If you were deciding a destination based on the photos you’re about to see..
You probably wouldn’t go to Yangon.
I only took 7 photos the entire week I was there.
And actually – the quality of the meager 7 are all pretty bad.
(I loved the colors and buildings)
The truth is,
there isn’t a photo in the world that I could’ve taken, that would adequately capture the beauty and my experiences of the city.
It was in Yangon that I first really realized how I like to travel.
Slowly, taking time in each place.
Slowly, walking everywhere.
Slow enough to observe in detail.
Slow enough to have time to talk to strangers.
And I did.
While I have few photos of Yangon,
Yangon has a lot of photos of me.
The day I visited the zoo, hordes of sweet teenage girls posed with me and took selfies.
A line was formed after the first brave kid gestured to me, herself, and her phone, while smiling (universal for “Can I take a photo with you?”.. selfies know no language barrier).
I was definitely competing with the monkeys for the most-photographed animal of the day.
(Yangon Zoo is a really interesting place. You can feed bears, hippos, and monkeys sandwiches BY HAND, conveniently sold at each respective exhibit – I declined. Because I don’t think white bread and Asian cheese is the proper diet for wild animals… and I want to avoid having my hand bit off)
The zoo was recommended to me, by my taxi driver (as was Schwedagon at sunset). He told me all the best places in Yangon to go, and wrote each down (in Burmese) for me to give to my next taxi driver.
One of the most memorable and magical experiences of my life was in Yangon, at the famous Golden temple (Schwedagon Pagoda).
It is one of the very few places that is even better and more impressive in person than it appears from professional photographers (or instagram). But it’s even more than that.
I arrived early (an hour or so before sunset), and walked around a bit before settling down at a spot where other people were.
A man sitting next to me introduced himself, and explained that the area I was sitting in is famous for asking for something, and later receiving what you’ve asked. An especially “holy” ground amidst the holy ground of the pagoda. So, I asked and I prayed (*and three months later received what I’d been asking for*).
After praying, a family of 7 Burmese women, from teeny tiny baby up to elderly and toothless grandmother, asked (in universal selfie language), if I would pose with them for a photo. I happily obliged, and took turns with each, starting with the oldest and ending by holding the little baby.
I felt more peaceful and purposeful than I had at almost any other point in my life up until then.
And I wasn’t even “doing anything”. Just talking. Just meeting people.
The memories of my experiences in Yangon aren’t extraordinary.
But the quiet kindness, honesty, and friendliness of Yangon will stay in my heart forever.
The city gave me a different meaning of travel than checking the boxes on the major tourist sights, and taught me the joys of slow travel, and of taking the time to have a conversation.
Because it’s the walks between the sights, or the conversations had at lunch, or the people met while waiting, that have changed my life and that make travel meaningful for me. Schwedagon Pagoda is amazing, but its the people of Yangon that give the city its true beauty.