Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
Yangon is a quirky cosmopolitan city but not along the lines of the other larger Asian capitals whose brash attempts at westernized modernization have pillaged their cities of charm and greenery such as Bangkok and Singapore. Yangon's exotic charm is all its own, bearing both the beauty marks and scars of its varied pasts as well as holding its head high while blotched by the lesions of the present. Yangon is also a city sauntering toward a neon future albeit very slowly and against a stifling breeze
My initial impression was that Rangoon [as I will refer to it henceforth] was a less aggressive, kinder, brighter and more sophisticated Calcutta. Three days later I think it a fair comparison. Rangoon is like an elegant, strong-jawed man in frayed dinner jacket with a betelnut-stained smile. Our first day here I certainly respected the city, the second I began to like it and today I can say that I've fallen in love with Rangoon.
At twilight shortly after check-in we opened the windows in our room and with our elbows on the sill we stared out at the bustling city. Across from us crammed local buses and vintage cars sped around the city center's roundabout of the golden stupa of the Sule Pagoda. Beneath us the ubiquitous ad-hoc Burmese teashops huddled next to decaying colonial buildings and men relaxed in their unhired trishaws laughing through their cheroot smoke. Women with wicker trays and baskets atop their heads barked their wares in their singsong voices.
We washed up and ran out into the fray
After a hideous night's sleep that was fraught with the dripping of the air-conditioning that pooled at the foot of my rock-hard, short bed we opted to find another hotel. We upgraded to a simple generic hotel with all the amenities and for the first time in two months I saw an actual bathtub and fluffy white towels, icy air-conditioning, and the BBC World News. I almost wept with joy and now that I was sharing a room I was still well within my daily hotel budget. After we'd thrown our luggage in the room and I'd wiped the tears away with a pristine hand towel we ran out and found a teashop for breakfast and planned out our day and the following week
We walked over to the monastery and sat on the wide-planked floors while seven monks whose ages ranged from 18 to 30 crawled out from the woodwork and sat in front of us smiling. The monk we'd met the day before acted as host and gave us two cups of milky tea and large burgundy velvet monk's fans to cool ourselves off. Through an open window several monks from the neighboring monastery gawked and one used a mirror to angle the sun onto my face to get my attention - he got it. We talked with them for over an hour, made plans to return the following day and then the host monk offered to take us at sunset to one of the most famous and largest pagodas in all of Asia, The Shwedegon.
We spent the rest of the day soaking in our neighborhood and ducking into teashops drinking cool Lemon Sparklings to avoid the sticky temperatures that hovered above a heavy 100 degrees. We later showered and met our monk friend in the lobby of our hotel much to the amusement of the hotel clerks and went to the Shwedagon* for several hours.
After a thrilling evening of temple viewing we shared a cab back to a restaurant that the monk had recommended near his monastery
We hailed a trishaw back to our hotel down dark streets passing betelnut stands and sidewalk teashops lit by candlelight and heard the clang of the bells on the sugar cane press as it squeezed out glasses of syrupy juice. We passed a bar with karaoke and florescent lighting pouring out onto the cracked pavement while an old woman above hung her laundry over a veranda thick with decades of creamy turquoise paint.
There is much to see in this city and while some travelers have scoffed at staying in the capital for an entire week I already feel the time slipping away from me. Though it would be simple to see much of Rangoon's major attractions in a few days it would be a shame to miss experiencing the pace of the city and letting it's varied charms unfold before you. Simply being here and soaking it all up is intoxicating and enchanting enough.
*The Shwedagon deserves its own entry and after multiple visits I will write about it. I will say this however: It is the most astounding temple complex I have ever seen in my entire life. It has all lead up to this.