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Yangon

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Scratching the Surface of Yangon A crazy night cycling tour to end the trip.

The city. Always my least favourite leg of the trip. Everything about it defies my idea of “getting away” because I live in a city. But of course, foreign cities are always different.

Let us reminisce here a bit… Remember our lovely accommodation at Ngapali beach? Well we decided to cut back that indulgence, and booked a budget room at Thamada Family Hotel in Yangon.

We nicknamed the scary washroom the Saw toilet because it looked like a perfect location for a sick Saw game.

The hotel’s lobby already looked dodgy as hell, and we made the mistake of not viewing the room before paying for the night. The worse part was the staircase that smelled like pee. The place looks like an old person’s home, and everything in it felt icky — even though the towels and sheets were clean.

We enquired about a day trip to the Golden Rock at the reception, and found out that the bus journey took an entire night, and the other option, private cars, cost about 150,000k (USD153). Plus, the hotels at the top of the hill there are costly too. So we decided to skip the whole thing, leaving us with too much time in Yangon.

Visiting cities as tourists is often just a series of mediocre stops to me. (That’s why I procrastinated over writing this post for months.) So here’s a quick low-down on the tourist things what we did in Yangon.

Vista rooftop bar Yangon
Went to Vista rooftop bar to enjoy a nice city view while sipping crappy drinks.
Shwedagon Pagoda from Vista rooftop bar
The view of Shwedagon Pagoda just before sunset.
 Shwedagon Pagoda at night
Incandescent against a city where electricity is rare.

Breakfast the next morning at Lucky Seven. It was peculiar how it looked like an authentic Hong Kong char chan teng. And the food was extremely good and unbelievably cheap.

Lucky Seven Yangon
Noodle salad with chicken
Lucky Seven Yangon
Mohinga. Not a big fan of this, but Priya loved it.
Lucky Seven Yangon
Fresh milk noodle

We had all of that, including a drink each, and it added up to a whopping 4,000k (USD4)!!! It was seriously one of the best meals we’ve had the whole trip. Kudos to the Lonely Planet guidebook for recommending this place!

Buddhist monks Yangon
Buddhist monks accepting donations from the locals during their alms rounds.
Strand Hotel Yangon
Made our way on foot through the sign-less streets towards the very posh Strand Hotel.
Strand Hotel Yangon
Cooled down with overpriced fresh juice and a fruit platter at its cafe, and enjoyed the free wifi while admiring the colonial-style interiors.

Since we’re spoilt princesses who cannot take Thamada’s gritty appeal, we decided to forgo the night (even though we’ve paid) and check into Myanmar Life Hotel instead.

Myanmar Life Hotel Yangon
The hotel’s neither cheap nor convenient, but we chose it because it has this wonderful pool that’s perfect for whiling away the unbearably hot afternoons.
Yangon local food
Lunched at a restaurant near the hotel, and had fried rice, watercress, tom yum soup, hot plate tofu, and basil because we are such fatties. The meal added up to 20,000K (USD20).

Then we headed back to the hotel to bask in its comfort and hid from the scorching afternoon sun before heading out for an adventurous night. We’ve booked a night cycling tour with Bike World (it’s a hostel too) for 15,000K (USD15) each.

We set off from Bike World’s hostel on our awesome city bikes, and joined forces with a huge group of expat and local cyclists at another bike shop in the middle of town. I think there were 60 bikes in all.

Bike World Yangon night cycle
Dykes on bikes part 2!
Bike World Yangon night cycle
A local TV crew was tagging along to cover the cycling tour.
Bike World Yangon night cycle
We spotted some cyclists with serious-looking biking gear and got intimidated because we were expecting a leisurely cycle through the city.

And we were right to be afraid…

As soon as the “tour” commenced, everyone sped off. It was an exhilarating challenge trying to figure out the gears, cycling as fast as I can go (up some painful slopes), watching out for the traffic, and trying not to lag behind. Soon the group split into two, with Ade and I trailing the group that was ahead. The local guides were of a big help as they watched out for us and stopped on coming traffic at busy junctions. So I simply rode with a tunnel vision, willing my thighs and catching my breath as I cycled for my life. The thought of lagging further behind and left stranded in the middle of the road was enough to make me go faster.

The only sightseeing I managed to do was during a break, as the only thing I saw while cycling was the tarmac in front of me.

Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda again. Picture taken with shaky hands while barely standing on my wobbly legs.
Bike World Yangon night cycle
Yes, yes… I’m famous.
Jeff Bike World Yangon night cycle
Gross and sweaty after the 2-hour cycle led by Jeff.

Next evening, we paid Yangon’s most important attraction a visit.

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon
The Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s hard to imagine its scale from pictures… It’s MASSIVE!

It’s pretty amazing to stand at the foot of this ancient structure and admire its grandeur, but part of it was taken away by the swarms of tourists buzzing around.

And the entire place is gilded in gold!

I still feel it’s inappropriate to have a place so unnecessarily decadent  when most of the population is in deep poverty. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. In my (perhaps ignorant) eyes, wealth is extremely misplaced here.

And we’re finally down to our last meal in Myanmar. So I decided to make it extra special with…

Myanmar fried grasshoppers
Fried grasshoppers!
Eating grasshoppers in Myanmar
It didn’t taste nasty. More gritty than gross.

But the rest of the dishes at on 19th street in Chinatown was pretty tame.

19th street Yangon Chinatown
Skewered BBQ snacks and local beers to end it all off!

What an amazing trip it has been, with lakes, mountains, ancient pagodas, dessert lands, beaches, and great food. I left Myanmar feeling like I barely scratched the surface because there’s so much more to explore, and I should really make it a point to return before it turns into another tourist hub.

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