Yangon, Myanmar – Part 2

Our second day in Yangon was short, as we were flying to Heho at around midday to explore Inle Lake and its surrounds. However, we had an interesting morning exploring the fresh produce markets along 26th Street in downtown Yangon. I have been to many fresh produce markets around the world and I have to say that the morning market on 26th Street is probably my favourite. And perhaps one of the most photogenic I have visited. It as a distinct local and authentic feel – with dirt and all. I think we were the only tourist there. But, if you like exploring markets, it is worthwhile taking a morning out to see the local trade.

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Essentials:

Shop:
Although much more tourist orientated than the morning markets on 26th Street, if you want to purchase a souvenir or two from Myanmar, Bogyoke Aung San Markets in Yangon is the place to go for souvenirs from all around Myanmar under one roof. From lacquerware, to weavings, marionettes, teak carvings and parasols, it can all be found here. It is a rather difficult to sort through the hundreds of stalls and be confident that you’re buying authentic items, but if you didn’t have time to shop for souvenirs during your travels, this is the perfect last resort to get a piece of Myanmar. Some stores are better than others, so it’s worth having a good look around. My favourite store was Yoyamay Textile Gallery, which is the place to go for ethnographic textiles, particularly from the Chin and Kachina tribes from the north and north-west of Myanmar.

Did you know?:
Prior to 2010 independent travel was not allowed in Myanmar. If you wanted to visit the country, you had to do so on an organised and approved tour. There are still many parts of the country where tourists are not allowed to venture, or require a special government permit to visit.

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Yangon, Myanmar – Part One

We arrived in Yangon mid-morning and after checking into our guesthouse we caught a taxi into the city. Lunch of byrani rice satisfied our hunger and we embarked on a walking tour of the city (following our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook) to discover some of the city’s colonial heritage. Yangon is considered to be one of the better preserved colonial cities in Asia, as many of the colonial town buildings, such as the court house, customs house, town hall and the like are still standing, since they have not been knocked down to make way for modern office buildings and apartment blocks (western countries officially dropped sanctions on Myanmar in 2012, so foreign investment is yet to alter the landscape of the city).

The heat and chaos of the city became a bit much for us, so we headed the the beauty and serenity of Shwedagon Pagoda. This pagoda really is a site to see. It is enormous and can be seen from most parts of the city. Surprisingly it is not overrun by tourists, unlike major attractions in other world capitals, but rather is full of local worshippers. Unfortunately, during our visit the main stupa was covered due to restoration work, so its brilliant gold was not visible. However, we visited the nearby Maha Wizaya Pagoda to get an indication of what the main stupa would look like if it was not covered in sheeting and bamboo scaffolding. An hour or two can be easily spent meandering around Shwedagon Pagoda and taking in the atmosphere.

We ended our first day with a dust walk around the peaceful Kandawgi Lake – which also has beautiful sunset views towards Shwedagon Pagoda.

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Essentials:

Getting There:
We flew Singapore Airlines from Sydney to Yangon, via Singapore. Upon arriving at Yangon International Airport, take a taxi to your accommodation. The approximate taxi fair to ‘downtown’ is about 8,000 kyat, or US$8.

Stay:
We stayed at Classique Inn, located in the leafy upmarket suburb of Bahan. A home conversion, this guesthouse offers warm service and presentable rooms. Although the interiors are a little dark, many of the rooms have teak furnishings and private balconies or courtyards. Breakfast is served in the pleasant front courtyard. Although the guesthouse is located about a 20 minute taxi drive north of the downtown area, the surrounding streets are clean and quiet, and the city can be easily navigated by taxi. We were very impressed with Classique Inn and would recommend it to anyone staying in Yangon. Rooms range from US$100-$150 per night.

Eat:
Like any big city, there are so many places to eat in Yangon. From street stalls, to tea houses, small restaurants and fine dining. I have to say we sampled all of these, with some notable meals enjoyed. Do sample some Myanmar food whilst you’re there, but there are plenty of other cuisines to chose from, notably Indian, Chinese, and Thai, as well as others. Look out for Indian rotis on street corners, which sell for about 100 kyat (or 10 cents) each. A great little snack on the go. Or even sample some Shan noodles. We ate lunch on our first day at a tea house serving biryani rice dishes near the corner of Sule Pagoda Road and Anawratha Road. A vegetarian biryani rice was 800 kyat (80 cents). Restaurant eating in Yangon isn’t much cheaper than in western countries. We ate dinner on night at Alamanda Inn (in the Bahan district) and enjoyed a delicious Moroccan tagine ($12). And another night at The Strand Hotel with a group of Australian ex-pats, where meals range from $15-$25 (but this could be considered high end dining in Yangon).