Trip Start Dec 28, 2011
22Trip End Jan 19, 2012
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I was on my way to Sakura Tower for some panoramic shots of Yangon when an elderly man (could be about 80 years old) asked if I was alright. This unassuming Indian looking Mr Tan, spoke a splattering of hokkien, malay and english. Ever so chatty and helpful, Mr Tan accompanied me to Sky Bistro at Sakura Tower and also took me to Central Hotel for currency exchange. Today's rate was 818 kyats for US$1, slightly on par with the black market. His advice was that black market will always be full of 'monkey business'. Through the day, I was offered countless times for currency exchange from complete strangers and it ranged from 820-850 kyats.
My central Yangon route was pretty haphazard, following any interesting features that caught my eye. Avoiding the oppressive sun, I tried my best to walk under shade but nonetheless I was quickly soaked in sweat and uncomfortably sticky
A trishaw rider with an umbrella rocked up and asked where I would like to go. To be honest, I did not have a clue. it was blazingly hot and Strand Road made me feel like I was stranded. So I hopped on and took a ride to Chinatown. I even got to hold the umbrella. On a tiny trishaw manourving along with cars and buses, made me pretty nervous. But having said that, the 1500 kyats was well spent, zipping quickly from one town to another.
Chinatown looked pretty much like the rest of Yangon city centre. it was endless rows of shops and street stalls. I think I was heading towards the Indian quarters when I stopped for a serve of a spicy curry soup, inspite of the heat. Zipping through laneways and backstreets, I had to seek refuge from the sun in a mini-mall named City Centre, which itself was sparsely fitted out. There was this tiny supermart with more customer service personnels than customers themselves.
From the sidelanes, I began connecting to various markets via bridges and I must had ventured into Bogyoke Aung Sung Market via Theingyi Zei mart and Open Air market
When I eventually crossed a bridge over the railway tracks, I finally spotted Central Hotel and Sakura Tower (both buildings stood like a gateway to the city - one has Hitachi logo on it and the other - Traders) at a distance. It took me another hour of walking before I made my way back to Sakura Tower for a refreshing chilled juice. The Sky Bistro at Sakura Tower offers a stunning 360° view of central Yangon on the 20th Floor. Too bad the lifts were hot and stinky and seemingly stopped at every floor. Nonetheless, one can easily spot Sule Paya, Yangon River, Shwedagon Paya and the Aung Sung Stadium at a distance. Shwedagon Paya obviously dominated the northern skyline and that was where I was heading next.
A 2000 kyat taxi ride out to Shwedagon Paya but decided to hunt for a local cuisine eatery named Aung Thuka just north of Shwedagon Paya. Featured in Lonely Planet and thought I should check it out, since I seldom do that. After much walking and sweating, eating at Aung Thuka was my best meal so far in Yangon. Excellent spread of local dishes - deli style. I merely picked two dishes of venison curry and stir fried bittermelon and the owner decked out my table with other small serve condiments like the local subo/cabbage/dandelor vegetable soup, a serving of raw salad (okra, cabbage, lettuce) with a sour spicy sauce and a plate of the divine fried nuts with sauteed green tea leaves! The real challenge here was to eat with one hand and chase away houseflies with the other. Sans the buzzing flies, this was the best burmese meal I had in two days.
Dusk was starting to set in as I walked my way up the north entrance of Shwedagon Paya. I was expecting an entrance fee and camera fee but there were none. However when I exited, a cash donation was expected from you where they store your shoes. The cavenous entry up the steps was like a scene from Indiana Jones. All religious ornaments can be bought here along the arduous stairs. It was full of chatter with people mindfully climbing with stealth.
The steps opened up to a half view of the enormous Shwedagon Stupa and the impression was awe-inspiring. Flanked by delicated ornaments on the temple ridges, the Shwedagon stupa was quite a sight. On the grounds, devout buddhists were praying or meditating in deep concentration facing the stupa. By the time I had completed my trail around the stupa, the evening lights was fading, as the stupa shimmered in brilliant gold under selective floodlights. It was such a grand and peaceful place that I could not resist parking myself on the marble floor and plan my travelling schedule ahead.
Lost in Public transport
Leaving from the north entrance, I thought I could try taking the public pickup bus back to the city centre. No one was able to tell me what was going where. For 200 kyats I hopped onto one overcrowdede pickup bus and thought it was heading to City Hall (a place near the city central stop) but it was a mistake. It took me to a very modern township (which I later found out was Dagon) where I passed a huge shopping mall and I was made to alight. i was nowhere near the city. Fortunately with the help of 3 security guards at the mall, I managed to hop onto a public bus back to the city centre via Chinatown for only 100 kyats.