Tour of the Old Kingdoms: Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon, also known as Rangoon, is the former capital of Myanmar. That is, before the Junta ruling over the country suddenly decided that they wanted to move the capital to Naypyidaw. It was my first time here and it really was a charming place. I’ve really never been to a place quite like it. Many things here are just so out of this world that sometimes, I don’t even know what to say. Haha.

The view of golden land, Myanmar as we descended towards the airport.

Below are just some of the more memorable things about Yangon. You may or may not agree with my opinions.

The electricity goes off every few hours.

It occurs everywhere and also goes off randomly so you cannot time it. Night or day, you never know! I was there a short while and it was quite comical for me especially when it seem like we’re the only ones reacting to the power cut haha but I imagine it to be inconvenient and extremely frustrating for residents living there.

What if you’re halfway through baking a cake? What if you’re streaming an episode of your favorite series? What if you’re taking a hot shower? What if you just came home from a long and HOT day and had just sat down to luxuriate under the aircond?

But as I stayed there longer, I became used to the random power cuts. It’s not like you can do anything about it anyway. They usually last about an hour or so. Maybe more in some areas. However, I got the shock of my life when I was sitting down at the airport waiting for my flight and the electricity went off. Haha.

It does explain why the boarding pass is handwritten!

It also explains why the computers provided in the airport looks as if they are for decorative/ornamental purposes. Can you imagine if they were to actually be dependent on the computers? I cannot imagine the amount of lost data! Not to mention delayed flights and a whole load of crazy disorganization!

Coming to Yangon feels a bit like going back in time.

It’s true! The buildings, music, fashion, buses, the cars there, are all so 80s!

An interesting fact: if you look at the buses closely you’ll realise they have a lot of Japanese writing on the back, on the side, on the front. I wondered about this when I was there but I guess I never ventured further. A few days ago, I was reading my friend’s Daphne and our Japanese friend from SSEAYP, Romi’s, account of their Myanmar trip and found out this:

R was getting so excited over the many old Japanese public buses which she used to go on when she was little. I am guessing that Japan may have donated some of these as Japan is also very much involved with funding in the restoration of Cambodia’s ancient temples.

That totally made sense.

Even when boyfriend/girlfriends go dating, it’s a lot like P. Ramlee movies where they “berjumpaaaaa di taman Firdauusieeeee, bersamaaaa memaduuuuu asmaraaaaa~~~”. Haha, they will walk in the park, sit together, then the guy will buy flowers or mango for the lady and they whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ear as they watch the sun set.

This was at Inya Lake, apparently a popular dating spot.

It’s really sweet! 😀

Further examples of “going back in time” was when we went to a mall there, and they’re still selling the likes of Walkman, Discman and all that. One shop called the “Music Centre” and we were amused to see that they were selling cassettes instead of CDs! Hehe. I find that really cute indeed!

I wish we could’ve taken photos but apparently photo taking is not allowed in any shops. In fact, the security guard will follow you everywhere! Which brings me to the next point.

Security guards will follow you everywhere

We just came from Bangkok where there is a very strong military presence due to the red shirt protests. It somehow dulled our senses a bit while we were there. However, now in retrospect, actually there is a strong military presence as well in Yangon, particularly in commercial areas cause there’s many people there. This may have be caused by the bombing during the water festival only a few days before we came. When we come to malls or whatever, we’ll be constantly followed by security guards, eyeing us suspiciously. Hehe. It’s very intimidating I think.

Everyone wears makeup

There’s this foundation thing that they wear only on their cheeks called the thanaka. It’s apparently made out of the root of a plant, ground to a paste and slapped on the face every morning!

