I just got back from an amazing two week trip to Myanmar/Burma. It was one of the most amazing countries I have ever been too and I feel really lucky that I got to experience it before mass tourism begins there; it was a real taste of authentic Asia.
I haven’t blogged for a while for various reasons so I’m really excited to start again now. I am going to do several blog posts over the next few weeks about my time there and the places we visited! First up is Yangon.
Yangon was the old capital of the country, formally know as (Rangoon) and it is one of the cities with an international airport from which you are allowed to enter and leave the country. We spent four days there in total, three at the start of our trip and one before flying home and that was definitely the right amount of time. You can probably see the main sites in 2 days if you were happy to pack it into a shorter space of time.
Despite being the old capital and one of the major hubs of the country Yangon was by far the least westernised and ‘tourist-friendly’ place we visited. Not to say the people weren’t lovely (just like everywhere in Burma), it’s just we hardly saw any westerners and I think the city relies a lot less on tourism than other areas. There were times we were even stopped and asked for photos with locals as it was a novelty for them to see westerners! It’s a city not to be missed on a trip to Myanmar.
Where to stay in Yangon
We picked well for our first hotel in Yangon. We chose the City Star Hotel and I would definitely recommend it for anyone planning a trip. It is in downtown Yangon in a brilliant location for walking around and talking in the street life as well as the main tourist attractions. The rooms were clean, large and quiet and the staff were very happy to help. Breakfast was a bit of a culture shock at first with lots of rice and noodles on offer, but there was still the option of toast and pastries if you didn’t fancy it!
On our final night we stayed at Hotel Zia . This was a perfectly nice hotel but I’m glad we didn’t stay there for the whole trip. It had a lovely reception/breakfast area and very helpful staff, but the rooms just weren’t as big or comfortable as City Star. But if you’re on a budget it was $30 for a double room and breakfast so not too bad. We could also leave all our bags there the next day before our flight which was handy. It is still in downtown Yangon but just a little further out, but not a problem if you are happy to walk ten minutes extra!
Where to eat in Yangon
I haven’t been to Asia before and before this trip I didn’t eat much rice or noodles, but I soon realised I was going to have to learn to love them as there wasn’t much else on offer, especially in Yangon. I actually found Yangon the hardest place to find somewhere to eat. There was a lot of street food on offer but we had been strongly warned against eating this as it is so unhygienic so that was ruled out. There were some western restaurants, but these were quite overpriced and didn’t seem very authentic. But we managed to find a few local eateries that were a good balance between authentic and edible!
Our favourite was 999 Shan Noodle. It was right behind City Star Hotel and we went back several times. The food was soooo good! Our favourite was the pork wanton and the wheat noodle si chat dry with chicken. I actually learnt to use chopsticks here as there was no other option! The food was so cheap here and we could eat lunch for about 5000 Kyat, about £3!
We also went to Monsoon. This was about a fifteen minute walk from city star hotel and while a bit more expensive and western has some really nice food. They have an extensive menu with food from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and of course Burma. Just don’t get the fishcakes, they weren’t so good! The restaurant is really well air conditioned, very clean and has a colonial style interior. We mainly saw other tourists eating here, but I would definitely recommend!!
We also tried out Rangoon Tea House which had been recommended to us by a friend, but I have to say we weren’t impressed. The food was average and you were paying western prices to pretty much sit in a fancy restaurant. It is famous for its tea which we didn’t try, so maybe worth going to for that!
We wanted to try some mohinga (a fish soup with rice noodles), which is a typical breakfast dish so we went to Lucky Seven. It was a great experience as it’s like a traditional Burmese tea house and we sat outside amongst the locals. You could tell it was a smarter crowd here and they were used to serving tourists too.
In terms of night life in Yangon there isn’t really anything. The city goes to sleep pretty early as everyone is up early when it is cooler. We went to a local bar for some Myanmar beer one night which was quite fun, I just tried to ignore the cockroaches crawling up the walls! We also went for drinks at the Union which is a bar/restaurant where a lot of expats go. It was a great atmosphere and the restaurant manager was very friendly, definitely worth a visit. When you’re inside you actually feel like you could be in a London bar!
Don’t be surprised if you hear people making kissing noises as you eat! It’s how to get the waiters attention and we tried doing it too, often receiving some giggles when we did!
Life in Yangon
Maybe it is just because I am a bit of a dog lover but one of the first things I noticed when we arrived in Yangon was the amount of stray dogs everywhere. They roam the streets and pretty much ignore you, but I still didn’t like to get too close! They seem to have a bit of a truce with the locals with both sides keeping to themselves.
Wherever you go in Yangon (and in other parts of Myanmar too) you’ll notice people chewing betel nut. It is a really old tradition in Myanmar and they buy it from little street stalls wrapped in a betel leaf with some lime paste. When you chew it it makes your teeth all red and gives a slight high. You then spit it out which is why there is red spit all over the place. Spitting in the street in general is also very normal here. So be ready to avoid stepping in it or getting in the way of it as I found out a few times!!
Another aspect of Yangon life and Burmese life in general is the presence of Monks. They are easy to spot in their distinctive dress and include men, women and children. Monks are regarded really highly in society there and people pay them a lot of respect. You’ll notice the monks going round the street markets asking for money – I wasn’t really sure what to think of this as these people have so little money to start with and are happy to give it to the monks in return for ‘good karma’ in the afterlife, rather than use it to feed their kids for example. However, I think it is easy to make this judgement as a foreigner and I imagine when a tradition like this is so ingrained in your life and values it must seem very normal.
All in all, I loved Yangon . There was so much going on, so much to see and so many interesting people. It was smelly, hot and dirty and I wouldn’t have wanted to have spend much more time there, but it really is a place not to be missed. Many of the people there have so little but they are so generous and kind hearted. They are so happy to help for nothing in return and if you give them a smile they will give a really genuine smile back in return.
I’m going to be writing more posts covering what we did in Yangon and the other places we visited in Myanmar, but please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below!