Yangon On Your Own

Today, we set out to explore Yangon on our own. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Today, we set out to explore Yangon on our own. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The horn of a ship woke me up this morning aboard Silversea ‘s Silver Shadow. It wasn’t our horn, but that of a ship far off in the distance that was coming into port.

Like our ship, I’m not sure how this new cargo ship ever managed to dock. The channel is choked with small sampans and fishing boats that aren’t too eager to get out of your way, even as they block the better part of the channel. Barges are anchored to navigational buoys, which seemingly threaten to pull loose at any moment. Rickety motorboats clatter and clank along the side of the ship as locals are eager to get a look at the new arrival.

Outside, work is always continuing to ensure Silver Shadow looks beautiful. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Outside, work is always continuing to ensure Silver Shadow looks beautiful. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The same can't be said about the container ship docked ahead of us. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The same can’t be said about the container ship docked ahead of us. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Since yesterday’s tour was a full-day affair, I chose to do my own thing today in Myanmar by using Silversea’s complimentary shuttle service into town. Printed schedules are available at the Shore Excursions Desk on Deck 5, and list the approximate departure times from both the ship and the Railway Station in Yangon, which serves as the pick-up and drop-off point.

When I picked up the schedule for the shuttle, I also inquired about tours for tomorrow. The excursion forms said the cut-off time for tours in Yangon was three days ago. I figured I’d likely be told that I couldn’t book a tour for tomorrow, but instead, the girl at the Shore Excursions desk stated that it wasn’t a problem to book a tour for tomorrow at all. Two minutes and one form later, I was booked on a half-day tour. The moral of the story: always ask!

A Rainy Trip Through the Scott Market, and I Accidentally Cheat Orwell Out of Twenty-Five Cents

Yangon's crumbling Railway Station...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Yangon’s crumbling Railway Station…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...is the iconic, easy-to-find drop-off point for Silversea's complimentary shuttle service. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…is the iconic, easy-to-find drop-off point for Silversea’s complimentary shuttle service. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Silversea’s complimentary shuttle into Yangon dropped me off at the crumbling remains of the Yangon Railway Station just after 2:30pm, under ominous skies. It’s a fascinating but sad structure, as it hints at the grandeur that Yangon once had, and suggests what might have been had it not been for successive wars and militaristic governments that kept Yangon closed to the outside world.

Trains of varying quality still roll through here - a vintage train spotter's paradise. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Trains of varying quality still roll through here – a vintage train spotter’s paradise. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

You may also think the railway station isn’t used anymore. Think again: filthy diesel engines pull two to three ageing old Pullman-style cars at a time, the latter of which have their windows and doors removed to provide better ventilation. Humans, dogs and cats cross the tracks in front of oncoming trains as if it’s nothing new, and by and large, they can do that without worry: these decrepit vehicles only go about 30 kilometres an hour. Constructed during Britain’s colonial rule of Burma, these trains are often slower than bus transportation, and are known for their frequent breakdowns. Our guide yesterday informed us that a train journey to Mandalay took her 18 hours once. You can fly there in just 90 minutes.

Stopping for a local beer...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Stopping for a local beer…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...at the inviting Sule Shangri-La Yangon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…at the inviting Sule Shangri-La Yangon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

It didn’t take long for the ominous clouds above to open up, and I ducked inside the classy Sule Shangri-La Hotel to get out of the rain. I’d stayed at the hotel last year, as part of my river cruise journey along Myanmar’s Irrawaddy. Figuring I’d make the best of the situation, I ordered a large Myanmar beer and a sandwich. The total cost: just 16 USD including taxes and gratuity.

After that, I crossed the street to better explore the Bogyoke Market. It’s full name is the Bogyoke Aung San Market, and it is more commonly known by its given Anglicised name, the Scott Market. That’s the other thing you’ll learn quickly about Myanmar: one building, city or body of water can have half a dozen different names, and no one seems to be able to decide which one should be most commonly used.

The Scott Market on a rainy afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Scott Market on a rainy afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Built in 1926, the Scott Market offers an incredible assortment of goods in a single complex. Nearly everything is up for bargaining (the Burmese will insist on it), and goods range from high-end collectables to chintzy, made-in-China crap.

