A royal stay at ParkRoyal Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar! Mohinga buffet, Bogyoke Aung San Market longyi.
Long time no see… Yukiro and La Carmina are back!
At the end of 2016, we journeyed to Yangon, Myanmar — and it turned out to be one of our most meaningful trips to date.
There’s so much to share from this beautiful Buddhist country. We met creative locals, volunteered, and immersed ourselves in Burmese culture. (Above: Yukiro sits in front of a patala, or traditional xylophone, and I’m wearing the traditional longyi skirt and thanaka face paste).
Until a year or two ago, Myanmar was difficult for tourists to access. Now, the country has changed its government (with Aung San Suu Kyi in power) and opened its doors. Visitors can easily get an E-Visa: we filled out the government application online, paid $50 US, and were approved in a day.
More airlines have also launched routes to the newly-built Yangon Airport. We flew on my long-time favorites, HK Express: they have a direct, fast and inexpensive flight from Hong Kong to Yangon. In just over three hours, we were in the land of Buddhist monks.
We were treated like queens at ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon, our home base for this trip. The hotel sent a BMW to pick us up from the airport, and later take us around the city. The staff greeted us at the door, and showed us to our rooms on the exclusive Orchid Club level.
Yukiro and I loved the old-world charm of this luxury hotel. As you can see above, ParkRoyal gracefully incorporates Burmese art into the design. The location is also ideal: right by cultural attractions including the golden Shwedagon Pagoda.
As part of the Orchid Club privileges, we were spoiled with freshly-baked treats every day. Such a joy to come back from sightseeing, and find little sandwiches and sweets awaiting us.
It’s a relief to visit a country without any tourist trappings (such as fast food chains and tour buses). However, this also means Myanmar can be a challenging place for some travelers to navigate (for example, streets and numbers are not easy to find). We were glad we had the ParkRoyal staff to assist us, and these comfortable rooms to return to.
● You can book a room at ParkRoyal Yangon here, at a discounted rate.
● Here’s where you can get a black off-the-shoulder top like the one I’m wearing.
In our rooms, we found these cute primers on the local etiquette. The illustrations explain regional quirks that everyone should respect, such as not pointing to objects with one’s feet, or taking photos of pregnant women without permission. (I thought the above cartoon was common knowledge… until I saw someone grab a monk to “pose” him for a photo!)
Local art and music fills the hallways of ParkRoyal Yangon. We watched a lady play the saung (national string instrument) in the lobby, and admired these traditional Burmese carved wood panels.
The hotel staff even provided us with longyi, or long single cloth skirts that are tied at the waist, and worn by both men and women in Myanmar.
As Orchid Club guests, we were privy to additional benefits including a concierge desk right on our floor. Every day, the kind staff helped us coordinate our itinerary and car/driver. They were wonderful at answering our questions about local culture, and giving us off-the-beaten-path travel tips.
We also had access to the lounge, which is always stocked with complimentary drinks and snacks. During cocktail hour, we tried Red Mountain, a Myanmar wine that comes from the hills of the southern Shan State. Yukiro took a few bottles back as gifts for friends and family (very few people have tried Burmese wine!)
On our first day, we relaxed at the hotel spa. I lay down on this inviting bed, and got a traditional Myanmar Thanaka massage that worked out all my knots.
It’s hot year-round in Yangon, and the ParkRoyal swimming pool beckoned us to dive in… but it was time to explore the city.
(Hotel photos by Sniper Chau, city photos by La Carmina. My black top is similar to this.)
Our concierge suggested that we walk to the nearby Bogyoke Aung San Market. A staff member took us there by foot, and pointed out a few neighborhood attractions on the way.
There’s an overhead bridge leads to the market, with vendors selling fruits and dried seafood on the wooden planks.
Safety note: While some outskirt regions of Myanmar are in conflict, Yangon (the biggest city and former capital) is considered one of the safest cities in all of Asia, with very little crime. All the locals we met were friendly, and no touts approached us. It’s important to stay cautious wherever you travel, but let me assure you that Yangon is not a dangerous destination.
The bridge to Boygoke spans these railroad tracks. Locals walk right on them, balancing objects on their heads.
Yangon’s infrastructure and development were better than I expected. There are a lot of Japanese and Korean electronics here, including cars and smartphones.
