Our bus rolls into the main Yangon station at 5:30 am and it’s total chaos. It doesn’t help that we’re running on virtually no sleep. Shuffle off, pull our shit together, a frenzied bloodthirsty crowd of taxi drivers is blocking us from the luggage compartment of the bus. “Hey boss”, “Where are you going”, “Taxi”, “Taxitaxitaxitaxi”, gaaaaah get the fuck out of my way. Elbows up, let me through you bastards, even when we can reach our shit we’re mobbed so hard it’s difficult to throw it on our backs without smashing into anybody. “Jesus fuck Murphy, I’m pissed off at this place already.” “Yeah man I know, let’s get the fuck out of here.” The smell of human waste is thick and ripe.
We find the least annoying taxi driver and head into the city with the sunrise. The city looks far more modern than what we’ve seen in the north, the streets are lined with red/white striped curbs, billboards, medians, pedestrian overpasses, no potholes, all of the hallmarks of a modern city – it reminds me of Kuala Lumpur.
That all changes when we get to Chinatown, where our hostel is located – it’s a bit rough around the edges. We head up a flight of stairs to the hostel and it’s open but we can’t check in for another seven hours. Fuuuuck. They promise us they’ll try to get us some rooms ready earlier but for the time being we’ve got jack shit to do and we haven’t slept enough to really go hit the town too hard. Also, it’s seven a.m., so what are we really going to do?
We decide to roam a bit regardless and find a cheap restaurant full of locals and with servers who all appear to be under the age of 14, even in the kitchen. The food is pretty decent though and costs us about 30 cents a head. No breakfast beers though. As we’re finishing an old guy walks up to me and asks me in decent English where we’re from, say Canada, he replies with a series of wishes for our future, “May you be free of diseases, free of trouble, …” He shakes our hands, bows and walks away. That’s next-level friendly.
It’s still far too early to check in, so we hit the streets!
We skirt across a pedestrian overpass, hit what seems to be some kind of main drag and get into the melee. The faces and voices here are a lot more heterogeneous than what we’d seen up north – besides those we’d come to associate with being “Burmese” there are Indians and Chinese everywhere, not a lot of us white folks though, whatever part of Yangon we’re in is definitely outside the main tourist drag, if such a thing even exists.
We cut down some side streets to find ATMs, the sidewalks are cluttered with debris, people, stalls, vehicles, we’re constantly jumping off the sidewalk, dodging cars in the street, back on the sidewalk, don’t step on that dog or in that pile of garbage. Red betel nut stains everywhere. The first few ATMs we try don’t seem to work for us but eventually we find one that does; we also become overwhelmed with the smell of human shit wafting up from the semi-covered open sewers. I start to say “Weeeew” jokingly then it becomes so strong I gag and wretch. Jesus Christ let’s get to a street with better ventilation.
The colonial architecture remains visible albeit mostly decrepit. Lots of abandoned buildings looking like they’re ready to come down. There’s garbage everywhere, not just piling up in the sewer gaps. Standing about a foot away from us, an elderly woman spreads open her longyi (dress) and pisses all over the sidewalk, as well as her feet. Lovely.
We cut down to the water, there are supposed to be ferries everywhere to get to the other side of the river, surely it must be somewhat nice down there. Not so much. While there are nice-looking jetties, the street is unpaved, it’s more like a dockyard than any kind of tourist destination (we’re certainly the only tourists here) and we’re getting stankfaced left and right. There are market stalls selling everything, mostly fish, but no one makes the slightest effort to offload anything onto us.
In the pic above you can see me (white pants, blue backpack) being looked back at with the universal “What in the fuck?” look. It was constant.
We reached the end and curled back onto the main street. Since we were still technically in Chinatown it wasn’t surprising to come across a good old fashioned Chinese temple. We took a quick look inside and it looked pretty much just like the ones we’d seen back in Hoi An. Keep moving!
What looked like about six blocks down we could see some kind of tower jutting above the skyline. With nothing else to guide us we headed toward it.
I’d been wondering what Limahl was doing these days. Another few blocks down we could see a stupa, okay let’s do that! Hustle, shift, jump off the sidewalk, back on, back off, dodge the bus, wait, white people are around, we must be getting to something significant…
Okay it’s beautiful and all but after Mandalay and Bagan (not to mention Angkor Wat and the dozens of other temples we’ve seen on this trip) we’re pretty templed-out. It’s hard to really give a shit about more Buddhas. We were also getting tired of taking our shoes (and socks) off everywhere. It’s not so bad in some of the cleaner temples but this wasn’t one of them, the floor was grungy and I was convinced I was going to get some kind of weird foot worm-parasite thing. Bleeeecch. Probably fair to say that lack of sleep and aggravation for being awake so long and still not having a beer factored into this crankypants reaction.
Among the standard gold-plated Baller Buddhas was a rare Dhalsim Buddha.
My Burmese is rough but I’m pretty sure the inscription describes this epic feat of the ages
With our fill of the temple and check-in time approaching we headed back through the streets. It takes a ridiculous amount of time to get back, partly because we’d meandered a long ways, partly because the street obstacles were numerous and partly because we were exhausted and seriously ready for a siesta.
When we land back at the ranch there are a few other groups checking in at the same time, for reasons explicable we’re de-prioritized and checked in last. Maybe because they were still making up our private rooms while the other crews were all in dorm rooms, who knows, but as we were finishing check-in one of the staff asked us why we got three private rooms, each with double beds, if we were all travelling together? “Cause we’re baller.” They say nothing, only nod knowingly.
