Photo Essay: A Glimpse of Life in Yangon, Burma (Myanmar)

By Mark Wiens 53 Comments

I reached around my shoulder to fasten my seat belt in the front seat of the taxi, “ohhh, that is not necessary here,” the driver said, almost as a command. That’s when I knew Yangon, Burma (Myanmar) was going to be an energizing ride!

Pigeon Street Yangon
Street of Pigeons in Yangon

The street side markets in Yangon are convenient; Everything you need all on the sidewalk before you!

Sidewalk Market, Yangon, Myanmar
Sidewalk Market

The highest concentration of colonial buildings in SE Asia makes Yangon feel ancient while navigating the downtown streets.

Yangon Street
Yangon Street

The Sule Pagoda (below), provides a central landmark for the downtown area of Yangon.

Sule Pagoda, Yangon
Sule Pagoda (top), Bustling Street (below)

A girl peeks out of a little hole, smashed into the back of a local pick-up transportation truck.

Myanmar Transportation
Burma Transportation

Old scenes of Yangon

Colonial Yangon, Myanmar
Colonial Yangon

The diversity of religious beliefs displayed in Yangon, Burma.

Burmese Religions
Religious Buildings in Yangon

Considered the most sacred of pagoda’s in Burma, the Swedagon Pagoda (Golden Pagoda) is a grandeur display of gold.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda

The gargantuan reclining Buddha at the Chaukhtatgyi Temple.

Recling Buddha, Chaukhtatgyi Temple
Recling Buddha, Chaukhtatgyi Temple

The dusty smog packed clutter of the main roads are contrasted by the collected peaceful neighborhoods.

Rangoon Photos
Scene of Yangon

Yangon’s Thiri Mingalar Market is the fresh produce hub of distribution.

Thiri Mingalar Market
Thiri Mingalar Market

Mohinga, a national dish of Burma (Myanmar), is an immaculate Burmese blend of rice noodles in a fish curry sauce, sprinkled with a chickpea fritter and squeeze of lemon!

Mohinga Burma
Mohinga
Thiri Mingalar Burma
Taking a Break

Sweet cucumbers (left) and stocks of bananas line the markets of Yangon.

Myanmar Fruit
Sweet Cucumber (left), Bananas (right)

To the surprise of the local crowd (and myself), this man pulled a python out of his shoulder bag.

Snake Man, Myanmar
Snake Man

Would you like to purchase a date from me?

Burmese Dates
Burmese Dates

Three of the most frightening things in Yangon: absurdly dirty and ancient (sometimes unreadable) money bills, spontaneously placed sidewalk blocks (with dark holes in the middle), and the most disturbing sight in all of Yangon…Justin Bieber (posters, music, dvd’s, everything).

Yangon, Burma
Kyats note (top left), Loose block sidewalks (top right), Posters (bottom)

A passion, addiction, maybe even a hobby, the betel nut mouth chew is rampant in Yangon.  The combination begins with a betel leaf, a slop of calcium hydroxide paste (slaked lime), some slivers of Areca nut, and a dash of rough cut tobacco for those who are “hardcore.”

Betel Nut Mouthchew, Burma
Betel Nut Mouthchew

Burmese salads are fresh, tasty, and marked by an excellent blend of textures.

Burmese Salads
Clockwise from top left: Making ginger salad, Cabbage salad, Tofu salad, Onion and Lemon salad

Lahpet Thohk, a delicious Burmese salad made with pickled tea leaves and a combination of vegetables and nuts.

Lahpet Thohk Burmese Food
Lahpet Thohk

How could this fish not induce a raging love at first site?

Burmese Grilled Fish
Burmese Grilled Fish

Genius invention on how to drink cold water in Yangon, Burma: Pour your water over the block of ice at the top, catch the run-off at the bottom of the cloth holder, and leave a tip in the cup.

Cold Water Yangon
Cold Water
Meal Time in Burma
Meal Time in Yangon

Have you been to Yangon?  How did you like it?

