By Aswathy Kumar
I still remember the glee on my face when my husband told me we were to stay at a lavish five star hotel for two whole weeks. We had just moved to Yangon.The packing, the travel, the shifting and all the stress that came with a change of location was done. We were finally here and it was time to relax and enjoy all the perks that came with a big move.
I was neither a spendthrift nor a spoilt housewife. Yet I felt no ounce of guilt when I saw my husband swipe his credit card at the hotel reception. I needed it. Felt I deserved it. After all it was only a meager paycheck for all that I had to endure living in a developed nation like the USA. Two years, two long years I had spent mopping, vacuuming, organizing play dates, cooking and what not and it was finally payback time!
I no longer had to cook or make beds in the morning. Instead an extravagant breakfast awaited me every morning at the restaurant cafe. Cinnamom buns, honey glazed croissants, pecan crusted donuts adorned the baker's aisle followed by delicacies from every South East Asian country one could possibly think of. There was the Singaporean Kaya toast, a traditional breakfast dish comprising sweet coconut and egg jam spread over bread, Rice and Maldivian fish curry, Chinese pork dumplings followed by Masala Dosa and parippu vada from my very own home state of Kerala. The sumptuous breakfast was often followed by a movie session and hours and hours of lounging around at the rooftop pool sipping chilled raspberry Mojitos. Life couldn't get any better than this or so I thought.
I had done this routine for three whole days. But then something strange happened. The very same delicacies, the posh lounge bars and the glittery chandeliers began to bore me. The array of different flavored cheesecakes at the bakery, the
free flowing lattes and the mochas or the exquisite teak wood furniture in my master suite failed to excite me. I was bored of the luxury that I so yearned for in the past two years. it was time, I thought. Time to step out of the glitzy shell and explore the streets of Yangon. Time for some reality check, I thought!
My first stop was obvious being the shopaholic that I was and it's proximity to the Traders hotel that I was staying at. It was going to be the famous Bogyoke Market.
No tourist visit to Yangon is considered complete without stopping by this famous market, also know by it's English name, Scott's market.
Agreed the Aung San Road, where the market is located was way more chaotic than I had expected. Or maybe not! Maybe It was the clean, beautifully landscaped and snooty pavements of DC that had spoilt me. I had forgotten the noise of honking cars and overloaded buses. I had forgotten the sound of kids playing a game of ball on a lazy afternoon or the sound of an elderly vendor spitting paan on the already tobacco smeared walls.
It was no different from any of the famous shopping streets back in New Delhi, that I had grown up with. It felt nostalgic as I slowly made way through the different vendors selling various varieties of fruits, fried food, old second hand books in Burmese and little tea stalls selling biscuits stored in glass bottles along with a number of other baked delicacies. It was chaotic but I loved it.
One of the scariest part for an expat like me in Yangon was the fact that there was no proper pedestrian crossings or traffic lights and here no one was in a mood to stop no matter how long you waited. So it was a big relief to see that there was a huge bridge for pedestrians to crossover to the other side of the road, leading straight to the market.
Now if it is your first time here, I would recommend starting with the central part of the market. Not only is it cleaner and a bit less chaotic than the other sections, it also houses all that a tourist would potentially want to buy in Yangon. From jewelry made out of different types of stones like jade and turquoise, hand woven lungis and colorful flip-flops to paintings by local artists to my personal favorite; shops selling exquisite lacquerware and wooden and metal religious artifacts.
Ask any woman, what you should pick up while in Myanmar and you can almost be certain that she will answer with a glint in her eyes 'the rubies'. Though there are several high-end and pricey gems and jewelry stores spread out all through the city, the locals feel that the Bogyoke market is equally a great option when it comes to buying authentic rubies. Though one can never be a hundred percent sure in either of the two cases, I would recommend going for the latter especially as I personally believe when it comes to authenticity it is all in the mind. Here you can find beautiful pieces of necklaces, bangles and earrings in rubies, jade and sapphire at a really good bargain. If you prefer, designing your own jewelry, there are several shops on the top floor selling just the stones.
Unlike the street markets in India where shopkeepers would hover over around you and literally badger you with their goods, here there is no such thing. And I felt perfectly safe walking around in circles with my curious six year old daughter, who made it a point to touch every single artifact displayed in the front of the shops. But here people had no complaints and responded affectionately with a smile or a friendly pat on her tangled curly hair.
Unlike India, People here are calmer, welcoming and pleasant making it a blissful experience for anyone new. So unlike in Delhi where I would recommend tourists to bring their A-game when it comes to their bargaining skills, here in Myanmar, I would advice you to be gentle and less aggressive.
A few hours of callously longing around the market and a quick lunch of chicken curry noodles at a nearby Singaporean restaurant for less than $5, it was time to head back to the hotel. As I opened up my plastic bag, exposing a printed blue loungyi, a pair of neon pink flip flops and a sparkly spring bracelet that I had picked up for my daughter, I could see the beige colored walls of the Bogyoke Market through my bedroom window. There was nothing glossy or glamorous about the ancient building; quite unlike the brand new Parksons Mall that lay right adjacent to it. But she was unique, she was charming and full of character unlike any other shopping markets in the city. And I couldn't wait to tread its streets yet again.