It’s easy to spend an hour or more exploring what was originally known as Scott Market, established in 1926 during the British rule. Upon Burmese independence in 1948, the market was renamed after Bogyoke (General) Aung San.
After the coup d’état of 1962, the country became a military dictatorship, ushering in years of violent suppression. In 2011, the junta was dissolved; in 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a majority in both houses, and she is the democratic leader today.
(In 1989, the military government changed many official names — Rangoon became Yangon, and Burma became Myanmar. There’s some contention over the official name, but Aung San Suu Kyi stated in 2016 that foreigners could use either. J. Peterman from Seinfeld put it best: “You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.”)
You can find all sorts of local food at Bogyoke Aung San Market. However, be careful about eating street food, if you aren’t accustomed to it.
So many sights and smells to behold. Isn’t the Burmese alphabet beautiful? The written language dates back to the 11th century. (Myanmar is bordered by China, Laos, Thailand and India — hence some of these influences).
“Langorous” was our word of the day. In Myanmar, do as the locals do: slow down, hang out, enjoy the moment.
The market has hundreds of vendors, lined up on cobblestone paths. You can find all types of antiques, jewelry, clothing, Burmese art, handicrafts, you name it.
Long, silky hair is a trademark of Burmese beauty. Yukiro and I loved this futuristic-looking hairstyle worn by “Aunty Mary.”
Bogyoke market is the best place in Yangon to pick up a longyi, or Burmese long skirt. You can choose from the various embroidered silky fabrics, and get the garment custom-tailored to fit you like a glove. The ladies can also help you match it with a sleeveless top and sheer scarf.
The shops are a rainbow of intricate, elegant fabrics. Longyis are worn by both men and women, and are a perfect mix of style and function. (The airy fabric keeps you from overheating, and protects you from mosquitoes).
As I mentioned, Burmese vendors aren’t aggressive — they don’t run up to you or try to rip you off. Shopping at this market was easygoing and enjoyable.
We went indoors to look at the gems and jewels. This cyber disco Buddha greeted us at the entrance
Myanmar is known as the world’s most Buddhist country. Close to 90% of the population practices Theravada Buddhism, which certainly contributes to the peaceful, welcoming, compassionate nature of the locals we encountered.
In a country that was formerly isolated, you’re bound to find some oddities. I did a double-take at this store window. Is that… Annabelle? (The haunted doll and horror movie star must have escaped from her locked case at the Warren’s Occult Museum!)
These funky faces reminded me of Japanese daruma. Underneath, notice the Burmese comic strips, with speech balloons in the local script.
Many vendors put up images of The Lady, Aung San Suu Kyi. During the time of military rule, she was placed under house arrest and it was forbidden to publicly display her photo. Now that she’s the leader of the country, locals can have her smiling from their walls.
Since it was humid (even around Christmas), we tended to go out for a short period, and then return to our hotel to rest before heading out again. ParkRoyal’s central location and car/driver service made all this possible.
One time, we came back to gingerbread houses and cute chocolates in our room! The pastry chef is a maestro; we gobbled everything up, like Hansel and Gretel.
We dined with the General Manager at Shiki-Tei, an exquisite Japanese restaurant inside the hotel. We started with sake-tinis and warm sake…
… followed by the freshest sashimi, yakimono (fish and steak grilled right at the table), and nabemono (hot pot with fish and vegetables in a subtle yet complex broth). A meal to remember.
Every day, we looked forward to the breakfast / brunch buffet, which is one of the best in Yangon. There’s all types of international food, but I focused on the Burmese dishes, such as spiced salads, curries…
… and one or more bowls of the national dish of Myanmar, mohinga. This is a fish and rice noodle soup — but it’s so much more than that. Mohinga is heartwarming, with every flavor and texture (salty, sour, crunchy, sweet) in perfect balance.
At first, there may be a “fishy” smell, but once you get in a few spoonfuls, you won’t be able to stop. It’s a little like laksa and pho, but uniquely Burmese. I hope you can try mohinga for yourself, as it’s a game-changer.
We’ll miss the friendly staff of ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon, who always greeted us with a “Min Gā Lar Ba!” Without them, we wouldn’t have had such a magnificent time in Myanmar.
(Find out more about this hotel here.)
Isn’t Myanmar a fascinating country? I hope this first post got you intrigued about Burmese history and culture.
There’s a lot more to come from this fascinating destination — including monks and punks. Let’s just say… you won’t be disappointed!