Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First Day in Yangon- From 38th Street to Bogyoke Market

We arrived early in Yangon. Our watches showed 9:15 am. Crossing the time zone, the local time was 7:45 am in Yangon. We gained 90 minutes in total. The airport looked good- air conditioned, contemporary design, clean, and tidy. We felt good, until the immigration clearance took us more than 30 minutes, with less than 5 persons in the queue. Possible culprits, two consecutive power cuts that paralyzed the computer system in the airport. Power cut was a frequent event thorough our trip in Yangon. It happened many times a day.

In Myanmar, English is taught in schools, but the language is not widely used. Lucky for us, the airport personnels were very helpful. They led us to a city taxi and instructed the driver to bring us to our hotel. To go downtown, the fare was fixed at USD10, which we paid to the driver later.

Brutal and iron-fisted military government which imprisoned a soft and elegant lady for years, monks walking around without footwear, vacated buildings, waves of refugees leaving the country, poor and slow economy were basically the images of the country. Well, at least that's what we received in our country. However, in the following one-hour road trip to our hotel, our impression towards the city changed dramatically.

Well maintained road, traffic light with digital count down clock, clean street, roads packed with imported Toyota, modern buildings, lakes and green city gardens, etc. Well, either we had been misled, or Myanmar had taken a quantum leap in the last few years, we had to buy the reality that the former capital of Myanmar in front of us is far more better than the one that inside our brain.

Yangon International Airport is big and spacious, with contemporary design (upper left). We could see some modern high rises on the way to Yangon downtown (upper right). Modern buildings shooting up beside historical Sule Pagoda and Central Fire Station (lower right). Electronic billboards can be seen beside the road. Roads are basically dominated by imported cars. Unlike other capitals, such as Hanoi and Phnom Penh, motor bikes and bicycles were rare in Yangon.

We stayed in Aung Tha Pyay Hotel at 38th Street, 400 meters away from Sule Pagoda, the heart of Yangon downtown area. Flanked by busy Pansodan bus stops on the both sides of the road, it was a hot spot in Yangon. After a brief rest, we took our first exploration to buy our air ticket to Bagan. We successfully bought the tickets from a travel agency nearby. The price. USD10 cheaper than what our hotel had offered (we will talk about this in our upcoming post about Bagan).

1 pm, starved, we went out to find a restaurant for lunch. Without single English word in the menu, we left the first two restaurants in frustration. Then, we found English in the menu of the third restaurant at Maha Bandula Road. The owner of the shop, who could speak in simple English and Mandarin was an angel to us. We had a first lunch in that restaurant.

Recharged, we moved 250 meters west along Maha Bandula Road to visit Sule Pagoda. Some believed that the pagoda is 2500 years old. During the British colonization in mid 19th century, the pagoda had been set as the center of Yangon. It was the meeting points for 1988 and 2007 anti-government uprises as well. The pagoda is special for its octagonal stupa at the middle of the pagoda, and its location right in the middle of the junction between Maha Bandula Road and Sule Pagoda Road.

The pagoda has undergone many rounds of renovation, to an extent that everything that we saw inside was not more than 200 years old. However, as foreigners, we still had to pay USD2 per person to enter the pagoda. We strolled around the pagoda for about 15 minutes. Nothing interesting, except our first experience walking on the sun-baked floor with bared legs. No footwear was allowed in the pagoda. Learned the lesson in a hard way, we decided to visit Shwedagon early the next day, to avoid the hot boiling floor. We put our shoes at the designated shoes rack and had been asked for donation upon collection.

Is it worth to go inside the pagoda for USD2? No (compared to USD5 for Shwedagon). But USD2 couldn't stop us from stepping inside. Well, we had travelled more than 1000 km to the front door of the pagoda. After all, it was just USD2.

Does this building look like 2500 years old? The protruding shop lots around the pagoda have significantly diminished the attractiveness of this historical building.

Many parts of Sule Pagoda are painted in gold and yellow (upper row). The pagoda attracted many believers (lower right). The ceiling and the pillars are elaborately decorated.