If you are traveling to Yangon, take a look at this important Myanmar travel information.

53 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Vishal Kaushik

    11 months ago

    👌👌

  • Vishal Kaushik

    11 months ago

    I appreciate your writing skills.

  • Vishal Kaushik

    11 months ago

    nice. keep it up.

  • Khin

    7 years ago

    Hi Mark, I envy you, man, travelling and enjoying food all the time. These photo-essays of yours are really fascinating and covered almost all aspects of Yangon cuisine. It was mouth-watering. You seemed to have tried those dishes mostly at random roadside stalls and may not represent the best. Like you admitted you did not seem to know what to mix and match 🙂 For instance, the sticky white rice and the accompanying dishes you had. But all your pictures look delicious and mouth-watering. You should also try the Ohn-noh khaukswei (coconut noodles), Kyee-ohh (rice noodles in hot rich soup), Mee-shay (rice noodles with corn starch and veggies), Wethar dot-htoe (roasted pork), wet gaung thohk (a salad of parts of pighead), amer-eubyoke ( beef innards soup), etc. And since you had eaten all sorts in Congo, try the fried crickets, locusts, woodworms, etc on your next visit. And go north as they have a cuisine different from Rangoon. Wish you and your wife more luck in finding better tasting dishes on your future visits.

  • Marie-France

    7 years ago

    OMG! This is the most disgusting paper money I’ve ever seen! It looks mummified.

    Aren’t the salads risky to eat? (veggies washed in tap water or maybe not washed – not sure what’s worse.)

    I’ve wanted to visit Burma since 2005, and now that I’m finally going there (next month) I’m feeling a little apprehensive…

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Marie-France, glad to hear you’ll be going to Burma soon. I ate many of the salads and never had a problem!

  • Noel

    8 years ago

    I’m going to Myanamr next month, just got the visa today. Looking at these photos just double my excitement! I can’t wait! Thanks for sharing!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Great to hear that, you’ll have an awesome time!

  • Danny

    10 years ago

    hey Mark, thanks for you sharing photos and experiences especially in South East Asia country. Burma’s second capital Mandalay is the most attractive places and also Burma(Myanmar)is ever secret in the world. Bagan is the incredible and amazing…..

  • Spencer

    10 years ago

    I hear increasingly good reports about Burma as a travel destination. Might have to put it on my travel wishlist.

  • Stanford Ho

    10 years ago

    Thank Mark,
    I grew up and lived there till I was 29. Even I live in States over 25 years now, your pictures covered a complete life style of old Yangon. I missed the town.
    Stan
    NY

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Thank you Stan! Have you been able to return to visit? I really enjoyed my stay in Yangon, great food, and amazing people!

  • Alan Tin-Win, LIma, Peru

    10 years ago

    For someone who was born and brought up in Yangon, I would like to admit that the country is underdeveloped and we all know why, but one can also find dirty places like this, and even worse, in the slum areas of the big cities of the world. You must have also seen the upscale areas where the rich people live and hang out, and found out that Burma is a beautiful country with lovely people whose hospitality can not be found anywhere else.
    Mohinga, (Mohingar) is considered to be Myanmar’s National dish. It is basically a fish broth with noodles, served with various accompaniments. It is traditionally eaten for breakfast although it can be (and is) eaten at any time of the day or night. Such is its popularity, that most urban centres throughout the country have vendors who sell it ready made.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Thanks for sharing Alan! I fully agree, Burma had some of the most friendly and hospitable people that I have encountered. I highly enjoyed my stay and the wonderful people I met when I was in Yangon!

  • ciki

    10 years ago

    Another great photo essay! Love the vivid shots.. makes the place and people come alive!

  • Allen Shepherd

    10 years ago

    Thanks for these pics.. Some of them reminded me of Inidia as well / particulary the crushed bettle nut etc.. It was called Pann in India ..tasted o.k but left a stain in your mounth all day long !!

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Great, yah, a lot of the food is very Indian influenced – seemed a lot more like India than Thailand.

