Yangon is a sprawling metropolis that stretches as far as the eye can see. Home to a booming population of almost of almost 5 million, it’s a little known fact that Yangon is the nation’s largest city but not the capital. Locals and travellers are drawn from all around, as it plays an important role as a hub for business, entertainment and tourism for the country.
I’d spent the past few days in Yangon and it wasn’t long until I pack my bags and join the tour group for the journey north to the historic city of Bagan. So far, the tour group I had joined had taken us to all the main attractions in the city, including the breathtaking golden temple, the Shwedagon Pagoda, which my guides informed me, dates back to the 6th century.
Today I had a day off from his tour, so I would take some time out alone to explore the narrow laneways, chat with the locals and breathe in the aroma of the spices in the street side restaurants. At first glance, I had formed the impression that Yangon was like most other cities in Asia. It was busy, crowded, with people moving in all directions, motorbikes carrying cages of chickens or other over-sized objects. I guess it could be referred to as organised chaos. But I soon came to realise that this was all on the surface. There was much more to Yangon than meets the eye. Beyond the crowds of people and vendors offering practically everything from spicy snacks to screwdrivers, the exquisite architecture of the pagodas and the warmth of the Burmese proved to me that Yangon was a city with a difference.
I decided to have a chat with my incredibly knowledgeable tour guide named Aye. Aye was young, but had developed an amazing command of English and was truly an expert at his job. This was the place he grew up, so I thought there was no better person to ask about how to spend my day alone in the city. Aye recommended a visit to Sule Pagoda, located at one of the busiest intersections in town. The 46 m golden structure towers over the surrounding office buildings and provides a contrast to the cityscape of this amazing place. Once inside, I walked around the colossal structures, decorated with the most intricate details, when the spiritual surroundings got the better of me and decided to sit down, close my eyes, and take in the serenity of this magical place.
It was time to move on, but as I was about to get into a taxi, I recognised a sight that I had seen previously in a travel book that I read before I came - Bogyoke (Scotts) Market and the Old Colonial Quarter. Located right next to Sule Pagoda, the architecture of the buildings took on a form that made me feel like I’d travelled 100 years back in time. There was an old man sitting by the side of the road near a three-wheeled rickshaw. He had a face that could tell a million stories, and with a cheeky smile on his face, offered to take me around the area on his rickshaw for $5 US dollars. Sure, I love to haggle. I couldn’t resist his warm smile, so I handed him the money sat down in the front of rickshaw, while he peddled behind.
After my serene experience in the gardens around Sule Pagoda, I decided to continue my day exploring the sites, smells and experience the wonderful journey around Yangon. I took a taxi to Kandawqyi Lake, a place I had learned about out in my pre-holiday research. This lake is located what felt like only a few minutes from the city centre in Bogyoke Aung San Park. It was beautiful day, and the natural surroundings inspired me to take a walk around the lake. On the opposite side of Lake Kandawqyi a colossal replica of an old Burmese boat, known as a Karaweik, caught my eye. Decorated in elaborate and colourful golden I could only imagine hundreds of these beautifully designed boats cruising softly up and down the Irrawaddy River.
The sun was on it’s way down and all of the walking I had done for the day had begun to take it’s toll. I decided to set myself down and rest my feet, while reflecting upon my first few days spent in this iconic and truly unique city. Close to my hotel on Anwaratha Road, I was drawn to the aroma of freshly prepared Mohinga, Myanmar’s unofficial dish, which was being cooked at roadside stall. Mohinga is mouth-watering rice vermicelli delicately mixed of fish broth, onions, garlic, lemon grass and fish cake along with other various local spices. Truly a filling meal, the Mohinga satisfied my hunger, and gave me just about enough energy to stumble back to my hotel.
As I made my way back the hotel the sun was beginning to set over the dramatic backdrop of the city. A beautiful orange colour filled the sky and it was then that I felt somewhat sad at the prospect of leaving this unique place so soon. But I remained grateful knowing the experiences of my Burmese adventure would stay with me forever.
Yangon, 16 October 2010