Myanmar… 12 Days In the Past – Part 1

In the time capsule flying me from Bangkok to Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, it apparently only takes an hour to go 30 or 40 years in the past. Skyscrapers just coming into existence recently, the tallest buildings some recently built hotels or banks. Construction is ever present though, the city making a dash to catch up and quickly growing. The architecture left from the British colonial times is worn yet beautiful strewn throughout the downtown area. The contrast is fascinating between the old and new age poking through which will soon take over.

Street shot of Yangon
Street shot of Yangon

The adrenaline was pumping, the excitement growing with every minute. The pilot announces the beginning of our descent. A new country, one I had no intention on visiting this trip, two good friends and a short 12 days to explore, see and eat as much as possible. It was around 9:00pm when we arrived and got into a cab. About an hour from the airport to the downtown area, across the city the majestic Shwedagon Pagoda made glimpses of gold through the buildings and trees. Bright lights illuminating it from below shimmering gold almost lighting the night sky. After peeling my eyes away from the window as the illustrious pagoda left my view, I understood why it was the most sacred in all of Myanmar without even entering.

Saint Mary's Cathedral
Saint Mary’s Cathedral

After checking into our hostel, we were in need of grub and pointed in the direction of Chinatown. We stopped a local who clearly had a few bevies to ask if we were heading in the right direction. After a thorough rundown of how to get there, he then insisted on walking us there out of generosity. He even offered me his sandals after noticing I was barefoot (another story). A short walking street consisting of nothing but food stalls. There were goodies everywhere I looked. The best part being I was now surrounded with a new cuisine. We sat down with our new friend for a couple drinks and a small plate of food before calling it a night.

National Independence Monument
National Independence Monument

It was an early morning and decision time. What was our game plan going to be? Breakfast first and Khao Soi was right around the corner. I knew this was a Burmese influenced curry, but only ever had it in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Geographically not that far apart, this dish was quite a change from the Khao Soi I’ve had. This is definitely not a bad thing. I love to see different preparations and interpretations of the same dish. This one with a much thinner broth, slightly fishy and coconut didn’t make it to this party.

Street snack of smashed samosas
Street snack of smashed samosas

Deciding to catch a bus north since we could see the Yangon on our way out, we simply roamed the busy streets of downtowns colonial architecture. I needed some sandals and a longyi purchase was in order. Shopping for shoes without shoes is the worst. No bartering available since they knew they had me by the balls. We picked out longyis and with the help of locals, we still all unsuccessfully tied them. It’s like an art form, done so effortlessly and casually. Mine didn’t look pretty but it didn’t drop to my ankles either… good enough and it brought many smiles with more offers to teach us. One more street snack before we make haste to the bus. A plate of smashed samosas with potatoes, tomatoes, herbs on top and a dahl like sauce ladled over the lot of it.

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We were directed to a small shop which made deliveries to the bus station and would take us for free also saving us the hassle of traffic and public transport. The shop looked like a ramshackle garage with a desk in it, but they seemed to be awaiting our arrival. They loaded us into the back of the truck and on we went. As I climbed the stairs onto the bus and took my seat, I couldn’t help but notice the ‘luxury’ of this bus (luxury to me, isn’t exactly luxury). I never expect too much, so I become almost giddy at the simple things in life. The seat comfortable, actually cushioning my ass. Leg room on any bus worldwide I feel is a luxury, and this one actually had stretching space. I was either exhausted or it was a smooth ride to boot. Other than the mandatory food and bathroom stop, I only woke once to see the ‘controlled’ fires in the distant fields on route to Kalaw.

To Be Continued…

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