I arrived in Yangon around 9am. I grabbed a donut and water at the small cafe in the airport which looked out to the semi busy street with cab drivers picking up passengers. I wanted to get my thoughts together before trying to negotiate and figure out how much a cab was from here to my hotel, Merchant Hotel, which was about a 45 minute drive. I wasn’t really in a rush to leave but I also was ready to just get to the hotel after a 20+ hour airplane trip.
The cab ended up costing 12,000 Kyat (“chat”) which was about $10. I didn’t need to negotiate nor did I feel the need to. A 45 minute drive for $10 was a deal.
The hotel interior was nice. I was greeted with a glass of orange Tang. I always worry about my first offering of juice because I’m never sure if the juice was from bottled water or from the tap. Being a foreigner, it’s always the case and try to stick to the advice of “don’t drink the water”. But I didn’t want to be rude if I didn’t take the offer. I drank it and I was fine.
I was on the 6th floor of a seven floor building. The 7th floor was actually the roof. And I headed there soon as I unloaded my backpack and luggage in my room. I wanted to see the view. It was nice in my room being able to see Shwedagon Pagoda in the distance from my window. But there were also other buildings in between.
The roof top was bare, and I was told they weren’t set up yet because of the earlier rain. But I think they weren’t set up at all which was totally fine. They were a newer hotel I read from reviews and plus it was super hot and humid out. Nobody would want to hang out here yet. I took a couple photos from the roof. After, I thought I was stuck up there. The elevator buttons weren’t working. Their elevator was semi-neat too. The buttons weren’t actual physical buttons but almost like a touch screen. Unfortunately, it wasn’t cooperating up here. I learned the trick later on, to hit both the buttons at the same time. But for now while I was mildly panicking, I found the stairs underneath the blue construction tarp and walked down a floor to my room.
Each floor also has paintings with different styles. As you can see in the photo, the style of painting was more modern abstract. I peaked on the 5th floor and it was different painting style. I liked my floor but wish I had peaked at the other floors.
I chose my hotel because it was close to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. It would be about a 7-10 minute walk in and out of different alleys/streets, but I would eventually find my way around. I relied on my phone for GPS and just had to figure out the general area. My hotel was in a popular area but also seemed destitute. It was pretty local and there were plenty of cars and people on the road. I would go through back ways and alleys to get to Shwedagon Pagoda and funny that I ended up making a loop and ended up by my hotel at one point. I would get it though. Tomorrow I would explore. But today I rested for a bit and hung out at the hotel.
July 7, 2016 – Thursday
Like I said, I would venture out today and got a little lost walking through alleys and backways of Yangon to get to Shwedagon Pagoda. But it was nice. I got to know and recognize the place. I relied heavily on my phone but also kept aware of my surroundings. I tried not to step in water and random debris or trash. I noticed that some of the people lived in hand constructed homes which was merely a box about 6-10 feet in length and about 3-4 feet in height and about 3-4 feet in depth. All on on stilts so it wasn’t on the ground. Really, a shelter enough to sleep in and sit up in. There was a blanket as the cover for the opening for most and a thin mattress inside. It was definitely a sight that made me humble and appreciate what I had back home.
The heat and humidity was bearable but I think for some it would be a little too much. The smell wasn’t bad unless I would enter a fresh market but it would make the trip more real and memorable.
I eventually found an entrance to Shwedagon Pagoda. I actually passed one and continued walking. I wasn’t sure if I was sneaking into a private entrance, even though there were people there. I just knew I had to pay somewhere and I wanted to do it right. I didn’t want to gip the entrance fee by sneaking in. So I continued walking. I would learn that there are four main entrances and that the one I passed was one but a road intersected it.
I removed my shoes like everyone else before climbing the steps. I had to get over any germaphobia now because there was going to be plenty of this shoe removal on this trip and I had to accept that. I was very quiet while walking up and had more reverence while walking. There were vendors on both sides of the stairs. I looked but didn’t buy. I didn’t stop but just briefly gazed at what people were selling, from toys to golden Buddha statues. The best thing I saw was a little toy horse going around this pole which was attached with a rope. They were just marching. I loved it and made me super happy.
The foreigner entrance fee to Shwedagon was 8000 Kyat ($6.50) which seemed expensive but worth it if it helps maintain the pagoda. For locals, it was free. There were a ton of people going around. The pagoda is majestic and golden. I started walking around and taking photos.