According to Wikipedia:

Thanaka cream has been used by Burmese women for over 2000 years.[4]It has a fragrant scent somewhat similar to sandalwood.[2][6]The creamy paste is applied to the face in attractive designs, the most common form being a circular patch on each cheek, sometimes made stripey with the fingers known as thanaka bè gya, or patterned in the shape of a leaf, often also highlighting the bridge of the nose with it at the same time.[4] It may be applied from head to toe (thanaka chi zoun gaung zoun). Apart from cosmetic beauty, thanaka also gives a cooling sensation and provides protection from sunburn.[1] It is believed to help remove acne and promote smooth skin.[4] It is also an anti-fungal

So cool right? Haha, saw some sold in the shops for cheap but smells kinda like betelnut so NO THANKS!

Everything smells like pinang!

Pinang is Malay for betelnut, or areca nut. When I come to a country, one of the first things that I notice is the smell of the country. India smells a bit like pee and garam masala, Thailand smells like rivers, somtham and in some areas, dogs. Malaysia smells like rice, China smells like salty and soy sauce, Manila smells lantuh like wet earth, Japan smells like cold and fish.

Well, everything in Yangon smells like pinang! In fact, if I get a Burmese boyfriend, he will probably smell like pinang.

A thriving Muslim community

I was very surprised to how easy it was to find halal restaurants in Yangon. In fact one of the more popular foods here is briyani! Not surprising really if you consider how near Myanmar is with India and Bangladesh, but I always associate Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam together so it was surprising to me!

It’s a very mild version of biryani, not too spicy. It’s quite yummy really and the chicken is tender and yummy. Feels like they used ayam kampong. Not too impossible considering how everything here is stripped to the bare minimum.

Also, as we’ve discovered, as we’re walking down to the parking lot of Bogyoke Market, I suddenly hear azan! It was unmistakable: Allahuakbar allahuakbar! I was so surprised to hear it in downtown Yangon no less. Apparently there was a mosque just 1km away from the market. I think having a mosque downtown, in probably the busiest part of the city, say a lot about not only the thriving Muslim community but also the high level of religious tolerance there.

You can just make out the shape of the mosque behind the Bio-Essence billboard.

Almost everyone can speak English!

When I was on SSEAYP, out of 28, only maybe 5 of the Myanmar contingent could speak English. So I was under the impression that perhaps it’s not a widely spoken language in Myanmar. Imagine my surprise when I came there and almost everyone could speak and even JOKE in English! In fact people here are really friendly and some would even approach us to just talk in English.

A lady who we bought longyis from. Speaks beautiful English and I won’t be surprised if she speaks many other languages as well since she sounds really bright!

FML all this while we’ve been punk’d! So now I am convinced that the PYs that joined SSEAYP are only pretending to not speak English, for whatever reason!

The Burmese Script

Don’t need to learn Burmese to understand what this means. Hee.

Before I come to a country, I try to minimise too much surprises by Googling the country to death and finding out as much as possible about it. In all that Googling, I never came across Burmese script. In fact I didn’t come across Burmese script when we were on the ship either. Turns out, they have very unique characters in their writing system. Most of the letters look like cute little circles!


My friends and I, for a while, could actually read numbers. And for fun, we translated our phone numberse. Haha.


Black Market Money

The currency used in Myanmar is kyats (pronounced “chats”). 1000 kyats is roughly equivalent to US$1. You actually need both currencies here and while US dollars are officially not accepted there, it’s actually still widely used. You can bring your US dollars in but to get kyats, you would need to money exchange illegally. Lookout for men carrying black plastic bags at Bogyoke Market, those are money changers!

I is rich to have the kyats!

Anyway there are no coins. The most common denomination is 1000kyats. However, there are smaller change:

These notes are so jarih.

But these are very rare, so most of the times, when you go shopping in stores there, if you have a bit of change, they will give you sweets amounting to the amount they owe you. Hehe!

Next post will be about all the places we went to in Yangon, Myanmar. 🙂

NB: Some of the photos in this post is taken by my good friend Ariffin Aziz. Especially if they look good and high res. He has a big ass camera. It’s black. He’s got a long lens too. In fact it could’ve been longer but back then it hasn’t arrived in the mail yet.

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