You can bargain in US Dollars or in Myanmar Kyat. 1000 Kyat is equal to about US$1.87. To simplify things, you could say 1000 Kyat is about $2, to make the math easy. I personally prefer to pay in Kyat, and ATM’s are readily available – though I chose to use the ones in the Shangri-La Hotel as opposed to the questionable ones in the middle of the market.

It is the contrast between old and new that I love most about Myanmar. Life here exists largely as it has for centuries. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

It is the contrast between old and new that I love most about Myanmar. Life here exists largely as it has for centuries. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

I bought a few souvenirs, including a copy of George Orwell’s debut novel, Burmese Days. Orwell was a police officer in Burma with the Indian Imperial Police between 1922 and 1927, and this novel – while fictional -borrows heavily from Orwell’s time here almost a century ago.

Last year, I wrote about nearly getting burned by a counterfeit Lonely Planet book on Myanmar up in Bagan. It was a decent enough fake, but it was very easy to see that it was a fake. So I gave Burmese Days a quick once-over and decided it looked good. I parted with $10, and that was that.

Street scene, Yangon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Street scene, Yangon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Not even the rain can ease the crushing traffic in Yangon. Even walking down the street can be a challenge! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Not even the rain can ease the crushing traffic in Yangon. Even walking down the street can be a challenge! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Old and new collide in downtown Yangon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Old and new collide in downtown Yangon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Back on the bus, however, I started looking closer at the book. The cover looks and feels just as it should. But the text is kind of fuzzy. And the back cover has what looks like water stains that are imbedded into the book.

Sure enough, although its professionally-bound and reproduced, the inner text has been Xeroxed and pasted into a new template; on a few pages, these “crop lines” are visible. The quality of the ink also varies dramatically from page to page. So, there you have it: I bought a ‘hot’ book – and I feel terrible about it. As someone who’s written three books (here, here and here if you’re at all interested), I just robbed Orwell of a cup of coffee.

I don’t know what it is with Myanmar and counterfeit books, but they’re everywhere. And I got this at a nice shop that looked reputable.

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

As the bus zipped back to the Silver Shadow, I found it mildly depressing that each and every café, restaurant and apartment that we sped past was lit by fluorescent lighting with the harshest colour temperature imaginable. It creates a stark look that is not at all inviting. And I found myself wondering how things got this way here. I love Myanmar deeply, even though many of its sights, sounds and smells confound me. How did they get here? What are all the twists and turns that brought the country to this point? Why must everyone sit on tacky plastic furniture meant for a children’s playhouse at every outdoor café? Why does nothing – except the wonderful people of Myanmar – exude a sense of warmth here?

Even among the city's crowded streets, people dine outside at small, ramshackle cafes and restaurants. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Even among the city’s crowded streets, people dine outside at small, ramshackle cafes and restaurants. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

As we left the golden hues of the Shwedagon Pagoda and Yangon behind us, another brightly-lit object loomed in the distance: the elegant Silver Shadow. She lit up the unappealing docking area in the humid night; the soft glow of her lights spilling from her windows and open shell door.

I walked past the windows of The Restaurant on Deck 4, which was level with the pier. Guests were dressed in their finest clothing, eating multi-course meals on fine china and silverware, attended to by smartly-dressed waiters.

The contrast between the poorest townships we drove through, with their ramshackle buildings and poorly-lit dwellings, and the beautiful Silver Shadow proved to be almost too much. I walked up that gangway and through that warmly-lit door into a world of unimaginable luxuries. I felt appreciative, and deeply humbled, for all that I have been able to see in this world – and the way in which I’ve been able to see it with Silversea.

Returning to the Silver Shadow late tonight...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Returning to the Silver Shadow late tonight…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...and to a world of luxury. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…and to a world of luxury. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s elegant Silver Shadow continues tomorrow as we spend one last day in Yangon, Myanmar! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
October 31, 2016SingaporeEmbark1800
November 1Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia08001900
November 2Penang, Georgetown, Malaysia08001800
November 3Phuket, Thailand08001400
November 4At Sea
November 5Yangon, Myanmar0600Overnight
November 6Yangon, MyanmarOvernightOvernight
November 7Yangon, MyanmarOvernight1900
November 8At Sea
November 9 At Sea

November 10Langkawi, Malaysia08001500
November 11Malacca, Malaysia13001900
November 12Singapore0700Onward Journey Home
 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:


Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!