Coming out from the pagoda, we walked north along Sule Pagoda Road and took a left turn into Montgomery Road to visit Bogyoke Aung San Market. Bogyoke Aung San means General Aung San. The pedestrian walkway along Montagomery Road was packed with hawkers. The market is located at Montgomery Road, about 700 meters away from Sule Pagoda.

The hawker stalls narrow down the pedestrian walkway.

Surprisingly, the market was not crowdy at all. It was around 4 pm. We took a rest while enjoyed two glasses of fruit juices, with just USD1 each. Then, we strolled around the market, discovered that the items on sale were not more than clothes, jeweleries, lacquer ware, wood and stone carved items, and a few other types of souvenirs. Most of the clothes were made in Thailand. We managed to get some souvenirs (fridge magnet and rattan ware) and left the market at 4:45 pm.

Bogyoke Aung San Market is divided into two parts- the older one-storey building and another modern two-storey building. This photo shows the two-storey building, with the older market located right behind it.

Scenes capture within the market area. The fruit juice is highly recommended.

Inside the market. Clean and tidy, with very few visitors.

On our way back to our hotel, we stayed a while around the Independent Monument next to Sule Pagoda. The garden that housed the monument was named after the former commander-in-chief of Royal Burmese Army- Maha Bandula. He fought and died in the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1825. Maha Bandula Garden is a place that worth a visit, as the garden is surrounded by beautiful Yangon City Heritage listed buildings, such as the High Court to the east, Emmanuel Baptist Church to the northeast, the City Hall to the north, Sule Pagoda and Central Fire Station to the northwest.

Independent Monument in Maha Bandula Garden. The garden is not big but worth a leisure evening walk.

Buildings surrounding Maha Bandula Garden- City Hall (upper left), High Court (upper right), and Emmanuel Baptist Church (lower left). Many locals like to take a break, sitting and talking with their friends and family in the garden.

A few youths are playing football at Maha Bandula Park Street in front of Maha Bandula Garden.

The legacy from the colonial era is now abandoned. Many rundown buildings like this are scattered around Yangon downtown. Restoration of these buildings will definitely make Yangon a more attractive place.

At night, we went to Chinatown for our dinner. Chinatown is located between 18th - 24th Streets, west of Sule Pagoda. From our hotel,the taxi fare was 2000 Kyat (RM6.50 or USD2.20). With much expectation, we found that the most happening area was the night market with fruits, vegetables, food stalls, and exotic locust snacks. We were not locust lovers and had no intention to cook. So, we just tried a few types of street food, bought some fruits and delicacies, and left the market before 9 pm. 

We experienced a hard time to explain the location of our hotel to the taxi driver, even after we had showed the English written name and the address of the hotel. By showing everything we had in English, we were rejected by two taxi drivers, before the third, who could communicate in simple English, let us getting into his taxi. So, our advice, to move around Yangon, it will be better for us to bring along the information about our hotel in Burmese Language.

Locusts are popular snacks in Yangon (upper row). Roasted pork, chicken, fruits, and vegetables are widely available in the market.

Some said that we could communicate in Mandarin at Chinatown. Well, that's not what we had experienced. Nobody could understand Mandarin there. Only one old shopkeeper who could speak in simple Cantonese. Although some said that the night life in Chinatown might drag until 11 pm, we found that most of the shops were closed as early as 8:30 pm. The night market ended around 9 pm.

We did discover some traditional Chinese food, such as the pork on stick (upper left), dumpling (upper right), and some Chinese style delicacies (lower left)in the market. We tried some of these delicacies and bought some fruits and Chinese delicacies from the market.

We spent a total of three nights at Yangon. As far as we could see, Yangon's street was safe at night. We didn't get this sense of security from what we had read. We felt it by ourselves. Many places were safe because of the patrol. To our surprise, we didn't see any police at night in Yangon.

Well, we experienced another two power cuts before we went to bed. Well, that's our first day in Yangon. Second day, we visited Shwedagon Pagoda and Karaweik.

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