28 Nov 5 Hidden Gems of Yangon, Myanmar
This is a guest post from friend and intentional traveler, Karen Bortvedt, with tips from her recent trip to Myanmar. Karen is currently serving with the Deaf Development Program in Phnom Penh, Cambodia through Maryknoll Lay Missioners.
In South East Asia, Myanmar is one of those places that many people want to see because it is still a fairly new destination on the tourist circuit, given the recent change in government circumstances. While guidebooks and travel blogs are improving by leaps and bounds, these are a few diamonds in the rough that should not be missed.
Htwe Oo Puppet Show
Jiminy Cricket! The Htwe Oo Puppet Show will blow your mind. Did you know Myanmar puppets are the only puppets that are gender specific? Apparently, Myanmar has a long history of puppetry. Shows used to take place at the pagodas for an entire day during major celebrations.
Mr. Htwe and his wife, Mrs. Oo, along with their families, put on an incredible show, for which they have received recognition from multiple international competitions. The puppets, in their dazzling costumes seem to disconnect from their strings as they whirl, dance, and twist around the stage.
The Htwe Oo show is literally tucked away in your average neighborhood on the second floor of a residential building. They perform twice each day and you must book in advance because the shows take place in the living room of Mr. Htwe. This only adds to the ambience of the show. If your taxi driver can’t find the place, just have him give them a call. Or, hire a driver who knows the place. Check out the website for more details.
Mr. Zaw’s Taxi
Mr. Zaw is possibly the brightest shining jewel we encountered on our trip. Our plans to venture outside Yangon were rearranged due to natural disasters, so we suddenly had more days to fill and were unsure of what to do. We asked the tourism folks, who had lots of ideas that involved lots of travel and lots of money. We asked our hotel, who offered some of the same ideas. We asked google… You get the picture. Then, when we were going to the Htwe Oo Puppet show, our taxi driver let us out along the major road near where we were supposedly going – but it wasn’t the right spot. Another taxi driver pulled up and asked if we needed help, in superb English. BEST DECISION OF THE TRIP.
Not only would we never have found the puppet show without him, Mr. Zaw turned out to be the best guide we could have dreamed up. He was full of suggestions and willing to explain all kinds of tidbits about Myanmar culture and traditions. He used to work in Singapore and now owns and operates his own taxi service because he did not like being so far away from his wife, son, and daughter.
All guides in Myanmar apparently must be licensed with government but if your taxi driver happens to be a friend of yours and comes along on your adventures, that is just a friend showing a friend his country. 🙂 Definitely, give him a call (094-50-01-67-59) if you want a great driver, with great knowledge. Tell him Karen, Mara and Amanda sent you!
National Races Village
This is one of the great tidbits shared by our faithful taxi driver. We had searched and searched for things to do and in no searches did this appear, nor had any of our sources mentioned it.
The National Races Village is a multi-acre park set up with houses designed in the styles of the major tribes in Myanmar. For only 3,000 kyat, you can see how the Kachin, Shin, Kayin, and more live their daily life.
Each house has staff stationed there to explain and answer questions. The traditional clothing is on display along with cooking utensils and other implements of daily life. If you are lucky enough to be there on a Sunday afternoon, there are even traditional performances on the main stage. And, it is super easy to get around the compound. You can rent a bike, a motorized bike, a golf cart, or wander on your own two feet depending on your time and enthusiasm. Many young local couples also seem to enjoy this place as an escape from watching eyes.
Free Walking Tour
Did you know Yangon still has a telegraph office? Or about how a Christian Missionary helped negotiate peace for Myanmar in one of the many wars with the British? You can learn all the details about these events, and the many, many amazing buildings pictured here by taking a free walking tour.
The free tours are only offered twice per week but are definitely worth scheduling around. Yangon, to a newly arrived tourist, is mystifying because of all the old buildings. The architecture seems to be frozen in time. The streets filled with vendors, women in classy longis with matching tops, and men with their plaid or silken longis seem to have stories they are just itching to tell.
The free walking tour also has a newsletter that offers helpful tips in and around Yangon. You can find all the details on their website.
Circular Train Ride
Possibly the best three-hours you will spend in this city. The circular train is only 200 kyat and allows you to see the daily hum of Yangon. It is nothing luxurious in appearance, but the experience and people-watching make up for the lack of creature comforts. People bringing their wares from or to the market, young loves enjoying the views, commuters, those who appear to be students going from the city back home, all pile together in a cacophony of color and chaos. The sway of the train and breeze blowing through the unshuttered windows transports you to another time.
For those who appreciate ‘traveling slow’ and really seeing the everyday normal, this is a great use of your time.
Extra Credit: Crocodile Conservation Farm
If you are a fan of the completely random, on the way back from the National Races Village, swing into the crocodile conservation farm. It was unclear the goal of the conservation and breeding, as the animals are allegedly not sold for meat or other commercial purposes nor are they apparently released but simply collected. That being said, this is likely one of the most random tourist activities you will ever have. And, you will not be able to stop yourself from pausing in the serene sanctuary and listening for the sound of tick tock.
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