The first night I arrived in Yangon, I was overwhelmed. In truth, exploring any new place under cover of darkness is a little uncomfortable for me. In the dark, curious looks somehow feel menacing. Busy streets of traffic seem too busy. Too much; too impossible. On my first night, I didn’t explore much more than a few blocks.
The next day, under the bright (aka: hot) Yangon sun, the world looked entirely different. Stares are curious now, looks are kind. Traffic is busy, but it quickly becomes fun. An exercise in weaving and dodging, a test in “how fast can I walk without this car hitting me?” – it sounds insane, but it really is so enjoyable. And FYI, traffic here is so mild compared to elsewhere.
I am only 12 days into my travels, and I have met many kind people so far – trust me. But the kindness of the people of Myanmar is on another level. The relatively low number of tourists visiting this country means that locals are generally kind. Honest. Curious. You can accidentally pay a convenience store clerk or a taxi driver too much and they will give you the money back.
Certainly, there are exceptions. Like hanging in the park and having kids come to play with you, only to pull postcards out from under their shirts to sell to you. Or people offering to take to you to “the other side” (of the river), at which point they will, I’m told, ask for money. But this happens much less often, and the many kind smiles you meet along the way make up for it, by and far.
Speaking of smiles, smiles are in abundance here. It is taking me days to learn how to say hello and thank you, but this is a place where you are reminded that smiles are actually the world’s leading language. When words fail and hand gestures become confusing, we just smile. We sit in our misunderstanding, grinning at each other, and I can’t imagine anyone experiencing this and not falling in love.
Visits to the pagodas entail, similarly, a great amount of confusion and an even greater amount of awe. From getting there to moseying about and discovering the many statues and nooks, seeing monks in prayer and children in play, it’s tough not to feel like a part of something.
There’s still a lot I have to say about Yangon, and in time I will. But right now, my hostel hosts are playing Western music (Justin Bieber specifically) and singing along, so I’m going to join them. I’m doused in bug spray and going to sit outside, singing and watching the traffic go by.
Tomorrow I’ll enjoy my last few hours of Yangon before I head back to Chiang Mai. I’ll drink tea and then dodge some more traffic before I go. When I do so I’ll apply the most important thing my friends and I have learned here: when in doubt, follow the monks.
Trust me, it will get you far when avoiding getting run over. It will also gain you some beautiful experiences.
I’ll be back soon with more of my thoughts on this and many other Yangon things as soon as I am able to put them to paper.