A Visit to a Forbidden Country: Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar


Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a mysterious little country.  Western visitors have been prohibited from visiting for a long time, and it's only recently that the country has been opened up to American tourists.  The country has been embroiled in a civil war which dates back to its independence in 1948, and journalists were once seen as dangerous invaders.

I like to visit countries off the beaten track, but I probably wouldn't have visited Myanmar if it was still considered dangerous for tourists.  I had a few people warn me that it might not be completely safe for a Westerner, but I have traveled through enough undeveloped countries to know that locals are often shocked by what outsiders think of them.

Many locals still refer to Myanmar as "Burma," and they call themselves Burmese.  All the locals I met were lovely, wonderful people, and some seemed enchanted to meet an American (we're quite rare, you know).  The street food in Yangon is some of the best street food I've ever had, especially the soup in the photo below.  It cost about 30 American cents, and I had three bowls of it.  

Another fun food destination in Yangon is 19th Street, which is rather touristy, but fun nonetheless.  You can order fried crickets by the pound, as well as a variety of items on sticks, including various tropical vegetables.  The chefs grill them up right in front of you.  

The old British colonial buildings are still intact downtown, and they're lovely.  The various parks around Yangon are worthwhile, as well as the zoo and botanical gardens, although the zoo and the state of the animals is a bit depressing.  I've never been impressed with the way that Asian zoos treat their animals, and I have visited quite a few of them.

One of the most impressive sights in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is one of the most iconic temples in the world.  The stupa on the main dome is covered in 7,000 diamonds, sapphires, and sapphires, and an enormous emerald sits at the very top, in order to catch the last rays of sunlight.  It's best to go in the early evening, when there's still enough light to see the temple during the daylight, but also to catch the lighting of the candles and the sunset on the golden temple.  Be sure to wear something that covers your legs (either long pants or a skirt that goes down past your knees), because otherwise, you'll be forced to buy an overpriced wrap at the ticket counter.