So day 1 of Burma is in the bag. So far, I love it. I landed first thing and jumped in a cab to the hostel I had booked – hilariously called The White House (nothing like it, in case you were wondering). I had been worried I might not have a room when I got here – because Burma is a cash-only economy, hostels can’t take your credit card details to secure the booking and so are reluctant to make firm plans. I had heard stories from other people about this before I arrived. Anyway, a room I do have. It’s basic and it ain’t pretty, but it meets all my needs. Actually, as I was settling in for an heat-induced afternoon nap earlier, I had a feeling of sheer happiness – there I was in a room in the centre of Yangon and my little fan was keeping me cool. At that moment, nothing else in the world mattered to me. Simple pleasures.
This morning I did what they call in Lonely Planet land a ‘walking tour’ of the city. I normally call that wandering with a half baked plan and a map, but I am learning fast. Those of you that guffaw at my poor geographical skills can take those smug looks of your faces – I managed to orient myself, find everything I was looking for, and even (drum roll) get back to my hotel again. That Cambridge education wasn’t wasted on me.
Rangon feels like stepping back in time – it is jam packed with beautiful old colonial buildings, many still sporting their vivid colours. Unfortunately, most have not been maintained, so large parts of the city are quite literally crumbling in front of your eyes. A classic example is the former High Court – a presidential type building that was no doubt designed to send a clear message about colonial law and order. Empty, crumbling, and with forna and flora sprouting from every available nook and cranny.
One of the things that strikes you immediately about this wonderful city is its colour. Around every corner, you are confronted by golds, aqua blues, and bright persil-like whites. Exhibit A is the Sule Paya, a giant golden monument that is the geographical and commercial heart of the city, and around which the British-designed grid street system was designed. Inside there were a proliferation of buddhas, some distinctly disco with their colourful flashing lights.
For lunch, I found a tiny hole in the wall in a dusty back street, and for dinner tonight enjoyed the tastiest chicken biryani of my life. All the more delicious after a busy day of exploration, a long nap, many chapters read, and a full gig set on the roof terrace of the hostel. There was high drama indeed when the man at the table next to me did a runner without paying – this commotion kept the restaurant’s staff amused for the whole of my stay. Everything in Rangon shuts early so it’s 8.30pm and I am tucked up blogging in the communal area of the hostel surrounded by a United Nations of fellow backpackers, some who have brough their whole family with them. Nice to see people coming to places like Burma with small children – what an adventure and education for those kids.
Right, photos to follow separately as the wordpress app on my tablet is playing up – sometimes it includes them, sometimes it digs its heels in and refuses. I’ve heard about smart technology, but the fact my app is editing out my poor photography skills on my own blog makes me angry.