Madie and I land in Yangon and head over to T Venus B&B, a modest hotel near the university, in a taxi honking its way through the streets. It’s a sudden, stark contrast from our short episodes in Singapore, Taipei, and Japan. We’re back in South East Asia, back in a country still torn between the first and second worlds. Long traffic jams allow us see the small streets of rough unfinished buildings, with street vendors selling animal guts, and laundry hanging above stacks of trash and open sewers. Most cars are Hondas with right-hand drivers seats living a second life, but here we drive on the right. The buses are worn down, patched up - this one passing by has an old rope holding the engine door. They’re led by a 3-man team: the driver, the money man, and the hustler announcing stops and pulling people on board when the bus doesn’t quite stop. They’re all chewing paan, the betel leaf mixed with tobacco, mint, and spices, with deep red spit and teeth.
After settling in the room, and the obligatory mosquito net upgrade after killing one and creating a large bloodstain, we head out for a walk around town, the nearby mall and a luxurious-but-cheap lunch with green tea leaf salad and beef curries - a mix of Thai, Indonesian, and Indian food, as best as we can tell. We can’t quite figure it out until the end of the first day but this place reminds us of the Philippines - rough, gritty, full of people simply making do with what they have. But as all guides and websites say, everyone is nice and helpful. No one seems to care about conning us, a nice change from the too-famed Thailand. We both agree that this is more a place for us than the likes of China, Singapore, or Taipei. We enjoyed all those places, but the rough edges are what attracts us. A place where we feel a bit more welcome, after all.