Yangon: Food and Gold

Let’s talk about serious stuff:

In Yangon, each street has its share of street food stalls to offer, some more suspicious than others. It seems that most of the Burmese food has similarities with Indian or Chinese food, which makes sense because important communities from these two countries live(d) in Burma/Myanmar. We try out some local food, often some curries that come with rice and greens (mainly salad, okra, cucumber and different types of leaves, but also with raw green mango, that has a fresh limy taste!). Some vendors sit in front of a little fire with a pan full of oil in front of them and offer fried stuff that in all shapes that look like samosas, spring rolls, etc. but are actually fried bean paste or even sweet corn.

We usually stop when we are hungry or if something attracts our attention. However, we tried out three restaurants based on internet/friends’ recommendations:

Feel Restaurant: Somehow an institution recommended by locals and tourists alike. You can pick traditional Burmese dishes from a large buffet selection, but it wasn’t very clear what we were eating. When asking for the same dish “is this eggplant?”, “is this pork?” or “is this panda?” the reply was always a convinced “Yes!”. We did get some different curries though, as well as some sautéed vegetables and greens.

Xi Yang Yang: Amazing Xiaolongbao (for those who still don’t know what heaven means: steamed dumplings filled with meat and soup). Not Burmese, but a friend brought us there, arguing that we would quickly get bored of traditional food. Truth is, we didn’t need much convincing, and we were delighted!

999 Shan Noodle Shop: Shan noodles originate from Myanmar’s Shan State in the east and are also a must-try. This restaurant knocked my socks off (luckily I was wearing flip-flops)! You can choose your noodles in “soup” or “salad” version. We actually tried 3 different kinds, and it is the “sticky noodles salad” version that convinced us. Rice noodles are coated in a thick hearty sauce that combines several spices as well as fish sauce, ginger, sesame etc. with some extra crushed peanuts and green onions on top.

A little side story:
Our last afternoon in Yangon, when sitting in the hostel’s common space, a local comes in and asks us out of the blue: “Can you please come give us some English classes for two hours?”. We are a bit surprised but think it is a cool idea and negotiate for one hour because we need to take our night bus a few hours later. We are thus brought through the streets of Yangon to the third floor of a building where they put us in an empty classroom. The benches are 10cm-wide, so no need to precise that with the width of my (Quentin’s) butt, it already feels like torture. Slowly, younger and older students appear and are separated in two groups. Each of us has to entertain the students by asking them questions and answering theirs. Students keep flooding in though, and we quickly find ourselves dealing with over 25 students each, aged between 16 and 50 years old, some fluent and some that didn’t even know how to say “Hi” (I even had a monk in my group, but seems he had made the vow of silence… not so convenient for a conversation class). All in all it was a fun experience, and interesting as well because we took the chance to ask them about traditions, relationships, marriage, work, etc.

Rooftop bar over Yangon

One evening, two friends brought us to one of Yangon’s two rooftop bars. The place was more than fancy and the menu was even backlit like an e-reader! We felt like we were back in Hong Kong, except that this time there were barely any city lights around us. However, we had a nice view over the Shwedagon pagoda. We first felt underdressed, with our trekking pants and hiking shoes, but the concept of “dress codes” has not reached Yangon yet, so no one even stared at us 😀
Despite being expensive for local standards, we paid less than 4 CHF for cocktails and had a great time, cutting ourselves off the reality of the world around us.

Shwedagon Pagoda:

Yangon’s main attraction is the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar’s most important religious structure as it is said to hold relics from ancient Buddhas (such as hair, etc.). We went there before sunset as recommended by everyone, but unfortunately the 1.5 hours we spent there were definitely too short (our night bus was waiting). Nevertheless, it was well worth it! Every tourist in Yangon comes to visit the pagoda but the place mainly swarms with monks (that sometimes seem to be just hanging around playing candy crush) and locals who come with their families. The whole structure is gigantic and includes several stupas, temples, Buddha statues, bells (the biggest weighs 42 tons) etc. The main pagoda is 98m high and is covered in gold leaves, emeralds and thousands of other precious gems. According to this article, several tons of gold cover the pagoda!


* * *

Time to take our first night bus (hundreds will probably follow)! Other travellers had warned us about the freezing air conditioning in the bus so we felt well prepared with our pullovers and long pants, but that wasn’t even enough in the end! Also, taking a “VIP” bus (extra 1.5 CHF) means that you get blankets (thank god), a snack, toothbrush and personal TV screen on which we even managed to watch a movie (“Little Buddha”, but without sound…). In general, a pretty decent experience when compared with other night buses we’ve already taken on other trips. Only the driver’s idea to hang a permanently-ringing-little-bell above his head to keep himself awake could be questioned… at least Rebekka remained awake the whole night to question it 😀

Next stop: Bagan!

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