When we embarked on this Southeast Asia adventure last November, Burma wasn’t on our list of possible destinations. Inevitably, as these things go when you’re a traveler, it didn’t take us long to meet a fellow comrade who has been to Burma and had many nice things to say about it. Our curiosity was aroused immediately, and by the time we met another traveler praising Burma, we knew we’ll be visiting it too.
So, here are our first impressions after three days in Yangon, the 6 million people capital of Burma:
* The Burmese regard white-skinned visitors with a friendly smile and curious eyes. They like to say “Hello” and the most common question is “What is your country?”. Several people we met even knew about Lithuania (rare occurrence) and a man in the embassy of India even congratulated us on gaining independence (it happened 21 years ago actually, but I suppose one shouldn’t stop appreciating it every day) and expressed his hopes for democracy in Burma
* Passers-by stop to help with translation when we fail to express our usual questions to the street vendors (our usual questions are “What is it?” and “How much is it?”
* The hotels are expensive and worn-out. Take a look at this room we’re staying it, its $18 per night! Included in the price is a shared bathroom, a fan, cockroaches the size of a large thumb and hardly any space for your backpack. On the upside, there’s a great rooftop terrace with excellent views of the colonial architecture dominating the streets of downtown and delicious breakfast buffet, which includes fresh fruit, mango toasties and fresh mango juice. Also, this is one of the few hotels in the city that has an Internet connection and Wifi, free!
* It rains heavily and frequently and we’ve not much sun. This almost reminds us of London, except that the humidity here is epic
* The streets are full of old, banged-up cars and buses, with only an occasional modern vehicle. Hardly any motorbikes (other places in Burma have the usual number of motorbikes for an Asian country, as well as trishaws and even horse carriages)
* Women and children decorate their faces with traditional yellow make-up, called Tanaka. Its believed to work as a sun-block too. The results are eye-catching and very exotic
* Having met so many friendly locals we let our travelers guard down and were tricked by a sleight of hand master when changing money. Don’t worry, we didn’t loose much, but it was a lesson worth re-learning
* There are many Indians living in Yangon. Also a noticeable amount of Muslims, possibly from Malaysia
* Most men spend considerable amount of time chewing betel leaf and areca nut wraps, which paints their teeth dark red over time (as greatly increases the risk of oral cancer, it turns out..). The mixture, after chewed for a while, gets spat out right where they stand
* Every old tree has a small altar dedicated to Buddha or Krishna
* Several times a day the sounds of ceremonial bells, drums and chanting travel around the city. We’ve no idea whether that’s Buddhists, Hindus or Muslims practicing
* Many men, as well as women, wear skirts (Longyi)
We’re planning to leave Yangon today to check out some of the smaller towns south-east from here, including the legendary Golden Rock, hanging, in defiance of the laws of physics, on an edge of a cliff. We’re sure there will be no Internet access there, so we’ll talk to you all in about a week when we’re back in Yangon.
PS Birthday greetings to Zygis’s cousins Agne and Simas and Gerda’s aunt Nijole! And happy solstice celebrations to the rest of you!