July 8, 2016 – Friday
Rain, rain, go away. I’m not sure why but even though I knew it was going to rain, although I thought it would be later on in the day, I decided to head out to see Lake Kandawgyi. There was a temple (Karaweik) on it (or what I thought was a temple). It was about a 15 minute walk away from the hotel and I would just go and see Karaweik and head back. I wasn’t exactly sure where the temple was but I had a general idea. The circumference of the lake was about 5 miles and I ended up walking the whole thing. I went in the wrong direction of the circumference and ended up taking the longer route. Also it was surrounded by a park which I walked around for a bit. Or got lost. I followed a couple thinking that may be they were headed towards the lake. They were not but they did lead me closer and deeper into the park which had the lake.
There was a small entrance fee to the touristy area which contained a several restaurants. I should have stopped and ate but I didn’t. I continued walking and eventually saw Karaweik from a distance. It looked prettier in pictures but it might have been because it was cloudy and it did start to rain. I took a few photos before it started to downpour. Even though it was raining, I still wanted to go inside Karaweik. I walked passed the restaurants from earlier and headed towards the other fork in the road towards Karaweik. I found it! I was so excited but no one was there except the attendant. It was closed. I asked what time it was open and he told me later that night around 6pm. I learned Karaweik was a restaurant theater. I was somewhat disappointed at all the info I was learning. It was closed, it wasn’t a temple, and I couldn’t even look inside. Oh, and it was still down pouring.
I walked back, making the long way around the lake. There was a part I’m glad I didn’t enter. There was an entrance that was opened that was a wooden bridge on the lake and it was a good distance. I think on a more sunnier day it would be a pleasure to walk on. But seeing it from the street after walking along it, there was barricade near the end of it which connected another part of the park/lake. I would have hated coming to that and having to turn back around. Again, it was still pouring.
Using my phone was also a bad idea. I wanted to take a couple more photos of Karaweik since I was already there. I didn’t want to take out my DSLR. So I did and eventually my phone just got too wet and stopped working. My GPS was shot and I was “lost”. So I continued around the lake and hoping to see where I had started from. I came back to the over-pass bridge I crossed earlier and found my way back to the hotel. I was happy that I got back navigating my way in the streets and alleys of Yangon in pouring rain without my GPS. I overcame that hurdle. I would stay in my hotel for the rest of the day.
July 9, 2016 – Saturday
Today, I stayed inside all day. I wasn’t feeling well and I was a little achy. Not sure if it was from the walk yesterday in the rain and being exposed to the elements or the lyme disease trying to take over my body. Still taking my pills to kill it off. Besides the initial target marks left by the tick from earlier this month, I wasn’t feeling any of the other symptoms associated with the disease. It was a great thing. We caught it early and taking the pills for the next few weeks would make it all go away. So today I would relax.
I watched a movie from my room and just ate lunch and dinner at the hotel. They have great food and priced accordingly. It wasn’t street food cost but it was inexpensive enough to eat there everyday without too much worry.
July 10, 2016 – Sunday
Today would be my last day in Yangon before I head out on a 12+ hour bus to Bagan. I decided to got Shwedagon Pagoda one last time and see if I can capture anything I might have missed. Plus, I can get a couple minutes in before it would start raining again.
Thank You Yangon.
I would check out out of the Merchant Art boutique by 4pm and they called a cab for me. The cab ride was about 45 minutes and the guy was chewing. It was the normal tobacco chew. It was the red stuff that seemed to stain their teeth. Not sure if it was like tobacco though. What was nice was he bought bottled water from a guy selling on the road, but before he took a drink he offered me some. I declined but found the gesture very kind of him.
My bus schedule was tonight at 8pm and would be overnight. I would wait at the bus station for about 4 hours and was confused when they were calling people for their buses. There were two buses going to Bagan. When the time came, they told me my bus was on the street but I hardly saw anyone go in that direction. They told me my bus number and the bus wasn’t where the other buses were parked. I found it on the road parked ready to go. I was hoping there was a bathroom on it but there wasn’t. But we would stop a couple times during the night which was a relief but still preferred if there was a bathroom on the bus.
They provided a box dinner and blankets. All around the bus trip was comfortable despite it being about 10 hours long and getting woken up during the night for bathroom breaks at rest stops. My biggest fear during those rest stops was that the bus would leave me in the middle of the night in the middle of some isolated town/rest stop in Myanmar. Also there would be other buses there going to where ever. So I had to be super conscious of which bus I was on among the countless other buses especially during those half-awake half asleep state of mind.