We all crash to our respective rooms – although I detour into Murphy’s for a jaunt as my allocated room has a door with a broken lock and I demand a new room, they initially say no and tell me they can give me a locker for my valuables, what else do you need a lock on your door for, I decline, new room let’s go, which they have to clean first – and then crash out for a few much-needed zzzs.
Up and at them. Recharged and revived we hit the streets with the intention of seeing the Shwedagon Pagoda, apparently a badass temple and one of the main draws of Yangon, although after Bagan and our earlier-described temple fatigue we’re all a bit skeptical. Our taxi ride is 2.6 km long and we dig twenty minutes of exhaust fumes and horn blasting.
The complex itself is huge. We throw down what equates to about six Ameribucks for entry then Drisdelle and Murphy throw down a few more each for manskirts, err, longyis. They can’t even rent them, they have to buy them, then get wrapped up nice and tight by a helpful temple employee, with a pat of their bottoms to send them on their way. Inside we go through metal detectors then up an escalator (??) and we’re in. Some dude comes up to us and introduces himself as a temple guide, he speaks perfect English, knows the history and religious significance of everything in the place, would love to take us through for a reasonable fee. “Nah bro we’re cool.” Our temple fatigue has us approaching peak douche.
This place is supposed to be the shit for a sunset shot but we’ve circled the place in something like twenty minutes and can’t really be bothered to stick around another two hours so we bounce and start heading off in the direction of the pagoda we went to earlier, thinking that neighbourhood seemed a little more happening than our own, let’s go find some food and maybe (finally) some brews.
We pull into a little milkshake & fries kinda joint and order up some fries, samosas and shakes. The girls are helpful but move about as fast as molasses uphill on a cold day, we see crews of teenagers come in, wheeling around, getting their orders first, did the staff forget us? After half an hour we get some cold fries, cold samosas, and shakes spaced about five minutes apart each.
The sun has long since set and we end up right in the middle of a hectic street market, okay this is kind of fun, again it’s dodge, duck, twist sideways, people yelling, so much chaos in every direction with no seeming end to it, even when we get out of the market we’re into a main drag that’s bumper to bumper, not just on the road but the sidewalk is so congested we can hardly walk so once again we’re leaping off the sidewalks, twirling out of the trajectories of crimson betel nut goobers from curbspitters like we’re Bolshoi dancers and running between cars faster than they can possibly hope to move. Is this a Friday?
Upon reaching the hostel we all concur that Yangon kind of sucks, if the Shwedagon Pagoda was the best they’ve got and the other main sites are also pagodas it’s safe to say we don’t need three days here like we’ve planned. Murphy and I have a powwow in my room and bring up the AirAsia website to see how difficult it is to reschedule our flights to Kuala Lumpur – originally set to leave in about 49 hours – to tomorrow morning at 8:30 am. Hmm, this seems kind of fucked, weird errors that don’t make much sense, just click back and forth, stuff happens, slurping on my beer, wait – I get an email saying it’s changed. Wait what, it didn’t ask me to confirm. Hmmm okay shit well we’re flying out in less than 12 hours. Haha wow, this is exciting but we’d better tell Drisdelle since his reservation was separate than ours.
Murphy rustles him up and he jumps on my Chromebook to go through the same process. He gets even stranger errors but we power through and it looks like we’re just about to make it when an error comes up that says he can’t change his flight because it’s less than 48 hours to the time of the original flight. The time is 7:01 pm; our original departure was two days later at 7 pm. Fuck. Okay Plan B, Drisdelle you need to buy a new ticket. He cringes. It’s only $30 USD more than rescheduling would be but he looks defeated, tired and kind of pissed at us for screwing him over with our whirling dervish-like planning or more accurately lack thereof. “I’m going to bed, I’ll figure it out in the morning.”
It’s 7:30 pm and Murphy and I are jazzed up with this latest twist of events so we hit the streets to try to find a place with western style food. There’s a mall nearby so we hit that first but unless one’s in need of fried chicken, ice cream or shoes the mall has no raison d’être, we split, run through traffic and towards a place Murphy’s phone indicated there may be some burgers and shit called the Hummingbird Restaurant. It’s not far but when we get there there’s no Hummingbird, just “The Arena”, sports bar and grill. “Sports bar and grill” might be my favourite combination of words ever. EVER. MMA is on and we order up some quesadillas and chicken wings. Our country+quesadilla tally is reaching preposterous levels.
We’re offered two sauces, hot and mild and choose hot of course. On the second or third wing Murphy breathes some in and starts to cough and choke, eyes watery, looking like he can’t handle it. A couple of the staff come over with water and sympathetic looks. Murphy tries to insist he just took it in the wrong hole but no one believes him and they bring him the mild sauce. Hee hee.
While I’m picking cheese out of my beard and Murphy is fellating the mild sauce off of a wing the manager comes by to introduce himself, Steven. Murphy and him get into a long discussion about this being the soft opening while I down cocktails. Opens for real in about three days. He says if we really want to party tonight there’s a French EDM DJ in town playing a show that starts around midnight and going for most of the evening. We look at each other. Giggle. Oh shit, should we do this? We have a flight to catch to an Islamic country in 11 hours, is staying up wasted all night and rolling in all fucked up a good plan? Grab another round of Johnny Walker and head upstairs to a leather couch surrounded by middle-aged British tourists to ponder this. We find our way to the balcony and decide it probably isn’t a wise move, much to the disappointment of the 16-year old retards trapped in our liquor-beaten man-bodies.
We square up, all of the staff comes over to wish us a good evening and we head out. Up to leave for the airport in about five hours. Wooooo, bring on country number six and presumably the last of the tour…