Photo trip report (Aug 2014): Yangon

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Photo trip report (Aug 2014): Yangon

Post by Burmacuda » Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:39 am

This is an ongoing trip report, I'll do each destination as a separate topic.

Ever since my first brief foray to the Mergui Archipelago in 2005 I had a deep desire to return to this mysterious land to the west of Thailand. First impressions from 20,000 feet are of an emerald green landscape dotted with tiny wooden villages and meandering coffee brown rivers. Descending to land in Yangon seemed premature as there was no sign of anything even resembling a city though the golden orb of the Shwedagon Pagoda could clearly be seen winking in the sunlight way off in the distance.

Fortunately a close friend working for a NGO had an apartment in the heart of the colonial district so I grabbed a cab for Pansodan Street and, after a blast through some utterly chaotic traffic, found myself at the foot of the towering red brick Telegraph Office built by the British almost a century ago.

While the traffic can get a little hairy here it seems far more manageable than the lunacy in Bangkok or Manila, though the drivers are just as unpredictable, impatient and permanently leaning on the horn. Unlike many other Asian cities taxis here are plentiful and very cheap; a ride across the city can be made for a couple of dollars.

A stroll down to the river reveals rows of makeshift book shops setup on the street, the Burmese are big on books and avid readers, some treasures from times gone by can be found on tarpaulin sheets lining the pavement. Anything from original hundred year old works by Robert Louis Stevenson to guides to cockfighting and fishkeeping to books on astrophysics – it can all be found here if you look hard enough.

New and old stand side by side, grand old colonial structures such as the High Court and Customs House share the street with the ever advancing tide of progress and new construction in the form of offices and apartments. Sule Pagoda marks the old heart of downtown Yangon; around the outside of it are hundreds of mobile phone shacks that have sprung up overnight to feed the embryonic telecoms industry. Getting a SIM card and mobile internet is remarkably easy and cheap at $1.50, this would not have been possible just two months ago. That said the service is far from consistent and reliable with frequent outages and slow connectivity, a swanky bar called Gecko down the road has good wifi but you have to pay triple price for the drinks to use it.
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To follow: more on Yangon
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Re: Photo trip report (Aug 2014): Yangon

Post by Nyinway » Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:59 am

Thank you so much Burmacuda for sharing your pictures and thoughts. I’m originally from Myanmar, the mysterious yet magnificent country in sight or scene. Since I left more than 3 decades ago, I do miss and reminds me of my younger mesmerizing days of Myanmar life. Again, thank you so much of your generous and kind endeavor in Myanmar. Wishing best of luck and happiness in exploring this unknown land where most of Myanmar refer as “Golden”. Not only foreigners, but also many locals of Myanmar don’t know much about this secretive and secluded nation that many know as Burma or Myanmar. Wonderful pictures in deed. Mergui Archipelago is my number one favorite region/place of Myanmar. Second is Ayeyarwaddy Delta Region.
Looking forward for your contribution to this wonderful forum/website. It is my top favorite one.

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Re: Photo trip report (Aug 2014): Yangon

Post by Burmacuda » Fri Sep 19, 2014 1:18 pm

Thanks for the comments Nyinway.

Yangon is a time capsule that is about to be thrust into the modern world, quaint little shops and food stalls come and go at various times of the day, I even had to step through a mobile restaurant to get into the apartment block. It feels a little like Hanoi but without the bikes which are banned in the city due to some army sensitivity or other. You have no idea what will happen when you venture out in Yangon, the people are inquisitive and very friendly, being approached by curious locals simply wanting a chat does not happen in many other capital cities. By day it is a noisy raucous place with the honking of horns, the holler of bus boys, and the shouts of traders and vendors filling the balmy air. By night the streets are eerily quiet and dimly lit, with the occasional car slinking by, often feeling as if an unimposed curfew is still in place.

Around town I was delighted to discover Burmese ‘beer stations’ which are essentially man caves for longyi wearing locals to chew the fat, watch the footie, and of course drink beer – naturally I felt right at home in our local one which was called ‘Lion World’. Sundowners were taken on a rickety table adjacent to a feral little shop in the docks where the huge cranes made the backdrop for a sky that turned a shade of molten lava orange as the sun slunk into the Yangon River.

Despite what can be read on the internet this place is virtually devoid of westerners, you certainly stand out here walking around. The tourism ministry has estimated 3 million arrivals this year, maybe they don’t come in August because it is monsoon season … or maybe they’re all in Mandalay – there certainly aren’t many in this part of town.

Smart phones are a recent introduction to Burmese life so there isn’t the zombie culture you find in Bangkok and Singapore where everyone is mindlessly plugged into their device. Probably just as well as you could easily fall into a gaping black hole in the sidewalk here if not paying attention to where you’re going!
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To follow: more on Yangon

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Re: Photo trip report (Aug 2014): Yangon

Post by Burmacuda » Sat Sep 20, 2014 9:23 am

Yangon is best explored on foot and today takes me north to Kandawgyi Lake for a little serenity. Skies are brooding but I have yet to experience the torrential downpours that should be descending on Burma at this time of year. That said, an umbrella is the essential companion in Yangon, used as a sun shade and mostly for its intended original purpose.

19th Street is lined with local restaurants, barbeque stalls and beer stations and after dark it is teeming with life. Food in Myanmar is a little closer to Indian than Thai or Chinese, it is also very oily but exceedingly tasty and very cheap with the average meal costing less than two dollars. Beer is even cheaper at a dollar a tin and the country doesn't seem to have the paranoia and hangups about alcohol consumption that Thailand has.

