Wednesday, June 12, 2013

YANGON: Where Did Your Old Toyota Corolla Go

ANSWER: They are moonlighting as taxis in Rangoon, or Yangon, which is the former capital of Burma, or Myanmar. Pardon the alternative names. The country seems to suffer from some sort of undiagnosed schizophrenia. It is said that their flag has been changed thrice in the last few decades. Come to think of it, they had a flag that looked similar to that of Taiwan back then. Now they have a bright tri-color with a superimposed star. Not bad. Oh, we were talking about them old Toyota Corolla’s? Yes, the taxis in Yangon, or Rangoon, are mostly those phased-out Toyota and Nissan models from the 90’s that remind you of a time when Cesar Montano’s comedy-action movies were popular and pagers still existed. What the hell are pagers? Exactly my point!

White appears to be the favorite color, not just for taxis but for automobiles in general. Blue comes in far second. Very far second. If not for the several large Samsung and LG billboards sparsely distributed throughout the city, you would think that you were in a time warp. Rangoon, or Yangon, seems to be stuck in the 90’s, but the story does not end there, because this former capital is rapidly catching up with its neighbors. With the country relaxing its stance on everything foreign, it would not take long before this unique city becomes just one of many in Southeast Asia. And so now is the best time to go, when everything is still in the process of happening. Witnessing rapid change and getting caught with it in some way is one exciting adventure, now is it not? Not really. Why? Read on.

Since it began opening up to the world, Myanmar, or Burma, has been receiving an influx of tourists, with which its facilities could not keep up, at least not yet. Try booking a hostel from Hostelworld. You would not be able to because Myanmar, or Burma, is not on the drop-down list. Your best choice would be Agoda where you will be faced with not so many options for accommodation, most of them outrageously overpriced. There seems to be no vibrant backpacker scene here, but that does not mean that there would not be one. There will definitely be one, but it is not here yet. If you could go now and you would like to go now, then by all means, go. Make sure, however, that your bank account could handle it, especially if you are the backpacker type who would cringe upon seeing anything that goes north of 1000 pesos a night. If you did your research, you would know that such is normal here for now.

The traffic here is bad, with most places of interest within an hour away despite the short distance, at least depending on where you are based. I got a hotel downtown, and it costs 10,000 kyat from the airport. The city center is a bit cheaper at 8,000. Most taxis do not have aircon, or technically they have, but are not used. There are newer taxis that do use their aircon, but they come at rather opportune times, like after getting wet in the rain because you got lost trying to find a decent jogging path to Inya Lake or something. Good luck with your sinus. Taxis are quite expensive and majority of them do not use meters because most of them have none installed. Buses are quite cheap, but pretty much useless unless you can read Burmese because even the bus number is written in Burmese script.

The men here fancy wearing long skirts, which I think is called longyi. I would like to wear my own version of longyi in the Philippines, but it simply is not fashionable there. Imagine all those days when you were out of pants and would just like to detach one of mom’s curtains for you to wear? The sight of men in skirts here is more common than those wearing pants or shorts. Aside from wearing skirts, what Burmese men and women also share in common would be their obsession with betel nuts. You would catch many of them chewing it most of the time, which gives them a cute smile that fans of slapstick comedy would find rather funny.

So how was my first day in Rangoon, or Yangon? I got lost at Inya Lake. No need to elaborate. If you are planning to go here, one day would suffic. There are several buildings left from the British colonial era, but then again, so in many an ex-British colony that you might have already visited. Just head to the Shwedagon Pagoda, take some lovely pictures, and you are done. After that, you could move on to Bagan, or Mandalay, or Bago, or wherever your feet will take you.

2 creature/s gave a damn:

Kat said...

I was checking TripAdvisor last night searching for hotels in Yangon, and you're right. Most, if not all, look like hotels stuck in the 90s that are, more often than not, overpriced.

Bookmarking your Myanmar posts for reference.

ihcahieh said...

@Kat - have fun in Myanmar, just don't expect a lot. The hotel prices would eventually go down when a significant backpacker scene starts to emerge but for now, there's none.

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