Yangon On Your Own
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Or
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