  • Mark Wiens

    10 years ago

    @Rebecca: It’s a fantastic dish, rice noodles covered in fish soup curry, then they put a chickpea fritter and egg on top and garnish with cilantro and lemon! The taste is wonderful!

  • Rebecca

    10 years ago

    Great photos! I’m curious what Mohinga is? I can’t make out any of the ingredients.

  • Mark Wiens

    10 years ago

    @Don: Thanks so much Don! Glad you also had a great time in Myanmar! No, I did not have a chance to go to any other destinations. A big reason I went was to get a Thai visa in Yangon, and then I decided not to rush around the country, but try to really experience Yangon. I would still love to go back sometime and go to those other places. How was Bagan, Inlay Lake and Mandalay?

    • Don

      10 years ago

      Bagan, Inlay Lake and Mandalay were all very interesting places. I highly reccommend a visit to all three if you travel to Myanmar again.

  • Don

    10 years ago

    Nice photos Mark. They bring back a lot of memories as I spent most of January in Myanmar. I stayed at the White House hotel while in Yangon and walked by Sule Pagoda on a regular basis as well as the church on the way to Bogyoke Market to exchange money. Yes, Swedagon Pagoda is impressive during the day and even more so at night when it is all lit up. Did you travel to Inlay Lake, Mandalay, Bagan while you where in Myanmar?

  • Mark Wiens

    10 years ago

    @Ayngelina: Thanks a lot Ayngelina. I used to be concerned/embarrassed about busting my camera out all the time, but then I started to realize that the everyday shots of life in a country is really what I love to see and remember!

    @Randy: Thanks Randy! Unfortunately I didn’t have a decent picture to show the aftermath of long term chewing…red mouth and rotting teeth! Have a you ever tried it before?

  • Randy

    10 years ago

    Excellent photo essay! You’ve got it all here. I especially like the photos of “Betel Nut Mouthchew.”

  • ayngelina

    10 years ago

    I love seeing countries through your eyes. You definitely push me to expand my own comfort level with taking my camera out in open places.

  • Mark Wiens

    10 years ago

    @Christine: Ha, yes, I snapped the photo and left the danger zone in a hurry!

    @Renee: Thank you so much for the comment. I definitely also sometimes do a little random point and shoot photography. What I often do is choose a position to just sit or stand and watch for a while, taking time to observe happenings and just seeing everyday life. These are the kinds of pictures I really like!

    @Glen: Thanks Glen!

    @Phil: Great, that’s what I hoped for!

    @Caz: Hope you have a chance to visit as well, it’s a wonderful country to visit, amazing people!

    @MaryAnne: Wow, great! I fully agree with you, it’s a wonderful city (and country) and there’s so much to observe and experience.

    @Andrea: Thanks Andrea, Yangon really is a greatly interesting city!

  • Andrea

    10 years ago

    LOVE these photos! That first one with the pigeons really got my attention. Such an interesting place

  • MaryAnne

    10 years ago

    I spent a month in Myanmar last July/August and was loathe to leave. This photo essay really captured the feeling. Lovely. What a wonderful city Yangon is. I need to go back…

  • Caz Makepeace

    10 years ago

    Love the photos. What an incredible representation of a country I would love to visit.

  • Phil

    10 years ago

    Wow, what an incredible set of photos. I feel like I truly got a window into life in Yangon. The perspective on the first picture with the pigeons is unreal.

  • Glen

    10 years ago

    Love these photo essays, it really gives the reader a feeling of what the place is like.

  • Renee

    10 years ago

    Mark,

    Again, you have offered up a buffet of delightful treats for the eyes. I love the vividly colored photography….gives you the feeling of actually being there! You have a gift of capturing a slice of life which is really difficult to do…you don’t just point and shoot, it seems like you make your subject(s) come to life. Usually, I just point and shoot and hope for the best. My daughter is the real photographer in the family. I will be traveling solo soon and I hope that will be able to create moments like this.

