Yangon (formerly called Rangoon) is the former capital of Myanmar (formerly called Burma). That’s a lot of formerly, which has everything to do with the independence that Myanmar gained not so long ago, which came with a country rebranding in 2005.
Yangon is one of those big asian cities, though relatively poor and small compared to i.e. Bangkok and Jakarta. With about 5.5-6 million inhabitants, it’s big and dirty. Big as in it’s a couple of hours walking to cross the center, dirty as in black stuff collecting inside your nose.
The long-lasting rulership on the country left interesting buildings; beautiful 1900-something like structures that are ill maintained or even completely abandoned. Overgrown with plants and with half-gone colourful painting, it’s almost like you’re walking into a modern day shooting game. Tilting your head down brings you back to the real world, where every available piece of space is occupied by people selling, sitting, driving, spitting, drinking tea or chewing betel nuts. The betel nuts gives them a caffiene-like high, but leaves them with rotten teeth. The city is an interesting cultural mix of Chinees, Thai and Indian people, and every street has its own speciality: one will only sell you car parts, while the next one will be specialized in tv’s.
Transportation in Yangon is somewhat tricky, and different types of travellers take different routes here. While most of the inner city is walkable, both the airport and the bus station (needed to go to other cities) are way out of the city center; at least a couple of hours of walking. A cab can bring you there, but will set you back around 5-7 euro’s, which is a lot for asian countries (though not so bad for Myanmar where everything is a bit more expensive).
A bit of research lead me to take another path. Wikitravel’s page of Yangon suggested not taking a cab from the airport, but taking about a 30 minute walk through the heat to find a small bus station. With some help from non-english speaking locals, I found the right bus, or at least a bus that somewhat got me into town, for the price of 1/40th that of a cab. Besides the money, I actually like these kinds of rides, where little tourists come and people still genuinely smile when you hit your head on the bus door. The same goes for the bus station: instead of taking a cab, walk to the main road (which is more or less the opposite way in which the bus points in the arrival terminal, use google maps), and you’ll find a place where many buses stop. They will cost you about 200 kyats, though it’s usually completely unclear where they go, which could be an adventure. If you’re a little more tired, take one of the shared cabs (looking like a ~7 person minivan), pick a clear point where you want to go (say the pagoda or 20th street), and they’ll bring you for 1050 kyats. Same travel time and airco’ed, though still 7 times as cheap as a cab.
The best experience I had was when walking from the bus terminal to the airport. While all others took a straight cab, I had about 6h to kill before the next flight, and with google maps indicating about a 1.5h walk, I took off and found the best experience of Yangon so far. While the part of the hike is just a large road, things start to get interesting after that. You’ll cross an area with small markets and streets, extremely friendly people and the vague smell of actual nature hiding behind all the filth. About 15 minutes in you might wonder where all the noise went: with only a sporadic motorbike everybody is either walking or cycling, leaving room for bird songs and small noises to enter your ears. And when the first sunrays of the day hit my face and I received a wide, toothless smile from an old lady carrying a big pile of wood, I once more realized how awesome travelling actually is.