My Top 10 First Impressions of Yangon, Myanmar
By: Chase Chisholm
NIGHTTIME IN YANGON IS MY FAVORITE
Lanterns and brightly colored bulbs hang overhead, making even the most desolate neighborhoods seem magical and inviting. Darkness’ coolness is a welcomed refresher after long, hot afternoons.
A GLIMPSE INTO THE LIVES OF LOCALS CAN BE CAUGHT IF YOU DON'T WATCH YOUR FEET WHEN YOU WALK
Brightness from living rooms pours out open doors and windows. Families huddle around small tables for dinner. Laundry is strewn about balconies in every which way. Corner markets brim with freshness. Fish heads are chopped off right under the feet of passersby. Naked little boys hop up and down the road. Groups of men play chinlone with longyis rolled up their thighs. All to the tune of a ceaseless stream of traffic buzz.
ONCE AGAIN I FIND MYSELF AT A CROSSROADS, THE PLACE BETWEEN EXTREME POVERTY AND UNNECESSARY WEALTH
Somehow I'm allowed to have a foot in the door of both worlds, although I'm an outsider to both. One moment I'm sitting on a grimy plastic stool, next to a tiny, wobbly table, inside a house-turned restaurant eating lunch for less than buck. And then suddenly I'm whisked away to dine at one of the most prestigious hotels in the country. All because of circumstance.
Traders Hotel, by Shangri-La, offers excellent service, and has fast, free Wi-Fi. Even if you’re not a guest you can sit in the gourmet café area, order a coffee or three, and use the Internet for as long as you please. Try the tuna melt sandwich if you’re not on too tight of a budget, and/or in need of a break from Burmese cuisine. It’s fantastic.
I ENJOY THE INNOCENT STARES AND LITTLE SMILES FROM PEOPLE WONDERING WHAT I'M DOING HERE
Whether stopped behind slow-moving traffic, or walking through a supermarket, for a moment in time, connecting with someone so intimately, no matter how brief, is special. True curiosity on both ends, two people from different worlds, making eye contact for the first time, and quite possibly the only time, is beautiful.
YOU MIGHT END UP (LITERALLY) EATING EXHAUST FUMES WHILE RIDING IN THE BACK OF A TRUCK
Air pollution is a problem in Yangon. Black smoke billows from vintage vehicles that may or may not meet international air quality standards. It’s best to be prepared for this. Always have a face mask should you need it when unexpectedly riding in the back of a truck for several hours.
However, if you forget to pack a mask, and you don’t mind chewing on some grit every now and then, trucking it around Yangon is really fun.
THE SHWEDAGON PAGODA IS POSSIBLY THE MOST AMAZING PLACE TO VISIT EVER-IN-ALL-THE-WORLD-FOREVER-AND-EVER
Just go. I’m not even going to try to describe it. You’ll pay $8 for an absolutely priceless experience.
Allow one of the local volunteer guides to take you around. Some may ask for a small donation before or after giving a tour. Be aware of this, but also don’t let it stop you from gaining an inside scoop on one of the world’s most beautiful temples. It’s worth it.
Vista Rooftop Bar is likely the best place to view of the Shwedagon from afar, especially at night while drinking a Myanmar beer and smoking shisha.
IF YOU DON'T MIND A CAT ON THE SEAT NEXT TO YOU, OR UNDER THE TABLE, ONYX RESTAURANT OFFERS AFFORDABLE SIPS AND BITES OF HOME
This small steakhouse is full of people most evenings. Meaty treats are around $7, and a bottle of decent red wine costs about $10.
Although the interior needs a good scrub, the decor is trendy, and the overall experience can’t be beat for the price you pay. Just don’t be surprised if you suddenly see a paw or tail sticking out from under the tablecloth halfway through your meal. And bring along some hand sanitizer if you plan to use the restroom. It goes with the interior.
Onyx is a little hard to find, but if it seems like you’re wandering down a scary, dark alley, you’re going the right way. It’s just off the main drag, past the shops featuring ornate woodwork.
GETTING AN APARTMENT CAN BE COSTLY AND DIFFICULT
Without enough beds in the city to meet the demand, prices of flats are high. To get a simple, one-room place, for an affordable deal, don’t expect many amenities. There probably won’t be furniture. The toilet might not work. There will likely be issues with water pressure. And even if you have a shower, you’ll be lucky to get hot water.
If you’re looking for one on your own, you need to work with a broker, and the broker will charge a fee. Once you get the apartment, you’ll have to sign a contract before registering with the township it’s in.
Hopefully an apartment will be provided for you if you’re coming to work in Myanmar, or you’ll get assistance with finding one from your place of employment like I did. Makes everything so much easier.
ONCE YOU'VE MADE IT THROUGH THE PROCESS OF GETTING AN APARTMENT, THE POWER MIGHT GO OUT FIFTEEN MINUTES AFTER YOU MOVE IN
Candlelight illuminated my new neighborhood as the sun began to set. I'm not sure how common power outages are where I'll be living in Yangon, but sometimes it takes an afternoon blackout to see things differently. One way of getting creative and coping without electricity is to have a solo dance party. Not that I would know or anything.
I should probably invest in some candles.
YANGON HAS ALREADY TAKEN MY HEART CAPTIVE
Its weathered and worn soul beckons me down each and every side street. The change it’ll endure in the near future is inevitable. Fortunately or unfortunately, I'll be a small part of that.
I'm scared. I'm excited. I'm curious. I'm enthralled. This is where I'm supposed to be right now. I don't feel at home yet, but it seems as though I've already been here. In this place I’ll call home for at least the next year.
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Contest Comments » There are 9 comments
Chase, you describe the best and the truest image of Myanmar.Your blogs about my country really captivate me.:)
Wow, it sounds like an a amazing place! You capture it so well Chase. Will have to add Myanmar onto my list of places to see!
Wow Chase. Your words want beg me to visit Yangon. For a place to "capture your heart" requires a lot. Sounds like Yangon has what it takes. Thanks for inspiring!
Chase, I wanted to visit you here before I read this, but now I wish I could leave tomorrow! What an amazing place!
What an amazing adventure you're having already! I'm not sure I will ever be as brave as you, but I enjoy living vicariously through you! I can't wait to see what this year brings in your life, friend :)
It's really nice to hear your new adventure. Sounds like a interesting place to visit! Please keep posting.
Your writing paints such a vivid picture of life in Myanmar, Chase. Seeing this country through your eyes has me so excited and eager to get over there in the next few months! (And see you, of course!)
I had never given Myanmar a single thought until you moved there and starting writing about how wonderful it can be. I can't wait to visit a country I truly never thought I would ever see!
You have the most incredible outlook on life, and somehow manage to capture your experiences through photos, words, and video in the most eloquent way! We are having so much fun following the adventure through your eyes - you've been through so much already!