Entering Myanmar through Yangon International Airport, you could have been any number of places around the world, it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. In total honesty, I’m not actually sure what I was expecting, but I came through a state of the art international airport. The country is growing rapidly, and the airport is a sign of the huge construction projects that have taken place over the last few years.
As I headed into downtown Yangon, people were going about their business as you would see in many Asian cities. One thing I immediately noticed was the clothes people were wearing. Ladies were wearing traditional long skirts and the men were wearing what most people might call Sarongs, here they are called Longyis (pronounced Long-Jee). Unlike it many Asian cities, traditional clothing is worn all the time and the majority of men walk around in their Longyis. That is not to say that people don’t wear western style clothes as well, jeans, t-shirts, shorts are also widely worn, but the sheer amount of men wearing Longyis really surprised me. The traffic is terrible, but that is nothing new in Asia. Rush hour is particularly bad and if you happen to be in a residential or commercial part of the city your trip will take a long time, it could be over an hour from downtown to the airport. The traffic isn’t as bad as places like Bangkok or Jakarta though and certainly not overcrowded with tourist buses. There are public buses, no overground or underground public transport system but there are trains out of the major cities. Another thing that will strike you is the lack of Motorbikes and even push bikes. In Bangkok, you can’t go far without a motorbike taxi stand, in Vietnam scooters rule the streets of Ho Chi Minh but in Yangon there are few and far between. I am told this has something to do with a shooting where the perpetrator fled on a motorbike, but there are some around. I am sure this cost effective form of transportation will soon make its way back onto the Yangon streets.
Along some of the most crowded streets you will often come across some beautiful scenery and expansive lakes. The one in the picture is Inya lake which is a few km from the downtown area away from the hustle and bustle. It provides an excellent way to unwind, especially in the early evening when you will see people jogging and walking around the banks of the lake. Open spaces are not uncommon in the city though and a short taxi ride you will find big parks and woodland areas. The climate in this part of the world means vegetation grows easily here.
When you step outside and talk to the locals they are all fascinated by westerners. Myanmar only opened up to tourists in 2010 and so seeing a western person is still a novelty in this part of the world. I have found all Myanmar people to be very friendly and willing to help you where they can. It is a lovely pure fascination of foreigners that I am sure existed in other parts of Asia but has now sadly been eroded as tourists bring with them over development, higher prices and imposing of unpleasant attitudes. I hope Myanmar can stay as friendly as it is for many years to come.
Don’t forget to visit the Shwe Dagon Pagoda from the pic, a magnificent experience at any time of the day.