A bus in Yangon that I did not ride.
Eight days is a very small amount of time to spend in Myanmar, but a very long time to spend in Yangon.
Even in the best of conditions, travel in Myanmar is a notoriously uncomfortable affair, with rainy season heightening the hassle with its ruthless rains dissolving roads and rotting train tracks mid-journey. Given this situation, we thought the smart thing to do would be to avoid the Yangon – Mandalay – Inle – Bagan tourist circuit with its long bus rides or expensive flights. Instead, we would venture southeast to discover the less trodden gems of the Mon State, stopping at the temples of Bago and the hiking wonder of Mt. Kyaikto on our way to Mawlamyine in a route gloriously devoid of long and treacherous overland transportation adventures.
None of this ended up happening according to plan, of course, because that’s just how things happen round these parts.
All of our arrangements started going happily to hell upon our first hours of walking the streets of Yangon, when we started falling for the city. Hard. Our inaugural day spent in Myanmar was one of those perfect travel experiences wherein expectations of a place shrivel up and explode in your face in the best possible way. Yangon was bright, lively, colorful, and blessedly devoid of the scams and backpacker areas that ruin the magic of Southeast Asia with touts in your face and tourists in too small tank tops.
Moreover, it was so different from anywhere else. I cannot really compare Yangon and Tokyo, but I felt the same the intense curiosity matched with moments of satisfying discovery in both places. The municipalities are kin in their extraordinary uniqueness that surpasses regular old foreignness to border on otherworldly.
None of the colonial buildings in Laos had moss on them! Myanmar is sooooo different.
Though some parts of Yangon were familiar after 8 months in Southeast Asia and plenty of research, our first days in the city felt like one pleasant surprise after another. Burmese food was delicious, the people were warm, and traversing the city’s sidewalks proved a thrilling daily peril. We loved Yangon with our whole hearts and gushed about the city’s awesomeness to one another endlessly. After two joyful and rewarding days spent inspecting the city from top to bottom, we sighed and began making our exit strategy–a move that began with counting our available funds.
Myanmar, you see, has virtually no ATMs that work with foreign bank cards. Tourists are forced to bring enough pristine USD into the country to pay for the entire trip. As we counted our bills to budget for the rest of our time within the borders, we realized we’d been robbed (more on that later).
Need a sobering antidote to the hot grips of travel infatuation? Try getting robbed! At the very least, the theft gave us a much-needed reality check and brought our plans into focus. No, wait. There isn’t a “very least,” because someone stole a ton of hard-earned money from us. I’m pretty sure that always sucks, and nothing anyone has said about it has given me any so-called “perspective.”
We stewed at a cafe like this while feeling terrible about being robbed.
The only perspective gained from the theft came from the fact that we were forced to evaluate our original itinerary in earnest, and it didn’t look good…
Hiking to the top of Mt. Kyaikto to view the Golden Rock? Delusional in this monsoon. Exploring the temples of Bago? We already used up our luck with weather for three glorious rain-free hours at Shwedagon Paya. Enjoying the gorgeous scenery of Hpa-An? Sure, if you want to see it from inside the town’s one building. Getting from one small town to another? Costly in both money and the inevitable time spent getting stuck in mud. Could I be asking more questions? Sure, because no one’s reading this far into the paragraph anyway.
We spent one day considering our options on a smaller budget, another falling back in love with Yangon, and the next clinging to the porcelain throne. Or at least Andy did. I largely escaped travel sickness, despite eating all the sketchiest things from street vendors with questionable hygiene. After that, there wasn’t time left to explore elsewhere without losing even more money and time rescheduling Air Asia flights, a task nearly impossible even with reliable internet access.
I’m a bit sad that I didn’t see rural Myanmar, but unlike most places I’ve visited in Southeast Asia, I feel compelled to return. For one, the state in Myanmar that I wanted to visit most–the Rakhine State–was off-limits when we began planning this trip due to violence in the region. Also, Myanmar is on the cusp of a huge wave of development, and I’m curious to see the effect of time, money, and foreigners on the country. In the meantime, I can add Yangon to my mental list of favorite cities and sing its praises online and off.
More posts to come. Obviously.
Hi! I'm Susan, and this is my travel journal. You can read more about me here.
My Web StoreThese are travel products I have used on the road, curated especially for you.