It’s hard to evaluate this country, to describe the impressions at seeing the rows of monks of all ages early in the morning going around to collect food; people with yellowish-white cosmetic paste on their face; the longyi worn by men and women; everybody wearing flip-flops everywhere and in any situation; men chewing betel and spitting in plastic bags or on the ground. Beauty is all around, and the trick is not letting restrictions imposed by the government make the trip less enjoyable.
What does that mean? There are a couple of things to keep in mind about Burma, that make easier to understand some difficulties that we met during our trip. Tourists are still not so warmly welcomed by the regime. At least, when we were there (February 2014). I mean, everything is fine (and safe), but foreigners have to stay in some authorized hostels, pay entrance fees almost everywhere, sometimes they have different prices in restaurants. Unpleasant accidents didn’t happen very often, but a couple of times we felt really uncomfortable.
Outside the airport, we found ourselves catapulted into the middle of taxi drivers, beggars, travelers, without a clear idea of where to go and with some doubts about how I was supposed to behave as a woman (could I smoke, for example?). In the following days we realized that the only important thing for me was to dress in a respectable way, and that people usually stared at us anyway.
In Yangon for the first time the search of a hostel without reservation was tragic. The hostels and hotels for tourists were either all full or crazily expensive, and after a lot of walking around we found the worse hostel ever. No words to describe how bad were the toilets/showers. To make everything worse, and a little ridiculous, we didn’t have money as we didn’t want to change at the airport, so we couldn’t even afford a bottle of water at the supermarket. We had to buy water in a hotel, where they accepted dollars.
Yangon is a typical chaotic city of South East Asia, full of people, cars, a strange succession of blackened sheds and palaces and tangled power lines hanging in the air. In the morning the first important thing to do was to change money, and we had read that it was better to do that at the black market, but for some reason every places to go and the markets were closed (holiday or weekend?I don’t remember), so we changed in an authorized place, and it was good anyway. This was when we started to have some doubts about the updates of our Lonely Planet, which we bought “used” but the latest version (this is what the cover stated!). Anyway, happy with our money, we could finally have a coffee, walk around the streets, which in the center have kind of themes according to the shops: paper street, electronic street, lights street. Etc.
We passed by the Sule Pagoda, located in the middle of a busy roundabout in the city center, and in the afternoon we took a public bus for the Shwedagon Pagoda. The bus was already an experience, as the stops were signaled by a guy shouting to hurry up, but some nice people helped us telling which bus to take and the price to pay to not be ripped off.
At the Pagoda, we had our first clash with Burmese people. At the beginning we had to discuss with a group of ladies at the entrance as we didn’t want to leave our shoes to them and pay for it, as we saw that nobody was paying for that! We decided to look for another entrance and avoid them. But there was more. The price to see the inside of the Pagoda was crazily high, so we enjoyed the view from outside (which was good anyway)! We went to see other pagodas in the surroundings, that were for free and which we appreciated a lot also for that reason.
Sunset at the Pagota, and after a coffee in a little shop run by a nice family, we took another bus to go back to the center, on which we met a guy who had dinner with us, as he was alone and a little confused about how to reach his hostel. After that, Floh and I stopped at a “beer station” (one of the few places where you can drink, especially in Yangon) and had some beers, planning a bit for the next days, and a little terrified about the mice running around our table.