After a lovely few days of tranquility, sunshine and water it was time for another early rise and for me to leave Inle Lake for the old Burmese capital of Rangoon (Yangon). It was a little perplexing to board my long boat for the 15 km trip back to dry land in pitch black darkness. But as we departed the dock of the hotel the first rays of sunlight were just beginning to break over the horizon. Once back on dry land I was whisked by my driver the 35 kms to Heho airport. All checked in and through to the departure lounge I was once again surprised by the haphazard attention to airport security. Passengers could freely wander out on to the tarmac and watch the planes departing and landing, so why not do as the locals do and enjoy the sun. 🙂
After a 90 minute flight I arrived back in Yangon where my faithful driver was dutifully waiting for me and whisked me off the my hotel downtown which I had left just over a week ago. Upon arriving at the hotel where I was supposed to stay for 2 nights I found out my travel agent had only booked for one night. No problems, just contact my travel agent at Myanmar Travel, and he would fix it. Not as easy as I thought! Yes, he was very helpful and admitted the oversight however he was having difficulty finding a hotel room in this city of 5 million. The popularity of Myanmar as a tourist destination has grown so rapidly since the opening up of the country 2 years ago that the infrastructure is struggling to keep up (from approx. 800 000 till nearly 2 million tourists per year) and consequently the lack of hotel space. Three hours later and after a kind and friendly email, Mr Hieu informed me I was no longer homeless for my last night and would be able to stay on at my current hotel.
For once there was nothing planned for the days activity so I had the chance to explore Yangon by myself. Yangon or more commonly known to us anglophiles as Rangoon, is a city of around 5 million and the former capital of Burma before 2008 when the brand new planned city of Nayipyidaw took over. It still bears a strong resemblance to its colonial past with the largest number of colonial buildings in the Asian region today. During the 1800s under British rule it developed from what was basically a fishing village to a modern city rivaling London with its infrastructure. With its spacious parks and lakes and mix of modern buildings and traditional wooden architecture, it was known as “the garden city of the East.” However, since its independence from British rule following WWII and the subsequent closure of the country in the 1960s by the military junta, the infrastructure has slowly collapsed. Now that the country is once again opening up, efforts are being made to renovate and upgrade the colonial infrastructure once again. Some ways to go yet! (For example the power supply can be unreliable with occasional power cuts or brown outs).
Wandering the peaceful downtown area, it is had to imagine this is a city of 5 million. It feels more like a large city of 300 000 like Malmö in Sweden or Christchurch in New Zealand. It is also hard to imagine that the very streets outside my hotel were the site of the Saffron Revolution in 2007 where the Buddhist monks rose up in protest against the removal of energy subsidies by the military junta leading to 50-500 % price hikes which resulted in mass shootings and the use of crematoria in Yangon by the Burmese government to erase all evidence of their crimes against monks, unarmed protesters, journalists and students.
The city is known for the famous Shwedagon Pagoda and Scott Market. Most are on the agenda for my wander of the city with my guide tomorrow, however I decide to slip down to Scott markets (Bogyoke Ang San market) and do some shopping and finds things I may use as birthday presents when I return to Sweden. Half a day could easily be spent wandering around this sprawling covered market. It has over 3 300 shops and with the largest selection of Myanmar handicrafts and souvenirs. You’ll find everything from lacquerware, teak woodcraft, antiques, Shan shoulder bags, silk, puppets, jewellery (jade & rubies) and the famed Burmese longyi.
Well shopped out, it was time to recharge the batteries with some sustenance among the plethora of small street side restaurants. No problem eating at these restaurants so long as you see the food prepared in front of you, however buy cold drinks in cans or bottles and avoid ice in drinks especially when see how it arrives. The only problem I encountered was the height of the stools, definitively designed for the Asian statue. Every now and then you would see guys bearing small tables around on their shoulders pass by. I suppose this is the Myanmarian version of take “take outs.”