Myanmar

What to Expect From Yangon, Myanmar

Betel Nut Stains on the pavement

When I saw the first stain I thought someone had had a blood nose on the pavement, but learnt that it is a result of mainly the local men sucking betel nuts wrapped in a leaf with other ingredients depending on one’s personal preferences. Lime stone, tobacco, herbs… There are stations everywhere, and not only do these things give you a high, but they give your teeth a wonderful red bloody glow. At first it is quite confronting, but you get used to it. 

Kamikaze Driving

Merrily high on the betel nut, drivers of all vehicles honk. Whether it be in lieu of indicators, rounding a corner, or alerting pedestrians, cyclists and potholes to their presence, it is a constant. Even at night on a bus.

Crossing a road

Ever played Frogger? The only fool proof system I have discovered is to throw caution to the wind, latch onto locals and follow them in. Once you get the hang of it though, you don’t even notice the honking. Just one lane at a time, stand in the middle of the road, be aware that you don’t have right of way, or basically, splat. 

Riding a bus

A chaotic adventure. If you are lucky you will jump on when it is moving as they may not want to miss the green light. But it is ok, there is a guy to help you. Each bus has a “guy” or two who collect the money, yell out the stop names and keep things running in systematic chaos. 

Trains 

Whether it be within Yangon or around the country it is not an experience to be missed. The old English trains go at a snails pace and it is a perfect way to watch Burmese people go around their daily business. The vendors come through selling fruit, drinks, snacks and toys. The Yangon circular train costs 200 Kyat (about 20c) for three hours. Economic to say the least, and not to mention the beauty of the colonial train station. 

Overgrown buildings

Sigh. I can sit on the balcony and watch the buildings all day long. The colonial building are beautifully overgrown: you can imagine a tree growing through the centre of the house. It can’t be good for the structure, but the aesthetics are divinely unique.  

Business names

The business names, especially those of travel agents and guesthouses leave little open to interpretation. Many of both are along the lines “OK”,  “So so”,  “Mediocre”, “It’ll do”, “Why Not”? “Give it a shot”, “Where else ya gonna look”? 

Wiring 

You could almost make a skipping rope out of some of the low hanging wires. 

Stray dogs

I have found the dogs to be docile (their behaviour may be different towards those of marginal character) and they generally chill out during the day. Come night time it is their land. Time to assert some authority, cruise the block and howl just to make their presence known. 

Pavements

Potholes, cracks, loose slabs… It is a whole lot of “oopsy daisy” waiting to happen, especially when you are diligently dodging the dogs and the wires whilst looking at the buildings and schniffing out something to eat. 

Moving vendors (food choices) 

There is such a delicious cross section of food in Myanmar (and especially the big cities) that one’s foraging is never done. Even when you find something aligned to your taste you have to be sure to go at the right time of the day. 

Chairs at tea houses

Like a child’s tea party where you must be somewhat svelte to perch in these tiny seats, normally located in the gutter. 

Child waiters 

It is only apt that at these tea party set ups there are child waiters serving you. Actually, they may not be children: the age of the Myanmar people is impossible to tell. I am almost never right. 

Kissing noises 

If you want service at tea houses and beer stations you need to make two kissing noises into the air, which makes you feel a little rude, but hey, it’s the way that it is done. Just don’t do it when you return to your home land as it may get you in trouble. 

Toilets: the seedier the better

At first I hated the toilets, but after spending so much time in the country when I go to a bathroom in a restaurant I am slightly disappointed if it is a Western design. Even more so when I find that the toilet is not located right next to the food preparation area. 

Toilet paper for everything

Wiping is a given, but also as tissues, napkins, business cards, and tea towels. 

Food containers

People walking along the street will often have one of those ingenious multi compartment metal containers where the rice is separate normally from the curries or other delicious meals that they have in there. They are called tiffins 

Home Delivery Systems

For weeks I wondered what the long pieces of string hanging from the apartment blocks were. Basically, the vendors will go past, you will send down your money on the rope, and then they will attach your food to the clip and you pull it back up. 

Monks

I used to imagine monks being these ultimately serene creatures, but apparently they go about daily life like normal. They eat, they smoke, they talk on their mobiles and watch tv. Sometimes simultaneously. 

Manual Labour

They don’t like to do things the easy way here, or maybe they are unaware of an easier way, but everything seems to be done by hand. Whether it be food preparation, building sites or farming.

Chinlone

The Myanmar males are buffed. Some of this can be attributed to the amount of manual labour, but more so to the national sport of “chinlone” which to me appears to be the love child of hacky sack and volleyball. With a cane ball they will either stand around in a circle or on either side of a net and play for hours. 

Longyis

The way that the burmese dress is so very sophisticated. Especially the women. The wear fitted sarongs with matching tops, and whilst they are fully covered they look feminine, classy and sophisticated. Normally made of cotton they are comfortable, whether it be one that simply ties or is fitted. The men also wear these (called a pasol) and the really dextrous ones tie the knot loosely at the front. Men are constantly readjusting as there is a fear of it falling down. That I would like to see. 

Thanaka

Thanaka is bark of certain trees used as make-up and sunscreen on everyone. Men and babies use it as sunscreen, but women use it as makeup. I felt like a clown when I wore it, but the Myanmar people see it as very beautiful. 

A baby and mother both wearing thanaka.   

A baby and mother both wearing thanaka. 

 

Velvet flip flops

Flip-flops. The national shoe. Everyone everywhere wears them. Many of the men wear velvet flip flops, and when the women are dressing up they wear platformed flip flops. I am yet to find some in my size. 

Safe, but metal detectors

As a tourist I have seen no crime in this wonderful land, however you know it exists somewhere as when you go into the movie theatre or cinema you often pass through a metal detector. 

Getting caught in the rain

Being in Myanmar in the rainy season it is bound to happen, and I always make a deliberate b-line for somewhere the locals are huddled. It always provides a beautiful interaction. 

When you adapt and put it all together

The ideal way to experience this country is to learn a few words of Burmese, put yourself in a longyi, thanaka and velvet flip flops and just cruise and interact. The people are kind, generous and boast the most beautiful smiles. 

Anti-Social guest houses

After all this overload you can go back to your guesthouse and not worry about loud music, or irritating guests as the guest houses seem to be designed for little interaction. There may be a small common area at the reception and a balcony for smoking here and there, but after all the stimulation you get from going outside the quiet time is a welcome comfort. 

Enjoy your time!!