When I first went to Thailand 4 years ago, my plan was to fly to Myanmar and get lost in Bagan with a bag full of money (that’s how my friends travelled around in 2010, being able to withdraw money only in Yangon). I read a lot about how dangerous and offline it was, and in the end did not have the guts to go alone. But you have been my dream, Myanmar, since then. And now, in 2017 my birthday present is a trip to Myanmar, finally.
I walk out of the airport and the heat of the day blows cigarette smoke into my face. It smells the same as cigarettes in China. I decide to be a smart ass and not take the 10 000 kyat taxi, but walk to the bus stop. The information stand ladies have drawn me a lovely map.
When I reach the bus stop I realize it took me exactly 20 minutes as the ladies had said. Smart, beautiful and smiley, they made a great first impression of the country.
I get on the bus and have to drop 200 kyat in the box, but I have only 500. The girl next to me helps exchange the bill and we sit next to each other. I stare at the road, at the map, and at the people in the bus. I almost forgot how exciting it is to arrive to a new country, a place you have never been to, a place whose language you cannot speak.
We stop at a traffic light and the driver of the car in front of us opens the door and… throws up on the road? Oh, he is spitting out the red betel nut, I realize. I switch my gaze to another car, and the driver is doing the same, and our bus driver as well! Betel nut is very common here, don’t be afraid when it looks like they are spitting blood on the sidewalk, it’s just betel nut.
We arrive to the city center, I get off the bus and say goodbye to my first Burmese friend. I walk down the street to my hostel and my eyes cannot stop staring. Betel nut sellers everywhere, men in skirts and many many smiles. I buy a huge piece of pineapple from a street vendor, and she rubs it with lime and salt – interesting. She understands quickly when I say “no plastic bag” and helps me cut the pineapple into my tumbler.
I walk down the street in Chinatown staring at colonial buildings and technology stores, I cannot stop being a child again, I want to smell and touch all of you, Myanmar!
My hostel (21 Hostel) is one of the colonial buildings, it has a cute coffee shop inside and the economy single room doesn’t fit anything but a bed! No, I won’t be able to practise yoga in the mornings here. Yes, it feels like I am in Japan =)
I eat my first local dish, Shan rice noodles, and it reminds me Yunnan mixian (rice noodles). Yangon feels a little bit like home. Time to go see sunset at Swedagon Pagoda, the Las Vegas of buddhism.
I walk down the street, it is rush hour and the cars are honking and the vendors are packing up their stalls at the market.
I walk for about 40 minutes, curiously observing the locals, the free drinking water, the fancy hotels and the old buildings.
When I walk into the Southern staircase to get up to the Swedagon pagoda, the street noise disappears, and I am at peace. The atmosphere is completely different here, and I stay to meditate until sunset. Yangon, thank you for the warm welcome!