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Been to Yangon, yet?

By 24/02/2015August 5th, 2017travel, writing

Blogging needs to be regular, if anything. Experts harp on this, often. But last month I took off on a break, to write my WIP. I haven’t visited many blogs, not commented much, and not posted at all. I got the draft finished though (finally!!), and went on a short break to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). I’m officially out of hibernation, too.

Ever since the country opened up its gates to tourists in the past 4 years, friends on social media have been posting pictures of their Myanmar ‘adventure.’ Mine was far from one, let me tell you in advance, and if you can’t stand descriptions of lazy tourism, I suggest you stop reading right now. Having slept three hours a night or so for the last two months, I needed to catch up on some sleep– and since we had booked this holiday long in advance, I did my catching up right there in Myanmar.

Lyungi, Yangon, Myanmar

Lungyis in Yangon

At first sight (and second, and third), Yangon seemed to me the land of the Lungyis, these sarongs worn with a knot on the front by the men, and gracefully, with side-ties and invisible zips, by the women. I love it when the people of a country don their traditional clothing in their daily lives, instead of the drab Western gear most of us in Asia seem to have adopted. Students and office goers all wear Lungyis in Yangon– a garment that makes such elegant sense in the heat and dust. That’s not to say that jeans hasn’t made inroads here: loved the men wearing Lungyis holding hands with women in tight-fitted jeans.

A lot of women also apply Thanaka paste on their faces when they go out (notice the face of the woman in yellow at the far right of the above set of pics). Quite puzzled by these daubsΒ  of sandalwood-looking paste on women’s cheek, I asked a waitress, and she said these have cooling, sunscreen, as well as cosmetic properties, and that Thanaka is a tree, just like Sandalwood.

Pavement snaps from Colorful Yangon

Yangon snapshots

The Burmese reminded me of the Thai, with their soft smiles and friendly faces. Weaving your way while across its gridlocked traffic can be a challenging, chaotic affair, but right beside you in the mornings you would find Lungyi-clad students, colorful hawker women balancing on their heads their entire ware of fried snacks in a basket, the maroon-clad monks with their shiny begging bowls, young women in wet hair and colorful clothes heading to the pagodas, bunches of roses in hand, and mega-phone-weilding-military-uniform-clad traffic police, walking casually as they yell instructions to shiny new Toyotas, the tiny Tata Nanos, old trucks and jeeps.

We did take quite a few walks on the pavements of Yangon dotted with hawkers and tea-stalls, and snack-stalls selling everything from grilled/ steamed pig parts, chicken legs, eggs, peanuts, coconuts, guavas, corn, sea-food. In the evenings, the pavements flowered with small colorful tables, and kid-sized plastic stools– young and old Burmese sat at these tiny feasts, lit by dim lamps and chatted and laughed. We had fun shopping really old second hand books from the pavements– think thrillers and romance published in 1960s, and pirated copies ofΒ  English books published in the early 1980s in Burma.

Yangon Myanmar Lyungyi and walking streets

Street food in Yangon, Myanmar

Of course, we had to sample the Myanmarese cuisine, a curious mix of the Chinese, Indian and Thai influences. Each meal was served with a green leafy consomme, and an array of steamed vegetables with a fish paste. The Burmese eat noodles and dumplings like the Chinese, with some Thai influence; their salads include noodles and meat, like the Thai, and most of their curries (chicken, mutton, pork) and snacks looked and tasted Indian. Curries are invariably greasy– because according to certain local beliefs, the greasier the food you can afford, the better off you are! The Burmese milk tea is the same as you would find on Indian footpaths, the chai so favored and distorted by cafes into latte and whatnot, but the Burmese love their green tea, too, like most Chinese I know.

Pagodas in Yangon, Myanmar

In and around the Sule and Shwedagon Pagodas, Yangon

If all you see are descriptions and photos of food and walks on Yangon pavements, that’s because that’s what we did most of the time. We did also visit Pagodas and museums (very briefly). The Pagodas seemed similar to what I’ve seen in Bangkok, all the gold-plated glorification of the Buddha, who mostly (as far as I know), spoke of the inner spirit, and started the Bhikkhu, or ‘begging alms’ way of life for monks. What impressed me most at the museum was the Burmese fascination with the humble betel-leaf– enormous gold-plated spittoons and containers displayed on an entire floor: remnants of which we see on the betel or paan stall (seen on the upper right corner of pics below) on Yangon streets.

Yangon tourism pavements paan

Tourism on the pavements of Yangon

We should have explored more, taken a day-trip out or something, but I was too busy catching up on sleep, and eating myself silly. So the snapshots of food and clothing are all I carried back with me.

Not really, though. The people, the Burmese people with their smiles and their day-to-day lives, remain with me, and the changing face of a country so recently ravaged by violence, beginning to breathe free.

