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June 1995

The final approach into Yangon was through low, scattered clouds so it was difficult to get a long-range view of the countryside. From high up the ground appeared very flat and was divided into small dusty, dry looking fields, with only an occasional small patch of green. As the plane got lower, it became apparent that the fields were actually rice paddies flooded with muddy water.  There were several rivers winding their way through the fields and only a few high spots with some trees and greenery. These areas appeared to have small houses but none were visible in the fields until very close to Yangon. The huts were very small and looked like they were made of bamboo.

From the air, Yangon was spread out and neat looking. Like the surrounding countryside, it was very flat. There were quite a few trees to give it a nice green appearance from the air, but there were no tall buildings. The most visible thing, from the air, were the many pagodas.

Processing at the airport was quite cumbersome and went quickly only because the plane was not full. The routine included immigration for checking passport and visa, a foreign exchange counter to exchange US$300 into Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs), review of customs declaration forms, baggage pickup, and finally customs again.

yangon_mudy_roadsThere was not much traffic in the area of the airport but it got busier as we got closer to the downtown area. From the car, the roads appeared quite good and the main ones were clean and wide. The driver was slow and safe but tended to be quick on the horn if it looked like anyone was going to get in the way. There were not a lot of people around and everything appeared to be fairly clean and orderly although quite poor. The main roads were wide and paved.  Most of the side roads were narrow and often dirt, (mud and water in the rain).

The Nawarat Hotel where I stayed was quite new with lots of friendly and helpful staff, most of whom can speak English fairly well.

bus_passangersI took a tour of the city by hiring a car and driver from the hotel at US$5 per hour. There were more cars and trucks than I had expected and far fewer bicycles and motor bikes (perhaps because it was raining?). Buses and trucks of all sizes and condition were used to transport people. The trucks varied from very small blue Mazda pickups with a cover and two seats in the back to old army trucks painted in bright colors. It was not unusual to see people hanging from the sides and rear of the trucks and buses and everyone got very wet in the rain. Everyone wears a wrap-a-round type sarong, no pants or dresses.

sidewalk_stallsI saw quite a few large old colonial style houses about town had high walls and large yards but only a few were in good condition. Many were very rundown and overgrown with trees and other plants but all appeared to be in use. British-era buildings were evident in most areas of the city and included several large churches, both Catholic and Protestant, and other public buildings. Lots of shophouses (again all quite old and in very poor condition) and many small sidewalk stalls sold all types of things from tools, to food, to clothing, and industrial hardware. Some stalls were set up to do repair work, such as one stall which had a drill press and other metal working tools in an area of less than two meters square.

There was a fair bit of traffic in the downtown area but it flowed quite smoothly as drivers were somewhat courteous (although blowing their horns all the time) and tended to point the car or truck in the general direction of where they wanted to go.  They, then, paid no attention to anything beside or behind them. Vehicles drive on the right side of the road, however, they seem to be fairly evenly split between left and right-hand drive. There were several sets of traffic lights that were red for one minute and green for one minute. Beneath the lights were numbers which told you how many seconds were left before it changed.

liquor_storeI went into one store that from the outside, looked like a small sidewalk stall, but was actually quite large in the back area. They had all types of beer, wine and liquors for sale as well as many other North American products, most of which was the type of thing you would expect to see in an airport duty free shop.  A number of the liquor bottles had "Singapore Duty Not Paid" stamps on them, which I thought was unusual. Their prices seemed very reasonable and I bought a pint of Mandalay Lager, (the only local beer they had), for US$1. They had several types of Asian beers, US beers, and even several cartons of Labbatt's Ice!
There were a number of large pagodas in Yangon, the largest of which was called Shwedashwedagon_pagodagon Pagoda. It was gold, almost 100 meters high, and surrounded by a very large park area. Because it was on a hill, it can be seen from various parts of the city and was quite spectacular to see.

I also visited Bogyoke Aung San Market which is in central Yangon. It has 2,000 shops and stalls which sold handicrafts, food, jewelry, souvenirs, clothing, textiles, gems, antiques, carvings, silverware and all sorts of other things. Lots of people and hustle and bustle and only a few touts.

There were only four flights listed as leaving the Yangon airport on the day I left. Two morning flights, one to Singapore and one to Bangkok and two evening flights, both to Bangkok. There were crowds of people milling about the departure area which made it very difficult to see where to check in and to get around.  Check in luggage had to be weighed on large, old-fashioned scales with the weight noted manually on the passenger list. There was only one x-ray machine in the airport and that was used for both carry-on luggage and checked luggage. The security setup was so poor that it was necessary to pass through a security check in Singapore before being admitted to immigration.

Very few foreigners were visible throughout the city.  I saw fewer than one dozen Caucasians in two days and only three on the plane to Singapore.

More Yangon photos