It was my first full day in Myanmar and I woke to a steamy Yangon morning – it was going to be a hot day!
After breakfast I gathered my things and headed out in search of the meeting point for my tour.
Just 2 blocks from my hotel, in the middle of a traffic circle on a very busy road, sits the Sule Pagoda. Yangon traffic is crazy, pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way. As a result, there are several pedestrian overpasses built and luckily one of them provides the perfect spot from which to photograph the pagoda.
This older part of Yangon is laid out in a grid pattern and is very easy to navigate and thankfully the street signs are in both Burmese and English! One of the first things I saw was a procession of monks walking down the sidewalk, collecting alms. I was definitely in a different world!
I turned up 38th street, a bustling “market” street. Both sides of the street were lined with vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables and “fresh” meat and fish.
I met up with the group for my tour and we headed off to the Yangon Central Railway Station. Our guide, Myat, bought our tickets while we waited on the platform for our train. The Yangon Circular Railway is their commuter rail network. It does a loop around the city, stopping at 39 stations along the way. It’s less than 50km in total and takes 3 hours or more to do the full loop!
The railway in Myanmar is narrow gauge and there is a lot of movement on the train – it is definitely not a smooth ride. Built by the British in the 1950’s nothing has been updated since, there is still a flag man on the train. With a loan from a Japanese development agency, they have begun the process of repairing the track.
The plan is to also replace the aging rail cars with new, modern ones.
At almost every station we passed, vendors were set up to sell their wares.
The wood piled on the right is thanaka – it’s bark is ground with a little water on a stone slab to create thanaka paste. The women use it as a cosmetic, but it also provides a cooling sensation, acts as a sunscreen and is good for the skin. Most of the women and children have it on their faces, some with beautiful patterns.
This man was putting the finishing touches on a cabinet, right at the station!
On board the train, vendors walk back and forth through the cars, selling food to the locals – hard boiled eggs (both chicken and quail), fresh fruit, hot sweet tea (brewed tea with sweetened condensed milk) and made to order salads and soups.
This lady was preparing salads. She carried the tray on her head and a small plastic stool in her hand. She’d sit on the stool, take the tray down, prepare the salad, put the tray back on her head, stand up, pick up the stool and move on to the next customer. Keep in mind that this train is moving side to side a lot; it was fascinating to watch.
This was one of the train stations – Insein – pronounced “insane” of course. Now I can say I’ve been there!
We got off the train about half way around at the Da Nyin Gone Market and fought our way through the crowd attempting to board the train.
The market had the typical fruits, vegetables, meats and spices …
Fermented fish paste is a staple in Burmese cooking and is available at all the markets. Behind her head are blocks of this fish paste; they simply cut off the amount needed for you.
No space goes unused – the vendors set up their produce on the tracks. When a train comes, they move out of the way but the produce stays. The train passes over and it’s back to business as usual!
Back on the train there was a family with a young son, he seemed as fascinated with the strange white people as we were with him.
After the train we went to a local restaurant (with air conditioning) for lunch and had the pleasure of trying a Burmese favourite – pickled tea leaf salad which is slightly spicy, crunchy and very tasty.
Yangon has the most Colonial era buildings in all of South East Asia. Some of the more important historical buildings are being fixed up, but many, like this apartment building (built in 1918), are not. There was no electricity in 1918 so they just run the wires on the outside. You can’t see it from this angle, but there were large satellite dishes on the roof.
After the tour I headed over to the Bogyoke Aung San market. It’s mainly jewellry, antiques, artwork and colourful textiles. I didn’t stay long, it felt more like a “tourist” market than one for locals.
I had planned to go out after dark to photograph the Sule Pagoda at night, but the heat and jet lag set in and I fell asleep around 4pm. It’ll have to wait for another night…