What was your latest trip out of town like? Have you been to Yangon? Been on a trip where you ‘ought’ to have explored but lazed instead?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • How I am not on a plane to Yangon at this very moment is beyond me.

  • raahulgo says:

    Well described.. m excited to visit yangon after reading this post..?

  • Looks like you had a great time at yangon.Planning to visit it later in the year.

  • ladyfi says:

    Wonderful shots. Looks like a great place.

  • MadlabPost says:

    I haven’t been to Yangon. The street food in your photos look yummy!

  • I visited a couple of border towns of Myanmar in December. People are so cheerful there.. one thing that caught my attention was that they wear sandalwood paste on their face as sunscreen πŸ™‚

    • Damyanti says:

      That’s not sandalwood, but Tanaka– I wish we had a similar culture where we live– would love to keep sandalwood paste on my face all day long!

  • nikibayard says:

    wow! you should be working for the Burmese tourist board πŸ˜‰

  • Wow! Yangon looks wonderful, and I love the way you’ve describe the people and places. Thank you for sharing! I would love to visit, but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to so it’s great to have a virtual tour. The last trip I took . . . last summer, we drove from where we live in a small community near Seattle, Washington to a small community near Atlanta, Georgia – a huge road trip across the US (farther than even most Americans ever drive in their lifetimes), and we had the chance to see the scope and breadth of the US in a different way – we took pictures of beautiful horizons, but we also took pictures of things like restaurant menus and things we saw from the road – a barca lounger turned into a motorized vehicle was one sight I remember that was odd.

  • I got such a colourful sense of your trip from this post. and the photographs really helped bring the place to life. The only thing I might not be able to manage is the heat, quite possibly. I’m not good in very hot and humid conditions, but this post really made me wish I was.

  • I love the photos of the people. Good job!

  • This post has me wanting to book a trip to Yangon right now! The pictures and words accompanying the post are lovely. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful place with a beautiful culture!

  • Dalo 2013 says:

    Beautiful photos and beautiful writing of one of my favorite places in the world…even having been there, your writing brings out so many new and brilliant things about their culture.

  • lexacain says:

    As I’ve only been a tourist once or twice in my life, I don’t know what “lazy tourism” is. I sure liked all the gorgeous pics though. Congrats on finishing your WIP!

  • maverickbird says:

    Awesome post Damyanti. Loved every word and every image. Now you got me wanderlusting for Burma.

  • Julia Lund says:

    Thank you for taking me to a place I am unlikely ever to visit in person. I was transported.

    Like Peter, I wondered if I’d missed some posts and am glad to discover that your ‘absence’ is due to putting your energies into your writing. My blogging has been sparse too as I concentrate on current projects, but it’s refreshing to catch up with what others are thinking about.

    • Damyanti says:

      Hi Julia, thanks for stopping by, for your comment and your blog friendship. Every once in a while, when I’m burnt out, I wonder if I should shut my blogs down, and then I think of friends like you I stand to lose, and go right on with blogging! Off to check out yours.

      • Julia Lund says:

        I know what you mean. Health has meant looking at priorities and although I’ve slowed down on my own posts at the moment, there are blogger-friends I haven’t wanted to lose contact with, as, wittingly or not, they encourage me. I’m learning patience but am looking forward to picking up new pace and purpose. Thank you for being one of my encouragers.

  • I like the images you provided and the history behind them.

    Blogging- when you go away for a while, coming back feels strange.

  • Pieces of 8 says:

    If only there was a ‘love’ button next to the like button! I’m determined to get to Yangon and Myanmar this year. I loved reading of your experiences and looking through your photos.

  • yogi saraswat says:

    This is the first time I read a blog post on Yangon. It comes alive through your writing and pictures. Loved the post! I just want to know , is there any road transport between India and Myanmaar ?

  • curtisbausse says:

    Thanks, Damyanti. I was there in 2011 and yearn to go back, but in the meantime your post is a lovely reminder.

  • Moon says:

    This is the first time I read a blog post on Yangon. It comes alive through your writing and pictures. Loved the post! πŸ™‚

  • uniqusatya says:

    Good to see you back after a long time πŸ™‚
    As i go through your travel titbits here,i feel a break for a trip like this is totally worth πŸ˜‰

    • Damyanti says:

      Satya, the trip came at the tail end of the break from the blog :). How have you been, and what did I miss?

      • uniqusatya says:

        Great. Alls well that ends well.Actually am finding that many of those whom i met through AtoZ are missing out,either their blog doesnt exist or they havent blogged since then again πŸ™ Expect for that, things are well.And yeah check out my new look πŸ˜‰

        • Damyanti says:

          I’m not AZing this year, but shall be cheering from the sidelines. Blogging has taken a backseat in my life this year– loads of writing to get done.