  • Christine

    10 years ago

    Awesome photos…I feel like I was transported there with you! Though I wouldn’t want to be underneath the power line of all of those pigeons 🙂

  • Mark Wiens

    10 years ago

    @Cam: Thanks so much!

    @Grace: Yes, I truly enjoyed many days just walking around and sampling the great array of street food!

  • jamie – cloud people adventures

    10 years ago

    another stunning collection of photos mark! ive always had a fascination with burma / myanmar, after reading some books about it years ago. looking forward to reading more about it on your blog. is aung sung suu kyi a big topic of conversation there?

  • Mark Wiens

    10 years ago

    @Jodi: I don’t think we made it to the Biriyani place you mentioned but we did eat a few plates of Biriyani. We did have a great time staying at the Golden Smiles. I can believe that’s why you got crapped upon with such a high statistic! Cool, thanks so much for the insights into thanaka Jodi!

  • Grace

    10 years ago

    Mark these are great photos! I can see you were inspired by the city.

  • Cam

    10 years ago

    Great pics Mark! You’ve captured the city well

  • Jodi

    10 years ago

    p.s. thanaka is actually a paste made from sandalwood that is mixed with water and ground up on the stump of a tree. Staying at the hotels in Burma that were for locals and tourists alike meant that there was always a “house thanaka stump” around, that everyone could use to mix their own paste in the morning. Really loved the intricate patterns of thanaka in the Shan state – serves as sunscreen and a beautifier.

  • Jodi

    10 years ago

    Love it, Mark! Did you get to the biriyani place I told you about? Those pigeons were exactly why I got crapped on several times in Burma – they’re everywhere. Great photoessay and made me extremely nostalgic. Say hi to Joel for me too 🙂

  • Mark Wiens

    10 years ago

    @Flip: Thanks man, Charlotte answered your question, most of the time it’s more of a gold paste applied to the face to protect from the sun. I bought a few containers of it, to the excitement of the sellers!

    @Inka: Thanks Inka!

    @Jeremy: You are right, the city is quite dirty, but the food is made quite fresh and clean. I ate at countless (not overly sanitary) street eateries, with no problems.

    @Charlotte: Thanks for sharing!

    @Christy: Thanks, yes, after seeing that fish with the pepper, there was absolutely no way for me to not stop immediately and eat it!

  • Christy @ Technosyncratic

    10 years ago

    Wow, this is so comprehensive! 🙂 Such beautiful and varied photos; it really does give us a sense of life there.

    The one with the pepper sticking out of the fish’s mouth was fun, and that gold temple is stunning. I can only imagine how blindingly bright it would be with sun beaming off it….

  • Charlotte

    10 years ago

    The white powder is actually a paste called Thanaka. Protects your skin from sunburn

  • Jeremy B

    10 years ago

    Fascinating photos Mark! There is so much in here I don’t know what to comment on! I love the shots of the food. I am surprised at how good it looks given how dirty things seem to be in other shots. Yangon really does look like an interesting place to visit!

    • Aye Myint

      10 years ago

      Hello Sir

      Welcome to Yangon ,Myanmar for you and your wife,Marion Payne -Bird.

      Aye Myint
      Myanmar

      • Mark Wiens

        10 years ago

        Thank you very much Aye. I had a fantastic time in Yangon, and hope to visit again sometime in the future.

  • inka

    10 years ago

    If ever there is a photo essay which truly covers all aspects of life it’s this one.

  • flip

    10 years ago

    the food looks amazing… i always wonder about the white powder they put on their faces… what is it?

    • james

      10 years ago

      it is called da net ka, it made from rubbing the certain wood(scented)on the plated rock with added water to keep it cool under scorching sun. Another word it is like sun screen.

    • Mabaydar

      9 years ago

      Check This out for more information about Thanatkhar

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanaka

      • Mark Wiens

        9 years ago

        Just read through it, interesting, I just recently learned that it comes from the wood apple tree, at least sometimes!