A first time visit in Yangon



Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 16/06/2024, 11:00

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

A taxi ride from the airport to the city centre takes two hours. First the road is surrounded by palm trees and flowery bushes. ‘I think I’m going to like it here’ – I think when we pass through it. It doesn’t take too long before some women wearing longhyi, holding baskets of flowers and fruit on their heads, appear on the road. It starts to get really colourful and exotic. And then there is just chaos: people trying to cross congested roads, car drivers honking at them and at each other, people selling flowers in the middle of the street, overcrowded busses with people literally spilling out of the windows, and ever present dust and heat. This is Yangon!

Some say that you shouldn’t start your visit to Myanmar from Yangon. For first time visitors and those, who haven’t travelled extensively, it can be an overwhelming experience.

We arrive at Suley Pagoda, which stands in the middle of the city and is the orientation point here, I set out in search of a place to stay, and straight away feel that me and Yangon won’t get along. I have never seen such dirty and dark houses, so much dust in the streets, and I haven’t been in a city where the smell is making me a bit sick. The only thing I want now is to go back to Bangkok, which seems like the most modern place I know.

But when I’m finally sitting in my hostel room, I open the guide and think that I really need to give this city a chance. I’ve flown thousands and thousands of miles to see it, so maybe I can be kind to it, take it easy and see if the city and I can make a connection.

Typical flats in Yangon
I leave my hostel the next day to get lost in the labirynth of streets. Early morning is the best, when the sun is still low and doesn’t want to burn your skin, and when some of the markets are already set up in the little, narrow allies. It is said that watching people at the markets can give you the best view on the local life, so I go in one of the streets and look around. There is not much space to take a photo, or stand to watch this amazing scene. The locals are pushing their way through, wanting to buy the freshest products and get the best price for their fish, chicken or herbs. People are shouting, arguing, laughing. There are kids running around, cats and dogs looking for food, and monks collecting their morning alms. There is an overwhelming stench of rotten food in the air, but the colours and sounds are taking my mind off it completely.

A meat stall, market in Yangon

Street market, Yangon
I move to get a closer look at the food stalls and order some noodles. The people at the opposite stalls stare at me. When I don’t finish my huge portion of food, they cheerfully laugh at the woman who owns the stall where I’m eating. I wish I knew what the joke is. Then they wave at me and shout ‘Hello! Bye!’.

On my way I visit a Hindu temple, I pass a mosque, and what seems like hundreds and hundreds of monks and little nuns, which go around with their bowls, collecting money and food.

The Sulej Pagoda shines in the early afternoon sun. The locals inside prey. The charge to get in is $5, but it is not as impressive as I thought it would be, so I move on.

Sulej Pagoda, Yangon

Young nuns on the streets of Yangon

My day is filled with sounds, smells and view of monks, mixed with colourfully dressed crowd. It is a pleasure to watch them all passing me by. I go back to my hostel with my head buzzing and my camera full of photos. I take a seat outside and make notes of what I’ve seen. I don’t mind the dirty houses, I don’t mind the rat running passed me and the ever present cockroaches.

‘So, how do you like Yangon?’ – asks the owner of the hostel.
‘Well, I think it is a great city’ – I reply. At the same time a truck is driving through with school kids at the back. ‘Hello miss!! Thank you! Bye! Please! How are you?’ – they shout what is probably all they can say in English. Their silver laugh lingers in the air. ‘And I also think that Yangon likes me, too’ – I add with a smile.

Colourful people of the city