Beautifully chaotic, interesting, simple and petty is how to sum up visiting Yangon, Myanmar. Its favorite pastime is to eat, socialize and eat some more. No wonder you can find more foodie articles on the internet than how-to-travel-guides to this country, that for centuries, I found out during my visit here, is hiding an effective beauty regimen. You cannot blame Yangon for its incredible fusion of flavors and aroma either.
Packing up for Yangon, Myanmar? Here are the essential things you need to go before you go.
Yangon city is the city capital of Myanmar formerly known as Burma. Yangon is your entry point by way of Yangon International Airport. However, it’s a totally different story if you have been backpacking around Southeast Asia for a while and stopping by Yangon. There are border crossings at China borders, Thailand borders and India side all by land and requires visa on arrival (VOA).
Myanmar requires all its visitors to possess visa on arrival (VOA). You can visit this website to check if you will need one before your entry and how much. There is also a downloadable application form at the bottom of the page.
English is as simple as it can get. Yes. No. Maybe. I have. No I don’t have.
Nothing more complex than that or you’ll get a blank stare. Simple as that.
Known for its valuable beauty and sunblock qualities, thanakha powder made from the pulverized bark of thanakha trees. This ancient beauty regimen has been around for centuries and is currently competing with the onset of modern cosmetics housed in modern shop houses.
Burmese women, young and old, applies thanakha powder before going out in the morning and before bedtime. Your strange looks is the least of their concern. The women of Myanmar will this powder and until the day they die. I am close to trying this product out because their senior citizen women look not a day old and they swear that they look young by using natural sunscreen since birth.
Aside from its natural sunscreen qualities, the Burmese also swears that it can cure fever and headaches when ingested.
Myanmars’ currency is kyat, pronounced as chat. Finding money changers and bank ATMs around Yangon is not a problem. But if your final destiny is outside Yangon, say Bagan or Mandalay, make sure to bring enough cash with you as the money changers and ATM are scarce outside the city capital.
When heading to money changers, make sure you have crips dollar bills in denomination of 50 or 100. Money changers are very strict about not accepting crumpled dirty dollar bills.
Eating, shopping and commuting around Yangon is cash basis only. Rarely will you come across an establishment that accepts plastic.
Yangon houses most of the oldest, biggest and most sacred pagodas in Myanmar. One of them is the biggest and the most spectacular 2500 year-old Shwedagon Pagoda.
From wikipedia, Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, as it is believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present kalpa. These relics include the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa, and eight strands of hair from the head of Gautama.
Include a modest piece of clothing when planning to visit pagodas and religious sites while in Myanmar or for the whole of Southeast Asia. Anything that shows of your shoulder and your thighs is frowned upon and regarded as disrespectful. As a responsible tourist and obliging visitor, just be aware and heed this warning.
Getting around Yangon
Putting your best foot forward is the best way to get to know the city’s characteristic. Everything is walking distance from the city center. You just have to brave the dusty roads, the food stalls and the taxi drivers who are always on the rush to something. Crossing the street is a major feat here. Nobody stops for a pedestrian in Yangon. You cross the street at your own risk or better yet make use of the elevated side walks in some areas.
Planning to visit other pagodas and tourist spots will require you to flag a taxi. There are metered taxis everywhere and you can flag them anywhere too. The strategy here is to make sure you have an agreement with the taxi driver on where you are going and how much before you even close the door. Put your haggling skills to the test when negotiating a decent price. I usually ask the lodge receptionist on how much is the usual taxi fare to where I’m going. This helps me where to start on my bargaining.
I never attempted to take the bus around. Aside from boarding it and getting off from it is a death-defying stunt, the signboards are never in English so I really don’t have an idea where it’s headed. So take the taxi instead, it’s already cheap as it is. Buckle up for the ride because you will get a feel of taxi drivers’ love for racing in the streets of Yangon.
If you do decide to rent a car while in Yangon, there is an english website that can help you. Be warned though, this can be an expensive option but also can be a wise decision if you are going outside Yangon and going with a group.
Driving in Yangon is left hand drive. No sorry, right hand drive. No, left. See for yourself when you get there, because it’s both!
Foodtrippin’ in Yangon
If you have been backpacking in Southeast Asia for a while or been living in the region for a while, you may be well aware that food on this side of the planet is an incredible fusion of the many member countries with different cultures and traditions. That goes the same here in Yangon too. In a single bowl of noodles, you get the spicy taste and aroma of India, Thailand and China. And its cheap too.
There are street food stalls everywhere. Each maze of street you walk along, there’s a wafting of different smells from food stall to the next. Each extra-large size skillet is wrapping up crepe enveloping different kinds of vegetables or concocting up samosa, Yangon’s staple and favorite pastime in a bowl of chickpeas, cabbage and potato. Walking along the side streets is difficult that I decided to walk on the pavement.
Finding a place to eat around is not problem if you are not picky about where you will sit or the food. I totally enjoyed the experience of eating in make shift stands set up along the streets with its kindergarten square table with plastic chairs with short legs. Afternoon tea time Yangon style will immerse you in no time to the city’s personality.
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