Posts tagged ‘yangon’

the juicy tourist


Sometimes Yangon feels a bit too touristy despite the miniscule number of tourists (compared to the numbers in all the other countries i’ve visited – although unfortunately i’m unable to find any documentation online to confirm this) Although its common to charge tourists more than locals for certain sites (in Cambodia, for example, access to the temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap cost foreigners $20 per day while locals and children were exempt from any fee). However, in Yangon the number of sites that charge foreigners but not locals is simply gruesome. Shwedagon Paya charges foreigners $5 and locals nothing, Sule Paya charges $2 and locals nothing, and a stroll around Kandawgyi lake costs $3 per foreigner and nothing for locals. In a country where the average income per capita income $200 and where foreigners like me come to see life from a Burmese point of view (and this includes minimizing spending to live more like a local) these fees are outrageous. Even the sign is insulting. We come to your country as friends and guests, why exploit us?

One of the refreshing things about Burmese people is how often they talk to you simply for the sake of talking. Usually the chat is a general introduction (what is your name? where are you from?) but sometimes the interlocutor surprises you, like tonight when the Burmese man spoke Hebrew to my Israeli friend.

The Burmese may be the most friendliest group I’ve met traveling in Southeast Asia, despite their country being the most restrictive for travelers (restrictions on where you can go, hitchhiking not possible because no driver would risk being suspected of working against the junta by trafficking foreigners, permission required before staying overnight at a local’s…)

A man approached me yesterday and wanted to tell me about the junta. He looked very tired and sad, his eyes were wet and he didn’t want to let me go. “How can I help you” I asked. “Don’t forget us,” he said.

A country whose citizens look so content from the outside and yet suffer so much discontent? During my trip I met several individuals who voiced their discontent with the government and enthusiasm (albeit weak) for the 2010 elections.

How do you judge a country? One man I spoke with analyzed that the junta is not completely bad and that about 30% of what they’ve done has improved the country. “But they don’t give us any freedom.” Is life without freedom worth the benefits of economic security? (I am not suggesting that Burmese have economic security) I recall Voltaire’s saying, “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This principle has been one of the founding ideas behind my own values… In a world where people think (that is, they have the fortune or misfortune to have access to news and others ideas) is it not cruelty to limit communication among individuals? Or is it my American “brainwashing” as Dmitry used to say that has made me so desirous for individual freedom?

On the flight back i sat next to a Burmese man who left Burma when he was a child. When i asked him about his country of birth he said it was not safe to talk. Only when the flight took off did he turn to me and say “now we can talk about the government!” He mentioned that he has to pretend not to speak Burmese every time he deals with government officials because otherwise they demand “tea money” and that when he rides in a taxi he avoids discussing anything political with the drivers who usually lament about the Burmese situation.. “You don’t know who’s a spy… it’s very hard…”

I’m going to China. I’m going to Hong Kong. And I’m going to have a nice time on my own and meet people with zing who will inspire and teach me and with whom I can share……

A brief summary of Burmese history and current situation.


April 29, 2009 at 3:15 pm Leave a comment

back to Yangon

The journey to Yangoon wasn’t so bad. I was the last passenger to come on the bus. The bus originates from Taunggyi and I think most of the passengers begin their journey there. Regardless of where you get on though the price of the ticket is the same. The bus was a standard non-air-conditioned one. This was my preference. I’m tired of freezing and breathing the stale pungent air of one of western civilization’s least enjoyable contributions to Asia. Unfortunately I neglected to remember the condition of Burma’s roads, many of which are half-paved and full of scattered rocks, pebbles and sand.

Throughout the first hours of the trip from Kalaw to Yangon there was only space enough for one vehicle. So the bus had to pause to make room for others traveling in the opposite direction. Every time this happened (and even when it didn’t) the sandy earth below would get stirred up and enter my window and my lungs and settle on my oily face.

Getting a window seat was somewhat of a struggle too. I wanted to leave Kalaw on the 25th so that I could have time to visit Kyaikto and the Golden Rock but there was not a single window seat available on any of the dozen busses heading to the capital on this day. And since I absolutely cannot sit comfortable or sleep without a window next to me, I booked a seat for the 26th.