One of the delights of Yangon is that you never know what is going to happen next, that night I end up in an art gallery drinking with local expats who are largely made up of NGO workers, writers, photographers, teachers and entrepreneurs. Pansodan Gallery turns into an expat meeting place every Tuesday and it is a lively bunch that fills the vibrant painting adorned room this night.
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To follow: Dala Township

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Re: Photo trip report (Aug 2014): Yangon

Post by Burmacuda » Mon Sep 22, 2014 10:34 am

A short ferry ride takes me across the Yangon River and into the Dala Township which was virtually destroyed by cyclone Nargis in 2008. Today it is the poorest part of Yangon and home to 2 million people, many of which live in simple wooden shacks perched over squalid waterways and ever-growing piles of rubbish.

For a few bucks you can take a trishaw around the labyrinthine warren of alleys and streets that make up Dala, it feels like another country in a land that time forgot compared to downtown Yangon.

Kids would call from tin shacks and run down the broken pathways and rickety bamboo bridges frantically waving at you. Goats, cows, geese and all manner of beast roam the streets alongside a population which primarily uses the bicycle to get around, there are no cars here.

A pause at a neighbourhood to buy snacks for some local children almost causes a riot as hundreds of them soon appear to get their fill. There is a danger that this type of ‘poverty tourism’ will alter the lives of the people here in the wrong way, though at the moment any tourist dollars going to the locals and not the government must be a good thing.
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To follow: Shwedagon Pagoda

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Re: Photo trip report (Aug 2014): Yangon

Post by Nyinway » Tue Sep 23, 2014 12:56 am

Wonderful pictures. Keep it going and many thanks! It would be better if the pictures are identify as some kind of description like where/place etc.

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Re: Photo trip report (Aug 2014): Yangon

Post by Burmacuda » Tue Sep 23, 2014 2:21 pm

All the above ones are from the Dala Township.

Shwedagon Pagoda
The weather looks favourable today so I’m taking a walk to Shwedagon Pagoda, one of Southeast Asia’s most impressive monuments to religion. It is around 3km from my digs, so I venture through the Indian quarter first to reach the approach road which belies the sheer size of the stupa, it is still over a kilometer away but towers tantalizingly close.

The legendary 100 meter tall gold plated pagoda, which can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, is 2,500 years old according to local guides. It is a pilgrimage site for all Buddhists across the region that flock here to pay homage to the hundreds of Buddha images within the complex.

My walk took me to the southern entrance where, after dispatching with my shoes and brolly, ascended the enclosed stairway up to the main pagoda and ticket box for foreigners. Eight bucks lighter I’m allowed in and slowly join the meandering river of worshipers walking clockwise around the colossal chedi. The light reflected off the huge central pagoda emanates a golden hue the like of which I have never seen; it feels like being an ant amongst the jewels of the gods.

I take some rest bite from the sweltering heat in a the shade of a shrine after a monk calls me over to talk – he can’t speak a word of English and my Burmese is limited to ‘mingalabar’ but physical languages are not really much of a barrier in such a spiritual place. We people watch for a while and the monk expresses curiosity at my Nikon and cell phone and indicates that he wants to make a call. A few seconds later I’m chatting to another monk in English who asks me how I’m finding his country … surreal is the only word that comes to mind though I’m not sure he understands it.
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To follow: Yangon Circular Railway

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Re: Photo trip report (Aug 2014): Yangon

Post by Admin » Tue Sep 23, 2014 9:12 pm

Excellent report and photography, thanks for sharing with us at Burma Board.

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Re: Photo trip report (Aug 2014): Yangon

Post by Burmacuda » Thu Sep 25, 2014 10:10 am

Circular Railway
Yangon’s circular train runs on rickety narrow gauge rails from the city center, out past the airport and suburbs, and into rural lands surrounding the capital. The loop takes three hours, stops at around 40 stations, costs just a dollar, and is a great way to see life outside of the city. Children working is a common sight here, whether labouring, selling street food or in the fields, they are everywhere and are obviously not at school.

Women would lay their laundry on the tracks to dry, monks on bicycles glide past serenely, families are living and sleeping under bridges, a vegetable market is setup on the platform at one station, shacks cling precariously to the sides of trash filled rivers, and life onboard is a buzz of chat and betel nut spitting amongst the locals.

Bogyoke Aung San Market
The Bogyoke Aung San Market is a sprawling mass of antique vendors, gem stores, art galleries, and souvenir shops selling all manner of Buddha images, carvings, lacquerware, handicrafts, pottery, textiles, books, and artifacts from the colonial era. Hours slip by wandering around the complex and through tiny alleys, wet markets, electronics shops, trinket stalls and pretty much anything else you can imagine – its all here somewhere.
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Crocodile Farm
A little known crocodile farm out in suburban Yangon is the destination today; I’ve been to these before in Thailand and Malaysia but nothing as up close and personal as this. A large central lake holds 165 reptiles, some up to 6 meters long. For a buck you get a bowl of fish to feed the crocs (they don’t use meat as it is too expensive) which are literally a few feet away from you. If you left your hand there for too long there is a distinct possibility of losing it, safety standards don’t exist out here, enter at your own peril.
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To follow: The rail to Mandalay

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Photo trip report Aug 2014 Yangon

Post by JamesCaf » Sat Mar 11, 2017 10:34 pm

Nice trip report. Also, is it me or does the drop tower only have 12 seats? If so, that is really low capacity.

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