Arrived in Yangon in the early evening. The first thing we noticed was that there are no tuk tuks on the road and there is almost no honking anywhere. The second thing we notice is that some cars have the steering wheel on the left side and some have them on the right side. It is totally random! I’m not sure but I think that this might be the only place on earth that has this. Given that cars were only introduced to Burmese roads two years ago, I think they’re still trying to decide which to use.
We checked into a hostel in downtown Yangon and settle into our windowless, mothball smelling room. No matter, we had other fish to fry. We headed out to a restaurant that I read about on a blog that features food from the Shan region, the largest state in Burma. They are known for their noodle soups. Walking around downtown is thrilling and everywhere we look there is action. After dinner we walked a few blocks until we saw a cart selling fresh fermented green tea salad, a Burmese specialty. It was made for us right before our eyes and while eating it we decide that we love Burmese food! I also see a lot of indian food on the street. Samosas, dosas and pan (an indian treat made of various spices wrapped in a betel leaf) are everywhere.
Before we came I read online that Burmese food can be easy for vegetarians if you use one special word, thatalo, which literally means lifeless. I feel so fortunate to have this special word because, if they know what you are asking for, most restaurants are more than happy to accommodate you and it is fairly easy to make their dishes without meat. At this point, I should mention that Burma has the best tofu in the world. Instead of soybean, it is made from chickpea and turmeric. There are also a lot of salads; green papaya, tofu, pennywort (a special green leaf I’ve only seen in Burma) and, of course, green tea.
The next day we met up with Rahul’s son, Rohan and friend, Jill, who arrived late in the night. After lunch we went to Shwedagon pagoda, the oldest and largest pagoda in the world. It is huge.
It is also very hot. Since you must take your shoes off (including socks!) at any and all pagodas we found it hard to walk in some places without getting crispy feet. I was struck at how many people just hung out there, praying and picnicing and just soaking in the scene. We saw a few more pagodas on our walk. Our favorite one was almost entirely made of mirrors. It was dazzling.
It had a shrine dedicated to every day of the week. We would soon find out that astrology plays an important part in the lives of the Burmese and of day you were born was quite significant. I was born on a Sunday which I was told is the day of the Garuda.
That night we met the others in our tour group with whom we would spend the next two weeks. A group of sixteen, it was made up of Australians, Irish, swiss, Dutch and two Americans in addition to our group of four. Our group leader is a Burmese man named Lewis.
Next day we headed out on a twenty hour train ride. If you are wondering what it is like to be on a twenty hour train ride watch the Anthony Bourdain Burma episode and you’ll pretty much get the idea.