My account is only as an observer, nothing more. I do not insist on being correct so do read with the understanding that this account is coming from a first-time visitor to Myanmar with no prior research.
I flew into Yangon in September for an oil and gas conference with my colleague Jerry. On the sidelines of the conference I explored a bit of Yangon.
Truth be told, Myanmar was never on my bucket list of countries to visit. I had never seen any purpose for visiting Myanmar. It seemed like an outdated country people brought up from time to time – a place I remember as Burma from the history books I read as a student.
Prior to visiting Yangon I had done no research. The only thing I knew was that the local currency was Kyat. I didn’t even know Yangon was 1.5 hours behind Malaysia. The pilot told me that during the mid-flight announcement.
‘We will be arriving at 7.00pm. Weather is expected to be good…’
What? 7.00pm? It’s way past 7pm now! I thought and then realised. Oh. Time difference. Right.
We changed our USD to Kyat at the airport.
USD1 = 1,281 kyat
USD1 = 1,280 kyat
We went for the highest exchange rate available. We didn’t know it then but you can get even better rates outside of the airport. We used 8,000kyat to pay for our fare to the hostel. A bamar man in a longyi helped us with our bags as we settled into the white taxi.
It was the first time I had seen a man in a longyi. At first I thought it was a hospitality thing – something taxi drivers wore.
‘At night, traffic bad in Myanmar,’ said the taxi driver, honking throughout the journey.
Was honking normal here? I wondered.
Every driver honked. You honked when you tried to get another car out of the way and you honked when you want pedestrians to give you way.
Our driver dropped us off in front of a KFC 30 minutes later. ‘30th Street,’ he said, pointing at the area. I thought he meant we were right in front of our hostel.
Instead, we were a flew blocks away from our hostel. We spent another 10 minutes looking for our hostel in the dark.
Yangon is dark at night. Unlike most places I’ve been, street lamps were far and in between in Yangon. I could not help but feel slightly insecure walking around with my luggages.
‘There!’ Jerry pointed at a brightly lit sign. We lugged our luggages to the first storey where our rooms were. I was comforted by a cozy and neat looking room. But before I could sleep, I had to fill my stomach.
Our first dinner in Myanmar was at a restaurant that was just in front of our hostel.
I had something called ‘Fried Cruspy Milk Vermicelli’ (I think they mean Crispy, not Cruspy) and Jerry had Fried Spicy Vermicelli.
‘How does it taste?’ I asked Jerry.
‘Different. Try it.’
It really did taste different. Same looking fried spicy vermicelli as the ones back in Malaysia but a different flavour altogether.
After dinner we went for a stroll to explore the street we were on. It was dark and rats and cockroaches ran past us a few times.
‘I put my hands in the pocket so people can’t pickpocket,’ Jerry said.
I followed suit. (Days later I realised this was unnecessary. People in Myanmar were not known for being pickpockets.)
Central Yangon smelled of sewage, a smell I wasn’t used to at first. I slept in spite of the smell, a little jet lagged and completely exhausted.
999 Shan Noodles
I woke up the next morning at 5.30am after only 5hours of sleep in spite of my best efforts to sleep some more.
Since we were there to attend a conference, Jerry and I were cautious about getting food poisoning. We dropped by this breakfast place a few streets down called 999 Shan Noodles. The Shan is only one of the many ethnic groups in Myanmar. And that morning we were going to try Shan food.
This is dry Shan Noodles.
The Shan Noodles had a refreshing and savoury taste to it. With generous portions of cayenne pepper added to it, the Shan noodle became my favourite food throughout this trip.
Of course, 999 Shan noodles is not the only place you can get Shan noodles. You can get Shan noodles from street stalls set up with little chairs and tables.
After breakfast we planned to take a stroll around Bogyoke Market just 10 minutes by foot from our hostel. Bogyoke market is where you can find jade, textile, lacquerware and other things that the people in Myanmar use.
However, we were greeted with closed doors when we dropped by at 8.38am. People in Myanmar, we realised, were not particularly punctual. The signboard in front had said
Open: 8.30am – 5.00pm
We decided to return again after visiting a company in our area of expertise in the outskirts of Yangon. We came back to a fully open Bogyoke market at 11.00am.
There weren’t many things I felt like getting for myself or anyone I knew. Most of my family and friends were not interested in textile, lacquerware, woodwork or jade. It was still interesting to stroll around the market.
Bogyoke is huge. I never did finish exploring it but my time spent there was interesting enough.
We spent the next few days exploring a couple more TripAdvisor recommended restaurants in Yangon.
Rangoon Tea House
People in Myanmar are friendly. We know for sure because without us asking, a man selling battle nuts asked, ‘Can I help you?’ when we were so obviously lost while trying to find a restaurant on 34th street.
‘Do you know Linkage is?’
‘Can I recommend you another place? With authentic Myanmar food. After this traffic light, two blocks down, turn left until you see Rangoon Tea House,’
We thanked him profusely. It had been a long time since I met someone so genuinely interested to help.
We were at RTH for dinner.
RTH is one of the pricier restaurants in Myanmar. I think only the wealthier people in Yangon eat at RTH. It was like most of the restaurants in more developed countries, with a good ambience and good customer service. A meal for two, with sides cost us 30,000 Kyats.
The food was alright too. This is the fried kitchen curry-sortof dish which was really good.
This was also a more expensive restaurant in Yangon. I also don’t think this is a restaurant most locals frequent. I felt Monsoon to be more expensive than RTH. We did not have sides and our bill came to 28,000Kyats.
The food was so-so compared to RTH and 999 Shan Noodles. I wouldn’t go back again.
Lots More in Yangon and Myanmar
Since this was mostly a work trip and I was a bit short on time, I didn’t spend any time going to the more famous sites in Myanmar, like the Swedagon Pagoda. I only had the opportunity to take a few glimpses of it in its golden glamor.
Conclusion: Myanmar is more than pagodas.
Myanmar’s allure is immediately apparent. I don’t think you need to visit only the famous sites to feel what Myanmar is like. I took some of the most interesting pictures while on rides between conference venues and meetings.
Like what my friend Noel said, ‘It’s not hard to fall in love with Myanmar.’ I agree. If you’ve never thought about visiting Myanmar, do go. Although I’ve only been to Yangon, Noel says there are even prettier things in Mandalay and Hsipaw. Me? I’m definitely keeping these two places in my travel list for the near future.