  • Peter Nena says:

    You had a great trip there, Damyanti. I wondered where you were and even visited your blog to see if I’d missed some posts. Welcome back. Cheers!

    • Damyanti says:

      Hey Peter, missed you too, and your stories. Will mosey on over and have a look at what I missed on your blog!

  • Wonderful detail. Reminded me of Guam during my childhood, but definitely my adult travels in Brazil. Love your blog Damyanti.

  • Very exciting opportunities… I am also planning to do it soon…

  • Great pictures…some of them look so similar to ours…I always wish to visit Yangon(formerly Rangoon) Have read about it so much in the writings of Saratchandra and some other Bengali writers.

  • dNambiar says:

    Even with all that catching up on sleep you seem to have given us a great account of your Yangon trip. So enjoyed reading it and learning about the clothing and food. Thank you for the sights too. πŸ™‚

    • Damyanti says:

      You’re welcome. I didn’t do any ‘touristing’ or visiting ‘important places’, so that left ample time for strolling around, watching and eating. Very relaxing, actually.

  • Param says:

    Not yet, but want to visit soon!

  • I’m envious Damyanti! Myanmar has long fascinated me. As has most of the east. And I enjoyed walking the streets with you. That’s the kind of holiday my husband and I enjoy. Strolling, eating, watching the people. Unless of course we get to stay in people’s homes. That’s even better!

    • Damyanti says:

      Sheila, yes, I’ve discovered the joys of agenda-free holidays. I need to go for more of those. I’ve stayed at people’s homes too, and you’re right, is fantastic!

  • jr cline says:

    Wonderful pictures. You are so right about drab western clothes.

    • Damyanti says:

      I wear drab western clothes, I have to admit that. But I love a people that sticks to its traditional clothing.

  • ramonawray says:

    Welcome back. Amazing pics and some powerful thoughts to go with them… Definitely a place I’d like to visit and things I’d like to try… Excellent post!

  • Dan Antion says:

    Welcome back, and back with a splash. It looks like you had a wonderful trip. thanks for the post and especially for the photos.

  • macjam47 says:

    Welcome back!! πŸ™‚ I have missed you, and you wonderful postings so much. I was just thinking about you, and wow, you’re back.
    I have never been to Yangon, but the photos are amazing. There are so many places to go where no matter how you try to see everything, it is always impossible to see it all in the time you have.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks Michelle! You have no idea how good it feels to be missed. I’ve missed you too. Off to check out your blog! Very true about the ‘not enough time’ part. It’s hard to know a country or a person, no matter the number of years you see them.

  • Jemima Pett says:

    Lovely to have you back. Did I miss you? In truth only the richness and warmth of the experience that is your blog. But then, I’ve been very busy! Myanmar looks fab.

  • amritasabat says:

    Gr8 shots & description Damayanti! Its like our own country! Hope d govt ‘acts east’ faster…:) it has highest number of Indian origin ppl too..did U kno DAT?!

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks, Amrita. There seemed to be loads of Indian-looking folks there, but no, I didn’t know about that statistic.

  • kaypickard says:

    Love your description of this interesting country, on my trip to Cuba recently, a lot of the group I was with plan to go to Burma/Myanmar. I wish I could add photos onto my blog like you, I am so jealous. I had hundreds of them but could only manage to get a few on. Is there a program on WordPress about adding photos?

    • Damyanti says:

      I checked out your blog, and you seem to have photos on it. Do you mean my collages? I made them on my phone, with a collage App. I didn’t take my camera with me this time, so most of the photography and the blogging you see in this post are done on my phone.

  • davidprosser says:

    Beautiful photographs. Welcome back.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  • ANooP says:

    Good one Damyanti πŸ™‚ Looks pretty close to Thai, the buildings and to an extent people. There is very less said about Burma, also I haven’t read many travel stories about Burma.

  • Congrats on finishing your draft, Damyanti. Your trip in Yangon sounded like a great time and that food! Wow. πŸ™‚

  • Beautiful photos! I’ve never been to that part of the world, but it looks fascinating. Congrats on finishing your draft!

  • Awesome photos, Damy! The food looks delicious. We’ve missed you, but glad you took time to finish your manuscript and visit Yangon.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks, Alex, I missed you guys, too. Saw your mail when in Yangon, will dig up the address you asked. My next draft begins in April, so I guess no AZ for me this year. Will cheer you from the sidelines!

  • SharonKS says:

    That’s some really nice photos you have there! I spent a year in Yangon between July 2013 nd August 2014, working for Ooredoo. It is a beautiful country. Love the friendly people there. Everyone always has a smile for you!

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks! wow, have you written about your experiences? Would love to know more about Burma and its people from firsthand accounts.

