Yangon is a lively, bustling city of about 7 Million inhabitants located in the southern part of Myanmar and used to be the capital until 2006, when the military government relocated the administration to Naypyidaw. Formerly known as Rangoon, the colonial-era influences can still be seen in the many dilapidated buildings all throughout town, which give the otherwise not very pretty city a historical touch.
Public transport rarely exists in Yangon - you can cramp yourself onto one of the buses that look like they have already been shuttling the first Brits around (I know, I know – there were no buses in the 1850s but sometimes you have to crack a joke on the cost of history) or you go for the very affordable cab option.
THE BUZZING MARKET STREETS OF DOWNTOWN YANGON
A good way to dive right into the city is exploring the food market on 26th Street. Walking through that unique market you are flanked by stands offering lush vegetables, chicken in every imaginable state from alive to meticulously taken apart, fish (some of which are still trying to hopelessly escape), enormous varieties of rice and all kinds of ingredients for local dishes such as fish paste or pickled tea leaves. Make sure to watch where you’re going as there is also a middle lane where goods are spread out on cloths. It’s cramped (and locals will shoo away lost tourists by clicking their tongue in a subtle but persistent way) but the whole set up meets one purpose: to allow cars driving through without having to rearrange the offerings.
Making your way up towards the Sule pagoda, in the adjacent streets you’ll find that they’re each dedicated to a different kind of business: barbers, clothing, tools, household goods, jewelry and everything else you might possibly need. There is one thing that does not need a street of its own because it owns the streets - drugs. More specifically: betel nut, the fruit of the areca palm which is rolled into betel leaves with a mix of dried tobacco leaves and slaked lime paste. The small drug stands are scattered all over the city (and basically all over Myanmar, even in the most remote areas) as well as the red colored spit on the streets. Smiles from the locals come from a good place, nevertheless they often leave you in horror due to the red teeth the drug causes (if there are any teeth left at all).
Shwedagon Pagoda - dominatOR of the Yangon skyline
One thing you’ll notice all over Myanmar are their temples, mostly built in a pagoda style with their golden tops peeking out from a distance. The Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon is one of the most impressive temples due to its size. You’ll find 4 entrances, each in every direction, to enter the temple. Be aware that you must be dressed according to Burmese customs: knees and shoulders covered and overall modest.
Circling the main tower, you’ll be amazed at the countless smaller golden peaks that surround it. We recommend a visit in the afternoon since the light of the setting sun is perfect (also for your skin in photos which might be a little less sweaty) and as soon as it gets dark visitors are lighting oil candles.
FOOD Markets - BELLY TEsting on the streets of yaNgon
A visit to one of the street food night markets in Yangon is a must in our eyes – it’s amazing to watch the hustle and bustle of vendors and customers and smell all kinds of exotic flavors. When it comes to food in Myanmar you will mostly be able to choose between some kind of soup (mostly clear broth with different add-ins), noodles mixed with spices and served with delicious fermented vegetables, samosas, fried quail eggs, chickpea pancakes and all kinds of barbecued intestines and meat.
We are strong supporters of the idea to experience the culture of the country we’re visiting as intense as possible where food is of course a big part of the deal. Therefore, we did not shy away from street stands, trusting our guts (haha, no pun intended) to make the right choice. We have not had any bad experiences in Myanmar even though the food stands are indeed very simple– also, staying away from meat probably helps with not losing our food unexpectedly. Instead, we dined pretty well, sitting on our kindergarten sized plastic chairs and watching the respective lady in charge preparing our meals freshly in front of our eyes.
Colonial buildings - reminders of the past
For anyone interested in the history of the country (and who wouldn’t be?) you’ll find that there still a few colonial buildings which are in pretty good shape. They are located in the old town of Yangon, city hall and, high court and minister’s hall being the most impressive ones.