Myanmar Part 1 — Yangon
Almost three years ago our steps led us to the golden land known as Myanmar. That was before the election when the LND won a landslide victory. What was striking at the time was the people's hope for a more democratic regime. We were surprised because the Burmese were talking more or less freely about politics back then. So after getting off the plane, we plunged into a swirl of cars and a concert of horns and eventually reached our hotel in Yangon after driving through a giant traffic-jam that went for miles and miles.
I was travelling with my faithful Ricoh GR, of course, but did not take a single photo on the first day as we were both too tired by the long journey and needed rest before visiting that bustling city. The two things that really struck us on our second day, after a good rest, was the hectic traffic and the difficulty in crossing the roads. It took us about three or four minutes to cross any road as we were afraid of being run over by the never-ending speeding . After a couple of days, however, we realised it was quite safe to venture into the traffic.
The second impression was the friendliness and kindness of people, always willing to help and smiling. This time, although Yangon is a colourful city and the golden light in the Shwedagon Pagoda is absolutely amazing, I prefer the black and white conversions of the images as they seem more appropriate to my eyes.
Our first visit was to the harbour in Yangon as we live not far from the harbour in Le Havre and always visit harbours wherever there is one.
We had mixed feelings about it as we were struck by the poverty of some dockers' wives begging under any bridge leading to the quaysides. We were told that people working on the harbour had no secure job and were enrolled on a daily basis when there was work. Once you reach the quaysides you have to step carefully as they are made of rough, disjointed or broken wooden boards. You can often see the water of the Ayerwaddy beneath your feet. However small traditional boats ferry families to and fro across the river. The size difference between these boats and the enormous tankers is quite a sight. We then went to the ferry terminal which was busy because some Burmese consider it's not that safe to cross the river on the small traditional boats
We spent some part of the next day travelling some sections of the circular train around Yangon. It was a nice experience as you meet people from all walks of life, students, pedlars, office workers … and you can hop on and off whenever you want. People are friendly on the train, ready to start conversation and if you had no time or no mood for breakfast in the morning you can always buy cakes or fruit from vendors that get on the train.
Click on any image to enlarge
Of course a visit to any city would not be complete without visits to local markets. I've always thought that markets are the soul of a city wherever you are. In Yangon it's an explosion of smells and colours (sorry for the black and white), scores of people milling around the vendors, squatting, touching the fruit having a short conversation probably bargaining. I could spend half a day and not get tired of it.
You also have many rickshaws that line the street of the markets.
A visit would not be complete without visits to the various pagodas in town, including the Shwedagon. It's amzaing to see how religious people are, praying sticking little leaves of gold on the Buddha statues in the pagodas or praying or consulting their smartphones. Teams of sweepers, one different team for each day of the week, keep the Shwedagon spotlessly clean.
Despite its decaying buildings covered with monsoon fungi, its anarchic electricity network, Yangon is a wonderful city that is well worth visiting.