Yangon, Myanmar – The Heart of Asia

Yangon, Myanmar – When having travelled as much as I have, you get a good sense of what to expect of a place and what the culture will be like. However, when we decided to visit Myanmar, I didn’t really know what to expect mainly because of the fact that here, tourism hasn’t altered the way of life in major ways tainting and influencing the culture, it’s people and its sites.

There has been, and still is, a lot of controversy regarding travel to Myanmar due to its political structure or rather lack thereof, and for a long time, this country was on the list of Not Done places to travel to. Luckily for the Burmese, and therefore also lucky for us, the political situation has improved a lot and nowadays tourism is very welcome and has contributed to the quality of many local peoples lives.

Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is the largest city in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The city offers a mix of old colonial architecture, modern(ish) skyscrapers and golden Buddhist pagodas that make up its skyline. The famous Shwedagon Pagoda, the Botataung and Sule pagodas all house ancient Buddhist relics and are visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. The city has a small feel to it and is amazingly lively and vibrant. In fact, after having spent more than a week in the city, I can say that this is now one of my favourite Asian cities. The town is rich in culture, and its temples, markets, beautiful colonial houses and the best street life I have encountered in all my years as an avid traveller, make it a lovely place to stay for a few days.

We arrived at Yangon airport late at night, took a taxi and eagerly stared out of the window, hoping for a glimpse of what was to come. Little houses flashed by followed by even tinier shops, street stalls, vendors and lots and lots of lush greenery. The streets were filled with people chatting, eating in one of the hundreds (if not thousands) little outside eateries. There were people drinking, playing games, watching TV together, dancing and socialising at all hours of the day. The people here are truly social beings and it shows.

Our hotel was located in the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, a lovely area filled with lots of little street stalls, people selling exotic fruits, Paan (a stimulant made of betel leaf, areca nut and sometimes also with tobacco, chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects), tiny tea stalls offering a Myanmar high tea and lots of busy clothing shops. Here wandered around and were amazed by the variety of street food offered.

Having just come from The Philippines, a country not associated with an enticing cuisine, the first thing we wanted was some really delicious food. We had heard of many people that the Myanmar cuisine was a mix between two of my favourite kitchens, Indian and Thai. However, our first encounter taught us that people have some very different interpretations of the term Indian and Thai Cuisine. The food was greasy and frankly quite plain but as we travelled and explored this beautiful country and its cuisine we discovered some lovely dishes along the way. That’s the thing, when something isn’t as expected there is only one way, up!

I truly and wholeheartedly urge you to visit this city and the rest of this (reasonably) unexplored country and its stunning nature.  Walking around the city you truly experience a piece of the day to day life of the locals, and this part of their life, the street life, it is just lovely.

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