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Visiting Myanmar: 24-Hours in Yangon

Visiting Myanmar: 24-Hours in Yangon

VISITING MYANMAR: 24-HOURS IN YANGON

As much as I love to travel and explore new places, I have a bad habit of traveling back to familiar destinations.

Despite having barely stepped foot in South America and Africa, I tend to keep gravitating back to Asia over and over again (Boracay, Palawan, and Manila are the usual suspects). BUT (!!) luckily, it’s the largest continent in the world, which means there are a ton of beautiful/stunning/appealing/mesmerizing/Instagrammable destinations waiting to be explored even if the same country I’ve been to before.

So for 2017, Myanmar was the latest country crossed off on the bucket list. I’ve actually been longing to visit Myanmar but have always put on the back burner. Every passing year, I hear people talking about how it’s their new favorite destination, or see breathtaking pictures on Pinterest, Instagram and travel blogs, to the point that I finally realized what I’m missing out on.

THE ITINERARY

On this recent trip to Asia, I had four weeks with three countries to cover (actually five, if we count long layovers in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong ). Considering I was on a limited schedule, I was only able to allocate six days (ish) total for Yangon and Bagan.

For the six days I was in Myanmar, my itinerary looked like this:

Day one – Arrive in Yangon in the A.M.
Day two – Yangon during the day, early evening flight to Bagan
Day three – Bagan
Day four – Bagan
Day five – Bagan, then overnight bus to Yangon
Day six – Bye Myanmar!

GETTING TO MYANMAR

Getting to Yangon wasn’t very easy. The most direct route from Bali (where I was coming from) was with the Kuala Lumpur based airline, Air Asia which meant a required layover in the Malaysian capital.

It took me this long to get to Yangon:

Bali – Kuala Lumpur: 3 hours
Overnight layover in Kuala Lumpur: 10 hours
Kuala Lumpur – Yangon: 2 hours 40 minutes

That’s almost sixteen hours of travel!

YANGON

From the moment I landed at Yangon International Airport, I immediately got some initial impressions of Burmese traditions and customs. Some of my observationswere as follows:

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to do much in Yangon – hence the reason I only allocated one whole day in the Burmese capital. For me, it was just any other regular city in South East Asia – and walking around town pretty much confirmed it.

YANGON ACTIVITIES

For just over 24 hours in Yangon, I was able to sneak in two activities:

THE YANGON CIRCULAR RAILWAY

It’s a local commuter train that goes around Yangon, connecting towns and suburban areas and loop around back to the main city. The total train ride takes around three hours to complete.

For just a dollar, it’s a great way to see Yangon and get a glimpse of the daily routine of the locals. However, it probably won’t be the most comfortable ride you’ll ever be on. The train is rustic and antiquated and the one we were on was a Japanese train that operated in Tokyo decades ago, as seen by the all the Japanese signage.

Circular train in Yangon Myanmar

Gazing out during the 3 hour-or-so Circular Train ride in Yangon

Additionally, you will be fighting for some personal space. The locals that ride the Yangon Circular train bring on as many belongings as they can hold. Granted, the train has 39 stops throughout the 46-kilometer trek, so passengers (and their belongings) get on and off fairly quickly.

The seat arrangement was particularly challenging for me. The seats face each other, which means if you are slightly on the taller side (I’m 6’2”), you will be fighting for legroom . . . for three hours. ???

Meeting the local riders in Yangon Myanmar

Meeting the locals during the Circular Train ride in Yangon

But what I did enjoy was seeing the change of scenery. As the train goes from station to station and further away from the city, you get a glimpse of the small and rustic villages outside of Yangon–with the occasional views of the children playing kickball or soccer or volleyball along the train tracks.

This is as local as you can get.

THE SHWEDAGON PAGODA

I had originally wanted to see this Pagoda both during the day and lit up at night. But, after the exhausting three-hour train ride, I decided to relax and forego that plan. And since I only had 24 hours or so in Yangon, this meant it was my only chance to see the infamous Pagoda at sunrise.

Arguably the city’s (rather the country’s) most famous landmark, the Shwedagon Pagoda has got to be one of the most impressive ones I’ve seen thus far (and I’ve seen quite a lot with my travels in Southeast Asia).

Morning prayer at the Shwedagon Pagoda

Morning prayer at the Shwedagon Pagoda

The sheer scale of the Pagoda is impressive in itself. It’s set on top of a hill in the middle of Yangon, so it’s very much visible from afar. But what was equally impressive was the peaceful, almost sacred atmosphere, the moment you enter the shrine. I’m not Buddhist, but watching the people who were there praying before the crack of dawn made me feel very spiritual, at peace, and to a certain extent, inspired.

It was an experience.

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