I am writing this post from a fifth-floor balcony in the city of Yangon, Myanmar. I can hear air conditioning units whirring in the night and what I believe is a water pump humming below me. Occasionally the click of a door closing can be heard from the street down below along with the footsteps of people coming and going. There are horns honking in the distance but roar of motorcycles is conspicuously absent from this Asian city. I have been here for around five hours now and I am still not entirely sure what time it is.
Since arriving in Myanmar, my trip has been smooth. There were no difficulties with immigration or customs. I successfully withdrew kyat from an ATM at the airport, though I am quite befuddled when it comes to figuring out what any of the bills are worth. As I pocketed a wad of 10,000 kyat bills and walked into the warm evening air, I fully realized how little I know about this country.
Thankfully, the stories I have heard about the kindness of people here has thus far turned out to be well-founded. The guy I talked to at the airport taxi stand knew exactly where my hostel was. He even walked me over to a taxi to ensure that the driver had the correct bearings and that we had a fare settled before I got in.
The driver got in as well and was mumbling to himself with an occasional burst of song. I had no idea what he was saying but his energy had me amused. I asked if he spoke English and indeed he did, though my ear is not yet attuned to the Myanmar accent. We chatted for the entire hour-and-a-half ride to the hostel, during which he showed me some of the sites and talked about his life. His name is Peter and, from what I can gather, he sleeps at the airport or in friends’ homes most nights. He is 27 and was very open in talking about the change in government 10 years ago. My ears pieced together his story while my eyes took in the city: cars driving on the right, no motorcycles, lots of feral dogs, men in sarongs, cramped and textured buildings, street side stalls. I mentioned that I wanted to get a SIM card for my phone so we stopped at one of the stalls. He told me to wait in the car while he got the card “so it is not expensive for you.” How sweet! Foreigner price: 5,000 kyat. Local price: 1,500 kyat.
At last we arrived at my Chan Myaye Guest House, a place recommended by Shalina, an ETA who visited last year. Facilities are nice, staff are friendly, and the atmosphere is good. I have already met a couple of cool people and we plan and checking out the city together tomorrow. Finally checked in and settled, I made my way out to find some food. Being vegetarian is an added trick when most street food is “unsafe” anyway (I know a few people who got very sick in Myanmar) but with some creativity and a little help from Google I found a way to communicate my dietary needs.
So that’s it! My first few hours in Myanmar. I have made note of the local words for hello, thank you, bill, and vegetarian, but I have a lot of learning to do during my brief stay. Tomorrow I will check out the city and the following morning I will be joined by Sam, a fellow SETA and bad-ass travel companion. Look out Myanmar, here we come!