Myanmar - Yangon - Colonial-Era Building

Yangon

After another flight on Yangon Airways, I was back in Yangon. On the way to the hotel, my driver stopped at the house where Aung San Suu Kyi was detained under house arrest. Unfortunately, the house is behind a tall fence and cannot be seen from the street.

Aung San Suu Kyi was born in 1945 in Rangoon (Yangon), British Burma. Her father is considered the “Father of the Nation” of modern-day Myanmar, because he founded the Burmese army and negotiated Burma’s independence from the British Empire in 1947. After living abroad, Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988, and started leading the pro-democracy movement. The Burmese government first detained Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in 1989, imprisoning her for almost 15 of the 21 years from 1989 to 2010. During her imprisonment she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which her sons accepted on her behalf. In 2016, she was appointed State Counsellor, a position comparable to a Prime Minister. In 2017, over half a million people from Rakhine State who identify themselves as the Rohingya people fled their villages and crossed the border into Bangladesh. Aung San Suu Kyi has received international criticism over her inaction on what human rights groups are calling a genocide.

Since I had already been sightseeing in Yangon, during my second stay I visited some of the less touristed spots. I took a 15-minute ferry ride across the Yangon River to Dalah, a rural, commuter village for many of the people working in Yangon. After departing the ferry I was descended on by tri-shaw drivers who wanted to show me around. I hired an English-speaking driver, who huffed and puffed while I sat comfortably in a sidecar under an umbrella. I felt embarrassed, wishing that bicycle rentals had been available. During the ride I saw farms, temples, and shanty houses. The most memorable moment is when my sweating driver stopped to take a drink out of a pond. He claimed that the water is drinkable, as could be seen by the water lilies growing in the pond. He encouraged me to take a drink, but told him that I wasn’t thirsty, an unconvincing lie.

My favorite off-the-beaten-track adventure was riding the Yangon Circular Railway, a 39-station loop that serves the Yangon metropolitan area. The railway was built by the British during colonial times, and not much appears to have changed since then. Inside the booth where I purchased my ticket, I saw old paper books with handwritten train schedules and passenger lists. Soon after purchasing my ticket I boarded the rusting, antiquated train, where I was greeted by a lively scene. Passengers sit between giant bags of fresh produce, tied-up live chickens rest underneath seats, and hawkers sell everything from hats to betel nut. At each stop, a rail worker at the rear of the train is handed a flag from another rail worker outside, which he then deposits into a heavy metal bin. The carriage rocks and rumbles as the train slowly makes its three-hour, 30-mile loop around Yangon. Two hours into the trip, the man seated next to me purchased betel nut and gave me a leaf and a smile, his teeth stained reddish-black from years of chewing. He didn’t speak English, so we sat silently while enjoying the ride and the buzz of the areca nut.

After a few days Yangon began to feel familiar and I fell into a routine: a cup of tea in the morning at a teahouse; Shan noodles for lunch; a traditional Burmese massage in the afternoon; BBQ for dinner on 19th Street in Chinatown; and cocktails in the evening at Blind Tiger or Yangon Yangon. I filled in the gaps by purposely getting lost in the city and taking photos. As much as I grew to love Yangon, it was time to depart for my next destination.