Day 17 – First impressions of Yangon

Here I am in Yangon, a giant leap from the time warp of Mandalay.  Whilst electricity remains scarce in supply, the city has real buzz and chaos.  Cars and trucks queue bumper to bumper; motorbikes banned since a collision with a general’s car.  Bicycles few in number.  The Burmese associate them with harder economic times; now a public display of poverty.

Two economies are emerging here.  High-end SUVs driven by educated pioneers pass those who still earn just $5 a day.

Waking this morning at ‘The Sat’ hostel, my home for the next few days; I have a late and luxurious breakfast of Mohyinga, fresh Papaya, toast and fruit juice.  At $16 per night, it’s not a particularly cheap option, but comfortable and friendly, despite the loud and inefficient aircon.

Today is a day to catch up with writing and with WiFi typically unreliable at the hostel, I search for somewhere to base myself for the day.  At [] cafe, I pay 5000 kyat for an iced latte; 5 lunches by Shan standards.  Here, wealthy locals pay not for coffee, but for the clean, comfortable decor.  Here is a place to be seen; a public display of affluence and aspiration.

After tapping away merrily and extracting full value from overpriced coffee, I set out to explore; walking randomly down a series of side streets.  One street for vegetables.  Another for meat and fish.  A glitzy western shopping mall selling Timberland.  A chain of ice cream stores (hallelujah!).  Then, after being propositioned by a man attempting to sell his own mother , I reach China town, where I’m lucky enough to have timed my visit perfectly for Chinese New Year.

Downing tools at the hostel, I head out to meet new Burmese friend Moe on China Town’s 19th St., famed for its many food stalls and restaurants.

On my way is a long street lit thousands of Chinese lanterns.  Vendors line either side, selling everything from tripe to toffee apples.  Dragons flow by.  Families take photos and people move as a single entity, packed like the world’s largest tin of sardines.

Shortly after I find an outside table, Moe arrives to a passing New Year’s procession, drums bashed full pelt just inches from our table.  It’s 7.30pm and the party is in full swing.  This is the loudest but most entertaining meal I’ve had for some time and whilst neither relaxing nor nourishing, the company is excellent.

After dinner, we head to Moe’s favourite bar for cocktails and by 9pm the streets are all but dead.  Folk here go to bed early and the party fizzles out rapidly.

We press on some 2kms past what could be the world’s glitziest roundabout, a giant pagoda as its centrepiece.  Taking the elevator to a roof bar, we sip beers and chat the night away with spectacular night time views over the Shwadegon.

Parting with Moe, a brisk 1am walk back to the hostel.  The streets are dead.  Zombie apocalypse?  Maybe.

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