Having the cheapest air fare from Beijing, Yangon (or Rangoon) was our first stop in Burma. We could tell it was going to be a hot 12 days when we exited the plane and got a rush of hot air hitting our face at 6:30pm. Burma had not been in our initial travel plans but after being advised by other travellers we had met along the way we decided to reschedule a few things and fit it in. We had the pleasure of meeting an Australian couple at the airport which shared a taxi with us and conveniently our hotels were a few minutes walk away from each other. It surprised us at how the cars are right hand drive and they drive on the right side of the road! Just doesn’t make sense. Roads were chaotic, dusty, with people crossing anywhere they felt necessary as there are no pedestrian traffic lights anywhere. We didn’t see a single motorbike in the streets which is strange when you compare it with all the other counties. We later learned that motorbikes had been banned, only in Yangon, several years ago due to a motorbike denting a commanders car (craziness!). Instead men cycled with a two person carriage attached. After about an hour we dropped Debra and Denis at their hotel and checked into ours, Everest Hotel, before going for dinner. We didn’t expect much from our hotel room but as little as we paid we had expected a bit more than what we got, luckily we had a private bathroom but we were so surprised we didn’t come back to any living creatures when we left the room as their were several open ended pipes in the bathroom and the window had no glass, just steel bars and a curtain. The good thing is that most hotels in the country include breakfast in the hotel price.
Power cuts were common and it happened once during the night as we noticed the fan had turned off, thankfully it came back on before becoming a puddle of water.
We didn’t do much the first day apart from book the train and walk through the town to have lunch. It was so hot that we were sweating only minutes after having left the hotel. Lasting half an hour walking the streets in the sweltering heat, we arrived at the train station. It was the oldest, dirtiest station we have seen to date.
It’s hard to believe Yangon was the old capital and it’s shocking to see the poverty all around the area. On the first night we saw a family sleeping on a double mattress with a mosquito net on the side of the road under shelter. It’s a dirty and dusty city with an excessive amount of dogs. Buildings are stained black from pollution and electric wires cross overhead everywhere. We found it amusing that their letterbox is a string attached to a clip for the postman to attach letters and pull the string which rings a bell in the house. During one of our walks we witnessed painters working on a building site sat on bamboo scaffoldings without a harness or ropes in the blistering heat. Health and safety is appalling.
Surprisingly we found that the Burmese are very nice to foreigners, most probably because the novelty hasn’t worn off and foreigners haven’t annoyed them yet. But kids wave good bye, people are very friendly and helpful and they just stare continuously. Food is very cheap here, a meal for two including beers cost us around 6 dollars.
We met up with Denis and Barbara at their hotel the first afternoon and had dinner with them. They had been travelling for 8 years now since they retired and were telling us all about their experience living with the aboriginals in Australia and about their travels. They had very interesting stories to tell and we remained talking outside their hotel until the late hours of the night.
On our second day we visited the Shwegadon Paya pagoda, the main attraction in Yangon. We had to take off our shoes to enter and wear full length clothing which were lent to us, it was so hot, I have no idea how they wear this all day in the heat! The entrance was $8 each, none of Burma’s attractions are cheap compared to the other countries around. The pagoda was large and golden, unfortunately it was under restoration so part of it was covered
Surrounding the main pagoda were smaller pagodas and Buddhas with a different worship place dedicated for each day of the week so depending on what day of the week you were born dictated which buddha you prayed at. A local lady asked to take a photo with me, whether it was because I was wearing their clothing or whether because I was white I don’t know but we took some photos together and I was so amused.
Like I mentioned before locals just stare, they use this place as a regular place to worship the buddha and foreigners are probably not regularly seen. On the way out we walked through an indoor market set on the sides leading all the way down some steps. Outside we came across two men with three snakes in boxes, locals gathered around attentively focused on what the ‘snake man’ was saying. He selected a young boy to participate and it was quite amusing seeing this child warey of snakes around We watched for half and hour and disappointingly not once did he do anything with the snakes, from what we gathered they just made the audience believe that the snake venom they had stired in small bottles was good and made them pay up, twice for some odd reason, to purchase some. You could tell by the way the local audience watched in awe and listened carefully that they were naively believing every word this man was telling them, ‘jump of the cliff’ and he jumps kind of style.
Along the way, east from Shwegadon Paya pagoda, we came across Kandawgyi Lake. Monks walked leisurely through the park and we walked on a wooden lake side bridge which took us to Karaweik, a famous icon seen on postcards and magnets.
We jumped onto the train just before 4pm. The train was so old school, each first class carriage had a toilet and walking from one carriage to another was prohibited so you were confined to your small carriage which slept four people. We were in a cabin with two other German ladies.
Young girls came up to the window to sell water, beer and fruits who managed to sneak into the carriage a few times. The ‘restaurant man’ as he called himself took our dinner and breakfast orders before leaving the station and would run to each carriage with the food and drinks when the train stopped.
As we left the children waved at us frantically with massive smiles on their faces and men even high fived us. It was a very friendly atmosphere. The train was slow in comparison to others we have taken and each individual carriage swayed from side to side on it’s own accord. It was a great experience and the best worst train ride we have had despite the crazy bumpy ride and loud tracks. The carriage jerked so much we ‘caught air’ and laughed because we could not believe this was possible. Our backpack flew off the top bed onto the floor next to the German lady luckily missing her. All in all we managed to sleep on the bottom bed miraculously. The ride was very scenic, we passed many small villages where children waved at us, rice fields and dry land with palm trees.
At times we saw men building what looked like small brick structures and couldn’t help wonder what they were making. We later learnt that they were making furnaces to make bricks inside. The journey lasted 19hours, arriving at Bagan at 11am
Waiter running to get back on the train
The luxurious First Class Carriage
Monks enjoying a stroll through Kandawgyi Lake
Everyone huddled listening attentively to the ‘snake man’
That celebrity feeling!
Shwedagon Paya Pagoda
Bamboo scaffolding and no safety harnesses…safe enough for them!
Personal post box
Yangon train station ticket booth