...or Rangoon, I have no shame to admit I left a piece of my heart here. Again. There is no particular reason, instead there is about 7 million of reasons. This former capital, and I believe its status will be soon restored, is a metropolis like no other. When I first visited 2 years ago, the first impression was to do with smells when the heavy humid air kicked me in the nose. The air was full of smoke, the smell of lush vegetation and manure. Nothing unpleasant, but hot and sticky.
I have come to recognise that Rangoon is progressing very fast. Streets bustling with pedestrians and far too many cars. Surprisingly a local law prohibits motorcycle and bicycle use in the downtown area, what may contribute to massive bumper to bumper jams. Where markets stalls used to be there now park cars and by observing the thick traffic it is obvious that Myanmar is another country where old Toyotas come to die. Sure, there is still Chinatown for that genuine street market which is as exotic as an Asian market can be, but life that used to be happening on the streets has now been pushed out of those streets. Still, the charm of this metropolis remains in people who are still very true to their traditions, wearing longyis and thanakha just the same way as everywhere else in Myanmar and every age before now. The city comes to life very early in the morning, slows down in the heat of the day and springs to new life after sunset. An excellent start to a day is to sit along the locals in one of many tea places set right on a curb of a pavement or even carved into busy traffic and enjoy a delicious 'lapehyi', which the rest of us knows as tea with milk. Majka and specially myself have enjoyed a plentiful of these during our 7 day stay. You may think that is a long time for a city, but for this one is definitely too short. There is so much to see and experience! Some days we just strolled the streets of downtown, where every road seems to be designated to a specific trade. On one road everybody seem to sell garlic, chilli and shallots, while the next street has all the electrical supplements and repairs you can think of. The next road sells fish, next meat and another soft toys and so the list goes on: jade, books, stamps, clothes, vintage and novelty stuff, fabric, bananas, sugar cane, computers, musical stores... All have a designated area or street and so do services as money exchange, printers, videographers, metal workers, various clerks... The streets of downtown are split to sections resembling isles in a giant supermarket.
On different days we have decided to grab a taxi where a foreigner gets charged 3-4 times the local price, but is still very inexpensive and you can’t blame them too much for trying to feed their family. Bargaining is still OK and a cheaper and more fun way of getting around is to hop on a local bus. It is a great way of getting lost, if that's what you're after, otherwise just ask around and the locals will put you to right direction with a big smile. This way we have visited Shwedagon Pagoda on a couple of occasions, once in the morning before the crowds arrived and once for the sunset. Both times have their magic, but I have to admit that I liked the crowded sunset a bit more even though I was forced to buy and wear a traditional longyi, since I've arrived in disrespectfully short trousers exposing my knees. After all I am thankful for the experience almost as much the locals were thankful for the clumsy amusement on every occasion I tried to fix my longyi which seemed to have troubles in holding on to my hips.
I can not recommend enough a good half day trip on the Yangon ‘circle line’, which is a good few hours straight ride around the suburbs, just to arrive at the same station you left at, Yangon Central. In which other country you would be allowed to sit on a train half day for 300 Kyats? You could even make it a whole day and occasionally hop off to meet the unexpected. Markets that spill from the surrounding streets onto the platforms and even onto tracks, farmers working the fields, an old glass factory that has burned down some years back, residential areas full of good people and the list goes on… Another great way of getting around and discovering the surroundings is the ferry on river Yangon, which serves between Pansodan Sreet Jetty and Dala. The old Japanese ferries, Cherry 1, 2 and 3, will offer more of those 'only in Southeast Asia' sights. Once you leave the ferry in Dala, taxi drivers will swirl around you and be warned, they are surprisingly ruthless for Myanmar. In fact the ones we have met I found so untrustworthy, that I decided to cancel our visit to the pottery village in Twante and instead we went for a discovery walk around Dala. On foot. And it paid off well, as we have met an 84 years old, 3rd generation Indian immigrant, Joseph and his family. Joseph invited us to sit with him while he briefly told us his life story. He loves to talk and I didn't mind to listen...
We have left Rangoon in the late afternoon of February the 11th after a few cups of lapehyi and a last dish of Shan Noodles. I wonder whether we would have stayed in Myanmar longer than 28 days if our visas would have allowed that. Possibly, maybe. For now I'll repeat my promise: If I can, I'll be back again!