The bus from Bagan to Yangon took 10 hours. 10 hours of bad karaoke surrounded by vomiting locals once again. We plugged in our iPods to drown out the retching and watched the country fly by out the window. The majority of the road was a brand-new motorway, seemingly we were the only vehicle.
Yangon bus terminal seemed to double as the place where buses go to die – if we hadn’t arrived in darkness during a torrential downpour it would have been an interesting place to photograph rusting mangled chassis. It was then an hour’s drive to the hotel though bustling streets lined with mobile phone shops.
Accommodation in Yangon is even more overpriced than the rest of the country and our guesthouse was dark, dingy and altogether depressing! It felt more like a room above a takeaway; still, there was at least warm water in the bathroom.
The next day we walked to the Sule Pagoda, a 2000 year old temple that sits in a distinctly non-peaceful setting of the centre of Yangon’s main roundabout. We explored the streets nearby admiring some of the old British colonial buildings, most of which have fallen into disrepair and are looking long past their best. The high story residential flats have an ingenious mailbox system – a bulldog clip on a bit of string dangling down from the balcony that seemed to double as a doorbell!
There is a huge amount of mobile phone and electrical shops here to cater for a rapidly growing market with Samsung and Panasonic seeming to be the big players.
The city is not a particularly relaxing place to wander around; navigating street vendors and metre-wide rubbish-filled ditches, the wafts of sewage and constantly saying “hello” and “no thankyou” is wearing most days but seemed more effort in the rain today. To escape the drizzle we ducked into Yangon’s most famous hotel, The Strand, and enjoyed a small slice of luxury in the form of a cappuccino and a game of pool in the bar.
In the afternoon we spent a few hours in the cinema. After the ceremonial standing for the Myanmar national anthem the film began. It was in English but we could barely hear a word over the deafening sound of crunching! Crisps, crackers and seeds being wolfed down in huge quantities, and when the lights came up it looked like the floor of an aviary.
We are staying on the outskirts and there is not a huge choice of places for dinner near the guesthouse but we find a tiny no-name noodle shop that we end up eating at about 4 times over the next few days.
After breakfast in a *quirky* windowless room served on office furniture, we walked to the Kandawgyi Lake this morning, a very peaceful spot in this busy city. Away from the traffic it was a lovely place to walk on teak bridges and admire a huge, gold duck-shaped royal boat. The lake seems to be the spot for young Burmese lovers to canoodle, with a couple kissing under an umbrella on every bench. What made us laugh is that we sometimes saw old men watching through the trees from a distance – the girls’ fathers?
The place we stopped at for lunch was being used as the set for a music video which was quite entertaining.
We spent the whole afternoon in awe of the sheer amount of bling at Yangon’s main attraction, the huge Shwedagon pagoda. The top of this 99 metre tall gold stupor is encrusted with a rubies and a diamond, and surrounded by many, many more stupors and temples. As with most religious sights here it was a hive of activity, mostly locals it seemed. Whole families out for a picnic and large groups of monks snapping picture on their iPhones. We stayed for a few hours, people watching and soaking up the atmosphere, until it was illuminated against the night sky.
In our neighbourhood that night we wandered down a dingy side street lined with stray dogs and came across a bar that was like someone had recreated a overpriced Pitcher and Piano. Looking very modern with exposed brick walls, sweeping staircases, fake beams and expensive beer. There is definitely a strong expat community here and with expat flats costing $3000 USD a month (We met a journalist who is really struggling to find a flat) there is a lot of money floating around amongst the poverty.
Next stop —-> Kuala Lumpur!