Is it possible to have a bad time in a city that used to be called Rangoon? I think not.
Not to say my time there was perfect, but there’s something about a city with so much history that spoke to me. I loved the city vibe – it was nice to be back in a big city (and thank goodness – they even had my brand of contact solution in travel size! Now to find my toothpaste…).
Yangon is a city in evolution. There is a ton of development and building going on, with many things being westernized. The food scene is pretty good and definitely growing fast. In fact, in so many ways, Yangon reminded me of Charleston. If Charleston had not been pressure washed since the British left.
Truthfully, Yangon has beautiful architecture and so much possibility, but the city is hidden under a layer of grime. After removing the grime, it feels like the kind of city that would be ready to take its place on the world stage. Right now, it’s raw. It’s a city in transition and the people there know that they’re on the cusp. But maybe the grime is what makes it great?
But I think they also know that with that transition, some of the character of the city is being ceded to Western thoughts and concepts. For instance – a mall called Junction City just opened, complete with a Coach store and many other brands you’d find right at home. They’re also advertising for a development called “The Central” which promises to be the Rodeo Drive of Yangon.
It’s a fun city. They have two main pagodas of interest – the Sule Pagoda is downtown, right near the river. The Shwedogan Pagoda is on a hill in the middle of the city with a park surrounding it. It’s covered in gold and has incredible detailing. Both were fun to visit in the two days I had there. But the magic of Yangon is not at all in sightseeing. Pagodas are nice… food is better.
When I’m at home, I can’t tell you how often I have pancakes. It’s maybe 6 times a year? Maybe? I don’t know what happened the minute I left the US, but I started craving pancakes like crazy. Hot, fluffy, wonderful, sweet pancakes. Here, you see “pancake” everywhere, but what they call a “pancake” we would call a “crepe.” Not the same thing.
I was feeling a bit homesick in Yangon, so I did what any normal person would do. I Googled “American Pancakes in Yangon.” Y’all – there was a restaurant that served American-style pancakes. And because God is so good, it was incredibly close to my hotel. I think the wait staff was somewhat appalled at how quickly I destroyed the amazing stack of pancakes they brought out. I almost ordered a second round (there were only three small ones! American pancakes but not American portions), but decided to restrain myself. Still, those pancakes were the perfect medicine for being homesick.
The city called Rangoon has other attractions, too. There’s something about Rangoon that makes it irresponsible to not get at least a bit tipsy. So I took myself on a bit of a pub crawl through some highlights.
The Strand Hotel was referred to as the “finest hostelry east of Suez” once upon a time, and they recently did renovations to restore the colonial character of the hotel – it’s really quite stunning. They were also celebrating America Week! How could I not stop in for a cheeseburger and fries?!
But the drinks were the star. I’m a nerd, so there’s something so fun about sitting and drinking where Orwell and Kipling once sat. I was thinking about the city when they were there, and their interpretations of Rangoon, Burma, and the locals. The drinks were also top notch!
I also went to Rangoon Tea House. It’s a tea house that has basically no original character of Rangoon, but serves some great Myanmar cuisine and also has excellent cocktails. I’m not sure which had better drinks. I’m glad to have tried them both.
So that was really my time in Yangon – shopping, two pagodas, and drinking. It was an excellent few days.