The bus was of regular size but it had 5 seats in a row instead of 4. In the middle there were seats folded out from the right row eliminating the customary passageway through the center of the bus. There was also no compartment on the bottom, so all luggage was stored inside. The tops racks were filled with bags belonging to the early passengers, the rest of the bags were stored beneath the seats. My large backpack was placed in the narrow portion of space intended for my feet. And so I sat with my right foot in the crevice between my bag and my neighbor’s and my left numbingly folded on top of my bag, my sandals stuck inside the handle bar of the chair in front (for easy access and so that they don’t get lost), my small backpack (with my passport, wallet, books and laptop) on my stomach, my head leaning against the body of the bus, the window completely open and the dusty air beating my face which attempted to cover with my hand now and then.

Taking the sweater and scarf I had prepared in advance to use as pillows I settled myself to sleep. And slept so sturdily that my neighbor had to wake me up when we arrived. (I did arrive with an aching back, a sore bum, and a bruised head).

Taxi men huddled around me as soon as I descended, and I wearily told them my price. It wasn’t good enough. I didn’t care because all I wanted to do was stand upright and wake up. But they kept coming and asking “What can I do for you?” so eventually I settled on 3000 kyat ($3). I was led to a car, my bag was put in the trunk and I was told to sit inside and wait a minute for the driver. A minute turned into 5 and then I was told to get out of the taxi and get into another one.

The other taxi already had 3 passengers. I started to argue. But it was in vain. Especially since I wasn’t in the mood to argue and $3 or $1 didn’t make any difference at the moment. Still, I felt cheated and wished one of my friends was here to help me. I was the last one to be dropped off and the driver had the audacity to demand another thousand kyat for driving me 9 blocks from where I originally wanted to be dropped off. Flatly, I told him no. With a broken expression he drove on. What was strange was the care he took to deliver me to the door of my new destination rather than the corner before it, and than the way he did not even help me pull my bag out of the car.

Anyway. I’m in the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived. Near Sule Paya. This is downtown Yangon. These are the Indian and Chinese quarters. Sule Paya is 2000 years old. There are several mosques and churches. There is a synagogue 9 blocks away. Two weeks ago when I visited the synagogue I was told there are only a handful of Jewish families left in Yangon.


During the day vendors and street chefs set up shop along the streets off Sule Paya and in the late afternoon the number of street shops and their offerings multiply. They sell the most delicious pancakes, “pizzas,” samosas, spring rolls, noodle soups, rice and curries, corn on the cob, vegetables, fruits, palm sugar juice… t-shirts and clothes, batteries, watches, kitchen supplies, electric things and many more gadgets I see but don’t notice.



Boy wearing thanaka on his face selling mangoes.

Need to use the phone? Here it is.

Need to use the phone? Here it is.

Panties for sale.

Panties for sale.

My room has windows leading onto one of the streets where after sunset a tea shop is set up. A Burmese tea shop is usually an informal place, just a dozen plastic child-size tables and chairs with a thermos of green tea set on each and a main table with snacks for sale. Indoor tea shops usually have more selection. This particular tea shop plays very loud music, from American rock to Burmese pop to Russian rap from the 90s!

By midnight the streets are empty. No people, no cars. Just the street sweeper ceremoniously hulling away the day’s rubbish.

April 28, 2009 at 2:30 am Leave a comment

Yangon, Burma’s old capital

Arrived April 9. That sweet smell in the air that’s so common in
India and other south east Asian cities i’ve visited is absent in
Burma. The traffic here (unlike Thailand) is right-sided but all the
cars have their steering wheels on the right too. The majority of cars
look at least 2 decades old, the busses at least 3. Burma’s numeric
system differs from the Latin one so reading numbers has turned into
a guessing game. I’ve learned one word and i say it (mispronounce it)
frequently: se-zu-bey (thank you).



The downtown area where we’re staying is very charismatic, full of
shops, vendors and people. Burmese pop blasted through the street
beneath our room last night till midnight. Gastronomically, this could
be an alley way in culinary heaven. Vegetarian options are plentiful
and we can eat really well on less than $2 per meal for the 4 of us, a
meal consisting of several vegetable side dishes, rice, fresh fruit,
fried bananas and spring rolls.



An eccentricity among the Burmese are the longi that the men wear
(skirts) instead of pants and the thanaka bark that women, men, and
children cover their faces with to protect from the sun.


This morning i applied for a Chinese visa. For nationals of almost
every country in the world the fee is $30; for Americans it’s $130.

ps. This site is censored so i’ll be updating via my mom who’ll post
on my behalf.

April 16, 2009 at 9:56 am 1 comment

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