When we woke up the next morning in Yangon, we found ourselves surrounded by the usual big-city sounds of traffic, large crowds of people, and life happening. We could have been in Bangkok for all we knew. Then we looked outside the window and saw this across the street:
Yeah, we're somewhere else now.
Yangon is a colonial relic that's stuck somewhere in the middle of yesterday and forever ago. As Burma's largest city, it is a labyrinth of decaying buildings, ramshackle markets, and rusting buses packed to the brim. Parts of it look, and probably have been, untouched for the last number of decades. It used to be the country's capital before that was moved to the newly minted Naypyidaw in 2006 (on Armed Forces Day, which tells you everything you need to know), and since then, Yangon has been allowed by the government to slowly rot away.
But contradictions abound. The more you explore, the more you can see proof of westernisation gradually permeating the place - the recently built swanky high-rise hotels that define the skyline, the cafes and open-air restaurants filled to the brim with foreigners, the melting pot of Burmese culture that just doesn't exist in the backwater streets of Kayin State.
It's a strange place, somehow simultaneously stuck in the Eighties and sprinting head-first into a future it hasn't fully thought out yet.
We're staying at the Chan Myaye Guest House on Mahabandoola Garden Street, right in the heart of downtown.
We had planned to stay here for only one rest day, but the minute we walked in and saw the quality of accommodation, we decided to extend that to two. For $30/roughly 35,000 kyat a night, we have a very clean room with a double bed, TV, air conditioning, and breakfast. There is a communal bathroom with numerous toilets and showers, all of which come with hot water and amenities. For the location, it's great value for money and the perfect spot to settle in whilst we rest and get our bearings back.
Besides anything else, Neil's got a worsening cold, so this rest spell couldn't have come at a better time. There's no way he could put in his usual effort in this condition. Might as well make the most of the comfortable situation.
We cannot stress how tidy everything is, and how kind and helpful the proprietors are. The guesthouse occupies the top 5 floors of its building, so when we arrived at 10 PM the night before, we had to take our bike apart again and carry each piece upstairs. Despite the lateness of the hour, they carried it up the countless stairs whilst we hauled the bags, and made sure it was all stored securely.
This same generosity was seen again later when we stepped out on a hope and prayer that we'd be able to find someplace to eat dinner. Burma as a whole is a country that does not stay up late, and even downtown Yangon is no real exception. We knew that seeking sustenance past 8:30/9 PM was a risk. And as we walked past closed restaurant after closed restaurant, we felt the growling in our stomachs grow louder and louder.
Twenty minutes later, we were standing in front of our guesthouse again when we suddenly realised that the restaurant across the street, 9 COFFEE AND STEAKHOUSE, still had its "OPEN" light on. Holding our breath, we walked in and with a stroke of karma, they re-opened their kitchen for us and we feasted on genuinely good-by-any-standard burgers and ice-cold mugs of Carlsberg. With the Atletico Madrid/Barcelona game showing on the TV in the background, we marvelled at our good fortune.
Flash forward to today. After an amazing night's sleep, we had some breakfast in the guesthouse before venturing outside. We were still feeling a bit shaky after yesterday's events, so we didn't go too far, just wandering the streets of downtown.
Lunch was at 999 SHAN NOODLES on 32nd Street by the Sule Pagoda, where we feasted on fried rice, shan noodles, and delicious tea leaf salad. Soon though, Neil's cold got the better of him, and we had to head back to the guesthouse. Whilst he was taking a nap, Jess sat on the balcony and caught up on trip notes.
This really has been the first proper rest day of the trip, as each one before that was fully consumed with either cycling or sightseeing. Sometimes, it's nice to just be. Allowing yourself to get lost on purpose because you don't have anywhere to go the next day. This is how we came across a public speech on a random street by someone who must have been the Monk of the Month, judging by the crowd that turned up to hear him speak. Whilst we hung out listening to him impart words of wisdom in a language we didn't understand a word of, people made us feel incredibly welcome, handing us bottled water and encouraging us to stick around, even though they surely knew we weren't exactly following what he was saying.
After having dinner (a Thai restaurant called Suzuki on Sule Pagoda Road) and watching the world go by, we're going to bed happy with the thought that tomorrow, we get to do this all over again.
The Shwedagon awaits.