Yangon is the former capital of Burma and the largest city in Myanmar (pronounced Mee-yan-mah) with a population of over five million. It’s also very accessible as it’s a short plane ride from Singapore.
We arrived in Yangon mid afternoon and then sat through a long and slow traffic run from the airport. After checking in to the hotel we were very keen to stretch our legs, walk around the city and visit the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Shwedagon Pagoda (or Gold Pagoda as it’s commonly known) is Yangon’s biggest attraction, sitting almost 100m above the city. The Buddhist temple was built more than 2,500 years ago and is said to be the essence of Myanmar. It’s Yangon’s most prominent landmark and can be seen from much of the city.
The sun was going down as we approached one of the four long stairways – filled with locals selling trinkets – and that worked in our favour as many say sunset is the best time to visit as the gold covered peaks seem to sparkle. As is customary with many other temples, shoulders must be covered as a sign of respect (an excellent reason why it’s handy to carry a scarf when travelling). You are also asked to leave your shoes at the door before entering the temple area. The stone flooring was still warm from the sun and we quickly realised how uncomfortable – and potentially painful – a visit would be in the heat of the day.
The area is quite big and there are so many monuments to see, small and large. We saw a Monk holding a small ceremony by candlelight and another Monk guiding a prayer session. There were also some young kittens behind a small shrine eating kibble that had been left out for them. By witnessing these events I got a real sense that Shwedagon is used by the locals as a calming place of reflection.
Here is some footage of my visit – the quality isn’t great but it should give you an idea what it’s like to be there.
One morning on our way into town to do a spot of shopping at Bogyoke Market, we strolled on a rickety wooden boardwalk at Kandawgyi Lake, also known as the Royal Lake. Two beautiful golden dragons sit on the water, known as Karaweik Hall. Impressive as it looks, I was a little surprised to find out it’s a restaurant and not something more regal!
For me, the appearance of Myanmar people stood out from those in other South-Eastern countries I’ve visited. Many Burmese women wear a cream paste on their cheeks as sun protection. It looks streaked and appears to flake off when it has dried. Most men wear a ‘longyi‘ – a wrapped ankle-length sarong, with sandals and a shirt. And it is common for men and women to have dark teeth from chewing betel nuts and leaves – a side effect from regular use of this natural stimulant.
In the city centre, not far from the train station, we saw a lot of women cooking snacks and selling colourful fresh produce on the sidewalk. I’ll talk more about the local food in the next Yangon post.
After a little online searching and some local recommendations, we went to dinner at Shan Yoe Yar – a fancy restaurant serving traditional Burmese cuisine.
As is customary at a Burmese table, we ordered a bunch of dishes which arrive around the same time so you can try a bit of everything. There were two stand out dishes for me: the mashed potato, which in itself doesn’t sound terribly exciting but it was soft, creamy and was filled with vegetables and herbs. The other was the fried tofu, crunchy squares coated in spices and served with a light dipping sauce. Between the three of us we ate everything on those plates.
For dessert we shared a bowl of fresh fruit and a milky tapioca pudding with corn kernels. It might sound odd but this was quite a refreshing way to finish the meal.
I certainly didn’t get to spend enough time in Myanmar and I’m very keen to return and visit places like Mandalay, Bagan, Pindaya and Mawlamyine.
Coming up next, I share with you the wonderful snacks I enjoyed on a fascinating tour of Yangon street food.
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