We took off from Geneva after some teary goodbyes at the airport and with the memory of our “last supper” still warm in our bellies from the evening before. Knowing that in Asia most meat dishes come in “émincé” version, we fully enjoyed the thick piece of steak prepared with love by Quentin’s mom… but back to our travels: our Ukrainian Airlines flight was unsurprisingly not the best we’ve had. The seats were tiny and the plane felt rusty (actually so old that it becomes cool – the switch for the light reminded me of the big red button on Dark Vador’s chest), but the staff was nice, and the steward didn’t seem to care much whether my seatbelt was fastened or not for take-off. Anyway, we arrived in Bangkok without problems, switched airport, and flew to Yangon (obviously, before check-in we quickly ran to some street food stalls that we had seen on the road close to the second airport).
Finally in Myanmar, and right for sunset! First thing is exchanging a few dollars (ATMs can be very picky in Myanmar), and it appears that the exchange rate varies based on the size of your bank notes, and whether they are in good shape or not. We become rich within seconds (100USD = 134’000 Kyat), and get a taxi to the centre. The driver avoids traffic by going through some smaller streets, and the first thing we notice is the absence of street lights and the lack of infrastructure despite being in the most important city of the country.
Once dropped at the hostel, our first priority is obvious: Food! It is already late, but the streets of Yangon still swarm with activity (including fat rats and mosquitoes ;)). We decide to take the bull by the horns and start training our stomachs with no delay. We therefore stop at a food stall that offers some unidentifiable dishes. We randomly pick three of them. The experiment is successfully tasty, but we just hope that the conclusion won’t be too explosive.
The two next days are occupied with discovering Yangon. Although we try to reach most places by walking, some spots are too far and necessitate taking the taxi. At some point, tired of drivers trying to rip us off, we decide to get on the first bus passing by, hoping it will bring us in the right direction (not a single word is written in English). People are staring and smiling – we’re obviously the only tourists – and they join efforts (or rather hands) to explain us that we should put 100 Kyats (8 cents) in a big case that looks like a donation box at an international airport. You use a long wooden stick to push down all the cash when the box seems to be full… feels more like mixing a big cocktail jar…full of bank notes!
One of our first stops is the Sule Pagoda, covered in gold leaves. A local explains us that you have to find the Buddha corresponding to the day you were born, and pour water over his head. This should bring you luck/good karma.
We then visit some street markets, selling mainly fruits and vegetables. The smell of fish sauce and spices is omnipresent and overwhelming. Wherever you stand, people and motorbikes graze you every second. Smoke from grilled skewers and steam from hot noodle soups reach your nostrils. On the floor, you see red stains everywhere. This comes from betel nut spitting, a nut that street vendors wrap in betel leaves together with some other stuff like fennel seeds, lime, etc. You put one of those little packs between your cheek and your gums, and suck the juices that come out. This is supposed to make you happy, and is addictive. One guy gave me one to taste, but I couldn’t keep it more than 2 minutes before spitting it out…
People are always friendly, and sometimes greet you with a shy “Hello!”. Most men wear a traditional Longyi, which is similar to a Sarong, and quite comfy. I bought one in Yangon‘s main cloth market and wear it from time to time, locals love it and make compliments (unless they’re insulting me with a smile – I wouldn’t know). Women also wear traditional dresses, sometimes very colourful.
While walking on the streets of downtown Yangon, you cannot miss the remnants of British colonial architecture. Sadly, most buildings are starting to fall apart…
As it is hard to get a decent internet connection (and find time to write 🙂 ), we will soon upload more pictures and write more about the food, as well as about our visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar’s more important religious structure!