Critique A day in Yangon

Discussion in 'Wanderlust and Travel' started by the_traveler, Jul 15, 2017.

  1. The following is a set of pictures from my first trip to Myanmar in 2005, specifically a single day in Yangon. One didn't see many Westerners on the street and even fewer Americans traveling solo. So meeting me was quite a surprise for many of the people I encountered.

    The images are not high quality but important to me nonetheless. Taken with a D70 and an 18-70 and a minimum of photography experience and knowledge.

    I had been in a small town in central Myanmar, Kalaw, that was well known as a trekking center and I had stayed in a hotel run by a Chinese woman and her brother. She suggested that, when I got to Yangon, I should stay at a hotel run by her friend. She said she would call and tell them to be nice to me.

    So I ended up at Lei Lei Hotel on 783 Maha Bandoola Rd in Yangon. From the startled looks on everyone's faces when I stepped into the lobby, I may have been the first Westerner ever to stay there. In fact, if you look at the reviews of the Lei Lei on Tripadvisor today , none of the reviews are by Westerners. (Prices are higher but that's to be expected.)

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    One of the staff was evidently assigned to me, he took my bags to the room, which was adequate and clean but windowless. The sole window had been painted over because it looked out on a very bleak air shaft. After a few minutes, he brought up a bowl of fruit and a bottle of cold water – an unexpected luxury.



    I ate in the hotel last night, the lobby was also the restaurant. The same young man, Mr Lee, was my waiter; my guess was the his English was the best of the staff. When I asked about hiring a guide to see Yangon, he said that he could get the day off and he would guide me. When I inquired about the cost, he said that it was usually $15 per day but, since I was a hotel guest, he would only charge $10. I asked if we should hire a car and if he drove; he responded that would be too expensive and he would bargain for taxis and that would be much cheaper. (In fact, we ended up taking 5 taxis and the cost was less than $1/ride.)

    The next morning when I came down for breakfast (which was the standard for tourists all over Myanmar - eggs, fresh brioche, cheese, coffee and juice) he had the required guide uniform on – white shirt and blue longyi (sarong).

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    I had seen the big tourists sights, I wanted to see where the people lived and worked and so we set off. Yangon buildings were in execrable shape, the military junta had no money for infrastructure so the roads, sidewalks and buildings looked badly worn and needed repairs and paint.

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    We walked through the Indian market. In point of fact, much of central Yangon is a continuous street market and everywhere we went, people ignored me out of courtesy but were wonderfully friendly when my guide stopped and introduced me.

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    Last edited: Jul 15, 2017
  2. Much of the food, especially the prepared food, was completely unknown. My guide got me some samples and, tbh, the tastes were far out of my usual palate.
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    Mr. Lee is getting some tasting samples for me.

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    Besides the usual, totally unknown fruits, vegetables and grains, this woman was selling short blocks of thanaka wood which is ground to make the yellow white paste that woman and children use for cosmetic and sun block.
    Although I don't have a picture, I have seen this wood set out on a shallow tray on a fine stone with water around the periphery of the stone. The bark and wood is ground against the wet stone to produce that light tan paste.

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    Last edited: Jul 15, 2017
  3. This, of course is a public drinking fountain.

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    And a young monk out soliciting for food which is given by the vendors to gain merit.

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    Lots of dried fish, sold by weight and measured out with simple balances.

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    A little Indian girl that found this large-ish, pink person incredibly interesting.

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  4. This man was making roti, like crepes filled with your choice of many fruit fillings. About 30 cents, tourist prices and excellent.

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    In the same market, a man was making a paan-like chew with a betel leaf, a bit of betel nut, a bit of tobacco and a dab of lime.

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    This young girl was friendly but unsure of the camera deal. She loved seeing her face on the back of the camera. This was long before the opening of the country and cell phone with cameras.

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  5. In the mid-day heat, we rode around the center of town amongst the left over buildings from the colonial era and saw the Burmese version of Western chains that were not yet allowed into the country.

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  6. I bought a lottery ticket and gave it to my guide.

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    A typical street restaurant.

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    After lunch we went down by the Irriwaddy River (edit:actually the Yangon River, an estuary from the Andaman Sea) to watch the large boats being unloaded onto lighters which were then unloaded onto the backs of stevedores. The bags looked like they weighed more than the men carrying them.

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    Last edited: Jul 16, 2017
  7. Not many police around but they were treated with, if not respect, then deference. This was the time of the military junta.

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    The cyber network turned out to be multi-player gaming done on a local network in a very hot room.
    No one looked when I peeked in.

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    Telephone booth and jewelry store. Jewelers also served as money changers and gave the best exchange rates.

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  8. On the way back to the hotel, we passed by the Musmeah Yeshuah Synangogue which is supported by gifts and managed by one of the very few Jews left in the country. The caretaker and the merchants are Muslims.

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    We got back to the hotel about 4 and I was just totally wiped out from the sun. When I gave Mr Lee, my guide, the $15 for the day he wanted to refund $5 because we came back early. I asked about a taxi to the airport the next morning and he said he would use the hotel van to take me.

    At breakfast, as a going away gift, I gave him several paperback books that I had carried for light reading. Modern paperbacks were then in short supply in Myanmar and sold used for $5 or $6, a weeks pay, from street merchants. He was ecstatic and showed the books to every one, every person, in the lobby.

    When we got to the airport, Mr Lee took my bag inside and then gave me a hug and said I had been nicer to him than any other person in his life.

    These are the moments that I try to hold onto from my experiences in individual travel.
     
  9. Such a moving story Lew. My parents were in Burma (as it was then known) right after WW II. Dad was a medical officer in the Royal Army. They spent most of their time in Rangoon and Mandalay. My Dad always thought it was the friendliest country he'd every lived in--and he's lived in 25 or so.

    Your pictures and story are great and show how resilient that part of the world is.
     
  10. I learned something today that I should have known.
    That is not the Irriwaddy River in the pictures but the Yangon River which is connected to the great Irriwaddy by a canal but has it's own exit into the Andaman Sea.
     
  11. Totally captivating story and photo's. I wished it did not have to end. I am always looking for more of your posts. Perhaps I can do something with my photo's of Thailand and Bali..
     
  12. I think you saw a great deal for one day, what an interesting story, nice work.

    Cheers
     
  13. I've been back to Myanmar twice since and the changes are substantial but more of that later.
     
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