Five Unlikely Things To Do In Yangon
by Marc Nair, 15 April 2018
1. Explore 25th Street and its environs
Of all the manic streets in Kyauktada Township, in the middle of downtown Yangon, the middle and upper block of 25th Street is arguably one of the busiest. This is where you go to buy beads, buttons and bales of cloth. The narrow road is choked with lorries being loaded up with parcels headed out for export while shoppers squeeze between stalls to barter for used sewing machines or to grab a cup of chai in a hole-in-the-wall.
2. Find a market (or two)
Night markets are common in the Chinatown district, but they are pretty touristy, so for a local experience, hop into one of the large, godown like covered markets in downtown. They usually have dedicated sections for different things, such as a halal meat market, a stationers market and massive cloth shops selling every kind of material you require. Unless you have a need for raw goat meat or to make a dress, there's no compulsion to buy anything (which is great for shopaholics), so wander around and soak in the sights and scents.
Yangon has mad traffic (even though bikes are banned) and it seems that 8 out of 10 cars are taxis. Grab has worked its way into the transport infrastructure, and this is good news for tourists, as they are paying the same rates as locals. But it also means that every other dude with a car is now going to be burning fuel on the road all day. This doesn’t mean though that there’s nothing to see on the streets. Yangon’s sidewalks are broad, which means that they hold a multitude of fascinating vignettes, some of which are things you simply won’t find in other Southeast Asian cities. Reminiscent of an Indian city like Delhi, the remnants of colonial architecture are juxtaposed with men in longhi, low tables of mohinga (fish noodle-soup) imbibers and the inevitable betel nut stands.
For a different feel to the city (less pollution, fewer vehicles, quieter!) take a walk at night. Most parts of Yangon are safe, and away from the downtown areas, the lack of streetlights can make for very evocative night scenes.
Yangon isn’t a very green city, and too much time spent downtown will have you gasping for fresh air. A quick taxi ride away is Kandawgyi Park, which is more a lake than park, but that doesn’t stop large groups of people from descending onto the boardwalks and filling up the restaurants on Sundays. It is a welcome respite from city life, and out on the northern end of the lake, Shwedagon Pagoda is a soft silhouette on the horizon as the sun slips gently below the surface of the lake.
Yangon is a city that’s very much in transition, and who knows how long it’ll have before the government deigns to ‘tidy’ up the streets and shift the vendors into more sanitary locations. But for now, the city’s charm remains; the corner tea stall, the late-night noodle vendor and the warm light that suffuses the city in the golden hour.