The thirty-minute taxi ride from the airport to downtown Yangon was in itself an adventure. The driver first adjusted the knot of his longyi (long checkered or striped skirt worn by men) before getting into an old cab dating back to the early 80’s. With my eyes wide open and hair wind blown by the alfresco ride, I gazed at the mix of old buildings and the new structures being built. I made a mental note of the many hotels I spotted. I wondered why my driver was driving on the wrong side of the road, only to realize both right and left hand vehicles are allowed on the streets of Myanmar. While there are no taxi meters, agreeing on a price of the fare before entering the cab was a suitable set-up.
In the evening, I met up with Karen, a young Filipina who had been working in an advertising agency in Yangon for the past year and a half. She took me to two favorites drinking spots of expats: The Savoy, her choice for intelligent conversation and 50th Street Bar and Grill where the tight-knit community mingle, shoot pool, and drink beers. Unlike other parts of Asia, Yangon has as a small, friendly expat circle, comprised mostly of international schoolteachers. No high-powered finance guys here. She told me about how muchYangon has changed since she arrived. There are definitely more advertising requirements coming her way, and she fears more expats will come and drastically ruin the cozy “where everybody knows your name” social scene.
|Man wearing Longyi in the streets of Yangon|
The next two days, I hopped in and out of a series of amusing cab rides to visit the attractions and recommended restaurants around Yangon. Being a food and travel writer, I was curious to sample Myanmar cuisine. Unlike neighboring Thailand, their curries and salads were not at all spicy. I hit two top restaurants serving Myanmar cuisine, Pandomar and Taing Yin Thar, which were both were virtually empty. On the very day Aung San Suu Kyi was receiving her Nobel Peace Prize in Norway, I found myself as the lone visitor at Bogyoke Aung San Museum allowing me to relish in seeing her bed as a young girl. When I inquired at the reception on the location of the nearest Catholic church, the hotel GM overheard and kindly walked three blocks to bring me to the nearest church. Early one morning, I visited the fish market, where I stood out as the lone tourist amidst local women shopping for ingredients for lunch or men packing large Styrofoam boxes of fresh fish. But they gave me big betel nut stained smiles and kindly obliged my requests to snap a few photos.
|Having fun at the Fish Market|
Coming from the Mekong Tourism Conference just prior to visiting Yangon, I learned tourism is top priority in Myanmar, expecting arrives to double in three years. The monsoon season usually means low occupancy, but during my visit, the hotels in Yangon - from affordable East Hotel to the posh hotels like The Strand - are all packed with international business travelers keen to see what the opportunities Myanmar has for them. As I checked out of my hotel, three potential Malaysian investors had to check out, too, as the hotel was full. They had to move to another hotel with a vacancy. More hotels are sprouting in Yangon to address the growing demand, and existing properties have to remain competitive. The Governor’s Residence, a 1920’s colonial home turned boutique resort, will be renovating in May 2013 to update its rooms. In the airport, I met a Japanese corporate lawyer, who had traveled from Osaka to connect with a Japanese client doing business in Myanmar. There are many more business travelers like him seizing opportunities in this emerging tourism destination.
|Shopping At Bogyoke Aung San Market|
Right now, there is a buzz in Yangon. It is the hum of a destination about to be famous. It is a special time, where tourists are warmly welcomed, yet the tourist footprint remains barely visible. There is a joy in getting a glimpse of an authentic city yet to be invaded by tourists. It is charming to receive a window knob from the cab driver when it rains, to roll up your window in the dilapidated cab. It is fascinating to watch the morning rush of men in longyi commuting with their tiffin containers alongside Buddhist monks carrying their begging bowls. There are still many opportunities for tourists like me to experience Myanmar’s genuine innocence and kindness of her people. My only wish is that it would last for years to come.
|Monk in the morning with his begging bowl|
Special thanks to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism of The Republic of the Union of Myanmar for their help in obtaining a visa and Khiri Travel for facilitating my travel to Yangon.
This post also appears on
http://khiritravel.blogspot.com/2012/07/kindness-trail-in-yangon.html where I guest posted for Khiri Travel
to see more photos of my trip to Yangon, join me on Facebook/MaidasTouch or Twitter/themaidastouch
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All rights belong to Maida Pineda 2012. No photo or text may be used without the permission of this author.