Guns & Butter: Yangon Travel Guide

2

This is part of the Trip Report So Long Mongolia, Hello SE Asia (December-January 2015) which covers:

Catch up by reading the preview, The Banana Pancake Trail to Myanmar Starts This Monday, then the overview, Thailand, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Disney, Home, where the game time decision was made to leave Mongolia for good.


Welcome to Yangon. You’ll immediately notice two things: 1) Those beautiful structures made of gold are pagodas. 2) That odor you smell is garbage.

Here is the Yangon Travel Guide using the Guns & Butter methodology:

  • A trip is composed of two factors: Labor And Lazy
  • Anything on the line (Production Possibilities Frontier for my fellow economists) is an efficient use of your time depending on your tastes and preferences.
  • Anything inside the line is inefficient as should be avoided.
  • Anything outside is aspirational but may be impossible to do given the constraints of time and resources.
  • The opportunity cost (what is given up) for relaxing and being Lazy is gained by being adventurous in the form of Labor and vice versa.

Capture

After a traumatic journey of getting a visa for Myanmar then finding a habitable hotel for a reasonable price, it’s time to explore the city.

The Currency

Before you go about exploring, it’s important to know about the kyat, a useless currency like the Mongolian tugrik. I had read online that ATMs were hard to find, that I should exchange as much money as I could at the airport, and that I should be wary of bills that were torn because they wouldn’t be accepted by merchants.

The last tip is true but the first two are nonsense. First, there are ATMs everywhere. Second, unused kyat can’t be exchanged back to dollars at the airport. It’s a shady monetary policy by a country that is hungry for dollars.

In addition to currency controls, be prepared to pay the tourist tax for all major attractions in Myanmar. Locals can visit the temples for free but tourists have to pay. This wasn’t a big deal when I first arrived to Myanmar because I thought it was appropriate that tourists pay to visit religious sites while those going to pray should not be charged. This outlook changed after I was mistakenly given hotel prices where one side said, ‘tourist price’ and another side said ‘local price.’

DSC_0838
For a garbage hotel nonetheless.

That ridiculous policy continued when I went to Bagan and was charged $20 tourist tax just to enter the city!

Maybe the do-gooding humanitarians will think I’m being cheap or heartless and that the extra money is going to support the local economy but that would be naive.

The final point about money is for taxis. Taxis cost $1.50 for a ride within the city. They do not cost $2, or $3. That’s what locals pay, that’s what you should pay.

Tourists be warned.

Toilet paper is worth more .
Toilet paper is worth more .

Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon Pagoda is number one on the must see list of things to do in Yangon. For tourists, it’s a marvelous structure that rivals the pyramids of Egypt. They represent the boundless reach of human ingenuity. For Buddhists, it is the holiest pagoda in Myanmar. Devout Buddhists make the pilgrimage to Yangon to behold this religious wonder of the world.

The two best times to come are at sunrise and sunset. I visited at sunset and it did not disappoint. Due to scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t able to go for the sunrise but would recommend doing both if you have the time.

Taking great photographs was a challenge because the pagoda was under construction and covered by a goldish tarp. The orange street lights and protective fences didn’t help. Nobody hates imperfect photos more than I so go gentle with your critiques. (Photos taken with Nikon 1 J4.)

The fences also made it hard to photograph the pagodas.
The fences also made it hard to photograph the pagodas.
Go see it, I don't have any good way to describe it or photograph it.
Shwe means gold.
Bathing Buddha
Bathing Buddha
yangon travel guide
Imagine what it was like hundreds of years ago.
yangon travel guide
Gold, gold, gold
yangon travel guide
I wasn’t a fan of this green light action
Me and the Pagoda
Me and the Pagoda
Lights ruining the shot. Save your photo critiques please.
Lights ruining the shot. Save your photo critiques please.
DSC_0658 (Copy)
Pagoda after pagoda and my best photo

Avoiding Garbage

If you read my post on hotels in Yangon, you can see how beautiful the city once was. The pictures do not show the garbage that is all over the city. Besides India, I have not been to a country with more foul smells, more trash, and more unspeakables littered throughout than Myanmar. That problem is compounded by the unrelenting sun and heat.