  • it looks beautiful, nice photos!

  • ranselijo says:

    I never been to Yangon but they already in my travel list. Since Myanmar very open to tourist, I wonder how much the increasing of their tourism rate in 2014 πŸ™‚

    • Damyanti says:

      It’s a nice place to visit– cheap, too. I saw tourists everywhere in Yangon, but that’s also because I went to the touristy places. From what I heard– the bigger cities are safe to visit, but not so much the small towns and villages.

      • SharonKS says:

        The small towns and villages are safe. Just avoid the conflict areas. People are really very friendly!

        • Damyanti says:

          That’s good to know, Sharon, if we make another trip. This year I want to be all about more work and less travel!

  • cynthiamvoss says:

    Interesting post! I don’t know anyone who has visited Myanmar, so it was all news to me. Sounds like a nice trip. Good for you for taking it easy. Congrats on finishing your draft! I hope I can say that one day too lol

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks Cynthia. Since I live in Asia, Myanmar is a lot more accessible to me. All the best with your draft– you Will finish it if you stick with it. I know it doesn’t feel like it at the moment– I didn’t feel I’d even finish reading through the damn thing, but I did, and so will you! πŸ™‚

  • I visited regularly between the years 1970 and 1995. My first visits only permitted a 24 hour stopover and I was watched in the Tamada Hotel (Old President Hotel) and followed everywhere I went. Those who had contact with me there had to give an account. While huge progress has been made the military still calls the shots behind the faΓ§ade of a democratic system now. Suu Kyi is a modifying influence in their elected assembly and world pressure has forced the money grabbing military leaders to at least put up an appearance of democracy. Yangon and the major tourist cities are peaceful and relatively prosperous now, but out there in the tribal areas things are troubled. The Burmese apparently are related to Tibetans, I think you may mean the Karen people in the city look very much like the Thai. A lot of the Karen are still in Thailand refugee camps and many of them still on the military hit list. I love the common people of Burma, they are so graceful and kind. So unlike the military leaders.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thank you for this wonderful comment. I wish you would write more about your experiences. I did see police stations tucked away in alley ways, but they looked pretty harmless. From my trips to China, I know appearances can be deceptive! At the museum I learned about the various Burmese tribes, but not enough to identify any, actually. I think common people everywhere are loads better than their leaders, elected, or otherwise.

  • luckyjc007 says:

    Very interesting and I love the photos. I’ve never been there, but it looks inviting. I would like to try some of the food. I’m glad you had a good time and had a chance to relax.

  • equinoxio21 says:

    A lovely trip it seems. Thanks for sharing with us.
    Take care

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks, Brian. It could definitely have been more exciting, but I don’t think I was up to any excitement at all. πŸ™‚

  • Julia Manuel says:

    I’m a go with the flow kinda gal when I travel…i prefer to soak up daily culture than run around seeing all the sights recommend. Though I do see them I give myself space to breathe it all in. Good on you. By the way, may I make a suggestion? Your photos are gorgeous but difficult to really see them when in collage. I’d love to see them in whole ☺

    • Damyanti says:

      I’m increasingly a less demanding traveller– I don’t need to see all the sights now. Much more fun to be had that way. I hear you on the photos– these collages were made on the go on my phone– going easy on travel excitement also meant I left my camera behind, and took shots on my phone. And in a blog, my audience runs out of patience very soon if I post tons of pics. i should start a photo blog one of these days. πŸ™‚

  • rumadak says:

    Nice Writeup Damyanti!! you reckon it’s safe to visit ??

    • Damyanti says:

      Yes, as safe as Vietnam/Cambodia, or India. the people seemed friendly, and we had no bad experiences despite walking around in some shady-looking neighborhoods.

  • That was marvelous! Love the pictures. I don’t mind being lazy on trips. I do what I want so I enjoy myself. I still absorb the culture when I people watch!

  • Arlee Bird says:

    Eating and sleeping sounds pretty good to me. This sounded like quite an adventure though. Much more exotic than my last trip out of town when we went to a small town in the mountains to get a slice of apple pie. I’ve never outside of the Americas. I’d like to, but under my present circumstances this seems unlikely.

    You are fortunate to have opportunities such as this.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks, Lee. I do feel incredibly privileged to be able to travel so often, and part of me felt guilty at not doing more on this trip. Though that trip for a slice of apple pie sounds gorgeous, too. Someday I’m in your neck of the woods, you must take me. πŸ™‚

  • blondeusk says:

    Interesting place

  • Very interesting post, Damyanti. I like the great photos and learning about this beautiful country and their culture.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks, Michelle. You’re so kind, as always. Was afraid my regular blog friends would have forgotten me by now!

  • Thanks for the tour and photos.