Entering the new Yangon international airport, I had a feeling I was just in one of the airports in Asia. It is spacious with walls mostly in glass punctuated with paintings and Burmese traditional crafts. The last time I was here was in December 2013 just in time for the South East Asian Games and the airport was full of athletes from other ASEAN countries. The line was long and getting the baggage was really a hustle with the rowdy athletes around. This time immigration was fast, same with the baggage.
Outside, you will hear a lot of mingalaba!, greetings, some would even approach you asking if you need a taxi. Taxis in Yangon are not metered and you have to negotiate the fee to the city. I usually go to a taxi booth and get a coupon, just making sure that I am on the “safe” side. At the booth you can also have options if you want an air-conditioned or a non-aircon taxi.
One thing I like in Yangon is its wide streets and the absence of traffic jams. Cars by the way are right-hand drives and at first, I always tend to open the door from the driver’s side. It took me some time to get used to opening the passenger door at the left side of the car. Another thing is the absence of motorcycles. When you are used to living in Cambodia and Vietnam where motorcycles are everywhere, then Yangon is paradise. Travelling around the city is easy as taxis are available almost everywhere and the rate is affordable.
The people are warm, you hear mingalaba a lot. You can observe that most men are red-lipped because of betel-chewing and I was surprised that only men does it since I have seen very few betel-chewing women. Men also wear longyi, a long skirt like malong in Indonesia, Malaysia and in southern Philippines. Longyi is not only a traditional but a formal wear as well. The most unusual, and I think this is only in Myanmar, is thanaka, a yellowish paste applied in the face of both men and women. It is a sun protection, make-up and cooling powder rolled in one.
A quick round of places of interest can be done in one day. The National Museum fairly provides basic information on the history of the place way back before the birth of Christ. Exhibits on the old kingdoms in Myanmar will give you an idea on the rich cultural heritage of the country. Several pagodas shows Buddhist art and religion, the most notable of course is the biggest of them all – the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. Included among the places of interest are the Karaweik palace; Museum of Bogyoke Aung San, the father of Daw Aung san Suu Kyi and considered a hero; and Kandawgyi lake, among others.
Some parts of the city still retain its colonial charms. Along Strand Road, old colonial buildings are still standing. A number were demolished to give way to modern buildings and a several good ones were saved and are now undergoing conservation. One of the places I am fond of is the Mahabandoola Garden in front of the city hall. Beside the city hall stands the Sule Pagoda, one of the oldest Buddhist pagodas in the area; across it is the Emmanuel Baptist Church, a Christian church; and on the other side of the pagoda stands a Muslim mosque; and a little farther is a Hindu temple. What a confluence of faiths!
My favourite place as of now is the Bogyoke Aung San market. Here you can buy souvenirs of handicrafts and precious stones. This is also where you can exchange dollars to kyat at a good rate. What I like best is the Bar Boon where I get my daily cup of brewed coffee to spike my energy.