I begin my account with Burma's famous Shwedagon Pagoda which is the sole makor tourist attraction of the city of Yangon. I also indulged in the local delicacies and some street shopping. I definitely felt very safe walking around Yangon, even alone. I find in a lot of countries where I stick out as a tourist, people will notice me and try to aggressively sell me things or offer me a ride in a taxi or tuk tuk - for example, in Cambodia. In this type of atmosphere I often feel defensive and stressed when walking around, and do not feel like interacting much. It's natural - no one wants to feel taken advantage of!
In contrast, in Myanmar, though I did stand out, people mostly paid me attention out of curiosity or a desire to learn more about me, or to help me find my way to a place. I was greeted most often with a simple "min-ga-la-ba," which means hello. People were really kind and gentle, and I felt that most people did not try to take advantage of the fact that I was a foreigner - besides some taxi drivers who maybe would try to charge me 1000kyat ($1) more than they would a local.
Perhaps this is the case because the country is still opening up and a tourist industry has not fully formed yet - I'm not sure! I like it the way it is now though; I was able to comfortably interact with and talk to more Burmese people. Who knows what will happen in a few years though?
Tourists pay a small fee for entering and must wear very conservative clothing. If you are wearing shorts or an above-the-knee skirt, then you are asked to wear a longyi, which is a traditional cloth folded into a skirt that both men and women wear. Additionally, we had to take off our shoes before entering the pagoda. We went right around sunset, the best time as the fading sunlight catches upon the golden temples and statues quite beautifully! There are several entrances to the pagoda. I forgot which side we entered from but the doors were guarded by two enormous lion statues. There is a great hall, and escalators inside to take visitors up into the actual pagoda area. I was not sure what to expect at all. It's simply stunning. At the top of all the escalators is a surreal land of shiny temples, statues, Buddhas. Local Burmese families mix with tourists from all countries. People mill about, some praying, engaging in religious rituals, taking photos. Reverence fills the air. Everywhere I looked, the architecture was breathtaking. There were almost too many points of interests - I couldn't focus on any one object since there were hundreds more to look at - shiny, carved rooftops, temples, various deities, fountains, burning incense. Everything was so detailed and intricate, and full of symbolism that I sadly did not understand. The golden pagoda, the one at the center, is the main religious feature of the whole area. It's the building at the left in my photo below. The photo doesn't depict the scale accurately, but it's enormous and towers over most of the surrounding area. It's about 100 meters tall! There is a large diamond bud at the top. We spent about an hour there, looking around at the architecture. At dusk we sat down before one of the temples and watch the play of light on the pagoda as the sun slowly set. Later, we went back down to collect our shoes and to wash off our feet, which had by that time collected a pretty thick layer of dirt
This market is the main shopping destination for tourists, though not exclusively so - there were still plenty of locals. Prices tend to be higher in the businesses that line the perimeter of the market, and these shops also appear to cater more to tourists and sell knick knacks and souvenirs. You have to wander in to get to the good stuff! However, as noted in my last post, most shopkeepers were very friendly and don't aggressively hawk their wares. A big indoor section of the market sold gold and jewelry. I don't have any skills in distinguishing good quality gems and metals from fakes, so I mostly just walked through this area without really looking closely. We came to an inner area with tightly-spaced shops that sold lots of fabrics. Many of the shops have tailors that they know who will create a longyi (the long skirt) for you out of a fabric that you choose. The fabrics come in a dizzying array of colors, patterns, and material. I ended up buying a hand-sewn bright green longyi with flowers along the border for about $15 USD, plus a tailoring fee of $5. There are many cheaper options; you can buy fabric for less than $5, but in this case I was willing to spend more for the quality.
Outside of the busyness of the city, there are a few parks and lakes where you can enjoy some peace. We went to Kandawgi Lake (below) and Inya Lake (not to be confused with Inle Lake, which is located in northern Myanmar. Often times we would see lots of couples hanging out by the lake or taking long strolls. Sometimes young people also bring along a guitar and start strumming along and singing in a group. It's a really nice atmosphere and also provides some pretty scenic views, especially near sunset.