Sunday, December 18, 2016

Myanmar, Day 2: The Yangon Circular Railway

The next morning, tired from traveling and looking for a milder sightseeing experience to help us acclimate to the new time zone, the three of us headed out to catch the Yangon Circular Railway train, which traveled along a circular route around the suburbs of Yangon; the round trip lasted about 2½ hours from start to finish and was recommended on many travel sites. One ticket was 200 Ks (just about 15¢) so it really made for a worthwhile gamble to cover a bit more ground and see a wider swathe of the people.

The train arrived as scheduled and we climbed aboard. Train cars were full but not overly crowded; we found seats easily and there was room for people to walk up and down the center of each carriage. A handful of the other passengers looked like tourists, but, for the most part, the train seemed to be full of Burmese people. We clacked along from station to station and, while the countryside was beautiful, the real entertainment was watching the people: red-grinned men selling packets of green leaf-wrapped betel-nut came and went, women boarding at each stop carrying large metal basins on their heads full of different edible items who prepared what looked like spicy salads flecked with chili pepper and dressed with an abundance of herbs and sauces or selling what appeared to be fried bread or varieties of sticky rice, kids clustering everywhere selling everything from bread to water.

About halfway through the trip, the train had nearly emptied, but, at what was essentially the furthest point outside Yangon, there was a flurry of excitement and many people suddenly climbed on board, loading big barrel-sized burlap bags of produce through the windows and doors and filling the train car with the goods that they were apparently bringing into the city, much of it unidentifiable to us. There were so many bags loaded under the seats and in the central aisle that there really wasn't any room to move about.

The busy end of the street market.
Our ride came to an end, and we exited the station with the rest of the passengers, hungry but excited about everything we had seen. We wandered into a nearby neighborhood to look for a Burmese restaurant, which we found, but which also did not impress us much, and then we walked through a street market. We noticed that, along with the many colonial buildings in the area, there were also many mosques. It was surprising because we did not expect to see so many and it really hadn't been described in any of the guides that we had read before traveling to Myanmar. We were essentially in the city center, notable for Sule Pagoda in the middle of a roundabout, but it was hot and we were too tired to enter. We continued walking until we reached The Strand Hotel, stopped for a coffee, and then, exhausted from the long train ride and walk, we caught a cab back to our hotel to take a nap before going back out in the evening.

Sule Pagoda from our taxi.
For dinner, we hailed a cab and asked to go to Feel Myanmar, a street food eatery specializing in local cuisine. Stations to prepare various dishes were set up on the sidewalk and in front of the restaurant. Little low stainless steel tables and plastic stools were arranged in the street near the sidewalks, and many people were making food and many others were eating. Most of the seats were taken, in fact, but eventually we found an empty spot. We walked around ordered numerous plates of noodles and salads, and really enjoyed the surprising dishes that we tried.

Shwedagon Pagoda from the
Merchant Art Boutique Hotel rooftop.
Toward the end of our meal, an older couple seated next to us at the same table started speaking with us. They were surprised that Vito was eating the food. After talking for a while, we found out that they lived in Vacaville, California, which is my hometown! Even though they lived in Vacaville now, they were from Myanmar and returned every winter. It's funny, sometimes, how the world conspires to bring things together. We talked a bit more with the friendly couple, finished eating, and then when back to our hotel for a nightcap at the rooftop bar of our hotel, which had been covered with astroturf and decorated with comfortable pillows and tables. The view was beautiful, the weather was glorious and the atmosphere was magical, so we couldn't resist going back each night.

No comments: