One month ago, I arrived to teach English in Yangon, not knowing what to expect. I didn’t know much about the country, or a single other person going on the program. Since then, I have truly come to love Myanmar and all the people I’ve met. From the weird smells to the bustling streets, all the little quirks that make up this city are starting to feel like home. Here are a few of the things that I’ve already come to fall in love with in Yangon.
Myanmar people are unbelievably wonderful. Everyone is eager to talk to you and excited that you’re here. Strangers on the street love to start a conversation with you. Children will run up to you yelling, “I love you!” and maybe even pose for a picture with you. The waiters at your favorite restaurant will start to recognize you, and will say “hello” when you see them wandering throughout the neighborhood. Everyone is filled with such kindness that it’s easy to feel as though you belong here.
The people on the Greenheart Travel/Xplore Asia programs are also fantastic. Even though some people from our group have left for different placement cities, I know we will all stay in touch and will hopefully get to explore new parts of the country while visiting each other! The staff at the center here have also graciously helped us adjust to the culture and lifestyle. They have given us Burmese lessons and have taken us to cultural festivals, making the transition to life here quite simple.
The food here is incredible. Despite a stint of food poisoning, everything we’ve eaten has been delicious. We often go to breakfast at a restaurant Anthony Bourdain has raved about that serves bean curry and mohinga—a traditional fish soup. Another favorite restaurant boasts amazing noodle dishes and salads of vegetables with peanuts. Most meals consist of either noodles or rice in many variations, and I’m not complaining.
The Shwedagon is one of the most sacred and well known pagodas in all of Myanmar. It was originally built over 2,500 years ago, and is one of the most spectacular places of worship I’ve seen. You can spend the day circling the main structure and exploring all the different rooms, relics, and Buddhas. As the sun sets and the sky grows darker, it looks as if the whole pagoda is glowing. Having this incredible pagoda only a 15 minute walk from my apartment is amazing, and it reminds me how lucky we all are to be living in this culture. It is truly a spectacular site.
I grew up in the city of Chicago, so I am used to living in a lively neighborhood. But, Yangon has an energy that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. My neighborhood here, Myaynigone, wakes up early and is already bustling by 6am. You can hear the trash collectors yelling on the streets, buses passing, and the roosters clucking (though I really don’t love the roosters).
The traffic here is constantly a disaster, but it’s a part of what makes this crazy city special. To cross the street, you have to weave in between the cars, dodging bikes and other street crossers. The sidewalks, if there are any, are always packed with street-food stalls, restaurants and merchants selling everything from bananas to chicken feet. At night, things tend to close much earlier than in the United States, but the people still fill the streets. Children play soccer and people blast music from lottery carts. Though over-stimulating at times, Yangon’s vibrancy in something I’m definitely falling in love with.
Quite often, and almost always for unknown reasons, there will be a festival happening right outside our apartment. One of the first occurrences of this happened when I was sitting on our balcony with a friend and we heard loud music from the streets below. We saw carts pulled by ox that were elaborately decorated and illuminated with colorful lights. This was followed by a truck filled with at least 12 musicians that animated the parade throughout the streets. This had to be at 11pm and went well into the night. Though the frequent festivals may cause lack of sleep, seeing the celebrations of different cultures, ethnicities, and religions of Myanmar is really special.
This list could go on of things I’ve come to love. There’s the woman outside our apartment who makes the most delicious and greasy chickpea pancakes, and who also helps you practice your Burmese by having you repeat the names of the ingredients and prices. There’s our 5th floor balcony that I look forward to eating breakfast on every morning as I watch the city awaken.
There’s the hundreds of stray dogs that roam the streets, and even better are the ones that you cross paths with every day who start to recognize you. There’s the dilapidated yet stunning architecture constructed in a colonial style with a haunting beauty. And there’s the rooftop pools and high tea at The Strand we’ve discovered for when you just need a moment away from the heat and the hectic lifestyle.
Having only been here a month, and having not even started teaching yet, I know there is so much more to explore in this country. But so far, it’s pretty great and I can’t imagine spending my life anywhere else right now.
About the Author:
Ali Haymes is from Chicago, IL and recently graduated from Bates College in Maine. During her junior year of college, she lived in Australia for 5 months and realized how much she loved traveling. After returning home in June for a few months and interning with Greenheart Travel’s sister branch, CCI Greenheart, she decided she wanted to go abroad again. She is currently living in Yangon teaching English and hopes to continue traveling around Asia and the world!
Check out her ongoing adventures on her personal blog, Ali’s in Wonderland.