Admittedly, I’ve been neglecting Yangon during my recent trips to Myanmar. I always spend the first day of my trip in Yangon, then head off to Mandalay and Shan State — maybe a few days in Bagan — for the bulk of my stay, and then back to Yangon for the final half-day before returning to Bangkok. I used to spend much more time hanging out in Yangon, but after the better part of a decade I’ve seen all there is to see and other than meeting friends for meals in local restaurants, there isn’t all that much I want to do in the increasingly crowded and traffic-choked city.
But I added an extra day at the end of this trip, just so I’d have more time to schedule meals with friends such as Win Thuya, Ma Thanegi, and Thet Myo Aung. Having the luxury of an extra day meant that I didn’t have to cram so many appointments into a narrow window of time. Also, instead of napping back at the hotel I forced myself to get out and about and take more walks around town. And by doing that, I remembered why I used to enjoy Yangon so much. Despite the heat and congestion, there is a vibrant, upbeat pulse that pervades the city. Lots of vendors on the streets, a steady flow of pedestrians, plenty of wacky billboards, and a rainbow stew of people. But there are more vehicles on the road (even without motorcycles; Yangon being one of the few cities in Asia where the two-wheelers are prohibited) and sometimes crossing the street can be a frustrating task.
I stopped into tiny pharmacies to buy drugs (anti-fungal skin cream for monks in Shan State), teashops for meals and tea (of course!), and restaurants such as Feel (where Thet Myo Aung works) for my noodle fix. And every time I’d be in these places, some friendly stranger would strike up a conversation. Maybe they noticed me thumbing through my dog-eared Burmese phrasebook, or wearing a stylish longyi, but whatever the motivation it always resulted in a very nice chat in either English or Burmese. Yangon, I still love you!