After a friend ran into some issues obtaining her Myanmar Visa, I was forced to hang out in Yangon (former Rangoon) for longer than originally expected. It turned out being a blessing in disguise, as the city has a ton to see and take in. Without covering the obvious Schwedagon Pagoda etc., here are five not so obvious things I did, that you should too.
1. Run and Jump onto a Moving Local Bus
It would be practically impossible to visit Yangon without seeing a local bus navigating the grid that is downtown Yangon. Some must be closing in on 50 years of public service as they race by, spewing thick smog from their aged tailpipes. Each bus service is a tag team effort, the driver and what I like to call the screamer. As the bus passes by, a man hangs out the door yelling. What exactly he’s saying is beyond my basic “hello, thank you” grasp of the Burmese language, but I can take a gander that he’s basically replacing a sign that would normally post the buses destination for potential passengers. If it’s headed in the right direction, be quick, as they don’t stop for long. You literally must jump on without hesitation as your run up next to the bus or risk being left in its dust. Just 200 Kyat for the thrill ride.
2. Get lost in the Indian and Chinese Quarters
Looking for the best way to see Yangon? Just leave your hotel, start walking and head for the Indian and Chinese Quarters of the city. Don’t expect a quiet stroll through town. This place is loud, busy, dirty and screams authentic. Pay to use a satellite phone, eat some mystery meat at a food stall or just watch the newly purchased food get scaled alive. At first you may be curious why the concrete is permanently stained red, but it will some become quite obvious. If you were lucky enough to wear sandals, you’re sure to feel the splatter of betel nut spit hitting your feet, and that my friends, you cannot find back home.
3. Get a Draft Beer on 19th Street
After walking the streets of Yangon for the better part of the day, we were ready to take a seat and relax with a nice 600 Kyat draft of the local favorite, Myanmar Beer. Problem was, we didn’t know where this place would be found. Luckily a passing local gave us the lowdown on the best spot to find local watering holes, 19th Street. He claimed that the locals were in the know (not surprising), and that the Lonely Planet didn’t have a clue. “I know, I live here.” It was just as he described, with too many spots to choose from and nothing but locals blowing off some steam in sight.
4. Jump Off at a Random Stop on the Yangon Circle Line
For just $1, the Circle Line takes you on a whirlwind tour through the Yangon suburbs and surrounding countryside. You sit on the wooden benches with the locals who are moving about their daily lives, or maybe even moving their furniture (yea, that happened). There is no facade on this train as all faces of the real Yangon are revealed, from the lush green rice paddies, to the lines of brand new, unused military trucks, from the piles of discarded trash outlying slums, to its amazing pleasant and bustling markets. See something interesting, jump off at the next stop. Another train is on its way. If you’d rather not see or if the rain starts flying sideways, shut the metal shades and play with fire, aka eat from the mobile food vendors.
5. Watch the Sunset from the Top of Sakura Tower
You know 95% for the buildings look like they need a paint job from ground level, but what about from above. Head to the top of Sakura Tower, pay for a drink, and take in the city of Yangon from a bird’s perspective. You’ll be rewarded with a perfect view of the 2,000 year old Sule Pagoda, right smack in the center of everything. Keep scanning and you’ll see the even more impressive Shwedagon Pagoda over in the distance and the Yangon River creating the cities natural boundary.