Meeting Monks and Drinking Tea in Yangon
Our first stop on our great Burmese adventure was Yangon, the former capital, but now relegated to just the biggest city. Our early morning flight from Bangkok allowed us to enjoy a relatively painless entry into Myanmar, and we arrived at our hostel, Sleep In, within 5 hours of leaving our Sukhumvit crash pad. Pretty much straight away, it was obvious how friendly the Burmese people are. They were so welcoming and most people wanted to chat to us...in fact, we were stopped by a monk on our second morning and asked to help teach an English class. The monk and I discussing life on our way to the school
We figured that not a lot could go wrong, and so we were whisked up to the 3rd floor of a ramshackle building and sat in front of 30 teenagers who wanted to know just about every detail of our lives. Topics ranged from "How many girlfriends do you have?" to "How do you know about our country?"
It was an interesting introduction to Burmese culture, and gave us much more of an idea of what life is like in this traditionally secretive nation.
Yangon is similar to other Asian cities; it is full of delicious and cheap food. We visited a number of restaurants; New Delhi and Nilar Biryani & Cold Drink, both on Anawrahta Road and I can confirm that they whip up an excellent biryani for around 2000 Kyat ($2.20/£1.30). Danuphyu Daw Saw Yee for one of the most delicious beef curries (it was more like a stew) I have ever tasted (again 2000 Kyat). And 999 Shan Noodles for more noodle dishes than you can shake a chopstick at, this time around 1500 Kyat ($1.60/£1). There was also a plethora of street food, from pig innards (I'm alright thanks) to samosa salads. With all this delicious food, it's almost a shame that all hotels in Myanmar seem to include breakfast in the price of the room (ours was $24 per night including AC). Luckily the breakfast was delicious and varied at Sleep In.
No trip to Yangon seems to be complete without a trip to Shwedagon Paya, one of the holiest places for Myanmar's vast Buddhist community (almost 90% of the country are Buddhist). The Pagoda is a 45-minute walk north of the downtown area, and at 322 feet tall, not exactly easy to miss!
We spent a couple of hours enjoying the peaceful surroundings of Shwedagon Paya, generally just walking around the temples and Buddhas that surround the central zedi. Without wishing to blow our own trumpets, we were also an attraction. This Burmese family asked if they could have a photo with us...which just goes to show how friendly and welcoming the Burmese have been so far.
We spent Saturday morning enjoying our first commute in about 6 months on the Yangon Circle Line. The 3 hour journey takes in Northern Yangon and the suburbs.
It's a relaxing, although sometimes uncomfortable trundle along the narrow-gauge tracks. The journey cost us 200 Kyat (20c/13p) each!
Yangon, and the rest of Myanmar, has a wonderful tea shop culture. It seems that most of the country stops around 3pm to have a cup of sweet milky tea (similar to Indian chai). Often it's served with some tasty sweet fried stuff. As tea lovers, we wholeheartedly approve of this way of life.