Flo and I generally agree that when it comes to holidays, we prefer to take it easy rather than rush to do one thing after another after another. Having packed days usually mean returning home and feeling even more tired than before we left so like with most of our trips overseas, we hung out with our bed some more after breakfast on Sunday morning.
Then, after checking the train schedules we were ready to leave our room at 12.30pm in order to catch the 1.10pm Circular Train from Yangon Central Railway Station.
Yangon Central Station is a beautiful landmark of the city that is based on traditional Burmese architecture after their original one built by the British was destroyed by the Japanese. Its colours look weathered but it still looks rather grand.
The interior of the station is quite simple but functional. The people there were quick to inform Flo and I to go straight to Platform 7 in order to catch the Circular Train.
There, we were pointed in the direction of the ticket booth although it took Flo and I a little while to understand what the food hawker was trying to tell us as he kept signalling for us to go back from where we came. On hindsight, I’m touched by all the random strangers around the station who helped prevent Flo and I from getting lost in translation without any ulterior motive.
We paid for our tickets and hopped onto our train. Note that there are trains going West and trains going East. Of course, it makes no difference if like us, you plan to just sit the whole round. The 1.10pm train turned out to be an Easterly bound one so we hopped on and managed to squeeze ourselves into a spot along the row of seats.
This was just before our train departed. I promise you that just 3 minutes before we set off, the carriages suddenly filled up and people packed themselves in like sardines. We could really feel true, blue Burmese love as different odours filled the air and chatter between strangers arose.
There were individuals who shimmied up through whatever space was left between people’s legs, begging for money, and soon after, food vendors started parading through the cabins.
A basket on their heads, and a stool in one hand. When an order came through, they’d plonk their stool down, serve their goods, collect their kyets, and get back up to see to other passengers on the train. Fresh pineapples, asian pears, boiled eggs and water… All the things you’ll need for a train ride.
At quite a few stations, there’d be food hawkers sitting right on the platform awaiting hungry travellers. This lady below was pretty awesome. As our train pulled in, she lifted a piece of cloth off her lap and with one swift movement, made all the flies disperse off the food.
As we got further away from the city, we saw the more rural parts of Yangon where there were padi fields galore. Concrete buildings turned into wooden shacks with metal roofs, and spotting pigs, goats and cows became the norm. Then as the train circled closer back towards Yangon Central Railway Station, the scenery morphed once more into a noisier one with the honking of cars, the rise of taller buildings, and the grey of tarmac.
Three hours was quite a ride. Towards the halfway point, the train emptied out and that helped cool the cabins down. I don’t know if I’d go back to ride on the Circular Train again. I think once is enough. For the experience at least.
It felt good to stretch our legs after sitting for most of the journey. Flo and I made our way to this small cafe called Cafe Genius where we thought we’d have a drink.
Almost all of their menu encompassed drinks and while the cafe wasn’t quite what we imagined, it was still nice being able to relax a while before deciding on what to do next.
We knew that dinner would be at 19th Street aka Chinatown, but we also had a couple hours to spare before then. Somehow, by a stroke of luck, we chanced upon an instagram photo that told of a Massage place along the same street.
It looked clean and bright, so Flo and I decided that a foot massage would be a very good idea before dinner. Part way towards Chinatown though, the skies opened up and rain came bucketing down. We managed to duck straight into a little hotpot eatery where I had an order of green tea before we braved the elements and carried on. Thankfully, by that time, the rain began to let up and when we reached 19th Street, the rain had more or less stopped.
So the massage place we went to is called Spa by Willy’s. I know, Willy wouldn’t be my first choice in naming a spa, especially in Asia. It’s right along the stretch where all the BBQ stalls are so finding it wasn’t too difficult.
For 1 hour, it was heaven! I think you can tell by the photo Flo took of me above. We opted for a foot massage but they start off by giving a back, shoulder and head massage too. They also provide tea, a small carton of milk and a little packet of snack for each person. It was definitely a good idea to go for the massage.
Back outside, we faced the people running the BBQ joints yelling at us to eat at their restaurant and that their skewers were best. I read that they’re all pretty much the same in standard and pricing so it doesn’t matter too much where you go. Following the food blogger Mark Weins though, Flo and I went to Shwe Mingalar.
We chose a a few skewers of vegetables, prawns, squid, and meats ones, although what annoyed us was that we didn’t have a clue how much they were charging us for each skewer. We were only told after the food was cooked and delivered to our table.
For this, drinks (a can of Tiger and a bottle of water), and a plate of rice, it amounted to 22800 Kyats which isn’t cheap. Then again, it was Chinatown and Chinese people anywhere the world around are awesome at making a quick buck off of you, especially if you’re a tourist. I can say that because I’m Chinese. And it’s true!
Food-wise, it was actually really good. All the items were seasoned nicely and grilled to perfection. Only there was a chicken wing that Flo ordered that tasted really off. Like really really off. Thankfully, it was just the one. Also, that spicy sauce they served the skewers with, it’s similar to the one the Thais serve with their grilled meats, that was just off the charts addictive! Flo pretty much mixed the sauce into his rice and lapped it all up!
So yeah, that’s pretty much our short weekend trip to Yangon in a nutshell. Next morning, we were up fairly early to grab a bite before heading to the airport. Along the way, I saw this piece of graffiti on one of their street walls.
“BART!” “BART WAS NOT HERE”
I appreciate the irony.
And at the airport, there was a painting of the Karaweik Palace that I enjoyed. It’s not quite as awesome on photograph than in real life, but I thought to share it anyway just because.
I’m not sure when Flo and I will return back to Yangon. We’d love to visit Mandalay for sure one day. I’m quite certain though, that in the coming years, Yangon will undergo a whole lot of change as it opens up to the rest of the world. And perhaps, when we visit again, we might not be able to recognise it so much.
Still, I hope that the Burmese will continue to hold on to the warmth and hospitality that seems so much ingrained in their culture; that they will continue to don on their longyi and thummy as they go about their daily lives; that they will continue to wear flip-flops because they’re so practical for their unpredictable weather; that they will continue to apply thanaka onto their faces to protect themselves from sunburn – (by the way, did you know that thanaka is one of the main source of ingredients used in SKII?), that they will hold on to their identity for as long as they can before the ideals of the rest of the world dilutes its very essence.