being open to tourism now (5 years ago outsiders werent allowed), we really hope these cultural traits stand the test of westernization.
After we headed back to the hotel for a nap, we met up with our friend Christina, whom has been living here on and off for the past year, out at Hummingbird. This place is super hip and apparently is decorated by the couple found here. The furniture was imported in from England but the massive wood beams that were used for the lighting were refurbished in Yangon. We grabbed some cocktails (the smoked whiskey sour was yum) and then went out for local indian food that Christina knew of called Cherry Man (78-80 Latha St.). We grabbed Rothi and a few curry dishes, smiled at the locals whom were guzzling down Myanmar beer and cheering on their favorite football team (another British influence) and got schooled on Myanmar past and present from Christina. We then headed over to St. 19 for a few more beers and to take in the “night life” of Yangon. Note that almost everything closes down at 12 here on the weekends. (Week nights 9 or 10 pm.) Even earlier curfews have been imposed in the past. In contrast, another interesting thing was the full handles of whiskey at the tables accompanying large groups of men. Asians seem to love their whiskey as much as I do!
The next day we checked out the Yangon Circular Railway which had been built by the British back in the 50’s and which currently does a loop in and out of the city. Locals use this train and remembering it from a Anthony Bourdain show we thought it was worth checking it out. We hopped to the train station and waited about 30 minutes for ours to come. Ended up chatting with a Spanish guy that had been hitch hiking across Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (what?!). He had been sleeping in monasteries before kindly being offered a hotel room by Burmese monks. Once on the train, we talked with a young Burmese man that was quite interested in our accents and Americanisms. He had majored in Physics but ran a phone repair shop. We learned later that Myanmar is quite developed in regards to education and primary school is compulsory (whereas in Cambodia it is not) leading to literacy rates of 90% (women at 80%). How cool is that?! Anyhoo, below you will see some of our pics of the train and surrounding life.
After we chased a ghost of a restaurant from the lonely planet 2014 edition, we had a bit of a hard time finding anything to eat so far up north.We grabbed a taxi down a bit to what we thought would be a cool cheap enough spot on the Inye lake. Unfortunately, it did not have much a view and the food was REALLY pricey. On the positive, we got to see a puppy litter and they were adorbs! We started walking down the road a bit hoping to find something. About 2 miles later, we gave up and went into a pricey pub. Being the only ones in there, we grabbed a beer and were revived on our conquest for cheap eats. We found a local Chinese place and gobbled down greasy but “do the job” meals and watched some football (aka soccer). Hangry meltdown semi-averted! We grabbed a taxi back to the hotel next and laid around a bit before dinner. That night we checked out Port Autonomy which was a little challenging to find but worth the hunt! While the food was just mediocre and not really worth the western prices, we DUG the huge courtyard and vibe of the place. Ended up playing ping-pong for a hour or so and had a great time. They also mentioned that they had a Sunday artisans market with music and brunch which I bet would have been awesome!
In the next three days we had left, we checked out Shewdagon Pagoda and the market. Shewdagon is purposefully nicknamed sweaty-gon for a reason. We went around 11 and got scorched. However this place’s bling factor was off the chainz! What seemed to be a constant pattern Burmese people were incredibly friendly and curious. Adam got pulled over by 4 young students whom wanted to practice their English and ask a few questions about where he was from and what he was doing sportin a longyi.
Bogyoke Aung Sun Market was another sweaty adventure. Honestly, we were a bit underwhelmed with the market. (Once you go Chatuchuk you dont go back.) What we did like though was hearing the morning alms, looking in the antique stores and little tables outside the market and seeing Aung Sun Suu Kyi prints everywhere. It is pretty cool coming to a country whom is at the beginning of what feels like a successful new chapter and path towards democracy after fighting so hard for it.
Another one of the other food spots included 999 Shan Noodles (#1 on TA for Burmese food). I found it really tasty; Adam more of a Pho guy himself. We also tried a little Thai place that was decent Thai food but awesome atmosphere and definitely an expat local spot called Green Gallery.
We meant to check out the SUP on Inye Lake with the Sailing Club but did not get a chance. Locals tip – they have a Friday happy hour that is open to all!
Overall, the common theme that seemed to repeat itself over and over again here was that Burmese people have been some of the friendliest people we have met on our travels. We loved talking to people from the teacher whom taught Chinese, the physics educated taxi driver to the students whom stopped Adam to chat at Shwedagon. I would say that while we would have most likely been good with 2 or three nights in Yangon, this city and this country are well worth as much time as you can get in them and in our opinion it is only going to get better!
Lesson Learned #29: If LP is more than a year old, double check TripAdvisor before you go on a hunt for it. Lesson Learned #30: Aung San Suu Kyi has fought her entire life for democracy. She gave up being by her husbands hospital bed when he was dying and most of her children’s lives to stay in a country whom would not let her back in if she left. And this WOMAN has succeeded. While it is still slow progress and there are hurdles to get through, Myanmar seems invigorated and ready for a long chapter of forward movement. It made us both realize how lucky we are to be born and grow up in a country that allows democratic freedoms. Despite our current political situation and the embarrassment that is being associated with Trump as an American abroad, I am truly grateful for our country and the people that have and do fight for it to be the way it is.
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it” – Aung San Suu Kyi