October 20, 2014

my first glimpse of myanmar

my arrival was easy enough, i breezed right through immigration and there's a taxi desk with fixed fees by the exit so that's nice but i had a pickup from my hotel so i'm off the plane and on the street in less than 30 minutes.  the hotel taxi is pretty stinky.  like the windows were left open when it rained and it hasn't properly dried.  my hotel, Hotel 63, is fine but far enough from the center of town that i move in a couple of days over to the Hotel K.  i arrived after dark and in the morning the view from my window is pretty depressing.

i met up with a contact at a coffee shop to get some perspective on Yangon.  the art scene is exploding here after decades of restriction on any type of expression and as i wander the streets i see galleries that have popped up everywhere.  

the traffic is just like everyone says - gridlock everywhere.  a 2 mile $2 taxi trip can take up to 30 minutes.  motorbikes aren't allowed in the city.  the country is like 98% Buddhist but apparently they forget that as soon as they get behind the wheel.  they will run your ass over in a heartbeat.  i saw two people get hit by cars in my first few days.  

the colonial buildings that still exist are in severe decay although there is a movement now to restore them which i hope they do because they really add to the character of the city.  there is talk of an opera house or museum but some of these buildings are already being scraped to fill the need for more hotel rooms.

walking around there are not a lot of westerners.  i see them in some of the western restaurants but rarely on the street.  the exception is when i join the free Yangon walk http://www.freeyangonwalks.com/ this guy is good... reciting the complete Kipling poem Mandalay and his passion for architecture makes him a good tour leader.  yes, it's free but everyone enjoys it enough to give him a few bucks.

and the food.  i'm adventurous and willing to try the street food.  i look for the native spots for a snack but i'm spoiled after Thailand and the food i find on the street is fried, swimming in oil, infested with flies and bland.  i try to fill up on breakfast at the hotel but even that is by any standard bad.  they sell msg by the pound here and i can tell by the swelling in my ankles it's going into everything.  unlike Thailand where i eat mainly from street vendors and the local cafes here i find myself looking for the western restaurants which will eat up your budget very quickly

there is a very special, extremely revered pagoda in Yangon.  it's listed as the top site to visit in Yangon.  i go early in the morning - about 7 am - to avoid the heat.  it is packed and for the hour i am there i do not see another westerner.  i'm guessing the tour buses show up later.  to me it's just another pagoda but i am respectful because it's clear there is a lot of worshiping going on. everywhere you go there are tourist fees and everyone gets tired of seeing the signs saying as a foreigner you must pay but the locals are free.  what if in the US they only made foreigners pay for access to our National Parks?  something to think about.  here's another thing to think about... at this site that is so revered and holy that you can't wear shoes or inappropriate clothing .... there are signs advertising free wireless access for the internet and vendors everywhere.  it's like putting a router into St. Peter's ... and charging noncatholics a fee to enter.

still there is an excitement around the city with all the restrictions that have been lifted in the last couple of years and the sense of optimism and hope is quite tangible. i'm off to Bagan to visit the temples that i have been wanting to see for years.

No comments:

Post a Comment