As my local guide, Moh Moh, told me ‘Now is the best ever time to visit this country’. Myanmar is on the verge of a huge change politically, and soon could change in many other ways as well. Tourism is slowly returning to this beautiful country – and now really is the best ever time to go. It’s safe, it’s unspoilt and full of wonderful places to explore.
Yangon, a former capital of Myanmar, is a huge, bustling port city. It has the largest population of all Myanmar’s cities and you can tell – it is absolutely teeming with life. There are hundreds of things to see here, the most popular (for the country’s own residents and tourists alike) being the Shwedagon Pagoda. This incredible Buddhist site is a place of pilgrimage to many, and one of my favourite places I have ever visited. You can read about my visit here.
Out in the main shopping streets there are vendors running food and tea stalls on the pavement – cooking in small pots and their diners sitting on small plastic tables and chairs right on the street. They are everywhere and always have locals sat at them, and whenever we passed one it smelt amazing. If alfresco dining isn’t your thing then there are plenty of local restaurants on every street, at a whole range of prices. I had a quick lunch out at a small café near the Sule Pagoda, where I had a huge plate of chicken noodles, with soup, salad and a coke; it came to less than £3. Another evening we went to a nice hotel for dinner, and had Burmese vegetable and chicken fried rice. This was just as tasty (and the free, fast Wi-Fi was a bonus) but almost five times as expensive. That’s proof that eating local is always the best plan, right? Not only does it save you money if you’re on a budget, but it gives you more of a culturally-immersive experience.
One of the first places I visited was Bogyoke Aung San Market (originally called Scott Market), a huge colonial-style market that covers two floors. Inside are antiques, jewellery, art, food, clothes, toiletries and more, so it’s perfect for a bit of souvenir shopping, or if you’re short of travel supplies. It is hugely popular with both locals and tourists alike, and even though we arrived before official opening times it was already full of people. The good thing about markets is that you can usually haggle, so this is prime time to try and get a bargain. I got a locally painted watercolour and a little jade Buddha pendant after two visits and much wandering about (there is so much to see).
Getting transport is fairly easy at Yangon but the traffic can be terrible as the roads haven’t been updated to match the number of cars on them. If you have to be somewhere at a set time, I would certainly recommend leaving yourself some wriggle-room just in case. Also you have to get used to car horns – people beep at everything. My friends and I mainly used taxis and haggled, though we spontaneously hitch-hiked and jumped on the back of an empty lorry when it slowed down for us one time. Admittedly probably not the safest idea, but it was something to add to my list of unusual ways to travel! As always walking was the most fun and interesting – you always see more, don’t you? Just be careful crossing Yangon’s main roads: there are multiple lanes with fast drivers, plus the division in the centre of the road can sometimes contain a large drainage ditch. I actually ended up hospitalised by leaping across one and landing with a complete lack of both grace and dignity, but that’s another story!