Garbage everywhere
Garbage everywhere
If only it didn't smell like garbage and other excrement
If only it didn’t smell like garbage and other excrement

Street Food

Shifting from the negatives, I will say that Yangon has excellent, diverse food. There’s no need to go to fine dining such as the Padonmar Restaurant we went to for Christmas dinner when there are much more affordable options right on the street. Padonmar, a recommendation of the Shangri-La, is in an upscale neighborhood home to many of the embassies. The food was great but not more amazing than basic options.

  • Padonmar Restauraunt:
Myanmar whiskey
Myanmar whiskey
Upscale Burmese food
Upscale Burmese food
One of everything
One of everything
Ngapi, no thanks
Ngapi, no thanks
Green curry
Green curry
  • Truly on the Street
DSC_0429 (Copy)
Rubber chicken?
DSC_0412 (Copy)
Eggs
DSC_0424 (Copy) - Copy
Pancakes
Hot pot in the street
Hot pot in the street
Sugar free
Sugar free
Let's cook
Let’s cook
  • Biryani & Cold Drinks 

    Biryani & Cold Drinks
    Biryani & Cold Drinks
Best beryani hands down, better than India
Best biryani hands down, better than India
Chicken Biryani
Chicken Biryani
  • 999 Shan Noodle Shop
    Highly recommended.
    Highly recommended.

    DSC_0415 (Copy) - Copy

  • 19th Street, the best place to be in Yangon

DSC_0478 (Copy)

DSC_0481 (Copy) - Copy
Ko San in Yangon
Street food
Street food
Street food
Street food
Street food
Street food
the liveliest part of Yangon
the liveliest part of Yangon
DSC_0503 (Copy) - Copy
Burmese BBQ
Okra
Okra
Sambusa
Sambusa
Like grandma's treats
Like grandma’s treats
This is what makes 19th street so great.
This is what makes 19th street so great.
All sorts of food
All sorts of food
Vegetables
Vegetables
And the best fish
And the best fish
BBQ Fish
BBQ Fish

Street Markets

Unlike the street markets in Chiang Rai, those in Yangon are worth visiting because the merchant are willing to negotiate. Tourists should certainly purchase a longyi, perhaps some jade, and even gold in order to fit in. The sunglasses which go for $1 and underwear which go for the same are not the quality knock-offs of their Shanghainese counterparts.

The street sales
The street sales
Junk for sale
Junk for sale
Get your longyi
Get your longyi
DSC_0434 (Copy) - Copy
Cute pups for sale
DSC_0435 (Copy)
This guy didn’t have his visa.
Haircuts
Haircut in my fancy attire for $1

Pagodas

How many temples can you see in Thailand before it gets repetitive? The same question can be asked of Myanmar. My pagoda threshold was a lot higher in Myanmar because like Angkor Wat the design was unique. Still after going from Yangon to Mandalay to Bagan I predict that your quota for pagodas will be met.

yangon travel guide
Buddha’s First Sacred Hair Relic Pagoda
yangon travel guide
Gold and donations
Donate for good luck
Donations
Not a tourist
Not a tourist

Strand Hotel for Happy Hour

After avoiding all the garbage and after purchasing one too many longyis, it’s time to class it up with a visit to the Strand Hotel for happy hour. There you will find expats who tell tall tales of their time in Burma along with inexpensive, quality drinks that will restore a sense of normalcy otherwise unfound in this strange city.

Be sure to use kyat at the Strand since the exchange rate for dollars is awful.

Half off during happy hour on Friday
Half off during happy hour on Friday
Strand street
Strand Road
The Strand Hotel
The Strand Hotel
Be happy you're out of the hot sun
Be happy you’re out of the hot sun

Conclusion 

Prior to visiting Myanmar I had a romantic view of how the country would be. Like many SE Asian countries, it has history, architectural marvels, and intrigue dating back thousands of years. Like many SE Asian countries, it is overrun by street peddlers, tourists, and general uncleanliness. This unfiltered look at Yangon shouldn’t dissuade you from going. Just know that if you are looking for a land untouched by time, you’re too late.

<==Back to Yangon HotelsOnto Ngwe Saung Hell Bus==>

 

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. i love your blog! honest and straight to the point! better than trip advisor- advisory really haha!! so many useful information ill be needing!! Great job!

    • thank you! i sort of stopped writing the travel guides because they take so long and don’t get that much attention. these comments inspire me to keep going.

Leave a Reply