Saturday, January 3, 2015

y'all ain't goin' to Yangon

During the 45 minute taxi ride from the airport to the Humble Footprints Hostel, I was moderately intrigued by the city. There was some ugly, some charm, some pleasant surprise to the landscape. 

I checked into the hostel in the early afternoon. The room was clean. The bed was comfortable. That's the good news. 

The bathrooms smelled like mold. The shower heads were mounted in oversized toilet stalls so the seats were often soaked, as were the floors. Not surprisingly, the cubicles reeked of mold. There were no power outlets in the rooms. The "kitchen" was a dirty-ish and peculiar back area (one couldn't call it a room), that was sparsely equipped. And the smartphone/device-addiction that addles many of us (myself included at times) seemed to absolutely destroy any notion of interaction and spontaneous fun among travelers--not that the lifeless atmosphere really promoted it anyway. 

I went out for a long walk, past the Shwedagon Pagoda. (I entered the gardens, but not the pagoda itself. I was saving that for today.) My objective was dinner in Chinatown, which I had heard good things about. 

Walking in Yangon is nearly impossible. I love to explore new places on foot, but it's not wise in Yangon. Being a pedestrian in Brazil is a challenge: in Yangon it is lethal. Even where major roadways intersect there are no crosswalks or pedestrian lights. (To be fair, I saw a few--like 3, in a couple hours of walking, and it's not like those were observed.) You step off the curb and into your own personal game of frogger, with 6 lanes of traffic ahead of you. You just cross one lane at a time and hope for the best. 

By the time I arrived at Chinatown, I was thoroughly turned off by the city. I had been breathing a noxious mixture of smells--like spoiled meat, gutter sludge, mold, vehicle exhaust, and heat--all mixed together. It was, frankly, horrible. 

Chinatown made it worse. Much worse. Yangon's Chinatown is famed for its blocks of narrow streets, crowded with market stalls and street food. I saw that there were a few food stalls down one of the streets that looked ok (i.e. safe), but it was too late. The smells from some of the street vendors (animal parts, fish, and the like sitting for a long time in the heat--ufff!), were so bad that I actually felt nauseous more than once. Now, I've been in several countries and markets where pungent odors abound. This was different. There was garbage all over the place. People urinate and defecate in corners, which feeds into this sludge of "water" often running, uncovered, along the side of the roadway. It was just nasty--plain and simple. 

I don't know exactly what neighborhood the hostel was in: surely there must be nicer parts to the city. But by that time, it wouldn't have mattered. For these and other observations, I'd had my fill of Yangon in a matter of a few hours. I wanted out. Badly. 

[It is worth calling out that I thought Mandalay was worth a day's visit. Kalaw and Bagan were absolutely worthwhile. I would come back to Myanmar to check out Inle Lake and other non-urban attractions. I would heartily recommend Myanmar to friends. Just... when it comes to Yangon...if you must fly through, get in and get out. And maybe wear a perfumed surgical mask in the interim.]

I went back to the hostel and did some quick research. At 6:30 this morning, a mere 16 hours after arriving, I was in a taxi to the airport hoping that Thai Airways could squeeze me on their first flight to Bangkok. 

Bless them, they did. No change fee. 

A seventy minute flight can make an incredible difference. While in Yangon I had sensory overload in all of the wrong ways, here I have it in all the best ways. Granted, all I have seen are the surrounds of my hotel in Siam Square, but it blew me away. The colorful lights. People and traffic everywhere--except in each others way. This city seems uber cosmopolitan, and unlike anything I've seen. 

I'm trying to tame my mad enthusiasm until I see more. Surely, today's high is also a comparative reaction to last night's disappointment, right? 

Sitting in RGN this morning, I was concerned that 5 days in Bangkok might be too much. I am not the least bit worried about that now. I can't wait to explore!